Obama and the Politics of Fear

Barack Obama has made it a point of his candidacy to argue that Republicans have exploited the 9/11 tragedy for political gain, and he has promised, if elected president, to move us beyond the “politics of fear.” He has chastized Republicans, including President Bush and John McCain in recent days, for distorting his views. But apparently, his opposition to the “politics of fear” only applies when Republicans are talking about threats to our national security. When the topic is Social Security, Obama evidently has no problem spreading fear, and lying about his opponents poisition to scare up votes among a demographic group that has given him problems in the primaries.

The AP reports, that while campaigning in Oregon:

Democrat Barack Obama told seniors Sunday that Republican John McCain would threaten the Social Security that they and millions like them depend on because he supports privatizing the program….

Obama said McCain would push to raise the retirement age for collecting Social Security benefits or trim annual cost-of-living increases. Obama has rejected both ideas as solutions to the funding crisis projected for Social Security in favor of making higher-income workers pay more into the system.

“We have to protect Social Security for future generations without pushing the burden onto seniors who have earned the right to retire in dignity,” he said.

Anybody who is intellectually honest knows that none of the proposals on the table to allow workers to voluntarily invest a small percentage of payroll taxes in stock/bond funds would affect todays seniors, and the Bush proposal that McCain supported explicitly took anybody over the age of 55 off of the table. For Obama go to senior citizens center and spook them into thinking that McCain is a threat to their retirement security, is a patently dishonest, dare I say, “smear.” Obama claims to represent a “new kind of politics” but scaring senior citizens into thinking that the big bad Republicans are going to take away their retirement money is the oldest dirty trick in the Democratic playbook.

It’s worth noting, in closing, that among other approaches Obama would consider on Social Secuirty would be raising the current payroll tax cap beyond $97,000 — this despite his pledge to not raise taxes for Americans making less than $200,000.

Re: Next Stop, Belmont

No Stacy, I didn’t have any bread on Big Brown. I don’t generally like to bet on favorites to begin with, and 1-5 odds were just ridiculous. But perhaps at Belmont, I’ll pick a long shot to place, and bet on him as part of an exacta.

Next Stop, Belmont

Every few years it seems as though there is another horse with a chance to pull off the elusive triple crown, only to run out of gas on the long Belmont track. But after watching on TV as Big Brown put on a clinic at Preakness this afternoon, I really think this year could be different, and on June 7, we could be seeing the first triple crown winner in 30 years. In case you missed it, I’ve posted the video below. Even if you aren’t into horses, it’s worth watching just to see what a perfectly run race looks like. Early in the race, Big Brown is at the inside position, along the rail, but about midway through, the jockey pulled the horse back a bit so that he could safely move to the outside. He just sat there, biding his time, until just after the final turn, after which the jockey let Big Brown go, and the horse just burst to the front of the field with explosive speed, coasting to a five length victory as if it were a walk in the park. He should have plenty left over for Belmont in three weeks. This really seems like a horse that is in a league of its own relative to the rest of the field. Horseracing is even stranger than politics in terms of all sorts of freakish possibilities, but based on everything we know now, this horse seems poised to make it a triple.

McCain and Hamas

In today’s Washington Post, James Rubin writes that Johm McCain is a hypoctite on Hamas, because he said after their election, “They’re the government; sooner or later we are going to have to deal with them, one way or another…” A video of the comments made the rounds on liberal blogs, but it struck me as odd, because everytime I have seen McCain quoted on the subject of Hamas, it has been to say that the U.S. shouldn’t talk to them unless they changed their ways. Also, his statement would be inconsistent with his opposition to dealing with Iran and other state sponsors of terrorism. Soon enough, the McCain campaign fired back with a video taken the same day, with McCain in the same garb, only this time making it clear that dealing with Hamas would not be unconditional. He said, “hopefully, that Hamas now that they are going to govern, will be motivated to renounce this commitment to the extinction of the state of Israel. Then we can do business again, we can resume aid, we can resume the peace process. It’s very, very important though that they renounce this commitment.”

