"Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government." Thomas Jefferson

The Archie Bunkers of Settled Science

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA Read Comments - 18
Publish Date: 
Thu, 10/09/2014


As if on cue, settled-science believer Auden Schendler delivered a punishing retort in the Aspen Times to my recent column, “Inconvenient Truths Denied By Climate Faithful.”


Archie Bunker-like in frustration, Schendler wants me to stifle myself. If I don’t “dummy up” like Archie’s wife Edith, he suggests Aspen Times editors Think Again before publishing my commentary without peer-reviews -- or risk “being complicit in promoting falsehoods.”


Schendler calls this “ground-truthing of scientific claims,” noting the Los Angeles Times doesn’t publish pieces that “deny established climate science.” Like Robert Kennedy Jr. who recently called for jailing treasonous nonconformists who break with “settled-science” orthodoxy, Schendler insists it’s not censorship when there’s no argument.


My crime – tantamount to “yelling ‘fire’ in a movie theater” – is considering climate change “a naturally reoccurring phenomenon to which mankind has always adapted, and still can.” Apparently, I can’t acknowledge earth’s warming and ice-age cycles without embracing political agendas that require living standard cuts -- lifestyle sacrifices activists won’t acknowledge and elites like Kennedy, Al Gore and Leonardo DiCaprio won’t obey.


Resisting cataclysmic theorizers and their “starve the peasants to save the pheasants” thinking, I criticized alarmists who “invoke the moral equivalent of Holocaust denial to reject those deeming climate change less dangerous than other threats.” I did so believing an economically robust and energy-secure America is the ultimate threat-deterrent.


Today I’d add to my threat list the failure of public institutions to protect and serve Americans, considering recent incompetence, corruption and unaccountability in government agencies – those Schendler wants to grant unprecedented powers to centrally plan and control economic life.


Though denounced by climate “groupthinkers,” dissidents like me are troubled by “the stunning failure of…doomsday-predicting models to forecast warming’s nearly 18-year pause (confirmed by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) or Al Gore’s 2007 prediction that polar bears’ Arctic habitat would be ice-free by 2013.”


These irrefutable observations riled Schendler. Accusing me of “cherry-picking data,” he contends I’m “willfully blind or statistically illiterate to claim warming has stopped.” Citing a Politifact article to support his contention, he apparently overlooked the fact-checker’s concession that “over roughly the past 15 years, global surface temperatures have plateaued.” 


So who’s the “meathead,” considering widespread acceptance of unexpected global temperature stability, and the existence of more Arctic ice than in 2007 – never mind record Antarctic ice levels?


As if answering this question, President Obama’s former Undersecretary of Energy Steve Koonin wrote a consensus-disrupting op-ed -- “Climate science is not settled.”  Lamenting how the settled-science claim “demeans and chills the scientific enterprise” and distorts “policy debates on issues related to energy, greenhouse-gas emissions and the environment,” Koonin argues “we are very far from the knowledge needed to make good climate policy.”


Noting warming’s pause amid rising CO2 emissions, Koonin posits, “natural influences and variability are powerful enough to counteract the present warming influence exerted by human activity.” Despite “different explanations for this [prediction] failure … the whole episode,” he concludes, “continues to highlight the limits of our modeling.”


IPCC lead author Kevin Trenberth admitted this in one of the embarrassing emails leaked in the “Climategate” scandal of 2009. “The fact is,” he wrote, “we can’t account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty.” 


Probing the disconnect between observed temperatures and predictions, the Economist asked, “Who pressed the pause button?” in a March 2014 global warming article. Because “the models embody the state of climate knowledge,” they concluded, “if they are wrong, the knowledge is probably faulty, too.”


Even the LA Times broke with the climate consensus, reporting last month “naturally occurring changes in winds, not human-caused climate change, are responsible for most of the warming on land and in the sea along the West Coast of North America over the last century.”


Meanwhile, amid calls to stifle climate debates, technological breakthroughs have made America the world’s most energy-endowed nation, possessing more oil than Saudi Arabia and more natural gas than Russia. 


In substituting lower-carbon resources for coal, we’ve hit the energy jackpot: cheaper energy (a rebate for the poor and an offset of foreign manufacturers’ cheap labor advantages); cleaner air; new jobs; increased governmental revenues; greater energy independence; and CO2 emissions at a 20-year low, outpacing Europe whose expensive renewable-energy strategies have failed.


Despite these advantages, activists refusing to moderate their climate conclusions – no matter the evidence -- rally to curb the development of our cheapest energy resources, denying citizens who can’t afford Whole Foods environmentalism the benefits of our energy bounty.


