Baron von Munchausen, famous spinner of tall tales

Was Bob McDonnell Convicted with Tainted Testimony?

Jonnie Williams' trial testimony about a critical meeting with the former governor was contradictory, implausible and sometimes incoherent. But the jury bought it anyway

Read More

Building Connectivity in Suburbia

Building Connectivity in Suburbia

Sunnyvale, Calif., wants to reinvent a 60's-era industrial office park as an innovation district. It's making progress but suburban sprawl is not an easy habit to break.

Read More

The Great U.S. 460 Swamp

The Great U.S. 460 Swamp

VDOT had loads of warning that wetlands could kill the U.S. 460 project but the state charged ahead with a design-build contract that everyone knew could explode.

Read More

Coming up: Car-Lite Burbs

Coming up: Car-Lite Burbs

A California developer is teaming with Daimler AG to bring buses, shuttles and ride sharing to an Orange County community -- with no government subsidies.

Read More

Putting the “Garden” in Rain Garden

Putting the Garden in Rain Garden

Soon Virginians will start spending billions to meet tough storm-water regs. Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden wants to show how we can save the bay – and look really good doing it.

Read More

Virginia Metros Rank High in Economic Freedom

EFIby James A. Bacon

The political class is all excited (or agitated, as the case may be) by the Republican takeover of Congress in Washington, D.C., but life continues as usual here in the boondocks. The pocketbook issues that propelled the Republicans to power nationally dominate politics at the state and local level as well. Everyone is asking the same questions: How do we get our lethargic economies moving again? How do we create more jobs? How do we raise incomes?

Normally, to ask the question in a political context is to provide a political answer. To stimulate job creation, government should do X, Y or Z. However, while government is indispensable for providing core services such as education and transportation, one can argue that too much government can crowd out the private-sector activity that engenders growth.

Last year Dean B. Stansel, with Florida Gulf Coast University, put that idea to the test. He created an Economic Freedom Index (EFI) for U.S. metropolitan areas that ranked metro regions by ten measures of government taxation, employment and transfer payments as well as factors such as the minimum wage and union density. The results on a one to ten scale ranged from Naples, Florida (8.52), to El Centro, California (3.32). The results for Virginia Metropolitan Statistical Areas can be seen in the chart above.

If you put much stock in this index, the news is very good for Virginia metros — every metro ranked in the top third nationally in economic freedom, and most ranked in the top quartile. Remarkably, the People’s Republic of Charlottesville scored the No. 10 spot nationally!

Stansel argues that his measures of economic freedom do correlate with jobs and income. The connection with jobs is strongest with correlation coefficient of 0.416, which means that the EFI explains almost 42% of the variation in unemployment between metros. There is a meaningful, though weaker, correlation between economic freedom and incomes: a coefficient of 0.164, explaining 16% of the variation.

(Stansel freely concedes that his EFI is a work in progress. By my reckoning, the index ignores at least one critical aspect of economic freedom: Governments vary widely in the degree to which they regulate land use. The effects of land use upon the cost of government, the quality of life and the environment can be profound. Admittedly, finding uniform statistics that measure the intensity of land use controls and regulations may be a problem.)

On average freer metropolitan areas appear to fare better economically than less-free regions. But the EFI leaves a lot unexplained. The flip side of the coin is that other factors explain 58% of the variation in unemployment and 84% of the variation in income. The regional industry mix is probably the most important factor of all; regional economic fortunes ebb and flow with economic tides over which local government and civic leaders have no control. But the quality and availability of education, I would conjecture, is a factor, as is the adequacy of transportation infrastructure and other government-provided amenities.

I would argue that the optimal regional policy mix would entail (1) government that focused on a few core functions and excelled at providing them, (2) a strong educational system, (3) an adequately funded (but not overfunded) transportation system, and (4) an array of public amenities from recreational parks to bike lanes that help attract and retain young, educated workers.

But others might disagree. Gee, it would be nice if someone compiled a national database that would allow us to run regression analyses on variables that might influence the creation of prosperous, livable and sustainable regions. Maybe that person will share his or her data with Bacon’s Rebellion one day!

