The Night of the Slap Drones

Some of them, the big ones, will intrude the old fashioned way, beating down the door. Maybe others will look like insects, crawling innocuously across your property to come inside through your drains and A/C ducts. Or they’ll find an open window.

Across America, they’ll come by the millions, having manufactured themselves. They’ll be several generations smarter than the smartest smart phone in existence today. They’ll know everything about you, and at 4:30 a.m., on a hot night in late June, all at once they’ll come for you and everyone like you. Some of you will die, deemed to dangerous to live, but most of you will just be humanely incapacitated. Against all this technology, your AR 15 rifles are pathetically inadequate. Remember that. When it comes to protecting yourself from a tyrannical government, your guns are obsolete.

This may be a hypothetical scenario, but it isn’t a fantasy. It’s less than a decade from being technically feasible, if it isn’t already.

The Virtual Panopticon is Already Here

High technology has already transformed our military and law enforcement. Autonomous warfare is a new reality, relegating inhabited ships and planes to irrelevance in a transformation of stupefying velocity and consequences. Robots now patrol shopping malls and parking lots. Police drones watch us from above. Cameras (with blinking lights) now surveil even residential neighborhoods. […] Read More

Libertarian God Kings Throw in With With Democratic Socialists

The well-heeled, much-feared Koch network announced from its biannual meeting in Colorado Springs this week that it would withhold support from Republican candidates in three of the eight closest races for U.S. Senate. The news, reported in Politico and elsewhere, probably shouldn’t come as a surprise. Libertarians, who value their utopian principles more than they value saving the political culture that indulges their fantasies, are very likely going to be the voting bloc that turns control of Congress over to Democrats in November. Why should the über Libertarian God-Kings, billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, fail to act in accordance with these same fantasies?

And it is fantasy. You can’t shrink government if “free trade” has gutted the nation of jobs at the same time as “open borders” has flooded the nation with destitute immigrants.

That’s the logic that libertarians, funded by the Koch organizations, refuse to admit.

Enemy of Your Enemy is Not Your Friend

Instead, America’s libertarians trumpet a classical liberal dogma, repeating the same phrases almost mindlessly, their vacuity only matched by their certainty. Like glassy-eyed cult members, they seem to think the ideas they regurgitate constitute the only true path. Contrary opinions and cold facts, no matter how supported by evidence and reason, bounce off them like balloons on Mars.

In the case of the Kochs, maybe the agenda of free trade and open borders doesn’t have to connect […] Read More

California’s Transportation Future, Part Four – The Common Road

With light rail, high speed rail, and possibly passenger drones and hyperloop pods just around the corner, it’s easy to forget that the most versatile mode of transportation remains the common road. Able to accommodate anything with wheels, from bicycles and wheelchairs to articulated buses and 80 ton trucks, and ranging from dirt tracks to super highways, roads still deliver the vast majority of passenger miles.

As vehicles continue to evolve, roads will need to evolve apace. Roads of the future will need to be able to accommodate high speed autonomous vehicles. They will also need to be smart, interacting with individual vehicles to safely enable higher traffic densities at higher speeds. But can California build roads competitively? How expensive are road construction and maintenance costs in California compared with other states in the U.S.? How can California make the most efficient use of its public transportation funds?

PHYSICAL VARIABLES AFFECTING CONSTRUCTION COSTS

The Federal Highway Administration maintains a cost/benefit model called “HERS” (Highway Economic Requirements System) which they use to evaluate highway construction and highway improvement projects. One of the products of HERS is the FHWA’s most recent summary of road construction costs, updated in 2015. Its findings reveal both the complexity facing any cost analysis as well as the wide range of results for similar projects.

For example, on the FHWA website’s HERS summary page, Exhibit A-1 “Typical Costs per Lane Mile Assumed in HERS by Type of Improvement” data is presented in nine columns, each representing […] Read More

Water Rationing Law Exemplifies the Malthusian Mentality of California’s Legislators

As reported in the Sacramento Bee and elsewhere, on May 31st Gov. Jerry Brown “signed a pair of bills Thursday to set permanent overall targets for indoor and outdoor water consumption.”

After pressure from the Association of California Water Agencies and others, the final form of these bills, Assembly Bill 1668 by Assemblywoman Laura Friedman, D-Glendale, and Senate Bill 606 from state Sen. Bob Hertzberg, D-Los Angeles, offers water districts more flexibility in enforcing the new restrictions. But the focus of AB 1668, limiting indoor water use to 50 gallons per resident per day, is a step too far. Way too far.

