Commentary Magazine


Posts For: September 23, 2012

The Answer Isn’t Blowin’ in the Wind

It has long been a contention of mine that the most important reason that governments shouldn’t make economic decisions, such as favoring one form of technology over another or bailing out a failing company, is that politicians—who are first, last, and always in the re-election business–can’t make decisions for economic reasons. They can only make decisions for political reasons.

Consider a thought experiment. Say there is a national widget crisis and there are two possible technological solutions to the problem. Most people in the widget industry think that technology A is the better bet. Technology B, however, has been researched by a company that has its headquarters and 40,000 employees in the state represented by Senator Snoot, who chairs the Senate Widget Committee. Which technology do you think Senator Snoot is going to favor? To be sure, he might put the national interest ahead of his political interests and thus become a candidate for a sequel to Profiles in Courage. But there’s a reason that that famous book is a very short one.

Read More

It has long been a contention of mine that the most important reason that governments shouldn’t make economic decisions, such as favoring one form of technology over another or bailing out a failing company, is that politicians—who are first, last, and always in the re-election business–can’t make decisions for economic reasons. They can only make decisions for political reasons.

Consider a thought experiment. Say there is a national widget crisis and there are two possible technological solutions to the problem. Most people in the widget industry think that technology A is the better bet. Technology B, however, has been researched by a company that has its headquarters and 40,000 employees in the state represented by Senator Snoot, who chairs the Senate Widget Committee. Which technology do you think Senator Snoot is going to favor? To be sure, he might put the national interest ahead of his political interests and thus become a candidate for a sequel to Profiles in Courage. But there’s a reason that that famous book is a very short one.

One of the major components of the left these days, and by no means just in the United States, is the so-called environmental movement (so-called because it is, at heart, a misanthropic and anti-business movement, not an environmental one). And one of their current hobby horses is “renewable energy,” such as wind and solar power.  Liberal politicians have relentlessly pushed for this, offering lavish subsidies and tax advantages, ($14 billion for wind energy in the United States alone in the last four years) even though wind and solar energy still cannot produce electricity at a cost that can compete with coal or natural gas on a per-kilowatt basis.

But over and above that, there is a huge problem with renewable energy sources that environmentalists and their political allies ignore. I’m not talking about the vast amount of land wind farms and solar arrays require, nor the environmental damage they cause by, in the case of wind farms, killing huge numbers of birds, nor the fact that wind and sun tend to be most abundantly found in areas where electricity demand is low, such as the high plains east of the Rockies, necessitating long, visually polluting transmission lines to where power is needed.

No, the number one economic problem in the electric generation industry is the fact that electricity cannot be stored. It must be generated at the moment it is needed. That is a very expensive fact, for it means that enough generating capacity must be built to meet peak demand, even though peak demand is encountered only rarely (such as on very hot summer afternoons). Much of the time, the excess capacity just expensively sits there.

But with coal, natural gas, or nuclear plants, at least that capacity can be called on whenever needed. That is not true of wind and solar. They generate electricity only when the wind is blowing and the sun is shining. So while theoretical capacity may be large, actual capacity can be anywhere from 100 percent to zero percent of theoretical capacity. Germany, for instance, is gung ho for renewable energy. The Telegraph (H/T Instapundit) reports that Germany has a theoretical wind generating capacity of 29 gigawatts, about one quarter of the country’s average demand. The average output of Germany’s wind generating capacity, however, is only 5 gigawatts, 17 percent of the theoretical amount.

Thus, in order to be sure the lights stay on, not only must Germany build an electric generating capacity able to deal with peak demand, it must build one able to deal with peak demand when the wind isn’t blowing. So instead of needing to be able to generate 100 percent of peak demand, it needs to be able to generate 100 percent plus whatever percent of the generating capacity is in renewables. Renewables, in other words, make the most expensive fact about the electric generating industry much more expensive.

It gets worse. Germany now requires that renewables get priority:

In fact, a mighty battle is now developing in Germany between green fantasists and practical realists. Because renewable energy must by law have priority in supplying the grid, the owners of conventional power stations, finding they have to run plants unprofitably, are so angry that they are threatening to close many of them down. The government response, astonishingly, has been to propose a new law forcing them to continue running their plants at a loss.

Electricity is at the heart of the new digital economy. As the New York Times reported this morning, the Internet is now using about 30 gigawatts of power. Much of that electricity is used to provide back-up systems to ensure no interruptions, because any interruption would be disastrous. And, according to The Telegraph, Germany is having increasing difficulty keeping its electric grid stable, thanks to its increasing reliance on renewables.

