A Few Places Where Justice Gorsuch Can Make A Difference

You may be surprised to learn that, even in these highly contentious times, the U.S. Supreme Court decides about half or more of its cases unanimously.  For example, from the New York Times, July 3, 2014:

The court is indeed often united, and it will end this term with unanimous decisions in more than half of its cases. Over the past four terms, even the members of the court least likely to agree voted together 66 percent of the time.

But those unanimous decisions tend to be the ones that few people care about and that don't make the front pages of the newspapers.  Then there are the cases that go to the essence of our Constitution and the nature of our government.  To pose the key question:  Is the United States a country that is run by the government, or is it a country that is run by the people?  If you were to read the Constitution or the Federalist Papers you would very likely come away with a strong impression that the whole idea is that the country is to be run by the people rather than by the government.  Yet, in recent years (up to the death of Justice Scalia) when a case posed an issue related to that fundamental question, the result was very often decided by a vote of 5 to 4.  And when it was 5 to 4, almost always the four liberals and four conservatives would both vote as blocs, leaving Anthony Kennedy as the mostly-but-not-reliably-conservative swing vote.  

The overriding philosophy of the "liberal" bloc has been discussed many times on this blog, and there is nothing complicated about it.  The basic concept is that the government consists of neutral, apolitical experts whose job it is to move us all towards greater and then perfect justice and fairness through the magic of more and more laws, rules and regulations.  The neutral experts must be given full authority and discretion to rule over the people in order to complete this project.  Obviously the government must run the country, because otherwise there would be chaos!  Or, even worse, unfairness! 

In case you don't keep track of these things, you might find interesting a little mini-roundup of a few of the big issues that split clearly along the ideological divide.

First Amendment/Citizens United.  One of the provisions of the so-called Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (often referred to as "McCain-Feingold") made it illegal for corporations and unions to use their general treasury funds to make independent expenditures for speech that expressly advocated for the election or defeat of a candidate in an election.  The idea was to move toward the perfect justice and fairness by "getting money out of politics."  A federal bureaucracy (the Federal Election Commission) would do away with the chaotic free-for-all of free speech and replace it with government say-so as to who could say what and when.  The Supreme Court struck that down as unconstitutional under the First Amendment in the 2010 case called Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.   It was a 5 to 4 decision, with all of the "liberals" of the time (Stevens, Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor) in dissent.

Ever since the decision came out, overturning it has been a priority for the Left -- and for the "liberal" bloc of the Court.  Hillary Clinton promised in her campaign to introduce a constitutional amendment overturning Citizens United during her first ten days in office.  It was never clear that a constitutional amendment would actually be necessary, since all she really needed was one Supreme Court appointment to deep six the case for good.  In a widely-publicized interview that appeared in the New York Times on July 10, 2016, Justice Ginsburg was quoted as saying "I'd love to see Citizens United overturned."

Perhaps, given the huge fund-raising advantage that Hillary had over Donald Trump in the recent election, you are wondering why it is a priority for the Left to eliminate corporate financial involvement in elections.  It appears that the game is to silence all opposition -- or at least all well-funded opposition -- while assuming that the complete control of the press and of academia will enable the progressive message to get out in all circumstances.  But do they understand that all of the newspapers (New York Times, Washington Post) and broadcast media (ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, MSNBC) are organized as corporations?  This could have become a huge issue if, for example, Merrick Garland had made it onto the Court.  Now, it will likely just go away.

Second Amendment/Heller.  Under a constitutional amendment that reads (in part) "the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed," can a state or local government make it illegal in some or all circumstances for citizens to own firearms?  It is not surprising that views as to the answer to that question break down along ideological lines.  What is somewhat more surprising is that "liberal" legal academics and judges can convince themselves, in the face of the language of the Second Amendment, that severe restrictions that essentially eliminate legal private firearms possession are no problem.  The belief that the all-knowing bureaucrats can perfect the world if only given enough power is so strong that seemingly intelligent people are able to find ways to avoid remarkably clear and definitive language written into the Constitution itself.

The Heller case of 2008 was the one in which the Supreme Court decided that the right to "keep and bear arms" was a personal one that belonged to the people.  The vote was 5 to 4.  All of the "liberals" of the time (Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg, Breyer) voted as a bloc.  Merrick Garland, or any Hillary Clinton appointee, would immediately have overturned this one.  Now the precedent is safe for a while.

Commerce Clause/Lopez.  Perhaps the most famous quote from the Federalist Papers is that from Madison's #45: 

The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite.  The former will be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation, and foreign commerce; with which last the power of taxation will, for the most part, be connected. The powers reserved to the several States will extend to all the objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties, and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement, and prosperity of the State.  

I won't delve here into the steps by which the federal government slipped the ties of its "enumerated powers," most notably Wickard v. Filburn of 1942.  But are there today any limits at all on federal powers?  The most relevant Supreme Court case is United States v. Lopez of 1995.  Again, it was a 5 to 4 decision, with all of the "liberals" of the time (Breyer, Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg) dissenting.

