Tag Archives: United States

Regulation and Common Sense Often Don’t Mix

In California, Proposition 65 requires that retailers and manufacturers disclose the use of any chemicals that may pose an environmental health risk.    Sounds like common sense, right?  Except go to virtually any retail or commercial or office building in California and pasted on the front door will be a sign that reads:  Chemicals are used in this building known by the State of California to cause cancer or other environmental hazards.

Now, does this warning help you very much? 

Of course not, because it was not designed to inform but to insure that building owners have a legal defense when they gets sued.  The California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) maintains a list of such chemicals required to be included in a Proposition 65 warning as a short cut of “gotcha” starting points for rookie lawyers eager to score their first settlement.

Why it Costs So Much to Do Business Today

In October 2011, OEHHA added the chemical commonly known as “TDCPP” or “Tris” [Tris(1,2-dichloro-2-proply) phosphate)] to that list of Proposition 65 required disclosures. Tris is used widely as an approved flame retardant in home furnishings (couches, chairs, pillows, and ottomans) as well as automotive products (seat padding, overhead liners, foams, and infant car seats).  Once a chemical is added to the Prop 65 list retailers and manufacturers have one year to come into compliance. So after October 2012 these Tris users and makers are eligible for lawsuit target practice.

In practical terms, adding Prop 65 warnings to Tris products forces manufacturers and users to balance two competing risks.  One set of rules requires the use of approved flame retardants in furniture, bedding, auto products and infant clothing and Tris is approved for that purpose while another now labels the use of this flame retardant a cancer risk under Proposition 65.

So which is it?

Are products made with Tris safe or not? 

If I can’t find a product without Tris does this mean I don’t buy furniture, bedding, auto products or kids clothing?

The same OEHHA that added Tris to the Proposition 65 list of chemicals is now accepting public comment on its proposed “No Significant Risk Level” (NSRL) for TDCPP of 5.4 micrograms per day. This means that daily exposure below this level would be exempt from Proposition 65. OEHHA’s decision on whether to adopt this NSRL will not be made until after the public comment process closes in July 2012 but manufacturers have already had to incur the cost of compliance with the Prop 65 listing in order to have them in fully effect by October 2012.  This is a PERECT example of how California has become unfriendly to business, unfriendly to taxpayers, unfriendly to common sense.

So what do you think manufacturers of kids clothing will do—risk being sued by the trial bar if their product does NOT have the required label or take their chances?  Drop the use of Tris and use another approved flame retardant?  Quit making the product all together?  Go out of business?  That is what happened to the company that makes the ubiquitous red plastic gasoline cans we see almost everywhere.  you may have one in your garage to fuel your lawnmover.  The company was sued after some idiot poured gasoline using one of its cans on a fire and was burned by the fire ball he created.  The punitive damages awarded bankrupted this small Miami Oklahoma company which was forced to lay off its 120 employees and shut down.  The makers of Tris and any retailer that sells a product using Tris now have the same big target on their back.

So what should the label read?

“PROPOSITION 65 WARNING: The State of California requires that this cute onesie contain a flame retardant.  The flame retardant chemical “Tris” used in this product is approved for use as a flame retardant in children’s clothing, furniture, bedding and automotive products, but it is also listed on the Proposition 65 list of chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer and other environmental health problems.  If this product exposes your kid to less than 5.4 micrograms per day don’t worry.  Longer exposures may cause cancer.  Change your kid’s clothing often to restart the clock on your daily exposure readings. If your kid gets cancer while wearing this product you may be able to sue the manufacturer and the store that sold this cute onesie to you.  The State of California has sovereign immunity from lawsuits such as these even though we require the use of the cancer causing chemical contained in this product. Trial lawyers are standing by to take your call.  Anything you win in damages from any such lawsuit is fully taxable by the State of California at the maximum rate allowed by law.”

Time to Boil Political Frogs

united states currency seal - IMG_7366_web

united states currency seal – IMG_7366_web (Photo credit: kevindean)

It must be an election year!  How do I know, because politicians of both parties are spouting talking points about the need for fiscal responsibility even while they do the opposite.  These same politicians have set up themselves and the rest of us for what is being called the ‘fiscal cliff’ at the beginning of 2013.