Invent (and patent) a way to store electricity in a cost-effective way, and you will become very, very, very rich. But until that happens (and it seems, at least at present, that the physics just isn’t there to allow that) renewable electricity capacity is, in fact, no capacity at all.

Read Less

The Obama Campaign’s Shameless Response to Romney’s Tax Returns

There continues to be a lively debate about whether Mitt Romney’s decision to release decades of information on his tax returns—which definitively proved false Harry Reid’s dishonest accusations from the Senate floor—will be strategically beneficial to the campaign. But it cannot be said that we didn’t know exactly how the Obama campaign would respond. Romney surely must have been aware that the shamelessness of the Obama campaign and its allies would persist—and in fact has reached new lows by attacking Romney for paying more in taxes than he had to.

Earlier in the campaign, the Obama camp taunted Romney with a public letter asking for five years of tax returns and promising they would not ask for more. I wrote at the time:

What the Obama campaign letter meant, of course, is that they will criticize Romney for whatever they find in those five years of tax returns relentlessly, while their allies “outside” the campaign, like Harry Reid, continue to attack the Romney campaign—uncoordinated, they swear!—for not releasing more.

Within 24 hours, the Obama campaign fulfilled what I must admit was among the easiest predictions to make. First, the campaign, according to Politico:

Read More

There continues to be a lively debate about whether Mitt Romney’s decision to release decades of information on his tax returns—which definitively proved false Harry Reid’s dishonest accusations from the Senate floor—will be strategically beneficial to the campaign. But it cannot be said that we didn’t know exactly how the Obama campaign would respond. Romney surely must have been aware that the shamelessness of the Obama campaign and its allies would persist—and in fact has reached new lows by attacking Romney for paying more in taxes than he had to.

Earlier in the campaign, the Obama camp taunted Romney with a public letter asking for five years of tax returns and promising they would not ask for more. I wrote at the time:

What the Obama campaign letter meant, of course, is that they will criticize Romney for whatever they find in those five years of tax returns relentlessly, while their allies “outside” the campaign, like Harry Reid, continue to attack the Romney campaign—uncoordinated, they swear!—for not releasing more.

Within 24 hours, the Obama campaign fulfilled what I must admit was among the easiest predictions to make. First, the campaign, according to Politico:

Why were more than 65% of pages related to overseas investments? Why did he have investments in a Chinese oil company? Why did he have dozens of foreign accounts and million stashed away in tax havens like the Caymans? [Obama campaign spokeswoman Jen] Psaki asked, according to a pool report.

But how do you criticize as secretive or dishonest a man who gave millions to charity and more to the government than he legally had to? Ladies and gentlemen, the majority leader of the United States Senate:

The information released today reveals that Mitt Romney manipulated one of the only two years of tax returns he’s seen fit to show the American people – and then only to ‘conform’ with his public statements. That raises the question: what else in those returns has Romney manipulated?

You almost can’t blame Reid for behaving this way. His fellow Democrats refuse to rein him in, and the media—which would be losing its mind if it were a Republican behaving this way—prefers to ignore it. He’s been given no reason to drop his inappropriate behavior.

This has been the general tone of the weekend. On ABC’s This Week, George Stephanopoulos asked David Axelrod if the Obama campaign would now turn from the tax returns to more serious topics, and Axelrod practically laughed at the question. No, there would be no Obama pivot to the issues.

Ironically, Stephanopoulos introduced a segment later in the show with a clip from the television show “The West Wing” in which the Democratic incumbent president’s staff decides their side is going to “raise the level of public debate in this country, and let that be our legacy”—though Stephanopoulos said that this must be Romney’s, not Obama’s, strategy going forward. On that, he appears to be correct. If the level of public discourse is going to be raised in this election, it will be on Romney to do so; the Obama campaign has politely—and sometimes not so politely—declined to participate in such a debate.

Read Less

What Egypt Wants: More U.S. Appeasement

Say this for Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi: he isn’t short of nerve. The Muslim Brotherhood leader has shoved aside the military and now presides over the most populous Arab nation with what appear to be few checks on his power. That gives him the confidence to tell the United States it must accept his Islamist government on its own terms and throw Israel under the bus. But it doesn’t mean he wants the American gravy train that funnels $1.5 billion to the Egyptian government to stop.

