Archive for April 2012

And We Climate Skeptics Get Called Evil

From the Gaurdian via Bishop Hill

The Guardian is reporting that UK climate change aid money has been used to fund forced sterilisation programmes in India.

Tens of millions of pounds of UK aid money have been spent on a programme that has forcibly sterilised Indian women and men, the Observer has learned...

Court documents filed in India earlier this month claim that many victims have been left in pain, with little or no aftercare. Across the country, there have been numerous reports of deaths and of pregnant women suffering miscarriages after being selected for sterilisation without being warned that they would lose their unborn babies.

Yet a working paper published by the UK's Department for International Development in 2010 cited the need to fight climate change as one of the key reasons for pressing ahead with such programmes. The document argued that reducing population numbers would cut greenhouse gases, although it warned that there were "complex human rights and ethical issues" involved in forced population control.

The Two Reasons Why People Buy Electric Cars

1.  They want to say something about themselves.  This is the Leonardo DiCaprio buyer, using the electric car to pronounce that he cares about his carbon footprint.  And it looks great parked next to his Gulfstream V.

2.  There is no meter on the electric line you plug into the car.  When you fill your car up with gas, you get to stand there watching the spinning money dial.  There is no parallel experience for plugging in an electric car.  The costs and fossil fuel use of an electric car are not necessarily less than the same size (e.g. subcompact) gasoline-engine car, they are just better hidden.

Owners of electric cars are not smarter about managing the energy costs of their driving, they are substantially more ignorant.  I know exactly how many dollars of gas I have put in my car this month.  How many electric car owners have the first idea how many dollars of electricity they put in theirs?

A Modest Proposal

The PPACA instituted a cap on health insurance spending such that at least 80% of health insurance premiums must be spent on care. Academics like Elizabeth Warren love this idea.  So here is my modest proposal -- let's require that public universities spend at least 80% of tuition on classroom instruction.  If they spend more than 20% on administration and overhead, it gets rebated back to students.  Having nearly universally supported such a provision in the PPACA, academics surely can't oppose this, can they?

Wag the Dog

I will fight when my liberty is truly threatened.  But I have absolutely no trust in politicians to determine when this is the case.

Which is why my reaction to this is, Oh Crap!

I am sure it is a total coincidence that, after 35 years of butting heads with Iran, this is occurring during a sputtering economy and within months of a Presidential election.

PS-  I watched Wag the Dog the other night.  Every time Dustin Hoffman said "he f*cked a Firefly girl" all I could think of was Gina Torres, Morena Baccarin, Jewel Staite, and Summer Glau.  Well worth losing the Presidency for.

College Baseball Recruiting, Part 2

Back in August, when I wrote the first section of this guide, I was sitting in Long Island at a baseball recruiting camp.  Now that my son has completed the process, I want to share the rest of our experience for others who, like myself, have an athletic kid but no idea how the college sports recruiting process works.

Some reminders.  First, this is baseball-specific -- other sports work differently, I presume.  Second, this is the experience of a kid with good baseball skills but not good enough to have been scouted by a Division I baseball power like Texas or Arizona State.  Third, my son was not looking for scholarship money.  He was looking to play baseball in college, and to parlay his baseball talent into admission in a top academic school.  We were looking at division III (DIII from now on) schools like Williams, Amherst, Haverford, Pomona and a few DI Ivies.  Finally, our experience is heavily colored by the fact that he plays for one of the smallest high schools in the state, so getting attention and recruiting advice was much harder than if he had played for a baseball powerhouse.

