Archive for August, 2009

If you visit Japan, leave your pocketknife at home; if you bring it, certainly don’t ask the police for directions!

August 28th, 2009 No comments

Visitors to Japan beware:  in the U.S. we’ve got the Second Amendment that protects citizens’ rights to protect themselves; but under changes of law that have recently come into effect, in Japan it is now clearly illegal to carry around a knife with a blade of longer than 5.5 cm (2 1/4 inches, measured from hilt to tip), including a penknife or pocketknife, or practically any type of double-edged knife, including an oyster knife. This prohibition would apply to Swiss Army knife and many other multi-tool devices. (The police apparently also have discretion under another ambiguous law to confiscate smaller knives.)

The change of law was brought to foreign residents attention in a fairly appalling set of circumstances, confirmed by a reporter for the Japan Times, that landed a 74-year old tourist in jail.  Such an arrest of a foreign tourist is notable precisely because it is relatively rare, so it`s hard to know what exactly motivated the arrest and subsequent detention. My precis of the news article:

– An elderly (74 years) American tourist who was making his first visit to Japan (to visit a son presently living here), asked some officers at a police booth near a busy train station for help finding a nearby bookstore.

– Much to his surprise, the tourist received not directions, but a challenge as to whether he was carrying a knife! Replying honestly that he had a pocketknife and presenting it to the officers, the blade was measured and found to exceed the limits of a new law.

– To the further surprise of the tourist, when he failed to sign a statement in Japanese offered by the police, he was arrested and held in detention for 10 days!

– When his son was informed several days later of his father’s arrest and came to visit him, he was instructed to speak Japanese to his father, as the police did not have an interpreter available to help them understand English!

– He was then released without being charged, and without explanation or apology.

– Apparently the U.S. Embassy tried to help this gentlemen, as well as two other younger Americans who were also arrested the same day for the same offense at or near the same police booth.

– Neither the father nor the sun seem interested in rocking the boat or making public statements.

There is considered speculation that the the officers were trying to meet a quota for busts of one kind or another, and that the lengthy detention may have been due simply to the tourist`s inability to speak Japanese (and lack of English competency by the police), as it appears to be the practice here that, unless the violation of law is a very serious one, that the police release people who have been arrested as they soon as they sign a statement recognizing and apologizing for their breach of law.  In this case, the elderly tourist spoke no Japanese and was apparently unwilling to sign something in Japanese that he didn’t understand, which may have flummoxed the officers who detained him and made them reluctant to simply confiscate the knife and warn and release him. Thus the tourist may have been inadvertently (and absurdly) complicit in his own detention.

The news article quoted a number of lawyers who were surprised at the police behavior, but said that, unfortunately, once someone has been arrested that a 10-day detention is a typical holding period for prosecutors to determine whether they wish to prosecute.

Takeaways?  Do NOT bring a pocketknife to Japan (you can buy kitchen or other knives here, but keep them wrapped up and in your suitcase in your hotel).

I’ve just measured all of my pocket knifes and figured out which ones are seem to be small enough to carry around, and which I need to keep at home – or inaccessible to me in the bottom of a backpack if I`m travelling on my way to go hiking or fishing.  (More investigating will be needed to figure out what I need a permit for.)

By the way, the the Japanese prosecutorial and judicial systems are certainly not without their flaws, including the ability of police and prosecutors to put intense pressure on a suspects to confess, and a pronounced penchant by police, prosecutors and judges to treat people who do not confess as criminals. This has produced a number of cases where persons who have insisted on their innocence have been railroaded completely through the system, and prompted a recent Japanese film on precisely this problem, in the context of a mistaken prosecution for groping, called “I Just Didn`t Do It“.「それでももボクはやってない」.

But at least the police here aren’t running around with tasers!

More reporting and speculation here:

and a similar story:

Categories: Japan, knife, police Tags:

Margo Thorning / ACCF to WVa. Conservative Foundation: we need a carbon tax and other policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions

August 28th, 2009 No comments

Margo Thorning, Chief Economist and SVP at the influential American Council for Capital Formation (and director of research for its tax and environmental policy think tank (ACCF Center for
Policy Research) and managing director of its new international affiliate, the International Council for Capital Formation) has been a persistent and vocal long-term opponent of most climate change policy, so much so that she`s got her own “ExxonSecrets FactSheet” (alongside similar ones for ACCF). 

