The John Batchelor Show

Friday 29 March 2013

Air Date: 
March 29, 2013

Photo, above:  Chipping Norton is a market town in the Cotswold Hills in the West Oxfordshire district of Oxfordshire, England, about 12 miles southwest of Banbury and 18 miles northwest of Oxford. See: Hour 1, Block B:  Amy Chozick, NYT


Hour One

Friday 29 March 2013 / Hour 1, Block A: Jeff Bliss, The Bliss Index, in re: Unfortunately, California taxpayers are not the only victims of this train robbery. President Obama's failed economic stimulus also included $12 billion in high-speed rail funds, $3.2 billion of which ended up in California. And the rest of the money isn't being spent much more efficiently. In the Pacific Northwest, for example, $800 million in taxpayer funds was spent upgrading the Amtrak line between Seattle and Portland, Ore. That comes to nearly $1,000 per annual passenger. But don't expect a much quicker ride. Washington state only shaved 10 minutes off of what had been a 3-hour, 40-minute trip.

Asked if he was disappointed at the failure to build a single high-speed rail line anywhere in America, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood tried to reassure CNN's Drew Griffin by reminding him how much money the government has spent on it. "In four years," he said, "we've invested $12 billion." When Griffin refused to settle for this dubious measure of success, LaHood argued that the $12 billion (which is more than three times Amtrak's annual budget) had improved Amtrak's on-time service record. He added, "I think people like the investments we're making. There's so much enthusiasm in America for high-speed rail." But California now has the only remaining high-speed project on the table. You can judge for yourself how much enthusiasm remains.

California's High-Speed Rail Authority sues everybody, invites you to argue case in court 

 California has filed a civil case against everyone -- literally, the whole world -- seeking to validate $8.6 billion in voter-approved bonds for its . . .

Cali Bullet Train Breaking the Rules, Losing Big Supporters

California agencies debate big infrastructure projects:  The California High-Speed Rail Authority is convening in Sacramento today to weigh issuing up to $810 million in bonds for projects...

Friday  29 March 2013 / Hour 1, Block B:  Amy Chozick, NYT, in re: A Weekend in the Country: Britain’s Power Elite at Play  Chipping Norton, England’s politically conservative Tory stronghold in the midst of rural Oxfordshire, is London’s amped-up version of the Hamptons, but one that has seen its social fabric frayed by the country’s phone-hacking scandal.

Friday  29 March 2013 / Hour 1, Block C: . Chris Gadomski, Bloomberg New Energy Finance, in re:  Nuclear Market | Bloomberg New Energy Finance    Nuclear power offers several advantages over conventional energy sources as a way to reduce emissions and tackle energy security concerns. But the sector . . .

Friday  29 March 2013 / Hour 1, Block D:  Renee Dudley, Bloomberg Businessweek , in re:  WHAT GOOD ARE LOW PRICES IF THE SHELVES ARE EMPTY?   Wal-Mart, struggling to maintain a nascent sales turnaround in the U.S., has been cutting staff since the recession--and pallets of merchandise are piling up in its stock rooms as shelves go unfilled. A thinly spread workforce has other consequences: longer check-out lines, less help in the electronics and jewelry sections, and more disorganized stores.

Hour Two

Friday  29 March 2013 / Hour 2, Block A:  . Ramesh Ponnuru, NRO, in re:  It’s just far-fetched to believe that Congress would lower corporate rates at the expense of small business,” says Representative Devin Nunes, a California Republican.That, in a nutshell, is why corporate-tax rates are unlikely to fall, even though there is a bipartisan consensus that they’re too high. Nunes may, however, have the beginning of a solution.

The U.S. corporate-tax rate is higher than that of any other developed country. We have kept it at 35 percent even as other countries have reduced theirs. Republicans, unsurprisingly, want to cut the rate; most of them think 25 percent is the right target. President Barack Obama has suggested that eliminating loopholes would enable a reduction to 28 percent.

Friday  29 March 2013 / Hour 2, Block B:  . Eli Lake, Daily Beast, in re: What Spies Read For Fun   The National Security Agency just declassified 23 years’ worth of Cryptolog, its top-secret internal newsletter. Eli Lake takes a peek.

Friday  29 March 2013 / Hour 2, Block C:  Richard Epstein, Hoover Defining Ideas, in re: Gay Marriage and the Libertarian’s Dilemma

The Strange Alliances Around the Gay Marriage Cases It is surely a sign of the difficulty of the issues surrounding gay marriage that it has generated a large number of what may be loosely termed political marriages of convenience. As I noted in my earlier column, the Libertarian’s Dilemma on Hoover’s Defining ideas, I see the case as raising, as a matter of first principle, a conflict between two ideals.

