The following report by Jessica Murphy, MacIver Institute Research Intern, first appeared at the MacIver Institute.

Here at the MacIver Institute, we’re dedicated to keeping you – the taxpayer – informed about wasteful spending at all levels of government. If you look closely, you can find questionable line items and waste in just about any arm of government. That’s why we’re skeptical of the constant drumbeat for higher taxes, bigger government, and of course, more and more spending.

Considering the UW System’s never-ending cycle of demands for more state funding, one would hope that they are responsibly spending your tax dollars before they ask for more.

The MacIver Institute decided to dive deeper into the UW system to find places where frivolous spending runs rampant and where cost savings can be found. Our first stop: course offerings in the UW System.

What we found were courses that degrade capitalism, praise Marxism and encourage a “social justice warrior” ideology. We wonder how many employers in the real world are looking to see if you took a class in how to be perpetually aggrieved or permanently pissed at the world?

Check out our list of the Top Five Wasteful Classes in the UW System to see if your school made the cut! We start with number five and make our way to the single most wasteful class in the UW System.

Read the full report here.

The battle over right to work legislation in Wisconsin looks a lot like the end of a hard-fought boxing match in which both competitors are practically dead on their feet, exhausted and stumbling, swinging at air.

One particularly limp talking point from the union advocates, whose effort to fight RTW has been predictably flaccid, is the argument that making RTW the law in Wisconsin will diminish unions and lead to lower wages.

There are two avenues for arguing against this talking point. First, if the union activists acknowledge – as they do – that RTW will lead to many locals hemorrhaging enough dues-paying members to be decertified, then they’re acknowledging most workers won’t see the union as valuable enough to keep paying for it.

That’s an open-and-shut argument in favor of giving workers the option. If even the union doesn’t believe it’s providing enough value to its members to stay alive absent forced membership, then they’ve long outlived their usefulness.

As to the argument that wages will decline in workplaces without a union, one need look no further than the service sector to witness a hard reality that permeates every corner of the economy: real wages have been declining for a long time. Not because of a lack of unions, but because of the kinds of jobs that we’re creating.

Service sector jobs – cooks, waitstaff, call centers, and others – have supplanted well-paying manufacturing and construction jobs as the state’s bottom has rusted out and high-quality jobs have fled. Needless to say, cooking doesn’t pay quite as much as construction.

After unions cleaned up the workplace and ensured fair treatment of workers, the valuable and worthy purpose for their inception well over a century ago, they began to set their sights higher, negotiating lavish, unsustainable pay and benefits packages. They took to protecting Lazy Larry from being fired and resorted to thuggery and intimidation to secure work. To seed new unions, they started rigging workplaces with “salts” and tried to eliminate the secret ballot, opening the door to intimidation and union bullying of dissenters.

Deals like that lead to the rotting out of the state’s old economy and the closing of many good employers in Wisconsin, the most notable recent example the Janesville GM plant, a remnant of fatter times when the company could afford to support an entire city in southern Wisconsin.

Union deals are sclerosis on the economy. Every employment decision is made into a month of paperwork and headaches in a union shop and there’s no incentive to excel in any way other than to stay employed long enough to achieve seniority. Desperate to remain competitive, nimble, and lean, companies in unionized industries have either died or left.

The presence of a right to work law in Wisconsin will be just part of a complex matrix companies use to decide where to expand or locate. But inasmuch as it draws those higher-paying manufacturing jobs to Wisconsin, then the opportunities those employers will present for Wisconsin’s workers (union or not) will be of a much higher caliber than the opportunities in a predominately service-based economy.

In short, a few unions might get decertified. But the working class as a whole will be much better off in the long term with unions weakened.

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The portly professor always dragged his feet when he entered the classroom, usually five or ten minutes late. He rarely shaved, his shirts were wrinkled, dirty, and half tucked in, his gut hanging out from the bottom. He taught a class on leftist propaganda with a gummy British accent, categorized I guess under Sustainability and Ethics in Business. He docked points for arguments he disagreed with, saying the logic “doesn’t follow.”

He didn’t maintain his posted office hours; walking on the street when he should’ve been at work, he could easily be mistaken for a half-literate hobo.