Morsi sat down with the New York Times for an interview that was published today and the portrait it paints of the Egyptian leader is one of a man who seems to have a fairly low opinion of President Obama. Rather than embrace an American leader who went out of his way to seek to win the heart of the Muslim world, Morsi thinks Obama needs to prove to Egyptians that he deserves to go on funding what is now an Islamist government. If that means accepting an Egypt that allows mobs to sack the U.S. embassy in Cairo before finally stepping in to halt the carnage, the Americans will have to like it or lump it. This attitude prompted even President Obama to say he wasn’t sure whether Egypt is an ally anymore (technically, it still is). But Morsi made it clear to the Times he’s going to be the one dictating the terms of the relationship, not the country that is continuing to fund Egypt. Even more important, by demanding that the Americans “must respect the Arab world’s history and culture, even when that conflicts with Western values,” Morsi laid down a marker that ensures that the West must either bow to Islamist sensibilities or face a continuance of outbreaks of violence like the ones we have seen the last two weeks.

Read More

Say this for Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi: he isn’t short of nerve. The Muslim Brotherhood leader has shoved aside the military and now presides over the most populous Arab nation with what appear to be few checks on his power. That gives him the confidence to tell the United States it must accept his Islamist government on its own terms and throw Israel under the bus. But it doesn’t mean he wants the American gravy train that funnels $1.5 billion to the Egyptian government to stop.

Morsi sat down with the New York Times for an interview that was published today and the portrait it paints of the Egyptian leader is one of a man who seems to have a fairly low opinion of President Obama. Rather than embrace an American leader who went out of his way to seek to win the heart of the Muslim world, Morsi thinks Obama needs to prove to Egyptians that he deserves to go on funding what is now an Islamist government. If that means accepting an Egypt that allows mobs to sack the U.S. embassy in Cairo before finally stepping in to halt the carnage, the Americans will have to like it or lump it. This attitude prompted even President Obama to say he wasn’t sure whether Egypt is an ally anymore (technically, it still is). But Morsi made it clear to the Times he’s going to be the one dictating the terms of the relationship, not the country that is continuing to fund Egypt. Even more important, by demanding that the Americans “must respect the Arab world’s history and culture, even when that conflicts with Western values,” Morsi laid down a marker that ensures that the West must either bow to Islamist sensibilities or face a continuance of outbreaks of violence like the ones we have seen the last two weeks.

Morsi shouldn’t be blamed for thinking he can get away with disrespect for the United States. In the last month, the Obama administration agreed to forgive part of Egypt’s debt and renewed aid as part of an effort to stabilize a nation that has gone from being a reliable ally under Hosni Mubarak to one that is not afraid to flaunt its friendship for Iran. Morsi responded by stalling (“We took our time”) before eventually shooing rioters out of the U.S. embassy in Cairo. Though that earned him an icy phone conversation with President Obama, he seems to still think he can set the terms of engagement between the two countries without any fear that Washington will pull the plug on aid.

When he tells the Times that Americans shouldn’t judge Egyptians by Western standards, what he is saying is that if Islamist mobs choose to rampage against embassies or demand the abridgement of free speech elsewhere, the U.S. must “respect” these values or face the consequences. While Morsi complains about videos that show disrespect to their religion, the Egyptian media is a cesspool of anti-Semitic and anti-Christian propaganda. President Obama is right. This isn’t an alliance. Under these circumstances it is something more akin to criminal extortion than friendship, no matter how you define that word.

On one other key point, Morsi is just as shameless. He says that if the United States wants Egypt to maintain the peace treaty it signed in 1979 with Israel, it must force the Jewish state to give self-rule to the Palestinians. While the Camp David Accords did include provisions about autonomy for the Palestinians, he ignores the fact that the 1993 Oslo agreement actually gave the Palestinians autonomy (the treaty with Egypt said nothing about an independent Palestinian state) but that Israel has gotten terror rather than peace in exchange for these concessions. More to the point, under Morsi, Egypt has allowed the Sinai to become a war zone as the latest cross-border attack on Friday proved. Though the Mubarak regime was often unhelpful to the cause of peace, the Morsi government’s ties with Hamas constitute a standing obstacle to any progress as well as a threat of more violence coming from the Sinai.

