Archive for February 2012

When Consumer Regulation is Anti-Consumer

Frequently, so-called consumer regulation is coopted by large corporations to limit the ways competitors can try to unseat them.  For example, limo services will get laws passed that all limos have to have certain features.  Ostensibly, this is so consumers will be protected from having a limo without a wet bar, or whatever, but in fact its to prevent upstart competitors from taking them on with a different kind of business model potentially using different kinds of vehicles.

I find that this is frequently the case with regulated utilities.  Utilities are able to get all kinds of crazy laws passed to protect business practices that would never survive the marketplace.  Just today I was trying to open a business account with Duck River Electric in Tennessee.  We are attempting to reopen a TVA campground that has been closed for several years.  The campground is tiny, so I was flabberghasted when the utility told me that we had to put down a permanent deposit of $4100.  I found this to be shockingly high.  Apparently, it is based on the highest two months demand in the highest year (several years ago) in history.  Since the campground is only open for five months, it means that we have to give the utility an indefinite interest free loan equal to half the annual business we do with them.

This is simply insane.  Name one reasonably competitive business where one has to put down anywhere near this kind of advanced deposit to become a regular customer.  If there was any sort of competition in this business, the sales people for the other company would have a field day with this.  Sure, vendors often do a credit check on us, and a very few times (mostly early in our history) we had to pay COD for orders.  But this is absurd.

PS-  The only vendors we work with that are even close to this for abusiveness are the state authorities from whom we buy fishing licenses for resale.  Many of these agencies require expensive payment bonds not required by any of our other (private) vendors.  Arizona Game and Fish even forces us in January to accept an inventory of many products we do not sell (e.g. hunting stamps) and cannot sell by the terms of our lease.  We have to keep these in the safe for a year and if we lose any and are unable to return them at the end of the year, we have to pay for them.  Imagine sent you a bunch of crap you did not want and required you to hold them for a year, and then pay the expenses of returning them, and then pay for any item you might have lost.   Anyone like myself who was dumb enough to fall into the Columbia House records thing will know the danger of this.

Well, I Guess Dave Barry Was Right About Libertarians

This has to be the bottom headline of the day:  Joe Arpaio: Craigslist Used To Find A Dog To "Fornicate" With Woman While Husband And Friend Watched.  Sheriff Joe certainly does seem to be the last bastion against a total breakdown of civilization.  I am so relieved he is on top of this.  Gives me the willies to think he might have been chasing murderers or something and let these guys escape.

Mixed Feelings About These Photos

I had never seen Ansel Adams series of photos from a US internment camp for Japanese-Americans during WWII.  I had mixed feelings about them.  Adams said that he wanted to portray the resiliency of those imprisoned, showing how they made the best of a bad situation.  And certainly I have great respect for that, and the cultural strengths we see at work are a prelude to how Japan itself was rebuilt after the devastation of WWII.

But at another level I find these photos incredibly creepy.  They look too much like the fake photos staged by Germans and Russians of various eras to airbrush the horrors of their concentration camps.   I am willing to believe we Americans were better jailers, but none-the-less I was disturbed that these looked a lot like propaganda photos.

Post-Modern Science

Would Copernicus and Galileo have been right to lie about the nature of the solar system if that lie prevented the undermining of the Catholic Church, which most everyone at the time felt to have substantial positive benefits?

I think the answer for most of us is "no."  Science is about finding the truth, and the effects of those truths on social and political institutions are what they are.

But we have now entered the era of post-modern science, where writers on scientific ethics now conclude that its OK for scientists to lie as long as they are on the right team

James Garvey, a philosopher and the author of The Ethics of Climate Change has written a defence of Peter Gleick at the Guardian:

What Heartland is doing is harmful, because it gets in the way of public consensus and action. Was Gleick right to lie to expose Heartland and maybe stop it from causing further delay to action on climate change? If his lie has good effects overall – if those who take Heartland's money to push scepticism are dismissed as shills, if donors pull funding after being exposed in the press – then perhaps on balance he did the right thing. It could go the other way too – maybe he's undermined confidence in climate scientists. It depends on how this plays out.

Post-modernism has been quite fashionable in the social sciences for decades, but this entry into the hard sciences is new and disturbing. For reference, here is the Wikipedia entry on post-modernism

In its most basic form, postmodernism is an intentional departure from the previously dominant modernist approaches such as scientific positivismrealismconstructivismformalismmetaphysics and so forth. In a sense, the "postmodernist" approach continues the critique of the Enlightenment legacy, fundamentally seeking to challenge the traditional practices and intellectual pillars of western civilization just as the Enlightenment challenged tradition, theology and the authority of religion before it.

