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

31 January 2009

Walter Williams - Congress's Financial Mess

Walter E. Williams, professor of economics at George Mason University, has written another interesting commentary on the current financial crisis called Congress's Financial Mess. He notes that the new media have repeatedly insisted that the current financial crisis was caused by deregulation and free markets. He goes on to show that this is not at all the case.

Professor David Henderson, research fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University, studied how regulation has grown in general over the last few decades. He published his results in "Are We Ailing From Too Much Deregulation?" in Cato Policy Report (Nov/Dec 2008). He examined the Federal Register for its lists of new regulations.
  • 1977-1980, Carter, annual average of 72,844 pages of new regulations
  • 1981-1988, Reagan, annual average of 54,335 pages
  • 1989-1992, Bush, annual average of 59,527 pages
  • 1993-2000, Clinton, annual average of 71,590 pages
  • 2001-2008, Bush, annual average of 75,526 pages
Employees in government regulatory agencies:
  • 1980, 146,139 employees
  • 2007, 238,351 employees, an increase of 63%
[How do you measure the efficiency of a regulatory agency employee? Is it by the number of new pages of regulations per employee? If so, in 1980 there were 0.50 pages of new regulations per employee and this had dropped by 2007 to about 0.32 pages per employee! Apparently, the more employees, the less efficient they become.]

Regulatory spending by the banking and finance industries:
  • 1980, $725 million
  • 2007, $2.07 billion, an increase of 286%
Under the recent George Bush, there was no hesitation at all in creating new regulations. In fact, the Bush administration specifically wanted to tighten down on risky mortgage and other loans by banks, but Congress would not allow it. The most outspoken critics of tighter credit controls in Congress were Democratic leaders and committee chairmen, including Rep. Barney Frank and Senator Harry Reid.

The Clinton administration made a concerted effort to force Fannie Mae to expand mortgage loans to low and moderate income people in 1999. They used the 1977 Community Reinvestment Act to make the banks make high-risk loans they otherwise would not make. Banks not submitting were fined and their mergers and branch expansion plans were denied or held-up.

In 2008, about $5 trillion of mortgages outstanding were owned or securitized by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Ginnie Mae, the Federal Housing, and the Veterans Administration. This was one-third of all such mortgages.

[Government also encouraged the inflation of home and property values with extremely low interest rates through inflation of the money supply by the Federal Reserve Board over the last several years.]

To make matters still worse for us taxpayers, Bush gave the auto industry a bailout of $17 billion in addition to about $700 billion in bailouts to banks and financial institutions. Now, the presidents of 36 state government universities are asking for a bailout. State governors and local governments are readying proposals for bailouts, with California $15 billion in the red, Florida $5 billion negative, and Michigan shutting down a prison to save money.

Williams notes that the news media is insulting our intelligence! Unfortunately, they appear to be right about the intelligence, or at least the attention span, of the average voter.

Chicken Little at the Washington Post

On Sunday, 25 January 2009, the Washington Post ran an article called Warming Trends Alter Conservation. It filled most of page A3 with a large picture of the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge on Maryland's Eastern Shore and two maps of the refuge showing the marsh boundaries now and as projected in 2100 using a conservative estimate for sea-level rise, or so the large font text above the maps claims. Of course, little of the marsh land remains under their projection. The alarm bells ring violently for most readers, I am sure.

I had observed this article because my wife was reading it. I asked, "How much sea-level rise are they projecting in their 'conservative estimate'?" Anna: "I don't know. It has not been mentioned yet, but I am still reading the article." Charles: "I'll bet it is not actually conservative." Anna, with some annoyance: "Oh, you don't believe anything in the Post." It is dangerous to disagree with the Post or all sources of the conventional wisdom. People, even those you love and who love you, will resent your being a know-it-all. But, what can I do but judge the media on their track record? I am doomed to being resented!

Sure, enough, in paragraph 18 of this long 21 paragraph article by Juliet Eilperin the Wildlife Federation turns up as the source of the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge maps. These were based on the "conservative" sea-level rise of 27 inches by the year 2100. They said that the Chesapeake Bay region would lose 90% of its tidal fresh marsh, tidal swamp, and brackish marsh.

This is interesting. The IPCC's Third Assessment Report of 2001 estimated sea-level rise by 2100 to be at most 27 inches, equalling the 'conservative' estimate of the Wildlife Federation. One would have thought that in 2002, the Wildlife Federation would have used the mid-range or bottom limit projection of sea-level rise as a conservative estimate, not the maximum limit rise of the 2001 IPCC report! Moreover, the long-since available IPCC Fourth Assessment Report of 2007 revised this estimate, along with temperature estimates, drastically downward. This report estimates sea-level rise to be between 8.5 and 18.5 inches. The middle of this range is 13.5 inches. This mid-range sea-level rise is half of that which the Wildlife Federation claimed to be 'conservative.' Apparently, the Wildlife Federation is neither competent in keeping up with the IPCC reports nor able to comprehend the meaning of the word 'conservative.'

After the cut-off date for the IPCC report of 2007, G. B. Woppelmann and colleagues published a paper in Global and Planetary Change using GPS satellite data to measure sea-level rise and continental landmass rise, which may have caused the 2007 IPCC report to project even lower sea-level rise estimates. The land masses covered with ice in the last ice age are still rising due to the loss of weight of crushing ice which melted long ago. The relaxation of the continental masses in response to the loss of weight on them is a very slow process, but one with important consequences for the usual sea-level measurements which reference sea-level to the land. Correcting for the rise of land, the sea-level rise over a one hundred year span is less than 5.5 inches!

So, a conservative estimate of the rise of sea-level by 2100 should be 5.5 inches, not 27 inches, which was the upper end range of the estimate by the 2001 IPCC report, which upper limit was reduced by the 2007 report to 18.5 inches. That 2007 report had a lower range limit of 8.5 inches sea-level rise, which might have been taken as a 'conservative' estimate prior to the important work of Woppelmann and colleagues in 2007. The map of the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge would surely look less dismal for a projected conservative sea-level rise of 5.5 inches!

Who is Juliet Eilperin? Obviously, she is not a very competent staff writer. She does not check her facts. This would be true if she were just a general topic reporter given an out-of-the-blue assignment to write up an article on nature conservancy and global warming. According to the Huffington Post she is:
A born-and-bred Washington [sic], Juliet Eilperin graduated in 1992 magna cum laude from Princeton University, where she received a bachelor’s in Politics with a certificate in Latin American Studies. In the fall of 1992 she went to Seoul, South Korea on a Luce Scholarship, which allowed her to cover politics and economics for an English-language magazine. Returning to Washington, Ms. Eilperin wrote for Louisiana and Florida papers at States News Service and then joined Roll Call newspaper after the Republicans seized Congress in 1994. In March 1998 she joined The Washington Post as its House of Representatives reporter, where she covered the impeachment of Bill Clinton, lobbying, legislation, and four national congressional campaigns.

Since April of 2004 she has covered the environment for the national desk, reporting on science, policy and politics in areas including climate change, oceans, and air quality. In pursuit of these stories she has gone scuba diving with sharks in the Bahamas, trekking on the Arctic tundra, and searching on her hands and knees for rare insects in the caves of Tennessee.

During her first year at the Post Ms. Eilperin was the most prolific writer on the news staff, writing more than 200 stories. In the spring of 2005 she served as the McGraw Professor of Journalism at Princeton University, teaching political reporting to a group of undergraduate and graduate students. This spring Rowman & Littlefield has published her first book, “Fight Club Politics: How Partisanship is Poisoning the House of Representatives.”
It does make it easier and faster to be "the most prolific writer on the news staff" if you do not bother to learn anything about your subject or to check your facts! Can you imagine all the harm and falsehoods this writer has spread through her many articles in the Washington Post? Apparently, Princeton thought she had all the necessary tools to be an effective socialist propaganda generator and made her a magna cum laude graduate in recognition of those skills. Critical thinkers need not apply! After her track record was well-established, they further encouraged her by making her McGraw Professor of Journalism at Princeton and allowed her to warp the minds of younger Princeton students. Sorry, but I am very unimpressed by both Ms. Eilperin and Princeton University.