Unfortunately, except for the rich, Americans are suffering crisis levels of income stagnation, underemployment, economic immobility and poverty. These truths -- not doomsday predictions -- preoccupy Americans.


Think Again – Climate-mongers intent on squashing free inquiry and expression insist dissenters are “dead from the neck up,” Archie Bunker-style.  But being “meatheads” is not our destiny, if we refuse to stifle ourselves.


Inequality and A Tale of Two Ukrainians

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA Read Comments - 7
Publish Date: 
Thu, 02/27/2014


Last week, as Ukrainian émigré-turned-tech tycoon Jan Koum prepared to cash a multi-billion dollar check from Facebook -- acquirer of his start-up “WhatsApp” -- Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich was checking-out of his Gatsby-esque estate where he’d cached his stolen plunder.

That the two Ukrainians derived their riches under diametrically opposed systems – free enterprise versus banana republic – Illustrates why all income inequalities are not created equal.  

Most don’t resent the rich -- only the undeservedly rich – as a recent Venezuelan protest sign conveyed: “These Castro-Chavistas speak like Marx, govern like Stalin, and live like Rockefeller, while the people suffer!”

Koum’s affluence springs from a free society in which everyone has a God-given right to go as far as their work and talent will take them. Yanukovich’s hijacked wealth is exploitive, depriving others of dignity, opportunity, and economic mobility. One system disperses power as it champions an individual’s right to pursue happiness; the other concentrates it while stifling human potential.

There will always be a top 1%. The question is: will they be hardworking and productive people whose value creation benefits society – think Steve Jobs and JK Rowling -- or cronies living off perks extracted from the labor of the little people? 

In America, we have increasing numbers of both which is why we must Think Again before allowing policymakers to concentrate more power in the name of social justice. In fact, economic liberalization is the real cure.

Economically freer countries enjoy greater growth, opportunity, civil rights and health, as evident in the yawning gap between North and South Korea, and in Asia where hundreds of millions have escaped grinding poverty.

To secure their freedoms, Ukrainian protestors resemble Koum’s mother. She fled Kiev for California in 1992 with 16-year-old Jan in search of religious liberty, privacy from Ukraine’s surveillance state and the opportunity to realize a better life.

Though they struggled upon arrival, relying on public assistance, Jan’s climb from food stamps to Facebook fortune was jagged and improbable -- a journey he honored by signing the $19 billion sale agreement outside the building that once housed the food stamp office.

The Koum tale is a triumph made possible by America’s system of free enterprise and limited government, which produced human history’s most dynamic and decent society.

Today the American Dream is increasingly out-of-reach for those stuck in government dependency or struggling to survive amidst stagnant wages, declining job mobility, and ever-increasing health care, food and energy costs. 

Confusing the symptom with the disease, President Obama rails against income inequality, pronouncing it “the defining challenge of our time.” But he has it backwards -- economic stagnation causes income inequality, not vice versa.

Obama also ignores the social mobility-impairing trend of single motherhood, which exploded from 4 percent in 1960 to 42 percent currently, accounting for 50 percent of chronic poverty.

Instead of targeted policies to eradicate poverty – eliminating welfare’s marriage penalty and allowing parents to choose the school that’s best for their child --- Obama’s proposed minimum wage hike and unemployment-insurance extension are mere Band-Aids on the cancer of opportunity inequality.

Five years of Obama’s trickle-down-government policies have buoyed Wall Street, corporate America and Washington, DC where seven of America’s wealthiest counties reside – like the capital of “Hunger Games” whose powerful aristocracy lives off the tribute paid by impoverished citizens in the territories.

Despite trillions of stimulus and War on Poverty spending -- causing debt to swell 63 percent -- the nearly five-year economic recovery has one-quarter the GDP growth rate of the Reagan recovery. Though the stock market has doubled, median household income fell 6 percent, labor force participation hit a 35-year low, and a record 47 million Americans now live in poverty.

While not Yanukovich-style graft, our government transfers hundreds of billions of dollars annually to the affluent, thanks to cronyism, corporate welfare and entitlement programs that don’t distinguish between ordinary Americans and corporate jet owners.

Last year, America’s richest 10% captured the greatest share of pre-tax income growth since the Roaring 20’s, according to University of California-Berkeley economist Emanuel Saez.  He also showed the top 1% capturing 95 percent of income gains during the Obama Recovery (2009-present), compared to 65 percent during the Bush expansion (2002-2007).

