Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Who Are The Undecided Among Us?


A fascinating (or at least I thought so) post in today's NY Times directly adressess the issue of exactly who are the tiny fraction of voters who remain uindecided with 3 months to go in this interminable and increasingly dull presidential campaign. I've had trouble wrapping my head around the idea of how anyone at this point could have trouble making a decision between the two presidential candidates, flawed as they are. It turns out that most of them don't pay a lot of attention to politics in general. No surprise there. What is surprising is that they are mostly affiliated voters, that is to say, not true independents. The Democrats among them, who tilt rightward compared to most Dems, are not happy with Obama, and the Republicans, who are moderate, do not like or trust Romney for exactly the sort of reasons might might expect; they don't think he stands for anything except his own ambition.

When I think about how it is I have reached my own weltanschauung (and this conversation, to your credit, has made me think about this issue a great deal). I have come to understand that my views are not the product of relentless rigorous thinking and self examination, but mostly a result of the circumstances of my birth, upbringing, and extremely privileged life. I think, and act, and vote (as most people do), with my social, intellectual, and ethnic class. I chose my career in part because I was pretty sure that it would provide both intellectual and emotional satisfaction (as it has), and because I could make a good living (there's that incentive business you talk about). In turn I chose academics over private practice because I found it more intellectually rewarding (a different, non monetary incentive). And I have been perfectly, perhaps hypocritically, content to make a handsome living doing what I like, secure in the knowledge that my salary, while still a fraction of my colleagues earnings in private practice, was as substantial as it is because of the ridiculous sums they were raking in during what will surely be remembered as America's golden economic medical age     

And I vote Democratic, even when I find the occasional alternative attractive, because I find  the usual alternative unimaginable.  

So I suppose I should give this tiny sliver of the electorate that is going to decide the general direction of the nation for the next 4 years, a bit of credit. They are are freer than I am. Perhaps their skepticism that their choice will make any difference is well placed.

But are they connected to the rest of us?


Making Stuff Up


I love it when people just make stuff up. The average person makes stuff up 23.4% of the time. A politician 84.3%. A reporter, 94.2%.

Here's a quote from Mike Allen's Politico Playbook. It's from Obama at a Manhattan fundraiser last night, $40,000 a plate

"[W]e are being outspent substantially by the other side, and the super PACs are engaging in an experience we have not seen in America democracy for quite some time. They are spending like nobody's business, mostly on negative ads. ... We don't anticipate that we're going to match them dollar for dollar -- we don't need to. But we are going to have to make sure that we can get our message out effectively. ... [T]he upshot is if the election were held today, I think it would be close but I think we'd win."

and the graphic of spending to date.


Happy Birthday Milton Friedman


Today is Milton Friedman's birthday. Here is one of my favorite vignettes.

At one of our dinners, Milton recalled traveling to an Asian country in the 1960s and visiting a worksite where a new canal was being built. He was shocked to see that, instead of modern tractors and earth movers, the workers had shovels. He asked why there were so few machines. The government bureaucrat explained: "You don't understand. This is a jobs program." To which Milton replied: "Oh, I thought you were trying to build a canal. If it's jobs you want, then you should give these workers spoons, not shovels."


Sunday, July 29, 2012

Free Riders?


Congratulations on your recent ward work and your service to those less fortunate than ourselves.

It seems to me there has been a lot more talk on "free riders" recently but I just wasn't sure how I could quantify this. Fortunately, Google does that for us.

Search "Free rider" AND "health care" and limit the results by year and you'll get something like this

Year      Number of results
2008       1,230
2009       1,900
2010       2,680
2011       4,880
2012       6,790

The results supported my impression there has been more talk of free riders now than there was before and during the debate over the Affordable Care Act. Why is this? My favorite hypothesis is this is a post hoc justification for the Act rather than a driving justification for the Act during its genesis and passage. Maybe it's Mr. Obama trying to tell a better story?

I'm also not convinced the Affordable Care Act solves a free rider problem. The free rider problem in theory is solved by the mandate. But, generally speaking, if you are poor or unemployed, you are exempt from the mandate. So the free riders we are trying to catch are the employed and wealthy who choose to use emergency room services as their primary means of health care. Is it really that large a population?

I've seen numbers thrown about regarding emergency room care usage by the uninsured, but I have at least two questions with these numbers. First relative to free riders: will the Affordable Care Act result in any savings? If a big chunk of the uninsured are exempt from the Act's mandate, there are no savings and free riding is institutionalized, not solved. Second are the estimates of the cost of emergency room care the list price or the discounted price a hospital charges to insurance companies. We both know the list price can be two to three times the negotiated price, so the estimates of the cost savings can also be vastly over-stated.

 I wish I shared your insouciance regarding bright people entering medicine. I think the reason more physicians have become specialists is because that is where the money is. I may be wrong since the AMA exerts a massive distortionary influence on the supply of doctors.

My industry is dying. I read a story last week that suggested the number of professionals in my space is down 30% over the past 10 years. It's a rather simple explanation: Wages have fallen, workers have exited. (I hope Krugman and the Keynesians don't read this; they suspect the Koch Brothers and a vast right wing conspiracy every time a Chicago grad points out people respond to incentives). One solution the Affordable Care Act offers to health care costs is limiting doctor wages. I really don't see how that will result in a better outcome for patients or doctors.


Thursday, July 26, 2012

Free Riders


I recently finished 2 weeks as ward attending in the hospital. As a full time hospital employee, I have responsibility for Medicaid patients and the uninsured. Patients with health insurance, including Medicare, are cared for by the private practice physicians. I am quite comfortable with this arrangement, as I get to pat myself on the back for providing the same quality of care for the poor and unlucky that everyone else gets.

But nothing in life is free. We both know, ultimately who pays for the extraordinary amount of resources that these patients consume. You and I do, only the cost is hidden from us.

You are absolutely right that Obamacare is a route to rationing, be it through price controls or some other top down mechanism. But we have rationing now. It reminds me of the old Soviet Union phenomenon of people waiting on line to buy shoes. The Democrats want to drive down the price of health care by becoming the only game in town and then saying "take it or leave it" to providers. The Republicans want to let us all shift for ourselves, which means that people like you and me will get what we want (I hope!), and for those less fortunate, well, too bad.

The one thing I no longer worry about is that we will continue to get bright people to go into medicine, even if they can longer get rich doing it. The international experience is informative here. Doctors across the industrialized world remain among the elite. It's still a deeply honorable life.

Meanwhile the Massachusetts House and Senate are are reconciling their version of the current health care spending bill for 2013 and beyond. This is a development I will watch closely because it addresses the cost side of the equation.


Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Success of Dodd-Frank


Dodd-Frank was the legislation to correct 1) reckless deregulation 2) too-big-to-fail banks 3) socialization of losses and 4) everything else.

Here is an interesting graphic from the law firm Davis, Polk

I feel better now. Don't you?


Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Obama outsources basketball


I saw this news summary from Politico.com and was shocked to see President Obama supporting outsourcing basketball.

It is clear from the story the US team was playing Brazil. This is an outrage. Why is the President outsourcing sports opponents to Brazil? Does he want us to believe there are no worthy US opponents? We need to protect our basketball from this ruthless outsourcing.


