Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
Last week political, media and celebrity worlds converged to produce headlines worthy of “News of the Weird.” Sean Penn eulogized anti-American strongman Hugo Chavez as “a friend [America] never knew it had,” while Dennis Rodman declared North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un “an awesome guy.” Upon returning from the starving gulag-state, Rodman scored a coveted Sunday interview with George Stephanopoulos and CNN declared him a “diplomatic triumph.”
But perhaps the most captivating cause célèbre -- likely to transform advocates into media and campus darlings -- is the crusade to halt the drilling innovation called hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”). However, if you expect those aspiring to star in the next “China Syndrome” to possess more scruples than Rodman or Penn, Think Again. Though fracking has opened up vast reserves of clean, cheap, and reliable natural gas in shale-rock deep underground, making America the world’s largest natural gas producer, it’s a bête noire to enviro-stars like Matt Damon.
In his new movie “Promised Land,” Damon doubled down on alarming claims made in Josh Fox’s Oscar-nominated documentary “Gasland,” even copying the signature scene of a man lighting tap water on fire. Wanting another environmental blockbuster like “The China Syndrome” -- whose release days before Three Mile Island’s near meltdown devastated the nuclear power industry -- Damon aimed to stoke natural gas fears. However, not only has mass hysteria not materialized, his film is a box-office and financial bust for investors, including oil-rich United Arab Emirates.
Damon’s conceit derives from the frenzy generated by “Gasland’s” Fox, who claims fracking causes “toxic streams, ruined aquifers, dying livestock, shocking illnesses and tap water that bursts into flames.” Media jumped on the anti-natural gas bandwagon, including the New York Times, prompting its ombudsman to twice rebuke Times’ editors and staff for biased reporting and questionable ethics.
Meanwhile, aware that “natural” gas occurs naturally in water where there’s methane-rich soil (like Burning Springs, New York) and of stories about George Washington lighting water on fire, former Financial Times reporter Phelim McAleer started an 18-month investigation to uncover the truth about fracking and “Gasland’s” startling allegations.
His just released documentary ”Fracknation” was financed on-line with donations averaging $64 and has won plaudits for exposing enviro-hucksters while championing their victims: Variety called it “a well-reasoned film…. [that] makes a good case against Fox’s movie,” and the New York Times said it’s “no tossed-off, pro-business pamphlet” but “methodically researched and assembled.”
Its pivotal scene is of McAleer questioning Fox at a 2011 screening of “Gasland” about his famous flaming faucets. “Isn’t it true,” McAleer asks, “there’s reports, decades before fracking started, that there was methane in the water there?” Aware of these scientific studies, and galled by the question’s ethical implications, Fox declares contradictory evidence “not relevant,” as if documentarians enjoy the same dramatic license as fictional filmmakers.
But if facts and scientific proof aren’t relevant, what is? Are Fox and Damon intent on reverse-engineering arguments from pre-ordained conclusions, or informing the public? As with all types of energy production, fracking involves legitimate risks; why not focus on assuring regulatory best practices?
The truth is technological innovations like fracking have spawned an energy boom, enabling both economic and environmental improvements including: the substitution of low-carbon gas for coal; cheaper energy (a rebate for the poor); cleaner air; new energy jobs; increased governmental revenues; greater energy independence; a drop in U.S. carbon-dioxide emissions to a 20-year low, outpacing Europe whose expensive renewable-energy strategies have underperformed; and improved energy efficiency -- it takes 50 percent less energy to produce one dollar of economic output than it did in 1980.
Anti-frackers should learn John Meynard Keynes' lesson: “When my information changes, I alter my conclusions.” What’s irrefutably relevant is that fracking has succeeded where renewable-energy subsidies, government stimulus, and climate treaties have failed, potentially enabling cheap American energy to eventually offset China’s cheap labor advantage.
These upside surprises come when entrepreneurial thinkers “dream things that never were and say ‘why not’,” as Robert Kennedy famously said. One dreamer, biologist Allan Savory, spoke at TED2013 of his odyssey to reverse global desertification, which degrades the land’s ability to absorb water and carbon causing famine, war and climate change. Savory described how he challenged his assumptions – ones that led him to mistakenly recommend killing 40,000 African elephants -- and centuries of conventional wisdom, deriving a counter-intuitive low-tech strategy to use grazing livestock to reclaim the land. At first he met bruising academic scorn, then astonishing and indisputable success.
Savory predicts his soil restoration strategy, if employed on half the available land, will enable enough carbon absorption to return to pre-industrial carbon-dioxide levels. Drawing a standing ovation he said, “I can think of almost nothing that offers more hope for our planet, for our children, for their children, and for all of humanity.”
Think Again – Aren’t the real celebrities innovators who solve seemingly intractable problems, not eco-stars who peddle fiction?
