Side Streets, Downtown Streets, Highways, Parkways and Freeways

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 31st, 2013

Technology 101

In 20th Century our Subdivision Planners shifted from Automobile-Friendly to People-Friendly Designs

The automobile changed how we live.  Where once we crowded into crowded cites and worked close to where we lived today we don’t.  Instead choosing to live in sleepy suburbs.  Away from the noise and congestion of city life.  Where we can relax after work.  And on the weekend.  Enjoying a beer in the shade in our backyard.  Our little Shangri-La.  Come Monday morning, though, it’s back to the grind.  So we back our car out of the garage.  And drive out of our little residential community.

If you live in an older suburb that would be a drive down a straight road.  Running either north and south.  Or east and west.  Bringing you efficiently to a larger road.  That you can efficiently take to a larger road yet.  With a higher speed limit.  With many of us eventually taking that road to an onramp of an interstate freeway.  For that morning commute.  Quick.  And efficiently.  Thanks to our city and suburb planners making our cities and suburbs so automobile-friendly.

Soon everyone was driving so much that these roads got congested.  Including the ones in our sleepy little subdivisions.  With people racing down our side streets to get to those bigger roads.  Filling our little Shangri-La with the sounds of traffic.  And making it unsafe for our kids to ride their bicycles in the street.  Which is why somewhere around the middle of the 20th century our subdivision planners shifted from automobile-friendly to people-friendly.  Instead of grids of straight lines crossing other straight lines at neat right angles our roads in our subdivisions began to curve.  If you ever tried to cut through a subdivision and got so turned around that you ended up where you entered this is why.  To discourage people from driving through our sleepy little streets.  So we can relax with that beer in the shade.  And our kids can ride their bicycles safely in the streets in front of our homes.

Design Speed is the First Consideration when Designing a New Road

Cars are big and heavy.  Trucks are even bigger and heavier.  Yet millions of them safely share the same roads every day.  And few in a small car look twice at a semi truck and trailer stopped next to them at a traffic light.  Or give a second thought to an even bigger and heavier freight train crossing the road ahead of them while they sit at a railroad crossing.  All because of lines painted on the road.  Speed limit signs keeping us driving at the same speed.  And stop signs and traffic lights.  Which people observe.  And give the right-of-way to others.  While they wait their turn to proceed.  Except for trains.  They always have the right-of-way.  Because trains can’t stop as easily as a car or a truck.  And they pay a lot of money for that right-of-way.

As we left our neighborhoods and got onto the bigger roads and drove to the interstate freeway the speed limit got higher and higher.  And the faster large things go the more kinetic energy they build up.  Making it harder to stop.  And to control.  That’s why trains don’t stop for cars.  Cars stop for trains.  Emergency vehicles, like fire trucks and ambulances, get the right-of-way, too.  When we see their lights flashing and/or hear their sirens we pull to the curb and stop.  Because they’re speeding to an emergency and need a clear road.  But also because they are often traveling faster than the design speed of the road.

Yes, design speed.  Not the speed limit.  Two completely different things.  It’s the first consideration when designing a new road.  How fast will traffic travel?  Because everything follows from that.  Curves, grades, visibility, etc., these are all things that vary with speed.  Engineers will design a downtown street with a lot of vehicular and pedestrian traffic for lower speeds than they’ll design a country highway that connects two towns.  Also, lane width in a downtown street can be as narrow as 9 feet.  And they can have sidewalks adjacent to the curbs.  Allowing narrower streets for pedestrians to cross.  Freeways, on the other hand, have lanes that are 12 feet wide.  And have wide shoulders.  Because faster vehicles need more separation.  As they tend to waver across their lanes.  So this is another reason why we pull aside for emergency vehicles.  As they may approach or exceed the design speed of a road.  So we give them wider lanes by pulling over.  As well as giving them a less obstructive view of the road ahead.

The Modern Interstate Freeway System is Basically an Improved Parkway

Old 2-lane country highways had narrow lanes and narrow shoulders.  Making it easy to drift across the center line if distracted.  Or tired.  Into oncoming traffic.  If a person hugs the shoulder because he or she is nervous about fast-moving oncoming traffic they could drift over to the right.  Out of their lane.  And drop off of the shoulder.  Which could result in a loss of control.  Even a rollover accident.  And if you were stuck behind a slow-moving truck on a grade there was only one way around it.  Moving over into the lane of oncoming traffic.  And speeding up to get ahead of the truck before a car crashes head-on into you.  In fact, there used to be a passing lane.  A 3-lane highway with one lane traveling one direction.  One lane traveling in the other direction.  And a lane in the middle for passing.  Which worked well when only one person passed at a time.  But did not work so well when cars from each lane moved into the passing lane at the same time.  Running head-on into each other.  That’s why you won’t see a passing lane these days.  They are just too dangerous.

In the 20th century we started making roads for higher speeds.  Parkways.  The traffic travelling in either direction was separated by a median.  So you couldn’t drift into oncoming traffic.  There were no intersections.  Crossroads went over or under these parkways.  So traffic on the parkways didn’t have to stop.  They also had limited access.  On ramps and off ramps brought cars on and off, merging them into/out of moving traffic.  And unlike the old 2-lane country roads there were 2 lanes of traffic in each direction.  So if you wanted to pass someone you didn’t have to drive into oncoming traffic to go around a slower-moving vehicle.  And there was a paved shoulder.  So if a car had a flat tire they could limp onto the shoulder to change their tire.  Without interrupting the traffic on the parkway.  Of course, being on the shoulder of a parkway was not the safest place to be.  Especially if some distracted driver drifted onto the shoulder.  And crashed into your broken down car.

