The London Taxi War

Apparently the London taxi war continues to heat up, with London's mayor apparently siding with the traditional black cabs against Uber and minicabs.  I hope Uber can stay legal long enough for me to visit later this year.  I have really come to appreciate Uber's service when I travel.

The taxi war in London hit me in an odd way the other day.   I was trying to pick out a hotel in London that would not require me to mortgage the house to afford, and was reading reviews on TripAdvisor.   Sprinkled in 4 and 5 star (circle?) reviews on Tripadvisor for hotels that have very good reputations were a bunch of one star reviews.  Many of these said roughly the same thing -- that this was a terrible hotel because a minicab picked them up, or they saw minicabs there, or the hotel called a minicab for someone (minicab meaning "uber" apparently).

Given the passion in the traveling public for Uber, and the fact that it is hard to accidentally get an Uber to pick you up, my hypothesis is that traditional black cab drivers are going into the hotel review sites and giving one star ratings to ones that use (or who have customers who use) Uber.  This seems like a pretty typical labor-dispute-style tactic, but maybe I am missing something?

For Those on the Left Who Want to Remove First Amendment Protections for Hate Speech, Consider President Lindsey Graham

So you think that "hate speech" or speech that makes someone uncomfortable or mocks someone or criticizes some particular group should not be protected under the First Amendment.  For those on the Left (who seem to disproportionately hold this opinion), I ask you to define anti-hate-speech laws in a way that you will be entirely comfortable if, say, President Lindsey Graham (God forbid) were to inherit the power to enforce them.

A President Graham might consider speech mocking Christianity or Jesus to be hate speech.  And if mocking Christianity is hate speech, wouldn't support for gay marriage or abortion be as well?  What about mocking the military, or police -- isn't that hate speech?

If you ban some speech but not other speech, someone has to be in charge of what is in the "ban" category.  When most people advocate for such a ban, they presume that "their guys" are going to be in charge of enforcing it, but outside of places like Detroit and Baltimore, sustained one-party rule in this country just does not happen.  That is why most calls for speech restriction are so short-sited -- they assume that people of a like mind will always be in charge of wielding these restrictions, and that is a terribly historical assumption.

Why It Is Particularly Unseemly That Hillary Clinton Keeps Attacking the Citizens United Decision

I think any opposition to free speech, particularly as exercised in an election, is unseemly, but Hillary Clinton's attacks on the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision are particularly so.

Why?  Well to understand, we have to remember what the Citizens United case actually was.  Over time, the decision has been shorthanded as the one that allows free corporate spending in elections, but this was not actually the situation at hand in the case.   I could probably find a better source, but I am lazy and the Wikipedia summary is fine for my purposes:

In the case, the conservative lobbying group Citizens United wanted to air a film critical of Hillary Clinton and to advertise the film during television broadcasts in apparent violation of the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (commonly known as the McCain–Feingold Act or "BCRA").[2] Section 203 of BCRA defined an "electioneering communication" as a broadcast, cable, or satellite communication that mentioned a candidate within 60 days of a general election or 30 days of a primary, and prohibited such expenditures by corporations and unions.

Yes, the Supreme Court generalized the decision to all corporations and unions (good for them) but the narrow issue in the case was whether an independent non-profit group could air a negative film about Hillary Clinton in the run-up to an election in which she was a candidate.

So when Hillary Clinton derides the Citizens United decision, she is arguing that the government should have used its powers to suppress a film critical of her personally.   She is trying to protect herself from criticism.

Heisenberg's Theorum on Green Energy Measurement

Theorum:  A media article on a wind or solar project will give its installation costs or the value of its energy produced, but never both.

Corollary 1:  One therefore can never assess the economic reasonableness of any green energy project from a single media article

Corollary 2:  For supporters of green energy, there is a good reason for Corollary #1.

The Past Cultural Trend That is Perhaps The Hardest To Explain to My Kids

Trucker movies and the CB radio culture are virtually impossible to explain to my kids.  Perhaps they will have the same experience explaining the Kardashians to their kids.

Obama Suddenly on Receiving End of His Own Bogus Style of Discourse

After 7+ years of responding to any criticism by labeling it as "racist", President Obama is now tasting his own medicine as Elizabeth Warren's camp accuses Obama as being "sexist" for criticizing her.

