Thursday, March 25, 2010

Joining the rest of the civilized world

Commenter Tag0Mag0 left this comment on an older post, The Simplest Explanation of Health Care Reform You Will Ever Read:

As an aside, has anyone watched any news coverage of the Reform bill on foreign networks (via the interwebs)? I recently watched a clip from a New Zealand news show explaining the bill and was amused to see the anchor completely befuddled that Republicans could be opposed to universal health care, something the anchor said to his viewers, "You and I take for granted." It's nice to escape the American media circus to get an outsider's perspective.

One man's communazism is another man's common sense.

I guess I should feel a little sorry for health care opponents. When Bush won, hardcore liberals could at least vow to move to Canada or France. Now that the United States has joined the rest of the industrial world in recognizing health care as a right, there are precious few places left to which opponents can flee to escape the horrors of health care for all.


The simplest explanation of health care you will ever read

Health care reform in three sentences

Republican staffer says public will probably like health care reform once they find out what's in it

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

How to explain the health care reform bill to your family and friends very very simply

Health care reform has passed. Now it's time to explain what it does.

Why is this so important? Because the public will like the bill once they find out what's in it. Republicans know it, and polling bears it out. It's therefore our job to get the word out to our family and friends - and in a way that's easy to understand.

So how do you explain a 2,000+ page bill in under two minutes? Easy.

First, ask the family member or friend if they think insurance companies should be able to revoke people's coverage when they get sick, or deny people coverage because they've got a preexisting condition.

They'll say "no." (If they say "yes," well, you're never going to persuade them).

Then you explain the bill like this:

"Well that's good, because that's the first thing the health care bill does, is ban those outrageous insurance company practices. In fact, there are really just five basic things the health care bill does:

"First, it bans insurance companies from revoking your coverage when you get sick, or denying you coverage because of preexisting conditions.

"Second, with those regulations in place, you've gotta make sure that people don't just wait around till they get sick before buying insurance - otherwise, insurance companies would all go out of business since only sick people would buy insurance. So the bill requires all Americans to buy health insurance - that's the 'individual mandate.'

"Third, if everyone has to buy insurance, you've gotta make sure people can actually afford it. So the bill provides subsidies to help low and middle income people afford insurance.

"Fourth, if the government is paying for people's insurance, you've gotta keep the insurance companies honest and force them to compete. And the bill does this by establishing 'exchanges' where you can shop around for insurance policies online. Insurance companies must post prices and customer satisfaction data to help you compare policies. Basically, the exchanges would be like the Target of health insurance. (See here for more info on the exchanges)

"Last, you've of course gotta pay for all this. And the bill does this with fees on medical device makers and other corporations that benefit from the bill, taxes on the most expensive "Cadillac" insurance plans, and reductions in Medicare fraud and waste. And the Congressional Budget Office actually found that this would reduce the deficit by over $100 billion over the next ten years.

"So really, the bill starts by preventing outrageous insurance company practices, and the rest is just necessary to make that first part work. It's a pretty moderate, common sense bill."

Framed this way, it's almost impossible to reject the bill. If you reject any piece of this, it means you're implicitly supporting insurance companies' ability to rescind coverage and deny on the basis of preexisting conditions, or you're supporting a system that will bankrupt the insurance industry and the federal government.

So again, the summary is:
  1. Insurance regulation: Bans insurance companies from revoking or denying coverage because you get sick.
  2. Individual mandate: Requires everyone to buy health insurance in order to prevent people from waiting till they get sick to buy insurance
  3. Subsidies: Provides subsidies to make sure everyone can afford to buy insurance
  4. Online exchanges: Establishes online exchanges where you can shop for insurance coverage, in order to promote competition and keep companies honest
  5. Paying for the bill: Pays for the subsidies with a combination of spending cuts and taxes on companies that benefit from reform

If you're really pressed for time, you can explain it as The Economist does in three sentences:

Under Barack Obama’s plan, which is bogged down in Congress [just passed], the private-insurance market would expand dramatically—but so would regulation. The proposal would require all Americans to buy cover. To make it affordable, the government would regulate products and prices and offer subsidies for the poor.