The fiscal cliff is the consequence political evasion, ill-considered gimmicks and cynicism.  Because the cost of enacting the ‘Bush tax cuts’ on a permanent basis was seen as politically unacceptable without also cutting spending by like amounts—also seen as unacceptable, Congress did neither.  Instead Congress jumped into the pot of cold water and turned on the heat by adopting the Bush tax cuts, giving them an expiration date, never expecting the water to boil on their watch thus engaging in the age old sport of driving up the deficit while complaining about all the spending.  This was not the finest hour for Republican leadership not because they got the policy wrong but because they bungled the execution and accountability. Had Republicans made the Bush tax permanent there would be no tax cliff.  Had they adjusted spending to match revenue the deficit would be substantially smaller today even counting the first round of stimulus spending. And ten year later Republicans in Congress are still on shaky grounds preaching about fiscal responsibility.

The other part of the fiscal cliff is made possible by another politically correct but imminently silly gimmick called sequestration.  This scheme allowed for the extension of the Nation’s debt ceiling sufficient to pay the bills but ordered automatic cuts in spending divided equally between defense and non-defense programs.  The Democrats agreed to this because they had no choice if they wanted to get the President’s debt ceiling measure approved in a divided Congress.  The Republicans agreed to it because it exacted a pound of flesh from the President’s backside because he needed something and decided to take the beating to get it.  Longer term, the Republicans believed they would win the next election and (avoid having their frog boil) by undoing sequestration for at least defense programs to avoid the cliff even if they sacrificed a few nondefense programs to claim they were cutting the fat out of the budget.

President Obama and the Congressional Democrats made the consequences of the tax cliff manifestly worse than the Republicans by driving up government spending, programs, staffing levels and industrial policy grants to favored players.  In typical Washington fashion any discussion of slowing down the INCREASE in Federal spending as a percentage of GDP is labeled as a ‘cut’ and YouTube videos of Paul Ryan pushing grandma over the cliff in her wheelchair suddenly appear.

“A Pox on Both Your Houses!”

That is the American public’s reaction to these stunts.  But here we are—careening down the 2012 election highway way above the speed limit heading toward the cliff.

In 2008, we voted for Barack Obama because we wanted to believe in his message of hope and change.  We wanted to be part of a historic presidency that celebrated to the world everything we cherished in the American dream.   We wanted to demonstrate that America was still the world’s leader and superpower.  We wanted to again reinvent America to face our economic problems squarely and to be that beacon of hope and change that a desperate world in 2008 desperately needed.

But President Obama has disappointed us instead by playing bait and switch, divided us by endless class warfare, apologized abroad for America’s vision of freedom and world leadership, and undermined our sense of optimism and American exceptionalism that drives Americans to confront challenges with a ‘yes we can’ spirit.  The challenge for President Obama in the 2012 election is America still longs for the 2008 hope and change historic Presidency he promised.  But President Obama abandoned hope and change—and us—after the 2008 election.  We do not like this ‘new normal’ and we don’t want four more years of what he’s given us.  The President has lost the benefit of our doubt and he has very little time left to try to change our minds.

The Republicans are set to nominate Mitt Romney.  He has the business experience a recovering America desperately needs.  He has the executive management and leadership experience the President lacked and we’re now paying for our ‘hiring mistake.  We are persuaded that Mitt Romney will be a good manager of America’s programs, services and finances.  The problem for Mitt Romney is so far he has been unable to ‘close the sale’ with us because while we need a good manager for America’s economic recovery—we still want a hope and change leader to restore America’s potential, self-confidence and global leadership.

Having been baited and switched once before on hope and change we are reluctant to sign up for another ‘squishy promise’ even one of competence and business savvy.  To close the sale Mitt must be more than the un-Obama.  He must inspire us more.  He must reveal his strategy in more detail so we can KNOW this time what is in the bill before we vote for it.

