Archive for April 2009

Defending our Borders

Via the Arizona Republic:

"Non-native turtles removed from zoo"

Avoiding Bankruptcy to Hose the Creditors in Favor of Politically Stronger Stakeholders

I have predicted it a number of times vis a vis Chrysler, including back in February:

It is criminal that this [restructuring plan] is going to Congress, not a bankruptcy judge.  This is a conspiracy of management (looking to hold onto their jobs and equity), equity holders, and employees to usurp value from the senior debt holders, who would normally be first in line in a bankruptcy.

or in March:

there is a clear set of winners and losers in a bankruptcy "” and there is enough case law on it that all the players at GM know it and they know into which category they fall.  Those who are lower down the food chain are hoping that putting the restructuring in Obama's hands rather than those of the bankruptcy process will improve their outcomes.

Oh, gee, you say, the Anointed One would not be so crass as to used this way, would he?  From Megan McArdle

The government is trying to play hardball with the Chrysler creditors, asking them to accept 15 cents on the dollar when they're likely to get more in a liquidation.  That's not a haircut; it's more like what they do to you the first day of boot camp.

Welcome to the Emergency Room. Can I See Your Insurance Card and Polling Numbers, Please?

From Mickey Kaus:

Democratic blogger Ezra Klein appears to be positioning Dem health care reforms as a way to cut costs, on the grounds that a reformed system will be able to make "hard choices" and "rational" coverage decisions, by which Klein seems to mean "not providing" treatments that are unproven or too expensive--when "a person's life, or health, is not worth the price." Matthew Yglesias' recent post seems to be saying the same thing, though clarity isn't its strong suit. (He must have left it on Journolist.)

...

The "rational," cost-cutting, "hard-choices" pitch isn't just awful marketing--I don't even think it's accurate. Put it this way: I'm for universal health care in large part precisely because I think the government will be less tough-minded and cost-conscious when it comes to the inevitable rationing of care than for-profit insurance companies will be. Take Arnold Kling's example of a young patient with cancer, where "the best hope is a treatment that costs $100,000 and offers a chance of success of 1 in 200." No "rational bureaucracy" would spend $20 million to save a life, Kling argues. I doubt any private insurance company is going to write a policy that spends $20 million to save a life.  But I think the government--faced with demands from patient groups and disease lobbies and treatment providers and Oprah and run, ultimately, by politicians as terrified of being held responsible for denying treatment as they are quick to pander to the public's sentimental bias toward life--is less likely to be "rational" than the private sector.

That is to say, the government's more likely to pay for the treatment (assuming a doctor recommends it). So it's government for me.

He comes oh-so-close to getting it right, but then falls short.

Klein is right that the pressure will be to ration care -- we already see such rationing being seriously considered in Massachusetts (the model of choice for Democrats) under the weight of massive expenditures.

But Kaus is correct that if some high-powered and well-funded interest group gets behind a certain procedure, cost-effective or not, the government overlords of the program will likely approve it.   As a result, for example, no potential treatment for breast cancer will ever be denied given the proven strength of women's groups lobbying for breast cancer treatment (already, breast cancer research is hugely over-funded vs. other diseases given its mortality, due in large part to this powerful lobbying).

But it is not one dynamic or the other.  Both will exist.  There will be huge pressures to cut back somewhere, as costs skyrocket.  And there will be huge pressure from certain interest groups to fund treatment for certain diseases in unlimited amounts.  The result will not be, as Kaus posits,  that everything will be funded more than it is today -- the result will be that certain procedures and conditions with strong lobbying and political muscle will get funded more, with the difference being made up from cutting funding for conditions and procedures without a well-organized lobby.

Access to care will no longer be determined by money, but by political pull.  (Yeah, I know, it's Ayn Rand's world and we all just live in it).

The Obama Years In Two Sentences

The perfect storm: arrogant preachy leftists throwing money at useless things - and rational but amoral capitalists running around picking up the money.

The only loser is the taxpayer who is on the hook for all that money.

Via TJIC.  The Corporate State in a nutshell.

