Archive for January, 2012

Daily Glimpse January 31, 2012

Daily Links From Glimpse From a Height

  • #Azerbaijan on Iran Sanctions: Not a Market Opportunity @eurasianet
    Azerbaijan looks as though it’s getting ticked off with its neighbors the mullahs, and is willing to go along with sanctions, and doesn’t see it a chance to increase its own oil exports.
  • The UK-EU Ties Begin To Tremble #anglosphere
    Open Europe’s call for repatriating crime and policing laws back to the UK will be taken up by Britain’s all-party parliamentary committee on EU reform.  Sounds less like reform and more like retreat, which is a good thing. When even Labour is calling for repatriation of EU money back to the UK, you know you’ve […]
  • Fritz Goro: The Art of Science #design #photography @life
    Classic science photography from Life.
  • Why Obama Stacked the #NLRB @dailycaller @kausmickey
    Unionization rate nears zero. Unions relying more and more on government support, while the administration relies more and more on government unions.
  • Posters From the El @life_salon @printmag #design
    Classic London Underground posters have met their match in the Chicago Transit.  
  • Another Blow For the Climateers @powerlineblog
    Still no net warming since 1998. I once got into a heated discussion with a warmist friend of mine about this non-trend, and the best he could do was attack me for selectively accepting UN Climate Change Panel data.  It was a pretty weak performance from a usually-thoughtful guy, but also pretty much all he […]
  • Mark Your Calendars, Solar Eclipse, May 20 @phys_org
    Looks like the western US will get a good look, and since it’s a Sunday, we can drive southwest to see totality.
  • US House GOP to Link Energy, Infrastructure, #ANWR, #KeystoneXL
    Seems like a logical connection to me.  The House GOP is going to link ANWR and offshore drilling, and Keystone XL, to increased infrastructure funding.  Since I’m all for all of these, I like it.  Don’t count on the Democrats going along, though.
  • Richard Epstein Schools Jeffrey Sachs on Libertarianism @DefiningIdeas
    Sachs can only attack libertarianism by caricaturing it. The popular version of the term libertarian does not convey solely this meaning. The second branch of libertarian theory is classical liberalism. It takes a somewhat larger view of government that makes it a bit more elusive to characterize. The classical liberal does not deny the importance […]
  • A #3DPrinting Roundup @doingitwrong
    Lisa Harouni gives TED a primer on how 3D printing works. Tim Maly rebuts Chris Mims’ claim that 3D printing is just a passing fancy. And the BBC compares the product vs. platform competing visions of how to bring 3D printing to the consumer.  (Along with the obligatory environmental alarmism.)

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How Not To Manage Rare Earths

Rare earths were in the news a lot in 2011.  Right now, it seems as though the news coverage paralleled the bubble in prices, but there’s no reason to be complacent.  The government continues to make mistakes in dealing with these resources, missing opportunities to do it right, and eventually costing not only the taxpayer in cash, but also the country in national security.

First, a refresher on what rare earths are used in:

Late in 2010, Colorado-based Molycorp announced that it was ready to reopen one of the world’s richest rare earth mines in California, about an hour south of Las Vegas.  The stock price soared, and soared even more on the news that it was working on vertical integration with a prime use of rare earths, magnets for wind turbines.  Then, in mid-2011, China announced that it would begin cutting back on its rare earth quotas.  Initially interpreted as China throwing it weight around, it now is clear that they were simply responding to demand information that they, as a near-monopoly, had before everyone else.

The metal prices themselves have followed suit, in a number of cases down well over 50% from their mid-2011 highs:

Some of this was simply a bubble bursting, but it’s also possible that the catalyst was more than just an amplified cyclical downturn.  Vestas, along with a number of other wind companies, has found out that government subsidies aren’t forever, as the Spanish, Germans, and even the Americans are cutting direct subsidies to wind turbines.  At the same time, other mines are increasing output, with Chile’s molybdenum output up 11% in 2011, and Toyota is threatening to release a rare-earths-free Prius.  Rare earths prices are starting to stabilize, and it’s hard to see them going much lower.