In a parallel class, another instructor always wore professional attire. Her grading was tough but fair; she provided her home and office phone numbers on all her materials, and was often seen well past office hours with students needing help. Her material was fresh, relying not on dusty textbooks and her own doctoral thesis from the 1970s, but recent case studies on the failures and successes of businesses like Apple and Google.

She had years of experience managing a credit department, an MBA, and took the job as seriously as any professional striving for results. Unlike the first educator, this person wasn’t a professor but a lecturer – thanks to limited-term contracts, her position was tenuous, not tenured. She also made approximately half of what the tenured professor who rarely bothered to tuck in his shirt.

It’s true that in higher education, many of the best educators aren’t tenured professors who by virtue of their Ph.D. grace us with their intellect, but professionals who have spent most of their career in the private sector. A case for these lecturers to make more money is worth making, but that’s not my point here.

Gov. Walker’s proposal that professionals be able to have the opportunity to teach in grades 6-12 is also exemplified by the case study of these two real people. The professor has the curriculum vitae and likely took some pedagogy courses during that long education. Like people with education degrees, some come away having learned good teaching methods, and some come away not giving two philosophy degrees about being an effective teacher.

Professionals with real-world experience have something unique to offer – a diverse and unique perspective that came from an industry other than education. Seeking a second career or new opportunity, they deserve a shot.

There should be rigorous standards before they can jump in front of a classroom. Professionals looking to teach should be required to go through tough training, like anyone looking to work at the lowest echelon of a call center. They should have to student teach. And if they fail, they should be rejected – like in any other enterprise.

But the education industry is simply crossing its arms, puffing out its lower lip, and seems on the verge of tears over the simple idea that there might be teaching talent out there that was imparted by a career, rather than a professor of education at some university.

The advisory referendum is mostly a tactic liberals use to drum up turnout, which they did in November’s elections in the name of sending a message. But faced with referenda of substance that might sink a new tax or stop a gaudy new government building, liberals on the SS Principle scramble to jump ship.

Local governments around the state used this trick in last November’s election in an effort to drive up turnout in some of the state’s more reliable storeholds of liberal votes. Advisory referenda popped up in lefty bastions like Dane, Milwaukee, and La Crosse counties on whether to raise the minimum wage and accept Medicaid expansion money from the feds via Obamacare.

Both were facets of the Democrats’ messaging strategy and were added to local ballots as part of a concerted statewide strategy that several county board supervisors (and anyone who knows how it works) say used language that was copy-pasted out of an SEIU memo.

Their flag being carried by a ho-hum corporate Democrat who inspired the excitement of a log bobbing in a creek, The Left needed to pull out all the stops. You can’t blame them – Mary Burke was simply a dud, and they knew it. Of course the tactic failed and Scott Walker won re-election, but both ballot questions passed with heavy support, demonstrating the inconsistent and moralistic Wisconsin voter theory we’ve talked about at length.

Democrats get all excited about allowing the public to weight in, but only when it benefits the righteous cause of liberalism.

Prior to the election, Democrats mostly commented on the supposed merits of the questions rather than the motives of the referenda itself. WPR quoted La Crosse County supervisor Monica Kruse, a retired teacher who droned on and on about how hard it is to make a career out of burger flipping. This article quotes a “former minimum wage worker.”

(If that’s the criteria for being an expert on the economic issue of price floors, interview me. I flipped burgers throughout high school and college.)

But HuffPo wrung the real reason for the ballot items out of Jennifer Epps-Addison, executive director of Wisconsin Jobs Now, the ad hoc organization set up to use the wage question to drive turnout among The Left. “This is a really close race, and what we think will happen is that it will force the issue to become a more central theme in both of the candidates’ campaigns,” JE-A said.

JE-A also praised the merits of placing the items on ballots. “…They (the people) want to have their voice heard on this issue, which is largely being ignored in our state legislature,” she said.

Those two ballot questions are now moot, but today in La Crosse, liberals led by Rep. Steve Doyle (who double dips at the taxpayer trough by retaining his seat on the county board) have done an amazingly obvious about-face on the issue of giving voters a say. The question at hand now is a new county “Wheel Tax.”

After squandering the county’s transportation fund by dipping into it to pay the debt service on a new jail built in 1996, the Doyle brigade is now whining about a shortage in the county’s transportation fund. The issue is the local element to the statewide debate on how to replenish a tattered transportation fund reeling after years of raids by Jim Doyle. That sounds familiar.