Why People Are Angry

deficit-poster2

I am just flabbergasted that so many commentators have so much trouble understanding this.

I May Have Been Wrong When I Said Government Officials Weren't Dumb

I often say that most government officials are not dumb or evil, they just have bad incentives that make them act that way, and they look dumb because they attempt to tackle problems that even a 250IQ can't solve (e.g. planning the economy).

But I may have been wrong.  Evidence is mounting that people in Congress, at least, really are just plain dumb.  From an interview on NPR:

[Congressman Henry] Waxman: Well, there have been scientists brought together to see if they could figure out the science and make it clear whether this is a danger or not, whether it's a danger that's a great one or one that we can postpone for a while, and the overwhelming consensus of all the leading scientists that have looked at this issue is there is a warming of the planet, it's manmade, caused by our burning of carbon fuels, and it's happening faster than anybody ever thought it would happen.

We're seeing the reality of a lot of the North Pole starting to evaporate, and we could get to a tipping point. Because if it evaporates to a certain point - they have lanes now where ships can go that couldn't ever sail through before. And if it gets to a point where it evaporates too much, there's a lot of tundra that's being held down by that ice cap.

If that gets released we'll have more carbon emissions and methane gas in our atmosphere than we have now. We see a lot of destruction happening because of global warming, climate change problems, so we've got enough warning signals and enough of a scientific consensus to take this seriously.

Oh my heavens, we are certainly in good hands.  Via Tom Nelson.

Postscript: For those who slept through high school science:

  • North Pole ice melts, it does not evaporate (liquids evaporate).  Occasionally a solid will go straight from a solid to a gaseous state (e.g. with dry ice) - that is called sublimation.  Ice on Kilimanjaro, for example, sublimes rather than melts.
  • There have been a number of years this century, including several times in the 1930's, when the Northwest Passage opened up in the summer, so a recent opening was far from the "first time."
  • The ice cap does not hold down the tundra.  The concern, as I understand it, is that large stretches of Siberia are essentially permanently frozen peat bogs.   If the permafrost (which is under the tundra) melts, this allows the previously frozen organic matter to start to decompose, releasing methane which is a strong greenhouse gas.
  • When Waxman refers to a tipping point, he means that a positive feedback cycle, much like nuclear fission, is created causing temperatures to accelerate rapidly.  As an aside, such runaway positive feedback processes are rare among long-term stable natural systems, as at some point, given 5 billion years of history, they should have already run away by now.  Why temperatures would reach a tipping point now when they did not in millennia past when both global temperature and CO2 levels were much higher remains unexplained by Mr. Waxman and other tipping point advocates.
  • As of today, global sea ice extent is higher than the last 30 year average.  (this graph is updated regularly)

Thoughts on Reaction to Tea Party Protests

I would have liked to have checked out our Phoenix Tea Party the other day, but I had another event at the same time I could not miss.  I find the reaction to these protests kind of funny, especially from the left.  I get a sense that they feel like large protest rally's are their particular mileau, and are reacting as if someone has violated their copyright.

But I thought this type of reaction was especially telling:

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) blasted "tea party" protests yesterday, labeling the activities "despicable" and shameful."

"The "˜tea parties' being held today by groups of right-wing activists, and fueled by FOX News Channel, are an effort to mislead the public about the Obama economic plan that cuts taxes for 95 percent of Americans and creates 3.5 million jobs," Schakowsky said in a statement.

"It's despicable that right-wing Republicans would attempt to cheapen a significant, honorable moment of American history with a shameful political stunt," she added. "Not a single American household or business will be taxed at a higher rate this year. Made to look like a grassroots uprising, this is an Obama bashing party promoted by corporate interests, as well as Republican lobbyists and politicians."

I am not particularly surprised that an elected official would be upset at a populist movement to limit the power and scope of government.  In a real sense, these rallies are about limiting Schakowsky's power, so her opposition is to be expected.

HOWEVER, typically in the past American politicians of both parties would at least pay lip service to low taxes and individual freedom.  But apparently no longer.  What is scary to me is that politicians no longer seem to feel the need even to put lipstick on the pig.

