Archives: 08/2008

Energy Dust-Up in LA

This week, the Los Angeles Times has invited me to participate in a daily on-line debate (a regular feature they sponsor called “Dust-Up”) with V. John White, executive director of the Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technologies.  Monday, we debated off-shore drilling.  Today, we debated the T. Boone Pickens’ energy plan.  Tomorrow, we’ll debate nuclear energy.  Thursday, the issue is the future of the automobile.  Friday, the topic is what America’s energy economy will and/or should look like in a generation.  While our exchanges won’t be in the newspaper’s print edition, I’ll take the on-line exposure.

So far, I don’t think John has laid a glove on me.  In the off-shore drilling discussion, John has a hard time differentiating between electricity markets and transportation markets.  To say that we should rely on wind, solar, or whatever – and not oil – is to say that we should rely on batteries to run our automotive fleet.  Well, that would be great, but until some pretty big-time breakthroughs occur in battery technology, that’s not going to happen.  Regarding T. Boone Pickens’ energy agenda, I’m still waiting for a concrete argument about why markets “fail” to produce all the investment dollars that this supposedly worthy industry needs.

Tomorrow’s debate will likely produce few sparks.  I’m against nuclear energy subsidies and don’t think the industry would survive without them.  Thursday and Friday, however, will be more interesting.  I don’t have the faintest idea what sort of personal automobiles will be on the market in, say, 2030, and even less idea what the energy economy of the next generation will look like.  I suspect, however, that John thinks it’s all rather obvious where energy markets and technologies are heading and that he has the perfect master plan to most efficiently accelerate all the big-time changes that history has in store for us.

Saying “I don’t know” to questions like these is never that good of an idea if you want to dazzle people with your wisdom and insight.  On the other hand, it’s hard to marshall the argument that “the oil age is over and the age of genetically modified gerbils on treadmills is coming” (or whatever) and then say that the government needs to do something to get us there.  Well, if its so inevitable, then why must government act at all?  We’ll find out if John can manage to resolve that tension in what will likely be his argument.

Even Public School Teachers Support Education Tax Credits!

Neal McCluskey has some serious and valid complaints about the way the recent Education Next/Harvard PEPG survey asks about support for No Child Left Behind. But the survey also has some good questions about school choice and some great news about education tax credits.

I noted last year that their 2007 survey found 53 percent of current and former public school employees support education tax credits and only 25 percent oppose them.

This year, they report that a plurality, 46 percent of public school teachers, support education tax credits and just 41 percent oppose them. As for the general public, 54 percent support tax credits and only 28 percent oppose them.

More public school teachers support education tax credits than oppose them. That’s an amazing little fun-fact.

Pick a category – rich, poor, old, young, white, black, Hispanic, Democrat, Republican, or even public school employees – they all support education tax credits. And credits stand to save states billions of dollars.

Now that’s a winning issue for any politician.

Want Help from Washington? Gamble, Don’t Save

Not long ago I heard Rush Limbaugh thundering that the venerable Associated Press had said that it would start putting opinion in its stories (referring to this story about the AP’s new Washington Bureau chief). Well, if that’s the case, I’m just glad that some of their stories reflect sensible opinion, like this dispatch today from Jeannine Aversa:

Two giant mortgage companies get into hot water over risky investments. The government steps in to throw them a lifeline should they need it.

Hundreds of thousands of Americans buy homes more expensive than they can afford. Congress approves a rescue package.

Troubles erupt at a Wall Street investment firm that made bad bets on mortgage investments. The Federal Reserve steps in and provides financial backing for the company’s takeover.

Meanwhile, tens of millions of people pay their mortgages on time, don’t max out their credit cards and put money into retirement funds. They may even save a little extra on the side.

In return, they get rates on their savings that don’t even keep up with inflation. They also are witnessing their nest eggs shrinking as the value of their homes plummets and the stock market tumbles.

Policymakers in Washington, D.C., seem more focused on rescuing those who behave badly by putting at risk taxpayers who’ve played by the rules and shunned the get-rich-quick schemes of Wall Street croupiers.

UK Cabinet Minister Urges “Morale Boosting” Tax Hikes on the Rich

The UK Health Minister wants a big tax increase on the rich in order to boost morale and demonstrate that Labour Party officials “understand what it is like to cope with rising food, fuel, and utility bills.” But if punishing Britain’s most productive residents actually is a way to boost morale for the rest of population, why not build a big coliseum and feed them to lions instead? Wouldn’t that be an even bigger “morale booster”? Needless to say, Minister Lewis does not bother to justify any of his assertions. He claims, for instance, that politicians can demonstrate their “understanding” of the plight of ordinary Britons by seizing more money from the so-called rich. Are British voters really that stupid? After all, if Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi raided the pockets of hedge fund managers or some other well-to-do group, I certainly wouldn’t think that they had a better understanding of what it is like for me to pay my mortgage and cough up tuition payments for three kids. Tax-news.com reports:

