Thursday, July 24, 2008

So Much Misinformation, So Little Time

Much to my chagrin, Thomas Jefferson’s political philosophy seems to be falling out of favor in modern America. It’s terribly unfortunate as Jeffersonian philosophy offers much. For example, we all know that Jefferson enshrined the “pursuit of happiness” in the national conscience. Jefferson said more about happiness though, take for instance; “I do not take a single newspaper, nor read one a month, and I feel myself infinitely the happier for it.”

His wisdom doesn’t end there. Wrap your head around this Jeffersonian insight; “The man who reads nothing at all is better educated than the man who reads nothing but newspapers.” Unfortunately, with the commission election and the decision concerning the industrial wind development right around the corner, it seems most of what is printed regarding the two, particularly as they relate to each other, makes it seem Jefferson just formed his opinion recently.

Opinions are defended with information (though often not formed with it). Unfortunately, when the issue is as politically charged as the election and as controversial as the proposed wind development just outside of Hays, this information becomes twisted, sometimes violently so.

Though it is quite likely many people have taken Jefferson’s advice already (at least on this issue), for those of you still reading, I urge you to check out everything I say and look up the information I discuss from various sources , those reportedly neutral and those from both sides.

Let’s begin by pointing out that it probably won’t matter what the commission decides. There have been so many problems with this process that the application will undoubtedly end up in district (and possibly appeals) court. As a result, this process will most likely be repeated yet again in a year or so. As such, whatever is ultimately decided will be decided by the commission in place after the election. Speaking of which, now you know why the commission election is so political and so contested (not to mention why some opinions pieces are so venomous).

I get why it is tempting to distort the facts or only present one side of them. Some have stuff to lose while others have things to gain. Take T. Boone Pickens for example. He’s “been an oil man his entire life”, until he found wind. Why the sudden burst of what appears to be environmentalism? I don’t know Pickens, but I do know this; oil companies such as Exxon boast a profit margin of approximately 8%. Most estimates place his potential profit margin in industrial wind at or above 25%. It comes as no surprise, that being a good capitalist, Pickens wants in on wind.

Why then does his campaign sound so political? That’s easy: without the government subsidies and tax breaks, industrial wind couldn’t make money at all, let alone a 25% profit. Makes me think he’s not so much concerned about transfers of wealth so long as the wealth transfers to his account. Without our money (the government) transferring to his account, wind isn’t profitable, and without the profit he won’t build, so he’s depending on us to lobby the government. Sound familiar?

I personally don’t get why people are so down on oil anyway. Oil built this country and more specifically, oil built Ellis County. Ever wonder what Ellis County taxes would be without oil? Taxes on oil are responsible for a huge portion of the county’s revenue.

Let’s do a little comparison. If it is built, the proposed wind development will (hopefully) voluntarily pay $600,000 per year in lieu of actual taxes. If that same capital investment were in oil, that figure would be more on the order of $12,000,000 and that wouldn’t be subject to the companies’ “generosity”. I’m all in favor of alternative energy and finding renewable alternatives to exhaustible energy sources, but I’m not in favor of just any alternative. If you really wanted to eliminate the country’s dependence on foreign oil, wind is not the answer (an infinitesimally small percentage of electricity is produced by oil). If however, you are willing to do just about anything, I suggest replacing all motorized vehicles with horses. Unlike wind, this would actually work, but my guess is most of us would not support such a move, and as such, you are also on to my point that doing anything is not what we need.

Even if I grant you that wind is the answer, not only for the nation and the state and for Ellis County (all different questions), I still don’t understand the commissioners’ insistence on this particular project. Many people have posited that there is something happening behind the scenes here in Ellis County, much the same way that there is clearly something happening behind the scenes of Pickens’ new found support for wind energy. Again, I can’t say for certain what is happening, but let’s take a look at what is known.

There are four wind developments on the table for Ellis County. Most all players involved recognize that without additional transmission lines, only one project can currently be built. Everyone also acknowledges that the one currently under consideration is by far the most controversial and most contested. Given that only one can be built for sure why do two of our commissioners insist on unconditionally supporting the one project that is tearing our county apart? For that matter, why does a company claiming to be such “good neighbors” insist on pushing though the only one of their three projects that will leave division and hard feelings in the community that will last for generations? Why would either of them risk harming the growth and lifeblood of Ellis County by placing the one project so close to Hays?

Let me leave you with a final Jefferson quote. “The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.” Though Jefferson was at times quite frustrated with the press, he was rightly more wary of a government that isn’t open, transparent or responsive to the people. As a fan of Jeffersonian political philosophy, I also share his belief in the power of “We the people”. As such, I am optimistic that the people of Ellis County will become informed, utilize common sense and hold their representatives accountable for their actions.

I urge you to find out what is happening in local government, not just with industrial wind, but with the budget, the rule of law and adherence to regulations, the county building proposal and other county issues. Talk to the candidates. Study their positions and past record. Support a candidate that offers common sense solutions, vision and leadership in government, not lingering questions.

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