Nov 16 2008

O'Reilly at it again

Published by under Thoughts

I rarely, if ever, watch Bill O’Reilly of the O’Reilly factor. I don’t really care for the man and the way he goes after anyone who comes on his show like some pitbull that smells fresh meat. A friend recently sent me the following YouTube link:

O’Reilly is a boor. Yes, Barney Frank is partly responsible, I agree, but to say “People bought stock and lost money” based on whatever Frank said is nonsense. If I bought stock every time someone said to me…”It looks good going forward” I’d be out of a house. People do stupid things and the first rule of investing is never invest in something without checking it out first. You can’t blame Barney Frank for the stupid things that people do.

Rep. Frank said that he didn’t think that Fannie and Freddie were good investments looking back but that they he thought they would be solid going forward because they were going to do “things to improve them” (I listened to the clip again). Anyway, he shouldn’t have said that but for O’Reilly to sit there and blame him for people losing their investments because they put money into Fannie and Freddie after his statement is a stretch (I think that Rep. Frank should have limited his comments in the clip that O’Reilly beats him over the head with to simple things and should not have made projections forward). This goes against the conservative philosophy of individual responsibility. Basically O’Reilly is making the argument that it’s Frank’s fault in duping people into investing in Fannie and Freddie.

I agree with O’Reilly on the idea that Rep. Frank should have come forward and said, “you know, I shouldn’t have said that and I shouldn’t have suggested that Fannie’s and Freddie’s prospects were solid looking forward” rather than try and shift the blame on the Republicans for loosening the regulations on Frannie and Freddie (which they played a part in — just as the Democrats did).

Again, O’Reilly is a real boor — and in my opinion he’s just some shmuck who thinks it’s his place to take someone “out to the shed” and punish them when, in fact, it’s not. O’Reilly does this because he gets off on it and that’s pretty pathetic.

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Nov 16 2008

Enough Already!

Published by under Energy Policy,Thoughts

Once again President Bush has shown us just how pathetic and partisan he really is. Here it is, September, very little time left in this congress to get much of anything done and the House of Representatives passes an energy bill that has bipartisan support. It includes a little of everything: it allows for offshore drilling, includes incentives for renewable energy, requires oil companies to drill for oil on lands that they already lease from the government, and requires the government to release oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR). And what does President Bush and the White House call it? “A waste of time” that’s what.

President Bush doesn’t like it because allows drilling between 50 and 100 miles offshore…not the 3 mile limit that he and the Republicans prefer. President Bush doesn’t like it because it pays for itself through a repeal of some of the tax cuts that the energy bill from 2005 gives to the oil industry. President Bush doesn’t like it because it doesn’t give states an incentive to allow for drilling off their coasts. In general President Bush doesn’t like this bill because it doesn’t give his buddies in the oil industry (who are raking in money hand over fist while oil is high) a free reign to do whatever they want, wherever they want without any consequences.

Instead of thinking…”Gee…this is about the best we’re going to get with this Congress” he would rather spit on it and play the “Blame the Democrats” game by saying that the bill was laced with “poison pills” and that House Democrats “‘lack of seriousness about expanding access to the vast domestic energy resources’ off U.S. coasts” (CNN, “Administration rips Democrats’ energy bill as waste of time“, CNN.com, September 17, 2008 ). This has nothing to do with actually trying to break the gridlock and the deadlock in Washington politics. This is just stupidity on the part of a President who has managed to screw up America more than it ever has been in the past. I notice how people in my community get all worked up about how “bad Clinton was”…well, at least under Clinton we had budget surpluses, we were growing the economy, we were respected in the world community, and we were paying down the national debt. Bush has managed to erase all of that and more!. We borrow from the Chinese to pay the Saudis for their oil, we have budget deficits galore, the national debt has grown tremendously, we are not respected in the world, we are in the middle of war that we (and the rest of the world) were lied to in order to gain support, and our civil rights are being eroded daily.

It’s time that President Bush stop blockading any effort to achieve a bipartisan move forward on the energy issue and support what he can get rather than stonewall based on ideology and sheer stupidity. If he wants to save any part of his legacy (whatever there may be left) then he needs to get his head out of the ground and do something positive.

