Keeping the Kids at Home

A nice illustration of the law of demand via the New York Post:

A mogul spent six figures to win lunch for two with Bill and Hillary Clinton at a charity auction benefiting the Clinton Foundation — but when the winner asked to bring his two kids along, he was told he’d have to double his bid to $1 million.

Spies said Charitybuzz CEO Coppy Holzman was talking about the recent Clinton auction hosted by his website at a swanky Hamptons Magazine party for ArtHamptons last Friday.

One witness said Holzman regaled guests with a tale that “lunch for two with Bill and Hillary went for $500,000 to benefit the Clinton Foundation.” And the winning bid came from “a Chinese business mogul who then asked if he could bring his two children along to the meeting.”

But, our spy said, the high bidder was then told by the Clinton camp he could only bring his kids for a cool $1 million.

“The couple opted to leave the children at home,” the source cracked.

Climate Change: Follow the Money

We agree with reader Victor Twardowski that this sounds like a total waste of taxpayer money.

GILBERT, Ariz. — A $470 million NASA satellite built by Orbital Sciences Corp. (NYSE: ORB) here promises to give scientists their clearest picture yet of Earth’s warming atmosphere and provide a powerful new tool for climate-change science after its much-anticipated launch next week.

From its perch 438 miles above Earth’s surface, the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 will be NASA’s first satellite with the sole purpose of measuring atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas linked to global warming.

During its two-year mission, the satellite will provide more-accurate readings of CO2 levels on global and regional scales, allowing scientists to better understand how natural processes and human activity affect concentrations of the greenhouse gas.

Using space-based measurements, scientists can look for carbon sources, like cities where CO2 is produced in mass quantities. They also expect to find carbon “sinks,” areas like the Amazon rain forest where dense vegetation sucks carbon dioxide from the air to produce oxygen.

Cities produce a lot of CO2? Who knew?

If they really want accurate CO2 measurements, why don’t they open a window or put up a balloon to take an air sample? But we guess that wouldn’t create enough jobs for NASA or Orbital Sciences.

Oh, but the satellite might also be able to reveal just how much CO2 is spewed by China.

Global leaders will be able to see which countries, states and even cities emit the most CO2, he said.

“It will be very clear,” Myint said. “Nobody will be able to deny what is going on in a particular city or province. So policy makers can make real serious decisions based on what is going on in those areas.”

Yeah, just throw that satellite data in their faces, and the Chinese will have no choice but to take action! Right.

This is actually the second such satellite constructed. The first one crashed due to launch failure back in 2009. But no worries, the ‘scientists,’ were able to scrape together more taxpayer money to build a replacement, bringing the total cost to the range of $750 million.

Note also that the satellite has a “two year mission.” What happens after two years, does it turn into a pumpkin? Does this mean taxpayers will have to fork over another half-billion or so every two years?

We’re not the only ones skeptical of the utility of this satellite.

Associate Professor Arnim Wiek at Arizona State believes the nearly $750 million spent on the two satellites could have been better spent on solution-oriented research, such as renewable energy and low-carbon urban development.

The data itself will not directly generate solutions to the problem, he said.

“While this might be a worthwhile scientific endeavor, it does not avoid or reduce any carbon-dioxide emissions,” Wiek said. “Even more, it does not provide any knowledge on how to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions.”

Ah, but the good professor is perhaps not aware of the real benefit of the satellite.

Orbital Sciences is a Virginia-based spacecraft and rocket manufacturer with a major satellite production center and 300 employees in this Phoenix suburb.

Global Warming sure is big business. Won’t happen, but an enterprising journalist should check Orbital Sciences’ political contributions.

Best case scenario: NASA is actually launching a secret military satellite, and CO2 is just a convenient cover story.

The Decline of Tornado Devastation

Roger Pielke provides some good news about bad weather in this Wall Street Journal piece:

So far in 2014, the United States has experienced fewer tornadoes than in any year since record-keeping began in 1953, or even before. Greg Carbin, a meteorologist with the Storm Prediction Center of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, has called this “likely the slowest start to tornado activity in any year in modern record, and possibly nearly a century.” But just because tornado activity has declined doesn’t mean that we can let down our guard, as potentially large impacts are always a threat.
Overall, however, the good news for residents of the Midwest’s “Tornado Alley” and elsewhere is that over the past six decades America has witnessed a long-term decrease in both property damage and loss of life. That’s the finding that I and Kevin Simmons and Daniel Sutter, two of the nation’s leading tornado experts, have gleaned from studying the data on almost 58,000 tornadoes observed since 1950.