Postmodernism postulates that many, if not all, apparent realities are only social constructs and are therefore subject to change. It emphasises the role of language, power relations, and motivations in the formation of ideas and beliefs. In particular it attacks the use of sharp binary classifications such as male versus female, straight versus gay, white versus black, and imperial versus colonial; it holds realities to be plural and relative, and to be dependent on who the interested parties are and the nature of these interests. It claims that there is no absolute truth and that the way people perceive the world is subjective.

"Fake but accurate" is a good example of post-modernist thinking.

European Migration to America -- in the Stone Age

This is kind of cool -- evidence of European settlers along the US eastern coast 19,000-26,000 years ago.

Part of the story involves changing sea levels and Arctic ice extents.  These things change without fossil fuels?  Who knew?

Medicare Taxes are Too Low

If Medicare is really an insurance program, than as I wrote last week, the premiums are absurdly low.  And this isn't even a rich-poor transfer issue - the premiums are too low for everyone.  See the bar chart about halfway down on this page at the NY Times.  Here is a screenshot:

Take Social Security first.  Taxes come fairly close to covering benefits, with some rich-poor redistribution.  These numbers look sensible (leaving aside implied annual returns on investment and whether the government should be running a forced retirement program at all) -- the main reason social security is bankrupts is that in the years when premiums exceeded benefits, Congress raided and spent the funds on unrelated things.

Medicare, though, is a huge problem.  Even for high income folks, premiums cover only 43% of the expected benefits (I am not sure how they treat present values and such, but again lets leave that aside, I don't think it affects the underlying point).  Assuming we end up with some rich-poor transfer, it looks to me that premiums are low by a factor of three.

Everyone seems to think Medicare is a great deal.  Of course it feels that way -- premiums are only covering a third of the costs.  There is no way we can have intelligent debate on these programs when the price signals are corrupted.  Its time to triple Medicare premiums.


A Circle Has No End -- GE and the Corporate State

The arch-corporate-statist  -- and official manufacturing company of the Obama Administration is feeding at the trough again.  Apparently a perfectly profitable company cannot buy assets from another profitable company without a large subsidized loan from taxpayers.  In this case, the Obama Administration is funding the KCS in its purchase of 30 new locomotives from GE.  The Obama Administration has recently doubled-down on its backing of the US Ex-Im bank, which has been helping to fund Boeing aircraft sales to foreign airlines (each of which, surprise!, has a couple of GE engines on it).

GE knows how this political game is played, with resources allocated based on quid pro quo.  Just the other day, GE announced that it would help bail out Obama and Government Motors buy mandating that all its company vehicles be Chevy Volts, in effect committing to buy more Volts than Chevy sold to consumers all last year.  Of course, the circle has no end, so in turn GE will be rewarded with $90,000,000 in government subsidies for its 12,000 Chevy Volts, a number that could increase to $120 million if Obama's proposal to increase the per car subsidy is accepted.

By the way, the Obama Administration has criticized oil companies like Exxon-Mobil for earning excessive profits and getting overly large tax breaks.  In 2010, Exxon paid a whopping 40.7% of its income in taxes ($21.6 billion in taxes on $53 billion in profits).   In the same year, Obama subsidiary General Electric paid 7.4% of profits in taxes.

My Corporate Tax Reform

1.  Set corporate tax rate to 0%.

2.  Tax all dividends and capital gains on individual returns as regular income  (ie no preferred lower rates).

All corporate profits eventually show up on individual tax returns one way or another.  There is absolutely no logical reason to tax corporations except out of some kind of progressive hatred of, and need to count coup on, corporations.

My plan eliminates corporate tax preference for debt.  Eliminates numerous distortions from political meddling in corporate tax structure.  Eliminates double-taxation problems.  Eliminates double taxation of foreign corporate income.  Levels the playing field between C and S corps.  Eliminates the practice of corporations keeping two sets of books (one for tax authorities, one for investors) which is a common practice.  Saves a ton of money on tax preparation and compliance, essentially eliminating a whole class of taxes.

Once this is done, then we can start working on simplifying and taking out all the distortions in the individual tax code.

