Monthly Archives: February 2017

Crony Socialism, From Santa Fe to Silver City

Crony Socialism, from Santa Fe to Silver City 1/19/17 by Peter Burrows, elburropete@gmail.com , silvercityburro.com

Everybody is against crony capitalism but crony socialism doesn’t get much attention, probably because it’s a relatively new term or maybe because it‘s so ubiquitous we don‘t notice it. Crony socialism is the government sponsoring and/or favoring government controlled enterprises and their employees, and it is hugely more expensive than crony capitalism.

For example, politicians and public unions have colluded to pay government workers much more than comparable workers in the private sector, especially when retirement benefits are included. In fact, some states and municipalities will soon be declaring, or attempting to declare, bankruptcy in order to rewrite employment contracts for public workers that simply cannot be paid.

Perhaps the most common, everyday example of crony socialism is public education, especially K-12. Any attempt to introduce school choice, particularly involving vouchers, is met with fierce resistance from politicians and educators. Gotta keep those unionized teachers on the job and payin’ dues.

In the world of tangibles, government owned Amtrak has for years been the poster child for wasteful crony socialism. If you Google “Amtrak” you’ll find the railroad has been operating in the red for 40 years, posting a $307 million operating loss in fiscal 2015, which doesn‘t include depreciation or any cost of capital. I cite Amtrak because New Mexico has its own socialized railroad, the Rail Runner.

Like Amtrak, the Rail Runner has supporters on both sides of the aisle. Politicians in the Santa Fe/Albuquerque area like the Rail Runner because they have constituents who use it, many of whom I suspect are state workers who live in Albuquerque and work in Santa Fe.

The Rail Runner FY 2016 revenues of $26.8 million included $8.7 million in Federal grants, $13 million from a four-county .125 GRT, and only $3 million from fares. The NMDOT web site claims a Rail Runner rider going between downtown Albuquerque and downtown Santa Fe saves $1,210 A MONTH instead of driving. That’s over $14,500 per year! No wonder so many riders like the Rail Runner. (Round trip, Albuquerque-Sana Fe: $10.)

The web site says the Rail Runner receives “$0 from State Funds,” which is not quite the whole truth. You see, “operating” results by accounting definition do not include interest on debt, which cost the NMDOT $18.35 million in FY 2016. (The NMDOT, as we all know, gets its money from the Tooth Fairy. There was also a debt payment of $6.8 million the Tooth Fairy picked up.) The bottom line is that for commuters to each save $14,500 a year, taxpayers, somewhere, shelled out over $40 million, before debt payments.

Here in Grant County our version of the Rail Runner is Corre Caminos, hereafter “CC,” the bus service that has been operating since 2001. I wasn’t around in 2001, so maybe somebody can tell me if there were any taxis operating in the city back then. There aren’t any now.

FY 2017 funding for CC of $1,100,000 is estimated to be about sixty percent from Federal grants funneled through the NM Department of Transportation, a little over ten percent from fares, and about thirty percent from Silver City, Deming and the counties of Grant and Luna.

In 2016, Silver City spent $75,000 to support CC, and Grant County $80,000, according to CC manager Kim Dominguez. The per capita cost for residents of Silver City, population 10,500, was therefore about $7.15, and Grant County, population 29,500, had a per capita cost of $2.70.

The combined cost for us Silver City folks was about $10 apiece. That’s less than a buck a month in local taxes and some might say it’s a small price to pay for the entertainment of screaming at a CC bus carrying only one passenger. (If you live in Silver City and haven’t seen that wonderful example of your tax dollars at work, you are not paying attention.) This ignores, of course, the Federal Government subsidy which the aforementioned Tooth Fairy pays.

Defenders of CC cite the reduction in DWI tickets thanks to CC being on call to take drinkers home, and that’s a good thing, a very good thing. The same thing could be achieved at far less cost if the city or county paid a taxi company the fare resulting from a bartender-issued drunk driver voucher, or something like that. Ditto for people who can’t afford to pay cab fare, and I think private charities should be in charge of both efforts.

The bottom line, if all that government subsidy CC money were given to proven entrepreneurs, e.g. the Silver City folks who run Little Toad Creek or W&N Enterprises, I bet they’d do a better job and even make a profit, probably a BIG profit.

