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  • Will the TXU buyout put Texas on a California energy diet?

    September 10, 2007 3:10 PM

    In the weekend Wall Street Journal, Rebecca Smith reports that,

    As shareholders of TXU Corp. approved a $32 billion buyout, the private-equity buyers' pledge in February to stop developing a slew of coal-burning power plants looks likely to deliver windfall profits to TXU in a few years.

    Why? Because without the new plants, Texas faces severe electricity shortages and therefore skyrocketing rates. Smith also reports that faced with rapidly increasing electricity demand, utilities are likely to bring older plants out of mothballs to try to meet demand. These mostly gas-fired plants are on average much less efficient and somewhat more polluting than the new coal-fired plants TXU had ordered. They will also be burning higher-priced natural gas.

    There are three ways out of this impending train wreck for Texas's economy. The first would be for other companies to step forward and build new coal-fired plants. New nuclear plants can help in the long run, but take too long to build to produce the power Texas needs in the next few years.

    The second would be a national economic recession, which would slow or stop Texas's booming economy. That, of course, is a possibility, especially considering many of the policies being pursued by the Congress. But I don't think Texans are going to pray for a recession as a way out of their energy crunch.

  • About Metro

    September 10, 2007 11:47 AM

    Hans,

    I have three comments about what you say here.

    First, on paratransit. The paratransit service (MetroAccess) in this area is already run by private contractors. And, it appears that they aren't doing a good job. (See second article down.) The short-term solution, obviously, to create vouchers it in some way and, in many cities (including in Northern Virginia), that could work. The "problem" is that in D.C., nearly all cabs are owned by their drivers, and as a result don't participate in big dispatch systems, and thus can't really be called to a specific location (There are cab companies in the phone book but good luck on getting a cab to show up when promised.)

    D.C. has this system -- which makes it is much easier to hail a cab on the street -- because it doesn't ration medallions or require that all cabs be newish cars. Coupled with a zone-based fare system, this is good for just about everyone unless you want to call a cab to your house. I wouldn't want to trash it to create a cab system that would work better as paratransit and I'm afraid that you'd have to do just that. Cabs also, of course, are not typically equipped with the wheelchair lifts most MetroAccess riders need. So simply handing it over to cabs would leave some people "high and dry" at least in the short term.

    Second, on subsidies. Although all dollars are fungible to some degree, Metro, like all other large transit systems, says that it segregates the money it spends on various parts of the system (bus, rail, paratransit.) Eliminating paratransit tomorrow would not result in a near-equal transfer to the rail division of WMATA.

  • Poor People Die in Agony Because of War on Drugs

    September 10, 2007 11:19 AM

    The New York Times has a story today on how a woman with breast cancer is dying in agony without any pain relief because of the War on Drugs, which has made painkillers such as morphine unavailable in her country, Sierra Leone.

    People in terrible pain from cancer and burns are being denied painkillers throughout the world because of restrictions on medical use of opioids such as morphine, even though such drugs can be produced so cheaply that even the poorest people in the Third World could purchase them if restrictions were lifted.

    In the United States, fear of harassment by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) results in many doctors prescribing inadequate amounts of painkillers to terminally ill patients, resulting in them dying in agony. (Since I write about drug-related issues periodically, I would like to note that unlike many sanctimonious drug warriors, I have never used, or experimented with, any illegal drug.)

  • "Polluted" Politicians?

    September 10, 2007 11:17 AM

    Canadian politicians are worried. News reports say that several politicians had recently given some of their blood to the greens, who examined it for “toxic chemicals.” The greens report that these lawmakers' bodies are “polluted” with all kinds of synthetic chemicals. Among the problem chemicals they identified is bisphenol A.

    So What? These studies are simply political ploys used by environmental activists to inspire fear and thereby bolster their calls for more regulation. For example, there is no evidence that bisphenol A presents any problems at all.

    The human body has always been full of all kinds of chemicals from the environment in minute amounts. Even cavemen had chemicals in their bodies — just different ones, such as the byproducts of using open fires for heat and cooking. That doesn't mean these substances have any health impacts. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control noted in its report on this same topic: “Just because people have an environmental chemical their blood or urine does not mean that the chemical causes disease. The toxicity of a chemical is related to its dose or concentration in addition to a person's susceptibility.”

    High exposures to certain things can be a problem. For example, lead poisoning can result when children in poor housing consume chipped lead paint. Fortunately, CDC reports the good news that such cases are growing rare as lead exposure has declined substantially in the United States. But the greens don't want to emphasize that because good news doesn't help their bottom line.

  • USA Today puts global warming in its place

    September 10, 2007 10:27 AM

    USA Today has listed its editors' choices for the 25 biggest news stories of the past 25 years. Surprisingly, global warming doesn't make the list. O. J. SImpson (No. 5), the Branch Davidians (No. 16), and gay marriage (No. 24) are there, but somehow the allegedly greatest threat ever to face mankind doesn't rate a mention.

    Of course, as my colleague Iain Murray points out, many of the top 25 stories are related to global warming in some way. Even the Number One story, the fall of Communism, has a (and probably more than one) global warming angle. The collapse of the Soviet Union and its Eastern European subject states proves that greenhouse gas emissions can be reduced dramatically and quickly. All it takes is total economic collapse.