At issue in the case was the constitutionality of the federal "Gun Free Schools" act, by which Congress had purported to make possession of a firearm near a school into a federal crime.  Could there be any subject farther removed from the "few and defined" powers granted to Congress by the Constitution?  Lopez challenged whether Congress had authority to legislate in this area.  The majority of 5 held that it did not.  But Justice Breyer, in dissent, articulated a rationale under which the constitutional limits on Congressional powers become completely meaningless:

Could Congress rationally have found that "violent crime in school zones," through its effect on the "quality of education," significantly (or substantially) affects "interstate" or "foreign commerce"? 18 U. S. C. §§ 922(q)(1)(F), (G). As long as one views the commerce connection, not as a "technical legal conception," but as "a practical one," Swift & Co. v. United States, 196 U. S. 375, 398 (1905) (Holmes, J.), the answer to this question must be yes.

While they won't quite say so directly, it is absolutely clear that all Supreme Court justices of the liberal bloc will find a way, in any given case, to support the power of Congress to legislate under the Constitution, no matter how remote the subject at hand may be from the enumerated powers of Article I, Section 8.

So, if you were hoping for the achievement of new heights in perfect justice and fairness through more laws, rules and regulations, you are probably very disappointed that it was Donald Trump rather than Hillary Clinton who got to make this Supreme Court appointment.  If you like the Constitution as written, you probably like Gorsuch. 

Reasonable Inferences About The Weird Obsession With Russia

Just over a month ago (March 2), I first posed the question "What Is With This Weird Obsession With Russia?"   I followed up three weeks later with "The Weird Obsession With Russia Just Won't Go Away."  Now we're up to April 7.  The weird obsession is still out there.  It's time to draw some obvious inferences.

I start from this very simple proposition:  The sad truth is that all humans are imperfect.  Corollary:  Very few human beings, and maybe none, given political power and control of the apparatus of government, can resist the temptation to misuse the powers of the state to advance themselves and disadvantage their opponents politically.  When the government's powers can be used in secret, the temptation becomes close to irresistible.  

The question of the day is, did members of the Obama administration, during the time of the recent election campaign and transition, misuse the surveillance powers of the NSA and FBI to gather information on Donald Trump and his associates for political purposes?  We know that various conversations of Trump and associates with representatives of foreign powers have been recorded, "unmasked" (in the euphemism of the day), and the substance provided to at least the National Security Advisor during the recent campaign and transition.  Is it a reasonable inference that these disclosures were completely innocent and without political purpose or use?  

I'll start be reprising a post that I wrote way back in June 2013, titled "Yes, Universal Government Snooping Is A Problem."  The occasion for the post was an article in the Wall Street Journal on June 8 of that year reporting on revelations of the essentially universal data collection on everyone all the time which had then recently been undertaken by the NSA.  The same article also reported on President Obama's defense of same.  According to the article, Obama on June 7, 2013 had asserted that the data collection involved only "modest encroachments" on privacy, and moreover had been "vetted" by Congress and the courts.  What could go wrong?  My take at the time:

[T]here are very serious problems with the government monitoring all the activities of everyone all the time.  The main one is, they are just not capable of resisting the temptation to misuse the information for political advantage.  And make no mistake, the information is highly valuable for political purposes. . . .  

Are there examples of top political actors using the powers of their position to spy on their adversaries?  Well, just in what is well known, there was the massive and systematic use by President Lyndon Johnson of the FBI and CIA to spy on the Goldwater campaign:

It was a political scandal of unprecedented proportions: the deliberate, systematic, and illegal misuse of the FBI and the CIA by the White House in a presidential campaign. The massive black-bag operations, bordering on the unconstitutional and therefore calling for impeachment, were personally approved by the president. They included planting a CIA spy in his opponent's campaign committee, wiretaps on his opponent's top political aides, illegal FBI checks, and the bugging of his opponent's campaign airplane.  The president? Lyndon B. Johnson. The target? Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona, the 1964 Republican presidential candidate.

Or how about President Nixon's attempted use of the IRS to gather potentially damaging information on his opponents (unfortunately for Nixon, the IRS was not disposed to go along):

During Richard Nixon's 1972 re-election campaign, the president's White House counsel, John Dean, met withthe head of the Internal Revenue Service, Johnnie Mac Walters, and presented him with an envelope. Inside was a list of approximately 200 names -- the names of Nixon's political enemies and with it came the understanding that the IRS begin investigating the "enemies list" and perhaps start sending some people to jail.

Obviously, this is not a partisan issue.  But, you say, the saintly and haloed Obama would never stoop to such wrongdoing?  Actually, we know very well that that is not true -- the Obama IRS scandal being only the most prominent of several examples.  (And, unlike the case of Nixon, the IRS, consisting almost entirely of partisan Democrats, was only too happy to help Obama try to hobble his opponents.)