Update:  One could go on a length discussing the hypocrisy of the current corporate tax system.  Basically it has become a vehicle for each party to reward its favored constituents and punish its enemies.  The Obama administration's current tax plan is a great example.  Obama wants to reward manufacturers, and manufacturers only, with special lower rates because they are, err, much cooler somehow than other businesses.  But it turns out that most of those supposed tax subsidies that Obama proposed ending for oil companies are just the same breaks all manufacturers currently get and he wants to increase.  So is he now going to say we need to favor all manufacturers except oil companies with special tax breaks?   And he wants to encourage investment and R&D, except in the oil industry (which happens to be one of the larger sources of capital investment and R&D spending).  And what ever happened to the notion of equal treatment under the law?

Looking for Help on Tesla Battery

I have read a number of stories about how Tesla batteries become bricked if they are completely discharged.  What I have not seen is an explanation of the physics or chemistry of why this is true.  Can anyone explain it or give me a pointer to an explanation?  Certainly if this happened to, say, iPod batteries we would have had torches and pitchforks outside of Cupertino long ago.

Money Does Not Corrupt Politics, State Power Corrupts Politics

Kevin Drum asks whether money corrupts politics, and comes to the conclusion that it does.  I disagree.

Money does not corrupt politics, the expansion of state power corrupts politics.  Every time the state gains a new power to take money from person A and give it to person B, or to throttle company A's business in favor of company B, private individuals start to scheme how they might access that power to their own benefit.

Think back to the much smaller US government of the 19th century.  Don't you long for the day when political corruption mainly meant packing the Post Office with one's kin?  It is absolutely no coincidence that the largest political scandal of that century (the Crédit Mobilier) accompanied the largest expansion of Federal power in that century (the Federally-funded construction of the Transcontinental Railroad).

Political corruption follows the power.  Sure, this power is often bought in dollars, but if we were to entirely ban money from the political process, the corruptions would remain.  And it would shift payment from money to other goods, like quid pro quo's, barter, and access to grass roots labor supplies.  Anyone remember machine politics?

Here is an example from an Administration schooled from an early age in Chicago machine politics

The Heritage Foundation has issued a new report that charges the Obama administration sent presidential earmarks, taxpayer dollars, to Democratic lawmakers to help convince them to vote for controversial proposals such as cap and trade and the health care bill.

“When you examine the recipients of those grants, there were at least 32 vulnerable house Democrats who received significant federal grant money during the run-up or directly after the votes on those pieces of legislation,” says Lachlan Markay, one of the authors of the report.

The amount of earmarks spiked around the time of difficult votes such as cap and trade, then dropped, only to spike again around controversial financial regulations known as Dodd/Frank, and spiked the most just before the vote on the health care bill....

On their websites, lawmakers didn’t advertise their votes, but did tout at length the money they’d gotten for various local projects.

“As a way to counteract the negative voter sentiment that would come from voting for unpopular legislation,” says Markay. “These were attempts to make sure that constituents knew they were bringing money home to their district.”...

Numbers from the non-partisan Congressional Research Service show that the value of administration earmarks under President Obama increased by a 126 percent in his first two years in office and the actual number of administrative earmarks increased by 54 percent.

Those are dramatic increases that are 11 times more than Congress itself increased earmarks, which the White House did not explain today.

By the way, of all the ways that access to political power can be bought, political spending under our current rules is by far the most transparent.   Just as in narcotics or prostitution, a ban wouldn't eliminate it, it would simply drive it further underground and into other forms of currency.

Resonance in My Feed Reader

My feed reader today had a series of oddly-related articles stacked right in a row.

First, I watched bits from the 1903 Princeton-Yale football game, the oldest surviving college football film  (apparently it is just barely old enough not to have Keith Jackson doing the play-by-play).  It is amazing how much more this looked like rugby than modern football.  The formations look just like rugby scrums except that the players are not locked together.  Note there are no huddles, just power scrum after power scrum.  Sort of like a missing link between the two games, and oddly less interesting than either.

I then was met with this post from Zero Hedge, discussing the current Greek bailouts in terms of a Nash Equilibrium, the game-theory concept developed by Princeton grad / professor John Nash (who was famously profiled in A Beautiful Mind).

It's not often I run into John Nash even once in a month, but two articles later I found this really interesting early letter, recently de-classified, from John Nash to the NSA, wherein he apparently anticipated many of the foundation of modern cryptography 10-20 years ahead of his time.

And its only a short walk from John Nash and cryptography to Alan Turing, and from Princeton to tiger stripes, so the next article I ran into was this one discussing a group of scientists who apparently have proved a Turing hypothesis for how tiger stripes (and other recurring patterns in animals) are formed.

