Last week, Maureen Dowd, a celebrated columnist for the New York Times, waded into the debate on whether or not the statue of Joe Paterno should be removed from Beaver Stadium.
Even with the invasion of campaign ads on YouTube and the copious coverage of the candidates’ stump speeches, there is one topic that we have not yet heard President Obama or Mr. Romney address sufficiently. It’s natural gas. Voters need to know where the candidates stand on whether or not the government should allow the exportation of liquefied natural gas (LNG) to Europe and Asia. This is an important question; it deserves more public debate.Thanks to a technique called hydraulic fracturing, aka “fracking,” the US now has access to a century’s worth of natural gas right under our feet. Assuming that practice will make perfect, and that environmental concerns with fracking will dissipate, these humongous pockets of gas could be just what we need to achieve greater energy independence and to once again become a competitive manufacturer. Managed wisely, domestically produced natural gas, which can be brought to the surface at a fraction of the cost of importing LNG, could help us out of harm’s way in the world and back to work at home.Seems like a no brainer to keep the bounty of domestic shale gas for domestic use. However, there are potential political and economic issues with limiting the exportation of LNG. For starters, it is not only China that wants our natural gas. Our closest allies are also hungry for cheaper fuel. Japan is especially needy since the Fukushima nuclear disaster caused preventive plant shutdowns nationwide. Neither our friends nor our enemies are going to like it if we are stingy with our new found glut of natural gas. Restricting exportation could lead to retaliation in other markets and a lot of international ill-will.There is also significant domestic pressure by energy companies that want to export LNG to maximize their profits. Several companies are lobbying Washington for the permits to build export facilities and trade LNG to Europe and Asia – where prices are two to four times higher than in the US. These companies are working quietly for now; however, any politician who sticks his or her neck out to pass legislation to limit the export of natural gas will likely suffer significant and very loud public criticism.There is also the concern that access to a cheap energy source will delay the development of renewable energy. The respite from more costly fossil fuels could undermine the further development of wind and solar. Natural gas is cleaner than oil or coal, but it is not zero-emissions, nor is it renewable. This is a very long-term, but valid concern – one that could make strange bed partners out of environmentalists and free market advocates.The most compelling argument for not allowing exports of LNG is not as obvious as those in favor of exportation, but it very well may trump all of them. A country can become very poor by selling its natural resources outright, even when the market is high. There are several natural resource rich, economically poor, underdeveloped countries that provide painful witness to this point. Whenever possible, smart countries sell their natural resources to the world as products, not commodities.The availability of inexpensive natural gas provides a real opportunity for the US to get back into manufacturing. Selling our natural gas as a value added product to the world will bring a lot more wealth to our nation than exporting LNG. It will also tip the trade deficit in our favor and lower the cost of products at home. It will increase our GDP creating more tax revenue and lessen our indebtedness to China.Another good reason to hold on to the gas is cleaner, less expensive transportation. Once battery technology improves, there is no doubt that more vehicles will be charging up rather than fueling up. The ability to generate electricity inexpensively is integral to making this environmentally friendly transition possible in the future.The question of whether or not to export LNG is far more complex than a 700 word column can unpack. But, it is a perfect topic to start a debate. Let’s hope the candidates can move beyond Bain Capital and whether or not government contributes to business creation when they go toe-to-toe this fall and answer questions that really matter – like this one.