That so many Americans have fallen behind is both appalling and avoidable, and a reflection of America’s deteriorating freedoms.  Formerly second in the Wall Street Journal/Heritage Index of Economic Freedom behind Hong Kong, America is now twelfth -- below Estonia.

Bequeathing our children an economically stagnant America is a choice, not a destiny.  Our real “defining challenge” is to restore the growth that creates jobs, opportunity, social mobility and future Jan Koum’s.

Think Again -- Shouldn’t our goal be to unleash the dreams and talents of all Americans – especially former food stamp clients – so they can lead fulfilling and happy lives?


Tyranny of Bureaucracy

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA Read Comments - 11
Publish Date: 
Thu, 06/06/2013


In his 1980s comedy routine, Yakov Smirnoff celebrated America’s free society and equality before the law, joking: “In America you can always find a party. In Russia, Party always finds you! In America, you break law. In Soviet Russia, law breaks you!"  


In the wake of scandals involving the abuse of governmental power, Americans must Think Again about Smirnoff’s ironic word plays. As we’re learning, the ruling Party can find and break you – despite constitutional protections.


Today, our federal government is the nation’s largest spender, debtor, lender, employer, contractor, property owner, insurer, healthcare provider, and pension guarantor. What it doesn’t directly control, its unchecked bureaucracy can ban or mandate.  Moreover, the Justice Department’s wiretapping of journalists and the demotion of Benghazi whistleblower Gregory Hicks at the State Department have impeded the watchdog media’s ability to assure a free flow of information between the people and our government. Even New York Times reporters aren’t getting calls returned.


Meanwhile, large swaths of America are in no mood to party -- especially the Tea Party -- after getting trapped in the government’s dragnet and subjected to personally invasive, banana republic-like scrutiny. Along with other conservative, pro-Israel and religious groups, their First Amendment rights -- freedoms of association, speech and religion -- were systematically abridged by the most feared agency of the government, the IRS.


After unfairly applying tax-exempt laws and divulging personal files to media site ProPublica, Americans worry the IRS can’t be trusted to impartially and confidentially administer 47 new healthcare provisions and 18 new taxes.  Mistrust spiked after learning the IRS’s Obamacare office is led by the same manager who oversaw and ignored abuse in the tax-exempt entities office. Adding fiscal insult to political injury, revelations about the IRS’s lavish spending culture – especially its $4 million employee boondoggle – prompted Jay Leno to suggest we close the IRS, not Gitmo.


Though government officials acknowledge the IRS’s “inexcusable” and “inconsistent” application of the law -- and notwithstanding their apologies for the “unprecedented” abuse of power -- many Americans are gleeful that political groups with which they disagree were muffled, as video-blogger Caleb Bonham discovered when inviting students in Boulder, Colorado to sign his gigantic thank you card to the IRS. Ironically, students in Bonham’s viral video cheerfully endorsed the harassment and intimidation of fellow citizens, unmindful that coercive government could one day crash their party.


Quick to call limited-government types devils incarnate, and inspired by politicians for whom there can be no honest difference of opinion, hyper-partisans are willing to commit fellow countrymen to an administrative Star Chamber, simply because they identify with different values. But nothing is more destructive to our social fabric and antithetical to America’s founding principles than the abuse of federal power to stifle dissident opinion, as Smirnoff knows and our founders feared. That’s why our founders devised a system to protect the very liberties that are currently under assault.


Defending limited government and our system of checks and balances, James Madison penned this famous argument: “What is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men ... controls on government would (not) be necessary. In framing a government, ... you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself."


Clearly, our government is out-of-control, as recent revelations of government over-reach, excess and incompetence testify. The federal bureaucracy has morphed into a government of special interests, by the bureaucrats, and for the political class. Occupy Wall Street meets the Tea Party at the intersection of their contempt for a government that routinely presses its massive thumb on the scale of justice, picks winners and losers, and gives sweetheart deals to well-connected cronies.


As law professor Jonathan Turley described in an eye-opening Washington Post op-ed, the administrative state has grown so powerful and independent, it constitutes a fourth branch of government whose impact on citizens’ lives is larger than the other three branches combined. Composed of 15 departments, 452 agencies, and 2.8 million unelected and inaccessible bureaucrats, it’s less transparent and more unaccountable than other branches.  “We cannot long protect liberty,” Turley concludes, “if our leaders continue to act like mere bystanders to the work of government.”