The first of these respects individual liberty and the second respects tradition. Ideally, where the two coincide, we should reserve our greatest affection for the protection of traditional liberties. That correspondence, however, is rudely shaken in the gay marriage cases, where, until the last few years, the political sentiment was resolutely against gay marriage, just as the strong libertarian case in favor of it came strongly into focus. In and of itself, conflicts of interest of that sort often arise in intellectual discussion, where people are free to come down whatever way they see fit. But the issue becomes much more complex when the devotees on both sides try to jam their political and moral outlooks into the language of constitutional law, where the basic principles of interpretation at a minimum require that the interpreter try to decipher the message of the speaker and not impose that message to his or her liking.  . . .

Friday  29 March 2013 / Hour 2, Block D:   Richard Epstein, Hoover Defining Ideas, in re: Gay Marriage and the Libertarian’s Dilemma

. . . That sort of writing led to a huge amount of reimagination of American constitutional history on the Commerce Clause issues raised in the Obamacare case, where a defenseless text was pummeled into submission in order to generate a vast expansion of federal power that I stoutly opposed on historical and analytical grounds. That reasoning insisted that the residual power of the states was abandoned when Congress arrogated unto itself the power to regulate agriculture, mining, manufacturing, and, yes, health care.

Today, many liberals who rejoiced in the broad reading of federal power on health care take a decidedly different view on gay marriage. It is possible to chide them for their inconsistency, but the same can't be said of libertarians who, with constitutional wheels in full gear, question whether the federal government can define marriage under section 3 of DOMA, which takes the not so audacious step of defining marriage as “a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife” in matters of federal law—which tracks the definition that has long held sway in ordinary discourse.  There are many foolish consequences of adopting this definition, which Alan Morrison of George Washington masterfully exposes in his amicus brief attacking DOMA for its overbreadth. But the greater irony is the recent amicus curiae brief co-written by Professor Ernest Young of Duke Law School, which, under a decidedly libertarian banner, argues that DOMA is unconstitutional on federalism grounds, given that the states, under our constitutional arrangements, long had had the exclusive power to define marriage. Fittingly enough, the signatories of this brief are fervent libertarians—Jonathan Adler, Lynn Baker, Randy Barnett, Dale Carpenter, and Ilya Somin.

I confess that I declined to sign that brief because I thought that it was wrong for the reasons that Adam Freedman wrote about in Gay Marriage and Federalism, where he makes the point that the federal government should be able to define marriage for the purposes of administering the federal law, which indeed it has done in all sorts of statutes from time immemorial.  Nothing is more common in the law that to have two stipulative sets of definitions that govern a particular area. And in this instance, even under the narrowest views of the federal power, its ability to tax allows it to define what kinds of taxes should be imposed on what portions of the population. No one would regard this as an intrusion on states rights if DOMA were amended to provide that marriage for the purposes of federal law shall be defined as a union between two adults of either sex, leaving only the polygamists hanging out to dry.  Freedman, then, is right, but it need not follow that DOMA should survive as he advocates. To be blunt about it, the issue in this case . . . [more]

Hour Three

Friday  29 March 2013 / Hour 3, Block A:   Michael Vlahos, Naval War College, in re: Thucydides records the story of an anonymous, defeated Spartan who lamented that Athenian arrows at the Battle of Sphakteria left no room for courage, their rain of indiscriminate death taking down the heroic infantryman along with the coward. Such unfair randomness, if not cowardice, becomes a theme as early Homer’s Iliad, when we hope in vain that Achilles can finally get his hands on the pretty boy bowman Paris, who cleanly kills better men from afar…  The emergence of remotely piloted drone bombers at the millennium has set off the same sort of confusion and misinformation. At the same time, the new technology meant that we could “surgically” take out the enemy without losing Americans in the process…

Friday  29 March 2013 / Hour 3, Block B:  . Michael Vlahos, Naval War College, in re: Afghan villagers flee their homes, blame US drones   

Anti-drones activists plan month of protest over Obama's 'kill' policy

Barely able to walk even with a cane, Ghulam Rasool says he padlocked his front door, handed over the keys and his three cows to a neighbor and fled his mountain home in the middle of the night to escape relentless airstrikes from U.S. drones targeting militants in this remote corner of Afghanistan. Rasool and other Afghan villagers have their own name for Predator drones. They call them benghai, which in the Pashto language means the "buzzing of flies." When they explain the noise, they scrunch their faces and try to make a sound that resembles an army of flies.

 "They are evil things that fly so high you don't see them but all the time you hear them," said Rasool, whose body is stooped and shrunken with age and his voice barely louder than a whisper. "Night and day we hear this sound and then the bombardment starts."  [more]

Friday  29 March 2013 / Hour 3, Block C:  . Dan Barry NYT, in re: THIS LAND Grim Story Told with Shovels and Science  Excavation of a mass grave of Irish railroad workers in Pennsylvania, who died during a cholera epidemic in 1832, answers some questions and raises many more.

