Posts tagged ‘Los Angeles’

Apparently, Los Angeles Has Banned Oil Production in the City

Most folks who talk about oil production know very little about it.  One reality of oil production, particularly for older fields like those around Los Angeles, is that oil wells have to be frequently reworked to maintain such production  (fracking, by the way, is one of those rework techniques and has been used for over 50 years).  By  banning well rework and re-injection of water (most fluid flowing from older wells is water), the city council has effectively banned oil production.

The linked article is a good reminder of a technique used by many environmental activists.  Despite portraying themselves as being driven by science, they actually often make progress by taking words and both obscuring their meaning and adding emotional baggage to them.  Such is the case with "fracking"

Because with its pun-friendly name, the term fracking has become an effective nonspecific rallying point for extreme activist groups aiming to scare the public about environmental harms that have yet to be demonstrated. Amid the cheering after the vote, some of the national activists behind the effort acknowledged the true goal behind measure. The term fracking, it seems, is actually intended to be a catch-all phrase to describe all aspects of oil and gas production, conventional and unconventional alike, according to Washington-based Food and Water Watch, one of the activist groups behind the measure. In an interview with online publication Streetsblog Los Angeles after the vote, FWW organizer Brenna Norton boldly stated as much when she acknowledged, “It’s easier to engage and organize people around ‘fracking’ than a complicated list of practices.”

Where Did the Last Batch Go?

Obama and the Left want a big new infrastructure spending bill, based on twin theories that it would be a) stimulative and b) a bargain, as needed infrastructure could be built more cheaply with construction industry over-capacity.

Since this is exactly the same theory of the stimulus four years ago, it seems a reasonable question to ask:  What happened to the damn money we spent last time?  We were sold a 3/4 of a trillion dollar stimulus on it being mostly infrastructure.  So where is it?  Show us pictures, success stories.  Show us how the cost of construction of these projects were so much lower than expected because of construction industry over-capacity.  Show us the projects selected, to demonstrate how well thought-out the investment prioritization was.  If their arguments today have merit, all these things must be demonstrable from the last infrastructure bill.  So where is the evidence?

Of course, absolutely no one who wants to sell stimulus 2 (or 3?) wants to go down the path of investigating how well stimulus 1 was spent.  Instead, here is the argument presented:

Much of the Republican opposition to infrastructure spending has been rooted in a conviction that all government spending is a boondoggle, taxing hard-working Americans to give benefits to a favored few, and exceeding any reasonable cost estimate in the process. That's always a risk with new spending on infrastructure: that instead of the Hoover Dam and the interstate highway system, you end up with the Bridge to Nowhere and the Big Dig.

In that sense, this is a great test of whether divided democracy can work, and whether Republicans can come to the table to govern. One can easily imagine a deal: Democrats get their new infrastructure spending, and Republicans insist on a structure that requires private sector lenders to be co-investors in any projects, deploying money based on its potential return rather than where the political winds are tilting.

This is bizarre for a number of reasons.  First, he implies the problem is that Republicans are not "coming to the table to govern"  In essence  then, it is up to those who criticize government incremental infrastructure spending (with a lot of good evidence for believing so) as wasteful to come up with a solution.  Huh?

Second, he talks about requiring private lenders to be co-investors in the project.  This is a Trojan horse.   Absurd projects like California High Speed Rail are sold based on the myth that private investors will step in along side the government.  When they don't, because the project is stupid, the government claims to be in too deep already and that it must complete it with all public funds.

Third, to the extent that the government can sweeten the deal sufficiently to make private investors happy, the danger of Cronyism looms large.  You get the government pouring money into windmills, for example, that benefits private investors with a sliver of equity and large manufacturers like GE, who practically have a hotline to the folks who run programs like this.

Fourth, almost all of these projects are sure to be local in impact - ie a bridge that helps New Orleans or a street paving project that aids Los Angeles.  So why are the Feds doing this at all?  If the prices are so cheap out there, and the need for these improvements so pressing, then surely it makes more sense to do them locally.  After all, the need for them, the cost they impose, and the condition of the local construction market are all more obvious locally than back in DC.  Further, the accountability for money spent at the Federal level is terrible.  There are probably countless projects I should be pissed off about having my tax money fund, but since I don't see them every day, I don't scream.  The most accountability exists for local money spent on local projects.

You Can't Use Voluntary Action to Try to Stop Government Coersion

Or so says California's Gavin Newsom, in a great Reuters quote found by Zero Hedge:

California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom says he wants the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate "threats" against local communities considering using eminent domain to seize and restructure poorly performing mortgages to benefit cash-strapped homeowners.

Newsom sent a letter on Monday to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder asking federal prosecutors to investigate any attempts by Wall Street investors and government agencies to "boycott" California communities that are considering such moves.

"I am most disturbed by threats leveled by the mortgage industry and some in the federal government who have coercively urged local governments to reject consideration" of eminent domain," he wrote in a letter, a copy of which was provided to Reuters.

Newsom, a Democrat who was previously mayor of San Francisco, warned the influential Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association in July to "cease making threats to the local officials of San Bernardino County" over the proposed plan to seize underwater mortgages from private investors.

Some towns in San Bernardino County, which is located east of Los Angeles, have set up a joint authority that is looking into the idea of using eminent domain to forcibly purchase distressed mortgages. Rather than evict homeowners through foreclosure, the public-private entity would offer residents new mortgages with reduced debts.

Newsom said in the letter on Monday that while he is not endorsing the use of eminent domain at this time, he wants communities in California to be able to "explore every option" for solving their mortgage burdens "without fear of illegal reprisal by the mortgage industry or federal government agencies."

This quote is so rich with irony that it is just delicious.   Certainly ceasing to do business in a community that threatens to steal all your property strikes me as a perfectly reasonable, sane response.   Calling such a response an actionable threat requiring Federal investigation just demonstrates how little respect California officials, in particular, have for private activity and individual rights.

The third paragraph might be worth an essay all by itself, classifying a voluntary private boycott as illegally coercive while treating use of eminent domain, intended for things like road building, to seize private mortgages as so sensible that it should be sheltered from any public criticism.

My Abusive Spouse Just Offered Me Flowers

I got a call today from the National Conference of Mayors.  They wanted to send somebody by to talk to me about just how committed these great folks were to small business success.

