Monday, June 30, 2008

How Can Government Lower Our Fuel Bills?

Any politician who claims that they can actually lower the cost of gasoline in the next 5 years is a liar.

Increases in supply, pretty much all of which are really terrible for the environment, will take at least 5 years to get started:

1. Offshore drilling is sadly probably the best of these.
2. Should the so-called Green Freedom process be able to use solar or wind energy and yet remain cost-competitive, it would be the best option.
Frankly, it still might be the best option even with nuclear, though the cost is $4.60/gallon. I would think that since an industrial process doesn't require a baseload (assuming the manpower required for actual operation of the oil from CO2 and water plant is low, I would guess that production could be halted whenever the sun isn't sufficient for high-temperature solar thermal collectors like linear Fresnel reflectors; it's not like electricity where lack of a baseload means no use of lights, TV, computers, dishwashers, electric stoves, ovens, refrigerators, air conditioning, washing machines, dryers, toasters, etc. whenever the sun isn't out or the wind isn't blowing), solar and wind would be especially suited for this process (especially if the carbon dioxide can be stored effectively or, better yet, is coming from a coal power plant)
3. Liquid coal and shale oil are, when ignoring their sky-high environmental costs, likely economical these days, but that requires moving backwards on the environment, and we're screwed aside from energy if we don't move forward on slowing global warming.

So the government (whether federal, state, county, municipal, and it goes without saying school board) cannot actually lower gas prices.

But can government do anything to lower our fuel bills?

The St. Petersburg Times asked people who theoretically know something about the issue from all ideologies and areas:

Italicized and parentheses are my pre-article reading thoughts

Glenn Robertson, budget director for both Republican Governor Bob Martinez and moderate to liberal Democratic Governor Bob Graham (So he's probably got some elements of sanity to him, at least):

Donna Arduin, budget director for Republican Governors Jeb Bush and Arnold Schwarzenegger; also president of Arduin, Laffer & Moore Econometrics (Yes, that Laffer is Arthur Laffer, the guy who pushed the idea that there is a single local maximum in a graph plotting tax rates with tax revenue [clearly it will be 0 at a 0% tax rate, and low (not zero, but quite low) at 100%, but his idiot idea inspired Reaganomics and today is probably costing America as much as $100 billion each year of extra interest on the national debt), not to mention the trillions of dollars of debt. As such, she's almost certainly an idiot)

Democratic Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink (One hope's she'd be good)

Sean M. Snaith, director of the Institute for Economic Competitiveness in the College of Business Administration at the University of Central Florida (business school types are all over the map; who knows?)

Dominic M. Calabro, president and chief executive officer of Florida TaxWatch (TaxWatch? He's almost certainly as much of an idiot as Donna Arduin, possibly more so, as she at least might possibly [though I doubt it] learned something from being a budget director)

Raymond Arsenault, the John Hope Franklin Professor of History at the University of South Florida, St. Petersburg (Likely has some idea of what's been tried [and failed or succeeded] in the past, but that may or may not be useful to apply to today; history professors tend to be liberal, but can range across the board ideologically)

Mike Jackson, chairman and chief executive officer of AutoNation, America's largest auto retailer (Let me guess; it doesn't involve doing anything that would reduce the number of single occupancy vehicles on the road [and therefore probably doesn't involve doing anything unless he claims drilling is going to happen soon])

Susan Story, chairwoman of the Florida Chamber of Commerce and president and chief executive officer of Gulf Power (Chambers of Commerce are often surprisingly good on public transportation, at least in theory; but damn they hate regulation; Gulf Power is a subsidiary of Southern Company, which skews more heavily both coal and nuclear than U.S. power as a whole; expect emphasis on that

Mark Wilson, president and chief executive officer of the Florida Chamber of Commerce (Same as with Susan Story, surprisingly decent on transit, but hate regulation)

After reading

Obviously, there were the ideological themes, at least on the right:

  • the 2 Chamber of Commerce types, Tax Watch guy, and Laffer woman predictably pushed "tax & spending cuts are our Savior, because the government doing nothing about energy has worked out so well so far"

Anyway, there were a bunch of common themes:

No We Can't (pessimistic but probably sadly realistic as well): Everyone but the Chamber o Commerce; AutoNation CEO Mike Jackson "there is no quick fix." Same by the history professor, and to a lesser extent by the others. I forgot that Chambers of Commerce are the anti-Chicken Littles; Story and Wilson both say, in essence "We're in a 'transition' period, but the outlook is great!"

