The Tuesday

Politics & Policy

Infrastructure Is Infrastructure

(Larry Downing/Reuters)
The shutting down of a key pipeline makes clear how important actual infrastructure — not the stuff Joe Biden thinks is infrastructure — is.

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Time to Lay Pipe

Every now and then, the world pauses briefly to say, “Hey, dummy — pay attention.”

Seventeen states and — oh, glorious irony! — the District of Columbia have declared states of emergency after the closure of the Colonial pipeline, which brings fuel from Gulf Coast refineries to eastern cities. Gasoline prices already are rising and are expected to rise sharply in the immediate future. Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, fresh off the indignity of losing the title of world’s busiest airport to Bai Yun International in Guangzhou, is nervously watching its fuel stores, as are other airports (including Charlotte Douglas and Raleigh-Durham) served by the pipeline. The population centers of the East Coast are at risk of significant disruption to everything from deliveries to travel — because almost half the fuel used in the most densely populated part of the country travels through a single pipeline that runs from Houston to Linden, N.J., currently out of service after an apparent act of extortion through cyberterrorism.

“Hey, dummy — pay attention.”

President Joe Biden is no friend of pipelines. Practically his first act in office was unilaterally stopping a multi-billion-dollar pipeline project that already was under way. Biden proposes to be President Infrastructure, so long as expanded welfare benefits and subsidized childcare for two-income professionals in Washington qualify as “infrastructure,” while his administration micturates from a great height upon actual infrastructure — e.g., the pipelines, refineries, and transportation networks that connect our workers and factories and trucks with the actual fuel our economy runs on, as opposed to the imaginary unicorn-juice economy that exists in the fantasy world of President Biden, Senator Bernie Sanders, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, et al.

Even if you believe, as President Biden says he does, that the United States must be coerced by federal bayonets to accept a radically different economic model that forgoes fossil fuels, abandoning the fossil-fuel infrastructure before that transition has happened — indeed, before some of the necessary technologies that might one day enable such a transition even have been developed — is insanely irresponsible. It makes Americans hostages to a narrowminded and moralistic ideology. If you believe, as I do, that under any reasonably responsible policy fossil fuels — especially natural gas — will be part of the mix for the foreseeable future, then preventing environmentally responsible investment in and development of the necessary infrastructure is radical misgovernance.

It is difficult to say what, if anything, President Biden actually believes about this. It may be the case that he himself does not know; he is a wind-tester, not a thinker. But the so-called environmentalists who apparently have his ear and who dominate Democratic policy-making circles believe, in short, that there is no such thing as environmentally responsible development of traditional energy infrastructure — which is why they fight every pipeline, every refinery, every effort to move fuel via rail, every depot, every shipment terminal, etc. Think of this as the Elizabeth Holmes model of activism and the Theranos model of alternative energy: The underlying product not only isn’t yet viable, it does not actually exist — but the Green New Deal types believe that if they can just have their way and get what they want on a day-to-day basis right now, then at some point in the future when the finances are sorted out they can magic into existence the goods and services that will justify their earlier demands and promises.

“Hey, Dummy — pay attention.”

We know that this is going to be a problem — because it was a problem just a few years ago, when the pipeline in question was shut down because of flooding associated with Hurricane Harvey. Gasoline prices spiked, and, in some cities — including cities in Texas, the heart of energy country — the pumps at gas stations were shut off for lack of fuel. When the fuel stops moving, then people and goods stop moving in short order. A relatively brief interruption in one pipeline can have severely disruptive effects. To my mind, that means: lay more pipe.

And there are other pipelines that serve some of the areas that depend on Colonial — but not with sufficient capacity to replace what has been taken offline. And so we face the age-old question of pricing risk: Would we rather have more capacity than we usually need and bear the expense that goes along with that, or would we rather have less capacity than we sometimes need and bear the risk that goes along with that?

