Among the issues most commonly discussed are individuality, the rights of the individual, the limits of legitimate government, morality, history, economics, government policy, science, business, education, health care, energy, and man-made global warming evaluations. My posts are aimed at intelligent and rational individuals, whose comments are very welcome.

"No matter how vast your knowledge or how modest, it is your own mind that has to acquire it." Ayn Rand

"Observe that the 'haves' are those who have freedom, and that it is freedom that the 'have-nots' have not." Ayn Rand

"The virtue involved in helping those one loves is not 'selflessness' or 'sacrifice', but integrity." Ayn Rand

For "a human being, the question 'to be or not to be,' is the question 'to think or not to think.'" Ayn Rand

30 May 2008

Oil Executives Finally Faced Down Democrats

Usually, American oil company executives when called before Congressional committees for the ritual browbeating by Democrats whenever oil and gasoline prices shoot up, take the beating that is dished out fairly meekly. Perhaps with gasoline prices as high as they are now, they were afraid the Democrats would not stop at a tongue-lashing and would actually take draconian action against the oil companies. Usually, the Democrats take their cheaply earned points with the public and do nothing more about it, because they know that any action they take will be a disaster. That's right, they are self-aware demagogues! They usually know better than to put their pet popular theories to the test. They know they will fail. After all, they are bright enough to get elected. They are bright enough to fool most of the people most of the time.

On 21 May 2008, Chairman Pat Leahy of the Senate Judiciary Committee called a number of oil company executives before the committee for a grilling. This time, these oil company executives did the grilling with their testimony.

John Lowe, Executive Vice President of Conoco Philips Company said: "We can only compete directly for 7 percent of the world's available reserves while about 75 percent is completely controlled by national oil companies and is not accessible."

Stephen Simon, Senior Vice President of Exxon Mobil Corporation: "Exxon Mobil is the largest U. S. oil and gas company, but we account for only 2 percent of global energy production, only 3 percent of global oil production, only 6 percent of global refining capacity, and only 1 percent of global petroleum reserves. With respect to petroleum reserves, we rank 14th."

"Of the 2 million barrels per day Exxon Mobil refined in 2007 here in the United States, 90 percent were purchased from others."

Now, the Democrats want Americans to believe that these small-time companies in the world oil and gas market are manipulating the world-wide cost of oil, which in 2007 accounted for 58% of the cost of gasoline sold in the United States. They are accused of price gouging by the Democrats. But, as they pointed out, only 4% of the price of gasoline goes to oil company profits, while government taxes average 15%. If a 4% profit is gouging than government is beating them in the gouging arena by a factor of 3.75!

John Hofmeister, President of Shell Oil Company, told the committee that for 30 years companies have been prohibited from exploring and developing oil and gas resources in the United States. The Department of the Interior says 62% of all on-shore federal lands are off limits to oil and gas developments and restrictions apply to 92% of all federal lands. Outer continental shelf moratoriums apply to the Atlantic Ocean, the Pacific Ocean, and the eastern Gulf of Mexico. There are also congressional bans on on-shore oil and gas activities in specific areas of the Rockies and Alaska and bans on even doing an analysis of the resource potential for oil and gas in the Atlantic, Pacific, and eastern Gulf of Mexico.

Do you suppose the bans on analysis of the reserves that may be present in these restricted locations in the U. S. are motivated by fear that Americans would be angry at Congress for the high price of gasoline if they knew how much oil Congress was making unavailable?

Hofmeister continues: The Argonne National Laboratory reported in 2004 that 40 specific federal policy areas halt, limit, delay, or restrict natural gas projects. He offered to make a copy available for the report on the day's proceedings. "As a result, U. S. production has declined so much that nearly 60% of daily consumption comes from foreign sources."

Senator Orrin Hatch, Republican, pointed out that large proven reserves of oil exist in Utah, Colorado, and Wyoming. He noted that experts say there are between 800 billion and 2 trillion barrels of oil that can be recovered there for much less than $100 per barrel. He noted that just last week, the Democrats stopped an effort to recover shale oil in Colorado.

Clearly, the Democrats really want oil to become very expensive, so that oil and gasoline consumption will drop. Partly this is for the nonsensical idea that we need to reduce carbon dioxide to prevent global warming. This is a case where Democrats have enough understanding of supply and demand to know that if they cut off the oil supply, the price of gasoline will rise. Partly, it is just that the Democrat elite think there is something romantic about a primitive lifestyle, even though few of them are prepared to live that primitive lifestyle themselves. But, they think it would be better if the rest of us did.

How is it that Americans have managed to send so many strange people to Congress to rule us all with their wrongheaded ideas?

29 May 2008

Conversation with a Socialist

Recently, when visiting David Mayer's blog, MayerBlog, I saw an ad declaring that there would be one fewer libertarian if I clicked on the click-for-pay ad. I took up the challenge. The link led to one of three parts of a manuscript entitled "Greed", which was written by Julian Edney and is to become a book. Julian Edney is a college teacher and his viewpoint is briefly described in Wikipedia, here. Some links to his writings can be found there. My exchange of e-mail notes with him follows:


The United States was founded on the principle that government should protect the right of the individual to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The Constitution recognized that the way to do this was to prevent persons individually, in gangs or mobs, or with tyrannical governments as agents from stealing an individual's hours of life, dictating his values and goals, taking the property and income he held and earned through the dedicated use of his time and effort, depriving him of the use and management of his body, and otherwise acting forcefully to prevent him from pursuing his self-defined happiness. I fully support this view of a decent society in which people are allowed to manage their own lives and choose their own values and purposes.