Public Transit-Pushed by everyone except TaxWatchman, no-solution Autonation CEO man, and Laffer lady.

Carpooling-Most, even the TaxWatchman.

The bipartisan budget director had the most ideas, most of which sound good,

• City and county governments could provide an accessible and user-friendly "Jump in the Pool!" Web site to help people carpool. The site could connect people who live and/or work in similar areas of town. The site could suggest a reasonable amount that each passenger pays to offset the driver's gas bills and inconvenience, and is less than the passengers would pay if they drove their own car.

• A government-sponsored "Save Me Some Money" Web site (message board) could allow citizens to contribute and access ideas that can help cut costs or save money in many different areas (e.g. food costs, energy usage, home maintenance, and car maintenance and operation).

• A government "Help-A-Neighbor-In-Need" Web site could be established where people needing help can request it from others in the community.

• Local governments could sponsor "Community Gardens" in various areas of cities and counties where especially lower-income families could access fresh vegetables that may be getting sacrificed to pay for gas and other higher-cost necessities.

• Local governments could more actively promote visiting homes in their area to evaluate energy-saving possibilities and maybe offer assistance to lower-income families if energy use and expense can be cut.

• In a special session, the Legislature could authorize grants to local governments to do any or all of these things from nonrecurring funds.

• State and local governments could actively introduce many different initiatives to save gas and energy as a model to citizens. Show some political leadership.

I don't know how much they would do, but they sound decent and are among the most that could be done, probably.

Some are stupid:

  • All the "cut taxes/end regulation" proposals

  • Toll holiday, proposed by Alex Sink and Sean Snaith; tolls help push people to public transit and are crucial to fund transit projects and keep roads from falling apart

However, both Democratic official Alex Sink and far-right crazy Laffer woman Donna Arduin agree on one thing-a gas tax holiday is extremely stupid.


Do Not:
Legislate temporary gas tax cuts, or any similar gimmick. Gas tax cuts would subsidize the oil industry and not help bring about any of the needed "substitution effects" that high gas prices cause, like buying more fuel-efficient vehicles and using mass transit more.
(so even she realize that mass transit use is a good thing)

Don't try reducing gasoline taxes. "Every time that's been tried, the gas companies just take it for themselves. That leaves us without the revenue we need for our infrastructure. So some people are losing their jobs."

I guess only a solution-lacking pandering crazy old man would propose such a thing.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Michelle Obama's Whitey Tape Released

At long last.

Right here

Hey America, look at Europe

Germany's gas prices are $9.40 per gallon, leading to this sort of thing:

A German man doused his BMW with gasoline and torched it on Friday in protest at skyrocketing fuel costs, police said.

The unemployed 30-year-old man drove the black 1995 BMW 3-series sedan onto the lawn outside Frankfurt's convention center grounds at about 7:30 a.m., police spokesman Karlheinz Wagner said.

So we should be considering ourselves fortunate.

Now, sure, we're going to end up having to drill offshore, but again, even John McCain admits that the only benefits we'll see in the near future from that will be psychological rather than financial.

Transit is the only thing that can save Americans money on gas bills in the short term. Hopefully Scott Walker won't veto the referendum for a sales tax increase to fund transit in Milwaukee County (income tax would be the best way, but counties probably are loathe to do that and states are not willing enough to fund transit).

Even the federal government's overwhelmingly passed emergency transit funding bill was met with opposition from some idiot Republicans.

Although the transit measure passed overwhelmingly, on a 322-98 vote, some Republican lawmakers ridiculed it as a poor substitute for expanded domestic oil drilling.

Rep. Frank D. Lucas (R-Okla.) complained that his constituents not only must pay higher gas prices, "but now they have to subsidize people in big cities with the luxury of access to public transportation."

25% of Lucas' district residents, by the way, live in the Oklahoma City metropolitan area. While they don't have access to transit, they could, as OKC has probably the worst transit of any million person plus metropolitan area; perhaps if Rep. Lucas pushed for a decent transit system, they could.

