How to Save America( for a while): Go Venezuelan

“Hey! Matilda, Matilda, Matilda, she take me money and run Venezuela.” Harry Belafonte, 1953

In the wake of the Keystone XL pipeline cancellation(or delay, depending on where you stand), the quantum increase in proven reserves of recoverable hydrocarbons in North America has been covered even more by those in favor of their development.  It isn’t just about opening ANWR anymore.  We are talking about oil and gas from North Dakota and Ohio, among other places.  That’s right, Ohio!

This has to do with oil prices pretty steady close to a hundred dollars a barrel and the “fracking revolution” which is actually  a refinement of long used techniques. Environmental lobbies predict near doomsday scenarios of poisoned aquifers and human  caused earthquakes, while proponents feel  we cannot afford not to develop these resources.

Given the Obama’ administration’s green predilection, it would seem we should  expect continued opposition to traditional energy development in the US. The congress thought so when Republicans  put a rider in an appropriations bill forcing Mr. Obama to say up or down within 90 days, when the administration planned to make its decision ion on the pipeline, already studied for three years, after the election this year.

Pro oil and gas folks naturally expected him to cancel it at that point so forced him to do it up front.  I’m not so sure it would played out this way.  Let’s try a little thought experiment.

The US is saddled with massive debt, and there is even greater liability off the books than the enormous sum the government does acknowledge.  Debt free government is a thing of the past, but  if we are to avoid default or monetizaton and hyperinflation,  the debt to GDP ratio needs to return to historic norms, and this appears politically impossible.

So we are screwed, right?

Perhaps not right away.

The President, in his State of the Union address,  while excoriating Big Oil ( who doesn’t? Not me, but I’m not a politician) announced a comprehensive plan to open up the majority of offshore potential for drilling.

Pre-election positioning or a sign of something larger?

Imagine a second Obama administration, free of any constraint, and without a need to secure its base.  The administration could then open the way to massive development of hydrocarbon based energy sources.  A  NIxon going to China moment?

Not at all,  More like Obama going to Venezuela.  The revenues could be used to support his statist projects in green energy, as well as maintain and expand the welfare state – and keep the bond ratings agencies at bay as deficits grew at a slower rate.

This tack could assure democrat administrations for some time to come, but Democrat or Republican in the White House, would the government be wise enough  to avoid the resource trap?

We could use the windfall to finance a sovereign wealth fund, as did Norway, squander it as did Britain, or if we really have as much as some experts figure, export it like crazy, and use the receipts to fund popular subsidies and prop up ailing nationalized industries, as in Venezuela.

Which would you bet on?

So, instead of “take me money and run Venezuela, it would be “Take the

money and run the country like Venezuela.”  Mr. Belafonte would no doubt approve.

The Smartest Guy in the Room Misspeaks Himself – Again

In the President’s weekly address he  outlines   some initiatives he is taking on increasing tourism to the US.  This is critical because:

“Tourism is the number one service we export.”

Yup, really, that’s what he said.  Honest. Check it out at – before someone redacts it.

This is right up there with “57 states,”(There are 57 countries in the  OIC, hmm…), “corpseman,” “intercontinental railroad” and Austrian as a language.

In fact, it’s a classic Bushism.

Obama goes on to detail a coming  initiative to expedite entry for frequent travelers.  Surprising, as the program is already in place.  I know, because an ICE inspector gave me a brochure on it the last time I went through SFO.

The President goes on to outline some other travel policies that sound quite sensible.  Apparently it’s Congress’ fault for not having thought of these, so Obama must take executive action – and tell us all about his decisiveness.

Then a diversion to No Child Left Behind, and a weak segue back to tourism.

This guy isn’t eloquent under the best of circumstances.

He is a clown.  Let’s elect a different one in November.  You know, spread the wealth.

Iraq: What Were You Thinking?

(I’m a bit late coming to the table commenting on Iraq.  Mass opposition to the war seemed to vanish with President Obama’ s inauguration. The war is officially over and while some fault the President for leaving the job uncompleted, it was a task that could never be finished, short of a war of annhilation.

Obama’s far more tentative moves to influence events in the Arab world are equally misguided and based on similar utopian fantasy, but have the saving grace of costing far less in treasure, and nothing in our blood.  We will again reap humiliation and disappointment, but at a cost of mere billions, rather than trillions.  The Iraq War above all other trends and events, is the source of the Obama presidency.)


