Archive for December 2009

Health Care Bill At 60

Kevin Drum is reporting, as I predicted, that the Democrats have bought off the remaining votes they needed (with our tax money) and that there will be a successful cloture vote this evening on the health care bill.  Bad news, though I have been prepared for it for a while.  I honestly believe that 90% of this country is going to end up worse off to help out the remaining 10%.  The analogy I often use is that this is just like the crappy public housing we built in the 1960's, except everyone, not just the poor, are going to have to move into it.    The only remaining questions that remain are 1) how long after passage of this bill do Democrats admit they grossly fibbed on the price and start jacking up taxes; and 2) how hard a hit (and how fast) will drug and medical innovation take.  Enjoy.  The only silver lining is that many of the folks who passed this mess are not going to have their jobs a year from now.

Update: Overlawyered has more bad news about the bill's provisions.   A lot more of this will come out as the people are actually allowed to read it.

Freak of Nature

Those of you who have read Neal Stephenson's Crytonomicon may remember the side tale of Randy Waterhouse's molars.   A lot of the fun of a Stephenson novel is not the plot but the side expositions on everything from number theory to Cap'n Crunch.   This is perhaps doubly true of Cryptonomicon, whose plot is only so-so (hunting for Nazi gold, sort of) but whose prose and exposition are fantastic.  Anyway, in that story, one of the main characters has a problem with these horrible wisdom teeth that are impacted so deeply in his skull that oral surgeons have to run out and have 2-3 cocktails to overcome the shivers of malpractice fear they get from just looking at the x-rays.

Fun exaggeration in the service of fiction, until we took my daughter to the dentist yesterday.  My daughter already has a history of weird teeth.  She had to have oral surgery before she was 10 to remove a baby tooth that somehow never emerged and was up deep in her head somewhere, upside down or sideways or something.  So anyway, she still has 8 baby teeth in her head past their expiration date, and the orthodontist finally insisted they had to be removed.

No problem.  Baby teeth are a layup to remove.  Fifty bucks each says the dentist  (which caused us to give our daughter a financial incentive -- we told her if she could wiggle them out beforehand, we would pay her half, which she did with two).  Anyway, baby teeth are easy, no big roots, nature wants them out at this point anyway, etc.

And most of them were just that -- easy.  Except for one.  The dentist simply could not get it out.  The appointment went on and on, because the dentist kept running back to the x-ray to make sure she was really pulling on a baby tooth and not some adult tooth.

Anyway, it eventually came out, after much pain and suffering on my daughter's part.  One of her "normal" removed baby molars is on the right for comparison.  The Ripley's tooth is on the left.  It just sort of looks evil.

tooth

Will Work for Food

I was reading through some leftish/alarmist environmental blogs, and I was struck by how many desperately want to buy into the story line that poorer nations are the true heroes of Copenhagen, holding the rich nations feet to the fire so they will commit to deeper CO2 cuts.

Really?  A bunch of dictators who demonstrably have little concern for their citizens and spend most of their time trying to figure out how to divert state funds into their Swiss bank accounts suddenly care about the effects of anthropogenic climate change on their nations?  Hugo Chavez, whose nation currently is avoiding following Zimbabwe down the toilet only by its oil revenues really wants the world to wean itself off oil?

Here is the perfect analogy for the Third World's sudden interest in climate:  The "I will work for food" sign.  Beggers learned that (at least for a while) this sign was a good marketing tool.  They had no intention of doing any work  (I had a friend who used to drive up to all of them and offer them landscaping work in exchange for lunch, always to be turned down flat) but they knew it made potential donors more sympathetic -  see, they really want to work but are just down on their luck.   If you haven't seen the movie Interstate 60, you really need to.  Relevant clip below:

This is exactly the equivalent of the Third World's sudden interest in climate change.  Up to this point, their leaders have shown no interest in stopping the raping of their own local ecosystems.  These guys are certainly not conservationists, but they know a good marketing tool.  Copenhagen is about these guys putting their hands out, and using climate as the marketing tool to soften up their marks in the West.  These nations certainly have no intention of having any targets or restrictions placed on their countries.   And it looks like they may succeed, at least in the treaty phase.

Obama has positioned himself in such a way that he feels that he has to have something he can call a win at Copenhagen.  So he goes to the politician's traditional playbook, which is to use taxpayer money to buy a deal to try to make himself look better.  He is working to do this with the passage of the health care bill and he probably will do this in Copenhagen, agreeing to $100 billion a year in payoffs to third world kleptocracies so he can look like a winner to western socialists.

