Obama's Stage Magic

I love stage magic.

Big stage effects like making the Statue of Liberty disappear, cabaret magic like sawing a lady in half, or, best of all, the close-up effects of table magic (i.e., making coins appear and disappear, floating business cards, all that sort of thing). I even had my own small magic show in junior high, and while I never could develop the dexterity for the best tricks, I learned enough to love the craft and respect the skill involved.

When you're an aspiring magician, you watch the best magicians you can find, trying to see how the trick is done.  You learn not to watch what the magician wants, to look where the magician isn't looking, to concentrate on the left hand if the trick seems to be happening in the right hand.

This skill is turning very useful watching the Obama administration.  This week, for example, there was a big announcement of a change in the Obama administration's policy toward oil drilling, dutifully announced as the administration opening up great areas offshore for oil development.

Watch the other hand. Since the administration took over, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has canceled oil-drilling leases on wide areas of the U.S. that already have known reserves, and the Obama administration is seriously considering making even more of the American West inaccessible for oil production -- and lots of other uses -- by declaring millions of acres as national monuments. ANWR, with well-known oil reserves, is out, but other areas in Alaska are being opened ... for exploration. In fact, even this announcement included the Department of the Interior canceling already pending sales in Alaska so that the areas involved could be made available for exploratory studies. (Got that? The administration canceled pending lease sales and "opened" the area for exploration.)

Known reserves on the Pacific Coast: out. Exploration off the Atlantic Coast, more than 50 miles offshore: in.

Or make that "in, maybe," because there are some other issues. Many of the areas opened for exploration also turn out to be areas with environmental issues, or existing congressional limits on development. Even if oil and gas are found, it's unclear when -- or if -- it could even actually be pumped.

Consistently, the Obama administration's "new" oil policy comes down to be taking existing reserves off the table and announcing permission to begin to start to explore for oil and natural gas, which if found won't be leasable. And as Rick Moran said here in PJM, any production that might come of it will be long after Obama has left office.

Watch the other hand. In the meantime, with considerably less fanfare, the Obama administration announced several other changes. They intend to accelerate the CAFE standards, forcing the U.S. auto industry to increase average mileage from roughly 25 miles per gallon to about 35 mpg.  That is, a 40 percent increase in fuel efficiency. By 2016 -- that is, in six years.

What's more, they're not doing it with legislation, something that has historically been difficult since Democrats in Michigan and other car manufacturing states have resisted. Instead, they're doing so by setting a new EPA emission limit for carbon dioxide. No need for fussy cap and trade laws, just do it by administrative regulation.

This followed the administration's previous flashy energy trick, which included announcements that they were looking to nuclear energy as another source for future energy.

Watch the other hand. This followed the administration canceling consideration of the Yucca Mountain waste repository last year. Administratively, not through legislation, of course. Part of the approach to new nuclear energy included a new study on dealing with nuclear waste, but Energy Secretary Chu admitted quietly on March 31 that the one possibility for waste storage that wouldn't be considered was the existing Yucca Mountain project.

Nuclear power: in.  Unless you want to store the waste produced.

As I said, trying to learn magic taught me to respect the skill and dexterity required to make it work. On that basis, I have to sort of admire the Obama administration, as their ability to misdirect, to get the media to look where they're supposed to, is truly skillful.

Watch the other hand.