Who you calling stupid?

Byline: | Category: 2008 Presidential Election, 2012, Environment, Ethics, Government | Posted at: Friday, 14 November 2014

Jonathan Gruber is right.  The American people are stupid.  But not all Americans.

Take the President’s much recently heralded “climate change” agreement with China as an example.

Al Gore  says that the joint announcement “demonstrates a serious commitment” to combating global warming.

Brad Plumer at Vox says, ”This is a significant shift in climate politics — and possibly a first step toward a broader global climate agreement.”

James West at Mother Jones enthusiastically announces, “The announcement between the two biggest emitters deals a blow to the oft-stated rhetoric that the US must wait for China before bringing domestic climate legislation.”

The Washington Post’s Stephen Stromberg gushes, that this “landmark agreement . . . does not merely commit the countries to trajectories they are already taking. It will require both nations to push harder toward cleaner energy.

According to these reports, the agreement with China was, what one Vox headline writer called, a BFD.

But was it?  What exactly was agreed to?

Nothing actually.  The United States and China both made non-binding pledges to reduce greenhouse gasses.  However, neither side agreed to an enforcement mechanism.  There is no treaty agreeement to be submitted to the Senate for ratification.  There are no laws that Congress will consider.  There are not even any proposed steps that the EPA could take.

Not everyone was fooled by the Administration’s announcement and the breathless fawning of his media sycophants. RedState’s Erick Erickson nailed it:  ”Like so much of President Obama’s decisions over the past six years, this is another photo-op with a compliant press that does not matter and will do little.”  David Harsanyi says that “there are two problems with treating the deal as big news. 1) We’re not really doing anything we weren’t going to do anyway. 2) Neither is China.”  Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) called it a “non-binding charade”.

If you understand anything about the American Constitutional system and have any inkling about the current political situation in Washington you must conclude that Inhofe is right.  This entire hullabaloo is a charade.  International agreements can only receive the imprimatur of law by being subjected to Senate ratification requiring a two-thirds agreement.  Now that the new Senate will contain only 46 Democrats, this would require that 21 Republicans join all Democrats.  In fact, there isn’t even a treaty for submission to the ratification process.  And the last one (Kyoto) was never submitted, because then-President Clinton knew it would fail.  Laws restricting carbon consumption must go through the House that is more Republican than at any time since Calvin Coolidge was still alive.  The Supreme Court has already limited what the EPA can do without additional authorizations from Congress–which is not going to happen at least before the end of the Obama Presidency.

So any objective reading of the recently announced agreement between China and the United States should be met with no more than a shrug.  President Obama can announce anything he likes, but without a valid enforcement mechanism, it’s just words.

But let us get back to Gruber who called it “the stupidity of the American voter” who could easily be misled by promises grounded in economic lies and obscured by a lack of civics knowledge.  That worked to get Obamacare passed, and it apparently is working in getting the Left thrilled about the President’s war on carbon.  But it is not all of the American voters who are so easily duped.  It apparently is only the stupidity of the President’s supporters who are so easily misled by words without substance.

In other words, the Left might want to keep in mind that Jonathan Gruber wasn’t calling all Americans stupid.  He was calling the President’s supporters stupid.

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Why progressivism fails

Byline: | Category: Above the Fold, Culture, Environment, Government, Military | Posted at: Friday, 28 March 2014

Two days ago I picked up the theme of a Jim Geraghty piece and said that Progressives are so fixated on ends that they have no allegiance to means and have no consideration for the negative consequences of their utopian dreams.  On a related note yesterday, Daniel Henninger wondered “Why can’t the Left govern?”

Henninger focused on President Obama, whose only major legislative accomplishment has worsened American health care, and on Mayor Bill de Blasio, whose attacks on New York’s charter schools spiraled out of control and sunk his high approval ratings to below 50%, and on France’s François Hollande, whose draconian taxes have pushed his popularity to the lowest ever recorded of a French President in the modern era.

