Friday, November 25, 2005

Review: "The Asshole Conspiracy"

New on the Issuefish Reading List, a review of X. Crement's, "The Asshole Conspiracy".

Thursday, November 24, 2005

State of California's Levees

After the Hurricane Katrina disaster, a few local news reports mentioned that California has some levees of its own. Before Katrina, I was only vaguely aware that we have levees because their maintenance was listed as an intended expenditure in a few statewide bond propositions (all of which were approved by the voters):

Before Katrina, I had assumed these levees were merely protecting some Central Valley pastures or something. That's not the case. They are critical, protecting a large share of Southern California's drinking water supply and parts of Sacramento.

When I went looking for some info on the state of California's levees, all I found were some reports on specific flood control projects, such as those published at this Bay-Delta Office site:

DWR Delta Levees Program Home Page

Realizing I'd have to quit my day job (or, even worse, cut into my TV-watching time) to digest the contents of these reports, I promptly gave up. But, the other day, I spotted this story in the local paper:

Don Thompson, San Jose Mercury News: "Report urges replacement of delta water authority" (requires sign in)

At the Governor's request, three separate groups have been analyzing the performance of the Bay-Delta Authority. The story reports on the conclusions of two of the groups (the third is still active). Their conclusions are worrisome:

The state Finance Department issued a less sweeping report Tuesday, giving CalFed mixed grades. The program has done a good job on some environmental and water-storage goals, the department said, but has failed to increase water shipments and protect the 1,000-mile system of levees, which could collapse in an earthquake.

Just in case you didn't already have enough to worry about. Happy Thanksgiving! :-)

Guest Blogging at Bach

Stephen Bach has invited me to be a regular guest blogger at Bach, where he's hoping to assemble a team of Libertarian Party reformers and moderates, and even little-L libertarians like myself.

My first Bach Talk post offers up some constructive criticism of the Libertarian Party blog:

Gotta Accentuate The Positive

To get those 27 percent excited, the Libertarian Party needs to promote a positive vision. While criticism of the status quo is important to shake complacent Americans out of their faith in big government, every critical statement needs to be balanced with exciting talk about freedom, prosperity, and peace. The public needs to understand what the LP is “for”, not just what it is “against”.

Flishback: SunPower IPO, Wal-Mart Welfare

  • T.J. Rodgers To Keynote Santa Clara University Event (May 26th) and I Like How This John Mackey Guy Thinks: Shameless libertarian capitalist Rodgers' bailout of solar cell producer, SunPower (SPWR), is paying off. The company, which has come up with a more efficient photovoltaic cell, IPO'd at about $25 per share.

    Dean Takahashi, San Jose Mercury News: "Hot IPO for solar cell maker SunPower" (requires sign in)

    SunPower's cells were more efficient than older technology because it built scores of tiny black pyramids on top of six-inch silicon wafers. Those pyramids, about one-one-hundredth the width of a human hair, can trap light and convert it into electricity.

  • Good Wal-Mart, Bad Wal-Mart (September 17th): On Tuesday, we attended a spoken word performance by Henry Rollins. He related his experiences, good, bad and surreal, with pulling his tour bus into Wal-Mart parking lots across the country for late-night discount shopping. "Shopping" isn't really the right word, Rollins pointed out -- at Wal-Mart you secure provisions. I realized that to truly verbally skewer a place like Wal-Mart, you have to put in some time there, absorbing the oddness of it all. I suspected that some of the audience members, good Bay Area liberals who scrupulously avoid ever setting foot in a Wal-Mart, couldn't relate to Rollins' story from their own experience.

    Here's a review of the new "Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price" documentary, that provides a good backgrounder about the scads of corporate welfare Wal-Mart receives:

    Greg LeRoy, Silicon Valley Metro: "Welfare for Wal-Mart"

    The subsidies for which Wal-Mart lobbies run the whole gamut: free or reduced-price land, infrastructure assistance, tax increment financing (TIF), property tax abatements or discounts, state corporate income tax credits, sales tax rebates, enterprise zone tax breaks, job training funds and low-interest tax-exempt loans. The most deals and dollars were found in Texas (30 deals worth $108 million) and Illinois (29 deals worth $102 million).