Worst American Rail Project Ever?

Last week I was in Albuquerque several hours early for my meeting in Santa Fe.  Several years ago I had written about the Railrunner passenger rail line that operates from south of Albuquerque north to Santa Fe.  Our Arizona Republic had written a relentlessly positive article about the line, focusing on how much the people who rode on it loved it.  Given that the picture they included in the article showed a young woman riding in a nearly empty car, I suspected that while the trains themselves might be nice for riders, the service probably wasn't a very good deal for taxpayers.

Of course, as is typical, the Republic article had absolutely no information on costs or revenues, as for some reason the media has adopted an attitude that such things don't matter for rail projects -- all that matters is finding a few people to interview who "like it."  So I attempted to run some numbers based on some guesses from other similar rail lines, and made an educated guess that it had revenues of about $1.8 million and operating costs of at least $20 million, excluding capital charges.  I got a lot of grief for making up numbers -- surely it could not be that bad.  Hang on for a few paragraphs, because we are going to see that its actually worse.

Anyway, I was in Albuquerque and thought I would ride the train to Santa Fe.  I had meetings at some government offices there, and it turns out that the government officials who spent the state's money on this project were careful to make sure the train stopped outside of their own workplaces.    I posited in my original article that every rider's trip was about 90% subsidized by New Mexico taxpayers, so I might as well get my subsidy.

Well, it turned out I missed my chance.  Apparently, trains do not run during much of the day, and all I saw between 9:30AM and 4:00 PM was trains just parked on the tracks.  I thought maybe it was a holiday thing because it was President's Day but their web site said it was a regular schedule.  I caught the shot below of one of the trains sitting at the Santa Fe station.

Anyway, I got interested in checking back on the line to see how it was doing.  I actually respected them somewhat for not running mid-day trains that would lose money, but my guess is that only running a few trains a day made the initial capital costs of the line unsustainable.  After all, high fixed cost projects like rail require that one run the hell out of them to cover the original capital costs.

As it turns out, I no longer have to guess at revenues and expenses, they now seem to have crept into the public domain.  Here is a recent article from the Albuquerque Journal.  Initially, my eye was attracted to an excerpt that said the line was $4 million in the black.  Wow!  Let's read more

New Mexico Rail Runner Express officials said Wednesday the railroad will receive an additional $4.8 million in federal funding this year that puts the operating budget more than $4 million in the black.

The injection of new money boosts Rail Runner’s revenues this year to $28 million, well in excess of expected operating costs of $23.6 million, said Terry Doyle, transportation director of the Mid Region Council of Governments, which oversees Rail Runner.

OK, I am not sure why the Feds are putting up money to cover the operating costs of local rail lines in New Mexico, but still, this seems encouraging.  This implies that even without the Fed money, the line was withing $800,000 of breaking even, which would make it impressive indeed among passenger rail lines.  But wait, I read further down:

The announcement comes as state lawmakers debate a measure that would require counties with access to the Belen-to-Santa Fe passenger railroad to pay for any deficit in Rail Runner’s operations with local taxes. Currently, almost half its revenues, $13 million, comes from local sales taxes.

Oops, looking worse.  Now it looks like taxes are covering over half the rail's costs.  But this implies that perhaps $10 million might be coming from users, right?  Nope, keep reading all the way down to paragraph 11

The Rail Runner collects about $3.2 million a year in fares and has an annual operating budget of about $23.6 million. That does not include about $41.7 million a year in debt service on the bonds — a figure that include eventual balloon payments.

So it turns out that I was actually pretty close, particularly since my guess was four years ago and they have had some ridership increases and fare increases since.

At the end of the day, riders are paying $3.2 million of the total $65.3 million annual cost. Again, I repeat my reaction from four years ago to hearing that riders really loved the train.  Of course they do -- taxpayers (read: non-riders) are subsidizing 95.1% of the service they get.  I wonder if they paid the full cost of the train ride -- ie if their ticket prices were increased 20x -- how they would feel about the service?

Of course, the Railrunner folks are right on the case.  They have just raised prices, which "could" generate $600,000 in extra revenue, assuming there is no loss in ridership from the fare increases (meaning assuming the laws of supply and demand do no operate correctly).  If this fare increase is as successful as planned, they will have boldly reduced the public subsidy to just 94.2% of the cost of each trip.