The call began poorly, as their representative tried to use a tactic I mostly only get from penny-stock boiler rooms - pretending that she and I had talked some time in the past and that I had committed to meeting with her.  I suppose this tactic might have worked with a frazzled exec, but it is one sure fire way to immediately get me pissed off in a phone call.  After telling her that she and I had no such call and that I did not appreciate the cheap telemarketing tactic, I said that I had absolutely no desire to help the mayors put some fake pro-business patina on their activities that are generally hostile to commerce and free markets.   I told them that I did not want a subsidy, handout, any special access, training programs, etc., I just wanted to be left alone.  I was not going to participate in some program where I get my picture taken shaking some politicians right hand while he is whacking me with a stick with his left.  The representative, to her credit before she hung up, admitted she gets this reaction a lot.

One only has to look at their "plan" (pdf)  to see what their vision entails for "helping" small business.  Here is a summary of the planks:

  1. More Federal spending on local infrastructure
  2. More Federal unemployment spending and lower Federal payroll taxes
  3. Create new Federal subsidy and loan programs and job training programs for businesses in favored, sexy-sounding industries (e.g. "manufacturing" or "high-tech").  I presume someone starting a restaurant or hair salon or without any political clout need not apply.  To their credit they also advocate free trade agreements and visa reform, though they then lose that credit by also advocating failed ideas like "trade adjustment assistance" and "metropolitan export plans"
  4. More Federal spending in urban areas (police, job training, affordable housing, community development).

As will not be surprising, absolutely nothing in the Mayor's plans dealt with actual issues under their control, such as business, occupational, and occupancy licencing reform.   Also not surprisingly, the mayors call for hundreds of billions of dollars in new Federal spending narrowly aimed at urban areas without once explaining why these can't or shouldn't be funded locally.  If Los Angeles wants more money for its police, or trains, or schools, and if that spending has real demonstrable value to the city, then why can't they sell the new taxes and spending to their own citizens?  Why do they need the money from the Feds (ie from the rest of us)?

But you can just see the corporate state a work.  A few companies will cynically climb on board, knowing this is all BS, but also knowing that they will get a nice subsidy or sweetheart project in exchange for letting the majors check their "pro-business" box  (pro-business used here as distinct from pro-market).

 

Using the the Criminal Activity that Results from Prohibition to Justify Prohibition

Apparently, Los Angeles has tough anti-ticket scalping laws.  This means that one is able to resell virtually any item one owns but no longer has a use for except tickets.  In this case, government officials yet again don't like someone who places little value on an item selling it to someone who places more value on that item (a concept that is otherwise the basis for our entire economy).  We can see the effect of such laws in London, where stadiums full of empty seats are juxtaposed against thousands who want to attend but can't get tickets, all because for some reason we have decided we don't like the secondary market for tickets.

A great example is embedded in this line in today's LA Times about crackdowns on scalping:

Jose Eskenazi, an associate athletic director at USC, said the university distributed football and basketball tickets free to several children's community groups but that scalpers obtained those tickets and sold them "at enormous profits."

I like the coy use of "obtained" in this sentence.  Absent a more direct accusation, I have to assume that this means that scalpers bought the tickets from the community groups.  Which likely means that strapped for cash to maintain their operations, these groups valued cash from the tickets more that the ability to send kids to a USC football game  (in fact, taking them to a USC football game would involve extra costs to the community group of transportation, security, and feeding the kids at inflated stadium prices).  It was probably entirely rational for the community groups to sell the tickets -- this is in fact a positive story.  Selling the tickets likely got them out of an expensive obligation they could not afford and generated resources for the agency.  Sure, USC was deprived of the PR boost, but if they really want the kids to come to the game, they can do it a different way (e.g. by organizing the entire trip).  This is not a reason for curtailing my right to sell my tickets for a profit.

Anyway, I have ranted about this before.  Sports team owners and music promoters have out-sized political influence (particularly in LA) and have enlisted governments to clamp down on the secondary markets for their products.

What I thought was new and interesting in this LA Times story was the evolving justification for banning ticket scalpers.  Those who have followed the war on drugs or prostitution will recognize the argument immediately:

Lee Zeidman, general manager of Staples Center/Nokia Theatre and L.A. Live, said in a separate declaration that scalpers "frequently adopt aggressive and oftentimes intimidating tactics.... To the extent that ticket scalpers are allowed to create an environment that makes guests of ours feel uncomfortable, harassed or threatened, that jeopardizes our ability to attract those guests to our property."

In court papers, prosecutors accuse scalpers of endangering citizens, creating traffic hazards and diverting scarce police resources.

"Defendants personally act as magnets for theft, robbery, and crimes of violence," the filing states. "Areas with high levels of illegal ticket sales have disproportionately high levels of theft, robbery, crimes of violence and narcotics sales and use."

Wow, you mean that if we criminalize a routine type of transaction, then criminals will tend to dominate those who engage in this transaction?  Who would have thought?  If this were true, we might expect activities that normally are run by normal, honest participants -- say, for example, alcohol distribution -- to be replaced with gangs and violent criminals if the activity is prohibited.

It's amazing to me that people can still use the the criminal activity that results from prohibition to justify prohibition.

Update:  John Stossel has an article on the London ticket scalping ban

When the Media Loses Its Skepticism - High Speed Rail Edition

I have said for a long time that I don't really think there is a lot of outright media bias in the sense of conspiring to bury or promote certain memes.   But there are real issues with the leftish monoculture of the media losing its skepticism on certain topics.

For example, high speed rail is one of those things we are just supposed to do, from the Leftish view.  Harry Reid's justification for a high speed rail line is typical:  he wants to see  "America catch up with the rest of the world".  Everyone else has these things, so it must be some failing of ours that we don't.  For the left, the benefits of high speed rail are a given, they are part of the liturgy and not to be questioned.  Which means that it is up to outsiders to do the media's work of applying some degree of skepticism whenever a high speed rail project is proposed.

Thus we get to this article on high speed rail about a supposedly "private" rail line from LA to Las Vegas.  As is usual in the media, none of the assumptions are questioned.