…UK Health Minister, Ivan Lewis caused controversy by suggesting that “morale boosting” tax increases for the country’s wealthy may be the way forward. Writing in the Sunday Times, Mr Lewis warned that as Labour’s popularity appears to be waning, it should take steps to protect the “mainstream majority” that make up its key supporters. “Our duty is to act decisively and make tax and spending decisions that show we understand what it is like to cope with rising food, fuel and utility bills,” Mr Lewis wrote, adding that: “If as a result of the current economic situation the only way to help hard-pressed middle-class families is to ask the higher earners to pay more, then serious consideration should be given to that.” Although the Health Minister did not specify the rate of increase that he thought would allow the government to provide “meaningful” assistance to middle class voters, reports in the UK media in the wake of the article have suggested that he would likely favour the suggestion put forward last month by former Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Constitutional Affairs, and current Director of the New Local Government Network, Chris Leslie, which would see an extra ten pence in the pound imposed on earnings of more than GBP250,000.

Make that: “Even if We Bus Kids to Mars…”

In my last post I observed that U.S. public schools would save $100 billion annually if they returned to the staff/student ratio that existed in 1970, and that this would be more than enough to erase the budget crunches districts are facing due to higher fuel prices “unless we start busing kids to Mars.”

Well, I’m a tad embarassed to admit I was a little off. Assuming that one could actually drive to other planets, $100 billion would be more than enough to fuel a fleet of three school buses making round trips to Mars every day for the full school year. And the nation’s school districts would still have $13 billion in pocket change left over to cover their higher fuel bills here on Earth. (Numbers crunched below the fold).

Average distance to Mars 143,000,000.00 miles
Savings from 1970 student/staff ratio 100,000,000,000.00 dollars
Bus fuel economy 7.50 miles per gallon
Average price of diesel 4.21 dollars per gallon
Could buy this many gallons 23,752,969,121.14 gallons
Could drive this many miles 178,147,268,408.55 miles
Could make this many trips to Mars 1,245.79 trips
School years of one bus service 3.46 years (two trips per day, 180 school days)

The President-Driven Life

Back in a 1979 interview with Roger Mudd, Democratic presidential contender Ted Kennedy flubbed what looked like a softball question: “Senator, why do you want to be president?” Kennedy’s sputtering answer did real damage to his campaign.

Senators Obama and McCain gave marginally more coherent answers than Kennedy when Rick Warren asked the same question at Saturday’s megachurch confab, but in an America with a saner perspective on the presidency, their answers would have been disqualifying as well.

Obama offered some touchy-feely Rawlsianism mixed with a call for bipartisanship:

You know, I remember what my mother used to tell me. I was talking to somebody a while back and I said the one time that she would get really angry with me is if she ever thought that I was being mean to somebody, or unfair to somebody. She said, imagine standing in their shoes. Imagine looking through their eyes. That basic idea of empathy, and that, I think, is what’s made America special is that notion, that everybody has got a shot. If we see somebody down and out, if we see a kid who can’t afford college, that we care for them, too.

And I want to be president because that’s the America I believe in and I feel like that American dream is slipping away. I think we are at a critical juncture. Economically, I think we are at a critical juncture. Internationally, we’ve got to make some big decisions not just for us for the next generation and we keep on putting it off. And unfortunately, our politics is broken and Washington is so broken, that we can’t bring together people of goodwill to solve these common problems. I think I have the ability to build bridges across partisan lines, racial, regional lines to get people to work on some common sense solutions to critical issues and I hope that I have the opportunity to do that.

Only the first sentence of McCain’s answer is particularly cogent, but it reflects what Matt Welch has described as McCain’s “exaltation of sacrifice over the private pursuit of happiness” :

I want to inspire a generation of Americans to serve a cause greater than their self-interest. I believe that America’s best days are ahead of us, but I also believe that we face enormous challenges, both national security and domestic, as we have found out in the last few days in the case of Georgia….

America wants hope. America wants optimism. America wants us to sit down together. I have a record of reaching across the aisle and working with the other party, and I want to do that, and I believe, as I said, that Americans feel it is time for us to put our country first.

And we may disagree on a specific issue… but I want every American to know that when I go to Gee’s Bend, Alabama, and meet the African-American women there who are so wonderful and lovely, an experience I’ll never forget, and when I go to places where I know they probably won’t vote for me, I know that my job is to tell them that I’ll be the president of every American and I’ll always put my country first.

In the original constitutional scheme, the president wasn’t supposed to be the Empath-in-Chief or a national life coach-cum-self-help guru, charged with getting us off our duffs and uniting us all behind a higher calling. He was there to faithfully execute the laws, defend the country from foreign attack, and check Congress with the veto power whenever it exceeded its constitutional bounds. The formless, boundless vision of presidential responsibility revealed in Obama and McCain’s answers shows us how dangerously far we’ve travelled from that modest, unromantic conception of the president’s role. I could recommend a book that might set them straight.