Archive for July 2012

Drug Enforcement Outrage of the Day

The government commandeers a company's driver and truck for a drug smuggling operation without the company's knowledge or permission (and without any compensation).  The innocent and apparently overly helpful driver then dies in a hail of bullets that also riddle the truck as authorities screw up the bust.  In the process, police are wounded when they end up shooting at each other.  What a mess.

If California Gets To Waste $100 Billion on High Speed Rail, Then We Want to as Well

David Zetland sent me this writeup on a plan I had not heard of -- apparently Amtrak has a $150 billion plan to improve speeds on the northeast corridor

Take, for example, Amtrak's proposal to bore a 10-mile rail tunnel underneath Philadelphia. As Steve Stofka, a transport blogger, explains, this proposal would require the most expensive type of tunnel imaginable—"It is freaking expensive to bore a ten-mile-long tunnel through an alluvial floodplain under a highly urbanised area—and to maintain it, since it will reside below the water table," Mr Stofka writes. At $10 billion, he notes that the project would be about three times as expensive per mile as the Gotthard Base Tunnel under the Swiss Alps. And all this is for marginal improvements in speed and access. The tracks around and through Philadelphia aren't, generally, big obstacles to high-speed rail—the tunnels in and around Baltimore, Maryland are. It would be much cheaper to replace Baltimore's terrible tunnels than to build a fancy new one under Philadelphia.

The Philadelphia tunnel, unfortunately, isn't even the worst part of Amtrak's plan. That honour goes to a $7 billion renovation of Washington's Union Station (pictured), which Slate's Matthew Yglesias rightly calls"insane".

Um, It Seems We Have Misplaced $2 Billion

I do a lot of work with California State Parks, being a concessionaire in some of their parks, so I have been following the various scandals in that agency closely.  One part of the scandal was that CSP apparently hid something like $54 million in reserve funds from the legislature.  I wondered how it was possible for the state to not know there was $54 million lying around un-reported.

It seems like we have a partial solution to my quandary.  It is possible to misplace $54 million when you also misplace another $2 billion.

More than $2 billion in California taxpayer money has apparently been stashed in hundreds of special funds unaccounted for by the state Department of Finance, a newspaper reported on Friday.

An examination of more than 500 special fund accounts, like the $54 million discrepancy in state parks money, showed a $2.3 billion "discrepancy" between state controller and Department of Finance numbers, according to the San Jose Mercury News (

No one checks the controller's figures, so the difference wasn't caught.

The analysis showed at least 17 accounts appear to have significantly more reserve cash than what was reported to the Finance Department.

The violent crime victim restitution fund, for instance, was off by $29 million, and a low-cost child health insurance fund was off by $30 million. The fund that rewards people who recycle bottles and cans was $113 million off.

State finance officials operate under a  longtime honor system. The controller's figures were never checked and oversight groups didn't catch the discrepancies even though the numbers are publicly available on two state websites.

LOL, politicians' "honor".  We can see what that is worth.

Attention Lawyers, We need a Hand, Not a Brain: A Licensing Parable

Several sites have reposted this Craigslist ad, gasping in shock at it as evidence of massive foreclosure fraud

We are a collection agency/debt buyer. What we are looking for is a part time attorney to work for us as our corporate counsel, on our payroll, about 5 to 6 hours a week. This is a short term employment arrangement, no longer than 90 to 120 days.

Your job will be to sign pleadings, praecipe for entry of appearances, praecipe for writ of execution, and garnishment orders. Our paralegal will prepare all paperwork for your signature. This is very standard stuff for us.

If you are an attorney looking for challenging legal work, this is not for you. WE DO NOT NEED F LEE BAILEY- we are fee shopping. If you passed your boards with a D+, and you can sign your name, you possess all the credentials required for this job. If this opportunity interests you, please feel free to reply to this email with a brief description of who you are, when you got your law license, and what you will be needing from us in the way of compensation.

I would instead offer it as a lesson in the stupidity of state-enforced professional licensing arrangements.  Let me rewrite it:

We have all the legal knowlege we need.  We know exactly what the forms look like and mean.  We have written all the documents and tested them over time during our long presence in this business and we know them to meet our legal needs.   We have no need, in other words, for legal help.