For a slightly more detailed explanation, see my post "The simplest explanation of health care reform you will ever read." And if you're really wanting more nitty gritty, go read Ezra Klein's blog.

Questions? Suggestions? Leave them in the comments.


There's no money in selling insurance to sick people: more reasons free markets don't work in health care

The simplest explanation of health care reform you will ever read

Health care reform in three sentences

WSJ inadvertently supports case for health care reform: do you want to trust your health to profit and loss?

Monday, March 22, 2010

CTU job interview

My youth minister from when I was a teenager in Tulsa had this to say in reaction to tonight's episode of 24:

i think the CTU director job interview goes like this:
Interviewer: Have you ever heard of Jack Bauer?
Prospect: No
Interviewer: Good.
Prospect: What if I meet him?
Interviewer: Patronize him a lot.
Prospect: What if he has friends who stick up for him?
Interviewer: Sequester them for at least 2 episodes.

So true. The show has always been a case study in how not to manage people, but this season's CTU office politics have been so absurdly over the top as to make any HR director hemorrhage.

Doesn't mean I won't keep watching. Jack and Renee Walker - and surprisingly Freddie Prinze Junior's character - can still carry the show. I'll give Chloe some credit too.


Jack Bauer vs. Chuck Norris: we finally have an answer

Republican staffer says public will probably like health care reform once they find out what's in it

I ran into a Republican Hill staffer on my way to work today and asked him about last night’s health care vote. His answer was a little surprising:

I gotta hand it to Obama getting it done. It's somewhat of a political gamble with some of the provisions not kicking in until 2012. Democrats will lose seats in November, but when the bill starts kicking in and people find out what the bill does—if it works—Obama will have put himself in a good situation.

I’m torn. I don’t like the cost of the bill, but I also can't stomach people getting turned away from health insurance. That's just wrong.

Slowly the truth starts to come out. Here's what David Axelrod has to say:

“This only worked well for the Republican Party if it failed to pass,” David Axelrod, one of the president’s closest political advisers, said at the White House as he watched the vote count for the final bill reach 219 in favor. “They wanted to run against a caricature of it rather than the real bill. Now let them tell a child with a pre-existing condition, ‘We don’t think you should be covered.’”

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Yes we did! I'll say it again: never bet against Barry Obama

Back in November, I predicted health care reform would pass for one simple reason: you never bet against Barack Obama. Here's what I wrote:

Some people just have an innate ability to come through in the clutch, to not lose no matter what. Michael Jordan had it. LeBron has it (and it’s gonna take him to a title in the next couple seasons). And Barack Obama has it. All through the election, whenever the media counted him out (down 30 points in the polls to Hillary, “Bittergate,” Jeremiah Wright, Sarah Palin’s Convention speech), he stuck to his plan and pulled out the W. Now that it’s actually time to get things done, I feel the same mojo about him. He’s like the Mike Jordan of reforming, the Papi of the Potomac (2004-07 version), the Tiger Woods of Washington. Like Tom Brady (pre-David Tyree), you know that no matter what’s happened for the first 58 minutes, he’s coming through in the last two.

Now he's pulled out the W on health care reform, and life will be infinitely better for millions of Americans. Now if I wanted to start a business, I could do so without losing my health care. Now if I were to develop a heart condition, I know that no insurance company will be able to deny me coverage.

Thank you to the President, to Speaker Pelosi, and even to Bart Stupak, for finally coming to his senses.

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Masters needs new theme music

I've never understood the wussy music on ads for the Masters. During the Texas-Wake Forest game tonight, when a Masters graphic popped up and started playing piano music at the end of a timeout as the game returned from commercial break, the contrast was palpable.

On the one hand, the deep-throated pulsating of the chanting crowd, the buzzing anticipation of a tight ballgame about to return to action.

On the other, gentle piano music and softly waving grass.

