How shale is sparking an American industrial revival

You want some good economic news?  Technology to extract natural gas from shale formations has created an abundance of cheap energy that is bringing back manufacturing, attracting overseas investment, and solving our energy problems.  From Washington Post journalist Steven Mufson

The shale gas revolution is firing up an old-fashioned American industrial revival, breathing life into businesses such as petrochemicals and glass, steel and toys.

Methanex Corp., which closed its last U.S. chemical plant in 1999, is spending more than half a billion dollars to dismantle a methanol plant in Chile and move it to the parish.

Nearby, a petrochemical company, Williams, is spending $400 million to expand an ethylene plant. And on Nov. 1, CF Industries unveiled a $2.1 billion expansion of its nitrogen fertilizer manufacturing complex, aiming to displace imports that now make up half of U.S. nitrogen fertilizer sales.

These companies all rely heavily on natural gas. And across the country, companies like them are crediting the sudden abundance of cheap natural gas for revving up their U.S. operations. Thanks to new applications of drilling technology to unlock natural gas trapped in shale rock, the nation’s output has surged and energy experts almost unanimously forecast that prices will remain low or moderate for a generation. The International Energy Agency says that by 2015, the United States will overtake Russia as the world’s biggest gas producer.

via The new boom: Shale gas fueling an American industrial revival – The Washington Post.

The rest of the article gives more details of what the natural gas boom is doing for the economy.  Of course, some people want to stop it.

Here is the Hobbit soundtrack

The soundtrack for the upcoming Hobbit movie has been posted online, for free. Listen to it here:  Hobbit.

Bilbo Baggins is being played by Martin Freeman, who plays Dr. Watson in BBC’s excellent modern-day update of the Sherlock Holmes saga, Sherlock.  And the actor who plays said Sherlock, who has the splendid name of Benedict Cumberbatch, has a part in the Hobbit, playing the Necromancer.  (I believe that’s the mysteriously sinister figure who turns out to be Sauron in the Lord of the Rings.)  By the way, Sherlock is many times better than the American attempt at the same scenario Elementary.  Wouldn’t you say?

The widow and the End Times

Pastor Douthwaite’s sermon last Sunday was based on the assigned text for that day, about the widow’s mite (Mark 12: 38-44).  He began with a useful survey of what the Church Year means and shows what it means to live in light of the End Times:

With the Festival of the Reformation and the Feast of All Saints now in the rear view mirror of the Church Year, our thoughts are turned these last three Sundays to the end times, the return of Christ, the last days, judgment day . . . or, to use the fancy theological word for it: eschatology. Our Church Year takes us from the expectation and promises of a Messiah in Advent, to the days of His birth at Christmas, to the revealing of His divinity in Epiphany, to His suffering and death in Lent, the joy of the resurrection in the Easter season, the sending of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and that same Spirit working now in the life of the Church through the Pentecost season. But now we are at the end, and we look forward to the end, and the return of our Saviour to raise the dead and take us, all who believe and are baptized into in Christ Jesus (Mk 16:16), home. To the rest and pure joy of heaven.

And so (you may be thinking) that focus must start next week, because this week we didn’t hear end times or eschatology readings – we heard about a widow and her two mites in the Holy Gospel. . . .

And so, it seems to me, there is more to this reading than meets the eye. Something more than just about how much she – and we – put into the offering box or the offering plate. It’s about eschatology. It’s about how we live this life with a view toward the end. For, we believe, ever since Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension, we are living in the end times, the last days. Once Jesus ascended, He could return at any time, and we don’t know when. So how do we live in these days, these last days? It’s good to take stock of that and consider.

And there are two examples presented to us today: the scribes and the widow. Of the scribes, Jesus says, beware. Beware not (this time) of their teaching, but of how they are living. For their lives are all about the here and now. What honor they receive now, what glory is bestowed now, what advantages they get now. There seems to be no mercy or compassion in them, for they even devour widows’ houses. And their religion is a scam too, Jesus says. Their long prayers are a pretense – something they do to look holy, while going after the things of this world. . . .