Since in my earlier writing I made the analogy between modern Progressives and the era of the original Progressives, let me throw into the mix President Woodrow Wilson as an example of the failure of their ilk to govern.  Wilson was so unpopular at the end of his second term that Warren Harding’s 26-point margin of victory still holds the record for the largest landslide of any President elected in the last hundred years.  None of FDR’s elections were bigger wins.  Nor was LBJ’s.  William McGovern and Walter Mondale both cruised to respectable finishes compared to James Cox, 1920’s loser.  Four years after he left, Wilson’s Democrats were still so unpopular that they didn’t receive even 30% of the popular vote, a pitifully low level that the losing party has never since failed to achieve.

What is it about ideologue Leftists that makes them so unpopular after their failed attempts at governing?

As I said the other day, Progressives believe that they know better than others how others should live their lives.  That makes Progressivism inherently anti-democratic and requires that its adherents subvert truths and manipulate rules to advance their ends.

Democratic governments follow where their people lead.  Progressive governments—those led by people who see popular opinion as wrong—lead their people in a direction that they do not want to go.  When the subterfuge is discovered, or when the unpopular project spectacularly fails, popular opinion turns viciously against the Progressive.

By Executive Order (and not, it is important to note, by an act of Congress) President Wilson created the Committee on Public Information in 1917.  The CPI was known by the New York Times as the “Committee on Public Misinformation” and by harsher critics was called the ominous sounding, “House of Truth”. This was America’s World War One propaganda ministry.  It fabricated German atrocities, as well as American strengths. Anticipating by nearly a century the notoriously faked photo of an Iranian missile launch, one early CPI story announced that “the first American-built battle planes are today en route to the front in France”.  The false “news” was accompanied by doctored pictures that were in fact of a single plane that was still in testing.   (If you have ever wondered why the horrors of the Holocaust took so long to gain traction in the American press, in part, it was because Americans were still skeptical after having been lied to by their own government about imaginary German horrors from the last war.)

The CPI’s tactics came straight from its allies in the Anti-Saloon League, which employed a similar propaganda machine and a similar virulently nativist message to advance the cause of Prohibition.

Democracies don’t like being lied to.  As soon as the war was over, the magnitude and frequency of the lies became apparent.  Americans quickly recognized that their entry into the war was a catastrophic mistake.  The result was that by the end of the 1920s, the label “progressive” largely had disappeared from the American political lexicon, not to be resurrected for another eighty years.

Democracies also don’t like failure.

To the Progressive, ideology trumps results.  Most arenas outside of government don’t work that way.  A product that isn’t popular loses money.  It matters not how noble the cause or its producer.

In government failure is so easy to achieve because success is so difficult to ascertain.  Ironically, it is the very nature of popular forms of government that makes this possible.  Democracies, because they lag popular opinion—and especially constitutional republics, that purposefully employ procedures to dampen the excesses of democracy—are necessarily lethargic beings.  Results arrive at a glacial pace.  It is often years after one has advanced a program that it can objectively be determined to be a success.  By then it is too late for its advocates to be held accountable if it had failed.

In 2002 I was part of an efficiency project initiated at the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command.  The idea was that TRADOC should measure both the resources put into its programs and its programs’ results.  For each program the objectively measurable input was money.  I had no objection to this.  However, since most of those programs were years-long projects, there was the need for intermediate objectives.   It turned out that in almost every case, the measurable “output” was also money.  If a project was expected to cost $100 million, the faster it could acquire that hundred-million was the measure of the success of the project.  Each program was its own self-licking ice cream cone and no one was ever going to be judged on whether or not the program actually worked.  The programs themselves became the goal.  Left far behind were the goals of the original programs.

If this attitude exists within the military, a branch of government which occasionally gets called upon to deliver demonstrable results (ie, win a war), imagine how detached other branches of government are from having to account for their successes and failures.  This is the perfect camouflage for a Progressive as he never has to face judgment for his results.  All that matters is that he tried.

Returning to Henninger’s column, he likens Obamacare to the international anti-global warming movement and concludes that their “activity is increasingly disconnected from the issue of mitigating climate change.”  It’s no wonder; Progressives steeped in a lifetime of bureaucratic myopia rarely have to achieve a measurable outcome.  And on those few occasions, as in the case of Obamacare, that they are successful in shepherding a program through to fruition, they are unprepared by their upbringing as to how to create a program that actually demonstrates a successful result.  So when Nancy Pelosi unfacetiously said that Congress had to pass the 2,000 page bill so that they could find out what was in it, she was confessing to being not unlike the automobile-chasing dog:  “Now that I’ve caught the car, what do I do with it?”