ABOUT LAST NIGHT: President and Mrs. Obama attended an exhibition game by the USA men's Olympic basketball team, vs. Brazil at the Verizon Center - pool reports by Elizabeth Traynor, sports editor of the George Washington University Hatchet, working with Chuck Lewis of the Houston Chronicle: "President Obama arrived ... wearing jeans, sneakers, white shirt, dark blue Under Armor zip up. He spoke to the Olympics-bound U.S. women's national team and posed for a group picture. The U.S. team had just defeated the Brazilian women's team earlier in the day. He greeted the team with, 'Work up a sweat, ladies?' ... The team gave him a red USA jersey with Number 1. ...

The Consumer Party


The largest, under-represented group in the United States are consumers. There are 313 million consumers in the US and very few politicians speak for them. A common view of the the current 2-party system is Democrats speak for unions, and sometimes (rarely I'd argue) for all workers. Republicans speak for Big Business, and sometimes (rarely I'd argue) for small businesses. Yes yes yes, there are times when the parties claim to speak for consumers. You may be thinking of the FDA. But the FDA does a very good job of keeping drugs and devices off the market, to the detriment of consumers. The FDA, like many protective schemes of the government is a paternalistic, "let us smart people tell you poor dumb consumers what you can and can not buy." That's not pro-consumer, in my view.

There is no party whose focus is on improving the lot of consumers. There are very few writers espousing the cause of the consumer. Yet, there are more consumers, 313 million, then there are workers, 155 million, more consumers than there are union members, 14.8 million, more consumers than number of businesses, 5.8 million.

A pro-consumer party would view the world through the lens of policy's impact on the ability of a consumer to buy something cheaper, more conveniently and with greater choice. A policy that restricts choice is anti-consumer. A policy that expands choice is pro-consumer.

What does the Consumer Party think of outsourcing? If it lowers prices for consumers we like outsourcing.

What does the Consumer Party think of the Affordable Care Act? It restricts choice. We don't like it.

What does the Consumer Party think of hydraulic fracturing? It results in lower energy prices and cleaner energy sources. We like it.

What does the Consumer Party think of the bail outs of GM, Chrysler and the big banks? It propped up inefficient organizations, restricted trade and choice. We are against those bail-outs.

What do we think of farm subsidies? We are opposed. It increases our taxes, reducing our income, resulting in lower purchasing power and distorts the choices we have and prices we pay for food. We are opposed.

What do we think of the Export/Import Bank? It subsidizes some companies over others, helping the well-off and well-connected, and hurting alternatives that would increase choice and lower prices for consumers. We are opposed.

The Consumer Party is the party of the poor. The rich have plenty of choices and plenty of ways to satisfy their needs. But the poor have less choice, less resources and benefit much more from lower prices and richer choices.


Monday, July 16, 2012

The Truth According To The WSJ


I ran across this recent editorial in the WSJ. I won't comment upon the quality of the argument, only upon the pedigree of one of the authors. Jan Breslow is a distinguished  cholesterol scientist whose work I know well. He knows no more about climate science than my cleaning lady does, and the idea of passing him off as someone who does is simply a fraud.


Shifting Consensus Does Not Justify Inaction


I began my post graduate career studying prevention of heart disease. This was the mid 80s, when the epidemiology of the relationship between high levels of "bad"  or LDL cholesterol and coronaruy artery disease  were converging with the basic science. In 1985, Joe Goldstein and Mike Brown won the Nobel Prize for their discovery and characterization of the LDL receptor, and in 1987, Merck, in an example of the sort of capitalism we both admire brought,the first of the statin drugs to market, initiating an unprecedented era of success in the preventiaon and treatment and the leading killer in the US. In large part as a result of this science, the death rate for coronary artery disease has dropped 25% per decade since I began my training.

But of course, there were skeptics. Legions of them. Some reasonable competent, others not so much. Some with honorable motivations, others clearly on the lunatic fringe. The one remember best was the head  of biochemistry at the medical school where I got my first job. He had been a distinguished basic scientist and like many smart and successful people he though his training and intellectual skill were instantly transferable. So for ten years he taught the first year medical students that the cholesterol hypothesis was a bunch of nonsense and that the real problem was magnesium . Then there was Thomas Moore, a reporter for the Washington Post who made a big splash in the Atlantic with an article insisting that the whole business was a hoax (sound familiar?) promulgated by the nasty drug companies to sell drugs that did no good to people who didn't need them.

And we listened and attended to our science and in a very short while this stuff sorted itself out. We accepted the possibility that the emerging consensus might be wrong and we tested and retested. What we did not do was to accept uncertainty as a justification for inaction. We treated patients in what seemed to be the best way possible each step of the way and we accepted the risk that we might be wrong. There are certainly notorious examples of our being wrong. It also helps that we aren't threatening an enormous segment of the American econmoy whose very survival would depend upon our being wrong.

The challenge of climate science is that most conclusions are made from data that represent conditions not reproducible in a laboratory. So answering questions as disarmingly straightforward as "is the Earth getting warmer?" are actually not straightforward at all. But all that means is that  that the best available techniques are used by the smartest and most careful people (like Judith Curry seems to be)  to try and get as such question as best as one can. And one makes choices along way about what to do with the data one has.

But you and I know both know that there is no amount of careful science, or solidity of information, or anything, that is going to alter the postion of the Republican party with regard to the possibility of climate change. Given their ability to insure that  inaction remains the status quo, I suppose we both may as well hope that they are right. As I have said before, neither one of us will be here to see what happens if they're not.


Sunday, July 15, 2012

Bain, Romney, Outsourcing (Oh yeah the recovery is still sluggish)


You have to admire how the Obama campaign was able to completely obscure more evidence of the sluggish recovery with the completely inane focus on whether or not Bain invested in companies that outsourced or offshored (much of the tweets undoubtedly done on Blackberry's, designed in Canada, built in Asia, or iPhones, built in China or Samsung's, HTC's, Nokia's. All foreign) and whether or not Romney was active in Bain post 1999.

Look, there's a squirrel! and the press is off trying to determine if Mitt was running Bain so they could answer the ridiculous question if Bain's portfolio companies invested in countries other than the US. We should encourage jingoism and xenophobia because it works so well for... Cuba? and North Korea? Golly.

But Romney deserves this. He's been running for President for 6 years and has had ample time to clean up his story and investments and he acts like a deer caught in the headlights. Did no one tell him, Mitt, this could be a problem?

So I grit my teeth and suffer through Rahm Emanuel telling me Obama saved the auto industry (GM and Chrysler is not the auto industry) and Romney would have let them go bankrupt (Obama put them into bankruptcy), and Romney is not necessarily a felon but I've heard someone say he might be.

But what about the economy?

Look! There's a squirrel!


Judith Curry: About consensus


Judith Curry runs a blog titled Climate etc.  that I find well-thought and well-written. It avoids the vitriol and violent language of many writers. Her main point with the linked article below is forced consensus leads to group think and institutional bias.

