Saturday, July 08, 2017

Trump defends the West — and the Left screams foul

July 7, 2017
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US President Donald Trump holds his thumb up as he stands in front of the Warsaw Uprising Monument on Krasinski Square during the Three Seas Initiative Summit in Warsaw, Poland, July 6, 2017. (SAUL LOEB / AFP)

Imagine that President Trump gave a speech praising a strong Europe.
Imagine that he called forthrightly on Russia to stop its aggression in Ukraine and join the community of responsible nations.
Imagine that he embraced the mutual-defense commitment, so-called Article 5, of NATO.
Imagine that he extolled the role of women in our society.
Imagine that he said we share the hope of every soul to live in freedom.
Imagine that he celebrated the free press and ceaseless innovation and a spirit of inquiry and self-criticism.
That’s the speech that Trump gave in Warsaw during his European trip for the G-20. It was easily the best of his presidency — well-written and moving, soaked in Polish history and grounded in Western values. And yet it has been attacked for, as one liberal outlet put it, sounding “like an alt-right manifesto.”
The address also got a lot of praise, but the criticism was telling. Some of it was from commentators who simply can’t abide Trump, but a lot of it reacted against core elements of the speech.
It was unabashedly nationalist. Not in a bumptious way, but one that acknowledged the importance of “free, sovereign and independent nations.” Trump used Poland’s story to augment the theme. He talked of a Polish nation that is “more than 1,000 years old,” that endured despite its borders being wiped out for a century, that withstood a Communist assault on its freedom, its faith and very identity.
It emphasized the importance of culture. Trump called Poland a “faithful nation.” He talked of that hinge point of history in 1979 when Pope John Paul II preached a sermon in Warsaw and a crowd of a million chanted, “We want God.”
He said that large economies and fearsome weapons aren’t enough for our survival; we need “strong families and strong values,” and “bonds of history, culture and memory.”
It argued that we must demonstrate civilizational self-confidence, the will to defend our values.
Finally, it unapologetically invoked “the West,” which, Trump noted, writes symphonies, rewards brilliance, values freedom and human dignity and has created a truly great community of nations.
All of this strikes the ears of Trump’s progressive critics the wrong way. They believe that nations are best constrained by multinational or supra-national institutions like the EU. They think that all the non-material things that lend our lives meaning — God, family, national loyalty — are atavistic, overrated or best not spoken of too much.
They find the idea that the West might be beset by a crisis of confidence ridiculous (having apparently missed the last 10 years of European mis-government, when the common currency has caused economic misery, a destabilizing wave of refugees has arrived on the continent, and indigenous terror attacks have rocked France and Britain). Finally, amazingly enough, they find the West itself an offensive and exclusionary concept.
The last critique speaks to how the mantra, “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Western civ has got to go,” is no longer the creed of fringe activists, but is seeping into the mainstream.
Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post worries that Trump’s speech invites civilizational conflict. Really? Trump just had a successful trip to Saudi Arabia, where presumably it isn’t news that the West is vested in Western values. Peter Beinart of The Atlantic objects that “the West” is allegedly “a racial and religious term.” This is bizarre, given that countries everywhere can “Westernize,” or adopt the norms and practices that were first adopted in the West and are uniquely suited to human flourishing.
Trump warned in his speech of fighting for centuries to maintain our freedom only to lose it to “a lack of pride and confidence in our values.” The unhinged reaction to his address — which once would have been considered clearly within the mainstream of American thought and rhetoric — shows how this, alas, is not an idle worry.

Film Reviews: 'The Hero'

In ‘The Hero,’ a cowboy actor faces the sunset

June 14, 2017

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Laura Prepon and Sam Elliott in 'The Hero'

“The Hero” tells the story of a cowboy actor coming close to the end of an almost long but not-quite-long-enough life. The grim medical diagnosis comes in the first minute or two. Think of it as getting the worst part over with, so we can all enjoy the rest of the movie.

The film stars Sam Elliott and was clearly tailored for him. He plays an actor noted for his distinctive mustache and deep rich voice. When we first meet him, he is recording a voice-over for a barbecue-sauce commercial, but the death sentence — the diagnosis is pretty close to definitive — forces him to face his existence, to either look for meaning in his life or to work strenuously to avoid thinking at all.

