Tweeting the death of coal

Has a tweet made history before?
gopal-tweet-590x204Piyush Goyal is India’s Minister of Energy.

To recap. India’s current electricity policy is based on high projections of demand, which is fair enough as 400 million Indians have no electricity at all. The policy on renewables and coal is is “both of the above”. The official coal target is a doubling of coal burning for electricity this decade, and more later. A programme for 16 giant “ultra mega” coal power stations was launched in 2005, though just two have been completed. Adani, Reliance, and Tata, the corporations who would build many of the others, have many shovel-ready projects on their shelves but have been curiously reluctant to break ground on them.

Anecdotal confirmation of major problems in the Indian coal sector comes from this recent report of a developer abandoning plans for a coal plant and replacing it with a solar farm on the same site. Coal stocks at power stations have doubled since last year. Continue Reading…

What Clinton should say about those paid speeches…

At last night’s debate, Hillary Clinton took more fire about her lucrative speech gigs. I wonder if Clinton should own it in a different way:

It’s part of the comedy of my life that people are willing to pay $300,000 to hear me deliver a speech over lunch or whatever. Is this a bit ridiculous? Yeah, of course it is. It’s part of the comedy of my life as one of the most over-exposed famous people in the world. Of course the same is true of my husband and of some others who’ve been center-stage in American politics. I and Bill are incredibly blessed to have more than we need for our own wants and needs. Like President Obama, I’ve written best-selling books that made a lot of money. If Goldman Sachs or anyone else believes they can buy me with something like that, they are in for a rude surprise. We contribute much of our speaking fees to our foundation and to other good causes. Welcome to the craziness of life in America 2016.

It is what it is. She might as well hang a lantern on it. It is part of the mad comedy of contemporary American political life.

Weekend Film Recommendation: Four Lions

In the eight years since Richard Reid’s failure, the Underwear Bomber learned no more than to move the explosives from his feet to his groin. I still remember the fun comics had with the sheer incompetence of the plot. There’s always been an odd suspicion about just how skilled at their craft terrorists need to be to get the job done, and that suspicion forms the very heart of this weekend’s movie recommendation. In Chris Morris’ black comedy Four Lions, the picture is clear: terrorists these days must not have a brain cell between them. Continue Reading…

Prison Fun Facts

What place (in space and time) does this describe?

Plaintiffs also complain that numerous problems allegedly exist in the units in which they are housed including: (1) the toilets in the solitary confinement units do not function for long periods of time; and that feces, urine, food, and other debris covers the floors and walls, (2) the units are infested with vermin, (3) some prisoners do not have working light bulbs in their cells, while others are subjected to “bright artificial light around the clock,” and (4) the noise in the units “is often deafening”.

Answer after the break.

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The California Marijuana Legalization Initiative Won’t Create the Next Big Tobacco

Today the UCSF Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education released a report entitled A Public Health Analysis of Two Proposed Marijuana Legalization Initiatives for the 2016 California Ballot: Creating the New Tobacco Industry. Coming just a day after the California Medical Association endorsed the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, the new report is much more critical of the AUMA, suggesting many similarities between marijuana and tobacco. I am a fan of the Tobacco Research Center’s work, and I agree with them that marijuana is not harmless, but I disagree with them that this will create the next Big Tobacco just because the ballot initiative doesn’t contain all the policies they would like to see.  I don’t think the ballot initiative process is the place to nail down particular policies. I think rulemaking is going to be an ongoing process, and we shouldn’t get locked in now—especially since we don’t know enough about the future regulated market.

A couple of caveats at the outset. First, I was a member of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Marijuana Policy, serving as Chair of the Public Safety Working Group, and, as such, I was involved in the development of many of the recommended policies that were subsequently adopted by the AUMA. I attended a meeting with the authors of the report, and I disagreed with them then that we had to replicate everything from tobacco regulation (though, I will reiterate, I think some of the lessons are valuable). I think I’m clear-eyed about the limitations of the Commission (and my own knowledge), but take this with however many grains of salt you deem necessary. [UPDATE: In case it’s not clear, I’m speaking on my own behalf, not on behalf of any organization with which I have been or am currently affiliated.]  Second, I’m not a public health expert, just a criminal law professor, so I can’t do anything like a deep dive into the public health studies. (That said, I will say, as an observer, that the studies seem to me to be far more equivocal than what we now know about tobacco.)