Vogon Poetry

Try to listen without any sharp instruments at hand.

Why We May Be Stuck With Joe Arpaio

Conor Friedersdorf at Andrew Sullivan's blog has a number of comments from Arizona readers about why, despite all his nuttiness and outright hostility to civil rights, Joe Arpaio just keeps on getting elected here in Phoenix.

One sample:

...Arpaio is media-savvy, and picks his enemies well.  By this I don't mean his foes in county government or in the media, I mean the groups on whom he concentrates the resources of his office.  Last night, as every year about this time, all of the TV stations showed footage from this year's deadbeat dad roundup, along with the smirking Sheriff talking about how terrible it was that kids were going to have a lousy Xmas because these deadbeat dads hadn't been paying child support.  He also goes after animal cruelty cases with a vengeance.  I think he has a finely-tuned sense of which "others' are particularly viewed with scorn by his target supporters, and goes after them with a vengeance.  There is no doubt that many Maricopa county residents feel safer as a result of his policies, but also equally that his policies are never designed to impact negatively those supporters who see themselves as law-abiding (and hence won't ever be in jail), are white (and hence will never be racially profiled), and don't fit into any of the other classes that he has singled out for opprobrium.

On a side topic, one commenter does take this out of context:

But let's not forget we're in a state that effectively voted by referendum NOT to honor Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the 90's

The issue as I remember it was not of honoring Martin Luther King Jr. but of adding another paid holiday for state workers.  As I recall, Republicans readily agreed to a state holiday for MLK as long as government workers gave up one somewhere else on the calendar, so it wasn't about MLK per se but about whether government employees should be allowed an extra paid day off.

Next They Will Be Campaigning to Save the Oil Residue on Alaskan Beaches

I thought this was really funny -- from an email I got today:

With water supplies drying up in the next 10 years, the Salton Sea poses an economic and ecological threat to the Coachella Valley and large portions of Riverside and Imperial counties. And while plans to restore the Salton Sea exist, government funding and determination to tackle this potential multi-billion disaster have not materialized.

Why is this funny?  Because the Salton Sea is the result of a man-made environmental disaster about a century ago.  The lake formed when floodwaters from the Colorado River roared down a man-made canal, breached a dike, and formed the lake.  Since then, this record "spill" which dwarfs the sum total volume of every oil spill of all time has been slowly drying up like a puddle on the garage floor.  I suppose I am OK retaining it if people have gotten used to it, but I find it funny that the natural reversal of a man-made ecological disaster is itself an ecological threat.

The following, by the way, has to be the dumbest idea of all time from an economic and energy balance perspective:

The Imperial County Board of Supervisors and Imperial Irrigation District have voted to explore the Sea to Sea Plan, which not only brings water to the sea, but generates hydroelectric energy that will be used for desalinization of water that can then be sold to water users throughout the Southwestern United States and Mexico. This new, reliable water supply will generate funds for further Salton Sea restoration.

So we pay money to pump water out of the Sea of Cortez, but then somehow have this generate electricity that pays for desalinization to then pump the water back out of the Salton Sea for irrigation.  Sorry folks, but I think the second law of thermodynamics says this won't work.

Update: OK, from here, one source says the water generates energy via hydroelectric plants, which seems odd (pumping water up and then harvesting the energy going down never balances, though this is used in certain California lakes as a method of energy storage) while one source says the power is geothermal.  Hmm, does "half-baked" come to mind reading this?

Update #2:  Shouldn't desalinization occur as close as possible to the source?  Otherwise you are paying to pump tons of salt you are going to eventually remove.

Either The Google Suggestion Algorithm Is Broken, Or I Need to Revise My Opinion of Humanity

From a reader, are these really the top searches?

Why_are_black

This Argument Works for a Libertarian...

I think this kind of argument might work for a libertarian, but I am not sure it is a very strong argument for a liberal Democrat that wants to do more rather than less of what Congress and the GWB administration did over the last 8 years to worsen the recession.

Personally, though, I'd say Obama has been remarkably restrained about the whole thing, especially when it comes to our disastrous fiscal situation.  In a mere eight years, George Bush and the Republican Party managed to take a thriving economy and a federal surplus and turn it into a hair's breadth escape from Great Depression II and an endless fiscal sinkhole.  Rome may not have been built in a day, but it didn't take much longer than that for the modern Republican Party to bankrupt America.

Particularly hilarious is that Drum blames the cost of the useless but expensive stimulus bill on GWB.  Huh?  And blaming Republicans for Fannie and Freddie is a real joke.

