Archive for December 2009

What Government is Good At

The TSA may be unable to successfully seize explosives before they get on an airplane, but they are able to successfully seize the laptops of bloggers who are critical of their organization.

Government Picking Losers

I am done using the phrase "dangers of government trying to pick winners" because it implies that they sometimes might be successful.  They never are.  When governments choose, they choose losers.

I get a lot of pushback on this, because it seems to offend people's intuition.  They will say they know lots of good people they trust in government -- there is no way that all these smart, well-intentioned people are going to be so consistently wrong.

But the argument against government in this case (and in most other cases) is not based on the IQ or goodness of the individuals that populate it.  The argument is that even good people in groups make terrible decisions due to problems with their information and incentives.

The information problem is one that Hayek is famous for addressing.  In short, there is simply too much to know to make decisions for the entire economy.  In fact, folks with high IQ's often do especially poorly in this context, because they tend to overestimate their own knowledge and problem-solving ability.   And, even if one could be omniscient, it is still impossible to pick winners because 300 million people have different preferences and so one solution based on one set of idealized or mean preferences is going to sub-optimize for a lot of people  (remember this now that we all have to have health insurance plans on the exact same terms and coverage).

The incentives issue is perhaps an even more powerful problem.  We only have to look at the most recent health care bill and its progress through the legislative process to understand the power of incentives to shape rules and legislation in absurd ways.

Ethanol is a great illustration.  Scorned by scientists as both bad energy policy and bad environmental policy, ethanol mandates and subsidies do nothing but hurt the environment.  Ethanol generally takes more fossil fuels to produce than it replaces, it does almost nothing to reduce CO2 emissions, and it creates new environmental issues with land use as well as social issues from rising food prices.  If you listed a hundred potential legislative initiatives to improve the environment and energy policy, ethanol would likely be in the bottom 10.  But never-the-less, it is consistently the number 1 legislative solution adopted by western democracies, including the supposedly science-based Obama administration.

I used to say that if we could move the first Presidential primary out of Iowa, ethanol might go away, but obviously that understated the appeal of subsidizing the agricultural industry under the thin veneer of environmental policy, as demonstrated by these nutty large subsidies in Europe.  Via Carpe Diem:

Biofuels production in Europe is heavily subsidized. Support has also been increasing in the past years and today stand at approximately EUR4 billion ($5.76B). Another way to look at subsidies is that every litre of ethanol consumed in Europe gets 0.74 EUR (about $4 per gallon) and every litre of biodiesel 0.5 EUR ($2.72 per gallon). The effective rate of assistance to biofuels (taking account of all measures of support) adds up to more than 250% for ethanol (see chart above). Biodiesel, and especially rapeseed crops, have lower effective rates of assistance (up to approximately 60%).

This structure of support and protection is not economically sustainable. It is rather close to economic madness to pursue the sort of self-sufficiency or industrial policy ambitions that have guided EU policy towards biofuels. The total cost of every unit of biofuel becomes far too high, which slows down the readiness to shift away from fossil fuels.

The biofuels policy in the European Union is a classic example of "green protectionism" "“ protectionism that is not motivated for the benefit of the environment, but which uses environmental concerns to pursue non-environmental objectives. The European Union runs an extensive policy for subsidies to biofuel production. Border protection increases the level of subsidy by giving a market support from consumers to producers. Standards are used to favour domestically produced biofuels. It is difficult to escape the picture of a policy driven by industrial ambitions rather than environmental concerns. The intention and/or the effect of Europe's policy is associated with beliefs of self-sufficiency. Obviously, trade is not considered to be an integral part of an environmental ambition to shift from fossil fuels to biofuels.

Fannie & Freddie Officially Declared Bottomless Pits. GMAC Not Far Behind

While private banks are paying back their TARP money, Fannie and Freddie have been given a new blank check:

It's a favorite government trick to announce bad news on a Friday afternoon, so it appears in Saturday's paper, the least likely edition to be read. By Sunday and Monday, it's old news. The Obama Treasury just went one better, announcing on Christmas Eve that they were uncapping the amount they believe will have to be invested in Fannie and Freddie. The Bush Treasury first estimated the government-sponsored enterprises' (GSEs) losses at $100 billion each. The Obama administration, which has been using the GSEs to stabilize the housing market by reducing their underwriting standards, upped the ante to $200 billion each. Now the administration has thrown in the towel completely, and dropped a large lump of coal in each taxpayer's stocking"”it won't even try to estimate the total losses of Fannie and Freddie.

For extra special bonus style points, Fannie and Freddie executives will apparently receive multi-million dollar pay packages that the pay czar will be denying to many private banks.