Here were some of the lessons from our first episode:

  • The DIII baseball recruiting process does not really even begin until the summer between Junior and Senior year.  My son landed a good spot without a single coach even knowing he existed as of June 1 before his Senior year of high school.  As late as January of his senior year he was still getting emails from coaches asking him if he might be interested in their school.
  • In baseball, coaches mostly ignore high school stats and records unless it is a school with which they are very familiar.  They use their eyes to pick talent - ie from video or watching kids play at recruiting camps  (more on the video and camps in our first episode)
  • As we will see in a minute, only about three things my son did in recruiting really mattered -- see the first episode for more detail on what we did
    • He proactively contacted coaches to tell them he was interested
    • He sent coaches a 5-10 minute video of himself pitching and hitting.  We made it from game film but I think most of the videos are just taken in a cage (you can see a bunch of these on YouTube, or email me and I will give you a link to ours)
    • He went to several camps, which fell into two categories:  School camps, at schools he was really interested in; and multi-school camps run by third parties.  Of the latter, I am convinced the Headfirst Honor Roll camps are the best if you are interested in DIII or DI "smart schools" (e.g. Ivies, Duke, UVA, Stanford).

OK, so we left off with my son at a two-day baseball camp.  My son sent out emails afterwards to the coaches that were at the camp and from schools in which he was interested.  Basically he said "nice to have met you, still really interested in your school; now that you have seen me, I'd like to know what you think."  He had a few good conversations with coaches at the camp, but after that we really did not hear much until after Labor Day.  In retrospect, this delay is probably because the coaches have lots of camps and they want to synthesize their prospect list after all the camps before talking in earnest with players.

We really did not know what to expect.  Would coaches call, and if they did, what were the next steps?  It was only later that we learned what outcome we should be hoping to hear:  Basically, each coach is given some spots by the admissions office (the average seems to be 5 for the baseball guys).  If your kid can make that list, then two good things happen:  a) it means the coach wants the kid on the team. And b) it generally means the kid will get a good shove to help him through the admissions process, not an inconsequential thing at a school like Princeton or Amherst.

Here is what happened next.  This was just our experience, but since it was repeated at five or six schools, almost identically, its a good bet this is a fairly standard process at colleges with high admission requirements:

  • The coach asks my son to send his transcript and SAT scores early to the Admissions office.
  • The Admissions office vets these, and gives the coach a reading -- for us, that reading was generally "if you put this kid on your short list, coach, he very likely will get in."
  • The coach then passed this message to my kid, saying there are no guarantees (etc. etc.) but all the kids with this same read from the admissions office who have been on his list have gotten in in the past.

BUT, there is a bit of a catch.  The coach will say that he can only put my kid on his list if we will commit to applying early decision.  Early decision (ED) means that one applies in November and hears in December (so well earlier than the April 1 regular admit date), but it is a binding commitment to attend if admitted.  This means that one can only apply to one school early decision.  Coaches aren't dumb.  They can't afford to waste the few recruiting spots they have on kids who aren't going to come.  So there is a quid pro quo - the coach will commit to the kid and help him through admissions, but the kid has to commit to the program.

But we only learned this later.  When coaches started calling, we weren't sure what to expect.   A couple called early to say that my son would not be on their list.  I have to give kudos to Coach Bradley from Princeton -- he called and told my son he wouldn't make the list.  It was not the news we wanted to hear, but he was up front and honest with us so we did not waste our time.  He was also the one who really explained all the stuff I wrote above, so we were more knowledgeable when other coaches called.

Soon, however, we were getting floods of interested contacts.  Many were from the coaches he had proactively contacted.  Some were from schools we never had heard of, and some were from very good schools but in parts of the country that weren't in his college search area (e.g. Kenyon, Grinnell, Carlton in the midwest).  Many of these coaches asked for him to come to campus (on our own dime, they were not paying) for a visit, including an overnight stay with someone on the team.  Eventually my son scheduled visits at Wesleyan, Bowdoin, Vassar, and Haverford.  He chose these in some cases for the school and in some cases because he really liked the coach.  All four of these offered him a spot on the short list for admissions if he was willing to go ED.

It was at this point that we hit the highlight of the whole process.  Like many parents, I just want to see my kid gain life skills.   My son will never be a good sales person.  He is really, really hesitant to cold call adults to ask them for something.  This process was good for him in that sense, because he began to see the fruits of having proactively cold-called these coaches earlier in the process.  But I still had to poke and prod him to do it.