The two clips are below. You can decide for yourself.

Re: Questions For John McCain

Conor, rereading the post now, I think the problem is more with how I paraphrased McCain in haste to report on the conference call. McCain wasn’t necessarily saying that Iran had to meet all of those conditions in advance in order to trigger talks, but at least show a willingness to do so. McCain noted that low level talks already take place, and Iranians “haven’t shown the slightest inclination” to change their ways. So why should we escalate all the way to talks at the presidential level?

I do think there could be a lot of harm caused by negotiating with Iran, because talking to them gives them a certain legitimacy that they aren’t worthy of. Diplomatic relations with the U.S., after 29 years in the wilderness, itself is a coveted reward. In Iran, you also have a restive young population that could potentially rise up against the ruling regime. But were the U.S. President to meet with the Iranian leadership, they could use images of the meeting to send the message that the regime is stronger than ever, and thus discourage such dissident movements. Especially in the age of terrorism, it’s important to take a moral stand and send a signal to the world that any regime that behaves as Iran does will be ostracized. So, I think there clearly is harm to come from meeting with Iran. If there were the slightest reason to believe that such negotiations might be successful, than perhaps one could argue for conducting talks. But when you and I both know that there’s no realistic reason to believe that anything positive will come from such discussions, I don’t see why the U.S. should risk what I outlined above.

For a further discussion of why it’s a bad idea to talk to such regimes, I refer you to an article I wrote in 2006, in which I used failed negotiations with North Korea in the 1990s as my case study. Yes, just because we talk to another nation, it doesn’t mean we have to make concessions to it, but we often do.

But really, this is all backwards. Since the status quo for nearly 30 years has been not having diplomatic relations with Iran, those who want to open up talks at the presidential level need to make a strong, positive, case for doing so. Thus far, the case for meeting with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has come down to: 1) Why not? 2) It’ll make us feel warm and fuzzy and 3) Bush isn’t doing it, so it must be a good idea.

That isn’t enough.

Energy’s Prevailing Winds

This interview appears in the May 2008 issue of The American Spectator. To subscribe to our monthly print edition, click here.

T. Boone Pickens has spent a lifetime in the oil business. Shortly after graduating from Oklahoma A&M (now Oklahoma State University) in 1951, Pickens went to work for Phillips Petroleum. In 1954, he borrowed $2,500 and joined with two other investors to start a domestic oil and gas company. The business would eventually become part of Mesa Petroleum, which Pickens built over several decades into one of the largest independent natural gas and oil production companies in America. He left Mesa in 1996.

Pickens, who turns 80 this May, is still hard at work running his multi-billion-dollar energy hedge fund, BP Capital. But the legendary oilman, who built his fortune by placing timely bets, is now looking at alternatives. Last year, Pickens correctly predicted that we would be seeing a $100 barrel of oil, and he recently announced plans to build a $10 billion, 150,000-acre wind farm in the Texas panhandle, which would be the biggest in the world.

Through the T. Boone Pickens Foundation, Pickens has become one of the largest philanthropists in America, having donated $600 million over the course of his career to medical care, education, and college athletics. He also is the benefactor of The American Spectator’s Young Journalism Training Program.

TAS reporter Philip Klein spoke to Pickens over the phone about his views on the future of energy.

PHILIP KLEIN: Why is it so important for America to develop alternative sources of energy?

T. BOONE PICKENS: According to the crude oil report, as of today [March 12] we have imported crude oil at the cost for $1.4 billion for the week. Multiply 52 weeks times $1.4 billion [a day]. You’ll get right at $600 billion a year you’re paying for imported crude oil. We can’t keep doing that. It’s the greatest transfer of wealth ever recorded in the history of the world.

PK: What would you say to free trade purists who say it’s not a big deal to purchase products overseas?

