Monday, December 5, 2016

Coal Is Being Killed By Overregulation: That's a Myth

For a while now I have been listening to Republicans talking about how the coal industry is being devastated by government regulations that have been implemented - by evil liberals. They talk about bringing jobs back by reducing regulations. Unfortunately, people take political sound bites as the truth.  Since The Donald was making speeches about bringing back coal jobs, and he has his own version of reality, I decided to do some research.
Before starting my research, I was under the impression that the coal industry had been devastated, maybe producing a quarter or half as much as it once had. I knew that many coal jobs had been eliminated; I figured that some of it was due to productivity improvements, but that most of the jobs were lost because of coal being phased out. It turns out that I had been duped by conservative politicians, as many people still are.
At the height of coal mining employment there were about 800,000 coal miners.  That was in ….. 1920. Coal mining employment has decreased steadily since 1920 (except for the period from 1970-1980 when employment actually increased by 50%).  Currently there are about 66,000 coal miners. That means that coal mining employment has dropped by 92% since its height. The coal industry must be in far worse shape than I thought, so let’s take a look at the overall coal industry.
Coal production went down from 1920 until about 1940, which we would expect since employment went down during that period. From 1940 until 1950, coal production went up a bit, probably due to the war effort and subsequent rebuilding.  During that period, the coal mining employment … decreased.  In 1950 coal production resumed its slide. However, in 1960, as Americans started adopting consumer appliances and electronics, electric usage started climbing steeply. Coal is cheap, so as electric usage increased so did coal production. Coal usage kept increasing until 1970 when the Clean Air Act was passed. The Clean Air Act of 1970 is what initiated serious regulation of power plants, and, thus, coal.  Surely the Clean Air Act must have dealt the death blow to this industry that’s been devastated by regulations.  No. Production of coal in this industry that’s been devastated by regulations kept increasing through the ‘70s.  In fact, it kept increasing all the way until 2006.  If you’ll remember, 2006 was near the end of the Bush administration, which furiously cut regulations.
Several things have led to the decrease in coal production since 2006, primarily electric usage and natural gas.  Electric usage, which had been increasing ever since its introduction, has roughly leveled off. Furthermore, since 1988, utilities have been steadily increasing the use of natural gas to fuel power plants.  In fact, on November 14th, the Wall Street Journal ran an article about how natural gas is displacing coal as the fuel of choice for power plants. In the article, Rebecca Smith says that power plant investors prefer natural gas over coal because natural gas plants can be built faster, cost less to operate, and are more efficient than coal plants.  Furthermore, shale gas has made copious quantities of inexpensive natural gas available well into the future. The truth is, only coal miners and coal companies want coal burning power plants.
For years, Republications have been telling coal miners that they’re losing jobs due to excessive regulation. That’s far from the truth. The number of coal miners was decreasing, even while coal production was increasing. What’s the actual reason that the number of coal miners has decreased 92% from its high in 1920? Pickaxes. In 1920, miners used pickaxes to mine coal, but modern coal miners use large, powerful equipment to mine coal. Esentially, as the need for coal increased, so did coal mining productivity. Modern coal miners produce 15 times as much coal as their counterparts did in 1920. It simply doesn’t take as many miners to mine coal as it used to. 
The Donald promises to add “millions” of jobs to the energy sector – including coal mining jobs. America currently has about 66,000 coal miners to produce all the coal it needs. If America added 66,000 coal miners, coal production would be doubled. We would have to build a large number of expensive, inefficient new coal plants - and billions of unneeded light bulbs to use up the extra electricity.


