Thursday, January 27, 2011

Call Me the Matchmaker

The first time I worked the Kodiak, AK rodeo, back in the 70's, the busy fishing port was home to the lucrative Alaskan crab fleet, successful shrimpers, and a big salmon seiner fleet. The town was awash in money and high-liners timbered the bar regularly, you could spend a whole night in the saloon without ever buying a drink. Saturday night my pal Ozzie, a native of the Nebraska sandhills who had become a crabber, and I made our way down to "The Harvester Inn", flamboyant Jim Fisk's drinking and eating establishment on the outskirts of town. After wearing out our welcome in that spot we decided to head back to the city center. On exiting the bar we noticed an empty taxi just sitting there idling. Always concerned about wasting resources, we put the vehicle to immediate use, drove it downtown and left it parked on the street with the keys in the ignition. I never gave the matter much thought.

A couple of years later I was standing at the bar in that same "Harvester Inn". A gentleman approached and set his beer beside mine on the bar. "I believe I know you", he said. "I'm pretty sure that you're the guy that stole my cab outside the bar here two years ago".

"Gee", I answered, "I really don't think that could possibly be the case."

"Well, there's not much to be done about it now, I don't guess", he responded, "I just want to tell you what happened after you ran off with the cab. When I went out there and saw the thing was gone, I just said ,'Hell', and went back into the bar and ordered a drink. As I was standing there figuring out my next move this gorgeous young lady walked up and we got to talking. She gave me a ride back to town and we started going out together. Three months ago we got married. She's the finest girl I've ever known and the greatest thing that ever happened to me. If you hadn't run off with my taxi I'd probably never have met her. I just wanted to thank you for stealing that cab. Funny the way things work out some times, ain't it?"

I was very happy to hear this story and bought the fellow a drink. Wish I could have met his wife.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Cleveland's Message Advocating the Repeal of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act, August 8, 1893

Here Grover Cleveland explains simply yet in detail, in words comprehensible to any English-speaking person, the financial situation in which the US found itself, including relevant figures, and what he intended to do about it. We may be foolish to look back fondly on "the good old days", forgetting the many ways in which our lives are better than our predecessors. Nevertheless, it is striking how far the level of communicative ability of our leaders has fallen.

"The existence of an alarming and extraordinary business situation, involving the welfare and prosperity of all our people, has constrained me to call together in extra session the people's representatives in Congress, to the end that through a wise and patriotic exercise of the legislative duty, with which they solely are charged, present evils may be mitigated and dangers threatening the future may be averted.

Our unfortunate financial plight is not the result of untoward events nor of conditions related to our natural resources, nor is it traceable to any of the afflictions which frequently check national growth and prosperity. With plenteous crops, with abundant promise of remunerative production and manufacture, with unusual invitation to safe investment, and with satisfactory assurance to business enterprise, suddenly financial distrust and fear have sprung up on every side. . . . Values supposed to be fixed are fast becoming conjectural, and loss and failure have invaded every branch of business.

I believe these things are principally chargeable to Congressional legislation touching the purchase and coinage of silver by the General Government.

This legislation is embodied in a statute passed on the 14th day of July, 1890, which was the culmination of much agitation on the subject involved, and which may be considered a truce, after a long struggle, between the advocates of free silver coinage and those intending to be more conservative. .

This law provides that in payment for the 4,500,000 ounces of silver bullion which the Secretary of the Treasury is commanded to purchase monthly there shall be issued Treasury notes redeemable on demand in gold or silver coin, at the discretion of the Secretary of the Treasury, and that said notes may be reissued. It is, however, declared in the act to be

"the established policy of the United States to maintain the two metals on a parity with each other upon the present legal ratio or such ratio as may be provided by law."

This declaration so controls the action of the Secretary of the Treasury as to prevent his exercising the discretion nominally vested in him if by such action the parity between gold and silver may be disturbed. Manifestly a refusal by the Secretary to pay these Treasury notes in gold if demanded would necessarily result in their discredit and depreciation as obligations payable only in silver, and would destroy the parity between the two metals by establishing a discrimination in favor of gold.

The policy necessarily adopted of paying these notes in gold has not spared the gold reserve of $100,000,000 long ago set aside by the Government for the redemption of other notes, for this fund has already been subjected to the payment of new obligations amounting to about $150,000,000 on account of silver purchases, and has as a consequence for the first time since its creation been encroached upon.

We have thus made the depletion of our gold easy and have tempted other and more appreciative nations to add it to their stock. .

