Thursday, October 29, 2009
I've been picking on Charles Rice a lot this year, so I figured I might as well respond to his most recent viewpoint column, "Love in truth".
There's not a whole lot to disagree with here, since most of his column is straight from Pope Benedict's encyclical, "Love in truth" (Caritas in Veritate), and let's face it, I don't feel like taking on the pope today.
The entire column is quotes and paraphrasing from CIV, with scattered references to Obama's policies (primarily, that he's a pro-life politician). One thing caught my eye is Rice's reuse of what appears to be his favorite quote from CIV. I remembered it from his last column:
"[I]t is an injustice for a larger and higher organization to arrogate to itself functions which can be performed efficiently by smaller and lower bodies." Pius XI, Quadragesimo Anno (1931), No. 79. This principle insists on "the autonomy of intermediate bodies and is the most effective antidote against [an] all-encompassing welfare state." No. 56. Obamacare and other takeovers are at war with this principle.Forget for a moment that health care reform is legislation, which means that it's coming from Congress, not the President (who has been disappointingly hands-off in the fight for the public option). So-called "Obamacare" wouldn't really qualify as "at war with this principle" because, as Pope Pius says, this only applies if the "higher organization", the federal government, decides to "arrogate to itself functions which can be performed efficiently by smaller and lower bodies", which I can only guess in this analogy would be the private insurance companies.
The World Health Organization tabulates the United States' total expenditures on health in 2006 at $6,714 per capita making up %15.3 of the GDP. In the UK, where they have universal health coverage from the federal government, those numbers for 2006 are $2,784 per capita and $8.4 of the GDP. In France those numbers were $3,554 and 11% respectively, and for Canada, $3,672 and %10.0
According to the Department of Health & Human Services, national health expenditures "grew 6.1% to $2.2 trillion in 2007, or $7,421 per person, and accounted for 16.2% of Gross Domestic Product." That number is projected to be at 16.6% of the GDP for 2008.
The US spends a larger share of its GDP and more per capita on health care than countries whose federal governments guarantee coverage to all their citizens. So I have to ask, how are the "smaller and lower bodies" performing more efficiently than the federal government would in health care? If a "larger or higher organization" can perform a function of society more efficiently, how could that qualify as an "injustice" according to Pope Pius IX?
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
A Town Hall event with T. Boone Pickens
This week, I had the opportunity to visit a town hall meeting hosted by T. Boone Pickens in the Debartolo Performing Arts Center.
The event was kicked off by an ND alum, Salem Abraham (class of '88), Pickens' friend and neighbor and the head of Abraham Trading Company, a commodity trading company based in Canadian, Texas.
Pickens came to Notre Dame as part of a college speaking tour across the country to promote his ambitious energy proposal, the Pickens Plan. The Plan kicked off in July of 2008 with the goal of reducing American dependence on foreign oil with investments in natural gas and wind farms. Pickens has invested $62 million of his own money into the Pickens Plan, which boasts over 1 million supporters.
Pickens' lecture largely focused on expanding the use of domestically produced natural gas as a substitute for oil. He believes that global oil production will never exceed the current rate of 85 million barrels per day, meaning that we have currently reached peak oil, the maximum rate of global petroleum production. He also also cited the increasing percentage of imported oil in the total consumption of oil in the United States as a concern.
He recalled that President Nixon once promised that the United States would not import oil by the end of the 1970s. In that time, foreign oil imports actually increased from 24% to 28%. Since then, Pickens said that he has seen every subsequent presidential candidate promise a reduction in oil imports. Meanwhile the actual percentage of the oil Americans consume that comes from outside the country has continued to increase. Currently, around 67% of our oil comes from overseas, and Pickens expects that number to go up to 75% in the next ten years if there isn't a significant change in our energy policy. He added, "I don't think the folks in Washington lie to us about energy. They just don't understand it."
He commented briefly about his meetings with both John McCain and Barack Obama during the 2008 elections to discuss their energy proposals. John McCain proposed increasing nuclear power, while Barack Obama wanted to focus more on renewable fuels. Both of them wanted to invest in battery technology for transportation. As Pickens' story goes, he asked both of them "You know a battery won't move an 18-wheeler, right?" to which both candidates responded "It won't?".
Speaking further about President Obama, he recalled that he criticized Obama's promise of 1 million plug-in hybrids by 2015 for being "too small". While Pickens himself drives a fuel-efficient car that runs on natural gas, he's more interested in focusing on commercial vehicles like trucks which consume much more oil and produce more pollution than cars.
Though he claims his movement "doesn't have anything to do with politics, it has to do with being Americans", Pickens hasn't been at all cautious about involving himself in politics. Pickens is a supporter of HR 1835, the "New Alternative Transportation to Give Americans Solutions Act of 2009" which he dubbed, "the climate bill".
Pickens went into more detail about his plan, which can be broken into two parts. First, Pickens predicts that the United States' electricity consumption will increse 20% in the next ten years. Most electricity in the US comes from coal fired plants, but Pickens argues that natural gas and, eventually, renewable fuels can be used to meet that demand in an effort to reduce costs and environmental damage.