However, with these other visits set up, my son was apparently thinking "these would all be good schools, but they are not in the top tier of my aspirations."  He was thinking about skipping ED, and trusting his grades and resume to the regular admissions process so he could still take a shot at his top choices (places like Princeton and Stanford).

He decided that the ideal choice for him would be Amherst - he loved the school, it was top-notch academically, had a great baseball tradition and an engaging coach.  That was the school he would be willing to go ED for.  He had met the Amherst coach on a school visit and at camp and Coach Hamm had been very nice.  But in the Fall,we had not heard anything from him.  (I have to insert a story here -- way back in March my son was on the Amherst campus and dropped by without an appointment at Coach Hamm's office.  At that point, Hamm did not know who my son was -- for all he knew he might have been the strikeout leader in T-ball.  But he spent a whole hour with Nic showing him around the facility and later at practice.)

This is where the breakthrough came.  Without my prodding or even involvement, my son contacted Coach Hamm one more time, to say he had not heard from Amherst but he was still really interested and he would be touring other nearby colleges in a week or so and would still love to meet with him.

We will never know exactly what happened.  Perhaps the coach was late in kicking off his recruiting.  Perhaps another kid on his list dropped out.  Perhaps he just wanted to sit back and see which kids were the hungriest.  Whatever the case, Coach Hamm wrote back immediately and said he would love to meet my son on campus  (he actually changed around a trip to be there).  The process described above played out (grades to the Admissions office, offer to be on the "list", ED application) and long story short, Nic will be at Amherst next year.

As I mentioned earlier, there was no money offered for baseball (nor could there be in leagues like the Ivies or the NESCAC which ban athletic scholarships).  Amherst has a great financial aid program, and there are great possibilities for scholarships, grants, and tuition discounts -- but these are offered to all admits, not just to athletes.

I hope this is helpful to some folks who are just starting this process -- I know it would have been a huge help to us to understand in advance.

Postscript:  One of the hardest things in the world is to get a good honest reading on your son's talent, particularly if he does not play for a top high school team.  People have told my son that he should not have gone DIII, he could be playing DI or he should be in front of pro scouts.  You have to take all this stuff with a grain of salt.  Sure, you don't want to cut off an opportunity, but on the flip side, sort of like the fox and the cheese, you don't want to lose a good thing chasing the illusion of something better (we know folks this happened to in other sports).

I don't know how to solve this, maybe people have experiences they can put in the comments.  For us, being from a small school, several summers playing club ball in a wood bat leagues with the big school kids finally convinced us our son could play at a high level (I say convinced us as parents, our son does not lack confidence so he always knew).

PS#2:  Fun Amherst facts

March of the Protected Groups

From California State contract language I am reviewing:

During the performance of this Contract, Concessionaire and its employees shall not unlawfully discriminate, harass, or allow harassment against any employee, applicant for employment, or any member of the public because of sex, sexual orientation, race, color, religious creed, marital status, need for family and medical care leave, ancestry, national origin, medical condition (cancer/genetic characteristics), age (40 and above), disability (mental and physical) including HIV and AIDS, need for pregnancy disability leave, or need for reasonable accommodation.

This is at least double the length of such passages in contracts I saw 8 years ago.  I wonder what the list will look like in another 10 years?

This used to be simple -- treat everyone equally.  But this is no longer sufficient to conform.  New groups added to the list require accommodations of one sort or another.  Non-discrimination requirements have morphed for us from "treat everyone the same" to "here is a list of groups with special privileges."  Generally, it's not that hard at present to fulfill but who knows how onerous it will be in a decade or two?

The Perfect Example of Politics over Policy

I don't think you could find any better example of paying off one's political constituents at the cost of out groups than this:

Congressional Democrats and the White House have agreed to pay for a bill to freeze student loan interest rates for a year by raising taxes on so-called S Corporations, according to a top Senate Democrat and senior House and Senate aides, but Republicans said the tax increase may ensure the bill’s defeat in the Senate.

