The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Archive for the ‘environment’ Category

PIPE DREAMS

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.

AGENDAS AND THE ENVIRONMENT

He is well spoken, succinct and presents his commentary with authority.  Patrick Moore, a Canadian ecologist gave testimony this week before a U. S. Senate committee regarding global warming.  Although the honor goes to many who claim to be in on the founding of the organization known as Greenpeace, Moore’s credentials are are strong as any of the others.

In his testimony he asserted that there is absolutely no evidence that the warming of the earth is other than a natural and regular phenomenon and is not caused by man’s activities.  Needless to say, Moore has earned himself the status of  a “persona non grata” among the most ardent of those in the environmental movement.

Moore went on to explain that the movement had lost its way and instead of trying to save the earth had focused on the far more lucrative potential of raking in the dough both through individual contributions and through government payouts.  There isn’t an “environmentalist” in a university who holds a position that does not start with the underlying premise that man is the contributor to global warming because there is no grant money in holding the opposite position.  Could it really all be about the money?

It’s always hard for me to accept statements that purport to have found global truth and certainty.  There are some exceptions to that statement.  I do believe that the earth is round, the sun rises in the east and that water is wet.  I also believe that litter is both ugly and unnecessary.  We might refer to pollution as aerial litter and therefore I support efforts to reduce or eliminate it.  But not everyone is on that same page.

Take, for example, the Chinese general who recently characterized the question of China’s pollution, the worst on the globe, as a good thing.  If you’ve ever seen a photo of any of China’s cities where the residents are wearing face masks to protect themselves from the foul air, you might question the general’s logic if not his sanity.

The general had a simple explanation for his position.  “The pollution in our cities helps protect us from the laser equipment on U. S. drone planes because it makes it impossible for them to focus accurately on their targets.”  Whether the general really believes that or he is making an excuse for China’s failure to address their  pollution problems is anyone’s guess.  We all have our agendas.

Whether it was in business or in my personal life I have always found that in order to achieve a goal it was important for me first to define what the goal was.  And then rather than leap to the end, I needed to define specific small steps which would lead me to accomplish what I intended.  Perhaps that is my biggest gripe with those who identify themselves as “environmentalists.”  I do not see many of them taking the small steps which would help improve our environment – which is something I  believe in doing.  We cannot tell other nations to meet high standards if we ourselves do not first set an example.

In the United States we produce and consume 50 Billion plastic bottles a year containing water.  Only twenty percent of those are recycled – leaving 40 Billion bottles a year to get consigned to landfills.  In order to produce those bottles we consume 17 Million barrels of oil.  If you were to add in other beverage containers for juices, sports drinks and sodas you can probably double those numbers.  By almost anyone’s definition that’s a lot of waste and a lot of oil.

To my knowledge, there are only three states which require a deposit when the consumer purchases a plastic bottle containing water, those being California, Hawaii and Maine.  The deposit is small at a nickel – although California has a variable schedule based on the size of the container.  Simply put, that deposit amount is probably insufficient for the consumer to take the environmental impact of disposing of plastic bottles seriously.

But what if there were a twenty-five cent deposit on each bottle of water?  Most consumers purchase bottled water in packages containing two dozen or thirty bottles.  Suddenly, seeing an additional charge on the grocery bill of six dollars or seven-fifty might encourage the shopper to make sure that those bottles were returned so they could receive their deposit back.  There might well be additional benefits to implementing this deposit strategy.

1)  In order to process the higher number of bottles which would be returned for recycling we would undoubtedly develop automated equipment which would handle the process and dispense a voucher for the deposit money.  That means a new industry would begin at a time when our economy is only slowly staggering toward recovery and new jobs that would be created in order to make this equipment.

2)  Consumers, faced with a charge – even a refundable deposit – might investigate alternatives to buying water in plastic bottles such as home filtering equipment which would reduce the number of plastic bottles used and the amount of oil consumed to produce them.

3)  The evidence is increasing, though far from conclusive, that plastic beverage containers leech PCB’s into the liquid they contain.  There is some concern that PCB’s are contributing factors to the development of various forms of cancer.  Thus, reducing our consumption of plastic bottled beverages might act as a way to minimize our risk of getting that disease.

There may be some downside to this deposit suggestion but I haven’t been able to think of one – other than the immediate out of pocket cost of making the deposit and the need to return the bottles for its return.  I would welcome any of my readers to offer any opposing views or any positive suggestions which they have.

My agenda for the environment is that, to the best of my ability, I want to do as little as I can to harm it and try to do as much as I can to benefit it.  To that end I produce only one small bag of garbage every two weeks – in large measure because I compost a lot of trash.  I don’t make unnecessary car trips and try to organize my travel so I can accomplish my errands in one organized run rather than multiple trips.  I watch the thermostat and put on extra clothes in the winter rather than turn up the heat and rely more on ceiling fans in the summer than air conditioning.  In the summer I let my clothes sun dry rather than using the electric dryer.  (In addition to saving electricity, the smell is infinitely nicer).

