Archive for April 2010

Glass Houses

Via the AZ Republic:

Rep. Jose Serrano is firing a brushback pitch at the state of Arizona for passing a strict new immigration law

Seeking Major League retribution, the Bronx Democrat will ask big-league baseball Commissioner Bud Selig to move the 2011 All-Star Game from Phoenix. Serrano will make his request to the commissioner in a letter to be sent later today.

I have made it pretty plain I don't like AZ's new immigration law, but this is silly.  While overly authoritarian, it is no more so than any number of cash confiscation or stop and search laws on the books in other states.  I am pretty sure Arizona could remain standing in a head-to-head fight between AZ and NY on whose laws are the most authoritarian.  A Representative of a city that bans trans fats, zones to exclude certain fast food restaurants, has proposed a salt ban and initiated a campaign against soft drinks needs to get his own authoritarian house in order.

Paging Janet Reno

The Tonya Craft trial seems to be a throwback to the bad old days of sexual molestation panic.  All the old Janet Reno "Miami method" techniques have been revived, including weeks of intensive interviews of small children where prosecutors would not relent until children started giving them the stories they wanted.  This case gets bonus points because it was brought originally by someone with an ax to grind

according to testimony on Monday from Craft's ex-husband, the allegation that Craft abused her own daughter first came from his new wife, who herself had been reported to child services by Craft for regularly showering with the girl (which she admitted doing). During a videotaped interview, the girl said, "My mom [the stepmother, apparently] told me which is which and where they touched me."

I sat on a jury of a similar trial in the early 90's.  It became clear that the little girl who was supposedly the victim was hounded for months into finally accusing daddy of something, only to recant by the time it got to trial.  The whole case was started by a baby-sitter who had just watched Oprah and saw another baby-sitter lauded as a national hero for supposedly sniffing out a molestation and this baby-sitter very clearly had aspirations of riding the case to an Oprah invitation as well.  We acquitted the poor guy in about 35 minutes, which is how long it took us to convince to idiots who kept saying "it might have happened" exactly what "reasonable doubt" means.

Libbertarian Disconnect

I don't know that I have ever seen a clearer example of the disconnect of thinking between libertarians and authoritarian political thinking than in this brief paragraph from Dahlia Lithwick.  She is writing about a court case reviewing whether it should be a crime to deny police your identification.  She writes, making fun of libertarians:

It would be easier to credit the Cato and ACLU arguments if we didn't already have to hand over our ID to borrow a library book, obtain a credit card, drive a car, rent videos, obtain medical treatment, or get onto a plane. So the stark question then becomes this: Why are you willing to tell everyone but the state who you are? It's a curious sort of privacy that must be protected from nobody except the government.

Really??  It is strange to her that we would treat privacy uniquely with the one and only organization in this country that can legally use force against us, legally take our money without our permission, and legally throw us in prison?  Is she really so blinded by a love for state authority that she can't tell the difference between a transaction at Blockbuster, which we can choose not to patronize if we don't like their terms of sale, and an interaction with police, where there is not even a hint of it being an arms-length, consensual, balanced interaction.

There is an largeand growing body of evidence that police take advantage of their power mismatch with citizens and abuse their power in multiple ways, large and small.  These abuses have likely always existed, but were covered up by police officers standing up for each other.  Only the advent of portable video cameras has started to really document what really goes on in these interactions.  Just read a few posts at this site to get a flavor.  And cops sure don't like when you ask them for their ID, as they hate anything that might impose accountability on them:

And in today's daily contempt-of-cop story, Ft. Lauderdale Police Officer Jeff Overcash did not appreciate a man asking him for his badge number, so he pulled out his handcuffs and arrested him.And it was all caught on video.

The video shows Brennan Hamilton walking up to Overcash in a calm manner with a pen and notepad in his hand. Overcash, who is leaning against his squad car with other cops, then pulls out his handcuffs and arrests Hamilton.

Overcash charged him with resisting arrest without violence and disorderly intoxication.

Alex Tabarrok makes a good point.   Based on these arguments, Lithwick must be A-OK with Arizona's new immigration laws, right?

Update:  It is interesting that while sneering at slippery slope arguments, she proves their merit.

The slippery-slope arguments"”that this leads to a police state in which people are harassed for doing nothing"”won't really fly, although I guarantee that you'll hear more and more of them in the coming weeks.

But in the immediately proceeding lines she wrote:

Is there something about stating your name or handing over a driver's license that differs from being patted down or frisked, which is already constitutional for Terry purposes?I, for one, would rather hand over my driver's license to a cop than be groped by one.