Also going to the question of reasonable inferences to be drawn is the timing of emergence of the "Russia collusion" stories.  Do you remember when these stories about Trump's alleged collusion with Russia started to come out?  Looking around today, here's what I learn:  the earliest story I can find on the subject is this one from Franklin Foer of Slate on October 31, 2016.  That's just about one week before the election.  The story contains lots of speculation, and exactly zero hard information.  All of its sources are explicitly anonymous.  ("I communicated extensively with Tea Leaves and two of his closest collaborators, who also spoke with me on the condition of anonymity, since they work for firms trusted by corporations and law enforcement to analyze sensitive data.")  

The obvious inference is that surveillance of Trump and his associates went on throughout the campaign as part of a completely political operation to help defeat the adversary.  It's just in the nature of the very most powerful human instincts and incentives that that is what has occurred.  And the Russia thing?  I mean, in the off chance that Trump might win, the existence of the surveillance would inevitably come out.  A cover story was needed, and it had to surface before the election because it wouldn't be believable if it only emerged after the surveillance had been discovered and publicized.

It's a pretty good cover story, too.  I'll bet it polled well!  And here's something I have learned from a life in the litigation business:  it's impossible to prove that someone is lying when he is talking about his own motive.  If the question is "Did you shoot the deceased?" and you answer "No," that can be rather definitively disproved by a video showing you pulling the trigger and the deceased dropping to the ground.  But there can be twenty true answers to the question of "why" you did something.  "Why did you go to New York?"  "Because I like New York."  "Because my sister lives there."  "To look for a job."  "To see Central Park."  "To visit the Manhattan Contrarian."  "To kill the deceased."  They could all be true at the same time!  Or some could be true and some not.  Suppose you answered "Going to see Central Park was no part of the reason I went to New York," but actually it was the main reason that you went.  "Sure I happened to be in Central Park, but I was only there on my way to visit the Manhattan Contrarian."  How is anybody going to definitively prove you wrong?

So Susan Rice has been quoted as saying:  “The allegation is that somehow Obama administration officials utilized intelligence for political purposes. That’s absolutely false."  Do you believe her?  For reasons given, there is no way to disprove the statement definitively.  How you view her statement likely turns on how plausible you find the "Russia collusion" narrative, versus what you think of the ability of the Obamanauts to resist the temptation to misuse their governmental powers.  A few months into the "Russia collusion" thing with no evidence of any kind to support it -- and lots of reasons to think it's preposterous -- I'm not giving it much weight.  You may disagree.  But I point out that it would be completely normal for a presidential campaign and/or transition team, during the course of the campaign or transition or both, to:

  • reach out to and speak to representatives of significant foreign countries to hear their perspective on significant issues affecting the two countries; or
  • float ideas for changes in policy with respect to a given country with its representatives and get an indication of how the country might react to those changes.

Indeed, it would be incompetent for a campaign and/or transition team not to do these things with respect to the major countries on the international stage.  Do we think, for example, that some members of the Trump transition teams may have discussed with representatives of the UK the implications of the Brexit vote for the two countries' relations, and how our trade agreements might need to be restructured to deal with that situation?  How could they not have?

In other words, the fact that representatives of a campaign or of a transition are having discussions with representatives of foreign powers is completely normal and provides absolutely no basis for the NSA or FBI of the incumbent administration to make transcripts of the conversations involving an adversary's campaign and bring the substance of those discussions and the names of the participants to the attention of the President and the National Security Advisor.

The very, very, very strongest temptation pulling on a President is the temptation to use the secret powers of state surveillance to disadvantage his political adversaries.  This temptation is so powerful that it might well even have enabled the Obama team to convince themselves that they weren't doing anything wrong in surveilling the other side's campaign.

One final thing:  the story that "we had to surveil our political opponent because he might have been colluding with the Russians" will be equally available for every other politician in power going forward.  Hey, it worked for Obama!  For future presidents who want to try to use this line, I do recommend that you also follow Obama's example and first get a few well-placed articles like that Slate thing out there before the evidence of the surveillance itself starts coming out.

There Is No Alternative To Embracing Automation

Salena Zito, whose work I often admire, has a long piece in the New York Post from Sunday headlined "This is the next Democratic stronghold to crack like the Rust Belt."   It seems that Ms. Zito has done the same thing that I have done many times, namely taken the Acela train between Washington and New York.  If you do that, it's hard not to notice the very large stretches of devastated, abandoned and burned-out America -- some in Newark, some in Trenton, a huge part of North Philadelphia, some of Wilmington, the majority of Baltimore.  Zito:

Outside, a different Acela corridor rolls by — one roiled by isolation, decay and societal changes, a world ghosted by technology, corrupt politicians and bad city planning.  Shuttered machine shops, refineries, steel mills and manufacturing plants near Trenton and Philadelphia slide past the window like a kaleidoscope of sorrow; scores of once-charming century-old houses are now covered in graffiti and dot areas in and around Baltimore, Newark and Wilmington, Del.