“The Hero” was directed and co-written by Brett Haley, a young filmmaker who is making a specialty of early old age. As in “I’ll See You in My Dreams,” which starred Blythe Danner, the film features a vaguely depressed person of around 70, who is coming close to a dependency on substances. In “I’ll See You in My Dreams,” Danner was leaning a little too hard on the Chardonnay. In “The Hero,” Elliott — or rather Western icon Lee Hayden — is pretty close to a pothead.

But then, things change. Just when he thinks there’s nothing left to do but get high and die, a reason to live comes through the door in the form of Laura Prepon, as a lively gorgeous woman who just happens to like old guys. Lee doesn’t even have to do anything. He’s just sitting on the couch at a friend’s house, getting stoned, with one foot and four toes in the grave. And then ... she walks in.

To talk about the story in “The Hero” in such blunt terms makes it sound silly. But in the actual experience, it’s not silly at all, which tells us something about Haley as a writer-director. He knows what he can get away with. He knows what his actors can sell. He knows how to create an emotional universe in which this kind of improbable thing doesn’t seem a matter of screenwriting convenience, but destiny.

There’s an alertness to texture here, to the beauty of the landscape, to the sight of the ocean and the sky, as though the audience were being forced to notice a world that’s slipping away from us. Likewise, Haley’s direction encourages the viewer to apply that alertness to the human interactions, to the ebb and flow of conversation, to looks and gestures. Everything becomes just a little more important.

As in Haley’s “I’ll See You in My Dreams,” in which he played a supporting role, Elliott suggests a depth of insight under the genial facade, a sad philosophy that never needs to be voiced, and yet is understood. Prepon, in a role that could have been a mere symbol of the life force, makes the young lover into someone specific and winning — someone with a gift for pleasure, but with her own unspoken pain. It should be mentioned also that Katharine Ross, Elliott’s real-life wife, appears in the film as Lee’s ex-wife, but only in two brief scenes.

Like “I’ll See You in My Dreams,” “The Hero” is a film about renewal, about an unexpected rebirth that doesn’t come easy and can never be complete but that represents a recommitment to life, nonetheless. Ultimately, I think “I’ll See You in My Dreams” is the superior movie, because it doesn’t rely on the device of a dying protagonist, but they’re both a piece and both deserve to be seen.

In “The Hero,” as elsewhere, Haley really is dealing with the subject of heroism, but the kind of heroism not usually found in movies — the heroism of daily life.

Mick LaSalle is The San Francisco Chronicle’s movie critic. Email: mlasalle@sfchronicle.comTwitter: @MickLaSalle

Sam Elliott’s cowboy perfection in ‘The Hero’

January 26, 2017

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The aging-legend drama “The Hero” is as mellifluous as star Sam Elliott’s drawling baritone. The spectacularly mustached actor plays Lee Hayden, a onetime A-lister of Westerns better known now as the voice of a certain brand of barbecue sauce. Our first glimpse of him is recording the same tagline, ad infinitum, in a studio: Glamorous, it’s not.
Like others in this genre — “The Wrestler,” “Crazy Heart” — “The Hero” features a May-December romance, with Lee pursued by a stand-up comic, Charlotte (“Orange Is the New Black” star Laura Prepon), who’s half his age. The difference here, not a totally redemptive one, is how much lip service the script pays to the age difference: Lee’s weirded-out by it, and Charlotte, in a tough-to-watch scene, uses his aging body as fodder for a bit at a stand-up showcase.
Lee’s been spending his near-retired days smoking weed with a former TV co-star (Nick Offerman) who’s become his de facto dealer (even though the Californian could just get it himself these days). But a cancer diagnosis shocks him out of his languid haze, pushing him to try to reconnect with his estranged daughter (Krysten Ritter) and say yes to a date with 30-something Charlotte.
Their outing, to a Western-appreciation society’s awards dinner, is the most delightful scene in a film full of them. Charlotte persuades Lee to sprinkle a little Molly into his Champagne on the limo ride there, and the two of them giggle their way through the evening — a ceremony held in a dingy hotel ballroom packed with a senior-citizen crowd thrilled at the sight of their graying hero. Upon accepting a lifetime achievement award from the group, Lee goes rogue, and his speech — a gently populist gesture toward the fans — goes viral, a concept Charlotte has to teach him the next day.
Director Brett Haley moves along, like Lee, at a leisurely pace, delving every so often into Lee’s dreams, in which he faces off against death in a surreal reprise of his most famous role in a film called “The Hero.” Elliott’s a master of understatement, and just watching him stare off into the distance, mulling mortality with a weathered cowboy stance, is true cinematic Zen.

