Archive for August 2008

Handcuff Everyone with Brown Skin -- We'll sort 'em Out Later

Our execrable sheriff Joe Arpaio conducted another of his famous roundups of people with brown skin.  This time descending on an area landscaping company, our brave deputies zip-tied anyone who did not look Anglo-Saxon.  To have their handcuffs removed, workers of Latin descent had to first provide proof that they were in the country legally.  Note that there is no legal requirement that I know of that workers in this country carry proof of citizenship at all times, on the off-chance the local Gestapo will descend on them and demand to see their papers.

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.

Proletarianization of the Middle Class

Marxism holds that the middle class will eventually disappear, as the world is polarized between a few large business owners and the masses of the proletariat.  Small and independent businesses would disappear, and most of the middle class would be pedestrianized.  The middle class was always a sticking point for Marx, and there is some question whether this is really prediction or wishful thinking.  I say wishful thinking, because Marx knew that he could not achieve his socialist end-state with a middle class in place -- he had to drive the middle class into the proletariat.

In a large sense, that is what was are seeing at the Democratic Convention -- the effort to convince the middle class that, against all reason and reality, they are actually not well-off, that they are marginalized victims.  It is an attempt to pedestrianize the middle class.  Thus we get this classic quote from Rahm Emanuel, via Matt Welch:

The truth is, the Bush crowd has been giving the middle
class a thumping. This November, the middle class is going to give it
right back. This election comes down to a simple question: do we want
four more years of Bush-McCain or do we want the change we need?

There
is only one candidate from the middle class, that understands the
middle class, and that can deliver the change the middle class needs:
Barack Obama. A strong economy depends on a strong middle class. But
George Bush has put the middle class in a hole and John McCain has a
plan to keep digging that hole with George Bush's shovel.

Good News

The absurdly porked-up transportation initiative has been dropped from the November ballot in Arizona.  So we can relax for another year, and local jurisdictions will be forced to pay for their own silly projects with local money.  My last post on this ballot initiative was here.

Open For 19th Century Business

From the grasping at straws file, Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm has been talking for a while about remaking Michigan as an alternative energy powerhouse.  Henry Payne reports on her breakfast talk yesterday morning at the DNC Convention:

At a breakfast talk, Michigan's deeply unpopular governor
Jennifer Granholm explained that she was chosen to moderate Tuesday
night's energy panel from the convention stage because of the Wolverine
State's efforts in renewable power. The idea that windmills will rescue
one of America's great manufacturing states is absurd on its face, but
she persisted in spinning a fairy tale that Michigan is perfectly
positioned to take advantage of alternative energy manufacturing
because of the "Five Ws" (I'm not making this up) in abundance in the
state: "Wind, water, waste, workforce and wood."

That's terrific - they have all the key inputs needed for setting up an early 19th century business.  What is left unsaid is that Michigan has the highest unemployment rate in the country, driven by fussy and high cost unions and a crushing taxation and regulatory burden.  The only message I take from the governor's talk is that if one is not in an alternative energy business, it's time to get out of Michigan, as the majority of businesses are about to face higher power costs and more taxes to support the governor's preferred industrial investment.  Which, come to think of it, is a message most businesses have already internalized about Michigan, seeing as the population of its largest city has dropped by more than 50% over the last several decades.

It is highly entertaining to see people who have never even worked in, much less have run, a real business (including Obama, Clinton, and about everyone else on the DNC rostrum) express the hubris that only they know what the right industrial investment plan for the US is and that only they know how to build a major new industry.  In particular, we saw last night the repetition of Obama's ridiculous made-up 5 million jobs number that I critiqued in depth several days ago.

Disclosure:  I actually run a few campgrounds in the UP of Michigan, but since sleeping in tents seems to fit the governor's industrial policy, I'll probably be OK.

Global Warming Eye Test

I have an interesting global warming eye test up at Climate-Skeptic.   The two graphs below are both scaled exactly the same, and are each 51-year periods from the global temperature record of the last 150 years.  The only difference is that one period of warming is described by scientists as "natural" (1895 to 1946) and the other is described as "man-made" (1957 to present).