This is a perfect illustration of the slippery slope, almost textbook.  Libertarians certainly opposed current pat down and frisking rules, but since these are legal, Lithwick uses their legality to creep the line a little further.  And then the legality of these ID checks will in turn be used to justify the legality of something else more intrusive.

Pot Meet Kettle

From Steve Jobs of Apple

While Adobe's Flash products are widely available, this does not mean they are open, since they are controlled entirely by Adobe and available only from Adobe. By almost any definition, Flash is a closed system.

LOL.  Substitute "Apple" for "Adobe" and "i____" for "Flash" and the sentence still works fine.

Something for Atlas Shrugged Readers

Do you remember the State Science Institute report on Rearden Metal?  If you were like me, you thought that this ridiculous report was an exaggeration, a literary device to make a point.  But as in so much of Atlas Shrugged, I am finding that it was no exaggeration at all.

Check out this real life example of "science."  From the real state science folks at the Interagency Working Group on Climate Change and Health.

There are potential impacts on cancer both directly from climate change and indirectly from climate change mitigation strategies. Climate change will result in higher ambient temperatures that may
increase the transfer of volatile and semi-volatile compounds from water and wastewater into the atmosphere, and alter the distribution of contaminants to places more distant from the sources, changing subsequent human exposures. Climate change is also expected to increase heavy precipitation and flooding events, which may increase the chance of toxic contamination leaks from storage facilities or runoff into water from land containing toxic pollutants. Very little is
known about how such transfers will affect people's exposure to these chemicals"”some of which are known carcinogens"”and its ultimate impact on incidence of cancer.  More research is needed to determine the likelihood of this type of contamination, the geographical areas and populations most likely to be impacted, and the health outcomes that could result.

Although the exact mechanisms of cancer in humans and animals are not completely understood for all cancers, factors in cancerdevelopment include pathogens, environmental contaminants, age, and genetics. Given the challenges of understanding the causes of cancer, the links between climate change and cancer are a mixture of fact and supposition, and research is needed to fill in the gaps in what we know.

One possible direct impact of climate change on cancer may be through increases in exposure to toxic chemicals that are known or suspected to cause cancer following heavy rainfall and by
increased volatilization of chemicals under conditions of increased temperature. In the case of heavy rainfall or flooding, there may be an increase in leaching of toxic chemicals and heavy metals
from storage sites and increased contamination of water with runoff containing persistent chemicals that are already in the environment. Marine animals, including mammals, also may suffer
direct effects of cancer linked to sustained or chronic exposure to chemical contaminants in the marine environment, and thereby serve as indicators of similar risks to humans.64 Climate impact
studies on such model cancer populations may provide added dimensions to our understanding of the human impacts.

Remember, the point of this all is not science, but funding.  This is basically a glossy budget presentation, probably cranked out by some grad students over some beers, tasked to come up with scary but marginally plausible links between health issues and climate change.   Obama has said that climate is really, really important to him.  He has frozen a lot of agency budgets, and told them new money is only for programs that supports his major initiatives, like climate change.  So, every agency says that their every problem is due to climate change, just as every agency under Bush said that they were critical to fighting terrorism.  This document is the NIH salvo to get climate change money, not actual science.

It's Like Wag the Dog

In the movie Wag the Dog, and American president and a movie producer faked a war in Albania to divert political attention form a domestic scandal.  They created fake but riveting film of desperate Albanians caught up in the war.  I always wondered how confused the people of Albania, sitting in their peaceful homes, were by these images if they saw them on CNN.

I live in Arizona, not Albania, but I am just as confused.  I have lived in Phoenix for 10 years.  I run a public contact business all over the state, including at least one location in sight of the Mexican border. And I am confused as can be when I read stuff like this:

Nevertheless, here it goes from a supporter of legal immigration: how are we to make sense of the current Arizona debate? One should show concern about some elements of the law, but only in the context of the desperation of the citizens of Arizona. And one should show some skepticism concerning mounting liberal anguish, so often expressed by those whose daily lives are completely unaffected by the revolutionary demographic, cultural, and legal transformations occurring in the American Southwest.

WTF?  I read this all the time.  I am told there is a war going on around me and people are being devastated, but I never see it.  And nobody I know ever sees it directly.  It is always a "someone else"  (maybe, as I suggested in an earlier post, it is all happening to that lady who put her cat in the microwave to dry.")

I won't spend all day with VDH's post, but there are a couple of other things he writes that seem nuts, given his reputation for being pretty smart

Why Wave the Flag of the Country I Don't Wish to Return To?