Greg Pollowitz gets at some of the more obvious problems.  First, it is fairly heroic spin to call a line that currently is getting $4.9 billion in public subsidies "privately funded."  Second, he points out that, like the proposed California high speed rail line, this is a train to nowhere as well

And second of all, having grown up in Los Angeles — and having lied to my parents to drive to Vegas since the time I was 16 years old — I consider myself somewhat of an expert on the Los Angeles to Vegas drive. (CNN, Fox, MSDNC — call me!) I remember Victorville fondly as the place where we’d make our food-stop and pick up some In-N-Out burgers for the final half of the journey. And I can tell you this: There is no way anybody would ever drive through L.A.’s notorious traffic only to stop halfway and hop on a train on the other side of the El Cajon Pass and in doing so give up their personal transportation once they actually get to Vegas.

I want to reality-check their usage numbers.

DesertXpress estimates that it will carry around five million round trip passengers in the first full year of operation,with the company charging fares of around $50 for a one-way trip.

OK, right now there are about 3.7 annual air passengers between Las Vegas and the southern California airports, according to rail supporters.  It is hard to get at drivers, but the Las Vegas tourism folks believe that 25% of 36 million annual visitors to Vegas come from Southern California, so that would mean about 9 million total or about 5 million driving.

What this means is that to make this work, they are counting on more than half of all visitors from Southern California (and remember this includes San Diego) taking the train.  Is this reasonable?

  • The train is supposedly $50 (I will believe that when I see it).  Currently JetBlue flies from Burbank to Las Vegas for $56 in a flight that takes 69 minutes (vs. 84 for the train and remember that is from Victorville).   The standard rate from LAX, Burbank, or Long Beach seems to be around $74-77.
  • Airplanes leave for Las Vegas from airports all around LA and in San Diego.  Let's take a couple of locations.  Say you live near downtown LA, not because that is likely but it is relatively central and does not feel like cherry picking.  Victorville is a 84 mile 90 minute drive AT BEST, with no traffic.  The Burbank airport is a 15 mile, 18 minute drive from LA.  LAX is just a bit further.  Victorville is 82 miles and 90 minutes from Irvine and 146 miles/144 minutes from San Diego.  Both of these Southern California towns are just a few minutes from an airport with $70-ish flights to Vegas

So are drivers going to stop half way to Vegas, once they have completed the hard part of the drive, to get on a train?  Are flyers going to drive 1-2 hours further to get to the rail terminal to say $20?  Some will.  But will more than half?  No way.

Postscript:  If you really want to promote the train, forget shoveling tax money at it and pass a law that the TSA may not set up screening operations at its terminus.  That might get a few customers, though the odds this would happen, or that it would stick over time, are minuscule.

Cloudy with 100% Chance of Corporate State

It does not appear that Rick Perry is the guy to dismantle our growing corporate state.

The LA Times investigates the big-money culture of Texas politics, which has gotten even bigger and money-er since Rick Perry became governor:

Perry has received a total of $37 million over the last decade from just 150 individuals and couples, who are likely to form the backbone of his new effort to win the Republican presidential nomination....Nearly half of those mega-donors received hefty business contracts, tax breaks or appointments under Perry, according to a Los Angeles Times analysis.

Perry, campaigning Monday at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines, declined to comment when asked how he separated the interests of his donors from the needs of his state. His aides vigorously dispute that his contributors received any perks. "They get the same thing that all Texans get," said spokesman Mark Miner.

Nearly half! And this doesn't even include anything about David Nance and the largesse Perry distributes via his $200 million state-managed venture capital slush fund. Doling out political favors in industrial quantities is obviously something that isn't frowned upon by Texas political culture, and Perry has taken it to whole new levels.

Kudos to the LA Times and folks like Kevin Drum for digging this up, but everyone involved should be embarrassed by just how partisan outrage on this kind of thing can be.  The same folks who are rightly upset at Perry actively cheered on Obama as he took ownership of GM away from the secured creditors and handed it to his major campaign supporters in the UAW.  His stimulus program has been a trillion dollar slush fund to pay off nearly every liberal constituency, and while I find the idea of a state-run venture capital fund horrifying, I see no difference here with Obama's green job investments, many of which have gone triends, campaign supporters, and even spouses of prominent administration officials.

As I asked the other day, if the President is really supposed to be our VC in chief (an absurd thought) who in the hell would pick Obama for the job?  As one random example out of my feed reader:

Last year, Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn announced the city had won a coveted $20 million federal grant to invest in weatherization. The unglamorous work of insulating crawl spaces and attics had emerged as a silver bullet in a bleak economy – able to create jobs and shrink carbon footprint – and the announcement came with great fanfare.

McGinn had joined Vice President Joe Biden in the White House to make it. It came on the eve of Earth Day. It had heady goals: creating 2,000 living-wage jobs in Seattle and retrofitting 2,000 homes in poorer neighborhoods.

But more than a year later, Seattle's numbers are lackluster. As of last week, only three homes had been retrofitted and just 14 new jobs have emerged from the program. Many of the jobs are administrative, and not the entry-level pathways once dreamed of for low-income workers. Some people wonder if the original goals are now achievable.

"The jobs haven't surfaced yet," said Michael Woo, director of Got Green, a Seattle community organizing group focused on the environment and social justice.

"It's been a very slow and tedious process. It's almost painful, the number of meetings people have gone to. Those are the people who got jobs. There's been no real investment for the broader public."

At the same time, heavily subsidized Evergreen Solar is going bankrupt.

Bloomberg News reports that the firm Evergreen Solar will file for bankruptcy and close its operation in Midland, Mich. The maker of solar cells cites over-capacity in the industry, competition from China and fewer government subsidies as contributing factors. According to Bloomberg, the firm has 133 employees worldwide.

Given a Michigan location and participation in a politically faddish industry, readers won't be surprised that Evergreen was the beneficiary of special state subsidies and a local tax break. Specifically, three years ago Evergreen Solar was offered a $1.8 million "refundable" tax credit by the Michigan Economic Growth Authority. For firms with little or no tax liability, this amounts to an outright cash subsidy, contingent on attaining certain employment and investment milestones. Evergreen Solar's specific tax liability is not public information.

The deal was based on crystal-ball projections from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation using a software program known as REMI, which predicted that an Evergreen deal would create exactly 596 direct and "spin-off" jobs by 2018, producing $18.5 million in new state tax revenue.

