Misguided Energy Investment

Within the tax cut extension that was just passed was the extension of the Ethanol subsidy.  From what I have heard and read, it costs us about $5.2B per year for this ‘investment’ directly.  This figure does not include the pricing impact on corn as about a third of US corn production goes into ethanol.  Many will argue that we need it to lower the impact on the environment.  I would counter and mention to those narrow minded hacks that farming ain’t exactly environmentally friendly.

The whole mania around ethanol can also be applied to solar.  Yes, they may be cleaner in the harvesting of energy but what about the energy needed to produce them?  As is written below, studies suggest that ethanol and solar are two the three worse forms of energy when measured on the ‘Energy Return on Energy Invested’ scale.  To put it simply, it looks like you have to spend a barrel of oil in energy to create enough ethanol to get a barrel of oil’s worth of energy.  Not a great investment…

Lost Momentum

Democracies are losing out across the globe.  According to the Freedom House 2010 Survey, we have lost 9 countries over the past 5 years. Central African Republic, Kenya, Madagascar, Mozambique, Niger, Honduras, Venezuela, and Philippines.

Merry Christmas.  – JBH

Electoral Democracies

2010 Edition
Albania
Andorra
Antigua and Barbuda
Argentina
Australia
Austria
Bahamas
Bangladesh
Barbados
Belgium
Belize
Benin
Bolivia
Bosnia-Herzegovina
Botswana
Brazil
Bulgaria
Burundi
Canada
Cape Verde
Chile
Colombia
Comoros
Costa Rica
Croatia
Cyprus
Czech Republic
Denmark
Dominica
Dominican Republic
East Timor
Ecuador
El Salvador
Estonia
Finland
France
Germany
Ghana
Greece
Grenada
Guatemala
Guinea-Bissau
Guyana
Haiti
Hungary
Iceland
India
Indonesia
Ireland
Israel
Italy
Jamaica
Japan
Kiribati
Latvia
Lesotho
Liberia
Liechtenstein
Lithuania
Luxembourg
Macedonia
Malawi
Maldives
Mali
Malta
Marshall Islands
Mauritius
Mexico
Micronesia
Moldova
Monaco
Mongolia
Montenegro
Namibia
Nauru
Netherlands
New Zealand
Nicaragua
Norway
Palau
Panama
Papua New Guinea
Paraguay
Peru
Poland
Portugal
Romania
St. Kitts and Nevis
St. Lucia
St. Vincent and the Grenadines
Samoa
San Marino
Sao Tome and Principe
Senegal
Serbia
Seychelles
Sierra Leone
Slovakia
Slovenia
South Africa
South Korea
Spain
Sri Lanka
Suriname
Sweden
Switzerland
Taiwan
Trinidad and Tobago
Turkey
Tuvalu
Ukraine
United Kingdom
United States
Uruguay
Vanuatu
Zambia

You’re Nuts! I Rest My Case

“He’s Crazy, a kook” appears to be the only strategy used by the Democratic Party strategists these days.  Instead of laying out their position on policies and defending them with any level of rational thought and proof of desired outcomes from past actions, they resort to making commercials about how their opponents are crazy and have crazy ideas.  This was used against Sarah Palin (with a lot of judgment thrown out about her intelligence) and appears to be what is used a lot in these mid term elections.

We’re seeing it close up in Massachusetts in the Tierney/Hudak race for representative.  Now, to be very clear, I don’t know either of these men.  What I know of them is from reading their positions on various issues (easier done with the challenger) and what I read and see from the journalist community.  In the case of Hudak, I do know people, that I respect, that have spoken with him, interacted with him, and challenged him on issues.  In the case of Tierney, I’ve tried to speak with him but have never been allowed a meeting and he has not been available to the community other than through one-way phone calls, never allowing anyone to challenge him on any issue.