Toward the end of  “Band of Brothers” there is a scene in which GIs riding comfortably in a deuce and half taunt German POWs who are walking to the rear, with their wounded riding in horse drawn wagons:

Hey, you! That’s right, you stupid Kraut bastards! That’s right! Say hello to Ford, and General fuckin’ Motors! You stupid fascist pigs! Look at you! You have horses! What were you thinking? Dragging our asses half way around the world, interrupting our lives… For what, you ignorant, servile scum! What the fuck are we doing here?

Even Hollywood is right sometimes.

Truly a great moment, but one long gone.   Tonight, I caught snatches of  “The Green Zone” as I was making dinner.  It was by extension the standard, “Bush lied, people died” narrative, and ends with  Matt Damon as a whistle blower emailing all the media the “truth” about  WMD, a twenty first century remake  of the scene where Robert Redford pauses before walking into the New York Times in “Three Days of the Condor.”

Yet the film is worthwhile, for the Iraq War needs no propagandist’s frame to demonstrate its utter futility.

What were you thinking?   Did you sleep through college American History when they covered Woodrow Wilson’s Mexican intervention?  Did you think that rather than making the world safe for Democracy, that attempting that only in the MIddle East would be more manageable?

U.S.occupation of Veracruz, Mexico, April 1914

Did you ever speak to anyone, anyone at all, who had some knowledge of Islam and had perhaps spent some time in the Middle East, so as to know, that the Arabs would never put aside their arms  and join Israel in making the deserts bloom?

But Saddam is  gone, you say,  the Iraqis free.  A murderer and a sadist, and his sons worse yet, might still be there. Yes, they are gone; but the North Koreans  live on in privation that any Iraqi, even today cannot conceive.  Did yo pick Iraq because it was “doable?”

But we thought he had WMD; the intel was bad.  Today we have Iran on the brink and Pakistan transporting warheads around utility  vans, and of course, North Korea. If the intel was bad, it was your job to spot the flaws.

What were you thinking?

US AC47 Gunship raining fie on the outskirts of Saigon, 1965. Saigon, like Baghdad was never entirely secure. But there was plenty of beer.

Were you certain  our technology and wealth would prevail?  You had then, never landed at Ton Son Nhut in the 60ss, seen the aircraft parked wing to wing as far as the eye could see, and then in the evening watched firefights between the ARVIN and The Viet Cong at the end of the runway, while having a few beers on the rooftop of the Caravelle.  And tipping the barman,  as a joke said, “Vive Ho Chi MInh,” to find him in delighted agreement.

Toward the end of The Green Zone, on of the characters says to Damon, it is not for you to say what happens here.  No it wasn’t ,nor was it in Saigon, or Veracruz.  Like any many Americans across the political spectrum, I opposed this war from the very first, as I had opposed the Gulf War before it, and for the same reason.  These places simply are not fighting worth fighting for, and were they we would not fight on our own.

Yet, in the first days, I could not but help feel proud as our boys the young Americans and Brits rolled toward victory in armored columns.  Remember this picture well, for you shall not see it again.  This folly has robbed us of  the ability to wage righteous war for at least a generation, if not forever.

What were you thinking?

Were you nostalgic for the unequivocal victory of World War Two and the prosperous and just peace that followed, and having failed  in Viet Nam, did you want to give it one more try just to show that we still have it in us?  Could you not see that in liberating Western Europe we were helping nations that had authentic traditions of sovereignty and cultural institutions much like our own? And that our people were largely willing to join in a struggle to not only defend their own shores, but save peoples not dissimilar from them?  Did it not occur to you that the best we’ve done since, in wars where these conditions did not obtain  is pull a draw in Korea?

What were you thinking?

Did you think that you could remake a country with pallets of dollars despite the absence of any scale of historical, cultural and linguistic understanding of the place? “The Green Zone”  – accurately I’m sure -shows the bustling self important functionaries, with their phones, laptops, and ear buds, taking the situation in hand,  as well a s the sophisticated weaponry and command/control that would surely subdue insurgents with their AKs and RPGs.

Defense Chief McNamara arrives at Ton Son Nhut, April 1964

How do I know this is an accurate portrayal?  Because we have seen it all before, the crew cut guys with white shirts and ties, showing Macnamara around.  Did you think that money and and hubristic engineering could solve all problems?.  McNamara wanted to build  a fence around Vietnam,  and someone in DOD had the idea of ln6yofting a huge inflatable artificial moon into orbit to disrupt Viet Cong sleep patterns.  He couldn’t get the funding. This time, there were no limits.

What were you thinking?

Did you think the greatly lessened lethality of modern war, purchased at extraordinary financial cost, would make this more palatable?  That a war fought by a professional military would not raise substantial objection as it dragged on inconclusively if the public at large was not involved? If the relatively small number of dead and maimed were distributed across the vast country, and came often from communities of little influence, small town and rural, black and Hispanic?