You are horribly wrongheaded. You would substitute what you define as the important outcomes for what people have chosen for themselves. What a swollen head you have. You are not qualified to choose my values. I am not qualified to choose yours and will not attempt to do so. But, I will not allow you to become a tyrant over me. I can and do think for myself. I have my own life experiences and have faced them with a highly active and analytical mind. I trust my mind. I will manage my own life and do it far better than you can do it. So I will oppose your every effort to set government policy to force me to live in accordance with your values. It is particularly grievous when those less intelligent than myself and at a great distance from my life, hire government thugs to bash me over the head. At least a common thief comes at me in ones or twos. The likes of you hide behind a great pretense that you are a humanitarian and care about others to create and wield vicious violence against my person, my life, and my pursuit of happiness. Insofar as you do care about others, you must care that they have the freedom of choice to manage their own lives. When someone actually does suffer unusual misfortune and can use a helping hand, then step forward and offer it yourself, rather then stepping back into the shadows and trying to manipulate others under the threat of violence into providing the support for the unfortunate which you will not personally provide. Freedom-loving Americans are an unusually beneficent people, but as you take their freedoms from them, they will more and more resemble resentful and sullen beasts. The socialist image of people is wrongheadedly that they are envious, resentful, and sullen beasts, which image I emphatically reject.

Your committed opponent,

Charles R. Anderson

His response:

Charles R. Anderson,
Thanks for responding to the Greed essay.
I have received hundreds and hundreds of responses such as yours, and approximately an equal number of supporting comments.
I read from one end to the other of your long email, and nowhere did I see the word justice.
I take it you are a conservative (and probably you have even read Ayn Rand) so your prime social value is freedom.
The main difference between us is that I place justice as the highest social value.
I am not willing to live in a society that is all freedom and no justice. That would be a Wild West economy, with short life expectancies for all.
Unlike you, I am a supporter of democracy, too.
Best wishes,

My response:


Justice is rendered to others when one does not use force against them to prevent them from managing their own lives and pursuing their own values and happiness. If justice is defined as that condition in which everyone has an equal amount of material goods and equal service requirements of others to oneself, then justice is a very paltry, unspiritual concept. This is justice at the expense of disallowing human potential to flourish. The worst injustice done to a man is make him the slave of others and decree that equality of worldly goods requires that everyone sink to a lowest common denominator. If everyone is allowed the opportunity to flourish, then many will present the remaining members of society with the great gifts of their creativity and thought. Life expectancies have historically lengthened due to this unleashed creativity and productivity. The least able have also become able to enjoy many material goods and many services they cannot afford in those countries that have most nearly practiced your concept of justice. When justice is thought to be the tool of the envious for the destruction of others, real justice is destroyed.

As the founding fathers realized, democracy is another form of tyranny. It is only tolerable if it is limited by principle to a scope of action which is extremely delimited. Our Constitution attempted to do this. Democracy is only slightly preferable to dictatorship and monarchy. All other spheres of human action should be voluntary. I reject the idea also of the great leader who will be elected democratically and then lead us into a highly socialist maze of programs which will make us all dependent upon the state for almost all of our human needs. Most liberals (progressives, socialists in todays context) only use democracy as a means to attain a wide-ranging rule of every life by an elite. In a way, they are simply trying to reconstruct a feudal system, with a great leader king and themselves as the aristocracy.

Only a modern liberal would think me a conservative. Conservatives are appalled by my lack of belief in a God(s), my refusal to use government to enforce more than minimal moral concepts (prevention of murder and fraud), my rejection of victimless crimes, my belief that government plays no role in marriages, but should provide all combinations of people with life partnership contracts, my love of sex and sexual expression, and my strong individuality. I am no sheep. The founding fathers had the most modern of ideas on how society should be organized with respect to government, but I am also a scientist and a man comfortable with the future. Neither Conservatives nor Liberals in the present political spectrum are anywhere near as modern in their thinking as I am. Conservatives are almost always happy with the way things were a couple of decades ago, no matter what was wrong with that time. Liberals really want a return to feudalism modified by elimination of most of the palaces, under the pretense that they are pursuing something radically new. Meanwhile they speak only of people giving up their cars, giving up the use of energy, giving up large homes, giving up freedoms and personal choices, sacrificing themselves to others who are supposedly all sacrificing themselves to still others, worshiping tree spirits and water nymphs, and looking for an imperial president or a messiah. How incredibly backward-looking. They are more backward than the Conservatives!

Yes, I have read and admire the work of Ayn Rand. If you have read her and understood her, then you would see that one does not have to choose between individual freedom of choice and justice. Both are required by man in living life well and fully. Neither is possible to man without the other.



