11 July, 2008

Jonah Goldberg Doesn't Want to Tap the SPR

In a recent post on the Corner, Jonah Goldberg takes offense to Newt Gingrich's advice to dump 1/3 of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to "punish speculators for betting against America".

As Jonah himself puts it:

I thought the SPR was "strategic" in terms of national security, not for "punishing speculators" and managing the price of commodities during an election year.

I think Jonah is right. And wrong.

It's not for punishing speculators or managing prices during an election year. But it's not necessarily only a "national security" reserve (depending upon how one defines "national security").

The SPR was created by The Energy Policy and Conservation Act (EPCA). This was signed into law by Gerald Ford (R-USA) in 1975, a direct result of the 1973-1974 Arab oil embargo.

According to Robert Bamberger, in a report he filed for Congress in 2006, the original text of the act allowed the President to tap the SPR if:

    1. an emergency situation exists and there is a significant reduction in supply which is of significant scope and duration;
    2. a severe increase in the price of petroleum products has resulted from such emergency situation;
    3. such price increase is likely to cause a major adverse impact on the national economy.

All three clauses had to be met.  It's arguable whether or not the first condition has been met, but if you so argued, you wouldn't have a hard time also arguing the second or the third condition.

However, in 1990 Congress amended the act:

permitting the President to use the SPR for a short period without having to declare the existence of a “severe energy supply interruption”

Also, the President can allow "exchanges of SPR oil
where oil is loaned and then returned with additional oil as a premium".

So, it certainly appears from the 1990 amendment that the President has the authority to use the SPR in the current situation, but whether it's right to do so remains in question. Indeed, Bamberger argues against it:

A spike in crude and product prices often stirs calls for use of the SPR. However, the SPR is intended by statute to ameliorate discernible physical shortages of crude oil.

We're in an interesting situation, and frankly not one that is covered by the 1975 legislation.  It's not a physical disruption that's causing us trouble, but a large spike in demand, particularly from China and India.

But here's the money quote from Bamberger and where I think Newt is right and Jonah is wrong:

the price of imported crude oil rose from roughly $4/barrel (bbl) during the last quarter of 1973 to an average price of $12.50/bbl in 1974. While no amount of strategic stocks can insulate any oil consuming nation from paying the market price for oil in a supply emergency, the availability of strategic stocks can help blunt the magnitude of the market’s reaction to a crisis.

So, in a year or so, prices tripled.  This was the "market reaction" to the crisis that the SPR was created to "blunt".

In January of 2007, oil was just below $50/barrel.  It has recently approached $150/barrel. This is definitely a similar "market reaction".  However, here the "crisis" isn't interruption of supply, but increase in demand.

Therefore, we've shown that tapping the SPR in the current circumstances, is in fact, allowed under statute, and also justified. As for "punishing the speculators for betting against America", well, the other reason for the SPR is to reduce the ability for people to use crude oil as a political weapon (yeah, right...how's that worked out?).  Certainly one could argue that speculators are doing just that.

As I've said before, I support limited tapping of the SPR, but only in conjunction with efforts to increase supply/decrease demand. And, I would want a plan to replenish the SPR as quickly as possible.

Of Newt's three points, I admit that this one is the weakest, and is the one that I would not be upset to be set aside, but I don't have a problem with it either, under my aforementioned conditions.

10 July, 2008

Jim DeMint Wants an 'Up or Down Vote' on Offshore Oil

Jim DeMint (R-SC) is talking of shutting down the Senate until Harry Reid (D-NV) allows the Senate an up or down vote on opening up offshore drilling in the U.S.

Thank God.

Right now the price of gas is Republicans hole card. While the Democrats are great at (wrongly) blaming Bush for the high cost of gasoline, they have no plan whatsoever to bring the cost down.  As I've said before, Republicans can and should use this to their advantage.  I really believe the "unofficial" campaign slogan for every single Republican should be:

It's the price of gasoline, stupid.

DeMint correctly ridicules Nancy Pelosi (D-CA-08) and her call to Bush to open up the Strategic Petroleum Reserves:

It’s really ironic and even hypocritical that Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats think we ought to pull oil out of the ground from our national reserve but not pull it out of the ground in other places.

He's correct, and while I do support opening up the SPR, I only support it if other conditions have been met.  And one of those conditions would be opening up offshore drilling.  If we're going to tap the SPR, we have to have a plan for filling it back up again (or making it obsolete), and that plan has to include finding a way to be less dependent on foreign oil.

Now, what would be a good way to do that?  Oh yeah.

Drill Here. Drill Now. Pay Less.

And some of the Republicans are starting to get it.  DeMint's plan is quite obviously a stunt. Even if he does get his up and down vote, it's unlikely that such a bill would ever find it's way to George W. Bush's (R-USA) desk.

But it gives the Republicans campaign fodder.  Any Democrat that votes against it in a state or district won by Bush in 2000 or 2004 will immediately go into the gun sights of the NRCC and NRSC.

09 July, 2008

The Candidates and The First Amendment

Earlier this week, I read in a couple places that Libertarians support Barack Obama (D-IL) over John McCain (R-AZ) for President by a pretty hefty margin (53% to 38%). And while I question the validity of this poll for several reasons, at least one well-known Libertarian mulls an Obama endorsement.

So, I thought it'd be fun to look at where the candidates stand on the Bill of Rights. Actually, I may extend that and look at other rights guaranteed (note, not "granted", when will our press get that right?) by further Amendments and the Supreme Court.