I like golf as much as the next guy, and understand that you don't advertise golf the same way you do basketball, but there's got to be a better way to brand the sport's (arguably) premier event.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The best news for cap-and-trade you’ll never read

The entire right-wing opposition to cap-and-trade rests on a single assumption: that economic growth and energy use are inexorably linked. If you believe that higher energy prices (which over the long term reduce energy use) will hurt economic growth, you have to believe that the economy can only grow if it uses more energy.

Energy efficiency advocates have long known this to be false.  Liberals understand that it’s possible to produce more goods and services without using more energy. And the evidence that this is true continues to grow. Reuters is reporting that “Global oil intensity—oil demand growth divided by economic growth—has fallen by about 2 percent a year over the last decade and the decline is now accelerating.” I’ll quote the article at length:

The world may soon achieve something long dreamed of by governments and policymakers: higher economic growth without using more oil.

Rising efficiency, conservation and substitution are steadily reducing the amount of oil needed to fuel an increase in the goods and services produced around the world.

Oil demand in the rich, industrialized countries of the West already appears to have peaked and the trend in developing economies is towards an ever-smaller increase in the amount of oil consumed for every extra unit of economic growth.

Global oil intensity—oil demand growth divided by economic growth—has fallen by about 2 percent a year over the last decade and the decline is now accelerating, spurred by high oil prices, moves to alternative fuels and measures to curb global warming.

This does not yet mean that absolute oil consumption is falling because population growth and rising wealth in poorer parts of the world will push up oil consumption for some time.

But it does mean global oil use will eventually peak and start declining—and "oil-less growth" may not be far away.

"The rate of decline of oil intensity will accelerate," said Eduardo Lopez, oil demand analyst at the International Energy Agency (IEA) in Paris, which advises industrialized countries.

"There is a structural change—difficult to measure admittedly, but clear—that demand for burning fuels is no longer what it used to be."

This is great news for cap-and-trade. Or rather, it would be if politicians actually cared about economic growth instead of simply protecting influential industries' share of economic growth. Everyone with the most cursory understanding of the issue has known for years that energy is becoming less critical to the production of goods and services—and not just oil. Energy Information Administration (EIA) data shows that energy intensity for the economy has declined by about 1.5% per year from 1980-2006:

U.S. Energy Intensity (1980-2006)

[Link to graphic:]

In other words, the Republican argument that pricing energy properly would hurt economic growth has never had a leg to stand on, and now even the bloody stumps are being trodden into the dirt. That reducing energy use does not hurt economic growth has always been true—it’s at least refreshing to see one media outlet report it.

(Note: what I’m not saying is that putting a price on carbon pollution would not have short-term costs as businesses pay more for energy. However, those costs will quickly disappear as clever innovators figure out ways to produce goods using less energy—unless you doubt the American entrepreneur’s ability to respond to market forces.)

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Amoebas, conservatism, and society: why paying for other people's health care doesn't destroy freedom

The most primitive organisms are entirely self-reliant. The amoeba goes through its independent life searching for nutrients to phagocytose, without any help from other organisms. It’s even self-reliant in reproduction, passing on its genes asexually through mitosis.

You might say the amoeba is radically individualistic.

As organisms have evolved, they have developed higher forms of social organization. Some are still largely solitary. The male polar bear roams the Arctic alone hunting for seals, rarely interacting with other bears except to mate—or in desperate times to cannibalize polar bear cubs.

Others are radically collectivist. Ants and bees sacrifice all for the greater good of the hive. The workers can’t even reproduce, merely existing to provide nutrients for the few who can. A nightmarish existence.

Some animals find safety in the herd, banding together to defend against predators—but they don’t stop to mourn the occasional wildebeest that gets eaten by the crocodile; the strong must move on without the weak. Other herd animals have evolved more advanced emotions allowing them to connect with others of their species—witness elephants mourning their dead.

