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A Star Is Born

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Who is this Richard Kinder, and why is what he says both so funny and so true?

He's the 66-year-old CEO of Kinder Morgan, Inc., who at the moment is trying to create the country's largest network of gas pipelines. What he said at a company conclave may have qualified as the best comedy act of last year. For it demonstrated once again that there's much truth in jest.

In his ever-loquacious way, Mr. Kinder was talking about the merger between his company and El Paso Corp., which his bankers told him would produce the biggest pipeline company in world.

His response? "And I said, 'Wait a minute. What about that Russian company called Gazprom?' We are not as big as (Prime Minister Vladimir) Putin's Gazprom, but then we don't break people's kneecaps, either. We just have to rely on ordinary persuasion, you know."

The laughter that line evoked was tinged with a certain bitter recognition of how an old KGB agent operates. Once again, truth had been served up as jest.

Mr. Kinder went on to talk about American leaders, and in just as candid a vein.

When he met with the president of the United States and his secretary of energy, said Mr. Kinder, he was astounded at how little they appreciated what a difference natural gas was going to make in America's energy future. And is already making, for that matter.

Have you noticed how sharply America's dependence on foreign oil has dropped as the shale revolution continues? Government hasn't. It's still back there promoting green energy even though it never seems to take off. While last year America became a net exporter of petroleum-based fuels.

Mr. Kinder called natural gas a "game changer," doubtless referring to how new ways to extract and transport it are affecting the market. See the Fayetteville Shale Play here in Arkansas. And other such fields around the country. Talk about creating jobs, North Dakota's shale fields are bustin' out with boomtowns. You'd think you were in East Texas in the 1920s.

Not that the current administration has noticed. The president and his secretary of energy, said Mr. Kinder, "still like bicycles and wind." At that point, he couldn't resist noting that "they loaned a lot of money for solar panels."

Mr. Kinder's punch line was a not-so-subtle reference to the Solyndra scandal -- and doubtless others to come. Consider the problems the administration has run into with EnerDel, another federally funded outfit (to the tune of $118 million at last report) that's run into economic difficulties.

There's no doubt solar panels have been a boon for the economy -- the Chinese economy. The Chinese can make them cheaper thanks to their cheap/slave labor. Here at home, that green economy Barack Obama and Joe Biden keep touting has produced a sea of red ink. Despite all their happy talk, the American public may be catching on. Or folks soon will if incorrigibly capitalist types like Richard Kinder keep cracking wise.

When his remarks made the Wall Street Journal, Mr. Kinder was unapologetic. "I live my life by saying what I believe," he told the press, "and I would have said the same things regardless of who was there -- including President Obama -- and I'm sure he wouldn't have minded."

Not publicly, anyway. After all this president's miscalls when it comes to economic policy, he's in no position to show his irritation when he's called on them.

As for those investment bankers eager to get in on the purely private deal Richard Kinder is putting together, he had a word or two for them, too. "We'll obviously have investment bankers involved," he said, and "a lot of other people who will be frothing at the bit to get some fees out of this thing, I'm sure. You know, that's what they live for."

When it comes to the targets of his stand-up comedy, Richard Kinder is an equal opportunity comic. Capitalist, Communist, banker, politician, he not only sees what they're up to -- which isn't too hard -- but talks about it. That's the impressive part. Particularly at a time when business types are told to talk tact to power.

Or, better yet, to just let the PR people handle all the company's communication, lest the truth out. After all, you never know when you might need a government bailout. Maybe that's why Richard Kinder is so impressive. He says what's on his mind. Honey Badger don't care. Which may be why that little video starring Mr. H. Badger has attracted so many viewers. That kind of single-mindedness attracts admiration. The way Richard Kinder does.

A tactful spokesman for Kinder Morgan tried to cover for its candid CEO, dismissing the boss' comments as having provided just "a few lighthearted moments during our employee meeting, which we fail to see as newsworthy." Especially if those comments come all too close to the truth. Spokesflacks are not much renowned for their sense of humor and/or truth, which on this stellar occasion proved to be much the same.

That's the nature of humor and truth. Both are transcendent qualities. And what they transcend is the natural tendency to hold them in check lest we all be honest with one another.

But for at least one golden moment in 2011, Richard Kinder broke through the paper curtain that's supposed to hide what all know but few are willing to say.

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