January 22, 2012

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Robert Samuelson launches on the Keystone decision.

President Obama’s rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico is an act of national insanity. It isn’t often that a president makes a decision that has no redeeming virtues and — beyond the symbolism — won’t even advance the goals of the groups that demanded it. All it tells us is that Obama is so obsessed with his reelection that, through some sort of political calculus, he believes that placating his environmental supporters will improve his chances.

Aside from the political and public relations victory, environmentalists won’t get much. Stopping the pipeline won’t halt the development of tar sands, to which the Canadian government is committed; therefore, there will be little effect on global-warming emissions. Indeed, Obama’s decision might add to them. If Canada builds a pipeline from Alberta to the Pacific for export to Asia, moving all that oil across the ocean by tanker will create extra emissions. There will also be the risk of added spills.

Now consider how Obama’s decision hurts the United States. For starters, it insults and antagonizes a strong ally; getting future Canadian cooperation on other issues will be harder. Next, it threatens a large source of relatively secure oil that, combined with new discoveries in the United States, could reduce (though not eliminate) our dependence on insecure foreign oil.

Finally, Obama’s decision forgoes all the project’s jobs. …


Joel Kotkin explains the decision in terms of the great American divide.

America has two basic economies, and the division increasingly defines its politics. One, concentrated on the coasts and in college towns, focuses on the business of images, digits and transactions. The other, located largely in the southeast, Texas and the Heartland, makes its living in more traditional industries, from agriculture and manufacturing to fossil fuel development.

Traditionally these two economies coexisted without interfering with the progress of the other. Wealthier gentry-dominated regions generally eschewed getting their hands dirty so that they could maintain the amenities that draw the so-called creative class and affluent trustifarians. The more traditionally based regions focused, largely uninhibited, on their core businesses, and often used the income to diversify their economies into higher-value added fields.

The Obama administration has altered this tolerant regime, generating intensifying conflict between the NIMBY America and its more blue-collar counterpart. The administration’s move to block the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico represents a classic expression of this conflict. To appease largely urban environmentalists, the Obama team has squandered the potential for thousands of blue-collar jobs in the Heartland and the Gulf of Mexico.

In this way, Obama differs from Bill Clinton, who after all recognized the need for basic industries as governor of poor and rural Arkansas. But the academic and urbanista-dominated Obama administration has little appreciation for those who do the nation’s economic dirty work. …


More on the environmental divide from William Tucker in the American Spectator.  

… In 1977, I wrote a cover story for Harper’s called “Environmentalism and the Leisure Class,” my first story for a national magazine. Environmentalism was very young at the time — born supposedly on Earth Day in 1970 — but had already achieved a seat in the upper echelons of the Carter Administration. These freshly appointed bureaucrats began canceling dams, preaching the sins of fossil fuels, and raising obstacles to nuclear power. In its place they promised distant, over-the-horizon technologies of wind and solar energy. I remember one iconic photograph of Andrew Young, Carter’s Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, holding a pyramid over his head on Earth Day in the fashionable superstition that pyramids had mysterious powers to concentrate the sun’s rays.

My story in Harper’s was built around the devastating 1977 New York City blackout (the subject of the book The Bronx is Burning) and the almost forgotten fact that Con Edison had been trying for 15 years to construct an upstate power plant designed to prevent blackouts. The Storm King Mountain facility was a pumped storage plant 40 miles up the Hudson that stored power overnight by pumping water uphill and then releasing it the next day to generate hydroelectricity. The idea was to avoid building more coal plants in New York City. As an added attraction, the utility never failed to mention, the floodgates could be opened in an instant to provide power in the event of an emergency, while ordinary generators took the better part of an hour to get up to speed.

Pumped storage was considered an engineering marvel of the time and many were built. There are now about 30 around the country. In the Hudson Highlands, however, Con Ed had unwittingly disturbed a nest of New York aristocrats who had escaped from the city in the 19th century. As Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. (who now lives in the area) would write 30 years later without a trace of irony:

The committee [the Scenic Hudson Preservation Conference] quickly found support among the well-heeled residents of the Hudson Highlands. Many of its founding members were the children and grandchildren of the Osborns, Stillmans, and Harrimans, the robber barons who had laid out great estates amid the Highlands’ spectacular scenery and whose descendants had fought fiercely since the turn of the century to preserve the views for themselves and the public. [John Cronin and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., The Riverkeepers,Scribner, 1997.]

Well-connected both in New York society and the editorial pages of the New York Times, Scenic Hudson began an opposition campaign that eventually engulfed the entire city. The battle to “Save Storm King” was the nation’s first great environmental crusade, becoming a legal landmark when the Federal District Court allowed Scenic Hudson to intervene on environmental grounds for the first time in history. The case is still cited. Several Scenic Hudson members went on to found the Natural Resources Defense Council. …


Jennifer Rubin posts on Keystone.

… A number of House and Senate Republicans have released similar statements. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said:. “Keystone was an obvious choice: everybody in Washington says they want more American jobs now. Well, here’s the single largest shovel-ready project in America — ready to go. Some of the news outlets are calling this pipeline controversial — I have absolutely no idea why. The labor unions like it. Democrats want it. It strengthens our national security by decreasing the amount of oil we get from unfriendly countries. And it wouldn’t cost the taxpayers a dime. .?.?. The only thing standing between thousands of American workers, and the good jobs this project will provide is President Obama.”

Indeed, although Obama may feel obligated to his environmental supporters, the move makes no sense from either an economic or a political point of view. Moreover, it reinforces a favorite theme of Republicans; namely, that Obama’s top priority is not job creation but reelection. In sum, this is a political gift to Republicans that is likely to long outlast whatever dim memory exists over the payroll-tax-cut extension.

This episode also emphasizes that Republicans benefit when the topic shifts to Obama’s job record and decision-making. There is no better way to help his reelection prospects than for the GOP to nominate someone who provides a nice, fat target for the Obama campaign. The goal for Republicans must be to keep the focus on what Obama has done (Solyndra, the failed stimulus, the debt accumulation) or not done (lead on entitlement reform). The pipeline decision is just one of many examples Republicans will have at their fingertips.


The Economist tells about cat poop coffee. Pickerhead got some from Indonesia from #2 son. Actually was quite good.

… For the civet cats and their famous brew, the prospects were once more encouraging. In 1857 French colonialists introduced the first coffee trees to Vietnam and 30 years later built the first coffee plantations in the country. Farmers were barred from taking harvested beans, so they scavenged for the civet droppings to make their own secret roasts—a practice that gained popularity as the drink caught on in the mid-20th century.

Today most chon merchants don’t look in the wild for manure, but rent out farms for their cats to roam, chew (often less than a fifth of the ripest beans) and then let nature take its course. After farmers collect and wash the droppings, they dry them in the sun for weeks until the outer skin falls off. Brewers then use one of several methods for roasting the beans. One popular approach involves dashing the beans with sugar, salt and butter, and then giving them a medium or light roast over some coffee-tree wood (a heavy roast would cause the sugary beans to lose their natural taste). …

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