But then there is the widow. How utterly different is she. For her the here and now is a hardship. Unlike the scribes, there is no honor for her now, no glory for her now, no advantages for her now. Maybe she still had her house because she was so poor and her house so humble that it wasn’t worth the scribes’ effort to devour it! And yet what little she had, those two small copper coins, she doesn’t keep, she doesn’t spend on food, she doesn’t hold on to for future needs – she drops them into the Temple treasury. They didn’t really make a difference. Her offering was like dumping a glass of water into the ocean. Or (to use my fiscal cliff example) like me sending in a dollar to the US Treasury – it’s not really going to make a difference in paying down the national debt!

But that’s not why she did it. She gave those two coins because she was living with a fundamentally different outlook than the scribes. Her “here and now” wasn’t even worth two small copper coins; but her future was. She did what she did because she was living her life with a view toward the end. Others may laugh at her for putting in so little, they might come and devour her house next, she might not have food the next day or the next week. But her life wasn’t in these things. These things were not her utmost concern. For, Jesus said, she put in everything she had, all her life. That’s what it really says: all her life. She put her life into the Temple that day; into the place where God dwells. [Read more…]

The Petraeus sex scandal spreads

General David Petraeus’s affair with Paul Broadwell, which led to his resignation as head of the CIA, became known when Ms. Broadwell sent threatening jealous e-mails to another woman, Jill Kelley, whereupon the FBI began its investigation.  Now it turns out that Ms. Kelley was exchanging e-mails with the current head of military operations General John Allen, Petraeus’s successor.  Gen. Allen insists that he had no affair with Ms. Kelley, but the 20,000-30,000 pages worth of e-mails they traded have been described as the equivalent of “phone sex.”

What is going on?  For one thing, 30,000 pages of e-mail over two years breaks down to 41 messages a day.  Didn’t Gen. Allen have anything more to do than trade e-mails–of whatever nature–with a civilian?  Didn’t he have a war to fight?

The two previous commanders in Afghanistan before these two were ousted.  General Stanley McChrystal, was fired because of an undisciplined drinking party with some Rolling Stone reporters.  And the commander before him, Gen. David McKiernan, was fired, though apparently for differences in strategy from the Pentagon rather than for personal failings.

Oh, yes, lest we think these are purely personal vices unconnected to these men’s professional duties, investigators are reporting that they have found classified material in the possession of Ms. Broadwell.

What happened to military honor in the top brass?  Or, at the very minimum, military discipline?

 

Paula Broadwell photos: David Petraeus’ mistress discovered lying low in DC | Mail Online.

Reforming the Senate

Ezra Klein reports on efforts in the Senate to reform the filibuster rule in the Senate:

The problem with a president promising to “change Washington” is that the presidency isn’t the part of Washington that’s broken. The systemic gridlock, dysfunction and polarization that so frustrate the country aren’t located in the executive branch. They’re centered in Congress. And one of their key enablers is Senate Rule XXII — better known as the filibuster.

Filibusters used to be relatively rare. There were more filibusters between 2009 and 2010 than there were in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s combined. A strategy memo written after the 1964 election by Mike Manatos, Lyndon B. Johnson’s Senate liaison, calculated that in the new Senate, Medicare would pass with 55 votes — the filibuster didn’t even figure into the administration’s planning.

There were more filibusters between in the 111th Congress (2009-2010) than in the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s combined. (Data: Congress.gov, Graph: Ezra Klein)

Today, the filibuster isn’t used to defend minority rights or ensure debate. Rather, the filibuster is simply a rule that the minority party uses to require a 60-vote supermajority to get anything done in the Senate. That’s not how it was meant to be.

And it’s not how it has to be. The Constitution states that each chamber of Congress “may determine the rules of its proceedings.” And this week’s election has provided fresh evidence that the Senate, at least, may be preparing to remake its most pernicious rule.