While the world figures out a way around the problem, the US continues to throw environmental roadblocks in Molycorp’s way to actually re-opening the mine.  Cong. Coffman’s well-intentioned proposal is to create a strategic reserve.  By the time the bill actually passes, prices will quite possibly have risen again, and it’s not as though, in the long run, companies lack the incentive to retrieve these metals from the ground.  To the extent that this is a national security issue, the solution is to let the companies mine the damn things, and to develop an ongoing industry capable of supplying the country’s needs, not only to guess as what we might need and stockpile them.

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Daily Glimpse January 30, 2012

Daily Links From Glimpse From a Height

  • Mossad Assassin Insurance
    Assuming that’s who’s actually killing the great nuclear chefs of Iran. It’s good to see them being forced into a defensive crouch over this, though.
  • Evidence Mounts For Kagan ObamaCare Recusal
    Law professor Ronald Rotunda makes a compelling circumstantial case, which barring a better defense from Kagan than we’ve seen should be enough

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Daily Spy January 29, 2012

Daily Links From Glimpse From a Height

  • #HigherEdBubble news from @Mark_J_Perry
    I’m going to guess that Udacity won’t have a top-heavy administration.
  • Truckers Spending Money, Not Adding Capacity @joc_talk
    Truck carriers are buying more trucks, but it’s mostly to replace older fleets, rather than to expand fleet sizes.  The problem, according to Werner Enterprises (where I work for a living), is that there’s a pretty serious driver shortage.  So in the short term, this is going to drive up costs and probably expand profits […]
  • DC Metro Suffers Complete Shutdown @ggwash
    Pretty much the whole system went down: “Metro suffered a complete system failure last night around 11:30 pm. The failures were so extensive that all communications, including track circuits, were out of service.” When I lived in DC, people were proud of the combination subway-light rail.  The trains were packed, and while they basically proved […]
  • Illinois, Obama’s Economic Thought Leader
    Well, we had better hope not.  High unemployment combined with a terrible state credit rating.  For the umpteen millionth time, evidence that high taxes and heavy regulation don’t actually work.  I’m not sure a flat tax is inherently “fairer,” in the way that most people use the term.  But it would probably do a better […]
  • Regulate Incentives, Not Outcomes
    Via Russ Roberts at Cafe Hayek: What is notable about contemporary reform is that there is little effort to change the incentives that caused bank executives to take the big risks and a huge emphasis on regulating their choices. The implicit assumption seems to be that incentives and the assignment of liability plays only a […]
  • Ranking the States by Competitiveness @DesktopEcon
    Colorado ranks slightly better than average, but look at the two biggest winners: Texas and North Dakota.  Given our coal and shale, we really ought to be doing better than this.
  • Romney’s Economic Case Against Obama @aei
    In one chart:
  • 25 Time-Lapse Videos @pixiqphoto
    From landscapes to portraits being drawn.

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Daily Spy January 28, 2012

Daily Links From Glimpse From a Height

  • A 3-D Glimpse
    The New York Public Library re-creates the View Master online (h/t Popular Science), with its online collection of stereographs.  I can usually get the photos to overlay on my own, but for those without independently-moving eyeballs, this is really cool.
  • Battery-Swaps Go Live
    An Israeli company is giving the battery-swapping model of electric cars a live test.  The ranges are still too low for the US, but I think if electric cars are going to work, this is the only viable recharging solution.
  • The Debt – Worse Than You Think @dmarron
    Yes, even worse than that: This range of figures – $10 trillion, $14 trillion, $50 trillion – sows confusion about how indebted the United States is. Yet none of them captures all of America’s debts. The government has a host of other obligations that often get overlooked. These other liabilities appear in the government’s little-known […]