The modern interstate freeway system is basically an improved parkway.  They have wider lanes and wider shoulders.  Along the median and the outside right lane.  Instead of the typical Windsor Arch of the parkway they have bridges of concrete and steel.  Allowing greater spans over the roadway.  Keeping those shoulders wide even under the overpasses.  Grades are less steep.  And curves are less sharp.  Allowing little steering inputs at high speeds to control your vehicle.  Making for safer travel at even higher speeds.  And a much greater field of vision.  Even at night where there are no streetlights.  The road won’t change grade or curve so great beyond the length of your headlights.  Safely allowing a high speed even when you can’t see what’s up ahead.  Little things that you’ve probably never noticed.  But if you exit the interstate onto a curvy 2-lane highway with steep grades you will notice that you can’t drive at the same speed.  Especially at night.  In fact, you may drive well below the posted speed limit.  Because you can’t see the summit of the next hill.  Or the curve that takes you away from a sharp drop-off to a ravine below.  Like you find around ski resorts in the mountains.  The kind of highways you can’t wait to get off of and onto the safer interstate freeway system.  Especially in a driving snow storm.

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Appalachian Mountains, Great Lakes, Northwest Territory, Louisiana Territory and the Erie Canal

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 30th, 2013

History 101

Everything grown on the West Side of the Appalachian Mountains eventually ended up on the Mississippi River

At the time of the Founding the American population was clustered around the East Coast.  And on major rivers that flowed into the Atlantic Ocean.  On land east of the Appalachian Mountains.  Not by choice.  But because of geography.  The Founding Fathers knew what great land lay west.  But getting there was another story.

The Great Lakes are huge.  The largest group of freshwater lakes in the world.  If you walked all the coastlines you’d walk so long and so far that you could have walked halfway around the world.  Getting on the lakes opened up the Northwest Territory.  Western New York.  Western Pennsylvania.  Ohio.  Michigan.  Indiana.  Illinois.  Wisconsin.  Minnesota.  And with some portaging, the great interior rivers.  Including the Mississippi River.  Opening up the Great Plains to the West.  And the rich fertile farmland of the interior.  But there was one great obstacle between all of this and the east coast.  Niagara Falls.  Which portaging around was a bitch.

The United States would become an agricultural superpower.  But until they had a way to transport food grown on the land west of the Appalachians that land was not as valuable as it could be.  There were some land routes.  George Washington crossed many times into the Ohio Country from Virginia.  And Daniel Boone blazed the Wilderness Road through the Cumberland Gap into Kentucky and Tennessee.  Opening the Northwest Territory to settlement.  All the way up to the Mississippi River.  And its tributaries.  Including the Ohio River.  But none of these water routes offered a way back east.  Which is why everything grown on the west side of the Appalachian Mountains eventually ended up on the Mississippi River.  And traveled south.  To the Port of New Orleans.  But there was one major problem with that.  The Port of New Orleans belonged to the Spanish.

Thomas Jefferson fought Tirelessly against the Constitution to Restrict the Powers of the Executive Branch

At the time of the Founding there were four European nations jockeying for a piece of the New World.  Who all wanted to keep the Americans east of the Appalachians.  The French had lost New France to the British.  Which they hoped to get back.  And the farther the Americans moved west the harder that would be.  The British were in Canada.  With outposts still in the Northwest Territory.  Despite ceding that land to the Americans.  While the British were pressing in from the north the Spanish were pressing in from the south and the west.  Coming up from Mexico they were in New Orleans.  Texas.  The trans-Mississippi region (the land west of the Mississippi River.  And California and the West Coast.  Making navigation rights on the Mississippi River and the Port of New Orleans a hotly contested issue.

Time would solve that problem in America’s favor.  Napoleon would get the Louisiana Territory for France from the Spanish.  And was intent on rebuilding New France in the New World.  But with the slave rebellion in Saint-Domingue—present day Haiti—Napoleon’s plans changed.  Instead of building New France he was focusing on saving Old France.  As the world war he launched wasn’t going all that well.  So he sold the Louisiana Territory to Thomas Jefferson, then president of the United States.  Making the navigation rights of the Mississippi River a moot point.  For it now belonged to the United States.  Which was great for Thomas Jefferson.  For, he, too, looked west.  And believed the young nation’s future was on the west side of the Appalachian Mountains.  Where yeoman farmers would work their land.  Forming the backbone of the new republic.  Honest men doing honest labor.  Not merchants, bankers and stockjobbers that were trying to destroy the new nation in the east.  The detestable moneyed men that Jefferson hated so.  No.  The winds of the Revolutionary spirit blew west.

This is why Jefferson jumped on the Louisiana Purchase.  In direct violation of the Constitution.  A document he hated because it gave way too much power to the president.  Making the president little different from a king.  Which was the whole point of the American Revolution.  To do away with king-like power.  Throughout his active political life he fought tirelessly against the Constitution.  Fighting to restrict the powers of the executive branch wherever he could.  But the Louisiana Territory?  President Jefferson suddenly had an epiphany.  It was good to be king.

