Archive for July 2009

Well, I Am Down To Two Health Insurance Choices

Apparently in the future I will have two health plan choices -- my current plan or the government plan.  And the only reason I will be able to keep my current plan is that is will be grandfathered in.  A few years ago I switched plans, to get one with a better price and mix of benefits for my family.  I will never be allowed to do this again under the new health care bill:

It didn't take long to run into an "uh-oh" moment when reading the House's "health care for all Americans" bill. Right there on Page 16 is a provision making individual private medical insurance illegal.

When we first saw the paragraph Tuesday, just after the 1,018-page document was released, we thought we surely must be misreading it. So we sought help from the House Ways and Means Committee.

It turns out we were right: The provision would indeed outlaw individual private coverage. Under the Orwellian header of "Protecting The Choice To Keep Current Coverage," the "Limitation On New Enrollment" section of the bill clearly states:

"Except as provided in this paragraph, the individual health insurance issuer offering such coverage does not enroll any individual in such coverage if the first effective date of coverage is on or after the first day" of the year the legislation becomes law.

So we can all keep our coverage, just as promised "” with, of course, exceptions: Those who currently have private individual coverage won't be able to change it. Nor will those who leave a company to work for themselves be free to buy individual plans from private carriers....

Wow, even for this cynical libertarian, this is a new low of technically complying with a promise while in substance completely violating the spirit of that promise.

By the way, how long will my current insurer even be able to offer me my plan given that it cannot generate any new business  (I use Assurant, who specializes in individual policies for self-employed people like myself).

This is a great example of what I have been saying all along - regulation always helps large companies more than small.   Everything in this legislation is tailor-made to help large companies who already have health plans and pound small companies and the self-employed.  This is in part because the large companies have the lobbying muscle to get themselves a seat at the table as the bill is crafted.   But it is more than just neglect, it is an outright attack.  Large companies most fear competition from smaller, lower cost competitors.  Anything to make the life of small business more expensive and difficult helps cement the big guys market position.

Update: Here is a scary thought -- what will it do to entrepeneurship in this country when a decision to leave a large company and go into business for oneself bascially means giving up private health insurance and going on Medicare?

Update #2: For readers, as well as a place for me to find it in the future, here is a link to all 1000+ pages of the bill.  Enjoy.

What a Great Idea, Especially in A Recession

Let's put another tax on employment, making it more costly for companies to hire people.  That's the ticket out of the recession!

Employers who do not provide health insurance to workers would generally have to pay a fee or penalty to the government. The fee would be equal to 8 percent of wages for an employer with an annual payroll of more than $400,000.

Disclosure:  This has a personal impact on me and my business.  Wages in our company are 50% of revenues, we earn a 6-8% profit as a percentage of sales, and this will increase our wages by 8%.  You do the math.  The good news, I guess, is that this will gaurantee that I will not be subject to the new surcharge on high incomes.

Those Enumerated Power Thingies Were So 18th Century

Jonathon Adler argues that Senator Feinstein grossly exaggerated the number of cases where the Supreme Court said the Congress had exceeded the bounds of the commerce clause.  Feinstein said it was dozens of times in the last 10 years, Adler counts about two.  I don't have my own count, but smaller numbers seem right to me -- just look at the extent of activities Congress currently pursues under the banner of the Commerce Clause.   For god sakes, several years ago the Supreme Court ruled that federal marijuana laws trumped state laws based on the commerce clause -- even when the drugs are grown for personal use and don't cross state lines.  As Clarence Thomas wrote in that case in dissent:

Respondents Diane Monson and Angel Raich use marijuana that has never been bought or sold, that has never crossed state lines, and that has had no demonstrable effect on the national market for marijuana. If Congress can regulate this under the Commerce Clause, then it can regulate virtually anything and the Federal Government is no longer one of limited and enumerated powers.