  Periodb       Perioda_3

Which is which?  Which is man, and which is mother nature?

Kind of makes the claim that "current warming is unprecedented" ring kind of hollow, huh?

The Modern China. Really. We Swear.

Rick Reilly of ESPN  (what a travesty that he is not the last page of SI any more -- I can hardly pick the rag up any more) has an article on many of the shams pulled off by the Chinese with NBC's help what an auspicious example of Chinese solidarity were these Olympic games.

Throw All The Speculators in Jail! Tax Their Windfall Profits!

Clearly a speculative bubble:  (via Mark Perry)

Azsthpi_max_630_378

Tax their windfall profits!  Throw the speculators in jail!  Oh, wait.  That would be all of us Arizona homeowners.  Never mind, then.  This is entirely different from oil, because, um, well, it just is.

Necessity is the Mother of ... a Great Kindle Gadget

Today I found myself out-of-town with my Kindle almost out of battery life, no Kindle charger, and a long plane flight tomorrow.  Passing a Radio Shack, I went in, with the intention of buying yet another charger for it  (I knew from a similar experience that I needed 5 volts with an "A" plug).  But I knew my charger was at home, and was hesitant to pay $20-30 for what would after today be an extra.

So I bought the following:

  • The cheapest USB cable I could find
  • An "A" plug
  • A short wire Radio Shack sells with a socket for the plug on one end and bare wires on the other (both the last two of these are located in the store near the replacement transformers)
  • A small roll of black electrical tape

I realized something key:  I already had a 5v power supply, in my computer, with a handy outlet, called "USB."  All I had to do was get all the plugs to match.

I borrowed some scissors and cut the USB  cable about 8 inches from the flat end, throwing the rest away.  I stripped off the insulation, and found the red and black wires - these are the 5V and ground wires (just search the Internet for USB pinouts if you want to be sure).  I then twisted one wire from the plug wire to the red and the other to the black, and taped the whole thing up (a bit of soldering would have been better, but I forgot my handy MacGyver construction kit). 

And what do you know, I now have a USB charger for my Kindle  (When I first plugged it in, the charge light did not go on, but I reversed the plug in its socket and that did the trick).  This will now charge my Kindle on the road from my laptop or when I am driving from my 12V car charger that has a USB connection.

I think this is a pretty handy accessory, and a quick Internet search did not show anyone currently selling one.

Update:  OK, someone else already thought of this, and has pictures of the procedure.  He notes that the supplied Kindle usb cable will not charge the device as well  (the Kindle cable goes from USB to a special miniature USB port, like the ones on a camera -- my cable goes from USB to the power inlet).  My homegrown version charged it very quickly.

Cities from Space

This is a pretty cool collection of photos from the ISS of the world's cities from space, sent to me by a friend.  These are an order of magnitude more detailed than you are used to seeing in other earth-lights photos.

Why Does The US Appear to Have Higher Infant Mortality?

I am sure you have seen various rankings where the US falls way behind other western nations in terms of infant mortality.  This stat is jumped on by the left as justification for just how cold and heartless America is, and just how enlightened socialized medicine must be.  However, no one seems to bother to check the statistic itself (certainly the media is too incompetent to do so, particularly when it fits their narrative).  Statistics like this that are measured across nations are notoriously unreliable, as individual nations may have different definitions or methods for gathering the data.

And, in fact, this turns out to be the case with infant mortality, a fact I first reported here (related post on medical definitions driving national statistics here).  This week, Mark Perry links to an article further illuminating the issue:

The main
factors affecting early infant survival are birth weight and
prematurity. The way that these factors are reported "” and how such
babies are treated statistically "” tells a different story than what
the numbers reveal.  Low
birth weight infants are not counted against the "live birth"
statistics for many countries reporting low infant mortality rates.

According
to the way statistics are calculated in Canada, Germany, and Austria, a
premature baby weighing less than 500 kg is not considered a living
child.