Having studied here in the 1980s, Morsi thinks he knows America. But his contempt for Western culture is such that he believes that he and other Islamists can dictate terms to the United States with impunity. President Obama’s attempt to win the hearts of minds of the Muslim world failed. But Morsi’s contempt is such that he believes he can demand more appeasement. Morsi says Egypt won’t live by American rules but he seems to think that the U.S. must accept his dictates. Given the refusal of the Obama administration to make him pay a price for this arrogance, there’s no reason for him think that he can’t get away with it.

Read Less

The Last Chance to Stop Obamacare

With only a little more than six weeks to go before the election, most consumers of political journalism have long since given up hoping major media outlets will write about anything but the horse race element of the story. The strategies, the gaffes, the attacks and, most of all the polls, are the main elements of coverage, as well as the topics for those of us who provide analysis. But every once in a while, we get a piece that reminds us of what all the shouting is actually about. Politico’s story published yesterday titled “Obamacare foes fear GOP losses,” is one such article. The headline may be fairly accused of stating the obvious but the story reminds the reader that the election this year is about something more than the egos of the politicians or their campaign gurus: if the Republicans don’t sweep Congress and the White House, the country will be irrevocably changed by the survival of the president’s signature health care legislation.

Obamacare isn’t the only important issue for voters to consider in November. Spending, taxes, the national debt and the related issue of entitlement reform are all crucial. So, too, are the foreign policy challenges that face the next president, a list that includes the deadly nuclear threat from Iran. But on no other issue is the choice so stark. It is, for example, theoretically possible that either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney will do what must be done to halt the debt crisis or to stop Iran. It is also possible that neither will do so. But there is no doubt that unless the GOP secures the presidency and majorities in both the upper and lower chambers of Congress, Obamacare will not be repealed. By the next midterm election, it will be too late to prevent the full implementation of the health care bill. Once that happens, dismantling the infrastructure of the new federal bureaucracy and entitlement will be beyond the capacity of even future conservative majorities. 2012 is simply the last chance to prevent the transformation of the nation’s health care and the massive expansion of government power. If that doesn’t concentrate the minds of an American people that polls tell us overwhelming favor repeal, nothing will.

Read More

With only a little more than six weeks to go before the election, most consumers of political journalism have long since given up hoping major media outlets will write about anything but the horse race element of the story. The strategies, the gaffes, the attacks and, most of all the polls, are the main elements of coverage, as well as the topics for those of us who provide analysis. But every once in a while, we get a piece that reminds us of what all the shouting is actually about. Politico’s story published yesterday titled “Obamacare foes fear GOP losses,” is one such article. The headline may be fairly accused of stating the obvious but the story reminds the reader that the election this year is about something more than the egos of the politicians or their campaign gurus: if the Republicans don’t sweep Congress and the White House, the country will be irrevocably changed by the survival of the president’s signature health care legislation.

Obamacare isn’t the only important issue for voters to consider in November. Spending, taxes, the national debt and the related issue of entitlement reform are all crucial. So, too, are the foreign policy challenges that face the next president, a list that includes the deadly nuclear threat from Iran. But on no other issue is the choice so stark. It is, for example, theoretically possible that either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney will do what must be done to halt the debt crisis or to stop Iran. It is also possible that neither will do so. But there is no doubt that unless the GOP secures the presidency and majorities in both the upper and lower chambers of Congress, Obamacare will not be repealed. By the next midterm election, it will be too late to prevent the full implementation of the health care bill. Once that happens, dismantling the infrastructure of the new federal bureaucracy and entitlement will be beyond the capacity of even future conservative majorities. 2012 is simply the last chance to prevent the transformation of the nation’s health care and the massive expansion of government power. If that doesn’t concentrate the minds of an American people that polls tell us overwhelming favor repeal, nothing will.

Opponents say they will never stop fighting the bill. But after the unprincipled and cowardly reversal of Chief Justice John Roberts that enabled the administration to fend off a challenge to Obamacare’s constitutionality, the only plausible option is repeal. Attempts to nip at the edges of the problem via funding cuts would make implementation more cumbersome but it would not stop it. It is simply a fact that once the federal insurance exchanges are put in place and all the other elements of the new infrastructure of American health care have been established, including the personal mandate that will require individuals to purchase insurance, dismantling all of that will be impossible. The quality and the nature of health care in this country will be fundamentally altered for the worse.

Once freedom is lost to governments, recovering those rights is always an uphill climb. The erosion of personal liberty under the Obamacare regime will be great. Along with the intrusion of the government into health care policy that is the inevitable result of the legislation, the mandate to impose payment for services like abortion and contraception will change the definition of religious freedom in the United States for the worse. Liberty of conscience to refuse to pay for things that violate the religious precepts of believers will be severely restricted. Once lost, these rights may never be recovered.