But what I found really depressing in Adler's post was this:

Adding up all of the cases in which the Court found statutes exceeded all of the federal government's enumerated powers, including the sovereign immunity cases, the commandeering cases, and the 14th Amendment cases, in the last twenty years still doesn't get us to the three-dozen-plus cases Feinstein claimed. Add in the federalism-related constitutional avoidance cases, and we're still a ways off.

Given all the expansions of federal and Executive power over the last 10 years, and the hundreds of cases in front of the Supreme Court, the Court has not been able to rouse itself more than a handful of times to declare that the feds have exceeded their powers under the Constitution?  Bummer.

Where's Coyote?

Believe it or not, I am actually in Washington DC.  I am on the executive committee of our little industry's trade group, and as such it is expected that once a year we venture to DC to talk to Senate and House staffers about what legislation is pending that may affect our business.  I won't call this "lobbying" as that word implies we have any influence over outcomes.  It is more of a grim due dilligence to see what we are going to have to try to deal with next.

As this activity has roughly the same appeal for me as being dragged naked by a truck down the Interstate, I have avoided this task for years.  I finally relented to my duty, and here I am.

Another BS 1980s Child Molestation Conviction May Be Reversed

For those too young to remember, during the 1980's we endured a hysteria about child molestations, with a number of pretty obviously innocent men dragged to jail on the back of testimony coerced from kids by over-zealous prosecutors.  Janet Reno became particularly famous for the "Miami method" of hounding kids until they started pointing fingers at whomever the prosecutors had their eye on, and rode such fame to the US AG office (see here and here for the disturbing details).

As the kids grow up, a number of these prosecutions are finally falling apart, as in this story.  Of course, as i9s typical in such cases, despite all the witnesses coming forward and admitting they were coerced into making false accusations, the prosecutors are not giving up easily.  via Overlawyered

Dodged A Bullet (so far)

The Waxman-Markey Bill is pretty bad, but it could have been a lot worse:

The citizen suit provision was set forth in Section 336 of the discussion draft version of ACES [Waxman-Markey], and it would have given environmental groups and other activists standing under the Clean Air Act to "commence an action" when someone has "suffered, or reasonably expects to suffer, a harm attributable, in whole or in part, to a violation or failure to act referred to in subsection (a)." Harm under this section was defined as: "For purposes of this section, the term "˜harm' includes any effect of air pollution (including climate change), currently occurring or at risk of occurring, and the incremental exacerbation of any such effect or risk that is associated with a small incremental emission of any air pollutant (including any greenhouse gas defined in Title VII), whether or not the risk is widely shared."

Wow, would this create an absolute litigation circus or what? By current anthropogenic greenhouse gas theory and under the actual text above, one could get sued for breathing.  (via Overlawyered)

The Fair Labor Standards Act Restricts Employees, Not Just Employers

Earlier today I posted that:

People often think of the minimum wage as a restriction on employers "” that they cannot pay less than a certain number for a job.  But it is also equally a restriction on job seekers "” my son cannot legally offer to take a job for less than $7.25, even though he would probably gladly do so.  For teenagers, just gaining the experience of working and building basic skills (like showing up on time, following procedures, interacting with customers and fellow employees) has enormous value, such that even a nominal payment of a few dollars an hour would more than compensate him for his labor.

Ann Althouse has found the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which contains the minimum wage, also can lead to restrictions on employee behavior:

Everyone at The University of Wisconsin will have their pay cut by about 3% and will be "furloughed""”told they do not have to work"”for a corresponding period of time. But it turns out that we not only don't have to work, we are being told we cannot work. The guidelines ban any kind of work during furloughs, anywhere. This means that even if you are at home you are not supposed to read professional material, get and send emails, make calls, use a smart phone, etc. Employees who violate the work ban can be disciplined.

She goes on to describe her voyage of discovery as to why so irrational-sounding a policy might exist, but I alredy knew.  To furlough exempt (meaning exempt from hourly bookkeeping) workers, they must become non-exempt.  And non-exempt workers have to be paid for time worked, even if the time worked was not ordered by the employer and even if the time worked was against the wishes of the employer.