 

NBC nonplussed about slavery, mass murder, cannibalism

We wrote previously about how NBC, in its Olympic coverage, deployed an appalling euphemism by referring to the Bolshevik revolution as a “pivotal experiment.” Well, NBC wasn’t done yet, because later in the week, Meredith Vieira declared the demise of the Soviet Union to be “a bittersweet moment.” As Jim Geraghty noted, this line was even worse than the “pivotal experiment” euphemism

because it suggested there was something sad about the greatest retreat of oppression in modern history. The phrase “pivotal experiments” is cowardly in its unwillingness to judge, but “bittersweet” is worse because it’s the inverse, saluting the oppressor and lamenting his departure.

NBC’s nonplussed attitude toward the crimes of communism was also noted by Jonah Goldberg.

By the time Western intellectuals and youthful folksingers like Pete Seeger were lavishing praise on the Soviet Union as the greatest experiment in the world, Joseph Stalin was corralling millions of his own people into slavery. Not metaphorical slavery, but real slavery complete with systematized torture, rape, and starvation. Watching the opening ceremonies of the Olympics, you’d have no idea that from the Moscow metro system to, literally, the roads to Sochi, the Soviet Union — the supposed epitome of modernity and “scientific socialism” — was built on a mountain of broken lives and unremembered corpses.

To read Anne Applebaum’s magisterial Gulag: A History is to subject yourself to relentless tales of unimaginable barbarity. A slave who falls in the snow is not helped up by his comrades but is instantly stripped of his clothes and left to die. His last words: “It’s so cold.”…

Multiply these stories by a million. Ten million.

“To eat your own children is a barbarian act.” So read posters distributed by Soviet authorities in the Ukraine, where 6 to 8 million people were forcibly starved to death so that the socialist Stalin could sell every speck of grain to the West, including seed stock for the next year’s harvest and food for the farmers themselves. The posters were the Soviet response to the cannibalism they orchestrated.

The awful details of the Ukrainian terror-famine, engineered by Soviet authorities in the early 1930s, can be found in Robert Conquest’s The Harvest of Sorrow.

An agronomist describes finding, on a walk with another official between two villages, a young woman dead, with a living baby at her breast. He saw from her passport that she was twenty-two years old and had walked about thirteen miles from her own village. They handed the baby–a girl–in to the nutrition centre at their destination, and wondered if anyone would ever tell her what became of her mother.

Arthur Koestler saw from his train starving children who ‘looked like embryos out of alcohol bottles’; or, as he puts it elsewhere: ‘the stations were lined with begging peasants with swollen hands and feet, the women holding up to the carriage windows horrible infants with enormous wobbling heads, stick-like limbs and swollen, pointed bellies…’ And this was of families with at least the strength to reach the railway line.

There are many such descriptions of the physical condition of the children. [Vasily] Grossman gives one of the fullest descriptions of how they looked, and how it got worse as the famine closed in: ‘And the peasant children! Have you ever seen the newspaper photographs of the children in the German camps? They were just like that:  their heads like heavy balls on thin little necks, like storks, and one could see each bone of their arms and legs protruding from beneath the skin, how bones joined, and the entire skeleton was stretched over with skin that was like yellow gauze. And the children’s faces were aged, tormented, just as if they were seventy years old. And by spring they no longer had faces at all. Instead, they had birdlike heads with beaks, or frog heads–thin, wide lips–and some of them resembled fish, mouths open. Not human faces’. He compares this directly with the Jewish children in the gas chambers and comments, ‘these were Soviet children and those who were putting them to death were Soviet people’.

Slavery, mass murder, and cannibalism. For anyone like Meredith Vieira on NBC to euphemistically gloss over the enormities perpetrated by communism is absolutely reprehensible.

NBC whitewashes communism

NBC, in an apparent attempt to suck up to the Russian government, on which NBC depends for the privilege of broadcasting the Olympics, trotted out one of those euphemisms that Orwell warned about, which are “designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable.” Specifically, NBC referred to Russia’s so-called Bolshevik Revolution as “the revolution that birthed one of modern history’s pivotal experiments.”

First, the “revolution” was not a revolution but a coup; Bolshevik lowlifes armed with handguns broke into the Duma and arrested the parliamentarians. But more importantly, NBC’s “pivotal experiment” involved using unwilling humans as test subjects. And according to the definitive Black Book of Communism, the experiment resulted in the deaths of approximately 100 million of those unwilling subjects.