As you might imagine, the deficit in his world is all from tax cuts and not above-inflation increases in spending.  The basic picture he shows is absurd - money is fungible, so any trillion dollars of the government spending could be blamed for the deficit - it just depends on what spending you consider incremental.  Stupid analysis.  Though it is interesting that at least two of the major drivers even by their slanted analysis - Bush tax cuts and Afghanistan - are policy issues Obama was presented with opportunities to reverse and chose not to.

Amazing

Incredible stop motion Lego recreation of a scene from the Matrix movies.

San Francisco: Progressive Paradise or Bankrupt Banana Republic?

Great article in the SF Weekly on San Francisco:  The Worst Run Big City in the US.  The article is lengthy and packed full of government fail.  Just one example:

You can't get San Francisco running efficiently, because that would require large numbers of unionized city workers to willingly admit their redundancy and wastefulness. Inefficiency pays their salaries. "It's been going on for decades," Peskin says.

This problem comes up almost every time the city negotiates labor contracts, which is part of the reason San Francisco is constantly on the brink of fiscal ruin. Politically powerful unions "” the progressives are beholden to the service unions; moderates cater to police, firefighters, and building trades; and Republicans ... what's a Republican? "” negotiate contracts the city knows it can't afford. Politicians approve them, despite needing to balance the budget every year, because the budget impact of proposed contracts is examined by the Board of Supervisors only for the following year, no matter how long contracts run. According to former city controller Ed Harrington, it has become common practice not to schedule any raises for the first year of a contract, but to provide extensive raises in later years.

The result is a contract that looks affordable one year out, then blows up in the city's face. City employees receive up to 90 percent of their already generous salaries in pensions and many also receive lifetime health care "” meaning that as they retire, labor costs soar.

Sounds like the health care bill in Congress, no?  The bit near the beginning on the problem in the parks department - overstaffing, no one showing up for work, lost money, poor controls, no process - particularly resonate with me.  My business is the privatization of public parks.  I can't tell you how many public parks agencies I know to be providing terrible service (service levels that I would be ashamed of) with grossly inflated budgets tell me face-to-face that they can't privatize because that would jeopardize the quality of the parks.  Well, that and the fact that the public employees unions would not allow it.

I always laugh when folks tell me that government intervention is needed because private industry is too short term oriented.  But no one is more short term oriented than politicians looking to the next election or closing this year's budget hole.  In particular, capital maintenance is always ignored until infrastructure is literally falling apart.   We see it in parks, transit systems, roads, schools, etc.  It is the same phenomenon that causes third world state-run oil companies to have their production fall off - instead of reinvesting their profits into upgrades and maintenace of their fields and infrastructure (as those short-term focused American oil companies do) they transfer the money into social giveaways that cement their political power.  Here is a great example from San Francisco:

In 2002, the San Francisco Chronicle revealed that the city had, for decades, been siphoning nearly $700 million from its Hetch Hetchy water system into the San Francisco General Fund instead of maintaining the aging aqueduct. Several mayors and boards of supervisors used that money to fund pet causes, and the Public Utilities Commission didn't say no. Unfortunately, spending maintenance money elsewhere doesn't diminish the need for maintenance. By 2002, the water system was in such desperate condition that voters were asked to pass a $3.6 billion bond measure to make overdue fixes. Obligingly, they did "” who doesn't like water? Since then, the projected costs have swelled by $1 billion. So far.

My favorite line:

"San Francisco is Disneyland for adults, or a place people go until they grow up."

Update: Health Care Bill Cost Gimmickry

It has bothered me in an earlier post that I missed several critical tricks the Democrats in Congress are using to understate the cost of their health care bills.  These are important enough that I am re-writing the original post:

I think most folks were shocked that the CBO scored the Baucus bill as deficit-neutral.  Well, we are starting to understand why (by the way, these are not criticisms of the CBO, but of the Senate).  So far, four major budget tricks have been identified:

1. The cost of the individual mandate is not in the scoring. There seems to be a lot of spin on this issue, as to whether the mandate is a "tax" or not, but word games aside, clearly the individual mandate is a major cost of the program to Americans.  The best analogy I can give is that if the government cut your taxes that go to road construction but then mandated that everyone fund directly out of their pocket the cost of a quarter mile of road repairs each year, most people would see this as a cost either way.  But it turns out that the CBO scores things differently.

First, a little history.  Like both the House and Senate bills, the Clinton health plan would have mandated that individuals and employers purchase private insurance.  In its 1994 score of the Clinton plan, Bob Reischauer's CBO included those mandated "private" payments in the federal budget "“- i.e., as federal revenues and federal expenditures.