There are also some upscale places along the route, although somehow the train's view doesn't offer much of a flavor of the nice suburbs of New York and Washington.  But as to the large and highly visible decayed areas in these cities:  could they now be ready to try another political approach, rather than whatever it is that has brought them so low?

Ms. Zito then moves on from description to diagnosis and prescription.  Unfortunately, I think that she then gets it all (or nearly all) wrong.  Her diagnosis of the problem, in a word, is "automation":

[M]ostly, it has been unrelenting automation that has eliminated middle-class jobs and lives. . . .    [One study] determined [that] every additional robot used in automation reduced employment in a given commuting area by three to six workers, and lowered wages by 0.25 to 0.5 percent. There are 1.5 million robots out there working in what is left of industrial America, and that number is projected to double in less than 10 years.

And how about a prescription of what to do?

The hard truth is that no one has any idea what to do with the under-employed, high school-educated people who once were able to carve out good, middle-class lives with their own hands, as long as they were willing to work.  But somebody had better figure it out soon. . . .

Sorry, but no.  First:  sure robots destroy jobs.  They are just the latest gizmos to fill that role.  Earlier versions of such gizmos were industrial looms and mechanized tractors and reapers for farms.  Those things, between and among them, "destroyed" what were then the jobs of some 90+% of Americans.  Here's a chart from the Department of Agriculture that I used in a post back in August 2014.  

Notice that the process of elimination of the agricultural jobs was still going on in the post-World War II period.  A good 10 million or so of those jobs were "automated" out of existence during my lifetime, during the 1950s and 60s -- an era now looked back on as some kind of golden age by many of the uninformed, who can see only the expansion of factory jobs during that time and not the devastation of agricultural employment.  And by the way, the jobs in agriculture were backbreaking, miserable jobs that paid just barely enough to subsist when the harvest was good.  When the harvest was bad, you starved, or lost your farm to foreclosure, or more likely both.  Is there anyone who seriously would want those jobs back today?

Those jobs were replaced by many things, manufacturing not a small part of the total.  But manufacturing is no more immune than agriculture to the processes of creative destruction.  Literally every factory, sooner or later, is going to be driven out of business.  It may happen because of a better process involving robots, or it may be by (temporarily) cheaper labor in a China or a Mexico, or it may be by a guy across the street with a better design for the product, or it may be that the owner dies and doesn't have a good successor, or it may be something else.  The fact remains that every job will some day go away.

So what to do about that?  When Ms. Zito says that "no one has any idea what to do with the under-employed, high school-educated people," she is just wrong.  What to do about it is obvious.  It's the "creative" part of "creative destruction."  Entrepreneurs and investors, given a good business climate and the rule of law, will create and grow new businesses and soak up the excess labor -- no matter at what level of skill.  That is, unless government hinders, obstructs, or prevents that process from proceeding.

The essential problem of Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore is not the automation and the closure of what were once hundreds of viable factories.  That happens everywhere.  What distinguishes these places is that nothing has yet come in to replace the failed businesses.  The problem is that the people who are creating new businesses today are not creating them in these places.  Why?  The right place to look is at predatory government.  In these cities -- but not in others -- taxes are way too high, crime is not under control, labor regulations (minimum wage, wage and hour restrictions, favors for unions), and other regulations (including things like nitpicking "safety" and "environmental" rules) greatly increase the burden and expense of starting and operating a business.  Potential entrepreneurs either go elsewhere or just don't bother to go to the effort of starting a business.

To ask an obvious question:  If you had an idea for a new business that could be located anywhere in the country and could employ, if it caught on, a few hundred modestly-educated people at decent wages, is there any chance that you would choose Baltimore as your location?  You would have to be out of your mind.  Baltimore's murder rate is around 50 per 100,000 (New York's rate is 4 per 100,000).  They had riots in Baltimore in 2015 where the citizens looted and burned local businesses for weeks on end, and the police stood aside.  Is any sane investor really going to sign up to be treated that way?

The funny thing is, if you had come to my own neighborhood of Greenwich Village in the 1970s (or at least to substantial parts of it), you would also have had the impression that it was "roiled by isolation, decay and societal changes" and "ghosted by technology" -- just like the big swaths of Philadelphia and Baltimore today.  The former shipping piers had been completely abandoned for around two or more decades, and the first couple of inland blocks were nothing but abandoned factories and warehouses that had formerly served the port.  Here is a picture of what some of the piers looked like at that time:

Today the same waterfront is lined with gleaming new condos that fetch top dollar, averaging something around an amazing $4000 per square foot (that would be about $4 million for a standard-size 2 bedroom apartment).  Here's a relatively recent picture:

What happened?  A few things:

  • Between the late 1970s and mid-1990s, the top New York State income tax rate was cut in a series of steps by more than half, from 15% to under 7%.  (There has since been some regression, but only a little.). Still, there was no development.
  • Then crime began its dramatic fall.  Using the murder rate as a proxy, it was about 25 per 100,000 in the early 1990s.  By 2000 it had fallen to about 8 per 100,000.  That's when redevelopment in this area started to get going.  Today the murder rate is around 4 per 100,000 and redevelopment has soared.

