“No Man’s life liberty or property is safe while the legislature is in session”.

- attributed to NY State Judge Gideon Tucker

Friday, December 17, 2010

Green Energy & Heavy Lifting

Earlier this month, the Wall Street Journal published a review of a book entitled Prime Movers of Globalization, written by Vaclav Smil.

Nick Schulz, the reviewer, puts Smil's book in context with these passages,

"In 1992, Mr. Gore in his book "Earth in the Balance" called for a program that would lead to the engine's elimination by 2017. He believed this was no fanciful goal; it was just a matter of practical engineering harnessed to political will.

Vaclav Smil doesn't mention Mr. Gore.....But somehow I suspect that the Nobel laureate and scourge of fossil-fuel consumption was not far from the author's mind. For if the story of these remarkable machines reveals anything, it is that Mr. Gore's vision is utterly untethered to reality."

Why? For example, Schulz quotes Smil,

"When measured in tons per kilometer, about 94 percent of global trade is now diesel-powered. The cost, efficiency reliability and durability of diesel engines offer a combination that has not been surpassed by any other energy converter."

Smil describes the effects of the gas turbine as "figuratively, the world shrank by half in a single decade." His focus on commercial shipping makes a far different point than that of moving people, i.e., trade and, therefore, wealth, increased at rates otherwise unachievable.

Schulz highlights Smil's point that our current standards of living, expectations of product and service provision, at their current or future, lower prices, are wholly dependent upon diesel-driven machines or their airborne jet counterparts.

Eliminating these literal 'engines of commerce' would not simply clean the air of the world as we now know it. They would clean the air of a world thrown back hundreds of years in terms of wealth, living styles and standards, and so much more. In short, back to an era of burning coal and wood directly at the consumer-level. But, of course, this, too, would be outlawed by the Greens. So you're probably talking about the global population reduced to using dried animal dung.

Besides this reality which is hidden by those who want to eliminate internal combustion engines is the simple fact that no green energy alternative is capable of providing similar raw locomotive power at similar performance specifications. No wind turbine, tidal energy converter or solar cell is going to power a cargo jet from Southeast Asia to America.

Thus, the unspoken agenda of Greens really is to not simply de-industrialize the globe, but to purposefully push humanity back, in a technological and lifestyle sense, several centuries.

Try putting that on a ballot and getting it passed!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

You Wonder Why We Have Deficits? Federal Train Subsidies

Amidst Harry Reid's $1.1T omnibus spending bill and the wrangling in Congress over retaining current tax rates, here's a disturbing bit of news from the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal, entitled Subsidy Trains to Nowhere.

The article noted that, even as newly-elected governors in Ohio and Wisconsin plan to cancel ill-advised rail projects in their states, thanks to federal subsidies, their voters will continue to pay for bad rail projects elsewhere in the US.

California's questionable Los Angeles-San Francisco rail line comes under scrutiny. Here's the detail from the editorial on that project,

"Consider the case of California, which is one of the states getting cash for trains that the Midwesterners didn't want. Earlier this month its high-speed rail authority approved construction on the first 65-mile segment of a 500-mile bullet train. The first miles will connect the small towns of Borden and Corcoran in the Central Valley for a mere $4.15 billion. Yes, that's billion.

One other detail: The segment won't even begin operating until more of the line is completed, which on present trend could be never. Read on and weep.
In the mid-1990s, California created a high-speed rail authority to prepare a plan for an economically viable rail system. It took a decade for the authority to get legislative approval to ask voters to approve a $9.95 billion bond ballot measure to partly fund the $40 billion project. The authority said that, for a one-way $55 ticket, the system would serve 94 million passengers between Los Angeles and San Francisco and create hundreds of thousands of "sustainable" jobs. It assured taxpayers the railway would operate at a surplus and without subsidies.
The authority has presented plenty of forecasts, one shakier than the next. It now projects that ridership will reach 39 million passengers a year by its 10th year, down from that projection two years ago of 94 million. The experience of other high-speed rail systems suggests they'll be lucky if they get a quarter of that, and five million riders is more likely.

The authority estimates a project cost of $42.6 billion, but a more realistic price tag would put the cost between $62 billion and $213 billion. It also predicts that one-way tickets for the two and a half hour ride from L.A. to San Francisco would cost $105 (up from $55), but the cost-per-mile in Europe and Japan suggests a ticket price closer to $190. Many would choose to fly.
The authority also predicted 450,000 permanent jobs; that's twice the size of the state government's active work force. Did they hire Joe Biden as their stimulus consultant?
Stanford economist Alain Enthoven, former World Bank analyst William Grindley and financial consultant William Warren document all of this in a study that's been reviewed and endorsed by more than 70 business leaders. Their conclusion: Unless the federal government provides $19 billion in seed money, the railway will never achieve a positive cash flow. State taxpayers will end up subsidizing a fantastic boondoggle, even though the authorizing legislation prohibits subsidies."