Have you ever been to a Saint Patrick's Day parade in Boston or Chicago? To Columbus Day parade in New York?  So its OK for Europeans to show some affinity for the mother country even as they reside in the US, but not Mexicans?

Look, I get irritated to no end by people who come here for freedom and prosperity and then immediately start advocating for and voting for steps that undermine both.   But that's not an immigrant issue, its a Constitutional one, where we have allowed courts to rewrite protections against government encroachment.

Substitute New York in 1860 for Arizona in 2010 and Irish for Mexican, and you would see the exact same dynamics at work, except that Arizona in 2010 is a lot more peaceful than New York in 1860.

California's meltdown is instructive. If about half the nation's illegal aliens reside in the state, and its problems are in at least in some part attributable to soaring costs in educating hundreds of thousands of non-English-speaking students, a growing number of aliens in prison and the criminal justice system, real problems of collecting off-the-books income and payroll taxes, expanding entitlements, and unsustainable social services, do we wish to avoid its model?

Really?  One word:  Texas.  Texas has the same immigration issues and a MUCH longer border than California.  California's problems are its profligate and anti-business government, something that Conservatives tend to point out a lot in about a million comparisons with Texas, except of course when they want to blame it all on immigration instead.

First, there is the simplicity of the argument. One either wishes or does not wish existing law to be enforced. If the answer is no, and citizens can pick and chose which laws they would like to obey, in theory why should we have to pay taxes or respect the speed limit? Note that liberal Democrats do not suggest that we overturn immigration law and de jure open the border "” only that we continue to do that de facto.

This is hilarious in the context of Arizona.  While the AZ legislature has been passing this law, it has been passing a series of other laws to give the big FU to federal law.  These bills include not enforcing federal insurance mandates in AZ, not enforcing EPA CO2 regulations in AZ, ignoring federal law on commercialization of rest areas, ignoring the REAL ID act etc.  For God sakes this is the state whose Republican governor in the 1990's sent the national guard to take over the Grand Canyon from the feds.  To piously assert this is all about enforcing federal law and that it is wrong to ignore some laws but enforce others is absurd.  This country has a long history of popular nullification of bad laws -- the 55-mile an hour speed limit was nullified by rampant non-compliance long before it was repealed.

I understand there are complexities in immigration, the most important of which is the conflict between a generous safety net and open immigration.  But note that while many Conservatives will say this, none of them are proposing any changes to safety net eligibility vis a vis immigrants.  When all they ask for is for the borders to be locked down, then all these arguments just seem like window dressing to the true desire to say "my family got in, now its time to lock the door."

The Health Care Trojan Horse

I have written any number of times about government health care as the excuse to regulate nearly everything, since nearly every individual decision and activity can be argued to affect one's health.  If government is paying the health care bills, it now has an interest in regulating behaviors that might raise those bills.  Given the US government has been on a 80-year mission to end the concept of individual responsibility, Obamacare is a huge milestone.

Witness, yet again:

You see, Ms. Kaplan obviously thinks it is the role of government to "help Americans eat healthier" even if it means banning things.  My guess is she'd not be quite as ready for government bans it they had to do with, oh I don't know, books or something similar.The excuse?

In Santa Clara County, one out of every four kids is either overweight or obese. Among 2- to 5-year-olds from low-income families, the rate is one in three. The county health system spends millions of dollars a year treating kids for health problems related to obesity, and the tab is growing.

If you haven't yet figured out that the passage of ObamaCare has emboldened the nannies at all levels, this ought to make the case.  Trust me, this reporter didn't dig this nugget out.  It was handed to her by those trying to justify this power grab.

Yeah, I know this is just a local action, but this is just a market test for future similar federal actions.  I can just picture John Jay and James Madison arguing in a tavern.  "Jimmy, I am just not sure what kind of Constitution we need.  Well, John, whatever we do, we absolutely must make sure the Federal government has the power to ban toys from kids meals.  Oh, and to regulate salt content too.  After all, that's what we fought a war for."

Postscript: My question is, how long are health cost advocates going to nibble at the margins?  Childhood obesity costs are probably close to zero, in the grand scheme of things, despite the BS numbers from "advocates."  Two individual decisions drive a ton of health care costs - driving (the most dangerous activity we pursue, typically) and sex (not just in disease but in pre and post natal care).  And I wonder how long it will be before government health care costs treating gunshot victims will be used to trump 2nd amendment arguments?