Apparently, the taxpayer-subsidized rate of 3.4% on student loans is set to go up to a less-subsidized 6.8% in a couple of months.    So to keep this subsidy rolling, Congress is proposing to tax S-Corporations, mainly used by entrepreneurs and small businesses  (disclosure:  including mine) to avoid double taxation of business income.

I don't think its possible to come up with a real policy reason that money should be taken away from entrepreneurs and given to 18-year-olds so they can overpay for college, especially since most of the subsidy for student loans is captured by universities that have simply raised tuition to soak up each successive college subsidy program.  Note that Congress is instituting a permanent tax hike on entrepreneurs in order to give just a 1-year break (ie through the next election) to students.

But this is the perfect political bill.  It takes money from a group likely to be lost to the Administration in the next election anyway (e.g. entrepreneurs and small business people) and transfers it to a group that is very likely to vote for Obama if it votes at all, but needs to be energized to get to the polls.  The Obama Administration was obviously watching the Occupy movement carefully, and noted that much of the angst seemed to be aimed at student loans.

Expect similar payoffs to other constituencies over the next few months.  Oops, here is one already.

Wal-Mart's Bribery Problems

Walter Olson has been writing a lot about Wal-Mart and FCPA.  I don't have a lot to add except my own experience working for a large corporation in third world countries.

I worked for a manufacturer of industrial equipment for years.  In most countries in Europe and North America, part of our strategy was a dedicated in-house sales force that could provide a high level of technical support.  But we went away from that strategy when we went into third world countries, just the place where we needed more rather than less technical support for our customers.

Why?  A big reason was the FCPA.  There are many countries where it is simply impossible to do business without paying bribes.  Bribes are absolutely wired into the regulatory process.  In Nigeria, public officials are paid less with the expectation they will make it up on bribes, similar to the way we pay waiters who get tips.  The only way to legally work in these countries is to work through third party resellers and distributors and other such partners, and then tightly close your eyes to how they get things done.

What always ticks me off about these cases is the fake attitude of naivite in the press that seems to be constantly amazed that corporations might have to pay bribes to do basic things we take for granted here, like get the water turned on or have your goods put on a ship.  But in fact reporters can't be this naive, as they almost certainly have to deal with many of the same things in their business.  I would love to see an accounting of the grease payments the NY Times pays in a year in foreign countries.

I think most people when they hear these foreign bribery cases assume corporations were paying to get a special advantage or to escape some sort of fundamental regulation.  And this is possibly the case with Wal-Mart, but more likely they were simply paying because that is what you have to do just to function at all.

Wherein I Actually Advocate Regulation and the Precautionary Principle

Can we please make sure no one is able to put an AI into this thing.   We definitely don't want it to become self-aware.

Ken at Popehat Fires Off Another Classic Letter

There is nothing I find so entertaining as when Ken at Popehat fires off a legal letter in response to a particularly ludicrous legal action or threat thereof.  Check this one out.  I am not a fan of reality TV but I would tune in for a weekly show featuring Ken pouncing on yet another asshat.

PS-  the comments are hilarious, with random women throwing themselves at Ken.

Media: Turning Isolated Bizarre Incidents into National Trends

Teens ditilling hand sanitizer

By the way, why is it so easy for the media to see, say, back room abortions as a symptom of prohibitions on abortion but not see stories like this in the same light.

Who Said Economics Are Not Useful?

Wonder why no one thought of this before?  Prisoner's Dilemma as a game show.  Two players with two choices with rewards structured similar to a classic prisoners dilemma game (though not quite -- to be exactly the same the return of steal-steal should be higher than the returns of picking split in split-steal).

What Problem Are We Trying To Fix?

Do you ever wonder exactly what problem this Administration is trying to fix, beyond their bureaucrats' concerns that there is some corner of the economy over which they don't have authority?

A proposal from the Obama administration to prevent children from doing farm chores has drawn plenty of criticism from rural-district members of Congress. But now it’s attracting barbs from farm kids themselves.