The city of Midland also granted property tax abatements worth $3.9 million over 12 years, according to Mlive.com. It's not known how much, if any, of these subsidies and tax breaks were ever collected by the company.

This actually understates the total subsidies, as it ignores subsidies to its customers, incoluding above market geed-in tariffs, to buy the solar panels.

Closer to home, a Tucson solar panel manufacturer that was opened to great fanfare with the help of Janet Napolitano and Gabby Giffords just closed after being open barely 2 years.  They scored some subsidies, got some large government and utility contracts on the promise of local employment, and then packed up shop for China.  Apparently they were attempting to compete in the commodity solar panel market on a strategy of having a higher fit and finish on their product, a product that sits on the roof and no one ever looks at.  Good plan.

PS-  Yes, private investments fail all the time, but they are 1) not using my money, unless I voluntarily offer it and 2) there are real consequences for those who make bad investments

Licensing to Restrict Competition

The WSJ has yet more examples of crazy job licensing, example:  (ht Alex Tabarrok)

But economists—and workers shut out of fields by educational requirements or difficult exams—say licensing mostly serves as a form of protectionism, allowing veterans of the trade to box out competitors who might undercut them on price or offer new services.

"Occupations prefer to be licensed because they can restrict competition and obtain higher wages," said Morris Kleiner, a labor professor at the University of Minnesota. "If you go to any statehouse, you'll see a line of occupations out the door wanting to be licensed."...

Texas, for instance, requires hair-salon "shampoo specialists" to take 150 hours of classes, 100 of them on the "theory and practice" of shampooing, before they can sit for a licensing exam. That consists of a written test and a 45-minute demonstration of skills such as draping the client with a clean cape and evenly distributing conditioner. Glass installers, or glaziers, in Connecticut—the only state that requires such workers to be licensed—take two exams, at $52 apiece, pay $300 in initial fees and $150 annually thereafter.

California requires barbers to study full-time for nearly a year, a curriculum that costs $12,000 at Arthur Borner's Barber College in Los Angeles. Mr. Borner says his graduates earn more than enough to recoup their tuition, though he questions the need for such a lengthy program. "Barbering is not rocket science," he said. "I don't think it takes 1,500 hours to learn. But that's what the state says."

Many, many other examples -- it takes 750 hours of training to be a manicurist in Alabama.  Somehow my daughter learned to paint her own nails during the course of a single sleepover.

The Health Care Trojan Horse: Property Rights Edition

For years I have warned that government-funded health care will be used as a Trojan horse for a nearly infinite body of legislation under the pretext that X [where X = nearly every activity or individual choice] has implications for health care costs.  Here is the latest chapter of this ongoing saga:

New stand-alone fast food restaurants have been banned from setting up shop in South Los Angeles, due to rising health concerns by the city council.

This story also mixes in a good portion of corporate statism as well, as it represents pretty transparent protectionism of current competitors against new entrants:

Perry's new plan bans new so-called "stand alone" fast food restaurants opening within half a mile of existing restaurants.

So McDonald's, who is likely firmly entrenched in the area, is unaffected, but potential new entrants challenging McDonald's are out.

For even further points, one can see another powerful constituency at work.  I suppose commercial real estate developers complained about potential loss of tenants, so this was added:

Such stand-alone establishments are on their own property, but those same restaurants are OK if they're a part of a strip mall, according to the new rules.

Obviously the same food is much more nutritious if served in a leased building rather than on a piece of land the restaurant owns itself.

Read the whole thing, its a great example with a lot of fact-free pronouncements by politicians about market failures.  via Matt Welch

How You Gonna Keep them Down on the Farm?

A reader sent me this interesting story about immigration within Cuba:

"I was caught because I was an illegal," explained a bicycle taxi driver as he gripped the rusted blue handle-bars of his vehicle in Havana's Central Park. "And because I'd been here several times before, I was deported back."

But the driver working his trade in the capital city did not arrive in Cuba from another country. Instead he is among the thousands who have come from rural provinces in search of work and a place to live - but who have been deported back because of "Decree 217."

The 1997 law restricts rural migration to Havana, making this taxi driver an illegal resident in his own capital city.

"If you're illegal you can't be here in Havana," said the driver, originally from Cuba's eastern Holguin province. "You don't have an address here in Havana."...

Economic conditions were generally worse at the eastern end of the island, according to Cuba analyst Edward Gonzalez, a professor emeritus at the University of California Los Angeles.

"[The eastern region] has always been the less affluent, impoverished part of the island," he said, "heavily dependent upon agriculture, less on tourism, and also happens to be more black and mulatto."

The effort to keep migrants out and prevent overcrowding in Havana may have resulted in police discrimination against darker-skinned Cubans presumed more likely to be illegal, Gonzalez said.

It's Just Going to Get Worse

California high-speed rail advocates are already backpedalling on the numbers, and from experience with other such projects, it will only get worse.

In the face of the state's perpetual budget crisis, some Californians are beginning to regret their votes in favor of the $9.9 billion high-speed rail bond last year. Even though proponents of the train have now admitted the bond was only a down payment on the actual cost to build the system, the numbers that were projected are changing"”and all in the wrong direction.

The business plan released by the train's advocates last month show the dramatic differences in what the voters were told and what reality is. For example, the price of a ticket from San Francisco to Los Angeles is now projected at $105, up from the previous $55 estimate.  That new number changed the ridership predictions: now 41 million annual riders by 2035, down from last year's prediction of 55 million passengers by 2030. The cost for building the train system has also grown.  The proponents had been thinking $33.6 billion (2008 dollars) but have revised upward to $42.6 billion.  Recently, the Obama administration announced $2.25 billion in funding for the project. Proponents said federal money would be used to close the gap between the voter-approved bond and the ultimate cost, but
this is a drop in the bucket and still will not work.

Do not expect a true LA to SF high speed rail line for less than $75 billion and the ridership numbers are still absurd, as discussed here.  By the way, Southwest's advanced fair from LAX to SFO is $114 right now.  If you are willing to go Burbank to Oakland, the fair is $90.