Today’s New York Times makes this point.  The White House announced yesterday that six-million people had signed up for Obamacare, a figure that “the law’s backers hail as a success.”  But not so fast.  Drew Altman, President of the Kaiser Family Foundation (an organization which has long been supportive of Obamacare) attempted to redirect the issue as to whether or not the program itself is successful.

“The whole narrative about Obamacare — ‘Will they get to six million? What is the percentage of young adults going to be?’ — has almost nothing to do with whether the law is working or not, whether the premiums are affordable or not, whether people think they are getting a good deal or not.”

Altman is right to point out that the goal of Obamacare is not that people sign up for it, but that it work.  That’s something that the Progressive is unprepared for.

Progressivism exists outside the arena of accountability.  Its practitioners have never been judged on ultimate outcomes.  While it is in the pursuit of their programs that they often can claim a noble rhetorical advantage, It is only after their program is law that it is on full display.  Then the autopsy of its failure exposes their lies and the anti-democratic subversions employed to bring about a program the population never wanted.  And that is why when Progressivism fails, it fails spectacularly, and why the Progressive is so often ultimately judged to be a governing failure.

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A rational discussion about what to do about global warming (cooling)?

Byline: | Category: Economy, Environment, Government | Posted at: Tuesday, 28 May 2013

When determining if we should do anything about global warming, I propose a four-step approach:

1.  Are global temperatures warming?

2.  Do the negative consequences of the change outweigh the positive consequences?

3.  Can we do anything that will reverse the change?

4.  Do the net positive consequences of the action outweigh the net negative consequences of doing nothing?

Notice, the steps have nothing at all whatsoever to do with whether or not global warming is anthropogenic.  The climate’s “naturalness” is actually irrelevant.  If a 10 kilometer-wide asteroid were hurling toward earth at 100,000 km per hour, it would be a completely natural event.  However, just because the meteor wasn’t anthropogenic doesn’t mean that we wouldn’t take actions to deflect it.

Notice also, that we could change question 1 from “warming” to “cooling” and the four-step approach still works.  And quite frankly, cooling is probably a more historically problematic situation.

If the answer to any one of the above four questions is “No,” then we should do absolutely nothing about a changing climate.  If the answer to all of the questions are “Yes,” then, and only then, should we take any actions.

This is not the discussion we have been having for twenty years.  Instead, we have been chased onto an  anthropogenic side path well worn by Rousseauian “modern man is bad” theorists.  The discussion over naturalness is not only, as I have already said, irrelevant, it is also self-destructive, as the question itself presupposes that natural is good and that anything that deviates from it must be returned to a state of nature.

RELATED:

Peter Ferrara:  Global Cooling is Here

UPDATE:

Thanks to Glenn for the link.  It’s nice to see something I wrote a month ago still relevant today.  Also here and here.

Edited to add the word “net” to question #4 per a comment from a reader.

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When the Zeitgeist is Wrong

Byline: | Category: Culture, Environment, Regulations | Posted at: Thursday, 10 May 2012

“We buy organic food, put E10 in our gas tanks and switch to green electricity. Our roofs are covered in solar panels and our walls plastered with insulation. This makes us feel good about ourselves. The only question is: What exactly does the environment get out of all this?”

Der Spiegels’ Alexander Neubacher says:  not much at all. 

I have a more than 20-year history with Germany dating to about 1988, back when toxic chemicals in Germany meant nerve gas or sarin.  From my perspective as a sometime resident of Deutschland for about six of those twenty years, there has been a real evolution (apparently the word of the week) of thought about the environment there. 

Twenty years ago consumers sent everything out to the recycling bins.  They still do.  Twenty years ago some of the things they brought to their recycling centers just accumulated; it wasn’t economically feasible to recycle things like plastics.  Twenty years later they no longer accumulate, but it still isn’t feasible:

My yoghurt container, which I’ve carefully rinsed and sorted, isn’t recycled at all. In fact, it’s dumped into an incinerator with all the rest of the garbage and burned.

Yes, this is allowed. By law, the dual system is required to recycle exactly 36 percent of plastic waste. Waste disposal companies can do what they want — and what is most cost-effective for them — with the remaining 64 percent. As a result, much of it ends up in waste incinerators for what’s called “thermal recycling,” bringing the cycle to a sudden end. 

