Caseythoughts Welllllllll... the 'trade war' continues to heat up, and it seems the U.S. is intent on messing up the friendships (no matter how lopsided they may be sometimes) that commerce and common defense have built up over the seventy years since Bretton Woods and the Marshall Plan.

Our dairy business (to name something that New York is proud of) is probably going to be faced with some painful decisions, as Canada and Mexico are both digging in their heels and we may end up with a lot of cheese sitting in refrigerated government warehouses, the only way to store unpurchased milk product. This might be beneficial if the 'war' continues: the benefits of the tax cuts will shortly be devoured by anti-growth policies and potential downturns in certain economic sectors which candidate Trump promised to 'bring back'. The government will be giving away cheese as fast as it can truck it to food banks as they did in the seventies.

What Larry Kudlow is doing in that White House is beyond my comprehension, as I had greatly admired his free trade beliefs which are belied by his boss's tariffs and focus on bogus trade deficits. Reagan must be spinning in his grave.

But although examples abound in the area of this 'fair vs. free trade' argument, I ran across a fascinating quote about commerce and, you might say, the 'invisible hand'. Here's the quote: "A state which leaves all her ports open to all the world upon equal terms will by that means have foreign commodities cheaper, sell its own productions dearer, and be on the whole the most prosperous."

Go ahead, and read that again, carefully. Ready? Adam Smith??

No, it was Benjamin Franklin, in 1783.

He had attempted, unsuccessfully, to put a 'free trade and open ports' clause in the peace treaty which he helped negotiate with Great Britain to end the Revolutionary War. Call it prescient in the short term, because we eventually ended up in another war with Great Britain over some of the same issues, including trade and Britain's dominance on the sea and import/export issues. Simplify the quote this way: "You scratch my back, and I will scratch yours."

Not only trade, but diplomacy and general amity would be greatly served by this mantra, as Franklin intrinsically understood. The greatest (and first) American philosopher would be shaking his head in disbelief (and perhaps amusement) at the pig-headed obstinacy being exhibited by certain elements of the most productive country in history.

I continue to read with interest (and dismay) about the ongoing arguments about the power generating plant in Lansing. Add to that discussion (if that is what it can be called, even though one side appears to be not listening) the disastrous consequences of Andrew Cuomo's executive order that all coal-fired electrical plants must be shut down. OK, I can see the thinking about coal (even Communist China 'gets it' in reference to choking pollution in its cities vs. its expanding electrical needs, though they continue to buy up Australian coal at breakneck speed) but for the life of me I cannot grasp the thinking of the 'anti this and anti that' when it comes to getting and expanding cleaner sources of power service to Lansing. These antis apparently are convinced that all Lansing needs is a huge array of solar panels to solve all the problems of electricity generation.

Let's not even contemplate the former director of the Cornell Cooperative Extension who thought that Milliken could generate its power by burning what he called 'bio-mass', in otherwords, just grow a gazillion acres of grass, ship it to Lansing and burn it to power the generators... oh, you didn't ever hear him wax dysfunctionally about this cockamamie idea a few years ago?

I find it strange that many of the Dryden neighbors who object to any gas pipeline or expansion of gas service to Lansing are also the same people who objected to a solar array in Dryden because it was next to a cemetery (or was that their real reason?) These neighbors in Dryden have tried to stop solar installation, stop or regulate wind turbine installation, gas extraction and exploration, pipelines and high power transmission lines for years, depending, I guess, on escalating property values in Dryden to finance their municipality, which, coincidentally, has virtually no industry to speak of, and probably never will due to anti-expansion rhetoric and local laws.

The opportunity for a neighbor (Lansing) who is more business friendly (and recognizes the need for a tax base which is not solely dependent upon rising residential taxation) to provide adequate heating for the school district (which is dependent upon the power plant for a significant portion of its fiscal and power needs) has been stymied by a few loud individuals who have no 'stake' (or 'skinny', as Ross Perot once put it) in the future of a neighboring township. An acquaintance of mine years ago, who lived in Troy, once called Dryden 'that slowdown between Cortland and Ithaca'. That was years ago and it's still true, in more ways than one, today.