    That makes Wal-Mart one hell of a welfare queen.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

San Jose Clampdown

Seems like every time the San Jose City Council meet, they come up with some new reason for me to be glad I don't live in San Jose. Their latest move: giving the police chief the power to close down nightclubs, apparently without any thought to the owners' rights of due process.

Rodney Foo, San Jose Mercury News: "Council passes nightclub statute"
(requires sign in)

After the meeting, Police Chief Davis said the law would be used "very, very judiciously,'' and that its mere existence on the books would probably make recalcitrant club owners more likely to cooperate.

I agree. A law giving the police the power to shut down someone's business needs judicial application. And we just happen to have people who specialize in that type of thing -- they're called judges.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

New Vacation Paradise

There was only one possible explanation for this story, but I've checked and re-checked my calendar and it isn't April 1st:

Kim Sengupta, The Independent: "Iraq plans hotel and theme parks for a tourism boom"

The building will have to be built to withstand mortar and rocket attack, just as the one major existing hotel in the Green Zone, Al Rashid, was built to do. Despite the carnage outside and its shabby appearance, the Rashid can still charge $150 (£86) a night.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

More Proposition 80: Would Ban Smart Meters

Proposition 80 is just plain odd. Apparently, it contains a provision banning time-of-use rates and "smart" electric meters. The proposition's backers claim telemetric metering must be banned because it would be unfair to charge folks such as senior citizens higher rates during peak hours.

Never mind that smart meters are the only effective way to get consumers to be mindful of their electricity use during peak hours. It's a basic economic principle that the price of a commodity conveys information about how precious that commodity is. Disconnect consumers from the true prices of the electricity they are consuming and they will consume too much electricity. Shortages are guaranteed to follow. We Californians have a lot of experience in this department.

I've heard allegations that the real reason the ban on "smart" meters was added to Proposition 80 is to protect the jobs of human meter readers. I'm not sure I buy that explanation. Unless I see clear evidence otherwise, I have to assume Proposition 80's backers have good intentions. You know what they say about good intentions...

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Solar Energy Industry Opposed to Proposition 80

With the Special Election coming up next Tuesday, it's time to start looking at the latest crop of California ballot propositions.

I plan to vote No on Proposition 80, a bid to "re-regulate" the electricity industry. I'm not going to lay a libertarian argument on you, or talk about how much it irks me that Proposition 80 perpetuates the myth that electricity was ever deregulated in California. Instead, I want to point out the adverse effects the proposal would have on green energy.

This morning, we had a solar energy consultant over to analyze our rooftop in preparation for installing a photovoltaic system. It was he who let us know that solar and other green energy concerns consider Proposition 80 a threat to their future.

The California Solar Energy Industries Association has been very visible as an opponent of Proposition 80. They are one of the signers of the official argument against, arguing that consumers will no longer be able to directly choose a green energy supplier. Instead, we Bay Area consumers would have to rely on PG&E adopting clean energy production.

I have personal experience with the devastating effects of government meddling in the electricity market. When the so-called deregulation of electricity production in California was enacted, I immediately signed up for Green Mountain Energy, a company that has had no problem thriving in other states. Less than two years later, as an effect of the bizarre spot market rules (how could a system that forbade long-term wholesale contracts be construed to be a free market?), Green Mountain and all the other companies like it had decided they could no longer offer services to residential customers in California. Through an acquisition of their business I was assimilated as an Enron customer, then later re-assimilated as a PG&E customer. My option to buy green energy disappeared.

P.S. Don't forget to check out former California Senate candidate Allen Rice's analysis of the propositions:
"Allen Rice On The November 2005 Initiatives"