Brian McGraw

Assuming this system works well, it will have an enormous impact on cash transfers — revolutionizing the way Americans dine out, the amount of cash we carry, etc. The friend who promises to pay you back when you’re out to eat but never actually does? He will need to come up with a new excuse. It’s amazing that this is the first time such a (useful) idea will potentially become widespread in the United States, as it already exists in other countries:

But our long national post-meal nightmare may be nearing an end. On Wednesday, Visa announced a new person-to-person payment system that could transform how we pay our babysitters, split our checks, and reimburse our friends. Starting in the second half of the year, users will be able to send money to any other Visa cardholder, regardless of where they bank or where they live. The sender need know only her recipient’s 16-digit account number, cell number, or e-mail address. Either the cash just shows up in the account linked to the recipients’ credit card, debit card, or prepaid card or the recipient gets a notice to OK the transfer.

I am definitely guilty of refusing to carry much cash around, preferring to use a debit card. This can be an inconvenience when you need to exchange cash with friends,  and when you’re shopping somewhere that is cash only or has a minimum purchase requirement to allow credit and/or debit cards.

There will be fees. But given that Americans already pay billions in annual ATM fees, its not clear that this will be any worse, and you won’t have to run and find the nearest ATM.

This is a few days old, but it’s worth mentioning: “EPA Tangles With New Critic: Labor.”

The labor unions were supportive of the Waxman-Markey bill in the House, and are clearly much more aligned with Democrats than Republicans, especially given the collective bargaining issues that have emerged in the past month. However, they aren’t supportive of EPA’s current efforts to regulate mercury, carbon dioxide, etc. The article quotes a union leader:

“If the EPA issues regulations that cost jobs in Pennsylvania and Ohio, the Republicans will blast the President with it over and over,” says Stewart Acuff, chief of staff to the president of the Utility Workers Union of America. “Not just the President. Every Democratic [lawmaker] from those states.”

This is certainly true, and it would seem to counter the (rest of) left’s argument that none of these costs are trivial, that EPA regulations will actually create jobs, are a free lunch, etc.

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Post image for Pro-Ethanol Legislation Introduced in the Senate

Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) introduced legislation last week to provide more support to the biofuel industry. This would counter a number of bills introduced recently intending curb biofuel incentives (here, here). Fortunately, support for this kind of bill does not seem to be in the pipeline, so it must mostly be for show.

The “Securing America’s Future with Energy and Sustainable Technologies Act” (SAFEST) is bold. Rather than picking one or two things the ethanol industry was interested in, it throws them everything they’ve ever dreamed of.

Let’s look at a few provisions:

It amends the definition of “advanced biofuel” to include corn starch-derived ethanol.

This would allow the corn ethanol industry access to a much larger share of the Renewable Fuel Standard, which is scheduled to increase from 9 billion gallons to 32 billion gallons by 2022. This would be one of the more damaging aspects of the legislation.

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In yet another example of why prudence is necessary on the behalf of law makers, who might have a little more faith in the market getting it right the first time:

San Francisco spends $14 million on bleach after eco toilets cause a stink

Less water per flush means less water pushing sludge along through sewers. Now California has spent $14 million (aside from $100 million in previous attempts to deal with this problem) on bleach that will eventually flow into the San Francisco bay. That doesn’t sound very environmentally friendly.

See Rand Paul’s questioning earlier this week on the issues of low-flush toilets and efficiency standards for light bulbs here. “We don’t even save money. We flush ‘em ten times. They don’t work.”

Via The Hill’s Energy blog:

“The ethanol tax credit is bad economic policy, bad energy policy and bad environmental policy. The $6 billion we waste every year on corporate welfare should instead stay in taxpayers’ pockets where it can be used to spur innovation, stimulate growth and create jobs,” Coburn said in a statement Wednesday.

The bill would repeal the VEETC. As before, a broad coalition emerged in support of the legislation.

CEI’s Marlo Lewis commented on the idea that ethanol is an infant fuel that needs protection:

Henry Ford built his first car, the Quadricycle, to run on pure ethanol. That was in 1896. In 1908, Ford built the first flexible fuel vehicle capable of running on either gasoline or ethanol. Today, more than a hundred years later, the perennial infant known as the corn-ethanol industry still can’t ‘compete’ without government coddling. We commend Senators Cardin and Coburn for challenging Congress to stop throwing good money after bad.

Post image for WSJ Revisits Ethanol

The Wall Street Journal interviewed Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack who suggested the ethanol industry might be able to wean itself off of federal subsidies. Not too quickly, obviously.