We are not North America. We may have more than twice the number of citizens and over six times the gross domestic product [GDP] as our two neighbors combined, but we still share this continent with two highly sophisticated and globally important nations. We are also not the largest land-holder or the oldest modern society in the region. It is time we acknowledge this positive reality and take more of an interest in our geographically closest allies, especially Mexico. Given the nearly daily mention of immigration and our southern border in the current presidential campaign, we may believe that we are thinking a lot about Mexico. However, while Mexico has its own southern border concerns and serious issues with undocumented immigrants, it’s the drug war and the violence it has brought that gnaws the most at the nation’s collective psyche. The seemingly interminable war undermines confidence in local and national government. It makes everyone, rich and poor, uneasy. Mexico’s internal war on drugs started in earnest nearly six years ago. Newly elected President Calderon, hoping to quell the fighting among drug cartels, first sent the military to Michoacán to confront the cartels in December of 2006. The war has escalated in scope, brutality and deaths every year since. It is estimated that over 55,000 people, including cartel members, traffickers, police, military, prosecutors and innocent bystanders, have been killed in the war. If things do not change soon, the number of people killed will surpass U.S. casualties during the Vietnam War. Among the deceased are dozens of Mexican journalists – men and women who were fearlessly dedicated to exposing the brutality of the cartels, political corruption and the ineffectiveness of the state’s response. The offices of media outlets have been bombed, prompting some to end coverage of the drug war. These attempts at curtailing the freedom of the press through the murder of journalists and blatant attacks on property, while representing only a small part of the overall human tragedy, bear stark witness to the constant devolutionary pressure created by the cartels. They also demonstrate that the cartels will spare no one and no expense in their campaign to undermine the government’s attempt to rein in the cartels’ corrosive influence. While more direct responsibility for this violence may lie with those who produce and traffic the drugs, we, as a nation, are also complicit in this matter. Our seemingly unquenchable thirst for drugs sends tens of billions of dollars a year into Mexico. (Estimates of the annual value of the drug trade between the U.S. and Mexico range from $10 to $50 billion.) The public service messages about how the purchase of illicit drugs in the U.S. funds the assassination of judges in vulnerable countries like Mexico may have stopped – but the fact remains. We cannot deny that the drug market is U.S. driven and that it provides the fuel that keeps Mexico burning. The drug trade is a plague on both of our houses. In our country, it promotes violence, breaks up families and robs people of normal lives. In Mexico, it supports corruption, destroys families, kills the guilty and the innocent and undermines the government. Drugs rot brains and society simultaneously. The trade itself thrives on chaos, fear and opacity – all of which destabilize society. There is nothing “recreational” or socially beneficial about illicit drugs.Due to the extremely negative effects of narcotics on the individual and society, legalization is not the answer – reducing drug use to zero and ending its lucrative trafficking are the only moral and practical solutions. To achieve these goals, it will take better decisions by individuals as well as a greater collective commitment to do our nation’s part in bringing an end to the terror in Mexico. It will take better drug treatment and prevention programs at home as well as engaging even more resources to help Mexico fight trafficking.
I had three distinct reactions to Nicholas Kristof’s June 30th op-ed titled “Africa on the Rise.”
While watching a movie about British retirees struggling to adapt to their unexpected second life in India, I realized that I had missed a recent major transition point in my own life. Since last August, I have been married for longer than I was single. Thanks to several other thought provoking moments in the film regarding marriage and aging, I also realized that my mental reference point was no longer 23. For the first time, I felt exactly my age, 47, and happily so!Subtly, without my conscious awareness, my perspective has changed from eyes forward to a split horizon. I realize that I now look back nearly as much as I look forward. I have become comfortable with the idea that most of what I am going to accomplish in life has been accomplished. In fact, I will be happy if I am able to do half as much in the second half of my life as I did in the first. Birth, college graduation, marriage, children and three successful professional careers sets the bar pretty high for later life.I am well aware that my perspective may sound a bit fuddy-duddy for a man my age living in the 21st century. I watch TV, so I know there are a plethora of products available to anyone who wants to buck the age game. There are options to keep our hair thicker, darker and more lasting, or to maintain other more personal things functioning in a juvenile manner. I just don’t share this intense interest in staying young. I am good with getting older and, hopefully, even old.What drives us to want to live the first half of our life twice? What makes us decide it is better to back up and re-travel roads already traveled than head down new ones? Is it regret? Is it fear that our elder years will be boring and full of irrelevancy?If it is the feeling that we have not done enough the first time, what makes us so confident that we will do a better, bigger job the second time around? Realistically we must know, no matter how good the artificial supports, that there is no way we will be able to play the game as well the second time. Alec Baldwin delivers the skinny on this reality in “It’s Complicated” – a movie that could easily have been titled “Never too old to be a Fool.”Instead of trying to take a mulligan, I would prefer to play the ball well from where it lies. Our early years may not have positioned us exactly where we want to be, but the corrective action is to make the next shot count even more. It is not to pick up and start again. Life is ultimately a linear process. Retracings and do-overs just create awkward loops and stalled lives. Arrested developments are rarely glamorous or pretty.Unfortunately, however, the reboot button has caught hold in our society. While the divorce rate has declined overall, “gray divorces” have increased with the aging of the babyboomers. During college, I remember a lot of my friends’ parents getting divorced. Even at that age, I remember thinking that it just seemed tacky and overly selfish. I feel the same way now when my contemporaries split after 25 plus years of marriage. Hitting the life reboot button just seems cowardly.I am not suggesting that I am done working or have even done my best life’s work. In fact, I am quite sure that I have not done my best work yet. I am merely saying that I do not expect the quantity or the diversity of activities I achieved in my youth to be present in my second act. I look forward to wisdom taking over brute drive, allowing for more focused work in my old age. Accuracy is an old man’s consolation for the loss of energy – it is also a requirement for one’s chef d’oeuvre. I am good with moving forward.