Profit? PROFIT!?!? OMG! You Progressives out there are probably breaking your fingers in your haste to get to another web site. I expect to see indignant letters to the editor critical of allowing anyone to post an article with the “P” word where children might see it. Calm down. CC will never be turned over to private operators, which is too bad. It would sure save us some tax dollars.

Another Grant County enterprise that will be unveiled in the next few months is the newly refurbished Grant County Convention Center. In August of 2015, the Grant County Commissioners approved spending $2.4 million on the project, and Commission President Bret Kasten said he’d be keeping close tabs on the work because the Convention Center was “my baby.” I’m sure you’ll agree that “my baby” is not the same thing as “my money.”

Commissioner Gabe Ramos seconded Kasten’s vow to follow this project closely, saying they would be watching it “like hawks,” which is very comforting to know. (Those guys sitting in the back of pickup trucks in the Convention Center parking lot, binoculars trained on the Convention building? Yep, Gabe and Bret.)

One of the nominal REPUBLICANS running for Grant County Commissioner in the recent election approved of spending tax dollars on the Center, saying, “If we build it, they will come.” Econ 101 from The Field of Dreams, or maybe from the poet Ralph Waldo Emerson, who famously said, “Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door.”

No, the world will not beat a path up 180 or across 152 unless somebody goes out and sells the convention center as the place to go, in spite of Silver City’s isolation. I hope the Convention Center is a success, but I suspect that any success will come at the expense of local businesses also looking for convention customers, e.g. The Murray Hotel, or the Flame Convention Center. .

Wouldn’t it be nice if the politicians who propose a government enterprise be compelled to pony up their own money if the idea failed? A few years ago I explored the idea of requiring politicians to purchase a surety bond to indemnify taxpayers if their “babies” came a cropper. I talked to a banker and an insurance executive about this brilliant concept. Both thought the idea was, as a practical matter, really, really stupid. Sigh.

I guess the best we can do is vote such politicians out of office, although the next batch will assuredly go down the same path. Power, especially with OPM, is very corrupting. At the very least, we should name such projects after their sponsor, e.g. The Bill Richardson Spaceport, or The Brett Kasten Convention Center. I think success, or failure, deserves to be recognized, don’t you?

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ATTENTION EARTHLINGS: BURN COAL OR DIE!!!

ATTENTION EARTHLINGS: BURN COAL OR DIE!!! By Peter Burrows 2/11/17 elburropete@gmail.com silvercityburro.com

Occasionally in life, circumstances align in such a way as to make even an atheist say,  “Hmmmm. Looks like the Hand of God at work.”

Such an epiphany will bless any disinterested soul who views Patrick Moore’s 40 minute speech, “Should We Celebrate Carbon Dioxide?” available on You Tube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d0Z5FdwWw_c.  The speech was delivered October 14, 2015, to a meeting of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, a London-based think tank. You can also find a transcript at http://www.thegwpf.org/patrick-moore-should-we-celebrate-carbon-dioxide/.

It’s a remarkable speech with an absolutely stunning, irrefutable conclusion: We shouldn’t be limiting carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, WE SHOULD BE INCREASING THEM.  In fact, had not humans begun adding CO2 to the atmosphere by burning hydrocarbon fuels, all life on earth could have ended in less than two million years, which geologically speaking, is damn near right now. As Moore says, “– if the Earth were 24 hours old we were at 38 seconds to midnight when we reversed the trend toward the End Times.”

As I will explain, this was the second time in the history of the world that something stepped in to reverse a cataclysmic decline in atmospheric CO2.  First, a little bit about Moore.  While getting his PhD in ecology in 1971, he joined a group of environmental activists that became Greenpeace, now one of the largest environmental organizations in the world. In the mid 1980s he found himself the only Greenpeace director with a formal science education, and being a man of principle, he resigned when the organization began to ignore science in favor of whatever the emotional “cause du jour” was. (My interpretation, accurate though.)

Moore’s comments on CO2 and climate reveal that over the past 540 million years there has been no positive correlation of temperatures to CO2 levels and a couple of glaring examples of inverse correlation.  A similar conclusion can be reached looking at only the last 120 years.   The importance of CO2 is not in its influence on climate, which is negligible, but its importance to life itself.