We face this situation all the time.  We have hourly workers in campgrounds.  Unlike in a factory (for which the FLSA was written and where there are fairly strict controls on how people work), my campground workers have a lot of leeway to set their own schedule and determine their work patterns.   But I have to set very clear guidelines - "at the end of the day you have to get x and y and z  done and you are not authorized to work more than t hours doing it."

But we nearly always have folks who want to go do whatever they want to do.  I had an employee who loved to arrange river rocks around camp sites as borders after he had finished his other work.  His work looked really nice.  But I could not afford to pay him to arrange river rocks around camp sites.  His manager told him to stop.  He kept doing it.  You know what?  I still had to pay him for his time to arrange river rocks, despite the fact the company had specifically told him not to and despite the fact that this time exceeded the guidelines I gave him  (once his work exceeds X hours, he has to get management permission to work more in a certain time period).  In fact, the only way I eventually was able to stop paying him to arrange river rocks at work was to fire him.

You Don't Need To Carry Water if You Build a Water Pipeline

The other day, there was an intriguing story in the USA Today that a disproportionate share of stimulus money is flowing to counties that voted for Obama.  In fact, counties that voted Obama are getting twice as much per capita so far as counties that did not.  Matt Yglesias writes:

The insinuation of the piece is that the stimulus bill's funding streams are being artfully manipulated or something to disproportionately direct resources toward Obama-loving constituencies....[But] the secret to the riddle seems to be that areas that benefit from federal spending formulae tend to support the Democrats. Not as a result of short-term fluctuations in voting patterns or federal spending levels, but as a structural element of American politics.

Kevin Drum misses Matt's point, I think, when he responds:

Actually, that's not quite right.  It's weirder than that.  I just got around to reading the piece, and aside from the factual statement in the lead, it doesn't insinuate that the money is being unfairly distributed.  In fact, every single paragraph after the lead quotes people saying that there's nothing dubious going on and the money is just being distributed by formula.  The piece doesn't quote a single person, not even Sarah Palin, suggesting that there's any monkey business going on here.

But this does not refute Matt's point as I understand it, that "tinkering" is not necessary because the formulas themselves have been worked over time to preferentially send money certain places.  I would use the analogy that there are well worn channels where the money preferentially flows.

I must disagree that a story that money tends to flow preferentially (on a ratio as high as 2:1) to Democratic districts should be spiked, as Kevin Drum advocates. I think there is a story in this, though certainly I agree with Kevin it is not the story the author set out to write (one of micro-manipulation by Administration employees).

My sense is that the causality involved would be impossible to discover. Does money flow preferentially to these districts because Democrats are better or more focused on bringing home the taxpayer largess to their districts? Or does our money preferentially flow to these districts based on, say, economic or demographic factors that line up well with Democratic constituencies. Or is it, more likely in my mind, a virtuous circle with both factors involved.

Either way, this is an interesting story and some interesting new data in our endless red state-blue state analyses.

Trying to Find a Job As A Teenager

My son is at the age in high school that he needs to find a job, either during the summer or after school or both.  But this is not an easy chore.  The economy certainly has a lot to do with this, but Congress has been doing its share to keep teenagers unemployed as well:

Thanks to an ill-advised law enacted with bipartisan support in 2007, the cost of providing an entry-level job to individuals with few skills or minimal experience will be going up by more than 10 percent. Those who cannot find a job paying at least $7.25 an hour will not be permitted to work. Welcome to the latest chapter of America's minimum-wage folly.

Those who press for a higher minimum wage often claim that making entry-level jobs more expensive won't reduce the number of entry-level jobs. Were the government to compel a 41 percent increase (see graph above showing the 41% increase in the minimum wage from $5.15 in 2006 to $7.25 this year) in the price of gasoline or movie tickets or steel, every rational observer would expect a drop in the demand for gasoline, movie tickets, or steel. Yet when it comes to the minimum wage, politicians and journalists somehow persuade themselves that making workers more expensive won't reduce the demand for workers.

