Monday, July 18, 2011

Call His Bluff

Charles Krauthammer puts the dart in the small red circle in his recent column in the Washington Post on President Obama's insincerity in the debt ceiling negotiations. Krauthammer begins with this:
President Obama is demanding a big long-term budget deal. He won’t sign anything less, he warns, asking, “If not now, when?” How about last December, when he ignored his own debt commission’s recommendations? How about February, when he presented a budget that increases debt by $10 trillion over the next decade? How about April, when he sought a debt-ceiling increase with zero debt reduction attached?

All of a sudden he’s a born-again budget balancer prepared to bravely take on his own party by making deep cuts in entitlements. Really? Name one. He’s been saying forever that he’s prepared to discuss, engage, converse about entitlement cuts. But never once has he publicly proposed a single structural change to any entitlement. Hasn’t the White House leaked that he’s prepared to raise the Medicare age or change the cost-of-living calculation?

Anonymous talk is cheap. Leaks are designed to manipulate. Offers are floated and disappear.

Say it, Mr. President. Give us one single structural change in entitlements. In public.
The rest of the column is very much worth reading.

Continually raising the debt ceiling is foolish. It just puts us deeper in debt and ties a heavy weight around our children's necks as they embark on their swim across the lake of life. The reason the debt ceiling needs to be raised is because we've spent much more than we have. We're like an unemployed man maxing out his credit cards and asking for his credit limit to be raised.

Given these realities the obvious course of action is to tear up the credit cards and sharply reduce our spending, which is what the Republicans want to do, but which the president refuses to do, at least in any meaningful way.

Instead, his solution is to require the top 5% of wage earners, people and small businesses who are already bearing about 55% of the federal income tax burden in this country, to pay even more.

The Republicans lack the power to impose the common sense solution on our spending addiction, but Krauthammer offers some suggestions:
It's time to call Obama’s bluff.

The Republican House should immediately pass a short-term debt-ceiling hike of $500 billion containing $500 billion in budget cuts. That would give us about five months to work on something larger.

The fat-cat tax breaks (those corporate jets) that Obama’s talking points endlessly recycle? Republicans should call for urgent negotiations on tax reform along the lines of the Simpson-Bowles commission that, in one option, strips out annually $1.1 trillion of deductions, credits and loopholes while lowering tax rates across the board to a top rate of 23 percent. The president says he wants tax reform, doesn’t he? Well, Mr. President, here are five months to do so.

Will the Democratic Senate or the Democratic president refuse this offer and allow the country to default — with all the cataclysmic consequences that the Democrats have been warning about for months — because Obama insists on a deal that is 10 months and seven days longer?

That’s indefensible and transparently self-serving. Dare the president to make that case. Dare him to veto — or the Democratic Senate to block — a short-term debt-limit increase.
What do the Republicans have to lose?

Primer on Fine-Tuning

Readers who've heard of the argument for an intelligent designer based on the fine-tuning of the universe, but aren't sure what, exactly, the argument is can find an excellent summary in this excerpt from the film Privileged Planet:
Dozens of these parameters and constants are set to unimaginably precise values. In some cases the tolerance for error is as little as one part in 10^100. Deviation of just that much from the actual value would result in either no universe at all or a universe unfit for life.

When one considers that there are only 10^80 atoms in the entire universe the unimaginable exactitude with which it is put together is breathtaking.

Slaughtering Wildlife with Green Energy

Here's a good illustration of the law of unintended consequences:
Bats are something of a one-species stimulus program for farmers, every year gobbling up millions of bugs that could ruin a harvest. But the same biology that allows the winged creatures to sweep the night sky for fine dining also has made them susceptible to one of Pennsylvania's fastest-growing energy tools.

The 420 wind turbines now in use across Pennsylvania killed more than 10,000 bats last year -- mostly in the late summer months, according to the state Game Commission. That's an average of 25 bats per turbine per year, and the Nature Conservancy predicts as many as 2,900 turbines will be set up across the state by 2030.

Bats are nature's pesticide, consuming as many as 500 insects in one hour, or nearly 3,000 insects in one night, said Miguel Saviroff, the agricultural financial manager at the Penn State Cooperative Extension in Somerset County.

"A colony of just 100 little brown bats may consume a quarter of a million mosquitoes and other small insects in a night," he said. "That benefits neighbors and reduces the insect problem with crops."

If one turbine kills 25 bats in a year, that means one turbine accounted for about 17 million uneaten bugs in 2010.

Bats save farmers a lot of money: About $74 per acre, according to an April report in Science magazine that calculated the economic value of bats on a county-by-county basis.

In Allegheny County, bats save farmers an estimated $642,986 in a year. That's nothing compared with more agricultural counties in the region such as Somerset ($6.7 million saved), Washington ($5.5 million) or Westmoreland ($6.1 million).

Lancaster County? You owe bats $22 million.

It's not just bats that are dying around wind turbines. An estimated 1,680 birds were killed by turbines last year, according to the state Game Commission report.

The disparity in mortality stems from biology. Birds typically crash into the blade and die from blunt force trauma, while bats suffer from a condition called barotrauma. It's the bat equivalent of the "bends" that scuba divers can suffer if they surface too quickly.

The rapid drop in air pressure around the blades causes the bats' lungs to burst, and they collapse with no ostensible lacerations or scars on the body.
I'll bet the bats and birds are happy to know that green energy sources are so much more earth-friendly than those awful fossil fuels.