The economics there aren’t any different than they are here:  except for aluminum, glass, and paper, recycling most waste materials doesn’t make sense.  When I was in Germany, I did what I was supposed to do.  In America I do what makes sense; we have three recycle bins in our pantry for only those materials.

Water is another interesting environmental bugaboo for Germans.  I’ve lived in places where water is in short supply and comes therefore with a high cost:  Texas, the Mojave Desert, Kuwait, Iraq.  There you learn how to conserve water.  Thirty-second showers are necessary when you live in the driest deserts.  Germany is not that kind of place.  Water is abundant; so it surprises me that so many Germans strive to save H2O.  You’re not even allowed to wash your own car.  In a land blessed with frequent rain throughout the year, saving water makes as much sense as eating your vegetables in Kansas because there are starving children in Africa.  It’s a national non sequitur.

Speaking of rain . . . because it rains so often, and because it is so far north, I was surprised to find so many solar panels when I returned to Germany in 2010 after a 15-year absence.  Frankfurt is further north than Winnipeg.  It’s not exactly Phoenix, and even there–in the desert southwest with more than 300 sun-filled days a year, solar still isn’t economical.  Plus, houses covered in dysfunctional black panels happen to be ugly as sin, which is quite the shame in a land whose villages were formerly celebrated for houses festooned with red tile roofs.  Visual pollution is on the rise, unfortunately not counterbalanced by much solar power.

My latest time in Germany made me think that environmentalism there is less about saving the planet than it is about making Germans feel good about themselves.  Apparently I’m not alone in that thought.  So let me leave the last word to Herr Neubacher:

It would be nice if we would occasionally subject our certainties to a reality check. . . No one should be forced to bring toxic mercury-containing light bulbs into the house. It doesn’t make sense to shut down more nuclear power plants if it just makes us dependent on imported nuclear electricity from France. And as long as a disposal paper bag is worse for the environment than a plastic bag, the green morals police should think about whether it’s the plastic bag that they should be banning.

People who shop in organic grocery stores, eat a vegan diet or drive an electric car are free to do so. But this should not give them the right to lecture others on the environmentally correct way to live their lives. Things are sometimes more complicated than they seem at first glance.

(ht: Ed at Insty’s Place and Kate)

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That’s nice; now what about jobs?

Byline: | Category: 2012, 2nd Amendment, Culture, Economy, Education, Environment, Government, Military, Race, Regulations, Taxes & Spending | Posted at: Thursday, 10 May 2012

I suppose I ought to say something about President Obama’s flip-flop on gay marriage.  Instead, I’ll tell you what I wish Mitt Romney had said when he was asked about the President’s stance:

“That’s nice; now what about jobs?

In fact, that should be Mitt Romney’s response every time he is asked about gay marriage, immigration, guns, Trayvon Martin, global warming, eating dogs . . .  

Pretty much everything except the economy, taxes, and spending is a distraction from the issues that are really important.  Mitt Romney should drive the point home that everything else is secondary and frivolous and that he is not going to allow the debate to come off that point.

P.S.  If you’re really interested in what I think about gay marriage, here’s a couple recent posts that shed some light on that.  But rather than expect you to read them, here’s a two-word summation:  Don’t care.

MORE:  Roger Simon concurs and offers a warning:

“The issue is a sideshow intended to distract. If our country goes the way of Greece – and writing this from the City of Los Angeles, it’s not so hard to imagine – you can forget any issue, whatever your favorite one is.  You won’t be living in America anymore.”

UPDATE:  Thanks to Ed at Insty’s Place for the links.  While you’re here, this is a story that’s not directly about jobs, but I bring it around to that point:  She deserves pity, not a punch in the throat.  (There’s a bonus Blazing Saddles clip at the end.)

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China to EU: back off

Byline: | Category: Economy, Environment, Foreign Policy, Taxes & Spending | Posted at: Monday, 6 February 2012

The Chinese government has ordered its international air carriers to refuse to pay a European Union “global warming” tax.  The subtext of this decision is a strong message to an EU on the verge of bankruptcy and oblivion: 

“You need us more than we need you.”

Expect the EU to cave.  Expect also to see more of this as China converts its economic might into geopolitical strength.