Propping Up the Las Vegas Home Electronics Market

Regulation in California has generally been good for the relocation-related businesses in Nevada in Arizona.  Now, California is looking to prop up the home electronics retailers in neighboring states:

"To reduce the electrical draw from TVs, the commission has proposed the nation's first mandatory energy limits on televisions -- limits that many large LCD and plasma TVs on the market do not meet.

"'We want to get rid of energy-guzzling televisions,' said Adam Gottlieb, spokesman for the state energy commission.

"The proposed rules would take effect from 2011 to 2013, eventually cutting the use of power by 50 percent.

"But only one-fourth of TVs now sold in the state meet the standard

From the San Francisco Chronicle via Al Tompkins via Overlawyered.

Interest Grows for Receiving Government Handouts

The AZ Republic has an article today entitled, "Interest grows for solar plant at city landfill."  It is telling who is interested:

It's a sign of the growing interest in Arizona's renewable-energy market, as solar manufacturers, civil engineers, investors and attorneys showed enthusiasm for the $1 billion project

I am quite sure that a number of solar engineering firms and parts manufacturers are interested feeding off a billion dollar project.  Now, the article tries to anticipate my concern about this being a government pork-fest by saying the project "would be financed and built by the private sector."  This is an odd statement given this note a couple of paragraphs later:

That would help the solar company meet a strict deadline to apply for hundreds of millions of dollars in federal stimulus funds....

the economic-stimulus package provides grants of up to 30 percent of construction costs if companies can break ground by December 2010, said Brian Rasmussen of California-based BrightSource Energy Inc., a potential bidder.

So the billion dollars is privately financed, except for the real estate provided by the city and the $300 million in federal government funds and a gauranteed above-market subsidized purchase price for the power from the public utility plus any number of other government subsidies and incentives to be named later (such as government municipal bond financing).

The Problem With Wind

I have an innate confidence in technology.  For example, while I understand solar to be uneconomic for powering my house today, I fully expect that to change.  I look forward to the day, not that far in the future, when I can take my Arizona house off the grid, at least during the day.

In contrast, though, it may be that wind power can't be fixed, in large part due to its inherent unpredictability.  Sure, solar has a problem as well, in that it doesn't work at night.  But at least the times when solar is off here in Arizona (ie when it is dark) are predictable and coincide with lower load periods.  Wind is utterly unpredictable and variable, and its peaks and troughs are unrelated to peaks and troughs in electricity demand.

So, if the grid is to reliably supply sufficient power to meet demand, wind must have a backup.  And there is the rub.  Because just about every technology that might currently be used as a backup takes a really, really long time to start up.  Small gas turbines can be producing electricity from a cold stop pretty quickly, but a large coal-fired power plant can take days to go from a cold stop to producing electricity.  This is in part because there are a series of steps where A has to precede B which must come before C to start plants up, and partially just because immediately heating the whole system up would cause the plant to blow up just from the thermal stresses.

So, to back up wind power, traditional fossil fuel plants have to be kept warmed up with turbines spinning.  This means that fossil fuels are burned but no electricity is produced.  I mentioned in a previous post that the largest utility in Germany estimated that 48,000MW of wind capacity was in fact allowing the shut down of just 2000MW of traditional fossil-fuel powered capacity.

A recent article in the National Post argues the Danes are seeing absolutely no substitution from their substantial investment in wind.

There is no evidence that industrial wind power is likely to have a significant impact on carbon emissions. The European experience is instructive. Denmark, the world's most wind-intensive nation, with more than 6,000 turbines generating 19% of its electricity, has yet to close a single fossil-fuel plant. It requires 50% more coal-generated electricity to cover wind power's unpredictability, and pollution and carbon dioxide emissions have risen (by 36% in 2006 alone).