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Daily Spy January 27, 2012

Daily Links From Glimpse From a Height

  • Will California Development Agencies Default?
    What happens when the government piggy bank is empty.  Greece on the Pacific.
  • Not Shovel-Ready @KeithHennessey
    According to internal memos, the administration started out knowing these projects weren’t “shovel ready:” If Mr. Lizza’s reporting is correct, over the objection of his economic advisors President Obama replaced $60 B of “highly stimulative spending” with a slow-spending but “inspiring” $20 B for high-speed trains and $40 B in pork for his Senate Democratic […]
  • 3D Printing Skepticism from @Mims
    Over at Technology Review: This isn’t just premature, it’s absurd. 3-D printing, like VR before it, is one of those technologies that suggest a trend of long and steep adoption driven by rapid advances on the systems we have now. And granted, some of what’s going on at present is pretty cool—whether it’s in rapid […]
  • Iranapalooza
    The EU finally agrees on a boycott of new Iranian oil contracts.  The sticking point?  Greece, Italy, and Spain, who import a lot of their oil from Iran.  Ultimately, this will strengthen China’s hand vis-a-vis Iran, as one of their last large customers. Melanie Phillips doubts that this will induce Iran’s leaders to abandon their […]
  • Nostalgianomics @asymmetricinfo
    Back to a future that never was, from Megan McArdle: And to the extent that the fifties and sixties were actually like this, we should remember, as Max Boot points out, that this was not actually the day of the little guy.  Big institutions actually had a great deal more power than they do now; […]
  • Quantum Cryptography Aids Cloud-Based Quantum Computing?
    So say researchers at the University of Vienna: Imagine the computer tries to snoop on the qubits and see their entanglement, which could then be used to extract the information they carry. You’d be able to tell, because of the laws of quantum mechanics. The cat is both dead and alive until you check whether […]
  • EU Fiscal Pact In Trouble. Again. Part MCMXVII
    Sweden and Poland are having doubts.  As are the Czechs, despite going through a change in government over the issue. Meanwhile, Sinn Fein, which didn’t fight all those years to ditch the Brits just to get ruled from Brussels, are threatening legal action without a referendum. The EU is starting to look more and more […]
  • Hispanics Not Single-Issue Voters
    So says a participant in the conservative Hispanic Leadership Network, meeting this week in Miami: Substance is precisely what Hispanics are looking for when we consider what’s desperately needed to return America to what so many of us came here looking for. For the majority of Hispanics who are immigrants and sons and daughters of […]
  • “What Will Become Of Us?”
    Seriously.  From your tenured diplomatic corps, charged with representing your interests again the sharks overseas. The pitch for Clinton to run for Vice President came from a moderator who combined questions from two State Department employees: “With the election season fast approaching, can you offer any predictions for the State Department after the elections in […]
  • Fewer Regs, Greater Cost
    The CEI and Daily Caller make a compelling case for the REINS Act:
  • Walker Leading Democrat Opponents
    …in Wisconsin recall.  Like IowaHawk said, winners never quit, and quitters never win, but if you never win, and you never quit, you’re probably in a Wisconsin public employees’ union.
  • Defense Cuts For Decline
    We’re the only country in the world with a navy worthy of the name, and it gives us a tremendous ROI.  No wonder Obama wants to gut it.
  • Andrew Biggs on Federal Retirement
    A federal worker makes out pretty well compared to his private-sector counterpart.  Given that there’s a heavy net cash flow into Washington (look at their real estate resilience), and that those workers still have excellent job security, the defined benefit plan doesn’t really make sense any more.
  • Fair Share
    Fair? Even when taking into account income distribution, the well-off in America pay a higher share of America’s taxes then do the well-off in any other comparable country. Meanwhile, 46% of tax filers pay absolutely no federal income taxes at all and the fastest-growing group of those, up from almost zero during the Clinton years, […]
  • 3-D Objects For Download
    And this is just the beginning. Seriously, The Diamond Age is on the horizon.

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Sigh. Romney.

Michael Barone, that walking encyclopedia of American political history, has often made the comparison between the development of the Tea Party and the entry of the peaceniks into American political life:

Both movements represent a surge in political activity by hundreds of thousands, even millions, of previously uninvolved citizens.

Both movements focused on what are undeniably central, not peripheral, political issues: war and peace, the size and scope of government.

