June 19, 2008 [LINK / comment]
Offshore drilling: s-l-o-w fix
... As in, it's not a quick fix. The fact that it will take years for the benefits of drilling for oil in coastal waters to take effect does not mean we should give up on the idea altogether. In fact, the long-term nature of said benefits is one of the favorite excuses for those who would just as soon keep a tight rein on energy supplies. (Why would they want to do that? See below.) One of the many collateral benefits of the recent surge in energy prices is that it has forced political leaders to reexamine domestic hydrocarbon production policy. After years of putting it off because of environmental fears, we may see a mad rush for offshore drilling like what happened in Texas and Oklahoma at the turn of the last Century. That is not the right way to address the underlying problem.
Yesterday President Bush joined Senator John McCain in calling on Congress to lift the ban on offshore oil drilling. See Washington Post. It's a rare case where the political dynamics of a major policy issue favor the Republicans this election year, so they will have to avoid pushing too hard, or else it will seem cynical and hollow. As long as McCain presents this initiative as part of an overall strategy to rely upon free markets to solve national problems, he will get a large number of votes from independents.
But there is also a national security angle: News of Venezuela's connections to Hezbollah reinforces the urgency of increasing domestic production so as to lower our dependence on foreign sources of oil, which are often unreliable or even dangerous to us. Also, China has been exploring for oil in waters off the shore of Cuba that may be within the U.S. exclusive economic zone. See American Free Press, and sign the petition being sponsored by American Solutions; hat tip to David Wright.
Here in Virginia, Delegate Chris Saxman is preparing legislation that would
dedicate any future revenues or royalties paid to the Commonwealth [from offshore natural gas and oil] to the Transportation Trust Fund, in order that those funds be used to pay for our on-going transportation needs.
That sounds quite appropriate. The main thing is to ensure that oil and gas drilling adhere to the highest standards of safety, to minimize the risk of an environmental disaster. Of course, there is no way of knowing how much oil and gas are to be found off the Virginia coast, which is not very long compared to other Atlantic states, in any case.
I often have mixed feelings about New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, who tends to be an aloof, pro-globalization elitist, but he aptly ridicules the whole "quick fix" mentality exhibited by most Democrats and even some Republicans. He is absolutely correct to point out the obvious fact that the basic reason why energy prices are skyrocketing is because of the booming economies in China, India, and other parts of Asia -- you know, the countries where they make all that stuff we buy at WalMart. I agree wholeheartedly with his criticisms of McCain-Clinton summertime gas-tax "holiday," or the offer by gas-guzzler manufacturers to subsidize gasoline for three years. He paints a very accurate picture of the fundamental problem with U.S. energy policy, which is the widespread attitude of denial in the American public.
I would go one step further than Friedman: Anyone who thinks that anything close to the current level of gasoline consumption in this country can be sustained for another decade is totally out of their mind. Yes, I am aware that most Americans probably do think just that. Now, perhaps WaPo columnnist Charles Krauthammer was correct to say that "At $4, Everybody Gets Rational," meaning that they start to make the necessary lifestyle adjustments at that particular price point, but I think he is being prematurely (and uncharacteristically) optimistic. If you ask me, major changes in Americans' driving habits, etc. won't happen until the price gets near $5 a gallon, which would trigger a deep recession like in the 1970s. We are all in for one hell of a rude shock, and we shouldn't deceive ourselves that drilling more oil wells is going to cure all our ills.
The politics of scarcity
If you listen closely to many Democrats in Congress, they seek to put an artificial lid on energy supplies, even while they demand lower prices. Why would anyone deliberate pursue such a self-contradictory set of policies? Well, it's a clever left-wing populist trick to appeal to people's craving for cheap gasoline while making them feel good about themselves. The only way to accomplish both objectives (tight supplies, low prices) is by rationing gasoline, as was done during World War II, but in this case it would be the first step toward a government-dominated socialist economic system. It's like what Rush Limbaugh says about environmental activists (many, not all): they use their purported cause of defending Mother Nature as a Trojan Horse to advance their Marxist agenda.
Rights for terrorists?
The 5-4 decision by the Supreme Court to allow terrorist suspects the right to appeal for trial or release brought into sharp relief one of the major issues of the fall presidential campaign. John McCain has taken some flak from the press for siding strongly with the Bush administration on this issue, and I'm glad he is sticking to his guns. It's not just about pandering to the Republican base, as his critics say, there is a compelling national security interest at stake. Associate Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote for the majority in this case, "The laws and Constitution are designed to survive, and remain in force, in extraordinary times." (See Washington Post.) I take it he reject's Richard A. Posner's assertion that the Constitution is not a suicide pact. (That's the title of a book he wrote; see amazon.com.) As for Guantanamo, it is well and good to restrain presidential power and provide some legal recourse, but I still think that for most of those being detained there, they should "throw away the key!"