The WSJ took this as a positive sign:

Still, Mr. Vilsack may be the first Agriculture Secretary in generations to concede that ethanol subsidies are not immutable. That’s progress.

I do not share their view that this is progress. As they admit, there’s a chance the industry will receive new forms of support without ditching the old. Obama will still have a potentially tough re-election in 2012. Virtually all of the potential Republican candidates have praised the industry, and Obama will certainly acquiesce and do the same.

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Post image for What Comes with Public Sector Collective Bargaining

The left has been successful in framing Governor Walker’s efforts to end collective bargaining rights in the public sector as an assault on children, invoking sympathy from the rationally ignorant public. Stewart and Colbert have taken the lefts side.

It is both morally wrong and counterproductive (in my opinion!) to attack the teachers who work in the public school system. But let us not forget what the public-sector education unions have brought us over the years. These institutions (which in many areas may arguably help teachers be more effective) are far from innocent:

They have made it very difficult and expensive to fire ineffective teachers all over the country. Reason (PDF) has covered the insane process administrators must go through to fire teachers in NYC, as has the Chicago Tribune and a D.C. paper (PDF). Don’t forget the well covered “rubber rooms debacle” in New York City, where teachers sit around twiddling their thumbs while the city goes through a long, difficult and expensive process attempting to fire them for ineffectiveness. Los Angeles has had the same experience.

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Post image for Goverment Waste: From the Horse’s Mouth

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report in the past few days to “identify federal programs, agencies, offices, and initiatives, either within departments or governmentwide, which have duplicative goals or activities.” They identified 34 areas where agencies have overlapping missions or provide similar services to similar populations. They also identified 47 other areas where Congress might be able to reduce the cost of providing government services.

Some of the areas for improvement don’t actually involve consolidating programs, and just represent programs that even the GAO is willing to concede are poorly thought out. Ethanol policy gets a nod at $5.7 billion. Consolidating Department of Defense procedural medical operations could save as much as $470 million annually. Certain farm subsidies are included at an unnecessary cost of up to $5 billion annually. A number of opportunities were presented for the IRS.

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Post image for House De-Funds Ethanol in Budget Bill

During the annual National Ethanol Conference, where ethanol rent-seekers enthusiasts from around the country gather to discuss achievement of the still-out-of-reach goal of making significant amounts of ethanol commercially viable. It’s always just a few years away.

Very early that morning, the House voted to de-fund EPA’s program to implement E15 throughout the country as well as funding for the installation of blender pumps. Growth Energy responded, “OPEC Wins, America Loses in House Vote.” Explaining his amendment, Jeff Flakes stated: “I’ve long thought that the ethanol industry should be able to stand on its own — not be propped up by federal subsidies.”

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This might make things interesting, as the past few years have demonstrated the extent to which certain aspects of G.M. have clout in Washington: Automakers want House to block 15 percent ethanol blend. Also consider the obvious irony of a partially government-funded/owned company opposing policy supported by the Obama administration — the “slam on the breaks while hitting the gas approach.”

The Big 3 hadn’t been too loud on this issue, though they did join a lawsuit attempting to prevent EPA from approving the fuel late last year. Representative Sullivan (R-OK), as previously mentioned here, has introduced an amendment (of which there are almost 600 introduced amendments) to be attached to the CR which would de-fund EPA’s ability to introduce E15.

Much like the strange bedfellows who opposed the extension of the VEETC last year, the article notes:

“Our organizations rarely agree on any public policy issue, but we are united in opposing the premature introduction of E15,” said the letter that was also signed by the American Bakers Association; American Meat Institute; American Petroleum Institute; National Petrochemical & Refiners Association; National Turkey Federation; Outdoor Power Equipment Institute; and Specialty Equipment Market Association.

While testing done on vehicles from MY 2001-present have been confirmed by the EPA as able to handle blends of E15, a positive conclusion has not been reached for a number of other engine types (motorboat, lawnmower, etc.). Some manufacturers of non-automobile engines have stated they already struggle with E10, which is commonly sold throughout the United States, and are very concerned with the declining availability of gasoline without ethanol in it as well as increased damage by misfueling.

It’s hard to tell who would support this amendment. Most Congressman don’t consider ethanol to be a big issue, and the farm-belt will stand behind it. Many Democrats don’t support the extension of ethanol policy but might see this issue framed as an attack on the EPA which they would feel inclined to defend.