Awsome Idea, Even if it is Yale

Time to short those shares of the Teaching Company.  Yale is offering free videos of many of its introductory courses. HT:  Carpe Diem

Please Don't Tell Us the Facts

Remember all that BS about the Obama administration only being ruled by facts and science?  This is a mythology at the core of the progressive movement, that it is possible to have a wise dictator who uses the heavy hand of government coercion only for the best interests of the country, driven only by science and not by political influence.

This is of course a crock.  It was a popular point of view in the early 20th century, and at the heart of efforts like Mussolini's fascism, which in turn was much admired by FDR and emulated in US efforts like the NRA (the blue eagle, not the gun organization).  Over time, history has demonstrated folks like Hayek right on the knowlege problem (no one can possibly be smart enough to make optimum decisions for everyone, particularly when everyone has different preferences) while we have plenty of evidence to demonstrate the incentives for politicians are skewed so badly as to make good decisions almost impossible.

But the myth persists, even in the face of obvious counter-examples, like this (emphasis added):

The economic report released last week by Health and Human Services, which indicated that President Barack Obama's health care "reform" law would actually increase the cost of health care and impose higher costs on consumers, had been submitted to the office of HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius more than a week before the Congressional votes on the bill, according to career HHS sources, who added that Sebelius's staff refused to review the document before the vote was taken."The reason we were given was that they did not want to influence the vote," says an HHS source. "Which is actually the point of having a review like this, you would think."

The analysis, performed by Medicare's Office of the Actuary, which in the past has been identified as a "nonpolitical" office, set off alarm bells when submitted. "We know a copy was sent to the White House via their legislative affairs staff," says the HHS staffer, "and there were a number of meetings here almost right after the analysis was submitted to the secretary's office. Everyone went into lockdown, and people here were too scared to go public with the report."

In the end, the report was released several weeks after the vote -- the review by the secretary's office reportedly took less than three days -- and bore a note that the analysis was not the official position of the Obama administration.

Wouldn't want to influence a vote with actual facts.

Guilty Pleasures

Pursued two guilty pleasures this weekend:

  1. Saw Kick Ass, despite Roger Ebert's plea that I should not.  Enjoyed it, though maybe it has been a bit over-hyped.  Mindy was the greatest -- in the credits my son checked out the actresses name.  He said he needed to know so he could marry her some day.
  2. Played Just Cause 2.  A bit like Grand Theft Auto, but I never really liked the GTA franchise but enjoy this game.  Basically it is about blowing things up and killing people in a faraway land to create Chaos.  Very open-ended, with some nice travel dynamics, particularly with the grapple and parachute.

We Have Adopted a Socialist Definition of Property in Arizona

Arizona used to be a state that defended private property rights.  But in a single bill,  SB1070, we have thrown out private property in favor of community property.   We have officially established the principle that the state can tell us who can and can't be on our private property.

A. IN ADDITION TO ANY VIOLATION OF FEDERAL LAW, A PERSON IS GUILTY OF TRESPASSING IF THE PERSON IS BOTH:
1. PRESENT ON ANY PUBLIC OR PRIVATE LAND IN THIS STATE.
2. IN VIOLATION OF 8 UNITED STATES CODE SECTION 1304(e) OR 1306(a).

Trespassing used to mean presence on property without the owner's permission.  Now the owner's permission is irrelevant, and trespassing is redefined as being present on private property without the government's permission.  The state takes this new definition so seriously that no parole may be given for people who violate the law.

Conservatives gave up on the sanctity of contracts in this context years ago, making it illegal to hire the person of one's choice for a job if that person does not have the proper licenses and paperwork from the government.

Remember, Conservatives traditionally are not anti-authoritarians anti-big-government, they are just in favor of use and expansion of government authority in other contexts than those favored by Liberals.

Probable Cause

From our new SB1070 Immigration Law here in AZ (sorry for the caps)

B. FOR ANY LAWFUL CONTACT MADE BY A LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICIAL OR AGENCY OF THIS STATE OR A COUNTY, CITY, TOWN OR OTHER POLITICAL SUBDIVISION OF THIS STATE WHERE REASONABLE SUSPICION EXISTS THAT THE PERSON IS AN ALIEN WHO IS UNLAWFULLY PRESENT IN THE UNITED STATES, A REASONABLE ATTEMPT SHALL BE MADE, WHEN PRACTICABLE, TO DETERMINE THE IMMIGRATION STATUS OF THE PERSON. THE PERSON'S IMMIGRATION STATUS SHALL BE VERIFIED WITH THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT PURSUANT TO 8 UNITED STATES CODE SECTION 1373(c).

Supporters have said this is not about profiling or harassing people with brown skin.  So what, other than skin color, does constitute probably cause in this case?  Low rider suspension?  Mexican music tapes?