More Perspective on Keynesianism's Failures

Ike Brannon, a former Senior Advisor of the U.S. Treasury and Chris Edwards of the Cato Institute wrote a short article in the Cato Institute Tax & Budget Bulletin entitled The Troubling Return of Keynesianism. You can subscribe to the Tax & Budget Bulletin here.

They point out that simplistic Keynesianism ended with its clearly failed policies of the 1970s when inflation took off and government efforts to create jobs clearly failed. History showed that stimulus actions were always too ill-timed or too ill-suited to have actually helped the economy. Politicians were also commonly driven by political motives which were not in the public interest. The failure of Keynesianism was demonstrated by the Nobel-prize winner Milton Friedman. Others replaced Keynesianism with "rational expectations" theory, which held that people make reasoned economic decisions based on their expectations of the future. Government cannot systematically fool them into taking actions which make them worse off.

John Cochrane of the University of Chicago noted that the idea of fiscal stimulus is "taught only for its fallacies" in university courses these days. Thomas Sargent of New York University says "the calculations that I have seen supporting the stimulus package are back-of-the-envelope ones that ignore what we have learned in the last 60 years of macroeconomic research." Robert Barro of Harvard University says the stimulus plan does not make sense. Just because the economy is in crisis, it does "not invalidate everything we have learned about macroeconomics since 1936." Other top macroeconomists such as John Taylor of Stanford University and Greg Mankiw of Harvard are also critical of the idea that the Obama stimulus plan will help the economy.

So, what have macroeconomists learned that can be helpful to the economy? Stop trying to cope with the business cycle with its short term time horizon and deal with long-term economic growth. They have learned to concentrate their efforts on tax reform, regulation, and trade issues.

David Boaz - Making Work, Destroying Wealth

The Obama administration and his media backers with their bailout and public service projects seem to greatly admire John Maynard Keynes. Keynes essential theory was that the principal job of government is to create jobs and that this should be pursued maniacally without regard for the destruction of wealth. Boaz, agreeing with Jerry Jordan, says the real challenge for society is creating wealth.

He posted a note called "Making Work, Destroying Wealth" which is very instructive in telling how a number of economists through the last several centuries have pointed out the error of Keynes way of "thinking." Frederic Bastiat analyzed the near-sighted thinking with his famous broken window analysis as one early example.

Read the entire article and you will also find a quite amusing story about a businessman touring in China who comes upon a team of nearly 100 workers toiling on an earthen dam with shovels, who suggests that one man with a bulldozer could build the dam in a day. I have an image of thousands of ex-financial managers using the businessman's alternative tool to build infrastructure in America in the year 2011. I just hope those teams of workmen will include many from the financial community who sent campaign contributions to Obama. Unfortunately, he will give them better jobs in the expanded government or subsidized industries controled by government and the average taxpayer will be reduced to using the alternative tool to build infrastructure.

Richard Rahn - Feel like a chump?

Richard Rahn, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and chairman of the Institute for Global Economic Growth wrote a hard-hitting commentary in the Washington Times on 22 January 2009 about Federal taxes in this time of huge government bailouts for favored industries, local governments, and other Democrat causes. He asks if we "feel like a Chump?" We should be feeling very much like chumps as these politicians laugh at our gullibility.

He points out that when Congress wants to spend $825 billion on a so-called "stimulus program," which many economists are rightly pointing out is actually a de-stimulus program, Congress and the new administration have some very interesting views on taxation. Among these are:
  • Chairman Charles Rangel of the House Ways and Means Committee, which writes tax legislation, did not pay taxes on some of his income, such as rent from Caribbean property.
  • Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has repeated said that paying taxes is "voluntary."
  • Tim Geithner, the new Treasury Secretary under Obama, failed to pay income taxes for many years, when he worked for the IMF. He then served as the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York while still owing those taxes. [Can you imagine the tax penalties most of us would be assessed over those years if we had not paid taxes we owed?] [Wikipedia presently says he "served as the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and was a small-time tax chiseler."] He now controls the IRS.
  • Many Congressional and media defenders of Geithner and Rangel correctly argue that the tax law is complex and some laws are vague and unclear. Rahn notes that, like everyone else, he does not understand how to obey the 65,000 page Internal Revenue Code. So if the well-connected politically do not have to pay their taxes, shouldn't the rest of us be treated equally under the law as required in the Constitution?
  • He thinks all Americans should pay the same tax rate and remembers that when Sen. John Kerry ran for president in 2004, his billionaire wife paid a lower tax rate than most Americans did.
  • The typical American family of four is paying $132 to subsidize Goldman Sachs and already committed to paying $662 to Citibank, even before Treasury guaranteed $300 billion of additional debt for Citibank.
  • The Obama "stimulus" program of an additional $825 billion will cost the American family another $20,000 in taxes and/or losses to inflation.
He concludes, 'Just remember, those members of Congress who vote to tax you and spend your money on "bailouts" and phony "stimulus" may be calling you a "chump" behind your back.'

23 January 2009

What is a Strong Man?

The trait I am talking about is one of character, not of physical capability. A physically strong man is still a weak man if he cannot wisely direct his strength to achieve the goals appropriate to man. The key to providing that direction to action lies in our minds, in particular in our commitment to rational thought. The man of real strength thinks independently with his own mind nearly constantly in gear. He busily examines the physical and the societal events going on about him and he is a careful observer. He assesses and evaluates what he observes to make as much sense of it as he can, taking care to learn from his past experience those principles which will make it possible for him to quickly and efficiently identify the actions he will need to take in the present filled with new events. These events always do require the strong man to take action to deal with them. If a man has not learned the necessary principles from the past and his personal experience correctly, then he cannot assert himself appropriately in action. The strong man has developed good principles for action, while the weak man either has no principles or has chosen his principles with insufficient attention and rational thought. The weakest man is that man with no meaningful principles.

So, the strength of a man is critically tied to his principles and also to his commitment to preserving, protecting, and defending those principles. You might note that I have borrowed the exact phraseology here in the oath the inaugurated President of the United States takes with respect to the Constitution of the United States. A weak, unprincipled President is one who does not share and then act decisively upon the remarkable principles of the Constitution. The strong President does. But every man is given the choice to be strong or to be weak, not just the President. Every man must formulate his principles and must be willing to stand by them and promote them. If he does not, then he is a weakling. Then he is not manly, or we might say that he is not a man.

What are the principles that a strong man holds? First, he is very strongly committed to thinking for himself and performing his own analytical assessment of history and making his own critical evaluations of his personal experience. He knows what he knows and he knows what he does not know. He is careful to make the distinction between the two and he seeks to reduce the realm of what he does not know constantly. On the basis of what he does know, he acts decisively, with commitment and energy, to manage his own life. He respects that others must do the same with respect to their lives. What he does not allow is that others use force to make him manage his own life according to their values. He asserts his own chosen values as the goals in his own life. He does not require others to take on his values, but he does not allow others to assert that they have the right to impede him in his pursuit of his values, so long as he does not initiate the use of force against them. If others initiate the use of force against him to impede him from pursuing his values, then he recognizes those who have initiated the use of force as his enemies and he will fight them as best he can to protect his greatest value, his own life.