We want to hold our President accountable to deliver what he promises to deliver.

There are worse fates than a competent, but boring President.  But we have waited so long for hope and change and we don’t want to settle for less.

The polls tell us the campaign is a dead heat.  I believe the polls are REALLY telling us that Americans still want to believe in the 2008 hope and change Obama.  But Obama must persuade us that he still believes in hope and change.  We’re listening!  But if the 2012 Obama keeps giving us more of the same class warfare, hyper partisan, left of center rhetoric with continuing bad performance results, Americans are more likely than not to vote for competent but boring Mitt than take a chance of four more years of Obama under-performance.

The heat has been turned up under the Congressional frog with the tax cliff.  But like it or not the President and now Mitt Romney are also in the same pot as the Congressional frog.  Whoever proposes the most rational and achievable political strategy to avoid the fiscal cliff, rescue the nation and jump start our economic recovery will win our votes. A deal that avoids the tax cliff BEFORE the election is what we expect, but if we don’t get one there will be plenty of frog legs on the menu.

It is Still the Economy Stupid

English: President Obama had called on the two...

English: President Obama had called on the two former Presidents to help. During their public remarks in the Rose Garden, President Clinton had said about President Bush, ‘I’ve already figured out how I can get him to do some things that he didn’t sign on for.’ Later, back in the Oval, President Bush is jokingly asking President Clinton what were those things he had in mind. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The phrase made famous by Bill Clinton’s political campaign has a habit of creeping back into the conversation.  It happened again when the former President made two statements to the press that appeared to undermine the sitting President.  Clinton first said that he thought the US was now back in recession given the falling economic data.  And then to add injury to the insult, they said he thought the ‘Bush era tax cuts’ should all be extended ‘for a little while’.

The views are contrary to President Obama’s so they seem almost deliberately off-message if the goal is to help the president in his struggle to be re-elected.  Yet, just as the phrase rang true in the 1992 campaign against George Bush the elder, they have the added advantage of being the truth twenty years later in this 2012 campaign.

To be fair to the President’s lament too often repeated—-‘we inherited this mess’ we will all concede that digging out of the hole created by the great recession has not been easy.  But the President’s policies and the hard left partisan way he won them and is implementing them have not helped make things better faster.  So now he is being tormented and the gum of a gummed up economy is sticking to his shoes.

There are many ironies in this evolution of events:

  • How’s that Hopey Changey Thing Working out? The President we voted for in 2008 because as historic a figure as he was, we also wanted to believe badly in the ‘Hope and Change’ he championed.  It was the right message at the right time from the right person.  But after the election hope and change turned into a nasty ‘I won’ persona that was NOT what we voted for.
  • The World Still Wants the US to Lead.  The world’s leaders may not have liked George W Bush but they did not doubt his resolve.  Four years later America’s resolve seems in retreat conveniently responding to our war weariness.  But we have watched this movie before and it didn’t turn out well.  A weaker America makes for a more dangerous world where the bad boys in every neighborhood take advantage of the vacuum to occupy the turf.  The same is true in global economics, a weak America can lead to pneumonia elsewhere.  It is tough to lead from the bottom of the debt hole we have dug for ourselves, but lead we must especially if first Europe, now China and maybe America is slipping back into recession.
  • We Still Want Hope and Change! Having put away his hope and change super-cape, it is tough for the president to argue now he had it on all the time.  We are not THAT stupid.  So while we once believed, and we still want to believe—-we no longer truly believe that the guy who brought us to the hope and change dance will dance with us if we renew his lease for another four years.  The President has squandered his best opportunity.

And then there is this irony.

George W. Bush whom the president has spent the last four years blaming and vilifying has kept his mouth shut and taken the President’s abuse true to his word not to speak ill of his successor.  Meanwhile the former President of the president’s own party appears by his side, expresses support for him even while periodically stabbing him in the back with his statements to remind him who the big dog in the Democrat party is.