Most of the data from this post came from the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s Annual Energy Review: and the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s Coal Data Browser:

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Don't Let Terrorists Win - Get Some Perspective

On November 13th, 130 people died from terror attacks.  That's a horrible tragedy, but a bigger tragedy is the way we have reacted to the terror attacks.  Let’s get some perspective here.  That night 89 people were killed at the Bataclan Theatre; that’s a terrible tragedy, but it’s only 6% of the story.  In a packed concert hall that holds 1500 people, 3 terrorists shot at unarmed concertgoers for 10 to 15 minutes, then two of the terrorists blew themselves up, and yet 94% of the concertgoers lived.  That week 77 French people died in car accidents, almost as many as were killed at the concert.  In fact, the same day that terrorists killed 130 people in Paris, 200 Frenchmen died as a result of tobacco related illnesses; many of them died long, slow, painful deaths.

As a result of the terror attacks Paris was closed down for several days, the President of France has been given special powers, and there is talk of changing the French Constitution to give the French President additional power to deal with emergencies.  In America, the media has kept the story going because it sells papers.  Huckster politicians have used this as a way to get attention by the time honored method of scaring people.

In an average year there are well over 30,000 deaths from auto accidents in the United States, but fewer than 7 deaths from terrorism.  That’s nearly 5,000 deaths from auto accidents for each death from terrorism.  Yet, the fear, publicity, and political rhetoric are about terrorism rather than car crashes.  In fact, as a result of the terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, many Americans are calling to stop allowing Syrian refugees immigrate to America because some of them could be terrorists.  We don’t owe them anything, right; why take the risk?  It’s amazing that many of the people espousing these Ideas consider themselves Christians.  The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) didn’t owe anything to the man who fell into the hands of robbers, but he went out of his way to help the man at great cost to himself.  If a friend was in a burning car would you watch them burn or would you try to help them - at great risk to yourself?  How about a stranger?  What if the stranger was Syrian?  Right now there are millions of Syrians trying to get out of a burning country.  They don’t have homes, they don’t have jobs, they don’t have food; they’ve lost everything.  They’re just trying to get out of a war and make a new life.  They don’t have any less right to come to America than my great, great grandfather did; really.  Could some of them be terrorists? Of course, but you’re far more likely to kill one of them in a car accident than they are to kill you with a gun.

Terrorists won’t win by killing tens, hundreds, or even thousands of innocent people.  Terrorists will win because people allow themselves to be terrorized.  When it comes down to it, you aren’t safe.  You won’t be safe no matter what our blathering politicians do. 

Suck it up and deal with it!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Victims of the Boston Marathon Bombing are Lucky (for now)

The victims of the Boston Marathon Bombing are lucky (for now).
The victims of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing are actually very lucky.  I know that sounds strange, but their lives after the bombing would have been far worse if the bombing had happened just a few years ago.  Although the emergency medical care that they received right after the bombing is much better than it would have been even 10 years ago, that’s not what I’m referring to.  There’s a term for amputated limbs and for organs that have been repaired: pre-existing conditions.  Yes, their health insurance would have cover treatment for their injuries (to a point).  However, if they were covered by medical insurance through their employer, and they had to leave their employer for some reason - maybe they couldn’t perform their job anymore due to their injuries, or their employer closed, or they wanted to start a company of their own (the engine of prosperity), they would have a problem.  If they tried to purchase private health insurance on their own they would have had a very hard time finding an insurance company that would cover them.  If they were able to get health insurance on their own or through an employer with a mediocre insurance plan, they would have had another problem; their preexisting medical condition would not have been covered.  If they needed a new prosthesis, well, tough it’s a preexisting condition that wouldn’t have been covered – it would be time to go back to a wheel chair.  If they had a problem with a liver that had been damaged in the bombing, well, it’s a preexisting condition; it would be time for them to go home and die. 

Fortunately, the bombing happened last year rather than a few years ago.  The evil Obamacare guarantees the bombing victims the opportunity to get medical insurance, and if the victims get medical insurance, that insurance will cover their preexisting conditions.  However, Congress has tried to derail Obamacare at every opportunity.  So far Congress has voted to block Obamacare more than four dozen times.  So, if you see one of the Boston Marathon victims back in a wheelchair … thank your conservative congressman.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

House Republicans Admit that Barack Obama is a Good President

In a surprising turn of events, Republicans admit that Barack Obama is actually a pretty good president. 