NBC_communismIn fact, communism in the 20th century constituted the most widespread, comprehensive, and systematic assault on human rights in the history of the world.

communism_tweetIndeed, communism is a murderous ideology akin to Nazism, yet NBC would never dream of trying to whitewash Nazism. The odd double standard is perhaps attributable to the fact that communism always employed the more skillful propagandists. Plus, unlike Nazism, communism as an ideology was never tainted by racism. Communism promises oppression on an equal-opportunity basis.

The NBC promo features beautiful images of Russian art treasures–produced under the regime that preceded communism. But here are some images from the communist era that you won’t be seeing on NBC.

People dead from starvation during the Ukrainian famine/genocideHolodomor 14Holodomor

We agree with the great Garry Kasparov.

Kasparov

No, UD profs, communism doesn’t protect the environment

French scholars put together The Black Book of Communism, which carefully documents that international communism during the 20th century was responsible for the deaths of something like 100 million people. A number of years ago, however, we heard that a UD professor thought that communism nonetheless had a silver lining–protecting the global environment. The professor was telling his students that a downside of the demise of communism was that the newly capitalist countries would produce more pollution. The professor’s idea is an interesting one. Interesting because no one with even a casual acquaintance with the facts of reality could take it seriously for even a nanosecond. Colin Grabow, in a new article at thefederalist.com, shows that communism was in fact much worse, and capitalism much better, for the environment.

When the Berlin Wall came down and the Iron Curtain was finally lifted to expose the inner workings of communism to Western eyes, one of the more shocking discoveries was the nightmarish scale of environmental destruction. The statistics for East Germany alone tell a horrific tale: at the time of its reunification with West Germany an estimated 42 percent of moving water and 24 percent of still waters were so polluted that they could not be used to process drinking water, almost half of the country’s lakes were considered dead or dying and unable to sustain fish or other forms of life, and only one-third of industrial sewage along with half of domestic sewage received treatment.

An estimated 44 percent of East German forests were damaged by acid rain — little surprise given that the country produced proportionally more sulphur dioxide, carbon dioxide, and coal dust than any other in the world. In some areas of East Germany the level of air pollution was between eight and twelve times greater than that found in West Germany, and 40 percent of East Germany’s population lived in conditions that would have justified a smog warning across the border. Only one power station in East Germany had the necessary equipment to clean sulphur from emissions.

East Germany even had a town in the running for the title of Most Polluted Town in the World.

Pronounced by Der Spiegel as Europe’s dirtiest town, Greenpeace as well as government statistics suggested it may have been the filthiest in the entire world. Home to a variety of manufacturing facilities which spewed a witch’s brew of chemical and industrial byproducts into the air and water, Bitterfeld was nothing less than an environmental horror show. This is how the Washington Post’s Marc Fisher described the town in the spring of 1990:

“Here, rivers flow red from steel mill waste, drinking water contains many times the European Community standards for heavy metals and other pollutants, and the air has killed so many trees — 75 percent in the Bitterfeld area — that even the most ambitious clean-up efforts now being planned would not reverse the damage. East Germany fills the air with sulfur dioxide at almost five times the West German rate and more than twice the Polish rate, according to a recent study. One chemical plant near here dumps 44 pounds of mercury into the Saale river each day — 10 times as much as the West German chemical company BASF pumps into the Rhine each year.”

Writing for The New York Times in September of that year, reporter Marlise Simons said of Bitterfeld that “[t]he air stings, and the water in brooks and rivers has turned to syrup[.]” And a 1994 article in the UK newspaper The Independent recalled that in communist times the town’s leaves would turn brown by June, a local guest-house featured “gas-masks lining the walls of the lobby,” and that in the years since reunification “Bitterfeld’s children were sent for up to a month each year to the coast or the mountains” to give their lungs a break from the relentless assault.

The problem was not confined to East Germany. All the other East Bloc countries were polluted too.

[A] 1992 Cato Journal paper noted that “[c]hildren from the Upper Silesia area of Poland have been found to have five times more lead in their blood than children from Western European cities,” while half of the region’s children suffered from pollution-related illnesses. Some areas of Romania, the paper added, experienced such heavily polluted air that horses were only allowed to stay for two or three years.

