June 17th, 2008 by Rightsideup

John McCain has apparently now started saying that he wants states to be allowed to drill off their coastlines. According to Jim Geraghty’s Campaign Spot blog:

John McCain just completed a press conference here in Arlington, VA. Not the most chock-full of news appearance the senator has ever made, but one clear headline coming out of it — tomorrow he will call for the lifting of “the federal moratorium on states that choose to permit exploration” off their shores.

He said that in the coming weeks, he would be focusing on “America’s energy crisis” – the country’s dependence on foreign oil. Tomorrow he will call for the lifting of “the federal moratorium on states that choose to permit exploration.”

“We must embark on a national mission to eliminate our dependence on foreign oil… exploration is a step toward the longer-term goal.” The candidate repeated his advocacy of a federal gas tax holiday.

Asked about the offshore drilling, McCain responded, “Right now there’s a moratorium, and they have to be lifted. I’m not dictating to the states that they drill for oil. I’m saying the moratorium should be lifted so states can choose that option if they want to.” He added that the situation might require “additional incentives… in terms of tangible financial rewards” to states that permit drilling. He said he didn’t have a particular position at this point on an appropriate distance from the coast for offshore drilling.

Campaign Carl Cameron: Is lifting moratoria a way of addressing conservative irritation with your position on ANWR?

McCain: “I believe ANWR is a pristine area… but I also believe lifting the moratorium on offshore drilling for oil and natural gas is a very high priority.”

I kind of feel like McCain’s boxed himself into a corner on the ANWR thing and the journalist who asked him that question kind of hit the nail on the head. Here’s an opportunity to open up some clear blue water between himself and Obama on an issue which is close to the hearts of many voters, and yet he’s allowing environmentalism (not an issue likely to swing votes) to trump it.

The moratorium idea’s a good one, but the logic should be followed through with a similar position on ANWR – let the Alaskans decide if they want to drill there – who else cares? Who is ever likely to visit the area? There aren’t even any roads leading to it. Pristine it may be (the ellipsis in the quote above is Geraghty’s and not mine so I don’t know if he elaborated on that) but that isn’t an argument in itself for preventing drilling there. The bottom of the ocean may be pristine too, but if no-one’s ever going to see it I assume no-one will object to drilling for oil there.

I just came across this site, which looks interesting. Haven’t had time to explore it yet but might make it the subject of a future post.

June 14th, 2008 by Rightsideup

From a speech Obama gave in Philadelphia (you know, in Pennsylvania, where bitter people cling to guns and so on):

“They’re going to try to scare people. They’re going to try to say that ‘that Obama is a scary guy,’” he said. A donor yelled out a deep accented “Don’t give in!”

“I won’t but that sounded pretty scary. You’re a tough guy,” Obama said.

“If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun,” Obama said. “Because from what I understand folks in Philly like a good brawl. I’ve seen Eagles fans.”

Look at that second last line, “If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun”. Would anyone else – especially a Republican, get away with this? Would McCain? Wouldn’t people on the left be crying out that this was irresponsible rhetoric? Pointing out that there was a mass shooting less than 2 years ago in Pennsylvania? And so on? But Obama gets away with this scot-free. Another free ride for Mr Obama. And that’s going to be the story of the campaign, unfortunately. Which means McCain needs to be that much better because he has even more than the usual bias against him with this guy.

June 13th, 2008 by Rightsideup

Ireland has just proved that, at this point, countries whose economies are doing well see no reason to pursue further EU integration. Its voters appear to have rejected the new EU constitution in a referendum on Thursday:

Having spent the last two years honing a treaty which was supposed to benefit 495 million Europeans, the burghers of Brussels looked on helplessly yesterday as it was torn to shreds by fewer than a million Irish voters.

Its spectacular failure yesterday, the “No” vote romping home with 53.4 per cent of the vote, was undoubtedly an indictment of the lacklustre “Yes” campaign, but it was also a sign of growing unease among normal working people about the creeping powers of a faceless body which is unchallenged by the political elite.