Coming off of a blistering defeat during the debt limit and government shutdown battle, House Republicans were hunting for payback.  Unfortunately, they weren't able to find anything significant, like evidence that the President, under false pretenses, knowingly plunged the country into the longest and most expensive war the country’s history.  They couldn't even find anything titillating, like the President [really, really] enjoying the company of an intern in the Oval Office.  The Republicans had to settle on … wait for it … wait for it … a website that  didn't work properly when it was first released. 

When a broken webpage is the worst thing that you can find against your mortal enemy, a man who runs over puppy dogs for fun (sorry, wrong person, that was Dick Cheney), then it’s a pretty strong endorsement of that person.  So, you see, the Republicans have finally admitted that Barack Obama is a pretty good president.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

I Want a Rocket Launcher

I find it interesting that the NRA, and many gun owners, are making such a fuss about regulating assault rifles and large magazines.  They insist that weapons bans are a breach of the Second Amendment.  This is interesting because there have been limitations on weapons for many years.  In 1934, Congress passed the National Firearms Act (NFA), in response to the gangster violence that grew out of Prohibition.  The NFA put tight restrictions on machineguns (their wording) and various sawed-off weapons.  The NFA was rewritten in 1968 in response to a court case.  The rewrite extended the act to include “destructive devices” (bombs, missiles, poison gas, etc.).  The Constitution guarantees the right to keep and bear arms.  However, it doesn't specify that people have the right to own any arms they desire or the right to bear those anywhere they so choose.  The Supreme Court has, on several occasions, upheld laws that regulate arms.  An assault weapons ban would simply be a matter of degree.  If an assault weapons ban would infringe on the Second Amendment, then you can argue that bans against fully-automatic weapons (machineguns), grenades, and cannons also infringe on our Second Amendment rights.  In fact, if the Second Amendment guarantees our right to own any weapon we desire, then, taken to its logical conclusion, the Second Amendment gives us the right to own nuclear missiles; it's just a matter of degree.  Personally, I just want a rocket launcher so I can eliminate slow drivers that insist on driving in the fast lane of the highway.    

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

We Need to Arm Our Teachers

NRA spokesman Wayne LaPierre, proposed putting armed police officers in all schools to prevent school massacres such as those in Newtown and Columbine.  I think that school resource officers are great, but the idea that they can prevent a school massacre is just plain silly.  Is one officer going to protect the whole school?  At Columbine there were multiple shooters, so the officer would have had to be at 2 places at once.  My daughter’s high school had more than 10 buildings, so a shooter could have easily gone into one building and killed many students and teachers before a police officer in another building even knew what happened.

No, putting a police officer in every school isn't the answer; we need to arm teachers so that every classroom has a person with a gun.  None of the 7 million teachers in the U.S. are mentally unstable, so we won’t have any problems with that.  I’m sure that there would never be a teacher going through a nasty divorce that would get fed-up with a classroom of angelic junior high students and go off the deep end.   People with guns never get jumped, so an angry student could never take a gun away from an armed teacher and start shooting.  Of course, each armed teacher would regularly have tactical training like police do, so they would never accidentally kill innocent people during an incident.  After all, trained New York Police officers only directly shot 3 innocent bystanders when they fired 16 rounds at a murder suspect in front of the Empire State Building last year, the other 6 innocent bystanders were injured by ricocheting bullets that were fired by the police.

Yes, armed teachers are definitely the way to go.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Preventing Subway Violence

I heard today that a young woman pushed a man in front of an oncoming subway train.  This is the second time in less than a month that someone has been killed by being pushed in front of a New York subway train.  People have proposed many ways to reduce these senseless murders, but the solution to this problem is obvious.  We need to place armed teachers at every subway station to curb this epidemic of subway violence.