Monday, April 14, 2008

New More Nukes!

That's how one wag put it in a comment to this story from Scientific American. I heartily agree with him (emphasis in article mine):
U.S. Will Approve New Nuclear Reactors

British official says she's been informed the U.S. will approve at least three new nuclear power plants

By David Biello

One of the U.K.'s top nuclear officials said today that she was told the U.S. will okay plans to build the first nuclear power plants since the accident at Three Mile Island nearly three decades ago. Lady Barbara Thomas Judge, chair of the U.K. Atomic Energy Authority, said that the chair of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission informed her that the NRC will approve three applications for new nuclear reactors that it's currently considering.

"Dale Klein told me that those three nuclear applications will be approved," she told the State of the Planet conference at Columbia University today, the 29th anniversary of the accident at Three Mile Island in Middletown, Pa. (Subsequently, a reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the then Ukrainian Soviet Republic melted down in April 1986 in what would become the worst nuclear power accident in history, spreading radiation as far away as North America and leading to the evacuation and resettlement of more than 336,000 people).

"The politics is changing," she added, noting growing enthusiasm for nuclear power as the clean alternative to coal-burning plants. Even some environmentalists have begun to embrace nuclear power, because of its potential to reduce the greenhouse emissions that are blamed for global warming.

But critics question the safety of nuclear power, citing such concerns as the potential for catastrophic meltdowns, their potential vulnerability to terrorists, the lack of workable evacuation plans in the event of accidents as well as the problem of dealing with radioactive waste.

Among the pending applications: a plan to build two additional boiling-water reactors at the South Texas Project power plant near Houston. As many as 29 other reactors could be built, according to Bill Borchardt, director of the NRC's Office of New Reactors.

But neither the South Texas facility nor the applications for new reactors at Calvert Cliffs in Maryland and the Shearon Harris nuclear plant outside Raleigh, N.C., have completed the NRC's long design safety and feasibility evaluation, which could take years to complete. The commission does not expect to complete its review of the new reactors at the South Texas plant before 2011, according to NRC spokesman Scott Burnell.

"Once you build the power plants, it just keeps producing energy," Judge said, noting the potential benefits of electricity generation from nuclear fission. "It is part of what we have to do to deal with energy security and climate change."

Recent commentary: gas and ethanol

Reader Reaction Forum: Will gas prices cause you to curb summer travels?

(published 14-Apr-2008, Appleton Post-Crescent)

I hitchhike more, drive through yellow lights very fast, and I put the patron saint of increased gas mileage on the dash. Then I hear the E85 ads on the radio: "We're helping make a cleaner world for everyone." Oh, spare me! Without the subsidies, how many farmers do you think would grow corn for ethanol? How brilliant to subsidize corn for burning! Less food for everyone! You've noticed your grocery bills going up? The politicians natter on about helping the poor, while at the same time dishing out ethanol subsidies to get farmers to divert more of their crops to make ethanol because it's "better for the environment." Once it all goes to ethanol, the environment should be saved, right? Of course, we'll all die of starvation. But before that happens we'll re-subsidize corn for food ... but then ethanol prices will skyrocket ... then we can re-re-subsidize ethanol ...

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Truth or Satire?

From Downsize DC, this message from one of their frequent newsletters:

Did Congress ban wireless internet networks last week?

According to John C. Dvorak of PC Magazine, it did. He goes into detail in his article, Onerous New Law to Phase Out Wi-Fi:

  • The bill, with the pretentious title Telecommunications Restructuring Act, passed with little or no debate.
  • The bill was bipartisan. Co-sponsors were from both parties.
  • The beneficiaries of the bill are large telecoms, who can afford to purchase the currently free, unlicensed spectrum, which will be auctioned off.
  • There is a "phase-out" transition period, which is why the bill slipped under the radar of major media and activist groups.
  • Harsh penalties are imposed, and the bill would apply not just to network users, but ham radio operators and microwave oven users. It is unclear whether this was intentional.
  • The bill was debated on CNBC, where one of the bill's sponsors clearly didn't know what he was talking about.
  • Only two members of Congress, Ron Paul and Ted Kennedy, opposed the bill.
  • Presidential candidates Obama, Clinton, and McCain didn't have the guts to show up to vote.