You too, are ” ignorant, servile scum,” slaves to your utopian illusions.

Low Voltage Sales May Mean End of People’s Green Car

…but not an end to the impulses that led to the latest, or soon to be latest, green disaster.

The Volt is likely soon to join distinguished company: The Edsel, Gremlin, Pinto, and of course, the Yugo (Image: Sodahead)

GM said it would sell 10,000 of its signature electric, the Chevy Volt, a key component of Obama’s “Green Jobs” push.  Reuters reports that final sales for 2011 were “around 8000.”

The spin never quite stops.  While mathematically, it’s fair to round up, the actual figure of 7,671 looks even worse.  On the bright side, that’s 329 massive,toxic batteries that will not have to be disposed of one day.

Although its hard to track down totals( Neil Cavuto on Fox wasn’t quit able to), a large portion of  2011 Volt sales are to fleet buyers, prominent among whom is GE.  No surprise here, as GE has long since ditched its role of a quality American producer of electrical and industrial goods, from light bulbs to locomotives, in favor of the security of being a government favored enterprise.  Municipal governments have also been buyers in Michigan, Florida, where federal funding was used, New York City, Las Vegas, and of course the Feds are in for a few as well.  A more exhaustive search might well come up with further examples.

GM’s agreement to build  Volts in China leads some to think that production might be offshored entirely, while others think that line production will soon end, with volts being made only to order,


Some commenters on an earlier posthere on the Volt defended the government’s

The Volt has done better than this 70s Soviet Electric, with a total production of 47.

role in electric vehicle development by citing spin offs from defense research and development.  They have it backwards.  The internet wasn’t invented so I could write this post; GPS wasn’t developed so amateur hikers who couldn’t run compass courses didn’t get lost.  The government developed these technologies in carrying  out its constitutional mandate to defend the nation. Further developments in the private sector brought the technology to the consumer, and government uses privately developed technology as well.  The drone operator using a joystick is utilizing technology developed for missile control, game playing, and industrial uses, a  continuous cross fertilization going back many decades.

German prisoners near Giesen, 1945. Remarkably advanced engineering. There was nothing like it in America. Yet the disciplined German collective lost .

The German National Socialists did have  a vision of prosperous citizens zipping about the autobahn in “people’s cars”, but the Volks with its air cooled engine and the advanced road network were developed for military purposes. The Russians didn’t put the first Sputnik up so I could one day watch American cable here in Bali, but to develop their military communication and spying capability.

Soviet irrigation projects dried up most of theAral sea, ending a productive fishery.

The Soviets wanted to build a Socialist man.  Stalin thought he could change the drainage of Eurasia, and Khrushchev made the deserts bloom, and then added the Aral sea to the expanding sands.  The Volt springs from a softer, but quite recognizable  collectivist impulse

This is the hubris of the Left.  It waxes and wanes, but never changes.  The Left sees the world as it is and then tries  to reshape it, without reference to human nature, laws of economics,  or even physics.  Obama and Chu want us driving electrics, and  bring the influence of government to bear, so that we who need instruction, learn, and follow the proper path.

A momentary triumph of the collective.

But while our leaders work from a collectivist impulse we are not yet a collective.

Reality never matches the collectivist ideal.

Consumers in the old East Bloc had a limited choice of goods, many of which no one wanted in any case.  In the United Sates, the administration and GM cannot force the Volt on us, and have instead used borrowed dollars for subsidies to supplement moral suasion in trying to induce consumers to want the car. One would hope that the President and his faction would learn from this, but given the history of the Left, this is unlikely. Rather , should this administration continue in power, more likley, while compulsion is not yet possible, incentive may be replaced with penalty.  Rather than a bayonet, six dollar gasoline.

(Meanwhile, in other news: BMW sales reach record highs…)


Thomas Wolfe and Smirnoff in the Morning: American FWIA-DFW

Some years ago I for a while experienced a lovely recurring dream. It is night time, somewhere on the rural edge of a sleeping suburb. I stand on my deck and look out across sloping lawns towards other houses tucked in for the night. A midsummer night scented with life. The moon is full, and casts not the cold whiteness that frightens in scary stories, but an almost golden light, palpable and soothing. It is warm, but not hot.  Against the background of crickets an occasional night bird.

Slowly, calmly, as it seems to be no surprise to me, I start to rise, higher and higher so that first I see my house, and its neighbors nestled among the darker forms of trees in summer leaf. The sleeping town a pool of light, other settlements glowing warm in all directions, knit together by empty roads, the sleeping homes and towns secure in a restful darkness. All around the loom of distant wooded hills..