The Erie Canal connected the Eastern Seaboard with the Great Lakes without any Portages

Jefferson would resort to his anti-government positions following the Louisiana Purchase.  He may have violated everything he stood for but even the most stalwart limited government proponent no doubt approves of Jefferson’s actions.  Jefferson was happy.  As was everyone west of the Appalachians.  But it didn’t solve one problem.  The Great Lakes region upstream of Niagara Falls was still cutoff from the East Coast.  And the Port of New Orleans.  There were some routes to these destinations.  But they included some portaging between navigable waterways.  Which made it difficult to transport bulk goods into the region.  And out of the region.

As Jefferson’s vision of limited government faded government grew.  As did government spending.  Especially on internal improvements.  For they had great political dividends.  They created a lot of jobs.  And brought a lot of federal money to communities with those internal improvements.  Which helped politicians win elections.  And back around the 1800s the big internal improvements were canals.  Such as the Erie Canal.  Connecting the Eastern Seaboard with the Great Lakes.  Providing a waterway without any portages from the Hudson River that flows into the Atlantic Ocean at New York City.  All the way to the Great Lakes.  Near Buffalo.  Just above Niagara Falls.  Opening the Great Lakes regions to settlement.  And the Northwest Territory.  (Something George Washington wanted to do.  Who wanted to extend a canal into the West from the Potomac River.)  Creating a trade super highway between the Great Lakes region and the East Coast.  Through the Port of New York.  And on to the rest of the world.

The U.S. population moved west.  But still clung to rivers and coastlines.  Until another internal improvement came along.  The railroad.  Which did for the country’s interior what the Erie Canal did for the Great Lakes region.  With cities growing up along these rail lines.  Away from rivers and coastlines.  Then came the interstate highway system.  Which allowed cities to grow away from the rail lines.  There is now a road, rail or waterway that will take you pretty much anywhere in the United States.  And now we have the airplane.  Which can fly over the Appalachians.  Or the Niagara escarpment.  Allowing us today to move anyone or anything anywhere today.  Something George Washington and Thomas Jefferson desperately wanted.  But could only dream of.

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Air Transport vs. Rail Transport

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 29th, 2013

Economics 101

Trains require an Enormous Amount of Infrastructure between Terminal Points whereas a Plane does Not

Trains and jets are big and expensive.  And take huge sums of money to move freight and passengers.  Each has their strength.  And each has their weakness.  Planes are great for transporting people.  While trains are best for moving heavy freight.  They both can and do transport both.  But pay a premium when they are not operating at their strength.

The big difference between these two modes of transportation is infrastructure.  Trains require an enormous amount of infrastructure between terminal points.  Whereas a plane doesn’t need anything between terminal points.  Because they fly in the air.  But because they fly in the air they need a lot of fuel to produce enough lift to break free from the earth’s gravity.  Trains, on the other hand, don’t have to battle gravity as much.  As they move across the ground on steel rails.  Which offer little resistance to steel wheels.  Allowing them to pull incredible weights cross country.  But to do that they need to build and maintain very expensive train tracks between point A and point B.

To illustrate the difference in costs each incurs moving both people and freight we’ll look at a hotshot freight train and a Boeing 747-8.  A hotshot freight gets the best motive power and hustles on the main lines across the country.  The Boeing 747-8 is the latest in the 747 family and includes both passenger and freighter versions.  The distance between Los Angeles (LA) and New York City (NYC) is approximately 2,800 miles.  So let’s look at the costs of each mode of transportation moving both people and freight between these two cities.

Railroads are so Efficient at moving Freight because One Locomotive can pull up to 5,000 Tons of Freight

There are many variables when it comes to the cost of building and maintaining railroad track.  So we’re going to guesstimate a lot of numbers.  And do a lot of number crunching.  An approximate number for the cost per mile of new track is $1.3 million.  That includes land, material and labor.  So the cost of the track between LA and NYC is $3.6 billion.  Assuming a 7-year depreciation schedule that comes to $1.4 million per day.  If it takes 3 days for a hotshot freight to travel from LA to NYC that’s $4.3 million for those three days.  Of course, main lines see a lot of traffic.  So let’s assume there are 8 trains a day for a total of 24 trains during that 3-day period.  This brings the depreciation expense for that trip from LA to NYC down to $178,082.

So that’s the capital cost of those train tracks between point A and point B.  Now the operating costs.  An approximate number for annual maintenance costs per mile of track is $300,000.  So the annual cost to maintain the track between LA and NYC is $840 million.  Crunching the numbers the rest of the way brings the maintenance cost for that 3-day trip to approximately $278,671.  Assuming a fuel consumption of 4 gallons per mile, a fuel cost of $3/gallon and a lashup of 3 locomotives the fuel cost for that 3-day trip is approximately $100,800.  Adding the capital cost, the maintenance expense and the fuel costs brings the total to $566,553.  With each locomotive being able to pull approximately 5,000 tons of freight for a total of 15,000 tons brings the cost per ton of freight shipped to $37.77.

Now let’s look at moving people by train.  People are a lot lighter than heavy freight.  So we can drop one locomotive in the lashup.  And burn about a gallon less per mile.  Bringing the fuel cost down from $100,800 to $50,400.  And the total cost to $516,153.  Assuming these locomotives pull 14 Amtrak Superliners (plus a dining car and a baggage car) that’s a total of 1,344 passengers (each Superliner has a 96 passenger maximum capacity).  Dividing the cost by the number of passengers gives us a cost of $384.04 per passenger.