The Department of Labor is poised to put the finishing touches on a rule that would apply child-labor laws to children working on family farms, prohibiting them from performing a list of jobs on their own families’ land. ...

The new regulations, first proposed August 31 by Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, would also revoke the government’s approval of safety training and certification taught by independent groups like 4-H and FFA, replacing them instead with a 90-hour federal government training course.

Change:  We won't satisfied until every single American reaches voting age without a bit of work experience.

An Amazing Hypothesis: Supernovas and Earth's Climate

A reader sent this abstract of a Henrik Svensmark study with a one word caption:  Wow!  I agree.  The notion that "local" (and by local, we mean unimaginably far away) supernova affecting the Earth's climate is certainly creative.  Haven't even read the thing so certainly not buying it yet, but it certainly is an amazing hypothesis.

Observations of open star clusters in the solar neighbourhood are used to calculate local supernova (SN) rates for the past 510 Myr. Peaks in the SN rates match passages of the Sun through periods of locally increased cluster formation which could be caused by spiral arms of the Galaxy. A statistical analysis indicates that the Solar system has experienced many large short-term increases in the flux of Galactic cosmic rays (GCR) from nearby SNe. The hypothesis that a high GCR flux should coincide with cold conditions on the Earth is borne out by comparing the general geological record of climate over the past 510 Myr with the fluctuating local SN rates. Surprisingly, a simple combination of tectonics (long-term changes in sea level) and astrophysical activity (SN rates) largely accounts for the observed variations in marine biodiversity over the past 510 Myr. An inverse correspondence between SN rates and carbon dioxide (CO2) levels is discussed in terms of a possible drawdown of CO2 by enhanced bio-productivity in oceans that are better fertilized in cold conditions – a hypothesis that is not contradicted by data on the relative abundance of the heavy isotope of carbon, 13C.

I was initially very skeptical of Svensmark's work attempting to link cosmic rays to cloud formation, with that affect acting as an amplifier (in terms of warming and cooling effects) of changes in solar output.  I must say that over time, that work has survived replication effects pretty well.

A Victory of Sorts

This is a nice but probably meaningless gesture to protecting basic Constitutional rights (Hat tip to a reader)

Just a week after the Virginia legislature approved a law to refuse compliance with NDAA“indefinite detentions,” an Arizona law committing the Grand Canyon State to noncompliance with any attempted federal kidnapping under the NDAA now stands just a signature away from implementation.

I guess I would be more thrilled if I thought the state would have passed this if there were a Republican in the White House, but I can't make myself believe it.

Shopping for Health Care

I am exhausted with folks who have never tried to shop for health care telling me that it can't be done, despite the fact that I do it all the time and achieve substantial savings.  This is a meme developped and maintained solely to support government power by declaring that there is a market failure in the pricing mechanics in the health care industry that can only  be solved through regulation and price controls.  I wrote in response

I agree that the pricing in health care is often arbitrary and capricious.  Of course some suppliers are going to try to soak third party payers.  But I don't think simply changing the payer (from private to public) or having a government bureaucracy set prices for  millions of line items is the solution.  My diagnosis is that health care lacks the one thing we have for most every other product or service:  shopping.

Now, you try to head off this argument with a few folks who claim shopping is impossible in health care.  But that is absurd.  There is a large and growing community of us who have real health insurance, rather than pre-paid medical plans, which means we have high deductibles.  We pay all of our regular expenses out of pocket, and maintain health insurance for large, unpredictable, potentially bankrupting expenses.

I must admit that shopping for health care seemed odd and a bit intimidating at first, having lived for years in the world of gold-plated, pay-for-everything corporate health care accounts.  But it really is not that hard.  I have consistently knocked down the cost of everything from x-rays for my kids' fractures to colonoscopies by a half to two-thirds.  I am now used to doctors and providers having that second price book under the counter they go to if they know you don't have a third-party payer they can soak.  We always research and ask for generics.  We think twice before accepting the need for an expensive test, like a MRI, and price shop it if we have to have one.  I push back on my dentist who tries to x-ray my teeth every few months.  I have many friends that saved a ton of money on oncology treatments by just doing a little shopping.