With all that as a baseline, I find it amazing how the main topic in this race is Hudak’s mental acuteness.  As I mentioned above, I know people that I think are sane that have dealt with him in small settings and have come away impressed.  So, to have so much air time debating his sanity appears to be a sideshow.  And who appears to want to spend the most time talking about it?  His opponent, John Tierney.  He even made a commercial about it where he has 3 people quoted saying he’s nuts.  Why do they have this impression?  Because he wants to rid us of the Department of Education.  For me, that is far from insane.  Find a qualified expert and ask for their opinion on nationally-based standardized tests, or ask your local principal how much paperwork is filled out each month/year and the number of regulations he has to abide by that have no real impact on the educational process.  I suspect, if you get as close to the issue as I have, you will want to get rid of that corrupt and inept bureaucratic mess too.

So, without belaboring this topic anymore than needed, let’s just focus on the issues and put sanity to the side (all politicians have to be a little insane, no?).  And, for those of you that will vote because you think Hudak is a kook because of the well televised 30 second Tierney commercial quoting 3 ‘actors’, it suggests more about your sanity than it does about his.  Vote well… and often.

Out of Touch in Washington

I’m reprinting a recent poll produced by Rasmussen Reports.

“Most voters (65%) say they prefer a government with fewer services and lower taxes rather than one with more services and higher taxes. A new Rasmussen Reports telephone survey finds that only 25% of Likely U.S. Voters favor a government with more services and higher taxes instead.

A majority of voters have supported a government with fewer services and lower taxes since regular tracking on this question began in early November 2006. (To see survey question wording, click here).

Consistent with past polling, most Republicans (86%) and the majority (77%) of voters not affiliated with either political party prefer a smaller government, while most Democrats (50%) favor a more active one. But nearly one-third (32%) of Democrats now like a government with fewer services and lower taxes.”  Continue Reading

Let Me Eat Cake!

You are only hurting yourselves, you imbécile.

Higher Regulation Equals Higher Costs

And higher costs equal lower participation.  It’s just plain common sense.

I Told You So

Sorry.  Had to say it.  For all the crap I got for wanting to give Palin a chance, it’s now my turn.

Mr. Yoo and Gay Marriage

Mr. Yoo, a law professor at Berkeley, wrote an opinion piece in today’s Wall Street Journal that makes me question his ability to teach law.  He argues for a federalist approach to gay marriage, i.e. let the votes of each state decide.  Though I agree with many aspects of federalism, to use it as a means to reduce the individual liberties of a minority (or a majority) seems illogical.  And just not practical.  I have the following questions for Mr. Yoo:

  • Would you have used this same argument for slavery and women’s rights?
  • Is a couple only to be recognized in the states that allow it?
  • If one is hospitalized in a state that does not recognize gay marriage, is their spouse without visitation rights?
  • How about if they move for a job to a state that doesn’t recognize them, are they no longer married?

In his article, he uses a quote from Hamilton ‘that the Constitution would never permit the federal government to “alter or abrogate” a state’s “civil and criminal institutions [or] penetrate the recesses of domestic life, and control, in all respects, the private conduct of individuals.”‘  I entirely agree with this point but it does not suggest that Hamilton would have accepted a state doing the same.

It has been stated many times here and elsewhere that the federal government was originally defined by its power to defend us and to protect our personal property, no matter if the threat was from outside our borders or within.

Democracy versus Individual Liberty

Too often, way too often, people confuse democracy with individual liberty.  They are not the same.  In more normal times, to compare them would be like comparing apples to oranges.  But recently, it’s even worst.  They are directly opposed to one another.  Just look at the gay marriage issue and yesterday’s decision to void California Prop 8.  Thankfully, a federal judge ruled that a democratically approved rule that favors some individuals over others and invades one’s right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness was unconstitutional.  Finally!  Tons of praise for that activist judge that actively represented individual liberty (and the Constitution)!