It's hard to believe anyone with common sense would even bother with such a project, isn't it? Moreover, if it were financially viable, why wouldn't private money be bidding to buy the rights to this project, while the state of California provided required rights of way, permits, etc.? Why would the federal government even need to be involved?

Certainly this sort of Dirksenian "a billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you're talking about real money" attitude adds hundreds of billions of unnecessary dollars to the federal budget and, now, deficit.

It's one thing for government to assist genuinely productive and profitable enterprises. It's another for it to shovel money into projects of questionable value just to claim they employ workers. It's never valuable to have people dig holes, then fill them in, when the money you pay them for this valueless activity is borrowed from a potential enemy.

My 7th grade civics teacher, now Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood, should know better than to be frittering away taxpayer money and, worse, a future generation's wealth servicing the debt to pay for these boondoggles.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Will They Ever Learn?

The sorry spectacle of the pork-laden bill containing extensions of the Bush-era tax rates demonstrates how little members of Congress have learned from the November election results.

You have liberals complaining about taxpayers making over $200K being given an undeserved break. They never seem to be able to grasp that fact that many independent businesspeople do business through LLC's or other entities that roll up into 1040 returns. Thus, what appears to be a very wealthy person is, in reality, a business' tax return.

These same liberals then castigate businesspeople for not hiring and expanding their businesses. With rates in limbo or set to rise, what's the incentive for the independent capitalist?

Meanwhile, middle-of-the-road Democrats larded on the pork to what should have been a simple tax bill. Ethanol subsidies were protected, unemployment benefit extensions were included without any countervailing budget cuts elsewhere, and even $1B for implementing Obamacare was stuffed into the bill.

I don't now know the exact tab for all of the extra spending, but Mitch McConnell, among others, reminded voters that this looked a lot like last year's Christmas Eve rush into voting of a health care bill so fresh that nobody could read its thousands of pages prior to the vote. This bill now runs to at least hundreds of pages, as well.

You'd think merely extending tax rates and maybe unemployment benefits, in the bargain, could be done in about two pages.

These people simply don't understand why voters are so outraged. Even a simple tax policy extension attracts earmarks and pork, with neither current House or Senate leaders, nor Wonderboy gutting all the extra padding and simply passing  the tax rate extensions.

Perhaps this is a sign that taxpayer and voter ire will remain raw and fresh well into the 2012 campaigns. They should.

Monday, December 13, 2010

A Scary Deja-Vu At The White House On Friday

The press conference at the White House on Friday afternoon nearly gave me a heart attack. Which would have been fitting, since Bubba, a/k/a Ol' Pumphead, a/k/a Slick Willie was on the podium.

That's right. Bill Clinton was hauled out, invited down to Washington by Wonderboy and propped up at the West Wing podium to stump for the grand tax rate compromise which the First Rookie can't seem to stuff down the throats of his own party's House members.

If you saw White House press secretary Robert Gibbs choke on the word "triangulate" last week, then you were probably as shocked as I was that the term's notorious author was given the podium with no supervising adult in sight.

Ever since Bubba's heart surgery, he's been accused of having the oft-cited, but denied by cardiac surgeons, condition known as 'pump head.' Here's the initial description from that webpage,

"A study from Duke University, published in the New England Journal of Medicine in February, 2001, confirms what many doctors have suspected, but have been reluctant to discuss with their patients: A substantial proportion of patients after coronary artery bypass surgery experience measurable impairment in their mental capabilities. In the surgeons’ locker room, this phenomenon (not publicized for obvious reasons) has been referred to as "pump head." "

Some of Bubba's more egregious statements during his wife's campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2007-08 were occasionally attributed to this phenomena. He certainly engaged in some pretty spectacular public antics, including leveling charges of reverse racism at various other political notables.

My point is, who would believe this damaged former president? Of what value is the guy's backing when he's already shown serious mental disconnects in public?

Even on Friday, he began to wander off point, babbling about how great the new nuclear arms treaty currently under consideration in the Senate will be, and using the word "stimulus" to describe the pending tax rate deal.

But there's no getting around how desperate Wonderboy looked, recruiting Slick Willie to back his own unwanted compromise, then fleeing the briefing room. Clinton seized the podium, literally, with both hands and would not let go until he had personally decided to end the press conference.

Would the major networks and other media outlets be as silent were George H. Bush recalled to the White House to help sell some policy?