But even as the administration was making this open-ended financial commitment, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac disclosed that they had received approval from their federal regulator to pay $42 million in Wall Street-style compensation packages to 12 top executives for 2009.

In other news, the Feds are also propping up another quasi-governmental agency with more cash

GMAC, the ailing financing arm of General Motors, is set to receive around $3.5 billion in government aid, ABC News has learned. The funds would be the third infusion of federal support for the troubled lender.

The latest government aid would bring the total federal assistance for GMAC to $16 billion when combined with the $12.5 billion that the lender has already received dating back to December 2008. Due to its prior cash infusions, the government already owns 35 percent of GMAC.

GMAC continues to lose money because every time it gets more taxpayer money, it starts offering zero percent financing deals.

Immediately after GMAC became eligible for TARP money, GM reduced to zero the interest rate"¦ on certain models. This, of course, penalizes GM competitors, including Toyota, Honda and other "transplants" whose cars are made in America by Americans for Americans, and Ford, which does not have the freedom of maneuver conferred by TARP money because Ford is not taking any"¦

GMAC has begun making loans to borrowers with credit scores as low as 621, a significant relaxation of the 700 minimum score the company adopted just three months ago as it struggled to survive. America's median credit score is 723"¦

This perhaps might explain why GM, unlike other banks with low stress-test scores, was unable to get any private capital.   Because lenders know GMAC will just hand the money over to car buyers with little prospect for getting any value back in return.  Incentives for GMAC to take losses to sell cars, always an issue under GM's private management, will only increase as the Administration looks to create some evidence - any evidence - that their GM investment isn't a total dog.  Witness $3 billion in cash for clunkers funds that went to buy $1 billion of used vehicles.

Postscript: Related news, the 10 most ridiculous uses of stimulus funds. Seems like there would be a lot of competition for this award.

Health Care Bill Timeline

I am sure there are more landmines hidden in the Senate Bill, but the Heritage Foundation has parsed an implementation schedule from the most recent bill:

2010: Physician Medicare payments decrease 21% effective March 1, 2010

2011: "Annual Fee" tax on health insurance, allocated according to share of total premiums. Begins at $2 billion in 2011, then increases to $4 billion in 2012, $7 billion in 2013, $9 billion in the years 2014, 2015, and 2016, and eventually $10 billion for 2017 and every year thereafter. Two insurers in Nebraska and one in Michigan are exempt from this tax.

2012: Medicare payment penalties for hospitals with the highest readmission rates for selected conditions.

2013: Medicare tax increased from 2.9% to 3.8% for incomes over $250,000 (joint filers) or $200,000 (all others). (This is stated as an increase of 0.9 percentage points, to only the employee's share of the FICA tax.)

2014: Individual mandate begins: Tax penalties for not having insurance begin at $95 or 0.5% of income, whichever is higher, rising to $495 or 1% of income in 2015 and $750 or 2% of income thereafter (indexed for inflation after 2016). These penalties are per adult, half that amount per child, to a maximum of three times the per-adult amount per family. The penalty is capped at the national average premium for the "bronze" plan.

2015: Establishment of Independent Medicare Advisory Board (IMAB) to recommend cuts in Medicare benefits; these cuts will go into effect automatically unless Congress passes, and the President signs, an override bill.

2016: Individual mandate penalty rises to $750 per adult ($375 per child), maximum $2,250 per family, or 2% of family income, whichever is higher (capped at the national average premium for the "bronze" plan). After 2016, the penalty will be increased each year to adjust for inflation.

There is a link in the original to a more detailed timeline.  There is a lot more that is left out of this brief timeline, see it here.

Earthquake?

Probably not a big deal in California, but they are unusual in Phoenix.   My office was just shaking around some.

Update: Yes, 5.9 in Northwest Mexico.   Article is a bit funny, as observers on ground floors accuse observers in tall buildings of lying about feeling the earthquake.

Water Prices

Another 2600 word essay in the Arizona Republic on trying to balance water supply and demand in the state with only a one-sentence mention of water rates.

Over the years, some communities have tried to reduce demand. Years ago, Tucson devised a set of water rates that escalated steeply with use. As a result, many people simply stopped planting grass or other thirsty landscaping.

Amazingly, it is the only thing in the whole article that has been demonstrated to work, but still the author leans towards land-use planning and goofy dictats like rainwater harvesting rather than raising rates as a way of managing water supply and demand.

I wrote a lot more here, including an analysis that showed Phoenix has some of the cheapest water rates in the country.

GWB: Leftish Icon?

