Can’t Pass Cap-and-Trade? Shift to Close-and-Prosecute

Rent-seeking from the public: by hook or by crook.

The events of this spring in the fossil fuel industry are so much a leftist’s Impossible Dream that it’s becoming increasingly hard for me to believe in them as unforced coincidence.

The mine disaster in West Virginia was a terrible thing, in which 29 people died. Now an FBI probe has been announced:  of Massey Energy, for alleged bribery of federal safety officials.

In the wake of the awful oil rig explosion, which took 11 lives, this morning’s allegation is raging like wildfire across the blogosphere:  that the explosion will be blamed on – you guessed it – Halliburton.

The bribery-of-safety-officials-leading-to-a-mine-disaster story line is straight out of a Hollywood script.  It scratches multiple itches:  it’s the kind of thing leftists want desperately to believe is simply always going on, and it’s an oblique, second-order approach to discrediting the industry and the role it fills in our economy.  The demonization of Halliburton, in a sort of efficient multitasking, can perform a similar function, while it also keeps the pressure up on old Dick Cheney, that Hieronymus Bosch caricature of an entrail-eating public official.

The political cost of confronting the coal industry head-on – confronting it in principle, as a fossil-fuel industry – would be very high.  Coal employs a lot of Americans, and a whole lot more Americans depend on it for their energy needs.  The average American doesn’t hate coal, and doesn’t hate “Big Coal.”  Most of us don’t run around either foaming at the mouth over oil, Big Oil, or Halliburton and its oil rig service division.

But smear the industry with the implication of greed, vice, and negligence, and depict those qualities as endemic to “capitalist enterprise,” and the media pundits and the entertainment industry will do the rest.  How, they will demand, can we let this terrible “system” take lives and destroy the world around us?  Look for Feathery Vengeance:  Canaries Take Back the Coal Mine in 2012.  Finny Vengeance: The Halibut-Halliburton Smackdown, can’t be far behind.

But the federal government isn’t waiting for Big Entertainment to soften us up.  It’s Sammy-on-the-spot with the shining sword, swept dramatically, with that satisfying metal-on-metal whoosh, from the Government Fix-It Scabbard.  Here’s how the feds are proceeding, right now and without any clamor from you:

The nation’s top mine safety official told lawmakers earlier this week that the government will start going directly to federal court to shut down mines that make a habit of ignoring safety.

Joe Main, director of the Mine Safety and Health Administration, said his agency has had the power to seek federal injunctions for years, but has never tried to use it.

“I can’t speak for past administrations,” Main said during the Senate’s first hearing on the accident that killed 29 men. “We’re going to use it.”

Utility prices, as Obama himself promised, “would necessarily skyrocket.”

As they will with the moratorium on new drilling in the Gulf – the moratorium for American leases, that is.  China and Russia won’t be ceasing to drill in the Gulf.

It is a dreadful sense:  that every communication from the authorities needs to be inspected for its ulterior purpose.  In the case of the remarkably, almost unbelievably well-timed mine disaster and oil rig explosion, the federal government is already promising to curtail mining and drilling – just as Obama said he wanted to do back in 2006-8.  There’s more than one way to force Americans to pay more for energy.  Next, we can suppose, the measures will be instituted to ensure that revenue from higher prices is funneled to unions, favored businesses, and government officials.  But mines and rigs will have to close, thousands of people will lose their jobs, and prices will necessarily skyrocket.

I don’t believe, myself, that Obama’s objective is actually to get Americans to stop using fossil fuels.  Doing that would make the revenues dry up.  It would imperil union jobs and the coffers of big political donors – not to mention inflows to the federal treasury.  What Team Obama wants to do is gain control of the industry in toto, so it can decide who benefits and how much.

That’s what Cap-and-Trade was always to be:  a method of extracting arbitrary profits from people’s necessary daily activities, by controlling supply and claiming fees for demand.  It’s ultimately what Obamacare is too.  And in the latter realm, the implication that “market-based health care” is just a cesspool of negligence and greed has been an incessant theme, because the left can use it to justify government stepping in to control everything.  Analogously, the spectacle we are probably about to witness, of Massey and Halliburton in the dock being pelted with rotten fruit, constitutes a thread in the same theme about the fossil fuels industry.

