The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Archive for the ‘energy’ Category


After a mere five years’ worth of dawdling which is possibly a record even for moribund Washington, D. C., the Congress is now going to take up a vote on the Keystone XL Pipeline. The timing of this couldn’t be more transparent as Sen. Mary Landrieu grasps at straws to maintain her seat in the upper chamber for a fourth term – a contest to be decided on December 6th.  This caused me to refresh myself on the definition of a word that I think describes the reason that so many of us voted to change the makeup of not only the Congress but further entrenched Republicans in many many statehouses and legislatures.

Cynic – A person who believes that people are motivated purely by self-interest rather than acting for honorable or unselfish reasons.

The timing of the pipeline vote, while clearly an attempt to salvage Senator Landrieu’s sinking campaign comes at an interesting moment in history as the president, acting in his capacity as Chief of Negotiating Bad Deals, makes a commitment that the United States, the world’s second biggest “polluter” will make further efforts to reign in our carbon dioxide emissions while the People’s Republic of China, the world’s worst polluter will be allowed to continue to increase their emissions until the year 2030 and then will “try” to limit those going forward.

Obama has characterized “climate change” as the most pressing issue of our time and has devoted himself during the remainder of his term to focusing on addressing the “problem.”  By pressing, if you are to accept the arguments that are advanced on the imperiling effects of “climate change,” if we delay taking remedial action even for one day, we take the risk of having put ourselves on a path which has only one ultimate destination – driving the planet past the point of no return and wiping out all life on Earth.

If those who consider themselves “environmental good guys” wonder why, despite the purported agreement of 97% of the “scientific community” that greenhouse gases are the root cause for “climate change,” there are still “deniers” who reject or at the least question their conclusions, it might be that the message which they are peddling is inconsistent.

If we are about to head into the abyss, then it is incomprehensible how the person who has the unique position of being President of the United States, a position which still has some swag, although a declining amount, throughout the world could even consider an agreement with China which allows them to increase and further entrench themselves as the world’s worst polluter – for at least another fifteen years.  Particularly if that president has gone on record as saying this is the most important issue facing the nation and the world.

The delay in determining the debate on Keystone XL has, of course, centered around the purported environmental impact which building and using it might cause.  I think it would be fair to say that no one, not the drillers, not the owners of the pipeline nor any reasonable person would want to develop a project that had the potential for causing hazardous leaks.  The operators would, should such an event occur, lose revenue and would undoubtedly be subject to significant fines.  It is in their own best interest to make sure that the pipeline, if constructed, not only functions as intended but does so efficiently on a consistent basis.  The “environmentalist” side argues that no such assurances can be given.

The proposed pipeline was intended to be developed in four separate stages, three of which have been completed and comprise an already built 2,151 miles of pipe.  That portion of the project is fully operational.  The fourth phase, the one under consideration, would be composed of an approximately similar additional amount of pipe.  In total, the entire project is composed of less than five thousand miles of pipe.  America currently has a network of more than 185,000 miles of liquid petroleum pipelines, nearly 320,000 miles of gas transmission pipelines, and more than 2 million miles of gas distribution pipelines according to the National Resources Defense Council, an organization that has opposed the completion of the pipeline.  We already rely heavily on pipelines to move energy from the source of production to refineries and then the ultimate consumer.

Perhaps the most direct correlation between Keystone XL would be to the Trans-Alaska Pipeline – now forty years old.  Have there been leaks and spillages that have affected that Alaska Pipeline?  The answer is yes – there have been two that have been of significance in its forty year life.  And both of those were caused by saboteurs who purposely attacked the pipeline.  One of those was an “environmentalist” and the other was a drunk.  Should we expect the same if Keystone XL is finally approved?  Well, there are more “environmentalists” now than forty years ago – and anyone who both watches and is concerned by the machinations of this administration is probably an excellent candidate for over indulging in demon rum.

The spectre of true environmental damage, if left alone, stemming from the pipeline seems minimal at most.  Virtually every scientific study that has examined the question has returned that same verdict.  Whether the pipeline would offer continuing high salary employment to tens of thousands is a matter for debate – but it is not debatable that, at the very least, it would provide employment to thousands during its construction.  And the argument that it would not benefit Americans by way of lower energy prices as the pipeline’s product would be shipped overseas, ignores the facts of a global economy in which greater production of a product tends to lower the price of that product everywhere that it is consumed.

The real argument, one which you will seldom if ever hear, is that the “environmentalists” want to replace all fossil fuels with renewable alternate sources of energy.  While that goal might be admirable, it is, at best, unlikely as even the most optimistic sources feel that green energy might someday provide the world with ten percent of our needs.  That falls on deaf ears for people who believe that the only way we will seriously attempt to find new ways to invent green energy is if we make it so painful to use traditional fossil fuels by making them so expensive that we are forced into the effort.  Reaching that goal, whatever the price, is their “admirable” aim – and it doesn’t matter to them that hundreds of thousands might die in the process because they cannot afford to turn on and pay for the heat on which they relied their entire lives.