I must admit this gives me a healthy does of Schadenfreude, but really, where does this end?  What prominent person is finally going to stand up and say that playing the race, gender, class, sexual preference, or whatever else card does not constitute discourse?  This is not discourse, it is anti-discourse.  It is the negation and preemption of argument and discussion by attempting to avoid dealing head-on and substantively the the actual issues raised.

Things I Never Would Have Guessed

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AOL is still apparently worth over $4 billion.  Next someone will be buying The Source.

The Difference Between Civil and Criminal Contempt of Court

No, I am not going to have a legal discussion here.  But currently a judge is preparing to rule whether Joe Arpaio committed civil or criminal contempt of court when he (admittedly) ignored the judge's order on stopping his immigrant sweeps (and other issues).

Here is the practical difference for you and me:  If convicted of civil contempt, we the taxpayer ultimately bear the punishment (in all past Arpaio losses of this sort, the County taxpayers picked up the bill for any fines and awards).  If convicted of criminal contempt, Sheriff Joe might actually, for the first time ever, have to pay the price for his own lawlessness.

Postscript:  Just so you can get a flavor of how Arpaio conducts his immigrant sweeps, here is an example:

Deputies from the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office raided a Mesa landscaping company early Wednesday morning, arresting nearly three dozen people suspected of being in the country illegally.

The raid on offices of Artistic Land Management, on Main Street just west of Dobson Road, happened about 4:30 a.m., according to one worker who was handcuffed and detained before being released when he produced documentation that he was in the country legally....

Juarez estimated about 35 workers were handcuffed with plastic zip-ties while deputies checked for documents. Those who could provide proof they were in the country legally were released, while others were put on buses and taken away.

People think I am exaggerating when I say this, but he literally goes into a business and zip ties everyone with brown skin, releasing them only if some family member can rush over and provide proof of citizenship.

When "Pro-Science" Environmentalists Fall For Idiotic Technologies: Solar Roads Edition

I am mostly inured to being told I am "anti-science" for thinking manmade global warming will be less than catastrophic.  In debate situations (which are increasingly rare, since most colleges where I do most of my speaking no longer want a second side in climate discussions) I usually can demonstrate I know a hell of a lot more about the science than my opponent in the first 3 minutes or so.

But the whole "pro-science" pose of environmentalists is especially funny when they get really excited about some very stupid technology.  Environmentalists' support for corn ethanol is a good case in point.  Most of them have retreated on this, and the media has pretty much allowed them to pretend they were never really vociferous supporters of this technology that most now consider (and I considered from the beginning) to be environmentally damaging.

Here is the new, latest, greatest example.  From Think Progress, where else, but the story has been reprinted all over the hip environmental Left:

The World’s First Solar Road Is Producing More Energy Than Expected

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In its first six months of existence, the world’s first solar road is performing even better than developers thought.

The road, which opened in the Netherlands in November of last year, has produced more than 3,000 kilowatt-hours of energy — enough to power a single small household for one year, according to Al-Jazeera America.

“If we translate this to an annual yield, we expect more than the 70kwh per square meter per year,” Sten de Wit, a spokesman for the project — dubbed SolaRoad — told Al Jazeera America. “We predicted [this] as an upper limit in the laboratory stage. We can therefore conclude that it was a successful first half year.”

De Wit said in a statement that he didn’t “expect a yield as high as this so quickly.”

The 230-foot stretch of road, which is embedded with solar cells that are protected by two layers of safety glass, is built for bike traffic, a use that reflects the road’s environmentally-friendly message and the cycling-heavy culture of the Netherlands.

In the US, we pay about 12 cents a KwH for electricity  (the Dutch probably pay more).  But at this rate, in 6 months, the solar sidewalk has generated... $360 of electricity.  Double that for a year, and we get $720 of electricity a year.

How much did the sidewalk cost?  The article doesn't say.  You will find this typical of wind and solar articles.  If they quantify the installation cost, they will not quantify the value of power produced.  If they quantify the power produced, they will never quantify the installation cost. This article says the installation cost was $3.5 million, though I suppose one should subtract from that the cost to build a similar length concrete bike path, but that can't be more than $100,000 for 230 feet.  They say they are getting 70kwh per year per square meter, which is $8.40 worth of electricity per square meter per year.  Since regular solar panels - without all the special glass overlays and installation in the ground and inverters and wiring - cost about $150-$200 per square meter, you can see this is a horrible investment.