Both movements initially proclaimed themselves nonpartisan or bipartisan, but quickly channeled their efforts into one political party — the peace movement in the Democratic party, the tea-party movement in the Republican party.

But new movements prove troublesome for the political pros, and nowhere more than in the most problematic part of our political system, the presidential nominating process. (Is it just a coincidence that this is the one part of the system not mentioned at all in the Constitution?)

Peaceniks and tea partiers naturally want nominees who are true to their vision. They are ready to support newcomers and little-vetted challengers over veteran incumbents who have voted the wrong way on issues they care about.

But the things that make candidates attractive to movements can also make them unattractive to independent voters.

The Democrats struggled with this in the 1968, 1972, and 1976 cycles. The old-timers pushed through the accomplished Hubert Humphrey over the diffident Eugene McCarthy in 1968, but they lost to George McGovern in 1972. He was a more serious candidate than is generally remembered, but he did lose 49 states to Richard Nixon.

The anti-war movement didn’t get started in earnest until 1967, and Lyndon Johnson didn’t declare his intention not to run again until early 1968. The lateness of the primary calendar made it possible for Bobby Kennedy to declare late, and their paucity made it possible for the party elders to anoint Humphrey regardless of those votes. By 1972, the McGovernites had taken over the levers of power, opened up the primaries, and made most of them proportional. This insured a longer primary campaign, and did nothing to prevent a credentials fight over the Illinois delegation at the Convention. In the event, McGovern was nominated with fewer than 60% of the delegates, and defeated with less than 38% of the vote. The military defeatism and the electoral defeats helped usher the Scoop Jackson Democrats out of the party and, eventually, Ronald Reagan into the White House. The Democrats would elect the center-left but feckless Carter, and the decidedly un-peacenik DLC founder Bill Clinton, and it wouldn’t be until 2008 that they elected Obama in an encore of the first anti-war movement.

The Tea Party, while nascent in 2007, didn’t really gather steam until early 2009, almost four years ahead of the next Presidential election, and the Republicans in 2012 have likewise done away with early winner-take-all primaries. So it probably sits somewhere between anti-War 1968 and isolationist 1972. The Establishment is weakened, but  not dead yet. If nominating Romney would be more like 1968, giving Gingrich the nod would look a lot more like 1972.

Of course, as Mark Twain said, history doesn’t repeat, but it does rhyme. Republicans not being Democrats, should Romney be the nominee, he likely won’t have to accept the nomination in the middle of police putting down riots from disgruntled Tea Party members. It’s unlikely that large cuts in spending will lead many Republicans into a socialist Exodus.

The similarities are alarming enough. Just as Humprhey’s defeat helped discredit the old liberalism, so a Romney defeat – or even a Romney presidency – could finish the job of discrediting vanilla conservatism that George W. Bush started, and open the door for a 1972-like candidacy by a Rand Paul-like figure. I don’t think I’m unduly cynical when I say that that very hope has led some in the libertarian wing of the party to campaign against Daniels, Perry, or Pawlenty as “not conservative,” or “not presidential,” while being willing to go along with a Romney nomination. (They’ll be disappointed. That so many in the Tea Party have cast their lot with Gingrich rather than the catastrophically irresponsible Ron Paul is actually a healthy sign that the word “conservative” will not be re-branded to mean “libertarian.”)

Republicans are looking for a conservative who is both ideologically grounded and a practical politician. While that may have been on offer earlier in the process, it’s not now, with the nomination fight now looking like that Star Trek episode where Kirk divides into two separate personalities, one nice but passive, the other more aggressive and less principled.

Romney’s problem is that even if you consider his public persona to be authentic, he seems rather timid for a man who built his career risking capital at the gaming tables of private equity. A early Marco Rubio endorser, he has Chris Christie’s support, but campaigns like Charlie Crist. His reaction to individual Social Security accounts as fiscally irresponsible confirms his image as narrowly technocratic. He campaigns as the safe, sane, sober, responsible alternative to both Gingrich and Obama, and it may well be that the American people want safe, sane, sober, and responsible after the drama of the last four years, even if it does represent a lost opportunity to do more.