Ireland is one of the few countries where opposition to the EU is strong that is actually holding a referendum – in the UK, where opposition is arguably even stronger, the government reneged on its manifesto promise to hold one, undoubtedly because it would have been defeated had a vote been held.

This is just further proof that the only countries in strong favor of the EU are those that still have something to benefit from membership, whether handouts from Brussels, access to a broader labor market and so on. Those countries that are net contributors to the EU, and whose economies are more flexible than the EU would allow them to be, are straining at the bit to get out, or at least to resist further integration. 

Good for the voters of Ireland, and good for the others who are resisting this latest round of “ever closer union“. It would be nice if this vote really did stymie the process of further integration in the way some seem to think it will – it’s about time for the members of the EU to pause and take stock of the benefits of membership before we move any further forward.

June 12th, 2008 by Rightsideup

Daniel Henninger of the Wall Street Journal has an article comparing Brazil and the US in their approaches to drilling for oil off their coasts. He points out that the Brazilian oil company Petrobas has just discovered around 8 billion barrels of oil of its coast and it has become a national bonanza with no-one seriously suggesting that drilling shouldn’t begin immediately. Coincidentally, that is around the same amount which we believe to be available in the various places off the US coast where drilling is not currently allowed. As a result, Henninger suggests, contrary to Charles de Gaulle’s famous comment that “Brazil is not a serious country,” current US energy policy suggests that Brazil is perfectly serious, but the US may not be. There’s also a video interview with Henninger embedded in the article, which summarizes it nicely.

I also recently read / re-read the transcript of the fictional presidential debate which occurred on one of the later seasons of the West Wing (I’m not a fan generally but had read about it in a Peggy Noonan column a while back). In it, the Republican nominee Vinick (played by Alan Alda) has a wonderful little bit about ANWR which I thought worth re-posting here (Santos is the Democrat, Sawyer is the moderator):

That wilderness is much more valuable than the oil that’s underneath it. I think that the pathway to a better, more sustainable future does not go through the Artic National Wildlife Refuge.

Excuse me, Senator.

A year’s worth of oil? That sounds like a lot to me and there could be more. There could be much more down there. We’ll never know until we start drilling. I’m sure it’s a beautiful place. Have you ever been there?


I haven’t either. Have you? Anyone? Clap if you’ve been to the Artic National Wildlife Refuge.

There is silence.

Uh-huh. And that’s about as many people who will ever go to ANWR. None. I mean, maybe a few very rich people will go up there with private planes and snap some pictures in the summertime. I mean, this ain’t the Grand Canyon we’re talking about. How many of you have been to the Grand Canyon?

A great number of people in the audience applaud. Vinick again grabs his wireless microphone and comes around to the front of his podium.

If they discovered big oil reserves in the Grand Canyon, I’d never let them drill there because it’s our most magnificent natural monument and because real people get to go there. They get to see it, they get to taste it, to touch it, to experience it in all its glory. Now, you know, we’re talking about a country that has oil wells within site of the beautiful beaches of Santa Barbara; oil wells within site of every Texas beach; thousands of operating oil wells in the city of Los Angeles. I just saw an oil well in the parking lot of a McDonalds in Long Beach the other day. And now Democrats are saying we can’t put oil wells in a place so remote that only the animals will see them? I wish we could put all our oil wells up there, where no one could see them.

The audience applauds.

June 11th, 2008 by Rightsideup

Just followed a link from the Hot Air blog to americansolutions.com, a site set up by Newt Gingrich and others as the main web presence of American Solutions, which is described as follows on the site:

American Solutions for Winning the Future is a new, non-partisan organization built around three goals: to defend America and our allies abroad and defeat our enemies, to strengthen and revitalize America’s core values, and to move government into the 21st Century. The General Chairman is former Speaker Newt Gingrich.