Come to the Greenwich Village waterfront today, and you would have no idea that a couple of short decades ago it looked much like North Philadelphia and Baltimore today.

There is no reason that those places cannot see the same kind of renaissance that we have had.  They just need to make themselves an attractive place for new investment.  That means getting taxes down and crime under control.  And they don't have the Broadway theater, the opera and the museums like we have.  That means that they can't assume that our level of taxes will work for them.

Meanwhile, "automation" is going to proceed, like it or not.  Rail against it all you want.  Unfortunately, if we want the overall level of incomes to increase, that means that productivity must increase.  And that means embracing automation.  There is no real alternative.  But embracing automation does not mean that anyplace has to be abandoned and forgotten.  That is a function of the attraction of new businesses, and has little to nothing to do with the destruction of the old, which is inevitable.

Climate News This Week: What Was Important?

To begin with, there was President Trump's Executive Order on Tuesday directing EPA and other government bureaucracies to begin the process of unwinding the dozens of Obama-era fossil fuel restrictions that were supposedly going to "stop climate change," or something like that.  But you already knew about that one.  

The next day, Wednesday, there was a hearing before the House Committee on Science, Space & Technology that inquired into the scientific basis for all those Obama-era regulations.  Witnesses included John Christy, Judith Curry, Roger Pielke, Jr., and Michael Mann.  The links go to the written testimony of each of those witnesses.  The first three witnesses were called by the Republican majority of the committee, while Mann was the pick of the Democratic minority.  (Really, was this guy the best they could do?  Needless to say, his testimony was all about how the "overwhelming majority" of scientists agree with his position, with no effort to engage on the merits whatsoever.)

Not to minimize the other two witnesses, but I'll focus on Christy's testimony.  The gist of that testimony was that the climate models that are the basis for all greenhouse gas regulation have failed in empirical testing against real world data.  In other words, the basis for IPCC and EPA claims that human greenhouse gas emission have a measurable impact on climate has been disproved.  From Christy's summary:

When the “scientific method” is applied to the output from climate models of the IPCC AR5, specifically the bulk atmospheric temperature trends since 1979 (a key variable with a strong and obvious theoretical response to increasing GHGs in this period), I demonstrate that the consensus of the models fails the test to match the real-world observations by a significant margin. As such, the average of the models is considered to be untruthful in representing the recent decades of climate variation and change, and thus would be inappropriate for use in predicting future changes in the climate or for related policy decisions. 

Well, that's rather a bombshell.  I wonder, how did the New York Times report this news?  And the answer is, in the three editions of that paper since Dr. Christy testified on Wednesday, there has not been one word about what Christy said at this hearing, or for that matter, mentioning the hearing at all.  

Christy goes into considerable detail as to the sources of evidence used to track real world temperature trends, and his methodology.  I'll leave it up to you to read that information at the link.  But a couple of more things of interest.  Christy presented a chart that was buried deep in the "supplementary material" of the most recent IPCC Report, "AR-5."  His comment:

What is immediately evident is that the model trends in which extra [i.e., human-added] GHGs are included lie completely outside of the range of the observational trends, indicating again that the models, as hypotheses, failed a simple “scientific-method” test applied to this fundamental, climate-change variable. That this information was not clearly and openly presented in the IPCC is evidence of a political process that was not representative of the dispassionate examination of evidence as required by the scientific method. 

Christy also discussed the results of the Wallace, et al., Research Report of September 21, 2016 (of which he was a co-author).  That Research Report was discussed here when it first came out back in September ("The 'Science' Underlying Climate Alarmism Turns Up Missing").   The summary conclusion from Christy's testimony:

The basic result of this report is that the temperature trend of several datasets since 1979 can be explained by variations in the components that naturally affect the climate . . . .      

So that is what the New York Times found to be completely unimportant in climate news this week.  And what did they find to be important?  Well, there was that big article on the front page Thursday, and continuing onto most of a full page in the interior, headlined "China Poised to Take Lead on Climate After Trump's Move to Undo Policies."  From the Times:

“They’ve set the direction they intend to go in the next five years,” Barbara Finamore, a senior lawyer and Asia director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, based in New York, said of China. “It’s clear they intend to double down on bringing down their reliance on coal and increasing their use of renewable energy.”  “China wants to take over the role of the U.S. as a climate leader, and they’ve baked it into their five-year plans,” she added, referring to the economic development blueprints drawn up by the Chinese government.

So, New York Times, what does that mean quantitatively?  I mean, how much coal generation capacity does China now have compared to the United States, and are the numbers for the two countries increasing or decreasing?  Of course, this being Pravda, don't expect to find any of that easily-available information in their article.  So I'll give it to you.  For China statistics, here is London-based Carbon Tracker, November 2016:

As of July 2016, China has 895 GW of existing coal capacity being used less than half of the time – and perversely has 205 GW under construction and another 405 GW of capacity planned. . . .  