It is very common to hear weak men assert that the strong man must submit to the will of the majority. They, having no rationally determined principles and being clueless in dealing with reality because of it, will commonly bend to the majority, who themselves may have no rationally determined principles for managing their own lives. They feel so uncertain in the process of their self-management, that they simply wish to consign that responsibility elsewhere. In medieval times, they consigned it to the local strongman, who may have consigned his own life to that of a king. It has always been difficult for the strong man of principle to get others around him to agree that he should be allowed to manage his own life. In fact, the weak men, who in most societies through most of history, have been the majority, are envious of the strong man and his ability to manage his own life in accordance with his self-determined principles. Commonly, such men are hated.

In the 18th century, a great phenomena occurred in a few geographical areas of western Europe and in a part of North America. As a result of thought during the Age of Enlightenment and the work of some thinkers first in England, Scotland, and France, it became recognized that man needed the freedom to think for himself and to manage his own life on the basis of the principles that he formulated himself. There came to be a new recognition of the individuality of man and of his individual rights. In the 13 colonies of North America which became the United States of America, particularly large numbers of men who had long had to rely primarily upon themselves to conquer the wilderness and who had long been able to enjoy a state of minimal government intrusion upon their lives, became enraged when England from so far away tried to impose a heavier hand of government upon them. They were not used to being forced to bend to the will of others and being forced to deny their own values for those chosen for them by others. They rebelled and after a long and brutal struggle against the most powerful military country of that time, they became independent. After some experimenting with a national government, which they initially did not get quite right, they instituted the constitutionally-limited federal government committed to the defense of the rights of the individual. This was the start of the greatest experiment ever conducted by man in all of man's history.

Could a people highly committed to not using force as the means to achieving their values succeed in achieving those values? The great lesson of the 19th century was the incredible growth of the United States of America under a constitution which the people largely lived in accordance with. The one great problem was the ongoing existence of slavery in America, which had been characteristic of all prior human experience and was still very common in most of the world when Americans threw that yoke off their necks in the Civil War. The country, largely minus the South, then surged forward with huge numbers of people living better than any people had ever lived before. The great experiment that people could live in a society without using force to take the income, wealth, and labor of others by force to do the will of a majority, or some minority, or some powerful tyrant, proved to be an obvious huge success. Men were generally expected to be strong and most were. The free market where men could voluntarily exchange ideas, labor, and capital worked marvelously to allow many individuals to define their own values and to pursue them in a uniquely harmonious way.

In the 19th century, men in many countries in Europe, where many fewer people had ever come to believe that societies could refrain from the constant use of force to constrain others to live in accordance with the values of the rulers of those societies, there were increasing numbers of people who were dissatisfied. Many of them emigrated to the United States, or to Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, or Latin America to escape their lowly station in Europe. Periodically, there were rebellions in Europe by many of the people, but they were always put down with brutal force. Among the confused people, socialism more and more began to take hold. Bismarck bent to the pressure for socialism and began implementing it in Prussia and then in the German states influenced or controlled by Prussia. In the early 20th century, the socialist Woodrow Wilson had even become President of the United States, and he was followed by the socialists Lenin in Russia, Mussolini in Italy, Hitler in Germany, and Franco in Spain. Lesser socialists held power in the United Kingdom and in France at times. Totally unsurprisingly, the men of these societies were soon at each other's throats, since there is no way for socialist societies to allow individuals to pursue their own values and there is no reason for the various destructive states to stop at chewing up the lives of their own people when they can chew up the neighboring people. This allows these regimes based on envy and the destruction of wealth and the human mind, to prolong their inevitable collapse. The 20th century was an often brutal century, which the people of Eastern Europe were particularly able to attest to when they finally emerged from the collapsed socialist paradises there.

The great lesson of the 20th century was that the free market and political systems which recognized the rights of the individual worked much better than did socialism. This was an experiment which should never have had to be performed. The reasons for socialism's failure are as clear as those against rule by an inherited aristocracy. The framer's of the Constitution could easily have explained to Marx and Engels, Lenin, Mussolini, and Hitler why their ideas of political rule were despicable and unworkable. But, huge human misery was endured to perform this very unnecessary experiment. Germany and Italy collapsed in World War II, Franco lingered on and Spain fell into constant despair and ruin, and most dramatically, the Soviet Union finally collapsed and was found to be a hollow shell. Even the socialist state of Sweden found it necessary to greatly reduce its taxes and to make it easier for businesses to survive, to stem the flow of capable people out of the country.

So, at this point, one might think that men of strength would predominate. Strangely enough, the newly freed countries of Eastern Europe have moved to dismantle their welfare states and have lowered taxes and other forced takings from the people greatly. Their economies have boomed and men have become much stronger in those countries. This has put pressure on many countries in western Europe to reduce taxes. Ireland and Iceland have greatly reduced their tax rates. Strangely enough, those countries which have reduced tax rates have actually greatly increased government revenues, as their economies surged ahead. Many Europeans are becoming stronger, after a century of weakness.

In the United States, we have decided that we want to ignore this great victory of the free market and limited government. We have decided that the envy that powers socialism to destroy human ability and long built-up wealth is somehow the moral way to feel. Americans have decided that the individual must give up his rights, which they have been reducing by emasculating the Constitution for a very long time. We just elected a President whose one central principle is his commitment to the destruction of individualism and the rights of the individual. He calls it selfish to be an individual. He claims that there is no reason in the nature of man for a man to have the right to manage his own life. He believes that no man has the right to personal convictions, but must receive and accept the values and goals given to him by some group consensus. Flying in the unforgiving teeth of history, Obama wants to force America into the socialist experiment which failed so utterly in the Soviet Union, Germany, Italy, Spain, Cuba, China, North Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Honduras, Venezuela, and all of Eastern Europe. Make no mistake, this very weak man is leading us into a repeat performance of the total failure of socialism.

In foreign policy, he will perform with the same strength of conviction in America's individualistic and free market heritage as Jimmy Carter did. The bullies of the world will rejoice and will be certain to take advantage of the American weakness. We will beg them to like us by giving them handouts of the wealth which Americans worked hard to build. The socialist and bully governments will use the handouts, as they always have, to squeeze their people tighter and suffocate them controls and propaganda. Will Ragnar appear when we need him to prevent this nonsense? Countries will shoot at our military again, they will hijack international trade, and terrorists will have many safe havens. Obama will be a slave to what he thinks World Opinion is. An early show of this is the announced closing of Guantanamo Bay. He cannot release the prisoners there and will not do so, since they are too dangerous. Many prisoners already released are still there because they will not return to their own countries for fear of prosecution there. All Obama can do is set up special courts to consider each prisoner, but those courts will wind up functioning very much like Bush's military tribunals, so this entire act is the pretense of a weak man. It is a fraud, which much of world opinion will be happy to lap up because much of the world thinks he is the Messiah.

One of the most common themes of the weak man is that America does not have the right to force other people to be free. Indeed, they claim that others have the right to choose to be as unfree as they want to be. This utterly neglects the fact that in all geographic regions of the world there are some men strong enough that they wish to be free to manage their own lives and to pursue their own happiness. However few there may be, they have the right to do so and those, however many there may be, who insist on initiating the use of force to prevent them from managing their own lives, are performing the ultimate evil act among men. The few men who wish to be free have every right to oppose those who are trying to suppress them with force. They also have every right to accept the help of others who wish to help them to be free. Francisco's blazing weapons would be rightly welcomed by many throughout the world.

The U. S. government is not obliged to help everyone who wishes to be free to become so, but we are not performing an evil deed by doing so, unless the cost is too great for the American people to choose to be of help. They have that choice. They may make it because they value their right to trade freely with other free people in the world. They may make it because they know that unfree countries are often security threats or may be havens for terrorists. They may choose to help because every free mind is an innovative mind and will add to the general advance of knowledge. Of course, they are allowed to consider the costs of fighting those who wish to impose their tyrannical will on others in their geographic area. The weak man usually argues that the tyrannical majority in that area have the right to impose their will by force upon those who would be free and we are wrong to impose our will that they not use such force upon them. They try to frame this as a moral equivalency, though clearly it is not. It takes little to make a weak man happy with his rationalizations for failing to assert his independence of mind and action!