There’s nothing wrong with conserving water. But urban water consumption in California is already low, and squeezing even more out of Californians will be costly and bothersome without making much difference in the big picture. Here is a table showing California’s overall water consumption by user:

Total Water Supply and Usage in California – 2010

As can be seen, in a state where total human water diversions total around 65 million acre feet (MAF) per year [1], in 2010 residential customers only consumed 3.7 MAF [2, 3]. According to more recent data obtained by the Sacramento Bee from California’s State Water Resources Control Board, by 2017 the average California resident consumed 90 gallons per day, which equates to around 4.0 MAF per year. Slightly more than half of that is for indoor water, which means that on average, Californians are […] Read More

California’s Failure to Store Water Exemplifies its Political Dysfunction

In 2017, when cracks appeared in the Oroville Dam’s spillway, more than 180,000 Californians faced the prospect of floods. The emergency came a few years after Californians had overwhelmingly approved Proposition 1, a ballot measure to spend $7.1 billion on water-storage projects. In the drought-stricken Golden State, where runoff from rain and snowmelt races uselessly into the Pacific Ocean, the proposition won wide support, with voters approving it, two-to-one. But four years after passage, the state water commission has yet to assign a dime of funding for storage.

California once performed miracles in building infrastructure to quench the thirst of its residents and agricultural producers. In the 1960s, Governor Pat Brown oversaw construction of the San Luis Reservoir, capacity 2 million acre-feet. Approved for construction in 1963, it was completed by 1968—five years from start to finish. Those days are long gone. Any surface-storage project now faces years of litigation from environmental groups such as the powerful Sierra Club. At every stage in the construction process, delays of months or years ensue to resolve well-funded lawsuits launched under every conceivable pretext, from habitat destruction to inundation of Native American artifacts.

Nevertheless, the California Water Commission has finally announced its plans to fund new projects with the money from Proposition 1. Many Californians were surprised to learn that the proposition’s fine print stipulated that only a third of the money was ever intended to fund water storage. The rest is earmarked for other […] Read More

California’s Transportation Future, Part Three – Next Generation Vehicles

The next generation of vehicles will transform transportation in several fundamental ways. What is coming will be as revolutionary in our time as the transition from horses to horseless carriages was over a century ago. Some increments of this dawning revolution are already here in realized products. Electric drivetrains. Collision avoidance systems. Self-driving cars. Cars on demand. Aerial drones. Nearly all of the enabling technology for this dawning revolution is already here. Artificial intelligence. Visual recognition and sensor systems that use radar, sonar and LIDAR laser scanning. Mapping capabilities. GPS. Data collection. Memory chips. Communications systems. And every one of these technologies, along with investment capital, more than anywhere else, is concentrated in California.

As this revolution unfolds, our conception of what constitutes vehicular transport will change. Many vehicles will be modular and reconfigurable. On the road surface, the wheeled chassis, or “skateboard,” will contain the essentials to power and navigate the vehicle. Depending on the duty cycle, a skateboard chassis may be small, only capable of carrying a two passenger cabin, or small freight payload. Other skateboards will range in size from those capable of carrying a sedan or SUV sized passenger unit, all the way to the largest versions which, with freight or passenger units attached, would weigh up to 80,000 pounds.

Even more variation will be present in the passenger modules. An SUV sized passenger module, for example, might hold 6-8 passengers like a mini-bus. Or it might be a conference room or an office where […] Read More

California’s Transportation Future, Part Two – The Hyperloop Option

In July 2012, Elon Musk sat down for a “fireside chat” with Sara Lacy, founder of the PandoDaily website. In between discussions of Paypal, Tesla, and SpaceX, 43 minutes in, Musk unveiled his idea for the “Hyperloop,” a new transportation technology that “incorporates reduced-pressure tubes in which pressurized capsules ride on air bearings driven by linear induction motors and air compressors.”

The concept wasn’t new. Hyperloop concepts have existed for nearly 200 years. Small scale “pneumatic railways” were actually built in Dublin, London, and Paris, mostly as a novelty, as far back as the 1850’s. In 1910, American rocket pioneer Robert Goddard proposed a train that would go from Boston to New York in 12 minutes. Goddard’s design advanced the technology, replacing wheels with magnetic levitation of the passenger capsule inside a vacuum-sealed tunnel.