Takeaways From the GOP’s Big Win

gillespie warnerBy Peter Galuszka

The night of Tuesday, Nov. 4 was an ugly one for the Democrats and a big win for Republicans. Here are my takeaways from it:

  • U.S. Sen.Mark Warner clings to a tiny lead that seems to grow slightly, still making it uncertain if opponent Ed Gillespie will ask for a recount. The surprisingly tight race is an embarrassment for Warner. It likely takes him out of consideration to be Hillary Clinton’s running mate in 2016 although Democrats Tim Kaine and Jim Webb are still possibilities.
  • Ed Gillespie ran a smart campaign and came off as a solid candidate. Of course, we are comparing him against Kenneth Cuccinelli and that’s a very low bar but Gillespie’s projection of being relaxed and confident helped him. Gillespie did very well despite being dissed by the national Republican money machine. Look for him in the gubernatorial race of 2017.
  • Barack Obama takes his lumps — again. The country’s on the mend and things are going fairly well (despite what you may watch on Fox), but Obama is incapable of cashing in on that. His cool, detached style is a big minus and makes him seem careless and incompetent, especially when crisis like ebola come up that are not of his making.
  • The Republican wins on Capitol Hill are more significant than the Tea Party inspired once during the 2010 midterms.But the earlier races brought in a kind of mindless negativity and gridlock by both parties that truly hurt the country. Will that happen again? Or will older, wise heads prevail?
  • Increase in coverage my Obamacare The New York Times

    Increase in coverage by Obamacare
    The New York Times

    You might get some bipartisan action on taxes and the budget, but deadlock remains for Affordable Care and immigration. The fact is that Obamacare is too far along to change much and people actually like it, despite what you hear in the right-wing echo chamber. This chart from the New York Times shows that the ACA has boosted health coverage in some of the poorest parts of the country, such as the Appalachian coal country, the African-American belts of the Deep South; and poor parts of the Southwest like New Mexico and parts of Arizona. This alone is a big success.

  • Immigration. Look for Obama to use executive authority to come up with an immigration plan. It is an emotional, hot button issue that reveals lots of ugly attitudes. But something needs to be done fast. The GOP has no plan, except for George W. Bush who actually pushed a workable solution that was compassionate. That got soaked by the Tea Party, but then Republican Mitt Romney came up with a health care plan for Massachusetts that looks remarkable like Obamacare and was a precursor. If the GOP can get back to those helpful ideals, there may be hope.
  • Warner lots big swaths of voters who had been with him, like Loudoun County and parts of rural Virginia. This is alarming for the Dems and shows they need to project their messages a lot better. Warner’s poor performance in debates didn’t help either.

It is a big win for the GOP, but somehow I don’t feel as bitter as I was in 2010.

At Last, a Chance to Address Fundamental Issues

Image source: Congressional Budget Office

Image source: Congressional Budget Office

by James A. Bacon

With yesterday’s elections, the Republican Party has taken control of the United States Senate and padded its lead in the House of Representatives, assuring a markedly different political dynamic in the two years ahead. The big question on everybody’s minds is, “Can Republicans govern?” Or will we see two more years dominated by Ted Cruz trying to shut down government?

My sense is that Republicans are very serious about governing, certainly more serious than was outgoing Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the one-man algae bloom who rendered the Senate a dead zone for new legislation over the past four years. Republicans are likely to pass a passel of new laws. The question then will be, “Is President Barack Obama serious about governing?” Will he  work with Congress or will he veto everything that comes across his desk?

While the last four years have been a big battle over nothing, rest assured that the next two years will grapple with issues of fundamental importance. As the United States hurtles toward Boomergeddon, Republicans will tackle budgetary issues that Obama has been studiously avoiding since he disavowed the recommendations of his own Bowles-Simpson budget-balancing commission. The issues will be debated in a way they haven’t been for far too long.