One of the organization’s key short-term initiatives is a petition to gather signatures in support of allowing drilling for oil in the US in areas where it’s currently prohibited by law. The wording of the petition is as follows:

We, therefore, the undersigned citizens of the United States, petition the U.S. Congress to act immediately to lower gasoline prices (and diesel and other fuel prices)* by authorizing the exploration of proven energy reserves to reduce our dependence on foreign energy sources from unstable countries.

I’ve just signed it. I have no idea what good it will do – when was the last time a petition really changed anything? But I think it’s a useful way to gauge support among the population at large for this cause, which is the greatest single opportunity for reducing the price of oil and gasoline in the medium to long term. They had over 500,000 signatures at the time I signed it, and I assume that number has been rising rapidly. Newt Gingrich has (or had) a knack for corralling public support for big picture programs (think the Contract with America). This organization seems to have grown out of his failed attempt to have himself anointed the Republican nominee for president without participating in the normal process, but he’ll be trying to parlay it into something else. As long as the focus remains promoting sound policy rather than getting Newt elected to higher office there’s a lot of potential for good there. I think he’s a far more useful figure as an organizer and campaigner than as an office holder at this point.

Note to those responsible for the site: provide a logo and other materials that can easily be embedded into blogs and other sites. The main logo on the site certainly doesn’t serve this purpose. You need to make it as easy as possible for your core constituency to get the word out. They do have some stuff but they’re banner ads rather than logos or widgets. The only thing remotely logo-like is a naff-looking little thing (see below).

June 10th, 2008 by Rightsideup

The 24/7 news cycle and constant filming and audio recording of candidates means that every utterance, no matter how off-the-cuff or insignificant the candidate intends it to be, now takes on the same aura as only a formal speech would have in the past.

Case in point: this quote from John McCain, courtesy of Reuters:

“There’s nobody who represents me better today than Mitt Romney,” McCain said.

Are you listening, governor? That could be the sound of a vice presidential offer coming down the road …

It’s not quite clear from the context whether this line was spoken during a speech or during more informal time with reporters. However, you can bet McCain didn’t want the media putting the spin on it that the Reuters reporter/blogger does here. Even if that’s the case, though, it continues to be remarkable how complete the reconciliation between the two men has been since their rancorous exchanges during some of the later debates.

June 7th, 2008 by Rightsideup

I’ve long been an admirer of Bjorn Lomborg and both his work and writing. His book The Skeptical Environmentalist was a fascinating read, and so down to earth about the subjects it tackled – neither alarmist nor vehemently critical of the global warming movement. And his work with the Copenhagen Consensus Project is also both interesting and refreshing. Both the book and the project are based in rational thinking but tackle subjects where so much of the discussion is political and therefore often irrational.

The Wall Street Journal has an editorial examining the latest round of the Copenhagen Consensus, which has thrown out results broadly similar to previous rounds. Global Warming is considered one of the least effective things to spend money on to improve the lot of the world’s poor in particular, while improved nutrition and other projects are considered far more worthwhile.

I found the video of his talk at the TED event provided a great summary of what the project is, the results it came up with and why it’s important. We need more people like Lomborg in the world – people who are willing to be rational and calm about the major issues we face, seeking out the best information and the best minds available, and bringing them together in a way that provides meaningful answers. We have quite enough Rush Limbaughs, Keith Olbermanns and the like already – shrill, over-simplistic and combative voices are plentiful in today’s world. Give me another Lomborg over another Hannity any day of the week.

June 6th, 2008 by Rightsideup

Here’s another roundup of things I’ve seen over the past couple of weeks but haven’t had time to cover in depth.