Part of the reason this is a bad investment is that solar panels are simply not efficient enough and cheap enough to be cost effective -- I think they will be someday, but not now.   But this project has special problems:

  • The panels are actually in the ground with people driving over them.  Honestly, could one actually choose a worse spot for a solar panel?  This installation location, vs. say a roof, adds incredible cost to toughen the panels for wear.  Also, it increases their maintenance costs and likely reduces their life.
  • Even worse, the panels have to sit flat on the ground, which is not the most efficient place for them.  Panels are most efficient if tilted at an angle and (in the case of Holland) facing south.  Further, they are more efficient up in the air where they do not get shaded by trees or buildings.

This is just stupid, stupid, stupid.  Perhaps if solar becomes more efficient and we have run out of space on every roof in the world, one might possibly maybe (but probably not) consider this.  But despite the inherent inanity of this idea, look at all the articles on Solaroad -- Think Progress, the Huffington Post, Engadget, Tree Hugger, Extreme Tech, NPR, Sustainable Business -- they all have multiple, gushing, unrelentingly positive articles about this.  Look at all the positively fawning comments on Think Progress.  I can't find a single article on the web that is even slightly skeptical.

 Update:  A reader sends me this epic video takedown of this stupid idea.  He did this in advance of the article today.  He finds it to be complete BS, despite the fact that he overestimates electrical production by a factor of 2.

Hard Drives in Windows 7 Randomly Appear and Disappear

Long-time readers will understand immediately that this is not a post for regular readers but is meant to be found on Google by people with similar problems.

I installed Windows 7 home premium 64-bit on a new Asus motherboard with an Intel Z97 chipset.  I have a couple of hard drives and a couple of RAID's connected by eSATA.  Once the installation was complete, I noticed one of the hard drives was missing from the drive listing.  Not only was it not recognized by Windows, it was not recognized by the Windows disk management utility or even by the BIOS.  So I rebooted, and found that this drive now appeared but another disappeared.  This kept happening over and over.  Some reboots I had them all, and some I did not.

I did all the usual stuff.  I swapped cables, swapped drives, etc.  I even RMA'd the motherboard when I got desperate, thinking there was an issue with the drive controller.  But it kept occurring on the new board.  I considered switching the drives from AHCI to IDE in the BIOS, as some people reported this fixed the problem for them, but I really wanted to avoid that**.  I updated the chipset drivers and all the other drivers (sound, graphics, etc) in case there was some IRQ conflict, as some people have reported that this fixed their problem.

I finally found a fix, and thought I would share it.

  • Check your power plan in Windows control panel.  Even if the computer is set never to sleep, your hard drives may be set to sleep (this is in fact the default in windows 7).  Go to the power plan advanced settings, look for hard drives, and set the time to sleep to 0 which causes them never to sleep.  I am not sure this is necessary but others report some success with this.   I may go back later to see if I can change it back -- I don't necessarily need my hard drives spinning all day.
  • It turns out that installing the Intel chipset driver is not enough.  I had thought that since the SATA controller is part of the chipset, the chipset driver would cover it.  However, once I installed the Intel chipset driver, when I checked the SATA / AHCI controller in device manager, it still showed the driver to still be a Microsoft driver.  Turns out this is the problem.  You need this to be an Intel driver
  • The drivers I wanted for the Z97 were right there on my motherboard support site and were called:
    • Intel AHCI/RAID Driver Path for Windows Win7 32bit & Win7 64bit & Win8 32bit & Win8 64bit & Win8.1 32bit & Win8.1 64bit.
    • Intel Rapid Storage Technology Driver software V13.1.0.1058 for Windows Win7 64bit & Win8 64bit & Win8.1 64bit---(WHQL).
  • I had originally thought these were some sort of utility (and a utility is included) but these are essentially the eSATA drivers I needed.  Once installed, checking device manager now showed an Intel rather than a Microsoft driver.

And that fixed it.  Ugh.  Hours and hours of frustration.  My apologies to Asus who got a returned board that was probably just fine.

 

** By the way, the reason switching to IDE probably fixed the problem is that it is a different driver.  But one gives up capabilities and a bit of performance going AHCI back to IDE.  Also, the switch is not entirely straightfoward and the switch back, if one ever wants to make it, is complicated.