La Crosse County Board liberals are now proposing the “Wheel Tax,” which substantially hikes the cost of vehicle registration by $20, to generate a couple million a year to pay off the unions fund road repairs.

(I wonder if any of this plan’s supporters oppose the proposed “Prius surcharge.“)

As if to demonstrate their proclivity for eschewing principled governance and giving in to their subsurface disdain for rank-and-file voters, Doyle and his allies are lining up against putting the Wheel Tax to a referendum, a proposition that would almost certainly be rejected in spectacular fashion akin to when the train exploded at the end of Back to the Future Part III.

County Administrator Steve O’Malley offered a flaccid defense of the proposal: “…This would be poor precedent to hold a referendum on a single revenue source,” he said. O’Malley would be a logical point person for defending the proposal, which would amount to being thrown under the bus because no one will ever cast a ballot in his name.

The referendum’s sponsor, supervisor Ray Ebert, part of the growing rebellion of conservative and moderate board members, snapped back, saying O’Malley “should stay out of policy decisions,” and leave it to the board.

The referendum battle is just heating up – whether we’ll have one will be decided in February, which will be a real test for the insurgent anti-Doyle group.

This isn’t the first time the La Crosse County Board’s liberal leadership has balked at principle. While denouncing GOP efforts to institute voter ID as a voter suppression tactic, Doyle and his majority bloc on the board walked in lockstep rejecting a plan to hold a special election for a seat that was vacated by a Doyle ally just days after his re-election. (Supervisor Andrew Londre had purchased a new house outside the district months before the election but opted to stay on the ballot so his replacement could be appointed after the election).

Instead of giving voters in the district the chance to cast a ballot, Doyle’s hand-picked successor as board chairman, Tara Johnson, bypassed two very qualified candidates – one who once held the seat, and another who nearly won the seat in 2012, both of whom have earned a large number of votes in the district in past elections – and instead appointed a liberal teacher with no experience and for whom no one in the district has ever cast a ballot.

It was one of many dirty deals in the Doyle/Johnson tenure that Doyle has used to consolidate power and keep the board loyal to him – all while not just suppressing voter turnout, but denying them the ability to vote at all. Principle be damned, Doyle has his toadie.

Conservatives and moderates can and should oppose the Wheel Tax. The board just passed a budget that increases spending by $30 million, an opportunity to point out the listless and reckless fiscal direction of the county. They should also discuss the merits of the the referendum on the same grounds used by Democrats in November, because the referendum can be a valuable tool – especially when it’s conducted fairly and when it’s binding.

About the results of the Medicaid expansion question, Kruse told the La Crosse Tribune, “They (Republicans) ignore it at their own peril…Even though it is just advisory, it can be a mandate showing it is very important for Wisconsin voters.” Indeed.

Conservatives must be relentless in exposing liberals’ self-serving motives and relentless hypocrisy. It starts with local government.

Update: After this story posted, the La Crosse County Board voted to table the Wheel Tax “indefinitely.” Word is they’ll try to sneak it into next year’s budget, in which case a budget battle will be set up.

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Gov. Walker calls Right to Work legislation a distraction from his primary second terms goals, yet the legislature plans to advance it anyway. Is this some ploy by Walker to launch an assault against private sector unions, or is it out of his control?

There are several facts to establish before delving in:

  • The situation could be interpreted as slyness by Scott Walker, publicly proclaiming that he’s against taking up RTW legislation while back-channeling to get it passed. That would give Walker a convenient scapegoat, the legislature, onto which he could direct any blowback, inevitable in a rusty, old, unionized state.
  • Walker cannot veto a RTW bill if he plans to run for president. Considering Michigan of all states has RTW on the books, and considering an anti-RTW Republican would be hammered in a primary, vetoing such a bill would squash Walker’s hard-won reputation on the right. Should the legislature pass Right to Work, Walker’s hand would be forced.
  • The previous two points in balance, it’s very doubtful that Scott Walker would engineer the forcing of his own hand. That projects weakness, implies Walker has lost control, and it’s just too conspiracy theory-esque to be believable. Therefore, I find it quite likely that RTW is being taken up by the legislature simply because the governor has lost control of a process over which just a few short months ago he held an iron grip.