Is this really the best use for subway cars?

In artificial reefs? Does no other system or planned system possibly have a use for them (with refurbishing)?

They carried commuters across New York City for 40 years, but in less than two hours Thursday, 44 subway cars from the Big Apple were sunk off the Virginia coast, becoming part of a large artificial fishing reef.

About six miles off Chincoteague on the Eastern Shore, a specially rigged crane dropped the 16-ton cars, one by one, off a barge and into about 65 feet of water. The impact each time created a loud smack and sent thick spray into the air.

The steel shells, stripped of their doors, windows, seats, plastics and asbestos, joined surplus Army tanks and 50 other rail cars from New York City that had been similarly deployed here several years ago as part of Virginia's man-made reefing program.

Five more loads of subway cars will be sent to the ocean bottom in the coming years, under a contract between the state and the New York City Transit Authority. Maryland, New Jersey, Delaware, South Carolina and Georgia also utilize New York's old subway cars in this manner.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Bill providing $1.7 billion in funds for transit agencies on the House Floor

This bill, designed to allow transit agencies to keep from raising fares and to increase services, is very important, and likely to pass.

Of course, $1.7 billion is far from enough, and they need to provide more money to build & expand rail systems. In areas with fairly extensive rail and bus systems, like the DC metro area, they are now having capacity problems.

Trains are full at peak commute hours, and they simply can't get more trains for a while, even if they ordered them immediately.

While companies can, at least to some extent (and Metro is encouraging them), spread out work hours to create several peak travel times, and move Metro ridership from 500,000 on weekdays to 640,000 on weekdays, freeing up more money to, for instance, provide welcome extensions to the Metro system.

Here's to hoping that, at the very least, the federal government will help out Metro. I'm working 10:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. days. Although such a late day is unlikely to work well for most people, I expect that there's a decent range that wouldn't be all that bad for people, and of course, most transit systems already run more frequently at peak ranges.

For instance, consider the bus I take to work, the NJ Transit 606 from Princeton Shopping Center through Trenton to Mercerville's 5 Points (usually with extensions to the Princeton Care Center and Hamilton marketplace).

In the Princeton direction (full route and every stop not done by every bus)
It first runs at 5:25 a.m.. Then from 5:50 to 7:20 [to accomodate the poorer people who live in Trenton but work [presumably relatively low-wage jobs] at the University or in town or other places; we actually do reverse commuting here] it runs every fifteen minutes. It then runs every half hour until 9:20, at which point it begins running in 40 minute intervals until 1:15, at which point it runs in half hour intervals till 2:50, when it runs 20 minute intervals until 4:20. Then it runs half hour intervals until 6:15, one 40 minute interval, then hour intervals until 11:40.

In the Trenton direction (again not every stop)
It runs first at 5:15, again at 6:45 and 7:27. At that point, it runs at twenty minute intervals until 9:10, at which point it runs at 9:40, then every 40 minutes until 2:20. Then it runs at 2:50 at 3:10, then runs in half hour intervals until 4:40, where it runs 20 minute intervals for the evening commute till 5:20, then at 5:50, then 40 minute intervals till 7:40, then hourly intervals until 1:00 a.m.

Of course, the ridership isn't close to as heavy as in more urban areas, and New Jersey is great because (although admittedly, it works better in NJ than it would in states with less core metro areas) the system is statewide, and in much of the state it runs not only in (and usually through) the central city (Trenton, Atlantic City, Asbury Park, New Brunswick, Edison, Paterson, Passaic, etc.) but it also runs a lot of intercity buses.

Granted, the system is far from perfect. When I worked for the Educational Testing Service in Ewing in 2006, I had to take the 602 to Ewing and then transfer to the 606 to get home, which was an hour and a half trip. Since I had to be there by 8:00 a.m., I just couldn't do it in the morning (my dad drove me as it's at least in the same direction as his work, if farther out)

Anyway ...

If riders spread out their rush-hour trips, instead of crowding into the "peak of the peak," Metro could accommodate an additional 140,000 trips on the subway, Metro's Bottigheimer said.

And again, this could help pay for Metro extensions and projects:

For instance, they are considering tunnels to link nearby stations on different lines; seems like solid ideas.

