Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Florida, Ohio, Virginia and Colorado


I was listening to CNN's "State of the Union," today. The journalist was discussing the 2016 election and the challenge the Republicans will have given the inevitable march of demographics etc. (Often I think CNN just takes the Democratic party talking points and runs with it).

It was pointed out if you start with the electoral map of 2012 the Republicans only need to switch Florida, Ohio, Virginia and Colorado to pick up enough votes to win the Presidency. The next five minutes was spent discussing why that is so hard to achieve.


Here's the results of the House elections in 2014, admittedly a low-turnout election compared to Presidential elections, in each of those states. Source is

Democratic 2,130,626
Republican 2,713,451
Other 154,478

Democratic 1,179,587
Republican 1,770,923
Other 49,651

Democratic 2,010,842
Republican 2,348,528
Other 201,747

Democratic 1,880,620
Republican 1,984,088
Other 176,875

And as far as the inevitability of demographics: In 2012 about 17% of the US population was classified by the Census department as Hispanic. Wikipedia has this helpful chart.
Florida 23% Hispanic
Colorado 21% Hispanic
Virginia 8.4% Hispanic
Ohio 3.3% Hispanic.

If that Hispanics = Democratic victory is true, how does it explain the 2014 election results in Colorado and Florida, with greater than average Hispanic populations?


Saturday, December 19, 2015

Trump Will not Win Even One Primary or Caucus


I don't think Trump will win even one primary or caucus. Which suits me just fine.

The NY Times had an interesting article on Trump's lack of organization in Iowa. After reading this I doubt he'll even show in Iowa.

Chris Wallace interviewed Trump on Fox News Sunday last week and was shown Trump's HQ. The lack of people and activity was striking. Trump attributes it to his skill as a campaigner. I'm a denier on this as well. Trump has been give a tremendous advantage by the TV networks, allowed to call in his interviews, and recognizing an industry anxious for ratings will give him non-stop airtime for all the ridiculous, insipid, contradictory statements he makes. (Bernie Sanders,  Hilary, John Kasich and others have expressed their jealously recognizing they too are just as ridiculous).

I hope this bloviating distraction is out of the race by South Carolina.


Tuesday, December 15, 2015

It Has Electrolytes!


I am a former loyal customer of Chipotle; Too many instances of their food causing customers to get sick. You may be dreading my normal conclusion about the power of the markets. Rest easy, I'm not going there. As much as I liked Chipotle I was always put off by the organic label they put on their food and by their decision to not use GMOs. The organic food label is a mystery to me. Isn't all food organic. It's like that tag line in "Idiocracy," where the population declares Gatorade is good for plants because it has electrolytes. No one knows what that means but it sounds smart. It's organic! 

In a Forbes article, "Chipotle: The Long Defeat Of Doing Nothing Well," I was surprised to read this:

Although the crops, meats and other foods produced by modern conventional agricultural technologies may not bring to mind a sentimental Norman Rockwell painting, they are on average safer than food that reflects pandering to current fads.

And Chipotle knows it.

“We may be at a higher risk for food-borne illness outbreaks than some competitors,” the company admits in its filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, “due to our use of fresh produce and meats rather than frozen, and our reliance on employees cooking with traditional methods rather than automation.” (Think about that: Would you agree to open-heart surgery if the anesthesiologist planned to use “traditional methods” instead of state-of-the-art technology?)
Sure enough, that's exactly what the company says in its 10K, the annual financial report filed with the SEC. To some extent, the risk factors in these reports are kitchen sink items to avoid litigation, but it's still an eye-opening admission by a proponent of  organic foods that organic foods may be riskier than non? un? anti? organic food.

Oh, and the decline in sales and stock price will discipline Chipotle faster and more effectively than government.


Friday, December 11, 2015

Energize Connecticut!


It's actually called Energize Connecticut, without the exclamation point, but seems to me such a bold program demands an exclamation point.

Energize Connecticut is an initiative dedicated to empowering Connecticut to make smart energy choices, now and in the future. We provide Connecticut consumers, businesses and communities the resources and information they need to make it easy to save energy and build a clean energy future for everyone in the state. It is an initiative of the Connecticut Energy Efficiency Fund, the Connecticut Green Bank, the State, and your local electric and gas utilities. The initiative has funding support from a charge on customer energy bills...
The Connecticut Energy Efficiency Fund (CEEF) works to advance the efficient use of energy; reduce air pollution and negative environmental impacts; and promote economic development and energy security...

The Connecticut Energy Efficiency Fund is supported by all Eversource and United Illuminating customers on their electricity bills through the Combined Public Benefits Charge; and by Connecticut Natural Gas, and Southern Connecticut Gas Company and Eversource customers through a conservation charge included in their rates.
We've been in our current house for about 10 years. 10 years ago, the Combined Public Benefits Charge on our electric bill was about 1.8% of the total bill; now it is about 6%. It went up around the same time Malloy was elected Governor. Coincidence I'm sure. On my gas bill the conservation charge was about 0.1% of the total bill in 2007 and is now about 4% of the total bill.