Walker commands tremendous respect from the conservative rank-and-file in Wisconsin, therefore he still has tremendous influence. Local GOP chairmen, legislators, and activists alike regard Walker as a bona fide celebrity, a cult of personality, and a political powerhouse. But very few of those people believe Walker plans to run for governor again in 2018, and his presidential ambitions transcend the purview of any local activist in po dunk Wisconsin. With a motive to serve Walker out of the way, and no further elections in which they can be consequential for Walker, the grassroots’ ambition trumps their heretofore staid loyalty to the governor.

Just weeks after his re-election, Walker has lost control. His grip on the grassroots has weakened and, as a reflection of that, the leadership of both houses of the legislature have determined now is the time to propose their own agenda, regardless of Walker’s plans. Both of those heavily Republican caucuses have their own conservative ambitions that are not forged in the crucible of the Walker governing agenda, such as Right to Work for Wisconsin. Conservative leaders like Scott Fitzgerald now feel free to take what just a year ago would’ve been a bold action and defy the stated strategy of the governor, pushing forward on legislation that wasn’t proposed by Walker – indeed, that was tacitly opposed by Walker.

Political capital is valuable and limited, especially for a governor who wants to push through another series of bold agenda items like further tax reform amid criticisms of phantom budget shortfalls. Signing RTW will require Walker to empty virtually his entire wallet and create a likely firestorm, including a backlash from groups like the Operating Engineers that supported Walker.

Walker nurtures an image that appeals to the middle class, the sort of working person who at least nominally benefits from private sector unions. Blue collar, gun toting, deer hunting, beer drinking rural types; those folks are the kind of people who should be Republicans, but nonetheless send people like Ron Kind to Washington every two years. Republicans hate their unions, favor the corporations, and advocate policies which are superficially not in the interests of their bottom line, at least according to the countervailing narrative peddled by unscrupulous Democrats.

There could in fact be electoral opportunities amidst the likes of unionized Pipefitters, Welders, and Plumbers for Republicans in states like Wisconsin, which have a long union tradition and a struggling blue collar class that’s perpetually on the precipice of a paycheck-to-paycheck sort of subsistence. Those people work for their money and pay taxes just like everyone else, and they – like most Republicans – resent the avenue available to some to live off government, off the taxes paid by those who work.

The Walker reforms that busted public sector unions were necessary for good government because it broke the machine that deposited taxpayer dollars wholesale into the pockets of the Democratic Party, but private sector unions are a different thing altogether. They exist – duh – in the private sector, and like any other organization they have the right to support whatever party they want. It’s not impossible to believe that Walker could score a sizable share of the private sector union vote – the flesh of the middle class – in a presidential bid.

It’s not preordained that private sector union members will oppose Right to Work. Some may appreciate the choice it provides when it comes time to pay union dues. But it also risks (unfairly) furthering the GOP’s pro-corporate image, and it will cost Walker tremendous political capital in the crucial first year between his re-election and his likely presidential bid. Regardless of one’s position on RTW, the yet-to-be-written legislation appears to signify that Walker has lost his signature control over the legislative process.

Upcoming: Right-to-Work’s struggle for my heart and soul

 

 

 

 

Morning Martini is officially taking credit for the flipping of the generic congressional ballot from a muddled mix of Democrat and Republican victories to a surge for Republicans. I might’ve been wrong; a small wave just might be developing.

I wrote 9 days ago about about how the generic ballot’s mixed results – a contrast to the 2010 and 2006 wave years – proved that this year would be no wave election. That situation is now outdated; Real Clear Politics now claims there’s a GOP “surge” in the generic.

Republicans have now won or tied 9 out of the last ten polls asking voters if they’d be more likely to vote for the Republican or the Democrat for Congress, without naming names. That could be the result of the deteriorating situation overseas and the GOP’s role as the party of security.

Seriously though, the ballot didn’t flip because of us. Maybe one or two percent can be traced back to us, but not the full 3.9 percent that the GOP leads by, When one considers that the Democrats led in the RCP average by 1.4 points the last I wrote, that’s a sizeable flip in just over a week.

You’re welcome, America.

In my various roles in politics – whether it’s as a blogger, leader in the La Crosse GOP, campaign functionary, or observer of the talk radio/social media echo chamber – I’m hearing a lot about how momentum is building for the Republican ticket in November and it’ll most likely be a wave election.