Friday, July 07, 2017

Today's Laugh Track: John Pinette - France & Italy/Get out of the Line/Camping

Today's Laugh Track: John Pinette - I'm Starving

Douglas Murray on immigration, Islam and identity

In an incendiary new book, neo-conservative Douglas Murray holds forth on immigration, Islam and identity. Here, the writer tells Katie Law why he is predicting the imminent death of Europe

4 May 2017

(Photo: Matt Writtle)

Douglas Murray hopes his new book, The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam, won’t be seen as incendiary.

Given that it opens with the line “Europe is committing suicide”, it’s hard to see how it won’t. Murray is a gay, English Right-wing journalist who has written books about Lord Alfred Douglas, Neo-conservatism and Lord Saville’s Bloody Sunday Enquiry. More controversially, he is an overt critic of Islam and of mass migration into Europe who does not mince his words. “You only have two options: to say what you think or be quiet. The second has never come naturally and what people don’t want to say is often the most interesting thing to write about,” says Murray, taking a sip of his cappuccino.
Broadly speaking, his thesis is that the unprecedented levels of migration into Europe coming at the same time as the continent has lost faith in its beliefs and identity will result in its downfall. The combination of guilt about our past, declining birth rates and the demise of traditional Christian values, together with the abject failure of multiculturalism, means Europe as we know it will cease to exist within the lifespans of most people alive today. 
Murray contends that by being a tolerant society that is inviting in “the whole world” we risk welcoming in millions of people from other cultures, “some of whom hold less liberal views than the majority of people in the countries they have come into”.
This might not matter if they were coming into “a strong and assertive culture” but they’re not. They’re coming into one that is “guilty, jaded and dying. I find it such a galvanising subject because I think it’s the subject,” he says. 
Murray, 37, writes regularly for The Spectator, is a prolific debater and a director of Right-wing think-tank the Henry Jackson Society. He chooses his words carefully, and comes across as a clever, rather dapper, young fogey. 
The younger son of a civil servant and a schoolteacher, he grew up in Hammersmith and won scholarships, first to St Benedict’s in Ealing, then to Eton before reading English at Oxford.
Drawing extensively from census and poll results, government reports and academic studies, from writers as diverse as Rousseau, Stefan Zweig, Michel Houellebecq, Oriana Fallaci and Salman Rushdie, and from interviewing refugees in camps across Europe, his conclusion amounts to a devastating indictment of the state he believes Europe is in.
“Cities like London have made the assumption that the more people we have, the more diverse we are, the more liberalism will thrive,” he says. But, he insists, this isn’t necessarily so. “What if when you’re gay and you find that religious sensibility trumps sexual rights? A 2015 YouGov poll showed that something like 14 per cent of people across the country think homosexuality is morally not legitimate, which by the way is OK — you can disagree with somebody’s life. But what’s interesting is that in London it was double that. “Londoners say ‘we’re so proud of our diversity and tolerance’, but what if that diversity ends up making us intolerant? Fifty-two per cent of British Muslims in a poll last year said they thought homosexuality should be illegal. I don’t mind if people are not on board with gay marriage, but illegal, today..?”  
Has his own sexuality coloured his opinions? “I’ve been out for my whole adult life so it’s not something I think about, but I can’t say that I like Islam’s attitude towards it.” He recalls being invited in 2009 to debate on sharia versus British law with radical Islamist Anjem Choudary. “The police told me not to turn up, but in the end I thought: ‘To hell with it, it’s my city’. The crowd, from the [now banned] Al-Muhajiroun, were shouting in the street, ‘Get back in your filthy closet, you dirty kuffar’. I’ve had worse, but they did us a favour; it’s why freedom of speech is a good idea because people say what they really think.” 
Female genital mutilation is another case in point. “What by now, in the era of diversity, should be easier than an agreement not to mutilate young girls’ genitals with knives? That’s a slam-dunk. It’s been illegal since 1984 but there hasn’t been a single conviction.”
He cites many other examples of an intolerant  culture getting the upper hand, from blasphemy laws to “honour” killings, not to mention women’s rights. 
Meanwhile, he claims that Western European governments continue to brush the migrant problem under the carpet. “I was in Paris last October where thousands of people were living in tents in an underpass. Two days later I saw that the police had put up wire mesh to stop them going back and they had simply set up a few hundred yards down the street instead. This is Europe. It’s what the Greek authorities do, the Italian authorities and the Germans. You can’t blame them. But we all flatter ourselves that it’s not what we’re doing. The reality is that these people do not become nice European citizens with a good job and prospects.” 
This is not of course what anyone wants to hear. “It’s a huge problem. There are people on the far-Right who say odious things like ‘let them drown’. But if you’re on a Greek island and a boat packed with young men comes along, of course you give them a hand. It’s the human response. On the other political side there’s this fantasy that we will make them all Europeans. There are campaigns and actors and politicians who can afford to say we must take them in. But they don’t pay the consequence any more than the person who says ‘let them drown’ would.” 
The Archbishop of Canterbury, who took in a Syrian family last year, was an exception. “No one points out the moral absurdity of someone saying ‘I would take people in’ during the crisis and then, a year later, you ask them: ‘Where is your Syrian family, your orphans?’” Murray snorts. 
Still, talking to refugees in camps from Lampedusa to Calais has made him more compassionate. “It tests your views all the time, which is a reason you have to do it. Personally, that’s the point. It’s hard, particularly if you get on well with them. You think maybe we can make an exception for this person or that family.”
At the end of his book Murray suggests potential solutions, from leasing land in Libya so that asylum applications can be processed there, to making more concerted efforts to deport illegal migrants. A “mild Brexiteer” himself, he doubts whether leaving the EU will have any impact on migration.
“Our fates are intertwined and we’re not going to be able to cut ourselves off. Maybe if we were a sovereign nation outside the EU we’d stand a chance but we suffer from the same ‘thought problems’ as they do. I’m sure the migration issue will come up in the election but it won’t be dwelt upon because there’s no party with an answer. Everyone’s in the same fudge.”
Does he ever fear for his own safety? Up to this point Murray has been a model of articulate fluency but here he falters. “I can’t talk about it easily. I’ve not had an easy time because of what I’ve said,” he pauses. “And I’ve had to be very careful about where I go.” 
He describes friends in Paris who have to wear bullet-proof vests, others in Sweden who are under full-time police protection. Nor will he talk about his partner, except to say that they have been together for eight years. 
“I’m wary of naming people in my life because people who aren’t tolerant of me can sometimes extend that intolerance to others,” he says, wearily. “You just get used to it. There are nutters across every political and religious spectrum, it goes without saying. But we all know there’s a clear boundary on one issue and most people won’t go near it. If there was any other religion apart from Islam that posed the societal questions that I think Islam does, we would be able to deal with it. It’s one of the themes in the book: that we aren’t able to because we don’t understand it. We don’t understand what it means to the people in question. We talk about it as a set of liberties or rights and these are people for whom it is their everything. Heaven, hell, death, life, love, God — everything.” 
The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam by Douglas Murray is out today. (Bloomsbury, £18.99) 