And yet, none of the CBO scores of this year's bills include the costs of similar individual/employer mandates as federal revenues or federal spending.

My read of the CBO's score of the Clinton health plan is that the private-sector mandates accounted for around 60 percent of the Clinton health plan's total cost, the remainder being (traditional) government spending.  So how is it that the CBO made the full cost of the Clinton health plan apparent to the public in 1994, but may now be revealing only 40 percent of the cost of the Obama health plan?...

The Medical Loss Ratios memo is the smoking gun.  It shows that indeed, Democrats have been submitting proposals to the CBO behind closed doors and tailoring their private-sector mandates to avoid having those costs appear in the federal budget.  Proposals that would result in a complete cost estimate "” such as the proposal by Sen. Rockefeller discussed in the Medical Loss Ratios memo "” are dropped.  Because we can't let the public see how much this thing really costs.

Crafting the private-sector mandates such that they fall just a hair short of CBO's criteria for inclusion in the federal budget does not reduce their cost, nor does it make those mandates any less binding.  But it dramatically reduces the apparent cost of the legislation.  It is the reason we're all talking about an $848 billion Reid bill, rather than a $2.1 trillion Reid bill.

2.  Now-you-see-it-now-you-don't Medicare cuts. Via Michael Tanner of Cato:

When the Senate Finance Committee released CBO scoring of its health care reform proposal last week, we warned that its claim of reducing future budget deficits was achieved only through dishonestly assuming that Congress will implement a 21% reduction in Medicare payments that is scheduled under current law. We pointed out that Congress has been supposed to make those reductions since 2003, and never has.  Now"”surprise, surprise"”Democrats have introduced a bill to eliminate the scheduled cut, at a cost of $247 billion.  But Democrats cleverly are putting the new spending in a separate bill, so it won't change scoring of health care reform.   Have they no shame?

3.  Transfer of costs off the Federal budget to the states (which the CBO does not score).  Via Glen Reynolds

Gov. Phil Bredesen warned Tuesday that pending federal health care legislation could cost Tennessee far more than the $735 million "best estimate" his administration previously has cited.

The $735 million would stretch over five years, but "in addition, there are huge unknowns for the states in this reform," Gov. Bredesen said, estimating that those costs, if realized, could exceed another $3 billion from 2014 to 2019. . . . "I'm glad they're trying to do it without increasing the federal deficit, that certainly is important," said Gov. Bredesen, a Democrat who has been critical of the plan's impact on states. "But to turn around and increase the state deficits as the way to handle it that does not seem a very appropriate way to do that."

4.  Match 6 years of expenses with 10 years of revenues. From an earlier post:

Bruce McQuain points out something I think has not gotten enough attention in the health care bill.  The new taxes being proposed start in 2010, but the benefits don't begin until 2013 and are phased in through something like 2018.  That means for any 10-year budget look, there are 10 years of taxes but only 6-7 years of benefits.  And even with this trick, the plan STILL adds a trillion dollars to the deficit, even before the certainly more pessimistic CBO numbers come in.

A Flip for Every Citizen

The police are very good at enforcing their own version of the facts after an encounter with citizens goes wrong.  It is only the advent of the inexpensive digital camera that has started to save folks from the police's ability to make up a story and stick to it when they screw up.  In fact, I am constantly amazed at how long the police will often hold on to their story even in the face of video evidence.

So after reading stories like this one, I am strongly considering buying myself a Flip camcorder or something similar and just tossing it into my car.  Of course the downside is, as documented by Carlos Miller, there is nothing guaranteed to enrage your average law enforcement officer than filming his or her actions in public.

Related, here is a good video:  10 Rules for Dealing with the Police.

And on a lighter note, here is some classic Chris Rock on the same topic.

Copenhagen as Income Redistribution

I am slammed here at work, but I will give you a couple of nice articles on this topic.  First from IBD:

The United Nations' Copenhagen Climate Conference is going fast into meltdown. It may be because it's not about climate anymore, but fitting a noose on the world's productive economies and extracting wealth transfers.

Poor countries have gone from defending their right to economic development as a reason for exemptions to emissions cuts to claiming a "legitimate" right to vast wealth transfers from the West to prevent emissions. They call it "climate justice."

Monday, the Group of 77, led by African states, shut down the conference for the second time, saying they would pick up their marbles and go home if the West didn't agree to their formula for emissions cutbacks and send them more than the $10 billion promised by the West....

