Sunday, October 22, 2017

In Too Deep

Here is a link to a video about one of the dangers of flying - the pilot and the weather.

In Too Deep

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Renewable energy

According to Wikipedia, “Renewable energy is energy that is collected from renewable resources, which are naturally replenished on a human timescale, such as sunlight, wind, rain, tides, waves, and geothermal heat.”

It is hard to see why geothermal heat should be classified as renewable, since it is not replenished. In fact, sunlight, wind, tides, and waves stem from the sun’s energy, which also is not replenished. Yet these energy sources are useful, partly because they will be around for a long time.

Is the attractiveness of “renewable energy” based on whether they are truly renewable? Evidently not. And why the “replenished on a human timescale”?

Probably, the real reason why renewable energy is attractive is because it is not associated with greenhouse gas emissions, hence appeals to those concerned about climate.

If it is climate that is of concern, why not consider wood as a source of renewable energy? Growing a tree removes CO2 from the atmosphere. Burning the wood restores it. There is no net increase in CO2 over the grow-burn cycle. Sunlight drives this cycle. Wood is just as much renewable energy as “renewable energy”.

And to get back to the why the “replenished on a human timescale” issue – does it refer to a single human lifetime, several, or what? Why not focus on energy sources that do not increase CO2, net?

Fossil fuels are like wood, they are just as much renewable energy as all these other energy sources. The only difference is that you don’t burn the wood at once – you wait until it turns into coal or oil. Only the timescale is different. Fossil fuels represent just as much a zero net CO2 increase as “renewable energy” – the only difference being that their one-time cycle has not been completed. So, what’s the big deal about fossil fuels?

A little more careful thinking and less alarmism, please.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Eyes on Voyager

To learn about the Voyager spacecraft and see videos of their flight path:

Go to this Eyes on Voyager

Click on "Download App"

Install the app.

Click on "Launch"

You will appreciate what humanity can accomplish, as opposed to the mess that politicians and the media create daily.

Proposed bump stock ban is really an opening to ban ordinary firearms

Here is John Lott on the proposed bump stock ban.

JL is on target.  The anti-gun crowd is using the Las Vegas massacre as an opportunity to make it possible to ban ordinary semiautomatic rifles.

A law banning bump stocks will not accomplish that.  It is easy to make one out of readily available materials.  The proposed law would make it possible to ban a trigger, since (paraphrasing the proposed law) in combination with, for example, a bump stock, it is an integral part of a combination of parts designed to and functions to increase the rate of fire of a semiautomatic rifle but does not convert the semiautomatic rifle into a machinegun.

It is a mistake to ban parts of ordinary firearms simply because adding a bump stock or other external part can increase the rate of fire to that approximating an automatic weapon.  Rather, it should be illegal to 1) convert in any manner a semiautomatic firearm so that it fires at a rate approximating an automatic firearm, and 2) banning only parts that do so that are not semiautomatic firearm parts.  In other words, no parts should be banned that are semiautomatic firearm parts designed for semiautomatic operation.

Here is JL's comment.
Sometimes in the rush “to do something” after a tragedy, politicians put forward bills that could easily cause more harm than good. The legislation being put forward to ban “bump stocks,” a firearm accessory that uses the recoil of the semi-automatic gun to fire more rapidly, might end up banning all semi-automatic guns. Take a bill in the House by Rep. Carlos Curbelo, a Florida Republican, which has 28 co-sponsors. The key part of this bill is that it bans “any part or combination of parts that is [SIC] designed and functions to increase the rate of fire of a semiautomatic rifle” and “any such part or combination of parts.” The bill is available below. The problem is that this reads so broadly that a semiautomatic gun has parts that when used in combination with a bump stock or other similar device that will increase the rate of fire of a rifle.

People have three types of guns

— Manually loaded guns. After firing a bullet, the shooter has to physically load the next bullet into the chamber of the gun.

— Semi-automatic. One pull of the trigger, one bullet fired, the gun reloads itself. One pull of the trigger, one bullet fired, and so on.

— Fully automatic. As long as the trigger is depressed, bullets will continue being fired. It isn’t necessary to pull the trigger a second time to fire another bullet.

If politicians actually want to ban all semi-automatic guns, they should be explicit and say so. But it would be a real problem for people who use guns in self-defense. Not everyone has time to manually reload their guns when confronted by criminals. If one’s first shot misses or there are multiple criminals, people may not have the time to manually reload their gun so that they have a second or third shot.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Curse of Good Intentions

Matt Ridley distinguishes between good intentions and results - not much correlation - and probably negative.