A similar story was found in the Soviet Union. Writing for the now-defunct (and Ralph Nader-founded) Multinational Monitor in September 1990, James Ridgeway noted widespread pollution of both the air and drinking water:

“40% of the Soviet people live in areas where air pollutants are three to four times the maximum allowable levels. Sanitation is primitive. Where it exists, for example in Moscow, it doesn’t work properly. Half of all industrial waste water in the capital city goes untreated. In Leningrad, nearly half of the children have intestinal disorders caused by drinking contaminated water from what was once Europe’s most pristine supply.”

A 1996 Russia country study published by the Library of Congress’ Federal Research Division described the country’s air as “among the most polluted in the world,” and found that 75 percent of its surface water was polluted and 50 percent of all water not potable according to 1992 quality standards.

The Soviets trashed the environment.

The Soviets trashed the environment.

The author of this article not only did a superb job summarizing the evidence of environmental destruction, he even put his finger on the economic reason why communism was so bad for the environment: the lack of property rights.

[C]ommunism means an absence of property rights, having all been surrendered to “the people,” which is to say the state. As that which belongs to everyone in fact belongs to no one, who is to be confronted over the factory sending toxic plumes into the sky which then descends on the cornfield, or the dumping of waste into the river plied by tourists on cruise boats? And who really owns the cornfield or the boats?

Property rights are in fact the single most important reason why capitalism is better than communism at protecting the environment. So long as property rights are enforced, nobody can pollute someone else’s resource without compensating them.

In any event, the idea that communism was good for the environment is so ludicrous that the UD professor who espoused it became a laughingstock on campus, so that he was embarrassed to even show… Oh, who are we kidding. As far as we know, nobody on campus ever expressed disagreement with him. Except us. We ran into students who believed him, and when we tried to set them straight, a lecturer from finance told us we were wrong. A lecturer with a PhD.

Regulation as Crony Capitalism

Most people view regulation as something that government imposes on business against its will. The idea is that regulation threatens business profits by restricting freedom of action, and as a result, business will resist being regulated. This view of regulation was expressed by someone we know who (allegedly) teaches economics. Specifically, she suggested that auto companies would prefer not to be subjected to auto safety regulations (seat-belts, air-bags, shatterproof glass, etc). She was taken aback when we informed her that the auto companies supported, and in fact were the catalyst behind, the enactment of auto safety regulation.

Consider also the ban on the manufacture of standard incandescent light bulbs that went into effect on January 1. As Tim Carney reminds us, the lighting industry was instrumental in enacting the ban.

This wasn’t a case of an industry getting on board with an inevitable regulation in order to tweak it. The lighting industry was the main reason the legislation was moving. As the New York Times reported in 2011, “Philips formed a coalition with environmental groups including the Natural Resources Defense Council to push for higher standards.”

Why would a firm support banning a product that it manufactures and sells?

Answer: To sell more of a substitute product that the firm has an advantage in producing, relative to its competitors. 

The standard incandescent bulb is a simple device, relatively easy to manufacture. Entry to the industry is therefore not difficult, and as Carney notes, even the threat of entry holds down prices and profits.

Competitive markets with low costs of entry have a characteristic that consumers love and businesses lament: very low profit margins. GE, Philips and Sylvania dominated the U.S. market in incandescents, but they couldn’t convert that dominance into price hikes. Because of light bulb’s low material and manufacturing costs, any big climb in prices would have invited new competitors to undercut the giants — and that new competitor would probably have won a distribution deal with Wal-Mart.

So, simply the threat of competition kept profit margins low on the traditional light bulb — that’s the magic of capitalism.

In a search for higher profits, GE and Sylvania invested huge resources into developing new types of bulbs such as compact fluorescents, but couldn’t improve the price or the quality sufficiently to induce consumers to abandon traditional incandescents; the traditional bulbs still occupy some 70 percent of home sockets. Banning the incandescents forces consumers to buy the new bulbs, which GE and Sylvania have an advantage in producing because they developed them. The key here is that GE and Sylvania don’t need to worry–at least for now–about their profits getting undermined by upstart producers or cheap imports from the Third World. Meanwhile, the consumer loses.

Similarly, auto safety regulation was enacted at a time when the Detroit automakers were facing increasing competition from foreign producers, especially in the market for economy cars. The Detroit automakers, unlike their foreign competitors, had engaged in considerable research and development of various safety mechanisms such as shatterproof windshields, collapsible steering columns, etc. The Detroit automakers supported the legal mandate of these safety features because they knew they could more easily comply with the requirements than could their foreign competitors.

