Monday, August 28, 2006

The ACLU goes too far

I am really annoyed by the ACLU on this one -- this is stepping over the line:

This ceremony was held on Sunday, when the school was not in session.
No student or member of the faculty was required to attend
No religious object was left at the building

While the ACLU states that its mission is to monitor the separation of church and state, it seems to me that what it really wants is to prohibit religion entirely...

... or at least it wants to prohibit Christianity. I very much doubt that we would have seen a protest from the ACLU if there had been dancing and chants by a Native American tribe instead. How about if an African-American Muslim community had held a similar ceremony?
Our Bill of Rights does not prohibit religion -- it prohibits the government from mandating religion.
Don't let the ACLU prevail in this one!!

Blessing of school draws protest
Ceremony violated separation of church and state, ACLU says
Monday, August 28, 2006
Matt Zapotosky

Pat Miller, right, and Carol Fry, center, of Karl Road Christian Church, lead about 180 people from four different North Side churches in a verse of Kumbaya outside Woodward Park Middle School. The group gathered yesterday to read a prayer and bless the school before the start of the school year.
About 180 members of four local churches surrounded a public middle school yesterday to bless the building and those who use it, despite objections from the American Civil Liberties Union about the constitutionally mandated separation of church and state.
Led by a minister from Epworth United Methodist Church, members of Epworth, Karl Road Christian Church, Karl Road Baptist Church and Ascension Lutheran Church joined hands and circled halfway around Woodward Park Middle School at 5151 Karl Rd. In unison, they asked the "great divine one, creator of us all" to bless each "student … teacher, staff and administrator" entering the building.
"Rain or shine, ACLU or not, nobody can stop those who have spirit-filled hearts," said Patricia Miller, who led the ceremony.
The nearby churches have an ongoing relationship with Woodward Park, providing supplies and other support. Miller said the ceremony at first was planned for inside the building and had the approval of the school’s principal, Jill Spanheimer.
Last week, Spanheimer said she didn’t remember that conversation and that the ceremony would have to be outside. Yesterday, she watched the ceremony from her yard, which borders the school grounds. She would not comment afterward.
The ACLU of Ohio sent a letter to Spanheimer and Superintendent Gene Harris last week, saying that permitting the event would violate the constitutional requirement that public schools remain neutral on religious matters. District officials responded with a letter stating the event was constitutional according to a U.S. Supreme Court case from New York state. In Good News Club v. Milford Central School, the court ruled that any group is permitted to rent and use public-school facilities.
"Anyone can walk onto the school grounds during the weekend," said Columbus Public Schools spokesman Greg Viebranz.
Gary Daniels, litigation coordinator for the ACLU of Ohio, said this event differed from the renting of school buildings, even those rented for a religious use.
"There’s not that appearance of endorsement by the school," he said. "There are worse scenarios that can be presented as far as being problematic from a church-state perspective, but this by no means is something that in my mind would pass constitutional muster."
Several participants said yesterday they did not think the ceremony, which lasted less than a half-hour, violated the separation of church and state, and some said they didn’t think church and state should be separated anyway.
Residents near the school who were interviewed by The Dispatch said they were not upset. In fact, they thought the event was a positive way to kick off the school year and benefited the neighborhood.
Copyright © 2006, The Columbus Dispatch

Saturday, August 19, 2006

In Favor of Nuclear Power

With gasoline at $3.00/gallon and climbing, we’ve got to think seriously about building some new nuclear-powered electricity generating stations.

I suspect that there are millions of us Americans who would drive electric vehicles to work if the economics make sense. The vehicle needs to have the necessary features, of course. It needs to be comfortable for at least two people, have a little room for cargo, be able to operate at freeway speeds, can be recharged in six hours or less, have air conditioning and a decent sound system, and be available at a price point that makes sense.

A good deal of the freight in our country could be hauled between cities on the railroads, using trains powered by electric locomotives.

All the public transportation in our cities could be electric trolleys and buses.

If the electricity for all those applications comes from nuclear power plants, then we will make a huge dent in our demand for oil. The objective is not to lower the price of oil by reducing our demand, it’s to substantially eliminate the need for oil in our economy all together. Instead of being dependent on good relations with the oil-rich countries of the Middle East, we can tell them to keep their oil and find someone else to terrorize.

It is possible to have a safe nuclear powered infrastructure. The French have been doing it for years. One of the keys is their standardized reactor/generator design which can be replicated over and over. You get continuous improvement in both safety and efficiency only when you can apply your learning across the whole installed base of technology. In fact, I would be in favor of licensing France’s reactor design so that we get a head start with a known model.

What about the waste? We have to stop letting a few folks dictate the strategic energy policy of the whole country. We seem to have built a safe storage facility in
Yucca Mountain, and we have safe mechanisms for transport. If we put the power plants in the right places, we don’t have to run the shipping casks through populated areas to get to the storage facility. What about the potential for bad guys high jacking a shipment? Why don’t we deploy troops to guard the power plants and the shipment trains instead of protecting our oil interests in the Middle East?