Playing Politics with National Security

The New York Times

The New York Times (Photo credit: niallkennedy)

How is it that the New York Times is able to write elaborately detailed stories about the cyber-attacks on Iran from Stuxnet and Olympic Games, the code names for the computer viruses allegedly used to infect Iran’s nuclear enrichment program?  The NYT even is able to produce a graphic that shows the detailed business process used to produce these virus attacks.

We’ve also been treated to detailed information about drone strikes on terrorists, on the campaign for targeting specific people, and even the president’s fingerprints on the “kill list”.

The answer to the question seems both obvious and disgusting.

The information is apparently being deliberately fed to favored reporters in order to bolster the President’s ‘war on terror’ credential in national defense.  That seems to be the logical conclusion of analysts and journalists either amazed or drooling over the prospects that they would be leaked information for the next juicy story.  There seems to be very little attempt by “administration officials” to hide what they are doing.

I thought national defense and security intelligence was supposed to be secret.  Why would we tell Iran these things?  Is this some giant ‘head fake’ to persuade Iran to give up their program and cut a deal before the worms start taking aim at other stuff in the Islamic Republic?  Is this a reminder that Iran cannot procrastinate forever, that there are consequences short of air strikes, that there really isn’t that much distance between Israel and the US?

Is this a trial balloon to judge public reaction to war played by alternative means than sending in the Marines?  Because cyber-attacks are, in fact, an act of war, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said so himself recently when discussing the issue of Chinese espionage.

If the president thinks that he is going to get ‘macho man’ credit for spamming Iran with computer viruses to make their centrifuges spin out of control, or deliberating targeting the terrorists of the world to demonstrate that there is no place the hide from American justice and self-defense—he will.

Until we realize that he put at risk the very successful tactics, intel and people in America’s defense forces by leaking it to the press for partisan political purposes without regard to the collateral damage it might do.  And worse, the President risks an even more precipitous loss of public confidence as we realize his actions undermine the nation security he is sworn to uphold.

Disgusting!

October Surprise

While most of the speculation about an October surprise has revolved around the probability of an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear capability, or a financial collapse in Spain or Italy that drags the Eurozone to the depths, it could be that we already know the October surprise but are either ignoring it or hoping, against hope, that it is not true.

We got a surprise this week with the announcement that JPMorgan Chase lost $ 2 billion in a risk management strategy gone bad.  We saw oil prices decline on news of lower than expected economic growth in China, the defeat of President Sarkozy in French elections, and similar results in Greek elections further undermining confidence in the Eurozone.  But this is May not October.

What is our October Surprise?  

The realization that the US is back in recession.  That now seems the most likely scenario for the US economy given the anemic pace of US GDP growth, persistently high unemployment, a declining work force shrinking because more people quit looking for work and thus are no longer counted and continued polls telling us Americans think the country is going in the wrong direction.

But don’t take my word for it.  The Economic Cycle Research Institute (ECRI) a New York City-based independent economic research think tank said May 9, 2012 that year-over-year growth in US real personal income has been lower for the last three months than it was at the beginning of each of the last ten recessions. The ECRI has correctly predicted three of the last three recessions.  In September 2011 the ECRI said it saw this pattern emerging and now it is reaffirming its analysis telling us that “this is what personal income growth typically looks like early in a recession”.

Some would argue the US feels like we have been in recession or worse since 2008, but data tells us we came out of recession in mid-2009 but our deficit spending levels, fiscal and monetary policy has not produced the kind of robust recovery previously seen.  So it is tough to see how digging our fiscal hole deeper with more deficit spending will change things now.

We could tax the rich—if we can find them.  California is the poster child —or basket case for that strategy with a deficit now looming to $16 billion from $9 billion at the beginning of the year.  California is not only bleeding red ink, it is bleeding people.  From 2000 to 2009 California lost a net 1.5 million resident to other states. Only New York lost more—1.6 million residents. Think about that— 1.5 million people is a city the size of San Diego voting with their feet. Yet,  on the June primary ballot is a new tax increase on cigarettes and on the November ballot we face the prospect of two dueling income and sales tax increase measures.