First, a post on Politico.com from Jonathan Martin, which compares the approaches to economic matters of Mike Huckabee and Tom Coburn, and illustrates why Huckabee was never really a serious candidate for the Republican nomination and should never be considered as one:

[From Huckabee]

The greatest threat to classic Republicanism is not liberalism; it’s this new brand of libertarianism, which is social liberalism and economic conservatism, but it’s a heartless, callous, soulless type of economic conservatism because it says, “Look, we want to cut taxes and eliminate government. If it means that elderly people don’t get their Medicare drugs, so be it. If it means little kids go without education and health care, so be it.” Well, that might be a, quote, pure economic conservative message, but it’s not an American message. It doesn’t fly.

[From Coburn]
Compassionate conservatism’s starting point had merit. The essential argument that Republicans should orient policy around how our ideas will affect the poor, the widow, the orphan, the forgotten and the “other” is indisputable — particularly for those who claim, as I do, to submit to an authority higher than government. Yet conservatives are conservatives because our policies promote deliverance from poverty rather than dependence on government.

Compassionate conservatism’s next step — its implicit claim that charity or compassion translates into a particular style of activist government involving massive spending increases and entitlement expansion — was its undoing. Common sense and the Scriptures show that true giving and compassion require sacrifice by the giver. This is why Jesus told the rich young ruler to sell his possessions, not his neighbor’s possessions. Spending other people’s money is not compassionate.

Next, Jim Geraghty at National Review Online pokes fun at a recent introduction of Obama at one of his events, which is part Harry Potter, part Ephesians 6 (the parentheses are from Geraghty):

“The candidate of the people. Skinny young man. Big ears. Funny name. Armed with the experience of humble beginnings. Educated in Ivy League suites. Trained in legislative seats. Toughened in inner-city streets.”

(Okay, this is more like it.)

“Wearing the helmet of good judgment.”


“The breastplate of hope. Wielding the shield of unity. Carrying the sword of truth. And feet marching to the beat of change!”

Nice further evidence of the hysteria generated by the Obama charisma.

Thirdly, this piece from Hot Air, which takes a recent Washington Post article on Obama as its starting point. This is a topic I’ve covered before here and here. The summary at the end does a great job of capturing what’s going on here:

Obama doesn’t really have ideas of his own, not even an overarching governing philosophy as a prism through which policy could get made. He just wants to be President, and figures that he can charm his way to the White House.

Lastly, this ridiculous set of stories (once again captured by Hot Air) about the fact that Barack Obama and his wife did a “fist bump” at a rally. Watch the second video at that link and see how delighted Obama is when Williams asks him about it. “I got these guys hook, line and sinker” he seems to be thinking to himself… Is there anything this man does that the media doesn’t love?

June 5th, 2008 by Rightsideup

You’ll have to forgive me my fascination with the middle class and bear with me a little longer. After reading yet another article about how we’re all worse off, I was prompted to go and read a little more about definitions of the middle class on Wikipedia.

Firstly, on that article. The focus is the statistic that Americans are “$1.7 trillion poorer” over the last quarter. Of course, this refers not to income but to assets, and the primary impacts are the decline in house prices and the decline in the value of stocks, mutual funds and so on:

The value of real estate assets owned by households and non-profits declined by $305 billion, while financial assets fell by $1.3 trillion, led mainly by a $556 billion drop in stocks and a $400 billion decline in mutual funds.

In other words, these are all declines that don’t really affect people’s spending money, as it were, since they’re assets that tend to be held for long periods of time. This drop is 3% of the previous quarter’s total wealth, but:

The first quarter’s decline follows a $530 billion drop in wealth in the fourth quarter of 2007. Until then, net worth had been rising steadily since 2003, climbing nearly 31% over those five years.

In other words, because these assets are held over long periods of time, the drop this quarter (and even several like it) are unlikely to have a significant impact over time. And of course, although this decline is painted as making “Americans” poorer, you can bet that if the trend was going the other way, and “Americans’ wealth” was increasing, the focus of the article would be on the fact that these gains were affecting only the wealthiest segments of society.