Cynics are fond of saying that while the political class has much to gain and lose on Election Day, the public has little stake in the outcome. There is often a kernel of truth in this observation, but not in 2012. Obamacare means this time the life and the rights of every American will be changed by the results.

Read Less

A Heartening Sign in Benghazi

After many dismaying days of watching anti-American protests across the Middle East, galvanized by an obscure anti-Mohammad video made by someone or other, Americans now have a protest to cheer: Libyans have taken to the streets en masse in Benghazi to make clear their anger at the militia groups they hold responsible for the attack that killed the popular American ambassador Chris Stevens and three of his colleagues. Fed up that Libya’s nascent, moderate government is unable to disarm militias, the people have taken the task into their own hands, forcibly disarming several militia groups and storming the headquarters of the extremist Ansar al Sharia group. Some 30,000 people marched through Benghazi, bearing signs that included “We want justice for Chris” and “The ambassador was Libya’s friend.” Protesters even chanted at Ansar al Sharia members: “You terrorists, you cowards. Go back to Afghanistan.”

This is, to put it mildly, heartening, and it shows that the people of Libya are hardly the anti-American radicals that many imagine them to be based on the actions of a few hotheads. One obvious takeaway is that the Middle East is not a uniform mass of sharia-spouting, America-hating crazies–which is, alas, the crude stereotype which remains popular in too many corners of the West. There are, in fact, complex forces at play and, while the radicals may grab the headlines, there is a “silent majority”–in the case of Libya, silent no more–that is more interested in peaceful social and economic development than it is in waging jihad against the West.

Read More

After many dismaying days of watching anti-American protests across the Middle East, galvanized by an obscure anti-Mohammad video made by someone or other, Americans now have a protest to cheer: Libyans have taken to the streets en masse in Benghazi to make clear their anger at the militia groups they hold responsible for the attack that killed the popular American ambassador Chris Stevens and three of his colleagues. Fed up that Libya’s nascent, moderate government is unable to disarm militias, the people have taken the task into their own hands, forcibly disarming several militia groups and storming the headquarters of the extremist Ansar al Sharia group. Some 30,000 people marched through Benghazi, bearing signs that included “We want justice for Chris” and “The ambassador was Libya’s friend.” Protesters even chanted at Ansar al Sharia members: “You terrorists, you cowards. Go back to Afghanistan.”

This is, to put it mildly, heartening, and it shows that the people of Libya are hardly the anti-American radicals that many imagine them to be based on the actions of a few hotheads. One obvious takeaway is that the Middle East is not a uniform mass of sharia-spouting, America-hating crazies–which is, alas, the crude stereotype which remains popular in too many corners of the West. There are, in fact, complex forces at play and, while the radicals may grab the headlines, there is a “silent majority”–in the case of Libya, silent no more–that is more interested in peaceful social and economic development than it is in waging jihad against the West.

A second lesson from the Libya protests is that this is the payoff from an intervention to topple a hated dictator–America has plainly won the hearts of many in Libya, just as it did previously in Bosnia, Kosovo, and the Kurdish region of Iraq. That does not, of course, mean that all Libyans love us–the extremists who killed our ambassador plainly did not–but it does mean that there is an undercurrent of sympathy for America that is not present in countries where we are associated with unpopular dictatorial regimes. We now have an opportunity to win popular favor in Syria or else suffer the opprobrium of allowing a terrible bloodletting to occur while we do nothing–which many Syrians will no doubt interpret as tacit American support for the hated Assad regime.

A third and final lesson is the need for follow-through–it is not enough to topple a dictator; it is just as important to establish order in his wake–something the Bush administration failed to do in Iraq and Afghanistan and that the Obama administration failed to do in Libya. The counsels of those of us who favored the dispatch of an international peacekeeping force to Libya after the successful NATO intervention were ignored. The result is the continuing chaos (although admittedly it is by no means a sure thing that an international force could have imposed order; it might even have sparked greater conflict). It is not, however, too late: Libya now has a moderate, pro-American government that is struggling to control its territory. While some isolationists in Congress argue that, in the wake of Stevens’s death, we should cut off aid to Libya, our proper course is just the opposite: We must increase aid, including the dispatch of military equipment and advisers, to create a national army and police force robust enough to keep order.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.