But that's exactly what it does. Artificial price floors - mandatory minimum prices set higher than what the market will bear - generate surpluses. Minimum-wage laws are no exception. The price floor imposed by the government on the supply of low-skilled labor results in a labor surplus, which is just another way of saying higher unemployment.

The laws of supply and demand are not optional. They weren't enacted by Congress and Congress can't override them. Minimum-wage laws don't make low- and unskilled Americans more productive, more experienced, or more desirable. They merely make them more expensive - and more likely, therefore, to be unemployed.

People often think of the minimum wage as a restriction on employers -- that they cannot pay less than a certain number for a job.  But it is also equally a restriction on job seekers -- my son cannot legally offer to take a job for less than $7.25, even though he would probably gladly do so.  For teenagers, just gaining the experience of working and building basic skills (like showing up on time, following procedures, interacting with customers and fellow employees) has enormous value, such that even a nominal payment of a few dollars an hour would more than compensate him for his labor.

But I think there is another factor that increasingly limits teenage jobs that is not often discussed - liability.  I never really thought about this until I was running a business and found that my company and I may be personally liable for bone-headed decisions made by far off employees I have never met.  In our super-ligious society, does a company really want 15-year-old boys interacting with the public, no matter how much or little they are paid, when even one teenage-boy-style flip comment or sexual joke might result in a lawsuit?

Previously, I have written a number of articles on the minimum wage focused on the other end of the age scale.  My company hires folks in the seventies and eighties, a practice that is increasingly difficult to maintain with the minimum wage increasing.

GM, At Least Temporarily, Emerges From Bankruptcy

GM is apparently emerging from bankruptcy.  It will have the same (though fewer) managers, employees, and assembly plants.  It will have the same product designers, marketers, strategists, and planners.  It will have roughly the same organization systems, the same culture, and the same history.   Though it was able to shed some plants and employees, it will have most of the same stifling work rules on the shop floor.  It did, however,  manage to shed a lot of interest payments to creditors who entrusted their money to GM in return for claims on GM assets, only to be given the shaft by the Obama administration,

The main difference in the new GM is that it will have an ownership group whose primary concerns are NOT the financial success of the company.  The UAW will be primarily concerned with keeping union members employed and happy and not shifting any manufacturing to lower-cost venues.  The US Government will be primarily concerned with making sure the UAW is happy and promoting a number of its own goals, like "sustainable" plants and smaller cars, irrespective of whether these goals make business sense.  It will be a company more concerned with whether plants have recycling programs and workers with American passports rather than cost or quality.  Both the UAW and the US government can pursue such non-business goals secure in the knowledge that financial success is virtually irrelevant, as the US taxpayer can be counted on to make up any shortfalls.

We Know What You Are -- Now We Are Haggling Over the Price

I predicted the climate bill would likely pass the House as Obama and Co.  would happily pull out the checkbook to spend taxpayer money to bribe Representatives to pass his legislative agenda.   I wrote:

I am again hearing rumblings that the climate bill may pass the House.  If so, it will be interesting to see what last minute bribes were added to make this happen.  The most recent bribe we know about is the commitment to pay farmers not to grow crops with the weak window dressing that this is somehow a carbon offset.

The Washington Times reports on one such payoff:

When House Democratic leaders were rounding up votes Friday for the massive climate-change bill, they paid special attention to their colleagues from Ohio who remained stubbornly undecided.

They finally secured the vote of one Ohioan, veteran Democratic Rep. Marcy Kaptur of Toledo, the old-fashioned way. They gave her what she wanted "“ a new federal power authority, similar to Washington state's Bonneville Power Administration, stocked with up to $3.5 billion in taxpayer money available for lending to renewable energy and economic development projects in Ohio and other Midwestern states.

This is part of that mysterious 310-page ammendment that was revealed just hours before the vote.