Passenger Rail requires Massive Government Subsidies because of the Costs of Building and Maintaining Track

A Boeing 747-8 freighter can carry a maximum 147.9 tons of freight.  While consuming approximately 13.7 gallons of jet fuel per mile.  At 2,800 miles that trip from LA to NYC will consume about 38,403 gallons of jet fuel.  At $3/gallon that comes to a $115,210 total fuel cost.  Or $778.97 per ton.  Approximately 1,962% more than moving a ton of freight from LA to NYC by train.  Excluding the capital costs of locomotives, rolling stock, airplanes, terminal infrastructure/fees, etc.  Despite that massive cost of building and maintaining rail between point A and point B the massive tonnage a train can move compared to what a plane can carry makes the train the bargain when moving freight.  But it’s a different story when it comes to moving people.

The Boeing 747-8 carries approximately 467 people on a typical flight.  And burns approximately 6.84 gallons per mile.  Because people are a lot lighter than freight.  Crunching the numbers gives a cost per passenger of $123.11.  Approximately 212% less than what it costs a train to move a person.  Despite fuel costs being almost the same.  The difference is, of course, the additional $465,753 in costs for the track running between LA and NYC.  Which comes to $346.54 per passenger.  Or about 90% of the cost/passenger.  Which is why there are no private passenger railroads these days.  For if passenger rail isn’t heavily subsidized by the taxpayer the price of a ticket would be so great that no one would buy them.  Except the very rich train enthusiast.  Who is willing to pay 3 times the cost of flying and take about 12 times the time of flying.

There are private freight railroads.  Private passenger airlines.  And private air cargo companies.  Because they all can attract customers without government subsidies.  Passenger rail, on the other hand, can’t.  Because of the massive costs to build and maintain railroad tracks.  With high-speed rail being the most expensive track to build and maintain.  Making it the most cost inefficient way to move people.  Requiring massive government subsidies.  Either for the track infrastructure.  Or the electric power that powers high-speed rail.

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President Obama suppresses First Amendment rights at Political Event

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 28th, 2013

Week in Review

When George W. Bush was president he faced a lot of heckling.  Heck, he even had someone throw a shoe at him.  Tough crowds.  But President Obama doesn’t seem to be suffering these tough crowds like Bush.  Guess that means President Obama is just more loved than George W. Bush (see College Republicans Denied Admittance to Obama Speech by Nathan Harden posted 7/25/2013 on the National Review).

Christopher White of The College Fix reports that students wearing “Tea Party T-Shirts and others who wore patriotic or Republican-inspired clothing” were turned away at the door under the guise of security concerns, despite the fact that they held tickets to the event.

Or it could mean they only allow enthusiastic supporters of the president into these rooms when he speaks.  Suppressing the First Amendment right of free speech.  Sort of like they do in North Korea.  The former Soviet Union.  China under Mao.  Nazi Germany.  Cuba.  And any other nation led by a cult of personality.  Where they use a massive propaganda machine and state oppression to make sure people only cheer at their dear leader.  No matter how much the people may hate him.  Or her.

Love him or hate him George W. Bush was the real deal.  What you saw was what you got.  Unlike with President Obama.  Where his handlers, friends in the mainstream media, Hollywood, television, the music industry, etc., work tirelessly to show their love of the dear leader.  To encourage others to love him, too.  To sustain the cult of personality.  But if you dare criticize him you’ll find yourself getting a colonoscopy from the IRS before you can say “Tea Party.”  Sure, not as unpleasant as it was in Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union, but unpleasant enough.  Enough to make people think twice about criticizing the dear leader.

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Unfunded Pension and Retire Health Care Liabilities are a Problem for more Cities than just Detroit

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 28th, 2013

Week in Review

The problem all our big cities are having is the cost of pension and retiree health care for their public sectors.  These cities made ridiculous promises during their contract negotiations with their public sector unions.  Promising them generous pension and health care benefits for life for retirees.  Benefits a later generation would have to pay for.  Which is why these cities are imploding under these costs.  And why Detroit filed bankruptcy.  These cities never put away the money for these future benefits because they were just too costly.  Besides, they no doubt thought, when the bill comes due it will be someone else’s problem.  And that’s where we are today.

How bad is it?  Really bad.  Especially in Detroit.  A city that has about half the population it had when it entered into those agreements.  And nowhere near the automotive industry it had back then.  A race riot in 1967 caused a white flight.  And the black middle class would follow years later.  As the jobs left Detroit for the suburbs.  And the people followed those jobs out of the city.  Just decimating the tax base that has to pay those unfunded benefits (see The Retirement Surprise In Detroit’s Bankruptcy by Robert C. Pozen posted 7/25/2013 on Brookings).

When Detroit recently filed for bankruptcy, one number surprised a lot of observers–$6.4 billion in other post-employment benefits (OPEB). OPEB is primarily comprised of unfunded obligations to pay health care costs for municipal employees.

By contrast, the unfunded pension obligations of Detroit were $3 billion–less than half the size of its OPEB…

The Pew Charitable Trust did a study in 2013 of both pension and OPEB shortfalls in the 30 largest cities in the United States. The three cities other than Detroit with the largest pension shortfalls were:

$14,302 per city household in New York City;
$12,170 per city household in Philadelphia; and
$11,389 per city household in Portland, Oregon.

But the shortfalls for OPEB, primarily healthcare obligations, were significantly larger. According to Pew, the three cities other than Detroit with the largest OPEB shortfalls were:

$22,857 per city household in New York City,
$18,962 per city household in Boston
$13,487 per city household in San Francisco.