If it wasn't for his reactions (Patriot Act, Gitmo, Iraq, Afghanistan) to 9/11, shouldn't GWB be a leftish icon?  (source)

200912_blog_edwards291

Ironically, the current Congress renewed most of the Patriot Act, Obama will most likely not close Gitmo any time soon, I see no movement out of Iraq, and Obama has doubled down on Afghanistan.    GWB may have been the worst president in recent memory (since at least Nixon) for libertarians, though Obama seems to be on a trajectory to surpass him.

Health Care Incentives

There are very few problems that can't be traced to information and incentives.  I thought of this when Tyler Cowen discusses an attempt to improve health care costs with better information:

The health care reform bill before the U.S. Senate would require hospitals to publicize their standard charges for services, but New Hampshire and Maine have gone much further in trying to make health care costs more transparent to consumers.

New Hampshire and Maine are the only states with Web sites that let consumers compare costs based on insurance claims paid there.

In New Hampshire, the price variation across providers hasn't lessened since the Web site went live in 2007.

The problem is that this is all useless if individuals have not particular incentive to shop.  If I were on Unemployment, would I bother to check a web site to see which unemployment offices had the lowest operating costs and go there to get my check?  No way, what incentive would I have to do so?  I am going to the closest one, or the one with the fewest lines.  Ditto with most people and health care:

third party payer

Of course, the new health care bill will only make this worse.   Those of us who actually have an incentive to shop, either with high deductible policies and/or HSA's will see our policies banned.   The new health care bill has done nothing but attempt to drive this line all the way to zero.

Update: IBD publishes on the exact same topic (I beat them by 12 hours).

Patients have little direct connection in paying for their care. Their role has fallen significantly. Meanwhile, the government's involvement has grown, as has that of the insurance industry.Because so many Americans rely on an insurance policy or a government program to pay their health care bills, the internal governors that temper the rest of their purchases are turned off. When a visit to the doctor's office or a diagnostic test costs them a mere $10 or $20 co-payment out of pocket "” or there is no charge at all "” cost has little impact on their decision to see a doctor.

"By not knowing the full costs associated with health care, consumers demand more and 'overuse' it," Kenneth E. Thorpe explained a few years back in Health Affairs.

Americans would be more judicious in seeking health care "” they would self-ration "” if the right incentives were in place. An effective way to cut overuse and bring down costs would be to encourage through public policy the use of health savings accounts. If consumers used HSAs to pay the full amount for medical care at the point of service rather than letting employer-funded insurance or a government program pay the bills, the demand would fall.

The Democrats' health care legislation, however, puts more distance between Americans and the payment process and promotes dependence on government. That will only drive down consumers' out-of-pocket expenses even further and force overall health care spending upward. Under such a regime, the system will be worse off than it is now.

Napolitano: Last Politician to Head DHS

I have said for a while that Homeland Security is the worst possible job for any politician who actually wants to have a future political career.  The job is all downside.  I wrote a year ago:

Yeah, I know it is not a done deal, but the rumors are that our governor Janet Napolitano will be Obama's choice for Homeland Security.

On its face, this both makes a ton of sense, and simultaneously is odd.  It makes sense because Napolitano is one of those rising Democratic stars who get special love in part for not being white males.  It is odd because pulling her up to Washington would, by law, pass the governorship for the next two years to the Republicans (the Secretary of State completes the term, and she is a Republican).  It also strikes me as odd because I think Homeland Security would be an absolutely awful platform for launching a run for higher office.  That job has no upside "“ it is all downside.

But the final reason in the end that this may make sense can be seen in this table below from Paul Kedrosky on projected state budget deficits as a percentage of state revenues

Arizona is almost in as bad of shape as California, and California is a disaster area.  So the financial chickens are about to come to roost here in Arizona for the drunken spending spree the state has been on, presided over by Napolitano.  To preserve her from going to the Gray Davis Memorial Retirement Home for Failed Governors, Obama is likely to beam her up to Washington.

As I wrote before, I don't think Napolitano would normally have accepted this job had she not been desperate for a face-saving way to escape Arizona mid-term.  But after recent events, I think it is highly unlikely anyone else on an elected-official career track will take this job.  Look senior FBI or CIA types on the future.

Update: More here from Expresso Pundit.

So in the next six months--probably much sooner--Janet will move on and the President will pick an obscure, non-political, retired General who is clearly qualified and above reproach.

Security Theater

I am a little late to the game, but in case you have not seen the new DHS regs (apparently only in place until December 30, when they will no doubt come up with something even stupider, here they are.