Essentially, this blocking of reasonable progress and expanded electrical capacity for homes and business (as well as cleaner power from natural gas) will, I think, have some interesting consequences. I present this for your consideration (stick with me on this one):

I'm sure you've noticed and remarked upon the profusion of hybrid electric vehicles on Tompkins County roads. Who knows, maybe you even own one. Volvo has announced it will not be building internal combustion vehicles in a few years, an the numbers of 'pure' electric vehicles will be increasing each year, especially in cities like Ithaca which now has government-subsidized charging stations. A recent local headline read: 'County Now Has 11 Electric Charging Stations'. These stations are, at present, being funded by NYSERDA, a state agency (your tax dollar, might I point out) who will also be utilizing state 'news' outlets to convince everyone by press release about how wonderful electric vehicles are, all the while making it impossible for utility companies to provide the electricity needed to keep these vehicles running for 2-300 miles at a time between 'charges'. According to one state press release (where are the investigative reporters to verify or debunk these press releases?): Electric cars are more energy efficient and cost '50 to 70% less to operate per mile than gasoline powered cars.' Really?

Well, first, as I look at the often idle power plant on Cayuga Lake, I wonder about how far the electricity travels to these power stations in Tompkins County, from generating stations in Pennsylvania, downstate or even Canada? Over hundreds of miles down power lines that opponents of natural gas, fracking, new power transmission lines and even wind/solar power tend to rise up in protest when proposed. Where, exactly, do these protesters (who seem to have certain so-called local legislators in their pocket) think they're going to get electricity for their little Toyota Prius's and Chevy Volts (and others in the pipeline like Tesla?)

And, let's take another issue in this multi-faceted discussion: investment in 'renewable' power sources. The Financial Times has reported that investment in renewable power declined last year 'by the largest amount ever' and is 'likely to keep falling this year, threatening global climate goals'. According to Anjri Raval, a climate reporter for the Times, 'the current investment trends are insufficient both in terms of addressing security of supply concerns and environmental concerns'.

In other words, the 'money people' are beginning to see a downside to energy production in the current environment of protest and resistance, in efforts to renew and secure energy sources and power production in the future. Power for electric cars, yes? Kind of like the Lansing problem on a global scale. If certain people keep fighting the power supply, where on earth will the electricity come from to expand the tax base, heat our schools and homes, and power all those little electric cars that many are so in love with? Just sayin'...

Efficient, you say? Let's take that one on, too. Lithium-ion batteries depend upon two elements that the U.S. has almost none of (we have coal and oil, now, in abundance, but this new source of energy storage is almost non-existent in North America). Lithium is pretty rare, and its sources are even more vulnerable to political downturns and economic forces than oil has ever been, and Communist China has been buying up lithium sources like crazy. Cobalt? Essential in lithium production, and the 95% of the world's supply of cobalt comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo (that names reminds us of something, doesn't it?).

The price of cobalt has doubled in the past year. Who, pray tell, has been putting hundreds of millions of dollars into infrastructure such as mines, highways, railroads, hospitals and economies of central and eastern Africa? Thousands of 'civilian' engineers and specialists from China have a firm hand on that wheel, which includes much more than the industrial end of those impoverished countries. These Chinese specialists are going to make Saudi princes and Iraqi oil barons (as well as American oil company stock holders) look like riverboat gamblers. As our electric vehicle production and purchases soar, we will be depending on a deteriorating power grid (increasingly vulnerable to hacking) and diminishing sources for electrical storage batteries.