By the way, it is interesting to note in this Wikipedia article (Wikipedia articles on government rail projects generally read like press releases) that ridership on this line dropped by over half when the service went from free to paid (ie when the government subsidy dropped from 100% to 95%).  The line carries around 2000 round-trip passengers (ie number of boarding divided by two) a day.  It is simply incredible that a state can directly lavish $60 million  a year in taxpayer money on just 2000 mostly middle class citizens.  That equates to a subsidy of $30,000 per rider per year, enough to buy every daily round trip rider a new Prius and the gas to run it every single year.

Postscript:  This person seems to get it.  One thing I had not realized, the trip from Albuquerque to Santa Fe that I did in my rental car in 60 minutes takes 90 minutes by "high-speed rail".

IRS Harassing the Tea Party?

Sure seems like it.   Here is the list of questions the Ohio Tea Party has asked as part of their application, which should be routine, for 501(c)4 status.  The Virginia Tea Party had similar requests, including apparently a demand for donor lists and confidential materials which the IRS says will be made public.  The latter seems part and parcel of recent initiative on the Left (seen also in the whole Heartland fiasco) to out confidential donors of Conservative and libertarian organizations while demanding no similar transparency of organizations on the Left.

By the way, I am President of a 501(c)4 organization  (basically a trade group) and I can say with some authority that we never have received any sort of parallel set of questions from the IRS vis a vis our status, so this is either a very new requirement or one especially crafted to apply only to the Tea Party.  I can say from all too much experience that having a Federal agency sit on a request for 9 months and then suddenly demand incredible amounts of work in just a few days from the private party is absolutely typical.

It Was Never About the Ogallala Aquifer

A few weeks ago, I wrote that opposition to the Keystone was never about the Ogallala Aquifer.  Polluting the water was a simply a convenient talking point that might play better with the American public than the true goal, which is to shut down the development of new sources of North American oil.  I got a lot of comments and email that I was making this up, but in fact its pretty clear that opposition to the pipeline pre-dated knowledge even of its route.  Here is a environmental group's presentation from 2008 which advocates opposition to all pipelines (without any reference to their routes) out of the Canadian tar sands as a strategy to halt their development.

Postscript:  I really have little use for discussions about funding amounts and sources of various causes.  I find it largely irrelevent.  So I post this only because this week we are talking about the Heartland Institute's funding of climate skeptics as revealed by hero (if you are an environmentalist blog) or thief Peter Gleick.  Heartland sends a portion of its $6 million budget to support various climate skeptics, and somehow this "revelation" has environmentalists running in circles screaming rape.  But Heartland's pitiful few millions seem a joke in comparison to the environmental funding torrent.  Take this example from the Canadian tar sands issue, just a single one of a myriad of climate-related issues getting millions, even billions of dollars of funding.

Northrop’s presentation promised funding from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the William & Flora Hewlett Foundation in the amount of $7 million per year. Named in the presentation were 12 participating environmental pressure groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, Greenpeace, the World Wildlife Fund and the Sierra Club.

According to Canadian writer and researcher Vivian Krause, U.S. foundations have poured more than $300 million into Canadian environmental groups since 2000. One foundation, endowed by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore, has been single-handedly responsible for $92 million of that total, Krause wrote Jan. 17 in Canada’s Financial Post. Foundations flush with the wealth of computer pioneers William Hewlett and David Packard, she added, sent another $90 million to wage green-politics wars in the Great White North....

Tax records from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund indicate that it sent $1.25 million to Michael Marx’s organization, Corporate Ethics International, between December 2007 and November 2010. The money was earmarked “to coordinate the initial steps of a markets campaign to stem demand for tar sands derived fuels in the United States.” The Fund has not yet filed its tax return for 2011.

Among other initiatives, Corporate Ethics International launched a campaign in July 2010 to persuade American and British travelers to avoid visiting Alberta while tar sands exploration was underway. Tourism brings $5 billion to Alberta, making it one of the Canadian province’s biggest industries.

The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the second philanthropy Northrop mentioned in 2008 as a partner in the concerted effort to stop tar sands oil development, contributed far more.

Its tax returns indicate expenditures of more than $17.5 million targeted at tar sands oil development, including more than $15.4 million to the left-wing Tides Foundation and the affiliated Tides Canada Foundation. At the time, Tides was led by progressive millionaire Drummond Pike, and by ACORN co-founder and AFL-CIO organizer Wade Rathke.

