The cost of fracking

Been hearing a lot about fracking and our energy future from various sources lately.  Most intriguingly, it seems to allow us to produce energy at roughly half the financial cost of coal with way less carbon emissions as well.  All win. That does mean, of course, that fracking is going to keep happening no matter what.  It’s simply too good to pass up.  That said, the potential costs to our environment are really quite serious.  Does anybody really want benzene, etc., in their groundwater?  So, here’s the thing… let’s frack, because, economically, there’s no way we’re going to stop it; but make sure we regulate the hell out if it to keep our environment safe.  It fracking really does offer so much cost benefit over coal, presumably we can make it really safe and still have a huge cost benefit.  Just throwing semi-random number around here, but if under low regulation we’re getting natural gas at .5 the cost of coal and we can get highly regulated, environmentally friendly as possible natural gas at .6, that seems like an absolute no-brainer (and, I’m guessing based on nothing, that it wouldn’t even really increase the financial costs that much).  Of course, there’s a lot of people who would like that extra .1 from low regulation to go into their pockets.

Of all the issues my class discussed in Public Policy last semester, the closest we had to consensus on anything was that, yes, we should allow fracking, but we should regulate it much more carefully and thoroughly.  So, let’s do that.

Retirement saving

Interesting Op-Ed in the Times about how bad Americans do at retirement planning.  Loved this quote:

So it’s not surprising that denial dominates my dinner conversations, but it is irresponsible for Congress to deny that regardless of how much you throw 401(k) advertising, pension cuts, financial education and tax breaks at Americans, the retirement system simply defies human behavior. Basing a system on people’s voluntarily saving for 40 years and evaluating the relevant information for sound investment choices is like asking the family pet to dance on two legs.

The author paints a pretty depressing picture and it was getting me worried till I read this:

 Third, understand that you need to save 7 percent of every dollar you earn.

Hey, I do that!  (Or pretty close).  I would not be smart enough to do it on my own, but NCSU see to it that I automatically contribute 6% of every paycheck and they throw in another 6.84%.  Not to mention, I’ve got way more job security than the average bear.  Anyway, a lot of interesting issues with retirement planning well worth reading about.

Photo of the day

Enjoyed this Post photo gallery that had pictures of young Mitt.  Would’ve preferred a few more of these and less of recent Mitt:


Mitt Romney, Thomas Rosenburg and George Keele in Basque country in France.

Courtesy of George Keele

United States of NRA

Nice piece from Tomasky on the amazingly out-sized political influence of the NRA (a long, but worth it, excerpt):

But please. The idea that honest efforts to keep guns out of the hands of potential killers and mentally unstable people poses any rational threat to my friends or America’s hunters and collectors is completely preposterous. This is such a con. Rock-ribbed conservatives usually don’t show a great deal of sympathy for our country’s mentally ill, when the question involves social spending on their behalf; but by God try to deny them to right to bear arms, and watch how quickly and feverishly the right wing rallies to their side, linking arms as if the famous “slippery slope” would lead inevitably from the mentally ill to law-abiding citizens…

It is of course LaPierre’s National Rifle Association that has hyped this slippery slope and made it so omnipresent in the minds of its members. Give him credit: Twenty or so years ago, the NRA was losing ground. At the time, when some nut shot up a post office or a McDonald’s, we actually had the conversations about gun laws we no longer bother with, and laws were passed like the 1994 assault weapons ban. Then the NRA got to work on three fronts. First, no accommodation or compromise. Second, it built an enviable track record of defeating incumbents who opposed it. And third, it developed an expert vocabulary for stoking gun-owners’ anxieties about liberals’ desire to take their guns, as we’ve seen recently in the Fast and Furious “controversy,” which gained traction on the right pretty much entirely because the NRA persuaded its partisans that the whole program was a stalking horse for a dark conspiracy to rid America of firearms…

The net effect is that we have laws no one wants—not cops, not the military, not even most gun owners themselves—except the NRA [emphasis mine]. Earlier this year, the Indiana state house passed—with NRA backing—a bill spelling out when citizens could kill police officers. Some prominent military leaders wanted military personnel to be able to discuss gun safety with troops as a way of trying to stem military suicides, many of which are committed with personally owned guns. The NRA was having none of it. Finally, as to gun owners, I will never forget the late 2009 poll—conducted by Frank Luntz, no less—that found that 69 percent of NRA members back closing the gun show loophole. That poll produced a series of fascinating findings that showed NRA members to be pretty reasonable people in private on the telephone. But alas, in the political arena, in Wayne they trust, I guess…

So this will happen again. And again, and again. In fact, as I said above, we are likely headed for a day in this country like the following. At a movie theater, in a mall, at a commuter rail platform, in a restaurant—some glory-seeker opens fire. Most people duck and scatter, but a decent percentage of them produce their pieces. The gunman goes down like Warren Beatty in Bonne and Clyde, but, since “most people” aren’t marksmen, maybe a few other people do too, and maybe, oh, a three year old. But hey. There’s always a spoilage factor. Rights are sacred. From their cold, dead hands. . . .

One of the things that has amazed me (okay, not really all the surprised, but still…) in reading various FB conversations this weekend is the people who defend any and all gun ownership at all costs.  Can they not even agree that ordinary citizens should not be owning powerful military semi-automatic machine guns with huge ammunition magazines?  Sure, some people will find other ways to commit violence, but there’s a good chance it will be less deadly ways.  A number of commenters remarked, “well, they’ll just build a bomb or use poison gas” or things to that effect.  Yet, of all these other nations with stricter gun laws and many fewer mass murders, there’s not exactly a rash of bombings and poisoning to match our rash of mass shootings.  Quite simply the easier you make it to be a mass murderer, the more mass murder you’ll get.  And allowing virtually anybody to legally buy this kind of weapon and ammunition is about as easy at it gets.

And, on the subject of NRA absolutism, this is one of my favorite cartoons ever (from Bizarro):

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