Furthermore, installing the safety features is costly, and this cost must be passed on to consumers in the form of a higher car price. The additional costs, however, had the effect of increasing the price of economy cars, the forte of Detroit’s foreign competitors, relative to the price of Detroit’s product line. Hence the safety requirements served to put Detroit’s foreign competitors at a price disadvantage in the U.S. market. Like the light bulb ban, safety regulation benefited the domestic industry by effectively banning a low-cost substitute–a cheap car without safety features. The motivation for the regulations had less to do with safety than with protecting corporate profits, just as today’s light bulb ban has relatively little to do with saving the planet.

The big corporations usually get the regulations they want. The 2010 Dodd-Frank legislation marks the most significant regulation of the financial industry in decades. People naively believe that the law will rein in the big banks. In his excellent book The New Financial Deal, law professor David Skeel relates a story about how the 1,000+ page law came to be written. Before Treasury sent an early draft of the bill over to the House Banking Committee, they neglected to delete from the document an electronic watermark of the law firm used by the big banks. The banks had written the bill.

But despite all the evidence that regulation serves the interests of corporate cronyism and hurts consumers, leftists remain faithful to their statist beliefs. Their dissonant battle cry: “The corporations control the government. We need more government regulation to protect us from these corporations!”

Embedded below is a fascinating video showing how incandescent light bulbs are made. The ingenious and efficient activity depicted in the video is now unlawful in America. If someone set up that production facility in the U.S., the government, which itself hardly produces anything of value, and demonstrates no efficiency or ingenuity, would presumably send armed men to shut down the facility. That thought provides a rather revealing insight into the true nature of government.

Krugman wrong again

Ronald Reagan, during the 1976 presidential campaign, told the story of a Chicago “welfare queen” who drove a new Cadillac. Paul Krugman, court economist to the Statist Establishment, wrote in 2007 that Reagan’s story was false.

Reagan repeatedly told the bogus story of the Cadillac-driving welfare queen — a gross exaggeration of a minor case of welfare fraud.

A new piece by Josh Levin at Slate, however, demonstrates that Reagan was right.

Paul Krugman.

Reagan

did not invent that woman in Chicago. Her name was Linda Taylor, and it was the Chicago Tribune, not the GOP politician, who dubbed her the “welfare queen.” It was the Tribune, too, that lavished attention on Taylor’s jewelry, furs, and Cadillac—all of which were real. . . As the Tribune and other outlets stayed on the story, those figures continued to rise. Reporters noted that Linda Taylor had used as many as 80 names, and that she’d received at least $150,000—in illicit welfare cash, the numbers that Ronald Reagan would cite on the campaign trail in 1976.

Reagan 1, Krugman 0.

One would think that someone with a Nobel Prize in economics would demonstrate a stronger commitment to probity.

“Good Glitches”: Paul Krugman vs. Reality

Everyone now knows Obamacare’s healthcare.gov website to be a clusterfark of epic proportions. But back on the October 1 launch date, Paul Krugman, the world’s most famous statist economist, called the website’s failures “good glitches.”

So, very early reports are that Obamacare exchanges are, as expected, having some technical glitches on the first day — maybe even a bit worse than expected, because it appears that volume has been much bigger than predicted…

Here’s what you need to know: this is good, not bad, news for the program… Lots of people logging on and signing up on the very first day…is an early indication that it’s going to be fine, that plenty of people will sign up for the first year of health reform.

Yes, there may be some negative news stories about the glitches. But Obamacare is not up for a revote. As Jonathan Bernstein says, the only thing that matters is whether it works. And today’s heavy volume is yet another sign — along with abating health costs and below-expected premiums — that it will.

Nearly every word that Krugman wrote is utterly divorced from reality. We now know that the website did not crash due to high volume; the site in fact, was incapable of handling any appreciable volume at all, as shown by the government’s own tests in the days preceding the launch.

HealthCare.gov was unable to consistently handle 500 users at once in the testing, and tests failed with 2,000 users over a three-day period, according to a series of emails between members of the information technology team at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, or CMS.

The problem was not “lots of people…signing up on the very first day.” In fact, due to the website’s dysfunction, the number of people who successfully signed up on that day was…wait for it…SIX.

Krugman clearly communicated misinformation to his audience of statist acolytes and admirers. We would have thought that a prominent scientist with a Nobel Prize would demonstrate a higher degree of probity. We also wonder how often Ruling Class apparatchiks have to end up with egg on their faces before losing all credibility.