Highlights:

  • Physical patdowns of some but not all of a passenger's body, to exclude areas of the body actually used by the recent terrorist to secret his bomb components.
  • No getting up in the last hour of the flight, for no good reason than the last threat occurred in the last hour of the flight.  Of course, the 9/11 hijackings occurred in the first hour of the flight.
  • Services that are actually starting to make air flight more tolerable are banned, including midair Internet access and real-time satellite TV feeds.  And no more of that telling you where you are and how long until you land - you'll just have to wait for the landing gear to kiss the ground to know when you are landing.
  • Everything that was inspected at the security point has to be reinspected at the gate
  • Don't bother trying to read anything on the flight or occupy your mind in any way - personal items banned in the first and last hour.
  • Only one carry-on, so plan to check your bag, paying the airline to do so, and then add an extra 45 minutes at your destination to wait for it to finally be delivered back to you.

I used to fly about 100,000 miles a year in this job.  I am now down to 25,000, despite the fact my business is even more spread out.  A bit more effort from the DHS and I will get it down to zero.

Internship Swaps?

I had an idea, and I wondered if any of you were familiar with a program like this.  I can provide a pretty decent internship job for a motivated high school student in the summer at my company.  I have a motivated high school student who is my son.  However, from a college admissions perspective, and frankly from an experience perspective, it would be better if my son worked for something other than the family business.  I wondered if there might be an opportunity for a sort of entrepreneur's internship swap, to exchange kids for the summer to work in each other's businesses. I am toying with a website idea if such a thing does not exist.

As a follow-up bleg, our family's philosophy is to try to have our son use his summers to test out potential interests to see if they are really something that interest him once he has seen the inside of it.  To that extent, he is researching summer internships in three highly diverse (to say the least) areas:

  • international affairs, particularly comparative government systems and the interactions of different cultures and governments
  • astronomy and space exploration  (greater emphasis on observation than theory)
  • sports journalism, particularly analysis and production and possibly writing rather than being a broadcast personality

Anyone who might be familiar with a summer program for incoming HS juniors is encouraged to comment or drop me a quick email with a pointer.

Expect A LOT More of This With The New Federal Health Care Rules

Via the Dallas Morning News:

A last-minute change in the federal health care bill ditched a proposed 5 percent tax on cosmetic medical procedures and replaced it with a 10 percent tax on indoor tanning services.

Goodbye Botox tax. Hello tan tax.

This seems really random.  Why should either of these businesses foot a special, disproportionate share of my health care bill?  Well, things that seem random to most of us make perfect sense in Congress.

The tan tax popped up in the health care bill last weekend after powerful medical lobbies "“ including the American Academy of Dermatology Association, American Medical Association, American Society of Plastic Surgeons and Botox-maker Allergan "“ persuaded Congress to remove a tax on cosmetic medical procedures and replace it with a 10 percent surcharge on indoor tanning services.

Lobbyists are very good at punching political hot-buttons.  Since they couldn't argue that botox is "for the children," and since it is generally used by rich white people they could not place the race or class card, they played the only card they had:

"Since 90 percent of cosmetic surgery patients are women, this would have been a very discriminatory tax," said White, who opposed the cosmetic surgery tax.

Technocrats want to believe, and perhaps honestly believe themselves, that care guidelines in the new Federal health care system will be science-based.  What possible basis do they have for thinking that?  We have 50 state laboratories, where states specify must-carry rules on procedures, and not a single one of these lists are science based -- they are loaded with special interest handouts.   I even show in this post how special interests give money to academia to produce studies whose entire conclusion is that certain procedures (performed by the special interest group funding the study) need to be in the minimum coverage laws.   The very first time out, when confronted with a science-based care recommendation (that women not receive breast cancer screening until after 50), the Congress specifically overrode it in the bill under a firestorm of public outcry.

But maybe the dermatologist guys are really looking after us?  After all:

The American Academy of Dermatology warns of significant health risks caused by indoor tanning.

But, as it turns out, it only sees health risks in the use of ultra-violet light by practitioners who are not members of their trade group.  I have bolded the key passage that gives away the game.

Indoor tanning industry groups note that dermatologists use tanning equipment in their offices for cosmetic skin conditions, such as eczema and psoriasis, in phototherapy treatments that cost up to $100 per visit billed to health insurance companies. In contrast, indoor tanning salons cost as little as $6 to $20 per session.

The tan tax would exempt phototherapy services performed by a licensed medical professional.

"This is like Coke being allowed to lobby the government to tax Pepsi, but that Coke be allowed to sell the same product and not be taxed for it," International Smart Tan Network Vice President Joseph Levy said in a statement. "It's unbelievable."

Downfall, the Sequel: Arpaio and Thomas Go Into the Bunker

These guys have totally lost it. OK, they have always been bonkers, but they have finally lost their ability to paper over their nutty paranoia and quest for power in the media.  Remember I told you the other day that Arpiao and Thomas keep filing wider and wider criminal conspiracy charges against their critics.  Basically anyone who criticizes them or seeks to keep their power limited within Constitutional boundaries is a criminal in their eyes.

Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas called for investigations into the chief prosecutors of two neighboring counties on Thursday because they publicly criticized him and Sheriff Joe Arpaio earlier this week.

Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk and Pinal County Attorney James Walsh sent separate letters to the Arizona Republic, criticizing what they called "abuses of power" by Thomas and his close ally, Arpaio.

Polk, a Republican who described herself as a passionate believer in limited government, accused the two men of "totalitarianism" and said they have become "a threat to the entire criminal-justice system" because of a series of a investigations they have launched against their foes.

In recent weeks, Thomas and Arpaio have announced more than a dozen criminal investigations into public officials who have criticized them in the past. The pair has said their fellow Maricopa County officials are engaging in a massive conspiracy to obstruct justice and limit their power. The investigations have resulted in criminal charges against two elected officials and a judge.

Now, Thomas wants a former state Supreme Court justice to investigate his neighboring prosecutors as part of what he calls "an orchestrated campaign to pressure law enforcement in Maricopa County to drop charges against influential criminal defendants and suspects."...

In his request to McGregor [PDF], Thomas ... accused the other prosecutors of essentially breaking the law by criticizing him and the sheriff. He said the pair violated rules for attorneys in Arizona, as well as tainted the pool of possible jurors in the ongoing cases....

In his request for an investigation into the comments, Thomas alluded to a supposed campaign to enlist these attorneys "and possibly other third parties" to criticize him and the sheriff.

Arpaio is the same paranoid who cost the County hundreds of thousands of dollars when he demanded extra security because he believed himself to be an assassination target.

If it wasn't so overdone, I would do another Downfall mash-up on this for YouTube.

Explain the Difference

Is there any difference between Hugo Chavez and Barack Obama in terms of how they approach the auto industry?  "Make the kind of cars I thing you should, or the government will take you over."

Mr. Chavez said his socialist government is going to apply strict quotas regarding the number and types of vehicles auto makers can produce. The president also ordered his trade minister, Eduardo Saman, to inspect the Toyota plant, saying it may not be making enough "rustic vehicles," a style of all-terrain vehicle that is much-needed in Venezuela's countryside, where they are often converted into minibuses.

"They'll have to fulfill [the quotas], and if not, they can get out," Mr. Chavez said during a televised address. "We'll bring in another company."

He said if the inspection shows Toyota isn't producing what he thinks it should and isn't transferring technology, the government may consider taking over its plant and have a Chinese company operate it. "We'll take it, we'll expropriate it, we'll pay them what it's worth and immediately call on the Chinese," Mr. Chavez said. Chinese companies, he said, are willing to make vehicles made for the countryside.

It seems like Venezuelan workers want the same deal Obama gave the UAW:

Venezuela's auto sector is in tatters amid recurring labor problems that have led to a lack of productivity. Analysts say many auto workers hope their company is nationalized so they can become de facto government workers and enjoy the extra job security that comes with that status.

By the way, this seems like a suckers play -- please put more valuable stuff in your store window so when we break in there is more to steal:

Mr. Chavez said late Wednesday the Japanese auto maker needs to transfer more new technologies and manufacturing methods from headquarters to its local unit in Venezuela.

While Mr. Chavez directed most of his criticism at Toyota, he said other auto assemblers, including Fiat SpA and General Motors, are also guilty of not sharing technology from abroad with their Venezuelan units.

The left often seems to imply that the US government is too eager to shed blood to protect American industry overseas, but in point of fact American industry has had to live with the reality for decades that foreign governments often steal billions of dollars in American-owned assets with barely a peep being heard from the US government.  For example, there is really no such thing as a Saudi or Libyan or Venezuelan or even Mexican oil industry - those are just assets paid for and built by private Western concerns and then stolen by local governments.

Congressional Democrats Already Preparing to Lose Control of Congress

Apparently Senate Democrats have built a number of "entrenchment" provisions in the health care bill attempting to limit the ability of future Congresses to modify the law:

Jonathan notes that the health care bill includes certain "entrenchment" provisions, and asks, "can the current Senate bind future Senates in this way?"  If I understand the bill correctly, it creates an independent board that recommends ways to limit Medicare payments.  These recommendations go to the president, who in turn is supposed to submit them to Congress.  Congressional procedures are likewise constrained.  The Senate, for example, cannot debate the proposal for more than 30 hours; there are limits on House procedures as well.  The idea seems to be to constrain filibustering and other parliamentary maneuvers that would defeat cost-saving legislation in the future.  As Jonathan notes, the bill further provides that these constraints cannot be overturned by majority rule but require a 2/3 supermajority.