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
During the Civil War when the union’s preservation and slavery’s abolition were in doubt, President Lincoln roused the nation with his dream “of a place and a time where America will once again be seen as the last best hope of earth.” In rekindling our Founders’ vision, Lincoln helped assure that America would become the freest and most prosperous nation on earth, a status successive US presidents have dutifully maintained, or they were cast aside by voters.
As Americans Think Again about President Obama, consider that no president has won re-election amid such economic stagnation, declining incomes, high gas prices and business pessimism. Living astonishingly beyond our means and more indebted than any other nation in world history, Americans face a reduced standard of living, diminished opportunities for our children, and a weakened capacity to secure our national interests in a menacing world.
After trillions in fiscal and monetary stimulus, the 39-month old economic recovery has one-seventh the GDP growth rate of the Reagan recovery in which double-digit inflation and interest rates were also slain. With 261,000 fewer jobs today than January 2009 (despite population growth of 9 million), exploding poverty, government dependency, and income inequality imperil Lincoln’s dream.
During the economic turmoil of 2008, Obama sounded Lincoln-esque, promising to “provide good jobs to the jobless…secure our nation and restore our image as the last best hope on Earth.” But unlike Presidents Kennedy, Reagan and Clinton who understood the benefits of economic growth policies – more and better jobs, larger paychecks, growing tax revenues without tax rate increases, and deficit and debt mitigation -- Obama doubled down on government-centric and budget-busting policies.
Having inherited a government moving in the wrong direction on bailouts, spending, deficits and debt accumulation, Obama floored the gas. Though critical of Bush’s $4 trillion in accumulated debt and vowing to halve the annual deficit by now, Obama has run four successive trillion-dollar deficits – each nearly triple Bush’s average -- while increasing debt nearly $6 trillion to a sum ($16.1 trillion) that exceeds the US economy. Historically, America’s economy has grown faster than its debt -- until Obama, under whom debt is growing $2.50 for every dollar of GDP growth.
With 10,000 baby boomers turning 65 every day, manditory expenditures for Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid are exploding, consuming more annually than the combined cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and TARP bailouts. Rather than address the looming entitlement crisis, Obama’s budget projects massive deficits and $20 trillion in debt by the end of his second term. So fiscally irresponsible, not one member of Congress -- not even a single Democrat -- has voted to approve either of Obama’s last two annual budgets.
Meanwhile, with Democrats in complete control of Congress through January 2011, Obama’s signature legislative “reforms” – Obamacare and Dodd-Frank – ignored Republican solutions, and imposed thousands of complex regulations and new taxes on the private economy, nearly paralyzing job creation and economic growth.
Though sold as “Wall Street reform”, Dodd-Frank makes bailouts more likely by designating selected banks “too-big-to-fail” and failing to reform the financial crisis’ real culprits -- housing-finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. With smaller banks competitively disadvantaged, lending is down, consumer prices are up, and expensive consultants, like the former chiefs-of-staff to both Dodd and Frank, are in demand.
Neither is Obamacare meeting its promises. Insurance premiums are up $2,500 and according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), Obamacare will cost nearly twice its original estimate, leave 30 million Americans uninsured, and cause 20 million people to lose their employer-provided health insurance. Additionally, it imposes 20 new taxes on families and small businesses and incentivizes employers to hire part-time instead of full-time workers.
Thanks to recent technological breakthroughs, America is now the most energy-endowed nation in the world. Allowing the responsible development of our resources would generate millions of jobs while turbo-charging the economy and revitalizing distressed communities. Yet despite promising an “all-of-the-above” energy policy while investing $90 billion in uncompetitive green energy companies, Obama blocked the Keystone XL pipeline and reduced drilling permits on public lands by 36 percent, compared to increases of 116 and 58 percent under Bush and Clinton, respectively.
Meanwhile, GDP growth slumped to 1.3 percent in the second quarter, but Obama proposes to increase tax rates on “millionaires and billionaires” (individuals and small businesses making over $250,000) to promote fairness, after opposing them in 2010 when the economy was growing at twice its current rate. But how can it be fair to implement a policy that the CBO considers economically injurious and would yield only enough revenue to fund 8.5 days of government spending? Given Obama’s track record, how could another four years of the same policies result in enough economic growth to overcome our economic challenges?
Mindful of these challenges and eager to diffuse the debt bomb while preserving entitlement programs for future generations, Governor Romney proposes to expand the private economy with spending, regulatory, tax and entitlement reforms reminiscent of those enacted by Kennedy, Reagan and Clinton – modern America’s most successful economic stewards. Romney proposes to cut tax rates by 20 percent for all Americans while maintaining the same share of taxes paid by the wealthy. But unlike Bush, he’ll pay for them by eliminating expensive loopholes only accessible to wealthy individuals and companies like GE.