But
in the U.S., such very low birth weight babies are considered live
births. The mortality rate of such babies "” considered "unsalvageable"
outside of the U.S. and therefore never alive
"” is extraordinarily
high; up to 869 per 1,000 in the first month of life alone. This skews
U.S. infant mortality statistics.Norway
boasts one of the lowest infant mortality rates in the world. But when
the main determinant of mortality "” weight at birth "” is factored in,
Norway has no better survival rates than the United States....

In the United States, all infants who show signs of life at birth
(take a breath, move voluntarily, have a heartbeat) are considered
alive.

If a child in Hong Kong or Japan is born alive but dies within the
first 24 hours of birth, he or she is reported as a "miscarriage" and
does not affect the country's reported infant mortality rates....

Efforts to salvage these tiny babies reflect this classification. Since
2000, 42 of the world's 52 surviving babies weighing less than 400g
(0.9 lbs.) were born in the United States.

Hmm, so in the US we actually try to save low-birthweight babies rather than label them unsalvageable.  Wow, we sure have a cold and heartless system here.  [disclosure:  My nephew was a very pre-mature, very low-birthweight baby who could have fit in the palm of your hand at birth and survived by the full application of American medical technology.  He is doing great today]

Great Moments In Government Spending: The Station to Nowhere

Mayor Daley of Chicago has a great idea:  despite already having rail transit service between O'Hare Airport and Downtown, he wants to build a new non-stop express rail line to save travelers about 9 minutes.  After all, if Moscow just did this, it must be a good idea.

OK, this is dumb enough.  But what is really amazing is that Chicago embarked on building a $320 million downtown station for the project without even a plan for the rest of the line -- no design, no route, no land acquisition, no appropriation, no cost estimate, nothing.  There are currently tracks running near the station to the airport, but there are no passing sidings on these tracks, making it impossible for express and local trains to share the same track.  The express service idea would either require an extensive rebuilding of the entire current line using signaling and switching technologies that may not (according to Daley himself) even exist, or it requires an entirely new line cut through some of the densest urban environments in the country.  Even this critical decision on basic approach was not made before they started construction on the station, and in fact still has not been made.

Though the article does not mention it, this strikes me as a typical commuter rail strategy -- make some kind of toe-in-the-water investment on a less-than-critical-mass part of the system, and then use that as leverage with voters to approve funding so that the original investment will not be orphaned.  Its a kind of blackmail that both makes me sick, and is necessary for these systems as voters would never ever approve the kind of money that would be required to build the whole project  (If this express line requires $320 million just for one station on one end of the line, can you imagine the total cost?  $10 billion? for 9 minutes time savings).

The Hands That Currently Produce Things People Actually Want Can Also Fix Broken Windows

If you have watched the Olympics at all, you have likely seen the Obama commercial promising:

"The hands that install roofs can also install solar panels. The hands
that build today's cars can also build the next generation of
fuel-efficient vehicles. Barack Obama [will] ... create 5 million jobs developing homegrown energy technologies."

A few reactions:

  • Private individuals, not politicians, create jobs
  • Job promises like this are never incremental, nor can they be.  If the hands that build current SUV's can build electric cars instead, then we haven't added any new hands, we've just changed what they are working on.
  • It strikes me that this is the broken windows fallacy writ large.  In effect, Obama promises to make much of our perfectly-serviceable transportation and electrical generation installed base obsolete, requiring an enormous effort to replace it.  But the resources to fund this huge new investment have to come from somewhere.  Industries that flourish and grow under this government enforced shift in capital will be offset by those that are starved.  Every other part of the economy will slow due either to higher taxes or higher prices (or both) that subsidize this effort.  But since it is harder to find and count the latter than the former, it makes for a good, un-auditable political pledge
  • I'll bet that 5 million number focus groups really well, but does it make any sense at all?  Here are some current employment numbers for the US as of January, 2008:

Construction of power generation facilities:           137,000
Power generation and supply:           399,000
Production of power gen. equipment           105,000
Production of transportation equipment (planes, trains, autos, boats,
etc)
        1,637,000
        2,278,000

OK, so the total employment of all these industries that might be related to an alternate energy effort is about 2.28 million.  So, to add 5 million incremental jobs would require tripling the size of the utility industry, tripling the size of the utility construction and equipment industry, tripling the size of the auto industry, tripling the size of the aircraft industry, and tripling the size of the shipbuilding industry.  And even then we would be a bit short of Obama's number.

