Quote of the Day: Garry Wills

[The] “natural law” was fallen back on [by Catholic bishops], saying that the natural purpose of sex is procreation, and any use of it for other purposes is “unnatural.” But a primary natural purpose does not of necessity exclude ancillary advantages. The purpose of eating is to sustain life, but that does not make all eating that is not necessary to subsistence “unnatural.” One can eat, beyond the bare minimum to exist, to express fellowship, as one can have sex, beyond the begetting of a child with each act, to express love.

— Garry Wills (New York Review of Books)

“Drill, Obama, Drill” Won’t Save You at the Gas Station

Republicans have a problem. The economy is improving…under President Obama’s watch.

And it is precisely because the economy is improving, both here and abroad, that gasoline prices are rising.

Because they can no longer blame him for slow growth or rising unemployment, Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, and Newt Gingrich are now blaming the President for high gas prices, which is a little like blaming him for a strong economy, a charge he’d gladly plead guilty to.

So here’s my question for the candidates: If Democratic policies are responsible for oil that now costs $102/barrel, does that mean that Republican policies were responsible for oil that cost $145/barrel back in 2008?

In fact, George W. Bush oversaw the largest rise in oil prices in American history, from $20/barrel in 2001. And you know what? It wasn’t his fault either.

Demand is growing, and supply can’t keep up. Global production has been flat since 2005. No president can change that.

But you can’t say Barack Obama hasn’t tried.

President Obama has overseen the largest rise in drilling rigs in American history, from less than 200 in April 2009 to over 1,200 today. American oil production is the highest it’s been in eight years. We now import 15 percent less oil than we did in 2005. For the first time since 1949, the United States is a net exporter of gasoline, diesel, and other fuels.

There was a time, not too long ago, when none of this was true. Back then, during the last presidential campaign, we were told that “drill, baby, drill” was the answer to our woes.

Well, we’ve tested their theory. We’ve ramped up drilling exponentially. We’re living through a mini-boom in oil production. And gas prices keep rising.

The skeptics have been vindicated.

But old slogans die hard.

No amount of drilling can bring back the good old days. According to economist James Hamilton, “The 138 million barrels produced in North Dakota and Montana in 2010 is about half of what the state of Oklahoma produced in 1927 and a fifth of what the state of Alaska produced in 1988.”

Increasing production in new oil fields only replaces declining production elsewhere. That’s why American oil production has fallen from 10 million barrels per day in 1970 to 6 million today.

Even with new shale oil in North Dakota and further exploration in the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska, the International Energy Agency predicts we’ll never produce more than 6.7 million barrels per day. Even if the President opened the Outer Continental Shelf to exploration, the best we could expect is another 0.5 million barrels per day.

That may sound like a lot, but it’s a drop in the bucket on the world stage, where prices are set. If we opened every possible region to oil exploration, the Energy Information Administration estimates that gas prices would fall two cents per gallon.

But not until 2030.

Because drilling takes a long time.

That’s why, when the Washington Post fact-checkers tried to figure out how the Keystone XL pipeline might affect gas prices, they reported: “We could not find any experts…to say that the prospect of the pipeline being built in the future would somehow impact the price of gasoline today.”

Two cents per gallon, eighteen years from now. Is that what our environment is worth? Is that what the safety of our workforce is worth?

After the worst environmental disaster in American history.

After a record-setting fourteen billion-dollar weather disasters last year.

After the highest Arctic temperatures and the lowest Arctic sea ice volume on record.

After fourteen dangerous leaks at the first Keystone pipeline.

Can we not say we’ve been warned?

But the Republican candidates don’t care. If they really cared about rising gas prices, they wouldn’t be beating the war drums against Iran. Time and time again, conflict in the Middle East has inflated the price of oil.

Just ask George W. Bush. Okay, so maybe it was his fault after all.

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This op-ed was published in today’s South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

Get Me to the Church on Time!

by Norman Horowitz

While from time to time I find it difficult to remember where I parked my car, there are many things that are totally useless that I remember that take up a lot of my very limited “brain space.”

One of these is from the play Plaza Suite when Maureen Stapleton confronts her husband George C. Scott with her knowledge of his having an affair with his secretary and she says something like: “I know that you have been having an affair with your secretary and it is very sad in that I expected more of you. Everyone has an affair with their secretary.”

I expect better from our political process.

Starting with my valiant Air Force service while defending democracy for four years in Belleville, Illinois, and working for a variety of media companies, I have had an expectation of “management excellence” and it was rarely, if ever, satisfied. I did believe that, if you became the head of a multibillion-dollar enterprise, you needed to be smart and effective.

Boy, was I ever wrong about that!

As I complete my eighth decade of life, I have transferred my expectations of excellence into the political arena.