His response:

Charles R. Anderson,
Unfortunately that is not the conventional meaning of justice, which is close to equity. If you give concepts unusual meanings, you can prove about anything.
> democracy is another form of tyranny.
Again this is not the conventional meaning of democracy. Democracy is fundamental part of the American system, and it supports popular equality. I know there are some extremists who want to dismantle democracy, but that is not a pro-American attitude.
>Yes, I have read and admire the work of Ayn Rand.
In my essay Greed III (which is taken down from my website to be lengthened, since I am writing a book) I thoroughly defoliate Ayn Rand's work, which is toxic propaganda. She has done considerable damage to this country. She is opposed to altruism. She is opposed to the common good. She seems to promote inequality, and that is undemocratic, in fact it is one of the hallmarks of fascism.
I am familiar with your point of view, since some readers of my Greed essays have responded with similar ideas.
I continue to write to point out the damage to society done by greed. You may be interested in some of my other articles:

My response:


It is because the general public has very confused ideas of what justice is that there are many who believe, as you do, that one must choose between justice and freedom. If we framed our view of life's values in such a way that we had to choose between food and water on the one hand and oxygen on the other, then we would, I hope, quickly realize that we had misconstrued the values of life. We would rearrange our understanding of life's values to admit of our partaking of food, water, and oxygen. The majority view on individual freedom vs. justice is clearly in need of a better understanding. Concepts such as justice are very complex and they require considerable thought to understand what they are. It is not surprising in view of the want of analytical thought and observation and the great confusion of our academics that the general public uses muddled and self-contradictory concepts of freedom, justice, tolerance, and benevolence.

Take the latter concept of benevolence. It is often thought that the person who wishes to use government force to take the product of the effort of one man and give it to another who has produced less is a benevolent person. This "benevolent" person threatens the greater producer with great violence if the greater producer tries to defend his life (which is made up of the hours at his disposal, which he chose to use to produce that which was brutally taken from him). So, many have now assigned the virtue of benevolence to a brutal thief. Clearly, this is a very confused concept in the public's mind. The truly benevolent person starts by never threatening another with the use of force and certainly does not bear him the ill will to deprive him of his life by stealing the hours of his life.

Yes, you are right that many people are naive enough to believe that democracy is not tyrannical. But tyranny is the use of force to deprive the individual of his right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is obvious that democracies often do deprive individuals of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The historical record is very clear and even the current record of American governments is clear in this regard. Throwing someone in jail for using marijuana or for helping to arrange for other consenting adults to have sex are acts of tyranny. Transferring money from the vast majority of consumers to farmers in the form of food price supports and to further the use of ethanol as a fuel is an act of tyranny. Forcing employers to be unpaid and involuntary tax collectors and record keepers is an act of tyranny. Enacting laws to prevent people from building housing on private land and then taking further money to build subsidized housing for those who cannot afford housing since the supply of land was diminished by government decree is another act of tyranny. We are surrounded and overwhelmed by government generated injustices and instances of the brutal use of force, justified by stupid claims that they are all for the public good. Whenever someone claims that they are going to use government force for the public good, you can be sure [This really should be suspicious, not sure, since government must use force for defense of the nation and that may be for the public good. This qualification was added for this blog posting.] that the real public good, the best interests of the individuals who are the public, will not be served.

The pro-American central idea is that which our country was initially dedicated to serving. The function of good government is to protect the rights of the individual.


His final response:

Charles R. Anderson,
I don't agree with most of what you say, and you sound like a Libertarian. You obviously write coherently, so I hope you are publishing your views.

If you have read through all this, I hope you have noted the nature of a conversation with a committed socialist. He is little compelled to refute an argument. He simply asserts that some positions are right and some others are wrong. Though you may try hard to elicit a coherent and consistent viewpoint, he will not feel obliged to provide reasons for his viewpoint. He believes his viewpoint is simply the only one any good person can hold. In fact, a good person is defined as one who believes in self-sacrifice and in being one of the elite who will lead the blind and helpless masses to the values they should want.

They are completely able to ignore any challenge to this, commonly by reframing and rewriting any different viewpoint into a complete straw man argument. In fact, the rewrite is usually considered adequate when the straw man argument is simply identified with a codeword or two. For instance, Social Darwinism is code for anything having to do with individual interest and values and Social Justice for anything having to do with the forceful and violent taking of life, property, and liberty for the sake of someone who has less of some good or other. Of course, it is implied that only brutes have individual interests and values, while those who use violence and the threat of violence to redistribute life and property are benevolent. This is as twisted a viewpoint as the viewpoint that one must either choose individual life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness or one must choose justice! Of course they assume that justice is what they call social justice, but there is no such thing. Justice is a concept that pertains to the treatment an individual receives from others, who may come in any combination of individuals from one to many. He also threw in a fascism claim without due hesitation for the fact that fascists are socialists who definitely do not have any respect for the individual. Fling, fling those vicious codewords!

Words like justice should stand for coherent and needed concepts. They may be complicated and require a great deal of thought when the concept is as abstract as that of justice is, but the concept when correctly understood is not of arbitrary content. It needs to serve a useful purpose in clarifying our thinking, not in muddling it and simply pasting good or bad connotative implications upon some ideas. Justice is critical to each and every individual who lives among other individuals for the reason that all individuals need sufficient respect for their individuality and worth that their right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is respected. The just person also finds pleasure in finding value and worth in others and acknowledges it when he finds it. Just people find it easier and more mutually beneficial when they are able to work together and pool their talents and specializations, thinking ability and creativity, and their individual abilities to enjoy life.