I am filled with a calm, wordless joy at the fullness of life.

The genesis of this vision most likely was a night flight from Portland to SFO that followed 101 south, the small islands of light of places like Willits and Cloverdale forming an archipelagic string of light parallel to the blackness of the Coast Range. Now, I’ve found a way to experience this as a waking dream.

American to DFW is the earliest flight out of Fort Wayne. I took it first when later trips were full now I always take it on my way back to the West Coast, The airport is empty; too early even to get a coffee, but this means a quick pass through security where the TSA folks must be morning people who have asked for this shift because they are friendly, welcoming and solicitous of passengers who may be sleepwalking.  Customers for these early morning regionals are generally a cheerful lot, not the grumpy sleep deprived that one would expect. Getting such an early start on the day feels like an accomplishment, so pre dawn fliers, if not exactly smug, seem pleased with themselves.

This morning there is a bit of a hitch: It is announced that the toilet is out of service, and that anyone who can’t hold it until DFW should consider another flight. The flight attendant, a tall young Asian woman, named, Asia,-yup -that’s right -reiterates the announcement as we strap in, and just as we take off the pilot says if any body really really has to go, we’ll land some where. He seems pretty cheerful,and I suspect the folks up front have been enjoying a little early morning bathroom humor

First the grid lines of semi urbanized Fort Wayne, then across Indiana and Illinois the chess boards of county roads dotted with farm towns, a major highway cutting across the symmetry here and there, and a faint tinge of dawn on the eastern horizon. Missouris, the lights and towns, some only hamlets sheltering in a fold of hills, are scattered, the more poignant for shining alone.

And in the cabin, a little bit of excellent customer service. Asia announces that drinks and snacks will be free for the first service , so I have some trail mix and a Bloody Marry. First a toast with the Cabo bound couple across the aisle, then sip and sip again, as the dawn line reddens. Nose against the port, transfixed, so that Asia has to nudge me a couple of times to get my attention before she drops more Smirnoff and trail mix.

“I thought it was only the first round?”

“This is still the first round”

We have a brief chat. She is Hoa – Vietnamese Chinese – and say she was very young when her parents arrived. She spends a lot of her time in Australia where she also has family. Her accent reflects both her adopted countries as well as her origin,Her accent reflects both her adopted countries as well as her origin, There is a story there, but not time, or perhaps the place for it,

There are times when you should drink in the morning, and this is one.

This morning I don’t want to argue about population displacement, genocide, railroad robber barons manifest destiny, or any of the disputatious the history that spread this country from one sea to another, The human landscape we have together created is lovely beyond telling and shines out into the night. In the blackness it is easier to see what binds us. The road the ties not only of commerce, but of communities that labor together so that night will not prevail.

Trying to see, no, breathe all this in, I think of Thomas Wolfe, who felt at at times an ecstasy over the richness of the land and its people, and in great torrents of words and sentences tumbling towards the revelation that he never quite could quite reach, made his point all the same.

What Wolfe couldn’t have imagined was that this mysticism of the ordinary would one day be open to all, He traveled by train, and saw the lighted Pullmans rushing through the darkness asthe province of an elect.

To anyone outside, a speeding train is a thunderbolt of driving rods, a hot hiss of steam, a blurred flash of coaches, a wall of movement and of noise, a shriek, a wail, and then just emptiness and absence, with a feeling of “There goes everybody!” without knowing who anybody is. And all of a sudden the watcher feels the vastness and loneliness of America, and the nothingness of all those little lives hurled past upon the immensity of the continent. But if one is inside the train, everything is different. The train itself is a miracle of man’s handiwork, and everything about it is eloquent of human purpose and direction…One’s own sense of manhood and of mastery is heightened by being on a train.

Now, despite bag charges, fuel surcharges and ridiculous prices for prepackaged food and drink, the sleepers in the towns below can and do ride above just as easily as I am now. With this different and expanded view, I’m sure Wolfe would see union, not separation.

And while the .sleeping car porters are long gone, we have Asia this morning.

Racing the ribbon of dawn. The stars and the waxing moon are still there, but day is asserting itself. The engine pitch changes and the the plains and rolling hills of Texas are below. In one glance the balance between night and day has shifted. Roads converge and in the distance the glassy towers of a great city reflect the first rays of the sun.

Lower and developments with Tudor mansions nestle in copses of oak, and closer in more modest tracts where swimming pools seem the norm. A few thousand feet above the homes of many thousands of strangers, one feels strangely intimate with these people, the evidence of whose lives fills the view.

The the last few seconds of descent, the final moments of the omniscience of the air traveler.