I am exhausted with academics and writers who have never tried to shop for health care telling me it is impossible.  Many of us do it, and there are more and more resources out there for us.  Sure, there are certain things I am not going to have the time or ability to price shop -- if I am lying on my back having a heart attack, my wife (hopefully) is not going to check rates at the hospitals.  But it is a fraud to extrapolate from this minority of health care situations to all health care expenditures.

The other argument is used is that at the beginning of a health care interaction we may not know exactly what care is needed.  So what?  The same is true of auto repair, but I don't blithely allow the repairs to proceed at any cost just because I didn't know up front what the diagnosis would be.  I get an estimate when each new problem is found, and I have on several occasions interrupted a car repair, told them their price was too high on certain repairs, and went elsewhere for the repair or deferred it entirely.

Let's suppose there is some sort of market failure for 10-20% of health care charges where price shopping is impossible.  Then let's discuss government regulatory approaches for those situations.  But for the other 80-90%, we should be structuring a health care system where consumers provide the price regulation, as they do in nearly every other industry, by shopping.

As a note, some people are exhausted by the idea of shopping.  My first response is, so what?  Get over it.  We are not going to take over a whole industry just to free you from a bit of hassle.  The second response is that research shows that only a small percentage of buyers need to be price shoppers to enforce price discipline.  I generally trust that Amazon has low prices and don't always check them, because I know there are much, much more rabid people who do care and do check.

Over time, I have found physicians who are both sympathetic and cooperative with this approach and actively help us minimize the cost of our care.  Its just amazing -- somehow we accept this image as a doctor being above all this cost stuff, in fact with considerations of price and cost being corrupting to their mission of keeping us healthy.  Imagine a car mechanic that took that attitude -- "I'm the expert here and you will pay whatever it costs to do what I say you need to do."  Would you fire the mechanic and find a better and cheaper one, or would you suggest that what we really need is a massive new government bureaucracy to set prices for every imaginable repair a car might need.

Sometimes I suspect much of the support for government health care is from people who see shopping and taking responsibility for their own care as too much of a hassle.

Police Don't Like It When The Shoe Is On The Other Foot

Via Radley Balko, certain Dallas residents are upset that they are getting "nitpicked" for speeding and other traffic violations caught by camera.  Normally, I would be quite sympathetic.  But not in this case.  You see, those who are upset about getting punished for violating traffic laws are Dallas police:

The Dallas Police Department has suspended a special unit’s regular reviews of dash-cam video from patrol cars because officers felt they were being nitpicked with disciplinary action for minor infractions such as speeding.

The recordings and the reviews are meant to provide evidence when patrol officers go renegade, and they are especially helpful in excessive-force cases. They’re also crucial for protecting officers falsely accused of wrongdoing.

In 11 months of operation, the unit reviewing the video found numerous examples of officers exceeding the department’s speed requirements, failing to turn on their lights and sirens or failing to stop at stop signs or red lights during chases or when responding to other emergency calls.

While in many cases these actions are against department policy, police commanders say they became concerned that some supervisors were taking a heavy-handed approach to routine problems, meting out discipline rather than finding ways to change behavior.

“The folklore among officers is, ‘I’m afraid to go five miles over the speed limit because I’ll be disciplined,’” said Chief David Brown. He ordered a cooling-off period for the review process while the department takes a look at what can be done to ensure that it is fair and reasonable.

As someone who has gotten a ticket from a police officer for going less than five miles over the speed limit, I can think of a two word response:  Equal protection.

While some supervisors informed of violations have simply counseled officers to be more cautious, Dallas Police Association officials say at least a couple of dozen officers were disciplined, mostly with minor write-ups, for speeding violations.

Well, since police officers like all public officials are impossible to fire, this does not mean squat.  I don't see any fine here, or points on their license, penalties absolutely everyone else would face.  A better spin for this article would be "police violations of traffic law treated far more leniently than those by anyone else."  And even with this lenient treatment, they still shut it down as too onerous.