The alternative is to keep competing with the Chinese for oil until we both suck the world dry and end up going to war over what’s left.

Yes, keep working on all the other alternative fuel sources: wind, hydro, fusion, solar, etc. And let’s get serious about conservation. Tell my neighbors, commercial and residential, to turn off all the damn lights that create light pollution and waste energy. Let’s figure out how to store energy on a massive scale so don’t have to match generator capacity to the peak demand. The guys who designed the
Niagara Power Project figured out a neat way to do this.

In the mix, there is still a need for an electrical power source which functions when there is no wind, or it’s cloudy, yet doesn’t rely on oil as an energy source. Nuclear power fits that bill.

Opponents of nuclear power – cut back your electrical energy consumption by 80% and your fossil fuel consumption by 100% for a month or two. That’s what life would be like when the oil runs out. Then let’s talk about the best way to make lots more power.

Friday, August 4, 2006

The Price of Gas, Part II -- Gouging & Inflation

Gouging – most people don’t understand what this term means, or at least when it is a bad thing. Folks see Exxon/Mobil posting $10B earnings in a quarter and say we’re being gouged at the pump for gas. Meanwhile they pay a higher price/gal for bottled water without blinking an eye. If the oil companies are operating substantially without government subsidy, then I think they should be able to keep raising the price until they feel they’ve maximized profits. Of course, they do get government subsidy in the form of tax incentives, so that makes things a little messier. But we won’t wean ourselves off petroleum until we are individually driven to change our behavior and seek alternatives. Classic economic theory would argue that the best thing for our country would be for the oil companies to raise the price, generate huge profits, and pay out a substantial fraction of those profits as dividends. That releases capital to be invested into other enterprises, some of which are likely to seek what comes after oil (which might not be limited to energy – it might be about further upgrades to the telecom system so that telecommuting is even more practical).

To me, gouging happens only in the face of a disaster, when an absolutely essential commodity is in the hands of a few, and those few raise the price to exorbitant levels, taking advantage of the situation. This happens rarely, and almost never in this country. What would you say if a cabbie in Manhattan on 9/11 said he would give you a ride, but for 10x the meter? If you a pregnant woman who needed to get to a hospital, I’d call that gouging. If you were a snotty upper East sider, I might say it’s just capitalism.

Inflation is another concept most people don’t understand. Properly defined, inflation occurs when the government adds currency to the economy faster than the growth in GNP. Having gas prices go up is not inflation. A key component of capitalism is the process where a producer raises prices to the point that consumers seek alternative answers to their needs and desires. If increasing gas prices causes me to lack the disposable income to buy other stuff I would like to have, then I am motivated to solve the problem of higher gas prices. I might buy more efficient car, or use more mass transit, or move close enough to my job and food source that I don’t need a car anymore (which is why poor people across the globe flock to cities).

Things are somewhat neutralized if my employer feels some obligation to raise my pay enough to offset the increase in gas price. But this still isn’t inflation. Presumably the employer must divert some resources away from other things to raise my pay. The employer might try to raise the price of their product to pass the cost on down the food chain. That still isn’t inflation, because the buyers of those products have the opportunity to pay the higher price or find another supplier. The rise in oil prices definitely has a ripple effect through the economy, but it’s exactly what needs to happen. Everyone feels a little piece of motivation to solve the macro problem.
Inflation happens when the government comes to the conclusion that the economy is slowing down, and that a way to stimulate it is to make money cheaper. They do this by massively increasing the amount of debt instruments they offer at the primary auction, in which the primary bond traders bid on the instruments by offering how much interest they are willing to pay. When government bonds are plentiful, they bid lower rates, which causes that influx of money to get passed on to the economy at a lower rate. When debt is cheaper for employers, they might be able to restructure their debt at a lower rate and free up some cash flow to pay higher salaries and higher prices for their other purchases. At the end of the day, nothing has changed as far as relative price (e.g. everything except money costs 1% more), and there is no motivation to change behavior.

But these money supply infusions are an addictive drug. The underlying dynamics aren’t changed, and the free market forces which would flow from the behavior changes driven by individual purchasing choices get squelched and perverted. As the new money is absorbed into the economy, it can seem like things are okay, but they're really not. Lenders begin to take note that long term debt is getting risky because the buying power of a dollar is being diluted, and so they increase lending rates. That wave works its way through the economy as higher borrowing costs for everything from houses to credit card debt to school loans.

The Fed is doing exactly the right thing by keeping the money supply under control (they don't control interest rates, they control the money supply -- notice that they talk about interest rate 'targets' they hope to achieve by controlling the amount of Treasury debt that place on the market -- see above). The last thing in the world we want is for them to dump a bunch of money into the economy to lower interest rates in the short term, because it starts a dangerous cycle and ultimately causes interest rates to go up.

So the let the gas companies charge all they can get away with. It's good for all of us.