It’s nonsense. There is no evidence whatsoever that this election will be a wave, and in fact Republicans from Gov. Walker to dog catcher might be in a lot of trouble, especially due to the wave mindset that Republican activists have lulled themselves into.

“Buhwhahh? But Karl Rove was on Fox the other day and he said…” one might say. Let’s pretend we’re on the cast of CSI and look at the evidence.

First, polls are showing Walker and Burke in a dead heat; Walker has a lead among registered voters, but there’s a good chance many of those people will end up being so incredibly busy on election day that they won’t scrape up five minutes to show up and vote. They might vote, but they might not.

Among likely voters, the people who claim to be fired up to cast their ballots, Burke has an uncomfortable lead. That seems to indicate her backers are more determined to show up and vote.

There is zero evidence that some wave will occur for Walker other than the usual migration of the undecided and sunshine electorate back into the hands of the incumbent. That’s nothing more than a ray of hope with as much mass as a rainbow, and it’s no way to approach an election against someone who has built a team of crack Demo operatives. Unless the conservative faithful rally, there will be problems.

“Oh, but the polls are wrong,” a Republican voter might say to make him or herself feel better as they absorb the echo chamber of talk radio and do other things besides volunteering to help the GOP ticket they’re so convinced will prevail. “They always oversample Democrats, anyway.”

Yes they do, and they do it for a reason. And the polls are usually right. In both of his face-offs against Tom Barrett, Walker maintained a comfortable lead among registered voters. The wind of voter enthusiasm remained at Walker’s back, and Barrett’s candidacy remained abysmal.

This year it is not, and Barrett confined to Milwaukee his quest to inflict bad policies and his shoddy campaign on people. Mary Burke is not running a Barrett-esque campaign.

Yes, the governor’s campaign collected a lot of data and built a great network during the 2010 and 2012 elections. But if the volunteers are spending their time being burnt out by politics and convinced the governor is going to win anyway, and no one shows up on election day because they believe they’ve already divined the election’s outcome, that data and that network are worthless.

There also seems to be a strange, unfounded belief that the GOP will do well in the congressional elections. But simply by comparing the generic ballot in the last two waves – 2006 and 2010 – you can tell that this year is no wave year.

In 2010, the GOP dominated nearly every poll on the generic congressional ballot; out of dozens of polls in the month before the election, Dems took only two. That’s a wave year.

In 2006 the picture was even more clear that the Democrats, based on their dominance of the generic ballot, would sweep Congress. That’s a wave year.

In 2014, the picture is significantly less clear; Democrats are up 1.4 points and the parties take turns polling on top in the generic ballot. We know what a wave year looks like, and this is no wave year. If anything, it’ll be a wash for both parties.

There is evidence to believe the GOP will do well in its contests for the US Senate. Democrats are forced to defend seats in states where they’re not very competitive like Georgia, Montana, and Wyoming. It’s plausible that the Republicans will pick up 7 seats, taking control of the Senate.

That’s all well and good, but it’s no result of any enthusiasm within the conservative grassroots that will translate to other states or other races. Here in Wisconsin, many activists who were active during Walker’s campaigns and the 2012 elections are sitting on the sidelines. Donors are keeping their checkbooks closed. Voters are less pumped up to hit the ballot box, a concern that even Walker himself pointed out on WTMJ.

Fox News talking heads babble sweet words of optimism about how things went in 2010, that the GOP actually has candidates who aren’t weirdo gaffe machines this time, and that a wave is certain to build, or at least that it’s sure to be a good year. Faux evidence built on foundations of fallacies abound, but in the end pretending it’ll be a good year absent evidence is like giving NyQuil ZZZ to an insomniac. Meanwhile the Dems are smoking crystal meth.

While it’s looking less-than-terrible for hopes of re-taking the Senate, GOP gains in the states could be turned back. The generic ballot provides insight into the sentiments of voters, and so does this: Sam Brownback is down by nearly double digits for the governorship of Kansas. That’s Kansas. Kansas!