Musk’s “Hyperloop Alpha” study was released by a joint team from SpaceX and Tesla in August 2013. This 58 page study remains an excellent investigation of the financial and engineering feasibility of Hyperloop technology. The concept is relatively simple. Passengers and freight travel in “pods” or “capsules,” through a tube that has had all the air pumped out, eliminating the friction of air resistance. Moreover, these pods ride on electromagnets, repelled away from the inner surface of the tube, eliminating the friction of wheels. Not only would these electromagnets keep the pods levitated off the inside surfaces of the travel tube, but through “linear induction,” they would provide the force to […] Read More

California’s Transportation Future, Part One – The Fatally Flawed Centerpiece

California’s transportation future is bright. In every area of transportation innovation, California-based companies are leading the way. Consortiums of major global companies have offices throughout the San Francisco Bay area, pioneering self-driving cars that consolidate technologies from not just automakers, but cell phone manufacturers, chip designers, PC makers, telecoms, and software companies. In Southern California from the aerospace hub surrounding LAX to the Mojave desert, heavily funded consortiums experiment with everything from passenger drones to hyperloop technologies to hypersonic transports. It’s all happening here. It’s wondrous.

Meanwhile, instead of preparing the roads for smart cars, or designing hubs that integrate buses and cars-on-demand with aerial drones and hyperloop systems, the centerpiece of California’s transportation future is a train that isn’t very fast, being built at what is probably the highest cost-per-mile in the history of transportation, which hardly anyone will ever ride.

There is a stark contrast between California’s private entrepreneurial culture, as reflected in the marvels of transportation engineering they are developing, and California’s political culture, as reflected in their ongoing commitment to “high speed rail,” in all of its stupefying expense, its useless grandeur, its jobs for nothing, its monumental initial waste, situated miles from nowhere. Exploring that stark contrast, its origins, the players, the projects, the problems and the solutions, will be the topic of this and subsequent reports.

HIGH SPEED RAIL – THE FATALLY FLAWED CENTERPIECE

The fatally flawed centerpiece of California’s transportation future, the “Bullet Train,” unfairly dominates California’s transportation conversation. Unfair not only because […] Read More

Compassionate Nationalism

One might think that President Trump’s frequent references to “America First” would be palatable to all Americans, especially since Trump takes every opportunity to assure foreign leaders that he fully expects them to put the interests of their own nations and citizens first as well. But given the virulent opposition Trump seems to attract, particularly with respect to policies that embrace the principle of America First, it would be helpful to try to explain some of its moral foundations.

Just as conservatism suffers a rhetorical disadvantage when pitted against liberalism, nationalism suffers a rhetorical disadvantage when pitted against globalism. With measured success, conservatives have risen to the challenge, offering up versions of compassionate conservatism based on principles of prosperity, freedom, opportunity, liberty, and so on. So how might one define compassionate nationalism?

AMERICA CAN’T HELP THE WORLD UNLESS AMERICA IS STRONG

The crucial moral argument in favor of nationalism is that America cannot be a force for good in the world unless it is internally cohesive and economically strong. Ironically, this is a globalist argument, but differs from liberal globalism insofar as it asserts that America’s way of life is more effective than that of most other nations in delivering freedom and prosperity to its people. Therefore protecting the American way of life is a prerequisite to America helping the rest of the world achieve that way of life.

This is an arrogant claim. It makes people uncomfortable. But it’s true. Standing up for American values, and more generally, for […] Read More

A Post-Janus Agenda for California’s Public Sector Unions

“If you do not prevail in this case, the unions will have less political influence; yes or no?” Kennedy asked. “Yes, they will have less political influence,” Frederick answered. – an excerpt from the Janus vs. AFSCME trial, quoted in the Washington Post, February 26, 2018

Earlier this week the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in the Janus vs. AFSCME case. Mark Janus, a public employee in Illinois, is challenging the right of unions to charge “fair share” fees, because he disagrees with the political agenda which he claims his fees help pay for.

What if government unions were accountable to their members? What if the politics of these unions mirrored the politics of the members? Would Mark Janus still want out?

It’s already possible for public employees to “opt-out” of paying that portion of their dues that fund explicitly political activity, although in practice the unions typically make that opt-out process very difficult. But Mark Janus is arguing that all dues paid to public sector unions are political, because the consequences of collective bargaining in the public sector impact taxes, government debt, budgets and spending priorities. He is arguing that the agenda of public sector unions, including collective bargaining, is inherently political.

In reality, saying all public sector union activity is inherently political is itself an understatement. In California, public sector unions spend about $300 million per year on explicitly political activity – funding political campaigns, political action committees, and lobbyists. But they spend at least another […] Read More