Tuesday, July 22, 2008

It's the Economy...

by Keith Cooper

From Broader View Weekly, July 18, 2008

With gas prices over $4.00 a gallon in this election year, each candidate is seeking politically expedient “solutions” to the problem. Unfortunately, none of the solutions receiving any attention addresses the core of the issue. Imposing a specific tax on oil companies won’t bring down gas prices. Attempting to “flood” the market with a greater supply of domestic oil will not bring down gas prices.

The fact is that our economic model has brought about this crisis. It is naïve to think that applying those same principles to this problem will bring about positive change. As long as we choose to consume our resources without thought to the consequences, we will continue to pay for our extravagance.

I am no economist, but I do understand some of the factors that have contributed to the current dilemma. One, which I have mentioned in this column before, is that oil companies, like all corporations, are in the profit business. Their legal responsibility is to the shareholders. Therefore, there is little incentive to increase supply enough to bring down prices (thereby limiting profitability). We know from internal industry memos that when the market was rich in supply and prices were lagging, oil companies closed refineries to control supply. We cannot trust these corporations to turn increased domestic oil supply into savings at the pump.

Last month, Congresswoman Maxine Waters misspoke during a House hearing on the issue. She mistakenly used the word “socializing” to describe nationalizing the oil industry. Fox news and pundits on the right lost their minds. The message spread quickly about how the left-wing Democratic party was hell-bent on turning the United States into another Venezuela. This is a great example of how we are programmed to view certain words, such as “socialized” or “nationalized,” as intrinsically evil, or counter to our values. I believe that Waters was simply pointing out that dependence on oil at the consumer level makes a “free market” solution to the problem unrealistic. She knew that opening up domestic oil exploration was no guarantee that prices would come down.

I also know that no resource is unlimited. If we have not yet reached peak oil (the point at which production rate declines dramatically in contrast to the rise of demand), we will soon. No amount of domestic exploration will allow us an indefinite supply of oil. John McCain has described his politically convenient change of course on domestic drilling as a way to meet the immediate supply demands while feasible alternatives are being developed. The problem with this theory is two-fold. First, the proposed exploration provides no immediate relief to supply shortages, as impacts will not be realized for years to come. Secondly, alternative technologies have already been developed to meet the challenge, but the climate in the automobile and oil industries have been hostile to their threats. While great progress has been made in developing fuel cells and batteries to power electric vehicles, lack of political will and auto industry collusion has prevented real solutions from taking shape.

Perhaps most detrimental to our plight is our failure to think of the problem in progressive ways. We, in the United States, are enslaved by our belief in the sanctity of capitalism. We cherish our ideologies at the expense of our welfare. We somehow believe that an open and free marketplace will bring prosperity to many with no great sacrifice. We believe in quick fixes and band-aid solutions. Our failure to reevaluate our economic model will be our undoing.

When James Carville coined the phrase “it’s the economy, stupid,” in 1992, he wasn’t referring to our economic philosophy. However, it is our adherence to this system that has created the current level of misery. Gas prices are just one symptom of the disease.

What we need as a nation is a real solution to our dependency on oil. We do not need campaign promises to shift the tax we pay on a gallon of gas to the corporations that are making insane profits off of our misfortune. We do not need to bleed our domestic resources or rape our national treasures. We do not need to flex our military muscle in a region that has claimed the lives of thousands of our sons and daughters. We do not need to assign blame to a certain party or member of Congress.

What we need to do is reflect on our consumer-driven lifestyle. We need to turn our gas-guzzling SUVs into vehicles that efficiently consume resources. We need to make rational decisions and conserve in a practical manner. We need to wake up to the fact that one planet will not provide for our rate of consumption for very long. We need to accept that sacrifices will need to be made and that today’s gas prices are only the beginning.

No action taken to address this crisis will provide immediate relief. However, if political leaders begin standing up to powerful oil and auto industry lobbyists, an incentive to apply alternative approaches will result. If common citizens curb consumption, even out of necessity rather than conscience, a shift in market power will come about. If we stop buying the lie of capitalist idealism, the government, media and punditry will stop feeding it to us. If we refuse to accept the status quo, we can achieve real change.

Lighting a Candle

by Gordon Cooper

From Broader View Weekly, July 18, 2008

I am sure that I am not unlike most of the other car owners in America who have to stifle a curse word or two when we slide that nozzle into our fuel tanks and watch those digits spin in a blur before our eyes. It is painful when we realize that those digits represent real dollars taken from our wallets and bank accounts.

While each of us may feel the urge to curse, I believe, as a faithful, optimistic conservative, that our energy is better used by lighting a candle rather than cursing the darkness. In regards to the current dark days of high gas prices, let me offer the following candles.