Flemming Nissen, the head of development at West Danish generating company ELSAM (one of Denmark's largest energy utilities) tells us that "wind turbines do not reduce carbon dioxide emissions." The German experience is no different. Der Spiegel reports that "Germany's CO2 emissions haven't been reduced by even a single gram," and additional coal- and gas-fired plants have been constructed to ensure reliable delivery.

Indeed, recent academic research shows that wind power may actually increase greenhouse gas emissions in some cases, depending on the carbon-intensity of back-up generation required because of its intermittent character.

It probably comes as no surprise that the Danes have the highest electricity costs in Europe.  The article goes on to call wind power in the US a "huge corporate welfare feeding frenzy."

Update: Well, the Danish wind industry certainly seems to be in good hands (via Tom Nelson):

Ditlev Engel, president and chief executive of the Danish wind-energy company Vestas, said anecdotal evidence about birds being caught in turbine blades and other environmental horror stories do not usually hold up under scrutiny.

"Do people think it's better all those birds are breathing CO2? I'm not a scientist, but I doubt it," said Engel, whose company is expanding its U.S. manufacturing and distribution operations. "Let's get the facts on the table and not the feelings. The fact is, these are not issues."

LOL - Nothing like a paragraph that simultaneously includes the phrase "Let's get the facts on the table" with the hypothesis that a couple hundred ppm increase in CO2 concentrations hurts birds.  By the way, from the same article, a lot of discussion of the environmental impact of renewables due to their out-sized use of land.  Clearly an issue for solar and wind, and possibly for others:

One of the biggest challenges renewable-energy projects pose is that they often take up much more land than conventional sources, such as coal-fired power plants. A team of scientists, several of whom work for the Nature Conservancy, has written a paper that will appear in the journal PLoS One showing that it can take 300 times as much land to produce a given amount of energy from soy biodiesel as from a nuclear power plant. Regardless of the climate policy the nation adopts, the paper predicts that by 2030, energy production will occupy an additional 79,537 square miles of land.

I am always amazed at the number of environmentalists that laud the Brazilian ethanol push, given the out-sized effect that industry has had in carving up the Amazon rain forest.  As a disclosure, I am a member of the Nature Conservancy, and wild land preservation is my environmental interest of choice, though I prefer to pursue it through private means (ie via private purchases of land for conservation purposes).  The Nature Conservancy used to spend most of its money for this purpose, though of late it has diverged, as so many environmental groups have, into lobbying government to force people to achieve its ends for them rather than to pursue these ends through non-coercive means.

100% Surveillance of Congress

Apparently the  NSA is under some heat for proposing to monitor the communications of a member of Congress thought to be meeting with terrorist suspects:

While the N.S.A.'s operations in recent months have come under examination, new details are also emerging about earlier domestic-surveillance activities, including the agency's attempt to wiretap a member of Congress, without court approval, on an overseas trip, current and former intelligence officials said. . . .

The agency believed that the congressman, whose identity could not be determined, was in contact "” as part of a Congressional delegation to the Middle East in 2005 or 2006 "” with an extremist who had possible terrorist ties and was already under surveillance, the official said. The agency then sought to eavesdrop on the congressman's conversations, the official said.

The official said the plan was ultimately blocked because of concerns from some intelligence officials about using the N.S.A., without court oversight, to spy on a member of Congress.

I have a counter idea.  Why don't we monitor all the communications of all of Congress all the time and post it on a web site.  If they want to exercise ultimate power over us, we can then exercise ultimate scrutiny over them.  Unfortunately, in the world of the future, Congress is likely to be the only group exempted from monitoring.

Great Experience

My son got to play a high school baseball game today at Chase Field, right after the Diamondbacks game was over.  It was really cool to see the kids on a major league field, though unfortunately his team ran into a buzz saw and lost.

chase1

Asked after the game what he thought, he said " We gotta play 'em one day at a time.  I'm just happy to be here. Hope I can help the ballclub.  I just want to give it my best shot, and the good Lord willing, things will work out."

Fighting the "Hegemonic Modern Human Rights Discourse"

Kudos to Harvard, for bravely standing up against the defenders of human rights when no one else is willing too.  From the Harvard Islamic chaplain, who further expresses the great wisdom he sees in executing apostates from Islam.  Good to see that Harvard hasn't gotten any saner since I left.