A newer philanthropy, the Sea Change Foundation, also sent Tides $2 million in 2009, all of it to “promote awareness of an opposition to tar sands.” Another $3.75 million to Tides followed in 2010.

Funded by Renaissance Technologies hedge fund founder James Simons and his son, Nathaniel, Sea Change gave away $120 million between 2008 and 2010 in connection with energy-related issue activism. More than $18 million more of the Simons’ philanthropic funding in 2009 and 2010 went to organizations named in Northrop’s 2008 presentations, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club, the World Wildlife Fund and Ceres, Inc., although Sea Change did not disclose the specific purpose of those grants.

Smaller tar sands-related contributions to Tides came from the Oak Foundation, endowed by Duty Free Shoppers tycoon Alan Parker; the New York Community Trust; and the Schmidt Family Foundation, whose millions come from Google CEO Eric Schmidt and his wife Wendy.

Tides, in turn, made at least $8.6 million in grants to 44 different organizations, each time specifically mentioning its “tar sands campaign.” Funds went to Greenpeace, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club, Forest Ethics, the Rainforest Action Network and dozens of others. Fully $2.2 million of that total went to Michael Marx’s Corporate Ethics International.

I have no problem with private people spending money however they want, but after throwing around sums of this magnitude, it seems amazing they feel the need to stop Heartland from spending a couple of million dollars in opposition.  It's like a rich guy telling you that your Chevy Nova is in the way of his Ferrari and could you please get it off the road.

The Corporate State Rolls On

In a Senate budget hearing with the Department of Energy, one would have expected a lot of questions about the loan program to avoid future Solyndras.  But Al Franken uses his time to pester the DOE to give taxpayer money to a corporation in his state.

This is the answer as to why so many bone-headed loans were made despite evidence of likely disaster.  You can bet that Boxer and Feinstein were all over the DOE several years ago pushing for the Solyndra loan.  Franken doesn't give a rip whether the loan is smart or not, or whether the taxpayers' money is safe or not.  He wants a multi-million dollar press release to get himself in the Minnesota news for a newscycle or two helping out the home state.  After that, the money's purpose has been achieved and I can't imagine him caring what happens to it.  Certainly that is the fate of most of these jobs-related government investments - big splashes up front with promises of hundreds of new jobs, but absolutely no scrutiny in the back end when, likely as not, these jobs don't actually materialize.


This seems to represent the general MSM reaction to Peter Gleick's fraud in obtaining Heartland documents:

Peter Gleick violated a principle rule of the global-warming debate: Climate scientists must be better than their opponents....

It’s very tempting for scientists and their allies to employ to tactics of their over-aggressive critics. Yet the global warming camp must make an affirmative case for ambitious action on carbon emissions. Critics need only poke holes in the scientists’ arguments, or, as is so often the case in global warming debates, merely insist they’ve done so. Manipulation and perfidy work much better for the deniers.

Whatever the misdeeds of those who attack climate research, however braindead the opposition to climate scientists appears to be, advocates degrade themselves when they allow their frustrations to get the better of their ethical responsibilities. They lend credence to the (wrong) impression that both sides of the debate are equally worthy of criticism, that global warming is another ideological war that both sides fight deceitfully. In that context, those who want to spend lots of money to green the economy lose, and those who want to do nothing win. As Rick Santorum tours the country accusing climate activists of treachery and conspiracy, this should be only more obvious.

In other words, shame on Gleick for stooping to the level of those corrupt and evil skeptics.  A sentence or two of denunciation of Gleick for an actual crime, accompanied by 500 words of unsubstantiated ad hominem attacks on skeptics.  Nice.  I try to have a "let's play nice" response and this is what comes back in return?  Very frustrating.

Extreme Weight Loss Program

Last week, when I posted that I was attending an extreme weight loss program in Las Vegas, it turned out to be a bit of a test to see if people actually clicked on the link.  I will post more later (I have a bid due today and am jamming on that) but here is a picture

Your humble correspondent is roughly in the center, heading at high speed towards a looming equal-and-opposite-direction-type disaster with the camera man.  It is all well and good to fully intellectualize the laws of mechanics in zero-g, and quite another to convince your body's motor control system to accept them.

New Greek Bailout Announced

It is an open question how long this bailout will plug the dam.  I continue to maintain the position that Greece is going to have to be let out of the Euro. Pulling this Band-Aid off a millimeter at a time is delaying any possible recovery of the Greek economy, and really the European economy, indefinitely.  All to protect the solvency of a number of private banks (or perhaps more accurately, to protect the solvency of the counter-parties who wrote the CDO's on all that debt).

