Archive for June 2010

A Query for Conservatives

If a few gun crimes by a tiny, fractional percentage of gun owners are not a compelling justification for gun control (a proposition with which I agree), then why are a few crimes by  a tiny, fractional percentage of immigrants a compelling justification for immigration control?

When Health Scares Go Wrong

Gwyneth Paltrow learns that human beings did not evolve in caves.

Gwyneth Paltrow learned that staying out of the sun could have health consequences when she was diagnosed with a severe Vitamin D deficiency.

Like many stars, the "Iron Man" actress insisted on staying out of the sun and covered up for summer trips, but then she learned her caution was costing her good health.

..."This led my western/eastern doctors in New York to test my Vitamin D levels, which turned out to be the lowest they had ever seen (not a good thing). I went on a prescription strength level of Vitamin D and was told to … spend a bit of time in the sun!

"I was curious if this was safe, having been told for years to stay away from its dangerous rays, not to mention a tad bit confused as we are all well schooled in the dangers of overexposure to the sun."

Next up -- an increase in anorexia from the obesity panic?

I Not Think That Word Means What You Think it Means

My guess is that most of your would define "temperate" and "moderate" differently than we do in Phoenix.

The summer so far has shaped up to be, well, temperate in the Phoenix area.

June has fallen into a pattern of moderate temperatures, with high temperatures falling consistently close to 100 degrees without the big jumps to 110 or above. This follows a fairly temperate May.

Beautiful week right now.  "Only" about 104F today.

The Forgotten Dead

I was thinking today, what must the families of the 11 people killed on the Deepwater Horizon be thinking?  Their losses are never mentioned in any news reports I see.  Its all about getting oil on the ducks.

Sure, I am pissed off about the enormous damage to the Gulf Coast as well.  But I got to thinking, were I the engineer that made the wrong risk/safety decisions here, what would I feel most guilty about?  I was put in that position for years in a refinery, constantly asked, "is this safe" or "can we keep running" or "do we need to shut down" or "is that vibration a problem?"  These are difficult, because in the real-world of engineering, things are not ever perfectly safe.  But never-the-less, if I had made the wrong call here, I think I would be feeling a lot worse about the 11 dead people than a number of dead fish and birds.  Perhaps my priorities are out of whack with the times.

By the way, TJIC has a great post on risk and cost in the real world of engineering.  I agree with his thoughts 100% from my experience as a troubleshooter / engineer in the field making just these decisions.

Look, we all trade off safety in order to save time and expense.

Do you put on your seat belt when moving your car from one point in the driveway to another?

Do you buy the car that costs twice as much, because it's got a 1% increase in crash survivability?

Did you pay $40k to get industrial fire sprinklers installed in your house?

Do you have a home defibrillation machine?

There is nothing wrong, in the abstract, with trading off safety in order to save time and expense.

The question is whether BP did this to a level that constitutes "gross negligence".

Now They Tell Us

In the 1970's, during the Arab oil embargo, oil company presidents were dragged to Washington to defend themselves from charges that they were holding tankers offshore to drive up prices and all kinds of crazy BS.  Since that time, in every oil price spike, oil companies were vilified by the Left for destroying the American economy by driving up oil prices (artificially, I suppose).

Now, however, is seems that this was all wrong.  The fossil fuel price increases and artificial supply shortages needed to cut our CO2 emissions by 50% are enormous.  The Europeans have $9 gas and they are not near these targets, in fact in many countries their fossil fuel use has gone up.  We have been in a substantial economic slowdown, but even at these lower output and consumption levels we are far short of a 50% target.

But now the EPA says it has a computer model (stop me if you have heard that one before in the global warming debate) that says that proposed efforts to cut CO2 emissions by 50% in the next 20 years will have a negligible impact on the US economy over the next 20 years.

But there's another reason it was disappointing that Obama didn't mention carbon pricing: his own EPA had handed him a perfect excuse just one day before. In a detailed analysis of John Kerry's American Power Act, the EPA provided estimates of how it would affect carbon emissions and how much it would cost the average American. The results were remarkably reassuring.

