November 2006
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Month November 2006

Tesla Road Test

Dan Neil:

But I can tell you, even from my brief spin in this dog-eared prototype, the Tesla Roadster delivers on its promise, which might be summarized as “stupid fun for smart people.” I think the Latin translation of same should appear on the company crest.


It takes a slight leg hoist and wriggle to get into the car and strap yourself into the thin carbon shell of a seat — a holdover from the Lotus Elise on which the car is based. The seat will change in the production car since its narrow width doesn’t exactly accommodate “American butts,” according Mike Harrigan, Tesla vice president of marketing.

Revive Care Packages?

Lessig:

I may spend too much time thinking about this, but how is it one reverses the hatred of a people after war? WWII was no doubt very different. But interestingly, Germans talk about this a lot — about the brilliance in the American strategy after the war to rebuild (what we weirdly call) “friendship” between the German and American people.

That strategy had a government component (2% of the GDP spent on the Marshall Plan) and a private component. The private component came largely through the delivery of “CARE Packages.” As described on CARE’s website, these packages were originally surplus food packs initially prepared to support a US invasion of Japan. Americans were invited to send these packages to victims of the War. Eventually, over 100,000,000 packages were sent by Americans over the next two decades, first in Europe, then throughout the world.

A German friend this afternoon was recounting this story to me — he too is obsessed with how to reduce Iraqi anger. But the part he emphasized that I had missed originally was how significant it was to Germans to know that these packages were sent by ordinary Americans. It wasn’t the government sending government aid; it was American volunteers taking time to personalize an act of giving.

A good idea.

The End of Risk Pooling

John Robb:

Another sign that we are increasingly on our own. The insurance industry is rapidly (and inexorably) eliminating the idea of risk pooling:

As insurers use the new techniques to get ever-more-refined estimates of what individual policyholders are likely to cost in the future, they may be tempted to charge people closer and closer to full freight for treating an illness or rebuilding a fire-damaged home. Then even those who benefited from the end of cross-subsidies could see their rates go up as they effectively are asked to pay their own way, rather than share the cost by pooling with others.

The Economist has more.

Two Senators Stop Late 2006 Earmark Stuffed Spending Bills

John Fund:

Sens. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and Jim DeMint of South Carolina have decided to take a stand against overspending by objecting to the nearly 10,000 earmarks, or member-sponsored pork projects, larded throughout the spending bills Congress is currently considering.

Their obstinacy has convinced the leadership of the departing Republican Congress that they probably won’t be able to pass spending bills in next month’s short lame-duck session. Instead, they are likely to pass a stopgap “continuing resolution,” which will continue funding all programs at last year’s level until the new Democratic Congress passes its own versions of the funding bills.

ass earmark-stuffed catchall spending bills could save taxpayers a cool $17 billion. All 10,000 earmarks in the pending bills will expire if they aren’t passed by the end of the year.


Overall federal spending has gone up by 49% since 2001, but you wouldn’t know it from the anguished cries of those who regard ever-higher spending as some sort of birthright.

Useful timing, given the upcoming Treasury/Fed trip to China to talk about exchange rates and China’s extensive dollar reserves (movement away from dollar reserves could be a real problem for the United States). Much more on earmarks, including local commentary.

Tyson’s Renewable Energy

Brad Feld:

“Tyson Foods, the world’s largest chicken producer and meat processing company, blamed high corn prices last week for its third consecutive quarterly loss. It said that the recent excitement over corn-based ethanol fuel sent the price of that grain soaring, raising feed costs and compounding the effect of a meat glut that depressed prices. “This is either corn for feed for corn for fuel,” Rich L. Bond, president and chief executive, lamented in a statement.
Well, if fuels are where the money is, Tyson will be there too. As Mr. Bond was releasing the disappointing results, Jeff Webster of the corporate strategy department was announcing a brand new venture: Tyson Renewable Energy. Its first task? Turning some of what the company described as its “vast supply of animal fat” – 2.3 billion pounds a year, Mr. Webster reckons – into a diesel-like biofuel.”

Funny

A Few Words With Jerry Brown

Deborah Solomon:

Then how would you describe yourself politically?

I’m very independent. There’s a great line from Friedrich Nietzsche: A thinking man can never be a party man.

“As Power Shifts in New Congress, Pork May Linger”

David Kirkpatrick:

Mr. Stevens, an 83-year-old Republican, and Mr. Inouye, an 82-year-old Democrat, routinely deliver to their states more money per capita in earmarks — the pet projects lawmakers insert into major spending bills — than any other state gets. This year, Alaska received $1.05 billion in earmarks, or $1,677.27 per resident, while Hawaii got $903.9 million, or $746.05 per resident, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense, a nonpartisan group that tracks such figures.

Representative Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader, and many Democratic candidates have railed for months against wasteful “special interest earmarks” inserted into bills “in the dark of night.” Now their party’s electoral victories mean that Mr. Stevens will hand Mr. Inouye the gavel of the Senate defense appropriations subcommittee, which presides over the largest pool of discretionary spending and earmarks. But if the Democratic leaders are talking about “earmark reform,” that may be news to Mr. Inouye.

“I don’t see any monumental changes,” Mr. Inouye said in a recent interview. He plans to continue his subcommittee’s approach to earmarks, he said. “If something is wrong we should clean house,” he said, “but if they can explain it and justify it, I will look at it.”

business as usual.