That plan might seem insufficient to some of the more radical environmentalists but it’s my agenda and I’m sticking with it.  And now it’s time to go.  Gracie needs her morning walk and I have bigger tofu to fry.

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DINOSAURS

It’s all their fault – the dinosaurs that is.  Well, they had a pretty good run on the stage of planet Earth as masters of the planet for 165 million years.  But then, whack – a cataclysmic event wiped them out about 65 million years ago.  And that started the whole mess – I mean the energy mess.

There’s poor Nemo, your typical male T Rex out one day looking for lunch, a meteor hits the planet and the rest, including Nemo, is history.  Little did Nemo expect when he woke up that morning that one day his transformed remains were going to end up being pumped into somebody’s Hummer so that mom could take the kids to soccer practice in a place called America.

Fortunately for the dinosaurs they had not developed the telescope so their demise was unexpected and probably nearly instantaneous for most of them.  But had they known that the meteor was hurtling on a collision course to Earth they would have had no more ability to alter its path than we are.  They were the victims of true climate change.

Before the first oil well was purposely drilled in Titusville, PA in 1859, oil and natural gas seeped naturally from the ground in various places in the country.  In many cases mining for salt opened veins into these deposits and they were considered more of a nuisance than anything useful.  Then mankind learned how to make kerosene which began to be used for lighting.  In time kerosene became the fuel of choice, replacing whale oil which was formerly used to illuminate our homes.

In 1859 in a virtually pristine America, consider the conundrum of an environmentalist with imagination who foresees the invention of the horseless carriage and how oil will become a potential threat to our planet because its use releases greenhouse gas.  On the other hand, by using it we are doing the right thing in saving the largest mammals on earth, our whales, from hunting and possible extinction.

As we know, there was no environmental agenda 165 ears ago nor was there a need for one.  But things have changed, and while I do not necessarily agree with the hyperbolic rhetoric that those who forecast our imminent doom use, it is hard to deny that our cities with their dense populations contain worse air than our heartland’s wheat fields and that mankind has an impact on the world.  But we do it one person at a time.

The other day I was engaged on this subject by a fellow dog owner at the park.  Both of us were originally from NYC yet despite that, we have diametrically different views of the world.  He introduced the statement that “Ninety-five percent of all scientists believe that mankind is responsible for climate change.”  The following day he brought me a printout that substantiated his position.  I appreciated his follow up.  To me it demonstrated his passion for the subject and his belief in his position.

Now as a rational person it is clear to me that each of us has an impact on the world or, if you prefer the term, the environment.  For example, a person who murders another person has inalterably changed the world.  The victim was about to get married and might have had several children.  Those children will never be born as a result of the murder.  What if one of those children had turned out to be a brilliant inventor who found an efficient, inexpensive way to produce universal renewable energy?  Or what if that child was left as an unborn embryo on the cutting room of an abortion clinic?

The day following our initial conversation I again engaged this chap on the subject.  I asked him whether he had walked to the park.  He replied that he had driven.  I mentioned that I also had driven there,  the three miles one way.  So I pointed out to him that we both obviously put our two dogs’ need to socialize with others of their kind above our concern for the carbon emissions we were going to cause by using our vehicles.  By extension, anyone who uses electricity to light his home or gas to heat it has made a personal decision that his personal comfort is more important than the environment.  I have yet to hear of an environmentalist who operates his laptop by utilizing candle power.

After years of “study,” the news is finally in that the Keystone XL Pipeline does not pose any grave threats to the environment.  Whether this project goes forward or not is now up to President Obama.  He is finally expected to approve it some time this summer – about five years late.

During the course of this hiatus there have been eleven incidents in which oil was being transported by freight trains that derailed.  Some of the contents of the oil cars spilled – sometimes in fiery explosions.  Mankind will never invent perfect solutions to our challenges until we ourselves become perfect.  That may be awhile.

In writing this post I realized how great mankind’s indebtedness is to our dinosaur predecessors, as unanticipated by them as it was.  I would raise a glass in a toast to them, but there’s no hooch in the house.  So I’ll just add this to my blog and in commemoration of their sacrifice turn the heat up a little.  It’s a bit chilly in the house.

WATCHING OUR WASTELINE

If you run a small business, one of your most important concerns is how to provide your clients with quality services and products and, at the same time, maximize your businesses’ profits.  By profits, I mean what you wind up taking home for yourself and your family – after the government gets its mandatory cut.