“‘Democratic’ in its original meaning [refers to] unlimited majority rule . . . a social system in which one’s work, one’s property, one’s mind, and one’s life are at the mercy of any gang that may muster the vote of a majority at any moment for any purpose.” – Ayn Rand

Democracy is a method of governing, but nothing in it’s structure protects individual rights.  Democracy does not wait for all to agree, it looks for some sort of majority.  So, by definition, someone will always be in the minority.  And that minority could, and typically does, have their rights diminished, removed, or just squandered.

Individual liberty is quite different.  It is a moral belief, independent of any political mechanism.  Heck, with the ‘right’ person as dictator, individual liberty could potentially be maximized.  The problem is that is incredibly unlikely and, even if it were to occur, it would not be stable or self-sustaining.  Our founding fathers, far from perfect, gave this a lot of thought and decided that a representative democracy, a republic, would be best.  They hoped that having the general population elect representatives (that would, first and foremost, protect the Constitution and it’s emphasis on protecting and enhancing individual liberty) would be the best form of government.

So why are democracies not equivalent to individual liberties?  Madison writes in #10 of the Federalist Papers on the risks associated with democracies:

“A pure democracy can admit no cure for the mischiefs of faction. A common passion or interest will be felt by a majority, and there is nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party. Hence it is, that democracies have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have, in general, been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.”

We have forgotten that warning and appear to be moving towards a full on embrace of democracy (see the movement towards a popular presidential vote as one example) and the populist mentality that comes with it.  We have stopped talking about defending personal property and liberty and gone right to discussing how best to take from some for the betterment of others.  From Madison to Hayek, we have been warned repeatedly that this is a path to totalitarianism.

It is this poor sense of direction that gave me hope for the Tea Party movement.  At first, it was a large and informal group of individuals that were demanding that our representatives get back on the right path.  The path to individual liberty and low government involvement in individuals’ personal lives.  Yes, at the beginning, it was focused on taxes and our wallets, but it represented much more.  To me, it represented a desire to reassert our moral belief that all are created equal and deserve a society that respects and protects their rights.

However, I fear that it is being hijacked by some small (or not so small, who knows) faction that has changed the dialogue from protecting individual liberty to fighting for democracy.  In the Twittersphere, many a Tea Partying endorser is complaining about the elitist judge going against the 7 million that voted for Prop 8.  By doing so, they are showing their support for mob rule (be it through a populist vote or otherwise) and pushing to the side THE unalienable right to “one’s work, one’s property, one’s mind, and one’s life”.

Giving It Up

Yesterday, the Massachusetts Senate approved an act that takes away the MA citizens’ right to select our nation’s president.  I find that very troubling.  From my understanding, our nation was set up as a republic that gave more power to the states versus the federal government.  The reason for this was to ensure as much individual freedom as possible by making government as large as desired locally, and the smallest to still be functional, nationally.

That is changing now.  And not for the better, in my opinion.  Massachusetts will become the sixth (as stated in the article below) state to give up the right for their citizens to vote for president.  They have decided that no matter how your state votes, they will vote for the presidential candidate that the nation chooses.  That’s called diluting one’s vote.  It’s also called populism.

If the desire, as stated by those that vote for this type of legislation, is that it will be more fair and get people to think their vote matters more.  They are wrong and illogical.  Though the intent is nice, the path leads in the opposite direction.  I, for one, will feel disenfranchised by this.  I live in a state where the vast majority voted for Kerry in 2004, yet it’s electoral votes would have been given to George Bush.  How is that empowering for the voters of this state?  (Clue:  It’s not).

If the intent was to ensure more weight for the individual, why not allow proportional voting where the states electoral votes mimic the outcome fo the state’s popular vote rather than the all-or-nothing method currently employed by the majority of states?  In that way, you leverage your local community rather than being diluted by those in distant parts of the nation.

To win future elections, candidates will spend all the time in the most densely populated areas as that will be where the return on investment will be greatest.  Is that fair?  Our candidates platform will be  built on the needs/desires of a select few that reside within the major cities, never finding it valuable to go to Iowa, Indiana, Louisiana,  the Dakotas, Montana, or Colorado.  They, as recognized states within this republic, will go unheard.