Everyone has a legitimate need for the exercise of their individual rights and the justice provided by those who respect those rights and further respect the value of individuals who lead rational and productive lives. Justice and individual rights are as necessary for humans as both food and water on the one hand and oxygen on the other. If someone told a human that life requires a man to choose either food and water or oxygen, we would immediately recognize that the person requiring the choice did not understand life. Similarly, if your concept of individual freedom and your concept of justice require a choice of one or the other, then you clearly do not understand human life among other people.

23 May 2008

An Abundant Future Energy Source?

For some time I have been meaning to write about an interesting article by B. B. Rath of the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) from the April 2008 issue of the MRS Bulletin, a publication of the Materials Research Society. In the 1800s, French researchers reported the formation of hydrates of methane, ethane, and propane. In the mid-1930s, Germans discovered that gas pipelines incurred blockages at temperatures above 0 degrees Centigrade due to the formation of solid gas hydrates. Then in the mid-1960s it was realized that there are vast quantities of gas hydrates, primarily methane hydrates, deposited in the ocean sediments on the continental shelves and in the permafrost regions on land. These deposits are produced by microbial decomposition of organic matter or by geothermal heating wherever the temperature and pressure are conducive to the formation of gas hydrates. The amount of gas hydrates is estimated to be approximately twice that of all oil, natural gas, and coal deposits combined.

The Naval Research Laboratory has played a leading role in starting to map out where methane hydrates are to be found in sediment rich areas of the ocean floors and in the tundra regions. The ocean continential shelves all around the world appear to have deposits and to have the lion's share of the total reserves. At a depth of about 500 meters, the solid methane hydrates form due the combination of cold and pressure. In Arctic waters, since the water is colder, the solid gas hydrates are found at depths of about 300 meters. Alaska is believed to be completely surrounded by deposits in the Beaufort Sea Play to the north and in the Bering Sea Play elsewhere. The Northern Pacific Play lays off California, Oregon, and Washington. Then there is the Gulf of Mexico Play from the western coast of Florida to Texas and the Southeastern Atlantic Ocean Play from the middle Florida eastern coast up to Maine.

As a direct fuel source, methane produces energy efficiently on a per weight basis. It also is easy to burn it more cleanly than oil or coal. But, while this energy source may guarantee that mankind will not soon run out of energy, the means to deliver it up for commercial and competitive use does not now exist. Some programs are underway to learn how best to do this. Japan is leading an effort to study the potential of gas hydrates in the Nankai trough, an area that NRL earlier identified as promising. An international consortium is active in the Canadian Arctic area in a program. The United States Geological Survey (USGS), the Department of Energy, and NRL are working to identify methane hydrate fields and gas cavities in the US continental shelves. The USGS is working with India to map fields in its continental shelf. NRL has worked with Chile and New Zealand to learn more about their deposits of methane hydrates. There is some indication China is mapping its deposits.

World demand for energy is expanding rapidly, but the OPEC nations have proven unwilling to expand their production of oil. The Democrats in Congress, with some foolish Republicans, have prevented the drilling for more oil in Alaska, off the Pacific coast, off the Atlantic coast, and off the western Florida coast. The use of nuclear and coal energy sources is discouraged throughout the U.S. Wind farms and solar panel use are prevented by some government entities throughout the U.S. We have made it easy for Arab sheiks and Iranian mullahs with their Holocaust-denying puppets to extract dhimmitude tributes from us, rather as the pirates of the North African coast in Morocco, Tripoli, and Tunis prayed upon American and European trade vessels in the Mediterranean Sea in the 1700s and the early 1800s. Then there is the South American pirate Chavez extorting private companies of their oil fields and using his riches to foment socialist revolutions throughout South America. Even the Russians are becoming more belligerent now that oil is bringing them wealth again. These methane hydrate fields in U. S. waters and throughout the world may well help us limit the ultimate price of a barrel of oil and the time during which we are highly vulnerable to their control of energy.

Of course, we can and should place many other limits on their ability to drive up the price of oil and gas by developing more of our own oil and gas fields. We should produce more jobs and wealth in Iraq by working very hard to get their oil production into high gear. We should get busy building nuclear power plants again. We also have huge deposits of coal to use and have developed excellent scrubbers to remove pollutants. We have tar sands and shale oil to develop, which the Canadians are doing successfully now. One of our biggest problems is that the Federal government holds most of the land with these deposits on it. This is generally not beautiful park land. It is largely land that previously did not have enough economic value that private citizens were induced to put enough pressure on the government to allow them to settle it and develop it. It was wasteland, but modern conservationist nonsense makes it difficult for the Federal government to divest itself of the land.

Unfortunately, the die was cast by decisions made by American governments over the past 30 years that put us into the dire energy cost straits we are in now. If we were to adopt good energy development policies now, we would enjoy a great deal of relief in 10 years. Since the Democrats look to continue to control Congress for the next several years, this crisis will not have a 10 year time limit. The situation may well get worse before it gets better. The only hope is that some OPEC members, Russia, and Mexico will want to take advantage of the huge increase in the price of oil to produce more of it. Most of them have very inefficient national oil companies who have difficulty keeping up oil production, let alone expanding it. The longer it has been since they nationalized their fields, the more inefficient they have tended to become. Unfortunately, if some do increase production, many of those nations will use much of their higher income to cause still greater mischief in the world.

