Archive for June, 2010

Oil

Monday, June 28th, 2010

“And the oil stayed.” 2 Kings 4:6

This story in II Kings is a wonderful demonstration of God’s ability to address the needs of all those that believe in him. In this particular case a woman was preparing her family’s last meal. Elisha told her to start filling jars from the one container of oil that she had. She was able to fill every empty container in town. The revenue from the sale of this excess oil helped her family through the famine.

I believe that God is the source of all supply and can address the needs of those who trust in him. I also believe we are going to need a similar sort of miracle if we expect to continue to burn oil at our currrent rates.

The problem is that there are those in this country who are convinced that we aren’t running out of oil.

One claim is that oil is an inorganic renewable deep earth resource rather than residue from long buried plants and animals. This theory has been around long enough that it has its own name – Abiotic Oil. It has also been widely and regularly disproven. While you don’t find dinosaur bones in oil, what you do find is isotopes, biomarkers, and clorins which are the residue of the original organic matter that formed the oil. These chemical fingerprints link the oil to the particular field from which it came as a result of the specific mix of organic material that produced the oil

It isn’t that there may not be abiotic oil, but the vast quantities of oil that we have been extracting from the earth are coming from organic sources. Inorganic abiotic oil sources may be our there, but geologists haven’t been able to find them in predictable accessible places or in sufficient quantities to make it an alternative to continued extraction of organic oil.

A more loopy theory is that the current administration is trying to drive us to a socialist alternative energy state by preventing oil companies from gaining access to the virtually inexhaustible reserves of oil out there.

If that’s true, the oil companies are certainly complicit in this plot because they are telling their stock holders that their existing wells are running dry. They say new oil will come from more difficult dangerous risky expensive places. They back up those claims by drilling wells in deep water or in inhospitably cold climates. They are testing techniques to squeeze it out of rocks or heat it up when it is too thick to flow. Since we all believe in capitalism, we should also trust that oil companies are going to invest their money in whatever site is the next cheapest on their list of available locations.

You can also figure that oil company lobby money and the “drill baby drill” conservatives would identify any cheap accessible sites that were unavailable for oil exploration because of government restrictions. BP was able to drill at the Deep Horizon site, for example, as a result of the federal government lifting a previous ban on deep water drilling.

Truth is that oil is a limited resource. We have used all of the easy cheap oil. Future oil extraction will be more difficult, expensive, and pose more of the risks that we have seen in Gulf of Mexico. The BP spill is a massive disaster but it isn’t the only one. There are oil spills in the Amazon rain forest, the Alaska wilderness, the Great Barrier Reef, and many other sensitive environments previously off limits to oil exploration.

As a result, we have to do a better job of regulating the drilling process. The BP spill is just another example of what happens when industries operate in what was effectively an unregulated market.

We also have to create more effective repair and clean up technology to keep pace with new drilling technology. Regulations will create a market for this technology by requiring the industry to demonstrate that they can responsibly manage the wells that they drill.

Finally, we have to face the uncomfortable fact that our oil-based economy is unsustainable. China is already making massive investments in sustainable energy sources. We must get past the fears of our oil funded lunatic fringe and do the same if we hope to compete in the post-oil economy.

Inconvenient Truth III

Saturday, June 26th, 2010

The crime rate and the rate of illegal immigration in Arizona have been going down from 2000 until 2008 (the latest full year for which there are statistics).

So why are folks in Arizona so upset?

It is what Judith Gans, who studies immigration at the University of Arizona calls self-serving perception bias. That’s when folks enter a debate with a pre-existing bias. They accept information that supports their bias and discard, ignore, or rationalize information that does not.

When you combine that with the fact that this is an off year national election where Republicans have made Obama the issue and the Republican governor is running for re-election, there are a lot of external influences warping the facts on the ground to fit the election year narratives.

The election year narrative is simple. Illegal immigrants are criminals. There is a drug war raging out of control in Mexico because the government is corrupt. It is spreading to Arizona because the federal government can’t control the borders.

Robert Krentz has become the Willie Horton of this particular campaign. He was murdered. It is assumed that it was an illegal alien because Mr. Krentz lived close to the Mexican border. His murder has been used to justify the actions that the Governor has taken with the clear implication that she had to act to protect Arizona citizens from a similar fate.