To outline what it would look and feel like to have our energy industry managed by Obama or a like successor, one method is of course to look at national health care as it operates abroad.  But there’s another method, and one that is even closer to home and more discouraging.  I invoked that method in an article in January.  It’s very simple:  look at how the political crony system works in Chicago.  In June 2008, Binaymin Applebaum wrote a devastating article on that topic as it relates to the endlessly-exploited public housing program there.  There is today only the thinnest, most transparent veil of acting on behalf of the indigent or the public good, draped over the trading of favors and the raking in of profits guaranteed by the government – at the public’s expense.

In the process of American becoming Chicago writ large, the mine disaster and the oil rig explosion are crises no cronyist rent-seeker would let go to waste.

6 thoughts on “Can’t Pass Cap-and-Trade? Shift to Close-and-Prosecute”

  1. Closing down mines and denying permits to drill is counter-productive for Democrats. That’s because once again, “it’s the economy stupid!”

    Environmental issues have become an untouchable ‘rail’ with the Democrats and a special interest group that must be appeased.

    But environmentalists are confronted with a conundrum; all the ‘low hanging fruit’ has been picked.

    Thus they must either wait until technology gradually allows for less pollution and slowly increasing green jobs (minimal ‘net’ increase because for every new green job, there’s a commensurate loss of jobs in the former ‘dirty’ industry) or they must reduce jobs, throw people out of work and hit people in the pocketbook.

    That’s political suicide, which is why in the long run, the Dems can’t win this fight.

    Increasing regulation can be rolled back and will be and the greater the Dems radicalism in pushing the political pendulum to the left, the greater the corrective momentum will be when the public reinstates common sense, just as they did with Reagan after Carter.

  2. GB — I agree, if we have a free and fair election in November, and another one in 2012, that Democrats are shooting themselves in the foot to close down mines and drilling.

    That said, I think the approach will be more subtle than that. The THREAT of such closures can be used to extort the industry, as can the threat of investigation and federal charges.

    Several of the most respected pundits on the right have opined that the Goldman-Sachs hearings, and the threatened prosecutions, are strongly reminiscent of FDR’s “show-trial” approach to gaining control of companies and industries. They are also reminiscent of the methods used in Cook County, and others in major urban areas of the US, to entrench a cronyist relationship between politicians and business.

    All such methods levy burdens on the people — burdens on our wallets and choices — that are imposed to guarantee income flows to the favored. In opposing the theory and philosophy of leftist statism, which surely must be done, we also need to not take our eyes off the smarmy underside of crony statism. Show trials, public demonization, and extortion are how it’s done.

  3. My sense is that Obama really believes in a “clean energy economy”, and that he wants to be the one who makes us the first “clean energy” country. FDR had his TVA. Obama has told us a number of times that he wants to end the coal mining industry. We’ve also been told that he just doesn’t change his mind.

    Does he understand that 48.9 percent of our electric energy comes from coal-fired plants? Or the consequences of crippling the industry? I think he has a list, and the clean energy economy is a fixed goal. He was off at another ethanol plant this week, probably an preview of the EPA upping the ethanol content to 15% — an amount that damages engines except for the 3% of the automotive fleet adapted to flex-fuel.

    I think the environmentalists just want what they want, and assume it will work. At the White House, apparently everything has to pass the Obama team (Gibbs, Jarrett, Axlerod, Emanuel) to reach him. His disassociation from facts and accurate information may represent what he believes or what he prefers to believe.

    Richard Epstein (who knows him from U.Chicago) says that he has to be in absolute control. I keep trying to put together the insight from those who know him. Yes, utility prices would necessarily skyrocket. Do they understand what that would do to the economy? I don’t think so.
    I’m not very optimistic, and re-reading this I sound pretty paranoid. 🙂

  4. I’ve been very concerned about the damage that Obama is causing this country and fret about how long it will take to undo his damage and, more ominously, whether it can ever be undone. I’m terrified that health care “reform” will mark the irreversible decline of America. When I saw the oil rig explosion and leak, I immediately got a pit in my stomach because, beyond the loss of life and damage from leaked oil, this could very likely set back the possibility of more drilling for gas/oil.

    I wonder, given who is capable of winning a Presidency, if there is, from our conservative perspective, any person in the country who could have been a more catastrophic choice than Barack Obama. I try to tell myself that it took a Jimmy Carter to give us a Ronald Reagan. But I fear that there might be too much damage to overcome this time. I very much hope I’m wrong about that.

    1. The only thing ‘permanent’ in life is change Ritchie. That applies as much to liberal ‘advancements’ as it does to conservative traditions.