All that being said, the video review program Dallas was doing is a good idea.  It should continue, and if traffic law enforcement is getting in the way of the program continuing, I would be willing to let the officers slide if only to catch more substantial violations in how they interact with the public.


Irony Alert!

From the Washington Post

President Obama will issue an executive order Monday that will allow U.S. officials for the first time to impose sanctions against foreign nationals found to have used new technologies, from cellphone tracking to Internet monitoring, to help carry out grave human rights abuses.

LOL, Foreign nationals identified by NSA communications monitoring as violating this order will be pinpointed by satellites and surveillance drones and hit with a cruise missile.

Hard to picture any American President in the last 20 years signing this with a straight face.   Is there a Federal law enforcement agency or major police force in this country who is NOT violating this order, had it applied to American citizens?

Actions Speak Louder than Words

The administration claims that the country really loves the new health care law and will be even more thrilled with it once it fully takes effect.  If this is the case, why are they twisting the law to the breaking point trying to avoid implementation of the PPACA this year?  If the administration truly believed the PPACA would be well received by the majority of Americans, they would be bending over backwards to see it put into effect before the election.  Instead, they are doing the opposite.

Clearly, Obama would consider the PPACA his largest legislative accomplishment.  I am trying to remember a President who was so reluctant to run on his largest legislative achievement.  Maybe Adams with the Alien and Sedition acts?

Weird, Who Would Have Predicted This?

I wrote on the day of Obama's inauguration:

I will be suitably thrilled if the Obama administration renounces some of the creeping executive power grabs of the last 16 years, but he has been oddly silent about this.  It seems that creeping executive power is a lot more worrisome when someone else is in power.

From Charlie Savage in the New York Times:

As a senator and presidential candidate, he had criticized George W. Bush for flouting the role of Congress. And during his first two years in the White House, when Democrats controlled Congress, Mr. Obama largely worked through the legislative process to achieve his domestic policy goals.

But increasingly in recent months, the administration has been seeking ways to act without Congress. Branding its unilateral efforts “We Can’t Wait,” a slogan that aides said Mr. Obama coined at that strategy meeting, the White House has rolled out dozens of new policies — on creating jobs for veterans, preventing drug shortages, raising fuel economy standards, curbing domestic violence and more.

Each time, Mr. Obama has emphasized the fact that he is bypassing lawmakers. When he announced a cut in refinancing fees for federally insured mortgages last month, for example, he said: “If Congress refuses to act, I’ve said that I’ll continue to do everything in my power to act without them.”

Finally, I Wrote A Semi-Clever Headline

I am the worst headline-writer ever.  Most of my posts have titles like "update on climate debate."  However, I finally wrote one at Forbes I kind of liked.  I wrote last week about Steve Zwick's article hoping to assign the catastrophic costs of climate change to those ill-intentioned skeptics.   He has walked that back a bit, at least the invective about letting people's house burn down, and I have some additional comments in response.

Celebrating Earth Day

Unfortunately, the combination of April being our busiest month every year (when all our seasonal operations start up), the addition of operations in two new states (which requires a myriad of registrations, permissions, licenses, etc), and several unusual very late bid packages for the operation of parks means that I am working on Sunday.

I spent my first hour of Earth Day, appropriately enough, fiddling with my building's computer HVAC system, trying to get the air conditioning (normally off on a Sunday) turned on.  I was finally successful, so I can now enjoy a comfortable Earth Day even in nearly 100 degree Phoenix weather, thanks to modern technology and a generous helping of fossil fuel combustion.

Another Reason to Love Fracking

Anything Vladimir Putin fears can't be all bad

Whilst it is exceedingly difficult to summon up much sympathy for either Russia’s state-owned natural gas monopoly Gazprom or Russian President-elect Vladimir Putin, the dynamic rise of natural gas produced by hydraulic fracturing, or ‘fracking,” has raised alarm bells in the highest reaches of the Kremlin.