One of the many interesting passages addresses the mixture of science and politics:
"Scientific controversies surrounding evidence of climate change have thus become a proxy for political battles over whether and how to react to climate change (Pielke 2007). Therefore, winning a scientific debate means attaining a privileged position in political battle, hence providing motivation for defending the consensus. As a result, it has become difficult to disentangle political arguments about climate policies from scientific arguments about the evidence for human-induced climate change. The quality of both political debate and scientific practice suffers as a consequence (Hulme 2009c)."

This is close to something you and I have touched on. If their is something to be done (and yes, I think doing nothing is an option), should scientists decide what that option is? You say yes, I say their voice should be one of many. There are many things that can be done (or not) that have nothing to do with science and are clearly outside of the purview of science.


by Judith Curry
I’ve been invited to write a paper on the topic of consensus in climate change.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

An Alternative Reason Why Americans Hate Obamacare


A few weeks ago you posited the reason Americans hated Obama care was because nothing was in it for them. Since most are covered by health insurance, you state, there is little support to make sure others have health insurance as well. You may be right, but here are a couple of alternatives.

Americans generally don't like to be told (mandated) what to do, even if it helps them. The Boston Tea Party is an example. John Hancock was bootlegging tea to the colonies and undercutting the East India company monopoly. To counter, Parliament passed the Tea Act which would have allowed direct sale of tea by the East India company to the colonists, bypassing licensed merchants who charged a hefty mark-up. The Act would have resulted in significant supply hitting the American market and lower prices to consumers.

Of course, bootleggers like Hancock and his henchman, Sam Adams objected, but what is surprising is the support they received from the rest of Boston and the other colonies. The end result of the Act would have been more ample supply and lower prices but the colonists objected because they didn't like the mandate.

During the debate over Obamacare I was amused by the confusion (and disdain) some of the gasbags had over the objection to Obamacare. In the gasbag's view, Obamacare was a good thing for consumers, yet consumers didn't want it. How could that be? They must have missed the class on the Boston Tea Party.

The other rather simple reason Americans hate it is the Act is a step, a big step, to price control. There is overwhelming evidence price controls lead to less supply and negative outcomes to consumers. I'm not sure I need to give examples but we can look at airlines, natural gas, Nixon's wage and price control, and of course wage control during WWII which led to company-sponsored health insurance, all within recent history as shining examples of the failure of price control.

Yes, I do think the average person is that sophisticated.


Thursday, July 12, 2012

Apple Tells the Greens: Buzz Off


I have nothing against re-cycling, unless I'm forced to recycle. I put minimal effort into it. As best I can tell much more than 50% of trash put in recycling ends up in the regular landfill, so why bother?

Anyway, Apple apparently thinks consumers are more like me, favoring design, price, functions and features over the blessing of a marginally beneficial seal of approval.

How is it that Apple is NOT public enemy number one for the lefties? It has massive income inequality. It outsources manufacturing to China. Its former CEO was a tyrant who back-dated stock options. It is a tax avoider. It has massive amounts of cash on its balance sheet, which should be put to good use. And now it has betrayed the greens.


Feds rethinking buying Apple products

SAN FRANCISCO — The feds are thinking twice about buying Apple computers after the company announced plans to withdraw from an environmental rating system.
Federal officials who focus on sustainability issues met Wednesday to discuss the question, according to a government source, and will seek a meeting with Apple soon.
Continue Reading
Last week, Apple decided to stop using an environmental certification program, the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool run by the Green Electronics Council, a Portland, Oregon-based nonprofit. EPEAT was developed through a stakeholder process supported by the EPA.
The EPEAT rating system is used to monitor a computer's environmental impact throughout its lifecycle, including the end of its use. The program is used by governments, enterprise, universities, health care and other large institutions to make purchasing decisions.
Federal procurement decisions for fiscal 2013 are being made now, the government source said. Federal officials are worried that the government's efforts to buy environmentally friendly products will be set back, the source said, adding, "Apple's competitors are looking at this and saying if they can get away with this maybe we can too."
Apple did not respond to a request for comment.
The city of San Francisco has already decided to block purchases of some Apple products, such as laptops and desktops, by municipal agencies. The iPad and iPhone have not been subjected to the rating system.
"We like to buy Apple products but it puts us in a quandary that they are not participating in the EPEAT registry," said John Walton, San Francisco's chief information officer. He said the city had some Apple purchases in the pipeline and will have to evaluate what to do with those purchase. He plans to talk to other municipal CIOs about the issue on Thursday.
Other companies and government agencies participating in the EPEAT purchasing program include Ford, Yale University  — and the White House, according to the organization's website.
Lyle Nevels, interim associate vice chancellor for information technology and chief information officer at the University of California at Berkeley, said the university has not made any decisions yet about Apple. "We are concerned about environmental protection and sustainability, and that's why we want to understand Apple's decision to go in another direction," he said.
"Despite the popularity of Apple's iPad tablet computer, in university settings, laptops and desktop machines are still kings," Nevels said.
In a statement posted on the EPEAT website, the Green Electronics Council said that it regretted that Apple would no longer be registering its products, saying that "EPEAT is more than simply a product rating — it is also a community effort by all interested stakeholders to define and maintain best practice in environmental sustainability for electronics."
News of Apple's withdrawal from the system was first reported by CIO Journal.
Apple has told The Loop that it "takes a comprehensive approach to measuring our environmental impact and all of our products meet the strictest energy efficiency standards backed by the US government, Energy Star 5.2. We also lead the industry by reporting each product's greenhouse gas emissions on our website, and Apple products are superior in other important environmental areas not measured by EPEAT, such as removal of toxic materials."
This article first appeared on POLITICO Pro at 5:31 a.m. on July 12, 2012.

Republican Hypocrites


Tell me again it's a good thing for Congressman to work together?

When the result is continuation of these atrocious subsidies of farmers why would I celebrate compromise? 

Republicans are against subsidies, except when it's their friends feeding at the trough. Then somehow it magically transforms into necessary support. Who gets hurt? The poor. Higher prices for farm products, higher taxes to subsidize wealthy farmers.

I still think the best result for the election is 50/50 Senate, marginal Republican House and Obama. It would be total gridlock.


Senate Ag leaders come together on farm bill

The Democratic and Republican leaders of the Senate Agriculture Committee have come together to agree on a draft 2012 farm bill, which establishes farm subsidies for the next five years.

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and ranking member Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) released their draft on Friday and said a markup will happen April 25.

The farm bill would reduce deficits by $23 billion, $10 billion less than called for in the budgets of President Obama and $8 billion less than called for in that of House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).
Stabenow and Roberts agree that direct payments to farms, which are granted whether or not farmers produce anything, should be eliminated. They propose expanding access to crop insurance to make up for this.

The changes are already being criticized by longtime opponents of farm programs.

"Instead of recognizing our nation's dire fiscal situation and offering up significant savings when farm incomes are at record levels, the Agriculture Committee doubled down on bloated farm programs," Steve Ellis of Taxpayers for Common Sense said.

The bill also includes cuts to food stamps favored by the GOP. It strengthens requirements on education and stops liquor stores and tobacco shops from accepting food stamps.