On the emissions front, the APA would have a dramatic effect: US emissions would be cut nearly in half by 2030 compared to doing nothing. That's an enormous impact.

But how much would it cost? The answer is: almost nothing. According to EPA's models, if we do nothing, consumption of goods and services in the United States will increase 74.1% by 2030. If APA is passed, consumption will increase 73.4%.That's it. We can cut carbon emissions nearly in half, and the net cost will be a decrease in consumption of 0.7% in 2030. EPA figures this comes to an average annual cost of $146 per household. That's 40 cents a day per family.

And everyone on the Left is credulously lining up to say that this sounds about right to them.    Well, now you tell us.   And if this is true, why have you been hammering on the oil companies for 40 years if oil price increases are virtually irrelevant to the economy.

Look, the is is utter BS.  I have a wild optimism about the power of free minds to innovate and handle about anything if they are allowed, but even so there is no way that an energy price increase (or artificial shortage, take you pick of mechanisms) large enough to cut output by 50% in 20 years will have a negligible impact on the economy.  No way.

Update: I am skimming the EPA power point presentation.  I am looking at one chart that shows a shows coal with CO2 capture around 5% of US energy production about 12% of electricity production by 2030.  Absolutely no freaking way.  They are on drugs.  CO2 capture is never going to happen except when exorbitantly subsidized by the government.

And they show natural gas going way down.  Why?  Replacing coal-produced electricity with natural gas produced electricity is probably the most effective single CO2 reduction step that exists after certain conservation approaches.  But despite huge availability in the US, they show gas consumption going down by half.  If so, those are some pretty screwed up incentives in the bill.

Update #2: I found the price chart.  Apparently they project they will get all this fossil fuel reduction with an increase of electricity prices from 11 cents per Kwh in 2030 without the law to 14 cents with the law.  Gasoline prices with the law will be increased by about 25 cents a gallon in 2030 by the law.  So we are going to get a government imposed 50% reduction in CO2 output in 20 years with a price increase that is within the natural variation over a couple of months in the gasoline market?  Yeah, right.  We all will be riding unicorns to work instead.

The Power to Say "Yes"

Bruce McQuain tells some stories of bureaucratic frustration in the Gulf, as local governors trying to protect their state from the spill fights against a myriad of mindless bureaucracies.

The governor said the problem is there's still no single person giving a "yes" or "no." While the Gulf Coast governors have developed plans with the Coast Guard's command center in the Gulf, things begin to shift when other agencies start weighing in, like the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "It's like this huge committee down there," Riley said, "and every decision that we try to implement, any one person on that committee has absolute veto power."

I would state the problem differently.  In the Federal bureaucracy, seemingly everyone has the power to say "no," and absolutely no one is willing to risk their career or even a minor bureaucratic sanction to over-rule when someone else in the room says "no."  I have seen it a hundred times in my business -- we will be close to doing something for the public, building a new shower building in a campground for example, and some government employee in the room will say that their sister's gynecologist's barber's housekeeper once overheard a conversation in a bar that some guy who may have visited a university once said he had heard a rumor that there might have been a Native American settlement somewhere within 100 miles of that spot 10,000 years ago -- and suddenly the work on the shower has to stop for 6 months while we all run around calling in archeologists and taking this concern seriously.

The problem  in a government discussion, particularly a multi-agency discussion, is that EVERYONE can say "no," and worse, since their incentives are loaded towards risk avoidance (they get punished for violating procedure, but never punished for missing an opportunity), they have a tendency to say "no" a lot, in fact to say "no" by default.  In the Gulf you have a thousand federal employees from 20 agencies whose entire incentive system, whose entire career, whose every lesson from every bureaucratic battle in a sort of long-term aversion therapy, prompts them to say "no" by reflex.

What is missing is someone who can say "yes," and make it stick against all the no's.  That does not have to be Obama -- but it probably does have to be someone very senior who knows (and who everyone else knows) is backed to the hilt by the President and has an incentive system where the only measure of success is more or less oil damage, and thus for whom aggrieved bureaucrats (even senior ones) and petty procedure are irrelevant.  It does not appear such a person has been appointed.