The program is a government mandated program and not a tool for the power company to avoid building new plants. I happened to open my electric bill today and the December 2015 customer update from Eversource, my electric and gas provider says,

As an energy delivery company, we purchase electricity from power plant owners, and pass the cost, with no profit added, directly to customers who are on our Standard Service supply option.
 It is true an organization wants to avoid building power plants, but it is the State of Connecticut, not Eversource or United Illuminating. The various programs imposed on gas and electric users by the government results in higher prices. The Combined Public Benefits Charge and Conservation Adjustment are visible manifestations of this but the hidden and insidious costs are in things like renewal fuel standards that mandate higher cost, less reliable wind and solar in place of cheap, abundant and clean natural gas.

Another hidden cost are government policies that reduce the supply of natural gas. From the same Eversource customer update:

New England still faces significant constraints on natural gas supplies, which are increasing winter electric prices.
For that we can partially thank Andrew Cuomo, Governor of New York, for ignoring the overwhelming evidence that hydraulic fracturing is safe and banning the practice in New York. Such a shame that the poor among us will pay higher prices for electricity so the wealthy in Manhattan can sleep soundly knowing they have saved the world. And, as I've pointed out in the past, energy costs are a much larger portion of a poor person's budget than they are for the wealthy.
My guess is, these energy savings programs are transfer programs from the poor to the wealthy, but I have nothing to prove that. I do have this:

"Do Energy Efficiency Investments Deliver? Evidence from the Weatherization Assistance Program," by Meredith Fowlie, Michael Greenstone, and Catherine Wolfram. Here is the abstract:

Conventional wisdom suggests that energy efficiency (EE) policies are beneficial because they induce investments that pay for themselves and lead to emissions reductions. However, this belief is primarily based on projections from engineering models. This paper reports on the results of an experimental evaluation of the nation’s largest residential EE program conducted on a sample of more than 30,000 households. The findings suggest that the upfront investment costs are about twice the actual energy savings. Further, the model-projected savings are roughly 2.5 times the actual savings. While this might be attributed to the “rebound” effect – when demand for energy end uses increases as a result of greater efficiency – the paper fails to find evidence of significantly higher indoor temperatures at weatherized homes. Even when accounting for the broader societal benefits of energy efficiency investments, the costs still substantially outweigh the benefits; the average rate of return is approximately -9.5% annually.
That is a negative return when the total cost of the program is accounted for. For the individual using the subsidized program, it can be a great deal, as you discovered. For society, less so. My guess is this program is used more by high energy users more than low energy users, suggesting the poor subsidize the rich. Just a guess.

 Thanks for the tip on how to lower my energy costs. I happen to be looking to do that very thing with a goal of lowering my energy costs by 10%. Accomplishing that with a two year no-interest loan courtesy of my neighbors seems like a great deal to me.


PS. I will answer your "what if" question. It is a very fair one.

Our Energy Audit


Mrs. Butcher arranged for for us to have a home energy audit, a program subsidized by all four Connecticut energy suppliers. For $99, an experienced team comes to your home and analyzes every possible source of energy loss/excess utilization, from leaky closets, to improperly drafting hot water heaters to old light bulbs. They make sure the furnace is drafting properly (ours wasn't) and tell you who to call. They weather strip every outside door and external closet. They check your insulation (ours was woefully inadequate) and provide you with a coupon worth 50% or $1300 for whatever extra insulation you need, and provide a referral to a company that will do the work. Your utility will loan you money you need at 0% interest over 24 months, with equal payments added to your bill. The rough estimate is that these improvements, in sum, will cut our annual energy bills by about a third. That means the total cost should pay for itself in about 3 years.

The whole program amazed me. When I asked Mrs B what was in it for the power companies and the state, she sagely replied, "They don't want to build another power plant."

We haven't seen the Paris climate agreement's final form yet. I'm sure you'll hate it. Some of will be onerous no doubt, and some of it will be controversial. But much of it, my guess is, will be as sensible and doable as the carbon reducing steps taken in our audit.

I think I have a healthy respect for just how difficult reducing carbon emissions will prove to be, and how challenging the trade-offs are. Given the nature of our species, the odds are not very good that we'll succeed. But I must ask you Bill, at the risk of sending you into an I-hate-Eli-funk. What if you, and the climate skeptics (no D-word from me) who dominate the Republican Party, are simply wrong about the threat that unmodified climate change presents to our way of life, and all those pointy-headed-grant seeking-anti-capitalist alarmist scientists are right?


Not All or None


Agreed, it's not all or none and yet you and I too often create a straw man all-or-none scenario. When you do it, I get angry and go silent for a few days, or respond with something particularly snotty.