      Yes, ObamaCare can be reversed, Financial ‘reform’ reversed, ‘cap and tax’ blocked and according to Obama, Amnesty for illegals is being shelved for now.

      Perhaps part of your foreboding is due to a truth implicit to Obama’s election; liberal supporters and their beliefs aren’t going away and they will continue, perhaps for generations, to try to force their views upon us.

      It doesn’t take a clairvoyant to realize that with the overwhelming support that liberal ‘panaceas’ enjoy among the young, it may well be only a matter of time till socialism is voted into ‘the law of the land’.

      If demographics are destiny; then overwhelming liberality among the young and, the influx of minority groups who do not inculcate certain values such as the importance of education, the work ethic and a respect for law, ensures that in time Americans will abandon their heritage in favor of a socialistic chimera that will bring only ruin.

      When that is coupled with a press that never overlooks an opportunity to arouse doubt as to the efficiency and fairness of the capitalist system and that distorts and withholds objective fact in favor of subjective opinion, the cards are certainly stacked against us.

      What to do? Does Lincoln’s dictum that,”The philosophy of the school room in one generation will be the philosophy of government in the next”… mean that all is lost?

      No, it does not. It does mean that the war shall be long and hard.

      What to do is revealed by two factors; by looking at what led to this state of affairs, the counter strategy is suggested and that we have reality on our side.

      What led to this state of affairs was the acceptance of post modernism’s premises and the resultant emergence of “the narrative” Jeff Bergner’s Can Republicans Govern? is an invaluable treatise on this subject and rightly points out the counter strategy; until we can present a viable, engaging counter-narrative, we are engaged on a tilted playing field that favors liberalism.

      That conservative narrative begins with the Declaration of Independence’s fundamental premise; that our ‘unalienable’ rights are inviolable because they are granted to mankind by our creator.

      This is critical because man-made rights, such as the UN’s secular human rights, rest upon a foundation of popular consensus and, what men grant each other, other men who attain the necessary votes or power, can take away. ‘Rights’ such as they, are only inviolable for so long as those attached to those rights have the will and power to defend them.

      Our narrative then proceeds to the US Constitution, which is demonstrably the fairest and most effective manifesto yet conceived for individual liberty and the restraint of those passions which inevitably give rise to tyranny.

      The conservative narrative then turns to the economy of trade and, here capitalism needs no defense, having proven itself to be the greatest engine for material advancement ever developed. Cognizant of human nature and in allegiance with natural economic laws, it only needs the regulation necessary to commerce, of a fair and equitable playing field. Just as Adam Smith so stipulated.

      The Conservative narrative then returns to premise, not in a closed circle but rather in a spiral of understanding.

      Inequality of outcome is absolutely necessary and results in beneficial outcomes for the great majority, when individual achievement is rewarded by society.

      Inequality of outcome is how nature advances.

      Evolution’s beneficial mechanism of individual mutation and adaptation which extends from the individual to the group without, which life itself would have always remained at the stage of the amoeba.

      Capitalism’s concentration of assets into the hands of a few, providing a private pool of investment which generates entrepreneurial activity and the creation of new jobs, resulting in the creation of societal wealth.

      Civilization itself, which results from the group rewarding and then adopting individual breakthroughs in human endeavors.

      That narrative is supported by reality and that, is our greatest strength.

      “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need” is anti-human. It is the paean of the hive and suitable only for bees and ants. If it be true that, “man does not live by bread alone” it also be true that, without bread, man cannot survive.

      The most effective, by far, system of producing ‘bread’ ever devised is capitalism operating in a representative republic, which uses democracy as its elective mechanism.

      We shall have to offer ‘new’ solutions to new problems, which are invariably the old problems presenting themselves in ‘new clothing’. Consistent with our principles, new solutions will be found because human nature and the operational laws of the universe remain inviolate and always provide a framework within which to develop needed answers.

      I suspect that when we do formulate our Conservative manifesto, our counter ‘narrative’… it will contain elements of the above.

  5. Well Geoffrey, I feel a little better after reading this, but I hope that we can get back to our conservative traditions sometime within my life span. I’d be distraught if we suffered through this statism through my dying day.

    On an encouraging note, I’ve seen more and more people address the liberal Narrative since Bergner wrote about it. That’s a positive development.

    “We shall have to offer ‘new’ solutions to new problems, which are invariably the old problems presenting themselves in ‘new clothing’.”

    I think it was Harry Truman who said the only new things out there is the history we *don’t* know. Seems a fitting response here.

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