Wow, It's Sure Lucky We Don't Allow All Those Dangerous Oil Pipelines to Get Built

Massive Fire Rages After Another Buffett-Owned Oiltrain Derails In North Dakota, Town Evacuated

This is CLASSIC seen and unseen.  New pipelines are discussed as if the alternative to building the pipeline is "do nothing" when in fact the alternative is moving crude by rail.  When looked at against the correct alternative, pipelines look like environmental saviors.

Update:  I do know the usage rules for its and it's.  I am just a terrible proof reader.

Government Of, By, and For State Employees

I am not a legal expert, so I can't say if the court ruling in Illinois that struck down (modest) pension reforms is a good one or not.  The author at the link seems pretty angry at the judges, but I am not sure their decision was unreasonable given the language of the state Constitution.  The root-cause problem seems to be this provision of the state Constitution

“Membership in any pension or retirement system of the State, any unit of local government or school district, or any agency or instrumentality thereof, shall be an enforceable contractual relationship, the benefits of which shall not be diminished or impaired.”

This is government of, by, and for state employees.  Pension benefits can never be lower than they are right now, so there is always a ratchet effect.  One mayor caves to a stupid contract, and we are all stuck with it for life.  I am pretty dang certain their constitution has no similar provision protecting, say, taxpayers.  Can you imagine a ratchet in the constitution that says that tax rates can never be higher than they are today?

We actually need this disaster to drag out for a while until after Obama is out of office.  A federal bailout request is coming soon (you don't think any of the participants expect to pay for this mess themselves, do you?) and Obama is incredibly likely to shovel them as much cash as they ask for.

Writing A More Accurate Headline: Phoenix Cities Take Big Loss on Superbowl

For reasons I will not get into yet again, cheer-leading local sports subsidies is essentially built into the DNA of most big city newspapers.

Last week our paper ran this headline:

'15 Super Bowl visitors boosted tax revenue by double digits

Wow!

Combined sales tax revenue for January and February totaled $14 million in roughly similar categories for restaurants, bars, hotels and retail in downtown Phoenix, Westgate and Scottsdale. That was up 19.5 percent over the same time a year ago.

That sounds awesome.  Take that, all you public subsidy skeptics.   Giving the Superbowl the benefit of the doubt and ignoring things like growth and the really good weather this winter, that is $2.28 million increase in taxes which we will generously ascribe all to the Superbowl.  And probably mostly taken from non-Arizonans, so its like free money.

It is only later in the article that the paper sheepishly inserts this:

Phoenix, Glendale, Scottsdale and tourism bureaus from Phoenix, Scottsdale, Tempe and Mesa combined to spend more than $5.6 million on Super Bowl events and public safety.

So we spent $5.6 million (probably under-estimated) to make $2.28 million (probably not all Superbowl related).  The headline was thus a total crock of Sh*t but typical of how, in small ways and large, the media helps push for bigger and bigger government.  I am sure the hotels and restaurants did well -- if so, then they are free to form a consortium to pay for the Superbowl's cost next time.  Or better yet, have some other sucker city host it and I will happily watch on TV.

Update:  I missed this part:

The Arizona Sports and Tourism Authority and Glendale provided a $6.2 million rebate to the NFL on Super Bowl ticket sales, said Kevin Daniels, authority chief financial officer.

I can't tell from the article if that $6.2 million is or is not in the numbers above.  I presume it is netted out before hand so that the gain in sales tax would be $6.2 million higher than reported above if this provision did not exist.  But this does mean that another valid headline would be:

Nearly 75% of Superbowl Sales Tax Gains Given to the NFL

So What is the Approved SJW Position on This, I am Confused

The exact same people who lament white flight from cities (we heard a lot of lamenting about this during the Baltimore riots) also oppose "gentrification" which could essentially be labelled "white return".   So what is it they want?

The Federal Government's Minimum Wage Hypocrisy

Diana Furchtgott-Roth and Jared Meyer have an article in the Federalist discussing the hypocrisy of members of Congress who advocate for higher minimum wages while paying their interns nothing.  It is worth a read, but rather than excerpt it, I wanted to add another example.

The example comes from the world of private operation of public parks, the business my company is in.  We keep parks open by operating much less expensively than can the government, usually using only the fees paid by park users without any additional tax dollars.

