Saturday, April 13, 2013

Real Time With Bill Maher: Counterpoints (4/12/13)

It's back! Or rather, my sleep schedule has finally gotten back to its baseline. But now it's time for Real Time Counterpoints. And I'm pretty glad I chose today to start it because we had a really good panel with a lot of really good subjects to dig into.

Interview Guest (forgot his name): Changes in cow pasture management will help us stop anthropogenic climate change!

That is, quite frankly, not a very smart thing to say. What we have been noticing is that as global temperatures have risen, the frequency of algal blooms and algae growth in general have been increasing. Given the fact that algae is responsible for around 70% of oxygen production by converting CO2, that dreaded greenhouse gas, to O2, the interview guy clearly is a moron.

If CO2 really did cause global warming, it would be reversed because warmer water temperatures and abundant CO2 would just cause a spike in phytoplankton growth. The earth really can heal itself!

Bill Maher: Hydraulic fracturing of natural gas is only cleaner than coal, the most polluting energy source on the planet.

It's actually significantly cleaner. And given the fact that coal is responsible for 40% (although that figure has declined precisely because of increased natural gas production) of the country's energy needs and 40% of the world's power, if we can replace dirty coal with cleaner natural gas, it will be vastly better for the country's air quality.

Bill Maher 2: The Weekly Standard claimed that offshore oil spills are a thing of the past. A day later Deepwater Horizon exploded and put the equivalent of 15 Exxon Valdez' tankers of oil into the water.

While it is true that the oil industry is obviously interested in overstating the claims of its safety procedures and technologies, the real problem is that it is much harder to operate in deep water conditions. Deepwater Horizon was in the middle of the gulf and the base of the well was over 35,000 feet deep. It becomes incredibly hard to contain any oil spill when you have to do it 35k feet underwater.

The reason why oil companies have gone to such lengths to extract oil is partly because of a ban on drilling in the Outer Continental Shelf, which contains billions of barrels of oil at vastly shallower ocean floors. Given the insatiable market demand for oil, no government can ever afford to shut down drilling, so if the drilling must happen, we should encourage them to drill in the safest places. That means on land (ANWR) and in shallower waters (the OCS).

Bill Maher 3 and Bob Costas: Why the hell are gun owners so looney? Even Gabby Giffords got shot in the head and she's still a supporter of gun ownership. What gives?

If a person gets into a car accident, would you expect them to stop driving automobiles altogether? It's a truism that people, not guns, kill other people. But it's a truism for a reason. A mentally ill person used a gun in an attempted assassination. Crazy people are responsible for mass shootings. Not guns.

Gun crime has halved since 1993. And if you want to halve it again, you should end the War on Drugs. It will do far more to tame gun violence than increased gun control ever will.

Bill Maher 4: Just look at all the great things government spending has brought us. The Interstate Highway System, the Internet....WE NEED TO CUT DEFENSE SPENDING.

They were conceived by defense spending. Eisenhower looked at the Autobahns and their effectiveness at moving Nazi war machines around the country and decided that the US needed such a system as well. And the internet was a result of ARPANET, which was developed by universities using DOD grant money.

David Stockman brought up a great point in that government obviously has to do some things. And that the funding of basic research and infrastructure should be among those things. There is a huge difference giving grant money to universities to come up with completely new technologies and the government playing venture capitalist.

That makes sense. Because when government money is tied up with idealistic college scientists, it tends to create new technologies and innovations because that's how scientists make a name for themselves. Companies tend to focus on existing technologies and finding ways to commercialize them. And because government grant money can so easily be captured by lobbyists, it's better to steer it in the direction of the cutting edge research labs than an entrepreneur's latest venture.

Stockman also brought up another good point. Fisker Automotive builds 100k dollar toy cars for rich people. Why does that deserve government money? Even if the DOE can't get out of venture capital altogether, at least focus on the companies that could provide good products to the mass market instead of a bunch of rich assholes like Bill Maher (who actually owns a Tesla, another 100k electric car).

Sayu Jayaraman: We should increase the minimum wage for restaurant workers.

No we shouldn't. Again, David Stockman had a great answer for this. Forcing restaurants to pay more money to workers will just lead restaurants to cutting jobs. Personally, I would welcome this. Because I hate tipping servers. And if a higher minimum wage for tip-based workers happens, you're definitely going to see less waiters and bartenders.

Frankly, I wish every restaurant had salaried minimum wage food servers or allowed me to order my own food and let me bring it to my own table so I don't have to tip 20% of the bill to what is essentially a glorified intermediary between me and my food.

Bill Maher said that Stockman's wrong. That you can't automate a waiter's job? Well if you raise the cost of a waiter high enough, there's going to be some entrepreneur (possibly using government venture capital) who's going to try.

Bill Maher 5: Special interests are ruining government. And they keep writing new tax loopholes for the corporations and keep the Drug War going and keep the prisons full and....

This is what infuriates me about progressives. They keep railing on and on about the abuses of special interests and then they point to the activities of government. Special interests don't call the shots within the government. Lobbyists don't instruct the DEA to raid pot farms. Lobbyists don't sentence non-violent drug users to years in prison. Lobbyists merely petition the government. They are people, just like you and me, advocating on behalf of somebody's interests. Just because they're getting paid to do it doesn't make their cause worse than yours.

In the end, it's the government that is at the heart of all these abuses. In life, we hate the seducer for seducing us. But we were the ones who broke the trust in a relationship. In the same vein, the lobbyist can cajole and threaten all they want, but it's up to the politician or the bureaucrat to ignore their advances. If they fail to do that, we should blame those most directly responsible. Not a convenient scapegoat.


  1. RE the above statement "Deepwater Horizon was in the middle of the gulf and the base of the well was over 35,000 feet deep. It becomes incredibly hard to contain any oil spill when you have to do it 35k feet underwater"

    Assuming I haven't misunderstood what you were saying, I think you made a mistake. There is no place in the Gulf that is 35,000 feet deep. You may have meant 15,000 and made a typographical error.

    1. My apologies. I looked at the total depth of the Deepwater Horizon well, which was cited to be 35,000 feet and automatically assumed the well ended at the ocean floor and not beneath it.