On the more important home front, Obama will eagerly continue to gobble up as much of private enterprise as possible. He will reduce the sphere of voluntary trade between Americans and replace it with political power plays. It has already become very clear that his economic czar has been acting very much like a despot already as a lower official under Bush in picking which big political contributor companies will receive government bailout money and which will be taken over by others or allowed to fail. The complaints in the banking industry have been loud and with great justification. It has become clear that bailouts go to those who have the best political connections. The general welfare is clearly not of primary concern. The only reason to bailout the Big 3 automakers is the political decision to continue the benefits and power of the auto workers unions. Rationally, these companies badly need to be allowed to fail. But, the weak men who ran the Bush administration, the still weaker men of the Obama administration, and the weak men of the Congress, do not have the priniciples men need to live independent lives and to maintain respect for the rights of the individual. They have pushed us into the failing world of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. We are living in a nation of group think, which is, of course, an oxymoron.

Obama attended church with the Rev. Wright for 20 years and clearly had to have bought into the low group think of that church, in which the black American was a long suffering victim oppressed by the evil white man. Instead of seeking what black Americans could readily take for themselves, control and the management of their own lives, they sought special favors and reparation payments for the wrongs of southern slavery. They sought these handouts from the ancestors of the northerners who expended their lives in the hundreds of thousands to free the slaves, from the ancestors of the many Americans who first came here after the Civil War, and from people who never discriminated against anyone except on the basis of their individual character. The Rev. Wright demanded respect for every black American based not on their individual character, but on the fact that they belonged to a group as identified by their skin color. Obama bought into this nonsense. Now, he says he is a post-racial President.

We will see. But what we know for sure is that he is a group thinker who believes that harming the most capable and responsible men by transferring their income, wealth, and time to those who are less capable and responsible is a good thing. This is the form that slavery now takes in the U.S., where we no longer enslave men based on their skin color, but we enslave them instead based on their ability and responsibility. The more able and responsible a man is the heavier his chains. This viewpoint is anti-American. The great American principle is that each man has the right to think for himself, choose his own values, manage his own life, and pursue his own happiness. His obligation is to respect this same right of others and he does that simply by not initiating the use of force against them.

These are the American principles that Obama wishes to overthrow, along with the Constitution which supports them, by instituting socialist government. Socialism cannot allow individualism. It must suppress it. This means that it must wrest control over a man's life from him and substitute group control. It must do all it can to keep a man from thinking for himself and provide him with the substitution of a stream of group-thought propaganda. This is the world of weak Obama men. The strength of the American man is to be immasculated as our freedom of action in transportation, financial investments, medical decisions, energy use, food consumption, home buying, and an endless stream of other choices are wrenched away from us with the brutal threat of force if we resist. Socialism is wedded to the replacement of voluntary action with forced response. This is un-American and it is the weak man's heart of evil.

21 January 2009

Obama - "A is not A."

The President is the executive in our Federal Government whose job is to Constitutionally execute the laws Constitutionally passed by Congress. Great care was taken in formulating the powers of the office, because the Framers of the Constitution were acutely aware that tyrants had arisen throughout history to take over governments. They feared tyrants about as much as they did anarchy. They were also very perceptive in understanding that the passions of men caused democracies to frequently become tyrannical or turn to or fall to tyrants. They therefore feared democracy and took great pains to set up a Constitutionally-limited Republic which would resist both tyrants and fickle, fragile democratic fads and fancies.

Previously, the greatest threats to the rights of the individual which the Constitution was constructed to preserve and defend, were the presidencies of Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Each of these men was at once a self-proclaimed pragmatist and an admirer of socialism. On the one hand, their viewpoint was commonly guided by a socialist's outlook and view of history, while on the other hand, they frequently eschewed ideas and ideology in favor of the idea that they could make things work, without having to clearly state the criteria for when things worked and without principles to guide them to the actions that were likely to work.

Roosevelt, with his combination of uncritically analyzed socialist preferences and lack of principles, madly experimented with massive transfers of manpower and wealth from the private sector to government and from the able and responsible in the private sector to the unable and the irresponsible wherever they were to be found. In the process, he created huge uncertainty. He also raised tax rates to very high levels for those able enough to maintain good incomes, thereby causing many of them to work less hard to create jobs. He raised wages for some (usually union workers) so high with mandates, that many others could not be employed at all. His socialist viewpoint and mad pursuit of unprincipled experimentation, deepened and greatly lengthened the Great Depression.

Yesterday, Barack Hussein Obama took the oath of office for the presidency, by swearing to "preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States." This was a blatant lie. He is on record with his belief that the Constitution is highly defective because it does not require or even allow the redistribution of wealth and income which he believes is essential to "social justice." The only justice that actually exists is individual justice, just as the only human rights that exist are individual rights. Obama's so-called "positive rights", which require some men to serve others. Positive rights and his idea of social justice, are the means to allow and enable the tyranny of a socialist leader at the expense of the individual citizen. To gain support for a tyrannical socialist rule through his creation of positive rights and social justice, he calls upon us to be selfless. He calls upon us to forget the individual nature of our minds, bodies, and souls. He calls upon us to forget our individual values and life goals. When we have given up our selfish claim to our minds, bodies, souls, values, and goals, we become putty in the hands of the tyrant. This is especially the case if he has a mesmerizing voice, which appeals to the mindless passions of many.

We are asked to give the new President, if a man bent upon the destruction of the Constitution can be called the President, a chance to succeed. This sounds like a call to fairness. It is not really. It is a call to allow him to get fully up to speed in his efforts to trample the rights of the individual.

We are generally told that we should respect others and often even to respect their values, no matter what their character may be. Frankly, this makes the concept of respect meaningless. Respect only exists as a recognition of good character. What we should do is to give every individual in civilized society the benefit of some provisional respect while we are in the process of evaluating their character. When their character is sufficiently assessed, then the respect may become more solid or it may have to be replaced by disgust and disdain. We are obliged to weigh a person's character, not to approve of it no matter what.

I have had months to weigh the character of B.O. and it is fundamentally lacking in gravitas. The gravitas suggested by his voice is a fraud. This man consistently leads the attack on the rights of the individual. The battle for the preservation and defense of the rights of the individual is now and has always been the overriding moral issue of anyone's time. Because it is specifically the duty of the President of the United States to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution, which is the primary instrument for preserving, protecting, and defending the rights of the individual, it is crucial to evaluate the character of each President before he might become President. Obama is clearly committed to socialism and to tyranny. Their pursuit nullifies his claim to be President or the man who sees that government operates Constitutionally. He claims to be A, but he does not have the nature of A. His character is such that he belongs in the lowest levels of hell. That is my studied evaluation of this man.

It is most unfortunate that the first African-American elected President is a man of such abominable character. The man who one wishes might symbolize the rise of African-Americans from slavery to acknowledged respectability, is the would-be tyrant our Constitution was supposed to protect us from. This is a man who would enslave every American, not a man who will celebrate the freedom of each and every individual. This is a man who celebrates the incompetent, the irresponsible, and the corner-cutter at the expense of men of good character who are competent, responsible, and hardworking. This man weighs everyone's character and then most enslaves those he finds to have the better character. Good character becomes a fault in the eyes of Obama's government.