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Aug 29 2008

The Difference Between Republicans and Democrats

Published by under Election,Thoughts

Last night’s acceptance speech by Barack Obama as the Democratic Party nominee for president of the United States was excellent. Senator Obama did what he needed to do — define himself and counter Senator McCain’s claims that he’s elitist and out of touch with Americans. The Democrats have done quite well for themselves this week and it was good to see Bill Clinton come out unabashedly in favor and in support of Senator Obama. If anyone is out of touch with the state of America and Americans it’s Senator McCain and the Republicans.

Consider that Senator McCain and the Republicans have been chanting the tired old mantra of “Drill Here! Drill Now!” for several weeks — knowing full well that drilling “here” and drilling “now” will do absolutely nothing to lower energy costs here in the United States in the near or mid-term future. It’s all a matter of producing a platitude that resonates with the fears of Americans rather than their aspirations. The Republicans are way off the mark and out of touch with Americans these days and it represents a dramatic difference in perspective. Paul Krugman in his latest op-ed piece in the New York Times notes

Democrats say and, as far as I can tell, really believe that working Americans are getting a raw deal; Republicans, despite occasional attempts to sound sympathetic, basically believe that people have nothing to complain about.

(Krugman, Paul, “Feeling No Pain“, The New York Times, August 29, 2008 )

As Krugman outlines in his opinion piece the census of 2007 shows that Americans are worried about the direction this country is taking. And that was in 2007 — before the financial crisis really tightened its grip on the economy and made it’s impact known. Median incomes for American families fell between 2000 and 2007, poverty was up, health insurance down. And even with all these indicators pointing to significant problems the Bush administration puts its head in the sand and proclaims that the economy is “basically sound” and there are no problems. At least no problems that tax cuts for businesses and the rich won’t cure.

On the health care side we are facing a looming crisis. Health care costs are increasing faster than the rate of inflation in the United States on a year-over-year basis. Employers, facing an economic downturn, are looking to cut costs whereever they can to stay profitable. That means cutting the health care benefits of workers or pushing more of the costs of health insurance onto workers who are seeing the power of their paycheck decline already due to the skyrocketing costs of gas, food, and electricity. As these individuals face declining health care the Republicans can only repeat their tired old mantra of “tax cuts for businesses will cure the economic ills.” Many Americans don’t even have health care insurance.

visiting the emergency room in a medical crisis is no substitute for regular care. Furthermore, while a hospital will treat you whether or not you can pay, it will also bill you — and the bill won’t be waived unless you’re destitute. As a result, uninsured working Americans avoid visiting emergency rooms if at all possible, because they’re terrified by the potential cost: medical expenses are one of the prime causes of personal bankruptcy.

(Krugman, Paul, “Feeling No Pain“, The New York Times, August 29, 2008 )

As for health care coverage, President Bush and Senator McCain seem to think that the emergency room at the hospital is “affordable” health care. In fact President Bush stated so last year: “I mean, people have access to health care in America. After all, you just go to an emergency room.” (Bush, George W., HealthCareTalk.net,July 10, 2007).

It’s hard to sympathize with the plight of people when you don’t even connect with their problems. And therein lies the Republican’s dilemma. How can they relate to voters when they don’t even recognize their problems. The disconnect is so bad that former McCain economic advisor, the former senator Phil Gramm, described America as a “nation of whiners.” (“Dr. Phil Gramm knows what ails America“, LA Times, July 11, 2008) How out of touch can you be?

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Aug 28 2008

We Can Solve It!

Published by under Energy Policy,Thoughts

It’s astounding to realize that the oil companies have spent somewhere in the neighborhood of $427 million dollars on lobbying in the first half of 2008. Let’s see what that got them…a call from the Republicans to “Drill Here! Drill Now!” with no regard for the environment. We need to solve our addiction to oil and the quickly developing climate crisis in other ways. But don’t expect John McCain or the Republicans to jump on board. The following video comes from the Alliance for Climate Protection and drives the point home — We CAN solve it!