My main objections to the Tobacco Center’s report can be divided into two categories: whether the post-legalized marijuana industry is on the way to becoming Big Tobacco, and whether the ballot initiative process is the place to nail down policies. Continue Reading…

RIP basketball great Kenny Sailors

This 1946 picture looks like it’s from a mysteriously unaired episode of Quantum Leap, in which the hero goes back in time as the only baller who could actually shoot the jumper. That was pretty much Kenny Sailors’ career.

He  recently died, at age 95. William McDonald wrote a fine obituary in January 30’s New York Times. Obituaries provide another reminder that the Times remains the world’s greatest newspaper.

Screen Shot 2016-02-01 at 4.02.04 PM

Screenshot of New York Times. Eric Schaal/Life Magazine, via University of Wyoming

This is why we recommend that you stick to index funds

In our index card book, Helaine Olen and I recommend that ordinary investors stick to low-fee index funds–and thus avoid actively-managed mutual funds. Here’s more evidence. In this comparison, only 4.1% of actively-managed funds beat a simple Vanguard index fund over a ten-year period through October 31, 2015. It’s not complicated. It’s just too bad millions of ordinary investors are paying billions of dollars in fees to under-performing investment products.

PS: If professional money managers can’t beat a simple market index, you probably can’t either. So avoid picking individual stocks or other speculative efforts like that. Use your brainpower on your day job, and to be good to people close to you.

Glenn Loury speaking on race at Stanford CASBS

How does racial inequality manifest itself in today’s America? What does this mean for the future of American democracy?

On Tuesday, January 26, Stanford’s Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences hosted its second symposium of the academic year – “Racial Inequality in 21st Century America: Where do we go from Here?”  Distinguished economist–and new RBC member–Glenn Loury is spending the year at CASBS. He gave an extended presentation on such matters, with a particular focus on disparities in incarceration.

“Another hostage dies”

Although Chicago’s police drama has grabbed the headlines, Illinois’ disgraceful budget standoff continues. And more local service providers are shrinking or closing their doors. Lutheran Social Services recently announced the closure of key programs.

This Friday, an article appeared in, an authoritative media source on state budget politics, under the cheery headline: “Another hostage dies:”

Haymarket Center is closing its social setting detoxification program. This was Haymarket’s first program, the start of our mission 40 years ago.

In FY 2015, this program had 1,047 admissions of 903 unique individuals.

As a social setting detoxification program, it is not eligible for a Medicaid certification, and relied on State funding. With the end of our federal portion of our DASA contract growing near, the 22% cut in our contract, and other programs such as Recovery Homes also relying on State funding, we believe we had no choice but to close this program.

We will be announcing further reductions within the next few days.

Haymarket is one of Chicago’s oldest and largest drug and alcohol treatment providers. It is a pillar of the system. When even agencies like these are closing major services, you get a sense of the havoc wreaked by the lack of a state budget.

Providers and social service agencies across Illinois are desperately trying to fit services under the ambit of Medicaid–the only faucet still properly flowing to support basic services. It’s not clear that we’ll ever have a budget for this year–or who will be paid and when if the Messiah comes and a budget is actually signed into law.

This astonishing governance failure is becoming the new normal. It’s less dramatic than lead poisoning in Flint. The human costs are high enough. And there’s no end in sight, no sign of a reasonable political compromise.

Trump and Sanders

Political journalists have something in common with second-rate social scientists: they find symmetry even where it doesn’t exist.  For example, “left” and “right” are in some ways mirror images, but only in some ways: they also have important structural differences.

The most annoying current version of this tic is the tendency to lump together Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders as two symmetrically extreme candidates. It’s hard to count all the different ways this is wrong.


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