I try to approach every question, particularly ones of importance, such as the Keystone XL Pipeline and green energy, conservation and environmentalism, with an open mind.  It would be refreshing if those who argue their position on whichever side of the issue, were actually honest and transparent.  Like much of the dogma which is preached by the left, those are two qualities that are conspicuous by their absence.  Dishonesty is one of the things that turns me off the fastest.

Perhaps one day those in the liberal camp will wake up and have an epiphany.  They’ll get out of bed and find that Santa has left them a present – a new pair of “Big Boy Pants.”  And they’ll advocate for their position truthfully and without deception.  That will be the day I will take them seriously and listen to their position with interest and without prejudice.  But that event, should it ever occur, seems to be something belonging to a far distant future.  Or that it will ever occur – well, perhaps that’s just a pipe dream.


Yesterday President Obama took a break from fund raising (although he will resume his schedule for that purpose later in the week) to offer a statement on the downing of Malaysia Flight 17 over the Ukraine and wag his finger at those who are impeding the effort to provide the 298 victims and their families the dignity of closure.  The “speech” seemed perfunctory, devoid of either passion or real outrage which we all should feel about this act of terrorism. Of course, there wasn’t much outrage when President Putin acquired Crimea.

The president of the United States has not been alone in providing a muted response to what most believe was a tragedy that either was directly attributable to Vladimir Putin or at the least one in which he was a willing partner.  The leaders of Europe have been similarly silent.  It took a former head of state, Tony Blair of the UK to make a statement which accurately reflects the outrage that we all should feel.

It is neither surprising nor difficult to understand why Obama generally avoided facing the issue head on.  That is clearly his method of “non-operation.”  If he doesn’t acknowledge something he must believe either that it doesn’t exist, it’s someone else’s problem to deal with or it simply will go away.  If he doesn’t give much of a hoot about how black children are being murdered regularly in his home town of Chicago, why worry about a few hundred Europeans who were blown out of the sky somewhere in Europe?  But why the silence in Europe?  The simple answer is energy – and much of the European Union’s dependence on gas which flows abundantly from Russia and through Ukraine.

The Maastricht Treaty was signed by the members of the European Union in 1992.  The goal was to reduce dependency on carbon based fuels and to replace them with “green” fuels, purportedly to the benefit of the world’s ecology.  In the twenty-two years since its enactment, some progress has been made by the EU members to replace oil and gas with alternate fuel sources as the following chart shows:


The information contained in this chart is for the year ending in 2012.  The total estimated population of EU countries for that same period was approximately 505,000,000 – and the four largest countries by population, Germany, France, UK and Italy housed more than fifty-five percent of those people.  The four countries which achieved the best records of finding alternative sources of energy, Sweden, Latvia, Finland and Austria had approximately 26 million residents, representing a little more than five percent of the total population of EU countries.

Not surprisingly, the four most populated EU countries had average or below average rates of replacing carbon based fuels with alternate energy sources – suggesting that while developing renewable clean energy may be an admirable goal, this technology is still in its infancy and is unable to provide a sufficient replacement for our traditional fuels to large numbers of people.  That lesson is clearly lost on President Obama – but it is abundantly clear to Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and the leaders of other countries which are dependent on petroleum products from Russia.  It’s difficult to negotiate with the loan shark who is holding your family hostage, threatening them with death, if you fail to make a payment.

In some respect, the seizure of Crimea and the murders of 298 plane passengers is partly the fault of the Obama administration’s focus on green energy – whatever the price in terms of increased energy costs to be passed along to consumers, the loss of jobs in the coal industry, the failure to enable the creation of new jobs with the Keystone Pipeline, the refusal to permit LNG processing plants by the EPA which could provide at least some replacement for Soviet fuels that could be shipped to Europe to reduce that continent’s dependence on Russian energy – well, the list goes on.

The president’s recent photo-op (which he has publicly said he hates doing) eating at a local restaurant, somehow brings an image of Wimpy to mind.



“Where there is no vision, the people perish.” —Proverbs 29:18


There is a fundamental truth to budgets – whether those are individual or governmental.  If you spend more than you take in you’re going to run in the red.  Individuals have figured a short-term work around to this problem by deferring their desire to purchase something today and pay for it tomorrow.  This is why we have burgeoning balances on consumer credit cards.  The government has figured out the same work around which we call the National Debt – which the present administration has nearly been able to double in five short years.

Obama and his cohorts have talked a great deal about “income inequality.”  That there are some Americans who are billionaires and  a great many more who barely survive until the next refill of the government handouts arrives is certainly true.  But as with all liberal governments at all times, they concern themselves only with the income aspect of the equation, disregarding the issue of how those funds are spent.