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Aug 27 2008

President Bush and the Constitution

Published by under Election,Thoughts

There are people in America that believe that if the election for the President in 2008 does not go to the Republicans then President Bush will “cancel” the elections in one fashion or another. Consider the following YouTube video

Here the poster brings about all sorts of arguments that elements which President Bush and the Republicans have put into place will allow him to suspend the Constitution and cancel the results of the election. Personally, I think this is very far-fetched and that Bush and his cohorts would have more to lose by trying such a tactic. However, don’t think that Bush has much respect for the Constitution. Consider back in 2005 it was reported in the Capitol Hill Blue that when the Patriot Act was up for renewal an argument ensued between President Bush and Congressional GOP leaders. As told by Doug Thompson of Capitol Hill Blue

GOP leaders told Bush that his hardcore push to renew the more onerous provisions of the act could further alienate conservatives still mad at the President from his botched attempt to nominate White House Counsel Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court.

“I don’t give a goddamn,” Bush retorted. “I’m the President and the Commander-in-Chief. Do it my way.”

“Mr. President,” one aide in the meeting said. “There is a valid case that the provisions in this law undermine the Constitution.”

“Stop throwing the Constitution in my face,” Bush screamed back. “It’s just a goddamned piece of paper!” (emphasis added)

(Thompson, Doug, “Bush on the Constitution: A ‘goddamned piece of paper’“, Capitol Hill Blue, December 5, 2005)

So, a document which George W. Bush has sworn to uphold, a document that has defined the basis for the law of this land for over two centuries, a document which has withstood the challenges faced by Lincoln during the Civil War and Roosevelt during the Great Depression…this document…the U.S. Constitution…is nothing more than a “gaddamned piece of paper” to George W. Bush.

When I think about this sort of perspective by the highest government official in the U.S. it makes me shudder. Here’s a document that represents and defines our system of government and is the very foundation for our government and George W. Bush shows such derision and disrespect for it. How this man ever got to be President of the United States is beyond me. It is time to make a change…we need to make sure President Bush, Vice President Cheney, the Republicans and their cohorts understand that you cannot take the Constitution for granted and you cannot actively work to undermine the rights and liberties that are guaranteed by it. It is time to vote these people out of office and return our government to what it should be — a “government of the people, by the people, for the people” (Lincoln, Abraham, “Gettysburg Address“, November 19 1863)

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Aug 08 2008

More Oil Does Not Equal Lower Gas Prices

Published by under Energy Policy

Paul Krugman of the New York Times sums up Republican Party politics well in his latest opinion piece. Now, I don’t always agree with Mr. Krugman on everything but on this one I find his insight excellent.

He describes the current Republican strategy with regards to the oil and energy crisis as “Know Nothing Politics” — which it most certainly is. The term “Know Nothing” originates from a political movement in the 1850s and originated with the fact that the Know Nothing party was a semi-secret organization and if a member was asked about its political activities he would reply “I know nothing.” (“Know Nothing“, Wikipedia, August 1, 2008 ) Today, however, the term “Know Nothing” has become a perjorative term suggesting that someone is both a nativist and ignorant. (“Know Nothing“, Wikipedia, August 1, 2008 )

As Krugman notes in his editorial, the Republican Party has come to stand for stupid politics — especially in the case of the energy debate. The Republican Party leadership and politicians appear to have adopted the concept that simple, brute-force instant gratification answers are the solution to every problem. (Krugman, Paul, “Know Nothing Politics“, The New York Times, August 7, 2008 ) In this case the solution to high oil prices — drilling offshore for more oil which will result in immediate reductions in gasoline prices at the pump. Some Republicans actually go so far as to claim credit for the recent drop in oil prices coming down from a high of around $147 per barrel to around $120 per barrel today. As Representative John Shadegg (R-AZ) recently claimed: “The market is responding to the fact that we are here talking,” (Krugman, Paul, “Know Nothing Politics“, The New York Times, August 7, 2008 )

Of course the studies and analyses from the Department of Energy which note that it would take years for any oil extracted from an offshore oil field to hit the open market and even the impact that oil would make on the price of crude is “insignificant” mean nothing to Rep. Shadegg or others like him.
Rather than look at the energy crisis as more complex the Republican’s in Congress and this Administration have adopted the concept of “Drill Here! Drill Now” without acknowledging the fact that oil field development takes years and we have no idea whether we will find sufficient oil in those fields to satiate our needs. We need to accept that oil is the fuel of the past and we have to move forward, diversify our energy production, look towards cleaner technologies as well as renewable energy sources for our future. On top of that, if we get off the oil addiction that OPEC wants us to be on we will remove a huge source of income for many “petro-dictators” as columnist Tom Friedman describes them.