Postscript:  This is the faculty that claimed moral superiority over Lawrence Summers?  I can see what's coming next -- its wrong to question why women are under-represented in science, because we should just stone them all instead.

via maggies farm

Taxes = Power

On tax day today, we should remember a key reason why taxes keep going up:  Taxes equate to power for elected officials.  The more money they have to spend, the more power they have.  The more money they have to spend, the more people have to kowtow to them and send campaign contributions either to 1) score a share of the loot or 2) get a special deal or treatment on their own taxes.

We have a sense that there is more corruption than ever in politics, but I think its demonstrably true that people and politicians are not any more or less evil than they were 100 years ago.  The only difference is that the sums in play from political influence are so much larger.  Its a concept I try to explain to people all the time.  The way to fix corruption in politics is not through campaign finance reform, it is through reducing the size of government.  Because no matter what restrictions one puts in place, if we set up a system where it pays to invest in politicians, then people will find a way to do so:

In a remarkable illustration of the power of lobbying in Washington, a study released last week found that a single tax break in 2004 earned companies $220 for every dollar they spent on the issue "” a 22,000 percent rate of return on their investment.

The study by researchers at the University of Kansas underscores the central reason that lobbying has become a $3 billion-a-year industry in Washington: It pays. The $787 billion stimulus act and major spending proposals have ratcheted up the lobbying frenzy further this year, even as President Obama and public-interest groups press for sharper restrictions on the practice.

The paper by three Kansas professors examined the impact of a one-time tax break approved by Congress in 2004 that allowed multinational corporations to "repatriate" profits earned overseas....The researchers calculated an average rate of return of 22,000 percent for those companies that helped lobby for the tax break. Eli Lilly, for example, reported in disclosure documents that it spent $8.5 million in 2003 and 2004 to lobby for the provision "” and eventually gained tax savings of more than $2 billion.

These returns rival those in the narcotics trade, and you know how well we have performed in stopping that.  We are seeing this effect right now in Arizona, where the County Commissioners of Pima County (centered on Tucson) are under investigation for rigging electronic voting machines to pass a recent tax increase.

Under the scrutiny of criminal investigators, election workers in Phoenix have spent the past week in a painstaking recount of 120,821 ballots that were cast three years ago for a Pima County transit tax.

The primary objective is to determine whether someone rigged the election by tampering with the optical-scan polling machines in Pima County, transforming "no" votes into "yes" votes.

The ballot measures wound up securing a half-cent increase in sales tax to provide cash for roads, buses and other transportation projects.

The reason -- taxes are power, and more taxes are more power.

Absolutely Inevitable

If you move solar panels out of the Arizona desert, they are going to produce less electricity.  You almost don't have to tell me where they are going -- if they are currently close to the optimal spot for maximum solar energy production, then moving them is bound to reduce their output.

Seems obvious, huh?  So why is it so difficult to understand that when the government moves capital and other resources away from the industries where the forces of market optimization have put it, output is going to go down.

Subsidizing renewable energy in the U.S. may destroy two jobs for every one created if Spain's experience with windmills and solar farms is any guide.

For every new position that depends on energy price supports, at least 2.2 jobs in other industries will disappear, according to a study from King Juan Carlos University in Madrid.

U.S. President Barack Obama's 2010 budget proposal contains about $20 billion in tax incentives for clean-energy programs. In Spain, where wind turbines provided 11 percent of power demand last year, generators earn rates as much as 11 times more for renewable energy compared with burning fossil fuels.

The premiums paid for solar, biomass, wave and wind power - - which are charged to consumers in their bills -- translated into a $774,000 cost for each Spanish "green job" created since 2000, said Gabriel Calzada, an economics professor at the university and author of the report.

"The loss of jobs could be greater if you account for the amount of lost industry that moves out of the country due to higher energy prices," he said in an interview.