Great Article on Transit Decision-Making

Via a reader, the article is about Madison, Wisconsin, but it could be about anywhere.  The author highlights at least three issues with the plans:

  • Unelected tax authority

Dane County, for instance, plans to fund its transit authority with a half-percent sales tax. Members of the RTA board were told by the officials who appointed them to put the tax to voters in a referendum, likely next fall.And if the voters say no? In theory, said County Board member Al Matano, a key RTA backer, it means no funding. But "it's not on our list of things to worry about," he told me.

Why should it be? The legal fact is the tax needs no referendum. Gov. Jim Doyle vetoed that part of the transit authority law. Struck it right out. The decision is solely up to an unelected RTA board.

"Quite honestly, they don't need (a referendum), legally," said Dave Ripp, a County Board member who doesn't favor the RTA. "And if it fails, they don't have to follow it."

  • Obsession with trains over more affordable solutions

Quite a few wonder why Madison, with 480,000 people and short distances, needs the expense of trains. Buses are much cheaper. They can go more places, and you can afford to run them more frequently. "We actually support buses," said Richardson. "They're very flexible."

"The main thing that worries me, and I'm not the only one," said Susan De Vos, head of the Madison Area Bus Advocates, a riders' group, "is that people put in rail at the expense of the existing transit system, and that's the bus." That's how things worked elsewhere, such as in Los Angeles, said De Vos. When train plans inevitably outstrip revenue, the money comes from cutting back the unsexy part of the system. She favors a series of limited-stop express "bus rapid transit" lines for a fraction of rail's cost.

  • The real focus is on rigid government control of development (ie the Portland model)

"Their agenda really isn't about transportation," as Dane County Towns Association President Jerry Derr put it to a reporter. "It's about land use. They want to build a rail system so they have a reason to force all new development to within a half-mile of the rail corridor." Surely he exaggerates? No. The commuter rail plan's founding document lays out the rationale thus: "Goal 1: Promote Efficient Land Use/Develo

Sounds like a another great town (Madison is really a great place from my experience) is about to be screwed up, just like Portland has.

Totalitarians Catching Up to the Internet

Via the WSJ:

His first impulse was to dismiss the ominous email as a prank, says a young Iranian-American named Koosha. It warned the 29-year-old engineering student that his relatives in Tehran would be harmed if he didn't stop criticizing Iran on Facebook.

Two days later, his mom called. Security agents had arrested his father in his home in Tehran and threatened him by saying his son could no longer safely return to Iran.

"When they arrested my father, I realized the email was no joke," said Koosha, who asked that his full name not be used....

In recent months, Iran has been conducting a campaign of harassing and intimidating members of its diaspora world-wide -- not just prominent dissidents -- who criticize the regime, according to former Iranian lawmakers and former members of Iran's elite security force, the Revolutionary Guard, with knowledge of the program.

Part of the effort involves tracking the Facebook, Twitter and YouTube activity of Iranians around the world, and identifying them at opposition protests abroad, these people say.

Interviews with roughly 90 ordinary Iranians abroad -- college students, housewives, doctors, lawyers, businesspeople -- in New York, London, Dubai, Sweden, Los Angeles and other places indicate that people who criticize Iran's regime online or in public demonstrations are facing threats intended to silence them.

Although it wasn't possible to independently verify their claims, interviewees provided consistently similar descriptions of harassment techniques world-wide. Most asked that their full names not be published.

Is That A Gun, Or Are Your Just Happy To See Me?

I say a sign the other day at the airport that full-body millimeter-wave imaging was coming soon to the Phoenix airport.  I guess this was pretty inevitable, and has certainly been predicted in many movies, including Total Recall:
Totalrecallxrayscene

I can't really decide if this is any more invasive and humiliating than what we already do, ie get undressed, put our medications and creams in clear plastic bags for all to inspect, and subject ourselves to full-body pat downs.  For my part, based on this and numerous other humiliations, I am working as hard as I can to minimize how often I fly.  JD Tuccille has more, and observes that body cavity searches aren't just for airplanes any more:

If you think that air travel is starting to resemble a very-expensive
East Germany-nostalgia tour and you'd prefer a less-intrusive
alternative, you might consider traveling by train. Well, except, not
on Amtrak, which implemented random bag searches, armed guards and bomb-sniffing dogs earlier this year.

Even local travel is iffy, since New York City has been subjecting subway passengers to annoying searches for the past three years. Los Angeles's MetroLink implemented a similar policy this week, apparently just so officials there wouldn't feel left out. Metrolink spokeswoman Denise Tyrrell told the Los Angeles Times

As a postscript, I had a meeting the other day with the National Park Service in Denver.  To get inside - remember this is the park service, no other agency shares this building - I had to give up my driver's license, have all my bags searched, and go through an X-ray machine.  Does anyone think that maybe we have lost some perspective when I have to go through full-on invasive security to discuss merchandising at a gift shop?

The Newest Threat to the Republic

There are two America's:  The one that is trying to steal my freedom from the top down (wiretaps, proscutorial abuse, expanding executive power) and the one that is trying to steel freedom from the bottom up.  Reason, as quote by TJIC, has a nice piece on one of the bottom-up fascists:

Amid the hustle and bustle of downtown Los Angeles, there exists
another world, an underground world of illicit trade in - not drugs or
sex - but bacon-wrapped hot dogs. Street vendors may sell you an
illegal bacon dog, but hardly anyone will talk about it, for fear of
being hassled, shut down or worse. Our camera caught it on tape. One
minute bacon dogs are sold in plain view, the next minute cops have
confiscated carts, and ordered the dogs dumped into the trash.

Elizabeth Palacios is one of the few vendors willing to speak
publicly. "Doing bacon is illegal," she explains. Problem is customers
love bacon, and Palacios says she loses business if she doesn't give
them the bacon they demand. "Bacon is a potentially hazardous food,"
says Terrence Powell of the LA County Health Department. Continue
selling bacon dogs without county-approved equipment and you risk fines
and jail time.

Palacios knows all about that. She spent 45 days in the slammer for selling bacon dogs,
and with the lost time from work, fines, and attorney's fees, she fears
she might lose the house that bacon dogs helped buy. She must provide
for her family, but remains trapped between government regulations and
consumer demand. Customers don't care about safety codes, says
Palacios. "They just want the bacon."