However, attorneys have gotten together and created an attorneys guild, and, what's more, have convinced the government to pass laws that require membership in the guild to perform certain gate-keeping functions.  In our case, we need a member of the guild to sign some forms to make them legal, both because the guild has strong influence and because certain folks have convinced everyone that all mortgage pain in this country came from having a machine perform this signature function rather than a flesh and blood hand.  So we need a flesh and blood hand rather than a machine to sign foreclosure documents.  Unfortunately, that hand has to be attached to a brain that has passed the bar exam, and because the guild is pretty good at limiting its membership, we expect to have to pay an absurd amount of money for this trivial function that could be duplicated by a six-year-old (and used to be performed by a simple $100 machine).

Don't get us wrong -- if we were on trial for our lives or facing a nasty, complicated lawsuit or wanted to draft a custom contract to protect our interests, we would be very happy to consider the opinion of third party licensing groups as to the merit of a particular attorney.  Ironically, though, even then current licensing would be absurd, for in this case it would not greatly exceed our quality requirements (as it does for signing our foreclosure paperwork) but it would vastly undershoot our need due diligence needs.   Perhaps there is some legal function for which attending an ABA-accredited school and passing the bar exam is the perfect level of quality assurance, but we have not found it yet.

Hitting the Irony Meter Hard

Recent study on spotted owls, the protection of which was the ostensible reason for shutting down the northwest timber industry:

Whatever short-term drawbacks there may be from logging, thinning, or other fuel reduction activities in areas with high fire risk would be more than offset by improved forest health and fire-resistance characteristics, the scientists said, which allow more spotted owl habitat to survive in later decades.

Decades of fire suppression and a "hands-off" approach to management on many public lands have created overcrowded forests that bear little resemblance to their historic condition – at the expense of some species such as the northern spotted owl, researchers said.

The findings were published in Forest Ecology and Management, a professional journal, by researchers from Oregon State University and Michigan State University.

"For many years now, for species protection as well as other reasons, we've avoided almost all management on many public forest lands," said John Bailey, an associate professor in the Department of Forest Engineering, Resources and Management at Oregon State University.

"The problem is that fire doesn't respect the boundaries we create for wildlife protection," Bailey said. "Given the current condition of Pacific Northwest forests, the single biggest threat facing spotted owls and other species is probably stand-replacement wildfire."

Next, we will find out that spray cans are needed to save the ozone.  hat tip

Weird Stuff in RSS Feed

Some people's RSS feed got a bunch of random comments from 4 years ago in them today.  Not sure why.  Been tweaking around with the site and site security, but can't imagine what caused it.  Hopefully it was a one-time WordPress brain-fart, because I am really not in the mood to debug some messy problem right now.

Land Use Regulation and Income Inequality

I don't have time to comment or peruse the study in depth, but this looks interesting.  From Randal O'Toole:

Harvard economists have proven one of the major theses of American Nightmare, which is that land-use regulation is a major cause of growing income inequality in the United States. By restricting labor mobility, the economists say, such regulation has played a “central role” in income disparities.

When measured on a state-by-state basis, American income inequality declined at a steady rate of 1.8 percent per year from 1880 to 1980. The slowing and reversal of this long-term trend after 1980 is startling. Not by coincidence, the states with the strongest land-use regulations–those on the Pacific Coast and in New England–began such regulation in the 1970s and 1980s.

Forty to 75 percent of the decline in inequality before 1880, the Harvard economists say, was due to migration of workers from low-income states to high-income states. The freedom to easily move faded after 1980 as many of the highest-income states used land-use regulation to make housing unaffordable to low-income workers. Average incomes in those states grew, leading them to congratulate themselves for attracting high-paid workers when what they were really doing is driving out low- and (in California, at least) middle-income workers.

As Virginia Postrel puts it, “the best-educated, most-affluent, most politically influential Americans like th[e] result” of economic segregation, because it “keeps out fat people with bad taste.” Postrel refers to these well-educated people as “elites,” but I simply call them “middle class.”

I have not read the study, but I think the word "proven" in the first sentence likely goes to far.  Economic systems are way too complex to absolutely show one variable among millions causes another.  I am convinced that the way we have regulated the housing market and promoted home ownership has reduced labor mobility.