In any economic downturn, it would probably be safe to say that most people except the wealthiest, look at ways that they conserve what they have and cut some spending corners.  Unfortunately, those who are the poorest have most of their budgets dedicated to things that are necessities; food, rent, clothing, utilities and what little they might have earmarked as discretionary represents a very small part of their budgets.  Increases in the price of the necessities, as we are now seeing in food staples, puts even the most frugal of these people in the position of not being able to make ends meet.

An increase in the price of gasoline at the pump may annoy the millionaire as he drives his Maserati to work at his six figure job.  The increase in the price of gas has a much greater effect on the person who is driving his clunker to his minimum wage position – perhaps meaning that he has to skip a meal or substitute cat food for tuna fish in his lunch box.

What is remarkable in all of this is that America clearly has the opportunity to be energy independent within a decade.  All we have to do is utilize the natural resources which we are fortunate to have.  One would think that an administration that is concerned about “poor Americans” would have had a Eureka moment by now and set the wheels in motion to do just that.  But that is not this administration.

America is now the largest producer of natural gas in the world.  We have the potential to become, once again, the largest producer of oil in the world.  Besides the impact that being energy self-sufficient would have on bringing down the price of these commodities at home, that price reduction would have a profound impact on those in other countries who can exploit the current high prices to achieve their own political advantages – Vladimir Putin being one of the first to come to mind.

After years of foot dragging, the administration finally allowed one LNG facility to be permitted.  Construction will be completed next year and the facility will be operational.  Seven other such projects have been in limbo for five years – waiting approval from the EPA.

Aside from the obvious benefits of having cheaper energy here at home, the jobs that would be created to build and maintain these facilities is certainly another reason these projects should have been allowed to move forward.  And if Putin were to see that the basis of the Russian economy which is heavily dependent on energy to provide it with its revenues might be threatened by this American abundance, perhaps he would not have been so willing to embark on his escapade in Ukraine’s Crimea region.

Similarly, the Keystone Pipeline has been on hold for as long as Obama has been in office.  This would create ten thousand jobs and would facilitate the wider and cheaper distribution of energy.  Now that the Department of State has cleared the project as having “no environmental impact,” there is no reason that Obama cannot grab his famous pen and allow that project to proceed.

Keystone is a two thousand mile long pipeline.  In America today, we have oil and gas pipelines that run in excess of one hundred seventy thousand miles.  There are more stories in the news in which fuel transported either by truck or ship or train have incidents than from all of these pipelines combined.  Pandering to extreme environmental groups in which the science does not back up their claims is pure politics and ignores positive policy.

The administration’s energy “policy” has two significant effects.  It helps make sure that the poor stay in that condition.  And it gives encouragement to autocrats like Putin to throw their weight around, realizing that a once proud and important country has chosen Puff The Magic Dragon to be its leader.


Recently an ad aired on television which asked the question:

“If every American household replaced one incandescent light bulb with one Compact Florescent Light bulb, how many homes could be powered by the electricity that was saved?”

The answer was 3 Million.

As there are about 100 Million households in America that would represent a three percent reduction in the amount of energy we use to light our homes.  I did a quick audit of my house and discovered that I have in excess of sixty old-fashioned bulbs sitting in various fixtures.  So, in theory, if everyone had as many bulbs in their homes and replaced all of them with CFL’s we would be able to make all American homes energy independent – in fact we should produce a surplus of electricity.  As I looked at my conclusion I realized that there was a flaw in this logic.

Long before we became concerned about conservation on a national level, my parents taught me that it was important.  Perhaps they didn’t think of their admonition to “Turn the lights out when you leave the room,” as something of global importance.  But they knew and taught me that using less electricity reduced the bill which dutifully arrived monthly from Con Ed.  And it was obvious to me that if we sent less to the electric company, that meant there was more to spend on something that was even better than lighting the apartment – like food on the table or putting one extra dime in the Poor Box at church.

Returning to the ad which I at first thought was sponsored by some governmental agency such as the EPA, I was surprised to learn that it was presented by Exxon Mobil Oil.  It is one of the more successful ads that I have seen as it got me thinking.  If we could save a lot of energy by switching out one of our lamps to a CFL, what else could we accomplish by making other small changes?

What could we do to conserve energy if we walked to the store once a week instead of driving our cars?

What could we do for our health if we substituted one glass of water for one of the sodas we consume?

What could we do for the environment if we didn’t charge our phones and tablets as often because we used them to play games one hour a week less?

What could we do for our minds if we watched one less hour of television a day and read a worthwhile book?

What could we do for those we meet if we withheld one criticism and instead found one thing about that person to compliment?

This list is far from complete so feel free to add your own thoughts to it.  But in a world consumed with a craving for energy, perhaps we are looking in the wrong place.  The real power to transform the world is in the power of one.  And each of us is that one – or at least we may be if we so choose.







Let me take a moment to express my gratitude to all of you who read this blog on a regular basis.  You are the fuel that keeps the fire going.  Furthermore, I personally believe that you are a cut above the herd (several cuts, actually) and I wish all of you served in elected office.  The country would be much further ahead if we had thinkers instead of talkers running the show.