She`s also the author of widely-quoted studies of the costs of climate change legislation, and has been busy explaining the study jointly released earlier this month by ACCF and the National Association of Manufacturers that assesses the potential impact of the Waxman-Markey Bill on manufacturing, jobs, energy prices and our overall economy,

(The rollout of the study, executive summary, etc. are here; criticisms of the study`s assumption are here, here, here, here, here and here.)

All of which makes her remarks on August 25 at a “Cap and
Trade Town Hall meeting”
sponsored by the West Virginia Conservative Foundation (and reportedly the West Virginia Manufacturers Association as well) – to the effect that we DO need federal and global policies to reduce GHG emissions and to prepare to adapt to changes that we will be unable to forestall – even the more remarkable. 

I quote below from an August 27 report of Thorning`s remarks in the online version of The State Journal (emphasis added):

Thorning believes that climate change is happening, that it is at least
in part caused by human activity and that some type of policy to reduce
greenhouse gas emissions is warranted.

But while climate scientists recommend keeping atmospheric
concentrations of greenhouse gases below 450 parts per million to avoid
the very worst effects of climate change, Thorning said it’s too late
for that.

“We’re probably, because of China and India and developing countries,
going to have to adapt to a higher level of CO2 concentrations in the
atmosphere,” Thorning said in an interview before the event. “We might
be able to keep it to 550, but I think we better focus on adapting to a
changing environment.”

There is no rush in Thorning’s mind.

“CO2 stays in the atmosphere 100 years,” she said. “I think we can afford to take a thoughtful approach.”

Congress currently is considering a cap-and-trade program that would
place a cap on carbon emissions, issue permits that companies could
trade in an emissions market and then ratchet the cap down over time to
ensure emissions reductions.

Rather than a cap-and-trade program, Thorning advocates a carbon tax
that would put a price directly on greenhouse gas emissions and would
rise over time.

Now this might have startled her audience and readers here, but close observers might have noted that Thorning made a similar statement two years ago when, as I previously reported, she said in an interview that “Senator Lieberman and Warner are to be commended for their
efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, because I think we’re all
united that that’s a goal we need to put a lot of resources into.

Thorning spoke further in West Virginia about why a carbon tax is preferable to cap and trade:

In general, economists say, a cap on greenhouse gas emissions gives
certainty about emissions but uncertainty about the price of emissions,
while a tax on the emissions gives certainty about the price but not
about the quantity.

Companies need that price certainty, Thorning said, so they can make investment decisions.

A study sponsored in part by the ACCF and released earlier this month
found that the program Congress is considering could reduce U.S. Gross
Domestic Product between 1.8 and 2.4 percent from a baseline projection
in 2030.

It did not compare the effects of a carbon tax.

Thorning also spoke of the need for revenue.

President Barack Obama initially planned to auction the cap-and-trade
emissions permits and to direct some of the proceeds to the development
of renewable energy sources and carbon capture and storage technology.

However, as the program has come to be structured, the permits would be
given for free to emitters in at least the first decade of the program.

A tax, Thorning said, would bring in those revenues and enable the
government to support the development and deployment of important

From a broader perspective, Thorning underlined the growth of emissions
in China, India and other emerging economies. She champions the
exchange in both directions of the most effective technologies to
reduce greenhouse gas intensiveness.

She pointed to the Major Economies Initiative housed in the U.S.
Department of State to foster cooperation among 17 countries that
represent 85 percent of greenhouse gas emissions.

The initiative can help promote business-to-business transactions like
one in which Caterpillar Inc. is turning methane captured at 60 Chinese
coal mines into electricity,
she said.

“So Caterpillar is making money on that, and we’re suppressing a gas
that’s even more harmful than CO2 — and the Chinese are getting
electricity,” she said. “There are about eight key areas like that that
have been identified in this Major Economies Initiative.”

Thorning believes that a gradually increasing U.S. carbon tax combined
with international cooperation on best practices is the least
economically disruptive approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions
over time.