Anyone who things Joe Arpaio will not use this to demand that everyone with brown skin has to show their papers has not been paying attention.  I have driven around for 3 years with a broken tail light and never been stopped.  Had I had brown skin, I would have been stopped years ago.  This is the man who went into tony, lilly white Fountain Hills on a crime sweep and somehow 75% of the those arrested were Hispanic.

Here is one example, where deputies entered a local business, zip-tied and detained everyone who had brown skin, and then later released those who could provide their papers:

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

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

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

Update: More from the bill, with language Conservatives would tend to oppose on absolutely anything except immigration

E. A LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICER, WITHOUT A WARRANT, MAY ARREST A PERSON IF THE OFFICER HAS PROBABLE CAUSE TO BELIEVE THAT THE PERSON HAS COMMITTED ANY PUBLIC OFFENSE THAT MAKES THE PERSON REMOVABLE FROM THE UNITED STATES.

Update #2: Steve Chapman also doesn't know how to spot an illegal immigrant.  But that's OK, neither does our governor:

After signing the new law requiring police to check out people who may be illegal immigrants, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer was asked how the cops are supposed to know when someone should be screened. "I don't know," she replied. "I do not know what an illegal immigrant looks like."

No kidding. But she has a lot of company in her ignorance. When I called University of Arizona law professor Marc Miller and told him I wasn't sure what some of the law's provisions mean, he replied, "Neither is anyone else on the planet." We will find out what it means after it takes effect, not before.

The last sentence seems awfully reminiscent of the health care bill.

An Immigration Proposal

It is increasingly hard to have an immigration discussion here in Phoenix.  The vast majority of residents are absolutely convinced, despite evidence to the contrary, that they are in the middle of an apocalyptic version of the Mariel boatlift and have found themselves surrounded by Tony Montana's ready to carve them up save for Sheriff Joe Arpaio's brave intervention.

You never meet anyone who has actually had a problem with immigrants, and most like the immigrants, even the illegal ones, they know.   The other night a friend of mine said that we were all victims - I asked, "how?"  Everyone seems to have stories of immigrant hijinx, but they are all like the stories of the lady who put her cat in a microwave -- it happened to someone else.  And we do have stories of immigrant crimes on TV, but like shark attacks and extreme weather events, we overestimate their frequency because only certain outliers at the edges of the normal distribution get reported.

As an aside, one of the interesting things about the immigration debate for those of us who have read US history is how amazingly similar current arguments against particularly Mexican immigrants  (the commit crime, they don't integrate, they take jobs from Americans) are identical to arguments used against the Irish, Italians, and most eastern Europeans at one time or another.   I heard a woman at a part a while back of Slav background talking about how here immigrant grandparents were different than these Mexicans.  I told her that the exact same arguments she was using were used against Easter Europeans in the early 20th century, and in fact, and in fact the first real immigration quotas in this country were meant to keep her ancestors out.

As a result, I tend to grab the pro-immigration side in debates, even though I think there are some sensible reasons it probably has to be restricted or restructured, just because I really don't like the vibe coming from the immigration opponents around me.  When people take positions out of irrational fear and loathing, I am hugely reluctant to make any sort of common cause even if some of our concerns overlap.

Bruce McQuain argues that the main barrier to his advocating open immigration is the welfare state, and I am sympathetic to that argument.  I still, however, think we are smart enough to have a safety net and allow much more open immigration.  Bruce Pick has some sensible suggestions, and I published my own plan here.

And, as a final thought, the locals are never, ever going to convince me to their side when they trot Joe Arpaio up to the podium to make their case.  I have opposed the current immigration law in Arizona less because of any immigration issues and more because Joe does not need any more arbitrary authority.  I like what Radley Balko wrote the other day:

Dear Tea Partiers,

Ask Joe Arpaio to be your keynote speaker, and you've lost me.

He's a power-mad thug with a badge, the walking, mouth-breathing antithesis of the phrase "limited government."

Yes, this is but one state chapter in your movement. So distance yourself from them.

It's one thing to have a few idiots and nutjobs show up at your rallies.

It's quite another to invite one to speak.

Yours,

Radley Balko

More good stuff here.

Immigration is a thorny issue. But when we stand around and say "we don't want you here", I have to break ranks. When they say "these immigrants are damaging our economy", I have to break ranks. I don't have all the answers as to how to fix the problem, but I know that I refuse to close our country to people who want to live the American Dream. We have to enforce our laws, but when our laws are contrary to the very fabric of America, those laws need to change.