I received several comments via email about the Minimum Wage post which I put up yesterday.  Of course, you realized that this was tongue in cheek humor – but I plead “nolo contendere” as I had just finished watching several Marx Brothers movies and their spirit of light-heartedness overcame me.

Several serious questions were raised in your emails which I want to address in this post.

Q:  If we raised the minimum hourly wage to $50.00 for all American workers, wouldn’t that require us to re-define our base for what constitutes the “poverty level?”

A:  This is an excellent and insightful observation.  If your lowest paid American were now earning $100,000 per year, that would become the new poverty-level baseline.  Instead of paying athletes $10 million a year, we would have to increase their salaries to at least $30 or $40 million a year – just so they could keep up.  That doesn’t seem like a bad thing – especially if we taxed them at, let’s say, 90% of their income just to keep the social programs we have designed running.  And that would certainly ease the consciences of a Bill Gates and Warren Buffett who believe that they and those in their asset class are under-taxed.

Q,  Wouldn’t raising the minimum wage to $50.00 per hour create inflation?

A.  Yes it would – and that, of course, is a good thing.  Just think of the benefit to our farmers for a moment.  If they are able to sell their tomatoes for eight dollars apiece, consider how much value that would add to the GDP.  Now you may say that if they’re selling tomatoes at eight bucks a pop, the consumer would pay at least thirty dollars each – and that is true.  But the fact of the matter is that Americans don’t eat a sufficient quantity of fruits and veggies now – so the impact of this price escalation should be minimal.

Then there is the matter of the National Debt – rapidly approaching $17 Billion.  There is no way that we can ever pay that off.  Furthermore, our debt is clearly the fault of foreigners – primarily the Chinese and Japanese who hold the bulk of it – who through their purchases have encouraged our economic malfeasance.  I mean, come on – we always give these Orientals credit for being smart and shrewd – but look at all this worthless paper they’re holding.  If that one fact alone doesn’t shoot a gaping hole in the theory of the superiority of the Oriental mind, I don’t know what will.

So if we merely inflate our way out of our debt, making it worth, let’s say, only a quarter of what it’s present nominal value is, then we can declare ourselves in default and only say that we wrote off about $4 Trillion and thus we will save about $13 Trillion worth of face.  That’s something our Oriental friends might actually admire.

Why we let our Japanese/American citizens out of our WWII interment camps is beyond my understanding.  And it’s truly a pity that we don’t need to import any more coolies – but all of our railroads have been built.

Q.  Where would we get all the money we need to pay everyone a $50.00 per hour minimum wage?

A.  (I referred this reader to an excellent book on 15th century Germany).  With the greatest invention of all time, the printing press, Guttenberg set central bankers free to do as they will with their currencies.  We simply print more as we need it.

Now being someone who is ecologically concerned, it occurs to me that the quantities of money that we would need would probably exceed the number of trees that exist on planet Earth.  While I would be willing to chain myself to an old growth redwood in our Pacific Northwest, I really don’t have that on my “to do” list.  So, instead of doing things the old-fashioned way, why don’t we have the government just issue credit cards – like the ones that they give to people on public aid and as part of the SNAP program?

It’s been years since we attempted having solar power, via Solyndra, get established as a reliable source of affordable, renewable energy.  We could develop credit card production facilities in Nevada and Arizona using this technology.  That would help us out in Nevada with the highest unemployment rate in the nation – and it might just cut down on the number of illegals selling drugs imported from our southern neighbors by offering them nine to five regular jobs.  Besides, I read where our star is entering the phase of its eleven year cycle in which it spews out the greatest amount of energy.  Think of all that sun power just going to waste.

Q.  If the Federal government implemented your suggestions, wouldn’t there be a great deal more waste than we already know exists?

A.  Well, in the first place, it’s hard to conceive that it is possible to have more waste than already exists.  And in the second, do you think we are Germans and efficient?  This is America and we’re mostly all Americans here.  Waste is good.  It creates jobs which then requires more people to repair the damage that was initially created.  Don’t you understand the concept of unionism?  Capitalist pig.

Well, dear readers, I’ve fielded the questions that were posed in response to my earlier post.  Of course, I welcome any further questions which you might entertain and will do my best to address your concerns.

Faithfully yours in economic conundrum,



Before my time there were a lot of wars.  A couple were pretty big – so we called them World Wars.  The name of what was originally called, “The War To End All Wars” didn’t live up to its billing.  So we had another World War and rather than using the titles Sr. and Jr. we chose to use the Roman numerals I and II.  I guess that was just so that if any more wars arose later of the same scale it would make it easier to name them.

During the Second World War, Americans were called on to make sacrifices.  We shipped our young men overseas, many of whom never came home to their moms or their wives.  And in their absence, we asked the women of America not only to sacrifice their husbands and sons and brothers but to contribute to the war effort by accepting food rationing and gas rationing and by helping out in our plants and factories.  And so, the iconic American woman was born.  She was called Rosie the Riveter.