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Paul Krugman is desperately afraid that you might notice

Byline: | Category: 2012, Environment, Government, Taxes & Spending | Posted at: Friday, 5 August 2011

Paul Krugman looks at yesterday’s 512 point drop in the Dow and recognizes that,

“To turn this [economomic] disaster around, a lot of people are going to have to admit, to themselves at least, that they’ve been wrong and need to change their priorities, right away.”

When I read that, there was just the tiniest inkling of a glimmer of a shred of hope in the back of my mind that the next words from Krugman’s pen were going to be a mea culpa. How silly of me.

“Of course, some players won’t change. Republicans won’t stop screaming about the deficit because they weren’t sincere in the first place: Their deficit hawkery was a club with which to beat their political opponents, nothing more — as became obvious whenever any rise in taxes on the rich was suggested. And they’re not going to give up that club.”

Republicans, apparently, are at fault for the last two years of a faux recovery even while “the Obama administration [has] insisted that the economy was on the mend.” That’s because during those two years, while Republicans hadn’t held the Presidency, hadn’t led the Senate, and hadn’t controlled the House except for a mere six months, the GOP nonetheless failed to stop Democrats from doing even more of what they were doing.  This is likely the first time in American political history that a pundit supporting the majority party has attempted to blame the minority for failing to stop them.

Not content to blame the impotent for their powerlessness, Krugman claims that Ron Paul is at fault for “intimidating” Ben Bernanke. Ron Paul? Really? If there is any one long-serving member of Congress who has sponsored less successful legislation than Dennis Kucinich, it is Ron Paul. Oh, and by the way, Ron Paul doesn’t want to intimidate the Fed; he wants to eliminate the Fed. You’ll notice, that hasn’t happened, so I’m not sure what Krugman’s point is.

Actually, I do know what Paul Krugman’s point is. He’s right about the fact that “some players won’t change.” He and his coterie of hyper-Keynesian Democrats are those players who won’t change their methods even while the economy worsens on their watch. And he’s desperately afraid that you might notice.

UPDATE:

Don Surber adds more pithily:  “Krugman: the failure of my ideas proves I was right.”

And on the other side, Steve Benen at the Washington Monthly adds this:

Under ideal circumstances, President Obama would come up with an economic plan and execute it. If the agenda succeeded, he’d get the credit. If it faltered, Republicans would call him on it. Voters could evaluate the results and decide whether to keep the president around or go back to GOP economic policies.”

Ummm . . . Dude, that’s exactly what happened.  Remember the $787 billion stimulus that, if not enacted would mean that unemployment could go as high as 8 percent?  That was the president’s economic plan, developed while he was still President-elect.  Fresh off his inauguration high, Obama got exactly what he wanted.  That voters will “evaluate the results and decide whether to keep the president around or go back to GOP economic policies” is exactly what is going to happen. 

Let me make a prediction that Krugman and Benen fear in their hearts is probably true:  If unemployment is still in the 9% range, Stephen Green can throw away his battleground states map.  When the national electorate moves 6 to 10 points, the battleground states aren’t what you’re accustomed to.  Instead, the question will be, could it get even worse for Democrats than this map?

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Senior analyst silenced

Byline: | Category: Environment, Ethics, Government, Taxes & Spending | Posted at: Monday, 29 June 2009

Fox News:

A Defense Department analyst who authored a report critical of a controversial multi-billion dollar weapon system, alleged that his analysis was ”buried” by senior DoD officials on the eve of a crucial Congressional vote to authorize funding for the new program. 

Alan Carlin, an economist for nearly two decades with the Office of the Secretary of the Army, wrote a 95-page internal study this past spring that found that the planned weapon offered little–if any–improvement over existing platforms, was based on shaky science and immature technologies, and did so at a cost more than twenty times that of the weapon it is intended to replace.  Knowledge of Carlin’s report might have swayed the close Congressional vote last week when the House of Representatives approved funding of the new program by a mere eight votes amidst a storm of protest.

According to internal emails, after Carlin produced his study he was “forcibly reassigned” to a different department and ordered not to discuss his findings.  The emails only came to light pursuant to a Freedom of Information Act request by a defense watchdog organization.

