Monday, June 29, 2015

We Need a Constitutional Convention

Reckless government spending and an uncontrollable federal debt have created an unavoidable monetary disaster ahead. The door to unlimited federal spending was opened by President Nixon in 1971 when he severed the last link between the dollar and gold by ending foreign central banks' ability to exchange dollars for U.S. gold. Politicians quickly learned that more spending brought more votes to keep them in office; and with no limit on federal spending, the mountain of debt just kept on growing.

Attempts have been made to limit federal spending through a balanced-budget process. Unfortunately, our government has become so structurally corrupt that Congress will never reduce spending. It is politically impossible to elect dedicated, knowledgeable people in sufficient numbers to achieve this. Congress passed laws in 1978 and 1985 to balance the budget, but later Congresses ignored them. Constitutional amendments were introduced in 1982, 1986, 1990, 1994 and 1995, and Congress voted down every one of them, even the particularly toothless ones in 1994 and 1995. Congress has proven worthless as far as reducing spending. It is not about to trim its own power. That power must be taken away! There is fortunately a way to do this: a Constitutional Amendment by a new constitutional convention called by the states.

The Constitution provides two methods for initiating amendments to that document. The first, which has been utilized for all amendments in our history, provides for Congress to initiate proposed amendments; but our Founders were wise enough to provide an alternative if that should be necessary. The second method is through a constitutional convention called by the states. Amendments proposed by either method must then by ratified by three-fourths of the state legislatures in order to become part of the Constitution. Now is the time to utilize this second procedure to achieve a balanced budget amendment that the first method has failed to provide.

A balanced-budget amendment should be accompanied by an amendment to close the door to unlimited spending that was opened by Nixon in 1971, which made the dollar a pure fiat currency. There is no limit to the amount of money politicians can spend if money is backed by nothing, but they cannot spend unlimited amounts of money backed by material asset such as gold.

A balanced budget amendment and gold convertibility are vital, but they alone will not tame Congress' profligate spending. One reason is that Congress can use unfunded mandates to push costs onto state and local governments that do not show up as federal spending. Obamacare (Affordable Care Act) and the Dodd-Frank Act imposed 86 unfunded mandates on state and local governments. One of the worst offenders is the Obamacare's “Essential Health Benefits; Exchanges: Eligibility and Enrollment” requirement. Even the Obama administration admits this will add more than 12.8 million hours of paperwork to state and local governments and cost them $336.9 million annually. This amounts to 251,000 hours per state for one ACA paperwork requirement. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there are 33,600 state compliance officers to ensure conformity with laws and regulations.

Originally, the Constitution provided that state legislatures would determine U.S. Senators. That was the only structural link between the state and federal levels of government, but it was destroyed by the Seventeen Amendment, which established popular election for senators. That eliminated the states' ability to restrain federal spending, while increased spending became more important for currying favor with voters and influencing elections. Over time this process enlarged the scope and power of the federal government and essentially reduced the states to mere departments of Big Government. They can do only what Washington allows, or demands, and in a manner Washington prescribes. Today it is generally overlooked that the states created the federal government, not the other way around. They are not junior partners or subsidiaries. Lacking the power to print money, the states have to pay the cost of unfunded federal mandates through taxes. The federal government should be prevented from forcing the states to do this. State taxes should go for purposes determined by state legislatures; federal taxes, for federal purposes. Therefore, we need a Constitutional Amendment stating that Congress shall have no power to require state tax increases or how taxes are spent within the state; the cost of all federal mandates thrust upon the states must be paid by the federal government.

We also need a constitutional amendment to reverse the Supreme Court declaration in the United States v. Butler, 1936, decision that “the power to authorize appropriations of public money for public purposes is not limited by the direct grants of legislative power in the Constitution.” If the government has no power to act beyond those direct grants, it should have no power to spend beyond them either.

We also need a constitutional amendment to reassert that the federal government shall henceforth be limited to the Constitution's grants of power, which it has repeatedly violated. All three branches, the executive, legislative and judicial, have been increasingly guilty of expanding their roles beyond their Constitutional authority, failing to respect—indeed, destroying—the separation of powers and violating the Tenth Amendment, which states: “The powers not delegated to the United States, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

The Constitution vests all legislative power in Congress. The executive branch lacks any authority to change not only the health care law but any law. Yet President Obama has usurped Congress' legislative authority many times, at least two dozen times in just the Obamacare law by unilaterally rewriting parts of it to change the date it became effective, delay the employer mandate, allow people to keep health plans that don't meet that law's standards, etc. And the Supreme Court likewise violated (in King v. Burwell) the separation of powers by usurping the legislative power of Congress through substitution of its own views rather than the clear meaning of the words “established by the state” that Congress had used in the writing law.”