My fellow columnist seems to believe that the laws of supply and demand, which have served to provide us with the necessities and luxuries of life for several generations, should somehow be repealed or at least seriously rewritten. According to his thesis, our economic model of capitalism is the primary cause of the “crisis” and therefore, we should seek an alternative model. He also believes that if we just “refuse to accept the status quo, we can achieve real change”. I am not sure how that refusal should be demonstrated or how we can just un-consume our way out of this situation when the global demand (read China and India’s rapid industrial growth and accompanying increased demand) dictates the international price more than our SUV’s or consumer-driven lifestyles.

So, let’s get back to the candle lighting. First of all, it should be noted that this challenge did not just develop in a short period of months, therefore the solution will not come in a few months either. The soup we are currently swimming in has been simmering for several years with all the necessary ingredients being added by several different chefs in several different administrations.

As mentioned in an earlier column, I believe one major ingredient of our soup was thrown in the pot when our government failed to limit the merger-feeding frenzy of the late 90’s, either through collusion or ignorance. As a result of rabid buyouts and friendly mergers, we saw the number of oil companies melt from over 43 independent – and mostly U.S. owned – competitors to the current level of less than 17 major, international companies.

In an effort to stimulate competition, I believe we should challenge investors and innovators to an energy race – much like President Kennedy challenged us to a space race, when we watched in embarrassment as the Soviets launched into space exploration ahead of us. I believe in the “can do” more than in the “can’t be done” or the “never been done before”.

If we would give new oil companies an incentive to explore new fields of endeavor and to lift some of the heavy restrictions placed upon them by well-meaning but short-sighted conservationists; I think we could see domestic production increase to the point where foreign producers would have to lower their prices to compete for the global market.

In spite of what my fellow columnist believes, I know that the natural law of supply and demand, like the law of gravity, i>does always work. If it is allowed to work without subsidization or manipulation by governmental agencies and regulation, competition for market share always lowers prices and increases quality. On the other hand, state-controlled entities and industries always become less productive and ultimately, more expensive.

To suggest that perhaps Congresswoman Maxine Waters was somehow smarter than the rest of us because she “knew that opening up domestic oil exploration was no guarantee that prices would come down” suggests that several centuries of human history has simply been poorly written. Time and again, history has proven that the best approach to economical challenges is the tried and true laissez faire philosophy.

I firmly believe that the life we live here in these glorious United States, in which we enjoy technological, medical, educational and informational advances beyond the fondest dreams of most of this planet’s inhabitants, was made possible because the government got out of the way and let the inventors invent, the investors invest and explorers explore.

We do not need Congress to open the strategic reserves and falsely flood the market with short-term supplies of oil. We do not need higher taxes on windfall profits – as if the government should decide on what is a justifiable profit level or CEO salary. We do not need to cower before foreign suppliers as if we were too impotent to discover our own sources of energy here.

We need to re-ignite the candle of American ingenuity that brought the world through the dark days of Nazism, Fascism, Economic Depression, and Communism.

We are Americans! We can develop alternative energy sources! We can remove and refine oil without destroying the environment! We can tell the OPEC countries “Thanks, but no thanks!” and threaten them with a flood of good old American oil on the global market by becoming an oil producer ourselves. God has placed beneath our American soil and near our American coasts enough oil to not only meet our current and future needs, but also, according to more than one source, enough to alter the global economy.

There were those who said Ronald Reagan was wrong to believe in American ingenuity and the market forces of a free society in the battle against Communism. Today those same pundits are telling us we are not strong enough to face down OPEC with those same tools. I say they are still good tools and they still work.

The Declaration of Dependence

by Gordon Cooper

From Broader View Weekly, July 4, 2008

As we celebrate another anniversary of the signing of that document that severed our ties with Great Britain, and marked the conception of a new and sovereign nation, I believe it is important to re-examine the philosophical and legal reasons behind its origin.

In its beginning brilliant paragraphs, the Declaration sets the stage by stating the legal basis for the dissolution of the political bands that had bound the colonies to the monarchy of Great Britain. Believing it was necessary to inform the members of Parliament as well as the leaders of the other nations of the world that their secession was not only justified but legal and moral, the Continental Congress clearly laid out the basic premises upon which this revolutionary action was built.

An immediate appeal is made to the fact that there is a natural law which supersedes man-made law in certain applications. And this appeal is followed quickly by the recognition of all men being created equally with those famous ‘inalienable rights’ of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. This radical departure from the accepted belief that the monarchy was to be held in higher regard than the common man came as a natural course of thinking when one read carefully the words of the Bible. To even the most skeptical among us, it is indisputable that the men who signed their names to this document had indeed read carefully the words of the Bible. The recognition of and reliance upon God in this, as well as other early writings, proves time and again the fact that these men were students of the Scriptures.

Some may dispute the role that Judeo-Christian beliefs held in the early formation of this nation. They may say that our founding fathers were merely deists and held no particular adherence to any specific God or any holy book. In fact, the document does initially refer to the deity as that form of God who is knowable through the agency of human reasoning alone –“the laws of nature and nature’s God” – but it doesn’t end there.

Further on in the document, the God upon whom they call for assistance, guidance, judgment and protection is clearly the Divine God of the Scriptures. There is a biblical and theological understanding of the role this God must play in their behalf if this experiment in human government is to succeed.