These numbers are staggering.  Based on the U.S. Census, there are about 264,209 households in Detroit.  If you divide the total unfunded pension and health care costs by the number of households you get $35,578.  That is, to pay this outstanding debt it will cost each household in the city of Detroit $35,578.  Which will be very difficult to do when the median household income in Detroit is $27, 862.

Those in the union say these people are owed their retirement and health care benefits.  Because they made a deal.  But they didn’t make a deal with the people currently paying the taxes.  What this amounts to is generational theft.  Like all those municipal pensions and health care benefits.  For when they made those generous agreements the people who ultimately had to pay them weren’t in the room when they signed those contracts.  In fact they weren’t even born yet.  The people demanding their benefits now and their union representation apparently had no problem sticking it to future generations.  They were the ones in the room when they signed those contracts.  And didn’t give the people stuck paying for their benefits a second thought.

All big cities with big public sectors have the same problem.  They may not be ‘Detroit’ bad but they have bills that they won’t be able to pay.  There are about 100 U.S. cities with a population of a quarter million or more.  If each one of them had this problem that’s about $1 trillion in unfunded benefits just in these cities alone.  With trillion dollar deficits already, Obamacare coming on line and Social Security and Medicare projected to go broke the federal government just won’t be able to bail these cities out.  Perhaps bringing the days of generational theft to an end.  Which may be the only good thing to come from a wave of municipal bankruptcies.

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One Pharmaceutical Company spent on Average $12 Billion per new Drug they brought to Market

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 28th, 2013

Week in Review

People hate pharmaceutical companies.  They think they’re gouging them on the price of their medication.  If the people only knew what it cost to bring a new drug to market (see The Truly Staggering Cost Of Inventing New Drugs by Matthew Herper posted 2/10/2012 on Forbes).

The average drug developed by a major pharmaceutical company costs at least $4 billion, and it can be as much as $11 billion…

Bernard Munos of the InnoThink Center for Research In Biomedical Innovation…divided each drug company’s R&D budget by the average number of drugs approved…

The range of money spent is stunning. AstraZeneca has spent $12 billion in research money for every new drug approved, as much as the top-selling medicine ever generated in annual sales; Amgen spent just $3.7 billion. At $12 billion per drug, inventing medicines is a pretty unsustainable business. At $3.7 billion, you might just be able to make money (a new medicine can probably keep generating revenue for ten years; invent one a year at that rate and you’ll do well).

…the main expense is failure.

Why include failure in the cost? Right now, fewer than 1 in 10 medicines that start being tested in human clinical trials succeed…

It really does cost billions of dollars to invent new medicines for heart disease, cancer, or diabetes. The reality is that the pharmaceutical business is in the grip of rising failure rates and rising costs. We can all only hope that new technologies and a better understanding of biology will turn things around.

This is why our medicines are so expensive.  And why we have to wait for patents to run out before cheap generics hit the market.  Because whoever will manufacture those cheap generics didn’t have to spend $12 billion to bring the drug to market.

If drug companies can’t recover these massive costs they may do something worse than charge us an arm and a leg for a drug that will save our life.  They may stop bringing drugs that can save our life to market.

People say the profit incentive shouldn’t guide something as important as health care and medicine.  But what is the alternative?  Have the government spend $12 billion to develop a life-saving drug?  Because they’re so smart and motivated by social responsibility?  Instead of profit?  Yeah, they sure can pick winners in the private sector.  Like Solyndra.  If you’re not familiar with the name it’s because Solyndra filed bankruptcy.  Because their solar panels were the wrong solar panels to bet on in the private sector.  But the federal government bet $535 million in loan guarantees because they were so sure that Solyndra was a winner.  And their bankruptcy shows why we don’t want the government spending $12 billion to develop a life-saving drug.  For the federal government is just not good at bringing things to market.

So if we want these life-saving drugs we have to let these drug companies recoup the $12 billion they spent to bring a new drug to market.  For the sad reality is that $12 billion is a bargain compared to what the government would spend.

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Dirigibles may do the Heavy Lifting in Alaska

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 28th, 2013

Week in Review

If you’ve watched Ice Road Truckers you’ve learned that it isn’t easy to move freight in Arctic regions.  Like Alaska.  Because there aren’t a lot of roads or bridges in Arctic regions.  Hence the ice roads.  Crossing rivers, lakes and oceans in the winter when they’re frozen over.  But even these roads cover only a fraction of Alaska’s sprawling country.  Which is why the airplane dominates in Alaska.  To move freight.  And people.  Making for some really high transportation costs.  Raising the costs of everything the good people of Alaska buy (see Hometown U: Could blimps find a place in Alaska skies? by Kathleen McCoy, Hometown U, posted 7/27/2013 on Anchorage Daily News).

Rob Harper at AUTC [Alaska University Transportation Center] pointed me to a new study the Center and UAA’s Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER) partnered on, looking at the effect of higher transportation fuel prices. He called it a true eye-opener on the ever-rising cost of moving goods to and around Alaska. Every household and business is affected. No one thinks fuel prices will go down again.

ISER economists have often looked at spiking heat and electricity costs, but this was a first attempt to document higher transportation costs rippling through Alaska’s economy. In 2010, economist Ginny Fay and her study colleagues reported, Alaska’s per capita energy consumption was triple the national average.