A Sure Sign A Country Is Headed for a Crash

...when they ban short-selling.  As a response to economic problems, banning short selling is roughly equivalent to banning criticism of the government during a political crisis.  Or perhaps more accurately, its like trying to improve poll results by not polling people with negative opinions.   Short-selling has utility for the actual traders involved because it helps them achieve whatever financial or risk-management goals they might have.  Short-selling has utility for the rest of us because it allows the full range of opinions to be expressed about the value of a particular company or asset.  Nothing in a market economy is worse than having prices that have no meaning.

Summer of the Shark, Toyota Edition

A couple of weeks ago I discussed media coverage of summer temperatures in the US in the context of the crazy 2001 "summer of the shark" panic, where the media took a below-average year for shark attacks and played it up with constant coverage into the work shark attack year ever.

In 2010 we had another summer of the shark, this time with the fears over Toyota sudden accelerations.  We even were treated with an OJ-White-Bronco-like real-time video of some moron in a Prius who supposedly couldn't find the brake peddle for scores of miles on an LA freeway.  I expressed skepticism immediately that there was really a hardware / electronics problem behind the accelerations, and wondered whether the US government's ownership of Toyotas competitors might not have something to do with all the Senate hearings and government attention.  Eventually, the NHTSA and other government agencies determined there was no flaw with the Toyotas, that the sudden acceleration was merely due to operator error (ie jamming a foot on the wrong peddle).  This happens a lot, as it turns out, and I remember Walter Olson once found a stat that a huge percentage of sudden acceleration cases that make it to court seem to involved people over 70 or under 20.

ABC led the parade on this particular shark attack.  They used "safety experts" who were actually in the pay of plaintiff's lawyers, without disclosing this conflict of interest.  They actually tampered with their tested Toyotas and claimed they replicated the "spontaneous" acceleration:

It is hard to spot the lowest behavior in the affair so far, but that honor can arguably go to ABC and the lengths to which it went to pretend it had recreated the problem.  In fact, they had to strip three wires, splice in a resistor of a very specific value and then short two other wires.  They made it sound like this is something that could easily happen naturally  (lol) but this is an easy thing to prove – and inspection of actual throttle assemblies from cars that have supposedly exhibited the sudden acceleration problem have shown no evidence of such shorting.  So the ABC story was completely fraudulent, similar to the old Dateline NBC story that secretly used model rocket engines to ignite gas tanks.   Its amazing to me that Toyota, acting in good faith will get sued for billions over a complex problem which may or may not exist in a few cars, while ABC will suffer no repercussions from outright fraud.

Basically ABC proved that if you bypass a potentiometer with a resistor, you can spoof the potentiometer setting.  Duh.  The same hack on a radio would cause sudden acceleration of your volume.

So, given some time and reflection, eventually the rest of the journalistic community has brought some accountability to ABC by publicly shaming them for this shoddy journalism.  Ha ha, just kidding.  They just gave ABC and its reporter one of their highest awards for the story

Congratulations to Brian Ross, America's Wrongest Reporter, for winning a coveted Edward R. Murrow Award honoring his coverage of the Toyota unintended acceleration story. The award, oddly, is for "Video Continuing Coverage" rather than "Fostering Global Panic Based on Bullshit Story." Still, a Murrow is a Murrow, right? Let's go to tape.

Ross, you will recall, was one of the driving forces behind the Runaway Toyota Panic of '10, which was later determined by NASA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to have been largely the result of idiots stepping on the accelerator when they intended to step on the brake, and of other idiots talking about it on TV. Ross was one of those idiots. For some reason, ABC News submitted four of Ross' Toyota reports to the Radio Television Digital News Association for award consideration.

One report they didn't submit was the one where Gawker caught Ross staging footage to make it seem like a Toyota was accelerating out of control when it was in fact parked with the emergency brake on, doors open, and someone stepping on the gas. We're told by an ABC News insider that, even though it didn't nominate that segment, the network "acknowledged and owned that mistake" in its awards submission. Good for them! Now let's see them acknowledge and own these mistakes from the segments it did submit. For instance:

In two of the winning reports, Ross quoted safety expert Sean Kane criticizing Toyota and insisting that there were cases of unintended acceleration that "couldn't be explained by floormats," which Toyota had recalled in 2009 after some mats became stuck under gas pedals. What he didn't report was that Kane was being paid by plaintiff's attorneys who were suing Toyota over unintended acceleration cases, and so had a financial incentive to argue that there was more to the Runaway Toyota scare than just floormats. Indeed, in other ABC News segments that the network didn't nominate, Ross showed Kane saying—again without disclosing his relationship to plaintiff's attorneys—"We clearly think that Toyota has a larger problem on their hands that involves the electronics with these vehicles." That position—that electronics were involved—was later eviscerated by the NASA/NHTSA report, which found "no electronic flaws in Toyota vehicles capable of producing the large throttle openings required to create dangerous high-speed unintended acceleration incidents."