Unless Government bonds are to be constantly issued and sold to replenish our exhausted gold, only to be again exhausted, it is apparent that the operation of the silver-purchase law now in force leads in the direction of the entire substitution of silver for the gold in the Government Treasury, and that this must be followed by the payment of all Government obligations in depreciated silver.

At this stage gold and silver must part company and the Government must fail in its established policy to maintain the two metals on a parity with each other. Given over to the exclusive use of a currency greatly depreciated according to the standard of the commercial world, we could no longer claim a place among nations of the first class, nor could our Government claim a performance of its obligation, so far as such an obligation has been imposed upon it, to provide for the use of the people the best and safest money.

If, as many of its friends claim, silver ought to occupy a larger place in our currency and the currency of the world through general international cooperation and agreement, it is obvious that the United States will not be in a position to gain a hearing in favor of such an arrangement so long as we are willing to continue our attempt to accomplish the result single-handed. . .

The people of the United States are entitled to a sound and stable currency and to money recognized as such on every exchange and in every market of the world. Their Government has no right to injure them by financial experiments opposed to the policy and practice of other civilized states, nor is it justified in permitting an exaggerated and unreasonable reliance on our national strength and ability to jeopardize the soundness of the people's money.

This matter rises above the plane of party politics. It vitally concerns every business and calling and enters every household in the land. There is one important aspect of the subject which especially should never be overlooked. At times like the present, when the evils of unsound finance threaten us, the speculator may anticipate a harvest gathered from the misfortune of others, the capitalist may protect himself by hoarding or may even find profit in the fluctuations of values; but the wage earner-the first to be injured by a depreciated currency and the last to receive the benefit of its correction-is practically defenseless. He relies for work upon the ventures of confident and contented capital. This failing him, his condition is without alleviation, for he can neither prey on the misfortunes of others nor hoard his labor. .

It is of the utmost importance that such relief as Congress can afford in the existing situation be afforded at once. The maxim "He gives twice who gives quickly" is directly applicable. It may be true that the embarrassments from which the business of the country is suffering arise as much from evils apprehended as from those actually existing. We may hope, too, that calm counsels will prevail, and that neither the capitalists nor the wage earners will give way to unreasoning panic and sacrifice their property or their interests under the influence of exaggerated fears. Nevertheless, every day's delay in removing one of the plain and principal causes of the present state of things enlarges the mischief already done and increases the responsibility of the Government for its existence. Whatever else the people have a right to expect from Congress, they may certainly demand that legislation condemned by the ordeal of three years' disastrous experience shall be removed from the statute books as soon as their representatives can legitimately deal with it.

It was my purpose to summon Congress in special session early in the coming September, that we might enter promptly upon the work of tariff reform, which the true interests of the country clearly demand, which so large a majority of the people, as shown by their stiffrages, desire and expect, and to the accomplishment of which every effort of the present Administration is pledged. But while tariff reform has lost nothing of its immediate and permanent importance and must in the near future engage the attention of Congress, it has seemed to me that the financial condition of the country should at once and before all other subjects be considered by your honorable body.

I earnestly recommend the prompt repeal of the provisions of the act passed July 14, 1890, authorizing the purchase of silver bullion, and that other legislative action may put beyond all doubt or mistake the intention and the ability of the Government to fulfill its pecuniary obligations in money universally recognized by all civilized countries."

Saturday, January 22, 2011

William Graham Sumner

Yale sociologist William Graham Sumner was one of the most influential American thinkers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. While Sumner could be considered the founder of sociology as an academic discipline, his ideas ranged much farther. An intellectual ally of Englishman Herbert Spencer and American president Grover Cleveland, he was an outspoken advocate of laissez-faire capitalism, minimum government, personal responsibility and sound money. He wrote biographies of Andrew Jackson, Alexander Hamilton and Robert Morris as well as the popular Folkways and The Forgotten Man.

Some quotes of William Graham Sumner:

A proposition to give everybody an existence worthy of a human being, without a specification of the measures by which it is proposed to do it, is like a proposition to make everybody handsome. . . . Our analysis has . . . shown this noble sentiment is simply a bathos.

The question . . . arises, if it is proposed to reorganize the the social system on the principles of American democracy, whether the institutions of industrialism will be retained. If so, all the virus of capitalism will be retained. It is forgotten, in many schemes of social reformation in which it is proposed to mix what we like with what we do not like, in order to extirpate the latter, that each must undergo a reaction from the other, and that what we like may be extirpated by what we do not like. We may find that instead of democratizing capitalism we have capitalized democracy--that is, have brought in plutocracy.

Who are those who assume to put hard questions to other people and to demand a solution of them? How did they acquire the right to demand that others should solve their world problems for them? Who are they who are held to consider and solve all questions, and how did they fall under this duty?

