Even by Albany standards

Friday, June 12, 2009
I don't have a whole lot of commentary for this one but I think it's necessary to bear witness to the reindeer games going on this week in the New York state Senate. The thrust of it is that two renegade state senators have flipped the majority body upside down and bogged down the last scheduled week of the session with drama and intrigue. This last week of the session also happens to be the most important week in the legislature as the body reputedly does 30-40% of it's work during this important week. In addition to this, NY Governor David Patterson has set a state gay marriage vote in the lap of the legislature, to be voted on, yea or nay, before the session is over. But instead of earning their paychecks this week, this is what has happened...

On Monday, June 8, 2009, Democrat Senators Pedro Espada Jr. (Bronx) and Hiram Monserrate (Queens) participate in a leadership vote for the state Senate, joining with the Republican minority to form a brand new majority and naming Sen. Espada the new Senate president. They say they are not switching parties but merely voting for leadership reform. Watching this happen the Democrats try to adjourn to shut the leadership vote down, but fail. Blind-sided and probably embarrassed, the "former" Democratic majority split, leaving the Senate floor, locking the doors and shutting off the lights. Then they went to their lawyers to see if a judge couldn't give them their majority back. Here is a blow-by-blow of the Senate proceedings on Monday.

Governor Patterson comes out against the Senate and their shenanigans telling them to "act like adults" and calling the whole process "ridiculous" and "despicable" and saying they they had humiliated government "even by Albany standards" which is evidently a thing people say here in the Empire State. While he initially decided to recognize the former Senate majority leader, Malcolm Smith, he said later on Wednesday that he wanted the Senators to get back in the chamber, take a vote, and he would go with whoever they decided. He admits that he has no legal power to make things happen in this dispute. Based on communications between Governor Patterson and the state legislature, I detect that he doesn't get along too well with them, but he's no favorite of theirs either. He has been bopping them on the heads about the budget all year (and ever since he's been governor for that matter).

As of yesterday, the NY Senate has been holding sessions with 30 Republicans and the 2 Democrat defectors (dems from the former majority don't even show up), although Monserrate seems to be on the fence about his decision still. The new majority has had trouble keeping him in the chamber and it is uncertain whether he is really committed to this new coalition.

What I find spectacular is that every article you can find about this fiasco is sure to mention the iffy reputations of the two defecting Democrats. It is often announced that Senator Espada has had trouble keeping his hands out of charity funds in order to finance his political campaigns and Monserrate was arrested last year for slashing his girlfriend in the face with a broken glass. So, not exactly the classiest of characters participating in this coup, but I wonder if these two are representative of the rest of the folks working the Senate in Albany. Governor Patterson's "even by Albany standards" quote seems very appropriate.

It is also remarkable that Espada, as the newly elected Senate President, is next in line for Governor Patterson's job if anything bad should happen to him. Patterson himself seems to break the mold of a NY politician, relatively clean compared to Elliot Spitzer, his predecessor, who resigned in the wake of a call-girl scandal, and Pedro Espada Jr., the embezzling turncoat Senator who could be the governor in a heartbeat.

My larger question is: what the heck is going on in state governments? I mean, this is typically the resource pool for the manpower we get at the national leadership level, right? Not too long ago the President himself was a state senator (who himself attributes his election to the Illinois Senate to a scandal and some luck).
Perhaps I shouldn't be surprised. I'm an outsider to NY politics so this all seems very amusing, but when I reflect on the state where I was born, we elected the Terminator in a contest that also included celebrity Gary Coleman and about a thousand other candidates in a news-making circus election season. But I also have to reflect on Governor Rick Perry's antics from Texas with his recent comments about state secession and the like.

What in the world is going on?

Cap-and-trade is so hot right now.

Friday, June 5, 2009
Let me get this strait…

We cap carbon emissions as a desirable level. Then we issue tradable pollution permits. How this is done is an important step which I can address in a footnote but I’m going to move on.

