Saturday, June 14, 2008

Celebrate! Rep. Ted Poe (R, TX) Gets It Right.

“I have little interest in streamlining government or in making it more efficient, for I mean to reduce its size. I do not undertake to promote welfare, for I propose to extend freedom. My aim is not to pass laws, but to repeal them. It is not to inaugurate new programs, but to cancel old ones that do violence to the Constitution or that have failed their purpose, or that impose on the people an unwarranted financial burden. I will not attempt to discover whether legislation is "needed'' before I have first determined whether it is constitutionally permissible. And if I should later be attacked for neglecting my constituents "interests,'' I shall reply that I was informed that their main interest is liberty and that in that cause I am doing the very best I can.”
-Barry Goldwater

In my mind, there is a natural balance between political parties and the wings thereof, and it's very important to illustrate how that balance should with good examples. I yield the floor to Rep. Ted Poe who brings all that is good and fine about being a Conservative thinker to bear on a "solution" to our energy crisis that may well be worse than the problem it will supposedly solve.

The natural role of the Republican is to take the negative, to ask the hard questions, to demand that all the numerical ducks are in a row and both the obvious and hidden costs are documented.

It's not simply to oppose all ideas that are (variously) Democratic, Liberal or just Overenthusiastic. It could be stated that, traditionally the first question should be first (as Rep. Poe points out) - "Is it Constitutional?"

Any truly worthwhile idea can be achieved in a Constitutional way, if the focus is on ends, rather than a means by which that end will be achieved. Indeed, since those means are usually tied to various special interests that are either economically or idiologically biased it's fairly usual for the means to achieve the exact opposite of the sincerely intended end.

The War On Poverty. The War on Crime, The War On Drugs. And of course, the latest and greatest: The War on Terror. In each case, the means preclude the end.

The ultimate Republican question in the face of such outcomes is "And how is that workin' out for ya?"

In a positive sense, the various progressive, liberal, populist and activist movements are the ones that bring things before us and say, often with great moral force, that Something Must Be Done.

But the devil is in the details, therefore, any real solution has as few details as possible and is as an elegant solution as can be found, or it will tend to produce unintended consequences that cost us more stress, wealth and liberty than which provoked us into Doing Something. This is where Conservatism really shines, with the ruthless application of Occam's Razor. Indeed, for an excellent illustration of the principle at hand, I refer everyone to the Robert A. Heinlein tale in
Time Enough for Love, The Man who was Too Lazy to Fail.

Heinlein, I am morally certain, will one day be considered one of the greatest conservative philosophers of this age. But that personal belief aside, Sir, I am sure that Barry Goldwater would have approved greatly of this speech.

I have a couple little nits to pick with Rep Poe's conclusions regarding his ideas of what resources we should be developing but let us gloss over that in the spirit of celebration and to the end of not missing the more important point.

It is so freaking refreshing to be in a position where a useful criticism of a sitting Republican may be more nuanced than "what the hell were we thinking when we elected this empty suit?"

Then, of course, there's the related question that Congress must seriously address for the sake of it's own credibility: Was he actually elected? Or is that just the apparent result produced by the Sierra Systems voting machines we are blessed with? You see, it is not enough for the wife of Caesar to be chaste; she must be seen to be chaste! Otherwise, all that tedious honor and propriety is for naught, and - as the current crop of republican functionaries and fools doth prove - the ruling principles are "Make hay while the sun shines" and "One may as well be hung for a sheep as for a lamb."

Rep Poe; I do you the courtesy of pointing out that one does not direct such observations toward the obvious rule - but to presumable exceptions. In the light of this, I do not think anyone could reasonably criticize you for being unelectable save for an electronic Deus Ex Machina.

However, noting that you have a fine sense of the absurd, and in recognition of all the corn now rotting on the banks of the Ohio River, corn that was most inappropriately destined to be a poor source of ethanol instead of an excellent source of food - may I suggest that there is an opportunity to speak to that here and now?

Rotting corn, husks, stalks and agricultural waste can be fermented. A floating crop is easy to corral - ask any cranberry farmer. All you need are two boats and a rope.

Then you need a fermenter. That is to say, a large tank, filled with enough water to start, and either the natural yeasts, or some more aggressive yeasts developed by the brewing industry. For that matter, sir, I'm sure Texas A&M has a few good mycologists who could whomp up a practical publication with pointers to online sources pretty much in their sleep.

It makes enormous sense from the perspectives of both agricultural and energy policy to make farms as self-sufficient in energy as is possible. A diffuse energy supply is a secure energy supply. Further, the more diffuse it is, the less energy it takes to get the energy you have to where it is needed. That's actually better than conservation.

It also serves as a buffer against commodity fluctuations. And it is a solution that depends upon an obvious profit center and simple procedures, rather than burdensome regulations.