While the history of this nation is – as all human institutions must be, on account of our fallen nature – replete with examples of cruelty and hatred and abuse and criminal activity, it is also filled with examples of mercy, benevolence, sacrifice and charity. Yet through it all, we can not doubt that the entreaty made to God at its formation was answered by a gracious and merciful Creator.

As one reads through the list of grievances leveled at King George III, one can see the justification for separation, but many other groups of people have had similar justifications throughout the ages. Why then did our nation survive the initial conflict against the most powerful army and navy of that era? Why do we have a re-united nation after a bloody war that should have left us fractured and irreconcilable? Why have we conquered so many challenges that would have caused larger countries to trip and falter?

I believe the answer to these and many similar questions lies in the closing paragraphs of this piece of literature whose ratification we celebrate each year. As much as this day is called ‘Independence Day’ and the declaration is referred to as ‘The Declaration of Independence’ – it could equally be called ‘Dependence Day’ and the ‘Declaration of Dependence’. The final paragraph is as follows:

“And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred Honor.”

Herein lays the basic tenet of Judeo-Christian belief, that is: we have a protective Deity upon whom we may rely if our cause is just and yet we are duty bound to sacrifice our own comforts and material goods for the security and sustenance of others.

So as we cut the watermelon and enjoy the fellowship of family and friends while gazing in awe as fireworks light up the summer night, let us renew our declaration of dependence upon Him who has truly blessed this nation.

The Declaration of Independence

by Keith Cooper

From Broader View Weekly, July 4, 2008

As we remember the birth of our nation, there is certainly nothing wrong with celebrating one’s faith, worshipping God and giving thanks for His grace and mercy. And there is little doubt that religion played an important role at the birth of our nation. My fellow columnist makes some presumptions that are commonly used to support the view that the United States of America was formed as a Christian nation. I agree that it is very important to view the penning of the Declaration of Independence within its context. However, I draw a different conclusion from the contextual circumstance.

The language of the document reflects a couple of factors that made religious overtones politically and technically expedient.

State governments at the time were largely structured around the religious identity of the state. Though some of them were influenced by deism and enlightenment voices, many of the contributors to the declaration were highly religious and nearly all of the major players came from a religious background. Any document that sought broad approval would have to give at least a nod to religion. In the colonies Christianity (and specifically Protestantism) was most common. Political pressure was incredible to maintain at least the appearance of strong faith.

While economic interests and personal liberties are commonly given as the causes of the Revolution, religious freedom was a concern of early revolutionary figures. The power and reach of the Anglican and Catholic churches was a source of much of the dissatisfaction with colonial rule. Since the church had so much influence in state government, when England imposed its own clergy on the colonies, the threat of increased control was of high concern. The desire for religious freedom began to weaken the binds of state-imposed religion and fueled rebellion.

The question of legality also required a use of religious language. Because the declaration set out to prove that the laws of Britain did not apply, another standard had to be held up. If the rights of mankind were not provided by man’s law, a higher law must be appealed to. Thomas Jefferson maintained that Nature’s law was a sufficient standard. Neither a Supreme Judge nor Divine Providence was included in the first draft he wrote. Those terms were added (probably by committee) during the final authoring process.

As a matter of fact, very little of the document mentions things religious at all. The thrust of the declaration is to make a case for independence from British rule and list the grievances against King George III. The religious tone appears to add legitimacy and authority.

The fact that those on the religious right often cling to the Declaration of Independence as proof that the founders sought to build a Christian nation has ominous implications. It is a short distance between this assertion and establishing a theocracy. The motivation for focusing on the founders’ faith is to base legislation on biblical law and eliminate the separation between church and state.

Fortunately, religious freedom was a priority with our early legislators. Colonial leaders knew from experience the dangers of state-imposed religion. Members of the constitutional convention sought to include a separation of church and state into the original iteration of our Constitution. The diversity of denominations to which members of the convention subscribed, brought the issue of tolerance and religious freedom to the forefront. It also made consensus on matters of religion difficult. Though a proposal to prevent establishment of a state religion was voted down, language to prohibit a religious litmus test for elected officials was included in the Constitution.

When the first Congress met, religious freedom was a high priority. The First Amendment of the Bill of Rights shows the importance of that freedom by leading off with a provision for the separation of church and state.

While it is true that many of the founders were men of faith, presuming they meant to establish a Christian nation is an oversimplification. Many of the founders were deists or subscribers to Enlightenment ideals. Some, like Thomas Jefferson, mixed science, intellect and religion to answer philosophical questions. Though many preferred restrictions on which religions could be practiced, or thought that worship should be mandatory, others stressed the importance of religious tolerance.

As we celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence, we can easily see the religious climate in which it was penned. But it is important to look at the other influences that surrounded it as well. It is also important to consider that when the laws that govern the nation were formed, the protection of religious liberty was essential to preserving the unalienable rights with which we are all endowed.