Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Stop Waxman-Markey!

Speaker Pelosi has scheduled the Waxman-Markey Bill for a vote this week, even though the ink is barely dry on it. The bill is formally known as H. R. 2454, the American Clean Energy and Security Act.

Politico reports, "House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) has overcome one of the last big obstacles standing in the path of his landmark climate-change bill, cutting a deal with Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, who sought greater protections in the bill for farmers and other rural interests. Their agreement sets the stage for a vote Friday in the House." (h/t Lucianne.com)

The Competitive Enterprise Institute is one of the organizations campaigning against the bill:
"We urge that voters contact their Representative immediately by calling the House switchboard at (202) 225-3121. Tell your Representative to vote No on H. R. 2454, the American Clean Energy and Security Act. Voters may also send their Member an e-mail by going to www.cei.org/1984 and clicking on the link to the action page."

Why do I object to this legislation? Basically, it does nothing to solve the problems it's ostensibly written for, but will inflict huge costs on our country. Whether you believe or not that humans and greenhouse gases (e.g. CO2) will lead to further climate warming, this is a terrible bill.

1. As Hugh Hewitt noted on his radio show this evening, it's not designed to solve global warming, it's designed to raise revenue. Over at MasterResource.org, Chip Knappenberger writes:
Without a large reduction in the carbon dioxide emissions from both China and India—not just a commitment but an actual reduction—there will be nothing climatologically gained from any restrictions on U.S. emissions, regardless whether they come about from the Waxman-Markey bill (or other cap-and-trade proposals), from a direct carbon tax, or through some EPA regulations.
2. The energy taxes will raise prices throughout the economy. Remember $4.00 gasoline? A few years from now that may seem awfully cheap! Many people argue that gas should be at least $10/gallon to "properly" account for its alleged environmental costs. Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors is just the latest example. But this legislation also hits coal and natural gas, which together provide about 70% of our electric supply if my math is right. (Data from Energy Information Administration) So electric cars won't be a bargain either. Naturally, that's made some House member nervous. PlanetGore has background on some of the horse trading here and here.

3. Because of price inflation, economic output (GDP) will less than it would be without the energy taxes. Heritage Foundation has run the numbers and they are staggering:
Higher energy costs create a significantly slower economy and reduce America’s growth potential. Heritage analysis finds that by 2035, a projected 2.5 million jobs are lost below the baseline (without a cap and trade bill). The average Gross Domestic Product (GDP) lost is $393 billion, hitting a high of $662 billion in 2035. The negative economic impacts accumulate, and the national debt is no exception. The increase in family-of-four debt, solely because of Waxman-Markey, hits an almost unbelievable $114,915 by 2035.
4. If you're concerned about our dependence on foreign oil, it would make more sense to encourage development of domestic sources even as alternative sources emerge from the R&D phase over the next couple of decades. But this bill does nothing to encourage domestic production or otherwise increase supply.

Newt Gingrich now heads up American Solutions. They have lots more information and an online petition I've signed:


Tell your Congressional Representative to vote NO and spread the word to your friends. We can't afford this bill.

Posted on both RareKate Writes and Thwarting Murphy blogs.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Craving Clarity in Policy Debates

Rabbi Yonason Goldson writes about "The Language of Confusion":
In his essay "The Principles of Newspeak," the appendix to his classic novel, 1984 (published 60 years ago this month), George Orwell describes how the leaders of his totalitarian future have contrived to assure their hold on power by replacing English with Newspeak, a language containing no vocabulary for concepts contrary to the platform of the state-run Party. By controlling language, the Party controls its people's very thoughts.

Intuition suggests that language is a product of thought: if we think clearly, automatically we will speak clearly. Orwell demonstrates the opposite, that thought is a product of language. Because we formulate our thoughts in words and sentences, incompetent use of language guarantees muddled thinking. If there are no words for rebellion, uprising, or discontent people will find it difficult to formulate and articulate the concept of overthrowing even the most corrupt and oppressive government.

Marketers talk about how to "reframe" a problem so the customer will think about it in a different fashion. For example, when showing a house in the country, the potential buyers might be worried about the long commute. A smart real estate agent will soon have them thinking cheery thoughts about being close to nature instead, diverting their attention from one of their reasons for not buying.

C. Edmund Wright lays out the word game underlying the so-called health care legislative push, where "health care" is conflated with "health insurance":
The confusion between "health care" and "health insurance" as public policy issues -- along with the near universal misunderstanding of what health insurance is (or should be) -- is making what should be a rather simple financial planning market solution a national nightmare.