Having manipulated the foreign aid racket for decades, the African officials knew just what buttons to push with Western Europeans. Not surprisingly, they won concessions. No doubt they'll do it again to get more, and the Danes and other one-worlders will give them what they want.

The second is from Charles Krauthammer

The idea of essentially taxing hardworking citizens of the democracies to fill the treasuries of Third World kleptocracies went nowhere, thanks mainly to Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher (and the debt crisis of the early '80s). They put a stake through the enterprise.

But such dreams never die. The raid on the Western treasuries is on again, but today with a new rationale to fit current ideological fashion. With socialism dead, the gigantic heist is now proposed as a sacred service of the newest religion: environmentalism.

One of the major goals of the Copenhagen climate summit is another NIEO shakedown: the transfer of hundreds of billions from the industrial West to the Third World to save the planet by, for example, planting green industries in the tristes tropiques....

Socialism having failed so spectacularly, the left was adrift until it struck upon a brilliant gambit: metamorphosis from red to green. The cultural elites went straight from the memorial service for socialism to the altar of the environment. The objective is the same: highly centralized power given to the best and the brightest, the new class of experts, managers and technocrats. This time, however, the alleged justification is not abolishing oppression and inequality but saving the planet.

Update:

Leaders of fifty African nations came to Copenhagen asking $400 billion for the next three years to "offset" carbon credit "damages" which they claim to suffer. Inexplicably, two days ago, that demand was increased to an eye-goggling 5% of GDP (gross domestic product), estimated at $722 billion from the United States alone. There never was a response from the industrialized world.

The London Guardian reports today that the disgruntled Africans may boycott the rest of the climate summit. The conference's own web page quotes the Ethiopian prime minister as saying he will "scuttle" talks unless there is discussion of "real money" and "not an illusion."

Reminder

I still think all the political to and fro on the health care bill is so much smoke and mirrors.  I still believe this:

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.

Too many politicians cojones are on the line now.   They are past caring about cost or unintended consequences or even if the bill achieves their own goals they originally set for it.  They are now driven to pass something, and since it is we taxpayers and not Congress that will individually bear the burden of their mistakes, something is very likely going to pass.

I am Willing To Believe No One is Clean

A blog that specializes in criticizing the Phoenix police argues that Judge Gary Donahoe, recent target of Sheriff Joe Arpaio, has a bad record of aiding and abetting overly-easy search warrants.  I am willing to believe that -- I think about every judge in the nation is too close to police and prosecutors on search warrant issues.  But I don't think this is why Sheriff Joe is after him.  Sheriff Joe likes to make the wrong-address no-knock raid as much as anyone, and protection of civil rights has never been in Arpaio's top 100 or so concerns.  So Danahoe may have issues, but I Sheriff Joe's charges against him are likely pure power play.

Health Care Cost Control

Good editorial today in the WSJ on the myth of government health care cost control:

A field as dynamic and innovative as U.S. medicine, in which costs are largely driven by new technologies and better ways of caring for patients, is rife with complexities and uncertainties. But no one bothered to strike that note of caution when Washington was hopped up on a cost-control gambit that was too painless to be true. The new cost-control apologists concede that there isn't any actual plan for controlling costs: Throw enough speculative policies against the wall, they say, and some breakthrough will stick. Yet Mr. Orszag's no-less-confident predecessors spent decades trying to pull down Medicare spending with little to no success. Technocracy rarely if ever works as intended. Mr. Gawande points to the case study of U.S. farm policy, and if politically sacrosanct agriculture subsidies and rural price-supports are the best to hope for, then what's the worst?

More relevant examples include Medicare's "relative value" payment scale, which was designed in 1985 by the Harvard economist William Hsiao to encourage more primary care. That's this year's rallying cry too. "Diagnosis-related groups" were introduced into Medicare in 1983 to alleviate hospital cost growth, and what a monumental success that turned out to be. With only brief periods of relatively slower growth, nominal Medicare spending has risen on average at an annual rate of 9.6% since 1980. Over the same period total Medicare spending has grown 13-fold, climbing from 1.2% of the economy to 3.2% today.

Congress lacks the stomach for serious cost control in any case. One policy Mr. Orszag favors"”Medicare penalties for hospitals that re-admit certain patients"”is limited to only three conditions in the Senate bill, and the penalties are trivial.

Another"”a putatively independent commission that is supposed to enforce cost cutting"”is barred from going after costs incurred by doctors and hospitals, which leaves out more than half of Medicare spending. Earlier this year Mr. Orszag got into a heated debate with Henry Waxman over such a commission at a dinner party hosted by Connecticut Rep. Rosa DeLauro, precisely because the House baron enjoys the political power that flows from controlling health spending.