Time is running out for that wave to materialize, and there – again – is no evidence that it will happen, save some unusual, novel approach by the national GOP like, say, coming up with ideas for people to vote for like a 21st Century Contract with America. We do well at complaining about the shocking incompetence and indifference of Barack Obama, tie every Democrat to him, and offer that to people to vote against. But GOP message makers need to remember that Obama will never run for office again, Democrats are very good at insincere platitudes, and voters are too prone, even in an age of cynicism toward both parties, to buying the words of a silver tongue.

I don’t mean this piece to be a bucket of cold water for the complacent GOPer in his easy chair.

Actually, that’s precisely what I mean it to be.

The human mind has a wonderful predilection toward self-delusion and cherry picking information to believe. The nonexistent wave is a case-in-point.

If the conservative base wants to soothe itself by disbelieving the polls which have generally proven accurate and dismissing the darkening clouds on the horizon that can be plainly seen, insisting on believing it’ll be a sunny day despite all the evidence, then conservatives can carry their complacency right into a string of defeats on election night over which Mr. Armchair will no doubt be stunned.

If there are defeats, and if GOP gains are on the net rolled back on November 4th, there is no reason anyone should be stunned by it, save Mr. Armchair, who insists on spending his time believing against the evidence that victory will come to us rather than believing that we are required to reach out and grab victory.

Who defines “legible” and “printed?” They sound like dumb questions, perhaps one only a bureaucrat in an overgrown government agency would ever need to answer.

But when the answer to that question can be the difference between a candidate getting on the ballot or finding him/herself relegated to write-in purgatory, it’s an important question – and thanks to new law and an overly zealous application of the law by the Government Accountability Board, it’s one we’re actually asking.

Gov. Walker signed into law a bill with new requirements for such petition signatures, and now the GAB is interpreting the law to mean that names must be both printed and legible. Whether the GAB is going too far in applying the law or the law is sloppy and needs to be amended doesn’t matter.

The AP elaborates, citing examples of legitimate candidates having signatures invalidated on technicalities. Reid Magney of the GAB comments, “Our interpretation is that to qualify, a name must be both printed and legible…Cursive handwriting, no matter how legible, is not printed.”

That’s stupid. So via the candidate and their volunteers the GAB is telling people what kind of handwriting to use in order for their signature to matter, all because of an absolutely asinine distinction between cursive and print that’s only in place because some paperwork pusher spent most of grade school English in a dunce cap?

“If you can make out the name, who cares if it’s squiggly?” said State Senate candidate Barry Nelson. Now there’s a guy who makes sense.

But this is all about more than politico inside baseball or just whether someone wasted their time signing the nomination sheet, or the volunteer circulating it was insufficiently fascist. It’s about democracy.

Signing a nomination paper is serious business. You’re putting your opinion into action, taking a small step in supporting a candidate, saying you support their right to be on the ballot. A candidate who doesn’t get their name on the ballot faces very long odds – rarely do write-in campaigns work – and that can mean uncontested incumbents. Uncontested races mean voters have no choice.

Each new hurdle put before a prospective candidate hurts democracy, whether that’s the task of collecting a ridiculously large number of signatures using the same methods as during the Lucey administration, perfunctory and byzantine rules for what kinds of signatures are valid, or even campaign finance limitations that make the candidacies of people who can’t self-finance, don’t come from an extensive network of monied friends, or can’t afford a campaign manager even longer long-shots.

In economics, factors stopping a new business from entering a particular market are called barriers to market entry. That includes dense webs of red tape, rules, and regulations that necessitate the hiring of lawyers, accountants, endless paperwork – all before the first doo-dad is ever sold or invoice sent. Many of those barriers are established by government, often encouraged by the lobbies of the corporations entrenched and dominant in those markets.

Competition sucks, after all. A monopoly is much easier; it’s job security. And if you already have staff – lawyers, accountants, and so on – you can handle new rules with one phone call to the fifth floor.

The same is true in politics. Byzantine rules stifle the democratic process, increase the risk to citizens considering sticking their neck out to run, and sometimes even disqualify those who have already taken the first steps.

Democracy, like the free market, is about choice. Ridiculous rules that disqualify a perfectly valid signature because its serifs are linked in cursive cut down on choice and invalidate citizens’ democratic right to opine. Let’s de-regulate, starting with streamlining campaign rules.