A Pope and a President in Poland

In a good Warsaw speech, Trump invokes one of Pope John Paul II’s great 1979 orations.

Pope John Paul II celebrates a Mass in Pilsudski Square in Warsaw, Poland, in 1979. The trip to Poland is widely seen as igniting the spark that helped lead to the downfall of communism. (CNS photo/Chris Niedenthal)
The greatest speeches given in Poland in the modern era were delivered in June 1979 by a pope. Ten months into his papacy, John Paul II sweetly asked the government of Poland for permission to journey home from Rome to visit his people. Europe was divided between the politically free and the unfree, on one side the democracies of Western Europe, on the other the communist bloc. Poland had been under the Soviet yoke since the end of World War II.
John Paul knew his people: They did not want dictatorship, and a primary means of resistance was through their faith. Every time you took communion it was a rebellion, a way of reminding yourself and others that you answered to a higher authority. The Catholic Church of Poland survived precariously, within limits, under constant pressure, as John Paul well knew, having been a cardinal in Krakow for 11 years.
What would happen when the first Polish pope went home? If Warsaw refused his request it would be an admission of weakness: They feared his power to rouse and awaken the people. But if they invited him they risked rebellion, which would bring on a Soviet crackdown and could bring in Soviet troops. They chose to invite him, calculating that as a sophisticated man he would, knowing the stakes, play it cool. He happily accepted their terms: It would be a religious pilgrimage, not a political event.