Alaska fuel prices increased more than 25 percent between 2009 and 2010. Consumers responded by buying fewer cars and airplane tickets. They also paid higher prices for everything they did buy, from food to clothing…

Industries that use the most fuel are the hardest hit. In Alaska, that’s aviation, which uses 90 percent of it, Fay wrote.

And this in a state that exports oil.  But while they may be rich in oil reserves they have no refinery capacity.  Which means refined aviation fuel, diesel and gasoline has to be brought into Alaska.  And unlike the lower 48, that get their refined petroleum products via pipelines, Alaska must rely on more costly modes of transportation.  Shipping it over land or over water in smaller batches at greater prices.

Here’s where those slow, graceful dirigibles wedge their way back into our conversation. Being lighter than air thanks to nonflammable helium, and moving much slower than planes, they consume a lot less fuel. One research study for the military in 2009 compared an hour of flight time in an F-16 ($8,000) to an hour of flight time in a dirigible (less than $500).

Traditional air cargo is the most expensive way to move freight on a fuel-cost-per-ton-mile basis. Fay’s analysis showed that rail is cheapest, followed by trucks, then barge, ships and ferries. But Alaska only has 500 miles of rail. Our ships and barges often leave the state less than full, raising the cost per ton-mile. And we only have two roads, one north and one south. Most of Alaska is nowhere near a road or a coastline. So we’re back to air cargo.

Rail is the cheapest way to move heavy freight because of steel wheels on steel rails.  There’s very little friction so locomotives can pull a very long train consist full of heavy freight.  And they move fast.  Day or night.  In any kind of weather.  So they can quickly carry revenue-producing freight nearly around the clock.  Trucks are fast like trains but carry far less per load.  And whereas railroads change out train crews to keep trains rolling around the clock most long-haul trucks are privately owned.  And when the driver reaches his legal limit of driving time per day he or she has to park their rig and rest for a mandatory rest period.  Thus reducing the revenue-miles of trucks compared to trains.

Barges, ships and ferries can carry larger loads than trucks but loading and unloading takes time.  Time they can’t earn revenue.  Also, they travel slower than trains or trucks.  Limiting the amount of revenue-earning trips they can make.  Whereas air cargo is the fastest way to move cargo.  Allowing many revenue-earning trips.  But the planes flying in Alaska carry a fraction of the cargo trains, trucks, barges, ships and ferries can carry.  Greatly increasing the fuel-cost-per-ton-mile.  Which makes the dirigible such an attractive alternative in Arctic regions like Alaska.

The dirigible doesn’t need a road or waterway.  It can travel year round weather permitting.  It’s slow but because it burns so little fuel the cost per trip is nothing compared to an airplane.  It can’t carry as much as a train, barge or ship but it can go where a train, barge or ship can’t.  And it can travel as the crow flies.  A straight line between two points.  Something that only an airplane can do.  But it can do it for a far lower fuel-cost-per-ton-mile than an airplane.

There is little downside of using a dirigible to ship freight in these inhospitable Arctic regions.  Unless you’re a fan of Ice Road Trucking.  For a dirigible could probably carry anything a truck can carry.  And without a road, paved or ice, to boot.  Putting the ice road truckers out of business.

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Decriminalize Marijuana and the Kids will Smoke more and Eventually Vote Democrat

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 28th, 2013

Week in Review

Teenagers typically vote Democrat.  In part because of the liberal bias in our public schools.  And in our colleges.  As well as in the mainstream media.  In Hollywood.  In television.  And the music industry.  These things do a lot to shape the way our kids think.  But there is another reason why our kids become Democrat voters.  Because it is the left that is handing out free birth control.  While their parents say ‘no’ the left says ‘go ahead.  Have fun.’  And then there is the push by the left to decriminalize marijuana.  Something else these kids’ parents say ‘no’ to.  While the left says ‘go ahead.  Have fun.’  Even if it may be harmful to them.  For what’s a few burnt brain cells in exchange for the youth vote (see Pot’s march toward mainstream by Alicia A. Caldwell And Nancy Benac, The Associated Press, posted 7/27/2013 on The Vancouver Sun)?

It is a moment in the U.S. that is rife with contradictions: People are looking more kindly on marijuana even as science reveals more about the drug’s potential dangers, particularly for young people…

Exploration of the potential medical benefit is limited by high U.S. government hurdles to research. Washington policy-makers seem reluctant to deal with any of it.

So we know it’s bad for the children.  But we really don’t know how bad.  For it is the only medicine (medical marijuana) ever allowed without proving the drug through clinical trials.  To make sure the drug works.  And it doesn’t cause irrevocable harm.  No pharmaceutical is allowed this luxury when bringing a new drug to market.  And we know how dangerous cigarettes and alcohol are.  But not marijuana.  No.  That drug we just accept on faith that it will cure us.  Besides just giving us a great high.

Opponents of pot are particularly worried that legalization will result in increased use by young people.

“There’s no real win on this from a political perspective,” says Sabet. “Do you want to be the president that stops a popular cause, especially a cause that’s popular within your own party? Or do you want to be the president that enables youth drug use that will have ramifications down the road?”

If anyone legalizes it will be the left.  Who are always attacking the right for hating children whenever they say we can’t afford to spend any more money.  But smoking pot harms kids.  And the left is okay with that.