“Remember that economic growth and stronger economies allow people to
adapt to a changing environment,”
she said. “We have to keep our eye on
the bigger picture.”


What else does Thorning want to see done on climate policy?  In a presentation in June to the Midwest Energy and Climate Policy Conference in St. Louis, Thorning argued that practical strategies for reducing global greenhouse growth would include the following steps:

  • Use cost / benefit analysis before adopting policies
  • If U.S. puts a price on carbon emissions, a carbon tax is preferable to cap and trade
  • Reduce cost of U.S. energy investment through tax code improvement and incentives for non profits
  • Remove barriers to developing world’s access to more energy and
    cleaner technology by promoting economic freedom and market reforms
  • Increase R&D  for new technologies to reduce energy intensity, capture and store carbon, and develop new energy sources 
  • Promote nuclear power for electricity
  • Promote truly global solutions and consider expanding the Asia
    Pacific Partnership on Development with its focus on economic growth
    and technology transfer to other major emitters

These prescriptions expand on her November 2007 interview:

Q:So, if you were given the opportunity
to sort of write your own proposal of how the U.S. should reduce
emissions and not hurt itself economically, you’d go with the carbon

Margo Thorning: I would go with the
carbon tax and more incentives for new technology development. And I
would change the U.S. tax code, because we have the slowest
depreciation allowances for new energy investment of 12 countries that
we compared recently. We have very high capital costs for new
investment because depreciation is so slow and our effective tax rate
is very high, because our corporate tax rate is the highest in the
industrial world. So our companies are disadvantaged vis-à-vis our
trading partners because of our tax system.

This would seem to align Thorning`s views fairly closely with those of the still-villified Exxon, which has been a generous supporter of ACCF, and whose CEO Rex Tillerson is an express advocate of carbon taxes.  The nail-biting question is whether these voices are too little and too late in the game to steer the cap and trade pork train on to a more productive track.

Categories: ACCF, carbon pricing, Exxon, Thorning, Tillerson Tags:

More on self-deception, mirror positions and libertarian reticence on climate policy

August 28th, 2009 No comments

I copy below (with minor changes for clarity) a further comment I made on the piece by Bob Murphy (“I’m Starting With the Man in the Mirror”) to which I referred in my prior post.  The comment on which I remarking is addressed by one commenter to Silas Barta:

cotterdan: I think the error in his view is that he will simply
dismiss everyone on the other side of the issue as some shill for the
oil companies. He doesn’t see the fact that it is the political elite
pushing for his ideas.

Can you see that you and your friends
have mirror positions and each think the other is wrong, when in fact
it is pretty clear that you are BOTH right – and that there are
rent-seekers behind each position?

Of course the firms and
investors that have been able to use the atmosphere as a free GHG dump
don`t want to start paying for the privilege (to the extent that they
have invested very heavily in protecting their current position), and
of course there are others who think that this poses risks to them and
what they value (and some who want government to make markets for them).

… I don’t mind what ideas you have on saving the planet. I just don’t want to pay for them.

think we all share your reluctance to see government do anything
coercive, and we share your reasons. Most commons problems are actually
much more susceptible to local solutions that would occur if
governments got out of the way and just let resource users come to
terms on them, but given that that the atmosphere is shared globally
AND there are countless other state actors that we just can`t force
from the table, there is simply no possibility of entirely voluntary
approaches arising (even though one could imagine them). Further, even
while each government will act by force of law at home, make no doubt
that any global agreements on climate change policy are in effect
large-scale Coasean bargains.

While libertarians may be entirely
unwilling to accept any state action, unfortunately the rest of the
country (and the world) does not share their compunctions. As a result,
it seems to me that the effect of a libertarian NO! is not simply to
defend the status quo ante (which in my view wrongly allows once group
of powerful rent-seekers to shift costs to the rest of society; YMMV),
but to enable the adoption of overly-costly (and heavy-handed) approaches; viz.,
cap-and-trade w/ vast pork, versus rebated carbon taxes w/immediate
capital write-offs, etc.

August 27, 2009 11:42 PM


Fun with Self-Deception and Rent-Seeking: Bob Murphy's "Man in the Mirror"

August 26th, 2009 No comments

Robert Murphy, Austrian school economist and blogger, is in my book a remarkably thoughtful and insightful commentator on current economic issues, even as I find some of his arguments on climate policy and energy to be shallow.