The tradable permits have a price. That price determines whether it is going to be worthwhile to stop polluting or reduce emissions. If it costs less to buy a permit than reduce my emissions (technology, lost revenue), I’m buying that permit! If it costs more to buy a permit than user cleaner technology, then I’m going to clean up my plant or reduce output to control my emissions.

All this settles out to a sexy little efficient scenario where all the people who can easily reduce emissions will do so and those who can’t won’t do it. The costs of reducing emissions will the lowest it can be and the annual carbon emissions level will be set at…whatever… [edit: whatever congress/EPA feels like it should be set at]

So everybody’s good right?

Wrong. Everybody feels good. We are cutting emissions! Sure we are-in some places. In other places plants are just buying the permits so they can drive on. They pass the expense on to their customers and the bills go up in neighborhoods where the plant can’t cost-effectively lower the pollution output.

Meanwhile, while everybody has got their fuzzies from carbon control legislature, a constant flow of carbon-dioxide is going into the air albeit measured and “capped.” Perhaps it is assumed that every year we get a new atmosphere with a baseline amount of carbon-dioxide, and we can add to it a certain amount each year and then switch it out for a new one next year.

This is the Keeling Curve. It measures carbon-dioxide content of the atmosphere at Mauna Loa, HI in parts per million.

Notice something? That’s right, it goes up. More and more carbon-dioxide is put into the atmosphere every year. If you believe in the greenhouse affect and the theory of global climate change, this is a bad thing.

Okay, straw man effectively knocked out. Let me make a real argument. What if I told you the carbon-dioxide was necessary for plant life on Earth. It’s literally plant food. Plants do not exist without carbon-dioxide in the atmosphere. Well heck, put more of the stuff in the atmosphere. All that will happen is more plants will grow or they will grow bigger of faster.

Okay. Fine.

This is the Keeling Curve. Notice something? That’s right, it goes up. Which means more carbon-dioxide is going into the atmosphere. Some is getting taken out, but there is still a net increase in the amount of carbon-dioxide going up there. Carbon is going up at the rate of a smoke stack but is getting sucked back out at the pace of leaf growth. I’ve watched leaves grow. It takes a long time. Please don’t be so amused by the “cap” that you forget to ask where what’s left over is going to go.

We can argue that the biosphere will catch up...leaf growth is still growth, right? Finding the balance is the key. When we can emit as much carbon as will grow in foliage each year, there should be a balance, right? Right?

Well. What does your equilibrium state look like? (I prefer not to use loaded language, so I’ll go ahead and use images) The point is there has to be an eventual end-state to all of this extra plant food.

Something ought to be done that doesn’t just result in a steady flow of carbon each year to add to the world’s problems. The answer is reaching a carbon output level that is EXACTLY parallel to the natural amount of carbon that is naturally released into the atmosphere. That is to say: rotting detritus and chemical exchange on the surface of water. This means a switch to ZERO emission energy generation like wind and solar energy. If I must go on, I’ll do it in another segment.

For now, suffice it to say that I’m not really cap-and-trade kind of guy. Nice thought, but long-run ineffective.

I still owe you that footnote. Here goes. The question is whether the government issues permits free or auctions. I’m not going to triple-check my info for a foot-note but it looks like recent cap-and-trade legislation is talking about a mix of free permits and auctioned permits. 15% will be auctioned if memory serves.

If the government issues permits free, then NOBODY cuts emissions. They’ve got permits now for whatever they pollute. In addition to this, now they’ve got something to sell-for FREE. Environmental groups will probably be the only market for these permits which can be sold when better technology comes about to clean up pollution (which it should and will-it always does). The price will be low if not zero for these permits when they are sold.

Now auctioning off the permits actually has the desired affect of accomplishing exactly what I’ve described above. It actually does cause incentive to change technologies or find another way to lower emissions, because you’ve got to PAY to pollute. I think I also made it clear why that’s a lame idea.

Anyway, perhaps they’re thinking of a smooth middle ground. Meet up half way. Because as anyone who has passed third grade math will tell you, 15% is totally a good half-way point.

Anyhow, toodles. Sorry so long.