“Time Magazine” hit the stands last week with an intentionally provocative cover, picturing people from around the world with the caption “We are Americans – Just not legally.” I appreciate the sentiment and de facto reality of this statement. However, the impact of the cover and the corresponding article by Jose Antonio Vargas, may not be all that constructive. Both are a bit too menacing to move the immigration debate in a positive direction. It is no surprise that TIME is stirring the melting pot rather than settling the tempest. Besides their interest in selling magazines, the immigration debate has an inherent tendency to devolve into either xenophobic, hyperbolic doom-saying, or myopic accusations of injustice. Due to the confluence of legal, moral and economic issues involved – not to mention the politics of a campaign year – immigration rarely seems to get the positive, rational treatment it deserves.At the center of the debate are four flashpoints: first, there is the question of the law. Some would prefer that the immigration debate focus entirely on the “illegality” of entering or staying in a country without legal permission. No matter how hard-hearted or a-historical this is, these hardliners are adamant that the law alone should dictate the fate of the un-documented. The second boiling point counters the above. Immigration advocates vehemently argue that undocumented immigrants come to the US to find work and better lives. They point out that immigrants are net contributors to society. They question why, especially given our culture, we would want to criminalize the pursuit of a better life. Obviously, this group gets a lot of behind the scenes support from factory operators. The two remaining emotionally charged discussions involve undocumented adults who entered the US without status as children with their parents, and children born in the US to an undocumented parent or parents. Debates on these cases also beg tough questions. Should children suffer for the sins of their fathers? Should families be separated? Should a 30 year old undocumented immigrant, who has lived, worked and paid taxes in the US for most of their life, be deported?Thankfully, President Obama has decided the answer to these questions is no, at least for those brought here as children. We can only hope for an equally positive decision in favor of keeping families together in the case of the estimated 4 million citizen children born to undocumented parents. Breaking up families and sending home constructive aspiring citizens makes no sense. Immigration is a difficult topic because it sits at the crossroad of order and justice. But, if we are serious about discussing it rationally, we need to remove the heat of the moment. We must strive to see migration as the constant drive of humans to manifest their full potential, not as a political issue. We need to see migration for what it is – the well-trodden path of human advancement. Migration has always been a positive event for our country. Beyond the ingenuity and workforce that has been provided by each new wave of immigrants, we have gained the pride of being the country that takes in the world’s tired, poor masses and transforms them into an economic powerhouse. This makes supporting the right to migrate to work not only morally correct and economically smart, but overtly patriotic.What needs to be avoided is the segregation and xenophobia that we have seen of late in France. To date, the US has succeeded in this. However, we should be concerned given the rising tension around the nation. A June 18th Washington Post article describing the impact of Alabama’s tightened immigration laws on the local industry and Mexican community of Albertsville was peppered with words likes upheaval, confusion, and fear. The President’s decision, while also politically expedient, shows he knows when to release pressure. But, it comes down to us, the common citizen, to remain reasonable and civil. Borders have a purpose and immigration must occur in an orderly fashion. However, to act as if a country can reach a point where migration is no longer a positive ignores both the reality of declining birthrates in developed nations and history itself. Absolute borders, which are what gigantic barrier fences suggest, are neither tenable nor morally defensible. A country cannot simply shut itself off from the world. That’s just not rational while migration is.