Bob`s balance and relatively rare introspection are on display in his recent blog post, I’m Starting With the Man in the Mirror, in which he directly addresses the way that people with differing views on health care and climate change policy tend to see their own views and actions as virtuous, while seeing “the other side” as having evil motives and acting unfairly.  Bob had started a blog post in such a vein, but then checked himself and realized that questioning the motives of all of the other side was probably unfair. 

My own thoughts are that Bob`s post is as fine as far as it goes, but that it remains partisan and fails to discuss the way that rent-seekers deliberately seek to exploit our partisan predilections. This failure is not particularly surprising, given not only Bob`s evident self-identification as a partisan, but the fact that he works for the Institute for Energy Research, a Rob Bradley-founded think tank that, along with its partner, the American Energy Alliance is a front for a particular set of rent-seekers – the fossil fuel interests.

Bob`s entire piece is worth reading, but here is the introduction:

“OK I must confess that this Wonk Room hit piece on my compatriots really ticked me off. I had originally wanted to blog it with the title, “Definition” and the comment, “If you want to know what ‘ad hominem’ means, just check out this Wonk Room piece on the AEA bus tour.”

“But then I calmed down a bit, realizing that the Wonk Room piece is really just the mirror image of what Glenn Beck did with Goldman Sachs, which I praised.”

The piece concludes in a similar vein:

“I’m just saying that, as ridiculous as Krugman’s paranoia over old people is, that’s how ridiculous some of our side’s rants against Obama fans must seem to people who know that they are really just trying to stem abuses they perceive in the health care system and so forth. They know they’re not socialists, just like we know “our guys” aren’t Nazis.”

Bob adds a brief meta-insight that I wish he had explored further:

“Don’t get me wrong, it is still perfectly consistent to think the elites in Washington are power-hungry liars. “

I left my own observations in a comment on Bob`s post, which I copy below:

Bob, on Goldman Sachs, you might enjoy this piece by Matt Taibbi at Rolling Stone.

Bob, I appreciate your attempt at even-handedness, and your implicit acknowledgment of how we are all plagued by problems of self-deception and confirmation bias, particularly with the context of battle with ideological enemies.

I hope you will continue the effort, even though it may come at a cost to effectiveness – sometimes there`s nothing like a broader understanding of the truth to get in the way of a good rant about the Truth.

The problems of self-deception, tribal division/conflict and their roles in rent-seeking are deep indeed, and you`ve barely scratched the surface.

I note, for example, that even though you try to be even-handed, you ironically identify those listed in the Wonk Room piece as your “compatriots”; if by implication the Wonk Room writers and others who support climate change action are NOT your compatriots, what country then are they citizens of?

I also note that those you call compatriots are officers of the Rob Bradley-founded American Energy Alliance, which is clearly an energy industry pressure group (and Republican-linked). You work at the free-market IER that Rob also founded, but apparently self-identify yourself with a group of fairly naked rent-seekers.

While it`s in our human nature to fall into partisanship, what`s more disturbing is the ways that rent-seekers deliberately try to take advantage of this penchant by fanning the flames of partisanship as a means of masking their own agendas while attacking others with competing preferences. This has been very clearly at work in battles over energy and environmental issues, where influence over government is the battleground.

I have made the point a number of times previously that such rent-seeking deserves much more attentions, but you have always professed puzzlement: what, ME, Bob Murphy, involved in a rent-seekers game?

To refresh your recollection, here are links to our previous discussions:

Bob Murphy, the Heritage Foundation and “green jobs” – ignore coal! We only pay attention to rent-seeking from greens/the left; and

In which I try to help Bob Murphy figure out just what the heck I`m talking about (when I say he`s entangled in a partisan, rent-seeking game).

I’m just saying that, as ridiculous as Krugman’s paranoia over old people is, that’s how ridiculous some of our side’s rants against Obama fans must seem to people who know that they are really just trying to stem abuses they perceive in the health care system and so forth. They know they’re not socialists, just like we know “our guys” aren’t Nazis.