The Polish government did everything it could to keep crowds down. Parade routes were kept secret or changed. State media would censor word of what was said and done. Grade-school teachers told pupils he was a wicked man in gold robes, an enemy of the state.
And so it began. On June 2, in Victory Square in the Old City of Warsaw, John Paul celebrated Mass. Halfway through, the crowd began to chant: “We want God! We want God!” He asked: What was the greatest work of God? Man. Who redeemed man? Christ. Therefore, he declared, “Christ cannot be kept out of the history of man in any part of the globe, at any longitude or latitude. . . . The exclusion of Christ from the history of man is an act against man.” Even those who oppose Christ, he said, still inescapably live within the Christian context of history. And Christ is not only the past for Poland, He is also the future, “our Polish future.”
The chant turned to thunder: “We want God!”
John Paul was speaking not only to the faithful but to the rulers and apparatchiks of an atheist state. He did not explicitly challenge them. He spoke only of spiritual matters. And yet he was telling the government that Poland is the faith and the faith is Poland, and there is nothing communism can ever do to change that.
More, he was saying: God is real. And God sees one unity of Europe. He does not see “East” and “West,” divided by a wall or a gash in the soil. In this way, as I once wrote, he divided the dividers from God’s view of history.
The next day he spoke outside the cathedral in the small city of Gniezno. Again, he struck only spiritual themes—nothing about governments, unions, fights for political freedom. “Does not Christ want, does not the Holy Spirit demand, that the pope, himself a Pole, the pope, himself a Slav, here and now should bring out into the open the spiritual unity of Christian Europe . . .?”
Oh yes, he said, Christ wants that.
At both events he was telling Poles that they should see their position differently. Don’t see Europe divided between free and unfree, see the wholeness that even communism can’t take away. The map makers think they’re in charge. We know who’s really in charge.
At the end of the trip, at Krakow’s Blonie Field, a muddy expanse just beyond the city, there was again a public mass. The government refused to publicize it but word spread. Two million people came, the biggest gathering in the history of Poland.
It is possible, John Paul said, to dismiss Christ and all he’s brought into the history of man. Human beings are free and can say no. But should they say no to the one “with whom we have all lived for 1,000 years? He who formed the basis of our identity and has himself remained its basis ever since?” He was telling the communist usurpers: You’ll never win.
He extended his hands in an apostolic gesture. “I speak for Christ himself: ‘Receive the Holy Spirit,’ ” he said. “I speak again for St Paul: ‘Do not grieve the spirit of God.’ ” He urged Poles: “Be strong, my brothers and sisters! You must be strong with the strength that faith gives.”
It sounded like he was telling them to be strong in their resistance to communism.
“Today more than in any other age you need this strength.” Love, he said, is stronger than death. Seek spiritual power where “countless generations of our fathers and mothers have found it.”
This was a reassertion of the Polish spirit, and those who were there went home seeing themselves differently—not as victims of history but as fighters within a new and promising reality. At home they turned on state-run TV, which did not show the crowds and the chants but only a few words by the pope, and a few pictures. They were offended by the lie of it. It was another blow to the government’s claims of legitimacy.
Years later I asked Lech Walesa about the impact of the pope’s trip. Poland, he said, always knew that communism could not be reformed but could be defeated. “We knew the minute he touched the foundations of communism, it would collapse.”