Licensing is Anti-Consumer

The whole topic of licensing as anti-consumer efforts to restrict competition is a long-running one here.   Since I am sort-of-kind-of not-blogging right now, I won't excerpt or comment on it a lot, but this is a very interesting piecelooking at internal documents of the American Dietetic Association discussing their efforts to pass laws in various states that essentially ban anyone but their members from giving diet and nutrition advice.  It is one such law in North Carolina which required that Steve Cooksey take down all his blog posts about his dieting experiences (since he is not licensed by the state, it is illegal for him to speak on the topic).

The funniest part for me in the ADA materials is that they constantly seem to be put out that their efforts to  ban competition from anyone outside of their organization are described by critics as creating a monopoly.  Who, us? Monopoly?  We are just trying to help customers.  Missing in all this, of course, is any evidence of a grass roots effort by nutrition customers.  I will remind everyone of this great Milton Friedman quote:

The justification offered is always the same: to protect the consumer. However, the reason is demonstrated by observing who lobbies at the state legislature for the imposition or strengthening of licensure. The lobbyists are invariably representatives of the occupation in question rather than of the customers. True enough, plumbers presumably know better than anyone else what their customers need to be protected against. However, it is hard to regard altruistic concern for their customers as the primary motive behind their determined efforts to get legal power to decide who may be a plumber.

My Favorite Line of the Day

In a report from the DOE Inspector General, which said that $500,000 of equipment bought with stimulus money was missing at a battery company:

 “It would not be appropriate to release the name of stimulus-money recipient where the $500,000 worth of equipment could not be located.”

But it is A-OK to excoriate by name any number of corporations that create value legally if doing so advances this Administration's re-election prospects.

Remote PC Access

I have been using Team Viewer for remote PC access this week and it is awesome - easily the fastest, least frustrating solution I have ever tried.

Blog Me, Maybe

I have picked up my family and moved to a rental house on the California coast for a month.  I am still working, but experimenting with getting out of town for the hot Arizona summers.  I may or may not take the opportunity to cut back on blogging for a month or so.  I haven't decided.

Moral Hazard in the Drone War

I missed Tom Junod's original article on targeted killing, but his response to Andrew Sullivan's defense of the Obama Administration is terrific:

I did not -- and do not -- condone the use of torture any more than Sullivan does. But the moral risk of torture is not so different from the moral risk of targeted killing. Indeed, the moral risk of torture provides a template for the moral risk of targeted killing. What was introduced as an option of last resort becomes the option of first resort, then the only option. Sullivan always understood that torture was a temptation, and that the day would come when it was applied not in emergency, "ticking-clock" situations, but as a matter of routine. Well, that day has come, only now with targeted killing, where the option of first resort meets the court of no appeal.

Yes, killing is a part of war, and torture isn't. But what if the the kind of militant who was captured and tortured under Bush is the kind of militant who is simply being killed under President Obama? The Obama Administration vigorously denies this, just as it vigorously denies that it is combating terrorism by practicing a policy of extermination against terrorists. But the numbers -- the thousands killed by drone and raid against the single high-value asset captured and interrogated outside the theater of war in Afghanistan -- tell a story that can't simply be shrugged off. Interrogation has been replaced by assassination.

Moreover, I talked to a source familiar with the targeting process who told me that the people involved in the life-or-death decisions of the Obama administration often do not know the credibility of intelligence sources. This was a highly informed and involved source who, when asked the most essential question -- "how good is the intelligence?" -- paused and finally couldn't answer. In fact, when I raised the question of whether those who were once captured are now being killed, the source suggested that it was the wrong question:

"It's not at all clear that we'd be sending our people into Yemen to capture the people we're targeting. But it's not at all clear that we'd be targeting them if the technology wasn't so advanced. What's happening is that we're using the technology to target people we never would have bothered to capture."