Still other animals develop individual personalities, but maintain strict hierarchies within their social group. By working together, the wolf pack can make more productive use of scarce resources—although doing so effectively does require ceding some individual liberty to the most capable leader, to coordinate efforts and prevent destructive competition for resources. The alpha male wolf establishes his dominance early, and until he's deposed, takes the first pick of the food and the girls.

It’s no deep insight that humans have the most complex social organization of all organisms (notwithstanding any objection from any zoologist who may read this). Like the wolf, we have our hierarchies which maintain order, but unlike most other animals, the drive to dominate and control resources is balanced by our capacity for altruism. That is, as an advanced species, we recognize that our interests are best served not by preserving ourselves and our kin at all costs, but by looking out for others as well.

Even before biologists theorized an evolutionary explanation for our ability to project ourselves into others’ shoes (why we yawn when we see others yawn), Adam Smith himself described “sympathy” as:

correspondence of sentiments between the spectator and the person principally concerned... [who] is as constantly led to imagine in what matter he would be affected if he was only one of the spectators of his own situation.

That's from The Theory of Moral Sentiments. Smith notes that sympathy for others serves our interest, because Man,

conscious of his own weakness, and of the need which he has for the assistance of others, rejoices whenever he observes that they [others] adopt his own passions, because he is then assured of their assistance, and grieves whenever he observes the contrary.

Indeed, you might say that human social organization is the result of an organic tug-of-war between two competing forces: the more primordial drive of self-preservation, and the more evolved emotion of altruism--looking out for others in the group. As society has evolved and humans have learned to check their pursuit of self-interest when that individual pursuit may harm others, rigid hierarchies have been able to give way to flatter, more democratic societies.

What does all this have to do with anything? To answer that question, I draw your attention to Glenn Beck (relevant clip starts about 3:38):

For those of you who can’t view video at work, here’s what Glenn Beck said about Marcelas Owen, the 11-year-old who spoke out in favor of health reform the other day:

Speaking of Marcelas' grandmother, she worked for a place called the Washington Community Action Network. From their Web site, here's what they're all about: Economic, racial gender and social justice for all; decent quality of life for all; change relations of power, so all individuals can significantly impact decisions that affect their lives; shared community and collective responsibility; respect for diversity and building strong communities; truly democratic society with open, honest participation by all.

Boy, there are pesky phrases in that one that we should point out: social justice, shared community, and collective responsibility. And let's not forget truly democratic society. Well, we're not a democratic society. I think that was the Soviet Union. I believe it's a democratic socialist republic in China as well.

Besides being a painful exercise in cognitive dissonance—Beck's case against health care reform is that little Marcelas’s mother already had access to perfectly fine government health care (Medicaid)—it’s a yet another shocking display of just how far conservative political philosophy has devolved. Because in so hyperbolically questioning government’s role in caring for the sick and the helpless, Beck isn’t just attacking “shared community” or even “democratic society” (and it's scary enough that the intellectual force of conservatism doesn’t believe we are a democratic society)—he’s attacking the very concept of society itself: that as humans, we agree to band together and give of ourselves in exchange for the protection of the group.

Maybe Glenn Beck wants to go off and live in the woods and never shave and be totally self-sufficient. I'm all for him doing that. But that’s not the life most of us choose to live, because most of us recognize all the help we get from other people just by living in society. When we’re born, we enter into a social contract with our community, that just as we are cared for and protected by others without having asked for it, so we are obligated to care for and protect others as well. That’s not a WAG original—that’s classic John Stuart Mill:

Every one who receives the protection of society owes a return for the benefit, and the fact of living in society renders it indispensable that each should be bound to observe a certain line of conduct towards the rest. This conduct consists, first, in not injuring the interests of one another… and, secondly, in each person’s bearing his share (to be fixed on some equitable principle) of the labours and sacrifices incurred for defending the society or its members from injury or molestation.” (On Liberty and Other Essays. Oxford: OxfordUniversity Press, 1991, p. 83).

