Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Sky Isn't Falling! The Sky Isn't Falling!

On C-SPAN this morning, Slate Magazine's Dahlia Lithwick listed several expansive Commerce Clause decisions since FDR, and observed that the Republic has not yet crumbled under the weight of Federal mandates. Yes, America has groaned for 75 years under the spreading girth of that power—without total collapse.
Liberal law professors now use this same ratchet-effect principle to justify FDRs breathtaking expansion of Federal power as a natural "progressive" trend. But FDR only got his way by bullying the court (ever heard of "the switch in time that saved nine"?) and then flooding them with a torrent of regulatory legislation, only some of which they could stop. Honestly, if a typical American today were told that the Federal government has the power to stop her from growing beans or carrots on her own land for her own use, she would deem that un-American. But such power has lodged with the Feds since Wickard v Filburn in 1942.

Listening to proponents of Obamacare describe the magical effects of increased government power—besides prompting me to mention LBJ's failed-and-costly war-on-poverty—reminds me of the old saying "what one generation tolerates, the next adopts as its standard". The US Supreme Court today will hear oral argument about the constitutionality of Obamacare's individual mandate, which the government is justifying under...the Commerce Clause.

The court has been friendlier and friendlier to expanding government power for several generations now. But in recent decades the fruit of that power has begun to be harvested, and Americans don't like its taste.

If the individual mandate in PPACA (see why I call it Obamacare?) is held to be constitutional by five black-robed progressives, the sky may once again not fall. But does anyone doubt there's a limit to the number of straws a camel can carry? That there's a water temperature above which a frog will explode? That there's a slope too slippery to stand on?

America has been heading in the wrong direction since Woodrow Wilson: we are not Europe or even Canada. We do not want to be like the other nations. So here's my prayer for the week: "God save the United States and this Honorable Court!"

Friday, March 16, 2012

Who's Lookin' Out For You At The Pump?

Bill O'Reilly, host of his own top-rated nightly news analysis and commentary show on Fox News, is arguably America's leading spokesman for Non-Partisan Populism. His signature claim is to be a non-ideologue lookin' out for The Folks. His targets for outrage have varied from states not passing Jessica's Law, to judges soft-on-pedophiles to dishonest/dangerous politicians like Barney Frank. In the face of recent spikes in fuel prices, O'Reilly is again outraged by oil company profits, blaming American energy firms and "speculators" for the high cost. 
He has recently enlisted former CNN Business reporter Lou Dobbs as an ally, who points out that prices are rising in America, even as we have surpluses of certain fuel blends—proof, he says, that oil isn't operating on a free-market, supply-and-demand basis. The pair only give short shrift to the fact that crude oil is traded as a worldwide commodity priced in U.S. dollars, never even hint that Fed Chairman Bernanke's printing-press inflates prices, and then they gloss over OPEC's manipulation of global supply. They do criticize Obama's failure to approve the Keystone pipeline from my native Alberta, but save their ammo for big U.S. oil companies like Exxon/Mobil and Chevron, and the ever-nameless Speculators.

This villainizing impulse works for Bill when there's a human face, like a George Soros, a Paul Krugman or a Sean Penn. He's even made hay against the corrupt SEIU, but mostly by keying in on certain high-ranking individuals. O'Reilly will name Exxon/Mobil and disclose their quarterly profits, but has never once named a Speculator. He should start with Southwest Airlines, famous for their savvy use of oil futures contracts to control the single-greatest cost-driver. But he won't name any Speculators, because they are people who you and I can identify with—people who must have fuel to operate their businesses and pay their employees and supply America's needs.

Oil, alas, is too big for any individual, or even a handful of companies, to affect its price. Exploration and refining companies act rationally, are publicly-traded and make no bones about wanting to find and sell more oil. That gooey black stuff is the single most significant energy source to growing middle-classes in emerging nations, and to sustaining prosperity in established ones. As goes oil, so goes the world. (Your humble scribe, by the way, believes oil is abiotic—not a fossil-fuel—and its ubiquity "proof God loves us". But that's a whole 'nother article.)

So, who are the real oil villains? Those who can-and-do affect the supply and price. These controllers are always, ever and only... 

1. Governments. The letter "C" in OPEC stands for Countries. Exxon/Mobil is powerless to drill in the ANWAR, or on any other U.S. Federal Lands, without Obama's permission. Royal Dutch Shell can't take any oil out of Nigeria without government approval. And these companies pay huge tribute (royalties) to host nations (or provinces, or states). And, of course, my Blue-state friends pay almost double the taxes at their pump compared to us Red-staters. And don't forget Saudi Arabia, who can turn the spigot on at will, literally flooding the market with crude—or turning it off to drive up the price.

2. The U.S. Federal Reserve Bank. This privately-owned bank (with government-appointed governors) controls the the U.S. dollar—the exclusive currency for oil. (Anybody notice food prices lately?)

The good news is that we elect the person who can affect, more than any other individual, the price of oil. The President of the United States appoints the Fed Chairman and controls drilling on Federal Lands.

But Obama protests that he can't affect the price of oil. Really? How does Crown Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz manage to pull off the trick? Easy: he has the oil. Turns out it actually is supply-and-demand after all. Trouble is, you need supply in order to demand. America has voluntarily surrendered to the Saudis by refusing to drill, frack or explore...despite U.S. Geologic Survey reports showing that we have more recoverable reserves than Saudi Arabia (who guard the true measure of their reserves as a State Secret).

Newt Gingrich makes a compelling case for getting back to $2.50/gallon gasoline...without even touching the Federal Reserve. Meanwhile, Obama sits on his hands whining and complaining and blaming others for high prices. And yesterday U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) pleaded to the Saudis for increased production.

Mr. O'Reilly, these are your many tax dollars at work, willfully preventing us from accessing our own oil at home. How about aiming your impressive bloviation at the real villains?