Grassroot Perspective: China’s Gathering Storm, Hybrid Hype, and More

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Scanning the week’s national news, views and clues with you and yours in mind

By Malia Hill


“The secret of US success is neither Wall Street nor Silicon Valley, but its long-surviving rule of law and the system behind it… Democracy is the most urgent; without it there is no sustainable rise. Ideals of democracy are not restricted by national borders, or by historical ones.”– General Liu Yazhou

Each week, we’ll be monitoring the web to find the most interesting, challenging, or important items for those who are concerned about liberty, accountability, and big government.  Here are some of the highlights from the past week:

Hints of Change in China

I vividly remember watching live footage of the protests in Tiananmen Square, thinking that this was going to be the spark that would create true democracy in China.  The fact that I was not alone in my wrongness on that lessens the sting somewhat, but the great question of when, if ever, change will come to China remains a difficult one.  Thus, Paul Roderick Gregory’s recent article in Forbes about the possible circumstances that could bring about that change sooner (rather than later) was intriguing.  From the exposure of political corruption in the state capitalism system to the political controversy brewing over the fate of dissident Chen Guangcheng, Gregory suggests that there could be a perfect storm of circumstances promoting change that could not be contained by the ruling party.

Over-Hyped Hybrids?

We all know that hybrids create a cleaner, better world and great deal of self-righteous smugness.  That second point is pretty well proven, but what if there was some data that would cast doubt on the truth of the first point?  According to a recent study, it seems that the positive environmental impact of hybrid vehicles may have been somewhat exaggerated.  Most damning is the fact that the EPA has regularly overstated the mileage of hybrids (by as much as 20%!), but more interesting are the unforeseen consequences, like the  fact that hybrid owners tend to take more unnecessary “pleasure” drives than their counterparts.  And no one has even attempted to quantify the environmental effect of producing all those “Evolve” and “Visualize World Peace” bumper stickers that seem to be required for hybrid owners.

Cabinet Follies

In politics—especially in an election year—we tend to get a little reductive.  It’s all about the President, his opponent, and the Congress.  (Not necessarily individual members of Congress, but the Congress as a whole—which of course gets a negative review regardless of the fact that some large chunk of Congress was almost certainly opposing whatever it was that we’re annoyed with Congress about.)  Unfortunately, when it comes to really evaluating the impact of a particular Administration, we tend to ignore the impact of the cabinet heads, which can be considerable.  Victor Davis Hanson makes exactly that point in his column about the feckless and out-of-touch actions of some of the cabinet, from Labor Secretary Solis and her incomprehensible attempt to chip away at the family farm to Secretary of the Interior Salazar and his insouciance about rising gas prices.  I’m sure we’ll see plenty of stones thrown about whether the President or his challenger are more out of touch with the American people, but this Cabinet appears to be living on another planet entirely.

Rise and Sort-of Shine

Should school start later?  Yes.  Now on to the next subject. . . .

Oh, right.  Some people probably want a better argument than “Who wouldn’t want to sleep a little more?”  How about the possibility that pushing back start times by as little as an hour may raise students’ math and reading scores by as much as 2-3 points—especially among the lowest performing groups?  That is the finding of this recent attempt to quantify the effect of varying school start times (a factor very much tied to the revolutionary health concept known as “getting enough sleep”).  Considering how much money government tends to throw at school administrations in the quixotic effort to improve test scores through liberal applications of cash, this may be the most cost-effective student achievement initiative in history.

Tilting at Windmills

I’m beginning to wonder if wind energy slept with someone’s wife or something.  It used to be one of the most popular green energy initiatives—invited to all the cocktail parties, hanging out with George Clooney and Brangelina.  Now, after an unflattering documentary and some journalistic criticism, it’s everyone’s favorite not-so-green whipping boy.  Most recently, a study of wind farms in Texas has found that they may actually have a negative environmental effect.  Apparently, the wind farms heat up the surface of the land overnight, affecting local climate and hurting local agriculture.  Possible solutions (such as creating windmills with smaller blades) might offset the negative environmental effect but compromise their usefulness as a source of clean energy.  And the law of unintended consequences strikes again.

Views expressed in this column are intended to promote creative thought, educate, and, we hope, prompt comment. Accordingly, thoughts expressed do not necessarily reflect the official position of Grassroot Institute of Hawaii or the author.

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