To many, the term profit is a dirty word.  They portray the typical businessman as a middle aged, jowly white man wearing a napkin tucked under his chin as he prepares to feast on the livers of the workers whom he employs.  Their mindset is that the way your typical businessman improves his profits is by taking unfair advantage of his employees.  Obviously, he is not one of the touchy-feely “good guys” which is how they perceive themselves

Perhaps there are people who operate their businesses that way – but not for long.  A free market gives everyone choices – and that includes those who work for businesses, small and large.  In a healthy financial environment, the intelligent employee will seek out the best employment opportunity and eagerly exit that sort of environment.

The problem with the ghoulish picture of the profit-driven business owner which is in vogue is that those who have captured this image have little or no experience with the way a successful business actually works.  While ignorance of the law is no excuse if we infract one, apparently that same principle does not apply when it comes to describing business.

Let’s return to the underlying premise of the left that making a profit is something that is inherently bad.  Their theory is that it is government that should be the distributor of all that is good and holy and wisely metes out to its citizens that amount of goods and services which is in their best interest.  But where does government get the funds to accomplish this noble mission?  In large measure, it comes from the profits of businesses which it taxes.  No profits, no taxes.

Then consider the company that consistently loses money.  Let’s pretend it happens to be the bank where you have your accounts.  Ultimately, one day you show up at the ATM and find that your funds are frozen while the FDIC figures out which profitable bank it can cajole into taking over from those who mis-managed this institution.

There is no business that can sustain or would tolerate a management team that loses money year after year.  That is to say, there is no privately owned business that would or could do that.  But there is one business that does not perceive itself as needing to follow the rules of profit and loss.  That business is government.

The recent partial shutdown of some government departments sheds some interesting insight into how government “works.”  While much of the media attention is focused on the closing of our National Parks and the disruption to the lives of tourists who planned trips there, less attention has been paid to the fact that this is not the first time such a shutdown has occurred and plans had previously been made to identify “essential personnel” to keep government functioning on a limited basis.  One of those departments is the Environmental Protection Agency.

The EPA has the responsibility of protecting us from environmental damage – most of which, it believes, is induced by mankind.

It is the EPA which has had significant input in blocking the Keystone Pipeline, which would create thousands of jobs and help to make America completely energy independent of the countries from which we import oil and which are hostile to us.

It is the EPA which has created regulations which effectively will kill the coal industry, eliminating thousands of jobs and raising the cost to consumers whose energy needs are provided by burning coal.

It is the EPA which has identified the number of its staff who are “essential.”  By their own statement, of the approximately 20,000 EPA employees, only 7% of them are “essential.”  But the agency has stated that in order to “effectively enforce” all the regulations that it has created, it needs to hire an additional 230,000 people to get the job done – at a cost of $21 Billion per year.

Maybe there is something positive that will come out of the partial government shutdown.  Perhaps it will force us to look at the way we spend money on supernumerary people and programs.  Perhaps we will pull our belts one notch tighter and constrict our wasteline just a little bit.  But I have to tell you, I really doubt it.

ROSIE THE RIVETER, GLOBAL WARMING AND SACRIFICE

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.

rosie

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.

great-pacific-dump

REFLECTIONS ON INDEPENDENCE DAY

As usual, last week on the 4th of July around 5:00 a.m. I arose and Gracie and our houseguest Zeus headed over to the dog park.  Apparently, for dogs as well as humans, bodily functions do not recognize the significance of official Holidays.

We went to the park but stayed only briefly because by 6:30 it was already beginning to get hot.  I could see that the fire that has now consumed about 7,000 acres north of Las Vegas on Mt. Charleston was still out of control.  Large almost cumulus-like clouds hung in the air, but rather than being white they were charcoal in color.

Perhaps it was the poor air quality that started me sneezing.  To my knowledge I don’t have any allergies.  I also didn’t have any tissues with me nor did any of my friends at the park.  So, getting tired of snorting the mucous back into my throat,  I decided to stop by the little convenience store on the way home and pick up a small pack of tissues.

It took me a few minutes to find these and pay for my purchase – which I began using in the store before I had paid for them – ah, what a relief – and when I went outside there were three teenage boys standing at the side of the door.  One of them very politely said, “Excuse me.  Could you help us?”

I thought that they were going to ask for some change.

“How can I help you?”

“Well, we was wondering if we give you the money, would you go inside the store and buy us a can of malt liquor?” said the one I took to be the oldest – perhaps 15 years or so.  Of course, doing so is a violation of our liquor laws, and more importantly is just wrong.  So that wasn’t going to happen.  But I didn’t say that.

Instead, it being the 4th of July I said, “I’ll tell you what.  I’m going to ask you a question about America – this being Independence Day – and if you can give me the correct answer I’ll think about buying the malt liquor for you.”

They seemed to perk up with the hope that I had given them.  But before I asked them my question I inquired what grades they were in at school.  Two were in the eighth grade and the oldest had completed his freshman year of high school.