During the past five years, my weight has rollercoastered between a fit 185 and an obese 226 pounds. At 200, I am currently just shy of being obese again, but I am earnestly working my way back below 190. I am not after a six pack or a beach body. I just don’t want to be grossly overweight. I also don’t want to end up with Type 2 diabetes or hypertension. And, above all, I don’t want to be part of our embarrassing and costly national trend toward portliness. As a nation, we are getting fatter and fatter. According to the recent flurry of articles published in support of Mayor Bloomberg’s decision to outlaw the Big Gulp in New York, the percentage of adults who are obese has doubled since 1970. Worse, during that same period, the percentage of morbidly obese adults has tripled, as has the percentage of obese children. In short, one out of three US Americans is obese and it is costing us billions in avoidable healthcare expenses and extra energy use. I remember the first time I read an article about this worrisome trend. Surprisingly, it was not a health article. It was a report by the airline industry. At the advent of the new millennium, the airlines discovered that the average weight of passengers had increased by 10 lbs., costing them an extra $250 to $300 million in annual fuel costs over the previous decade. This report prompted me to write my first column on our national weight gain problem. It also inspired me to view my personal battle of the bulge in a patriotic context. Much of our national weight problem can be explained by simple math. Thanks to sugary drinks and oversized portions, we consume 10 to 15% more calories per day on average than we did in 1970. We are also burning fewer calories by being more sedentary -- TV watching is at an all-time high. More calories and less activity equals stored fat. It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out why waistlines are expanding. It is time to acknowledge that we are progressively changing from the "Land of the Free" to the "Land of the Fat." We can no longer hide -- literally -- the evidence. A walk through any grocery store or a visit to any buffet provides both the smoking gun and the suspects -- myself included -- necessary to prove the case. There is no denying that we are becoming a fat nation. We need to adopt a national plan for losing weight. And, the plan has to be to eat fewer calories. All the new workout programs are great, but it is unhealthy, expensive and inefficient to load ourselves with extra calories and then head to the gym to burn them off. It is also a losing battle. Sooner or later, the body is unable to do the physical labor necessary to burn the extra 1,500 calories we are taking in and the pounds slowly build up. We wake-up fat at 50, having been trim and fit most of our life. We also need to be motivated by good health and economics, not good looks, to eat properly. Our ability to discipline ourselves based on vanity is always destructive, but the fact is that it wanes with age. We need to see being overweight as a waste, not a fashion issue. This shouldn’t be hard since recent estimates suggest we are spending over $190 billion dollars a year on obesity. A hamburger oozing grease sitting next to a semi-solid sweet tea should make us see medical bills, not salivate. It is time to be repulsed by stacks of fat and sugar, not seduced by their addictive nature. Every good battle needs a rallying call. I have a suggestion for a slogan for our much needed national campaign to lose weight: Food is Fuel. We need to get back to eating for the right reason. Seeing food as fuel again will help us stay conscious of why we eat. We don’t overfill our gas tanks. Likewise, we shouldn’t overload our stomachs. It is time to put an end to feeding our appetites instead of our engines. This is the most assured way back to being a fit and free nation.
In a newly released unauthorized biography of President Obama, Edward Klein reveals that Mr. Clinton urged Mrs. Clinton, as recently as last summer, to run against her boss, incumbent president and fellow party member whom the loosed-lipped former president evidently enjoys describing as an incompetent amateur—at least in private. When Mrs. Clinton demurred on the basis of being President Obama’s top cabinet member and political confidant, Mr. Clinton is reported by Klein to have stated, “Loyalty is a joke.” Of course, Mrs. Clinton probably already knew her husband’s opinion on fidelity.
Twice in the past month, I have received urgent emails asking for money from friends whose accounts had been compromised by hacker-con artists. Both emails were blatantly obvious for what they were. The first was supposedly from a colleague stuck in the Philippines whom I would be far more likely to call for help than vice versa. The second came from the account of a former employee who I know is too careful and prudent to have had her wallet lifted in Spain. Neither fooled me for a minute.
For a nation that holds truth in such high regard, we are often lackadaisical about seeking it. Disagree? Be honest, when was the last time you sought the truth in a difficult personal matter rather than simply looking for a way to move on? Likewise, when was the last time you felt you got the truth on a matter of national importance? Get the point?
It is hard to be wrong 104 billion times without feeling a little defeated. However, there was some vindication for the Facebook naysayers on Friday as the “the most anticipated IPO ever” went out with whimper rather than a bang. And, now that the stock has to stand on its earnings rather than its media hype, there will be time—time to scrutinize the stock more rationally. This should embolden would-be Facebook slayers as well as attract the ever-feared shorts to the stock.