What’s sad is that this strategy may actually work. The average voter wants to know what’s going to solve their problem today. People naturally want simple solutions — even to complex problems. And it appears that the Republicans in Congress, this administration and Senator McCain have embraced “Know-Nothing” politics as the answer. It’s a shame that Senator McCain has taken to lowering his standards for discourse down to simple rhetoric…I have a great deal of admiration for him as a maverick and a non-conformist Republican. But to adopt the methods and tactics of President Bush and to chant the mantra of “Drill Here! Drill Now!” without admitting that we are not addressing the core of the problem in a intelligent, thoughtful manner, he has really done himself and American politics a disservice. In the end it may get him the White House…but it will not get him a Republican congress. We may end up in the same partisan situation that we are in now for another two years. And we definitely don’t need more of that.

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Aug 02 2008

Doesn't He Get It?

Published by under Energy Policy,Thoughts

President Bush has used his weekly radio address today to, once again, slam Congressional Democrats and tout the need for opening up the coasts of America to offshore oil drilling.

To reduce pressure on prices, we need to increase the supply of oil, especially oil produced here at home

Bush, George, W., Weekly Radio Address, August 2, 2008 as quoted in “Bush pushes offshore drilling
“, MSNBC.

Interestingly, he acknowledged that it would be years before any of the oil found offshore could be pumped and made available to the market. So, in essence, he’s admitting that opening up offshore oil leases will do NOTHING to alleviate the situation today. But, and here’s the rub, he gives us a little insight into his reasoning for pushing this idea so vehemently:

lifting the ban would create new opportunities for American workers and businessmen

Bush, George, W., Weekly Radio Address, August 2, 2008 as quoted in “Bush pushes offshore drilling
“, MSNBC.

Now we have the truth — which we’ve really known all along. It’s not about oil prices at all…rather it’s about making his buddies in the oil business more money regardless of the environmental impact. Who cares if a little oil spills here and there and kills some fishes or coral reefs…at least his friends in Exxon-Mobile and Conoco-Phillips will make more money and their companies will make more obscense profits at the expense of the American economy and environment.

Fact is, President Bush is a one-trick pony. And just like he’s managed to put us into this mess, now he wants Congress to give him a shovel to dig even deeper. In fact, energy experts and the government’s own research agency at the Energy Dpartment have said that drilling in the Outer Continental Shelf would have no impact on current gasoline prices and probably would have none for years. (“Bush pushes offshore drilling“, MSNBC, August 2, 2008 ).

But, like the good partisan politician that he is, President Bush wastes no opportunity to blame the Democrats for the problem. Somewhere in Texas a village is missing it’s idiot.

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Aug 01 2008

Oil Drilling or Afghanistan

Published by under Energy Policy,Thoughts

The latest Tom Friedman op-ed points out an interesting fact. Both Republicans and Democrats are fixated on two primary, though different, issues. The Republicans are fixated on offshore oil-drilling and the Democrats are fixated on the war in Afghanistan. For the Republicans, and for President Bush, the only solution they can come up with for the current energy crisis is the idea that we need to open up the nation’s shorelines to the oil companies for exploration and development. Never mind the fact that it would take years for any new field discovered to be developed to the point that the oil extracted would be available at the pump. Never mind the fact that this could potentially lead to an environmental disaster. Never mind the fact that the oil that would be found would be sold on the open market for the going market rate. No…those are merely minor issues. The Republican motto seems to be — “When in doubt…drill offshore!”

