Posts tagged ‘Commerce Committee’

Now That Mandates Are Effectively Legal, Here is The Next One

You have to watch politicians' commercials

The Dish Network, in its continuing effort to attract new viewers, introduced a new DVR called the Hopper earlier this year. The Hopper's main appeal is that it allows you to skip past commercials entirely, and unsurprisingly, TV networks aren't very happy about this. But guess who else is unhappy?

At a Wednesday hearing on video distribution held by the Communications and Technology Subcommittee of the Energy and Commerce Committee, [Rep. John Dingell, D–Clueless] complained that the service will allow potential voters to skip past important commercial messages.

"I've got an election coming up, like all my colleagues," Dingell said, during his questioning of Dish Network Chairman Charlie Ergen. "We all put political ads on the local stations to reach our constituents. The Hopper potentially limits the ability of every member of this subcommittee to reach constituents to help them make up their minds on Election Day.

"Do you understand and appreciate the concerns that the politicians up here on the dais and other politicians everywhere will feel about that, yes or no?" Dingell asked.

Yep, This Is The Perfect Antidote for a Recession

Kevin Drum is off his meds, and is generating a lot of good fodder for me today. I made a couple of small edits in the name of intellectual honesty:

The news keeps getting better and better. The House Democratic caucus just voted 137-122 to replace John Dingell (D"“General Motors) as chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee. The new chair will be Henry Waxman, who cares deeply about [0.01% changes in atmospheric composition] and will be a huge ally in the fight to get serious[ly high fuel and electricity prices] next year. This is change we can believe in.

I am willing to put my disagreement with a lot of the world on whether on not global warming is dangerous into the "reasonable people can disagree" category.  But it just strikes me as outright insanity to try to push forward and pretend that anything that makes a meaningful dent in CO2, and so which has to make a meaningful dent in fuel and electricity consumption, will require either massive shortages or much higher prices.  Even a third-way plan that says we will evade this trade-off with new technologies  (whatever the hell those are) faces the massive dead-weight-loss of having to obsolete perfectly good power generation or transportation infrastructure and replace it wholesale with trillions of dollars of new stuff.  If we found out tomorrow that exposed brick caused global warming, and all of our houses had to be knocked down and rebuilt, would anyone really think we were all richer for that?

The amazing thing to me is that the left has all gotten on the "this will be a net positive for the economy, 5 million jobs, blah blah" message.  This is nuts.  This is the broken windows fallacy on Barry Bonds' entire steroid inventory.  Folks often respond to me, "but we will gain because we will reduce the cost of global warming."  But reasonable, non-loony folks don't really honestly think we are incurring any costs right now from global warming.  There is an argument that they might exist 50 years from now and that they might be high enough to get started on now, but for the next 10 years or more, there is just cost, no benefit.

That 70's Show

Straight from the 1970's, the US's golden era of bumbling government intervention in the economy, come the same proposals that worked oh-so-well the first time around.  Democracts blame big oil for gas prices, and propose channeling solutions from Hugo Chavez:   (via Q&O)

Congressional Democrats are taking aim at big oil companies as U.S. gasoline prices near a record average $3.05 a gallon.

industry experts doubt it will have any effect, half a dozen senators
gathered in front of a Washington service station to push their own
remedies to the situation, the Washington Post said.

The latest average price for a gallon of unleaded regular gas was $3.042, according to the AAA Fuel Gauge report.

Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., called on Congress to consider breaking up the
giant companies. Sen. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., pushed for a windfall
profits bill.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., promoted her
anti-price-gouging bill, which the Senate Commerce Committee adopted
earlier this week.

Gee, since every transaction in a free market requires a willing buyer and a willing seller, wouldn't it be just as correct to blame profligate consumers for the increase?  And why is it I don't remember any of these actors in Congress rushing to clamp down on greedy sellers when home resale prices skyrocketed far more than gas prices have?  Does anyone remember Maria Cantwell imposing windfall profits taxes on home-sellers?  Or, for that matter, on sellers of Internet stocks who financed their campaigns selling stock above $80 that would soon trade only in the single digits?  And by the way, how can any party who elected Maria Cantwell to the Senate seriously call members of the other party "stupid."