In a written statement, Senator Coburn (R-OK) lambasted Army officials, in addition to many of his own colleagues, whom he says are “actively seeking to withhold new data in order to justify an unaffordable and unworkable pork barrel project.” 

You would think that a story like this should deserve to break through the relentless onslaught of Michael Jackson coverage.  That it does not just goes to show how much power the military-industrial complex has over Congress and the mainstream media.

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A scientific approach to problem solving

Byline: | Category: Environment | Posted at: Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Einstein once said that if he had an hour to save the world, he would spend the first 55 minutes trying to define the problem and only five minutes on the solution.  So let’s look at global warming within that framework.

Is manmade global warming a problem?  Not necessarily.  If the climate is warming due to completely natural causes there might still be cause for concern.  An analogy might help to explain.  If the International Space Station were to fall out of the sky and head straight for Manhattan, should we be more or less alarmed about that than we would be if it were a similar sized meteor on the same trajectory?  If my friends and family are incinerated beneath a fiery comet, I don’t think my reaction is going to be any different if they died of “natural” causes.  After all, we take enormous precautions against hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes and other naturally-occurring catastrophes.  We should, therefore, be just as concerned about the possibility of global warming due to natural causes as we are to its anthropomorphic cousin.

So if man-made global warming isn’t the problem, what is?  Is it simply that the globe might be warming?  Again, not necessarily.  One could certainly imagine that Canadian farmers might welcome a warmer environment.  International trade might also benefit from the opening of more warm water ports in currently cold waters.  Simply saying that the temperature of the earth might rise by x degrees tells us nothing about the problem.  That’s just a condition.  The problems, if there are any, are in the effects of that warming, and they must be compared against the benefits of any warming before we can really say whether or not there is a problem in the aggregate, or if there are only isolated problems that might require isolated mitigation strategies.

Further complicating the problem of global warming is the question of whether or not it is even occurring at all?  Through the end of the last decade most evidence indicated a warming trend.  Since 1998, however, there is evidence that the trend is in retreat.  So could the whole issue be one of much ado about nothing?

Unfortunately, not all scientists heed Einstein’s advice to focus first and foremost on problem definition:

The president’s new science adviser said Wednesday that global warming is so dire, the Obama administration is discussing radical technologies to cool Earth’s air.

Those radical technologies under discussion include launching pollution into the upper atmosphere and creating artificial volcanoes.  Those seem to be rather drastic measures to take against a problem that (a) might not be occurring, (b) might not be a problem, (c) might not be focused on the right problem, or (d) might create more problems of their own.  All rhetoric aside, when it comes to global warming, we really don’t even understand the problem, much less whether or not it is “dire”.

I submit that the entire question of global warming needs to be considered in the context of these three simple questions:

1.  Is global warming occurring?
2.  Are global warming’s negative consequences worse than its positive ones?
3.  Do proposed solutions remedy or mitigate the negative consequences without affecting the positive ones or creating more problems of their own?

Jumping straight into number 3 before we have sufficient evidence of the answer to the first question and a better understanding of the second, is akin to a cowboy who shoots first and asks questions later.  

The quesitons outlined above offer a rational and scientific approach to the “problem” of global warming, and what actions (if any) to take.  Science would be well advised to take such a scientific approach to problem solving.

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Dearth hour

Byline: | Category: Environment | Posted at: Friday, 27 March 2009

As in, for one hour tomorrow night thousands of people around the world will demonstrate a dearth of common sense.

How am I participating?  Exactly the way the World Wildlife Federation told me to:

We are asking people to vote with their light switch,” said Dan Forman, a spokesman for World Wildlife Fund.

“For every light they turn off, it is in effect a vote for action on climate change.”

I had intended to ignore this inanity, political stunts being so vacuous and all.  But now that I’ve been informed that this is an election, I have to vote.  So I’m voting “no”.  Or, in Forman’s words, I’m casting 70 votes against action on climate change.  Since there are 70 light switches in our house and more than 250 individual light bulbs, that’s a total of more than 15,000 watts of light, more than enough to offset the savings of a small block of houses.  (But still less than neighbor Al Gore uses just to find the bathroom in the middle of the night.)

So don’t worry.  While you stumble through the blackness tomorrow night, Casa del Krumm will be your beacon of brilliance in a dark and ignorant world.

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