22 May 2008

Goldberg: The church of green

Jonah Goldberg, a religious conservative with a somewhat libertarian bent, has written an interesting commentary on environmentalism published in the Los Angeles Times. In "The church of green" he discusses the substantial parallels between the environmental movement as nature worship and religion. It is a well-written and interesting commentary.

Goldberg says "Whether it's adopted the trappings of religion or not, my biggest beef with environmentalism is how comfortably irrational it is. It touts ritual over reality, symbolism over substance, while claiming to be so much more rational and scientific than those silly sky-God worshipers and deranged oil addicts."

There is mention of the polar bears, whose numbers have quadrupled in the last 50 years. Strangely, the U. S. government just put polar bears on the endangered species list because possible future shrinking of polar ice might cause a decrease in their numbers. In reality, which does not matter to the Mother Nature worshipers, the number of polar bears is far and away primarily a function of their being hunted by humans, not one of weather change. It would be much cheaper to buy off Canadian hunters than to wreck the U. S. economy to save future polar bears. Besides, Bjorn Lomborg in his 2007 book Cool It estimates that the full implementation of the Kyoto Protocols on greenhouse gases would save one polar bear! Besides which, it is not clear that the polar bears would cast a vote for struggling human economies. They seem to love and thrive on well-stocked human waste dumps!

Thanks to Robert Bidinotto for pointing this article out to me in an entry in his web log on 20 May 2008.

Kudlow: Striking out on energy

Lawrence Kudlow has written an interesting commentary on the energy crisis and his evaluation of the energy policies of Congress, the President, and Senator McCain. He notes that the Chairman of Exxon Mobil correctly calls for producing more domestic oil and gas by opening up exploration and development of oil and gas fields in U.S. coastal waters and on the outer continental shelf. He also agrees that President Bush is right in drilling for oil in Alaska.

The cost of gasoline has risen due to increased demand throughout the world and the failure to increase the supply of oil. Americans are apparently blaming the Republicans, despite the fact that it is overwhelmingly the Democrats who have consistently opposed the development of new sources of energy. Oh yes, they do favor government incentives and research into possible future new sources of energy, but once any energy source becomes viable, they tend to turn against it. In any case, none of the present Democrat-favored sources of energy is both commercially viable and able to produce significant energy. Apparently, the chimera of future new energy sources held out by the Democrats is enough to fool most Americans into placing the present blame upon the Republicans. Go figure.

Kudlow weighs into the problems and wrongheadedness of John McCain's proposal for a cap and trade energy program. McCain will have inspectors traipsing into every company in America and examining their use of energy. There will be massive new rules and regulations for 5 million businesses. The Congressional Budget Office guesses that this will cost at least $1 trillion. That is the cost to the government. The cost to business will be much greater than that. Way to revive the economy, John McCain! Yes, shoot us all in the foot in the name of an unfounded idea that there is significant global warming, that this is bad, that this is caused by man, and that any government program is capable of meaningfully addressing the supposed problem.

So, business will be forced to use less energy, at least certain types of energy. I suppose I will be allowed to use a hand-cranked generator to provide power for my x-ray photoelectron spectrometer! The Democrats will be talking about the new jobs they have created. I will have to hire 3 shifts of hand-crankers, who probably will insist on union breaks, so long data acquisition runs will soon be a thing of the past. It will be interesting to see what the likely voltage fluctuations will do to the quality of spectra. Well, maybe I am being pessimistic. Maybe the government will send a brilliant inspector to my laboratory who will offer a great solution to our newly mandated need to stop using so much electricity. Realistically Charles, when was the last time you encountered a brilliant government inspector?

Congress will be able to use this cap and trade program to generate huge amounts of new money for them to spend. The fact that it will come out of the pockets of every American and drive up the cost of hiring people and producing goods and services, is of no concern to them. It should be of concern to us however.

You can read Kudlow's commentary here.

Democrats: Which Farm Bill Did We Pass?

The House of Representatives, controlled by the Democrats, has just finished over-riding President Bush's veto of the wrongheaded and massive porky farm bill. But, it turns out that the bill sent to the President as the bill voted on by the House, was not the bill voted on by the House. A version of the farm bill not voted on was sent to the President by the Democratic House leadership. Perhaps this is to be fully expected of these foolish politicians, who do not bother to read the bills they vote on. They believe themselves capable of running all aspects of our lives from our health, our use of energy, our use of chemicals, our charities, our education, our hiring and firing, many of our professions and businesses, growing and marketing food, they manage and fund scientific research, and they label us polluters because we breathe out carbon dioxide, but can they do the fundamentals of their own job?

But then the provisions of the farm bill that they will have to go through the motions of passing again will also prove their incompetence. The incompetent Democrats voting to over-ride the President's veto numbered 216 and they were joined by 100 incompetent Republicans. They have plenty of incompetent colleagues in the Senate also. There, the incompetent Senators on their vote before the Presidential veto numbered 85.

There is some good news in this. It will take some time for the House to pass this bill again. This is likely to mean that some other mischief they had planned to do will be pushed off the calender. Too bad that they will find the time to pass a farm bill as bad as that vetoed by the President.

The report on the fiasco by the Washington Times is here.