That seems like a good way to look at things from a Libertarian perspective. Libertarians are all about personal rights, right? I mean, that's the reason the name comes from "liberty".

So, conveniently there's a website about defending our First Amendment rights. It's called First Amendment Center.

Let's quote the First Amendment as a refresher, before we start:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Next, let's look at Mr. Obama. From the First Amendment Center:

In his 11 years in government service as a member of the Illinois Senate and the U.S. Senate, Barack Obama has taken varied stances on issues related to the First Amendment.

The article says that Obama has done well regarding improving government transparency, and has been "outspoken in supporting the expression of religious beliefs by public officials". He's also been strong in support of "separation of church and state", so the article gives Obama high marks here.

Lower marks for Obama occur in the area of "campaign-finance, petition and cultural-expression issues". One of the few bills actually drafted by Obama is the Curtailing Lobbyist Effectiveness through Advance Notificatin, Updates, and Posting Act in 2006. This bill strove to limit the effectiveness of lobbyists. However, lobbying is a form of the right to petition. This bill died in Committee.

He has worked to limit campaign financing from lobbyists and said that "his administration would prohibit past political appointees from lobbying the executive branch during his term". Once again, he is trying to limit people's ability to petition the government.

Other items of note are listed later in the article. He was critical of a "Choose Life" license place while a state senator in Illinois. He has complained about violent lyrics in rap music and advocated more indecency regulation of broadcasters. He threatened legal action against Lindsay Ashford, self-professed pedofile, who posted on his website to the "cuteness" of Obama's children.

And, from my own research, Obama supported the firing of Don Imus over his controversial radio show comments. But not a peep from him until forced to regarding the Reverend Jeremiah Wright.

He also supports strengthening "hate crime laws". To me, this is positively frightening, because hate crime legislation is the start down the road to the "thought police".

He claims to oppose the "Fairness Doctrine". Thank God. This puts him in opposition to his party though, so I question what he would do if President and a Democratic controlled Congress enacted Fairness Doctrine legislation.

So, that's Obama. Now let's look at John McCain.

The money quote:

I would rather have a clean government than one where quote 'First Amendment rights' are being respected that has become corrupt. If I had my choice, I’d rather have the clean government.

Ouch. From a First Amendment supporters standpoint, it doesn't get much worse.

Obviously he's one of the men behind the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (usually known as McCain-Feingold). This bill stomped all over the First Amendment.

Another quote from McCain while discussing the bill:

Some will argue that the First Amendment of the Constitution renders unlawful any restrictions on the right of anyone to raise unlimited amounts of money for political campaigns. Mr. President, which drafter of the Constitution believed or anticipated that the First Amendment would be exercised in political campaigns by the relatively few at the expense of the many?

Due to McCain-Feingold, we've seen a huge increase in so-called "527s". These groups participate in the election process by usually promoting issues and telling you where the candidates stand on them. Since they don't directly advocate either candidate, they avoid regulation by the FCC under McCain-Feingold. McCain has introduced legislation to cut off the growth of these groups.

He introduced the Children's Internet Protection Act, which required public schools and libraries "to install filtering software on computers to block access to material that is obscene or deemed harmful to minors". He's done much to restrict broadcasters.

The article also mentions that he's been a supporter of a flag-desecration amendment toe the Constitution. While this proposed Amendment would limit your First Amendment rights, I personally have less of a problem with this one because he's working to do this the right way, through an Amendment, not congressional legislation or judicial fiat.

He's been a strong supporter of religious freedom, has made repeated statements that a candidate for President's religious views should not be an issue.

Doing a bit of research, it's hard to find any articles on the net related to John McCain and the First Amendment that are positive.

So, then, to the grades. I don't think Libertarians would be pleased with either, frankly.

Obama: C-

McCain: D- And many would say I'm being charitable with McCain.

The sad thing about both though is that they're both interested in "campaign finance reform", and are interested in going about it in a way that clearly limits free speech. Barack Obama was not in the Senate in 2002 to vote on McCain-Feingold, but I think it's clear from his other statements that he would've voted for it. They're also very similar in their views on limits of freedom to broadcasters.

To be honest, I think Obama's grade is higher merely due to the brevity of his political career. There's little in his statements that make me think that he's a real supporter of free speech.

First Amendment: Advantage Obama.

UPDATE: Obama's First Amendment grade lowered to D- as documented in this post.

UPDATE: Obama's First Amendment grade lowered to F as documented in this post.

Results so far:

Obama McCain
First Amendment F D-

07 July, 2008

"When I was a United States Senator"

There's been a lot going around the net the last few days on yet another "nuanced" or "inartful" position statement by Barack Obama (D-IL) on Iraq.

Apparently he's not going to bring the troops home in 16 months after all.  You can read about it everywhere.  I'm not going to bother to link.

But here's the comment he made that got me:

I wasn't saying anything I hadn't said before, that I didn't say a year ago or when I was a United States senator.

And people criticize George W. Bush (R-USA) for being arrogant?  Has the Presidential election happened already and I missed it? Shouldn't the state of Illinois hold a special election or appoint a replacement or something? I wouldn't want them to feel like they're not getting their due representation in Congress.

This man should not be allowed to speak without a teleprompter. And yes, I realize the irony of such a statement coming from a GWB supporter.