“Having a regulated system is the only way to ensure that we’re not ceding control of this popular substance to the criminal market and to black marketeers,” says Aaron Smith, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, a trade group for legal pot businesses in the U.S. See Change Research, which analyzes the marijuana business, has estimated the national U.S. market for medical marijuana alone at $1.7 billion for 2011 and has projected it could reach $8.9 billion in five years. Overall, marijuana users spend tens of billions of dollars a year on pot, experts believe…

In Washington state, the Liquor Control Board is drawing up rules covering everything from how plants will be grown to how many stores will be allowed. It expects to issue licences for growers and processors in December, and impose 25 per cent taxes three times over – when pot is grown, processed and sold to consumers…

Marijuana advocates in Washington state…have projected the legal pot market could bring the state a half-billion a year in revenue…

Decriminalizing marijuana will make it easier for kids to smoke it.  Because it’s easier to get things that are only illegal for people under a legal age.  As opposed to being completely illegal.  Kids aren’t legally allowed to smoke cigarettes but they do.  In fact, it is fair to say kids smoke more cigarettes than marijuana.  Because cigarettes aren’t completely illegal.  They’re only illegal for kids.

So cities suffering under the crushing costs of their public sectors are looking at a windfall of tax revenue by decriminalizing marijuana.  And don’t seem to have a problem of people spending more of their money on getting high instead of saving for their retirement.  Paying for their kids’ education.  Or putting food on the table.  It was the same thing when cities scrambled to legalize gambling.  Because they wanted the tax revenue.  Despite people gambling away money that they should have spent on their family.  No doubt these cities would be disappointed if more kids didn’t start smoking marijuana.  So that when they grew into adults they would already have a healthy drug habit the city could tax.  To help pay for the crushing costs of their public sectors.

Of course, the states and cities will never see those rosy projections of tax revenue.  Because when they “impose 25 per cent taxes three times over” they will raise the price of legal marijuana so much that it will benefit, not hurt, the black market for marijuana.  Even if the black market price is below the official taxed price.  Why?  Because people smuggling cigarettes from a low-tax state to a high-tax state don’t do the time drug dealers do when caught.  Encouraging more people to sell a legal substance illegally.  To cheat the state out of that tax revenue.  And pot smokers, especially the kids, will turn to the black market for their pot.  Where it will be even more readily available when the growing, transporting and selling of marijuana is no longer illegal.  Like cigarettes.  Which kids have no problem buying.

California steps back California’s experience with medical marijuana offers a window into pitfalls that can come with wider availability of pot.

Dispensaries for medical marijuana have proliferated in the state, and regulation has been lax, prompting a number of cities in the state to ban dispensaries…

In May, the California Supreme Court ruled that cities and counties can ban medical marijuana dispensaries.

A few weeks later, Los Angeles voters approved a ballot measure that limits the number of pot shops in the city to 135, down from an estimated high of about 1,000. By contrast, whitepages. com lists 112 Starbucks in the city…

In 2010, California voters opted against legalizing marijuana for recreational use, drawing the line at medical use.

But Jeffrey Dunn, a Southern California lawyer who has represented cities in pot cases, says that in reality the state’s dispensaries have been operating so loosely that already “it’s really all-access.”

“What we’ve learned is, it is very difficult if not impossible to regulate these facilities,” he said.

The people may have voted for marijuana in California.  But the people didn’t like living in a Cheech and Chong movie surrounded by stoners.  And seeing a pot shop every time they turned around.  Which is the last thing a parent wants.  To have it so much easier for their kids to smoke pot.  Or eat it.

A Denver-area hospital, for example, saw children getting sick after eating treats and other foods made with marijuana in the two years after a 2009 federal policy change led to a surge in medical marijuana use, according to a study in JAMA Pediatrics in May. In the preceding four years, the hospital had no such cases.

The Colorado Education Department reported a sharp rise in drugrelated suspensions and expulsions after medical marijuana took off.

“What we’re doing is not working,” says Dr. Christian Thurstone, a psychiatrist whose Denver youth substance abuse treatment centre has seen referrals for marijuana double since September. In addition, he sees young people becoming increasingly reluctant to be treated, arguing that it can’t be bad for them if it’s legal.

You decriminalize marijuana and, of course, kids will see that as an admission from the state that smoking pot can’t be bad for you.  So more kids use the drug.  Ending up in the hospital.  Getting suspended or expelled from school.  Or in drug rehab for a pot addiction.  But the left is okay with this.  Because, after all, it is the right that hates kids.  Whereas the left is the cool uncle that will let their niece and/or nephew smoke a joint.  Which is why the kids love the left.  They are always helping them do things their parents won’t let them do.

Legalization foes Opponents counter with a 2012 study finding that regular use of marijuana during teen years can lead to a long-term drop in IQ, and another study indicating marijuana use can induce and exacerbate psychotic illness in susceptible people. They question the notion that regulating pot will bring in big money, saying revenue estimates are grossly exaggerated…

They warn that baby boomers who draw on their own innocuous experiences with pot are overlooking the much higher potency of today’s marijuana.

In 2009, concentrations of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in pot, averaged close to 10 per cent in marijuana, compared with about four per cent in the 1980s, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

So the left will sacrifice our children for money.  So they can pay for those costly public sectors breaking their budgets.  They won’t take on the public sector unions.  But they will sacrifice our kids.  Because kids don’t pay taxes.  Or vote.  Yet.  But when they do they hope they will remember their cool uncle when in the voting booth.