Much more on earmarks, including significant Wisconsin activity here.

Wikipedia on earmarks.

Wisconsin Senator Herb Kohl and Congressman David Obey (among others) continue to bring home the bacon – cha ching on our kid’s charge cards – :

  • 4.7M for military battery technology, mostly for Madison’s Rayovac (Kohl).
  • 2.4M for improvements to the Rice Lake Airport (Obey)
  • $260K for UW-Madison agricultural grazing research (Obey).

Wisconsin per capita “pork” spending is $47 (Massachusetts is 45) while Robert Byrd’s ongoing efforts to pave over West Virginia requires $327/resident.

Tammy Baldwin’s comments regarding earmarks.

As goes Peoria (Plano?)….

Virginia Postrel:

Plano does represent the New Economy, built on skilled, creative people. But it fits neither Brooks’s emphasis on bohemianism among the professional classes nor Richard Florida’s new industrial policy prescribing groovy uptowns with lots of gays. As Harvard economist Edward Glaeser wrote in a review of Florida’s The Rise of the Creative Class: “I’ve studied a lot of creative people. Most of them like what most well-off people like—big suburban lots with easy commutes by automobile and safe streets and good schools and low taxes. . . . Plano, Texas was the most successful skilled city in the 1990s (measured by population growth)—it’s not exactly a Bohemian paradise.”

In fact, Plano boomed because it’s cheap—the Stein Mart of towns. It allows residents to live a scaled-up, globalized version of the family-centered life of the postwar suburbs, a twenty-first-century Wonder Years. While you can find a $7 million estate in Plano, you can also buy a perfectly reasonable vintage ranch house, possibly with a pool, for less than $200,000. From that address, you can send your kids to excellent public schools. By contrast, on Kaus’s modest street in Venice, a tiny two-bedroom, one-bath bungalow was recently on the market for $754,000, making it one of the cheapest houses in the area (and the schools are lousy).

Plano is the home of Frito-Lay, EDS, JC Penney, Cadbury Schweppes, Ericsson, among others.

Polar opposite districts top nation in turnout

Craig Gilbert:

Jim Sensenbrenner’s (5th) constituents would seem to have little in common with Tammy Baldwin’s (3rd) constituents.


Sensenbrenner’s heavily suburban U.S. House district is the state’s most conservative. Baldwin’s, anchored in Madison, may be its most liberal.


But voters in both places have come to share a striking distinction: They flock to the polls in greater numbers than voters almost anywhere else in the country.


More than 314,000 people voted in the Republican Sensenbrenner’s 5th District on Nov. 7, and more than 304,000 voted in the Democrat Baldwin’s 2nd District.


Only two congressional districts in the nation produced more votes, and both are at-large, statewide seats (Montana and South Dakota) that have a lot more people than other districts.

Extraordinary Service in an Era of Low Expectations

My cell phone rang, displaying an unknown number while driving home from a Thanksgiving trip via the airport. Shannon from Milwaukee’s fine airline – Midwest – called to say that one of her coworkers found homework in the seatback of the plane we just vacated. She thought it important and wanted to know if we had a FedEx number so she could send us the missing homework via an overnight package.

Let’s just ponder this customer service outlier, or “black swan [more]” for a moment. We live in an era of low expectations:

  • Politics: Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss:
    But Ms. Pelosi’s damage to herself was already done. The well-known shortcomings of Mr. Murtha were broadcast for all to see — from his quid-pro-quo addiction to moneyed lobbyists to the grainy government tape of his involvement in the Abscam scandal a generation ago. The resurrected tape — feasted upon by Pelosi enemies — shows how Mr. Murtha narrowly survived as an unindicted co-conspirator, admittedly tempted but finally rebuffing a bribe offer: “I’m not interested — at this point.

  • Black Friday retail tactics:
    In Lewis Center, Ohio, near Columbus, Cindy Milsap, 43, and her daughter, Ashley, 20, woke up before dawn to drive to the nearby Wal-Mart Supercenter, which advertised a 52-inch high-definition television for $474. “We don’t really need a new TV, Ms. Milsap said. “But at that price? C’mon.”

    But the bargain eluded them. The “limited quantity” in the ad, she said, was three TVs — all sold by the time the pair arrived.

    Those customers left in peace.

  • The oxymoron that is “airline service“:
    With overcrowded airplanes, little civility in dress or demeanor of passengers, few meals, fewer amenities, industrywide salary cuts of epic proportions, and (the worst sin of all) airlines canceling pension plans because they’ve robbed the fund of hundreds of millions, far too many of America’s airline employees are shell shocked, depressed, disillusioned and resentful. In effect, we’re now an industry full of employees going through post-traumatic stress and wondering why we ever thought it was fun.

    And that, in a nutshell, equates to bad and inattentive service with a “who cares” attitude. Morale, in other words, is the key, and it’s in precious short supply today.

  • 2006 Airline Quality Rating website.

I remain astonished that a Midwest employee cleaning the plane found said homework, took the time to give it to someone who could find the owner, lookup their contact information, make a call, obtain the shipping information, place the papers in a FedEx package and send it our way. Everyone involved must actually care about the customer. What a concept. I hope that these words, in some small way encourage others to fly Midwest. There is indeed, no better care in the air.