When Beck rejects concepts like “shared community” and “collective responsibility,” therefore, he’s thus rejecting the centuries-old values that hold us together as a functioning society, and embracing instead a vision of radical self-reliance which holds that a person has no duties to anyone but himself (and maybe his kin). It’s the same phenomenon when the deranged Michelle Bachmann decries an innocuous cap-and-trade bill as “tyranny,” thereby reducing sacred liberty to the churlish tantrum that “I can drive as big a car as I want and leave my lights on and crank my AC and no one’s gonna tell me not to, the environment and everyone else be damned!” (As if protecting my property right to a livable climate constitutes tyranny.) And it's that fiercely radical self-reliance and disregard of responsibility for others, which seems to be sweeping the Republican Party, that disturbs me most of any trend I see.

Now, Beck and Bachmann may say they agree that it’s irresponsible to shirk your duty to society or to abstain from giving to charity, but that they believe that ultimately government can’t compel you to look out for anyone besides yourself.

But if that were true, there could be no such thing as a draft, which compels men to fight against their will to protect the group from threats. Indeed, there could be no firefighters or police officers, because their funding relies on government forcing citizens to give of their resources—regardless of whether or not individual citizens think they need such protection. I may think I’m responsible and my house will never burn down, but I still have to pay taxes to the fire department.

In other words, government has the right to compel individuals to give of their resources and their liberty (commensurate to the need), in order to insure the group against the risk that calamity befalls any small number of its members. That calamity may be a fire which a person can’t put out, a robbery which he can’t turn back, an invasion from a foreign army, or, I believe, a disease he can’t afford to treat. Why? Because such calamity could befall any one of us at any time, and when the time comes, we know others will have our back.

I didn’t initially start writing with this intent, but this has been a long way of saying, the government has every right to compel society's members to provide for each others' health care.

The conservative misinterpretation of self-reliance is this: that I can take care of myself without anyone else’s help, and therefore shouldn’t be compelled to help anyone else if I don’t want to. Two hundred years ago, that may have been possible for some. Maybe a frontier farmer could have lived a life of self-reliance: growing crops, tending his own wounds, and fending off bears and bandits with no help from anyone else. If so, that frontier farmer may have a legitimate gripe against being forced to pay for other people’s health insurance. Today, however, there are very few among us who can legitimately claim that we receive no benefit from the sweat off others' backs. And those few who still can are probably the type of people you don’t want to meet (cue banjo music).

Pot, kettle, black

Conservative pundits are up in arms over 11-year-old Marcelas Owens voicing his support for health care reform. Beck in particular moans, "But what he's being put through now — knowingly by adults — is obscene. The senators are exploiting him and it's absolutely despicable."

Adults putting words in kids' mouths? Does anybody remember this gem of a video from back in November?

A little like the pot calling the kettle black, don't you think?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Don't want toxic water? It's gonna cost ya!

This headline and teaser were on the front of yesterday morning:

Saving U.S. Water and Sewer Systems Would Be Costly

Ruptures in aging water systems cause pollutants to seep into water supplies, but in many cities residents have protested rate increases to fix pipes.

This reminds me of a scene from the Simpsons episode "The PTA Disbands," in which budget cuts force teachers to go on strike:

Ned: Well, all right, I'd like to call this meeting of the PTA to or-diddely-order. Let's see if we can't put an end to this strike fuss, huh? Mrs. Krabappel, why don't you begin?

Skinner: Boo!

Edna: Oh, "boo" yourself. Our demands are simple: a small cost-of-living increase and some better equipment and supplies for your children.

Audience: Yeah! Give it to them! etc.

Skinner: Yeah, in a dream world. We have a very tight budget; to do what she's asking, we'd have to raise taxes.

Audience: Raise taxes? They're too high as they are. Taxes are bad. etc.

Edna: It's your children's future.

Audience: That's right. Children are important. etc.

Skinner: It'll cost you.

Audience: No to taxes. My God, they're going to raise taxes. etc.

Edna: C'mon!

Audience: She makes a good case. Good point. etc.