Wikipedia and the Middle Class

But I digress. Back to Wikipedia and its articles on the Middle Class. The main article is here. It seems to have been written partly (perhaps even mostly) by someone with mostly experience of the British class system (close to my own heart, certainly, but not that relevant to the current question). There is some interesting stuff there, but it mostly reinforces my own sense, that:

Social hierarchies and their definitions vary. There are many factors that can define the middle class in a society, such as money, behaviour and heredity. In many countries, it is predominantly the amount of money that determines an individual’s position in the social hierarchy. In other countries, social factors may have as strong an influence. These factors include education, professional or employment status, home ownership, or culture.

But, there is a separate article specifically on the American Middle Class here. This is longer, more scholarly (Wikipedia approves much more of the numerous footnotes in this one) and focused on the American experience. What strikes me about this article and also a Congressional report referenced in the first one which can be found here, is that, whereas in other countries, definitions of the middle class often encompass many factors, one of which may or may not be income, income is the primary driver of class distinctions in the US. Most studies attempt to define the middle class as being essentially synonymous with middle income, with the debate centering on how big the middle should be (the middle quintile, the three middle quintiles, etc.).

If you do take that approach, then of course the idea that the middle class is being squeezed, or changing size to any extent at all, is absurd – the number of people who are above or below average never changes, and the middle is always the middle. Only under more sophisticated definitions of class structures does this make any sense at all (though even there it’s clear that if the middle class is shrinking, it’s because some of its members are successfully climbing, not descending, the social ladder). Some of the more sophisticated definitions, which seemed to be embraced more by academics than politicians, involve the type of work someone does or the level of education they have attained. This, of course, takes away the “grading on a curve” element of class structure – it’s not possible for everyone to be above average, but it is at least theoretically possible for everyone to achieve high levels of education or to work in professional occupations.

For all Lou Dobbs’ bloviation on the topic of the shrinking middle class or the squeeze on the middle class, most of the evidence suggests that it is perfectly healthy, static in size according to some definitions and only shrinking because its members are getting wealthier according to others. There have been periods in the past when the middle class has shrunk because its members are becoming poorer in relative terms but this isn’t one of them. Of course, there’s the issue of relative incomes, which studies show is actually almost as important as absolute incomes, but that’s probably a topic for another time. And the idea that there is some kind of “gap” emerging between the very rich and very poor is particularly absurd. Depending on the definition of the middle class used, it encompasses somewhere between 45% and 60% of the population, which can hardly be called a “gap.”

June 2nd, 2008 by Rightsideup

I just read this piece by Mark Steyn, one of my favorite commentators, on Congress’s latest attempt to “fix” our oil problems, and found myself in complete agreement with everything he said. Here’s an excerpt:

“It shall be illegal and a violation of this Act,” declared the House of Representatives, “to limit the production or distribution of oil, natural gas, or any other petroleum product … or to otherwise take any action in restraint of trade for oil, natural gas, or any petroleum product when such action, combination, or collective action has a direct, substantial, and reasonably foreseeable effect on the market, supply, price, or distribution of oil, natural gas, or other petroleum product in the United States.”

Er, okay. But, before we start suing distant sheikhs in exotic lands for violating the NOPEC act, why don’t we start by suing Congress? After all, who “limits the production or distribution of oil” right here in the United States by declaring that there’ll be no drilling in the Gulf of Florida or the Arctic National Mosquito Refuge?

Precisely. Congress wants to “help” us with this problem? Don’t intervene more, or posture because you know that no intervention is really going to help. Get out of the way! Lift the restrictions on drilling and refining and shipping oil and oil products here in the US. Allow the oil companies to get more of the stuff that’s just sitting there under American soil and waters waiting to be dug up and poured into someone’s SUV instead of forcing us to put up with the unnaturally high prices caused by OPEC’s latest squeeze on supply. Ronald Reagan famously said that the nine most terrifying words in the English language were, “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” How true that is in the case of this Congress.