I've taken the orange/blue line to Metro Center and transferred to the red line quite a few times.

Of course, it's annoying to go through Metro Center, and I've wished that there was a station connecting Farragut West and Farragut North. They are studying a tunnel to connect them, as well as one to connect Metro Center to allow people to avoid having to either transfer twice or have to ride down to L'Enfant Plaza to get from the Yellow/Green line (the primary purpose of the yellow line was to allow a direct route across the Potomac from downtown to Alexandria instead of having to through Arlington); the line has only 2 of its own stations, one in Alexandria and one just outside the beltway in Fairfax; similar to how the blue & orange run together from the Potomac to the Anacostia and then branch to provide, in the east, access to two parts of PG County (and more importantly, the Marc Penn line; by the way, that ought to be extended to Newark, Delaware; then I'd be able to get home from school in DC by taking only local trains), and in the West to go to both west out through Arlington and Falls Church in the Loudoun direction, and to go south down to Arlington to the VRE station at Franconia Springfield.

And there are quite a few rail system expansions planned:

* Rail extension to Dulles, which apart from La Guardia [yes, surprisingly, La Guardia] is I believe the only airport in a metro area with rail on the Northeast Corridor without a rapid transit extension (though the Silver Line to Logan Airport in Boston is Bus Rapid Transit). I've never flown out of Dulles and would prefer they actual start construction on high-speed rail so I can get from DC to, say Chicago or Atlanta or Detroit or Nashville in 10 hours or less (and since it's warranted on that already highly traveled corridor, build that maglev from Boston to at least Richmond (if not Charlotte or Atlanta) so flights between cities on that corridor can be eliminated (certainly on the Boston/Richmond)
* Streetcars on Columbia Pike through Arlington to Fairfax
* Build the purple line as light rail fully from New Carrollton to Bethesda to provide quick dense inner suburb to inner-suburb transit.
* Build the 5 transit corridors as streetcars to fill in nearly all the gaps in rapid transit currently existing in DC

If that was all done (along with VRE and MARC extensions) it would make the DC metro area unequivocally the #2 transit metro area [of course, that would only be true if the others don't improve a lot as well) in the country (a step down, of course, from the NYC metro area); it's now sharing the #2 spot with Chicago, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Boston and Portland.

Of course, they've got real problems there as well due to sprawl and the unwillingness of (white, anyway; a far larger percentage of Latinos and blacks have been used to carpooling for years due to the expense of car ownership) Americans to become community types.

Sprawl prevents Americans from walking and (although this would take time, it's more feasible; I've been bicycling to the bus stop to get to work, although frankly I could walk to the closer one, it's only .8 miles from our house; I have to walk about that far from the road in front of the Bristol-Myers Squibb complex to the actual office, due to the silly way they built it ) bicycling to the rail station. Unwillingness to become community types means that there's insufficient parking to accommodate everyone who wants to "park & ride" to work.

We should, of course, complain heavily about the criminal insanity of our land development, car (i.e. CAFE standards; we needed an increase 10 years ago)and transit use policies.

Then again, the American people quite willingly threw out Jimmy Carter in 1980, and the Democratic Congress in 1994 (after it passed an act that hasn't been funded on rail transit). Moreover, they've elected people across the country who've allowed very, very stupid entirely unplanned sprawl to get built up on farmland over the last 40 years, because people, naturally, wanted big houses with nice lawns (and, admittedly in many cases, they also wanted to get away from the "scary black people" who'd moved into the cities). The free market, while quite good in most ways, has no way to accomplish long-range planning, and the American people have elected governments that totally failed us in that respect.

But again, nothing can be done about that.

Very few Democrats (ifThere are enough Republicans representing

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Keith Ellison gives Fox News the Disrespect They Deserve

In a piece on about Senator Obama apologizing to the women from the Detroit metro area who were kept out of the background seats by a staffer due to their headscarves, Fox News uncovers shocking evidence (ZOMG!!!!!!!!!!) of how it was "the Muslims" who made him apologize.

Specifically, Representative Keith Ellison(D-MN), who represents Minneapolis, was born in Detroit and can trace his American-born ancestors to before the civil war, which I believe is longer than Bill O'Reilly or Sean Hannity.