Postscript: By the way, I don't want folks to fall into the trap of thinking that these government folks are necessarily bad people.  I think that is a mistake both conservatives and liberals make -- conservatives vilify government employees, while liberals want to believe that government would work right if we just had the right people in it.   I work with a lot of very bright, very good people in government.  The problem is that their incentives and information are awful.  How would you behave if for 20 years your main feedback was to be criticized for violating minor procedures or trying new things?  How would you have any understanding of business if you grew up in the bizarro world of government budgeting and accounting?   This is the problem with government - not that it is full of bad stupid people, but it takes good smart people and incentivizes them do counter-productive things.

Update: Here is a great example, from Kevin Drum, who is a smart guy but can't do anything but dither in a decision among multiple risks:

It's pretty hard to take the other side of this argument [ie defending the Coast Guard's decision to hold up the GUlf cleanup barges for minor rules violations]. But I wonder. We are, after all, talking about barges that are sucking up oil, and the last time I checked oil was pretty damn flammable. Everyone wants the cleanup operation to proceed with breakneck speed, but that's exactly when people get tired and sloppy. And I wonder what everyone would think of the Coast Guard's ridiculous rules if they waived them and then some boat went up in a huge fireball because a spark caught somewhere and no one had a fire extinguisher handy?

I will say again - I have been in many rooms of bureaucrats, both federal and private, and they all think this way.  These rooms are full of Kevin Drum's wondering out loud, "I don't know, what happens if..."  This is such a common phrase in these meetings I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard it.  Then everyone in the room defers to this hypothetical risk.   Bureaucrats are always more worried about sins of commission  (e.g. knowingly allowing a barge to go out without enough fire extinguishers in violation of guidelines) than the sin of omission (e.g. delay will allow the spill to get worse).  Even when the omission is 100% certainty and the danger from the act of commission is vaguely hypothetical.  It takes a leader to say "send the damn barges out now."

Did Obama Save BP?

The media is portraying the $20 billion BP spill fund as a result of tough talk from the President.  I think it was a lifeline that BP grabbed with great relish (so does the stock market, as their stock price has risen slightly in the day and a half since).

BP faces absolute bankruptcy from the torts resulting form this current spill, along with some criminal charges.  Its best hope is to negotiate a deal, Chicago-style, with the US government.  In exchange for a cash fund that will sound really large in the press but likely will fall short of actual claims, Congress will pass a law limiting its liability to just+ the settlement fund.  The public justification will be that the settlement fund will provide much quicker and more efficient compensation to victims -- which might even be true.

If one wants a model, just look at the tobacco settlement.  While they vilified them, the government in fact made tobacco companies their partners.  Since the settlement, the government has in fact stepped in to protect the large tobacco companies from competition and price erosion, in large part to protect parties to the settlement from loss of market share to parties who are not on the hook to pay out large sums to the government.  By the way, note that the vast majority of the tobacco settlement money did not go to its stated purpose of tobacco education and health care costs, but into the general funds to support politicians' whims.

This is how things work in the corporate state (and, I suppose, in organized crime).  Once you have an entity like BP vulnerable and under your control, the last thing you want is for them to die.  You want to milk them for years, both for cash and political support, the quid pro quo for being kept alive.

Update: OK, it seems I can't be original.  Others are thinking this too

Things I Am Tired of Hearing

Because I take cash deposits at a number of campgrounds around the country, we have accounts with 30+ different banks.  Every few weeks one of them asks for some outrageously intrusive piece of information or paperwork.  And I ask them, what is this for, and get told that it is "a new requirement of the federal government."  I appreciate the feds have put in all kinds of new bank account controls in a misguided attempt to do something about terrorism (side bet:  most of these have more to do with the drug war than terrorism).  But in most of these cases, either my 29 other banks are breaking the law, or my bank is misguided.  Or worse, BS'ing me by falsely blaming their own information acquisitiveness on the feds.