This year, the budget situation looks relatively benign. Economic growth is puttering along and the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects that the deficit will shrink to its smallest size since 2007, equivalent to about three percent of the economy. That’s roughly equal to the rate of economic growth, so the national debt, while growing, is not growing as a percentage of the economy. But the CBO does not expect this balmy scenario to last. Says the CBO:

The pressures stemming from an aging population, rising health care costs, and an expansion of federal subsidies for health insurance would cause spending for some of the largest federal programs to increase relative to GDP. Moreover, CBO expects interest rates to rebound in coming years from their current unusually low levels, raising the government’s interest payments. That additional spending would contribute to larger budget deficits—equaling close to 4 percent of GDP—toward the end of the 10-year period spanned by the baseline, CBO anticipates. Altogether, deficits during that 2015–2024 period would total about $7.6 trillion.

That sounds bad but not Boomergeddonish. But there’s a big caveat. At some point, says the CBO, government spending crowds out economic growth in the private sector.

The large amount of federal borrowing would draw money away from private investment in productive capital in the long term, because the portion of people’s savings used to buy government securities would not be available to finance private investment. The result would be a smaller stock of capital and lower output and income than would otherwise be the case, all else being equal.

Translation: Under the current policy framework, as government spending crowds out the private sector, economic growth will slow. Slower economic growth reduces tax revenues, which increases budget deficits. I’m not certain, but I don’t believe that the CBO cranks that lower economic growth into its long-term budget forecast, which, by its own admission, is highly conjectural and based upon long-term assumptions that likely will not prove to be accurate.

Under a more pessimistic set of assumptions, the federal debt, instead of rising to 111% of Gross Domestic Product by 2039, would reach 180%.

When discussing climate change, Democrats invoke the “precautionary principle.” While we cannot know with certainty that global temperatures will increase by 4° Fahrenheit by the end of the century, as some climate models forecast, the consequences would be so disastrous that we must act to forestall the possibility. I would invoke a fiscal precautionary principle. While we cannot know with certainty that the national debt will approach 180% of GDP within twenty-five years, the consequences will be so potentially disastrous that we must act to forestall the possibility.

Republicans will be animated by the fiscal precautionary principle in the next two years. If past is precedent, the Obama administration will be driven by the desire to protect government spending at all costs. Americans will engage in the most serious debate over the size and scope of government spending, unclouded by distracting side issues, that we have seen in a generation.

Steve Nash’s Important Book

Nash bookBy Peter Galuszka

Stephen Nash, a former journalist who teaches at the University of Richmond, has written an important new book about how climate change could affect Virginia. His detailed reporting is impressive and I think he shatters the arguments of global warming deniers.

Here is a book review I did for Style Weekly:

“Imagine it’s a fall day in 2114. You get ready for a jog down by the James River.

It’s pleasant by the towering palm trees, but you must keep an eye out for alligators and the venomous cottonmouth moccasins as big around as your thigh. It’s best to exercise early because the rest of the day will be typically steamy and windless.

This is what Richmond very well could be like within 100 years if carbon-dioxide emissions stay at the same levels as today. Virginia’s climate could warm up to something like that in northern Florida, according to Stephen Nash, a part-time journalism professor at the University of Richmond in his new book, “Virginia Climate Fever: How Global Warming Will Transform Our Cities, Shorelines and Forests” (University of Virginia Press).”

To read more, click here.

In Energy Studies, No Renewables, Please

Karmis of VT's Center for Coal Research

Karmis of VT’s Center for Coal Research

By Peter Galuszka

For years, Virginia Tech has operated the Center for Coal Research which is dedicated to studying bituminous product, enhance its marketability and make mining it safer and less environmentally destructive.

The center receives funding and has sponsors and an advisory board made up of big utilities like Dominion, coal-hauling railroads like Norfolk Southern, a few state officials and coal company executives from Alpha Natural Resources, Arch Coal and Patriot Coal. No environmental advocates are advisers nor are proponents of renewable energy.

So, it was with considerable interest that I was introduced to a new “watchdog” group named the Checks and Balances Project, based in Northern Virginia and  funded by advocating clean energy and sustainability such as the New Venture fund and Renew American Prosperity Inc.