Government Employee of the Year

Health Care and the Post Office

The recent bankruptcy of the USPS and the proposal to cut Saturday delivery has interesting implications for government and health care.  Everyone, from the GAO to the management of the USPS know that there are substantial productivity improvement that could be had with better labor deployment and employee accountability, but no one has the will to take on the union.  As a result, the only cost cutting idea they can propose is service cuts.  Which is further proof of what I have been saying for a couple of years -- that despite all the hopey changey talk, the only real idea anyone in the Obama administration or Congress can come up with for health care cost reduction is reduced services and/or price controls (which reduce supply and thus services).

Absurd Argument of the Day

This comes from an email I got from some folks called the Federation for American Immigration Reform.

FAIR's new report, The Environmentalist Guide to a Sensible Immigration Policy examines the relationship between America's mass immigration policies and skyrocketing population growth.  It details how both are severely limiting America's ability to make meaningful progress toward important environmental goals.

"Some environmental groups like to pretend that this correlation does not exist," said Dan Stein, President of FAIR. "Because of pressures brought to bear by politically charged special interests demanding open borders, groups sincerely interested in advancing sensible environmental policies remain muzzled on the issue.  Overpopulation fueled by uncontrolled immigration - the root cause of most resource depletion - is unfortunately deemed too radioactive to discuss in some circles."

Since the first Earth Day in 1970, U.S. population has grown by 50 percent, or about 100 million people. U.S. population now stands at approximately 308 million and is currently growing by nearly three million a year "“ the equivalent of adding a new Chicago each year.  By 2050, an estimated 438 million people will live in this country with more than 80 percent of the increase coming from post-2005 immigrants and their children.

Uh, these people would exist whether they live on one side of the map or the other, its not clear how immigration contributes to over-population, unless they are taking some coldly Malthusian argument that more of them would die young in poverty than do once they improve their lives in the US.   Sure, they may be wealthier having come to the US and use more energy and consume more, but my strong sense is that as they come to the US and get wealthier, then their birthrates actually fall, even if they remain higher than the US average.

Raise our Taxes!

From Chicago Sun-Times

In one of the largest Statehouse rallies ever, thousands of unionized government workers and social-service advocates rallied for an income-tax hike that could avert billions of dollars in crippling budget cuts.Three hundred busloads of people, mostly from AFSCME Council 31, SEIU, the Illinois Education Association and the Illinois Federation of Teachers, converged outside the Capitol while lawmakers were in session.

On several occasions during the late-morning rally, protesters turned away from the stage across from the Capitol to face the ornate seat of state government and chant, "Raise our taxes!" and "Save Our state!"

James King here in Arizona thinks the new "I didn't pay enough" law here is dumb.

Feel like voluntarily ponyin' up some of your hard-earned cash to help legislators dig themselves out of the budget crisis they created? Of course you don't, but that didn't stop legislators from taking time out of their day to pass a bill that asks taxpayers to do exactly that.

The "I-didn't-pay-enough fund" is the creation of numb Skull Valley Representative Judy Burges. It asks taxpayers to voluntarily donate money to the state government to help chip away at the state's $2.6 billion budget shortfall.

What he doesn't readlize is that it is aimed directly at the folks that are protesting in the example above.   Want to pay higher taxes, then send in a check!  But don't make the rest of us do so.

Immigration and Crime

From Steve Chapman:

It's no surprise that Arizonans resent the recent influx of unauthorized foreigners, some of them criminals. But there is less here than meets the eye.

The state has an estimated 460,000 illegal immigrants. But contrary to myth, they have not brought an epidemic of murder and mayhem with them. Surprise of surprises, the state has gotten safer.

Over the last decade, the violent crime rate has dropped by 19 percent, while property crime is down by 20 percent. Crime has also declined in the rest of the country, but not as fast as in Arizona.

Babeu's claim about police killings came as news to me. When I called his office to get a list of victims, I learned there has been only one since the beginning of 2008"”deeply regrettable, but not exactly a trend.

Truth is, illegal immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than native Americans. Most come here to work, and in their desire to stay, they are generally afraid to do anything that might draw the attention of armed people wearing badges.

El Paso, Texas, is next door to the exceptionally violent Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, and easily accessible to illegal entry. Yet it is one of the safest cities in the United States.

Forced Invasions of Privacy

I was navigating around the Kentucky property tax forms site (one of the really tedious tasks for our company this year is to fill out zillions of personal property tax forms listing virtually every pencil we own in any number of counties and states).