In January 2017, China canceled some 103 GW of that planned-and-under-construction capacity, meaning that it now has "only" 507 GW of coal generation capacity planned and/or under construction, to add to its 895 GW of existing coal generation capacity.  And the numbers for the U.S.?  We have only about 325 GW of coal generation capacity according to this report from 2015 -- and that figure has likely declined somewhat since then.  In other words, our total of existing coal generation capacity is about a third of China's, and not much more than half of what China is planning to add in the next few years.  By that time, our coal generation capacity will be less than one-quarter of theirs, and maybe even less.  Good "climate leadership" China!

Now that you know those numbers, you can consider some of the more ridiculous things in this Times article.  For example, we have this from Chinese energy "researcher and policy advisor" Chai Qimin:

Chai Qimin, a climate change researcher and policy adviser, said that policies adopted at a recent Communist Party meeting showed that China “has attached ever greater importance to ecological civilization and green development.”  “Everyone is taking this more and more seriously,” he added.

Or consider this, quoted by the Times from an editorial in the Chinese state-run Global Times newspaper:

“Washington is obliged to set an example for mankind’s efforts against global warming, and now the Trump administration has become the first government of a major power to take opposite actions on the Paris Agreement,” the newspaper said. “It is undermining the great cause of mankind trying to protect the earth, and the move is indeed irresponsible and very disappointing.”

Does the Times realize that these people are laughing at them?  Honestly, I don't think they do.

Now, as between Dr. Christy's testimony on the empirical invalidation of the IPCC climate models, and the seizure of "climate leadership" by China, which do you think is the more important?

Paying Attention To The Huge Costs Of Generating Electricity From Intermittent Sources

Yes I sometimes feel lonely harping away at the huge costs of trying to make a functioning electrical grid out of intermittent wind and solar sources.  For a few of my posts on the subject, see here, here, and here.  Maybe with President Trump's dramatic move yesterday to back away from fossil fuel suppression under the guise of "climate" control, this whole thing will quickly fade away.  But as of now, many states, not the least California and my own home state of New York, soldier on with so-called "renewable portfolio standards" for electric utilities, requiring ever increasing amounts of generation from the unreliable renewables. 

I start from the proposition that, in the world of intentionally deceptive and fraudulent government data on virtually everything important (GDP, poverty, government debt, temperature records, etc.), it is still almost impossible to top the intentional deception that the government puts out on the subject of the cost of obtaining electricity from the intermittent sources.  (OK, I have dubbed the temperature data tampering fraud the "Greatest Scientific Fraud Of All Time."  But the fraud on the subject of the cost of wind and solar power is not technically a scientific fraud.)  The idea as to the energy costs is to put out numbers purporting to show that wind and solar power are no more expensive than, or possibly even cheaper than, reliable and dispatchable sources like natural gas and coal.  This is done by creating an arbitrary and useless concept known as the "levelized cost of energy" ("LCOE") that simply leaves out all of the massive extra costs that use of intermittent sources requires if you want a system that actually works 24/7/365 -- costs of things like backup from dispatchable sources, storage, extra transmission costs, and extra costs from running backup plants in a mode of constantly cycling up and down.  Thus the government's annual Energy Information Agency report, most recently issued in August 2016, shows the LCOE from wind turbines as much less than nuclear and just slightly higher than natural gas -- and actually cheaper than natural gas once you take into account the tax credits!  Their chart of comparative costs on page 6 at the link does not even deign to put a cost on new coal facilities.  Hey, this was the Age of Obama!  Coal was to be verboten!

The LCOE concept at best addresses the costs associated with adding one facility of any one of the generation types to our massive existing infrastructure.  But suppose that instead of adding a few more wind turbines, we actually propose to take wind-generated electricity up to 30%, or 50%, or even 90% of all generation.  What then?  EIA's LCOE numbers do not remotely address that question.  Back of the envelope calculations at some of my previous posts (linked above) suggest that such an effort could multiply the cost of electricity by a factor of five, or ten, or even more.  Moreover, this would be one of those unbelievably giant engineering projects -- orders of magnitude bigger than, say, the California bullet train -- that inevitably have massive cost overruns.  Can somebody other than yours truly please pay attention to this subject?

A couple of things in the last week indicate that a few people are beginning to wake up at least a little.  But unfortunately "little" is the operative word.  

Last week I attended the International Conference on Climate Change in Washington, put on by the Heartland Institute.  One of the panels addressed the cost of alternative sources of energy, and one of the three panelists on the panel addressed, at least to some extent, the incremental costs of adding wind and solar sources to an electric grid.  That panelist was Mary Hutzler, who appears to be employed by a think tank called the Institute for Energy Research.  Ms. Hutzler has actually done research aimed at correcting some of the more egregious omissions from the EIA's LCOE calculations, including a fairly detailed report from 2015 titled "The Levelized Cost of Electricity from Existing Generation Resources."   Her presentation at the Conference is available at the Heartland site here.  Comparing her presentation to the Report, it seems that most of the presentation came from the Report, including many of the charts.