So the October surprise is that it may all hit the fan starting in October as voters realize not only is our economy back in recession but that we are staring in the face the prospects of a tsunami of new taxes at the beginning of 2013 from the end of the Bush tax cuts, the end of the payroll tax cuts,  the prospects of higher taxes on both the Federal and State levels.  Meanwhile it will be obvious to every voter that our current policies are not working.

This is not what President Obama and Governor Jerry Brown want to hear, but it is the reality we all face.  The challenge for the President and Governor of California is to define a message and a policy that is something other than more of the same—because that is going to be a tough sell.

The challenge for Republicans now is to present the country with a policy vision they think will work better.  Being opposed to everything President Obama is doing is not sufficient and will not overcome our belief that both parties are guilt of the same sins.

They both spend too much of other people’s money and pander to the pet causes of their base.  They all lack ‘day jobs’ that force them to live with the laws, policies and regulations they impose on the rest of us.  They forget whom they were elected to serve and the longer they are in Washington the more disconnected they become from Main Street.  These are the manifest symptoms of confidence lost.

Senator Richard Lugar lost his first primary election challenge in more than 36 years in the US Senate from Indiana to a Tea Party activist this past week.  The Democrats said this was the ugliness of the Tea Party cleansing the GOP of moderates. But one of the reasons Lugar was defeated was the realization by Indiana voters that Senator Lugar sold his house in Indiana years ago taking up permanent residence in Washington DC and has not truly been a Hoosier for quite some time.

Sea Level Rise and Sustainability

Do you feel lucky?  New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg apparently does not.  He sent one of his Long Term Planning and Sustainability staff members to a hearing before the US Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee in Washington DC on April 19th to testify on New York City’s concerns about the impact of rising sea levels.  The NYC witness Adam Freed, told the Committee that the mayor wanted the Federal Emergency Management Agency to develop detailed flood projection maps to help New York prepare for the impacts of sea level rise on infrastructure and real estate properties in the next century.

Another witness, Ben Strauss, chief operating officer and director of the program on sea level rise at Climate Central, told the committee that sea levels in the United States will rise between one and eight inches by 2030 and between four and 19 inches by 2050. But while Mayor Bloomberg’s staff member was sent to worry out loud in a politically correct way about rising sea levels, the Climate Central witness wanted action on a four-step federal program to reduce risk and vulnerability:

  1. Protect existing beaches that help prevent the impacts of storm surge,
  2. Build artificial defenses where appropriate;
  3. Halt construction in high risk areas; and
  4. Develop a planned retreat from areas that cannot be effectively protected.

With trillions of dollars of Federal debt looming and deficits as far as the eye can see, what do you assess is the probability that the Government will spent your money entertaining strategies like this?  I know—that’s what worries me too!  If we can fund bridges to nowhere imagine how much Congress might spend to keep Broadway from turning into Venice.

Then again, think of the charm New York would have if the streets of Manhattan were all turned into canals with yellow hybrid water taxis wisking you from downtown to midtown.  Bike lanes could turn into kayak channels and since the subways would all be flooded we could build giant moving sidewalks to connect the building above the projected high water line powered by wave action turbines used to squirt sea water through the subway tunnels under pressure.

Deutsch: Blick auf das Empire State Building v...

Deutsch: Blick auf das Empire State Building vom Top of the Rock English: Empire State Building as seen from Top of the Rock (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The torch on the Statue of Liberty can be replaced with a wind turbine and solar panels can be mounted on all rooftops oriented toward the Empire State Building which can be converted into a concentrated solar power tower with giant tanks of molten salt in the underwater floors to create a combined heat and power microgrid to power the city.

Think of it—auto emissions would be a thing of the past.  We would not need RGGI or EPA regulations or the New York Office of Long Term Planning and Sustainability.

Maybe this isn’t such a bad idea after all—by all mean prepare the maps.  And make sure you hire the same climate scientists who cooked the books to get more research grants because Al Gore told them the climate science was incontrovertible.  Let’s see where did I put that hockey stick formula again?