Last year, Barack Obama issued an order raising the minimum wage of Federal contractors to $10.10 an hour.  Though concessionaires like us are normally thought of legally as tenants of the government rather than contractors, the Department of Labor wrote the rules in such a way that this wage order would apply to concessionaires that operate Federal parks, such as those in the US Forest Service's campground concession program.

As a result of this order and similar minimum wage increases by the State of California, a concessionaire (not our company) that ran campgrounds in the Tahoe National Forest in California informed the Forest Service that it would need to raise camping rates to offset these minimum wage increases.  As an aside, wages and benefits that are tied to wage rates (e.g. workers comp and payroll taxes) make up about 50% of a private concessionaire's costs.  So if minimum wages go up, say, 20%, then (given the very low margins in the business) a 10% price increase is necessary just to stay even.

The Tahoe NF rejected the fee increase request, despite the fact that the concessionaire turned over its books to show that it was losing money at the higher minimum wage rates.

So what did the Tahoe NF do?  It took over operation of the campgrounds itself, ending a successful 30-year partnership with private operators.  How did it solve the minimum wage issue?  Simple!  Minimum wage laws don't apply to the Federal government.  So it will use dozens of volunteers who are paid nothing to operate the campground.

In other words, at a time when the President believes it is a burning priority to make sure every campground worker makes at least $10.10 an hour, the US Forest Service is firing private, paid workers and replacing them with volunteers.

By the way, even using volunteers, the US Forest Service will STILL be paying more to operate the campgrounds than it did with the concessionaire.  Under the private partnership, the private operator paid all expenses and paid the US Forest Service a concession fee, essentially rent.  The campground's operation and maintenance were paid for entirely with user fees, and the USFS actually made money from the operation.  Now, even with volunteers, the USFS operating plan shows it using $2 million of taxpayer money over the next five years in addition to user fees to keep the parks open.

Oceania, Arizona

My little town that in the Phoenix area is apparently setting up surveillance cameras all over town, hidden in fake cacti.   This never once was discussed in any public meeting, and residents only found out about it when the cameras starting going up.

Residents were alarmed to see the cactus cameras popping up throughout the town over the last few days with no indication of what they were being used for as city officials refused to explain their purpose until all the cameras were installed.

Town leaders initially declined to even talk to local station Fox 10 about the cameras, with Paradise Valley Police saying they were “not prepared to make a statement at this time.” The network was similarly rebuffed when they attempted to get answers on license plate scanners that were being installed in traffic lights back in February.

Fox 10’s Jill Monier was eventually able to speak to Town Manager Kevin Burke, who admitted that the cameras were being used to “run license plates of cars against a hotlist database.”

When asked why officials had been secretive about the cameras, which are being placed on the perimeter of the town, Burke asserted that there was “nothing to hide” and that the cameras wouldn’t be activated until privacy concerns had been addressed.

“Shouldn’t that have been vetted before they even went up?” asked Monier, to which Burke responded, “It probably is fair.”

This appears to be part of the on-again-pretend-to-be-off-again DHS program to set up nationwide tracking of license plates.  Ugh.  Really gives a creepy Owrellian vibe to our town name of "Paradise Valley".  More good news:

The American Civil Liberties Union subsequently revealed that the cameras were also using facial recognition technology to record who was traveling in the vehicle “as part of an official exercise to build a database on people’s lives,” reported the Guardian.

Things I Never, Ever Would Have Predicted: Progressives Seeking Anti-Blasphemy Rules

In 1984 I graduated from college, ending the period of my life with the most intimate and sustained contact with hard-core progressives (less intimate contact continues to this day, mainly trying to save my business from the laws they pass).

If you had asked me to predict where progressives would be in 30 years, one thing I would never have guessed is that progressives would be in the vanguard of trying to re-establish anti-blasphemy laws in this country.

Also, more good thoughts on this same phenomenon here.

Baltimore Public Schools May Suck, but They Are Well-Funded And Have Well-Paid Teachers

In response to a Jon Stewart (uninformed) dig about Baltimore schools being crappy because they are poorly funded, we get this:

The National Center for Education Statistics reports the following data on Baltimore City Public Schools and Fairfax County Public Schools, the latter considered among the best school districts in the entire country:

school data2

So what about the teachers? Maybe the schools waste a lot of this money and skimp on teachers' salaries?  Yes on the first part, but no on the second.

