Views from Fonzi’s Foxhole

Scaring Ourselves to Death

Thirty-five years ago I held a county job as an emergency services coordinator. At the time Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant was under construction and environmental groups grasped at any opportunity to block opening of the plant. One tactic was to block any emergency planning and to attack anyone involved in the emergency planning process for a hypothetical nuclear power plant accident.

The plant has been operational now for several decades without any of the dire warnings of disaster materializing. Failing in one objective, radical environmentalists seek any target of opportunity to justify an otherwise banal existence. Their latest and favorite target is once again oil. Never a popular industry in California since the 1969 Santa Barbara offshore oil spill, oil is again in the spotlight of those who propose the most extreme solution as the first and only solution to any perceived and often imagined problem. The current “crisis” is also an extension of the propaganda war against fossil fuels, so scaring people by the use of extremist terminology is just another tool in the larger campaign to de-industrialize America.

The threat this propaganda campaign poses to the economic well-being of average citizens is quite real: do not be deceived; these people do not care one iota about the welfare of you or your family. They care nothing for the impact that ever-more severe restrictions on the use of fossil fuels, especially oil, will have on your livelihood or quality of life. They also don’t know what they’re talking about.

The proposed rail line extension to the existing refinery in Nipomo, an extension of about 1 mile of track for a rail-spur, will serve to keep the local refinery operating at a productive rate. That refinery has been safely operating around 30 years and provides about 200 head-of-household jobs, many of which employ members of the local Hispanic community in South County. The facility also provides millions of dollars of local revenue that supports local businesses, schools and other local government agencies. However, none of this seems to matter to the privileged few who immigrated north and purchased homes near an industrial facility and now demand its demise. Extreme rhetoric is the norm and generating fear is the game.

For instance, a recent propaganda blast sent out to publicize an upcoming environmental protest against railroad transportation of oil through the county refers to the “growing threat of oil trains” and glibly asserts that “there is NO safe way to transport extreme tar sands and Bakken crude oil.” A letter in last week’s paper referred to trains carrying oil as “bomb trains” and a column a few days later asserted the county and cities are unprepared to deal with a rail disaster involving Bakken crude oil. Both are incorrect and reveal a serious lack of knowledge about what is already transiting our communities and what risks we live with daily.

I spent years in training in the transit of hazardous materials and my lowest concern was unpressurized oil tank cars. Yes, they do derail, but derailments are down over the last ten years. Yes, they do spill and sometimes burn, but less than one in five derailments result in a serious spill let alone a fire. The spectacular fire in Lac-Megantic Canada in 2013, involving multiple tank cars in a runaway derailment down a mountain was an outlier in that every engineering safeguard was ignored or neutralized by human error and violation of laws. It was a tragedy that claimed 47 lives but far more lives are lost in domestic airline crashes every year, yet do we demand cessation of air travel? No, we demand that authorities fix the problem, which they do as far as humanly possible. In point of fact, pressurized tank cars carrying natural gas that heats your homes and provides cleaner fuel for electricity generation at power plants (resulting in a 20% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions since 1990) is of far greater concern. Many other hazardous products used by industry transit the rails daily; but you don’t notice them as their passing is unremarkable, unless you’re stuck at a rail crossing as a slow freight train passes.

The assertion was made that local fire chiefs believe their agencies unprepared for a derailment involving oil tank cars; I doubt that. Every First Responder has minimal levels of required federal and state hazardous materials emergency response training; most have considerably more. Furthermore, local response agencies heavily depend upon automatic mutual aid even for routine structure fires, wildfires and any incident requiring more than a minimal response. It’s built into the “DNA” of California emergency services which has the most well-developed mutual aid system in America. We prove it every year during fire season. As President Roosevelt once said, “we have only to fear, fear itself.”


Liberty is a Fragile Flower

America is an idea as much as it is a country. It was founded on the beliefs derived from a rich Judeo-Christian heritage present in the English Magna Carta which placed limits on the power of a Sovereign Monarch. For the first time in a western document, the “Divine Right of Kings” was circumscribed by written limits that emphatically stated that the laws of God trumped any temporal authority.

For the next eight centuries Englishmen fought to retain their rights as free men even as future kings or civil authorities attempted to re-capture and expand civil authority that placed increasing limits on the liberties of English subjects, expanding the power of government.

The English civil wars were largely about attempts by a sovereign to impose religious belief upon unwilling subjects who revolted to preserve their freedom of conscience and religious practices. The emigration of many religious dissenters formed the foundation of original immigration to America, first by the Puritans, whom we refer to as the Pilgrims and later by other groups seeking to establish a homeland and religious sanctuary in the “New World.” I won’t even try to suggest that within the separate colonies religious freedom of conscience applied to all as each colony jealously guarded their founding faith at the expense of anyone else. In some colonies, death sentences were handed out to adherents of other faiths who dared proselytize for other than approved beliefs.

The American Declaration of Independence acknowledged God in the affairs of men and the subsequent Constitution approved by Congress in 1789 enshrined religious freedom as among our first freedoms, as important as freedom of (political) speech, of the press and our right to peaceably assemble to petition the government. The Second Amendment, the Right to Keep and Bear Arms was placed just below the First Amendment as the ultimate guarantor of the people’s First Amendment Rights.