The accepted estimate of CO2 levels in the atmosphere at the beginning of the industrial revolution some 200 years ago is 280 parts per million, ppm, or about one-quarter of one percent of the atmosphere. This was not much above the 180 ppm that occurred during the peak of the last ice age about 18,000 years ago, which Moore says was, “ –extremely likely the lowest level CO2 has been in the history of the earth. This is only 30 ppm above the level that plants begin to die.”

Plants begin to DIE? Yep. Atmospheric carbon dioxide is an essential plant food. No CO2 equals no plants equals no life. Period.  Even at today’s 400 ppm, plants are relatively starved for CO2 and need, Moore says, an optimum level of 2000 ppm.

Moore shows that the last 150 million years have seen a steady drawdown of CO2 in the atmosphere, on average 37,000 tons per year, as declining volcanic activity has meant volcanic emissions of CO2 have not been enough to replace the CO2 consumed by, and removed forever from the atmosphere by —shellfish!

About 500 million years ago, soft-bodied sea creatures began to evolve the ability to capture CO2, combine it with calcium, and form a shell. As trillions of these creatures of many, many forms would die and settle, they formed huge deposits of carbonaceous sediments. The white cliffs of Dover are perhaps the best known example.

The carbon that has been removed from the atmosphere by these critters is astounding.  The amount of carbon on the surface of the earth is estimated as follows: 850 billion tons in the atmosphere, 2,000 billion tons in plants and soil, 5,000 to 10,000 billion tons in fossil fuels, and 38,000 billion tons dissolved in the oceans.   The total, rounded up to the max, is about 50,000 billion tons.  The amount tied up in fossilized sea shells, a.k.a. carbonaceous rock?  100,000,000 billion tons, or about 2000 times the rest of the earth’s surface combined.

Carbonaceous sedimentation and rock formation is ongoing today, and only the introduction of man-made CO2 has reversed the inevitable extinction of life on earth.  As Moore, says, “It is ironic that life itself, by devising a protective suit of armour, determined its own eventual demise by continuously removing CO2 from the atmosphere.”  But, “Thank God,” as even an atheist might say. along came coal-burning man to save the day.

Coal itself is the second great irony in the history of CO2 on earth. The formation of coal, like carbonaceous rock, could have wiped out life on earth as it sucked up CO2 by the billions of tons with no end in sight. The coal story begins some 400 million years ago when plants evolved to produce lignin which combined with cellulose equals —  Voila! — TREES.  There was a problem though. As Moore puts it:

“As vast forests spread across the land, living biomass increased by orders of magnitude, pulling down carbon as CO2 from the atmosphere to make wood.  Lignin is very difficult to break down and no decomposer  species possessed the enzymes to digest it. Trees died atop one another until they were 100 meters or more in depth.  This was the making of the great coal beds around the world as this huge store of sequestered carbon continued to build for 90 million years.  Then, fortunately for the future of life, white rot fungi evolved to produce the enzymes that can digest lignin and coincident with that, the coal-making era came to an end.

“There was no guarantee that fungi or any other decomposer species would develop the complex of enzymes required to digest lignin.  If they had not, CO2, which had already been drawn down for the first time in Earth’s history to levels similar to today‘s, would have continued to decline as trees continued to grow and die. That is until CO2 approached the threshold of 150 ppm below which plants first begin to starve —-. This was only the first time that there was a distinct possibility that life would come close to extinguishing itself due to a shortage of CO2, which is essential for life on earth.”

The second time, of course, is the carbonaceous rock formation that is continuing today.  Thanks to the evolution of a wood eating fungi which conveniently took 90 million years to evolve, we humans now have huge amounts of coal to burn, both to generate the elixir of modernity, electricity, and to save the world again from too little CO2. A win-win.

Think of that: It took 90 million years for that fungus to show up.  I suppose if it had taken “only” nine million years we wouldn’t have very much coal today. On the other hand, if it had never shown up, life would have probably come to an end on earth and WE would never have shown up. Hand of God?  You decide.

In the meantime, global warming “deniers” have scientific proof  that the CO2 climate-change crowd is not just wrong, but totally, completely, 180 degrees wrong.  The whole climate change industry is built on the assumption that we must reduce CO2 emissions when just the opposite is true. Billions of dollars are being wasted on renewable subsidies and carbon regulations, while environmental elitists would deny cheap electricity  for billions, all done in the pursuit of a suicidal goal.

Watch the speech. Tell your friends to watch it.  Maybe, maybe, you can even get an environmentalist to watch it.