What Californians Could Build Using the $64 Billion Bullet Train Budget

California’s High-Speed Rail project fails to justify itself according to any set of rational criteria. Its ridership projections are absurdly inflated, its environmental benefits are overstated if not actually net detriments, and its cost, its staggering cost, $64 billion by the latest estimate, overwhelms anyone with even a remote sense of financial proportions. To make this final point clear, here is an assortment of California infrastructure projects that could be paid for with a $64 billion budget.

If these projects were built, instead of the bullet train, Californians would have abundant, cheap electricity, abundant fresh water, and upgraded roads and freeways capable of handling all the traffic a surging economy could possibly dish out.

(1) Build 10 natural gas power plants generating 6.2 gigawatts of electrical output for $5.7 billion.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, a modern natural gas power plant generating 620 megawatts can be built at a capital cost of $568 million. Someday, when electricity storage technologies are inexpensive and safe, the solar age can ripen to maturity, but in the meantime, California’s private energy companies can tap abundant in-state natural gas reserves, enabling California’s public utilities to provide cheap electricity to the public.

Since California’s peak demand rarely exceeds 50 gigawatts, increasing capacity by 12% will drive the price for electricity way down, making California competitive again with other states. Cheap electricity will also obviate the need to force consumers to purchase extremely expensive “energy sipping” appliances that are internet enabled, monitor […] Read More

Christmas Cards 2012

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Martini 19.75″ x 27.5″, 2005

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Pinwheels 19″ x 24″, 2006

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Mandala 18″ x 18″, 2007

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Octopus 12″ x 12″, 2008

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Backgammon 16″ x 18.5″, 2009

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Yin Yang 18″ x 18″, 2010

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Andromeda 20″ x 34″, 2011

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Chromaticism 10.75″ x 13.5″, 2012


Defending Defined Benefits

Among pension reformers there is a spirited ongoing debate regarding what might constitute a financially sustainable yet equitable solution. On one side there is a call to do away with defined benefits entirely, replacing them with defined contribution plans. The argument is compelling; with defined contribution plans, when the participant retires, they survive on the assets they have invested, and the employer has no contingent liability whatsoever. This is an appealing scenario to anyone who fully appreciates just how close our public sector pension funds are to financial collapse. But some of the ways defined benefits are characterized by their detractors are inaccurate.

For example, defined benefit plans are often referred to as “Ponzi schemes,” based on the premise that pension funds depend on new participants making contributions in order to fund the distributions being made to retirees. But the scam used by Ponzi (and Madoff) was to let new investors fund interest payments to existing investors, while all the while making the promise that existing investors had a claim on their original principal investment and could have it back at any time. Defined benefits do not offer a return of principal. If incoming contributions, plus interest earned on assets under management, offer sufficient extra capital to fund distributions, a pension fund is sustainable. A Ponzi scheme by definition is not sustainable.

Slightly more apt, but still inaccurate, is to characterize defined benefit plans as “Pyramid schemes,” based on the same premise – that their solvency depends on new participants […] Read More

The Fate of the Mourning Dove

A few months ago my wife and I noticed a pair of doves were building a nest in a nook above the front door of our home. Atop a piller, beneath an eve, inaccessible to any creature who couldn’t either fly or use a ladder, the location for this nest was thoughtfully chosen. Through the rainy days and nights of February, the birds completed their nest and sat on the eggs.

For nearly a month the birds were always there, until sometime in early March when they abandoned the nest. My wife checked the nest and verified the eggs were still there – apparently not destined to hatch, the Doves had left them to scavengers. Within a few weeks the eggs were gone, with the parents away another winged creature had broken them open and consumed them. But the doves weren’t through with us.

In April the birds returned, the female lay a new pair of eggs, and through the lengthening days they sat atop them. This time we were skeptical as to whether or not the eggs would hatch, but we were starting to get attached to this persistent, quiet pair. The neighborhood cats were also paying close attention.

On the morning of May 12th we left our homes to go to work and noticed the eggs had hatched. Within a few days we could see them, huddled next to their mother, always quiet, always still. Often the mother would perch on a rooftop nearby but away from the […] Read More