While we run campgrounds, we do not run long-term trailer parks, but this requirement caught my eye as fairly onerous.  Apparently trailer park owners must fill out this form and report on the detailed description, owner, and address of every trailer renting space on their land, so that the state can come after these folks easier for property taxes on their personal property.

For those who may shrug their shoulders, this is not materially different than the owner of an apartment complex reporting on all the large assets his tenants own, or walking through his parking lot taking down car descriptions and tag numbers so the DMV can make sure there are no violations by any of his tenants.

I don't like when the government forces me to be their busybody.

"Housing Advocate" Celibrates Eviction

Why does supposed housing advocate Bertha Lewis celebrate a man's eviction so his land can be given to a wealthy private developer?

Bertha Lewis, a housing advocate who supported the project, bid Mr. Goldstein "good riddance."

"Low- and moderate-income people had to wait years for housing while he obstructed the Atlantic Yards project," she said.

Maybe because her organization cut a deal to provide the developer a patina of public service in exchange for big bucks for her organization.

Of course, Lewis is much more than just a "housing advocate who supported the project," she was the CEO of ACORN, a group that signed a contract with Bruce Ratner "to publicly support the [Atlantic Yards] Project by, among other things, appearing with the Developer before the Public Parties, community organizations and the media as part of a coordinated effort to realize and advance the Project." In return, Ratner pledged to include a certain amount of "affordable housing" in the project, units that ACORN stood to make a fortune from marketing and managing. As the New York Post reported, "Anita MonCrief, a former ACORN official-turned-whistleblower, estimates the anticipated deal could bring the group $5 million to $10 million annually over multiple years."

And the money didn't stop there. In 2008 Ratner bailed ACORN out to the tune of $1.5 million dollars after the news broke that Dale Rathke, brother of ACORN founder Wade Rathke, had embezzled nearly $1 million from the group back in 2000 and the national leadership had covered the crime up for eight years. The financial fallout from that scandal threatened to ruin ACORN until Ratner stepped in with a $1 million load and a $500,000 grant. This desperately-needed cash kept ACORN alive and allowed it to keep providing cover for Ratner's corporate welfare and eminent domain abuse.

Lewis's role reminds me a lot of money laundering.  Call it progressive laundering.  The Brooklyn Yards project is simply a total money grab by a powerful developer who got the state to seize land and hand it over to him for development.  To hide the naked cronyism here, the developer cleverly cut a deal with ACORN such that about 0.1% of the development was dedicated to low-income housing and ACORN was paid off to advocate for the project as a low-income housing project, when in fact it is 99% an upscale development to benefit a politically-connected developer.

More here.

Update: Wow, you have to check out this email from Bertha Lewis.  Just remember, when reading it, that she is talking about a man who just wanted to stay in his own home that he owned, and didn't want to be evicted just so the New Jersey Nets could have a new stadium in Brooklyn at taxpayer expense.

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Bertha Lewis <[EMAIL REDACTED>
Date: Wed, Apr 21, 2010 at 8:04 PM
Subject: Daniel Goldstein and the 7 year itch
To: [RECIPIENTS REDACTED]

Finally, the itch that was Daniel Goldstein has been scratched and scratched out.   After almost seven years of flawed strategies, smear campaigns, stupid tactics, disingenuous rhetoric and total disregard for people who have lived in the downtown Brooklyn community for years before he even thought about coming here; finally he got what he really wanted.  A Deal.  Not for the community he claimed to love so much, but for the only beneficiary of his community of one, himself, Double Dealing Danny Goldstein.  How utterly despicable for him to be in the newspaper  today whining that he did not have enough time to move, and had nowhere to go because he was being stiffed by the State and Forest City Ratner, when low and behold, all the time, he was negotiating, not for the community , but for himself.  Well good riddance and don't let the door hit ya'.  Low and moderate income people have had to wait years for housing while he obstructed the Atlantic Yards Project that could have been well over half done by now.  He never had to worry about housing so he did'nt care how long other people had to wait.  Behold, the Gentrifier.  He has slandered and denigrated not only me but my organization and my members relentlessly.  What benefit has he delivered to the community?  None except for his own pocket.   Well, the housing at Atlantic Yards will be built, and the day after he moves out, which I hope will be sooner rather than later, the building that he squatted in these past years should be razed to ground immediately, and salt poured into the soil, so that never again can the likes of one of the biggest shakedown artists in Brooklyn return.  We will still be here, we will still be fighting for the all the people that Danny spurned and used for his own enrichment.  We hope that now everyone in Brooklyn and New York can see him for what he really is and can see what his actions cost Brooklyn.  I hope whatever he settled for was worth the pain and misery he caused to so many people who just wanted a decent place to live in Brooklyn and who just wanted a decent job and a place for their family.  Now that the flim flam man is gone, they can finally see it on the horizon.