Anyway, the interesting part for me is that with this bailout, the total cumulative charity sent the Greek's way by other European countries now exceeds Greek GDP, by a lot.

My Fellow Forbes Contributor Peter Gleick Admits to Stealing Heartland Documents

I have an updated article at Forbes.  A small excerpt

In a written statementPeter Gleick of the Pacific Institute, and vocal advocate of catastrophic man-made global warming theory, has admitted to obtaining certain Heartland Institute internal documents under false premises, and then forwarding these documents to bloggers who were eager to publish them.

Gleick (also a writer on these pages at Forbes) frequently styles himself a defender of scientific integrity (for example), generally equating any criticism of his work or scientific positions with lack of integrity (the logic being that since certain scientists like himself have declared the science to be settled beyond question, laymen or even other scientists who dispute them must be ethically-challenged).

In equating disagreement with lack of integrity, he offers a prime example of what is broken in the climate debate, with folks on both sides working from an assumption that their opponents have deeply flawed, even evil motives.  Gleick frequently led the charge to shift the debate away from science, which he claimed was settled and unassailable, to the funding and motives of his critics.  Note that with this action, Gleick has essentially said that the way to get a more rational debate on climate, which he often says is his number one goal, was not to simplify or better present the scientific arguments but to steal and publish details on a think tank’s donors....

Hit the link to read it all.

Where's Coyote?

Last year at a charity auction I was able to win, at a substantially discounted price, passes for a weight-loss program I would not normally be able to afford.  My daughter and I will be attending this weekend in Las Vegas.  I will post a report next week.

Lesson We Keep Missing in the Financial Crisis: Bite the Bullet Now

Investors have a saying - your first loss is your best loss.  In other words, if you think an investment sucks, swallow your pride, take your lumps, and get out entirely now.

This is NOT how we have dealt with the financial crisis.  Through a series of bailouts, we have tried to keep failing financial institutions and countries on life support.   We have dragged out the reckoning on mortgages, so we still have not had a real clearing in the real estate market.  Worse, we have postponed, even entirely interrupted, financial accountability for those who made bad investments or took on too much debt.

Here is an interesting counter-example - Iceland, which basically went entirely bankrupt along with pretty much all their banks, is on the road to recovery.

Trade is Cooperation, Not War

First, I will admit that this was probably a throwaway line, but it does represent the worldview of a lot of Americans.  In an article showing a funny story about poor preparation of college students, Kevin Drum ended with this:

This does not bode well for our coming economic war with China, does it?

Trade is not war.  Trade is cooperation, exactly the opposite of war.   By definition, it benefits both parties or it would not occur, though of course it can benefit one more than the other.

Treating trade like war is a very dangerous game engaged in by some politicians.  At best, it leads to protectionism that makes the country poorer.  At worst, it can lead to real war.

Consider two examples of a country treating trade like war, both from Japan.  In the 1930's, Japan developed an imperial desire to directly control all the key resources it needed, rather than to trade for them.  The wealthy ports of China and iron-rich Manchuria were early targets.   This desire was compounded when the US used trade embargoes as a policy tool to protest Japanese invasions and occupation of China.  This eventually led to war, with Japan's goal mainly to capture oil and rubber supplies of southeast Asia.  Obviously, this effort led to Japan essentially being left a smoking hole in the ground by late 1945.

The second example was in the 1980's, as Japan, via MITI, actively managed its economy to promote trade.  The "trade as war" vision was common among Japanese leaders of the time.  The results was a gross, government-forced misallocation of resources and bubble in the real estate and stock markets that led to a couple of lost decades.


Keep Your Law Off My Body, err, or Maybe Not

Massachusetts liberals up the penalties for women (and men) using their bodies in ways the government does not like.   Proving once again that the women's groups' motto, "keep your laws off my body," was in fact a fake libertarianism, aimed at exactly one thing -- abortion -- and nothing else.  Those on the Left who mouthed this slogan seem to be A-OK with regulating consensual sex, salt and soda pop consumption, access to medical procedures, health care choices, etc.

Also, this seems to be yet another law that purports to promote women's rights by treating them like they are ignorant rubes unable to make the smallest decisions for themselves.  The implicit assumption in the law is that all prostitutes are in the profession solely due to male compulsion.  This is consistent with a certain philosophy among feminists that all behaviors of women with which they don't agree are not due to a normal excercise of free will by people who simply have different preferences, but are due to some sort of enslavement by the patrimony.