You see, Sir, when you pointed out the regulations regarding Chinese compact fluorescent bulbs, you did not point out the most obvious criticism. Rather than seeing that it was an inherently bad idea to mandate or even encourage this technology, Congress in complicity offloaded the the responsibility consequences onto the American people by means of a set of regulations that will never be complied with in any widespread way. As it did with DDT, 2,4,D and of course that Superfund Favorite; PCB. I mention things that we really should have been more suspicious about, but I suppose I should also point to Asbestos as having given us a century or two of unintended consequences due to unappreciated risks. Indeed, I wonder to what extent the fall in lung cancer may be attributed to a sharp drop in environmental asbestos, rather than the liberal presumption that anti-smoking campaigns are due the credit.

(Not that we object to the outcome, of course.)

But I think I speak for many when I say that Americans are really really tired of having the responsibility for the consequences of government and indeed a far greater than reasonable compliance duty offloaded upon us without any compensatory medical or retirement benefits comparable to your own.

And speaking to you and your colleagues, Sir, the very point of a representative democracy is to put the people who do not suck at governance at work so that we can go about doing the things we do not suck at.

It's not so much that the taxation levels we cope with are burdensome, it's rather that instead of using that money and mandate to make us more secure, comfortable and productive, it seems to always bring us an extra boil on the ass, like this one you so ably point toward.

I think we have a right to expect good governance, intelligent governance; a governance that does as little as possible, as lightly as possilbe, in order to do that little as professionally as possible and with all regard and courtesy towards those it interacts with.

In this, you beautifully illuminate an example of the complete opposite, Congress has signed off on environmental mercury poisoning as an acceptable price for having appeared to achieve something. It's also the price of allowing "industry experts" to blow sunshine up your butts instead of asking for the expertise of constituents. There is certainly no state caucus that does not have at least one well-staffed state university with all sorts of expertise there for you to presume upon, at little or no cost to the taxpayer, direct or indirect.

Such an institution will tell you there are many ways to produce light - and there is one technology that is USA made, or can easily be, is more efficient, produces better light and has even lower costs in terms of energy and supply chain issues.

Light Emitting Diodes. Congress could create a demand simply by becoming an early adopter of LED lighting and participating in getting it down to a price that is acceptable to those of us doomed to live in trailers by years of the sorts of policies you so pointedly ridicule.

But a regulatory mandate for LED's would be just as foolish, other than as a research and development project. Good regulations set targets for overall system efficiency without restricting how those efficiencies should be achieved. And then, they set positive rewards for beating those standards.

I do not believe that I've said one thing here that is not an inherently conservative thing. Indeed, the entire thing may be summed up with Franklin's observation that "a penny saved is a penny earned."

It's very foolish to mandate a technology that will inevitably turn every single landfill into a Superfund site, EPA regulations be damned.

Regulations that are not read and are easily evaded are worse than useless, if policy assumes general compliance. How much non-compliance can we afford? Would it not make far more sense, if a risk exists worthy of such regulations, to demand that lighting devices be both non-toxic and easily recyclable, either at the curb or the landfill?

Mercury vapor is not the only gas that fluoresces - assuming RF pollution and the madding subliminal flicker are issues you find acceptable on my behalf. I do not, by the way.

Here the EPA - and I'm criticizing the same thing from a different angle - has committed the greatest sin any government can. It has issued a law in full knowledge that it cannot and will not be fully complied with. And who is to blame? Well, clearly from the perspective of the EPA and Congress - those unaware of regulations they did not read, probably due to the fact that they did not realize there was anything to read.

It is certainly not reasonable to assume that congress would mandate a more hazardous technology with greater long-term costs and risks. I cannot imagine that any genuine conservative would think that a still largely conservative government would.

Actually, it's such a violation of plain common sense and obvious due diligence that I cannot imagine any reasonably competent government of any political philosophy doing such a silly thing.

You may reasonably ask, Sir, what do you expect of one state representative?

I respond, Sir; read every bill, and if you cannot, forward every bill to a selection of constituents with expertise you trust. PRESUME, Sir. Demand a little of us. Expect more of us, in a mindful way, rather than inflicting upon us the consequences of not reality-checking the Washington Wisdom.

But first of all - continue to do exactly what you just did. This is the first step, the most important step, to notice such things and call attention to them. And I point out to you sir, as you may have noticed based on this little viral video, that the voice of Representative speaking on the floor of the House is no longer just a fart in a high wind.

One routine speech, one small, pro-forma speech had a significant impact, because your voice got out, was heard and thought upon.

That, Sir, is real power, and it transcends the threat of armed force (c.f. Patriot Act) by several orders of magnitude. There is a reason the Second Amendment does not come first.

In conclusion, Sir, do not take this as being in any way anything other than the best sort of critique. Having seen what you set out to do, and having seen that it is done well I, - and I hope I speak for a broad selection of persons of all political stripes and all walks of life - wish to encourage you to do it more and suggest that you seek out help with any heavy lifting involved.

Oh, and one final note:


This, Sir, is what a REPUBLICAN does. This is HOW a Republican should act. Observe, study and learn, for there will be a quiz.

Illustration: The Goldwater Standard
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