If I understand your position, you view the risks of uncontrolled CO2 emissions as more dire than I do. In your view, if we do nothing, temperatures rise, weather is extreme and people's lives become intolerable at some point in the future, let's call it 2050. Doing something, however, will harm current generations with lower living standards. Not to the level of the Middle Ages, but lower than they would be. In essence you are making today's generation pay a subsidy to the next generation. Social Security in reverse.

But I think doing nothing is a perfectly viable option. China and India and Africa will industrialize lifting billions of people out of poverty. As they  become wealthier they will value air quality and shift from coal to natural gas or nuclear, as we did. This will lower SOx, NOx PM25 and carbon emissions faster and more permanently than any government dictated option. Maybe temperatures rise, maybe weather becomes more extreme, but if so we'll be richer and more capable of mitigating that harm.

A moderate carbon tax, which I assume you favor, or a do nothing approach seems reasonable to me. What I can't see is the far reaching policy of substituting wind, solar, and biomas for coal, oil and natural gas. I think that's delusional.


It's not All or None


With regard to the article behind Paul Ehrlich's quote, the cogency of your critique speaks for itself. So much so that its author, Eduardo Porter strongly supports your argument. He writes:

    "Whatever the ethical merits of the case, the proposition of no growth has absolutely no chance to succeed. For all the many hundreds of years humanity survived without growth, modern civilization could not. The trade-offs that are the daily stuff of market-based economies simply could not work in a zero-sum world... 

Let’s examine what our fossil-fueled growth has provided us. It has delivered gains in living standards in even the poorest regions of the world. But that’s only the beginning. Economic development was indispensable to end slavery. It was a critical precondition for the empowerment of women. Indeed, democracy would not have survived without it. ....the option for everybody to become better off — where one person’s gain needn’t require another’s loss — was critical for the development and spread of the consensual politics that underpin democratic rule... 

Zero growth gave us Genghis Khan and the Middle Ages, conquest and subjugation. It fostered an order in which the only mechanism to get ahead was to plunder one’s neighbor. Economic growth opened up a much better alternative: trade. The Oxford economist Max Roser has some revealing charts that show the deadliness of war across the ages. It was a real killer in the era of no growth. Up to half of all deaths among hunter-gatherers, horticulturalists and other ancient cultures were caused by conflict...

Naomi Klein, a champion of the leftward fringe newly converted to the environmental cause, gleefully proposes climate change as an opportunity to put an end to capitalism. Were she right, I doubt it would bring about the workers’ utopia she appears to yearn for. In a world economy that does not grow, the powerless and vulnerable are the most likely to lose. Imagine “Blade Runner,” “Mad Max” and “The Hunger Games” brought to real life."

So a trip back to the Stone Age may be what some of the no growth fanatics are advocating, but it's certainly not what Porter is arguing for, or me either. 


Are the Marshall Islands Disappearing?


I read with interest, then disappointment the NY Times, The Marshall Islands are Disappearing. I was expecting some statement about the sea level rise resulting in the disappearance of the Marshall Islands. There was a lot in the article about the US obligation towards the Islands and what might happen in 2050, but only this on the evidence to date.
Changing global trade winds have raised sea levels in the South Pacific about a foot over the past 30 years, faster than elsewhere. Scientists are studying whether those changing trade winds have anything to do with climate change.
Not a very definitive statement. Whenever I read a story, or hear someone talk about rising temperatures I try to check those statements against Wolfram Alpha, which has a nice feature showing temperature histories.  This is the temperature history of the Marshall Islands.

Now maybe the Marshall Islands will disappear. But there's nothing in the evidence to suggest, as the Times states, that the Marshall Islands are disappearing.


Thursday, December 10, 2015

The New Luddites


The story behind your quote on growth, “Anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist.” was much more interesting to me than the quote.

I think some (many?) on the global warming/climate change/extreme weather side are really arguing for an anti-capitalist, anti-democratic, de-industrialized society. The New York Times article, "Imagining a World Without Growth," where your quote comes from, supports my assumption.

Staring at climactic upheaval approaching down the decades, environmental advocates, scientists and even some political leaders have put the proposal on the table: World consumption must stop growing...

The proposal that growth must stop appears frequently along the leftward edge of the environmental movement, in publications like Dissent and the writing of the environmental advocate Bill McKibben. It also shows up in academic literature.

For instance, Peter Victor of York University in Canada published a study titled “Growth, degrowth and climate change: A scenario analysis,” in which he compared Canadian carbon emissions under three economic paths to the year 2035.

Limiting growth to zero, he found, had a modest impact on carbon spewed into the air. Only the “de-growth” situation — in which Canadians’ income per person shrank to its level in 1976 and the average working hours of employed Canadians declined by 75 percent — managed to slash emissions in a big way.
Of course, this is totally unrealistic.

Proponents of  de-carbonization have failed to convince the public of their views because 1) the models are terrible predictors and 2) the solutions proposed to mitigate the harm projected by these terrible models are completely unacceptable.


Maybe they should try non-organic food and GMOs.

Chipotle Faces Another Foodborne Illness Outbreak, This Time In Boston