Awesome Idea

Libertarians can be reasonable.  We can support some regulation, when it is absolutely necesary.  Like this idea, via Sallie James at Cato:

James Gibney, a reporter from the Atlantic, called me last week to ask some questions about dairy supports. He was preparing a blog post to propose a new labelling idea that might help break the frustrating stranglehold that the farm lobby has over U.S. agricultural policy. Here's James' idea:

To wit, every product whose ingredients benefit from a subsidy should include the following language on the label:

"This product has been subsidized by the U.S. government at taxpayer expense. For more information, please visit"

And every product that benefits from tariff protection should have the following language on the label:

"This product is protected from foreign competition by U.S. import tariffs. Its price is higher as a result. For more information, please visit"

My Mom Would Be Going Blind in England

Several new drugs have reversed my mom's macular degeneration, and are such a wonder that she is even willing to tolerate frequent injections into her eyeball, a concept that gives the rest of our family the willies.  Forget about it in England, though, where National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), which Obama wants to emulate in the US, does not allow these drugs:

3. In 2007, NICE restricted access to two drugs for macular degeneration, a cause of blindness. The drug Macugen was blocked outright. The other, Lucentis, was limited to a particular category of individuals with the disease, restricting it to about one in five sufferers. Even then, the drug was only approved for use in one eye, meaning those lucky enough to get it would still go blind in the other.

And by the way, is NICE an Orwellian name or what?

Postscript: Fortunately, we are unlikely to have a system that bans Americans from spending their own money on things the plan will not buy  (a bit of socialist egalitarianism that is practiced in a number of European countries).  Not for lack of trying by many Democrats, however.


Sorry to feed readers for all the spam test posts yesterday.  I thought I was catching them before they hit the RSS feed, but I was obviously wrong.  I did finally figure out how to make email and email picture posts work.

Over-Stating Our Ability to Adopt Renewables

All those confident in our ability to ramp up things like wind and solar quickly should take a long look at T. Boone Pickens decision to virtually abandon billions of investment in wind.

One of the ways I think our potential to increase renewables is over-stated is that the government has begun lumping hydro power into wind, as in these charts.  They show "renewables" as about 9% of electricity production.   Increasing this to, say, 20% seems daunting but doable - after all, we are just doubling it.

But in fact, almost all of the 9% is hydro power, and that is not going to increase (in fact environmental presure is actually to destroy several hyrdo facilities to allow the rivers to run free).  This means that to get total renewables to 20%, other renewables like wind and solar will have to increase from about 1% to 12%, or a twelve fold increase.  This is much more daunting, especially since a raft of subsidies and incentives and programs have gotten us to just 1%.

Postscript: Owning a home in Phoenix with a big flat roof, there is no one in the world rooting for solar to be economic more than I am.  I have run the numbers recently, and taking advantage of all government subsidies, the investment has about an 8-10 year payback.  It's just not there yet.  Further, I worry that the current silicon/germanium IC technologies are dated and dead end.  I fear that buying solar now is like buying the last IBM mainframe before PCs came out.  I have a ton of confidence in the innovativeness of man, and believe that a real solar breakthrough will occur in the next 10 years.  Wind, on the other hand, is never going to work.  It is the ethanol of electricity production.

So When Did Democrats Adopt the No-Fly List?

So, how are all you libertarians feeling who supported Obama hoping he could not make too much of a hash of the economy, but were willing to take the risk in exchange for an expansion of civil rights, a demobilizing of the post-9/11 security state, and curbs on executive power?

This from Rahm Emanuel is just nuts.  I remember just 6 months ago Democrats were rightly critical of the no-fly list, arguing (as I do) that there cannot reasonably be a million terrorists running around America and that the list unreasonably curbs civil liberties of everyone put on it without due process, and without any hope of removal in case of mistakes.