The statistics, however, tell a far different story.

Facts,

Even as the population swelled over the past eight years due in part to immigration, the crime rate went down to 447 incidents per 100,000 residents in 2008 from 532 incidents per 100,000 residents in 2000. The national average over that same period of time went from 507 to 455 (FBI statistics). So Arizona was a more dangerous place before the recent huge influx of immigrants. Since the huge influx of immigrants it has become a safer place on average than the rest of the country.

Politics makes it harder to dig into these numbers deeper. The Phoenix Police Chief who opposes the new law says that his jail population is 13% illegal immigrant which reflects the population in Arizona. The Maricopa County Sherriff who supports the new law says that his jail has 19% illegal immigrants.

Scott Decker, a criminologist at ASU, has studied the immigrant population and finds that they commit fewer crimes because they come from rural parts of Mexico where the crime rates are also low. They also don’t want to run the risk of being deported.

The rates of violent crimes like kidnappings associated with the Mexican drug wars has also dropped over the same time period, but as with the Krentz murder, every incident these days gets a lot of publicity.

So you end up with a curious set of events. Rather than promoting the fact that there is more technology and manpower devoted to controlling cross-border traffic than ever before and that the results of this investment are a decrease in crime in Arizona to well below the national average, we have something very different. We have a Republican Governor signing a bill which gives police in her state a right that many don’t want. We have the mayor of Phoenix threatening to sue the Governor because of the billions of dollars of lost convention and tourist revenue his town will suffer as a result of this bill. The President has committed to sent 1200 National Guard troops to the border. The Arizona legislature is debating a bill to strip a citizenship right guaranteed in the Consitution.

By comparison, the small town of Fremont, Nebraska (population 25K) seems to have got it right. If you are really concerned about reducing the population of illegal aliens, focus your attention on those who house and employ them. This town just passed a law which requires renters and employers to check documents on federal websites and face fines if they ignore the provisions. If this law survives a court challenge, it will be interesting to see how the plants that employ those workers today will respond. If they pull up stakes and move to a more immigrant friendly location, this will certainly force conservatives to put their money where their mouth is.

Inconvenient Truth II

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010

A recent study published in the July issue of Pediatrics shows that there is no connection between sexual orientation and good parenting.

I know that will come as a shock to some, but anyone who has known gay couples who chose to raise kids (birth or adopted) could have predicted this outcome.

Good parenting is the result of being involved. Kids know the difference between biology and commitment. They understand that there is virtually no connection between the ability to produce a child and the ability to successfully raise one.

The numbers of hurdles gay parents have to go through just to have an opportunity to raise a child would eliminate teen pregnancies, if heterosexual couples faced the same barriers.

Kids in these families do receive a fair amount of abuse from some of their peers because of their parents, but that doesn’t seem to deter them from either success or building a close loving relationship with their parents. I suspect that’s because the parents are also experienced in dealing with prejudice, are able to better prepare their children than other parents, and understand that close relationships are the result of effort rather than genealogy.

The bottom line is that if our goal is to raise a generation of well-adjusted successful children to fill the ranks of tomorrow’s leaders – we should legalize gay marriage and encourage more gay couples to become parents.

Inconvenient Truth

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010

There were some who felt that Arizona’s intent, with their immigration legislation, was not to discriminate against those of Mexican descent, but only to replicate at a state level, the laws that already exist at the federal level. Their latest proposal resolves any question about what they intended in their first law.

Arizona plans to take up legislation this fall to limit the grant of citizenship to those children with at least one parent who is also a citizen.

The 14th amendment to the Constitution passed after the civil war guarantees citizenship to anyone born in this country regardless of the status of their parents.

I’ve got a lot of problems with this position, but the one that particularly bothers me is the blatant hypocrisy of the conservative movement regarding the Constitution.

You simply can’t have it both ways.

You can’t rail against liberal judges who interpret the Constitution in ways that you don’t agree with on one hand, and then blithely ignore the Constitution when it doesn’t fit with your world view in other areas.