Frankly, I found Ms. Hutzler's presentation extremely disappointing.  The basic thing that she and co-authors had tried to do in the Report was to add in to EIA's LCOE numbers some obvious adjustments to account for things that EIA just fraudulently left out, even at today's low levels of generation from intermittent sources -- things like capacity factor adjustments to the actual capacities that wind turbines have achieved, adjustments of the assumed lifetime of wind turbines to match real experience, and attribution to the cost of power from wind of at least some of the costs of backup fossil fuel power.  With these adjustments, wind power suddenly becomes about 50% more expensive than combined cycle natural gas, according to a chart on page 26 in the Report.

Fair enough.  But what additional costs would be needed if we tried to make a fully functioning electricity system where the electricity itself comes out of predominantly wind, say 70% or 90%?  That question was not addressed by Ms. Hutzler in her presentation, nor is it addressed in the Report.  Nor was it clear from the presentation that that question was not addressed.  You had to get the underlying Report and study it.  And when you study it you find that it basically addresses scenarios where wind turbines are matched with gas plants of similar "capacity," so that the gas plant can cycle up and down as the wind blows less and more.  Those scenarios will never get the generation from wind up much above 30%.  To get higher you will need to avoid calling on the fossil fuel backup as much as possible.  You will thus need multiple times excess wind turbine capacity, plus some combination of vastly increased transmission capacity or storage capacity or both.  To find out how much you will have to pay for four times excess capacity in wind generation, tens of millions of Teslas worth of batteries, and massive new transmission capacity (and, of course, full fossil fuel backup -- just in case!), you will have to look elsewhere.

Well, you could try looking in the new report just out from the UK's Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, written by a consultancy called Frontier Economics.  The report has long been known to be in the works, and supposedly was to address the "total system costs" of variable renewable electricity generators.  It had been expected out about a year ago, but then ran into a long unexplained delay, and finally came out last Friday.  Oh, according to the press release from the Global Warming Policy Foundation, "The study is not only very late, but contains no quantitative estimates of additional system costs."

What?  Wasn't that the whole point?  It gets worse.  They include in the released material some peer review comments, from which one can infer that quantitative estimates of those additional costs were in the drafts but have been deleted from the final.  Here is the comment from GWPF, titled "Is the UK Concealing 'Very High' Renewables System Cost Estimates."   Excerpt:

After an unexplained delay of a year since completion the UK’s Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has published (24.03.17) a report by Frontier Economics on the total system costs of uncontrollably variable renewable generators, a topic of crucial importance in understanding the cost-effectiveness of current climate policies. The study is not only very late, but entirely qualitative, and contains no quantitative estimates of additional system costs per megawatt hour (i.e. £/MWh), figures which would normally be considered the principal output of such work. However, examination of the peer reviews, which are published with the study, reveals that an entire table of numerical cost estimates, some of which were described by the external reviewer as “very high”, were in fact present in the version sent out for comment in mid 2015, but have been subsequently removed. This does not smell right and BEIS should release the original draft.

If you are starting to get the impression that you are being defrauded, you are right.  Kudos to the GWPF for joining in the small and still nascent efforts to hold the crooks to account.  But, when will any government put out a remotely honest effort to calculate the real cost of the mostly-wind-and-solar generation system that they are busy trying to force on the people?  Probably, not before the entire current crop of bureaucrats in the field have been fired and/or jailed.  

The Sad Cancer Of Third Party Pay Medical Care

As noted in my previous post a couple of days ago, almost all of the commentary about the recent defeat in Congress of the American Health Care Act proposal is about the immediate blow-by-blow of the ongoing political battle.  President Trump has suffered a huge defeat!  Paul Ryan is a loser and must be replaced immediately!  The Republicans can't govern!

Can we look at this with a little perspective?  Here's my perspective:  Third party pay for health care, whether it be government pay (Medicare, Medicaid), or near-universal insurance-company pay for ordinary and routine expenses, or a combination of both, cannot work for the long pull.  Unfortunately, like it or not, scarcity is the essential unavoidable condition of human existence.  No-questions-asked third party pay for healthcare ignores the fundamental grinding reality of scarcity.  We pretend that healthcare can be demanded and consumed in whatever infinite amounts somebody might want, without downside.  It's the usual illusion of socialism, seemingly confined to one small area of the economy; so, really, how much destruction can it wreak?  Unfortunately, the amount of destruction it can wreak is vast, and may only have begun.

Somehow it has become a shibboleth of the Left that third party pay for all or nearly all healthcare expenses is some kind of moral necessity of a decent society.  The official line is that without some form of universal "healthcare," some people will be stuck worrying about whether they can afford a treatment that may be important or even necessary; some people might lose most of their net worth or even be bankrupted by a health crisis; some people might forego necessary treatment.  Some people might even die!  (The part about excess deaths has proved remarkably difficult to demonstrate empirically.