In several intriguing blog posts, Scott Peterson, a former media spokesman for the New York Stock Exchange and now executive director of Checks and Balances, asks why Michael Karmis, an internationally-known VT coal expert, was asked to write the cost-benefit analysis for the State Energy Plan released last month that will guide the General Assembly in passing laws relating to energy.

Peterson notes that Karmis’s report was a foundation document used by the State Corporation Commission staff when it gave a big thumbs down to the U.S. EPA’s proposed rules to cut carbon dioxide. The SCC claimed that the rules would shutter much coal-fired generation (much of which was going to be shut down anyway) and that renewables like solar and wind are too expensive, unreliable and scarce to replace the lost generation capacity.

I blogged about this repeatedly in recent weeks and I asked why Virginia has such a puny share of renewable energy compared to its neighboring states. I got responses from the SCC and also from Dominion as well as the Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club and posted them.

Peterson’s points are spot on. Why would the state and the SCC go to such an overwhelmingly pro-coal group for what seems like a self-serving and self-dealing cost-benefit analysis? Do Virginians not deserve input from other players pushing forms of energy? Why did they not consult economic forecasting groups specializing in energy but chose instead Chmura Economics & Analytics of Richmond, which has no special energy expertise and has been criticized (by me) for tending to say what state officials want.

It is really a shame that the administration of Gov. Terry McAuliffe is following the same stacked-decks that former Gov. Robert F. McDonnell used to use. During his time in office, I outlined several instances where McDonnell chose “advisors” mostly from the coal and nuclear and natural gas industries to “study” energy needs or whether uranium mining near Chatham would be safe.

Also take a look at who the sponsors of the Virginia Tech coal center are:

  • Alpha Natural Resources of Bristol bought the extremely troubled and controversial Massey Energy whose renegade CEO, Don Blankenship, was so loose with safety and so strong on production demands that 29 miners lost their lives in a massive blast at the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia on April 5, 2010, according to three probes of the incident. I wrote a book about it.
  • Arch Coal is one of the most controversial users of ecologically devastating mountaintop removal surface mining in southwest Virginia, Kentucky and West Virginia,.
  • Evan Energy Investments is a Richmond-based firm started by E. Morgan Massey, whose family started A.T. Massey coal which later became Massey Energy. E. Morgan Massey had no corporate duties at Massey Energy during the 2010 blast but during the 1980s, he beat the United Mine Workers by instituting his “Massey Doctrine” of tough negotiating.
  • Patriot Coal is a spin-off of Peabody Coal, the largest coal firm in the U.S. Peabody had assets in the Central Appalachians but found that its western U.S., Illinois Basin and foreign operations were more profitable so it created Patriot. The spin off has been bankrupt at least once and has been criticized for trying to cut benefits for retired miners who had worked for Peabody.

To be sure, several state and federal organizations are also sponsors and I’m told that the center does do worthwhile working on setting up computer-based networks of sensors that would automatically shut down a deep mine’s operations if it found bad levels of explosive coal dust or methane. It also has done work to find carbon capture technologies that could allow coal to be burned cleanly.

The larger point is that the state is structured in ways that do not provide a place at the table for people not associated with big, traditional, base-loaded energy such as coal and nuclear power stations. Many accounts show that solar and wind are becoming much more technically and cost effective. Although the U.S. Department of Energy does not expect wind or solar to be more than about 20 percent of the total energy mix any time soon, its growth is picking up speed.

If more houses and businesses adopt solar panels as they get cheaper and better, they will reduce their need for Big Energy. As that happens, the large utilities, coal firms and railroads may get stuck with trillions of dollars’ worth of “stranded” and unused assets. Guess will end up paying for a lot of them? The ratepayers, of course, with the SCC’s blessing.

Dominion Makes Big Power Move — What Does It Mean?

dominion_transmission_lineby James A. Bacon

Dominion Virginia Power is soliciting industry proposals to provide about 1,600 megawatts of electrical generating capacity by 2019-2020. “We have identified a need for additional generation in our long-term system planning,” says Roger Williams, director of power contracts. None of this will come from renewable resources.