21 May 2008

Our New Farm Bill

Well, folks, Congress has done it to us again. Read about it in this short, but very informative, editorial, aptly titled "Pigs in the trough on Capitol Hill," on one of the latest injustices against the American people that the Congress has overwhelmingly endorsed. President Bush says he will veto it, but it appears clear that his veto will be overridden.

This bill will give $300 billion to farmers, some of whom do not themselves farm, even as the market prices of cotton, corn, wheat, soybeans, sugar, and other plant products have gone through the roof due to huge overseas demand increases and due to the ethanol subsidies and fuel mandates. This is a very overt effort to buy votes. It also is causing a world of hurt for the meat producers and those who buy meat. We might call this the Congressional mandate for American vegetarianism!

The editorial discusses crop insurance provisions, the increased subsidies for domestic sugar and restriction on sugar importation and the purchase of "excess sugar" for resale to ethanol refineries. Then it talks about some local special interest provisions and some provisions added without vote by either the Senate or the House by the House and Senate negotiators for further special interests such as a salmon fishery for California and another fuel subsidy for cellulosic ethanol.

I'm a meat eater. I propose that we eat the pigs in Congress by throwing out everyone of those who voted for this farm bill. Just for a start of course. I will propose that we do the same for a few additional idiotic bills between now and the election. If you follow my lead, we will have almost none of the old pigs in the trough in the House and about one-third fewer in the Senate after the 2008 election!

Oh, damn, I forgot how few people read this web log. Looks like the pigs will retain control of the Congressional trough and will probably actually increase their control. They live by the motto that "You can fool most of the people most of the time." and the people are happy to play their game. How sad. Especially so, because their false game is so transparent. I am embarrassed for my fellow Americans.

Walter Williams on Congressional Problem Creation

Prof. Walter E. Williams has written a short commentary on a number of problems caused by Congress and the Presidents. These problems then become the justification for Congress taking still more control of industries and the economy, which will cause still more problems. These will newer problems will be used to justify still more Congressional controls and, happily for Congress, lead to still more problems, which will .......

He discusses the effects of The Community Reinvestment Act of 1977, monetary expansion by the Federal Reserve Bank, Congressional limitations on oil and gas exploration, refineries, and nuclear power, and the ethanol fuel mandates and food prices.

20 May 2008

David N. Mayer's Thoughts for Summer 2008

David N. Mayer, professor of law and history at Capital University Law School in Columbus, Ohio, is my personal favorite interpreter of the Constitution of the United States of America. He has written The Constitutional Thought of Thomas Jefferson (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1994, paperback 1995) [ link ]. He is presently writing a book on the Constitution and Constitutional law, which will assuredly be an incredibly important book when it is finished.

David has just published his "Thoughts for Summer 2008" on his web log. He discusses these topics:

  • Gas-Price Hysteria, Again
  • The Ethanol Boondoggle
  • Green Bullshit
  • Pick Your Poison! [on the quality of Presidential candidates]
  • The only acceptable candidate for President of the United States...
  • Multiple Obasms No More?
  • Ding, Dong, the Witch is Dead! [yes, this is about Hillary in her lying, criminal glory!]
  • It's Not the Economy, Stupid! [its saddling business with more taxes and regulations]
  • More Supreme Nonsense? [concerns about the Supreme Court decision on our clear right to bear arms]
  • The Ever-Expanding Nanny State
  • The Criminalization of America [Victimless Crimes]
  • Pay Day for Politicians [payday loan suppression in Ohio]
  • Ohio Democrats' Dann Hypocrisy [scandal and allegations of abuse of power by Ohio's Attorney General]
  • Coleman's Folly: A Desire Named Streetcar [Columbus mayor Coleman wants a streetcar line]
  • Ben Stein, Where's Your I.D.?
  • The Real Adams Family
  • 25 Years of Risky Business [a favorite summer movie]
  • Summer Movie-ocrities: A Preview
David Mayer is a sound thinker, so you should find his thoughts interesting and intelligent.

18 May 2008

Thomas Sowell's "Economics Too Complex?" Series

One of the most basic principles of life and also of politics is that wishing something does not make it real. Yes, wishing for something may well serve as an effective means to get us to act to achieve something, but short of the act to achieve it, that value will not materialize in simple response to our wish. Most people come to understand this in their personal life when they have matured past adolescence. Unfortunately, it seems that most people do not understand that the same principle applies to the realities that politics are supposed to deal with!

Many of my recent commentaries have made a point of examining issues as a matter of supply and demand, because in reality, this is how things are priced absent government interference, and ultimately, in various perverted ways even with government interference. If government says that only the graduates of accredited medical schools can perform the duties of doctors and then government acts to limit the number of medical internships which then prevents medical schools from training more doctors, then there will be a shortage of doctors as the population grows and ages. This is what has happened over the last 20 or so years. The shortage of doctors means that doctors can charge more for their services, or if Medicare says they cannot, then they may work fewer hours or retire early. Patients will have less time to discuss their symptoms with the doctor and he will have less time to treat them, to consider interactions between the several drugs a patient might be on, or to review how effective a given treatment was. These issues are not dominated by a desire on the part of doctors to serve patients badly. They were not due to government bureaucrats thinking that it would be good to have a shortage of doctors. There is probably little intentional evil being done here, but there is evil afoot nonetheless. There is the evil of not thinking through important issues in a rational way and then taking foolish actions with the government's monopoly on force while not understanding very understandable issues. It is a shirking of responsibility for thinking, usually in favor of the emotional appeal of nonsense. The real problem here and in a very great many political issues is one of the supply of limited resources and the demand for those limited resources. Unfortunately, politics is usually ruled by politicians pandering to and often encouraging people only to decide issues upon emotional criteria, while ignoring entirely, or at least largely, the basic issues of supply and demand.