Today I had a tiny, tiny telephone company in southern New Mexico call me to say they needed my drivers license and a utility bill from a New Mexico resident to add a phone line.  This new phone line is 1) for my corporation and 2) about the 8th account with this same phone company.  Given the area they operate, I may be their largest customer in town.  I told her I thought the requirement that a corporate officer give up his drivers license to get an extra corporate phone line was absurd, and further if they wanted a personal utility bill in New Mexico they would be waiting forever.  After being kicked up to their supervisor, I was told that they would settle for proof of my corporations federal tax ID # and a copy of my lease for the campground in question proving I was the legal occupant.  When asked why -- I mean, do they really have a problem with people paying the phone bill for locations that are not theirs -- they said it was now required by the federal government.

Really?  this sounds like BS.  Again, my 30 other phone companies would probably like to know they are breaking the law.  But who knows, maybe the feds really care.  If I had to bet, this would again be chalked up to the war on terror, but if I really could get to the bottom of it, I would find its about the drug war -- one time somewhere a drug dealer set up a phone line in an assumed name in an abandoned building and now I have to get fingerprinted and have an FBI check to get a phone line (don't laugh at the latter, one still has to get fingerprinted for every liquor license as a holdover from 80 years ago when gangs ran speakeasy's).

Government Is the Solution to Problems the Government Caused

Bruce McQuain has this take from Obama's oil spill speech last night:

The rest of the speech was an exercise in what Obama does best "“ selling smoke. He begins it with a false premise:

But a larger lesson is that no matter how much we improve our regulation of the industry, drilling for oil these days entails greater risk. After all, oil is a finite resource. We consume more than 20% of the world's oil, but have less than 2% of the world's oil reserves. And that's part of the reason oil companies are drilling a mile beneath the surface of the ocean "“ because we're running out of places to drill on land and in shallow water.

Of course his claim about drilling in deeper water because we're running out of places to drill in shallow water is false. 97% of the shallow water on the Outer Continental Shelf -97%- has been placed off limits by government. The oil companies are forced into deeper water not by the lack of oil, but by government refusing to allow them to drill there.

As an aside, Daniel Foster makes a great point:

There's an added layer of irony here as well. As Planet Gore contributor Chris Horner rehearses at length in his book Power Grab, the prime architect of the cap-and-trade idea was "” you guessed it "” former BP CEO Lord John Browne. So there is a special kind of cognitive dissonance going on in the juxtaposition of BP bullying and carbon tax cheerleading.

Update, via Planet Gore:

So you have a Nobel winner who knows nothing about oil running the Energy Department and you have an environmental lawyer who knows nothing about drilling as the head of MMS, the oil-drilling regulatory body.

So, choosing key people in the Energy department and MMS based on their knowledge of about 2% of the energy world (wind and solar) is a problem?

Police and Accountability

For years police have had the ability to make up anything they want in describing an encounter with the public, and make it stick.  Video has become the public's best accountability tool.  Of course this had to be in Maryland, where police argue that taking video of them is illegal.  It should be illegal not to.

I Don't Get It

As y'all know, I am not a member of either the Coke or Pepsi party, so I find all the partisan mudslinging on the political blogs to be just kind of funny.  Particularly when both sides are piously accusing the other of exactly the same behavior, while maintaining that they are immune from said behavior  (or only engaging in it because the other guy started it).

I really don't understand political strategy.  I admit this.  Take global warming.  I really thought the CRU email thing was a minor distraction.  After all, the there were so many fundamental flaws in the science and scientific process that a lot of the CRU stuff was old news to those who have paid attention.  But I was wrong.  There was something about the scandal that was more compact and easy to tell, it fit into a box or storyline familiar to both the media that had to report it and the public that had to consume it.  I understood the whole scandal and its impact so poorly that I have done little blogging at my climate site lately, as I still can't get excited blogging about commissions and investigations into the scandal that seem to obsess the skeptic community currently.

So I won't say that this strategy by Kevin Drum is wrong, I will just say I don't understand it:

On Twitter, here was my insta-reaction to Obama's oil spill address from the Oval Office:

What a terrible speech.

Unfair? Maybe! I mean, compared to Sarah Palin's (literally) incomprehensible burbling on Bill O'Reilly's show afterward it was a model of straight talk and reassurance. But that's a pretty low bar.