Unlike some who opine on this blog, I’m agnostic about renewable energy. If solar, wind power, biomass and other renewable energy sources can be worked into the electric-generating mix without clobbering rate payers or creating reliability problems, I’m happy to have it. But my top priorities are keeping electric rates low and ensuring a reliable power supply. As countries like Germany have discovered, wind power quite literally changes with the wind, and solar power varies with cloud cover. That means power companies have to build and maintain an expensive backup capacity to keep the juice flowing at all times.

What I find surprising about Dominion’s announcement is that the company isn’t planning to build the added capacity itself, which is traditionally what power companies have done. The old rule of thumb was that building more power plants allows utilities to expand the rate base. Because utilities are guaranteed a financial return on the rate base (barring unusual circumstances), more capacity translates into bigger earnings. Somehow, under the new re-regulation regime, that old calculus no longer applies. I’m not sure what’s driving Dominion’s decisions financially right now.

Dominion’s solicitation requires that any new power capacity be located on the PJM regional interconnection grid that coordinates the wheeling of electricity across a region serving more than 50 million people. The utility, reports Peter Bacque with the Times-Dispatch, also wants the electricity to come from base-load plants (which generate 70% of the time) or intermediate plants (30% to 70% of the time). The electricity must be “dispatchable,” or available when needed. That last requirement excludes wind and power.

Basically, Dominion favors a Big Grid transmission framework as opposed to a Smart Grid framework. In a Big Grid arrangement, electric power can be shuttled from state to state, region to region, as supply and demand dictate — subject to the capacity of the transmission lines. The advantage of Big Grid is that power companies can select from a much broader array of options for generating capacity, not just in it own service area, which translates into lower generating costs. The flip side is that Big Grid requires more giant transmission lines to move the electricity — and people don’t like transmission lines running through their property. Another concern is that the more centralized an electric grid is, the more vulnerable it is to sabotage, extreme weather and other outside forces that could lead to cascading outages.

One alternative is the Smart Grid which allows for the two-way flow of electricity and the monitoring of electricity consumption with so-called smart meters. By collecting detailed data, power companies can better manage their power supplies, especially if rate structures give industry, business and households incentives to curtail electricity consumption during periods of peak demand. Smart grids are seen as essential to handling the variable supply created by solar and wind power, allowing power companies more flexibility in adjusting their power flows. Smart grids won’t solve all the problems caused by the variability of renewable energy, but they are part of the solution.

Another big advantage, in theory at leas:. Because smart grids are more decentralized, they can accommodate locally generated power, which creates local economic opportunities. Also, in theory, they are less vulnerable to catastrophic disruption.

Dominion has dipped its toe into the smart grid arena — home electric meters, as I recall — but I’ve seen very little written about it in the press. Frankly, I have yet to see a coherent big-picture story about where the electric power industry in Virginia — which includes Appalachian Power and local electric co-op — is heading. It is difficult to make any sense of articles like the one published in the T-D today without the bigger picture.

No Wegmans for Tysons… Too Bad for Wegmans

wegmans_bakeryCan Tysons have its cake and eat it, too? Perhaps not, at least if the cake is baked in a Wegmans Food Market bakery. Discussions to bring the Rochester, N.Y.-based grocery chain to a transit-oriented development around the McLean Metro station have ended in frustration, reports the Washington Post.

CityLine Partners, developer of Scotts Run Station South, won rezoning approval last year to transform a typical suburban office park into 6.7 million square feet of mixed-use commercial and housing towers with ground-floor retail. The development plans includes contributing to a Tysons-wide grid street network, creating more walkable streets and reducing the parking footprint.

It would be a real coup to bring a Wegmans to the development. The upscale store appeals to exactly the kind of higher-income demographic that CityLine wants to attract to its project. But Wegmans’ business model meshes best with suburban development.  The company normally builds stores of more than 100,000 square feet surrounded by large surface parking lots. In Tysons, Wegmans was considering a new “urban” format of 80,000 square feet, similar to one it opened in Boston this spring, the Post reports. The idea was to place the store on the ground floor of a building with apartments upstairs.