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U.S. President Donald Trump gives a public speech in front of the Warsaw Uprising Monument at Krasinski Square, in Warsaw, Poland, Thursday. (Reuters/Laszlo Balogh)
And so to President Trump’s speech in Warsaw.
Near the top he deftly evoked John Paul’s 1979 visit and the sermon that brought on the chants. “A million Polish people did not ask for wealth. They did not ask for privilege. Instead, one million Poles sang three simple words: ‘We want God!’ ” He called the Polish people “the soul of Europe.”
It was a grown-up speech that said serious things. Article 5, the NATO mutual defense commitment, is still operative. Missile defense is necessary. He called out Russia for its “destabilizing activities.” He spoke as American presidents once did, in the traditional language of American leadership, with respect for alliances.
But he did it with a twist: The West is not just a political but a cultural entity worth fighting for. It is a real thing, has real and radical enemies, and must be preserved.
A lovely passage: “We write symphonies. We pursue innovation. We celebrate our ancient heroes . . . and always seek to explore and discover brand-new frontiers. We reward brilliance. We strive for excellence. . . . We treasure the rule of law and protect the right to free speech and free expression. We empower women as pillars of our society and our success. . . . And we debate everything. We challenge everything. We seek to know everything so that we can better know ourselves.”
If he talked like this at home, more of us would be happy to have him here. If he gives serious, thoughtful, prepared remarks only when traveling, he should travel more.

Trump’s Warsaw Uprising

July 6, 2017

President Trump delivers a speech in Krasinski Square, backdropped by the monument commemorating the 1944 Warsaw Uprising against the Nazis, in Warsaw on July 6. (Alik Keplicz/AP)

If you want to know why Donald Trump will go down in history as a great president, listen to (or read, when it is available) his speech in Krasinski Square, Warsaw today.

Yes, there is a lot of the usual diplomatic persiflage: “Thank you, President Duda. Thank you, Poland.” But be an adult and distinguish the gem from the setting. While the anti-Trump press was busy running stories warning about “unease in Brussels” over Trump’s visit to Poland, Trump once again totally outflanked his critics.  Those who have ears, let them hear:
  1. The United States is absolutely committed to securing Poland’s access to alternative sources of energy.  Now, to whom do you think that was addressed?  What country would use access to oil and gas as political blackmail (do what we say or you can’t warm your homes, light your streets, run your factories)? Who would do such a thing?
  2. The United States is absolutely committed to its trans-Atlantic partnership. That partnership, said Trump in his aspirational mode, has never been stronger: suitably translated, that means that he wishes to assure that it will never be stronger.  It was a proffered hand.  Will the EU bureaucrats reach out and grasp it?
  3. Speaking of bureaucrats, Trump also—mirabile dictu—warned about “steady creep of government bureaucracy” that, left unchecked, saps a people's will and makes the flourishing of individual initiative, the very marrow of freedom, impossible.  This was a direct kick against the administrative state: I like to see it. Drain the Swamp.
  4. Trump reaffirmed his absolute commitment to Article 5 of the NATO agreement -- the bit that pledges members to “collective defense”: an attack on one member is an attack on all. He praised Poland for stepping up to meet its statutory financial commitment to NATO and urged other European countries to do the same. A strong NATO means a strong Europe.
  5. Trump reaffirmed his commitment to battle against “radical Islamic terrorism” and other forms of extremism and highlighted his call in Riyadh in May for Muslim countries to step up and help quash the violence of jihad.
  6. He noted other challenges faced by the West, including cyber-warfare and Russia’s “destabilizing activities” in Ukraine, Syria, and Iran.
  7. But the best part came about three-quarters of the way through.  After reminding his audience about the million people who gathered to hear John Paul II celebrate Mass in 1979, he asked: what did the people want? Answer: “We want God.” This led into the heart of Trump’s speech.  The prerequisite for the success of Western civilization is not material riches. Economic prosperity and military might on their own are not sufficient. The critical leaven is the confidence in core Western values: such things as free speech, the equality of women, respect for individual rights, the rule of law, the affirmation of faith and family.  Hence, the “fundamental question” facing Western nations today is whether the people continue to nurture the cultural self-confidence in those fundamental values. If they do, the West is unbeatable. If those values dissipate, the West is lost.  “As long as we know our history,” Trump said, “we will know how to build our future.” Trump spent a lot of time in his speech rehearsing Poland's heroic resistance to Nazi atrocities in the Warsaw uprising and its equally heroic resistance to Soviet aggression during and after the war. Not since Ronald Reagan has an American president gone so clearly to the nub of what makes the West great and what threatens that greatness.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

The Fracking Industry Deserves Our Gratitude

It has given America virtual energy independence, freeing it from the leverage of often hostile Middle East regimes.

By Victor Davis Hanson — July 6, 2017
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Less than ten years ago, America’s energy future looked bleak.