Moreover, the nuanced difference in the language used has turned the issue much more emotional and much less rational, politically. We say we must reform the system to prevent families from going bankrupt over medical bills, then turn around and debate systems that micro-manage the costs of pills and routine check ups. Well, which do we really want to do? Those are entirely different issues.

The problem begins with the almost universal misapplication of the terms. Health insurance does not insure your health, nor was it ever intended to. Health care insurance, formerly called "medical insurance," is merely an instrument of neutralizing risk. Financial risk, that is.
Meanwhile, Hugh Hewitt blows the whistle on the rebranding effort on Capitol Hill:
The Obama/Pelosi/Reid push to take over and nationalize health insurance via the so-called "government option" has received a face-lift this week, with many advocates of the takeover now calling it the "public option," which sounds less intrusive. No matter what you call it, the "government/public option" will destroy private sector insurance very soon after it passes and will push tens of millions of employed and covered Americans from the insurance plans they currently own (and generally like) into the sprawling, top-down, rationing-on-the-sly plan that is just Medicare on steroids, a "public option" that will be just as broke and just as oppressive when it comes to intensive treatment of difficult diseases and conditions as medicare is.
Unless our public policy debates can achieve clarity on exactly what the problems are before trying to craft solutions, the politicians and their staffs will continue to write legislation that promises much but comes with huge costs and unintended adverse consequences like the "stimulus" bill. Kevin Glass blogs:
Preliminary results from Barack Obama's stimulus are coming in. The news is not good.

Four months on from Barack Obama's stimulus package, we're seeing an explosion of analysis of what's actually been happening to the hundreds of billions of taxpayer money being doled out.

Recovery.org has been doing a great job tracking where stimulus money is going and for what, and has worked as a non-partisan alternative counter to the Obama administration's propaganda website Recovery.gov. Recovery.org has a handy and detailed list that includes a list of "most recent" stimulus projects, "most expensive" projects, and what Americans are saying. It's an invaluable and unbiased resource for Americans concerned with Obama's spending projects.

The Reason Foundation has just released the "Taxpayer's Guide to the Stimulus." The guide breaks down stimulus spending by category, department and project. Their findings are depressing.

Rushing bills through Congress is not the answer! David Harsanyi opines in the Denver Post (h/t Corner):

Weren't we promised some methodical and deliberate governance from President Barack Obama? Where is it?

The president claims that we must pass a government-run health insurance program — possibly the most wide-ranging and intricate government undertaking in decades — yesterday or a "ticking time bomb" will explode.

If all this terrifying talk sounds familiar, it might be because the president applies the same fear-infused vocabulary to nearly all his hard-to-defend policy positions. You'll remember the stimulus plan had to be passed without a second's delay or we would see 8.7 percent unemployment. We're almost at 10.


Tying a Gordian Knot

In Greek mythology, the Gordian Knot was infamous for being so complex that it was impossible to untie. (Alexander the Great "solved" the knotty problem by cutting it with a sword.)

Nowadays, our fearless leaders on Capitol Hill seem intent on creating their own masterpieces of knotty complexity that many conservatives fear will be impossible to undo once implemented, just like Medicare. But that's not stopping Congressional solons from trying, even if no constituent group wants their "cures". From The Hill:
The cost of [health care] reform and how to pay for it dominated the discussion Tuesday as Democrats were forced to respond to an unfavorable Congressional Budget Office (CBO) analysis of one incomplete part of an incomplete bill.

The CBO looked at one portion of a draft bill written by the Senate HELP Committee and found, among other things, that it would cost more than $1 trillion while providing a net decrease in the number of uninsured people of 16 million.

The CBO also threw cold water on a promise by a coalition of healthcare industry groups to reduce healthcare spending by $2 trillion over 10 years. Obama announced their promise to much fanfare, but the CBO found that while a few of the cost-cutting measures would save money, others would cost money. In sum, they would not have a big impact on federal spending, the CBO concluded.
Or consider the proposed financial regulation reform. Larry Kudlow writes at The Corner:

The Fed in Charge of Systemic Risk? What a Mess [Larry Kudlow]

The big winner of the Obama financial-regulation plan appears to be the Federal Reserve, which becomes the consolidated supervisor of large, systemically important banks.

This is like the fox guarding the henhouse. After all, the Fed’s overly loose money policies created the asset bubble — including housing, commodities, and energy — in the first place. Near-zero interest rates, huge money growth, and total disregard for the plunging dollar are what set up the housing boom and the unfortunate overleveraging by consumers, mortgage borrowers, and Wall Street securitizers.