Divided as we were during the Civil War, Americans long to be unified by a leader, like Lincoln, committed to expanding liberty and increasing individual opportunity -- the source of human flourishing and America’s promise.
Think Again – only by restoring these cultural bulwarks can we pass our children a strong America, and remain the last best hope of earth.
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
As if accompanying Dorothy en route to the Emerald City of Oz, Americans seek a green wizard to fulfill our hearts’ desires -- a world powered by renewable energies like solar, wind and bio-fuels. Bedazzled by Glenda the Good Witch’s solar-powered ruby slippers, we want the green-brick-road to lead us to a cleaner energy future.
However, without Auntie Em to awaken us to reality, Americans must Think Again. Though cast as the Wicked Witch of the West, over the last decade the conventional energy industry has revolutionized America’s energy outlook. Today we’re the most energy-endowed nation in the world, with enough clean, reliable, abundant, and cheap natural gas to last for generations.
It’s “like adding another Venezuela or Kuwait by 2020”, according to Pulitzer-prize winning energy expert Daniel Yergin who believes the world energy map now centers on North America, not the Middle East. Energy consultant Wood Mackenzie estimates that tapping new reserves would generate one million jobs by 2018 and generate $803 billion in governmental revenue through 2030. Additionally, these new extraction technologies require far fewer wells, though they present fresh environmental challenges that several states (including Colorado) have addressed with new regulations to protect the environment and secure water supplies.
Thus, rather than crucify the conventional energy industry, we should celebrate the entrepreneurialism and technological ingenuity that’s enabled the US to become a net energy exporter for the first time since 1949. The government need only permit development of new reserves -- not subsidize -- to further American energy independence, fuel our vehicles, lower energy costs and reap economic gains.
Meanwhile, promoters of green energy policies continue to argue that “investments” in renewable energies are environmental and job-creation boons for America, though our journey along the green-brick-road proves otherwise. Whether evaluating wind power in tornado-swept Kansas or solar energy in sunny California, renewable technologies are woefully uneconomical, wickedly unreliable and surprisingly unsound environmentally.
It’s understandable Americans dream green, considering we were told in 2008 that by investing $150 billion over the next decade in renewable energies, we’d reap five million new jobs. But as former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers noted, “The government is a crappy venture capitalist”. That’s because lobbying prowess and political viability outweigh economic viability when government picks winners and losers.
After “investing” $110 billion since 2009, the sector is littered with taxpayer backed, bankrupt companies like Solyndra, Beacon Power, and Ener1, all of which paid bonuses before going under. Reuters reported last month “the wind industry… has shed 10,000 jobs since 2009 even as the energy capacity of wind farms has nearly doubled”… while the demonized “oil and gas industry added 75,000 jobs.”
The truth is, industries that aren’t economically viable don’t create real jobs, and those that are viable, don’t need subsidies. Plagued by competitive disadvantages like sun and wind intermittency, and expensive land, capital, transmission and backup capacity, these technologies are uncompetitive, small market players and remain subsidy-dependent.
Despite receiving 53.5 percent of federal financial support for the electric power sector, wind and solar supply only four percent of US power at a cost 100-300 percent more than conventional sources, according to the Energy Information Administration. A University of Wyoming study notes that because green policies increase prices, the “economic benefits derived from building renewable energy facilities in the short-run are more than offset by losses in economic output and employment”, thus hurting the poorest and most vulnerable.
Additionally, given renewables’ green patina, many don’t appreciate their adverse environmental impacts beyond the eyesore, noise, water usage, and wildlife destruction. Called “energy sprawl” by the Nature Conservancy, renewable energies require vastly more land while producing significantly less energy than conventional energy. Most disconcerting, their incurable intermittency requires utilities to rely on conventional power to cycle up when there’s no wind or sun, and power down when there is, thus diminishing carbon reduction advantages.
If policymakers weren’t brainless scarecrows, cowardly lions and heartless tin men, they’d adopt Bill Gates’ proposition that cheap energy is “a fantastic vaccine” for the economy. That’s what Americans deserve – a booster shot to deliver authentic solutions, real jobs and genuine economic growth. Moving beyond fossil fuels will happen eventually when superior and affordable energies are scaled for mass use.
Energy development isn’t a zero sum game, as the Wyoming study concludes: “Environmentally responsible development of fossil fuel resources could be complementary with renewable energy development, creating jobs and generating tax revenues to ensure a robust economy capable of creating and funding innovative renewable energy technologies of the future.”
Given our economic straits and the remoteness of the green dream, the underlying question is how much more are Americans willing to pay to harness wind and sun. Isn’t it time to demand that our leaders propose energy solutions based not on ideology but on how to best guarantee prosperity for generations of Americans?