The good news is, it was an April Fool's joke. There were hints throughout the article. The bill numbers weren't in the proper format, and the procedures for passing the bill were unusual. But the article had all the hallmarks of a good April Fool's joke. A headline like "Scientists Declare Moon is Made of Green Cheese" is too stupid to be believed, but any story about how Congress will wreck or complicate our lives is all-too believable.

That's because members of Congress don't read or debate most of the bills they pass. For instance, last week the House passed 15 bills, but only two were actually debated. Congress also doesn't give the people a chance to provide their opinions before bills come to their final vote. Thousands of bills are introduced in Congress each year, and referred to a committee. Even activist organizations such as can't keep track of every bill that moves out of committee for a vote.

But if bills, including amendments, were placed on a calendar and posted on the Internet for seven days before passage, the public would be able to object and pressure Congress when a bill spends too much, infringes on our liberties, or sacrifices our interests for those of Big Business. This is why wrote the Read the Bills Act (RTBA).

The RTBA requires each member of Congress who plans to vote yes on a bill to have read it, or heard it read, before voting for it. It also requires that:

  • All bills must be published on the Internet at least 7 days before a vote
  • Congress must give public notice of the date when a vote will be held on that bill
  • Congress will not be able to waive these provisions

The Read the Bills Act requires sponsors in both the House and Senate. Please tell your own Rep. and Senators to introduce the RTBA. You can even refer to the April Fool's article above and tell them Congress wouldn't be the target of that kind of satire if the RTBA was passed. You can do so here.

Last week, the Senate passed on 40-page bill and the House passed 15 bills totaling 227 pages. You can learn about the bills below my signature at the blog version of this Dispatch, where we invite you to post comments or questions.

Thank you for being a DC Downsizer.

James Wilson
Assistant to the President

D o w n s i z e r - D i s p a t c his the official email list of, Inc. & Downsize DC Foundation

CONTRIBUTE to the Electronic Lobbyist project is sponsored by, Inc. -- a non-profit educational organization promoting the ideas of individual liberty, personal responsibility, free markets, and small government.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Keystone Kops

The vast majority of people on either side of the manmade global warming argument haven't examined the arguments in any detail whatsoever; their conviction is based, really, on belief. They trust, they have faith that the people making the case for their side have done due diligence and present just the facts, ma'am.

People that provide counter-arguments to the theory of manmade global warming need to be far more careful than those that promote it. Otherwise it's far too easy to have one's argument shot to pieces just based on sloppiness.

Being one of those on the "con" side, it pains me when someone else points out that I've made a shaky assertion about global warming. It also hurts when I see an article for my side written by somebody with some scientific credentials turn out to have plenty of holes in it. And it's worse when I find the holes. It's still worse when the article is changed to reflect my suggestions but the changes make the whole thing laughable -- a Keystone Kops movie.

I brought to your attention the egregious math errors in an American Thinker article published on January 22nd. The article set out to demonstrate how Al Gore's claim that the sea level could rise by 20 feet by the end of the century due to manmade global warming was complete tosh. I certainly believe it is complete tosh, but it's better that the numbers be correct. I also brought it to the attention of the publisher and the author in a series of e-mails I detailed in my blog post.

Well, I went back to the American Thinker today just to see if anything's changed. It has! It's been corrected! But, alas!, it's worse than before

What I mean is, when I first saw the article, an editor's note said that the final conclusion of the article had dropped a decimal point from the original posting. Therefore, I concluded, the author must have said that Al Gore was off by a factor of 3000 times. The article, as I saw it, said 300 times with that little asterisk attached. (That number referred to the amount of heat predicted to be trapped in the earth's atmosphere by the end of the century... and amount woefully inadequate to melt enough ice at the poles to raise the sea levels by 20 feet.)

I provided the correct math to both the editor and the author: the number should actually be 30 times...two full orders of magnitude down from what I presumed was the original figure. Well, here's what I saw today in that American Thinker article:
There is a difference of 300* between these two figures. Even if I am wrong by an order of magnitude, there is still an enormous difference. This does NOT mean that ice caps have not melted in the distant past nor that ice-age glaciers have not grown to cover much of the northern hemisphere; it simply means that the time scales involved to move sufficient quantities of heat to effect such melting or freezing occur over what we scientists commonly call "geological" time scales, i.e. hundreds of thousands and millions of years.