Too bad Wegmans couldn’t make it happen. Some other grocery chain will. A tremendous share of future development in the United States will take place in walkable, denser, mixed-use communities like Scotts Run. Vast surface parking lots do not figure into the plan — the land is simply too valuable to squander on such a marginal use. In contrast to Wegmans, Wal-Mart, once the epitome of land-intensive suburban development and the object of scorn among urbanists across the country, has re-tooled its stores to fit in smaller urban footprints. In fact, a new complex developing around the Tysons West station will be anchored by a Wal-Mart.

For decades, retailers were a driving force behind sprawl. They built their business models around big stores, big parking lots and easy automobile access. They provided amenities in the suburbs that few center cities could match. But the market dynamics have shifted. People are moving to walkable urbanism whether Wal-Mart and Wegmans like it or not. Retailers need to invent new formats to serve the new markets. Inevitably, someone will. And when enough retailers make the switch, they will make walkable urbanism all the more alluring and its rise all the more inevitable.

– JAB

UVa vs. Student Body

uva_tuition

How out of control is public university spending in Virginia? The University of Virginia may not be entirely representative of a higher education system that runs the gamut from the College of William & Mary to George Mason University, from Tidewater Community College to Longwood University. But it does represent the unrestrained id of higher education untrammeled, by virtue of its excellent reputation, by the constraints of market demand.

The chart above, contributed by a source who prefers to remain anonymous, shows how the growth in tuition and fees charged by UVa have consistently outstripped Virginians’ median household incomes between fiscal 2003 and fiscal 2013.

The usual response is, “The General Assembly made me do it.” Grappling with declining state support, UVa supposedly had nowhere to turn but tuition and fees to make up the balance.

I decided to check the numbers from General Assembly budget documents. Here’s what I found, comparing fiscal 2003 to fiscal 2013, the same period covered in the chart above.
state_v_spending
Lo and behold, what do we find? State support stayed level over the 10-year period (increasing 1.6%) while Nongeneral spending (comprising tuition, fees, room, board, R&D and ancillary spending) leaped 73%. With state support holding steady and other spending soaring, it is ludicrous to blame the increase in tuition & fees on cuts in state spending.

The truth is, UVa spending has ballooned. The university has paid for that spending by jacking up tuition & fees because it can. Its brand name and quality education give it the pricing power to do so.

In the 2014 fiscal year, the General Assembly bumped up state support for UVa by $7 million. But then budget shortfalls required cutbacks of $6.5 million this fiscal year and $9 million the next, which at that point actually will produce decline in state support compared to 2003. And you can bet your bottom dollar that UVa will justify continued hikes in tuition & fees by shifting all blame to the penurious policies of the commonwealth.

– JAB

Why Private Space Firms Need Oversight

By Peter Galuszka

Virgin galacticDoes bad news come in twos or threes?

First, on Oct. 28, an Orbital Sciences Antares rocket bound to supply the International Space Station exploded seconds into its take off at Wallops Island on the Virginia Eastern Shore.

Three days later, the Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo designed for space tourism broke in two during a test flight over the Mojave Desert in California. One pilot was killed and the second was seriously injured when he parachuted to safety.

Both incidents involve private companies pushing ahead to commercialize space which used to be the province of the federal government, NASA and the military. The Orbital incident brought the usual cries that the government should continue its hands off policies about regulating the private space industry. The Virgin Galactic accident changes that equation.

For some background, here’s space.com:

“Thus far, the private space industry has resisted oversight from federal regulators, but that could change in the wake of the accident.

“I suspect there will be pressure for tighter regulations,” (John)  Logsdon (of George Washington University) said.

“In 2012, Congress passed a bill that extended the “learning period” for the commercial spaceflight industry. The measure was championed by Congressman Kevin McCarthy, a Republican from California, whose district covers the Mojave spaceport.