When an unusual but by no means unprecedented storm caused Texas’s electricity network to collapse in February — that was less than 90 days ago but has, of course, vanished almost entirely as a matter of public interest — the distinct impression I got was that many of my fellow Texans experienced that interruption as a severe hardship. It killed 111 of them. A widespread disruption in the fuel supply would have effects of similar magnitude and character — in fact, given that we rely on natural-gas pipelines to feed many of our electricity plants, an interruption in the fuel supply could have, in some cases, precisely the same effect.

“Hey, Dummy — pay attention.”

When it comes to energy, more is more. That doesn’t mean that we abandon air quality or clean-water regulation or drill for oil in the middle of Central Park — it means that abundance is the end goal, and that responsible environmental management is a requirement that conditions that goal. Unless you are in thrall to anti-capitalist (and, ultimately, anti-human) ideology, this is a manageable problem — complex and requiring a great deal of specialist knowledge and political negotiation, but manageable. As we have seen in the case of fracking — opposition to which is pure Kulturkampf with almost nothing to do with genuine environmental concerns — Americans are, in spite of ourselves, capable of creating a situation in which industry, regulators, and communities work together in a reasonable productive and beneficial way. There are more and less environmentally and socially responsible ways to develop a more robust energy infrastructure with sufficient redundancy — i.e., a situation in which a cyberattack on a single pipeline won’t leave a big chunk of the population suddenly vulnerable.

The temporary shutdown of Colonial probably will not be a catastrophe. And COVID-19 could have been 20 times more lethal than it is. But we will only get so many dry runs in the form of relatively manageable challenges. Either we will have the resources — physical, financial, and social — to meet future challenges, or we won’t. Either we will have excess capacity or we won’t. Either we will have fortified our infrastructure or we won’t. If we want to make our energy infrastructure less vulnerable to disruption, then we know how to do it.

And if we want to make our public finances less vulnerable to disruption . . .

“Hey, dummies — pay attention.”

The Circle of Spite

It is a shame, for many reasons, that Donald Trump went out of his way — and Georgia was out of his way! — to tank the Republicans’ Senate majority. I am curious what Senator Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) would have done with a Republican majority when President Biden gets around to making a Supreme Court nomination, assuming he gets the chance. I am guessing that it would have been devious and entertaining.

(Let us hope Stephen Breyer is eating his Wheaties.)

Instead, it seems more likely that Republicans will fail to win control of the Senate before such a thing comes to pass, though that is by no means certain, of course. How might minority Republicans conduct themselves?

My guess is: a lot like minority Democrats did.

The fantastical and outrageous attacks on Brett Kavanaugh — the Democrats’ own QAnon episode — constituted a genuinely radicalizing moment for some on the right, amplified by the subsequent attacks, less lurid but equally dishonest, on Amy Coney Barrett. Already there is talk in right-wing circles of tanking any eventual Biden nominee with a tit-for-tat strategy justified by a tit-for-tat morality. Republicans haven’t grown any better at lying since the Nixon era, but they have grown more comfortable with it.

And, if we really are embracing the standard set by the Kavanaugh hearings — that we have to pretend to credit the most fanciful allegations from the most obviously damaged and neurotic hangers-on that the dark arts of politics can dredge up — then they don’t have to be any good at lying, just willing.  Given that “Not Very Good At Lying But Certainly Willing is the new motto of the Party of Lincoln, we can expect things to get ugly.

Words About Words

“Of course Caitlyn Jenner is a Republican,” our friend Rob Long observed. “She’s a rich old lady in Malibu.” I cannot think of a more appropriate candidate for California Republicans, or for Republicans at large, really.

But one thing about Jenner’s gubernatorial campaign launch did irritate me: the word “elitist,” which has become a term of general abuse deployed so promiscuously that even the Malibu-dwelling former stepfather of Kim Kardashian can throw it around without inviting scorn. I am reminded of the Republican state party chairman who bitterly denounced the “establishment,” as though the world could possibly mean something other than state party chairmen and their ilk.