Unfortunately, I think targeting killing is here to stay, by the "only Nixon could go to China" logic.  By having a Democrat start this policy, it has avoided a lot of critique from the usual defenders of humanity against arbitrary power, for the simple reason that many of these folks consider Obama to be "on their team."  Just look at Andrew Sullivan, for God sakes, defending the practice.   The Left spent more time criticizing Bush over looting at the Bagdad museum than it has over Obama's targeted killing (Glen Greenwald being a notable exception).  Having set the precedent under Obama, there will be no going back under either party in the future.

Crazy Awful Idea - Incarcerating People For Their Own Good

Via Carpe Diem

This does not include the millions in state and county jails.  All those drug offenders in jail for a victemless crime, essentially "for their own good."

"I've sentenced boys younger than you to the gas chamber. Didn't want to do it. I felt I owed it to them. "

The Government Should Borrow More Money Because It Gets A Really Good Teaser Rate On Its Credit Card

In one of the most irresponsible suggestions I have seen in a while, Ezra Klein writes: (via Kevin Drum)

The Financial Times reports that there was record demand for 10-year Treasurys this week. “The $21 [billion] sale of 10-year paper sold at a yield of 1.459 per cent, the lowest ever in an auction.” William O’Donnell, a strategist at RBS Securities, told the FT that “we were expecting good auction results but this one has left me speechless.”...

But that 1.459 percent doesn’t account for inflation. And so when you do account for inflation, it’s not “almost nothing.” It’s “less than nothing.”...

The market will literally pay us a small premium to take their money and keep it safe for them for five, seven or 10 years. We could use that money to rebuild our roads and water filtration systems. We could use that money to cut taxes for any business that adds to its payrolls. We could use that to hire back the 600,000 state and local workers we’ve laid off in the last few years.

Or, as Larry Summers has written, we could simply accelerate payments we know we’ll need to make anyway. We could move up maintenance projects, replace our military equipment or buy space we’re currently leasing. All of that would leave the government in a better fiscal position going forward, not to mention help the economy.

The fact that we’re not doing any of this isn’t just a lost opportunity. It’s financial mismanagement on an epic scale.

This is wrong on so many levels that it makes my head spin.  However, I will begin with four:

  1. The US never pays down debt.  Except for a short period in the 1990's when we paid a tiny chunk off, all we do is roll over the old debt and pile more on top.  We are still rolling over most of the debt we incurred in World War II.   So any new debt we take on will likely still be around fifty years from now.   As a result, taking on debt based on current low rates is exactly equivalent to a cash-strapped family taking on more debt because they got a low teaser rate on a new credit card.  Eventually the rates go back up on the debt.
  2. Just because interest rates are low does not mean that somehow the spending is free.  In the private sector, companies take on debt in expectation of growing revenues enough to pay the debt back.  How is hiring 600,000 state bureaucrats going to help pay off the new debt in 10 years?
  3. The implication here is that all current government spending is so awesome that when we drew the line to mark the budget, additional totally awesome spending got left out, so if we just had more money, there are still lots of great projects available to spend the money on.  Really?  Where was all the catch-up road maintenance and water filtration systems in the last trillion dollar stimulus debt-binge?   Seriously, the Left had their trillion dollar opportunity to prove out some value here and coughed up a hairball.  So now they want a do-over?   This is yet another great bait-and-switch:  They say its for water filtration and roads, but it ends up just being to maintain do-nothing government jobs with above market pay and benefits, largely in exchange for these folks voting Democrat.
  4. Here is the ultimate irony -- certain countries are getting negative interest rates  (Switzerland comes to mind right now) in government bond auctions because they are considered safe in comparison to a number of countries that are floundering.  They are considered safe because investors think they are less likely to do fiscally stupid stuff like what is done in Greece in Spain -- say, for example, borrowing a bunch of money when the country is already deeply in debt to rehire at above market salaries 600,000 unneeded government workers.  Klein is saying, basically, since interest rates are low, lets go indulge ourselves in all the actions that tend to drive interest rates for government way up.

Summer of the Shark, Global Warming Edition

My new column is up, comparing coverage of this summer's heat wave to "Summer of the Shark"

Before I discuss the 2012 global warming version of this process, let's take a step back to 2001 and the "Summer of the Shark."  The media hysteria began in early July, when a young boy was bitten by a shark on a beach in Florida.  Subsequent attacks received breathless media coverage, up to and including near-nightly footage from TV helicopters of swimming sharks.  Until the 9/11 attacks, sharks were the third biggest story of the year as measured by the time dedicated to it on the three major broadcast networks' news shows.