To my eye, Baltimore teachers are quite well paid, starting at over $47,000 base salary (plus substantial benefits, likely better than what you have) and ramping up to over $80,000 a year for "professional" teachers which I presume means they have a post-graduate degree of some sort.  I am not sure if these salaries are for 9, 10, or 12 months of work, but if I read page 25 of their union contact correctly, teachers can work no more than 190 days a year vs. about 250 for the typical professional job.  This would make their starting salary equivalent to $61,842 for a full-year job.  Add to that tens of thousands in pension and health benefits, 21 different types of allowed leave time, and a virtual inability to be fired, and that's pretty damn good pay.

Postscript:  I will add that I was fortunate enough to be able to send my kids to top private schools in Phoenix K-12.  We obviously paid less in elementary school and more in high school, but the average private tuition we paid in those 13 years of school, even adjusted for inflation, is well below the $17,196 per pupil spent in Baltimore public schools.  I am simply exhausted with people saying this is about money.  It is about a senescent government monopoly with no accountability and no incentive to improve because it faces no competition.

Joe Arpaio May Finally Get His Comeuppance for Years of Arrogance

Our local Sheriff Joe Arpaio is quite a story.  On the one hand, he shows a casual disrespect for civil liberties, goes on raids where he zip-ties every person with brown skin until their family can produce their birth certificate, and has tried to pin RICO charges on judges who ruled against him.  He likes to haul folks off to jail whose only crime is speaking out against the Sheriff .   He arrested newspaper reporters and editors who wrote critically of him.  This is a man who in his paranoia invented an assassination plot (against himself, of course) and got the city to spend $500,000 protecting him.  If his deputies want to see a defense attorney's working papers, they just take them.  If he can't get a judge to release computer records, he has his posse storm into the County computer center and take it over at gunpoint.  And don't even get me started on the Steven Seagal thing.

On the other hand, despite all this, he has been re-elected by safe margins many times, has actual groupies who fawn over him, and is considered by much of our retiree population as the last bulwark against a Mexican-immigrant-led road-warrior-style apocalypse.  At most local art festivals and other public fairs, he has his own booth where he hands out his trademark pink underwear to his many admirers (he makes prisoners wear pink underwear to try to humiliate them).

Several years ago, upon losing some Federal civil rights suits, a judge ordered as part of the settlement a series of defined actions and prohibitions (e.g. Arpaio had to stop certain immigrant roundups).  He ignored these orders pretty blatantly, and now is in court again.  He has actually essentially admitted to civil contempt of court and is just hoping at this point to avoid criminal charges.  And then it gets weirder:

An upper echelon that willfully defies the orders of a federal judge and may have committed perjury on the witness stand.

A county sheriff and chief deputy with enough chutzpah to "investigate" the U.S. Department of Justice, the CIA, and federal judges, all on the word of a Seattle scammer.

A bogus "investigation" into the wife of the aforementioned federal judge for something that's not even a crime.

This is just some of the ground covered during a four-day hearing before U.S. District Court Judge G. Murray Snow in which Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his chief deputy, Jerry Sheridan, tried mightily to save themselves from criminal-contempt charges in the ACLU's big racial profiling case Melendres v. Arpaio.

Sheridan and Arpaio already have conceded that they are guilty of civil contempt, admitting they did not comply with Snow's December 2011 preliminary injunction in the case, which ordered the MCSO not to enforce federal civil immigration law.

The pair also have copped to defying a direct order from Snow in May 2014 concerning the gathering of thousands of videos taken by deputies, which should have been turned over to the plaintiffs before the 2012 trial in Melendres.

All that's left is for Snow to find that there's enough evidence that Sheridan and Arpaio acted willfully, so he can turn over the matter to another judge and the U.S. Attorney's Office for possible prosecution.

Yep, the best way to defend oneself against contempt of court is to... have all the other parties in court investigated.  Oh yeah, and the CIA.  Nothing says "mental health" like a local sheriff investigating the CIA.   And don't forget, this is the same guy who used my tax money to take is cold case team and dedicate them for months to investigating Obama's birth certificate.

Police Accountability: Is It An Unfixable Problem?