BP: You can say it’s just free trade. You’re just buying somebody else’s products. I understand that argument, but if you’re going to continue to do it as you have in the past, then in ten years you’re going have to burn up $6 trillion.

PK: In the 1970s oil was very expensive, then it went back down. In the late ’90s we had very cheap oil. Why can’t that happen again?

BP: That will never be repeated, because we’ve had a fundamental change. The world’s oil production has peaked. Now supply is capped at 85 million barrels a day and demand is growing. We’ve never seen that before. It’s also going to be declining at a rate probably of 6 percent a year. This time next year you’re probably going to have 80 million barrels a day.

It’s unlikely that growing production can ever happen. What you’re really focused on is even maintaining production at 85 million. You’re going to have to replace 5 million barrels a day every year.

PK: What about discovering new oil or drilling in Alaska or in the oil sands?

BP: I don’t think the ANWR is going to be released to be developed, but you’re familiar with the transportation of crude oil off of the North Slope in the pipeline area. Do you know what the capacity of that is? Some people have the idea that ANWR could solve a problem for the United States, which is ridiculous.

ANWR, they try to compare to Prudhoe Bay, an oil field where the ultimate recovery out of it is 14 billion barrels. It’s depleted substantially. At one time that field could fill that Alyeska line, which is 2 million barrels a day. Keep that in mind, that’s all it is: 2 million. That has now declined to about 700,000 barrels a day and they put in satellite production from Endicott and other fields around Prudhoe Bay. But they’ve pretty well gutted everything that’s available to go into that line.

It’s unlikely that ANWR will be as productive as Prudhoe Bay. Probably a third as much. But let’s just say it’s as productive. All that oil coming off of ANWR does is fill up that line. You go back to 2 million barrels a day. We’re importing today 14 million barrels of crude and products in the United States, using 21 million barrels of crude and products. So, the 2 million barrel Alyeska line would be 10 percent of what we use every day. It has no hope of solving many problems for us.

When you go to the oil sands, you should focus on a recent announcement to build a line from the oil sands to the west coast of Canada. That is a 528,000-barrel-a-day line. The plan is to move that oil into the Asian market. We haven’t even moved ahead in the United States to make sure we capture everything coming out of the oil sands.

The cost of the oil sands is incredibly high but necessary. So all those projects in oil sands run up costs several times what they were originally estimated to be. So, you can’t just go in and develop the oil sands. The oil sands is a manufacturing/mining operation. It has a huge amount of manpower necessary, equipment, everything else and I think the oil sands now are producing somewhere around 1.3 million barrels a day.

You don’t have the option of just turning it on or anything like that. It takes years. And ANWR could not go on production for instance if Congress passed something that would allow entry into ANWR in the next session, it would take ten years to go into production.

PK: So even if we find different sources of oil in different parts of the world, it will take a long time to bring that oil online and difficult to transport it?

BP: That’s exactly right. To do anything more than 85 million barrels a day is probably hopeless.

If I were the United States, it would be very disturbing to me to see anybody thinking about transporting any oil from North America to Asia. We let ourselves down if we don’t capture that. Now you’ve got the Democrats talking about taxing it all and they have got the Canadians stirred up [on NAFTA] that they’re going to change that. Canadians don’t like to hear that type of conversation and the people of the United States who are doing the talking about it don’t understand energy, because the last thing you’d want to do is to be at odds with Canadians on NAFTA and have some of that oil cut off from you and let it go to Asia. The Canadians are openly discussing this. They don’t like NAFTA changes that the United States has talked about.

PK: The New York Times reported that you are going to build a new 150,000-acre wind farm for $10 billion. Why are you so bullish on wind power?