Damn the Extremists, Full Speed Ahead


On the one hand we have folks on the left who deny the reality of how much energy it takes to run a15 trillion dollar economy. Maybe they think that if we all break wind at once that will provide enough power to do the trick. Oh no that's bad too. Methane after all. On the other hand we we have folks on the right who think that Jesus Christ has granted them the right to burn, pillage and slash the earth in any way they see fit because after all the Bible says its OK and we are God's chosen creatures. Yikes.

Can't we find we find a way around, or through this two headed lunatic fringe? Isn't that what a functional political process should do? Isn't that what this blog has dedicated itself to doing? So let's see, in the usual fashion, if we can find some starting points for agreement.

1) The US natural gas boom is a boon for the nation's economy and its national security. It has the potential to 1) provide a cleaner fossil fuel alternative than any available alternative 2) Provide a powerful competitive advantage to the US economy 3) Produce nearly complete energy independence which means, to paraphrase Thomas Friedman, we will no longer be financing both sides of the War on Terror. Nothing would give me greater pleasure than to be able to tell the Saudi's to go sh-t in their hat, as my Dad used to say.

2) Fracking technology brings with it considerable uncertainties in terms of degree of ecological risk and the best available strategies for containing that risk. There will be a hammering out of the regulation business, and we will both hope that there will be no Exxon Valdeez/ Blackwater Horizon equivalents.

3) There is a considerable body of high quality science done by people who are careful and good at what they do to suggest that release of carbon dioxide through fossil fuel emissions is producing climate change. How much, how fast and how reversible remain undetermined.

4) The best hope to alter the arc of climate change is through a combination of classical conservation, technological innovation and shift in cultural paradigms. Cleaner cars and homes. Transportation alternatives. Living closer to work. That would also likely be good for the economy. 

5) Neither political party is talking about any of this with any sincerity or coherence. The only people who really seem to care about it are those discussed in the 1st paragraph.

Finally about the poor, I'm beginning to wonder if anyone really cares about them.



Who has the highest electricity rates in the US? Connectiuct.


The article below is fairly even-handed but does make the critical mistake of reporting the Sierra Club is in favor of replacing coal with natural gas. Recently the Sierra Club realized their prior support for replacing coal with gas could actually come true due to the success of hydraulic fracturing and the resulting low-prices for natural gas. So they've changed their "Beyond Coal" campaign and embraced a "Beyond Gas" campaign. In the Sierra Club's view gas is "dirty, dangerous, and run amok." 

But if not coal, and if not gas, then what? Well, the Sierra Club avers we "should be doubling down on wind, solar and energy efficiency," (http://content.sierraclub.org/naturalgas/content/beyond-natural-gas)

That's too bad for the residents of Connecticut, who suffer from the highest electricity rates in the continental United States. (http://www.eia.gov/electricity/data/state). In 2010 the total price price per kilowatt hour of electricity in CT was 17.39 cents. The average for the US was 9.83 cents per kilowatt hour

Who does this hurt? The poor. Manufacturing companies, those most likely to higher the poor and less educated move elsewhere, like Texas with electricity rates of 9.34 cents per kilowatt hour. The policies of mandating alternative fuel sources and opposing any and all fossil fuels results in high electricity prices which dis proportionately hurt the poor because a bigger portion of their income goes to staying warm in the winter, cool in the summer and turning on the lights. It's a double whammy on the poor.

It's almost as if the Greens hate the poor so much they've thought of the most insidious ways possible of removing them from their sights.


Original Page: http://ctmirror.org/story/16872/attempts-move-beyond-coal-connecticut

State, Bridgeport wrestle with tough issue: Coal, or no coal?

July 12, 2012

Bridgeport -- As the nation sheds the concept of clean coal for plentiful and even cleaner natural gas, environmental activists are hoping they can push Connecticut to abandon coal as a power source.

They've seized that opportunity this summer as the owner of Connecticut's one remaining coal-fired power plant, the Bridgeport Harbor coal plant, applies to renew its five-year operating permit with the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. The plant has been operated by the New Jersey-based Public Service Electric & Gas (PSEG) for the past 10 years.

But DEEP is expected to issue a permit renewal in the coming weeks, although officials say they may tighten standards for operation of the plant after receiving volumes in public comment.

And while economics have already contributed to a rapid decline in the station's activity, it's unlikely the Bridgeport plant will shut down anytime soon.

The plant's operating hours were cut in half from 2010 to 2011 and are likely to be slashed further this year, but coal still provides 2 percent of Connecticut's power, PSEG says. And despite an embrace of natural gas in the Northeast, company officials say there is still a need for coal in case of a sudden change in power supplies. This happened in 2005, when destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina disrupted the flow of natural gas from pipelines in the Gulf of Mexico to New England.

"Coal has its place," said Robert Silvestri, a senior environmental engineer with PSEG Power. "If you were to take one particular fuel out [of the power mix], you're going to hurt everything as far as generation goes."

And the plant also has its place in Bridgeport's landscape, as a fixture since the 1950s and one of the city's largest taxpayers. While the Sierra Club's national "Beyond Coal" campaign activists are pushing for the coal plant to be replaced with a unit that generates solar power, residents are concerned that in an already economically depressed city, a closed coal plant would simply end up as yet another abandoned lot.

"If there were a change away from that plant, then the question would be, can you remediate the site and then what's its future use?" said Chris Bruhl, president of the Fairfield County Business Council.

"The idea of having it just sitting there doing nothing, well, that's totally unacceptable."

On its way out

Several years ago, "Clean coal was considered the holy grail of dealing with climate change," said David Downie, an environmental studies professor at Fairfield University. "There's a physical reality to coal that outstrips both natural gas and oil in terms of its abundance, and, frankly, how cheap it is to get out of the ground in some places."

Today, few question that coal is being phased out of the nation's power mix. While natural gas prices plummet, coal is becoming more expensive. The price of coal delivered to the electric power sector in New England jumped 7 percent between April 2011 and April 2012, according to the Energy Information Administration. (Massachusetts, the most coal-reliant state in New England, depends on the mineral for one-fourth of its power needs, according to the EIA.)

"Within a decade, we're going to have extremely plentiful environmentally advantageous natural gas here in Connecticut," Bruhl said. "So that's kind of what the genesis was of the movement in Bridgeport [to shut down the plant] ... if there was no natural gas on the horizon, then you'd be talking more about mitigating as opposed to elimination."

Some of the Bridgeport movement has been spurred on by the Sierra Club's national "Beyond Coal" campaign, which has worked to tighten emissions standards for coal plants and prevented new ones from being built. The campaign recently hired Bridgeport native Onte Johnson to head its local community outreach efforts, and the number of public comments submitted to DEEP regarding the plant's permit renewal was far greater than in a typical response to such a renewal, officials said.

Still, the plant is technically in compliance with all state emissions standards, which are stricter than the national standards in many cases. And Silvestri, the PSEG environmental engineer, said that Connecticut's pipelines aren't robust enough to support a complete switch to natural gas.

"The supply might be there, but the infrastructure is not," he said. "How you get it from point A to point B."

Bridgeport's property tax base is also an important consideration. "It's mind-boggling to me that we have to be dependent on a coal plant" for taxes, said the Sierra Club's Johnson, but it seems to be the reality for now.