It also set up the astronomical $150 oil shock, which came alongside the Fed’s overly tight money policies to offset the prior loose policies that would cause this credit crunch and deep recession. In fact, looking back to the last two bubbles — the tech bubble of 1999-2000 and the housing/energy bubble after that — it was the Fed’s pillar-to-post go-stop-go-stop lurches that deserve the principal blame for the economic messes that ensued.
If mismanaging economic policy doesn't make you nervous, how about the Waxman-Markey environmental legislation being written? From Steve Haywood at Planet Gore:

May the Farce Be With You [Steve Hayward]

While most of us are concentrating our fire on the costs and bureaucracy that Waxman-Markey entails, no one has noticed one salient political fact: Had the Bush administration and the GOP Congress proposed the current language back in, say, 2005, all of the leading green groups would have vehemently opposed it as an ineffective sellout to corporate interests. (See, for example, the latest estimate from the Breakthrough Institute that Waxman-Markey will only reduce GHG emissions by about 0.5 percent by 2020.) But the greens are so in-the-bag for Obama and Pelosi, and so desperate to pass something — anything — before Copenhagen in December, that they're willing to become shameless hypocrites.

And Paul Driessen warns in an IBD Editorial Op-Ed:

If the pending Waxman-Markey energy and climate bill (HR 2454) becomes law, utility bills will soar. Farm and business energy costs will skyrocket — and be passed on to consumers, or defrayed by layoffs. Everything Americans grow, make, buy and do will be far pricier. And bureaucrats will control our lives.

Compared to no cap-and-tax regime, Waxman-Markey would cost the United States a cumulative $9.6 trillion in real GDP losses by 2035, concludes a study by the Heritage Foundation's Center for Data Analysis. The bill would also cause an additional 1.1 million job losses each year, raise electricity rates 90% after adjusting for inflation, provoke a 74% hike in inflation-adjusted gasoline prices, and add $1,500 to the average family's annual energy bill, says Heritage.

[Heritage's report is here.]

Fortunately, some members of Congress are interested in untying some of the existing Federal Gordian Knot. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) blogs about the newly-formed Sunset Caucus:
The Sunset Caucus is designed to shrink our ballooning government budget by eliminating federal programs, offices, and agencies that are duplicative or obsolete.

As Ronald Reagan once said, “a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth.”

As a member of the Sunset Caucus, I will select some program or agency that has outlived its usefulness, duplicates other government programs or that Congress never had any business creating in the first place. The fight for the taxpayers has to start somewhere.

The average federal program duplicates five other programs. For example, there are about 60 separate welfare programs, approximately 160 job training programs, and over 300 economic development programs. When American families are struggling to make ends meet, Congress should be looking for ways to tighten the government’s belt too, and this is a good place to start.

If we can’t make the easy decision to cut this kind of wasteful spending, is it is any wonder the American people are doubtful of Washington’s intentions to make the so-called “difficult choices.”
Break out the swords!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Space Poop

One of the challenges a designer should think about is that the real end-user may not fit the assumptions. Take the toilets on the International Space Station, for instance. From Pravda:

Until recently, Russian cosmonauts and US astronauts did not distinguish between their toilets and used the one that was closer. However, the food, which space researchers eat, differs greatly. The Russian space food is more savoury, more natural and more diverse, which US astronauts acknowledge too.

The menu of the Russian crew has over 300 dishes. Here is the daily menu of Valery Korzun, the commander:

Breakfast: curds and nuts, mashed potatoes with nuts, apple-quince chip sticks, sugarless coffee and vitamins.

Lunch: jellied pike perch, borsch with meat, goulash with buckwheat, bread, black currant juice, sugarless tea.

Supper: rice and meat, broccoli and cheese, nuts, tea with sugar.

Second supper: dried beef, cashew nuts, peaches, grape juice.

It just so happens that the consistency of fecal matter turns out to be rather thick against the background of such a diet.

The menu of US astronauts is nutritious as well, but it looks more like a diet ration and presumably consists of exotic fruit, vegetables, sea food and low-fat meat. That is why, their waste is much softer. Engineers took account of these peculiarities when designing the sewage system for the ISS. It just so happens that the solid Russian waste ruined the US toilets in space.

The astronauts were sick and tired of toilet breakdowns and unpleasant odors. NASA was eventually forced to order a toilet system from Russia. US tax payers paid $19 million for the space toilet. The new construction was installed in the US department of the ISS.

(H/T The Corner)

I don't really care if the story is completely factual or not. The fact remains that end-users seldom care about the design specs, and will find novel ways to use and abuse products over time.

Cross-posted at Thwarting Murphy.