What's the deal with Sarah Palin?  I swear she gets more pub from her enemies than her supporters.  How does it somehow help a sitting President -- who was supposedly elected because he was the most competent person of all time -- to be compared, however favorably, to a woman with limited political experience who holds no office?  Granted the Republicans really have no one of distinction leading them right now, and Palin is about the only Republican in years with any modicum of charisma.  But since when have losing VP candidates been the standard against which Presidents are measured?

But They Are Politicians

Jacob Sullum writes about the gnashing of teeth among Arizona politicians that suddenly must rely on voluntary contributions rather than campaign funds taken by force from taxpayers who may not even support them.  I liked this quote from Goldwater:

"If they behaved reasonably," they would have a contingency plan," Dranias said. "After 19 months of rulings from the district court saying this is unconstitutional, no serious candidate would not be prepared for this contingency."

Added Bolick, "People who gambled that public subsidies would be available to them now are reaping the folly of such a gamble."

But if they were reasonable people who considered long-term consequences and took responsibility for their own actions, would they even be politicians.  Is it any surprise that a class of human beings who, in response to looming bankruptcy in Medicare, pass a trillion dollars of new health care spending commitments closed their eyes to what would likely happen when this campaign finance law reached the Supreme Court?

By the way, I met Clint's Bolick's wife Shawna who is running for the Republican nomination in District 11 for the state House.  I am not registered and refuse to register with a party so I can't vote, but if you are looking for someone to support she seemed pretty sharp.

Libertarians, In Case You Didn't Know This About Yourselves

From JM Berstein in the NY Times, via Kevin Drum, this is about Tea Partiers, but since it addresses the Tea Party distrust and disdain for government, I suppose it applies equally well to we libertarians:

My hypothesis is that what all the events precipitating the Tea Party movement share is that they demonstrated, emphatically and unconditionally, the depths of the absolute dependence of us all on government action, and in so doing they undermined the deeply held fiction of individual autonomy and self-sufficiency that are intrinsic parts of Americans' collective self-understanding.

....This is the rage and anger I hear in the Tea Party movement; it is the sound of jilted lovers furious that the other "” the anonymous blob called simply "government" "” has suddenly let them down, suddenly made clear that they are dependent and limited beings, suddenly revealed them as vulnerable.

Do you get that - we oppose the overwhelming size of government not for any rational reason, but out of a psychological need to deny that the government is inevitably going to grow larger and increase its control over our lives.   This is so absurd it is freaking hilarious.  This is what Louis the XVI's sycophants were telling him to make him feel better in 1789.  I mean, after 200 years of only limited government interference in health care, how is it that a law passed over majority opposition for government takeover of healthcare somehow "demonstrates the absolute dependence of us all on government action?"  Why doesn't it reasonably demonstrate the depth of risk we all face from a minority who have constantly through history been bent on wielding power over us.

Kevin Drum, sort of to his credit, rejects this thesis in favor of his own

So then: why have tea partiers gone off the rails about the federal deficit? It's not because of something unique in their psyches. And it's not because they're suddenly worried that America is going to go the way of Greece. (The polls I linked to above show that tea partiers care more about cutting taxes than reducing the size of government.) It's because they're the usual reactionary crowd that goes nuts whenever there's a Democrat in the White House and they're looking for something to be outraged about

So while he rejects the goofy psychobabble, he accepts the underlying premise, that any opposition to expansion of government and its power of coercion over individuals is irrational.

So take your pick -- libertarians are either a) advocating limited government only as a psychological crutch to hide from ourselves that Obama is really our daddy or b) scheming reactionary nuts.  Whichever the case, remember that there can be no principled opposition to Big Brother.

Homesteaders Beware

I already wrote on the egregious FTC proposals to begin the government takeover of journalism.  But I missed this part, via South Bend Seven, which caught my eye in their post:

Tax on broadcast spectrum. They argue "commercial radio and television broadcasters are given monopoly rights to extremely lucrative spectrum at no charge," and this is a massive public subsidy. They therefore suggest the revenues generated by that spectrum be taxed at a rate of 7 percent, which should result in a fund of between $3 and $6 billion. In exchange, commercial broadcasters would be relieved of any obligations to engage in "public-interest programming," which the broadcasters claim costs them $10 billion annually.