Bridgeport's mayor Bill Finch was not available for an interview, but in a statement, he called PSEG "one of the city's biggest taxpayers" and a company with "a continued long-term investment in the city." The company paid $2.6 million in taxes in 2011, making it the city's third-largest taxpayer.

But demand for coal is far less than it once was, and data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency show that story playing out in Bridgeport.

In 2008, the unit operated for 8,303 hours, its highest number since PSEG started operating the unit in 2002. But by 2011, the number of hours had dropped to just under 2,100. So far this year, as of June, the plant has only operated for 332 hours.

"The demand is not high at this point," Silvestri acknowledged.

Tracking pollution sources can be tricky

Hundreds crowded into Bridgeport's city hall two months ago in a public hearing held by DEEP over renewing PSEG's permit. Many were residents and environmental advocates from groups like the Sierra Club and the Healthy Connecticut Alliance. Some talked of high asthma rates in Bridgeport that could be attributed to pollution.

Tiffany Mallers said she joined the Healthy CT Alliance last year after two of her children suffered sudden, unexplained asthma attacks.

"If you look like you are going to hurt my children, I'm going to fight back," she said, one voice in hours of public testimony. "My children need healthy air to breathe."

But others testified in support of the plant, saying it's a critical source of 50 jobs in Bridgeport and a major contributor to the city's tax base.

PSEG pointed to DEEP figures showing that 95 percent of Connecticut's air pollution comes from out-of-state.

That mix is a little different in Fairfield County, where congested traffic on I-95 and the Merritt Parkway contributes to worse air pollution than in the rest of the state. To be sure, the Bridgeport Harbor Station contributes some as well, but not as much as people might think, said DEEP air pollution expert Sam Sampieri.

"There could be many, many other aspects that could cause the high asthma rates in that area," he said. "It's an urban center, you can have background pollution from cars, you can also have construction pollution."

All the major cities in Connecticut have high child asthma rates. And when it comes to Bridgeport, Sampieri said, the coal plant's smokestack is high enough that most of its emissions is blown far downwind, meaning that most of the pollution created by the plant may not affect the city very much.

Canvassing the neighborhood

The plant lies in one of Bridgeport's more impoverished neighborhoods. Directly adjacent to it is a small public green space that overlooks Long Island Sound, along with streets crowded with multifamily housing.

Few nearby residents think much about the plant.

"I have friends that work there, and from what they said, they're saying that it's clean, and that the Sierra Club is trying to shut it down," said Herbert Johnson, who has lived in the area for decades.

Others didn't know it was there. Noise was minimal, they said, especially since the plant operates infrequently now (it ran for just 100 hours in June). But a mountain of coal is easily visible from the street.

The Sierra Club's Onte Johnson said it's unfair that PSEG, otherwise known for efforts in renewable and cleaner energy in other states, still operates this coal plant here. The group maintains that PSEG has taken advantage of a poorer city where political opposition is slower to materialize and jobs are badly needed.

"[Many of the people I talk to say] wow, I didn't know I had a coal plant in my backyard," Johnson said. "And that's a serious issue."

The Sierra Club said it doesn't expect DEEP to deny PSEG's operating permit this year. But it hopes DEEP will apply more stringent requirements for operation, such as adding additional cleaning methods. DEEP officials said they are taking such comments into consideration.

DEEP is expected to respond to public comment and issue a decision in the coming weeks. The EPA has 45 days to review the decision.

Monday, July 9, 2012

One Reason Deniers Deny


Why do deniers deny? Well one reason is if you insult me by comparing me to a Nazi Holocaust denier I'm unlikely to agree with you. But another reason is the source is tainted.

The UNIPCC seems like a front group for wealth re-distribution and wants to make me feel guilty for being born a middle-aged white guy with a house in the suburbs. Plus they are depressing. Cold, hot, wet, dry. Doesn't matter, all evidence we are on the eve of destruction. We're all doomed. If we're all doomed, leave me alone so I can enjoy the time I have left.

The UN part of the UNIPCC is troubling. Consider the UN Human Rights Council. Council member Cuba (Wait. Cuba is on the UN Human Rights Council? What?) is upset there is criticism of Venezuela's desire to join the council (Excuse me?) and its human rights record. I didn't think there was any dispute about the human rights records of Venezuela, and Cuba. Sotto voce-their records are not good. 

The same organization the brings us Cuba, Russia, China and Saudi Arabia on the Human Rights Council brings us cataclysmic man-made climate change. It's a wonder anyone believes in climate change. Except the Cubans.


Tempers Flare at U.N. Human Rights Council As Speaker Criticizes Cuba and Aspiring Member Venezuela


Former Venezuelan political prisoner Eligio Cedeno, left, U.N. Watch director Hillel Neuer and Human Rights Foundation president Thor Halvorssen in Geneva. (Photo: U.N. Watch)

(CNSNews.com) – Authoritarian members of the U.N. Human Rights Council bristled Thursday when a speaker questioned their right to be members of the United Nation's top human rights body, interrupting to demand that the presiding officer take the critic to task.

A visibly angry Cuban delegate reacted after the speaker – a Venezuelan-born human rights activist – questioned the appropriateness of President Hugo Chavez' regime seeking a seat on the Geneva-based HRC in elections due later this year.

Venezuela and Pakistan are among countries preparing to contest seats on the council, when term limits will see some of its most controversial current members, including Cuba, Saudi Arabia, China and Russia, step down.

Speaking during a segment of the meeting dedicated to input from non-governmental organizations (NGOs), Human Rights Foundation head Thor Halvorssen told the council that his mother had been shot by Venezuelan security forces in 2004.

"Through the Human Rights Foundation, which I founded and direct, I have carefully monitored the Venezuelan state and have established that its current government is among Latin America's worst human rights violators," he said.

Halvorssen went on to allege abuses faced by political opponents and media critics of the government, charging that more than 150,000 people had been killed since Chavez became president in 1999.

"Despite all of this, Venezuela is now seeking election to this council," he said, recalling that the U.N. resolution establishing the HRC in 2006 called for members to be those countries that "uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights."

"To elect Venezuela would shame and embarrass this council, and would allow Venezuela to shield its horrendous record of abuse."

Venezuela's presence would also, he said, "validate other authoritarian governments such as Syria, Iran, and one that disgracefully sits on this council – Cuba." As he said this, Halvorssen pointed in the direction of the Cuban delegation.

Cuban envoy Juan Antonio Quintanilla Roman jumped up, gesticulating and knocking his chair over in the process, as he demanded that the session's chairman, Gulnara Iskakova of Kyrgyzstan, interrupt the proceedings. When she did several moments later, Roman upbraided her for not having done so immediately.

Roman then turned on Halvorssen.

"The speaker is out of line," he said. "It is possible to refer to human rights situations in this council, but one cannot question under any context the aspirations or hopes of states to become members of the Human Rights Council.

"If you wish to refer to what you allege or believe to be a human rights violation you may do so but you cannot say that my country hasn't the right to be a member of this Human Rights Council."

He demanded that Halvorssen's statement be struck from the record.

A United States representative took the floor next, saying the U.S. "firmly believes that accredited NGOs must be permitted to speak in this council."