This fourth branch is our founders’ nightmare, and an assault on their constitutional principles: government by consent, separation of powers and equal rights of individuals. To preserve the system that is the source of our flourishing and the bedrock of our culture, we’ll need “a new birth of freedom,” as Abraham Lincoln yearned, so that “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”


Think Again. We wouldn’t want to be like the USSR where, Smirnoff says, comedians could crack jokes about leaders -- but only once.


In Discerning Frack From Fiction, What's Relevant?

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA Read Comments - 11
Publish Date: 
Thu, 03/14/2013


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?

Restoring the Last Best Hope of Earth

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA Read Comments - 8
Publish Date: 
Thu, 10/25/2012


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.



The Green Wizard: Natural Gas Not Renewables

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA Read Comments - 5
Publish Date: 
Thu, 05/10/2012


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.


Sex, Lies and Videotaped Government Scandals

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA Read Comments - 4
Publish Date: 
Thu, 04/26/2012


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.




As economy tanks, leadership runs on empty

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA Read Comments - 1
Publish Date: 
Thu, 06/09/2011

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.

Gasoline prices have accelerated past $4 per gallon, so denouncing and punishing oil companies for the 35 percent annual increase may feel cathartic. It's instantly gratifying to blame high prices on those who charge them, rather than on those who cause them, especially since higher gas prices disproportionately hurt the poor, dampen consumer spending and weaken the U.S. economy.

However, I urge you to Think Again. The truth is that U.S. oil companies are no more to blame for high gas prices than Zale's is to blame for high gold prices. Americans have the right to know the truth, and our elected leaders must speak the truth — that a weak dollar and supply-and-demand disequilibrium in the global oil markets are principally responsible for increasing gasoline prices.

Instead, lawmakers explain economic misfortune as the consequence not of bad policies, but of evildoers gaming the system, while they identify a group rich and unpopular enough to look the part. Politicians are like magician David Copperfield. They expertly distract with one hand so we don't notice what the other is doing. They've scored political points by accusing “Big Oil” of “price gouging,” reaping “windfall profits,” and not paying their “fair share” of taxes.

However popular, this narrative has no basis in fact or economic logic. With an effective income-tax rate of 43 percent (from 2006-2010), U.S. oil companies were actually the most heavily taxed of all Fortune 500 companies (whose effective tax rates averaged 27 percent). Compare that to the rates paid by GE (9 percent), Pfizer (15 percent), and both Verizon and Coca Cola (21 percent), and the argument that major oil companies are under-taxed evaporates.

If Big Oil's profits were exorbitant, they'd earn more than other U.S. companies, right? In fact, 2010 U.S. oil industry profits per dollar of sales were six cents compared to nine cents for manufacturing companies, 17 cents for computers and 22 cents for beverage and tobacco. Furthermore, U.S. oil majors can't set prices because they only hold a combined 3 percent of the world's reserves. Not surprisingly, the oil industry's return on investment has often lagged the average return for the S&P since 1982.

If policy-makers were responsible, they would stop hunting for villains and focus instead on securing America's fiscal and debt situation to strengthen the dollar. When each dollar buys more oil, gas prices will decline. They would also acknowledge that even as our energy sector necessarily diversifies, oil will continue to be a key element of our national energy portfolio for many decades.

Why spend billions on foreign oil when we could invest those dollars domestically? With the oil-rich Mideast in turmoil and the U.S. importing 63 percent of our oil, lawmakers must re-examine policies that severely restrict access to American oil bounties along the Atlantic coastline, the Gulf of Mexico and the Alaskan tundra.

Yes, there are real though localized risks inherent in drilling. However, just as the tragic loss of Apollo 1 served as a valuable lesson to NASA for subsequent space missions, so too must last-year's Gulf oil spill aid us in the safe and productive development of our energy resources. Tapping reserves kept off-limits by Congress would mean significant economic growth, potentially trillions in tax revenue, a million new energy-related jobs, increased energy security and lower U.S. energy prices.

These benefits are magnified with new discoveries of shale gas, and breakthroughs in extraction technology, which have massively increased natural gas reserves while lowering the cost of production. Pulitzer-prize winning energy expert Daniel Yergin believes these cheap and vast natural gas reserves have the potential to make the U.S. a net exporter of natural gas while fueling our vehicles and powering our utilities.

Michael Lind (no global-warming denier) wrote a surprising essay in the liberal journal Salon titled, “Everything You've Heard About Fossil Fuels May Be Wrong.” He credits the natural gas boom in saying, “It appears that there may be enough accessible hydrocarbons to power industrial civilization for centuries, if not millennia.” Lind argues that “without massive, permanent government subsidies ... wind and solar power may never be able to compete. For that reason, some Greens hope to shut down shale gas.”