MR is on target.
The curse of modern politics is an epidemic of good intentions and bad outcomes. Policy after policy is chosen and voted on according to whether it means well, not whether it works. And the most frustrated politicians are those who keep trying to sell policies based on their efficacy, rather than their motives. It used to be possible to approach politics as a conversation between adults, and argue for unfashionable but effective medicine. In the 140-character world this is tricky (I speak from experience).

The fact that it was Milton Friedman who said “one of the great mistakes is to judge policies and programmes by their intentions rather than their results” rather proves the point. He was one of the most successful of all economists in getting results in terms of raising living standards, yet is widely despised today by both the left and centre as evil because he did not bother to do much virtue signalling.

The commentator James Bartholomew popularised the term “virtue signalling” for those who posture empathetically but emptily. “Je suis Charlie” (but I won’t show cartoons of the prophet), “Refugees welcome” (but not in my home) or “Ban fossil fuels” (let’s not talk about my private jet). You see it everywhere. The policies unveiled at the Conservative Party conference show that the party is aware of this and (alas) embracing it. On student fees, housing costs and energy bills, the Tories proposed symbolic changes that would do nothing to solve the underlying problem, indeed might make them worse in some cases, but which at least showed they cared. I doubt it worked. They ended up sounding like pale imitations of Labour, or doing political dad-dancing.

“Our election campaign portrayed us as a party devoid of values,” said Robert Halfon MP in June.

“The Labour Party now has circa 700,000 members that want nothing from the Labour Party but views and values they agree with,” lamented Ben Harris-Quinney of the Bow Group last week. I think that what politicians mean by “values” is “intentions”.

The forgiving of good intentions lies behind the double standard by which we judge totalitarians. Whereas fascists are rightly condemned in schools, newspapers and social media as evil, communists get a much easier ride, despite killing more people. “For all its flaws, the Communist revolution taught Chinese women to dream big,” read a New York Times headline last month.

“For all its flaws, Nazi Germany did help bring Volkswagen and BMW to the car-buying public,” replied one wag on Twitter.

Imagine anybody getting away with saying of Mussolini or Franco what John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn said of Fidel Castro or Hugo Ch├ívez. The reason for this double standard is the apparently good intentions of communist dictators: unlike Nazis, communists were at least trying to make a workers’ paradise; they just got it wrong. Again and again and again.

Though Jeremy Corbyn is a leading exponent, elevating intentions over outcomes is not entirely a monopoly of the left. It is something that the coalition government kept trying, in emulation of Tony Blair. Hugging huskies and gay marriage were pursued mainly for the signal they sent, rather than for the result they achieved. (Student loans, to be fair, were the opposite.) Indeed, George Osborne’s constant talk of austerity, while increasing spending in real terms, was an example of the gap between intention and outcome, albeit less sugar-coated.

I can draw up a list as long as your arm of issues where the road to failure is paved with counterproductive benevolence. Gordon Brown’s 50p top tax rate brought in less tax from the richest. Banning foxhunting has led to the killing of more foxes. Opposition to badger culls made no ecological sense, for cattle, hedgehogs, people — or badger health. Mandating a percentage of GDP for foreign aid was a virtuous gesture that causes real inefficiency and corruption — and (unlike private philanthropy) also tended to transfer money from poor people in rich countries to rich people in poor countries.

Or take organic farming, which has been shown repeatedly to produce trivial or zero health benefits, while any environmental benefits are grossly outweighed by the low yields that mean it requires taking more land from nature. Yet the BBC’s output on farming is dominated by coverage of the 2 per cent of farming that is organic, and is remorselessly obsequious. Why? Because organic farmers say they are trying to be nice to the planet.

My objection to wind farms is based on the outcome of the policy, whereas most people’s support is based largely on the intention. There they stand, 300ft tall, visibly advertising their virtue as signals of our commitment to devotion to Gaia. The fact that each one requires 150 tonnes of coal to make, that it needs fossil fuel back-up for when the wind is not blowing, that it is subsidised disproportionately by poor people and the rewards go disproportionately to rich people, and that its impact on emissions is so small as to be unmeasurable — none of these matter. It’s the thought that counts.

The Paris climate accord is one big virtue-signalling prayer, whose promises, if implemented, would make a difference in the temperature of the atmosphere in 2100 so small it is practically within the measuring error. But it’s the thought that counts. Donald Trump just does not care.

One politician who has always refused to play the intention game is Nigel Lawson. Rather than rest on the laurels of his political career, he has devoted his retirement to exposing the gap between rhetoric and reality in two great movements: European integration and climate change mitigation. In his book An Appeal to Reason, he pointed out that on the UN’s official forecasts, climate change, unchecked, would mean the average person will be 8.5 times as rich in 2100 as today, rather than 9.5 times if we stopped the warming. And to achieve this goal we are to punish the poor of today with painful policies? This isn’t “taking tough decisions”; this is prescribing chemotherapy for a cold.