This was an America where the people were unified in a “Can Do Spirit” rather than a “Make Excuse Mind Set.”  It was an America of seven decades ago.

Now although, as I said, this time preceded my somewhat unheralded arrival on Earth, this was the spirit in which my parents spent most of their young adult lives.  And naturally, this shaped their behavior and it molded the way in which they raised me.  So by a form of osmosis, I came to believe that any individual, if she or he applied himself, could do great and wondrous things.  And if all of us did those wondrous things as individuals, we as a country could become great and wondrous.  And we did and we were.

We created new and exciting inventions.  We flew to the moon.  We built highways and fast cars to travel on them.  We replaced failing human hearts with artificial ones.  We did truly amazing things.  We looked on ourselves as masters of the universe.  But along the way we lost sight of something – and it was an important something, indeed.

Whether we believed in the story of God and His creating the world or whether we accepted a more humanistic view that Mother Nature was a powerful mistress, we forgot to honor our obligation to be good guests in our own home.  Our lust for bigger and faster and better allowed us to set aside our concern for our environment in our need for immediate gratification – irrespective of the consequences.  After all, those were going to happen “down the road” and, no doubt, we would, trusting in our genius, think up a way to fix those problems when it was necessary to do so.

And so that brings us to the question of Global Warming.

As you probably know, there are just as many people on the one side of the argument as on the other.  Lay people and scientists; politicians and professionals – all with differing opinions which, naturally result in differing solutions in addressing what might or might not actually be a problem.

That this is a hotly debated topic is clear.  In fact, it is of such import that last week at Knox College, President Obama identified it as the central challenge facing us as Americans and the people of the world in general.  Several of my friends and readers might have a slightly different take on the real problems which America is facing, but that’s a matter for another post – or, more likely, quite a few more.

Whether global warming is a man made phenomenon or whether it even exists is at this point moot.  The honest person would have to say that there is a lot of purported evidence brought forth on both sides of the argument.  But we do know, for a fact that air and water pollution are, in and of themselves, problems.  Therefore, we should certainly be looking at ways to rein those in if at all possible.

Part of our problem in dealing with these sorts of topics is that we have solely focused on what we perceive to be the initial and systemic reason for spewing pollutants into our environment.  In other words, burning coal releases more toxins into our atmosphere than, for example, natural gas.

But what is always omitted in these analyses is the fact that we don’t burn coal simply because it’s there and we can.  We burn it because it provides something that we perceive we need – namely energy.  Clearly, if our climate were such that we didn’t need to cool our houses in summer or heat them in winter, our demand for burning coal or any other fuel would decrease significantly.  But we have no control over our weather and so we continue to air condition and heat our homes.

But there are other aspects of our lifestyles over which we do have control.  For example, we can choose to purchase our beverages of choice at the supermarket that come packaged in aluminum or plastic – or we can insist that all of these containers be replaced with glass – which is fully reusable and ultimately fully recyclable.

Of course, paying a deposit on a glass container as we did in the old days and returning it to get our refund is less convenient than taking an empty aluminum can and tossing it in the recycle bin (or more likely the garbage).  It does require some effort and just the most minor amount of sacrifice on our parts.  But my folks would have had no problem making that sacrifice for the good of the environment – and just because creating trash was something on which they frowned.

In the absence of that old American spirit of “Doing” and “Co-operation”, a simple solution to address part of the problem to which the president referred in his speech would simply be to impose a tax on each aluminum or plastic beverage container that is sold.  It seems to me that the fastest way to educate a person is by first getting her attention.  And nothing gets my attention faster than when somebody tells me that doing something is going to cost me out of pocket.

I suspect if this suggestion were implemented it would enjoy about the same amount of popularity as scheduling an appointment to go the the dentist to have your teeth cleaned.  But despite the fact that we don’t like the procedure (and have to pay for it – adding further insult to injury) we do it anyway because it is a necessary part of maintaining a healthy regimen.

Will reducing the number of aluminum and glass containers eliminate our pollution problems?  Of course not.  No one thing that we can do will accomplish that.  So let’s move forward to another way in which we might positively impact our environment.

Styrofoam is another petroleum based product which takes an extraordinary amount of time to break down in our landfills.  We don’t produce it because we’re purposely trying to see how many pollutants we can add to our dumps or rivers.  We came up with the material because it is resilient and very light weight.  Both of those are good things.  In fact, my neighborhood supermarket has a bench outside the store that bears on it a little sign  that  reads, “This bench is made from recycled Styrofoam.”  I’ve sat on that bench and I can vouch for the fact that it seemed just sturdy as one made from wood or some laminate.

So we go to the supermarket and pick up some meat for dinner and as it sits in the case we look at the nicely shrink-wrapped package and there are our pork chops, neatly arranged in the Styrofoam tray.  Having made our selection, just to make sure, we turn over the package and see the familiar recycle symbol.  We are making not only a tasty choice but one that is environmentally friendly.  Or so we think.