Clearly the demonizing of Big Oil (and probably gas) will linger. With the economic and security stakes so high, next time a politician claims we'd feel less pain at the pump if Big Oil felt more pain on April 15, advise him to Think Again. Otherwise, he'll feel pain on another important date — in November 2012!

That's how to end the political blame-game.


Green Dream: Red Nightmare for Taxpayers

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA Read Comments - 0
Publish Date: 
Thu, 09/15/2011


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?

But a funny thing happened on the way to green utopia. High-paying, clean-tech jobs were a cornerstone of the 2009 stimulus bill, which appropriated $80 billion to promote the “green economy.” Yet, instead of putting us on the green-brick road to recovery, we've learned that subsidizing industry merely results in red — lost jobs, squandered taxpayer resources, scandalous bankruptcies and diminished prosperity. “Green” proponents whose policies produced these shameful outcomes should be red-faced and prepared to Think Again.

With nearly one in six Americans living in poverty — the largest total since tracking began in 1959 (according to newly released Census data), and persistently high unemployment, Americans desperately want to believe the green-jobs predictions of advocates like Van Jones, who wrote “The Green Collar Economy: How One Solution Can Fix Our Two Biggest Problems.”

Yet the reality is that these lofty job creation projections are wrong, as detailed in last month's New York Times story “Number of Green Jobs Fails to Live Up to Promises.” The Times concluded, ”such numbers are a pipe dream” because, as they've previously reported, wind power costs 50 percent more than conventional power, and solar-generated electricity costs up to three times more than wind power. Shifting resources toward less-efficient purposes inevitably results in less prosperity — fewer jobs at lower pay.

Furthermore, in order to compete, renewable energy sources require costly government subsidies, price floors or purchase mandates. Consequently, green policies actually increase energy prices, undermine the economy, destroy jobs and hurt consumers, especially the poorest whose family budgets are consumed by escalating costs for everything. Exacerbating things further, energy prices increase when potential suppliers and energy entrepreneurs redirect scarce capital away from government-manipulated markets.

For these reasons, renewable energies produce only 3 percent of U.S. electricity and remain a fledgling global industry, despite having enjoyed enormous government support in the U.S., Europe and China. Given the industry's small size and inherent unviability, allowing China to subsidize production to remain the lower-cost manufacturer is logical and prudent.

The question remains: Why didn't we examine the troubling European experience with the green-economy strategy before launching our own? After a decade of experimentation and faced with job losses, higher energy prices, economic stagnation and corruption, European governments have cut their green funding. Kenneth Green of the American Enterprise Institute summarizes the findings of research studies conducted across Europe: For every green job created, green programs destroyed 2.2 jobs in Spain and 3.7 jobs in the U.K., while the capital needed for one green job in Italy could create almost five jobs in the general economy. Wind and solar power have raised energy prices by 7.5 percent in Germany, and caused Denmark to have the highest electricity prices in Europe.

Perhaps U.S. policymakers ignored the European experience because they wanted the power and resources to pick winners and losers in the energy sector and to dispense favors to political patrons. But when government presses its massive thumb on the market scale, businesses have huge incentives to win favors through lobbying and campaign contributions. This is not only economically damaging, it's the definition of crony capitalism, the destructive consequences of which were exposed last month by the bankruptcies of three politically connected U.S. solar companies — Solyndra of California, Evergreen Solar of Massachusetts and SpectraWatt of New York. All were showcases for the green-jobs strategy, so their demise has eliminated thousands of these jobs.

Solyndra, whose major shareholder is a significant political donor, was the first clean-tech company to receive a loan-guarantee following passage of the stimulus bill, even though the Energy Department credit committee had already unanimously rejected the loan in early January 2009. ABC News reported Tuesday that Solyndra is under criminal investigation because newly uncovered emails show that they might have bypassed normal vetting procedures in obtaining their loan approval, despite being deemed a high risk.

Even if corruption wasn't a factor, the Solyndra debacle demonstrates the ineptitude of government officials when speculating with other people's money — they pale in comparison to more experienced investors who risk their own money.

So after examining the results, it's that clear green policies haven't made us happier, healthier and richer. Instead, they've lowered living standards globally and weakened the technological progress that market forces usually deliver, distracting us from finding optimal solutions to the economic and environmental challenges we face.

Like the proverbial vampire who fears daylight, optimal solutions are the last thing “green energy” proponents want to see. Given the economic bloodletting, American policymakers must Think Again and drive a stake through the vampire's green heart.

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