Chris Murphy, the incoming Democratic senator from Connecticut, couldn’t have been clearer: “The filibuster is in dire need of reform,” he told Talking Points Memo. “Whether or not it needs to go away, we need to reform the way the filibuster is used, so it is not used in the order of everyday policy, but is only used in exceptional circumstances.”

Angus King, the independent senator-elect from Maine, said, “My principal issue is the functioning of the Senate.” He backs a proposal advanced by the reform group No Labels that would end the filibuster on motions to debate, restricting filibusters to votes on actual legislation. The group also wants to require filibustering senators to physically hold the Senate floor and talk, rather than simply instigate a filibuster from the comfort of their offices.

via Is this the end for the filibuster?.

The problem, in my opinion, is that the filibuster has become just a procedural matter to be invoked at will–basically, a threat to filibuster–so as to require a 60-vote supermajority on Senate actions (60 votes being the number of votes required to shut off debate).  I think the filibuster should be returned to its earlier days of glory, in which a Senator had to stay on the floor speaking for as long as he could to delay action, just like Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

But, as part of filibuster reform and perhaps more importantly, I would like to reform the Senate so as to restore the importance of floor debate.  As it is, when you go as a visitor to our nation’s Capitol and sit in the Senate gallery, typically, nothing is happening.  Virtually no Senators are present.  The chair presides–a position constitutionally given to the Vice-President and potentially conveying real power and responsibility, but now that task is delegated to a revolving cast of members.  A few individual Senators are reading statements to be entered into the Congressional Record, mainly for the benefit of their constituents.  There is some back-and-forth debate on bills, but it is mostly canned and pro-forma, with few senators in a position to be persuaded, or even, usually, in attendance.  Only when a vote is called do the Senators as a whole enter the chamber.  Virtually all business is conducted in committees, rather than on the floor.  On the whole, though, what was once called “the world’s greatest deliberative body” does little collective deliberation anymore.

I’d like to see the Senate strengthen the quorum rules so as to require senators to be present while the Senate is convened.  They could still do committee work.   There could be fewer actual sessions.  But the whole genius of legislative government depends on  the wisdom of a collective group as opposed to that of atomize individuals and we are in danger of losing that in the legislative branch.

Military families

One of my former students married another former student who has become an officer in the U.S. Army.  She reports that the military has cut out the customary mid-deployment leave in which servicemen and women could spend some time with their families.  Here is a story about the change as it affects the National Guard.   This has gotten little attention in the media, so she has launched an effort to raise awareness of the issue, along with an online petition in support of military families.  Here is her statement:

 For Father’s Day this year, many deployed dads got the opposite of a present. They were told that the traditional two weeks of mid-deployment R&R that soldiers are given to see their families has been cut. Doing away with mid-deployment R&R is a devastating policy change that has affected practically all Army soldiers.

On the FAQs section of the Army.mil site, this is said about R&R: “The program provides respite from the stresses associated with the combat mission . . . this is seen as an investment in the well being of our forces that will improve mission performance.”

But unfortunately, this vital investment is no longer made. All soldiers and families have suffered from the cutting of the R&R program, but National Guard and Reserves soldiers are especially hard hit. Along with spending an entire nine months outside of the country, Guard and Reserve soldiers also must spend several months before that on full time, seven day a week mobilization orders, normally away from family. Twelve plus months is too long a time to work 24/7 for seven days a week. As the Army.mil site said, soldiers need R&R for morale. Military families also need R&R for family time.

Even with the R&R program, eleven years of back to back deployments have taken their toll. The PTSD rates among soldiers are ever increasing and this PTSD heightens the strain on marriages that are often already stretched to the breaking point by so many deployments. Military children also do their share of suffering when dad, and now increasingly mom as well, is never home.

Making life even harder on military families is a travesty. It is not right to try to balance the budget on the backs of military families. Sign the petition and ask your Senators, Congressmen, and the President to bring back our troops’ much-deserved R&R. http://www.petition2congress.com/8229/bring-back-military-rr/


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