BP: What are my other choices? There’s only one source of energy that’s going to make a substantial difference for this country, and it’s wind. It’s renewable, it’s green, there’s no question it will work, and it’s being developed very aggressively now in Texas, western Oklahoma, Kansas, and up in the Great Plains. For the next ten years, America will need about a 15 percent increase over the amount of energy that our country uses now. Where is it going to come from? It could come from wind. The government would have to give access, right of way, to move that, but you’ll be able to put that huge wind area in the central part of the United States to work. It would rejuvenate the Great Plains. Go look at what has happened in Sweetwater the last three or four years. That could be replicated all the way from Sweetwater to the Canadian border. At the same time there is a wind and solar corridor that would extend west of Sweetwater, Texas, to the California corridor.

PK: How is planning on the wind farm coming along?

BP: We’re under way. We have leased the land, we’ll put turbines under contract next month, and the question is, where do you take the power? One option is to go to the wind area in the panhandle of Texas, which is one of the best wind areas of the United States, and move it down to ERCOT (the Electric Reliability Council of Texas) about 250 miles south of us, or we might move it to the West Coast.

PK: How difficult will it be to transmit that power?

BP: Transmission has got to be solved, there’s no question about that. We feel that we’ve got it solved if we move it to ERCOT from the panhandle, we have a right of way that we’re working on at the present time. California is a bit more difficult, but transmission has got to be solved. If this country wants to take care of their energy needs and requirements, they’re going to have to make some of this happen.

PK: Is it difficult to build transmission lines more because of zoning and energy regulations or because of the amount of capital needed for the initial investment?

BP: Well, if you’re going to put turbines under contract, you’re going to have to transmit the power. We’re okay to transmit in Texas. We have that solved. As for the rest of the country, you’re going to have to have some leadership come forward or this is going to be a disaster for us.

PK: What should the government’s role be in all of this?

BP: I’d say in going to renewables, they’d need to have a production credit in place for a number of years, not renewing it every two years. That doesn’t get the interest into it that you need to have, because people are frightened that they’re investing in something that they can’t get help on. So you need the production tax credit on wind. And you need to free up the right of way.

PK: In Congress, “alternative energy” often translates into ethanol subsidies, or other pork barrel spending projects. How much of the move toward alternative energy is going to have to be aided, at least in the short term, by government subsidies? Why won’t companies see it in their interests to invest in alternative energies without government help?

BP: There’s no question you’re going to have to have the production tax credit. That’s a must, because it can’t stand alone without it. You’re better off to create jobs at home, and recycle the money. I was against ethanol originally, but hell, I’d rather have ethanol than I would Saudi oil. They’re the number two provider after Canada. They’re selling about 1.8 million, 2 million barrels a day to us. Ethanol is not going to solve it. Nothing is going to solve the problem for us, because we’ve got such a huge appetite. We’re now importing 62 percent of our crude oil. Out of the 85 million barrels a day the world produces, we’re using 25 percent of it, with less than 5 percent of the population.

PK: What are your thoughts on solar power?

BP: Don’t know anything about it. I just said there’s a corridor for solar power from Sweetwater, Texas, to California across Arizona, New Mexico, and the California border. We’re not in any solar power projects. But these are the kind of things that somebody in government is going to have to get involved in and make something happen. The country is desperate for leadership on energy. I don’t think any of these politicians running for the president of the United States even have a clue we’re up against.

PK: What about nuclear power? Do you think licensing more nuclear power plants would be a good option?

BP: I’m for nuclear power. We should do it. We should do everything, because we need energy from all sources and get away from what we’re doing, importing so much crude oil. But, being a geologist, I have some concern over whether you’ve got uranium available to you.

I think the greatest source of uranium is Russia, and they’re no friend. And then you look at the two largest oil producers in the world, it’s Russia and Saudi Arabia, and the two largest natural gas producers, and it’s Russia and Iran, and the two largest importers of oil are the United States and China. So, you’re in a bad spot, and you have to get some leadership in getting this country off of the imported oil as our primary energy source.

PK: What are some of the more promising alternatives that are out there to power automobiles?