So of course Fox News wanted to interview him, and UNCOVER HIS SECRET MUSLIM AGENDA ZOMG!!!!

Ellison's response to their query:

Ellison refused to discuss the exchange with FOX News. “I can talk to you about my tie,” said Ellison who declined to elaborate on what he said to Obama.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Obama's "Drop" in Oregon and SUSA sampling.

The latest SurveyUSA poll (conducted June 17th to June 19th of 547 likely voters) of Oregon has Barack Obama narrowly leading John McCain 48-45.

This seems like a significant drop from the poll a month ago (May 16 to May 18th of 600 likely voters) which had Senator Obama leading John McCain 49-39

However, a look at the crosstabs makes it seem like differences in the poll results are due mostly to changes in the samples.

By Party:

Party May June
Dem 48% 42%
Rep 32% 41%
Ind 20% 15%

Such a shift in the Republicans favor is highly unlikely (a shift in the Democrats favor would still be unlikely, if a bit less so).

Which one is right?

Well, currently in Oregon, Democrats have a 43% to 33% registration advantage, so one expects the correct party divisions are somewhere in between the May and June numbers.

Zionist Organization of America endorses extermination of the Jewish People

Louis Brandeis must be turning over in his grave. I've just found out that the Zionist Organization of America, which under Morton Klein has already become a terrible organization, has taken the step over the edge.

With their defense of David Duke foil John Hagee, they've now stepped into anti-Semitic territory.

It's true that quite a few Jews (I don't; I think God has, at the very least, been inactive for a rather long while) do think that the Holocaust was God's will.

I would guess that much fewer would agree that Adolf Hitler was a prophet/messenger/hunter who God sent to kill 6,000,000 Jews (and about 5,000,000 non-Jews; Roma, homosexuals, Poles, the disabled, Communists, Slavs, POWs, and other dissidents) so that most of those remaining in Europe would move to Israel.

That in itself is extremely disturbing, as Israel would have been established as a Jewish state in any case due to (albeit slower) Jewish in-migration due to Zionism and (less deadly) anti-Semitism combined with the Immigration Act of 1923 virtually eliminating the ability of Jews to come to the United States (where many Jews were fleeing to), only it's quite possible that had it been more gradual it would have created far less Arab anger (among other things).

35,000 Jews came between 1882 and 1903, with another 40,000 arriving by the start of World War I.

The Balfour Declaration of 1917 promising favorable reception for a Jewish homeland helped spur faster immigration, 40,000 between 1919 and 1923 (about 10,000 a year) and after the U.S. passed the Immigration Act, 80,000 between 1924 and 1929 (about 20,000 a year).

This speed continued till 1933. Between 1933 and 1936, as a result of Hitler, over 50,000 came per year. But then the British closed down immigration (why would God do that?) and Hitler moved towards starting to eliminate the Jewish people. Surely if God was using Hitler to get Jews to Israel, he would've kept discrimination/second-classness at the 1933-1936 levels in Europe for Jews and had the British continue to allow immigration rather than killing 6,000,000 of them; that would've been another 600,000 Jews by 1948. Even without World War II, this immigration would probably have been enough to get the British to allow a Jewish homeland.

But the really disturbing part is that Hagee's pronouncement highlights his end goals. Let's not forget that the reason, in Hagee's mind, that God wants the Jewish people back in Israel is that, in Hagee's theology, that is necessary so that Jesus can return. At this point Jews who fail to convert to Christianity are slaughtered and burn forever in hellfire.

The point being, Hagee could care less how many Jews are murdered, as long as the bare minimum (I think 144) are around for Armageddon. In fact, he almost certainly favors bloody wars as bringing on his perceived end times. This makes the man as much of a threat to Israel as, say, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Welcome to the Hillary Bloggers!

Good to see you here, NewHampster and campskunk (among others). Hope you all have it in your hearts to cast your ballot for president for the same person that Hillary will.

You are probably wondering about something.

The truth is that everything I know, I learned from the Clinton campaign.

Ann Lewis told me everything.


Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Tim Kaine IS Working to Restore Voting Rights

I'd been wondering if Gov. Kaine(D-VA) was going to move in this direction. Virginia and Kentucky are now the only 2 states to continue to disenfranchise felons after they've fully served their sentence (prison, parole and probation). Among other things, lifetime disenfranchisement has been used as a constitutional way (as held in Richardson v. Ramirez; a 6-3 decision with the solidly liberal justices Douglas, Brennan and Marshall dissenting) to suppress minority vote, in conjunction with selective enforcement/pressing charges/penalties for, among other things, drug law violations and petty larceny. It is not coincidental that nearly every state which at some point in the last 25 years continued to disenfranchise ex-felons for at least some period of time) had significant minority populations (every former slave state except for Georgia, Louisiana, South Carolina, Missouri and North Carolina, as well as the heavily Hispanic states of New Mexico, Nevada, and Arizona); only Iowa, Nebraska and Wyoming among the less heavily minority states had ex-felon disenfranchisement in that period.

Currently, voting rights stand as follows:

No disenfranchisement (prisoners can vote): ME, VT
Restoring of voting rights upon release from prison: DC, HI, IL, IN, MA, MI, MT, NH, ND, OH, OR, PA, RI, UT
Restoring of voting rights upon completion of prison term and parole (probationers can vote): CA, CO, CT, NY, SD,
Restoring of voting rights upon full completion of sentence: AK, AR, DE, GA, ID, IA, MD, MN, MO, NJ, NM, NC, OK, SC, TX, WA, WV, WI, WY
Restoration for most offenses (disenfranchisement for the rest) upon full sentence completion: AL, FL, MS, TN
Waiting periods: DE, NE, WY
2nd Felony disenfranchisement: AZ
Restoration for 1st-time non-violent: NV
Lifetime disenfranchisement: KY, VA

Many ex-felons also aren't informed well about their regaining the franchise, and incorrectly believe they're disenfranchised for life when they aren't.

Florida used to disenfranchise felons for life (this, along with Elian Gonzales, Katherine Harris, Ralph Nader, Palm Beach Jews for Buchanan, some guy named Chad and Al Gore himself, is one of the many reasons why Al Gore lost Florida and we got stuck with Bush) [at the time, only 10% of registered voters in FL were black, despite the state being 15% black). However, Republican Governor Charlie Crist modified the rules some
On April 5, Florida's Republican Governor Charlie Crist and the state clemency board (composed of the governor and the elected three cabinet members, currently two Republicans and one Democrat) adopted a new policy aimed at reforming Florida's antiquated and discriminatory felon disfranchisement procedures. The board revised the Rules of Executive Clemency that govern their decisions as to who gets their civil right restored in Florida Now, certain people with felony convictions will be restored to the rolls without an application or hearing by the clemency board while others remain subject to these procedures. Those who will be restored are people convicted of several non-violent felony offenses who have fully completed their sentences, paid any restitution owed, have no charges pending against them, and are not habitual violent offenders, violent career criminals or sexual predators. And they must wait until they receive a certificate from the board before they may vote again.

Even this wasn't close to acceptable in today's world. And Tim Kaine's pledge is even less encompassing:

Under Virginia's constitution, people convicted of a felony automatically lose their right to vote for life, which has resulted in an estimated 300,000 residents being disenfranchised, even though they are not in prison.

But a Virginia governor can restore a felon's voting rights. Under a process set up by former governor Mark R. Warner (D) , felons convicted of nonviolent crimes can apply to have their voting rights restored if they have a clean record for three years after their sentence has been completed. People convicted of violent felonies, which in Virginia includes selling drugs, have to wait five years.

Earlier this year, Kaine (D) promised that his administration would expedite a review of applications from nonviolent felons who submit their papers by Aug. 1.

That's it; a mere "expedited review."

Of course, Republicans are angry.

"I don' t know a lot of young Republicans who end up being felons," said Del. C. Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah). "Clearly the groups that are soliciting these felons to get their rights restored are predisposed to be in support of Obama, and I am sure this registration effort is designed to help their candidate."

While these new voters will almost certainly help Obama, it's not so much because they're felons as because they are disproportionately African-American, and African-Americans vote 90% Democratic in all races, because Democrats better represent their interests and Republicans still haven't given up racism.

This is especially true in Virginia; there's George "Macaca" Allen, and Virgil Goode's demonizing as "foreign" of a black man born in Detroit who's ancestors have been here since 1742. And let's not forget Del. Gilbert (see above).