I had to listen to the youtube video (in the linked article) to confirm for myself he really said this and in context, but this is exactly what he means, garnering applause from the Brady Center:

"if you're on that no-fly list, your access to the right to bear arms is cancelled, because you're not part of the American family; you don't deserve that right. There is no right for you if you're on that terrorist list."

Wow, a lot of due process here.  What's next,  sending every girl who has her name on a men's room wall (you know, the ubiquitous "for a good time call..." graffiti) to prison as sex workers?

If your second ammendment rights are cancelled (it can't be an accident that he is using nearly the exact text from the Constitution) then doesn't that imply that other Constitutional rights can be cancelled as well?  After all, its dangerous to let terrorists assemble, is it not?  And speak.  And practicing their religion can be a problem.  Etc...

Please, let's not go here.

Testing post by email

I really wanted to post by email in England but could not make it work. Trying again.

Update: So close, yet so far away. LOL. I will keep working on it.

Nerd Heaven

I just got an invited to join Google Voice.  This is a really awesome looking service.  In about 5 minutes I had a phone number in my area code picked out that would be my one number.  I then added phones I had that I wanted this number to ring.  The account gives me web access to voice mail (both a sound file and a written transcript) and text messages.  It also gives me free long distance calling any where in the US, all for $0 a month.  Lots of other features like customized greetings and call forwarding that depends on the caller which I have not played with yet.  Pretty cool.  If you get an invite, I would grab your number.

Wherein Kevin Drum Discovers Different Individuals Have Different Preferences

From Kevin Drum today on health care:

But here's the tidbit that caught my eye:

A fascinating series of pilot programs, including for prostate cancer, has shown that when patients have clinical information about treatments, they often choose a less invasive one. Some come to see that the risks and side effects of more invasive care are not worth the small "” or nonexistent "” benefits. "We want the thing that makes us better," says Dr. Peter B. Bach, a pulmonary specialist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, "not the thing that is niftier."

When I read about healthcare, pretty much the only thing I hear is that everyone wants infinite amounts of it.  And they always want the latest and greatest stuff.

Not me.  My motto is, "That healthcare is best that cares the least."  Or something like that.  Basically, I prefer to get the minimum reasonable amount of healthcare possible, and I have a strong preference for the simplest, oldest, best-known treatments.  I'm not exactly a fanatic about this, but generally speaking I think that most new treatments turn out not to be nearly as effective as we think, and the more time you spend around hospitals the better your chances of catastrophe.

Wow, that's amazing!  Its almost as if we shouldn't have one bureaucracy in Washington making health care decisions for everyone!  In fact, there are several things in here that tend to challenge leftish assumptions:

  1. Contrary to leftish assumptions, individuals do seem to be grown up enough to make health care tradeoffs for themselves
  2. Individuals seem to want to make different cost-benefit-treatment trade offs from each other, belying the notion there is some universal optimum that bureaucrats in Washington are capable of achieving
  3. Allowing individuals to actually shop and make price-benefit decisions in health care might actually reduce costs and improve satisfaction (though absolutely no one in DC seems to be proposing a plan along these lines)

Unfortunately, Drum seems to take none of these lessons from his own post.  Here is the conclusion he draws:

But maybe the difference is just information: I read an awful lot about this stuff, and it's convinced me that there dangers to overtreatment just as there are dangers to undertreatment.  Leonhardt's "fascinating series of pilot programs" suggests that with better information, more people might agree.

Creepily, he seems to conclude from all this that if we can just "educate" the public more, they will be more likely to accept the one-size-fits-all treatment constraints to be implemented by Washington.

PS: I am generally with Drum on doing the absolute minimum for run of the mill health problems I encounter.  If I have a cold, for example, I don't start dosing myself with every over the counter drug I can find.  And our family tries very hard not to use antibiotics unless the condition is really serious.

But my sense is that my attitude will change a lot if the "C" word ever comes into play.  Cancers are much more solveable early than late, and my tendency would be to hit the crap out of it early with  as much of the arsenal as I could.  I don't know what Drum's personal medical history is, but my sense is that it is unwise to extrapolate linearly one's treatment preferences from colds to cancer.