Those of us who love the rights of the individual have no obligation to give this would-be tyrant a chance to succeed as President. When he pursues a socialist goal, he is wrong and he should be immediately stopped. He should be given no grace period. This is the fight of our lives. If and when he should do something right, we will recognize that. Given his grotesque character, we cannot expect that he will do much right. It is a tragedy whenever an American President does not understand his job and is not committed to the values recognized by our Constitution. They are all failures as President. It is unfortunate that we can already tell that our first African-American President will be a failure, barring a miracle of self-resurrection on Obama's part. Such a self-resurrection would ironically partially justify his Messiah image, though it is clear that those who think of him now as the Messiah would be disillusioned if he did come to understand the critical nature of the rights of the individual and the virtue of selfishness.

18 January 2009

Pelosi's Version of Change in the House of Representatives

The 1994 GOP "Contract with America" changed the seniority system that often left committee chairman in place until they were quite senile. Pelosi and the Democrat leadership of the House have changed the rules to return the seniority system. The younger, more conservative Democrats who have been essential to the Democrat new majorities, will have no say in how the House is run. John Fund wrote an interesting article on this and the other changes I will summarize and discuss below in the Wall St. Journal on 9 January 2009 called "Pelosi Turns Back the Clock on House Reform."

According to the House Rules, you have no right to any of your income or property at all. The minute some robber baron of the House puts together a bill which is designed to take your income or your property, no opponent in the House can offer a simple motion to remove the proposed tax increase without making up for the "lost revenue." Offering a spending cut as an offset to the proposed tax increase is not even allowed. Thus, the House Rules now mandate tax increases and basically will not allow any tax cuts, except those that increase taxes in some way to offset a decrease in taxes elsewhere. As I said, any proposal to take your income or wealth is now essentially guaranteed success. You will have no effective champion for your rights in the House.

This is one very dramatic refusal to recognize that the way to increase government revenues in this overtaxed world has been to decrease tax rates so that people will increase the number of transactions per unit time which are subject to taxation and so economies will grow. Throughout the world, it is now recognized that tax cuts are bringing increased revenue to governments and most nations have been busy cutting their tax rates. But our idiocentric House Democrat leadership has a dinosauric view of taxes and with their new seniority favoring rules, we will stupidly remain one of the world's most highly taxed people. This is punishing both to our economy and to our freedoms.

Medicare is one of the fastest growing expense items among Federal programs. This House Democrat leadership has decided to suspend all cost containment measures for this program in this Congress. How can this be wise? This is a very well-known highly wasteful program.

A century ago, Democrats were given the motion to recommit, which provided them a procedural safeguard after a period in which GOP Speaker of the House Joe Cannon had railroaded bills through the House. In the last Congress, Republicans used the motion to recommit to send 50 bills back to committee for reconsideration. This often required Democrats to take responsibility for items in the bills which they wanted to get passed before anyone had time to read the bill and publicize what was in it. Of course, much of what they wanted to railroad through on these bills was clearly not in the public interest. This was often documented by the fact that many recommitted bills were never brought back out of committee. Too many eyes were by then aware of what was in the bill and too many minds now knew what the consequences of the bill really were.

The Democrat idea of "change you can believe in", is clearly to make our gargantuan, bloated, incompetent, rights-violating government ever larger and ever less subject to the oversight of the people. It is clearly intended to primarily feed those special interests which will in turn be most gracious in bed in with the Democrat politicians. Of course, the Republicans have not proven to be very substantial foes to this same process. They are just a little less committed to the same outcome with a slightly different set of preferred special interests. It is way past time that we Americans remember the principles of limited government and why they are essential to our retaining our individual rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

I for one am not happy with having Nancy Pelosi dictating what my happiness should consist of and how I can pursue it. I am constantly amazed that so many other Americans want to put her in charge of their pursuit of happiness. This clearly implies that they believe they are incompetent to live and manage their own lives.

Ethanol From Corn Government Mandates

The Federal Government wants to use hundreds of billions of dollars in so-called stimulus spending to counteract the housing and financial problems caused by governments and to bolster many weak companies, some over-paid union workers and their over-paid union bosses, and those state governments which were most irresponsible in their spending. Do you suppose that there will be an ounce of wisdom in how the tax money of the responsible and competent will be used? Or, will the decisions be made simply to support the political careers of our elected politicians?

The answer is clear and can be observed from many past experiences and the direction many politicians have already signaled that they are taking. Among the signs, we should note that it was just a short while ago when the politicians were convinced, or tried to convince us, that ethanol refined from corn was the answer to energy independence and to air pollution. Science has clearly since, and had already in part at the time, shown this claim to be false. All the ethanol mandates and subsidies have achieved is to increase our gasoline costs, increase our food bills, increase the tax bill and the deficit, cause farmland prices to go up, made bundles of money for ADM and some farmers, hurt ranchers and other meat producers, and left many poor people in the world more hungry. This being the clear case, should we not expect our politicians to en masse rush to pass new legislation to remove the gasoline mandates and to remove the offending subsidies, both of which are clearly contrary to the general welfare?

Of course, we should expect this, if we believed that the politicians actually cared for the general welfare, which they cite as the reason for almost every piece of legislation. We understand that the welfare of each and every one of us individuals is not high on their list of values, however. So it is no surprise that the absurd ethanol mandates and subsidies are still on the books and are still hurting all of us who are not corn farmers, owners of ADM, or politicians. Knowing this, why on earth do we stand by and not only not squawk about this ethanol scam, but we are allowing the Federal Government to create many new massive frauds in the name of a recession stimulus package.

The Federal Government under both Hoover and FDR provided many stimulus packages, which did not only not prevent the Great Depression, but actually greatly prolonged it. They created massive uncertainty for investors by trying to pick the winners and the losers with constantly changing rules, just as Bush and Obama have done or are about to do. Hoover and FDR spent massive amounts of tax money and gave it to the unproductive, the incompetent, and the lazy, while taking it from the productive, the competent, and the hard-working. This is a sure way to destroy an economy and market system which a recession has momentarily staggered. Bush and Obama wish to do the same thing Hoover and FDR did. This is a repeat of history, in which a pragmatic Republican starts a mess and a socialist Democrat comes to the "rescue", only to make the mess much worse, because socialism is a massive loser to capitalism, even when it is crippled by unprincipaled pragmatism.

Obama Attacks Selfishness Again and Again

This guy is really committed to attacking people for being selfish. He attacks them if they use their own mind and work long, hard hours to create income and wealth by providing goods and services that other people want and voluntarily trade for. Frankly, to do so is to attack the mind and body of every individual human being. He believes it is perfectly righteous to threaten each of us with brutal force to deprive us of the value of the hours of our lives and to dictate to us what our values will be, or else, he will soon be able to send hordes of government-hired goons to forcefully take our property and take our income. All in the name of his supposition that if we do not allow this to happen, we are the damned selfish.

Well, I am selfish and proud that I am worthy of living a fine life. I am competent and fully able to manage my own life, while directing the thought and action needed to identify my values and to achieve them. I am proudly selfish and have a sovereign right to live for my values, not Obama's values and not for some amorphous goo of the values of those who voted for him. We have a choice: to be selfish or to be slaves.

11 January 2009

GISS 2008 Global Average Temperature

The Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) determined average global temperature result for the first 11 months of 2008 is plotted with annual measurements back to 1880. GISS has the reputation of reporting the highest global temperatures of the four principal global temperature sources. Recently they reported temperatures across Russia in October which were identical to those in September, and I do not know if this data was even corrected for that error. Such an error would make the average temperature appear higher than it should be.

So far, 2008 is the coolest year since the year 2000. Note that 1999 and 2000 average global temperatures were below the trendline. Clearly 2008 is also. Examining this data without knowing what the factors are that cause changes in the earth's temperature, one might have a tendency to expect the long term trend of temperature to be upward. However, the last 8 years of data can also be viewed as indicating an end to the rise in temperature, which is consistent with observations of solar activity.