We groan about monopolies and talk about more laws to prevent the wrongs done by chartered corporations. Who made the charters? Our representatives. Who elected such representatives? We did. How can we get bad law-makers to make a law which shall prevent bad law-makers from making a bad law? That is, really, what we are trying to do. If we are a free, self-governing people, all our misfortunes come right home to ourselves and we can blame nobody else.

(The abolition of poverty) When we turn to examine the means which we are invited to employ for this purpose, we find that it is only the same old proposal once more in a new disguise; we are to abolish poverty by abolishing wealth. We are to go back, in fact, to the primitive barbarism, to the bliss which rests on ignorance, and the contentment which comes from savage stupidity; and the net final gain will be that our envy will no longer be excited by seeing anybody else better off than we. . . . The philosophizing which goes on about these things is one of the marks of the literature of our time. Most of it is as idle as it would be to write essays about the distress of excessive heat.

The robbery of a merchant by a robber baron, the robbery of an investor by a railroad wrecker and the robbery of a capitalist by a collectivist, are all one.

Nearly all, when they say that they want equality only use another form of expression to say that they want more welfare than they have, because they take as a standard all which any one has and they find many who have more than themselves.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Evolution of American Journalism

Three of the most significant figures in the history of American journalism never attended any college. H.L. Mencken, outspoken editorialist for the Baltimore Sun, editor of The American Mercury and The Smart Set, and author of the multi-volume classic, The American Language, learned the newspaper business by working at a newspaper. Much despised by leftists of the thirties, Westbrook Pegler dropped out of high school to cover sports for a Chicago paper and eventually became one of the most influential columnists of the century. But the journalist that set the standard for all that followed was Will Rogers.

Will Rogers neglected to graduate from high school, became a cow hand and then a vaudeville and circus performer and then a Broadway headliner in the Ziegfeld Follies. Transferring his stage political monologue to a newspaper column read by more than 40 million, Rogers parlayed his Oklahoma rural wit into a career that included 71 movies, a radio show, travels around the world and a personal relationship with the most powerful politicians in the country. He was probably the most famous American in the world at the time of his death in a plane crash near Barrow, Alaska in 1935. No American journalist has been able to match his record, but it's not for lack of effort.

These three all achieved their success with opinion pieces. Nuts and bolts news reporters, even with regular by-lines, remained anonymous to all but their contemporaries in the business. This changed in 1972 when a group of Republican operatives were apprehended inside the Democratic National Committee offices in the Watergate office complex in Washington, D.C. Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, through contacts with "Deep Throat", an informant that may have been FBI Deputy Director Mark Felt, wrote a series of articles investigating that event and others connected to the Nixon White House. Trials and hearings were held, with television coverage that enthralled the nation, and a US president was forced to resign. Woodward and Bernstein became media rock stars, wrote highly successful books about the affair and were the subjects of books themselves as well as a Hollywood movie. Their road to acclaim and attendant financial success was noticed by others who took advantage of the later expanding footprint of television.

Foremost of the next generation of journalist/media stars were Dan Rather and Geraldo Rivera. Beginning with live television coverage of a hurricane on the Galveston waterfront followed by a break-through performance following the Kennedy assassination and later in native clothing in Afghanistan, Rather took over the position once held by the more conventional Walter Cronkite as America's pre-eminent television news figure. He relinquished this spot in 2004 with the promotion of an easily-exposed bogus expose' of George W. Bush's National Guard career. Nonetheless, his success changed the face of television news coverage to a form over substance, personality-driven configuration.

Rivera took a somewhat different path, relying on a more "news as entertainment and titillation" format that also involved him in the very events, sometimes manufactured, that he was supposedly covering, such as the "Capone's Tomb" episode. As a pioneer of the "trash TV" genre, Rivera has managed to maintain visibility through the years despite failures and embarrassments. Financially, if not critically, he continues to be a success.

A fact-based reportorial process meant to enlighten as well as inform has changed to what is basically entertainment with a personality focus. Money is the major factor in this transition. Ratings that drive advertising rates are perceived to hinge on the popularity of television news "stars". Katy Couric is the leading current example, with her $15 million+ contract with CBS.