The truth of the matter is that ninety-eight percent of those trays and all the rest of the stuff that is made from Styrofoam will actually end up in land fills or in our rivers and oceans, having been discarded by our recycling centers as unusable.

But wait – why aren’t we making more benches out of it like the one in front of my grocery store to put in the front of other grocery stores or anywhere else people feel the need to place a bench – like our parks?

The simple answer is that one of Styrofoam’s qualities that we admire, its lightness, is the reason that less than five percent of all recycling facilities nationwide actually accept it.  You see, the recycling business is primarily driven by weight.  And it takes an awful lot of Styrofoam and some very specialized equipment to make recycling it cost effective.

Once again, here’s a simple solution which I would offer the Administration in light of the president’s speech.  Require that all recycling centers of some to-be-determined size based on annual volume, purchase and use the equipment that would enable them to recycle this material.

Naturally, they would find a way to pass this along to the consumers who use their services to collect trash and recycling.  I already pay for this service and would be willing to pay a little more to clear my conscience, knowing that the Styrofoam containers with which I am confronted at every turn would have a better resting place than the neighborhood dump.

Well, that addresses two ways in which we might either reduce end consumption of a pollutive product or reuse another one more effectively.  But neither of those will by themselves eliminate our demand for energy to the point where we are not polluting our environment.  As I said earlier, there is no one thing that we can do that will accomplish that goal.  But there are many small things that we can do that will help us achieve it.

Nearly forty years ago, in October, 1973, Arab oil producing nations announced an oil embargo on shipments to the United States because of our support of Israel.  Given the posture of the administration today, we need feel no fear of a repetition of that event – at least for that reason.

This embargo not surprisingly resulted in shortages of gasoline.  The government’s response was twofold.  First was the introduction of a form of rationing which took the shape of only allowing motorists to fuel their cars on certain days based on whether their license plate ended in an even or odd number or letter.  The second was the introduction of the mandatory maximum speed on our highways at 55 mph.

In forty years, several things regarding fuel consumption and emissions have remained constant.  The fact is that we know that vehicles that are operated at higher rates of speed burn fuel less efficiently and therefore consume more of it; and we know that the less efficient utilization of fuel results in greater amounts of pollutants being released into the atmosphere.  It seems pretty obvious that if we want to reduce the amount of fossil fuel we use, we need simply to re-implement those 1973 standards of a 55 mph maximum speed on our highways.

Again, by itself this will not solve our pollution problems.  But it might be yet another tool in our tool box to try to rein in our unbridled exploitation of the energy for which we have an unquenched thirst.

If there is one common thread (other than common sense) which binds these three suggestions together it is this.  Adopting any or all of these will require a bit of sacrifice on everyone’s part.

In the America of the 1950’s and even early ‘60’s I believe that if this were explained in a straightforward way to the American people, we might have grumbled a bit but would have decided that for our own good (and ultimately for the good of the nation) we would pitch in and do our part.  We were less interested in those days in flowery speeches than we were in recognizable accomplishments.

Today, well – I’m not so sure.



If you read yesterday’s post, “Thoughts On This And That” and are reading this one, then you are obviously not one of those who was a victim of Black Friday bad behavior.

Last year I was able to report only one incident about a couple of people who were victims of pepper spraying as they were returning to their cars after grabbing bargains from the store shelves.  Although I never found the reason underlying this incident, I suspect that it was caused by a fellow shopper who had purchased the spray and wanted to check out the product’s efficacy before wrapping it as a gift for her six year old niece.

There is more to report this year …

Walmart is again in the limelight.  As the world’s largest retailer I suppose it is only natural that they are more likely to be the scene of incidents – just by the weight of the number of stores they own and operate.

One would think that with all the people (including a few Walmart employees) who are picketing the company for its “bad wages and benefits package”, that the more liberal of our friends who otherwise might shop there would avoid Walmart like the plague.  On the contrary, Walmart has released preliminary information that this was the best Black Friday in their history.

Was it Aesop who said, “Never let snagging a good bargain stand in the way of your principles?”

At a Covington, WA Walmart, two shoppers were run down by a 71 year-old female driver who is suspected of being intoxicated.  The driver had obviously gotten into the Holiday spirit and the Egg Nog.  The female victim is in serious condition and the male victim in good condition.  (No report has been issued regarding the condition of the offender – but by now she is probably sober).

In Tallahassee, FL at another Walmart, two people were shot (but fortunately not seriously wounded) as a scuffle ensued over a parking space.  I’m here to tell you that malls are the most dangerous place you can drive your vehicle.  Apparently the shooter decided that getting bargain electronics wasn’t worth the risk of apprehension by the police and escaped the scene of the crime.

So what can we take away from all of this?