We all know from reading the media that the Obama administration is 1) full of brilliant people way smarter than the rest of us and 2) driven by science.  So this insightful exchange between a reporter and White House spokesman Robert GIbbs vis a vis this Spanish study should come as no surprise:

Q: Back on the President's speech today, a Spanish professor, Gabriel [Calzada] Álvarez, says after conducting a study, that in his country, creating green jobs has actually cost more jobs than it has led to: 2.2 jobs lost, he says, for every job created. And he has issued a report that specifically warns the President not to try and follow Spain's example.

MR. GIBBS: It seems weird that we're importing wind turbine parts from Spain in order to build "” to meet renewable energy demand here if that were even remotely the case.

Q Is that a suggestion that his study is simply flat wrong?

MR. GIBBS: I haven't read the study, but I think, yes.

Q Well, then. (Laughter.)

In two sentences, Mr. Gibbs demonstrates that 1) He is an idiot and 2) He has no respect for science.  The correct, intelligent response would be "I can't comment, I have not read the study yet."  Mr. Gibbs does deserve credit for being an apparent master of the non-sequitur.  I have been trying to think of an eqivilent formulation.  The best I can come up with is to suppose someone said that "publicly funded sports stadiums generate no new economic activity and are just a taxpayer subsidy of sports owners, players, and ticket holders" and getting the response that  "how can this be when people still go to the games?"

I was afraid that all this braininess in the White House was going to eliminate the humor from Administration pronouncements but I see that won't be the case.

Detainment by Any Other Name Still Stinks

First an apology  (a real apology, not one of my snarky non-apologies).  On a number of occasions I have written that I thought torture accusations at Gitmo were overheated and a distraction from the real issue -- unlimited incarceration by executive order.

It turns out that what I would very much describe as torture has occurred at Gitmo.

Torture of detainees at Guantanamo Bay has been systematic, extensive and a matter of deliberate policy, says a report originally prepared in 2007 by the International Committee of the Red Cross. Obtained by journalist Mark Danner, the report, which detailed the complicity of medical personnel in the mistreatment of detainees, has been posted online (PDF) by the New York Review of Books.

Techniques practiced at Guantanamo and elsewhere on the 14 detainees examined in the 41-page report include suffocation by water, prolonged standing with arms chained above their heads, beatings, confinement in a box, sleep deprivation and other tactics that involve both physical and psychological abuse. While written in somewhat technical terms, the report emphasizes that the detainees' treatment "amounted to torture and/or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment."

I am not unaware that the world is a dangerous place, and is filled with people who want to do us harm no matter how nice we are, precisely because we are nice (and rich of course).  But there is a line we draw in a free society over which we do not cross, even at the risk of our own safety, because it imperils our own humanity.  I believe the treatment described in this report crosses that line.

That being said, it is increasingly clear that I was right in one sense - the focus on torture has completely occluded the detainment issue, so much so that Obama appears to be getting away with actually adopting an even more onerous detainment policy than the Bush administration.

The Obama administration said Friday that it would appeal a district court ruling that granted some military prisoners in Afghanistan the right to file lawsuits seeking their release. The decision signaled that the administration was not backing down in its effort to maintain the power to imprison terrorism suspects for extended periods without judicial oversight.

More from Glen Greenwald:

Back in February, the Obama administration shocked many civil libertarians by filing a brief in federal court that, in two sentences, declared that it embraced the most extremist Bush theory on this issue -- the Obama DOJ argued, as The New York Times's Charlie Savage put it, "that military detainees in Afghanistan have no legal right to challenge their imprisonment there, embracing a key argument of former President Bush's legal team."  Remember:  these are not prisoners captured in Afghanistan on a battlefield.   Many of them have nothing to do with Afghanistan and were captured far, far away from that country -- abducted from their homes and workplaces -- and then flown to Bagram to be imprisoned. Indeed, the Bagram detainees in the particular case in which the Obama DOJ filed its brief were Yemenis and Tunisians captured outside of Afghanistan (in Thailand or the UAE, for instance) and then flown to Bagram and locked away there as much as six years without any charges.  That is what the Obama DOJ defended, and they argued that those individuals can be imprisoned indefinitely with no rights of any kind -- as long as they are kept in Bagram rather than Guantanamo.