Free Carbon—Revenue that is!

Economic regions of California, as defined by ...

Economic regions of California, as defined by California Economic Strategy Panel, October 2006 Northern California Northern Sacramento Valley Greater Sacramento Bay Area Central Coast San Joaquin Valley Central Sierra Southern California Southern Border (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The cap on greenhouse gas emissions in California imposed by AB32 California’s Global Warming Solutions Act does not go into effect until 2013, but already there is maneuvering by state officials to get their hands on the pot of hoped-for gold at the end of this rainbow.  It is not that we can’t use the money.  California has struggled with huge budget deficits for a decade.

The Governor and Legislature have made billions of cuts in a futile effort to balanced spending with falling revenue in a sinking or stagnant economy.  For politicians, the gold from carbon taxes offers relief from the pain of disappointing special interests each eager to protect their part of the pork barrel that is the California State Budget. Some estimates are that the carbon tax will produce between $1 billion and $3 billion in the early years and perhaps as much as $14 billion by 2015 when it is fully implemented. Last year the state budget deficit was $9 billion—so you see why this is seen as the easy way out—tax the polluters!

In all candor California voters are part of the problem.  We allow ourselves to be seduced into all manner of silly initiative ballot measures that adopt policies, impose costs and target increasingly scarce resources to pet causes.   This is no way to run a railroad—but it is the way California is governed.

We have also made the state revenue picture worse by the steeply progress nature of our tax system which, paradoxically, depends heavily on capital gains taxes and economic growth from the very people the Governor and Legislature now want to ‘soak’ again to get out of the current mess.  It does not take a Cal-Berkeley economist to understand that when the economy sucks and capital gains are reduced that when you target those who are successful they simple change their voting residence from California to Texas or Florida and —POOF!  This double whammy of bad economic luck and bad public policy is strangling the Golden State, driving up the cost of doing business here, driving away successful people tired of game, and worse no longer working to produce the economic growth, opportunity and revenue California depends upon to live into its 21st century potential.

But carbon taxes are going to kick in in 2013 and California hopes to be in the gold again.  There are just a few problems with this calculus:

  • California does not allow the construction of coal fired generation in the state so there are no coal plants to tax.  The once thru cooling water rule will force many older natural gas plants to shut down and most be replaced with much more efficient and less emitting new gas plants.  Neither nuclear power nor hydropower produce carbon emissions and thus are exempt and all that wind and solar also beats the carbon tax.  So what’s left to tax?
  • Well technically this is NOT a tax it is a fee.  This makes a big difference and complicates life for politicians.  A tax in California requires a 2/3 vote of the State Legislature or a Referendum so AB32 imposes a “fee” set administratively each year by the California air Resources Board so no requirements that politicians must ‘vote’ to raises taxes even if they could get a 2/3 majority in the Legislature which all agree would be impossible.  But a ‘fee in California also has limitations under a 1991 California Supreme Court Decision in the Sinclair Paint v California case where the court ruled that the proceeds from a fee can only be used to mitigate or offset the health or environmental impact of the industry affected.  Let the game begin!
  • Eureka!  Charge out of state power plants selling into California!  You can imagine how happy Utah and other states with cheap coal fired generation are to hear of that ‘California dreamin’.  But what if those power producers decide to sell their energy to other states?  Since California is a net importer of about 20% of its electricity requirements it may have trouble meeting peak demand unless the price goes up enough to cover not only the competitive market price but also the carbon tax thus socking California rate payers with their own carbon tax.  Or alternatively California will have to build more power plants to satisfy its own demand.
  • Carbon Taxes and Offset Policies in Europe and the Northeast Are Not Working!  Another problem is that the carbon allowance markets now in operating in Europe (European Trading System) and the Northeast (RGGI) are struggling to survive with falling prices for carbon allowances.  Make no mistake they have raised a lot of money.  In the case of RGGI more than $900 million over the past several years but the states have different policies on how they use those funds and many have just suctioned them up and spent them to reduce deficits or fund pet causes.

