Nuclear Welfare

At a Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee hearing yesterday, outgoing Nuclear Regulatory Commission chairman Nils Diaz reported that 16 utility companies were busily planning to build 25 new nuclear power plants thanks to last year’s energy bill. Champagne corks were popped, backs were slapped, congratulations were offered, and all was right in the political world.

Just what did last year’s energy bill do to usher in this nuclear nirvana?  Well, our fair Senate–said by many to be in the grip of doctrinaire, free market Republican jihadis–passed a 20-year extension of the Price-Anderson Act (which protects the industry from liability if damages from an accident exceed a certain amount); adopted a 1.8 cent production tax credit for up to 6,000 megawatts of new nuclear generating capacity; provided risk insurance against the financial costs of litigation and other delays in building new nuclear power plants; and provided federal loans and guarantees for up to 80 percent of project construction costs.

Look, I’ve got nothing against nuclear power per se.  But if nuclear energy had economic merit, it wouldn’t need this avalanche of government help and hand-holding.  Neither party looks good in all of this.  Republicans have no business meddling in markets this way.  And Democrats should quit folding to business interests like a cheap suit.

The Influential Mr. Mbeki

The Financial Times selects the most influential pundits and commentators in countries around the world. Their South African correspondent writes that the opinions of Moeletski Mbeki “arguably carry more clout” than those of his brother the president. If so, that’s good news for South Africa. Judging by his Cato paper “Underdevelopment in Sub-Saharan Africa: The Role of the Private Sector and Political Elites,” Mbeki has a pretty insightful understanding of what Africa suffers from. He blames African poverty on mismanagement and exploitation by political elites that control the state and see it as a source of personal enrichment. Inhibiting wealth creation by the private sector, the elites use marketing boards and taxation to divert agricultural savings to finance their own consumption and to strengthen the apparatus of state repression. He writes that peasants, who constitute the core of the private sector in sub-Saharan Africa, must become the real owners of their primary asset – land – over which they currently have no property rights (in much of sub-Saharan Africa, though South Africa is an exception to this).

Mencken Fellows Penn & Teller Take Over TCM Tonight!

Need a cure for a bad case of the Mondays? Tune into Turner Classic Movies tonight, when Cato H.L. Mencken Research Fellows Penn Jillette and Teller take over as special guest programmers.

A quick look at what Penn & Teller have spooled up:

  • 8 PM—The Marx Bros.’ underappreciated 1939 film At the Circus
  • 9:30 PM—Orson Welles’ controversial 1976 documentary F for Fake, about the brilliant forger Elmyr de Hory
  • 11:15 PM—MGM’s disturbing and highly controversial 1932 film Freaks
  • 12:30 AM—Neil Simon’s 1975 Vaudeville tribute The Sunshine Boys, starring Walter Matthau and George Burns (with then-little-known F. Murray Abraham in a supporting role).
Topics:

I was KIDDING! Seriously. Come on, guys.

This morning’s LA Daily News is abuzz over a debate “gaffe” perpetrated by California Assembly candidate Frank Quintero. After a rough day campaigning for California’s 43rd Assembly District seat, Quintero was asked during a debate with his opponent if he supported school vouchers. His answer: “Yes.”

Oops.

Honestly, what would possess someone to support giving low income families the same educational choice that wealthier families already enjoy? The nerve of this Quintero guy intimating that parents, not bureaucrats, should be deciding what and where their children learn. It’s an outrage. It’s…

Wait a minute, that sounds kinda’ good, doesn’t it? Parental choice in education. More options for kids. Schools no longer being able to take their students for granted and having to compete for the privilege of serving each and every child. So what’s the problem?

Well, Quintero is a Democrat – the party unduly influenced by the nation’s teachers’ unions. Makes a bit more sense, now, doesn’t it?

Naturally, California’s biggest teachers’ union quickly mobilized to crush this brazen heretic, staging a rally outside his offices the weekend after the debate. Quintero quickly recanted, explaining that when he said “yes” to vouchers, he meant it in the sense that, um, he was opposed to them.

Good thing the teachers’ unions are out there to protect us from freedom vouchers.

Democrats Out of Power

The Washington Post reports today that the Ds are planning an onslaught of staged media events over the Memorial Day weekend to highlight their discontent over high gasoline prices. The Democrats are kicking off their campaign today in Ohio, where Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid is scheduled to appear in front of the cameras with Rep. Sherrod Brown, the Democratic Senate candidate there, in front of a giant wind turbine outside a Cleveland science center.

Presumably, the Democrats think that the windmill symbolizes their commitment to break America’s so-called addiction to oil. In reality, the windmill symbolizes the Democrats’ incoherence on energy policy. Unless they plan to strap those turbines onto the hoods of our cars, wind power cannot substitute for oil because windpower is used to generate electricity and only a trivial amount of oil is used for that purpose.

“Wherever you live, your gas prices are out of control, and you want to hold someone accountable for it,” Reid said. While Reid predictably blames “Big Oil,” he apparently missed the FTC report out today finding nothing underhanded about gasoline prices in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

I’m sure you’ll hear all about on tonight’s O’Reilly Factor.

“Net Neutrality” Grasstroturf

The opponents of broadband regulation have produced an amusing animation that pretty effectively skewers the campaign for “net neutrality.” Why, yes, of course it’s produced by large corporations seeking after their own interests. But the piece effectively points out that the campaign for federal regulation of broadband is also a product of large corporations seeking after their own interests.

So, if it’s a debate between two large corporate interests, we can drop the ad hominem and just discuss which group of large corporations is trying to protect its property and its investments, and which group of large corporations is trying to win rents through the legislative and regulatory process. Figured it out yet? Good.

(Cross-posted from TechLiberationFront)

A New Berlin Wall

On “The McLaughlin Group,” John McLaughlin asks if the United States should impose tariffs on Mexico equal to the cost of providing social services to Mexican immigrants if Mexico doesn’t stop illegal cross-border traffic. Pat Buchanan responded by emphasizing the need for U.S. border security, Eleanor Clift said it would be too costly for Mexico, and Tony Blankley said it would probably be a violation of WTO. Mort Zuckerman said the reaction to such a law in Mexico would move the country far to the left.

It seems to me that all of these insightful pundits missed the point: McLaughlin was proposing that Mexico build a wall to keep Mexicans inside. Immigration advocates sometimes warn that a fence along the border would be “a new Berlin Wall.” But that’s a little over the top; the Berlin Wall was designed to keep East Germans in, to declare them the property of a repressive regime that couldn’t survive if it allowed people to vote with their feet. Whatever its demerits, an American fence would be intended to protect our borders and regulate who could come in.

But McLaughlin’s proposed Mexican wall would be a new Berlin Wall. Anybody can stumble into a bad idea, but it’s disappointing that not one of McLaughlin’s four guests noticed the import of his proposal.