Much of the TV and radio spectrum was indeed "given away," in exactly the same process that the Homestead Act (and I believe the Northwest Ordinance before that) "gave away" land to Americans who were willing to develop it.  These acts gave land away to pioneers who were willing to take the risk and effort to develop what was essentially value-less land into a productive asset  (the land had potential value, but until someone tilled it and put up structures and built rail and road to it, it was worthless).  When TV and Radio broadcasters first started using the spectrum, it was worthless -- and we were even less confident in its potential value than we were of the land in the Homestead Act.  The spectrum did not have value until private broadcasters demonstrated it had value through their investment, development, and experimentation.

So is Congress next going to tell everyone who lives on homesteaded land that they received a massive public subsidy and that their land is now going to be taxed?  The current landowner would likely argue that they didn't get the land for free - they bought it for a substantial price from the previous owners, who bought if from someone else, who bought it from the original homesteader.  But the situation is no different in the broadcast spectrum.  Clear Channel did not get the spectrum for free -- it did not even exist for decades after the spectrum was homesteaded -- it paid a full market price for the spectrum it controls.

Postscript: However, I am happy to see even the leftish Obama Administration admit that public-interest programming is a questionable requirement.  Because broadcasters only make money if they broadcast things people want to see or hear, everything they do is "public-interest."  What is meant in practice by the term "public-interest" should actually be called "political-interest" programming, because this programming tends to be uninteresting to the great majority of the public (have you ever listened to the garbage at 5am on Sunday morning on radio?) but is supported by small niche groups that have disproportionate political influence.  Let's remove these requirements as stupid without holding up broadcasters for more taxes in exchange.

New Kindle Firmware

Haven't played with all the new features but the folders alone are worth the upgrade.  You will get it automatically in the next few weeks if you leave your wireless on, but if you are an impatient geek like me, you can download and update yourself here.

How Imports Raise Incomes

Opponents of free trade will often say publicly that they are all for free trade but it must be "fair," which they generally would define as balanced between imports and exports.  This is a dodge, because they know many of our trading partners are not going to open up trade to be entirely free so they can use that inevitability as an excuse not to remove American protectionist barriers.

But trade does not need to be balanced to create wealth, and in fact it is not just exports that provide a boost to real incomes.  Daniel Ikenson at Cato has these two charts comparing the CPI for items that face competition from imports and those that don't:

See his article for more discussion.

This is also related to something I read about a while back, that we may be underestimating income gains among the lower income quartiles in this country because we adjust to real wages based on an average inflation rate.  The argument was that the inflation rate for the poor has been lower  (the Wal-Mart effect) than the inflation rate for the rich (prices at the Four Seasons keep going up).  One estimate put the difference in inflation rates as high as 6 percentage points, in part because the poor proportionally consume a lot of goods that are imported while the rich consume proportionally a lot of services that are produced domestically with high cost labor.

It Is Your Obligation to Drop Everything When We Call and Kowtow to US

Via Instapundit:

When Apple didn't participate in an April hearing on children's online privacy, [John Rockefeller] the West Virginia Democrat who chairs the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, gave voice to his suspicions.

"When people don't show up when we ask them to ... all it does is increases our interest in what they're doing and why they didn't show up," Rockefeller said of Apple and Google, which both declined to testify. "It was a stupid mistake for them not to show up, and I say shame on them."

Huh?

From the NY Times, I am having a hard time reconciling these statements from the same article:

First statement:

The law provides a partial exemption for certain health plans in existence on March 23, when Mr. Obama signed the legislation. Under this provision, known as a grandfather clause, plans can lose the exemption if they make significant changes in deductibles, co-payments or benefits.

About half of employer-sponsored health plans will see such changes by the end of 2013, the administration says in an economic analysis of the rules.

Second statement:

About 133 million Americans are in group health plans from employers with 100 or more employees, the administration said, and most "will not see major changes to their coverage as a result of this regulation."

My translation:  Yes, you will lose your current health plan despite Obama's promises, but he doesn't want you to realize this until 2013, conveniently just after the next presidential election.