Skinner: [rubs his fingertips together]

Audience: More taxes? The finger thing means the taxes. etc.

Ned: Well, I guess this is a case where we'll have to agree to disagree.

Skinner: I don't agree to that.

Edna: Neither do I!

Besides being an example of misguided media "balance" (side A says toxic water is bad, but side B says fixing it could be costly - who's right?), the obvious conclusion from the New York Times article is, excitable electorates' ability to make informed tradeoffs between long-term and short-term, and between monetary and non-monetary costs, is quite limited.

The other takeaway is that the word "cost" should never be used when talking about environmental issues. The proper word is "investment." Environmental regulations "cost" money in the same way that buying a stock "costs" money: yes, you have to part with some cash up front, but in doing so you reap returns over the long term in the form of avoided health costs, maintenance of environmental services, and improved quality of life.

So when we say that cap-and-trade will "cost a postage stamp a day," what we really mean is that it will require a postage-stamp-a-day investment in our future prosperity.

Green Zone Spin Zone

I saw the new Matt Damon movie Green Zone last Friday, the central theme of which is the hunt for WMDs in Iraq. My thought coming out of the movie was, "conservatives aren't going to be happy about this one."

Sure enough, Ross Douhat had a column in Monday's New York Times criticizing the movie:

Consider “Green Zone,” the new Matt Damon thriller that doubles as a meditation on Why We Are in Iraq... the film itself, a slam-bang account of the hunt for weapons of mass destruction, has the same problem as nearly every other Hollywood gloss on recent political events: it refuses to stare real tragedy in the face, preferring the comforts of a “Bush lied, people died” reductionism.

The narrative of the Iraq invasion, properly told, resembles a story out of Shakespeare. You had a nation reeling from a terrorist attack and hungry for a response that would be righteous, bold and comprehensive. You had an inexperienced president trying to tackle a problem that his predecessors (one of them his own father) had left to fester since the first gulf war. You had a cause — the removal of a brutal dictator, and the spread of democracy to the Arab world — that inspired a swath of the liberal intelligentsia to play George Orwell and embrace the case for war. You had a casus belli — those weapons of mass destruction — that even many of the invasion’s opponents believed to be a real danger to world peace. And you had Saddam Hussein himself, the dictator in his labyrinth, apparently convinced that pretending to have W.M.D. was the best way to keep his grip on power.

But this opening act, and all the tragedies that followed, still awaits an artist capable of wrestling with its complexities. In “Green Zone,” everything is much simpler. “We” were lied to. “They” did the lying. The “we” is the audience, Matt Damon’s stoic soldier and the perpetually innocent American public. The “they” is the neoconservatives, embodied by a weaselly Greg Kinnear (playing some combination of Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Bremer and Douglas Feith) and capable of any enormity in the pursuit of their objectives...

It’s a lousy recipe for real art, which is supposed to be interested in the humanity of all its subjects, not just the ones who didn’t work for Rumsfeld’s Department of Defense... Our nation might be less divided, and our debates less poisonous, if more artists were capable of showing us the ironies, ambiguities and tragedies inherent in our politics — rather than comforting us with portraits of a world divided cleanly into good and evil.

Mr. Douhat, who David Bradley called an "extreme talent" when he worked at The Atlantic, has a much better grasp of the English language than of the facts. But I won't dwell on his gratuitous glossing over of the Iraq war as the tragic overreaction to 9/11 by well-intentioned politicians "reeling" from the disaster.

No, the real irony of Douhat's piece is that the thing he criticizes - the excessive division of the world into black/white, good/evil dichotomies - is exactly the sort of binary reasoning on which the Iraq war he now defends was sold. Indeed, that sort of simplistic thinking was the foundation of the entire Bush administration: small government vs. big government, high taxes vs. low taxes, good guys vs. bad guys, "you're with us or with the terrorists." Douhat ought to recognize the irony of defending the most simple-minded, binary-burdened administration in recent memory on the basis that its critics are overly-simplistic.