Through this coverage, Americans were left with a strong impression that something unusual was happening -- that an unprecedented number of shark attacks were occurring in that year, and the media dedicated endless coverage to speculation by various "experts" as to the cause of this sharp increase in attacks.

Except there was one problem -- there was no sharp increase in attacks.  In the year 2001, five people died in 76 shark attacks.  However, just a year earlier, 12 people had died in 85 attacks.  The data showed that 2001 actually was  a down year for shark attacks.

This summer we have been absolutely bombarded with stories about the summer heat wave in the United States.  The constant drumbeat of this coverage is being jumped on by many as evidence of catastrophic man-made global warming....

What the Summer of the Shark needed, and what this summer’s US heatwave needs, is a little context.  Specifically, if we are going to talk about supposed “trends”, then we should look at the data series in question over time.  So let’s do so.

I go on to present a number of data series on temperatures, temperature maximums, droughts, and fires.   Enjoy.

Just How Little Does Government Trust Individuals?

From CNN via Carpe Diem


A 24-year scandal was quietly acknowledged last week. On July 3 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the first "rapid home" test for HIV—a test that people can take in the privacy of their own homes to determine whether they have the virus that causes AIDS.

The approval is an unambiguously good thing—or so you would think. The saliva test in question, made by OraSure Technologies and known as OraQuick, costs less than $60 and takes just 20 minutes to self-administer. According to statistics an FDA advisory committee presented at a hearing in May, it holds the potential to prevent the transmission of more than 4,000 new HIV infections in its first year of use alone. That would be about 8 percent of the roughly 50,000 new infections we currently see annually in the United States. (About 1.2 million people in the U.S. are now living with HIV, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, of whom about 20 percent don't realize they have it. Since the epidemic began in the early 1980s, about 1.1 million people have been diagnosed with AIDS, and more than 619,000 have died from it.)

The scandal is that the approval of a rapid home test for HIV did not occur until last week—about 24 years after the FDA received its first application seeking permission to market one.

Apparently, for years, even decades, only tests of clinical options were allowed to proceed, basically because the government considers Americans to be infants:

There was great concern that the patient receive proper counseling, both before and after the test. The patient needed to appreciate the possibility of false positives, so he wouldn't panic unnecessarily if he got one. He needed to appreciate the danger of false negatives, so he wouldn't become reckless, endangering sexual partners. And he needed to understand the options and support groups available in the event he received a true positive. (On top of all these concerns, many AIDS activists at the time were opposed to almost any form of HIV testing out of fear that results could be used to ostracize and persecute HIV-positive people—though one hopes that public health concerns were paramount to the FDA, rather than political pressure and hysteria.)

Cool Tech...

...though not as cool as I thought at first.  I thought the machine actually arranged the bricks, but that is done by hand.  Still, it eliminates a ton of stoop work with people placing bricks at table-top level.  I am sure it is more efficient, though I want the one where the machine arranges the bricks itself.  Video at the link


Two Views of the Police

Radley Balko has this amazing comparison of two different citys' police recruitment videos, which paired together give great insight into really different ways these departments see themselves and their mission.  As Balko asks, which town do you want to live in?

How About A Left-Right Coalition Against the Corporate State?

I am encouraged to see this from the Left.  Kevin Drum writes, in response to a proposal for California state licensing of dog groomers:

What's unfortunate, I guess, is that this would all be unobjectionable if it were a voluntary certification program. If you want to pay more to take Fido to a certified groomer, go right ahead. If you want to save money, then don't. But critics are almost certainly right that a voluntary license would become a required license in pretty short order. After all, Vargas's proposal may be for a voluntary license right now, but that's only because he's failed to get support for a required license in the past.

What's more, if the program were voluntary I'm not sure why you'd need the state involved in the first place. If there's really a demand for this kind of certification, it seems likely that a trade association of some kind would set something up. And if there isn't, then why bother?

Right on!  I wish Drum would carry this same thinking further into other economic spheres (why are consumers powerful enough to handle dog grooming choices suddenly infantile when it comes to health care decisions) but I am encouraged none-the-less.  There is room, I think, for a left-right coalition against corporate cronyism (of which licensing is among the worst forms, helping to protect incumbent businesses against upstart competitors).  Unfortunately, such cronyism is so deeply ingrained in both Romney and Obama that it is certainly not going to happen in this election.