The DNR conducted an analysis of We Energies’ large coal power plant in Oak Creek, Wis., and noted that the cost of installing CCS on the plant would be about $4.3 billion. The estimated pipeline cost to ship the captured carbon dioxide to Illinois for storage was $750 million of that total cost.

-Brian H. Potts in a column today

Mr. Potts, a partner at a long-established law firm in Madison and who specializes in environmental affairs, offers an insightful opinion today on new rules proposed by the EPA that could cost Wisconsinites a lot of money. Mr. Potts writes:

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently proposed a rule that would require all newly built coal power plants in this country to install a new technology called carbon capture and storage, also known as CCS.

CCS removes the primary greenhouse gas (carbon dioxide) from the power plant’s exhaust and pipes it to underground storage reservoirs.

Let’s ignore the startling reality that an executive branch agency, in the hands of extreme-minded people, can essentially make these ground-shifting decisions unilaterally. For now.

As with all decisions like this one, the EPA is making these calls knowing with one hundred percent certainty that the massive costs will be shifted onto the backs of ratepayers if the onerous CCS regulations are imposed.

In economics a concept called externalities holds that every decision has a cost to the environment – human and natural – outside the organization in which the decision is made. But the impossibility of knowing what far-flung corners of the universe our decisions will affect, the infinite complexity of the ripple effect, makes realistic externality calculations mostly arbitrary.

The decision making of towering government regulation is packed with externalities, the most pressing of which are the pillaging of average Americans’ pocketbooks (or ETF debits, if I’m to not be square). CAFE standards result in crappier, more expensive cars. Energy efficiency mandates drive up home ownership costs and tighten the screws on expanding businesses. More broadly, an adversarial and intrusive executive branch that bases its decisions on unproven evidence – most science is as yet unproven (scientists don’t even agree that time is a thing) – forces higher compliance costs, disincentivizes the risk taking that leads to economic growth, and focuses resources away from pioneering economic activity and toward building a cocoon to protect from a hostile outside environment.

In short, regulation sells out future economic opportunity at the price of security today. Security based on iffy-at-best evidence by the same crowd that can’t even predict next week’s weather.

In shorter, the mandate Mr. Potts writes about sells out the cash-strapped ratepayer on the basis of dubious evidence that flipping a lightswitch will directly correlate to our grandchildren living in a real-life “Waterworld,” where criminal gangs pillage old oil platforms on grungy old PWCs and a Kevin Costner-reincarnate finds a big lost island using a map tattoo’ed on some girl’s back.

The proposed mandate targets coal power, which the Obama Administration hasn’t really hidden as a chief target of its policies. Most of our power is generated by coal, and though natural gas plants are burgeoning, the war on coal is a war on current energy rates. The EPA doesn’t really care if you consider today’s rate low or not – it wants them to be higher.

For those genuinely concerned about the emissions from coal power plants, take note: the new EPA mandate doesn’t require the sequestering of heavy metals like Mercury. Instead it does treat carbon dioxide in a similar fashion as nuclear waste, even though some 7 billion human beings, including those proposing these regulations, breathe the gas out every few seconds.

And what are the future externality implications of storing massive amounts of carbon dioxide underground? Do the left-wing environmentalists have the same concerns about this as they do to melting permafrost that they claim will release naturally stored carbon dioxide deposits?

Let’s not forget that even a potent greenhouse gas like carbon dioxide has a finite lifespan in the atmosphere; most of it is absorbed by oceanic algae (some by forests) within 100 years. Some is frozen into polar ice. Let’s also not forget that centuries years ago, a mini-Ice Age kept the River Thames frozen all year long. Unless Shakespeare drove a Range Rover unbeknownst to historians, that was unlikely the result of human activity.

The real point isn’t to discount the proposition that adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere might result in the increased reflection of ultraviolet radiation back toward Earth’s surface. That very greenhouse effect, in all its epochal undulations, is the reason life can comfortably exist on Earth’s surface where it would both freeze and suffocate on the surface of a planet like Mars.

Our government and society must decide whether the evidence proposed by a group of mere moral scientists competing over federal grants is sufficient to warrant a fundamental re-working of the building blocks of our economies. At $4.3 billion for just one power plant in Wisconsin, that’s going to be a pretty big cost. We need to decide if we have a century or so to let the free market take its course toward higher-efficiency means of energy production, which I believe we do.