When I worked out of National Review’s Manhattan office, I made the usual cable-news rounds, and I always enjoyed watching the populist anti-elitists of the Right and the great proletarian heroes of the Left getting into their respective limousines to be shuttled home to the Upper East Side or Alpine or Greenwich after their nightly denunciations of the high and mighty. One of the things populists in both parties have a hard time really appreciating is that Sean Hannity and Rachel Maddow have a hell of a lot more in common with each other than either has in common with . . . well, with you, Sunshine. Some of Rush Limbaugh’s connection to Donald Trump was political substance, but some of it was adjacent private-jet parking, too.

Rampant Prescriptivism

I was really ready to jump on the Wall Street Journal about this headline until I got to the final word: “English Journalist Couldnt Bear Abuse’s of the Apostrophe.” Well done, copy desk.

Retirees are often urged to find new activities and causes. After a career as a newspaper reporter and editor in England, John Richards took up the role of defending the apostrophe, an often abused punctuation mark.

When he started the Apostrophe Protection Society in 2001, there were only two members, Mr. Richards and his son, Stephen. Soon, however, he had more than 250 members, and some made unsolicited cash donations. Letters and emails arrived from all over with examples of misuse of the apostrophe. Many offenders left the apostrophe out of possessive phrases or inserted the mark where it wasn’t needed, as in market signs advertising “apple’s.”

Then the crusade ran into resistance. Mr. Richards told the Daily Mail that he spotted a restaurant advertising “coffee’s.” He offered free advice. “I said very politely, ‘It’s not needed. It’s a plural,’” Mr. Richards said. “But the man said: ‘I think it looks better with an apostrophe.’ And what can you say to that?”

In 2019, he shut down his campaign. “The barbarians have won,” he said.

No, they haven’t. As another Englishman who cherished the language said: We shall never surrender.

And Furthermore . . .

An action that is in progress is under way; a pedestrian tunnel under a thoroughfare is an underway.

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I’ve been on a George Kennan kick lately, and, in addition to my earlier recommendation of John Lukacs’s A Study of Character, I think you might enjoy, especially, the first volume of his memoires, 1925–1950. One of Kennan’s great irritations in life was the constant subordination of U.S. foreign policy to domestic politics; it is always a fantasy to believe that anything politicians do is beyond politics, and in Kennan’s protestations one can hear suggestions of contemporary political formulations used for cynical purposes: “the time for debate is over,” “this isn’t a political issue,” etc. But Kennan was more a realist than a fantasist, and the root of his complaint — the need to minimize the violence policy-makers can do to intelligent policy — remains very much with us. The United States — and this is a bipartisan problem — seems set on making the same mistakes vis-à-vis China we made with the Soviet Union. With that in mind, Kennan makes continually interesting reading.

Furtherly Furthermore . . .

I never met John Lukacs, but a mutual friend in Philadelphia once described him as a man who would glare skeptically at the sky if you remarked that it was a nice day. Wonderful writer.

In Closing

In the days before the great plague, I had a brief but memorable conversation with James Carville about snobbery and snootery. I wish I had recorded it. Maybe I will see if I can get him to sit down to revisit the subject on the record. By now, you’ve probably all read his Vox interview, in which he touches on the subject of “wokeness,” but, if you haven’t, it is worth your time:

We have to talk about race. We should talk about racial injustice. What I’m saying is, we need to do it without using jargon-y language that’s unrecognizable to most people — including most Black people, by the way — because it signals that you’re trying to talk around them. This “too cool for school” shit doesn’t work, and we have to stop it.

In the high-Clinton era, the two big strategic brains of the Democratic Party were James Carville and Paul Begala, who were partners in a consulting firm. The Democrats became more the Begala party than the Carville party — a rare stroke of good luck for Republicans.

Paul Begala once lost an election to an imaginary cartoon character. James Carville will rip your lungs out, but at least he won’t be a completely insufferable fussbudget while doing it.

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