This is the situation is facing California now. The carbon tax is not a tax it is a fee.  But fee revenue must be spent on things directly related to the health and environment effects giving rise to the fee.  No problem says Governor Jerry Brown we’ll spend the AB32 money on the high speed bullet train project.  As you can imagine this is going over like methane in a crowded room as the bullet train project is so far over budget, so expensive that is can easily consume all the money the ‘fee’ produces and then some.

Governor Brown’s proposed state budget beginning July 1 2012 includes $1 billion from cap and trade revenue for the fiscal year.  So far it is unclear how that money will be allocated, but $ 1 billion is too rich a pot of gold to be left to the whims of mere Governors so the pigs are lining up at the trough to be fed.

So where is all this going?

With California’s overbuilt electricity market awash in wind and solar resources even if there is new power plant construction it likely will be limited to a few clean natural gas plants or peakers that only run a few days a year.  That will not produce much carbon fee revenue.  Out of state power producers are likely to look for alternatives to doing business in California or raise their prices to recover the carbon fee in bids sticking it to California ratepayers.

The only other source of carbon fee revenue is gasoline prices and since California has a unique set of boutique fuels only sold in the Golden state you can bet fuel prices will get slammed.  That makes the progressive carbon fee among the most regressive of revenue raising schemes going and risks alienating drivers and residents in the faster growing ‘warm side of the hill’ and in the Great Central Valley which demographically tends to vote Republican more than the foggy coastal urban centers.

Welcome to California!

There is one more thing—-the inconvenient truth is the Nunavut Government in Canada reports polar bear populations at an all-time high and climate scientists not intimidated by peer pressure to say so tell us that climate temperatures have not risen in more than a decade.

Holy Carbon Fee!

Two Nukes in Thirty Years Do Not a Resurgence Make!

Falling US Reserve Margins

I know it’s an election year and the administration is looking for good news anywhere it can find it, but the press reports about Energy Secretary Steven Chu saying “the resurgence of America’s nuclear industry starts here in Georgia, where you just got approval for the first time in three decades to build new reactors,” are both sad and laughable.

He was of course talking about the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s February 9th approval of the two unit expansion at Southern Company’s Plant Vogtle in Waynesboro, Georgia.  The Secretary said rightly that nuclear power has played an important role in the U.S. energy portfolio and still provides 20% of total electricity produced and 70% market share of all the carbon-free electricity produced.

Story is sad because nuclear power’s spectacular performance for more than 30 years gets no respect from environmental advocates clamoring for greenhouse gas emissions reduction.  Another inconvenient truth is that if we had not killed off every new nuclear plant since the 1970’s we would today have a lot less coal fired generation today and would be a lot closer to the goal of emissions reduction.

What was laughable in Secretary Chu’s remarks was his warning that global competition for nuclear technology leadership is “fierce.”  It is laughable because it is true everywhere but America. He said we needed to build more nuclear power today or import it tomorrow—–hello!   News Flash for the Department of Energy, the US surrendered long ago in the fight for nuclear power.  The technology, manufacturing and expertise are now found in Japan and South Korea and China and the US must get in the queue and wait our turn.

Enough ranting, the approval of the Westinghouse AP1000 reactor design is indeed good news but we should not get excited about seeing many of these giants built.  We won’t.  The cost is too high and the risk of fickle regulation too large, and ruinous inflation too near over the long construction cycle.  Building a new nuclear power plant is a career not an assignment.

There is indeed a future for nuclear energy but this is not it.  The new future for nuclear is small, modular, passive designs that allow package plants to be build in baby nuke factories and trucked to their locations.  If Secretary Chu wants to change the future he should make a bet on this new modular nuclear technology and give America a chance to reclaim its leadership role in clean, reliable nuclear power.

There ends the rant, and begins the prayer.

Occupy Labor

Port of Oakland

Port of Oakland via Wikipedia

The press reports here in the San Francisco Bay Area tell us the cost of the Occupy movement to the city governments in Oakland and San Francisco now total about $ 1 million each in additional police, public works and cleanup costs. But that is only a fraction of the true cost of this hard to categorize movement.