Yet the truth is, Lord Lawson and I and others like us have so far largely lost the argument on climate change entirely on the grounds of intentions. Being against global warming is a way of saying you care about the future. Not being a headless chicken — however well argue your case — leads to accusations you do not care.

If turn about was fair play, we would muzzle the elites

Here is Jonathan Turley's comment on three academics' paper "Fool Me Once: The Case for Government Regulation of  'Fake News'."

JT is on target.

Don't let the Elites fool you.  A Ph.D. doesn't imply that you

  • Know anything useful.
  • Have any idea about what you don't know.
  • Have any common sense.
  • Have any respect for those without Ph.Ds.
  • Can refrain from trying to force others to live as you see fit.
  • Are not a threat to a free society.

In one of the most reckless and chilling attacks on free speech, the former chair of the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and Berkeley lecturer Ann Ravel is pushing for a federal crackdown on “disinformation” on the Internet — a term that she conspicuously fails to concretely define. Ravel is pushing a proposal that she laid out in a a paper co-author with Abby K. Wood, an associate professor at the University of Southern California, and Irina Dykhne, a student at USC Gould School of Law. To combat “fake news,” Ravel and her co-authors would undermine the use of the Internet as a forum for free speech. The regulation would include the targeting of people who share stories deemed fake or disinformation by government regulators. The irony is that such figures are decrying Russian interference with our system and responding by curtailing free speech — something Vladimir Putin would certainly applaud.

In addition to new rules on paid ads, Ravel wants fake news to be regulated under her proposal titled Fool Me Once: The Case for Government Regulation of ‘Fake News.” If adopted, a “social media user” would be flagged for sharing anything deemed false by regulators:

“after a social media user clicks ‘share’ on a disputed item (if the platforms do not remove them and only label them as disputed), government can require that the user be reminded of the definition of libel against a public figure. Libel of public figures requires ‘actual malice,’ defined as knowledge of falsity or reckless disregard for the truth. Sharing an item that has been flagged as untrue might trigger liability under libel laws.”

Without clearly defining “disinformation,” Ravel would give bureaucrats the power to label postings as false and harass those who share such information. Of course, this would also involve a massive databanks of collections ads and discussions by the government.

The authors of the proposal see greater government regulation as the solution to what they describe as “informational deficits” in the largely free exchanges of the Internet. There is a far dosage of doublespeak in the article. Rather than refer to the new regulation as guaranteeing greater government control, the authors insist that “government regulations . . . improve transparency.” Rather than talk of government controls over speech, the authors talk about the government “nudging” otherwise ignorant readers and commentators. Here is the worrisome section:

Government regulations to help voters avoid spreading disinformation

Educate social media users. Social media users can unintentionally spread disinformation when they interact with it in their newsfeeds. Depending on their security settings, their entire online social network can see items that they interact with (by “liking” or commenting), even if they are expressing their opposition to the content. Social media users should not interact with disinformation in their feeds at all (aside from flagging it for review by third party fact checkers). Government should require platforms to regularly remind social media users about not interacting with disinformation.

Similarly, after a social media user clicks “share” on a disputed item (if the platforms do not remove them and only label them as disputed), government can require that the user be reminded of the definition of libel against a public figure. Libel of public figures requires “actual malice”, defined as knowledge of falsity or reckless disregard for the truth. Sharing an item that has been flagged as untrue might trigger liability under libel laws.

Nudge social media users to not view disputed content. Lawmakers should require platforms to provide an opt-in (or, more weakly, opt-out) system for viewing disputed content and periodically remind users of their options. We think the courts should uphold this as a constitutional regulation of political speech, but we acknowledge that it is a closer question than the more straightforward disclosure regulations above. The most analogous cases are to commercial speech cases (AdChoices and Do Not Call Registry, which was upheld). Commercial speech receives less protection than political speech.

I have been writing about the threat to free speech coming increasingly from the left, including Democratic politicians. The implications of such controls are being dismissed in the pursuit of new specters of “fake news” or “microaggressions” or “disinformation.” The result has been a comprehensive assault on free speech from college campuses to the Internet to social media. What is particularly worrisome is the targeting of the Internet, which remains the single greatest advancement of free speech of our generation. Not surprisingly, governments see the Internet as a threat while others seeks to control its message.