“The provision essentially prohibited the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation, dubbed AST, from issuing regulations designed only for the protection of passengers until October 2015. The idea behind this hands-off approach was to allow the spaceflight industry to gain real-world data from their first licensed commercial launches; the FAA would, in turn, use this information to eventually craft regulations.

“In the wake of the accident, Virgin Galactic and the National Transportation Safety Board — the federal agency leading the investigation — have warned against speculation until the ongoing investigation is complete. But critics have made strong claims about risks the company took.

“Tom Bower, a biographer of Branson, told BBC Radio 4 that the accident was “predictable and inevitable.” Joel Glenn Brenner, a former Washington Post reporter who has been following Virgin Galactic’s progress, made similar charges shortly after the accident in an appearance on CNN, adding: “I don’t see them at least being able to carry anybody into space in the next 10 years.

“Andrea Gini, of the Netherlands-based International Association for the Advancement of Space Safety, criticized Virgin Galactic for a lack of transparency about its safety procedures.

“We don’t know how Scaled Composites approached this particular test,” Gini told Space.com in an email. “Virgin Galactic has always refused to participate to the public discussion inside the space safety community, and has never sought the support of independent reviewers.”

“Gini said there are elements of Virgin Galactic’s flight design that experts consider hazardous. The decision to fly passengers and even crew without pressurized space suits, for example, could expose them to risk of decompression, he said.

“Space is, and will always be, a risky industry,” Gini said. “But it is not a new one. I believe that commercial operators should approach it with transparency and humility, or their business, and not just their vehicles, will be doomed to failure.””

That’s sobering. In the Wallops Island case, investigators are loo9king at where decades-old, modified, Russian-made rocket engines that the Russians deemed too dangerous to use were a cause.

There are questions that need answering.

Dave Brat Part Deux

In three days, the seventh district in Virginia will elect one of the most disturbing candidates in recent history.  The self-styled economist Dave Brat  has an elect web site that paints a portrait of an individual only loosely linked to reality.

As most Republicans, Dave is a big supporter of the 2nd Amendment’s right to bear arms.  His rationale is that this right derives from God.  Really! Does Dave speak to God?  A religiously connected group in the 21st century that links firearms to God is ISIS.  It is unbelievable that a far-right GOP member and a terror group would find a fundamental belief in common.

Brat is a big supporter of the Keystone Pipeline to energy independence.  This is a straw man.  The pipeline transports oil produced by Canadian tar sands to be exported to China.  This means of manufacture will make the most pollution of any known method, leading to a significant rise in pollution.  I guess Dave forgot to read the chapter on negative externalities in his Economics 101 text.

Dave wants energy independence.  I guess in the past few weeks he has been too busy talking to God to look at the Chicago Board of Trade market in crude oil. At a time of 3 1/2% growth in GDP,  political unrest in two large oil-producing regions, Russia and the Middle East, the price of crude has dropped by nearly 20% in the past several months.  America’s energy Renaissance in here.  In the face of all that so-called “excessive regulation,” that Brat always screams about,  the United States will be almost energy-independent in the next several years.  If Brat would do a little fundamental analysis, he would support this progress by lifting the ban on energy exports, and supporting a tariff on crude imports from a nation like Saudi Arabia to make sure that American production remains competitive.  The proceeds for this tariff could be used to reduce the deficit and the national debt, build infrastructure, and increase the Earned Income Tax Credit.

There are few issues that the Chamber of Commerce and Paul Krugman  do agree on, but immigration reform has broad support across the political spectrum.  As an economist, Dave should know that one of the reasons often given for the stagnation of the Japanese economy is an aging population and a government policy that forbids all immigration.

Like the Japanese, Dave is against immigration.  His position resembles some of the lowest points in American history that brought forth the Chinese Exclusion Act in the 19th century, subjected Irish immigrants to intense discrimination, and formed the “American Firsters” movement in the 1930’s and 1940’s, who pressed the U.S. Government not to admit the Jews on the S.S. Saint Louis.

Les Schreiber