"Though member states, including ourselves, may occasionally disagree with the content of their statements, it is essential that civil society voices be heard here in an atmosphere of open expression," he said, urging Iskakova to ensure that Halvorssen's statement was reflected on the record of the meeting.

China's envoy said that NGO representatives "are not entitled to challenge the right of a country to become a member of the council."

Gulnara Iskakova

Gulnara Iskakova of Kyrkyzstan presided over Thursday's HRC session (UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferre)

Iskakova then cautioned Halvorssen and said he could continue.

Halvorssen resumed his statement: "In December, four authoritarian governments – China, Cuba, Saudi Arabia and Russia – will step down. You have a golden opportunity –

"Time is up," Iskakova interrupted, preventing him from finishing the last two sentences of his text. (According to the prepared version, he had intended to say, "You have a golden opportunity to prevent more human rights violators from soiling this council. Please block Venezuela's bid and uphold your own standards.")

Cuba's Roman again called for the floor, and demanded that the NGO "abstain from using disrespectful terms such as 'authoritarian regimes.' We do not recognize this NGO but we will not permit them to use this kind of language in this forum."

China's envoy agreed, asking how Halvorssen "has the right to point a finger at any country which is a member of the council, or which wishes to become a member."

The Russian and Pakistani delegates also supported Cuba's position.

Later during the session, former Venezuelan political prisoner Eligio Cedeno addressed the chamber, speaking on behalf of the Geneva-based NGO, U.N. Watch.

Cedeno told the HRC he had spent almost three years detained with trial for providing financial support to the Venezuelan political opposition.

"Following a recommendation of this organization, the United Nations, I was freed by Venezuelan Judge Maria Lourdes Afiuni," he said. "That same day she was arrested."

Cedeno said Chavez had gone on television to call the judge a "bandit" and had demanded of judicial authorities that she face the maximum penalty, 30 years' imprisonment.

"Since then, Judge Afiuni has for two years and six months been in prison and under house arrest."

Cedeno said it would be immoral to allow Venezuela to become a member of the HRC if its government did not change its behavior.

Venezuela's envoy later accused the U.S. and "its lackeys" of trying to smear the country.

"Who can give credence to what is stated by the American government or its lackeys – the words of those who are undeniably the worst culprits when it comes to violation of human rights?" he asked.

"Today was a rare moment at the U.N.," UN Watch director Hillel Neuer said afterwards. "We succeeded in putting Chavez – who throws independent judges in jail and persecutes student activists – on the defensive."

Why do the Chinese subsidize solar?


Why does China subsidize solar production? I really don't know. (China's investment in coal, oil and gas dwarfs its investment in solar and wind, by the way). Maybe it's the same reason Japan and South Korea and other countries got a bee in their bonnet to dominate something, taxed their populace to make it happen, and in essence transferred wealth to consumers of other countries. As a consumer, I'm all for it. If the Chinese want to give a couple hundred bucks per year to me by keeping the value of their currency low or subsidizing unprofitable manufacturers, I won't complain. 

But maybe there's another reason. Maybe the Chinese recognize they have a comparative advantage in low-value-added, high-labor-content, marginal intellectual property assembly work, and North America has a comparative advantage in fossil fuels. See below


Original Page: http://blogs.the-american-interest.com/wrm/2012/07/08/the-energy-revolution-part-one-the-biggest-losers/

The Energy Revolution Part One: The Biggest Losers

Over the past year, we've been watching a geopolitical revolution get underway. It's much bigger and more consequential than the Arab Spring, though the legacy media are giving it much less play. It will rearrange the global chessboard, improving the position of some powers, weakening others. It is a powerful boost to American power, reducing America's strategic and economic liabilities while adding considerably to its assets. And it dramatically changes the long term outlook for, among other things, the US dollar. In line with Via Meadia's policy of trying to focus attention on the most consequential events of the time, we will be following this story as it unfolds, looking at the implications of the shifts now underway for world politics, the US economy, our domestic politics, and the green movement.

While the chattering classes yammered on about American decline and peak oil, a quite different future is taking shape. A world energy revolution is underway and it will be shaping the realities of the 21st century when the Crash of 2008 and the Great Stagnation that followed only interest historians.  A new age of abundance for fossil fuels is upon us.  And the center of gravity of the global energy picture is shifting from the Middle East to… North America.

The two biggest winners look to be Canada and the United States. Canada, with something like two trillion barrels worth of conventional oil in its tar sands, and the United States with about a trillion barrels of shale oil, are the planet's new super giant energy powers. Throw in natural gas and coal, and the United States is better supplied with fossil fuels than any other country on earth. Canada and the United States are each richer in oil than Iraq, Iran and Saudi Arabia combined.

Further bolstering America's new geopolitical edge, the rest of the western hemisphere is also rich in oil. Venezuela is now believed to have more oil that Saudi Arabia, and Brazil's offshore discoveries make it a significant factor in world oil markets as well.

China is another winner, though on a smaller scale. China has the second largest shale oil reserves in the world, estimated at about half the size of America's. This puts China in the Saudi class as well, but given the anticipated growth in China's economy, its shale oil wealth will reduce but not end its need for energy imports.

The other important change in the new world energy picture is one I wrote about earlier this week: Israel's potential emergence as a major oil and gas producer. With trillions of cubic feet of natural gas, and potentially as much as 250 billion barrels of recoverable shale oil, Israel may be on the verge of joining the wealthiest Arab states as a world class energy producer.

These changes won't take place overnight, but they are coming faster than many understand. US domestic oil production is up almost half a million barrels a day thanks to North Dakota, and the surge in US natural gas production is already changing international trade patterns. More change will come.

The Biggest Losers

If the US, Canada and Israel are the likeliest big winners, the biggest losers in the coming shift will be the Gulf petro-states and Russia. Their Gulf losses aren't going to be economic; the Gulf  will still have the world's cheapest oil to produce and so its oilfields will be the most profitable at any given price point.

Russia, on the other hand, is going to have a harder time. Its oil and gas are more expensive to produce and so Russia's profit margins are likely to fall.

But regardless of the simple economic impact, in different ways and different degrees the Gulf countries and Russia are going to lose a lot of the political advantages that their energy wealth now gives them. They will have less ability to restrict supply and to manipulate prices than they have had in the past. Oil and gas are going to be less special when supplies are more abundant and more broadly distributed.

The unexpected success of the economic sanctions on Iran show how this process works. Rising production in Iraq, Saudi Arabia and the United States enabled the world to do something most people would have thought impossible in the golden age of OPEC. Iran's oil sales have been cut by something like 40 percent even as world crude prices fell. Iran's Supreme Leader believed that the world needed his oil so much that the US could never get the Europeans and others to agree to serious sanctions. He was like Jefferson Davis in 1860, who believed that Britain and France needed Confederate cotton so badly that they would force the North to recognize Confederate independence.

The Supreme Leader, like Davis, was wrong. The world survived without Confederate cotton, and the world is surviving with less oil from Iran. In fact, even as Iranian production declined, world oil prices fell.