Mr. Obama’s Own Words

WBEZ Interview with then Senator B. Obama, 2001.

OBAMA: If you look at the victories and failures of the civil rights movement and its litigation strategy in the court, I think where it succeeded was to vest formal rights in previously dispossessed peoples. So that I would now have the right to vote, I would now be able to sit at the lunch counter and order and as long as I could pay for it I’d be okay.

But the Supreme Court never ventured into the issues of redistribution of wealth and sort of more basic issues of political and economic justice in this society. And to that extent as radical as people tried to characterize the Warren court, it wasn’t that radical. It didn’t break free from the essential constraints that were placed by the founding fathers in the Constitution, at least as it’s been interpreted, and the Warren court interpreted it in the same way that generally the Constitution is a charter of negative liberties. It says what the states can’t do to you, it says what the federal government can’t do to you, but it doesn’t say what the federal government or the state government must do on your behalf. And that hasn’t shifted.

“… but it doesn’t say what the federal government or the state government must do on your behalf.”

Feel Better?

Let the Dinosaur Die

I just don’t understand this need to prop up the media organizations with federal assistance.  Some fear that we will see the industry drop in numbers and that this will, in some way, limit our freedom of speech.  So, their answer?  Let’s get the government involved!  Yup, that will cure our ills and make speech even more free and opinions much more diverse.

The WSJ has an opinion piece on why we should protect these large dinosaurs.  I have some questions.  First,  aren’t we there already? AP, NewsCorp, ABC, …  Last time I checked, most news articles that are in print or on air are produced by a select few global news organizations.  So, any government involvement will not be to prevent the pool from getting smaller, it will be in protecting the small number we already have.  And, if you are going to be one of the select few chosen to survive with the assistance of federal monies, it is only logical that the federal government get to make up some of the rules on fairness and accuracy, no?  They want that in Healthcare, Auto Bailout, and in the Financial Reform Act, so why not here,also?  Oh, but the feds will need to lean on the expertise of the industry (those select few that have the ability to spend on lobbyists) to craft the new rules.  And the cycle goes until federal help turns into a federally-endorsed oligopoly on news outlets.  Step by step, inch by inch…

So, more questions;

  • If there is little demand for the traditional media model (large global news orgs), does it not suggest that the traditional model is less useful?
  • Technology has done a good job of making very local (and diverse) journalist capable of being global in their distribution channel. Why fight it?
  • Why is there this inherent need for everything to be run by a select few large organizations when the purpose for their size (economies of scale in distribution) is no longer required?

This all screams to me as being a type of nostalgia.  What seems to be lost on many is that business models exist to solve a particular problem, fill a particular need.  If that need or problem is no longer a need or problem, why would we want to protect that business model?  Unless you want control…

UnRealistically Utopian

I would like to highlight a post from American Majority that does a great job of describing the difference that I, too,  see between the progressive movement and those that favor the route chosen by our founding fathers.

Madison – Federalist 51

“But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.”  – James Madison.

I like this quote as it succinctly describes the difference between those that want central government and those that want limited government.  We can argue if the federal government should get involved in healthcare, roads, energy policy, etc, but the practical problem that we are attempting to solve as a society should not neglect the wisdom of our founding fathers.

(Thank you to American Majority for highlighting this quote).

Single Point of Failure

From Wikipedia,

A single point of failure (SPOF) is a part of a system which, if it fails, will stop the entire system from working. They are undesirable in any system whose goal is high availability, be it a network, software application or other industrial system.

The assessment of a potentially single location of failure identifies the critical components of a complex system that would provoke a total systems failure in case of malfunction. Highly reliable systems may not rely on any such individual component.

Though CIRCLE’s main ‘beef’ with large, centralized governments is the high risk (and historical precedence) that they turn against individual freedom and towards tyranny, another issue high on our list is the very idea that the centralization of action produces the most efficient results.  It’s  illogical at its core, at least to us engineers.  That idea of centralization leads to a design flaw called a single point of failure.  As defined above, SPOF’s are bad for any high reliability system.  They are to be avoided at all costs.