This is the Kind of Argument That Drives Libertarians Nuts

I was just floored at Glenn Greenwald's defense of the recent DHS report that

defines "rightwing extremism in the United States" as including not just racist or hate groups, but also groups that reject federal authority in favor of state or local authority.

His defense of this report is apologetically that you did it to us, now we are going to do it to you.  Or, more succinctly as he put it in the title of his post, that conservatives reap what they sow.  Or even more simply, in the language of a student explaining a fight to a teacher, "they started it."

This is just unbelievably cynical.  What happened to principled opposition of infringements of individual rights?  What about us libertarians, who are singled out equally as terrorism suspects for holding beliefs similar to those of Thomas Jefferson, but who did criticized Bush as well?  Jeez, this is just so schoolyard, like a bunch of silly kids shouting that the other guy dissed them first.  Do you Democrats and Republicans ever listen to yourselves?  I could take Greenwald's rant on whiny Republicans and substitute only the words "republican and conservative" with "democrat and liberal" and get an identical Free Republic post.  Do you really think this kind of response really answers the issue?

And really, all this is just window dressing for the real issue, the fact that the DHS is spending millions of man-hours creating virtually content-free publications.  I have only skimmed the report, but is there anything here a state or local law enforcement official would find remotely useful?

Surprise of the Week, Wherein I Give Kudos to Kevin Drum on a Tax Post

This post from Kevin Drum didn't start auspiciously, repeating the leftish meme that the tax day protests were all Astroturf events.  But I must admit I had a real double-take on his last paragraph, wherein he points out something about tax polls that most people seem to be missing:

With Tax Day coming up, and astroturf tea parties being organized around the country, a lot of people have been linking to polls showing that most Americans aren't, in fact, actually unhappy with the amount of income tax they have to pay.  Gallup, for example, reports that 61% of Americans think the amount they're paying this year is fair. Or there's this one, also from Gallup, that asks directly whether the amount you're paying is too high or not:

Not bad!  49% think their income taxes are just fine or even a bit low.  Except for one thing: this chart shows exactly the opposite of what it seems.  Consider this: about 40-50% of Americans pay no federal income tax at all1.  That's zero dollars.  I think we can safely assume that these are the people who think that their taxes are about right.  What this means, then, is that virtually every American who pays any income tax at all thinks they're paying too much. There are various reasons why this might be so (a sense of unfairness regardless of amount paid, a fuzzy sense of how much they're paying in the first place, simple bloody-mindedness, etc.) but overall it's not exactly a testament to our collective willingness to fund the machinery of state.

Outstanding.  Which only leads me to wonder why, if he realizes this, does he believe that people might not spontaneously organize protests, rather than it having to be a Rove-Fox News plot.  I think the answer to that is the Left just can't shake their own perception that protest marches belong to them in the same way the Right feels that AM Radio is their media to rule.  (What, by the way, does that leave for libertarians, other than Rush, Ayn Rand, and Firefly reruns?)

The U.S. and the World

I see a lot of news stories about Obama supporters scratching their heads at why Obama did not get more respect from other nations.  Why do these countries continue to heap scorn on the US as the US contributes more and more to international efforts?

Here is a hint:

  1. These other countries share President Obama's attitudes about the rich
  2. As far as the rest of the world is concerned, the US is rich

The rich in this country pay for most of the programs Obama takes credit for.  When folks say that Obama "cares", he does so with the money of America's rich.  In return, he heaps nothing but scorn on the rich, blaming them for any economic problems that may exist and criticizing them for not paying enough taxes.

Mr. President, the other countries of the world treat you and this country exactly like you treat the rich, and for the same reasons.  If that frustrates you, look to your own values first.