Exaggerated Security Threats and Civil Liberties

From Eric L Muller's "Hirabayashi:  The Biggest Lie of the Greatest Generation" which studies the Supreme Court decision upholding race-based civil rights restrictions (eg curfews) in WWII.

This Article presents new archival evidence of an enormous lie that Executive Branch officials presented to the Supreme Court in the Japanese American litigation of World War II, one that impugns Hirabayashi at least as much as it does Korematsu. The lie concerns what might be termed the "external" component of the national security threat in early 1942 "“ the danger that Japanese military forces posed to the West Coast of the United States.  The government's brief in Hirabayashi did not mince words about that external threat: The "principal danger" that military officials "apprehended" was "a Japanese invasion"  which "might have threatened the very integrity of our nation."  With the Japanese "at the crest of their military fortunes," the brief maintained, military officials found it "imperative" to "take adequate protective measures against a possible invasion of the West Coast."  The nighttime curfew on Japanese Americans was one such measure.

This depiction of the external Japanese threat found a sympathetic audience in the Supreme Court in Hirabayashi. Chief Justice Stone, writing for the unanimous Court, accepted that the men "charged with the responsibility of our national defense had ample ground for concluding that they must face the danger of invasion," a danger that concurring Justice Douglas insisted was "not fanciful but real." Singling out Japanese Americans for curfew was reasonable because of their "ethnic affiliations with an invading enemy."

Archival records now make clear that all of this talk of a threatened Japanese invasion was a massive distortion of the actual military situation in the eastern Pacific in early 1942. There was at that time no danger of a Japanese invasion of the West Coast. The army and navy viewed any sort of Japanese invasion of California, Oregon, or Washington as impracticable. They were neither anticipating nor preparing for any such event. Indeed, during the key time period of early 1942, the Army was more concerned with scaling back the defense of the West Coast from land attack than with bolstering it.

Wow.  Exaggeration of a security threat as an excuse to curtail civil rights.  Gee, I'm sure glad that doesn't happen anymore.  HT:  Jonathon Adler

More Great Moments in Government Spending

Apparently, 3-1/2 miles of new border wall near San Diego will cost at least $57 million, or $16.3 million a mile (or a bit over $3000 per foot).  For comparison, the 350 mile long Maginot line cost France about $150 million in the 1930s, or about $2.3 Billion in today's dollars.  This puts the cost of the Maginot line, underground tunnels, bunkers, gun emplacements, and all, at $6.5 million current dollars per mile.  Of course, the Maginot line was not built as a continuous wall to catch individual infiltrators, but on the other hand the San Diego wall is (presumably) not being built  30 kilometers deep with layered emplacements to handle massed tank and artillery attacks.

It could be worse for taxpayers - they could be laying railroad track instead of building a wall, since that costs about $96 million per mile here in Phoenix.

I can't wait for those huge administration cost savings that are promised from nationalizing health care.

Update: I just thought of one other comparison- like the Maginot line, at least one end of this San Diego wall hangs in the air, meaning it just ends hundreds of miles before the border does, allowing it to be easily flanked.

Due Process?

Reason has been on top of the LA crackdown on bacon-dog sales from mobile carts for some time.  Recently, the police stormed in and confiscated a number of vendors' inventory and push carts.  OK, its bad enough that bacon product sales have been deemed a threat to the Republic.  But what freaked me out is that the police did not impound the carts but rather junked them (pictures here).  So where is the due process?  If the police are found to have acted precipitously in arresting these folks, if they are found to be not guilty for whatever reason, their property is still gone forever.  This is roughly equivilant to having your car crushed in a mobile hydraulic press within minutes of being given a speeding ticket.  I wonder how many of these carts, which likely represent a huge investment relative to the investment capital these small business people possess, are collateral for loans?