What Ravel and her co-authors are suggesting is a need to label certain views as “false” while giving not-so-subtle threats of legal action for those who share such information. Once the non-threatening language of “nudges” and “transparency” are stripped away, the proposal’s true meaning is laid bare as a potentially radical change in government regulation over free speech and association.

Elites who would reduce our freedom to protect us from our stupidity

Here is a link to a paper  "Fool Me Once: The Case for Government Regulation of “Fake News” by Abby K. Wood, Ann M. Ravel, Irina Dykhne.

Wood is Associate Professor of Law, Political Science, and Public Policy at University of Southern California (; Ravel is Lecturer in Law at Berkeley Law, and former Chair of the Federal Election Commission and California Fair Political Practices Commission; Dykhne is a J.D. candidate at the USC Gould School of Law.

The paper is a wonderful example of elitists wanting to run our lives to protect us from ourselves.  Of  course, that involves more regulation and bureaucracy.

A More Plausible Theory of Climate Change

One of Henrik Svensmark's videos about his theory of climate change can be found here.

The Cloud Mystery

This video is designed for the layperson.

A more technical video can be found here.

Professional Talk in Essen, Germany

Both videos should convince you that there is more to climate change than you have been told by the media, politicians, and Al Gore.  The latter provide propaganda, not science.

Trump and Obamacare

Judge Andrew Napolitano sets the record straight.

If you don't like the law, change it - not break it.
Late last week, President Donald Trump signed an executive order directing the secretaries of the treasury and health and human services to cease making payments to health care insurance companies in behalf of the more than 6 million Americans who qualify for these payments under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare.

Obamacare is the signature legislation of former President Barack Obama, enacted in 2010 and upheld by the Supreme Court in 2012. Its stated goal was to use the engine of the federal government to make health insurance available and affordable to everyone in America.

It seeks to achieve that goal by regulating the delivery of health care, giving federal bureaucrats access to everyone's medical records, compelling everyone in America to acquire health insurance and providing financial subsidies for those people whose household incomes are below certain levels and who do not otherwise qualify for Medicare or Medicaid. Under President Obama, the subsidies were regularly paid, and they had been paid under President Trump, as well, until he decided to cease paying them last week.

Here is the back story.

How is it up to the president to decide whether to spend federal dollars when the law requires him to do so? The answer to that question depends on whether Congress has authorized the specific expenditure of the tax dollars.

Under the Constitution, when Congress passes legislation that directs the president to spend federal tax dollars -- or, as is likelier the case today, dollars borrowed by the federal government -- Congress must appropriate funds for the expenditure. So for every federal program that spends money, Congress must first create the program -- for example, building a bridge or paving an interstate highway -- and then it must pass a second bill that appropriates money from the federal treasury and makes it available to the president for the purpose stated in the first law.

When Obamacare was drafted in 2009 and 2010, one of the many compromises that went into it was the gradual rollout of its provisions; different parts of the law became effective at different times. The law was enacted with all Democratic votes. No Republican member of either house of Congress voted for it, and only a handful of Democrats voted against it.

By the time the subsidy provisions took effect, the Republicans were in control of Congress, yet Obama was still in the White House. When Obama asked Congress to appropriate the funds needed to make the subsidy payments required by the Obamacare statute, Congress declined to do so. Thus, Obama -- who, as the president of the United States, was charged with enforcing all federal laws -- was denied the means with which to enforce the subsidy portion of his favorite legislation.

So he spent the money anyway. He directed his secretaries of the treasury and health and human services to take appropriated funds from unstated programs and to make the subsidy payments to the seven largest health insurance carriers in the United States from those funds. Of course, by doing so, he was depriving other federal programs, authorized and funded by Congress, of the monies to which they were entitled. But Obamacare was his legacy, and he was not about to let it die on the vine.

Can the president spend federal dollars, whether from tax revenue or borrowing, without an express authorization from Congress, even if he is following a law that requires the expenditures? In a word, no.

That's because the drafters of the Constitution feared the very situation confronted by Congress and Obama in 2013 -- a law that is no longer popular, is no longer supported by Congress and costs money to enforce, with a president eager to enforce it and a Congress unwilling to authorize the payments. To address this tension between a president wanting to spend federal dollars and a Congress declining to authorize him to do so, the drafters of the Constitution put the power of the purse unambiguously in the hands of Congress. The Constitution could not be clearer: "No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law."

It follows that where the appropriations have not been made by Congress, the funds may not be spent by the president. When Obama declined to recognize this constitutional truism, the House of Representatives sued the secretary of health and human services in federal court, seeking to enjoin her from making the subsidy payments, and the House won the case. The court underscored the well-recognized dual scheme of the Framers whereby two laws are required for all federal expenditures -- one to tell the president on whom or on what the money should be spent and the second to authorize the actual expenditure. Without the second law -- the express authorization -- there can be no lawful expenditure.