Friday  29 March 2013 / Hour 3, Block D:   Gordon Chang,, in re: The Coming Tech Storm? China, Apple and Google

The 21st century is commonly referred to as the 'Pacific Century.' For such a prediction to materialize, the economies of the Asia-Pacific must …   

China, Apple's greatest hope, is also most perplexing challenge  

Apple's iPad dominates China's tablet market

Hour Four

Friday  29 March 2013 / Hour 4, Block A:  Bud Weinstein, Maguire Energy Institute at Southern Methodist University and George W. Bush Institute Fellow, in re:  Waxman has never been a big fan of corn ethanol. He voted against the energy bill in 2005 that initially created the mandate but supported a 2007 measure that strengthened the mandate’s goal of promoting advanced biofuels such as cellulosic ethanol, which don’t use corn and have lower carbon footprints.

       Waxman may also be getting an earful from a powerful opponent of the standard: Chevron. Waxman’s newly redrawn district includes, for the first time since he came to Congress in 1975, a refinery. Chevron bills the facility, located along the coast near the Los Angeles International Airport, as the largest refinery on the West Coast. The facility spans 1,000 acres and employs 1,100 people, according to Chevron’s website. When National Journal Daily asked about the refinery in the interview, Waxman laughed, smiled broadly, and simply said: “Yeah.” He said he hasn’t met (yet) to talk with Chevron about the biofuels mandate.

        “I’m not anti-oil,” Waxman said. “I’m happy there is a refinery in my district that is producing a product that is very much needed. That doesn’t mean I’m going to agree with them on everything.” He quickly added: “We’re going to need fossil fuels for the foreseeable future. I’d like us to start moving away as quickly as possible and make our portfolio of energy resources more than just fossil fuels.”  The background of Upton’s stance on the policy is equally nuanced. Along with 207 other Republicans, he supported the creation of the mandate as part of the 2005 bill and also the measure two years later that strengthened it. Republican President Bush signed both those bills into law. Sources familiar with Upton’s thoughts on the policy now say the Republican is more inclined to oppose it, given the Republican Party’s growing hostility to federal mandates and the resurgence in oil and natural-gas production that’s helped get the U.S. closer than ever to the elusive goal of energy independence.

The top Republican and Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee are finally on the same page about a controversial energy policy after reading from two completely different playbooks the last four years.  Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., and ranking member Henry Waxman, D-Calif., are both undecided about what Congress should do about the renewable-fuels standard, a federal mandate established in 2005 that requires increasingly large amounts of biofuels each year to be blended with gasoline.  “I don’t have an immediate solution. I don’t have the answer,” Upton said in a recent interview in his office. “But we’re going to have thoughtful hearings, first a couple of white papers. We’re going to see where people are. I have confidence that we’ll have a solution by going regular order.” [more]

The Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS), commonly known as the “ethanol mandate,” is perhaps the most egregious example of resource misallocation resulting from flawed public policies. Though proposals have been made to reform the mandate, the public interest will be best served if the RFS section of the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act is repealed.  In the first place, the biofuels mandate has done little or nothing to enhance America’s energy independence or security. Oil imports have dropped dramatically over the past five years, from 60 percent of consumption to around 35 percent; but the credit goes to the shale revolution that has greatly boosted domestic production. What’s more, the potential contribution of ethanol to the energy mix has been oversold. Processing the entire U.S. corn crop into ethanol would yield energy equal to just 12 percent of gasoline consumption.  The ethanol mandate has also driven up water costs and the costs of feed and food. [more]

Friday  29 March 2013 / Hour 4, Block B:  Rick Rothaker, Bloomberg, in re: Bank of America Corp Chief Executive Brian Moynihan will need to hold shares likely worth millions of dollars for at least a year after he retires, under a new compensation policy that the bank instituted following investor pressure. The new compensation policy also requires some other top executives to keep a minimum number of shares of the bank at least until they retire, according to correspondence between the bank and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that was seen by Reuters.

Previously, Moynihan, 53, only needed to hold some stock in the company until retirement, while other top executives did not have such a holding period requirement. [more]

Friday  29 March 2013 / Hour 4, Block C:  Fouad Ajami, Hoover, Senior Fellow and cochair, Working Group on Islamism and the International Order, The Banality of Evil What has become of the perpetrators of murder and genocide in Cambodia, Iraq, and other war-torn regions of the world?

Friday  29 March 2013 / Hour 4, Block D:   Adam Nagourney, NYT, in re: Earthquake Warnings While other quake-prone places like Mexico and Japan have surged ahead with effective alert systems, California’s network, which would be the nation’s first, has been delayed by a lack of money.

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Hour 1: House of Cards, Ides of March, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Appaloosa 

Hour 2: Ides of March 

Hour 3: Darkspore, Appaloosa, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo 

Hour 4: Ghost Writer, Green Zone