TJIC, as he often does, captures a number of the best comments.  The full reason video is below:

Licensed to Parent

I guess it was inevitable, but a court in California has determined that the most basic function of parenting, ie educating your children, requires a license from the state.  If you don't have such a license, you have to turn your kids over to the state to educate them for you (via Overlawyered)

Parents who lack teaching credentials cannot educate their children at
home, according to a state appellate court ruling that is sending waves
of fear through California's home schooling families....

"Parents do not have a constitutional right to home school their
children," wrote Justice H. Walter Croskey in a Feb. 28 opinion signed
by the two other members of the district court. "Parents who fail to
[comply with school enrollment laws] may be subject to a criminal
complaint against them, found guilty of an infraction, and subject to
imposition of fines or an order to complete a parent education and
counseling program."

Whoa!  No Constitutional right to educate our kids how we see fit?  With an imminent government takeover of our kids' eating habits as well, that will leave exactly what parental duties to parents? 

Of course we are just concerned about the well-being of the children.  Of course it has nothing to do with unionized teachers protecting their turf.  Or not:

Teachers union officials will also be closely monitoring the appeal.
A.J. Duffy, president of United Teachers Los Angeles, said he agrees
with the ruling.

"What's best for a child is to be taught by a credentialed teacher," he said.

Update:  It is being argued that this is actually more narrow than it first appears.  The current debate seems to come down to whether the judge is an idiot and the decision is overly broad or whether the judge is an idiot and the decision is narrow.

Useful Advice from John Scalzi

Another fake memoir has been revealed:

In "Love and Consequences," a critically acclaimed memoir published
last week, Margaret B. Jones wrote about her life as a half-white,
half-Native American girl growing up in South-Central Los Angeles as a
foster child among gang-bangers, running drugs for the Bloods.

The problem is that none of it is true.

Margaret B. Jones is a
pseudonym for Margaret Seltzer, who is all white and grew up in the
well-to-do Sherman Oaks section of Los Angeles, in the San Fernando
Valley, with her biological family. She graduated from the Campbell
Hall School, a private Episcopal day school in the North Hollywood
neighborhood. She has never lived with a foster family, nor did she run
drugs for any gang members.

John Scalzi offers advice:

You know, the rules of a memoir are pretty simple. If an event actually happened to you, you can use it in a memoir. If it didn't actually happen to you, you can't. Because then it's fiction, you see. Which is different from a memoir. No, really; you can look it up. I'm not sure why this has suddenly become so difficult for everyone to process.

I must say that this actually sounds like a good book -- he should go for it:

On the other hand, I'm looking forward to selling my memoir of my
life as a teenage transvestite in the Bogota slums, who later joined
the Navy SEALs and adopted the twin daughters of the ruthless Afghan
opium warlord whom I battled to the death using only a spoon
and 14 bars of the 1812 Overture, and then, having beaten back a
terrible addiction to khat, went on to become one of the most famous
celebrity chefs on The Cooking Channel. Because apparently this would
be at least as true as most of the other memoirs on the market today.
And, I'd wager, a great deal more entertaining. I'm waiting for my
check, I am.

There's No Shortage, Just A Price You Don't Like

In the absence of government meddling (e.g. price controls) healthy markets seldom create true shortages, meaning situations where one simply cannot obtain a product or service.  One might think there was a shortage, for example, of Superbowl tickets, since there are only a few available and tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, of people who would like to attend.  But in fact one can Google "Superbowl tickets" and find hundreds available.  You may not like the price ($3500 and up for one ticket), but they are available for sale.

Yesterday, the AZ Republic lamented that there is a shortage of truck drivers nationwide:

Trucking companies across the country are facing a shortage of long-haul drivers....

High driver turnover has traditionally been a problem throughout the
trucking industry. But retirements and growing shipping demand have
made the shortage of long-haul drivers more acute. Fewer drivers means
delayed deliveries and higher delivery costs that could be passed on to
consumers. The
issue is especially crucial for the Phoenix area, which touts itself as
a shipping hub for businesses fed up with the costs and congestion
around Los Angeles-area ports. The Valley also is headquarters to two
of the country's biggest for-hire trucking companies: Swift
Transportation and Knight Transportation....

Trucking experts say the problem goes beyond a labor shortage in the industry. They call it a threat to the economy.

"Our country needs to figure out how to fix this," said Ray Kuntz,
chairman and chief executive of Watkins and Shepard Trucking in Montana
and chairman of American Trucking Associations. "Our economy moves on
trucks."

Here is the key fact:

"¢ Long-haul wages vary by company and are typically based on
experience, safety record and commercial-driver's-license endorsements.
Long-haul drivers with two or more years of experience usually earn at
least $50,000 to $60,000 a year.

"¢ An entry-level driver with no over-the-road experience starts in the high $30,000 range. Team drivers can earn more.

There is no way in a Platonic vacuum to determine if a wage is too high or too low.  But the driver "shortage" gives us a really good hint that maybe these salary levels are no longer sufficient to attract people to the rather unique trucking lifestyle.  I probably could write a similar article about how there is a shortage of Fortune 500 CEO's or airline pilots who will accept a $30,000 starting salary.  The problem then is not shortage, the problem is that wage demands are rising as trucking is out-competed for talent by alternative careers.   In fact, there is not shortage, but a reluctance by trucking firms to accept a new pricing reality in the market for drivers.

By the way, to some extent this "shortage" is indeed an artificial creation of the government.  Under NAFTA, Mexican truckers were long-ago supposed to have been given access to the US market, but overblown safety concerns have been used as a fig-leaf to block the provision as a protection for US truckers and a subsidy to the Teamsters.  If a truck driver "shortage" is really a national economic problem, then let's stop blocking this NAFTA provision.  But my sense is that the trucking companies in this article would freak at this, because they are not really concerned about the national economy but, reasonably, with rising wages hurting their bottom line.  My guess is this article is the front-end of a PR push to get states like Arizona to subsidize ... something.  Maybe truck driver training.  Look for such legislative proposals soon.

 

I Think We've Won the War on Poverty

One of the things I have observed in the past is that our poorest 20% would be upper middle class in most countries of the world, and would be far richer than 99.9% of people who have ever lived.  Somehow the following burning concern in the LA City Hall seems to bring this message home quite clearly:

To protect the character of neighborhoods being dwarfed by the
construction of oversized homes, Los Angeles officials are weighing a
law that would radically limit the square-footage of new or remodeled
houses across the city's flatlands.