I won’t pretend that the ratification of the Constitution by the 13 independent states ended the conflict. Over the last 239 years those who seek ultimate power to themselves have repeatedly found the Constitution to be an impediment to whatever agenda they pursued. Attempts to limit the rights of citizens began immediately and ceaselessly which is one reason why Benjamin Franklin stated, when asked by a woman, “What type of government have you created?” Franklin stated, “A Republic madam, if you can keep it.” Other founders stated that a Republic, with its written constraints upon government and division of power between three, co-equal branches of government, was best served by a “moral and religious people.” The implication is that people who acknowledge a power outside of and greater than themselves to whom we are ultimately accountable are more likely to recognize and accept constitutional limits on the power of government.

We have seen many abuses of those limits, from the suspension of civil liberties in the Civil War by Lincoln, to harsh sedition laws under President Wilson during and after WWI to present-day suborning of free political and religious speech in the public square. Say anything perceived to be offensive today and you’re likely to lose a job or be publicly pilloried. That isn’t what the First Amendment is all about. For speech to be free, it has to be unfettered by state sanction or institutional reprisal. Ultimately, it means that we have to be tolerant of “intolerant speech” with the antidote to obnoxious speech not being censorship or reprisal but more speech of an opposing view.

Unfortunately, the “politically correct police” have adopted censorship and reprisal as their first weapons of choice to silence views to which they disagree. Books are written today about the intolerant political climate that exists on college campuses, within the military and the corporate world. We are also seeing a dramatic increase of persecution of religious belief and practice with a U.S. Senator declaring that religious belief is protected insofar as it is practiced in church, but not in public. That’s like saying you have free political speech as long as you don’t participate in politics. Constitutional rights limited to your home aren’t worth much.

A few writers in the last week have denied that religious persecution of Christians in America is occurring; I disagree and voluminous examples exist. One such case is the $135,000 fine levied upon Christian owners of an Oregon bake shop who refused to bake a wedding cake for a lesbian couple. I don’t agree with their stance; they’re in business to bake cakes and should bake them for everybody or nobody, or just make donuts. The fine however, was 27 times higher for them as Christians than prior cases and designed to bankrupt them.

Liberty in America is under siege as never before. Suppression of religious belief and speech is only the beginning.


Delusional Leadership

The President claimed that his administration’s policies have “restored the U.S. as the most respected country in the world” and also that he (as president)” is more like having a Jew in the White House than any other president.” At least he didn’t refer to being more like “those people” when he referred to the American Jewish community.

I always wondered what happened to “Baghdad Bob” after the fall of Iraq in 2003 (the guy claiming there were no American troops in Baghdad as a TV camera panned the image of an American M1 Abrams tank driving down the boulevard behind him). It’s obvious he got a job as the Obama Administrations’ Press Officer for alternate reality.

Anyone paying attention to the news in the last six months would be hard-pressed to find favorable coverage of America under Obama’s leadership, although criticism of his lack of leadership, initiative or commitment to allies is widespread.

For the record, the Polish Defense Minister stated last week that Russian forces currently being deployed along the borders of the Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia can conquer those former Soviet-bloc nations in little more than 48 hours. The same minister along with others openly questioned the commitment of the United States to defend the independence of those states, which are now part of NATO, given Obama’s vacillation in the face of naked aggression around the world.

To review American foreign policy successes one needs to re-write the definition of success. The “Russian reset,” a Hillary Clinton initiative while she was Secretary of State, has resulted in a belligerent Russia under Putin who invaded without consequence the Crimea, conducts overt aggression with Spetsnaz forces in the Ukraine, engages in violent anti-American propaganda in Russian media and has embarked in a massive build-up of its strategic nuclear forces. Its conventional forces are also being re-equipped with asymmetric weaponry designed to counter most of the technological advantages of American technology and has conducted massive, no-notice military exercises along NATO country borders for the past 18 months. Other Clinton successes are Libya (now in chaos), Egypt (now boycotted by America after a coup tossed out its radical, Muslim dictatorship) and Yemen, touted as a success and reduced to civil war.

China is building equally confrontational weaponry designed to neuter the U.S. in the Pacific while building island military bases far outside its borders in contested international waters, even in waters claimed by other States. This week it overtly challenged the right of American military reconnaissance aircraft to fly within international airspace China now claims to be its own.

Obama’s Middle Eastern policy is a textbook case of appeasement as ISIS threatens to overrun Baghdad, not out of the realm of possibility due to Obama’s ineffective military response. Three-quarters of the aircraft assigned interdiction of ISIS targets return to base without dropping ordnance due to Obama’s overly restrictive rules of engagement, controlled directly from the White House. His obstinacy in refusing to consider effective use of ground forces is a prescription for defeat.

The President claims to be the most friendly and supportive President of Israel in history, which probably explains why his popularity in Israel has dropped to about 15%. I think the Israelis know who is a true friend. Meanwhile the Obama State Department hints it will support a French resolution in the UN demanding Israeli withdrawal to the indefensible 1947 borders or face sanctions.

As for Iran, Obama’s obsession with a nuclear treaty and diplomatic vacillation guarantees a nuclear-armed Iran within a decade. Virtually every credible analyst predicts Iran will acquire and deploy nuclear weapons within a fraction of that time and Obama’s policies will almost certainly lead to a regional and catastrophic war in the Middle East while paving the way for aggression in Europe and Asia. America respected? Not lately nor in the future if this “strategy of defeat” continues much longer.

Written by Al Fonzi
5th District Chairman, Republican Party, SLO County
Past President, SLO County Lincoln Club

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