We’ve seen this in the Tea Party movement where leaders claim that the current strong federal government and the constitution that supports it have diverged from the founding fathers original intentions.

We saw it in the Bush administration that simply ignored constitutional prohibitions against unreasonable searches and limits on Presidential power.

Now we are seeing it in Arizona where xenophobia and political opportunism have embolden conservative lawmakers to pass some legislation and propose other bills that if passed will be struck down in their first judicial test.

What makes it worse are Republican leaders like Texas Senator John Cornyn who intend to use this controversy as wedge in November elections to drive more conservatives to the polls. The plan is a simple expansion of what is going on in Arizona. Paint illegal immigrants as the cause for all our problems. Then point out that Democrats are not only unable but unwilling to take the steps necessary to protect our country against this scourge.

The reality is that if Republican REALLY wanted to do something to curb illegal immigration, they would focus on those who employ illegal immigrants rather than the immigrants themselves. The problem is that many of those who employ illegal immigrants are also Republicans whose profit margins depend on a ready supply of cheap labor.

So the bottom line is that Republicans aren’t really interested in limiting the number of illegal immigrants. They are only interested in an issue that will frighten folks into coming out to the polls and voting for Republicans.

Tired Children

Sunday, June 20th, 2010

Just finished reading a very interesting psychological profile of Tea Party anger.

The basic question is why are Tea Party folks so angry at government now?  Government isn’t growing any faster or behaving any less responsibly that it has been for the past ten years, so why now?

That anger, while very specific about government becomes schizophrenic when it gets down to tactics.  For example, I hate entitlements, but don’t mess with my Social Security.  Or, keep government out of healthcare, but don’t cut my Medicare.  Or, we have to bring down the deficit, but don’t you dare raise taxes on anyone.

In other words, what we are dealing with is an emotional response rather than an intellectual one – since Social Security is the largest government entitlement program, Medicare makes the government the single largest payer in our healthcare system, and the only reliable way to pay down the deficits (if you aren’t going to reduce spending for Medicare or Social Security) is to raise somebody’s taxes.

So where does this emotional response come from?

One thought is that it is the confrontation of the self-image of the rugged individual with the reality of the role that governments play in modern society.

Americans have always cherished the ideal of the independent man, whether cowboy,  soldier, or spy.  Some conservatives take this even further and feel that country’s freedom derives directly from the amount of independence expressed by every citizen.  So if individuals become dependent, ultimately the country is weakened.  In the past, this anxiety has been associated with race, religion, alcohol, the gold standard, gender, music, and drugs.  Now it is associated with government.

During the Bush administration there was lip service to evils of big government even as government grew wildly.  There was also the sense that government was being bent to the will of individuals – Bush and Cheney.  Finally, it appeared to be working for at least for the rich. 

Obama was elected based, in part, on his believe that government has a role in the lives of its citizens.  Worse than that, we had a series of crises which were beyond the scope of individual power and required big government action – the financial meltdown, the mortgage crisis, the recession and associated job loss, the bail-outs, healthcare reform, and the BP oil spill.  Everywhere a rugged individualist turned, there were examples of big government in action which graphically demonstrated how dependent we all are on our government.  When threatened with global financial meltdown, our government acted.  When the car companies were going bankrupt and millions of jobs were threatened, our government acted.  When people lost their homes, they turned to the government for help.

Tea Partiers just couldn’t take it any more and like the tired children who refuse to go to bed, they threw a tantrum over things they couldn’t control.  The screamed their unhappiness that the country had lost its way.  They acted out their rage at public meetings about plans to increase our dependence on government.  They lashed out verbally and physically at a government that they felt weakened them by doing the very things that modern governments are supposed to do.

I’ve also come to the conclusion that there is nothing that can be done to assuage these folks.  Just like a child, their tantrum will have to run its course.  As the rest of the voting public recognizes that there is little substance behind this childish display, they will grow weary.  The individual tea party members will each at their own time, grow tired and ultimately succumb to the reality that they can’t continue to war against the reality that modern societies need an active and engaged government.  When that happens, they will rejoin the rest of us in the real adult work of making sure that government works for the good of the majority rather than the benefit of the wealthy minority.