BP: The obvious one is natural gas, and natural gas is a domestic fuel. So, anything you can replace with natural gas as far as diesel gasoline is concerned, you cut down on the imports, and natural gas is a cleaner, cheaper fuel that’s available. That infrastructure should be developed. It doesn’t need much in the way of help from the government.

You’ve got to try to develop everything. You don’t push anything off the table now. You just have to go balls-out to get it done, and get off of this crude oil. I just can’t believe, I keep saying this. It’s just a huge outflow of wealth from this country.

PK: People have been talking about alternative energy since the 1970s. What is different now?

BP: In the ’70s, there wasn’t a shortage of oil. Whenever oil would go up, and activity would start in alternatives, they would make more oil available, and drop the price. It would stop all of that activity. It’s entirely different today, because you’ve peaked on the oil. In the Mideast, they can’t give you any more oil than they’re giving you. The game has changed.

PK: Do you think that now the technologies exist that make things more achievable than they were back when we were talking about energy alternatives in the 1970s?

BP: Sure, they’re more achievable, because the price is better. Of course, the cost of development has gone up dramatically too. The only way you’re going to kill demand is with price. But back in the ’70s, you were taking a chance with alternatives, believing that oil prices were going to go up. When activity would start up some place, OPEC would just provide more oil and drop the price. Those days are gone.

McCain Says Obama Displays ‘Naivete’ On Iran

John McCain, in a just completed call with bloggers, blasted Barack Obama's commitment to meeting with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, chalking it up to  "inexperience."

Asked to weigh in on the debate  ignited by President Bush's anti-appeasement remarks in Israel today, and to  comment on  Obama's views on  talks with Iran,  McCain first cautioned that, "President Bush said he wasn't talking about Senator Obama, and I certainly take the president at his word."

But then McCain proceeded to rip into Obama's proposed approach to Iran.

"It's the highest degree of naivete and inexperience that would indicate that anyone would want to sit down in face to face talks with the Iranians, including their president, who just a few days ago pronounced Israel a 'stinking corpse,'" McCain said.

He asked rhetorically, "My question …  to Senator Obama is, what do you want to talk about with him? President Ahmadinejad's statement that Israel is a 'stinking corpse'? That they want to wipe Israel off the map? That they continue to supply these terrible, most lethal, explosive devices that are killing young Americans? What do you want to talk to him about?"

McCain said he would only support talks with Iran if the Persian nation retracted its rhetoric about wiping Israel off the map, abandoned its nuclear weapons program, stopped exporting weapons, and stopped sponsoring terrorism.  

It would be quite easy to signal to America that it intends to do these things. McCain noted that the U.S. ambasador in Iraq, Ryan Crocker, has contact in Baghdad with the Iranian ambasador,    and the Iranians, "haven't shown the slightest inclination" to change their ways.

"I feel in the strongest terms that if you sat down across the table from these state sponsors of terrorist organizations, you would give them prestige enhancement and a bigger influence in the region, which I think would directly counter to America's national security interests," McCain said.

In last year's CNN YouTube debate, Obama pledged to meet, without preconditions, within the first year of his administration, with the leaders of  Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba, and North Korea. Video here.

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Dems vs. Bush’s Israel Speech

In his strong speech to Israel’s Knesset, President Bush argued against appeasing terrorists. In what should be telling enough, Barack Obama automatically assumed the president was talking about him. Of course, given that he wants to meet with the leading terror sponsor Iran and his adviser until recently Robert Malley holds regular meetings with Hamas, perhaps Obama hath reason to protest so much.

But I thought the most ironic criticism of the speech came from Nancy Pelosi, who called it “beneath the dignity of the office” for President Bush to visit our staunch ally and make the case against appeasement. This is the same Pelosi, you may recall, who visited the terror state of Syria amid State Department protest and told President Bashar Assad that Israel was ready for peace talks with its longtime enemy, when Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert denied saying anything of the sort.