“Okay, guys – name any one of the Founding Fathers of the United States of America.”

I thought this was a pretty easy question and I know that at their age I would have had no difficulty naming quite a few of them.  But instead of a response, I got a dazed look from all three.  Then came the most telling statement from one of the eighth graders.

He looked at me and said, “Foundin’ Fathers.  I don’t knows none of dem.  Hell, I don’t even know who the M*ther F*cker was whoz my own  father.”

To dredge up the old aphorism, “You could have knocked me over with a feather,” at this response.  I’m sure that my mouth was open wide enough that you could have easily fit a large pizza in it and had room left over.

But I recovered and told the boys that by asking an adult to buy them liquor, everyone could get in trouble and there were reasons that we didn’t allow minors to drink.  I doubt I made much of an impression as they were still hanging out at the front of the convenience store as I pulled away with the dogs.

Perhaps this is what we now consider the new “normal”.    One of my dictionaries defines “normal” as “conforming to the standard or common type; usual; regular; natural.”   It goes on to give a secondary definition:  “free from any mental disorder; sane.”

I would put forward the argument that there is nothing sane about any government’s policies which encourages mass reproduction in an already over-crowded world and rewards those who conform to that normality with increased compensation which is insufficient to raise a child in a wholesome manner; at the same time, mandates the universal availability of abortions in the event the mother at that particular moment has something more pressing to do than bring another offspring into the word; that then provides an inferior education – if any at all – to these offspring who are allowed to be born, leaving them with little alternative but to repeat the mistakes their mothers (and absent) fathers made; and then preaches that the greatest threat to planet Earth is global warming.

Or perhaps we are missing something from the equation.

I don’t want to sound cynical but I do not believe that the government’s concern for this underclass that they have created over multiple decades goes to the welfare of these slaves.  But they serve an important, albeit momentary, purpose.

That purpose is to allow those in office (and who manipulate their strings behind the scenes) to seize more power for themselves.  Once entrenched, propelled into their positions by a mindless electorate, fawning, as though they were dogs at their master’s table, hoping that a crumb or two will drop for them to devour, the great unwashed will have fulfilled their purpose and at that point become irrelevant and their continued existence unnecessary.

And tyranny will have come to America.  But a far greater and more brutal one than the world has ever seen.

Why the dichotomy between rewarding the natural process of child bearing through government subsidies and, at the same time, offering unnaturally to terminate that process?  Might it not be to condition our thinking into “normalizing” the idea that an unborn fetus has little worth and no rights.  And if something unborn that merely looks human has no worth – why not apply the same principle to those who have been born but who do not produce or contribute anything that society deems important and of value?

I have argued since the advent of Roe v. Wade how that decision leads us down the slippery slope toward that kind of “ultimate solution.”  That argument was not based on any religious philosophy or morality which is, essentially, unarguable.  It was based on a doctrine of self-preservation.

We have already marched in the direction of being able to discriminate about who it is we allow to be born (in the same way that Hitler proposed eugenic solutions to the world’s problems).  And while those choices, however heinous they might be, are presently left to the individual, it is not a far reach to imagine that soon that choice may be made on our behalf by those “enlightened” ones who will be running our healthcare system.

At one point, with a limited population and comparatively primitive methods of producing food, we needed an underclass to spend their lives in slavery, in the fields, bringing in the crops that the privileged required to survive.  They may have been second class citizens but they were a necessary part of the economy.

Today, technology has largely eliminated the need for this group of people.  And rather than being important, though humble contributors, they are now devouring the fruits they once brought to the table by the sheer numbers in which they exist.  In other words, they are more of a burden than a benefit to society.

Is it really difficult to make the transition from the concept that “abortion is a woman’s right” to “it is the right of the government to determine how many children may be born and to whom?”  China went down that road.

And from there, is it really all that extreme to imagine a government which has taken to itself the right to determine “for the common good” – not only those who might be allowed to reproduce – but which of those who have already been born, serve a meaningful purpose that conforms to the government’s concepts of what is in everyone’s best interests.  The step toward euthanasia is a very short one from where we are today.  Obamacare and its equivalents in other countries where the state runs medical care are the first step down the path to darkness.

So in light of all that, it shouldn’t surprise us at the President’s statement that “Global Warming” is the greatest threat to planet Earth.  Assuming that he actually believes that, what better way is there to reduce human impact on our planet than to cull and reduce the human population?  Problem solved.

Like the Founding Fathers who girded themselves for the battle, let this be an open statement to the future Eugenics Police who may come for me.

I’m armed and won’t go down without a fight.

Happy belated Birthday, America.

WHEN GOVERNMENT INTERVENTION ACTUALLY MAKES SENSE

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.

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