Paging Friedrich von Hayek.  The administration constantly whines that none of his critics ever offer an alternative (a patently false statement that seems to play well in the sympathetic press, very parallel to the global warming alarmist charge that skeptics haven't offered an alternative explanation of past warming).

Hmmm. One liberal sage noted in a 2007 paper that "four decades of empirical research" have shown that insulating people through third-party insurance coverage "from the full cost of health care has been responsible for anywhere from 10% to 50% of the large increase in health expenditures." Ultimately, he concluded, increasing cost-sharing would give individuals a direct stake in more prudent purchasing, as opposed to today's invisible health dollars that vanish as more expensive premiums, foregone wages and higher taxes.

Those are the words of Jason Furman, now the White House deputy economic director who seems to have been put into witness protection. Every serious health economist in the country recommends reforming the tax exclusion for employer-sponsored insurance, perhaps by converting it to a deduction or credit. Cost control will never stick unless it is extricated from politics and transferred to individuals to make their own trade-offs.

Such reforms were ruled out by union opposition, so the Senate gestures at them with a 40% excise tax on high-cost insurance plans, on the theory that two wrongs will make a right. But this untargeted tax will simply raise the cost of coverage for all workers in a given pool"”it's too clever by 40%"”while doing nothing to stem the distortions from first-dollar, third-party insurance.

A Green Business Model

An enterprising UK resident has questions about starting a new green business:

My friend, who is in farming at the moment, recently received a check for £3,000 from the Rural Payments Agency for not rearing pigs. I would now like to join the "not rearing pigs" business....

My friend is very satisfied with this business. He has been rearing pigs for forty years or so, and the best he ever made on them was £1,422 in 1968. That is "“ until this year, when he received a check for not rearing any.

If I get £3,000 for not rearing 50 pigs, will I get £6,000 for not rearing 100?  I plan to operate on a small scale at first, holding myself down to about 4,000 pigs not raised, which will mean about £240,000 for the first year. As I become more expert in not rearing pigs, I plan to be more ambitious, perhaps increasing to, say, 40,000 pigs not reared in my second year, for which I should expect about £2.4 million from your department....

Another point: These pigs that I plan not to rear will not eat 2,000 tons of cereals. I understand that you also pay farmers for not growing crops. Will I qualify for payments for not growing cereals to not feed the pigs I don't rear?

I wonder if we adopted this in the US, if jobs not lost not growing grain to not feed to pigs that aren't reared  would count in the stimulus numbers?

via Tom Nelson

Sherrif Joe is Protecting Our Vital Bodily Fluids

You know those movies where the populist politician is revealed slowly over time as an insane paranoiac taking increasingly over-the-top actions?  Welcome to Maricopa County, Arizona, home of Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

Sheriff Joe is not really big on restrictions on his power and authority.   When he 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, who spends a lot of County money to maintain his public image.   He arrested newspaper reporters and editors who wrote critically of him.  This is a man who in his paranoia invented an assassination plot (against himself, of course) and got the city to spend $500,000 protecting him.

If his deputies want to see a defense attorney's working papers, they just take them.  If he can't get a judge to release computer records, he has his posse storm into the County computer center and take it over at gunpoint.  And if he doesn't like a judge's ruling, he and his sidekick County Attorney Andrew Thomas file a series of bogus charges against the judge until he recuses himself from the case.

This last and most recent story is almost impossible to summarize.  The Valley Fever blog makes an attempt here and the AZ Republic, who is generally in the tank for Arpaio, is even fairly incredulous here.

The short version is that Arpaio and Thomas are mad that some of Judge Gary Donahoe's past decisions did not go their way in a probe that have been conducting into the construction of the new county court tower.  There was another important hearing scheduled for today, and I suppose Arpaio and Thomas wanted the Judge out before the hearing.

last week, Thomas' office filed a "racketeering" lawsuit in federal court, which bizarrely accused the supervisors, their lawyers, and the judges of being a criminal enterprise under RICO laws.

Thomas gave away the purpose of this suit yesterday:

Because of that pending suit, Thomas said, Donahoe should have recused himself from considering Irvine's legal argument in court today.

"That's how lawless this behavior was," the County Attorney said. "Nobody is above the law."

Pot-kettle, and all that.  But Thomas as much as admits his expectation was that after he filed this really, really bizarre RICO suit, the judge would recuse himself from a case Thomas wanted him off of.  When the judge did not (the judge said, effectively, that the RICO suit was so goofy it hardly merited his stepping down) Thomas and Arpaio fired again.

Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas this afternoon struggled to explain his decision to charge the county's presiding criminal court judge, Gary Donahoe, with three felony counts -- including bribery, obstructing a criminal investigation, and hindering prosecution.

But Thomas couldn't offer any evidence to the assembled media scrum that Donahoe actually had accepted a bribe of any sort. Instead, he and Sheriff Joe Arpaio (who stood next to Thomas at the lectern) offered the same vague allegations they have made for nearly a year regarding the county's planned court tower, currently under construction.

In fact, the county attorney said no evidence exists that the veteran judge personally has received anything in the way of a personal financial benefit during the flap over the $347 million construction project

Arizona has a "very broad" definition of bribery, Thomas said in response to requests for specificity.

Thomas seems to be alleging that the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, the county's Superior Court bench, and their "shared" outside counsel, Tom Irvine and Ed Novak of Polsinelli Shughart, are an unholy "triad" working to block his and Arpaio's legitimate investigation into the tower's construction.

But today's announcement that Donahoe now faces felony charges -- when the only evidence of "wrongdoing" on the judge's part is a series of rulings that Thomas and Arpaio vehemently disagree with -- is unprecedented even in Maricopa County.

And again:

Yesterday two county supervisors, Mary Rose Wilcox and Don Stapley, were revealed to be facing criminal indictments.

Just for extra style points

Donahoe also is the same judge who ordered detention officer Adam Stoddard to jail last week for swiping a defense attorney's notes -- drawing Sheriff Joe's ire.

A decision, by the way, the Sheriff's office is still petulantly protesting by refusing to do their jobs at the county courthouse:

The Maricopa County Sheriff's Office has apparently stopped delivering inmates to the courtroom where a one of its detention officers was caught in an uproar that landed him in jail.

In a statement released late today, Superior Court Judge Lisa Flores said the sheriff's office has flat-out stopped bringing inmates to her courtroom for their scheduled appearances.

None was delivered Monday or today, Flores said in the statement, causing major delays in ongoing criminal cases. That follows several days last week when the sheriff's office either delivered inmates more than an hour late or not at all, she said.

The stonewalling comes after sheriff's detention officer Adam Stoddard was thrown in jail for contempt in an incident where he was caught taking confidential documents from the file of a defense attorney in Flores' court.

Another judge, Gary Donahoe, ordered Stoddard to apologize for the incident or go to jail. Last week, Stoddard chose the latter. He surrendered to his own agency on Dec. 1 and is being kept in an undisclosed location.

I can't resist ending on this Lady MacBeth moment

But Thomas insisted that he wasn't pursuing a criminal case against Donahoe as a preemptive strike hours before the judge was set to hold a hearing that could have ended with Thomas being barred from prosecuting any county supervisor.

He later told the gaggle, "If I'm not explaining this well, I hope you'll help me."

Unfortunately, based on past experience, the Phoenix media probably will.

Is It Real, or is it the Onion

One of these is an actual product, and one is a joke invention from the Onion.  Can you guess which?

ipod-pet-bowl-dock ipod-vaccum-dock

So which is it - the ipod dock in a pet bowl or the ipod dock in a vacuum cleaner.  One has to be real, they are not both fake, though neither make any sense to me.

The vacuum.

The pet bowl.

Please Mock These People

Every one of these members of the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection voted to pass this absurd law out of committee except Rep. John Barrow, D-Ga.

Bobby L. Rush, Illinois, Chairman

Jan Schakowsky, IL, Vice ChairGeorge Radanovich, CA, Ranking Member
John P. Sarbanes, MDCliff Stearns, FL
Betty Sutton, OHEd Whitfield, KY
Frank Pallone, Jr., NJJoseph R. Pitts, PA
Bart Gordon, TNMary Bono Mack, CA
Bart Stupak, MILee Terry, NE
Gene Green, TXSue Wilkins Myrick, NC
Charles A. Gonzalez, TXJohn Sullivan, OK
Anthony D. Weiner, NYTim Murphy, PA
Jim Matheson, UTPhil Gingrey, GA
G. K. Butterfield, NCSteve Scalise, LA
John Barrow, GA (voted NO!)
Doris O. Matsui, CA
Kathy Castor, FL
Zachary T. Space, OH
Bruce L. Braley, IA
Diana DeGette, CO

Hat tip: Don Boudreaux

Awesome Analysis of Urban Biases on Surface Temperature Records

A kid and his dad manage to do the analysis that NASA, the EPA, the CRU, and the IPCC can't be convinced to perform.  Awesome.