As I’ve never held a handgun let alone fired one, it would be difficult to allege that I am speaking here for the NRA.  However, I respect their Constitutional position on the subject of firearms.  My friends who believe that guns are at the root of our problem of violence will, of course, disagree.

Unfortunately, they never consider the statistics that in cities with the most restrictive handgun laws like Chicago and New York, the number of deaths due to them is among the highest per capita in the nation.  It defies logic – but that is not an exercise in which a lot of people engage very often anyway.

Actually, the root of these problems is something far more basic.  All of it stems from self-centered behavior exhibited by people who believe that society is there to serve them.  They act in ways which they view as in their own best self-interest – while ignoring the rights of others if it is inconvenient to them in obtaining their goals.

In the end, it all comes down either to embracing the concept of taking responsibility for one’s actions – or finding an excuse why the rules we expect others to observe don’t apply to us because we’re a special case.  There is a lot of the latter going around.

Fortunately, using the illogic of “exception” I have found the real cause of the two incidents at the Walmart stores yesterday.  It is President Obama.

You may remember back a few short weeks when, during the debates, the President took credit for “saving the American auto industry.”  Now I’m going to ask you to really “suck it up” and believe that he was telling the truth (or at least thinks he is).

Well, if he hadn’t saved the auto industry, we wouldn’t be producing cars.  If we hadn’t been producing cars we would have had to rely on our old junkers for transportation and a lot of those would have broken down by now, removing them from the road and the Black Friday malls.  With fewer cars, there would have been more parking spaces available – not to mention considerably fewer greenhouse gas emissions.  Did I also mention that gas prices would be considerably less expensive since the fewer cars on the road would be using less of it?

Perhaps in his efforts to save the auto industry, the President didn’t consider the implications of his actions.  But then, I doubt that he and the missus shop at Walmart.


I can’t put up a post under this title very frequently for reasons which are self-apparent.  But as I was thinking about some of the real problems we are facing (or more exactly not facing) it occurs to me that we might be able to kill two birds with one stone (or at least inflict some serious damage on them).  Those two are our deficits and our health.  Oh, and collaterally, we also could potentially lower prices for energy and help the environment – all with one move.

And that move is that we start applying a Federal Excise Tax to all soda that is sold in the United States.

I won’t bore you with all the statistics about the long-term effects of sugar (and sugar-substitute) on our health as I’ve already bored you with that.  Let me just synopsize those earlier posts by saying that we are growing fatter and seeing an explosion in diabetes and cardio-vascular disease – in large measure because of the amount of refined sugar that we consume.

To say that this is an “epidemic” is not to coin a phrase but merely to use the terminology that the CDC and NIH employ in several of their studies.  Obviously, if you develop a nation of chronically ill patients you place an undue burden on an already overly-burdened health care system.  While the sugar that we consume in our soda is certainly not the only reason for this state of affairs, it is a major contributor to our situation.

A well thought out law is intended to alter behavior to achieve a positive result.  That is why we have traffic laws and is why we have excise taxes on tobacco and alcohol.  Driving in an imprudent manner results in traffic deaths and excess consumption of tobacco products and alcohol have serious long-run health implications.  But so does sugar consumption – perhaps ones which are even more apocalyptic in scope.

We Americans consume an average of nearly three servings of soda a day.  For purposes of this post, I am going to consider a serving to be the amount of soda contained in a typical can.  (I’d give you the quantity that contains but I don’t have any on hand to which I might refer since I don’t buy the stuff).

If you do the math, by placing a twenty-five cent excise tax on each “serving” whether that was a consumer’s purchase at the grocery store or one dispensed from a fountain at a convenience store or served with a restaurant meal, that would raise just shy of $80 Billion dollars a year.  Incidentally, that is more than the most optimistic estimates suggest could be raised by eliminating the Bush tax cuts on those earning more than $250,000 per year.  (Parenthetically, while I think that is a short-sighted proposal, I need to add that I am not someone who would be affected were that to occur).

As I said previously, a well crafted law should be written to achieve a positive result.  Hopefully, the imposition of this excise tax should reduce the amount of soda that we consume – reducing the amount of revenue we collect in the future.  But there should be consequent savings which would be achieved by lowering the number of new patients needing attention by our medical practitioners for chronic conditions who were able to avoid them by altering their lifestyles.

And, of course, how does one put a price on not having to spend a lifetime measuring one’s blood sugar or self-administering insulin?  As Grandma used to say, “If you have your health you have everything.”

All that soda has to be put in containers to make it available for the consumer to purchase.  Aluminum is one of the most energy-consumptive materials known to man – and we use and discard a lot of it.  Plastic bottles are made from petrochemicals and have their own potential health consequences.

All that energy and all that litter tied up in those little cans and bottles of effervescence.

Will the imposition of such a tax cure all our problems, economic, health, energy and conservation?  Of course not.  But it’s a better start than anything I’ve heard proposed to date – and we need to start somewhere.