Great Moments in Government Energy Policy Failure

So, why do we have all these "dirty" coal plants?  Market failure?  Industry greed?  Nope -- Carter-era government policy.  For you younger folks, here is a law you may have never heard of:

The Powerplant and Industrial Fuel Use Act (FUA) was passed in 1978 in response to concerns over national energy security. The 1973 oil crisis and the natural gas curtailments of the mid 1970s contributed to concerns about U.S. supplies of oil and natural gas. The FUA restricted construction of power plants using oil or natural gas as a primary fuel and encouraged the use of coal, nuclear energy and other alternative fuels. It also restricted the industrial use of oil and natural gas in large boilers.**

In other words, all new fossil fuel-powered boilers had to be coal-fired (which in a year or so, after Three Mile Island, translated to all new boilers since nuclear was essentially eliminated as an option).  Yes, this may seem odd to us in an era of so much environmental concern over coal, but something coal opponents don't tell you is that many of the exact same left-liberal-government-top-down-energy-policy types that oppose coal today lobbied hard for the above law several decades ago.  Here is a simplified timeline:

1.  Government energy policy sets price controls that create artificial shortages of oil and gas

2.  Government-created shortages of oil and gas lead to this law, with government demanding that all new fossil fuel-powered electric plants and boilers be coal powered.

3.  Government mandates on coal use create environmental concerns, which lead to proposals for taxes and bans on coal power.

4.  The need for government action against coal is obviated by a resurgence of oil and gas supply once government controls were removed.  However, in response, government beings to consider strong controls on expansion in oil and gas production (e.g. fracking limits).


** I got involved with this because I worked in an oil refinery in the 1980's.  We had to get special exemptions to run our new boilers on various petroleum products (basically byproducts and waste products of the refining process).  Without these, the law would have required we bring in coal to run our oil refinery furnaces.


Quiz: Who is This Wearing Prince Leia's Dress?

Total Symmetry

I read a few political blogs from the Left and Right - not many, because I cannot stand the whole team-politics thing, but I feel like I need to hear what they are saying.  Apparently, Conservatives (after the Supreme Court Obamacare decision) are saying that their side is too soft, too amenable to being intimidated by the Left.

Here is my observation from reading a fairly equal helping of political blogs from both sides:  These sort of things are cherished beliefs of both sides.  I don't have the post-holiday energy to hunt up the links, but I can say with confidence that both Left and Right seem to believe, or at least to write that:

  • Their own side compromises more than the other side does
  • The other side is much more bare knuckles, doing what it takes to win.  Their own side has ethics that always causes them to stop short
  • The other side is better at keeping its members from breaking ranks
  • The other side is raising more money than their side
  • The other side is a vast coordinated conspiracy using a top-down imposed message while their own side is mainly individuals acting independently

Obama as Venture Capitalist

John Stossel has a great link-filled round up of failed and failing solar and green energy programs funded by the Obama Administration with our money.  Check out the extensive list.

Here, for laughs, is Ray Lane of Kleiner Perkins rhapsodizing about Obama as the greatest government venture capitalist ever, and using for his prime example ... Solyndra!

I suppose at one point Kleiner Perkins used to take private risks with private money, but it seems to have found out it can make higher returns leveraging its investments with taxpayer money, and then using political influence to mandate business for the companies in which it invests. Thus the hiring of Al Gore, among other moves, to the KP board. Lane, by the way, is Chairman of serial government trough-feeder Fisker automotive, which make admittedly very cool-looking cars that require a lot of taxpayer subsidies.

Certainly Mr. Lane knows something about marketing, including that age-old tactic the "bait and switch."  The taxpayer subsidies of Fisker were made on the theory that electric cars were somehow greener than gasoline cars because they use less energy.  But looking at the fuel at the power plant it takes to make the electricity that goes into a Fisker Karma, the car gets worse gas mileage than an SUV  (only an EPA equivalent MPG standard that breaks the second law of thermodynamics hides this fact).  Congratulations Mr. Lane, green subsidies for sub-SUV gas mileage.  All those checks KP partners wrote to Obama in the last election certainly got a good return.