Thomas Sowell has just written a series of three commentaries on whether economics is too complex for people to understand or is it that they simply prefer the emotional appeal of thinking only in terms of heroes and villains? In Part 1, he talks about the price of oil to illustrate the preference for false emotional ideas of heroes and villains rather than a critical discussion of supply and demand.

In Part 2, he illustrates this with affordable housing as an issue, though he briefly alludes to restrictions on drilling oil put in place by politicians who are then the loudest in protesting higher prices for oil. He notes: "So long as politicians can get some people's votes by publicly feeling their pain when it comes to housing costs, and other people's votes by restricting the building of housing, they can have a winning coalition at election time, which is their bottom line." Then "So long as voters prefer heroes and villains to supply and demand, this game will continue to be played. It is not because supply and demand is too "complex" to understand, but because it is not emotionally satisfying."

In Part 3, Sowell writes about the tendency of government to object to large businesses selling goods and services for less than smaller local businesses may be able. He talks about San Francisco banning chain stores from some parts of the city. He talks about how the mistaken notion of "a living Constitution" has come to destroy property rights. This results in the economies of scale not being passed along to consumers who can then buy products for less. He mentions the bias against Wal-Mart and the Robinson-Patman Act of 1936, which was known as the anti-Sears, Roebuck law. He mentions the Standard Oil Company and Great Northern Railroad Trust break-ups, despite the fact that they provided ever lower prices. Over and over, Fair Trade laws were used to keep consumers from the enjoyment of lower prices. The reason was that it was more effective politically to indulge people's emotions against so-called villains than it would have been to rationally analyze the costs in terms of supply and demand. Sowell says: "Neither economics nor property rights are too "complex" to understand. But both get in the way of willful people who seek to deny other people the right to make their own decisions." Instead of personally refusing to use a chain store, the villain-destroying person assumes that they have the right to stop others from using their own freedom of choice on whether to shop at the chain store.

Without thinking issues through on the basis of supply and demand, it is very easy to identify the good guys as the villains and the villains as the heroes. A large fraction of the population makes a habit of doing just this.

15 May 2008

The Most Competitive Country in the World

For the 15th straight year, the United States was ranked the most competitive country in the world. Singapore and Hong Kong ranked right behind the U.S. Switzerland improved its ranking to 4th position and Luxembourg took 5th. This ranking is done by the IMD business school, which publishes the World Competitiveness Yearbook.

It seems that we are well able to compete in the global economy and that free trade clearly works to our advantage. Actually, by putting pressure on the governments of countries which are less competitive to be become more competitive by allowing more individual initiative and freedom, it is playing a very useful role in improving life in many countries. It is also helping more people to understand what they are missing in their own economies and from their own governments. As they learn this, they are demanding better treatment and more freedoms.

05 May 2008

Congress Backpeddling on Ethanol

It seems clear now that both the Democrats and the Republicans in Congress are largely coming to the conclusion that they made a big mistake in backing ethanol mandates, subsidies, and exclusionary tariffs. Some aspects of the magnitude of their mistake have only relatively recently become clear such as the fact that there is probably no net energy achieved with the use of farmed plants to create ethanol, with the possible exception of sugar cane grown in some very favorable areas. Another example of recent knowledge is that ethanol use does not likely reduce net pollution when all factors are accounted for. On the other hand, the idea that one-quarter of all corn could be used to create ethanol and that this would not greatly increase the cost of corn, those end products dependent upon corn such as beef, pork, chicken, corn oil, and corn syrup, and of soybeans and wheat as corn was planted in their stead, was ludicrous. This year, 35% of the corn crop may be going to ethanol production.

President Bush is still saying that the ethanol mandates are not barely responsible for the food cost increases. He is disappointingly slow on coming around on this. It is true that corn and other food prices are going up both because of the reduction of supply due to the ethanol mandates and due to a major increase in world-wide demand for better and more food.

Congress has pleasantly surprised me by starting to change course so soon. House Minority Leader Steny Hoyer, Democrat, is not as nimble-minded as he should be, but he is now advocating that the upcoming farm bill, delayed from last year, should reduce the ethanol subsidy. They would also increase the subsidy for cellulosic ethanol. He has said, "Obviously, sometimes there are unforseen or unintended consequences of actions." Imagine a committed socialist allowing that he is not omnipotent! Even that he may have been wrong-headed!

Republicans in Congress actually want now to remove mandates requiring the blending of ethanol with gasoline. Representative Jeff Flake, Arizona Republican, introduced a bill to end all federal ethanol supports, including the requirement to blend it with gas, the tax credits for ethanol refiners, and the tariffs to prevent the importation of sugar cane produced ethanol, primarily from Brazil. He recognizes that our economy does not need big increases in food prices on top of those for energy, such as oil. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, Texas Republican, wants to freeze the ethanol mandate for gasoline at this year's level. On Rush Limmbaugh's program, she noted that cattle and pig producers were being hurt badly. Apparently there are a few of them in Texas! Rick Perry, Texas governor, has asked the EPA to allow Texas to use only half as much ethanol in gasoline blends as is required.