We have become conditioned to think of life as disposable and those things which we acquire to be of value only until we are tired of them and throw them away for something else which will amuse us for a short while.  Maybe it is the abundance that we have enjoyed that has led to that mindset – an abundance enjoyed but received without a sense of gratitude.  We have been fortunate as a nation that we’ve gotten away with that for so long.

If we all took the time to educate ourselves on ways to better our health, we would not need yet another rule, regulation or tax from Big Brother in Washington.  But it is obvious that there are few of us who are willing to make that effort and even fewer who are willing to make the commitment to themselves.  And in that context, I think this would be one of the wisest interventions that government could bring to bear.


What constitutes winning leadership?  The answer that has come back from study after study is that whether it is in a family setting, in the workplace or in government it is that those who direct our activities are consistent in their behavior.

It seems to be an innate part of our nature that we like certainty.  We wake up each morning expecting the sun to be there; we catch a regular train on our commute to work; we have our favorite spots to go for meals or certain special foods that we enjoy eating at home; we look forward to March Madness and the Super Bowl; we enjoy the feeling of festivity and friendship and warmth that comes from sharing the Holidays with our relatives and friends.  Such is human nature – and as a member of that group – I share those feelings.

As I reflected on this I thought about the leadership that we have seen out of Washington, D. C. in recent years.  I thought about this in terms of two separate but very important areas which affect all of us – the first being the omnibus healthcare legislation which is now being reviewed by the Supreme Court and the second, our energy policy.

On the surface and without engaging in a debate as to the delivery mechanisms, it would seem that a caring society would want to include as many if not all its members in a program to ensure their health and well-being.  That is how President Obama’s healthcare plan has been presented to us and those who are supporters will find comfort in their belief that this is good legislation.

So for purposes of conversation, let’s accept that it is just that – good legislation and good policy.  Its inclusiveness will reach out to those who currently are unable to purchase healthcare insurance – which should include a significant number of our financially poorer citizens.  As a person who believes that helping others is both a personal responsibility as well as a societal obligation, I endorse the theory and presumed motivation behind this concept.

Now let’s look at the administration’s views on energy.  I re-blogged a post yesterday by Green Mountain Scribes entitled “Out of Touch Obama”.  This article makes a very strong case for the administration’s determination to see that energy prices increase significantly – in order to push us towards a more environmentally-friendly solution to develop clean fuels and sources for our energy needs.  Again, I support that concept of reducing our carbon emissions – but let me share with you the reality off that quest.

Several years ago I investigated the possibility of installing solar panels on my house.  I had already taken as many steps as I could to reduce my energy consumption – improving insulation and just turning things off.  So I finally found a company that had the capability of installing solar panels on my home and eliminating any electric demands I would have to make on NV Energy – our local electric utility.

After the Federal and Nevada credits were applied, my net cost to totally solarize a modest-sized home was approximately $120,000.  (As the market in housing had already started on its precipitous decline – I could have purchased two or perhaps three small houses here for that investment).  So I reviewed the economics of this and ultimately decided that it would take me approximately 80 years to recover my solar investment – but I stood a far greater chance of being able to develop a rental income and perhaps make a profit on the sale of the alternative home investment if that were the route that I pursued.  As it turned out, I did neither of these.

It is my understanding that with the improvement in the production and cost reduction in solar panels, three years later (and without benefit of government subsidies), I could now have that installation done for a cost of about $75,000.  Based on my current electric usage that still would require about 50 years to recoup my investment.  In other words, we are a very long way from getting the costs of environmentally-friendly solar panels down to where they are affordable for the average individual.  And, of course, they have a limited geographical value because of the presence or absence of consistent sunlight.

But in the meanwhile, rising oil and gas prices have a very direct and immediate impact on all of us.  As I drove from the dog park two weeks ago, I remember one day as I passed a 7-11 on my way home that the price at the pump was changed twice that day and again the following morning.  (By changed I mean raised).  So the current administration’s policy is having the effect of draining spendable dollars, vitally needed to get our economic recovery on track, and putting those dollars in their gas tanks so that those who still have jobs can get to work.

But there is a far more insidious consequence to all of this as it relates to the health of our citizenry.  Rising prices for fossil fuels means rising costs for utility services.

I remember reading, during periods of extreme weather both hot and cold, about how many elderly people and young children died because they or their parents couldn’t afford to pay their utility bills and did without the benefits of heat or air conditioning.  An increase in the price of these services will certainly mean that even more people should expect to succumb to this fate should we again experience extreme weather conditions which are apparently becoming more the norm than the exception.

As we work toward a viable renewable energy system (which by the most optimistic estimates will provide no more than ten percent of our needs), is it reasonable or moral to treat the most vulnerable members of our society as mere pawns, readily sacrificed for the ultimate greater good?  This question is particularly important as it is these very people whom we purportedly seek to benefit in our strategy of expanding our healthcare system.

I for one would rest more comfortably if I felt that those who are making decisions that affect all of us were true leaders and made decisions which were consistent.

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