Actually, the problems with Obamacare, and a myriad of others, would never have occurred if the Constitution had been followed because it grants no power over health care or medicine to the federal government. It also grants the federal government no power in agriculture, education, social welfare, labor relations, the environment, business subsidies, stimulating employment, or regulating the economy. All of those fields were “reserved to the states respectively, or to the people,”


Friday, May 29, 2015

Solar Inefficiency Is Economically Ruinous

In a previous post we pointed out that alternative energies (solar, wind, ethanol and other biofuels) bump up against implacable physical realities which no amount of government spending or research can overcome, and which are environmentally destructive despite propaganda to the contrary. Ethanol in gasoline, for example, according to EPA's own data, increases key pollutants such as volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxide by as much as 7 percent. Yet it was on the basis of phony scientific claims that ethanol would reduce pollution from automobile emissions that it use was mandated by the government.

Biofuels have a power density of only 0.3 watts per square meter, and modern solar voltaic panels about 6 watts per square meter. An average oil well producing 10 barrels per day is at 27 watts per square meter, and an average nuclear plant more than 50 watts per square meter. Biofuels used 247 million acres of land—that's more than twice the size of California—to produce less than one-half of one percent of the world's energy, according to Robert Bryce, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, in 2014.

Now I have come across a book that really drives home how impractical it is to talk about replacing fossil fuels, which comprise 87 percent of the world's energy, with any meaningful amount of these alternative sources. The book is Green Illusions: The Dirty Secrets of Clean Energy and the Future of Environmentalism. Significantly, it is not from the fossil fuels industry or based on its data or research. Rather, author Ozzie Zehner assembles his case “from government offices, environmentalists, and scientists promoting solar photo-voltaics.” References for the quotations below can be found in the abundant footnotes in his book.

Zehner calculates what it would cost to replace the world's use of fossil fuels with solar power using today's technology. He writes:

By comparing global energy consumption with the most rosy photo-voltaic cost estimates, courtesy of the solar proponents themselves, [emphasis added] we can roughly sketch a total expense. The solar cells would cost about $59 trillion; the mining, processing and manufacturing facilities to build them would cost about $44 trillion; and the batteries to store power for evening use would cost $20 trillion; bringing the total to about $123 trillion plus about $694 billion per year for maintenance.

For comparison, GDP (gross domestic product) of the entire world is now $74 trillion, and U.S. GDP is $17 trillion. This includes all food, rent, industrial investments, government expenditures, military purchases, exports, etc. “This means,” writes Zehner,

that if every American were to go without food, shelter, protection, and everything else while working hard every day naked, we just might be able to build a photo-voltaic array to power the planet in about a decade. But, unfortunately, these estimations are optimistic.

If actual installed costs for solar projects in California are any guide, a global solar program would cost roughly $1.4 quadrillion....Mining, smelting, processing, shipping and fabricating and their associated hardware would yield about 149,100 megatons of carbon dioxide. And everyone would have to move to the desert; otherwise transmission losses would make the plan unworkable.

The cost of solar cells has dropped markedly, but Zehner says the panels

account for less that half the cost of an installed solar system, according to the industry. Based on research by solar energy proponents and data from the California Energy Commission ...cheaper voltaics won't offset escalating expenditures for insurance, warranty expenses, materials, transportation, labor and other requirements. Low-tech costs are claiming a larger share of the high-tech solar system price tag.

Finally, unforeseen limitations are blind-siding the solar industry as it grows. Fire departments restrict solar roof installations, and homeowner associations complain about the ugly arrays. Adding to the burden, solar arrays now often require elaborate alarm systems and locking fasteners; without such protection, thieves regularly steal the valuable panels...For instance, California resident Glenda Hoffman woke up one morning to discover thieves stole sixteen solar panels from her roof as she slept. [Replacement cost $95,000, was paid by insurance.]

There is no reason to believe a smaller program or a graduated one would be any more workable than worldwide replacement of fossil fuels. The losses would be smaller but would still be outweighed by costs in proportion. The only “benefit” of a smaller scale might be to make it easier to hide the costs in a labyrinth of subsidies and budgetary gimmicks and push the cost onto future generations by adding it to the national debt.

It is worth noting, too, that the losses are not limited to the direct cost of the inefficiencies of solar energy. The financial increment consumed by overpaying for energy results in that increment being spent less optimally, too. For example, the argument is made that the solar industry creates jobs; however, those jobs will be in areas such as producing more solar panels for an artificially created demand for an uneconomic product, rather than for the needs of consumers which would be better met by jobs in other fields.

It also means that consumers who are forced to overpay for energy have less money available for other purchases.