Congrats

My brother-in-law Eric Grove's book on email marketing was voted on the list of top ten small business books for 2009.

Where are the "Defend the Border" Folks When You Really Need Them

Via Valley Fever:

There is an unwanted phenomenon happening in California, and Arizona is being pegged to clean up the mess: Chihuahuas -- lots of them.

California is seeing an influx of chihuahuas popping up at animal shelters and it's becoming too much for the state to handle.

Rather than take these unwanted pooches out back, and deal with them Old Yeller style, California shelters are pawning these rat-dogs off on the Grand Canyon State....

Shelter officials are associating the rise in the abandoned pooches to celebutards like Paris Hilton, who popularized the use of animals as fashion accessories. When the reality of having to care for the dogs kicked in, it proved to be too much for a lot of wanna-be heiresses and they dropped the quivering canines off at animal shelters.

According to California shelter officials, more than 100 of the dogs have been driven to other states, Arizona included, for shelters there to deal with because in most states, abandoned chihuahuas are hard to come by.

Instead of stopping human beings from seeking a better life in the United States, maybe the Minutemen can be convinced to fight a real border threat.

Skeptic's Primer

Dr. Roy Spencer has a nice primer on what climate skeptics do, and as importantly, don't believe ( a lot of straw men are being set up and knocked down recently, a tried-and-true practice of people under fire).  Good for those relatively new to the topic, though you can find most of this in more detail in my most recent video.

Incentives and Conspiracies

I am sort of the anti-conspiracy theorist.  I have written a number of times that events people sometimes explain as orchestrated conspiracies often can be explained just as well by assuming that people with similar preferences and similar information and similar incentives will respond to these incentives in similar ways.

I think the great herd-think around climate alarmism is a good example, and the Bishop Hill blog brings us a specific illustration from the comment section of Watts Up With That.  A commenter observed that it was pretty hard to believe that thousands of scientists could be participating in a conspiracy.  Another commenter wrote back:

Actually not so hard.

Personal anecdote:
Last spring when I was shopping around for a new source of funding, after having my funding slashed to zero 15 days after going public with a finding about natural climate variations, I kept running into funding application instructions of the following variety:

Successful candidates will:
1) Demonstrate AGW [ed:  Anthropogenic Global Warming]
2) Demonstrate the catastrophic consequences of AGW.
3) Explore policy implications stemming from 1 & 2.

Follow the money "” perhaps a conspiracy is unnecessary where a carrot will suffice.

If only alarmist results are funded, then it should not be surprising that only alarmist studies are produced.

By the way, it is probably incorrect to think of climate science really being driven by 2500 scientists.  Here is an analogy:  Strategy at General Motors is in some sense driven by thousands of workers - salesmen who know the market, channel managers who know their distribution partners, planners who watch econometric trends, manufacturers who know what can and can't be done with costs, engineers who see what the next technological opportunities, etc. -- you get the idea.

But realistically, there are probably 20-25 people who are really setting and driving and communicating the corporate strategy for GM.  And those 20-25 people will likely say to the public that their strategy is supported by all those 200,000 workers.  But in fact there are thousands, maybe even a majority, that would say that they don't support the strategy and don't think that strategy is consistent with their bit of knowlege.

I think climate science works roughly the same way.  The same 20-25 people are lead authors on the IPCC, write key reports, contribute to Al Gore's movie, get quoted in the NY Times, run the Realclimate web site, and, of course, feature prominently in the CRU emails.  And while these 25 may claim thousands of scientists support their conclusions based on the mere fact that these other scientists contributed to an IPCC report that had these conclusions, many of these scientists, when actually asked, will disagree.

Here is one thing that is never mentioned -- most of the scientists outside of climate science who have gone on the record somewhere as supporting catastrophic man-made global warming theory, if you really talked to them, would say they made their statement in support of science, not global warming theory.  Most of these folks really haven't dug into the details, but the problem was presented to them as one of science vs. anti-science.  They are told by their peers and the media that AGW skeptics are all fundamentalist super right-wing anti-science evolution deniers who think the Earth is 4000 years old.

By saying they support AGW, these scientists are really trying to make the statement that they support science.  The bitter irony is that they are doing the opposite, enabling those in the core of the climate community who are trying to duck criticism and replication by demanding unquestioning respect for their authority.  The fact is that nearly every time one of these outsider scientists - a physicist or a geologist or a statistician, say - digs into the science, they are appalled at what they find and how bad the science behind catastrophic AGW theory really is.