Best Criminal Strategy: Join the Spokane Police

I did a double take when I found these two stories back to back in my feed reader

  1. Via TJIC (welcome back!) Spokane policeman gets drunk, chases another patron out of a bar,  participates in a drunken car chase, shoots the other man in the head, and then initiates a cover-up.  Acquitted and paid $150,000 in back pay.
  2. Via Photography is not a Crime (one of my new favorites) Spokane policeman caught peeking into bedroom of 14-year-old girl (possibly after making obscene phone calls) and then  gets in a fight with police who show up.  Charges dropped by accommodating prosecutor.  The officer did have to accept a "last chance" agreement with the force (having already had a history of discipline problems) but since this is his third last chance agreement, I do not think that word means what Spokane thinks it means.

This Can't Possibly End Well

Forget for a moment the real scientific questions about the future magnitude of anthropogenic global warming.  Just imagine the abuse of this new proposed statute, given that incredibly difficult nature of causality in a complex, chaotic system like climate:

An under-the-radar provision in a House climate bill would give plaintiffs who claim to be victims of global warming a way to sue the federal government or businesses, according to a report Friday in The Washington Times.

The Times reported that Democratic Reps. Henry Waxman of California and Edward Markey of Massachusetts added it into a bill they authored.

The provision, which was just released, reportedly would set grounds for plaintiffs who has "suffered" or expect to suffer "harm" attributable at least in part to government inaction. The provision defines "harm" as "any effect of air pollution (including climate change)," according to the Times. Plaintiffs could seek up to $75,000 in damages a year from the government, with $1.5 million being the maximum total payout.

Remember that it was just weeks ago that the President of the United States blamed flooding in North Dakota on global warming.  If flood damage that resulted from a colder-than-average winter and near record snowfall can be blamed on anthropogenic global warming, then anything can.

Headlines I Never Expected to See In My Lifetime

On the cover of the WSJ today, "US Cargo Ship Repels Pirates."   So there weren't any Spanish treasure gallions to attack instead?

Best Book You Haven't Heard Of

Well, I won't assume you have not heard of it, but until recently I knew nothing about Frank Chodorov and his book "The Rise and Fall of Society."  Having read it (it is a very fast read - you can blaze through it before you are even 25% of the way through John Galt's monologue in Atlas Shrugged), I rank it as a must-read for libertarians.  The Mises Institute sells it and discusses it here.

A Civil Disobedience Idea

I have been toying around with a protest idea over the last few days, one that I hope would excite both civil libertarians interested in privacy as well as small government libertarians fed up with government social micro-engineering:

Skip the Census

It was all fine and good in 1810 when they were mainly allocating Congressional Districts, but today the census is the main vehicle for allocating huge amounts of extra-Constitutional federal spending, and provides the information legislators use to justify any number of new taxes and spending programs.   Its time for us to all take those census forms and just circular file them.  I think that this is a particularly powerful act this time around given the emphasis the Obama administration has put on the census as part of its policy initiatives.

In my own business, I get Federal census forms and labor department surveys and tourism board surveys -- stacks of these things -- and I toss every one of them into the trash.  I have zero need to help provide government with the ammunition to further rape my wallet and trash my rights.

I would value your opinions on this.

A Federal Tax on Market Share Changes

It is a recurring theme on this blog:  Large corporations who currently dominate their industries generally accept, even encourage, government regulation.  Generally, as industry leaders, they have the opportunity to shape regulation to their liking, and most regulations preferentially help the large corporations over the small, and help incumbents over new entrants.

And here is yet another example, though it is one many of us have been expecting.  Contrary to campaign rhetoric, it appears that Obama's proposed cap-and-trade system will give CO2 certificates to current incumbents for free.  Only new entrants to the market, or those who wish to grow, will have to pay for them.  This in effect makes the system a federal tax on market share changes.  Laws like this are supported by industry leaders in the same way that sitting Congressmen always love campaign speech restrictions.

The next thing to watch for is whether there are provisions for carbon offsets.  Such offsets are an accounting nightmare, and a virtual Disneyland for rent-seeking.  More on cap-and-trade vs. carbon tax here.  More on offsets here.  And more on why this is all silly in the first place here.