Of course I guess I shouldn't take issue with a prominent conservative for recognizing the world's complexities. For that is a rare and valuable species indeed.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Calvin & Hobbes for when you're stressed out with work

Because sometimes, productivity is overrated:

Although to be honest, I'm not sure if this is uplifting or depressing. "Childhood is short and maturity is forever." Is there still room for acting like a child once you hit forever?


Calvin & Hobbes on how to solve the climate crisis

What do Superfreaks and Calvin & Hobbes have in common?

Calvin & Hobbes and Democratic proposals to scale back health reform

Friday, March 5, 2010

Watts vs. Bolt: Who's the Dumbest Denier?

You have to see this to believe it. Anthony Watts, perhaps the most influential global warming denier, just cited an article from 1989 to prove there's no global warming. You read that right: 1989. Check it out:

Here’s a blast from the past. Dr. James Hansen’s view in 1989 seemed a lot more temperate than it does today. Back then, he’s ready to accede to a study that says something counter to what his theory predicts, saying “I have no quarrel with it”. Today, he uses labels like “deniers” (see here) when such contradictory essays and facts are made public. What a difference 20 years makes...

Well yes, Anthony, actually it does, because over those 20 years, scientists have been accumulating data, and temperatures have been increasing. That's sort of how you become more sure of something: by collecting evidence over time. The fact that Hansen was "temperate" back in 1989, when the evidence for global warming was less unequivocal, would seem to prove that his current views are based on accumulated evidence rather than conspiracy.

Here's the beginning of the NYT article Watts cites:

January 26, 1989
U.S. Data Since 1895 Fail To Show Warming Trend

By PHILIP SHABECOFF, Special to the New York Times
Correction Appended

WASHINGTON, Jan. 25— After examining climate data extending back nearly 100 years, a team of Government scientists has concluded that there has been no significant change in average temperatures or rainfall in the United States over that entire period.


The study, made by scientists for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration was published in the current issue of Geophysical Research Letters. It is based on temperature and precipitation readings taken at weather stations around the country from 1895 to 1987.

So Watts's logic is that 22 years of additional data should not allow James Hansen to become more certain of his conclusions?

This bit of boorishness follows right on the heels of another denier, Andrew Dolt Bolt of Australia, making the bizarre accusation that Apple is behind a new "answers to global warming skeptics" iPhone app. Here was his Twitter post:

Breaking News: Al Gore is funding iPhone apps to create secret new world order. First to be sent to the chambers - me. He must be stopped.

Even many of Bolt's commenters were able to squint through the fog and realize that Apple hosts, not develops, iPhone apps. No one's stopping skeptics from developing their own app.

So I propose a vote. What's dumber: Anthony Watts insinuating that a 21-year-old New York Times article disproves global warming, or Andrew Bolt claiming that Apple is nefariously developing global warming iPhone apps? I report, you decide.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Don't believe that government regulations are good for business? Ask the auto industry

Even as Sen. Lisa Murkowski plans to torpedo the EPA's authority to regulate CO2 emissions, on the grounds that regulations will be costly for industry, opposition to Murkowski's plan is being launched by... the US auto industry. Check it out:

They may not be the most natural of environmental campaigners, but in a surprise reversal US car firms could prove crucial in the fight to stop Republicans stripping the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of its right to legislate carbon emissions.

Republican senator Lisa Murkowski is widely expected to move forward next week with her controversial plan to seek a motion of disapproval in Congress that would, in effect, reverse the EPA's recent ruling that carbon emissions constitute a health risk and can therefore be regulated under the existing Clean Air Act.

However, despite having secured support from a number of business groups, the move could face opposition from the auto industry after it emerged that the motion could reignite a long-running row over national vehicle emission standards, raising the prospect of different fuel-efficiency rules in different states.

According to a letter sent to Democrat senator Diane Feinstein by the Department of Transportation, overturning the EPA's ruling on carbon emissions would stop the agency from implementing the National Fuel-Efficiency standards that were announced by President Obama last year.