US Incarceration Rates

Combine an incentive for politicians of both parties to demagogue for "tough on crime" legislation with an over-broad approach to legislating anything seen as bad behavior by the majority as a crime, and you get the highest incarceration rates in the world.  Scary charts, with incarceration rates growing entirely out of proportion to crime and population.

Discussing Private Management of Public Parks

Yours truly, talking to a New York audience on private management of public parks.   Much more at this site.  Dave Kimmel, who is running for the New York Legislature, hosted the discussion.

Keeping State Parks Open With Private Management from Warren Meyer on Vimeo.

By the way, if you are still publishing on YouTube, fine... they have a very large audience.  But if you only just need a platform and not YouTube's audience, you should be on Vimeo.  Higher quality and no length restrictions.

Well, You Had To Expect This Was Coming

Via the Washington Post:

President Obama urged reluctant lawmakers Saturday to quickly approve nearly $50 billion in emergency aid to state and local governments, saying the money is needed to avoid "massive layoffs of teachers, police and firefighters" and to support the still-fragile economic recovery.

In a letter to congressional leaders, Obama defended last year's huge economic stimulus package, saying it helped break the economy's free fall, but argued that more spending is urgent and unavoidable. "We must take these emergency measures," he wrote in an appeal aimed primarily at members of his own party.

Of course, in retrospect we have learned that the first stimulus was mostly about saving government jobs as well, rather than creating any private stimulus.   Government workers are among the Democrats most reliable political supporters, and the SEIU, among other organizations, have had close ties to Obama for years.  State and local governments are finally facing some accountability for spending and being forced to roll back spending increases of the last few years that have far outpaced inflation and population growth, so of course Obama wants to short-circuit this accountability process.

Think about this -- every one of these bailed out governments have certainly had local legislative deliberations and likely votes on bonds and tax increases over the last year.  If their problems still persist, its because the local taxpayers don't want to pony up any more money for their local government and the local legislators refuse to cut spending sufficiently.  So if Smallsville, California won't pony up more money for their government and won't balance their budget, why should I be on the financial hook to bail them out?

Andrew Coulson looks at one of these groups, teachers, and wonders what all the fuss is about -- its about time we laid some public school employees off after years of rapidly declining productivity:

I have been looking for a good excuse to clear my reader cache of a whole series of articles on government salaries and pensions, and this seems a really good time.

Much like the bailout of billionaires on Wall Street, the government worker bailout is targeting a group already doing much better than their peers in private industry.  (via Carpe Diem)

Related, via Carpe Diem:

"Who are America's fastest-growing class of millionaires? They are police officers, firefighters, teachers and federal bureaucrats who, unless things change drastically, will be paid something near their full salaries every year--until death--after retiring in their mid-50s. That is equivalent to a retirement sum worth millions of dollars.

Chris Edwards has a related essay, focusing on federal government pay.

Matt Welch looks at two DC-area counties and shows how their relative financial health is closely related to their hiring and pay policies.

Immigration Debate May Get Uglier (and Nuttier) Here in Arizona

Readers know I oppose recent Arizona immigration legislation and enforcement initiatives.  I don't think government should be stepping in to effectively license who can and can't work in this country, and am thus a supporter of open immigration (which is different from citizenship, please note).  As I support open immigration, both from a philosophic standpoint as well as a utilitarian perspective, I don't support laws to get tougher on illegal immigrants, any more than I support laws to get tougher on the failed practice of drug prohibition.

That being said, reasonable people can disagree, though some for better reasons than others.  But I don't see how all these folks who support tougher laws on immigration with the mantra that it is all about the rule of law can justify this piece of unconstitutional garbage:  (Hat tip to a reader)

Buoyed by recent public opinion polls suggesting they're on the right track with illegal immigration, Arizona Republicans will likely introduce legislation this fall that would deny birth certificates to children born in Arizona "” and thus American citizens according to the U.S. Constitution "” to parents who are not legal U.S. citizens. The law largely is the brainchild of state Sen. Russell Pearce, a Republican whose suburban district, Mesa, is considered the conservative bastion of the Phoenix political scene....

The question is whether that would violate the U.S. Constitution. The 14th Amendment states that "all persons, born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States." It was intended to provide citizenship for freed slaves and served as a final answer to the Dred Scott case, cementing the federal government's control over citizenship.