I am a big-time supporter of our President Barack Obama, who has had a three-year opportunity of managing the unmanageable and has done as good a job as possible.

In my “declining years,” I have wondered why I continue to expect reasonableness and sanity from the Republicans?

I do not differentiate between “Republican smart” or “Democrat smart”, but rather my concept of just plain “smart.”

With a couple hundred million “grownups” in our country, why is Rick Santorum a leading candidate for president?

Santorum has said that not only was the separation of church and state not absolute; there is a role for religious faith in the federal government. He went on to say that the definition of separation of church and state does not appear verbatim in the Constitution. What it does say is:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…

Santorum wants to blur the line between the religion and government.

Santorum said that liberals are the real bigots in the debate over same-sex marriage because, he said, they argue that conservatives oppose gay marriage because of “hatred and bigotry.” He cited a recent decision by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals that California’s same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional, and that the ban “serves no purpose, and has no effect, other than to lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians in California.” Santorum said this was tantamount to the court saying, “If you believe marriage is between a man and a woman, it is either because you are a hater or a bigot.”

Someone should tell Santorum that the Constitution is the law of the land for America. It is a secular document and does not “appeal to God.” Our government derives from people (not God), as it clearly states in the preamble:

We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union…

While the Constitution does not include the phrase “separation of church and state,” neither does it say “freedom of religion.” However, the Constitution implies both in the First Amendment.

Santorum might note that keeping religion separate allows atheists and religionists to practice their belief systems without government intervention.

Closing with another Neil Simon play, the musical Sweet Charity had a song entitled, “There’s Gotta Be Something Better Than This!” Well, there just has to be something better than Santorum!

The Sins of Our Fathers, According to Rick Santorum

We have sinned, and in so doing, we have brought this economic mess on ourselves. Thus says a nasty meme pervading American culture.

Now, we certainly bear some blame for electing politicians who allowed fraudsters and plutocrats to corrupt the system, but that’s not what this meme alleges. Instead, we’ve been told, we have changed. Our morals, our values, the way we raise our children, our dying work ethic: These are to blame for our meager inheritance.

You can see it in surveys of older generations. In a recent report by the Pew Research Center, the Silent Generation, born before 1946, told pollsters that they are more honest than younger generations, and Baby Boomers claim that their work ethic, respectfulness, values, and morals separate them from today’s youth.

You can see it in the resilience of Rick Santorum’s campaign for president. The former Senator from Pennsylvania built his political career around family values. In 2008, he attributed this country’s problems to the “corruption of culture, the corruption of manners, the corruption of decency.”

And you can see it in the popularity of Charles Murray’s latest book Coming Apart: The State of White America, which suggests that declining family values are responsible for the economic plight of the working class.

It’s a lie — and a prejudiced one, at that.

It’s true that there are more women in the workforce than ever before and that men now work fewer hours as a result. It’s also true that the divorce rate is higher than it was forty years ago and that more and more children are growing up in households with one parent or cohabitating parents.

But these trends don’t seem to have had a negative effect on childrearing. Mothers still spend 10 hours per week on child care, exactly the same as they did in 1965, and now fathers spend more time — 5 hours, up from 3 — on child care.

Partly as a result, 40 percent of adults believe their family life now is closer than it was when they were growing up; only 14 percent believe it’s less close. Similarly, 51 percent of married adults believe they are closer than their parents were; only 5 percent believe they’re less close.

And, although 95 percent of Americans think the divorce rate has risen over the past 20 years, in fact it has gone down.

That’s not the only number that’s been going down. For the past thirty years, violent crime rates have been plummeting. Teenage birth rates have fallen over 40 percent since the 1950s. Wife beatings and spousal rape are no longer condoned by law enforcement, as they were just a few decades ago. Lynch mobs and other evils of segregation are rapidly becoming a distant memory.

It’s also hard to imagine how older generations can claim that kids don’t have a work ethic when the percent of college students working more than 20 hours per week (46 percent) is higher than it was when they were college-age (39 percent in 1986, for example).

But that’s what happens when you have more bills to pay than ever before. Education costs, like health care costs, have grown faster than the rest of the economy, all the while government assistance has been shrinking. The result has been an explosion of student loans.

And therein lies the rub, for the real difference between old and young, between past and present, is not the state of our values, but rather the state of our economy.

The tax code has become less progressive, regulations less strict, unions less powerful, the safety net less generous, and pensions less secure. Is it any wonder, then, that families have become less reliant on the singular male breadwinner?

In a cruel irony, the very policies advocated by Santorum and Murray have corroded the “family values” they claim to admire. It makes you wonder why people are still listening to them.

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This op-ed was published in today’s South Florida Sun-Sentinel.