The letter – from O. Kevin Vincent, chief counsel at the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA), the department responsible for fuel economy standards – warned that if the agency were forced to proceed on its own without the EPA's involvement, many of the benefits of national standards would "substantially erode".

He added that stripping the EPA of its powers would also likely drive California and 13 other states to revive their plan to enforce their own tougher emissions standards, which had been dropped following Obama’s announcement of more demanding national standards. Vincent said the move would create confusion, encourage renewed litigation, and drive up the cost of compliance for automobile manufacturers and motorists.

The letter mirrors one sent earlier this week by EPA administrator Lisa Jackson to a group of eight senators, which warned that Murkowski's proposals would "undo a historic agreement among states, automakers, the Federal government and other stakeholders".

Back in September, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and the Association of International Automobile Manufacturers also sent a joint letter to senator Feinstein, signalling their opposition to an earlier effort by Murkowski to challenge the EPA’s ruling.

The move marks something of a reversal for the auto industry, which has consistently lobbied against more demanding fuel economy standards, but is even more fiercely opposed to the prospect of a patchwork of numerous vehicle emissions targets being adopted by different states.

The move came in the same week as opposition to Murkowski’s proposal (which could come to a vote as early as next week) heated up, with nine environmental commissioners from states that had agreed to originally adopt California’s vehicle emissions standards writing to Senate leaders to warn that the resolution would disrupt the rollout of standards that have "been widely praised by the automobile industry, environmental organisations, labour unions, states, the Obama administration, and many members of Congress".

Business leaders oppose supposedly "pro-business" efforts to gut environmental regulations? Yes, the narrative of "low taxes and low regulation = good for business" continues to crumble. Though the GOP would have you believe that regulation always increases costs and always hurts business, the truth is just not so simple. In this case, federal regulations give auto makers much-needed consistency and predictability in their manufacturing operations, allowing them to benefit from scale nationwide instead of having to adapt to a patchwork of state mandates.

Indeed, if you look at the historical relationship between the auto industry and fuel economy regulations, Detroit's financial bosses opposed the initial Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) Standards. However, once imposed, Detroit's engineers had little trouble rising to meet the new requirements:

[Link to original graphic:]

Thanks to government regulation, we spend half as much on gas today as we otherwise would. Had Detroit willingly accepted the federal government's challenge to improve its cars, instead of fighting tooth and nail against change, maybe the Japanese wouldn't have eaten the Big Three alive.

The auto industry is finally waking up to the fact that it makes better business sense to innovate new technologies for meeting federal regulations, rather than fighting against change. Now if only GOP ideology could catch up to the business leaders whose interests the party ostensibly understands, they'd realize that their anti-regulation stance is just blowing smoke.


Yes, government creates jobs

Monday, March 1, 2010


I saw an ad for McDonald's Filet-o-Fish on the bus this evening on my way home from work. The ad depicted the famous singing fish from the TV spot, with a big speech bubble reading:

Don't even think about it!

Is McDonald's sending a subtle message about the nameless contents of its Filet-o-Mystery-Fish? "Dear consumer: we know that you don't know what kind of fish our white-square sandwich is made from. And we want you to know that we know you don't know. Our advice: don't even think about it. You know it still tastes good."

Which got me thinking about a conversation I had recently on the near indestructibility of McDonald's fries. Most foods, if they were to fall under the seat of your car, would rot in a matter of days. But a McDonald's fry will still be in nearly the same shape one month hence. Disgusting! you may shudder. What manner of chemicals must they inject into the starchy grease sliver to insulate it from the natural processes biodegrading and decay?  So manufactured and unnatural!

But 100 years ago, you may have marveled at the same feat - that food could be protected and preserved for months on end to be eaten when calories were scarce. That food could be scientifically subdued and controlled to taste consistent no matter where it was purchased, and priced at 40 minutes of minimum wage earnings. A miracle!

So Filet-o-Fish: monstrosity of mechanical food manufacturing, or modern technological marvel? My advice: don't even think about it.