What Iran is discovering today, others will feel tomorrow. Since the 1970s, the states on both sides of the Gulf have been central to all kinds of global issues, and the great powers have focused enormous amounts of time and attention on their wants and needs. As the energy revolution proceeds, they won't completely sink into insignificance (and the US concern to protect the independence of countries like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the rest won't disappear), but the days when the world hung on every word that fell from the lips of OPEC are gone.

More, the political importance of the Gulf derives in part from the intersection of energy politics and national policy in many European countries. In places like Italy, France and Greece, national oil companies have much greater power in national politics than they do in the US. (The US has more oil companies, and there are more corporate and regional interests competing against what the oil companies want.) The ability of the Gulf countries to make or mar the fortunes of foreign oil companies has been an important source of political power for them. This power won't go away, but it won't be the same. There are lots of new places to look for oil these days, and with more countries interested in attracting international investment, the balance of power will shift from resource rich countries to firms with the capital and skill to turn those resources into revenue.

Coming back to Russia, the biggest threat to Moscow's hopes for rebuilding its power based on energy resources comes from the discovery of huge natural gas reserves under the eastern Mediterranean seabed. Russia can and will do what it can to join in the exploitation of these resources; Greece, Cyprus and Israel are all willing to cooperate with the Russians when it comes to exploitation and processing.

So Gazprom won't starve — but it could lose its ability to stop the flow of natural gas into western Europe. New pipelines will be built from Greece north and east and while a friendly Greek government and a strong capital position for Russian companies in the Greek gas business could give Moscow an edge, the Greeks are unlikely to allow Russia to turn Europe's gas taps on and off at will. Additionally, new terminals on the Atlantic coast will be built to take LNG shipments from the US. As the world gains experience with fracking technology, and the carbon benefits of natural gas as opposed to coal grow more obvious, look for Europe to do more to explore its own considerable potential to develop gas fields. Russia will continue making money selling gas and oil to Europe, but the political consequences of this trade will likely disappoint.

Another group numbered among the losers: energy states who finance unorthodox economic policies and anti-US foreign policies on the basis of their oil wealth. It will still be easier for the president of Venezuela to thumb his nose at the US and spend money on programs that build up his political strength at home than, say, for the president of Guatemala to do that, but as world energy supplies continue to flow, both the financial and the political benefits of having a lot of oil are going to diminish. Hugo Chavez' successors are likely going to have to watch their wallets and watch their words a little more closely than the Great Bolivarean has done.

These changes won't materialize overnight. We are so far seeing only the first stages of new energy geopolitics. But one way to begin getting your head around the new geopolitics is to think about a world in which Kuwait matters less, and Alberta more.

Over the next couple of weeks I'll be coming back to this subject, looking at some other aspects of this big, complicated set of changes coming down the pike: how the change will affect the winners and world politics as a whole, what the environmental and economic consequences are likely to be, and how politics in the US may change.  And going forward, Via Meadia will do its best to follow the energy revolution in the news of the day — keeping an eye both on the progress or the lack of it at bringing the new potential sources online and on the ways world politics shift in response.

What's the Trigger?


After Friday's disappointing jobs report one of the commentators I listen to remarked there's nothing to make the job's outlook any better, "What's the trigger?" he asked. In his opinion, both monetary policy (interest rates near zero) and fiscal policy (a permanent $1 trillion stimulus since 2009) have both proven ineffective. Using his metaphor, both of those triggers have been pulled and the bullets missed.

A trigger we haven't pulled is liberalization, or radical liberalization, to modify John Cochrane's prescription for Greece, "shock liberalization."

Despite the claims of most on the Left that since 2000 there has been a roll-back of countless regulations resulting in lawless financial markets, dirty skies and water, unsafe working conditions and shoddy products endangering our children, we have to go no further than our lunch room to recognize this is untrue.

One wall in the kitchen in our office is devoted to posters from the state, OSHA, Department of Labor with a mind-numbing cacophony of regulations on minimum wages, fair wages, equal wages, workplace safety etc. There's probably a poster that tells us we have to display these posters since about zero of them apply to our business. When I first started working a couple of decades ago there was maybe one of these posters; now, a wall 8 feet by 5 feet. These regulations must copulate since the number of regulations increase every year.

Or look at the number of pages in the federal register, which codifies federal regulations. This has grown from 2,620 pages in 1936 to 82,419 pages in 2011. The only real respite from this growth occurred in the Reagan years.

You may say, "But these are necessary rules, these rules keep us safe." Maybe. What about the rules that force utility companies to purchase a certain percentage of their generating capacity from sources like solar and wind? I can see how that makes electricity more expensive and how it makes it more unreliable, but making my life safer? That extra utility bill means I have less to spend on what I want. But who cares about me. It really hurts the poor who spend much more of their income on electricity than I do. It pushes out industries that have need for greater amounts of electricity to produce their goods. The millions hurt by these policies are rarely heard. But we do hear of the minuscule amount helped.

But it's fair you say. Without these rules the rich would get richer and the poor poorer. Maybe. But how then do you explain 50% unemployment for Blacks in New York City? I blame much of this on minimum wage laws that crowd workers out of the labor force and government schooling that is a complete failure in the inner city.

In 1992 the Department of Agriculture introduced the Food Pyramid, a guide to healthy eating. Since then we have seen an "epidemic" (I'm positive that is an improper description) of obesity. When I go on a diet, do you know what I cut back on? Bread, then dairy. High calorie, low density food. You have to eat a lot to make you sated so you end up consuming a lot of calories. If you follow the food pyramid guidelines I think you'll gain weight.

Are the regulations on my office's kitchen and the pages in our federal register the economic equivalent of the food pyramid? After all, the three weakest recoveries in employment, since WWII are Obama's, Bush's and Clinton's. Is this a coincidence? Or is it the result of the policies we have pursued for the past few decades? Is it the result of more and more regulations and obstacles to competition, that primarily benefit the rich, powerful and connected? Is it the result of more and more regulations and obstacles to competition the primarily hurt the poor?


Saturday, July 7, 2012

Science and Sensibility


I'd been curious about your assessment of the Colorado wildfires, and I certainly agree that part of the pathogenesis of this increasingly frequent event in the West is the hazardous intersection between home owning homo sapiens and the unpredictable vagaries of nature. Whether or not the Waldo canyon fire exemplify the sort of extreme weather events that climate models predict will only be determined in retrospect. Even as I accept the soundness of the evidence that man made release of carbon dioxide is a prime agent behind climate change, I cannot imagine the world waking up tomorrow to a new era of goodness and light in which we all sing kumbaya and display an ironclad determination to limit carbon emissions. Beyond buying green electricity, I haven't exactly been a model citizen in terms of my own carbon footprint.

At its essence, science aligns itself against a lot of human tendencies, superstition, deceit assumption, tribalism. Good science is obsessive, skeptical, careful, and humble. Scientific consensus builds from unceasing observation, welcomes challenge, and constantly revises itself. 
Scientists, however, are not immune from the frailties that plague the rest of us, and the annals science are full of individuals persecuted for the simple sin of challenging orthodoxy. Advocates of efforts to limit climate change do not advance their cause when they leave the careful language of science behind and descend into hyperbole. Eventually though, the truth,at least as we scientists understand it, will win out. Its possible, I suppose that the international scientific consensus regarding climate change is simply wrong. But if that's the case, it is surely scientists who will destroy that consensus, and not those imbeciles advancing the idiotic argument that the whole business is a massive global conspiracy to perpetuate a hoax in order to attract grant money. 