A further rise in temperature is almost certainly more good than bad for mankind barring the panicked reactions of politicians to deprive us of many of the benefits of the Industrial Revolution and take more of our freedom of choice from us. Both the warming from the early 1800s and the Industrial Revolution have made life much richer and easier for humans. This is a good thing and we should allow this beneficial combination to continue. Maybe, we will one day enjoy as warm a climate as that of the Medieval Climate Optimum or that of 500 BC when Greek civilization flowered.

The plot above gives the increase in temperature in degrees Centigrade by region over the world compared to the average temperature in the relatively cool years from 1950 to 1980. Note that the central U.S. and Canada have temperatures unchanged from that period. The coastal region temperatures of both countries are only very slightly warmer. I hardly think anyone in North America is complaining from a personal discomfort standpoint. There is also little change in South America or in Australia. In Africa, only North Africa has seen much of a temperature increase. Iran is also significantly warmed. Apparently, Allah is punishing the Muslims. There is little temperature change in India or in Southeast Asia. The largest temperature changes are in Europe and in North Asia. The further north in Europe and Asia, the greater the increase. It seems clear that this is just exactly what one would wish for. People who live in these regions should be very happy. The farmers there will have an easier time growing food and the wildlife will generally find life easier also.

What is not to like about this situation? Oh yeah, we should be mournful of the fate of the Muslims in North Africa and Iran, whose situation is perhaps worse. But then again, who are we to question Allah's will? If he wishes to reward nearly everyone who is not Muslim and punish those who are, that is his business.

10 January 2009

Media Personalities as Scientific Spokesmen

While most Americans believe the media is rather untrustworthy, most also believe them when they claim that all but a few crackpot scientists, such as me, believe both that man has caused global warming by using fossil fuels and that this will cause a future catastrophe for man and all the animal life of the planet. They commonly believe that drastic action is needed to reduce fossil fuel energy use around the world, or human civilization is doomed.

Because few Americans are willing to actually read the scientific record and to assess it critically, they are dependent upon the word of someone for their opinion on this seemingly important issue. They turn to the media as the experts in assessing the scientific consensus. The media then err due to their lack of understanding of science, their bias for the dramatic and catastrophic, and due to the massive infusions of money into the hands of those alarmist scientists and pretenders from governments and socialists who always want problems only they can solve to increase their power.

The Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine started a petition for scientists who do not believe that man has caused catastrophic global warming. More than 31,000 American scientists have signed this petition. More than 9,000 hold Ph.D. degrees and many of them are very well regarded scientists in their fields. I have signed this petition, although the website has not yet been updated to include my name, which I sent in weeks ago. If you are a scientist who has not been taken in by the sadly unscientific arguments of the global warming alarmists, please make the effort to sign this petition. Our civilization depends upon the use of fossil fuels and this nonsensical argument that man is thereby ruining the planet is being used to greatly damage the quality of human life and to justify a disregard for the rights of the individual. The socialists and governments are always looking for any excuse to attack the rights of the individual. Protecting those rights is the principal issue of our lives.

09 January 2009

Environmental Effects of Increased Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide

I wish to direct my readers to an excellent review of the climate literature on the subjects of global temperature and climate related to the observed increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide which has occurred since 1870. The rate of increase in CO2 has been faster since about 1950 than it was before that date. This review by Arthur B. Robinson, Noah E. Robinson, and Willie Soon was published in the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons (2007) 12, 79-90 and was entitled Environmental Effects of Increased Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide. Because the article was written for physicians, it is well aimed for my audience of intelligent people, who may very well not be up on the latest jargon of climatologists or all the details of the many ocean cycles, etc.

The first figure of the article shows the temperature measured at the surface of the Sargasso Sea, which is a large area of the Atlantic, over a 3,000 year period using isotope ratios of marine organisms left in the sediment. The average temperature of this period is drawn as a reference and it is seen that the height of Greek civilization occurred during a warm period with a maximum temperature about 2 degrees Centigrade warmer than the average temperature, that the Roman period corresponded to a temperature period very near average, that the Fall of Rome and the Dark Ages corresponded to a period in which the temperature dropped by about 1 degree Centigrade, followed by the Medival Climate Optimum during which conditions improved in Europe, followed again by a decrease called the Little Ice Age, followed again by a return to a very nearly average temperature, where we are today. The French and Indian War and the American Revolution were during the coldest parts of the Little Ice Age, with conditions few living Americans would prefer to those of the present near average temperature. This figure is shown below:

They then show that the shortening of glaciers occurred well before increases in the atmospheric CO2 began. It began as a result of the warming ending the Little Ice Age. They show that the arctic temperature correlates very well back to 1880 with solar activity and does not correlate with atmospheric CO2. Then they show that the increase in annual mean surface temperature in the contiguous United States from 1880 to 2006 was 0.5 degree Centigrade per century. This is a temperature difference well within the 3 degree Centigrade variance over the last 3,000 years and one which few people would notice personally. A 0.5 C temperature increase is caused by an increase in solar activity of about 0.21% and the measured increase in solar activity from 1900 to 2000 was 0.19%.

During the recovery from the Little Ice Age, U.S. climate has improved with more rainfall, fewer tornadoes, and no increase in hurricane activity. Sea level has trended upward over the last 150 years at a rate of 7 inches per century. This sea level rise also began with the end of the Little Ice Age, rather than with the major increases in atmospheric CO2.

During the past 50 years, human use of hydrocarbons has increased 6-fold, but the increase in atmospheric CO2 has been only 22%. This increase in atmospheric CO2 has stimulated plant growth, which is good for both humans and other animals. Higher CO2 concentrations allow plants to grow faster and larger and to grow better in drier climates than otherwise. The Industrial Revolution has not only improved human life, but it has benefited plant life and the animals who depend upon plants. Increased warmth has also made life a bit easier for most plants and animals. The historical record of bursts in human civilizations also seems strongly to correlate with the warmer periods of the last 3,000 years.

Stephen Moore on Atlas Shrugged

Stephen Moore, who is senior economics writer for The Wall Street Journal, wrote an opinion piece in the 9 January 2009 issue of The Wall Street Journal entitled 'Atlas Shrugged': From Fiction to Fact in 52 Years. He points out how closely there are parallels to the fictional decay of the American economy, with panicked Washington politicians and many incompetent businessmen, and the present atmosphere of economic bailouts. The present bailouts also reward the more incompetent businessmen at the expense of the more competent. The politician's names for rescue and stabilization programs sound remarkably similar to those of Ayn Rand's masterpiece, though Rand's names are slightly more pithy. Finally, the sense of utter panic in Washington is well portrayed in Atlas Shrugged.

Moore notes, "Ultimately, 'Atlas Shrugged' is a celebration of the entrepreneur, the risk taker and the cultivator of wealth through human intellect." "When profits and wealth and creativity are denigrated in society, they start to disappear -- leaving everyone the poorer."

He also quotes the panicked Mr. Thompson, the American leader in the novel, begging John Galt to become his Economic Dictator, which is apparently the contemporary role which has been held by Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson. Galt, knowing this is nonsense, says that the income tax should be abolished. Mr. Thompson, of course, will not go along with that even though he has just told Galt that he can do anything to save the economy. Moore comments that abolishing the income tax really would be an economic stimulus. He is right about that.

But better yet, we should abolish all corporate and investment taxes, if we give a fig about growing the economy and wish to have everyone possible employed. The latter goal would be greatly helped by eliminating the foolish minimum wage laws. Then we should institute a flat-rate income tax without exemptions and tax breaks at a low rate such as 15%. If our bloated government should then need to be pared down, fine. More likely than not, so much more revenue will soon pour into the government that tax revenues will still allow government to grow, most unfortunately.

David Kelley, founder of the Atlas Society, is also quoted as saying that we are now living Atlas Shrugged.