More here

A couple of thoughts:

  1. I expect future Congressmen to be no less arrogant than current Congressmen, so there is little chance they will allow themselves to be bound by this
  2. Do Democrats really think that they have gone through such a thoughtful and deliberative process in creating this bill that no future Congress can improve on it?
  3. This has been tried, e.g. on balanced budget stuff.  It never works.  Even the 60-vote cloture rule could be tossed out in a second -- it is public opinion and concern for future periods when the ruling party in the minority that prevents change, not law
  4. This is particularly hilarious as while this bill was being debated, there was a commission of experts that did make a recommendation of the type they are looking for in the future - in this case to limit screening of breast cancers for women under 50.  And Congress immediately overrode this recommendation with specific language in this very legislation.  No way Congress will allow itself to be bound by some unelected commission in the Administration, particularly when the two are inevitably controlled by different parties.

Is Tiger Coming To Arizona to Cure His Sex Addiction?

Can't say that I really care, but I find all the quivering excitement here hilarious:

If Tiger Woods winds up in Wickenburg for rehab over his apparent sexual compulsion and pill addiction, local businesses are ready.As the rumor mill seems to suggest, Tiger would be checking into the Meadows Rehabilitation Center in Wickenburg just after New Years, and despite being a little late in covering Tiger-gate's Arizona connection, the Arizona Republic reports today that local businesses are gearing up for golf's greatest Lothario.

For example, the owner of Sundance Pizza in Wickenburg, Bob Halsey, has already placed a sign in front of his store that says "Hey, Tiger, we deliver."

Chances of Tiger ordering some of Halsey's take-out are probably unlikely -- perhaps a more suiting sign should say "hey, droves of paparazzi, we deliver."

If Tiger does end up in Wickenburg, the number of paparazzi that will descend on the tiny town is certain to cause a boom for the local economy. Some tabloids are even rumored to have placed journalists in the rehab center themselves, in order to get the real dirt on the golf great.

Paying lots of money to stop having sex with hot women seems an odd thing to do.  From my experience he could take up playing Dungeons and Dragons and have the same result for a lot less money.

Wherein I Actually Agree with Dianne Feinstein

A lot of climate skeptic sites are jumping on the apparent irony of this story:

Senator Dianne Feinstein introduced legislation in Congress on Monday to protect a million acres of the Mojave Desert in California by scuttling some 13 big solar plants and wind farms planned for the region.

But before the bill to create two new Mojave national monuments has even had its first hearing, the California Democrat has largely achieved her aim. Regardless of the legislation's fate, her opposition means that few if any power plants are likely to be built in the monument area, a complication in California's effort to achieve its aggressive goals for renewable energy.

I think that there is an important lesson here that even "clean" energy sources have environmental downsides.  Its funny how things come full circle - thirty years ago I used to argue with people who had obsessive concerns about nuclear waste.  I would say that the volume of waste was really small, and in fact coal and oil were no different in that they generated a lot of waste but that they spewed their waste all over the atmosphere -- at least nuclear waste was compact and defined and easy to store.

Anyway, I actually think Feinstein is correct here.   Here is the origin of the plot of land:

For Mrs. Feinstein, creation of the Mojave national monuments would make good on a promise by the government a decade ago to protect desert land donated by an environmental group that had acquired the property from the Catellus Development Corporation.

"The Catellus lands were purchased with nearly $45 million in private funds and $18 million in federal funds and donated to the federal government for the purpose of conservation, and that commitment must be upheld. Period," Mrs. Feinstein said in a statement.

I have some bias in this, because my personal charities of choice tend to be private land trusts, that use private funds to buy lands for conservation.   I have always argued from an individual liberty angle that people who want land conserved shouldn't be demanding that government take it, they should be putting their money where their mouth is and helping to buy the land.  This story actually gives me another argument, because you can see that the private conservation buyers made a mistake in giving it to the Feds.  The Bush Administration, looking to score a PR victory in the alternative energy front, reneged on the promised conservation and committed the land to solar projects.

Could This Be The Tipping Point for Arpaio and Thomas?

It is not uncommon for certain shady dealing to go on for years, with a small group of critics but never really breaking out into the media.  We skeptics have been criticizing climate scientists for years for various problems with their temperature indexes and historical temperature reconstructions, but never really got traction until the CRU emails were made public, and then there has been a real firestorm of media attention.  Criticisms that never got much traction before are now being actively investigated.