World oil prices in 2008 had spiked to more than $100 per barrel of crude.

“Peak oil” — the theory that the world had already extracted more crude oil than was still left in the ground — was America’s supposed bleak fate. Ten years ago, rising gas prices, spiraling trade deficits, and ongoing war in the oil-rich Middle East only underscored America’s precarious dependence on foreign sources of oil.

Despite news of a radically improved but relatively old technology called “fracking” — drilling into shale rock and injecting water, sand, and chemicals at high pressure to hydraulically “fracture” the rock and create seams from which petroleum and natural gas are released — few saw much hope.

In 2012, when gas prices were hitting $4 a gallon in some areas, President Obama admonished the country that we “can’t just drill our way to lower gas prices.” That was a putdown of former Alaska governor and vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin’s refrain “Drill, baby, drill.”

Obama barred new oil and gas permits on federal lands. Steven Chu, who would become secretary of energy in the Obama administration, had earlier mused that gas prices might ideally rise to European levels (about $10 a gallon), thereby forcing Americans to turn to expensive subsidized alternative green fuels.

But over the last five years, frackers have refined their craft on private properties, finding ever cheaper and more efficient ways to extract huge amounts of crude oil and natural gas from shale rock.

In 2017, despite millions of square miles being off limits to drillers, America is close to reaching 10 million barrels of crude-oil production per day, the highest level in the nation’s history. The U.S. may soon surpass Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest petroleum producer.
When American natural gas (about 20 percent of the world total) and coal (the largest reserves in the world) are factored into the fossil-fuel equation, the U.S. is already the largest producer of energy in the world.

While environmentalists worry about polluting the water table and heightening seismic activity through hydraulic fracturing, fracking seems to become more environmentally sensitive each year.

When OPEC and other overseas producers tried to bankrupt frackers by flooding the world with their supposedly more cheaply produced oil, the effort backfired. American entrepreneurs learned to frack oil and natural gas even more cheaply and undercut the foreign gambit. The result is a windfall for all sectors of the American economy.

From 2014 to 2016, fracking helped cut the price of gasoline by $1.50 a gallon, saving American drivers an average of more than $1,000 per year.

Due to the fracking of natural gas, the United States has reduced its carbon emissions by about 12 percent over the last decade (according to the Energy Information Administration) — at a far greater rate than the environmentally conscious European Union.

Fracking and cheaper gas are allowing a critical breathing space for strapped American consumers, as alternative energy production and transportation slowly become more efficient and competitive.

Fracking has created a national savings of about 5 million barrels of imported oil per day over the last decade. That translates to roughly $100 billion in annual savings by avoiding foreign oil.

Fracking has allowed the U.S. to enjoy some of the lowest electricity rates and gas prices in the industrial world. The result is that cheap energy costs are luring all sorts of energy-intensive industries — from aluminum to plastics to fertilizers — back to the United States, with the potential of creating millions of new, high-paying jobs.

Fracking has given America virtual energy independence, freeing it from the leverage of unstable and often hostile Middle East regimes. The result is less need to interfere in the chronic squabbling in the oil-rich but unstable Persian Gulf.

Fracking has reduced oil prices and radically weakened America’s rivals and enemies. Desperate oil exporters like Iran, Russia, and Venezuela are short about half the oil income that they enjoyed ten years ago.

The late Hugo Ch├ívez’s oil-fed socialist utopia in Venezuela is bankrupt.

What so far constrains Russian president Vladimir Putin is as much a shortage of petrodollars as fear of NATO.

Until recently, the combination of sanctions (lifted by the Obama administration) and crashing oil prices had nearly bankrupted would-be nuclear power Iran.

The once-feared OPEC oil cartel, the longtime bane of the United States, is now nearly impotent.

Friends such as Israel have gained energy independence by fracking. In contrast, some European allies who have banned fracking out of environmental worries are more vulnerable to Russian, Iranian, and Middle Eastern pressure than ever before.

Fracking is not easy. It requires legally protected property and mineral rights, a natural entrepreneurial spirit, environmental concern, and a free-market. In other words, it is an American way of doing business.

— Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and the author, most recently, ofThe Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won, to appear in October from Basic Books. You can reach him by e-mailing © 2017 Tribune Content Agency, LLC.