Gregg Easterbrook

China should not be our next whipping boy

Oct 28, 2010 11:00 UTC


Here we go again.

With a sort-of withdrawal from Iraq in progress, and a scheduled withdrawal from Afghanistan approaching, Washington needs a fresh adversary. How about China?

China is big and getting bigger. Its wealth and power is increasing. It’s inscrutable, whatever that means. (Just try understanding the United States.) And according to super-secret intelligence reports, China is pursuing national interest. This can’t be allowed — we’ve got to confront them!

Of course it is a standby of politics for governments to create international adversaries, in order to deflect criticism away from themselves. There’s a theory – best expressed in the great spoof Report From Iron Mountain — that while dictatorships can issue orders, democracies need enemies in order to prevent free men and women from saying, “To heck with central government.”

Polls suggest many Americans right now are contemplating the phrase “to heck with central government,” so perhaps Barack Obama’s White House thinks voters will be distracted if China is converted into an adversary. The idea is not new — the George W. Bush White House attempted the same.

When the younger Bush took office, the international scene was fairly tranquil, and at that point, people were tired of hearing Saddam Hussein blamed for everything. So Bush started talking tough about Beijing. This culminated in the Hainan Island incident, which raised international tensions. Cable news was abuzz with confronting China; Dick Cheney darkly hinted of war. The Council on Foreign Relations went to red alert.

Ethanol a “stealth tax” on drivers

Oct 20, 2010 13:57 UTC

Substituting ethanol for petroleum – what could be wrong with that? A lot, it turns out, including a cynical “stealth tax” on drivers.

A few days ago the Environmental Protection Agency announced that soon gasoline can be made from 85 percent petroleum and 15 percent ethanol, up from a current limit of 10 percent ethanol. Such a move to replace imported petroleum with home-grown ethanol sounds great — until you examine the details.

Ethanol is the king of subsidies. Ethanol from genetically engineered dwarf trees or tall grasses holds tremendous promise as a cost-effective, greenhouse-neutral fuel. But for today, nearly all ethanol sold in the United States is made from corn. Domestically produced corn-based ethanol is subsidized via federal payments to grain farmers, by refinery tax exemptions for fuel containing domestic ethanol, and by tariff barriers intended to prevent Brazilian sugar-based ethanol from entering the country. Annual federal subsidies to corn ethanol cost around $5 billion. Are the benefits worth that?

The skinny on Social Security benefits

Oct 14, 2010 11:00 UTC

On Friday, the Social Security Administration is expected to announce that for the second consecutive year, there will be no Social Security cost-of-living increase. That makes perfect sense, since the cost of living is not rising. But this being an election year, there may be intense political demand for a special bonus to retirees, like the $250 bonus checks issued — regardless of need — to all senior citizens in 2009.

It is imperative that President Barack Obama, and Congress, resist demands for bonus payments to senior citizens. The federal budget — and long-term projections for Social Security — are in bad enough shape as is. If Washington can’t resist handing out bonuses, there is no hope the national red ink ever can be stopped.

There’s no “right” to higher Social Security benefits.
In 1972, Congress created a COLA system to increase Social Security benefits (and the threshold level of Social Security taxation) in sync with the rising cost of living. Each year from 1972 to 2009, Social Security benefits rose, owing to inflation. Seniors became accustomed to the first check in January of any year containing a boost. Some surely believe that law requires their benefits to rise annually.

Gay suicides and media hype

Oct 7, 2010 13:51 UTC


The story of Tyler Clementi brings tears to the eyes. The Rutgers University freshman jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge after a video of him having sex with a man was posted on the Internet, probably by a classmate. Not only did a promising young life end — it’s 2010, and even college students still exhibit malicious anti-gay bias.

Yet does his awful death mean there’s a “trend” of suicides by young gays and lesbians. That has been a television theme in the last week. It’s clear there have been suicides in which young homosexuals kill themselves at least in part owing to harassment.  Each instance is heartbreaking. But people who aren’t gay, or don’t belong to any group that has been subjected to prejudice, take their own lives. Does the occurrence of a gay person’s suicide show any larger trend?

In 2007, there were about 42 million Americans aged 15-24. The self-inflicted death rate for this group was about one in 10,300. That comes to roughly 4,000 suicides a year by those of teens-to-college age — a horrible figure. That suicide is a leading cause of death for young people is, itself, horrible.