To design a large system that is to 1) run under all conditions, 2) be stable no matter the input, and 3) react in deterministic ways, with a single point of failure is ludicrous.  Just think about this hypothetical,

Imagine if we had a communication company that built their business around one cable that went between New York and San Francisco.  Let’s say they expanded their presence up and down the coasts but had all calls routed from one coast to the other over that one cable.  Would that be smart?  What would happen if a ditch digger in the Midwest hit and cut it by accident?  It wouldn’t be good.  The company’s repair crews, of course, would be on the East and West Coast as that is where the customers are, but the cut in the line would be in a small town in Indiana, or a rural stretch of Route 66 in North Texas.  Days would be required to get there and then more time needed to repair it.  No communication between the left and right sides of the country until it got repaired.  The media outlets would scream about how the company was unprepared for such a catastrophic event.

The media would be right but for the wrong reason.  It wasn’t the response that was the issue, it was the design.  They set themselves up for a relatively minor accident (incorrect placement of hole) to result in a complete outage.  Poor design trumps the poor response.

Yet, that is the path our elected officials in the federal government, and many in society, continue to follow.  Every issue is met with the need to centralize the solution.  It’s why the downturn in house prices resulted in a global financial crisis (don’t believe me?  Read The Big Short, The Devil’s Casino, and On The Brink, then get back to me).  Our federal government endorsed 3 ratings agencies, implicitly guaranteed over 50% of mortgages, and instituted policies within the banking system that resulted in a system with a single point of failure.  Nationwide decline in real estate prices?  Kaboom!

It’s the desired route by many when it comes to healthcare.  Instead of reducing the barriers of entry, allowing more to offer healthcare services (state certificates of need for new hospitals and clinics, high compliance costs, etc), the proposed solution is a single payer system.  One group, making decisions on what is allowable, determining treatment prices, providing best practices.  How sturdy do you think that system would be?  Not very, if you ask me.

Reaction to the gulf oil spill?  One central command that approves all offers of international assistance and course of action.  Yet, he doesn’t have the ability to communicate with everyone.  He doesn’t own the resources needed to collect the oil.  But hasn’t he (Thad Allen) been anointed by our president as “in charge”?  SPOF.  We have 4 governors waiting for various federal government agencies to approve things.  We have companies around the world capable of helping but sitting on the sidelines until EPA, Coast Guard, White House officials give the a-okay to act.  This actually isn’t one SPOF, it’s many.  And they are all connected to one basic assumption that central planning and centralized action can solve complex problems. [Don't get me wrong, coordination is needed and useful but that is absent in this instance.  It's the difference between an orchestra conductor and a puppet master.  We need a conductor, we have a puppet master.]

Want another example?  How about the water main that ruptured in Boston a few months ago?  We wrote about it here.  In the infinite wisdom of someone that appears to have very little to spare, it was decided that one mother of a pipe should handle all the water for 2 million people north of Boston.  SPOF.

And just last night, NPR reported on the ongoing issues with school lunches in the Boston Public Schools.  They want one provider for all schools within the system.  They spent much time writing the request for proposal only to get one response.  The problem is so complex that only one company felt willing to take on the challenge.  SPOF.  [ To make this even more entertaining, it turns out that the biggest issue is with 60% of the schools and that a nice solution exists for that segment, but the COO of BPS wants only one provider for all the schools.]

Either by luck or skill, our founding fathers appeared to be quite smart design engineers.  Understanding the risks of single points of failure, they came up with a great idea that respected the complexity of life, handing the responsibility to act in the hands of the individual, leaving the federal government in charge of defending borders and individual freedom.

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You do not examine legislation in the light of the benefits it will convey if properly administered, but in the light of the wrongs it would do and the harms it would cause if improperly administered.
by Lyndon Johnson
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