I was downtown San Francisco yesterday and the size of the Occupy crowd had dwindled to a handful in front of the Federal Reserve Building.  The policy now prohibits tents and camping out but still permit the peaceful protest as long as the crowd does not block ingress and egress from the building.

In Oakland it is a different story, after the siege of downtown Oakland that resulted in violence and force many small businesses to close, the City finally shut down the camp.   There are still day protesters but it is a shadow of the former presence.  The erratic handling of occupy situation has now resulted in a recall petition against Mayor Jean Quan for bungling the first big problem on her watch.

Occupy the Port of Oakland Escalates the Conflict

But the problem gets both worse and gains clarity in what is happening at the Port of Oakland near Jack London Square where the Occupy Movement has relocated in change of tactics now focused on shutting down the Port of Oakland in order to ‘punish the 1%’.

This shift in tactics seems to suggest both the waning of interest and the digging in by the hard core of the movement.  It has been subtle but apparent that the Occupy movements in Oakland and San Francisco were aided and supported by selected labor unions including the Teachers and Service Workers unions and perhaps others either encouraging or choreographing, it is not clear, events to support their own political agendas.  That there was embarrassment for the liberal progressive politicians that originally supported them as the demonstrations went on was thought to be regrettable collateral damage.  That small business who clearly do not fit the label of the 1% were horribly affected as the movement drove customers away was often only a sidebar story on the evening news outshouted by the protesters.

But the move on the Port of Oakland is different.  Either the Occupy Movement has been reduced to its radical core now uping the ante in an effort to keep it going—or—the parts of the labor movement which originally supported occupy are now hearing loudly and clearly the complaints of other voices in the labor movement like the Longshoremen that closing the port entrances with Occupy protests is going to cost workers their paychecks for Christmas.  In the first few days of the Port tactics the San Francisco Chronicle reports that the average daily cost for cargo disruption at the Port of Oakland is now about $4 million in lost revenue and pay for 750 workers at the Port sent home. Police reports say there may have been as many as 3,000 protesters at the Port entrance and that the Occupy ports tactic change was spreading to 11 other West coast ports.  This is not coincidence.

The Occupy Movement is at a critical point because its original message calling attention to income disparities and the hardships the rotten economy is visiting on the 99% resonated with many.  We get it. But the longer it goes the more muddled the message.  This is NOT the left wing version of the Tea Party as some on the Democrat side had hoped.  The Tea Party had a message and a clear philosophy of lower taxes, less government spending and debt and less intrusion in the lives of ordinary Americans.  The Tea Party members also were quickly assimilated in the broader fabric of American politics.  The Occupy crowd has overplayed their hand and is increasingly seen as doing more harm than good for their message.

The Supremes Take the Initiative

The California Supreme Court sided with the Initiative Process today.

The California Supreme Court handed down a unanimous decision today validating that the Proposition 8 supporters do have standing to appeal the decision by Federal District Judge Vaughn Walker declaring the proposition invalid because it violates the California and US Constitution.  By upholding the right of the losing side in that Federal case to take their appeal to the US Court of Appeals for the ninth circuit, the court was not taking a position on the merits of the appeal but acting on the important procedural principle that when state officials decline to defend a law passed by the voters that the proponents of the initiative petition in question may act for the state in doing so.

To decide the matter otherwise would have sent a chilling message to the people of California that their votes don’t matter in initiative petitions if the Governor and Attorney General do not favor the measure in question.  The Supreme Court reasoned that was not the intent of the people in permitting the initiative and referendum in the California Constitution.

That the court decided the matter unanimously sent a clear message to state elected officials that they do not get to pick and choose the laws they like, but have a duty to defend the laws unless and until the question of the validity of the measure is finally resolved.

It was a prudent and common sense decision.

Now the parties can argue the matter of Proposition 8 on its merits and no matter what the final outcome may be all will know they got a fair hearing on those merits and were not denied their appellate rights by a procedural trick by politicians seeking to substitute their personal views for those of the voters.