The hamster who powers my server apparently fell off his treadmill and the server went down for a while today.  Those most affected were probably folks who were trying to comment, as most of the time the blog could read from the server but not write.  Hopefull things are fixed now.

We Really Live In A Weird World

House Majority Leader laughs at the idea legislators would actually read the bills they vote on:

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Tuesday that the health-care reform bill now pending in Congress would garner very few votes if lawmakers actually had to read the entire bill before voting on it.

"If every member pledged to not vote for it if they hadn't read it in its entirety, I think we would have very few votes," Hoyer told at his regular weekly news conference.

Hoyer was responding to a question from on whether he supported a pledge that asks members of the Congress to read the entire bill before voting on it and also make the full text of the bill available to the public for 72 hours before a vote.

In fact, Hoyer found the idea of the pledge humorous, laughing as he responded to the question. "I'm laughing because a) I don't know how long this bill is going to be, but it's going to be a very long bill," he said.

Get Ready for the Carbon Offset Accounting Follies

I have already written before about carbon offset companies apparently double or even triple counting carbon credits or offsets.  Here is another example, sent by a reader:

Reilly and Herrgesell, the company's president and project manager, respectively, have been trying to develop a way to "incentivize the consumer" for nearly two years. What they came up with was a model for selling personal carbon credits.

"(It's) a new idea," said Herrgesell, "but a very powerful idea."

To get started, you create a personal profile with usage data from your utility bills over the last year at My Emissions Exchange. Then, you reduce your energy consumption. My Emissions Exchange certifies your personal carbon credits, and sells them for you in the global voluntary carbon market.

The carbon credits are equal to a one-ton reduction in carbon emission, and are currently trading between $10 and $25, according to the site.

"This is the only effort out there that can align green activity with financial benefit," said Reilly.

First, I have looked at the site in question, and find no differentiation for how one's power is generated.  My power in Phoenix comes from a big honking non-CO2-emitting nuclear plant, so my actual carbon credits for reduction in electricity use are theoretically more complex.  Is the clean nuclear power I didn't used sold so it substitutes for fossil fuel power?  Did I cut my power peak or off-peak?  And does it substitute for gas (not much CO2) or coal ( a lot of CO2)?  Its amazing that there are real markets that will accept such soft savings as real credits to be paid for.

Second, in the proposed Waxman-Markey bill, utilities get counted directly on their CO2 output, so either this program will have to go away or else it will represent a double counting of the same benefit (as at the utility level your reduction in electricity use will also "count").

Third, the economic knowledge of the author quoted above is just staggeringly low.  I mean, all this time I thought electricity prices were how consumers were "incentivized" [sic] to use less power.  The implication is that somehow incentives are out of alignment and this is the "only effort" aimed at aligning them.  But consumers already save money by reducing their utility use (does anyone have a utility contract that reads the opposite?)  One might argue that these guys can provide an additional financial incentive that will create incentives for more conservation at the margin, but that's about it.

Honduras & The Rule of Law

In my July 4 post, I wrote that many Americans make what I think of as a mistake in elevating voting and democracy as the primary wonders of the United States.  In that post, I argued that  -- 1.  The Rule of Law  2.  Protection of Individual Rights and 3.  The Subordination of the Government to the Citizenry -- were all more important than voting.

It seems this was a timely post, as Obama appears hell-bent on making the same mistake in Honduras:

Again and again Obama stresses the fact that Mel Zelaya was "democratically-elected". But the same could be said about many of today's dictators. Elections are only one part of the democratic process. The other, and the one that sustains the electoral process, is the rule of law. Focusing only on the fact that Zelaya was "democratically-elected" but ignoring the fact that he has attempted to subvert Honduran constitutional principles that ensure such democratic elections is bad enough.