The science of climate change does not lend itself to the precision of an experiment under  controlled conditions. But carbon dioxide in minute amounts is a very efficient heat trapping agent, and carbon dioxide as a measurable component of the atmosphere continues to increase. You and I of course, won't be around long enough to see what kind of difference that makes.

So let me ask you. If the whole business is a bunch of nonsense, why are the Chinese scrambling to dominate the world in green technology?

Meanwhile, I hope you'll think twice before you buy that dream house in Pagosa Springs.



Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Sky is Falling


It's July, and it's hot, so there is only only possible explanation: Global Warming. According to Eugene Robinson, if you don't believe in climate change you are "either deep in denial or delirious from the heat." The wildfires in the Colorado and Utah? Global warming. Duh. I grew up on the front range and I offer another reason why houses are burning in a semi-arid part of the country: more home development in areas prone to wildfires.

In my part of the world, however, the temperature seems just fine. As a matter of fact I've been keeping a record of my electric bills over the past six years which includes the average monthly temperature for the billing period. The graph below shows the average monthly temperature as reported to me by my electric utility. I don't know about you, but I can't see anything extraordinary about temperatures in my part of the world.

I know what you are thinking, "The temperature at your house over the past six years doesn't prove anything." I agree. Nor does a storm in the mid-Atlantic and wildfires in Colorado.

I do believe man impacts climate. How can man not impact climate? The only way we can eliminate man's impact on climate is eliminate man. I'm not willing to accept that step.

What would I do? Nothing. Not a thing. Well actually, no, I would do one thing. I would hydro frack every shale formation in the world. That would result in a faster, cheaper and broader reduction in greenhouse gas than anything else proposed.

Over man's history we have moved from inefficient, carbon intensive sources of energy to more efficient less intensive sources of energy. That is, wood to coal to oil to natural gas. Natural gas fired electric power is now equal to coal fired electric power in the US. Natural gas produces half the amount of carbon that coal does. Imagine that. The Free Market has done quietly and effectively what all of Al Gore's bloviating has failed to do: structurally reduce the nation's carbon emissions.

If the greens were really serious about reducing carbon emissions they wouldn't be fawning over electric cars and tilting at windmills. They would be encouraging China and India to hydro frack in order to replace coal with natural gas. This all can be done with price. Let the market do it. It's worked in the US. It will work there also.

Frack baby frack.


Monday, July 2, 2012

A Modest Proposal To Prevent Voter Fraud


Given the relentless series of adverse decisions Republican state legislators have suffered in their noble efforts to prevent the wave of voter fraud sweeping the country, I thought I'd give them a few suggestions on how to toughen up their efforts to insure that only those among us who really appreciate the nobility of democracy get to participate in the sacred ritual of voting. So in spirit of the Bill of Rights here are ten  proposed requirements for eligibility to vote that will weed out the undeserving within the electorate.

1) Since those among us who pay taxes for the benefit of the moocher class  shoulder an equal burden, we taxpayers ought to have the votes, and the system should be changed from man one vote to one vote for every tax dollar paid, just like the corporations do. After, "corporations are people are people too my friend". That way we one percenters, who after all pay 27% of the the federal income tax, will know we are getting our moneys' worth. If a  non-taxpayer wants to vote then they can damn well pay us for it.

2) Since voting is right that should be defended to the death, any legal voter (see above) is free to challenge an unapproved voter to a duel with the weapons of their choosing. Former registrars of voters will preside. It will give them something to do now that open access registration is a thing of the past.

3) What made the country great is innovation. New voters will need to get a  patent approved before their application to vote is accepted.

4) Since watching too much television makes you stupid, anyone who watches more than 10 hours of TV will be banned from voting. Unless they are watching commercials produced by Restore Our Future.

5) A thoroughly informed electorate is vital in a democracy. New voters will be required to answer at least 7 of the 10 questions from the previous week's Wait Wait Don't Tell Me news quiz.

6) Freedom of speech remains a cornerstone of of our great country. But how can a citizen really understand speech if they haven't given one? All new voters therefore will prepare a 20 minute oration on the Smoot Hawley Tarrif Act or other suitable topic.

7) Jobs are the vital issue in the current election. Each new voter must either have a job or produce a job creation plan to will cut taxes at the same time.

8)  The country is too fat. Any potential voter with a  body surface area more than 10% above normal will need to lose at least 10 per cent of their body weight and maintain that weight loss for 6 months after the election.

9) Self reliance is a hallowed American value. Proven ability to a) grill your own hot dogs  b) make your own beer  c) build your own campfire or d) hire someone to do all these things for you will necessary for those seeking voting rights 

10) An unyielding belief in American exceptionalism is a hallmark of our national greatness. Those seeking to vote should be prepared to defend this belief regardless of any evidence to the contrary


The Halfway Mark


The baseball season reaches the halfway mark this week with the usual mixture of predictability (Yanks and Rangers in 1st place) and surprise (Nationals also in 1st!), emergence of new stars (Strasburg) and the fading away of the old  (Posada). The Red Sox are in transformation like a ruthlessly efficient unregulated marketplace. More than of half of last years discontented and underp6erforming roster has been honorably retired (Wakefield, Varitek), signed elsewhere (Paplebon), unceremoniously traded (Scutaro,Youkilis) or banished to the minors (Bard) or the disabled list (Crawford, Ellsbury, and a tidal wave of others). Meanwhile a stream of new, young hungry replacements has appeared, some fulfilling expectations (Middlebrooks), some redeeming unfulfilled promise (Morales) and some shocking us, and probably themselves, with unexpected displays of excellence (Nava, Ross). From the 6th place the Old Town Team has now claimed into 3rd, a rounding number away from the 2nd wild card spot.

The presidential race has entered a sort of halfway point too as we enter the summer doldrums and the candidates and their handlers position themselves for display like mannequins in a shop window. Here we see the opposite of innovation, creativity, recognition of the essential nature of change, and courage. Against all evidence to the contrary, the President hopes that he can capture the zeitgeist of the the previous campaign. The challenger and his handlers just as clearly think they have enough time and resources to convince the imbeciles among us, also known as persuadable voters, that he and he alone is the man to right things and send us off into a new paroxysm of prosperity, all the while saying less than nothing about just how he plans to do it. Every little bit of silliness is magnified into an earth shattering moment as the chattering class yammers away in effort to entertain us and hold onto their jobs. The rest of us are left to nurse our sour uncertainty about where the hell we are going and how we are going to get there.

The parallel between sports and politics, and the reason that we watch them, is that they remain among the few arenas of contemporary life where the outcome is unknown. But these days the political arena could earn a few lessons from the diamond. In baseball the consequence of every decision is plain to see, failure cannot be hidden or disguised, decisions cannot be delayed, cowardice is punished, and luck, good and bad, is accepted as part of the process.

Maybe the ballplayers and the politicians should trade places for a week. My guess is that the country would not be the worse for it, and it sure would be a hoot to see John Boehner trying to throw one past Nancy Pelosi.