06 January 2009

Major Increase in Most Important Greenhouse Gas

The Washington-Baltimore metropolitan area is undergoing a major increase in the average concentration of the most important greenhouse gas. We have all been bombarded with news that greenhouse gases are bad, including the very carbon dioxide we breathe out and is generated when we use fossil fuels, particularly coal. Methane is also widely recognized as an evil gas, since it is a greenhouse gas. This means that cows, humans, and the decaying plants of the forest are all harming the earth, simply by existing.

In the Baltimore-Washington area, the greenhouse gas with much the most impact on climate has definitely increased over the average concentrations of the recent past. As a result of previous low greenhouse gas atmospheric concentrations, we have suffered traumatic climate change with too many clear skies and depleted reservoirs and rivers. Fortunately, this critical greenhouse gas has undergone a resurgence. We have water vapor saturated air, clouds everywhere, and rainfall. The plant life will prosper and humans will have better quality drinking water. The public water had taken on quite a smell before the rains. With the cloud cover, sunlight is being reflected back into space, so there should be some cooling.

Perhaps the lower than normal recent rains have been due to the cooling of the earth brought on by less solar sunspot activity, so that less water has been evaporated and the humidity required for rain could not develop. In any case, the recent increase in this greenhouse gas is most welcome. The increase in CO2 over the years should also be welcome. It also makes plants grow better, much as water does. Maybe greenhouse gases are good, rather than bad. It seems that the two most important ones, water and carbon dioxide, are both good. Even methane must be good, since animals would get strong stomach pains if they could not sometimes eliminate gas and since the soil needs replenishment by decaying plant matter.

Bernard Madoff for Social Security Commissioner

Michael Tanner proposes that Obama choose Bernard Madoff, who ran a $50 billion Ponzi investment fund, for the position of Social Security Commissioner. He points out the great similarity of the job requirements. The only difference is that Bernie Madoff is going to jail, while the politicians behind the Social Security Ponzi scheme nearly all get re-elected.

05 January 2009

Obama Wants 600,000 More Bureaucrats

Daniel J. Mitchell of the Cato Institute listened to President-Elect Obama give his weekly radio address and discovered that Obama wants 600,000 more government bureaucrats to harass the American people. Obama claims these people will help the economy get moving.

Only a fool believes that government workers create anything positive on a scale comparable to what private sector workers produce. Government, when strictly limited to its proper scope, creates an environment as free of the use of force as possible, provides rational and knowable laws, and protects property and enforces contracts. Beyond that, and we are way, way beyond that, it only creates mischief, injustice, time-sinks, high taxes and waste, and barriers to trade and production.

The Fly Ash Environmental War on Coal

Robert Tracinski has directed my attention to a report in the New York Times called Coal Ash Spill Revives Issue of Its Hazards in which every effort is made to scare people into believing that coal ash or fly ash is hazardous, while giving them few facts to support that thesis. Let us examine what is said about its dangers. The article about the recent quasi-government TVA power and water authority fly ash spill in Kingston, Tennessee says,
Federal studies have long shown coal ash to contain significant quantities of heavy metals like arsenic, lead and selenium, which can cause cancer and neurological problems.
“Most of that material is inert,” said Gilbert Francis Jr., a spokesman for the authority. “It does have some heavy metals within it, but it’s not toxic or anything.”Mr. Francis said contaminants in water samples taken near the spill site and at the intake for the town of Kingston, six miles downstream, were within acceptable levels.

But a draft report last year by the federal Environmental Protection Agency found that fly ash, a byproduct of the burning of coal to produce electricity, does contain significant amounts of carcinogens and retains the heavy metal present in coal in far higher concentrations. The report found that the concentrations of arsenic to which people might be exposed through drinking water contaminated by fly ash could increase cancer risks several hundredfold.

Similarly, a 2006 study by the federally chartered National Research Council found that these coal-burning byproducts “often contain a mixture of metals and other constituents in sufficient quantities that they may pose public health and environmental concerns if improperly managed.” The study said “risks to human health and ecosystems” might occur when these contaminants entered drinking water supplies or surface water bodies.

The contents of coal ash can vary widely depending on the source, but one study found that the mean concentrations of lead, chromium, nickel and arsenic are three to five times higher in the Appalachian coal that is mined near Kingston than in Rocky Mountain or Northern Plains coal.

Stephen A. Smith, the executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, said it was “mind-boggling” that officials had not warned nearby residents of the dangers. “The fact that they have not warned people, I think, is disastrous and potentially harmful to the residents,” Mr. Smith said. “There are people walking around, checking it out.” He and other environmentalists warned that another danger would arise when the muck dried out and became airborne and breathable.

Another 2007 E.P.A. report said that over about a decade, 67 towns in 26 states had their groundwater contaminated by heavy metals from such dumps. For instance, in Anne Arundel County, Md., between Baltimore and Annapolis, residential wells were polluted by heavy metals, including thallium, cadmium and arsenic, leaching from a sand-and-gravel pit where ash from a local power plant had been dumped since the mid-1990s by the Baltimore Gas and Electric Company. Maryland fined the company $1 million in 2007.

Let us try to do some critical thinking here. The first quote says that coal ash contains significant quantities of lead, arsenic, and selenium. Of course, this may well mean that some coal ash does or that the average amount is in some context considered significant. That context may be that drinking water over a lifetime which has high concentrations of coal ash in it, may cause the occasional cancer or neurological disease. Perhaps if most of a spill is cleaned up in 8 weeks, there is no reason to believe any harm is likely. Or, maybe this coal ash either does not have the heavy metals in it or they are in a form which does not readily leach into water, especially in the winter when the water is cold.

Then there is the EPA report which says that arsenic from fly ash might cause a 100-fold increase in cancer. Again, does that apply to this TVA plant's fly ash? It may not have arsenic in high enough concentrations to significantly exceed that we digest from food or breathe in from normal dust. As for the 100-fold increase in cancer, that could mean that the probability for 100,000 people of one person getting cancer rises from 0.0001 to 0.01. There may be many other dangers we all face daily that exceed the danger of this 100-fold increase in the likelihood of cancer. We surely need more information before we go off half-cocked and screaming that we are in mortal danger.

The National Research Council report quote is full of maybes and mights. Again, it is difficult to assess the real danger from this. This might just be a case in which they are calling for more study of the issue and are not issuing a declaration of real danger. Or again, the situation may be such that some fly ash under certain conditions does pose a real danger, but suitable response to the fly ash spill at the TVA plant can mitigate these concerns.

The comment that the mean lead, chromium, nickel, and arsenic concentrations in Appalachian coal is three to five times higher than in Rocky Mountain or Plains States coal may simply mean that fly ash from those coals is rarely, if ever, of danger and that Appalachian coal ash is occasionally dangerous. But, once again we have no definition of what situations are dangerous.

The next comment that the fly ash might become airborne and breathable may be nonsense. If it were inclined to become airborne, it would seem unlikely that the plant would have been allowed to pile it up in the first place. It would have been blown away and many complaints would have been issued. The fly ash materials I have analyzed in my lab were too coarse-grained and heavy to become airborne. These were commonly being investigated as additives to concrete or other composite materials and may not have been representative of all coal ash post-combustion products, but my first point seems to indicate that they likely are. Generally, the coal plants would not like to have a fine powder waste product to have to contend with, so I am sure that they have a preference for a coarse-grained product.

The last quote that 67 towns in 26 states had their groundwater contaminated by heavy metals from fly ash dumps may very well indicate a real problem. Yet, any amount of a heavy metal may be called contamination, though its concentration is way below the level sufficient to do any proven harm. Perhaps they mean that there was proven harm in these cases, but one cannot tell this from the quote. When there is, then it is reasonable to require that fly ash with leachable heavy metals is stored in such a way that any leachate is contained and rendered harmless. This may be necessary at some vulnerable sites or with some types of fly ash.