President Trump, after making the same unlawful expenditures for nine months, decided last week to cease the practice. Whether he did so to bend Congress to his will on health care or he did so out of fidelity to the Constitution, he did the right thing, but he should have done it on his first day in office.

Let's not lose sight of the whole picture here. President Obama has triumphed over President Trump and the Republicans who control Congress because all but a handful of those who are faithful to the Constitution are behaving as if there were a constitutional obligation on the part of the federal government to provide health insurance for everyone in America. According to a plain reading of the Constitution -- and even as articulated by the Supreme Court in the case that upheld the constitutionality of Obamacare -- there isn't.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Who Pays What in Taxes

Here is Walter Williams's column. Walter E. Williams is a professor of economics at George Mason University.

According to WW:

There’s another side to taxes that goes completely unappreciated. According to a 2013 study by the Virginia-based Mercatus Center, Americans spend up to $378 billion annually in tax-related accounting costs, and in 2011, Americans spent more than 6 billion hours complying with the tax code. Those hours are equivalent to the annual hours of a workforce of 3.4 million . . .

Just think of all the consumer goods and services that could be produced by employing these people gainfully.  That would amount to a substantial increase in our standard of living.

WW is on target.
Politicians exploit public ignorance. Few areas of public ignorance provide as many opportunities for political demagoguery as taxation. Today some politicians argue that the rich must pay their fair share and label the proposed changes in tax law as tax cuts for the rich. Let’s look at who pays what, with an eye toward attempting to answer this question: Are the rich paying their fair share?

According to the latest IRS data, the payment of income taxes is as follows. The top 1 percent of income earners, those having an adjusted annual gross income of $480,930 or higher, pay about 39 percent of federal income taxes. That means about 892,000 Americans are stuck with paying 39 percent of all federal taxes. The top 10 percent of income earners, those having an adjusted gross income over $138,031, pay about 70.6 percent of federal income taxes ( About 1.7 million Americans, less than 1 percent of our population, pay 70.6 percent of federal income taxes. Is that fair, or do you think they should pay more? By the way, earning $500,000 a year doesn’t make one rich. It’s not even yacht money.

But the fairness question goes further. The bottom 50 percent of income earners, those having an adjusted gross income of $39,275 or less, pay 2.83 percent of federal income taxes. Thirty-seven million tax filers have no tax obligation at all. The Tax Policy Center estimates that 45.5 percent of households will not pay federal income tax this year ( There’s a severe political problem of so many Americans not having any skin in the game. These Americans become natural constituencies for big-spending politicians. After all, if you don’t pay federal taxes, what do you care about big spending? Also, if you don’t pay federal taxes, why should you be happy about a tax cut? What’s in it for you? In fact, you might see tax cuts as threatening your handout programs.

Our nation has a 38.91 percent tax on corporate earnings, the fourth-highest in the world. The House of Representatives has proposed that it be cut to 20 percent; some members of Congress call for a 15 percent rate. The nation’s political hustlers object, saying corporations should pay their fair share of taxes. The fact of the matter — which even leftist economists understand, though they might not publicly admit it — is corporations do not pay taxes. An important subject area in economics is called tax incidence. It holds that the entity upon whom a tax is levied does not necessarily bear its full burden. Some of it can be shifted to another party. If a tax is levied on a corporation, it will have one of four responses or some combination thereof. It will raise the price of its product, lower dividends, cut salaries or lay off workers. In each case, a flesh-and-blood person bears the tax burden. The important point is that corporations are legal fictions and as such do not pay taxes. Corporations are merely tax collectors for the government.

Politicians love to trick people by suggesting that they will impose taxes not on them but on some other entity instead. We can personalize the trick by talking about property taxes. Imagine that you are a homeowner and a politician tells you he is not going to tax you. Instead, he’s going to tax your property and land. You would easily see the political chicanery. Land and property cannot and do not pay taxes. Again, only people pay taxes. The same principle applies to corporations.

There’s another side to taxes that goes completely unappreciated. According to a 2013 study by the Virginia-based Mercatus Center, Americans spend up to $378 billion annually in tax-related accounting costs, and in 2011, Americans spent more than 6 billion hours complying with the tax code. Those hours are equivalent to the annual hours of a workforce of 3.4 million, or the number of people employed by four of the largest U.S. companies — Wal-Mart, IBM, McDonald’s and Target — combined ( Along with tax cuts, tax simplification should be on the agenda.