"There is a difference of 30* between these two figures, by implication extending the time-horizon for sea-level rise from 100 to 3000 years at the earliest. This does NOT mean that ice caps have not melted in the distant past nor that ice-age glaciers have not grown to cover much of the northern hemisphere; it simply means that the time scales involved to move sufficient quantities of heat to effect such melting or freezing occur over what we scientists commonly call "geological" time scales, i.e. tens or hundreds of thousands of years.

You see correctly: two separate paragraphs at the end of the article saying just about the same thing except for the "difference": 300 vs. 30. The editor of the article must have given the revised paragraph to an underling and said, "Here, stick this in at the end of the article. We don't wanna look bad by publishing stupid math."

Gad! This does no good for my side.

[Update: I found a copy of the original text of the American Thinker article (ain't the Internet grand?). I only speculated that it said that Gore's figures were off by a factor of 3000. Nope: the original said "over ten orders of magnitude...10 billion" times. That was the stupendously wrong number that generated the asterisk, not 3000. - Ed.]

Friday, April 04, 2008

The 2nd American Revolution

That's Carla Howell, chairman of the Small Government Committee.

It's beginning again in Massachusetts, the site of the beginning of the American Revolution. Remember the Boston Tea Party, the Boston Massacre, and Paul Revere's ride? The kind of people that threw off the shackles of the British in the 18th century are rising up again in the 21st.

In November, the people of Massachusetts will have a second opportunity to end the state income tax. In 2002 they nearly managed it: the vote then to end the state income tax was defeated by a startlingly small margin, 45% to 55%.

It was so startling that the usual gang of suspects have rallied to oppose this year's measure with a vengeance:
  • Massachusetts governor, Deval Patrick, called it "a dumb idea" and "foolish"
  • Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation President, Michael Widmer, said it would lead to "political chaos" and "rampant lawsuits", and that the state would be "the joke of the nation" [Maybe it's just me, but wouldn't you think that a "Taxpayers Foundation" would be in favor of reducing taxes? - Ed.]
  • The Committee for Our Communities – a collaboration of teachers and labor leaders – says it would decimate education
  • Greater Boston Labor Council President, Rich Rogers, said that it's an "insane idea"
  • Massachusetts Teachers Association President, Anne Wass, called it "a wacky, wrong-headed idea"
I don't know about you, but I'm not convinced by these protests.

Nine states currently have no personal income tax: Alaska, Florida, Nevada, New Hampshire, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Washington and Wyoming. New Hampshire and Tennessee have an income tax, but only on interest and dividends. I'd say that Massachusetts governor Patrick has plenty of states he could contact to see how they do it.

The Committee for Small Government's web site contains more information and an appeal: they're looking to leverage the influence of the Internet by setting off a "money bomb" on April 15th to raise $100,000 to continue their effort to place the initiative on the ballot. There's a special web site called Tax Day MoneyBomb to assist in that effort.

For whatever reason, Massachusetts requires two rounds of signature gathering to enable any ballot initiative to make it onto the ballot. The first one, requiring 66,593 signatures, was accomplished after the group collected 100,000 "raw" signatures of which 76,084 were approved. Now they need to collect another 20,000 signatures. $100,000 donated by April 15th will go a long way towards helping them achieve that essential goal.

The question they ask on the Small Government web site is, "Why should you get involved? Why should you donate money so that Massachusetts workers can end their Income Tax?"

Do you remember California's Proposition 13 that put a lid on property tax increases? When it passed in the late 70s it spawned a host of similar referendums across the country. Ballot initiatives have since been passed and copied around the country to:
  • Impose term limits on legislators
  • Permit the medical use of marijuana
  • Restrict the use of eminent domain to take private property
  • Repeal affirmative action laws
  • Create a constitutional definition of marriage
You may not like all of the above examples. The point is that ballot initiatives have become a legitimate and powerful way for voters to express their dissatisfaction with the status quo. If Massachusetts voters approve the end of the state income tax, copycat initiatives will have a far better chance of getting on the ballot in your state.

Here's an interesting video produced by the Committee for Small Government explaining what the End the Income Tax ballot initiative is all about. The presenter is a man named Kamal Jain:

Make a donation by April 15th to help start the 2nd American Revolution!