Well said. Now how about acknowledging how the rent-seekers are busy at work trying to manipulate our partisan impulses to take everyone for a ride?

I of course am aware that rent-seeking is ubiquitous in our current political debates, and on climate and energy issues, there are many rent-seekers in addition to fossil fuel interests. My point is that it behooves us to pay attention to the manipulations of rent-seekers generally.

Fun with Partisanship and Self-Deception: the climate follies and Rob Bradley

August 25th, 2009 No comments

Political scientist and climate commenter Roger Pielke, Jr. and scientist and Climate Progress blogger Joe Romm had a heated little spat last month, with both trading accusations of lies and bad faith.  When I left comments with each suggesting that the other might have a legitimate complaint, each reflexively questioned my motive while dodging my comment, and both claimed the moral high ground while exercising editorial discretion to refuse to post some of my remarks.

This is not particularly surprising, given our cognitive predilections to see ourselves as right (and good), and those who disagree with us as wrong (and evil), as I have noted on any number of occasions.

But as this predilection hinders the ability of people to look in the mirror and see themselves even when they are complaining about how badly they are mistreated by others, it is not simply a continuing source of amusement, but also a serious vulnerability that rent-seekers frequently deliberately exploit to harness and distract us from their agendas.

A small case in point is Rob Bradley, bloggermeister at MasterResource and founder of the Institute for Energy Research, who wrote in to Roger Pielke to commiserate and complain about how he, too, was a victim of Joe Romm`s personal attacks, and how much more civil and “open-minded” the discourse was from “the free market side”. 

Given my own experience – including Rob`s banning me from his blog for questioning his support for fossil fuel rent-seekers – I felt that Rob`s complaint was too rich to go unaddressed,  I copy here (with slight changes to improve clarity) my response:

Rob Bradley says, “I certainly do not know anyone on my side of the debate who acts like he does, and I do not think that institutions on the free market side would tolerate what the Center for American Progress does with him.”

Come on, Rob, beauty may be in the mind of the beholder, but the right has always played a highly policized and personalized game on climate policy; just look at Marc Morano, Stephen Milloy, Chris Horner (and the whole “Planet Gore” ad hominem corner at NRO), and Noel Sheppard at NewsBusters.

“But these are desperate times for climate alarmism and policy activism on all fronts–physical science, political economy, and public policy.”

Sure they are, and not merely for the left. In any case, the right bears a great deal of responsibility, for refusing to provide any leadership over the past decade – except leadership on unending wars on terror, gays, enviros and our pocketbooks (which is one of the reasons we now have Dems in charge) – while engaging during that period in an orgy of self-righteous pork-barrel for their own special interests (some of whom even now are being fed at the public trough).

Good job! Maybe the right needs to hire Bob Luntz back again to give us more strategy memos of the same kind?

Like you, I`m hoping that “more and more open-minded people will come to see [TT: rent-seeking of all kinds – including by Old King Coal] as part of the climate-change problem, not the solution.”  But since surely you agree with me about open-mindedness and rent-seeking, maybe you`d care to share with the rest of the open-minded people here your reasons for BANNING me from commenting at MasterResource?

And inquiring minds would like to know if they are the same reasons you gave to your co-bloggers (Chip Knappenberger, Tom Tanton, Marlo Lewis, Bob Murphy) for pulling the plug in the middle of the public conversations that they were engaging me in on MR.

A further small irony, perhaps even now not realized by Bradley, is that Bradley, in a parallel post on his own blog designed to play up Roger’s complaints (with Joe’s of course going completely unnoticed), included a quote from Pielke’s blog where Roger notes that Romm could not provide a satisfactory response when questioned by a reader on one of the points of contention:

when a reader of both of our blogs called him on it he could not provide the goods (because there aren’t any).

The irony?  Rob, by including this quote from Roger, has linked to yours truly. I’m a leper as far as commenting on his blog, but I’m okay for him to link to, as long as he doesn’t know it’s me! (h/t to Bob Murphy)

Rob closes out his own post with a noble wish:  “May the climate debate become more civil and the best arguments win!”. 

Yes, and may Rob take his own advice, perhaps even on his own blog.

[Note: Bear with me, please.  I have a few similar thoughts to share on this topic, and thought this was a good place to start.]