Despite near-constant pleas for "bipartisanship" in the media, the worst offenses to liberty often occur when both parties agree.  If both parties are stepping on each other to try to beat their chest hardest about an issue, it is time to duck and cover.

This week we have seen how most cities have laws and union contracts that stand in the way of even basic accountability for police.  I fear that this is an unfixable problem, because both Republicans and Democrats conspire to block accountability of police, though for different reasons.

Republicans tend to fetishize police in the same way they do the military, and tend to blindly support the police position in any he-said-she-said confrontation (I know, I used to be one of them).  While Conservatives bemoan the "women never lie about rape" meme on campus, they take the exact same position vis a vis police.

Democrats have generally been better allies of civil libertarians on these issues (though Democrat politicians will throw that all out if they need to buff up their "law and order" credentials for an election).  However, Liberals have a huge blind spot in that they also feel the necessity to be fiercely loyal, even blindly loyal to public unions, which include powerful police unions.  Taking on police accountability would require Democrats to take on a very visible public union, which they are loath to do.   In the past, when faced with a choice of fixing schools or appeasing teachers unions, Democratic politicians have almost always chosen the latter and I don't think they will do anything differently with police.

If you think I am leading up to a silver lining and a proposal, you are wrong.   I don't have one.  Sure, after Baltimore, we may have a lot of talk about reform, but when the cameras turn their attention elsewhere, all the reform will die as quick as they did at the VA and any number of other failed government institutions.

Instead, I think I am going to go home and binge watch The Wire again.  Seems timely.  For fans of that show, everything that has happened this week is entirely familiar.

Update on Applied Underwriter Issues

After my article last week identifying costly aspects of Applied Underwriters' workers compensation insurance policies that are unusual, hard to predict, and totally undisclosed in the market/sales process, I have gotten a lot of feedback.

The first, of course, was from the lawyers at Applied Underwriters who have threatened me with a libel suit unless I take down my comments.  While my blog article wills stay up, Applied Underwriters have apparently managed to get Yelp to hide my reviews in the secret purgatory they maintain for reviews that displease corporate lawyers.

More recently, I have had calls from not one but two different attorneys who are representing Applied Underwriter customers.  The one this morning was especially evocative -- he had years of experience as an attorney and litigating over contracts like this but thought he was crazy because he could not figure out the math on the Applied Underwriters statements until he read my post.  I had had the exact same issue, almost in tears because I could not figure it out, until an industry insider explained to me that the numbers don't add up.  After pages of step by step calculations, there is one step where they simply pull a number out of the air, essentially rendering irrelevant all the calculations that went before.  I will respect their client confidentiality but say that the issues involved were very parallel to those I discussed in my article.

Feel free to contact me if you need help or are considering a policy with Applied Underwriters and I will lend you what knowledge I have.

Soviet Architecture in Arizona

I think it was Tyler Cowen who linked to this photo spread on surviving examples of Soviet architecture.  A few of the buildings are almost compelling.

This was one example, in Bratislava

this-radio-building-in-bratislava-slovakia-took-16-years-to-build--mostly-because-its-basically-upside-down

But you don't have to go to Bratislava to see something like it.  You can find something similar in Mesa, Arizona -- this is the city hall.

Tempe_City_Hall_-_Tempe,_AZ

Kudos to the photographer for getting the shadow on the concrete pylon on the right to be positioned almost perfectly to fill out the missing part of the building.    I actually don't mind the Tempe building, it looks good in context, more public sculpture than building (particularly since this is likely a really inefficient building, with minimal floor space for the money spent to build it).

 

Lack of Hotel is Not a Market Failure -- It Was a Market Success

For some reason, it appears that building hotels next to city convention centers is a honey pot for politicians.  I am not sure why, but my guess is that they spend hundreds of millions or billions on a convention center based on some visitation promises.  When those promises don't pan out, politicians blame it on the lack of a hotel, and then use public money for a hotel.  When that does not pan out, I am not sure what is next.  Probably a sports stadium.  Then light rail.  Then, ?  It just keeps going and going.

I thought we in Phoenix took some kind of prize with this:

The city-owned Sheraton Phoenix Downtown Hotel has lost so much money — more than $28.2 million total — that some city leaders say the hotel must be put in the hands of the private sector.

They also worry that the hotel, Arizona's largest with 1,000 rooms, could harm other projects in the downtown core.