We also have to decide in whom we’re going to entrust such massive decision making power. To be so utterly convinced that human activity over a couple centuries amidst 500 million years of higher life on Earth can wreck the planet – from the perspective of just a couple generations of high science and reliable planetary temperature measurement – strikes me as quite arrogant in light of the giant cost it would place on everyday Americans (and not on everyday Chinese citizens, or citizens of any other emerging nation, mind you.)

I’m a proponent of vigorous research into next-generation energy sources, from fuel cells that power individual homes and decentralize the energy grid to nuclear-based prospects, even fusion power. That’s a long way off. So is – at the risk of sounding too out-there – antimatter – but we should work toward it.

That doesn’t equate to the unilateral dictates of an imperial EPA that forces multibillion dollar costs on today’s energy sources and requires cash-strapped middle Americans to keep their thermostats at 62.

Quote of the Day

“I like your company.” “Well, I like a good swig of gin at lunch but I’ve learned to do without.”

-Toby & Debbie in The West Wing, “Memorial Day”

Social Networking

Uff Da

‘Tis the season…Obama’s perma-PAC to celebrate one dark holiday

Chasers

Holy ratings!

How Hollywood deals with untimely deaths (They didn’t talk about John Spencer!)

Dave Ramsey’s list of habits of the rich vs. poor was controversial, so well worth a read

Opening Remarks

California Senator and presidential candidate Arnold Vinick took a bold and honest stand in opposition to ethanol, weeks before the crucial caucuses in the ethanol bastion Iowa, putting his presidential ambitions on the line in the hopes of sparking an honest conversation.

That of course was fiction. The character played by Alan Alda in the West Wing’s season 6 went on to lose the presidential race to Jimmy Smits’ Matt Santos, who opted to pander on the cornerstone topic.

A WI State Journal report today throws a five gallon bucket of cold water on anyone still clinging to the idea that ethanol is good policy in any sense. Not only is ethanol bad for engines, it’s bad for the environment.

…next-generation biofuels haven’t been living up to expectations. And the government’s predictions on ethanol have proven so inaccurate that independent scientists question whether it will ever achieve its central environmental goal: reducing greenhouse gases.

Government predictions proving inaccurate? That’s about as stunning as engine corrosion after years of using regular unleaded.

The story also reports environmental damage from ethanol policy ranging from erosion and runoff from planting corn over pristine prairies to increased – not decreased – net greenhouse gas emissions because ethanol production requires burning fossil fuels. Corn growing also requires lots of fertilizer which requires fossil fuels to produce as well.

But back on earth, ethanol is more of a bonanza for mechanics and engine block manufacturers. I was once told the cardinal sin of fueling my two stroke boat engine or high performance four stroke jet ski engine was to put even a drop of ethanol in it.

Ethanol is bad for engines. Anecdotally at least I’ve heard heard plenty of stories about nasty engine corrosion and other problems as a result of ethanol, especially in smaller or high performance engines.

The ethanol, which is the kind of alcohol that’s in booze, breaks down and sheds water molecules after just a short period of storage. That water catalyzes engine corrosion; that’s not something you can bondo over. Ethanol can even clog carburetors and fuel injection systems when it crystallizes after prolonged storage, requiring $90/hr-shop-rate visits that should never happen.

We’re all paying for ethanol twice over: once via our taxes and again when our engines blow up. If you’re a believer in the economic principle of externalities we even pay by suffering the pollution, wrecked landscapes, and ubiquitous food products based on processed surplus corn.

Michelle Obama would slap your face for eating like that. But her husband stubbornly sticks by the bad policy:

The consequences are so severe that environmentalists and many scientists have now rejected corn-based ethanol as bad environmental policy. But the Obama administration stands by it, highlighting its benefits to the farming industry rather than any negative consequences.

With mountains of evidence pointing to the fact that this is a failed policy, we now know ethanol, the product of vote buying on both sides, is simply a bipartisan boondoggle that’s not even good for the environment.

I’m glad we may be closer to an honest conversation about it.

Quote of the Day

“Everything in excess is opposed to nature.”

-Hippocrates

Social Networking

Chasers

Just another example of the crazies on the left letting their veneer slip

Revenge porn? Assembly to take a look

Milwaukee has a crime problem, but also a leadership problem