Because Gazprom’s European customers, tired of being ripped off by Gazprom, are avidly exploring the possibilities of undertaking fracking to develop their own sources of the “blue gold,” and nowhere is interest higher than in the Russian Federation’s neighbors Ukraine, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria and China.

Damned if You Do, Damned if You Don't

I am increasingly convinced that contradictory regulations that make it impossible even for people of goodwill to be in compliance are a feature, not a bug of the current system.

…Common sense dictates that any medication that carries with it a warning that it “may cause drowsiness” or that the patient should “use caution” if operating machinery may pose a risk in the workplace. It is for this reason that many employers adopt a policy requiring employees to self report the use of prescription pain killers. This is especially important in potentially dangerous workplaces such as manufacturing and construction.

In a recent action that defies common sense, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has taken the position that such policies are unlawful under the Americans With Disabilities Act. The ADA prohibits an employer from conducting “medical inquiries” without a business reason to do so. In EEOC v. Product Fabricators, Inc., an action in federal court in Minnesota, the EEOC required a manufacturing employer to abandon its policy of encouraging employees to inform supervisors if they are under the influence of narcotic pain killers such as Vicodin. The EEOC took the position that an employer cannot ask about prescription pain killer usage unless it has “objective” evidence that an employee is impaired on the job.

This places employers in a very difficult position….

Walter Olson also has comments at the link.

A Vivid Reminder of How The Climate Debate is Broken

My Forbes column is up this week.  I really did not want to write about climate, but when Forbes conctributor Steve Zwick wrote this, I had to respond

We know who the active denialists are – not the people who buy the lies, mind you, but the people who create the lies.  Let’s start keeping track of them now, and when the famines come, let’s make them pay.  Let’s let their houses burn.  Let’s swap their safe land for submerged islands.  Let’s force them to bear the cost of rising food prices.

They broke the climate.  Why should the rest of us have to pay for it?

The bizarre threats and ad hominem attacks have to stop.  Real debate is necessary based on an assumption that our opponents may be wrong, but are still people of good will.  And we need to debate what really freaking matters:

Instead of screwing around in the media trying to assign blame for the recent US heat wave to CO2 and threatening to burn down the houses of those who disagree with us, we should be arguing about what matters.  And the main scientific issue that really matters is understanding climate feedback.  I won't repeat all of the previous posts (see here and here), but this is worth repeating:

Direct warming from the greenhouse gas effect of CO2 does not create a catastrophe, and at most, according to the IPCC, might warm the Earth another degree over the next century.  The catastrophe comes from the assumption that there are large net positive feedbacks in the climate system that multiply a small initial warming from CO2 many times.  It is this assumption that positive feedbacks dominate over negative feedbacks that creates the catastrophe.  It is telling that when prominent supporters of the catastrophic theory argue the science is settled, they always want to talk about the greenhouse gas effect (which most of us skeptics accept), NOT the positive feedback assumption.  The assumption of net positive climate feedback is not at all settled -- in fact there is as much evidence the feedback is net negative as net positive -- which may be why catastrophic theory supporters seldom if ever mention this aspect of the science in the media.

I said I would offer a counter-proposal to Mr. Zwick's that skeptics bear the costs of climate change.  I am ready to step up to the cost of any future man-made climate change if Mr. Zwick is ready to write a check for the lost economic activity and increased poverty caused by his proposals.  We are at an exciting point in history where a billion people, or more, in Asia and Africa and Latin America are at the cusp of emerging from millenia of poverty.  To do so, they need to burn every fossil fuel they can get their hands on, not be forced to use rich people's toys like wind and solar.  I am happy to trade my home for an imaginary one that Zwick thinks will be under water.  Not only is this a great way to upgrade to some oceanfront property, but I am fully confident the crazy Al Gore sea level rise predictions are a chimera, since sea levels have been rising at a fairly constant rate since the end of the little ice age..  In return, perhaps Mr. Zwick can trade his job for one in Asia that disappears when he closes the tap on fossil fuels?

I encourage you to read it all, including an appearance by the summer of the shark.