But that was 1868. Today, Pearce says the 14th Amendment has been "hijacked" by illegal immigrants. "They use it as a wedge," Pearce says. "This is an orchestrated effort by them to come here and have children to gain access to the great welfare state we've created." Pearce says he is aware of the constitutional issues involved with the bill and vows to introduce it nevertheless. "We will write it right."

I didn't like SB1070 that much, but as ultimately amended it was not nearly as radical as this.  I think those of us who feared SB1070 as a first step on a slippery slope should feel vindicated by this.

Police and Accountability

I have written before that the inexpensive handheld video camera is perhaps the most important innovation in police accountability in my lifetime.  So of course, the police want them banned.

In response to a flood of Facebook and YouTube videos that depict police abuse, a new trend in law enforcement is gaining popularity. In at least three states, it is now illegal to record any on-duty police officer.Even if the encounter involves you and may be necessary to your defense, and even if the recording is on a public street where no expectation of privacy exists....

In short, recordings that are flattering to the police - an officer kissing a baby or rescuing a dog - will almost certainly not result in prosecution even if they are done without all-party consent. The only people who seem prone to prosecution are those who embarrass or confront the police, or who somehow challenge the law. If true, then the prosecutions are a form of social control to discourage criticism of the police or simple dissent.

Folks who read Radley Balko or Carlos Miller will not find a lot new hear, but it is a very good overview of an issue that is hot among blogs but rarely if ever makes the major media.

After an encounter with the public goes wrong, the police have historically been able to make up any story they want and make it stick, in many cases shifting the blame to innocent civilians.  It is scary to see how many times this happens, with the officer's story shown to be a lie by cameras on site (and even then it can be hard to get the police to investigate).  Only the combination of cameras and YouTube (to publicize the video so it can't be ignored) have begun to bring some justice to these encounters.

HT Alex Tabarrok

CBO Makes the Same Point I Have Been Making

One point I have been making for a long time on health care is that all the studies showing waste and unproductive spending in health care are irrelevant to government policy because at the end of the day, the Federal government does not know how to capture these savings.  The CBO says basically the same thing in a chart from a recent presentation.  The chart is titled "Reducing Growth in Federal Health Spending"

On the upside:

  • There is considerable agreement that a substantial share of current spending on health care contributes little if anything to people's health.
  • Providers and health analysts are making significant efforts to make the health system more efficient.

On the downside:

  • It is not clear what specific policies the federal government can adopt to generate fundamental changes in the health system. That is, it is not clear what specific policies would translate the potentialfor significant cost savings into reality.
  • Efforts to reduce costs increase the risk that people would not get some health care they need or would like to receive.

I am pretty confident from my experience with a high-deductible health care plan that the only way to start capturing savings is for individuals who recieve care to have the incentives and decision-making power to make cost-benefit tradeoffs in their own health care procurement.  This, however, is the absolute last thing this administration and Congress would ever allow, with the latest bill actually forcibly removing what small incentives that remained for individuals to make these tradeoffs.  All we are going to get are command and control care cuts  (based on the political power of the particular service or drug provider rather than medical efficacy) and price controls.

More at South Bend Seven

Great Moments in Government Process Innovation

I have noticed recently that the TSA has created split lines at many airport security screening posts - one for experienced travelers and one for "casual" travelers - i.e. noobs.

I have no problem with the basic idea.  Long ago I began advocating special lines for public electronic devices (airport boarding pass machines, supermarket self-checkout, ATM's) for people with IQ's over 90 because I always seemed to get behind the person who had never even seen a keyboard in their life.

But the actual execution of this concept in airports is laughable.  In the last 4 airports I have been in, the split between passengers who know what they are doing and those who don't is only through the screener who checks ID.  Even the lamest travel noobs are generally able to cough up an ID and boarding pass without too much trouble (though I will say I always seem to get behind the guy traveling on some bizarre 1930's-era League of Nations passport that seems to take forever to process).  However, after this ID screening the two lines come back together and everyone is mixed again.  Just in time to hit the x-ray screening station, where inexperienced travelers can hold up the line for hours.