I am hoping that we have a similar situation with Sheriff Joe Arpaio and County Attorney Andrew Thomas.  The story is so wacky it simply defies easy description, but Arpaio and Thomas have been pursuing a number of corruption probes against their bosses in the County government.  All well and good, except for the funny fact that the targets of the probes all seem to be historic critics of Arpaio and Thomas, who have brought out their biggest guns for the one Democrat on the County Council (Arpaio and Thomas are both Republicans).

Both these men have  a history of indifference to civil liberties.   When Arpaio is not busy arresting folks for breathing while Mexican (he once managed to make a crime sweep through the 99% Anglo neighborhood of Fountain Hills and arrest 75% Mexicans), he likes to haul folks off to jail whose only crime is speaking out against the Sheriff .   He arrested (with Thomas's help) 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.

Most recently, Thomas and Arpaio wanted a judge who has handed them a number of court losses removed from a certain case.  To make that happen, Arpaio and Thomas bizarrely charged the judge and numerous other county employees in a giant RICO case, a case attorneys are still laughing about because it was so transparent and shoddy.  When that didn't work, he charged the judge with felony bribery, apparently on the interesting theory that getting a new, updated court house building was effectively a bribe to the judges working there.

It gets much weirder even than this, with Arpaio's stealing documents from a defense counsel in court (caught on video) with this same judge holding Arpaio's deputy in contempt for the action and then the sheriff's deputies essentially going on strike at court, refusing to bring in prisoners.

But after years of fawning, positive publicity as "Americas Toughest Sheriff," the dam may finally be breaking.  When the AZ Republic finally covers it, you know the situation has to be bad:

Hundreds of attorneys gathered on the courthouse steps in downtown Phoenix to protest Thomas and Arpaio's public campaign against public corruption.

LOL, I have a picture of these guys with suits and holding placards.  Anyway, this was a real blow:

And, in a scathing letter to The Arizona Republic, the Yavapai County attorney

, who previously handled some of Thomas' cases against county officials, blasted the prosecutor and sheriff as "a threat to the entire criminal-justice system."

Oops, so much for the respect of your peers.  Shelia Polk, the Yavapai County attorney (that is a neighboring county) handled the investigations into some of Arpaio and Thomas's early charges against our County officials, so she knows the details of the story.  And she is a Republican, the same party as Arpaio and Thomas:

In her letter, Polk wrote that although Maricopa County isn't her jurisdiction, she can't sit by and watch the abuses from a distance anymore.

"I am conservative and passionately believe in limited government, not the totalitarianism that is spreading before my eyes," she wrote. "The actions of Arpaio and Thomas are a disservice to the hundreds of dedicated men and women who work in their offices and a threat to the entire criminal-justice system."

Polk had stayed out of the legal drama in Maricopa County, and her remarks offer the first insight from an outside law-enforcement official who has some knowledge of the cases Arpaio and Thomas have lodged against county officials.

Arpaio's response was predictable:

Hendershott spoke on behalf of Arpaio. Hendershott said that Polk's office repeatedly failed to issue subpoenas the Sheriff's Office needed.

"It seemed clear to us that this case was being deliberately stalled," he said. "We basically let her know that her work product was ineffective."

This is a constant refrain from the sheriff - anyone who seeks to impose any limit on his power is therefore evil and conspiring to thwart his will.  It comes up time and time again - he simply does not react well when denied a subpoena, or a search warrant, or access to certain information.  If they are not rubber stamping Sheriff Joe's requests, then they must be corrupt.  If he had been honest, his RICO charges would have simply read "they didn't give me what I want."  But there is a reason these third parties are part of the process, and you can see it in Polk's letter:

Polk said she worked with the Sheriff's Office on the cases for the next six months, then returned the cases to the Maricopa County Attorney's Office.

In Polk's letter, she wrote that she was "happy to remove myself from the cases and from contact with Sheriff Arpaio. My discomfort grew daily and my role in restraining potential abuses of power increasingly more difficult."

Carlos Miller Wins His Appeal

Photographer Carlos Miller of Miami, and a blogger I really enjoy reading, won his appeal of his criminal conviction (here and here).  Some of the details are important to bloggers:

A three-judge panel determined there were errors both in my conviction and my sentencing. The panel reversed both with directions for me to be tried again before a different judge.

In other words, they realized that Judge Jose L. Fernandez allowed his personal bias to affect my trial, including in how he allowed the prosecutor to use my blog against me "“ even though I did not even launch the blog until after my arrest "“ and how he allowed those blog postings to affect my sentencing.

The charge was effectively one of taking pictures of police in public, a perfectly legal and Constitutionally-protected activity that many police have none-the-less convinced themselves should be illegal, so they treat it as such.  The actual charge was "resisting arrest without violence," perhaps the most abusable statute on record.   Especially when there is no underlying illegal activity for the arrest in the first place.  In effect, if a police officer hassles someone for no reason, the citizen responds verbally that the officer is out of line - boom, "resisting arrest without violence." It's amazing one can be convicted of this without there being any underlying crime justifying the arrest, but I guess Martha Stewart went to jail for lying to the police about something that turned out not to be a crime as well.