When Phoenix leaders opened the Sheraton in 2008, they proclaimed it would be a cornerstone of downtown's comeback. They had one goal in mind: lure big conventions and tourism dollars. Officials argued the city needed the extra hotel beds to support its massive taxpayer-funded convention center a block away.

But apparently things are even worse in Baltimore:

The city-owned Hilton Baltimore convention center hotel lost $5.6 million last year — a worse performance than 2013 despite its close location to Camden Yards and the Orioles' playoff run.

It was the seventh consecutive year that the hotel has underperformed financially, according to an audit of financial statements presented Wednesday to the city's Board of Estimates. Under the deal's initial projections, the hotel was supposed to be making $7 million in profit by now — pumping that mone into the city's budget....

The hotel has lost more than $70 million since it opened.

I am sure that politicians in both cities called the lack of a hotel a market failure.  But now we see that it was a market success.  All the companies who chose not to build a hotel with private money obviously knew what they were doing, and only the political benefits of pandering the the public at large and a few special interests in specific made it seem like an attractive investment to city politicians.  Which is all pretty unsurprising, since hotels have pretty much been built off every exit ramp in this country, so there seems to be no private inhibition towards building hotels -- just towards building hotels in bad locations.

Couldn't They Make This Guy Look Any More Like A Wermacht Panzer Commander?

the-curfew-is-working-fox-news

Celebrate the Strong Dollar

We are already seeing articles bemoaning the strong dollar as somehow a threat to the American economy.  Don't believe it.  Maintaining a weak dollar is yet another crony government program that benefits a tiny minority of admittedly vocal and politically connected Americans.

First, a bit of an aside.  It is amazing to me that the US dollar can be strong at all right now, given the actions of the Fed.  With its near infinite QE and zero-interest rate programs, one would expect the dollar to be weak (Oversimplifying, driving down the returns on financial assets reduces the overseas demand for them, thus reducing the demand for dollars, driving down the price of dollars).  But it turns out that the rest of the world (esp. Japan and the EU) are actually working twice as hard to trash their own currencies (they are actually heading into negative interest rate territory, not just zero) and thus on a relative basis, the dollar is stronger.

Companies that export or compete a lot with manufacturers in other countries hate the strong dollar.  It makes their domestically produced products more expensive vis a vis products manufactured in other countries.  Many of these companies have powerful political voices, and some have large unions with even more powerful political voices.  They lobby for a weaker dollar.  Part of that lobbying is often to portray other countries as nefariously "manipulating" their currencies to hurt the US.

What these countries that are weakening their own currencies are actually doing is trashing the prosperity of the vast majority of their citizens to protect the earnings of a few politically powerful producers.  Japan is a great example.  Japan is a country in which consumers have been stomped on from decades in order to reduce the price of the country's exports.  Japanese consumers pay far more for everything than we do, all so their exporters can lower their prices in the US.

This is the same in China.  We frequently host visiting Chinese students.  You know what every one of these kids do on their trip to the US?  They bring an empty suitcase that they fill up with electronic and fashion goods they buy here, many of which were actually manufactured in China  (I have never, ever have hosted a Chinese student that did not buy at least one Chinese-manufactured iPhone here).

So, we must oppose this currency "manipulation" that impoverishes Japanese, Chinese, and European citizens in favor of giving much lower prices to Americans -- Why?

We should celebrate the strong dollar.  It makes every one of us richer.  Not just when we buy Chinese electronics, but even when we buy American-made products that now must be less expensive to compete with foreign products and which benefit from cheaper inputs in their own manufacturing.

Years and years ago I wrote a hypothetical post about Chinese interventions to maintain a trade surplus form a Chinese consumer's perspective in a post from our sister publication Panda Blog.  I think it holds up really well.  It said in part:

It is important to note that each and every one of these government interventions subsidizes US citizens and consumers at the expense of Chinese citizens and consumers.  A low yuan makes Chinese products cheap for Americans but makes imports relatively dear for Chinese.  So-called "dumping" represents an even clearer direct subsidy of American consumers over their Chinese counterparts.  And limiting foreign exchange re-investments to low-yield government bonds has acted as a direct subsidy of American taxpayers and the American government, saddling China with extraordinarily low yields on our nearly $1 trillion in foreign exchange.   Every single step China takes to promote exports is in effect a subsidy of American consumers by Chinese citizens.