Those who caricature Gingrich’s appeal as mere media-hatred, though, miss the point. Such an appeal, while superficial, isn’t just limited to Republicans; ask Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. Showing backbone in clear, simple terms is not nothing, although it’s not enough.  And it seems to give way to an opportunism of its own at inconvenient moments.

I’m not sure that Gingrich would lead to a 1964-type down-ticket meltdown. At the beginning of 1972, Nixon’s Gallup approval ratings were well over 50%, and stayed there until the onset of Watergate. Obama has nowhere near that level of public support, and an impending Presidential defeat would let Senate and House Republicans campaign all the more effectively as a check on Obama’s power. In 1972, the Democrats picked up a net 2 seats in the Senate, and lost only 13 seats of a 255-seat pre-election caucus in the House. Johnson’s approvals touched 80% when his party went from 258 to 295 seats in the House, and from 64 to 66 seats in the Senate. Even a Gingrich candidacy wouldn’t result in that kind of wipeout, although it would probably cost us a shot at the Senate.

Sadly, that might be enough. Unlike the Democrats, we can’t afford to wander in the political wilderness for another couple of decades. If Obama were re-elected, and we failed to retake the Senate, Obamacare would be permanently enshrined into law, and the American citizen transformed into a subject. Obama is willing to use executive power up to and beyond the fullest extent permissible by law. Congress’s best means of asserting its part of the check-and-balance system is the power of the purse. But Senate Democrats have deprived Congress of that power, putting government spending on auto-pilot by not even bringing a budget up for a vote. So failing to take the Senate would put all the burden back on the House Republicans to find a credible way to threaten – and if need be, go through with – a government shutdown, without committing political suicide in the process.

If nominating Romney is enough to help us carry the Senate, even if it isn’t enough to get us back to the White House, it will put the party in a position of strength to challenge him, especially given the Senate partisan profile up for re-election in 2014.

This isn’t a matter of giving in to the Establishment.  If there were no other credible choices, if this were 2008, post-Colorado, and I were left with a meaningless vote, that would be one thing.  But there’s nothing the matter with concluding that while the party Establishment was too quick to line up behind Romney in the first place, I can make my own choice to support him now, for my own reasons, at a time when my vote – fortunately – still matters.  It’s called deciding, and that’s a very different thing from having something decided for you.

To this extent, Barone’s final paragraph is instructive: “Tea partiers will grouse if Romney is nominated. But maybe they need patience and perseverance. One lesson of history is that a movement can reshape a party. Another is that it takes time.”


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Daily Spy January 23, 2012

Daily Links From Glimpse From a Height

  • Stop-Motion of a Drummer
    Frederick Winslow Taylor, meet Gene Krupa.  Seriously, wouldn’t it be cool to compare “Sing, Sing, Sing” with Check Webb and Buddy Rich?
  • About That Countrywide Settlement
    Leftover money to be distributed according to ACORN’s mission statement.  What could possibly go wrong?
  • How To Make Choosing Easier
    There is such a thing as “too many choices.” What Wal-Mart could learn from Aldi, or from “Moscow On the Hudson,” for that matter.  Right now, if I had to get a new smartphone, or even a new SLR, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have the faintest idea how to optimize my choice.  Like a […]
  • Building Better Interfaces…
    …through science fiction.
  • The Tricorder May Be Within Reach
    ‘The ubiquity of smartphones, and rapid developments in artificial intelligence and cloud computing have turned the tricorder into more than a pipedream. “We launch X-Prizes when we think the technology is at a tipping point,” says X Prize CEO Peter Diamandis.’  It’ll work by aggregating massive amounts of patient data to correlate with symptoms.  This […]

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Daily Spy January 22, 2012

Daily Links From Glimpse From a Height

  • Congress and Spending…
    The classic Avoider Syndrome.  Can, kicked down the road.
  • Political Class Unworthy of the Moment
    Joel Kotkin argues that far from decline, the 21st Century offers another American moment, but that our political class is blowing it, each party for its own reasons.  Democrats oppose growth policies on principle, Republican too often in practice.
  • More Planets Than Stars?
    Turns out there could be more planets than stars in the Milky Way, possibly trillions of planets, and billions of them inhabitable.  So let’s get working on the starships, already.