But one high-priced online hooker said she’s no victim — and she doesn’t know any women who are.

“If you are an escort, you go into it of your own free will,” she said. “Absolutely no one is forced into doing this. You don’t have to be affiliated with any agency. I’m not forced to do anything I don’t want.”

What’s more, the new law’s focus on johns, she said, will hurt her lucrative-though-lawless trade.

“If that’s the law that’s been written, then yes, it’s going to impact business,” she said when read the new penalties.

There is no doubt that some women get into situations where they are abused or forced into work or have a large portion of their earnings taken.  But this tends to be a result of the profession being underground, giving women no legal recourse when they are abused and defrauded.  If one really is worried about women's working conditions, the best thing to do is legalize prostitution, instantly giving them access to the legal system to redress wrongs.

What's the Difference?

What is the difference between this hypothetical family budget and the US Government's budget?

One answer is:  eight zeros, because these are essentially the US budget numbers with eight zeros knocked off.

A second answer is:  Prisons and the printing press.  Because the biggest difference is that in the family budget context, everyone sees these numbers as simply insane, while on the national level at least half of folks think they are just fine.  The difference is that the US government can take money from other people at whim and by force, backed by the threat of incarceration.  And if that fails, it can print money  (actually using bits and bytes rather than the printing press, but that's just a detail) to pass the cost of its extravagance onto other people in the form of inflation.

Update:  The chart above probably over-estimates the belt-tightening.  If you really wanted a comparable situation to today's federal government, the example would say that the family spent $37,000 last year, proposed to spend 38, 285 next year, but agreed to only spend 37,900 for a $385 "cut", said cut being claimed despite the fact that actual spending will be $900 more than last year.

Heartland Documents: Whose Biases are Being Revealed Here?

I could not resist commenting on the brouhaha around the stolen Heartland Institute documents in my column at Forbes.  The key one that is the "smoking gun" now appears to be fake.  I wrote in part:

One reason I am fairly certain the document is fake is this line from the supposed skeptic strategy document:

His effort will focus on providing curriculum that shows that the topic of climate change is controversial and uncertain – two key points that are effective at dissuading teachers from teaching science.

For those of us at least somewhat inside the tent of the skeptic community, particularly the science-based ones Heartland has supported in the past, the goal of "dissuading teachers from teaching science" is a total disconnect.  I have never had any skeptic in even the most private of conversations even hint at such a goal.  The skeptic view is that science education vis a vis climate and other environmental matters tends to be shallow, or one-sided, or politicized -- in other words broken in some way and needing repair.  In this way, most every prominent skeptic that works even a bit in the science/data end of things believes him or herself to be supporting, helping, and fixing science.  In fact, many skeptics believe that the continued positive reception of catastrophic global warming theory is a function of the general scientific illiteracy of Americans and points to a need for more and better science education (see here for an overview of the climate debate that does not once use the ad hominem words "myth", "scam" or "lie").

The only people who believe skeptics are anti-science per se, and therefore might believe skeptics would scheme to dissuade teachers from teaching science, are the more political alarmists (a good example was posted today right here at Forbes, which you might want to contrast withthis).  For years, I presume partially in an effort to avoid debate, certain alarmists have taken the ad hominem position that skeptics are anti-science.  And many probably well-meaning alarmists believe this about skeptics (since they may have not actually met any skeptics to know differently).  The person who wrote this fake memo almost had to be an alarmist, and probably was of the middling, more junior sort, the type of person who does not craft the talking points but is a recipient of them and true believer.

At the end I make a sort of bet

 If the strategy memo turns out to be fake as I believe it to be, I am starting the countdown now for the Dan-Rather-esque "fake but accurate" defense of the memo -- ie, "Well, sure, the actual document was faked but we all know it represents what these deniers are really thinking."  This has become a mainstay of post-modern debate, where facts matter less than having the politically correct position.

But in the first update I note the winner may already be delcared

Is Revkin himself seeking to win my fake-but-accurate race?   When presented with the fact that he may have published a fake memo, Revkin wrote:

looking back, it could well be something that was created as a way to assemble the core points in the batch of related docs.

It sounds like he is saying that while the memo is faked, it may have been someones attempt to summarize real Heartland documents.  Fake but accurate!  By the way, I don't think he has any basis for this supposition, as no other documents have come to light with stuff like "we need to stop teachers from teaching science."