The proposed
anti-mansionization measure would stem a trend fueled by the meteoric
rise in home values and address a backlash from residents who complain
that the spread of large, boxy homes is spoiling the architectural
flavor of established single-family neighborhoods.

Somehow, I don't thing "mansionization" is a major problem in most countries of the world.

Show a Little Backbone!

This is pretty funny:

A labor dispute which has darkened US light entertainment and chat
shows claimed another victim on Wednesday, forcing the cancellation of
a CBS News debate among Democratic White House hopefuls.

The debate, scheduled for Los Angeles on December 10, was nixed
after candidates including Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama said they
would refuse to cross a picket line that the Writers Guild of America
Union had threatened to set up.

"CBS News regrets not being able to offer the Democratic
presidential debate scheduled for Dec. 10 in Los Angeles," CBS said in
a statement.

"The possibility of picket lines set up by the Writers Guild of
America and the unwillingness of many candidates to cross them made it
necessary to allow the candidates to make other plans."

Since the writers have nothing to do with the debate (presumably, unless Hillary's question-writing shills are part of the guild) then their picketing the debate makes no more sense than if, say, the meat packers were picketing.  Is the winning candidate going to refuse to enter the White House if any union is picketing out front?  As Ed Morrissey points out, this does not bode well for any of the candidates being able to stand up to special interests as president.

Update:  Next up, Democratic candidates to commit to not hire anyone for their administration who did not attend a government-run, NEA-unionized high school.

Cost of "the Right to Build"

Virginia Postrel has a really interesting article in the Atlantic.com.  Often, home construction costs are disaggregated into the cost of land and the cost of the home.  She adds a third piece -- "the right to build" related to regulation and land use restrictions.  She cites a study that most of the cost of new homes in expensive markets like California are not building costs or even land acquisition costs, but the enormous costs involved in getting the government to let you build the house you want on your own land.

In a 2003 article, Glaeser and Gyourko calculated the two different
land values for 26 cities (using data from 1999). They found wide
disparities. In Los Angeles, an extra quarter acre cost about
$28,000"”the pure price of land. But the cost of empty land isn't the
whole story, or even most of it. A quarter- acre lot minus the cost of
the house came out to about $331,000"”nearly 12 times as much as the
extra quarter acre. The difference between the first and second prices,
around $303,000, was what L.A. home buyers paid for local land-use
controls in bureaucratic delays, density restrictions, fees, political
contributions. That's the cost of the right to build.

And that right costs much less in Dallas. There, adding an extra
quarter acre ran about $2,300"”raw land really is much cheaper"”and a
quarter acre minus the cost of construction was about $59,000. The
right to build was nearly a quarter million dollars less than in L.A.
Hence the huge difference in housing prices. Land is indeed more
expensive in superstar cities. But getting permission to build is way,
way more expensive. These cities, says Gyourko, "just control the heck
out of land use."

These differences cascade into a number of areas:

Dallas and Los Angeles represent two distinct models for successful
American cities, which both reflect and reinforce different cultural
and political attitudes. One model fosters a family-oriented,
middle-class lifestyle"”the proverbial home-centered "balanced life."
The other rewards highly productive, work-driven people with a yen for
stimulating public activities, for arts venues, world-class
universities, luxury shopping, restaurants that aren't kid-friendly.
One makes room for a wide range of incomes, offering most working
people a comfortable life. The other, over time, becomes an enclave for
the rich. Since day-to-day experience shapes people's sense of what is
typical and normal, these differences in turn lead to contrasting
perceptions of economic and social reality. It's easy to believe the
middle class is vanishing when you live in Los Angeles, much harder in
Dallas. These differences also reinforce different norms and
values"”different ideas of what it means to live a good life. Real
estate may be as important as religion in explaining the infamous gap
between red and blue states.

The Dallas model, prominent in the South and Southwest, sees a
growing population as a sign of urban health. Cities liberally permit
housing construction to accommodate new residents. The Los Angeles
model, common on the West Coast and in the Northeast Corridor,
discourages growth by limiting new housing. Instead of inviting
newcomers, this approach rewards longtime residents with big capital
gains and the political clout to block projects they don't like.

Asymmetrical Explanations

Crime rates seem to bounce up and down over time.  Has anyone noticed that city governments typically ascribe rising crime rates to uncontrollable demographic trends while crediting falling crime rates to improved policing?

The drop comes nine months after Mayor Antonio
Villaraigosa and Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton vowed to
crack down on gangs. But though previous anti-gang campaigns have
involved mass arrests and high-profile sweeps, this effort has been
more targeted.

And in its most radical shift, the LAPD is putting aside decades of
suspicion and turning for help to gang intervention workers, many of
whom were gang members.

....Overall, Los Angeles has recorded [289] homicides so far this
year, with Bratton saying he believes the city will end the year with
the lowest number of killings in 37 years (in 1970, there were 394
homicides). Authorities believe the help of gang intervention workers
has made a difference, but they acknowledge that they can't fully
explain the drop.

By the way, I will be waiting for those who ascribe rising crime rates in Southern California to illegal immigrants to admit their mistake this week.

LA Proposes to Institutionalize Red-Lining Poor Neighborhoods

For years, banks have been sued for "red-lining" poor neighborhoods, meaning they were accused of purposefully avoiding doing business in these poor areas.  National retail chains have been accused of something similar, causing poorer the oft-commented-on irony that poorer neighborhoods often have the highest retail prices.

The City of Los Angeles seems to like this practice and wants to pass new legislation aimed at further limiting retail choices in poorer neighborhoods:

"Amid worries of an obesity epidemic and its related illnesses,
including high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease, Los Angeles
officials, among others around the country, are proposing to limit new
fast-food restaurants -- a tactic that could be called health zoning."
Zoning restrictions on fast-food outlets in towns such as Concord,
Mass. and Calistoga, Calif. are typically based on traffic or aesthetic
concerns, rather than a determination to second-guess what residents
choose to eat. The proposed L.A. restrictions would not be city-wide
but would instead be specifically targeted to the city's poorest
sections in and around South Central. Mark Vallianatos, director of
something called the Center for Food and Justice at Occidental College (more about it), says "bringing health policy and environmental policy together with land-use planning" is "the wave of the future."