When Did This Happen?

My son and I like to play Guitar Hero together, though he kicks my butt, of course.  To show him that I was cool and "knew stuff," I showed him this YouTube posted by Megan McCardle showing a guy scoring 100% on "Through the Fire and Flames" on expert.  (If you don't know what this means, just trust me that Neo from the Matrix loaded with amphetamines in full bullet-dodging twitch reflex mode would struggle with completing this level of the game).

About 5 seconds in, my son says "It's a bot.  He's faking."  And then he walked away.

"Huh? Really?"  I stared at it for a while, and realized that he was very probably correct.  So when did I become more credulous than my teenager?

A Brief Observation on Pricing

Michael Cannon writes about the new trend in airline pricing to charge extra fees for different services (ranging from sodas to checked baggage).  I have seen several writers of the progressive ilk all up in arms about these extra fees.  Which in my mind confirms that there is no foundational position among progressives on such matters, only opportunistic attacks on corporations for whatever they happen to be doing.  They want air travel pricing to be bundled into one rate, covering all potential services one may or may not use.  But wait, they want cable TV pricing to be unbundled, with a la carte pricing rather than one rate so viewers can pay for only what they use. 

Anyway, the only irritation I have with the new airline pricing is that it drives people to try to carry on every bag they can, particularly since, at least on US Airways currently, bags that are gate-checked are not charged a fee.  This is fouling up security lines and making it a necessity to board early on a plane to have any hope of finding a carry-on space.  Which may add another revenue opportunity, that of charging extra for the option to board early.  Which, come to think of it, Southwest is already doing.

Licensing is Anti-Consumer

Whatever its stated purposes, in reality most professional licensing efforts are mostly aimed at using the power of government to limit new entrants, and thus new competitors, from a certain business:

In Alabama it is illegal to recommend shades of paint without a
license.  In Nevada it is illegal to move any large piece of furniture
for purposes of design without a license.  In fact, hundreds of people
have been prosecuted in Alabama and Nevada for practicing "interior
design" without a license.  Getting a license is no easy task,
typically requiring at least 4 years of education and 2 years of
apprenticeship. Why do we need licenses laws for interior designers?
According to the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) because,

Every decision an interior designer makes in one way or another affects the health, safety, and welfare of the public.

This hardly passes the laugh test.  Moreover as Carpenter and Ross point out in an excellent article in Regulation from which I have drawn:

In
more than 30 years of advocating for regulation, the ASID and its ilk
have yet to identify a single documented incident resulting in harm to
anyone from the unlicensed practice of interior design...These laws
simply have nothing to do with protecting the public.

As always on this topic, I end with a quote from Milton Friedman on licensing:

The justification offered is always the same: to protect the consumer. However, the reason
is demonstrated by observing who lobbies at the state legislature for
the imposition or strengthening of licensure. The lobbyists are
invariably representatives of the occupation in question rather than of
the customers. True enough, plumbers presumably know better than anyone
else what their customers need to be protected against. However, it is
hard to regard altruistic concern for their customers as the primary
motive behind their determined efforts to get legal power to decide who
may be a plumber.

Update:  This is timely, as 1-800-CONTACTS has informed me that due to various state and federal laws, they may not sell me the contact lenses any more that I have been purchasing from them for a year.  I must go into an office and pay a government-licensed eye doctor to get an updated prescription.  This is despite the fact that, once sized, contact lens strengths are easy to understand.  Every year or so my eyes go up by about 0.5.  I could easily get by still with my old contacts, or I could, if I wanted, self-medicate by adding 0.5 (the minimum step at my level of vision) to each eye and testing to see if this new setting was any better.  This is exactly how people buy reading glasses (or pants, or shoes), by simple trial and error in the store.  But I can't do this with my contact lenses -- or actually I do exactly this, but can only do it in a doctor's office, paying the government mandated annual toll to get my prescription updated.