In this particular  case, the Judge made this outrageous statement to Miller during sentencing:

I can't imagine why you thought this situation was worth getting arrested for. I can't imagine for the life of me.

I don't know if you think you're some kind of hero or something like that, but if you want to see a hero, go visit Arlington. All right? I don't think any of those people that are back here are those people that are giving you the "” the thumbs up on your blog.

If I were to sentence you to jail, none of those people would volunteer to go in there to serve the time with you. They might say they would, but I guarantee you they wouldn't. I'm shocked at your lack of remorse.

Miller gets double extra style points for defending himself through this whole process, and managing to win a victory at appeals when fewer than 1 in 15 trained attorneys are able to do so.

Funniest Quote of the Week, Maybe the Year

This is truly hilarious, from our President via the WSJ:

From the outset, the White House's core claim was that reform would reduce health costs for individuals and businesses, and they're sticking to that story. "Anyone who says otherwise simply hasn't read the bills," Mr. Obama said over the weekend. This is so utterly disingenuous that we doubt the President really believes it.

This is hilarious.  Not only had few people been able to slog through the old 2000+ page bill, but Harry Reid threw the whole thing out and substituted a double secret replacement bill on Saturday the NO ONE has read, Obama included.  So this statement is technically true, but reverse statement is also equally true - "anyone who agrees with the President simply hasn't read the bill, either."

The World Is In the Best of Hands

From a reader:

One contentious comma inserted two years ago into the United Nations road map for a new deal to fight global warming is again causing squabbles among delegates from the 193 nations in Copenhagen devising the pact.The comma was inserted on the first page, section 1 b (ii), of the so-called Bali Action Plan at the meeting on the Indonesian island in 2007 at the insistence of the U.S. It caused a debate that ran for two hours as the punctuation mark left open to interpretation the responsibilities of rich and poor nations to cut greenhouse-gas emissions....

Delegates from the U.S. argued for the comma to be inserted so that "actions" by developing countries and not just support from industrialized nations, would be measurable, reportable and verifiable, or MRV in UN jargon.

"It took almost two hours to debate the comma," Quamrul Chowdhury, a Bangladeshi envoy who's negotiated climate issues since before the Rio Earth summit in 1992, said in an interview in Copenhagen. "One comma creates a lot of trouble."

Even with the comma, the clause is still argued over....

"The comma is a manifestation of a massive area of disagreement still among the parties," Havercamp of the Environmental Defense Fund said.

That's a Pretty Bleak Silver Lining

The bad news:  The Democrats are going to pass a half-baked mess of health care insurance changes.   Several opponents of the bill are saying there is a silver lining -- that this will allow Republicans, who did such a bang-up job when they last controlled Congress and the Presidency, to get back in power.  Color me less than excited.

And You Thought I Was Cynical and Paranoid?

July 16, 2009

It is totally clear to me that Obama and Pelosi will spend any amount of money to pass their key legislative initiatives.  In the case of Waxman-Markey, the marginal price per vote turned out to be about $3.5 billion.  But they didn't even blink at paying this.  That is why I fear that some horrible form of health care "reform" may actually pass.  If it does, the marginal cost per vote may be higher, but I don't think our leaders care.

Instapundit, December 21, 2009

CASH FOR CLOTURE: "You can't even dignify this squalid racket as bribery: If I try to buy a cop, I have to use my own money. But, when Harry Reid buys a senator, he uses my money, too. It doesn't "˜border on immoral': it drives straight through the frontier post and heads for the dark heartland of immoral."

Plus, Oh, Nebraska. So what exactly was different about what Rod Blagojevich did?

Plus, keeping track of the bribes.

Mark Perry on US Manufacturing

I could link Mark Perry almost every day, and have to restrain myself.  If you like my blog, you should be reading his too.  Anyway, here is his take on US manufacturing figures:

If the U.S. manufacturing sector were a separate country, it would be tied with Germany as the world's third largest economy. It would also be larger than the entire economies of India and Russia combined. As much as we hear about the "demise of U.S. manufacturing," and how we are a country that "doesn't produce anything anymore," and how we have "outsourced our production to China," the U.S. manufacturing sector is alive and well, and the U.S. is still the largest manufacturer in the world.

I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!

This is pretty funny -- the left pretends to be confused as to why the health care bill's key services don't come into effect until 2014.  As if they were not totally onboard with the strategy.