Second, Pickens supports the expanded use of natural gas-powered trucks instead of diesel trucks. The majority of his speech consisted of outlining his plan to incentivize the replacement of what he referred to as diesel "heavy-duties" (big trucks), with more efficient trucks powered by natural gas engines. He cited the use of natural gas to fuel garbage trucks in Los Angeles as an example.
Aside from the benefits of diminished cost and pollution, Pickens notes that at over 2000 Tcfs (trillion cubic feet) the United States has the largest natural gas reserves in the world, so we could be replacing foreign fuel with a domestic one.
"6.5 million heavy-duty vehicles can be switched to natural gas. We can cut 2.5 million barrels (of oil imports) per day. That would cut half of the amount that we import from OPEC"
Q & A
After his 30 minute lecture, Pickens stayed for 30 minutes of the audience's questions. Here are some of his answers to what I thought were the best questions:
Q: What's your stance on Cap and Trade?
A: Cap and Trade will be in the Climate Bill, which I support. But, I think Cap and Trade is really just a tax, and as a businessman I don't like taxes. If Congress wants to raise revenues with an energy tax they should pass a gas tax.
Q: What about ethanol?
A: I support anything made in America. Corn ethanol won't move an 18-wheeler either, but it'll help
Q: What about nuclear power?
A: Nuclear won't move vehicles, but it makes up 20% of our power generation. It could be a clean alternative to coal, and it's American, so I'm for it.
Q: In 2008 you were promoting the idea of creating wind farms from Texas to North Carolina. What happened to that?
A: In 2008, gas was more expensive than it is today. When gas is cheap, wind is not affordable. When the cost of gas goes up, wind power will be a better option. Both wind and solar technology will improve and be more useful in the future. But for now the storage technology isn't good enough either.
Natural gas is a bridge. Right now we need to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. Hopefully in 50 years we can move completely to renewable fuels, and batteries and fuel cells. As long as those batteries are American. As I told Al Gore, I don't want to trade Saudi oil for Chinese batteries.
Q: What about volatile gas prices and the role that speculators have in driving up the cost of energy?
A: Speculators don't manipulate the cost of energy. The commodities market is different than the stock market. When someone sells shares of a commodity, someone else actually has to buy it. Energy markets are volatile, but part of the volatility comes from the fact that too much of our energy comes from foreign oil. We can't be buying oil from people that don't like us.
Q: Don't you agree that oil has been demonized too much in the national discussion of energy policy? We need oil for synthetics and other petroleum products like plastic.
A: 70% of the oil we use goes to transportation. Right now we have no energy plan. We have to get one. Oil from the enemy is likely to become very expensive. 5 years ago OPEC made $250 billion. In 2008, OPEC made $1.25 trillion.
This post is getting kind of long, so I'll put my own impressions of the town hall and the Pickens Plan in general in the comments section. If anybody else went to the town hall and wants to share their thoughts, feel free to add comments.
Last week we had a poll about the U.S. military's decision to ban photos of dead soldiers in the Afghan war. Here is a screen shot of your responses: (click image for larger view)
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Senator Arlen Specter (D-PA) wrote the following op-ed, which was published this morning. I was very impressed. Well said, Senator.
The time has come to repeal the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Enacted 13 years ago when the idea of same sex marriage was struggling for acceptance, the Act is a relic of a more tradition-bound time and culture.
Connecticut, Iowa, and Massachusetts have already passed laws recognizing same sex marriage and other states are moving in that direction. The states are the proper forum to address this divisive social and moral issue, not the Federal Government with a law that attempts to set one national standard for marriage.
Prohibition showed just how difficult it is to enforce law establishing standards of personal behavior or morality. Coercion, whether civic or legal, in matters of this kind rarely works. It certainly won't halt public controversy surrounding the issue.
The repeal of DOMA is one step among several designed to fully integrate and protect the rights of gays and lesbians in American society. Recently enacted hate crimes legislation is another. The Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act (S 909), which I sponsored with the late Senator Kennedy, makes it a federal crime to target victims on the basis of disability, sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity. President Obama has said he will sign the measure.
Nothing in the Act impedes the lawful expression of one's political or religious beliefs. All Americans are entitled to hold and express their own beliefs, no matter how provocative. At the same time, no person has the right to engage in violent acts of hate or incite to violence. Protecting Americans against such hate crimes does not inhibit free speech but rather serves us all by halting and penalizing those who carry out those acts of cruelty.
Measures to combat discrimination against gays and transgendered people in the workplace are another needed measure. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act of 2009, of which I am an original cosponsor, was introduced on August 5, 2009 and is currently before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.
Finally, the military's Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy is outdated, and should be rescinded entirely. A person's sexual orientation has no bearing on their ability to serve their country in the armed services. Countless studies and the experiences of gays who have served in the military have borne out these findings.