The baby boomers, who filled the theaters watching Cheech and Chong movies, look back to their days of pot smoking with nostalgia.  Thinking they turned out all right.  And so will the younger generation.  As they anxiously wait for the decriminalization of marijuana so they can buy more.  And smoke more.  Loving the high potency of the new stuff.  Not at all like the stuff they grew up smoking.  Which still fried their brains.  Providing a head start to what dementia will do to them as they reach their golden years.

Kids will on average start smoking at an earlier age.  More of them will smoke because if it’s legal it can’t be bad for you.  And they will be smoking a more potent marijuana than their parents smoked.  Accelerating the damage pot smoking will do to them compared to what it did to their parents.  But the left is okay with that.  Because it is the right that hates the children.  Not the cool uncle.  At least that’s how the youth vote will see it.  Which is all that matters to the left.

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New Zealand Immigration does not allow Fat People into their Country because of Health Care Costs

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 27th, 2013

Week in Review

As Obamacare moves closer to full implementation the mass of personal data the government will collect on us is concerning many.  Our medical files will have everything from our Social Security numbers to comments that we may drink too much.  But what harm can come from government having a wealth of private information about us?  It’s not like anyone has ever hacked into a government computer (the Chinese).  Or a branch of government ever violated our Constitutional rights (the IRS).  So really, now, how could a government-run health care system tracking our personal data harm us (see Chef told he’s too fat to live in New Zealand posted 7/27/2013 on CBC News)?

A South African chef has been told by authorities in New Zealand that’s he’s too fat to be permitted to live in the country…

…immigration officials told him he did not have “an acceptable standard of health” and his work visa would not be renewed, Fairfax NZ News reported.

At 5’8″ tall, Albert Buitenhuis has a body mass index of more than 40, which lands him in the medically obese territory.

An immigration spokesman said all applicants with a body mass index of more than 35 are investigated.

The spokesman said the chef had been rejected because his obesity put him at “significant risk” of health complications such as heart disease, diabetes, some cancers and hypertension.

He added that the department’s medical assessors have to consider to “what extent there might be indications of future high-cost and high-need demand for health services…”

New Zealand has the third highest obesity rate among developed countries, behind the United States and Mexico, according to a 2012 report released by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Interesting.  Obamacare may track our weight to determine how much to charge us for our Obamacare premium.  But they are doing nothing to secure our border.  Allowing God knows how many obese Mexicans into the country.  Who are as obese as we are.  And are at risk of heart disease, diabetes, some cancers and hypertension.  Requiring more costly Obamacare resources.  So they will punish us for our obesity.  But not the Mexicans entering the country illegally.  For they are sacrosanct.  We can’t even ask them for an ID when they try to vote.  But you know that you and I will have to pay an obesity tax under Obamacare.

New Zealand has a mixed health care system.  It was once a national system.  But they have since mixed in a few private sector elements.  To control the out-of-control costs of national health care.  And because the government is footing a portion of the health care bill the government can do pretty much whatever they want when it comes to any health care issue.  In this case immigration is a health care issue.  Because immigrants are people.  And people eventually require health care.

This is the frightening part about Obamacare.  Because it lets the government punish our behavior if they choose.  Or our thoughts.  Overweight?  That’ll cost you.  Especially if you’re an enemy of the state.  Like those Tea Party groups harassed by the IRS.  Something that couldn’t happen if we kept our health care in the private sector.

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Government Officials want Businesses to do their Social Duty after making it so Difficult for them to Earn a Profit

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 27th, 2013

Week in Review

You know a country is intervening too much into the private sector economy when they start saying things like this (see Hiring UK workers ‘more important’ than profit, Matthew Hancock indicates by Peter Dominiczak posted 7/26/2013 on The Telegraph).

Mr Hancock, the business and skills minister, has said that companies have a “social duty” to employ young British workers rather than better-qualified immigrants.

He said that employers should be prepared to invest in training British staff rather than simply looking for “pure profit”.

“During the last boom there was a lot of recruitment from abroad and, in fact, youth unemployment went up, even during the boom.

“This is about a change of culture. I’m arguing that it is companies’ social responsibility, it is their social duty, to look at employing locally first.

“That may mean that they have to do more training. It may mean more training in hard skills, in specific skills. Or it may mean training in the wherewithal, the character you need in order to hold down a job.

Of course, the question that gets begged to ask is this.  Why do the immigrants have better training in hard skills, have better training in specific skills and have the character to hold down a job?  Why is it that the British youth is not as employable as these immigrants?  Is it the British educational system?  What exactly are these other countries doing better than Britain that their people are better qualified for these jobs?  Or is it that these immigrants are just older and more responsible and desperate for work?  As there is no generous welfare state in their country to support them in their unemployment?  Has the government created an environment where businesses have to turn to better-qualified immigrants?

If Mr. Hancock thinks business should hire people based on social duty instead of what’s best for the bottom line then why doesn’t he show these businesses how it’s done.  Let him create a business that hires based on social duty instead of profit.  Of course, without profit it will require Mr. Hancock to use more and more of his personal funds to finance business operations.  Such as paying to train those unqualified workers.  But I’m guessing he won’t do that.  Because he’s a government official.  And will only risk the taxpayers’ money.  Force businesses to take greater risk with their money (by operating at a lower profit level due to higher taxes and regulatory costs).  But he won’t risk his money.  No.  Anything but that.  But he’s perfectly okay with everyone else risking theirs.

Perhaps this is the reason why these immigrants are better qualified for these jobs.  People in government managing the private sector economy who don’t know the first thing about business.  But think they do.  And have no idea of just how ignorant they are.

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