Meanwhile, some farmers are asking Congress to put windfall taxes on oil producing companies, claiming that these companies are responsible for driving up their costs. The National Corn Growers Association made the foolish claim that the use of biofuels with gasoline was saving Americans $69 billion a year. Others such as Hillary Clinton are also demagogically calling for windfall profit taxes on the oil companies.

04 May 2008

Airline Regulation

John Stossel has written an intelligent opinion editorial on regulation of the airlines by the FAA. The title is The Conceit of the Regulators. He points out that airline travel has never been safer. Despite this, many in the media and in Congress assume that airlines would be willing to crash their $50 million planes in the interest of saving some maintenance money. There are several very strong reasons why they would not do this:
  • $50 million losses really hurt the bottom line. Of course the planes are insured, but the insurance companies insuring them would raise the airlines insurance costs greatly if they started to have a higher accident occurrence rate. Therefore, crashing airplanes is a big money loser.
  • If the airline were lax in its maintenance, then the families of those killed in accidents would sue and win very large awards.
  • The public would not care to fly on an airline that has a bad safety record.
  • Many people would think it terribly unethical to be haphazard with maintenance and other safety procedures. This would make them angry at the airline and cause them to stop flying on it or to stop working for it.
But, the media love sensational stories and Congressmen are always looking for ways to be noticed and to prove that they care and are needed.

01 May 2008

The Cost of Coal

Many commodities prices have risen considerably in the last couple of years. These include oil, concrete, steel, natural gas, corn, soybeans, wheat, wood, fish, beef, and coal. The principal reason is rapidly increased demand. This demand has grown faster than the supply of these products. The increased wealth of many people throughout the world which has been brought on by a large increase in international trade and improvements in economic freedom in China, India, Brazil, and Eastern Europe has given billions of more people much more money to bid for the supply of these products. The United States exports many of them and is making a great deal of money and providing many jobs as a result.

Let us examine the case of coal. The U.S. has an abundance of coal. Presently, 600 power plants burning coal generate 49% of the nation's electricity. This is up from 43% of the electricity in 2000. However, more than 60 coal power plant proposals were terminated in 2007 due to concerns about greenhouse gases and environmental issues in 24 states. Some of the terminations were brought about by state governments and some by utilities concerned about future carbon footprint legislation. Dozens of the original 151 proposals for new coal power plants in early 2007 are being challenged in the courts.

Meanwhile coal production was cut in China this winter by heavy snowstorms and heavy rains flooded coal mines in Australia, the world's biggest coal exporter. Yes, that is Australia, not the U.S. But U.S. coal exports increased 19.2% last year and the Energy Department is expecting a further 15% increase this year. Power plants widely use Central Appalachian coal, a grade of coal with a very high energy output. This coal sold for $40 per ton in early 2007 and is now selling at almost $90 per ton. Powder River Basin coal in Wyoming and Montana has about 0.75 times the energy per ton and was selling at $10/ton in early 2007 and is now selling for $15/ton. The lower cost is not proportional to the energy content, due to longer shipping distances to most power plants and because the shipping costs are related to the weight and volume, not to the energy content. When a substantial part of the cost is determined by the world market bidding its value up, the cost of shipping relative to the energy output is even more important. The fact that the Central Appalachian coal more than doubled in cost since early 2007, while the Powder River Basin coal went up only 50% is a sure sign that the international market is playing a major role in determining the cost of the coal.

It is interesting to note that while new coal-fired power plants in the U.S. are largely being axed due to environmental concerns, Western European nations are rapidly increasing the number of their coal power plants. See the NY Times article "Europe Turns Back to Coal, Raising Climate Fears." Italy plans to produce 33% of its electricity from coal in five years, which is up from 14% now. More plants are being built in Germany and the Czech Republic. About 50 coal power plants are expected to be opened in the next 5 years in Europe. As I have pointed out before, the Europeans love to criticize the U.S. for its CO2 emissions, but our emissions are growing less rapidly than are theirs. Coal produces about two times as much CO2 per unit of electricity as does natural gas. Meanwhile, India and China are opening about 1 new coal power plant a week between them.

Both natural gas and oil are alternatives to coal for electrical power generation. Both have had larger price increases even than coal, however. Coal in 2006 cost only $1.69 per BTU, while natural gas cost $6.87/BTU. Thus, the heat output per dollar for coal was 4.1 times greater than that of natural gas. For most of us, this means that our electric bills will be going up considerably. The more we switch from coal to natural gas and oil, the more our electric bill will go up. The cost of reducing carbon dioxide emissions will be very high.

On the other hand, if we emulate the Europeans and use more coal, crops and other plants will luxuriate in CO2 fertilizer and our cool planet will perhaps become slightly warmer than it might otherwise be. Of course, over most of the last 400,000 years the planet has been colder than now. We call these colder periods Ice Ages. We are about due to begin another Ice Age, if the pattern holds up. Let us hope that producing a wee bit more CO2 will have a significant warming effect, despite the weak evidence that it might have done so to date. And if it were to cause a temperature increase, would it be cause man's emissions were significant compared to the much greater emissions from the oceans and from decaying plant matter, not to mention all of the animals breathing?