Jesus, the Center for Food and Justice?  Another clear leading edge of health care as the Trojan Horse for fascism, which I have been warning against for years.

I Didn't Get the Memo

John Tamny in TCS Daily:

In a recent Los Angeles Times op-ed, "Overselling Capitalism,"
University of Maryland Professor Benjamin Barber wrote of the "crisis"
in the capitalist mindset, where the "'Protestant ethos' of hard work
and deferred gratification has been replaced by an infantilist ethos of
easy credit and impulsive consumption that puts democracy and the
market system at risk."

Wow, I must not have gotten the memo.  Here I have been plugging negative numbers into my 1040 for three or four years in an attempt to build a business and some future wealth, and it turns out that deferred gratification is out of style.   (TJIC also did not get the memo)

Here is a big reality check for professor Barber:  The fact that a few mortgage companies got overly generous in extending mortgage credit does not mean that the work ethic and entrepreneurship is dead.  In fact, they are virtually unrelated topics.  If the price of something is reduced, more is going to be consumed.  Suppliers of credit reduced the price of credit, too far as it turned out to make a profit, and more was consumed.  This does not represent so tragic change in the human makeup, it is just supply and demand at work, like normal, and some bad business judgement. 

In fact, I can't get over the class-based condescension that seems to fill every nook and cranny of the commentary on the mortgage bubble bursting.  When in the late 1990's, rich VC's provided too much money too cheaply to yuppies running Internet companies, I don't remember anyone lamenting a shift in human motivation or a failure of capitalism.  But when banks provided too much capital too cheaply to lower income people for home mortgages, suddenly all those lower-income people are representative of the failure of capitalism and the work ethic.

Smugness Coupon with Enron Accounting

Apparently one of the reasons all those stars at the Oscars were so pleased with themselves is that they all got a smugness coupon in their gift bags (emphasis added):

Hollywood's wealthy liberals can now avoid any guilt they might feel
for consuming so much non-renewable fossil fuel in their private jets,
their SUVs, and their multiple air-conditioned mansions. This year's
Oscar goodie bag contained gift certificates representing 100,000
pounds of greenhouse gas reductions from TerraPass, which describes
itself as a "carbon offset retailer." The 100,000 pounds "are enough to
balance out an average year in the life of an Academy Award presenter,"
a press release from TerraPass asserts. "For example, 100,000 pounds is
the total amount of carbon dioxide created by 20,000 miles of driving,
40,000 miles on commercial airlines, 20 hours in a private jet and a
large house in Los Angeles
. The greenhouse gas reductions will be
accomplished through TerraPass' [program] of verified wind energy, cow
power [collecting methane from manure] and efficiency projects." Voila,
guilt-free consumption! It reminds us of the era when rich Catholics
paid the church for "dispensations" that would shorten their terms in
Purgatory.

Something smells here, and it is not the cow-poop methane.  This 100,000 pound coupon retails for $399.75 (5x79.95) on the TerraPass web site.  First, this rate implies that all 300 million Americans could offset their CO2 emissions for about $100 billion a year, a ridiculously low figure that would be great news if true. 

Lets look at solar, something I know because I live in Arizona and have looked at it a few times.  Here is the smallest, cheapest installation I can find.  It produces 295 CO2-free Kw-hours in a month if you live in Phoenix, less everywhere else.  That is enough to run one PC 24 hours a day -- and nothing else.  Or, it is enough to run about 10 75-watt light bulbs 12 hours a day -- and nothing else.  In other words, it is way, way, way short of powering up a star's Beverly Hills mansion, not to mention their car and private jet.  It would not run one of the air conditioning units on my house.  And it costs $12,000!  Even with a 20 year life and a 0% discount rate, that still is more than $399.75 a year.  For TerraPass's offset claim to be correct, they have to have a technology that is one and probably two orders of magnitude more efficient than solar in Arizona.

[update:  Al Gore's house 221,000 kwH last year.  Call it 18,400KwH per month, that would require about 62 of these solar installations for $744,000.  I don't think $399.75 is really offsetting it]

So if Al Gore and the Hollywood-ites start whipping out these coupons and claiming to be green, be very, very skeptical.  My guess is that TerraPass is less like a real carbon offset and more like, say, the International Star Registry, where you get a nice certificate for the wall and the internal glow of having a star named after you (which, officially, it really is not).  Both the star registry and TerraPass are selling the exact same thing -- fluff.  Actually, TerraPass's certificate is a bit cheaper than the star registry.  Smugness on sale!  Think of it as the "International Earth Good-Guy Registry."

Update:  This type of thing is incredibly amenable to fraud.  If you sell more than 100% of an investment, eventually the day of reckoning will come when you can't pay everyone their shares (a la the Producers).  But if people are investing in CO2 abatement -- you can sell the same ton over and over and no one will ever know.

Also, this is a brilliant way to finance a power station.  Say you want to build a wind power station.  Actual regular investors will, you know, want a return paid to them on their investment.  But TerraPass has apparently found a way to get capital from people without paying any return.  They just give these people a feel-good share of the lack of CO2 emissions and a little certificate for the wall, and TerraPass gets capital they never have to repay to build a power station they likely would have built anyway that they can then in turn sell the power from and not have to give any of the revenues to investors.  Smart.

More thoughts:  My guess is that TerraPass, when it sells the electricity from these projects to customers, is selling it on the basis that it is earth-friendly and causes no CO2 emissions.  This lack of emissions is likely part of the "bundle" sold to electricity customers.  But note that this would be selling the same lack of emissions twice -- once to TerraPass certificate holders, and once to the electricity customers.  I am sure they are both told they are avoiding X tons of emissions, but it is the same X tons, sold twice (at least).  Even Enron didn't try this. 

I really wish I had fewer scruples, because this would be a fabulous business model -- free capital, the ability to sell the same goods multiple times to different people, all the while getting lauded for saving the world in the press and getting invited to the Academy Awards.

Update #2:  LOL. IowaHawk is offering the same thing, but for the discounted rate of $9.95!  And with much better bumper stickers.  He also suggests a multi-level marketing approach.  Here are just two of many choices:

Bumpersticker1

Bumpersticker2