But wait, the Democrats, while not supporting the idea of offshore oil drilling, have their own issue that they’re fixated on. Troop levels in Afghanistan. See the Republicans have managed to shape the view of Democrats, and Senator McCain is trying extremely hard to make this view stick to Senator Obama, as being soft on defense and on terrorism. So, in knee jerk fashion, the Democrats feel that they must focus on sending more troops to Afghanistan since, as Tom Friedman remarks, it’s considered “‘the good war’, as opposed to Iraq.” (Friedman, Tom, “Drilling in Afghanistan“, The New York Times, July 30, 2008 )

The problem that the Democrats need to ask themselves (and especially Mr. Obama) “Can we really win the war on terrorism by sending more troops to Afghanistan or am I (or we) doing it just to make ourselves look tough enough?” As Friedman points out sending more troops to Afghanistan is not going to really do anything as the problem is not the terrorists — they’re the symptom — the problem is the failure of the Arab-Muslim world to join the rest of the world in the 21st century. The Arabs still have this vision of a global (or regional) caliphate where Islam is the dominant religion and all others are either ejected, eliminated, or reduced to “dhwimmi” status (basically less than second-class citizens). The fact is that the Arab regimes use authoritarian rule, religion and a shift of blame to the “West” for all of the ills of their population as a way to maintain control. Until there is serious and concerted political reform in the Arab world that takes these factors off the table we will always have a serious problem with Arab-Muslim terrorism. The only way to do that is to ensure, as Tom Friedman notes, that there is “decent and consensual government in Baghdad or Kabul or Islamabad” (Friedman, Tom, “Drilling in Afghanistan“, The New York Times, July 30, 2008 ).

However, we are faced with a quandry here. We need to help stabilize these governments and that takes a military presence for now. But by having a military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan we inflame the indiginous population. In Iraq, the Iraqis have gotten the message and are willing to stand up and fight for their new government; in Afghanistan — well, we’re not doing so well there. Our presence inflames the Afghans and is used for political reasons by the President of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai. Tom Friedman, in his opinion piece “Drilling in Afghanistan” quotes Thomas Schweich, a former Bush administration counternarcotics official focused on Afghanistan, and his article in the New York Times Sunday Magazine:

Karzai was playing us like a fiddle: The U.S. would spend billions of dollars on infrastructure improvement; the U.S. and its allies would fight the Taliban; Karzai’s friends could get rich off the drug trade; he could blame the West for his problems; and in 2009, he would be elected to a new term.

(Friedman, Tom, “Drilling in Afghanistan“, The New York Times, July 30, 2008 )

In addition Friedman quotes Afghan expert Rory Stewart’s July 17 Time magazine cover story from Kabul:

A troop increase is likely to inflame Afghan nationalism because Afghans are more anti-foreign than we acknowledge, and the support for our presence in the insurgency areas is declining … The more responsibility we take in Afghanistan, the more we undermine the credibility and responsibility of the Afghan government and encourage it to act irresponsibly. Our claims that Afghanistan is the ‘front line in the war on terror’ and that ‘failure is not an option’ have convinced the Afghan government that we need it more than it needs us. The worse things become, the more assistance it seems to receive. This is not an incentive to reform.

(Friedman, Tom, “Drilling in Afghanistan“, The New York Times, July 30, 2008 )

Before the Democrats and Mr. Obama go off and commit more troops to Afghanistan, they need to determine whether this is really going to be beneficial in the overall picture. The Democrats need to find a more comprehensive picture to winning the war on terrorism — they need to be more inventive than the Republicans. Commiting more troops to Afghanistan has become a political ploy to counter the Republican assertion that the Democrats are “soft on terrorism and defense.”

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Jul 30 2008

Politics and the DOJ

Published by under Uncategorized

The NY Times today highlighted an article that focused on an internal DOJ investigation that identified aides to former attorney-general Alberto Gonzales who used political affiliation in their hiring and promotion process. They apparently picked less-qualified applicants for non-political positions over others because of their political affiliations or passed over better qualified applicants because of their or their spouse’s political affiliation or activities. The articles continues by detailing a few examples of such behavior.

A longtime prosecutor who drew rave reviews from his supervisors was passed over for an important counterterrorism slot because his wife was active in Democratic politics, and a much-less-experienced lawyer with Republican leanings got the job, the report said.

Another prosecutor was rejected for a job in part because she was thought to be a lesbian. And a Republican lawyer received high marks at his job interview because he was found to be sufficiently conservative on the core issues of “god, guns + gays.”