Let's do a thought experiment.  Let's assume that through a series of government actions, Congress is able to return oil profits "to the people."  Oil company profits are now reduced to zero.  That should make a huge difference in gas prices, right?  Well, out of a $3.00 gas price, taxes and the retailers margin are probably 75 cents or so (46 cents tax, 10% or 30 cent retail margin).  This leaves $2.25 for the greedy oil companies.  It turns out large oil companies like Exxon make about 6% of revenues in the bad times, and 10% in the good times, like now.  So, this leaves a profit of  14-22 cents per gallon.  The "people" are saved!  Gas prices can come down by a whole 15-20 cents.  Of course, in return for saving a buck or two on fill-ups, we've nuked the whole incentive system for investment and finding new oil and improving efficiency.  Gas prices over time will rise much higher than they are now, and lines will start reappearing at gas stations, but that probably won't show up until after the next election, so why should anyone in Congress care?

Let Some Airlines Die

I missed it last week, but apparently the CEO's of a number of major US airlines took the PR offensive last week to beg for more government subsidies and pension bailouts.  Reason's Hit and Run has the roundup.  They observe that the Senate was open to their pleas:

But luckily for the money-squandering dullards, there are enough members of
the Senate Commerce Committee who apparently believe certain businesses are too
colossally incompetent to fail:

The Commerce Committee's ranking Democrat, Sen. Daniel Inouye of
Hawaii, agreed: "If we do not begin to solve the problems plaguing the air
carriers, we will see more failures in coming months and certainly more jobs

Because what is the federal government if not a
guarantor of full employment at lousy companies?... If Inouye and his fellow
hacks were serious, they could start by privatizing airports, allowing vigorous foreign
to own more than 50 percent of U.S.-based airlines, and letting
the failures actually fail, for starters. But that would take a belief in free
airline markets we haven't really seen since the Carter Administration.

It has always been hard to get airlines to just go away.  Pan Am hung around forever, as did TWA, through bankruptcy after bankruptcy.  My guess is that politician's unwillingness to let airlines fail has only increased with the advent of frequent flyer miles - no congressman wants all of his well-healed constituents calling the office and complaining about the 300,000 United miles they just lost.  By the way, have you ever noticed that frequent flyer mile holders are the only creditor of airlines who consistently come out of bankruptcies whole?  Even the worker's defined benefit pension plans get a haircut before frequent flyer mile holders.

Legacy airlines are really backwards in their practices - for example, many of their supply chain processes are reminiscent of the auto industry in the 60's and 70's, in part because airlines are sheltered from foreign competition while auto makers for the most part aren't.  I used to work in the aviation industry, and the opportunities there are tremendous, but no one in the industry will even listen.  The "not invented here" attitude was invented in the airline industry.

And while the management of these firms is backwards, you also have to deal unions a share of the blame.  Union supporters often accuse companies of "union-busting".  I have never heard the term, but in the case of airlines, one might be able to accuse the unions of "company-busting".  Unions hold out and strike for outrageous salaries and benefits and work rules that far outstrip what similarly skilled people make in other industries.  By the way, unlike conservatives, I don't have some deep seated hatred of unions.  In a free society, workers can try to organize to increase their bargaining power.  I do have problems with the way the US government, through legislation, tilted the bargaining table in the unions' favor, but that is a different story. 

For some of these reasons, and others, I was flabbergasted that local company America West would purchase USAir.  When there are so many planes and gates for sale on the market, and cities are begging for new competitors to enter their airline market, why would you buy yourself a load of trouble in the form of legacy union contracts and frequent flyer obligations?  It is noteworthy that Southwest has never bought another airline, and prefers instead just to buy assets out of bankruptcy.