Yes, I know, there are all kinds of fabulous reasons to go to the eye doctor each year, to test for glaucoma and other stuff.  But why shouldn't that be my choice?  The government doesn't force people with good vision to go to the eye doctor for such tests each year, only those of us with bad vision.  The only analogy I can come up with would be having to go to your physician each year to get your shoe size validated before you could buy shoes for the coming year.  After all, I am sure there are substantial health and safety issues with wearing poorly-fitted shoes.

A Quick Note on Solar Capacity

Via Jonathan Adler:

The [two new solar] plants will cover 12.5 square miles of central California with
solar panels, and in the middle of a sunny day will generate about 800
megawatts of power, roughly equal to the size of a large coal-burning
power plant or a small nuclear plant.

I don't know this exact location, but you can see from here, the best one can probably expect from central California is about 6 peak sun-hours per day (more explanation here).  This means that even in a very good solar location, the plant will produce over the course of a year 25% (6/24) of nameplate capacity.  This means that to actually replace a large coal-burning power plant, 50 square miles of solar panels would be required  (assuming that one has a 100% efficient way to store power for non-sunny times, a technology that does not currently exist).

Wealth and the Olympics

One of Megan McArdle's readers wonders why India, which in population is larger than any other country save China, has so few Olympic medalists.  I think the answer is fairly easy:  wealth.

It's a situation very parallel to the Italian Renaissance.  Then, the issue was the proliferation of so many great artists rather than athletes, but the fundamentals were fairly similar.  For a society to be able to give up its strongest and most talented youth to non-productive (meaning they don't contribute to food, clothing, or shelter) occupations like painting or competitive swimming requires a lot of wealth and leisure time.  Subsistence farmers can't give up a strong back from the fields, much less pay any kind of specialized training costs.  The explosion of artists in the Italian Renaissance was made possible
by an explosion of wealth in the great Italian city-states of Florence
and Venice and the like.   Further, wealth also means better neo-natal care and better childhood nutrition which leads to bigger and stronger adults. 

As with Renaissance painters, modern Olympic athletes need either a family that is wealthy enough to give up their labor and support him or her; or, they need a wealthy patron; or, they need support of the government.  US Olympic athletes generally have some of all three, though the role of the government is smaller than in other nations thanks to corporate patrons and the relative wealth of the American middle class.  China, and before it Russia, were successful because, lacking the first two, they had the government shoulder the entire burden.  India has chosen not to go the government route, which is fine.  It will have its successes in time, as the exploding middle class will raise kids who have the time and money to pursue excellence in various sports.

Not The Best of Times Because, Why?

Kevin Drum posts this chart as a one-picture refutation of McCain's statement that we are living in the best of times.

Um, OK.  We all got wealthier.  And the problem is, what?  That someone else got even wealthier than I did?  So what.  Do we really have to keep refuting this zero-sum economics-of-envy argument?

I won't get into the whole zero-sum thing, because the chart itself proves that the world can't be zero-sum, since everyone got richer on average.  But here is a full refutation of zero-sum wealth arguments.  Also, a zero-sum wealth quiz here.

Looking at changes in income brackets is
always misleading. In the US, most folks are migrating up the brackets
as they age and gain experience. So most folks benefit not just from
the increase in their bracket but a migration to the next bracket.

To this last point, the bottom end of the bracket is being flooded
with new immigrants (legal or not) with poor skills and often no
English. They drag down the averages, again understating how well the
typical person is doing.  Lifetime surveys of individuals rather than percentile brackets always demonstrate that individuals gain wealth over time much fast than this type of analysis demonstrates.  And even the new immigrants at the bottom are presumably gaining vs. their previous circumstances, or else why else would they have immigrated in the first place.

Here is an alternate response to whether we are in the best of times.

By the way, here is an interesting article on why using a single inflation rate for the poor and the rich to get real income growth may be incorrect.  There is an argument to be made that the poor have a lower inflation rate than the rich, thanks to Wal-Mart.