Think Again – a secure, affordable and environmentally sound energy future is not over the rainbow.
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
What do you get when you cross George Orwell’s Animal Farm with John Belushi’s Animal House? Government Gone Wild!
If you assume that’s the title of a porn movie about U.S. secret service agents cavorting with prostitutes in foreign countries, or employees of the U.S. Government Services Administration (the GSA manages federally-owned property) whooping it up in Las Vegas at taxpayers’ expense, Think Again.
The hard truth is that the larger government grows, the more Orwellian and “Animal House” its conduct. Belushi’s character “Bluto” exercised no greater restraint around free beer than did GSA Regional Director Neely and his employees, whose exploits at their $823,000 Las Vegas “team-building” soirée were videotaped, only to dominate newscasts this month. Bluto couldn’t have carpe diem-ed on his parents’ allowance better than Neely who wrote in an invitation to personal friends: “We’ll pick up the room tab…. I know I’m bad, but…why not enjoy it while we have it….Ain’t gonna last forever.”
Since government depends on resources drawn from the real economy, consider these facts: after the GSA’s Inspector-General reported Neely’s misconduct, Neely still received a 2011 bonus; the average GSA salary is nearly $92,000, $40,000 more than median household income; and the GSA’s budget rose 119 percent in 2011. Furthermore, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office reported this January that federal employees enjoy greater job security and earn significantly higher compensation compared to private-sector workers.
Having worked in a large bureaucracy (the World Bank), I believe most public servants are decent, skilled, and dedicated, though rarely are “per diem” allowances unspent, or self-justifications un-uttered. It’s a truism that people won’t spend other people’s money as carefully as they spend their own. Unlike household budgets that strive to boost savings by minimizing expenses, government bureaucracies spend what they’re given while justifying more for next year. They also lack the expertise and market discipline to “invest” wisely, evidenced by “green investments” in now-bankrupt companies like Solyndra.
Here's the ultimate question: why transfer more money from the real economy to those who are intrinsically more wasteful, negligent and indifferent to its ultimate good? To curb Bluto-like behavior, voters mustn’t allow irresponsible conduct they wouldn’t otherwise tolerate. If your child spent irresponsibly while racking up credit-card debts, wouldn’t you confiscate his card? Good governance, like good parenting, means establishing and enforcing reasonable limits.
Yet, politicians charged with stewarding America’s finances have acted like the pigs in Animal Farm who pronounced “all animals are equal, except some are more equal than others.” Exempted from the self-discipline and frugality associated with American Exceptionalism and prosperity, they’ve presided over the greatest scandal -- an explosion of government, an avalanche of debt and the mugging of our children’s future.
April 29th marks the third consecutive year in which the Senate hasn’t passed a budget. Vested with the authority to confront and steer America through fiscal problems, the Senators’ inaction reflects the ultimate “piggish” dereliction of duty. It’s also illegal, though conveniently, there’s no penalty for breaking the 1974 Budget Act.
Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad said last year, “History is going to judge whether we have the courage, character, and the vision to stand up for America’s future. Those who take a walk, those who turn away, those who don’t have the gumption to stand up, are going to be judged very, very harshly.” Though Conrad intended to pass a budget resolution this month, he was over-ruled by Senate leadership. Believing they can evade electoral consequences by not voting on difficult budget matters, they mirror the corrupt, greedy, and myopic leadership of the pigs in Animal Farm.
Economist Milton Friedman, one of America’s greatest apostles for freedom and free markets, believed politicians are finger-in-the-wind types who can be trained: “The important thing is to establish a political climate of opinion which will make it politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right thing. Unless it’s politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right thing, the right people will not do the right thing either.”
In other words, the onus is on us. Politicians will concern themselves with our interests only if they think we care. If we don’t care that they’ve violated the law by refusing to adopt a budget, and that they’ve spent us $16 trillion into debt, what do we care about?
Demand accountability and restraint, and don’t allow the word trillion to be normalized, after all, a trillion hours ago dinosaurs roamed the earth! Don’t wait for the right people to get elected; remember, Bluto became a US Senator despite his 0.0 GPA. It’s a basic rule of life -- If we tolerate out-of-control Animal House behavior and indifferent Animal Farm attitudes, we’ll just get more of it.
Think Again. It’s not only a fiscal imperative -- it’s a moral one.
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
Vice President Hubert Humphrey said, “To err is human, to blame it on someone else is politics.” As predictable as the sunrise, when gasoline prices increase, politicians wax indignant, cast blame and threaten U.S. oil companies with increased taxes and investigations into market manipulation.
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
Winston Churchill famously quipped, “However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.” What could be more beautiful, never mind seductive, than the strategy to promote renewable energies and a “green economy,” heralded as cure-alls for America's greatest challenges, most particularly economic stagnation?