(Lichtblau, Eric,”Report Faults Aides in Hiring at Justice Dept.“,The New York Times, July 29, 2008 )

What, of course, is not surprising at all is that the report also determined that White House officials were also actively involved in these hirings and promotion decisions. Does this surprise me? Not in the least. The Bush administration has continually flaunted the legal limits on a wide variety of issues — be it wiretapping without warrants to the firing of U.S. attorneys because of political affiliations or leanings. The fact is this administration has made a rather severe mockery of the law by behaving, and encouraging the behavior, that it is above the law. Former Attorney General Gonzales should have kept better tabs on his department.

The [Department of Justice] report released on Monday goes much further in documenting pervasive evidence of political hiring for some of the department’s most senior career positions, including immigration judges, assistant United States attorneys and even senior counterterrorism positions.

The pattern appeared most damaging in the hiring of immigration judges, as vacancies were allowed to go unfilled — and a backlog of deportation cases grew — while Mr. Gonzales’s aides looked for conservative lawyers to fill what were supposed to be apolitical jobs.

(Lichtblau, Eric,”Report Faults Aides in Hiring at Justice Dept.“,The New York Times, July 29, 2008 )

Since these are apolitical positions within the Justice Department it is illegal according to Civil Service Law and contrary to the department’s own internal policies to use political affiliation as a benchmark for hiring and promotion decisions. Obviously Ms. Goodling and her predecessor, Susan Richmond, felt that they knew better than the law. An example of Ms. Richmond’s interference can be seen in the extension of an attorney’s appointment in the deputy attorney general’s office. When an aide in the deputy attorney general’s office inquired abount the delay he

summed up his frustration in an e-mail message recounting his inability to keep the lawyer in his office. “I also probed whether there is something negative about him that I did not know,” Mr. Levey wrote. “Turns out there is: he is a registered Democrat,” he wrote, and Jan Williams, an official in the White House, “thinks everyone in the leadership offices should have some demonstrated loyalty to the President. She all but said that he should pack his bags and get out of Dodge by sunset.”

(Lichtblau, Eric,”Report Faults Aides in Hiring at Justice Dept.“,The New York Times, July 29, 2008 )

Now, is this something endemic to just this White House? Probably not. But it is interesting to see how pervasive this behavior is in this administration. Sure there were scandals in the Clinton administration, some of them politically oriented and motivated. But this White House has taken this behavior to a new level. And it runs counter to the concept that President Bush is a “Uniter…not a divider” and of trying to portray himself and his administration as being principled. And of course the response from the White House to this report is as expected: Tony Fratto, a spokesman for the White House said of Monday’s report, “There really is not a lot new here.” (Lichtblau, Eric,”Report Faults Aides in Hiring at Justice Dept.“,The New York Times, July 29, 2008 )

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Jul 28 2008

What's Really Driving Gas Prices These Days

Published by under Energy Policy

The New York Times has a good opinion piece about what’s really driving gas prices these days. The Republicans and President Bush would like us all to think that it’s because we don’t have enough domestic oil drilling while the Democrats would like us to think it’s the “evil” oil speculators, or the “evil” oil companies, but the reality is that it’s basically a case of supply and demand. With regards to the “evil” oil speculators the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the Federal Reserve and the Treasury and Energy Departments all concluded that “speculative trades in oil contracts had little to no effect on the rise in prices over the last five years.” (“Gas Price Follies“, The New York Times, July 28, 2008 ) Additionally, additional oil drilling, as I have noted in the past will do nothing for the price of gas at the pump in the short or even near term. The New York Times editorial notes that “Republicans should know that allowing more offshore drilling might marginally trim oil prices — in about a decade (emphasis added) — while sacrificing important environmental protections.” (“Gas Price Follies“, The New York Times, July 28, 2008 )

The fact is that we need to switch to alternative, renewable, energy and as we move in that direction we need to focus on conservation. You know conservation…that thing that Vice President Dick Cheney said “may be a sign of personal virtue but it is not a sufficient basis for a sound, comprehensive energy policy.” Well, Mr. Vice President, it looks like you were wrong on that one. And the editors of the New York Times agree with me: “Americans must burn less oil and find alternative sources of energy that do far less damage to the environment.” (“Gas Price Follies“, The New York Times, July 28, 2008 )

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