Wes Vernon
Cap and Trade: back to the Stone Age?
Question: What if we're attacked and don't know the source?
By Wes Vernon
May 18, 2009

Former Secretary of State James Baker has written an article suggesting the Obama administration "reach out" to (certain kinds of) Republicans on "Climate Change" or (in plain English) Global Warming, and its Cap and Trade tax.

Considering which Republicans the former secretary wants to bring into the conversation and the conditions he says should be off the table, it's not all that easy to discern whether Baker (A) seriously believes there can be a meeting of the minds on this issue that would somehow benefit America, (B) thinks he is being clever by injecting poison pills at the outset of the "reaching out" process, or (C) has penned his piece with tongue firmly planted in cheek.

The negotiator

A cardinal rule in the art of political warfare is that you don't start making concessions to the other side until your adversary starts coming to you hat in hand. And even then, you demand more — and more — and more until your opponent is down to little more than "saving face."

James Baker — of all people — surely understands this. After all, he has practiced it with success. Having patiently served in the administration of the president he did not really want in the White House (Ronald Reagan) — Baker in 1988 was masterminding the presidential campaign of Reagan's chief opponent in the 1980 Republican primary — namely, then-Vice President George H.W. Bush, the man he wanted for the job in the first place.

At the outset of the campaign, it was Baker's role to negotiate with the campaign masterminds of the Democrat candidate — then-Massachusetts Governor Michael S. Dukakis. To make a long story short, Dukakis's people had their heads handed to them. Susan Estrich — now a TV talking head — and her Dukakis cohorts were no match for a master negotiator who knew every strategic trick in the book and was smart enough to deploy every one of them.

But "global warming"? Ah! That's different

In the debate over "global warming," the advocates of top-down government control are — for the moment, at least — on the run — even with Obama in the White House. Why? Because as each day goes by, more of the American people see through the "threat" as — if not a hoax — at least (charitably) as a well-meaning effort to "save the environment" through "unintended consequences" that would damage the economy by throwing people out of their jobs and hitting them with an extra tax just for good measure. That's the cap and trade sticking point. (See this column 5/12/08 and 6/9/08.)

In the London Financial Times, Mr. Baker proposes that President Obama reach out to Republican Senators John McCain and Richard Lugar, "who appear interested in developing a bipartisan plan."

One does not have to reach very far to "reach out" to Senators McCain and Lugar, whose impulses on a number of issues — including this one — trend toward caving-to-the-Democrats so as to win the approval of the New York Times. Baker, Lugar, and McCain are smart men capable of driving hard bargains on purely political strategy, but unable to do so when higher political principle is at stake. It isn't in their DNA.

You will note Secretary Baker does not propose that the president "reach out" to Senator James Inhofe — who has patiently shown through facts, figures, and common sense that "cap and trade" is nothing but a tax on the American people, and a ball and chain on the economy. Positing Lugar and McCain as the good guys at the negotiating table can be interpreted as meaning Baker is dead serious and anticipates a "climate change" deal that pleases the president, but which at the same time can be sold for its "bipartisanship" that all must embrace.

Cap and trade — hopelessly flawed

Secretary Baker says "cap and trade might work if done properly." That is a little like saying Hitler and Stalin would have been OK guys if they only had used their positions of power "properly." Some things are just wrong no matter how you slice them.

Cap and trade — OK "if only?"

The Baker approach says cap and trade will not be so bad if it does not unduly burden the energy industry or electrical power consumers, and that it should "recognize the importance of coal in our energy mix and provide adequate time for the development of technology to sequester carbon from that fuel."

The former secretary fails to define an "undue" burden — not insignificant given that there are people in the Obama political base who do not see any burden on the conventional energy industry as "undue." How one avoids "undue" burdens on electrical power consumers is a major political tripwire in the whole cap and trade exercise. So who picks up that cost? Baker doesn't say. The taxpayers? Millions of them are also "electrical power consumers."

Recognizing "the importance of coal," sounds like more like lip service. Obama has actually let the cat out of the bag on that one, indicating he would all but shut down the coal industry even though the U.S. is — as has often been said — "the Saudi Arabia of coal."

Nor does the secretary define "adequate time" to develop new technology. What is he talking about? It took centuries to develop the "electric light" technology, and some supporters of the president want to fool around with that even though it has worked well for about a century.

As for those other players

Mr. Baker says another condition of cap and trade would be to involve such "big greenhouse gas emitters as China, India, Brazil, and Indonesia," who — under Kyoto — get off scot free.

Think those nations will ever agree to that? No? Then why should we? What makes Baker think those four countries will say, "Oh! Okay."? The secretary knows better.

True, but what about the basic idea?

As Mr. Baker acknowledges, there are problems with what is now on the table. Notwithstanding his claims to the contrary, he does not address them beyond generalities.

President Obama wants a $1.5 trillion tax increase over the next 10 years. About half of that is a cap and trade tax, and the president admits the tax will end up higher than that. As Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) has said, "Government gets more of our money and utility companies get the blame when they pass on the tax increase to consumers." Cute, no?