--

Bertha Lewis

Outright Fraud

I was suspicious of GM's announcement that they were paying off government loans quickly, an action that was attached to a clear PR message that can be boiled down to "taxpayers did the right thing giving us billions."  I was suspicious because I had thought most of the money GM got was an equity infusion as well as certain guarantees, such as of the UAW mention and retirement medical plans.  As such, I suspected that a small debt repayment was trivial and just a token PR move.

I was wrong.  Well, actually, everything I wrote above is correct.  But I was wrong in that I underestimated how fraudulent this announcement was.

The issue came up yesterday at a hearing with the special watchdog on the Wall Street Bailout, Neil Barofsky, who was asked several times about the GM repayment by Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE), who was looking for answers on how much money the feds might make from the controversial Wall Street Bailout.

"It's good news in that they're reducing their debt," Barofsky said of the accelerated GM payments, "but they're doing it by taking other available TARP money."

In other words, GM is taking money from the Wall Street Bailout "“ the TARP money "“ and using that to pay off their loans ahead of schedule.

"It sounds like it's kind of like taking money out of one pocket and putting in the other," said Carper, who got a nod of agreement from Barofsky.

"The way that payment is going to be made is by drawing down on an equity facility of other TARP money."

Translated "“ they are using bailout funds from the feds to pay off their loans.

Un-freaking-believable.   And as an aside, I know that we traditionally have a 5-year waiting period, but can we go ahead and add TARP now to the hall of fame of worst legislation?

Update: It turns out it is even worse.  More Here.

Happy Lenin's Birthday

Nothing better illustrates the succesful rebranding of most of the principles of socialism into environmentalism than Earth Day, itself a rebranding of Lenin's birthday.

It is no accident that all the things we supposedly have to do to fight climate change are the exact same things socialists used to demand under the banner of Marxism.

After the failure of communism in Eastern Europe, promoters found their message -- to give up our freedoms for the collective -- didn't really have much power.  I guess they deserve some credit as marketers to have successfully gotten so many people who rejected the socialist message to buy into the plea that they need to give up all their freedoms for a 0.01% change in atmospheric CO2 concentration.

Next, Rick Astley Will Beg For Obscurity Again

Apparently the makers of the movie Downfall have demanded takedowns of all those various Hitler-speech parodies on YouTube using clips from the movie  (I linked to one here, which still seems to be up).

If this is true, it is stupid.  I really enjoyed Downfall, and likely would never have rented it had I not been exposed to it via YouTube parodies.

Update: Some meta parody.  Pretty dang funny.

The Argument for More Regulation

I am confused by the recent argument for more financial regulation.  The argument seems to go that because Goldman Sachs may have committed fraud, then we need more laws making more things illegal.  But Goldman Sachs is accused of breaking existing laws.  Isn't that just an argument to enforce the laws we already have?  In fact, the government so far is stopping short of its full power to go after Goldman over the Abacus securities -- its seems like they would have a criminal fraud case but at the moment they are settling for a civil action.  In a sense, the government is not using against Goldman all the power it already has.

Of course, a cynical person could argue that the government has no real desire to go after Goldman, who after all is pretty deeply in bed with this Administration, and is pulling its punches in a show trial that will end up with Goldman fined .01% of its quarterly profit but with the Administration looking tough to fuzzy-headed voters and with Congress having something it can wave around to distract people while it passes another 1400 page bill no one has read.

Thought For the Day

Radley Balko with this observation:

I don't promote government failure, I expect it. And my expectations are met fairly often. What I promote is the idea that more people share my expectations, so fewer people are harmed by government failure, and so we can stop this slide toward increasingly large portions of our lives being subject to the whims, interests, and prejudices of politicians.

I will concede that there's a problem, here. In the private sector failure leads to obsolescence (unless you happen to work for a portion of the private sector that politicians think should be preserved in spite of failure). When government fails, people like Dinauer and, well, the government claim it's a sign that we need more government. It's not that government did a poor job, or is a poor mechanism for addressing that particular problem, it's that there just wasn't enough government. Of course, the same people will point to what they call government success as, also, a good argument for more government.

It's a nifty trick. The right does it with national security. The fact that we haven't had a major terrorist attack since September 11, 2001 proves that the Bush administration's heavy-handed, high-security approach to fighting terrorism worked! But if we had suffered another attack, the same people would have been arguing that we need to surrender more of our civil liberties to the security state. Two sides. Same coin.