  • The Bogus Reefer Madness Excuse

    September 10, 2007 10:21 AM

    A teenager's lawyer falsely claims he raped and killed his sister because he was high on marijuana. Amazingly enough, his gullible mother believes this and doesn't want him punished for raping and killing her daughter, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, which notes that this teenage thug also fractured the skull of his little 2-year-old niece.

    The judge, fortunately, recognizes that the teenager is dangerous and has decided that he should remain in juvenile detention. Hopefully, this monster will receive the maximum sentence the law allows (because he is a minor, he is not eligible for the death penalty; the maximum sentence he can receive is thus a life sentence without parole).

    The fact that this defense would even seem plausible to anyone is a negative side effect of the War on Drugs and its overheated rhetoric and exaggerated claims about drugs. Marijuana doesn't make people kill. Marijuana smoke is unhealthy (it contains carcinogens), and is certainly not good for developing adolescent minds -- but it does not foster violence. Yet over-the-top government propaganda has depicted marijuana as causing "Reefer Madness."

    This story also reflects wishful thinking about family violence. All too often, people who kill children, spouses, or their parents are let off easy based on the assumption that they must have been insane (or in the case of wives who kill, that they must have been abused, even if they were not acting in self-defense, or had other motives, like financial problems and life insurance on their husband).

  • Gas Tax Falls Flat

    September 10, 2007 10:18 AM

    According to a story in today's Financial Times, Europeans are buying more SUVs than ever. Evidently, European consumers don't care that larger cars emit more greenhouse gases than compacts, because SUV sales are up by 7 percent. The news must have come as a shock to bureaucrats across the pond, who justify $3-a-gallon gasoline taxes on the grounds that artificially high fuel prices encourage European consumers to buy more fuel efficient cars. Apparently not.

    Proponents of a carbon tax to fight global warming should take heed: What can they hope to accomplish?

  • Waste and Political Correctness at Metro

    September 10, 2007 9:21 AM

    Washington, D.C.'s subway and bus system, Metro, is weighing a 29-percent fare increase for its riders, to overcome a multimillion-dollar operating deficit. Part of the problem is excessive employee pensions and salaries: A train conductor can earn more than $100,000 per year, with overtime. Another part of the problem, seldom publicly discussed because of political correctness, is the massive cost of the Metro Access program for disabled riders.

    Metro Access has consumed hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies to provide inefficient, unreliable transportation for small numbers of disabled people. This wasteful, unresponsive program is mandated by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

    It would be much cheaper to just give disabled people free cab fare to go wherever they need to than operate Metro Access. It would also be better for disabled people, since Metro Access is often late, even hours late, in picking up disabled passengers.

    But the ADA requires that Metro and other mass transit systems transport individual disabled people, rather than letting businesses accustomed to transporting individual passengers or small groups — like cab drivers — do so. That makes no sense, since Metro's purpose is to provide mass transit, not individualized transit. It's like requiring a museum that features paintings for the public to come up with individualized sculpture lessons for blind people — something the courts have never required.

  • ESA -- As Useful as a Screaming Caterpillar

    September 9, 2007 9:14 PM

    The Economist indicts the Endangered Species Act (ESA) as "unwieldy," laden with perverse incentives, unnecessary, and designed to grow out of control.

    When the Endangered Species Act was signed in 1973, it was expected to protect charismatic fauna such as the bald eagle and Yellowstone's grizzly bears. These days it covers such obscure life-forms as the Stock Island tree snail, the Banbury Springs limpet and the triple-ribbed milk-vetch, along with 1,348 other animals and plants. In the absence of other powerful laws, it has become the chief weapon of environmentalists—and the bane of landowners and property-rights activists.

    The act's most powerful tool is the power to designate “critical habitats”, in which development, farming and mining are greatly restricted. The designation of much of Oregon as a critical habitat for the northern spotted owl in 1992 led to restrictions on logging and the loss of some 10,000 jobs...

    Some say the law isn't very useful. Damien Schiff of the Pacific Legal Foundation notes that few species come off the threatened or endangered list—just 47 since 1973, the majority because they became extinct or were found thriving elsewhere. Some celebrated recoveries, like that of the bald eagle, occurred largely thanks to the banning of the insecticide DDT, rather than to the act. Worse, the law may actually speed up extinctions. Farmers have an incentive to destroy protected species before the biologists find them—a practice known as “shoot, shovel and shut up”.

  • About that $100 Million Skull

    September 9, 2007 8:21 PM

    I count myself amongst those who think Damien Hirst -- he of the shark-in formaldehyde -- a first-rate artist. His work is shocking, interesting, stimulating, and, sometimes even beautiful. Now he's sold "For the Love of God" at about $100 million. (50 million GBP.) The work consists of a human skull in platinum studded with flawless diamonds. It's presumably the most expensive work of art ever created. As a fan of capitalism, I suppose I should be happy that he's found so much success. But I'm not sure if there's any way to comment on it except to say that the buyers have got to be awfully dim to think that this is a good idea. the piece is obviously a very expensive, ironic commentary on conspicuous consumption and by buying it, the buyers are. . .well, consuming conspicuously. I can't imagine anyone really wanting the darn thing at home and I certainly can't figure out how the buyers could ever recoup their investment.

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