United States: Export Tiger

Barack Obama and most of the Democratic Party (as well as a sizable Lou Dobbs contingent in the Republican Party) fear trade and globalization.  But like it or not, much of our economic growth is driven directly or indirectly by trade.  In particular, even I found the export growth rates in this chart from Mark Perry surprisingly large:
Exports

A Senior Moment

Via TJIC:

http://www.boston.com/news/nation/articl"¦

If you're a senior citizen and make less than $50,000 a year,
Barack Obama has a deal for you: the rest of your life free of federal
income tax.

Sounds appealing, right?

If we look at two people, each making $49,999, which one should get a sizeable government subsidy?

Why, the one who's already living off of welfare, and has
taxpayer supplied healthcare, subsidized transportation, "senior
centers", discounted meals at restaurants, etc., of course!

Buying Dollars for $45.50 each

Our light rail cheerleader in chief, the Arizona Republic, laments that if Proposition 203 does not make it to the ballot this November, "light rail [in Phoenix & Maricopa County] will lose a chance to win hundreds of millions of dollars for the system's expansion".

Well, let's think about that.  The proposition would raise $42.6 billion statewide through a 1% point increase in the state sales tax rate.  But here's the rub:  Phoenix and Maricopa County constitute a huge part of the state's population, and presumably, retail spending.  In fact, checking the most recent Arizona state tax facts (for May, 2008), we find that Maricopa County pays about 64% of the state sales tax.  That means that approximately $27.3 Billion of that $42.6 billion in new taxes will be paid right here in the Phoenix metropolitan area. 

Good grief.  So, with a tax increase of $27.3 billion in Phoenix, we can get $0.6 billion back from the state for our light rail boondoggle.  Gee, thanks.  That hardly sounds like my definition of "winning" money.

By the way, this was hilarious:

Ziemba believes that Proposition 203 would have an "extremely significant" impact on light rail expansion if it becomes law.

"This would be the funding to really take our light rail system to
the next level, to expand it to more roots, to connect it to more of
the county," he said. "It will provide the resources to connect the
light rail system in a meaningful way throughout Maricopa County."

Why is that so funny?  Well, because the next $306 million in light rail spending is expected to get us 3.2 whole miles of track.  So at this rate, this $27.3 billion tax increase would net us $600 million which would, before inevitable cost overruns, get us at most 6.5 miles of track.  Wow, that sure sounds meaninful to me.

Let's Make Sure To Put These Guys In Charge of Health Care

I suspect many of my readers also read Megan McArdle, but in case you missed her story, its pretty funny (as long as you are not the person experiencing it):

While consuming my one (1) beer, I was apprehended by agents of the
Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board.  They called my parents, fined me,
and made me attend a class on the horrors of underaged drinking (did
you realize that drinking can lead to uncontrollable vomiting?)  It was
during that class, with the errors of my ways now readily apparent,
that I made a pledge to myself to quit underaged drinking with all due
speed.  And on January 29th, 1994, I honored that pledge....

The
problem, you see, is that at the time of my conviction, I did not have
a Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Driver's License.  Indeed, I had no
driver's license at all, being one of those benighted city people who
get their first driver's license at the age of 23.  The laws of the
State of Pennsylvania, however, say that the Department of
Transportation is entitled to suspend the driver's license of anyone
arrested for underaged drinking.  And the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
Department of Transportation is, apparently, determined to exercise
this privilege.  Thus, the spectacle of a 35 year old woman being
informed that she is about to have her driver's license suspended for
underaged drinking.

To add insult to injury, I am expected to
fill out a form and, at my own expense, mail it to the DOT in order to
commence this suspension.

This would be funny and mildly
annoying if it were not for the fact that until they clear the
suspension, I cannot get a DC driver's license, because states are
required to scan for violations from other states before they issue a
new license.  (No word on how I got one out of the State of New York).
And until I get a DC driver's license, I cannot register the car I just
bought.  The DMV here, after much wrangling, gave me temporary tags,
but it looks like I'm going to have to garage the thing for three
months unless the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania relents.  Which, at this
time, they show no evidence of doing.