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Don’t Panic

Always good advice.  Right now, there are a lot of Republicans who need to calm down and maybe make that second cup decaf instead of hi-test.

In the run-up to Iowa, one of the oft-repeated themes was that the presence of Gingrich had made Romney a better candidate, by forcing him to clarify his answers and deal with actual criticism and competition.  If Mitt is smart – and since he’s been running for President for five years, and really seems to want the job, he had better be – he can use the latest Gingrich surge to make himself an even better candidate.

First, let’s acknowledge Gingrich’s deficiencies as a general election candidate.  He doesn’t exactly have the highest Q-rating in the world; seen as angry in 1994, he’s seen as angry today. Americans may be angry, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that they want their President to be.  If President Romney would be a tremendous lost opportunity, he can plausibly argue that candidate Gingrich would be worse. A President inclined to run against Congress couldn’t ask for a better foil than a former Speaker.  And while I think Dan McLaughlin has done a credible job of showing that Gingrich is more Fabian than revolutionary in his conservatism, that won’t keep the Dems from rooting through the vast literature of Gingrich writings, Gingrich interviews, Gingrich TV appearances, and off-the-cuff Gingrich comments to reporters to “prove” how radical he is.

However, none of this is helping Romney very much right now, and it would behoove him to understand why.  It’s not just Gingrich’s combativeness in the debates that’s winning him points.  It’s a general trust that he’s capable of articulating a conservative vision on conservative principles, over a broad range of topics.  When Juan Williams tried to turn an economic statement into a racial one, Gingrich pushed back, and answered the question completely without regard to race.  When both Romney and Santorum attacked his promotion of individual Social Security accounts as either unrealistic or undesirable, was there any question who better understood entitlement reform?  Conservatives see that, and are at least intrigued by the idea of having someone in the White House who will make the case, every day, for conservatism.

Romney hasn’t closed the deal with Republicans, even at this late date, because he’s been campaigning on his biography.  His selling point is that as a businessman, he knows something about creating jobs.  That’s great if the economy is still staggering a few months from now.  But if the employment rate drops a another 1.0% or 1.5%, campaigning as a job-creating resume is going to be a lot less effective. (Yes, I know that the unemployment rate is less important than U6 and the labor force participation rate.  You know what?  Nobody cares.  The unemployment rate is important politically for the same reason the Dow Jones Industrial Average is important: it’s a statistic with a memory.)  The problem with nominating people whose biographies fit the moment is that the moment can change or the biography can find itself suddenly vulnerable, and you can find yourself rooting against peace and prosperity, to boot.

The good news for Romney is that with all the primaries and caucuses before April now proportional, the race is designed to go on longer.  If he can explain why it makes no sense to claim to love capitalism while hating capital markets, he can reassure Republicans that it’s not all a pose.  If he shows he can articulate not only why Republican candidates should be pro-business, but why Americans should be pro-capitalism, he’ll win going away.  If he can explain why common American principles should lead Americans to support someone with his experience and ideas, he’ll be a much stronger candidate and eventually, a much stronger President.

The fact that Romney is getting tested this way in the primary, and that the nomination is, as of this writing, still very much in doubt, has got to be frustrating, but it’s all of a piece.  By hoping to parley a weak front-runner status, bolstered by establishment support, into being everyone’s second choice, he’s allowed the nominating process to become a referendum on his fitness to represent the party and its ideals.  He’s won minds but not hearts.  And just as campaigning is about more than the written and unwritten rules, so governing is about more than technical and managerial proficiency.

The situation has got to be equally frustrating to Gingrich supporters, inasmuch as Gingrich the foil is still preferable to Gingrich the nominee for most Republicans.

But for Gingrich the professor, teaching profound political lessons to Mitt Romney may end up being his most valuable contribution.

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