Aside from a liberal/progressive slant on the news, the leading media outlets have adopted a feeding-frenzy approach featuring their stars giving breathless accounts of tragedies with interpretations and analysis by insider experts. The Giffords shooting in Tucson is an example of this phenomenon. The competitive nature of the media business has encouraged outlets to broadcast and publish conjecture before determining the basics of the event. The rewards for "scoops", even fallacious ones, both to individuals and the industry as a whole, so far outweigh the risks of failure, that we will continue to be wise to view with skepticism anything the media reports.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Obama Administration Gives a Boost to Domestic Energy Production and Employment

First there's this:

Shell receives air permits for Chukchi drilling
by Dan Joling / The Associated Press Fairbanks Daily News Miner

ANCHORAGE, Alaska - Shell Oil has crossed another hurdle in its plans to drill three exploratory petroleum wells in the Arctic Ocean.

The Environmental Protection Agency announced Thursday it had approved a clean air permit for Shell to operate its drilling ship in the Chukchi Sea off Alaska's northwest coast.

The permit requires the Frontier Discover to burn ultra low-sulfur diesel fuel. That and other conditions, including restrictions on operating hours, will reduce particulate emissions by 72 percent and sulfur dioxide emissions by 99 percent, from 181 tons per year to 2 tons, said Janis Hastings, deputy director of EPA's air quality program.

Short-term exposures to sulfur dioxide is linked to adverse respiratory effects and increased asthma symptoms.

The fuel requirement also covers Shell's support vessels when they operate within 25 miles of the drill ship.

Shell wants to drill three exploratory wells on the Arctic Ocean acreage it leased in a 2008 sale. The company also awaits an air quality permit for proposed drilling in the Beaufort Sea; a decision will be made later this month, Hastings said.

The announcement came one day after President Barack Obama and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced a revised outer continental shelf leasing program.

The revision was in part a response to a lawsuit by three environmental groups and an Inupiat Eskimo community. A federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., a year ago agreed that the Interior Department did not properly study the environmental impact of expanding oil and gas drilling off Alaska's coast before issuing its five-year leasing program.

Salazar on Wednesday announced the agency had considered nearly 50 studies for its revised leasing program. For the Chukchi and Beaufort seas, Salazar said, lease sales would be suspended for at least two years so that additional scientific studies could be conducted and because the estimated benefit is outweighed by potential environmental damage.

However, he retained the 2008 Chukchi lease sale, in which Shell paid $2.1 billion for leases. Information from lease holders' scientific studies, including whether an oil spill can be cleaned up in broken ice, will help him determine whether additional lease sales are needed in the 2012-2017 lease program, Salazar said.

Shell spokesman Curtis Smith said Thursday delivery of the final Chukchi Sea air permit on the heels of Wednesday's news that the company would continue to have access to offshore acreage obtained in 2008 was excellent news. However, he noted the permit must be listed for 30 days before it becomes usable, and it could be appealed to the Environmental Appeals Board.

Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, called the EPA's approval great news for the state.

"I'm hopeful we're poised for a renaissance in Alaska's oil patch, with this permit for Chukchi development and the Obama administration's support for OCS development," Begich said.

The Minerals Management Service estimates the Chukchi could hold recoverable reserves of 15 billion barrels of oil and 77 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

Brendan Cummings, an attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, called the air permit "highly problematic and likely illegal."

"While Shell's drilling operations would contribute significant amounts of conventional pollutants to the atmosphere, perhaps our biggest concern is that large amounts of black carbon, which directly contributes to Arctic warming, will be released, yet EPA failed to perform any real analysis of such impacts," he said.

The Clean Air Act requires EPA to impose conditions related to greenhouse gas emissions, he said, and Shell's drilling will likely contribute upward of 90,000 tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.

"There was no analysis, much less attempt at regulation of this pollutant," he said.

Shell faces other hurdles before its drilling ship heads north.

The Minerals Management Service has a court appearance next month in a lawsuit challenging its approval of Shell's Chukchi exploration plan. The 2008 lease sale also is being challenged in Alaska District Court.

Then there's this:

Feds pull Shell's Arctic air permits after challenges
by Mary Pemberton / Associated Press Fairbanks Daily News Miner

ANCHORAGE, Alaska - Alaska Native and conservation groups have succeeded in challenging clean air permits granted to Shell Oil to drill exploration wells in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas.

Numerous groups alleged that Shell's permits granted by the Environmental Protection Agency would allow Shell to emit tons of pollutants into the Arctic environment from a drill ship and support vessels.

The Environmental Appeals Board reviewed the permits. It found that the analysis of the impact of nitrogen dioxide emissions from the ships on Alaska Native communities was too limited, and remanded the permits.

The groups challenging the permits say pollutants resulting from Shell's exploration drilling will harm Inupiat people and wildlife while contributing to climate change.

Shell did not immediately return a call for comment.

On the other end of the continent, a previously approved coal mining project in West Virginia gets the EPA axe.