How about the cost to you, the person who sometime in the near future may have no choice but to buy an electric vehicle (California may have an internal combustion engine ban coming soon, and as California goes...)? The total cost of ownership for a 2015 EV (which, let's be reminded, will probably never go more than 300 miles without a super recharge which takes, at least, an hour and costs more than a tank of regular gas) is 44% higher than a gas powered auto, assuming ALL costs including the much higher sticker price (which is massively subsidized currently by the federal government) maintenance (they still need regular maintenance provided by a very few dealers) and other fees.

Hidden costs? The government subsidies on these cars are between $2500 and $7500 in tax breaks (for whom?). No wonder Elon Musk can continue to burn cash, and Detroit's 'Big Two and a Half' can build cars that would sit on the lot unpurchased without government largess. Even Fiat Chrysler's CEO recently opined that they were losing money on every EV they built. And these subsidies are not going to average Americans: At well over $30,000 sticker price, whether a Volt or a Tesla Model 3, the average working stiff can't afford these cars any more than they can afford the seven year financing deals which are the norm, now, with the vehicle losing half its value the moment it's driven off the lot. But, that working guy or gal (dreaming of a 'liveable wage') continues to pony up for higher and higher utility bills to heat and light their home, much less to charge up their car

And, just to put my toe into the more politically correct zone of argument, if we're so concerned about the environment, I'm sure we'll demand that the Democratic Republic of Congo, Chile, and other countries supplying us with the raw materials for those batteries under the hoods of EVs, conform to our strict environmental and workplace standards to protect their own people and environment, right?

Ever heard of cobalt lung? Miners and doctors from the UN sure have in the Democratic Republic of Congo. According to the UN, children as young as four years old are working in those cobalt mines which report at least 80 child deaths a year. In 2013, the EPA and Department of Energy stated that: 'Batteries that use cobalt... have the highest potential for environmental impacts, resource depletion, ecological toxicity and human health impacts.' We can't get rid of our flashlight batteries right now, and what are we supposed to do with EVs that are junked, or wrecked? Maybe they have a 'charging station' at the Tompkins County Solid Waste facility, and they have an answer for this.

Don't hold your breath; even they admit that single source recycling is a disaster, so don't expect them to tell you what to do about a Prius lithium ion battery array. Heck, if we can't get a reliable power supply, it may not matter anyway. Maybe we might see a pedaling option on electric vehicles, or a bicycle rack option for when the 'station' is temporarily disabled (or the line waiting for a charge is longer than the gas line of 1974). But, we hear the cries of 'responsible' usage of the earth's resources and 'responsible' power generation come forth whenever they are questioned about their concerns, solutions or motives.

I wonder if some of these protests aren't driven by environmental concerns at all; maybe it's just anti-business attitudes that seem to drive some, if not many, protesters and 'antis' in the county and the nation. Stopping what's important and responsible to maintain jobs, healthy tax bases, good and safe educational facilities which like Lansing are threatened by shortages in energy sources, not because of resources, but because of short-sighted political rhetoric. Maybe the real 'progressives' are the ones that take, in balance, the arguments pro and con, reason it all out with balanced and intelligent discussion and decide that progress is not accomplished by saying 'No, No', but by balance, study, reason, and the capacity to say 'Yes, yes' to rational and reasoned progress. Unfortunately, reason and many inconvenient facts seem to be in retreat in these parts.

One more quick note about my memories, last week, of my grandfather and his acceptance of human progress in the skies of the 20th century. I spent occasional overnights with him outside of Philadelphia, and he would check the Philadelphia Bulletin on page two for the estimated time of flyover in the night sky of 'Sputnik II'. Yes, you really could see it blinking in the night sky, and the time printed in the newspaper was accurate, including what direction the satellite would appear and what direction it would travel, much as we can still do with the international space station. I can distinctly remember standing in his front yard on clear nights, my neck strained backwards, and spotting that orbiter going across the night sky, which was so much less obstructed by city and suburban light pollution. He would stare along with me and say 'Ain't that amazing', and I, a child of the post-war fears and hopes, would silently agree with him.