However, continuing that line of criticism after being apprised of the constitutional arguments and the process which led to Zeyala's ouster is completely unacceptable. Yes, we back the right of people to democratically elect their leaders. But we must also back their decision, driven by the rule of law, to remove a leader when he refuses to follow the law he is sworn to uphold. Why is it that Obama, the "Constitutional law professor, doesn't appear to "get" that?

In Honduras, Obama is siding against the rule of law, against the legislative branch, and against the Supreme Court, but for Executive power and for an enemy of liberty.  Hmm, maybe he is consistent after all.

Awsome Senate Testimony on Transit

From Randal O'Toole (of course). I usually try not to over-excerpt other folks work but I just can't resist in this case.  I like Mr. O'Toole's work on transit because he does not just focus on the cost-benefit issues, but the personal liberty aspects as well:

My testimony focused on two points. First, despite increasing transit subsidies by 1250 percent (adjusted for inflation) since 1970, transit travel has declined from 49 to 45 trips per urban resident and transit's share of urban travel has declined from 4.0% to 1.6%. Second, even if we could get more people to ride transit, transit uses as much energy, and emits nearly as much greenhouse gases, as cars; and the trends suggest that cars will be more environmentally friendly than any transit system in the country by 2025.

There were two interesting responses to my testimony. First, another witness said (and I'm quoting from memory), "All he did was divide total greenhouse gas emissions by passenger miles." A reporter told me later that it sounded like he was questioning my methods, but his real argument was that more money spent on transit in combination with smart-growth land-use planning would lead to reduced auto driving.

I don't believe that is true (and said so), but even if it were true: can you imaging AT&T (back when all phones were land lines) telling Congress, "We want you to restrict property rights, drive up housing prices, and prevent people from living in their preferred lifestyles so that we don't have to extend our lines so far?" Or FedEx or UPS saying the same thing today? Why is transit so special that everyone else in the country has to completely rearrange their lives just for it?

You can say the answer is "climate change," but transit agencies and smart-growth planners wanted to do all these things before climate was an issue. The truth is that transit is a declining but politically powerful industry, and part of its power comes from the fact that it is publicly owned and so elected officials have a vested interest in keeping it going.

In a very real sense, transit is just like the British coal, rail, and other nationalized industries in the 1960s: its main purpose is no longer transportation but to meet other political goals such as keeping transit workers employed and construction contracts going to transit builders. If transit were private, no one would argue that we have to make the world less convenient and more expensive for the 95 percent of people who travel by car so that it will be more convenient for the 1 or 2 percent who travel by transit.

Another Fear-Mongering Claim Proved to be Total BS

The scare story, from November 2008:

Advocates for the nation's automakers are warning that the collapse of the Big Three - or even just General Motors - could set off a catastrophic chain reaction in the economy, eliminating up to 3 million jobs and depriving governments of more than $150 billion in tax revenue.

Industry supporters are offering such grim predictions as Congress weighs whether to bail out the nation's largest automakers, which are struggling to survive the steepest economic slide in decades.

Even if just GM collapsed, the failure could bring down the other two companies - and even the U.S. operations of foreign automakers - as parts suppliers run out of money and shut down"¦.

Automakers say bankruptcy protection is not an option because people would be reluctant to make long-term car and truck purchases from companies that might not last the life of their vehicles.

I called BS on this at the time.  Turns out it was yet another made-up scare story to justify government coercion and more unthinking expenditure of taxpayer dollars:

One of the biggest fears of a GM bankruptcy filing -- a collapse of revenue -- appears to not be as prominent an issue as originally thought.

Car buyers appear undaunted by GM's bankruptcy, assuaging one of the auto maker's biggest fears heading into Chapter 11. Early signs point to stable demand for GM cars and trucks since the company filed for Chapter 11.

Mr. Henderson said June retail sales are tracking higher than May. "June sales are moving along just fine," Mr. Henderson told reporters at a summit in Detroit. Sales to rental and other fleets are down from last month, he said. "We're very gratified for the support of dealers and customers that we've received through this."