The article gives one the sense that the author is delighting in finding the TVA irresponsible. Of course, the TVA was irresponsible in allowing the earth dam holding the fly ash back to break. This semi-governmental agency was cavalier with the public safety in that the fly ash might have killed people as it flowed downhill and it certainly did great property damage. Possibly, the TVA was also cavalier from the contamination standpoint even when the fly ash was contained. But, the laboratory analyses of the town's water did not show that it was dangerously contaminated, at least yet. Perhaps, depending on where the town's water comes from, it might be so in time. We cannot tell from the article. What we can see in the article is a consistent attack on the use of coal to generate electric power. More than 50% of our nation's electricity is generated from coal-fired power plants. These cavalier environmental extremists are threatening half of our electricity supply with an as yet very weak case against the environmental hazards of coal.

It is also a valid concern that cutting off 50% of our electricity would bring major hazards to people. Going up and down stairs in the dark is less safe than doing so with the lights on. When refrigerators and freezers suffer a power outage, food spoils. Many people will not throw it all away, so some may be likely to suffer increased food poisioning. Some people with medical problems must have reliable electricity. Many businesses need reliable electricity and will generate faulty, dangerous products without it. Other businesses will go out of business and former employees may blow their brains out in their depression due to losing employment and benefits. If we turn away from coal, which presently produces relatively inexpensive electricity, to more expensive alternatives, many people will feel they are less able to afford medical expenses and will forego medical examinations and treatments. This is a real danger. Attempts to improve human safety can be very complex and should be thought through with great care.

Of course, it would be a very good thing to greatly increase our use of nuclear power. It has an excellent safety record.

04 January 2009

Economic Freedom Ratings - U.S. Out of the Medals

The 2008 report on Economic Freedom of the World, 2006 by James Gwartney, Robert Lawson, and Joshua Hall, with contributions by Seth Norton is periodically published by the Fraser Institute and provides an evaluation of the economic freedom of 141 countries around the world in the latest report. In this latest report, the United States of America has continued to lose ground relative to the top performing nations of the world, though it is tied for 8th place with Australia. The U.S. summary score is 8.04 out of 10, while Canada edged it out for 7th place with a score of 8.05. Chile beat Canada with a score of 8.06, but was in turn beaten by the United Kingdom with a score of 8.07. It can be argued that these scores are all essentially equal, but the scores of Hong Kong at 8.94, Singapore at 8.57, New Zealand at 8.28, and Switzerland at 8.20 are significantly better than that of the United States. Ireland finished in 10th place.

Since we Americans think of ourselves as the Land of the Free, as self-sufficient, and independent, this is a very deplorable state we have sunk into. Being surpassed by Hong Kong, Singapore, New Zealand, and Switzerland should shame us mightily. Being essentially tied by the United Kingdom, against whom we rebelled with the claim that we were throwing off the chains of oppression, is ignoble. Being in a near dead heat with Canada and Australia, other longer term colonies of the United Kingdom is rubbing our noses in it. Finally, being edged out by Chile, is near unspeakable. For the Coup de Grace, number 1 Hong Kong is part of China, though administered by very different rules than the rest of China. Why is the United States not number 1?

We certainly have the opportunity to exert a much greater political freedom than that in Hong Kong, Singapore, or Chile to choose to beat those countries out to claim the most economic freedom in the world. Unfortunately, our simple-minded mob-ruled people have chosen to put shackles on their economic freedoms by ignoring the rights of the individual guaranteed by our Constitution. Obama has correctly noted that our Constitution does not allow the redistribution of income and wealth, though he intends to follow such a course with a vengeance.

What does this study of economic freedom in the world measure? First, it believes economic freedom consists of:
  • Personal choice
  • Voluntary exchange coordinated by markets
  • Freedom to enter and compete in markets
  • Protection of persons and their property from aggression by others
In light of this, a country receives a high rating if it
  • Protects privately owned property
  • Even-handedly enforces contracts
  • Provides stable money
  • Has low taxes
  • Does not use barriers to restrain domestic and international trade
  • Relies on markets rather than the political process to allocate goods and services
  • Allows individuals the right to decide how they will use their time and talents, with the necessary recognition that this means that they do not have the right to the time, talent, and resources of others
The Economic Freedom Index measures economic freedom in five major areas:
  1. Size of Government: Expenditures, Taxes, and Enterprises
  2. Legal Structure and Security of Property Rights
  3. Access to Sound Money
  4. Freedom to Trade Internationally
  5. Regulation of Credit, Labor, and Business
The first ranking was for the year 1980, when the U.S. was ranked 4th. In 1985, we were 5th, in 1990, we were 3rd, and in 1995 we were 4th. Our highwater year was 2000, when we were 2nd with a score of 8.55. By 2004, we were 6th with a score of 8.07. Our score of 8.04 in 2006 leaves us in a tie with Australia in 8th position.

In 1980, the average score was 5.46 and that has risen to 6.65 in 2006. 89 of the 102 nations with scores back to 1980 have improved their scores. Ghana, Uganda, Israel, Peru, Jamaica, Iran, Hungary, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Turkey have the most improved scores. Zimbabwe, Venezuela, and Myanmar have the most reduced scores. Nine of the bottom eleven nations are African, with Venezuela and Myanmar being the other two.

Nations in the top quartile in economic freedom have an average per capita GDP of $31,480 in 2006 compared to an average of $3,882 in the bottom quartile. The top quartile nations average per capita economic growth rates of 2.31%, compared to 0.50% for the bottom quartile nations. The average income of the poorest 10% of the population in the highest quartile is $8,730, compared to $961 for the lowest quartile, averaging over the time from 1990 to 2006.

Life expectancy is 79 years in the top quartile, but only 58 years in the bottom quartile. Nations in the top quartile have an average score of 1.68 for political rights on a scale from 1 to 7 with 1 the best. The bottom quartile have a political rights index of 4.39. On a 1 to 7 civil liberties scale, the nations of the top quartile average 1.68, while the bottom quartile averages 4.06. Nations in the top quartile average 84.7 out of 100 for environmental performance, where 100 is perfect. The lowest quartile nations average 63.8 on the environment.

So, what is happening to the U.S. since its highwater rating of 2 in 2000?
  • Size of government, degraded from 7.53 to 7.13 in 2006.
  • Legal structure and security of property rights, degraded greatly from 9.23 to 7.58!
  • Access to sound money, 9.78, which degraded in 2006 to 9.66.
  • Freedom to trade internationally, degraded from 8.01 to 7.53.
  • Regulation of credit, labor, and business, improved from 8.19 to 8.31.
The U.S. improved only on regulation of credit, labor, and business. Our worst losses were with respect to our legal structure and security of property rights. Loss of freedom to trade internationally and an increase in the size of government also hurt substantially. The recent bailouts will only diminish our economic freedom further. Under the rule of Obama, Polosi, and Reid, we can expect our economic freedoms to continue to degrade.

01 January 2009

Maryland State Employee Benefits

According to the Maryland Public Policy Institute, the average state employee salary is $47,313, while the average private sector salary in Maryland is $46,031. While this is probably an unjustified salary level, the real benefit of being a Maryland state employee is the 55% greater benefit package. The state employee receives $13,387 worth of benefits, while the private sector Marylander receives benefits with an average worth of $8,604 per year. Only West Virginia offers its employees better benefits in the region. Maryland benefits rank only 24th in the nation, however, so the situation in many other states is comparable.

In 2006, the state pension liability was $7.6 billion. In January of 2008, the unfunded pension liabilities had increased to $11 billion. Other post-employment benefits, such as health care, have a liability of $14.5 billion. Someday, the state will be under considerable tax strain to pay out these obligations. These benefits should be reduced now!