I recently stumbled across a CNN interview with President Benigno Aquino of the Philippines called "A Prophylactic to Poverty." Not surprisingly, the premise of the piece is that easier, less stigmatized access to contraception would curb the Philippines’ poverty problem. To begin the interview, CNN’s Anna Coren coldly states, as if it were an uncontestable fact, “One of the big reasons that there is poverty in this country (Philippines) is the lack of contraception or that contraception is not allowed.” She adds just as matter-of-factly, “And, the Church at the end of the day is responsible for this.”
Can you say Qatar properly? I have been working on it for some time, but I am not sure that I will ever get it right. I may have to settle for the Anglicized version which is pronounced simply “cutter”. From what I have read, this is preferable to tripping up and saying Qatar in a manner that rhymes with “guitar”. Unfortunately, that is exactly what’s stuck in my head, complete with the emphasis on the “tar”.
I remember the day everything changed as if it were yesterday. However, I must admit that I had not thought about how much changed that day for a long time. Unexpectedly, it all came back to me as I passed through the metal detector at Boston’s Logan Airport last week fully dressed, still wearing my shoes and sports jacket. The momentary return to civility reminded me of exactly what we lost as a national community in the aftermath of 9/11.The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) recently started an expedited security check program called TSA PreCheck. To participate in this program, travelers undergo a pre-screening process which, once completed, earns a frequent traveler the right to a less involved security check at a growing list of airports. There is a domestic and international version of the program. The international program, however, requires a personal interview and a registration fee of $100. Once you qualify for the program, you are able to enter an airport security checkpoint through a special line. Flyers in this line are not required to go through the usual gymnastics of emptying bags while removing shoes and belts. You just empty your pockets, put your bag on the conveyor belt and walk through the metal detector fully dressed. It’s quick and easy—just like the old days.When I registered for the program, I was only thinking of the time it would save. I had noticed that the security checkpoint lines for TSA PreCheck were notably shorter than even the priority access lines. I was envious of the time and hassle that other flyers were saving. I had no idea that going through a metal detector fully clothed would have the cathartic benefit that it did.Walking through the metal detector calm and clothed was like passing through a time portal back to a better time. It was liberating. It lifted a decade of weight off my shoulders. I felt a flock of albatrosses had finally left me. I was free—the memories of fumbled bags and lost belts faded away. First, I was dumbfounded then I was elated.My memory of September 11th, 2001 runs deeper than mere inconvenience, as I am sure it does for most people. I was scheduled to fly from Providence to Chicago on a mid-morning flight that ill-fated Tuesday. I cried in empathy along with an American Airlines agent as she informed me that flights were canceled. Later that night, I learned that the tragedy had struck much closer to home than I had first realized. The day remains in my mind as a series of hours, each designated by its own related, but separate life-long memory. Changes in airport security will never wash these painful memories away.Yet, part of the legacy of 9/11 is the damage it did to our sense of public safety. I remember the following day trying to enter an office building that I had visited for years unannounced only to be stopped by security. Immediately, I realized what it meant to live in the shadow of terrorism. Being checked was not just a hassle—it was an infringement, an insult to our collective sensibilities.Unlike the lost lives, this can be fixed. We can put an end to this vulnerable feeling, which was implanted in us that day. I applaud TSA for leading the way. We need to identify more areas where we can recapture our civility and work diligently to do so. It is time that we reconsider all the modifications we made to our lives in response to 9/11. It is time that we reconsider our involvement in costly battles abroad and unnecessary actions at home. It is time to take back our lost civility.
These days, people are staying active longer and presidents are trending younger.
I enjoy peanuts. I don’t mind sitting in the balcony. And, I don’t mind throwing my two cents into debates where the buy-in is a lot higher than that. So, for the record, I do not support Dr. Jim Yong Kim for president of the World Bank even if he is Mr. Obama’s nominee and the run-away favorite.
When it comes to Haiti, the Associated Press appears to be able to turn over stones other news services either miss or cannot handle. In late 2010, the AP broke the story on the likely connection between the cholera outbreak in Haiti and the Nepalese military personnel serving in the country under the UN. This time, the AP has brought to light an odd multi-million dollar real estate purchase made in the midst of the international relief effort.
Forbes recently published a list of the 1,226 wealthiest people on the planet. Usually, “top” lists come in round numbers like 10 or 100, but Forbes seems to have set the cutoff at $1 billion in assets rather than at a defined number of people.