Friday, March 21, 2014


I don’t like Russia. Never have. Probably never will.

When Niagara University hosted the World Juniors in 2010-2011 I was mortified by how many Americans were wearing Russian pride and passionately cheering on the Reds. I couldn’t help but wonder, “Don’t they know our history with Russia? Don’t they know what Russia still is?”

They seemed to buy into the myth that the Cold War ended and were oblivious to the fact that Russia was not the kinder, gentler country portrayed in the press, that it features a murderous KGB agent as its head, a court system that finds most defendants guilty, a controlled economy that makes our country’s income gap and crony capitalism look pedestrian, and a network of spies still working to this day (think back to the 10-person ring busted in the US in 2010).

Fast forward 3 years. Now it seems fashionable to hate the Russians again. Their friends -- which are what our elected officials and press seemed to become over the past 2 presidencies – have turned on them.

As an outcome of the Ukraine shake-up -- more specifically the Crimeans’ desire to join Russia -- the Obama Administration has placed sanctions upon Russia, neoconservatives are calling for more dramatic actions, and the press now paints Russia as deeply evil, just weeks after opining at length about how the Sochi Olympics had showed a good and just Russia.

Despite my long-held feelings for Russia, I have to disagree with the vitriol and diplomacy being thrown their way. Russia should be left alone. They are on the right side of this issue.

The United States and United Nations constantly tout the importance of democratic principles when it comes to governance and they love it when mass numbers of people make their voices heard to bring about change. Consider the silly fawning over the Arab Spring. That sense of revolt, the call for self-governance (or at least a new government), and the majority’s hunger for a new tomorrow really excited the Western world.

It’s obvious that in the Middle East or almost anywhere else in the world for that matter, the desires of the majority hold special meaning for Westerners. So, how do we as a society accept the Arab Spring, much of which was based in violence and death, yet when a peaceful people go to the ballot boxes and 96% of them choose to be annexed by Moscow, we find that to be wrong?

It’s likely that Western power brokers would prefer that the European Union gain as much control as it can. The Crimean dissent was an affront to that goal.

The Ukraine, with or without Crimea, is entering into a trade agreement with the EU, which is one of the stepping stones for ultimate inclusion into the EU.

Pick your poison: Is it better to be with Russia or the Europeans?

World leaders are enamored with the EU sociopolitical model, even though it is as broken and liberty-killing as any Russian federation. The EU is not just some multinational trade pact; it is a system of government that exerts a uniform rule over all of its participants, stripping them of their national sovereignty, subjecting them to common kangaroo courts, and making all engaged nations responsible for the fiscal and financial foibles of others (such as the bailouts of Greece and Spain). The world wants to drive more people into that system and others like it, pushing global uniformity upon everyone, wiping away the competition for people and prosperity that makes individual nations – and individual people – unique.    

When it comes to the Crimean issue, our foreign policy is hypocritical. And, it’s wrong; just like most all of our interventionist policies (Iraq and Afghanistan, anyone?).

It’s time we dropped our baseless indignation over the Crimeans and Russians and took the advice of George Washington:  

The great rule of conduct for us, in regard to foreign nations, is…to have with them as little political connection as possible. Europe has a set of primary interests, which to us have none, or a very remote relation. Hence she must be engaged in frequent controversies the causes of which are essentially foreign to our concerns. Hence, therefore, it must be unwise in us to implicate ourselves, by artificial ties, in the ordinary vicissitudes of her politics, or the ordinary combinations and collisions of her friendships or enmities.  

Friday, March 14, 2014


I don’t have to tell you that it’s been a miserable winter in the northeast. We’ve been battered by an array of winter storms, from Polar Vortices to blizzards, and seemingly endless barrage of below-average temperatures.

This, of course, has led to higher than normal use of home heating fuels. Furnaces have been working overtime just to maintain a livable heat in households and businesses buffeted by the biting arctic winds.

Those of us from rural areas of Upstate New York are especially pained by it. Where we live there aren’t natural gas lines serving every house, so we opt for home delivery of propane. Back in October, propane prices were relatively reasonable in the $1.70/gallon range. Now, it’s in the range of $3.30/gallon. That’s a 94% spike in heating costs over the course of the season on a per unit basis alone. So it’s safe to say most homeowners (who didn’t opt for pre-buys or locked-in prices) are faced with heating bills more than double the size of last year’s.

Even though one would think that propane prices would be at all-time lows due to the explosion in fuel acquisition from Marcellus Shale deposits, it’s not the case due to an overwhelming number of issues affecting supply and delivery: demand for home heating is high; lots more propane is being used to dry corn due to a wet crop in the Midwest; a pipeline once used to bring propane to NY now sends ethanol south; the lack of propane pipelines forces mass delivery by rail already strained by oil shipments; propane exports are at record-high levels; there is a lack of adequate storage; and heavy snowfall prevented tractor trailers from moving propane.

So, it was a perfect storm.

Unconcerned with the big picture and out of tune with the science of economics (not to mention always on the search for an attention grabber), politicians and bureaucrats at all levels of government (local, state, federal) have been very quick to charge the industry with gouging. They want the masses to believe prices are high because the “evil oil companies” want to take advantage of their customers in a high-need winter.

It’s grandstanding at its finest and, in New York, it masks the blame that needs to be directed at the accusers themselves.

For four and a half years now, state officials have been sitting on an application by Crestwood Midstream to repurpose abandoned salt mines in Reading for storage of liquefied propane and butane. The $50 million investment would allow the Finger Lakes storage facility to contain 88.2 million gallons of propane at once. The fuels would be constantly cycled in and out, to the tune of 96 semis and 48 railcars per every 24-hour period, 7 days a week. A facility of that scale would keep New York – and likely the whole northeast - well supplied.

Were it in operation now, industry officials say it would have inhibited the supply and pricing issues currently plaguing Upstate New Yorkers. The savings to consumers for this winter alone would have surpassed $84 million. Looking ahead, the company has plans to increase total storage to 210 million gallons, affording New Yorkers price and supply certainty in perpetuity, capitalizing on the Marcellus Shale reserves and making for very affordable heating bills.   

All of those plans are well and good, but they mean nothing if Crestwood Midstream isn’t allowed to forge ahead with them.

The Department of Environmental Conservation’s silence over the firm’s application has been deafening. The public comment period closed in November 2011, and here it is March 2014, with no word from state officials about the future of the approval process. Making matters even more confounding is that the state’s geologist approved the integrity of the abandoned salt mines well over a year ago.

The word on the street is that Governor Cuomo is behind the holdup. He is a hardened foe of energy development, as this mirrors what he’s doing with the equally-extended and equally-silent fracking moratorium. Since the DEC falls under the auspices of the Governor, the Finger Lakes facility will likely stay as an idea and propane prices will ride a painful roller coaster until the man is out of office.