Which is why Chaffetz is sponsoring a bill to require utility companies to itemize cap and trade taxes on utility bills if — God forbid — that pick-pocketing tax ever becomes reality. We would add — no insist — that the tax be listed at the top of the bill and specifically state "Mandated by your federal government." While that might last about five minutes in a closed-door Senate-House negotiating session, Chaffetz's point would be to see that the bill never gets that far in the first place.

The congressman's point is well-taken. "If cap and trade taxes are such a good idea," he writes, "why not let taxpayers see how much those taxes will really cost them?"

That is only one way in which Obama's cap and trade tax is about as subtle as trying to hide an elephant under a mattress. Congressman Chaffetz says it "will incentivize [the taxed corporations] to relocate their facilities to countries that choose not to impose punitive taxes on their own domestic production."

Don't like it? Well, there's always...

Of course, if "cap and trade" fails, lurking in the background is the Waxman-Markey bill, which is even worse and a candidate for Mad magazine. (See this column 4/13/09 — sub-headline "Tax you for breathing?")

As Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex.) points out, this measure seeks to "lower your personal carbon footprint" in such a way that one would have to "set the flux capacitor to the year 1875. That's the last time Americans' carbon emissions matched the goals set by the Waxman-Markey legislation."

What to do

The bottom line in all this was best summed up by Gary Hoitsma — Managing Associate for the Carmen Group and former press secretary to Senator Inhofe. Hoitsma e-mails this column that before we rush into solutions, we need to have a better understanding of the problem.

Secretary Baker is right to call for continued research on this, Hoitsma allows.

"But open-minded serious thinkers should also recognize that the 'threat of climate change' is more illusory than imminent, more ideologically hyped than scientifically determined."

"Therefore," Hoitsma continues, "the rush to [a] cap and tax bill, a domestic emissions program and Kyoto-style treaty have little to do with any such a 'threat' and much more to do with the redistribution and reorganization of wealth, power, and energy production in our society and throughout the world."

The real "threat" that should concern us, this professional consultant contends, is "power in the hands of do-good politicians using another manufactured crisis to change the way we live, reduce our freedom, and undermine our Nation's sovereignty and prosperity."

So here's the deal: If we ever get to where we need to "negotiate" cap and trade, let the good guys' team consist of Senator Inhofe, Congressman Barton, and Congressman Chafetz. Lock out Senators McCain and Lugar. "Reaching out" need not be code language for cooking up another establishment-trumpeted farce that leaves consumers and taxpayers out in the cold.

"Final Finesse"

Just imagine terrorist attacks coming at us in rapid-fire succession all over the country, and we don't know the source. Just that it's happening, along with government's hindered ability to do a thing about it, is analogous to shooting in the dark.

Karna Small Bodman's new novel Final Finesse presents just such a terrifying and frustrating dilemma. At least with the very real 9/11, we knew right away who the bad guys were.

Samantha Reid — fictitious White House Deputy Assistant to the President for Homeland Security — senses immediately after the first of several gas explosions that this is no accident. Her ability to convince officials to pay attention and take action increases ever so slowly with each additional attack.

For one thing, she has a boss who is a real jerk and whose sole professional priority for her is as the source of "talking points" to make him look good on TV. For another, he drinks too much at the wrong times and places as — in his mind — he has other, more intimate plans for her.

Samantha's effort to coordinate a strike-back effort against the (then-unknown) terrorists brings her in contact with a long lost (distant) acquaintance from their days at Princeton. Tripp Adams, Vice President of GeoGlobal Oil and Gas, seeks White House help in tracking down the perpetrators of the violence against his company's property.

Her boss, or course, pressures her to spend less time in that pursuit so as to devote more hours to what he sees as her main duty — his talking points on the talking-head shows. All of this while people across the nation are either dying or suffering immense dislocation from the resulting power outages.

In the process of her efforts to assist GeoGlobal's detective work, and attempts to aid the terrorist victims and/or their families, Samantha and Tripp fall in love.

Then just before Christmas, the company assigns Tripp to tend to an unrelated matter — flying to Venezuela to negotiate with a Hugo Chavez-like tyrant who wants to nationalize the company's property for pennies on the dollar. In the midst of that, the GeoGlobal V.P. is kidnapped. Any relation to the terrorist attacks? You'll have to read the book for the answer.

You will quickly turn the pages as you race through this story to learn about this and other events such as Samantha's effort to rescue Tripp; how she does it, given her boss's disapproval of her absence from the White House; how the terrorists are caught and dealt with; and more to the point, the terrorists' identity.

Those who follow the endless Capitol Hill soap operas will quickly recognize two fictional senators who — in this reviewer's opinion — closely resemble two real United States Senators in their rhetoric, as well as their at-odds approaches to America's national security, energy, and environmental issues.

Karna Small Bodman spent six years in the Reagan White House, first as Deputy Press Secretary, then as Senior Director of the National Security Council. She obviously knows Washington and how the White House works.

Final Finesse is an easy and exciting read. But it's more than a book for the beach (though it is ideal for that). It gets to some real questions related to what happens when America's luck runs out and we come under a major attack on the homeland for the first time since 9/11.

The book is entertaining, but also provides a reminder that national security remains America's top priority in these troubled times.

© Wes Vernon


The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
(See RenewAmerica's publishing standards.)


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