But for these purposes, assume that all of these things are true, or at least somewhat true.  Meanwhile, in pursuit of the mirage of perfect cost-free healthcare for all, health spending has gone from about 7% of the economy in 1965 when Medicare and Medicaid were launched, to almost 18% today.  The incremental amount represents around $2 trillion per year to today's economy -- enough, for example, to cure all defined "poverty" about 6 times over.  The costs are buried all over the place -- some in insurance premiums paid by households, more in insurance premiums paid by employers that therefore never turn up in take-home pay, and still more in taxes at all different levels of government -- so that nobody can ever get a handle on how much they are paying and who gets the money.  And let's not kid ourselves that the "rich" do or can be made to pay all or even most of this mushrooming healthcare spending.  $2 trillion is more than the total income of the top 1% of taxpayers according to the most recent IRS data from the Tax Foundation!  There is no getting around the fact that medical spending has become a tremendous drag on the incomes of the middle class.  If you want to find the one main reason why middle class incomes do not go up, and why middle class families are angry at their inability to get ahead, this is it.

And they are right to be angry.  The moral necessity of universal third party pay healthcare is generally sold by presenting a small number of hardship cases to tug at the emotional heartstrings of the public.  OK, how much of the $2 trillion would actually be needed to take care of the bona fide sympathetic cases, and nothing for the bureaucrats and rent seekers?  5%?  Maybe 10%?  Unfortunately a socialist-model system has no ability to find the real need and spend only on that.  There is no known example of a socialist-model system not being taken over by the unproductive bureaucrats and rent seekers and run for their benefit.    

Among the dozens of articles during the last few days on this subject, I have managed to find just a couple that get past the immediate blow-by-blow and show a little perspective.  First, here is one from thezman.com, titled "The Truth About Health Care."   It is definitely worth your time to read the whole thing, but I'm going to incorporate some significant quotes:

This is an iron law of economics. All goods and services are rationed. This is true for health care too. There are no exceptions to this law. Thus, the First Truth of Health Care: No health care plan or system can ever be taken seriously unless it addresses, up front, how it will say “No, you cannot have it” to people who want it. At some point, someone has to tell the patient they cannot have whatever it is they want or need. . . .  

Thus, the Second Truth of Health Care: The current insurance model is just a wealth transfer from the middle-class to the health care industry, in order to cover the cost of poor people and the metastasizing layer of people who live off the system. Th[is] is really just a tax. Most people use about 5% of their plan for themselves; the rest is used to pay for poor people and the army of people who work in the system. . . .  

Thus, the Third Truth of Health Care: Health services are a massive skimming operation. Today, the one area of the economy that “grows” is the health care industry. Every year, more and more people pile into that wagon, mostly in administrative roles. The number of nurses and doctors does not grow very much, but the number of bureaucrats grows like a weed.

Then you have the pill makers, machine makers, research people and lawyers. There are always lots and lots of lawyers. The health care industry is massive and government dependent. It’s why rub rooms are now called message therapy centers. They are angling to get it on the racket, by having their service declared an essential health care service. . . .  

Third party pay health care is why the price of lasik surgery for your eyes (not covered by insurance) drops like a stone, while newly approved drugs that come to market (covered by insurance) now get priced at $50,000 or $100,000 for a course of treatment.  Hey, how are the government or insurers going to say no to the price if the drug might save somebody's life?  The government and insurers have infinite deep pockets -- otherwise known as what could and would have been increasing middle class incomes, now diverted to the parasites by the genius of socialism.

Returning from court today on the subway, I came across this ad, representing the dead end into which our healthcare system is headed by the irresistible incentives of third party pay:

You too can now get in on the racket!

A second article today with some sense of perspective on the situation is from Myron Magnet of the Manhattan Institute, appearing in the LA Times, titled "The original mistake that distorted the health insurance system in America."  That original mistake was the establishment, during World War II, of first-dollar or near-first-dollar healthcare "insurance" as a pre-tax employee fringe benefit.  With that foundational error, consumer cost-consciousness was banished from the medical arena, and the cancerous tumor got its start.  Tumor growth has proceeded from there.  Medicare and Medicaid represented the metastatic phase.  We are now well into Stage IV of the terminal disease.

Is there any possible cure at this point?  The only one I can see is a massive return to the states of responsibility for the healthcare issue.  If this occurs, those states brave enough to return to consumers the individual responsibility for low dollar health expenses will see a clear competitive advantage over those states that indulge in the socialist illusion.  Barring such a reform, the (now multiple) tumors continue their growth.  CMS here projects that healthcare expenditures in the U.S. will reach about 20% of GDP in the early 2020s.  I suspect that the growth will be even faster.  Don't count on much real growth of middle class incomes until this issue is addressed.   You will not find any organ of progressive journalism ever discussing this trade-off.