Posts tagged ‘New Orleans’

Economic Drivers I Had Not Considered Before

Geographic mobility costs are a drag on the economy, because they slow and/or truncate relocation of labor to shifting areas of demand (a good example is the fact that North Dakota currently can't get enough workers because people can't/won't move there to take advantage of the opportunities.

Apparently, there are economists who make the argument that one reason for the post-WWII boom is that the war increased mobility for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was the forced extrication of young men from their homes via the draft.  Apparently Hurricane Katrina may have had the same effect, blasting people out of the moribund New Orleans economy and forcing them to move to more dynamic areas.

This is probably true, but also one of those areas where economic analysis falls short of total well-being analysis (for lack of a better term).  I know folks from New Orleans and they often seem to be deeply tied to the New Orleans culture and miss it when they have moved away.   Many move back.  So just because someone is better off economically with a job in Houston does not necessarily mean they consider themselves better off.

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.

Enjoy the NFL This Weekend, You May Not Have It For Long

I think Walter Olson is dead on with this:

Steve Chapman at the Chicago Tribune looks at the cultural and legal responses to the mounting evidence that professional football inflicts brain damage on many of its players. He quotes my view that if the litigation system carries over to football the legal principles it applies to other industries, the game isn’t likely to survive in its current form.  [sorry for quoting the whole thing Walter, I just couldn't figure out how to excerpt it]

There is a very good chance that the NFL could go the way of Johns Manville or Dow Corning.  Those companies still exist after being sued into bankruptcy, but that is only because they had other businesses to shift into.  The NFL just has football.  And after reading the concussion stories recently, plaintiff's lawyers are going to have a hell of a lot better scientific case than they had with breast implants.    I honestly think it will take an act of Congress to keep the NFL alive, giving them some sort of liability exemption similar to what ski resorts got years ago.

And don't think the NFL does not know this.  If you are wondering why they handed out insanely over-the-top penalties for bounty-gate in New Orleans, this is why.  They are working to establish a paper trail of extreme diligence on player safety issues for future litigation.

As an aside, I find it frustrating that there is not a better helmet solution.

As a second aside, there is a guy here in Phoenix who was showing off an accelerometer for football helmets, with some kind of maximum single g-force or cumulative g-force trigger that would cause a player to be pulled from a game, sort of like how a radiation badge works.  Good idea.  Look for these to be mandatory equipment in high schools in colleges.    Takes the absurd guess work out of concussion diagnosis today, particularly since this diagnosis is done by people (the player and their team) who have strong incentives to decide that there was no concussion.

As a third aside, there are those who argue helmets are the problem.  Just as people drive less safely with seat belts and air bags in cars, helmets lead to less care on the field.  I will say I played rugby for years (without a helmet of course) and never had one concussion, or any head hit anywhere close to a concussion.  In amateur rugby in the leagues I played in, reckless behavior that might lead to injuries was strongly frowned upon and punished by the group.  Teams that played this way quickly found themselves without a game.  There were plenty of ways to demonstrate toughness without trying to injure people.

Imported From New Orleans

If you are going to create an homage to Detroit, one might consider actually filming in Detroit.

Will It Have A Bar?

Via Matt Welch, from the USA Today:

The measure contains funding for a new destroyer and 10 C-17 cargo planes that the Pentagon did not ask for. It also includes hundreds of smaller earmarks for projects of special interest to individual lawmakers, among them $25 million for a World War II museum in New Orleans and $20 million for the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate in Boston, a kind of think tank dedicated to the legacy of the late senator.

Maybe its not as bad as it sounds.  Maybe its just a driving school.

When Did the Media Stop Distringuishing Between Facts and Guesses?

The Associated Press has an article on how the demographics of New Orleans changed post-Katrina:

Those who have moved back to New Orleans in the three years since
Hurricane Katrina devastated the city are likely to have higher incomes
and more education than people who haven't come back, demographic data
shows.

New Orleans remains predominantly black, as it was before Hurricane
Katrina struck in 2005, U.S. Census Bureau figures show. But people who
have some college education, are above the poverty line, own homes
and have no children are more likely to have returned to the city than
others, says William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution
in Washington.

The city was 59 percent black in 2006, the most recent census
figures available, compared with 68 percent in 2005. Census data shows
20.6 percent of New Orleans residents were below the poverty level last
year, compared with 24.5 percent in 2005.

OK, the fact that the demographics of New Orleans have changed coincident with the Katrina evacuation  is a fact.  It is based on probably the best demographic data available, though it is not clear that Mr. Frey has the evidence at hand to separate the effects of economic growth in New Orleans from migration patterns in explaining the drop in people below the poverty line, but I will cut him some slack compare to this next statement:

"The people who have come back are the people with the best resources
to come back," said Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution in
Washington who has studied the demographics of New Orleans. "The people
who have not come back are lower-income, minorities, largely renters.
They were the least equipped to come back and have not been able to."

This is a guess.  The data Mr. Frey is working with sheds no light on the reason certain groups did not return.  His statement that they did not come back because they did have the resources to do so is an unproven hypothesis.  I could easily offer a counter-hypothesis, that the issue was that these folks did not have the resources or the knowledge to leave New Orleans to find opportunities to escape their poverty, and having been granted the unique opportunity by the Katrina evacuation to get out, they have found opportunity elsewhere and see no reason to return to the place where they were formerly impoverished.  I actually think my hypothesis is more likely than Mr. Frey's, but in the end both of us are guessing.

Interesting Story on Housing and Crime

A reader sent me a link to what was a pretty interesting story on housing programs and crime in the most recent issue of the Atlantic.  In short, federal housing policy over the last 20-30 years has been to blow up central housing projects (fans of the Wire on HBO will have a good idea of this type of place) that tended to concentrate poverty in a few neighborhoods in favor of voucher programs that would spread the very poor around.  The idea was to get the poor into middle class neighborhoods, with the hope that middle class schools, support networks, and values might be infused in the poor.

Some now seem to be worried that exactly the opposite is happening.  As the article relates, city centers are being revitalized by sending the poor and associated criminal elements outwards.  But in turn, certain here-to-fore quiet suburbs are seeing crime spikes, and these crime waves seem to line up well with where the housing vouchers are being used.

A couple of thoughts:

  • [insert libertarian rant on government playing god with poor people's lives, drug prohibition, government schools, etc.]
  • The people of Houston would not be at all surprised by this, and might call it the Katrina effect.  It may well be that the dispersion of poor families will eventually result in reductions in total crime (say in the next generation or two), but hardened criminals of today don't stop being criminals just because they move to new neighborhoods -- certainly Houston has found this having inherited many criminals from New Orleans.
  • I still think that if we are going to give out subsidized housing, that this in the long-run is a better approach.  The authors of the article seem to fear that the poor, having been dispersed, lost their support networks.  But it strikes me that it was this same network that reinforced all the worst cultural aspects of the old projects, and long-term I think fewer new criminals and poorly motivated kids will exist in the next generation if we can break some of this critical mass up. 
  • The article is an interesting example of how new attitudes about race can get in the way of discussion as much as the old ones.  Stories about increasing crime in the suburbs after an influx of black poor is just too similar to the old integration fears held by whites in the 1960s and 1970s. 

If Only Abuse of Power Was Considered Worse Than Sex

In a previous post I lamented that Eliot Spitzer was lauded by the press as "Mr. Clean" despite (or because of) abuse of power, but was forced to quit within days of revealing an episode of consensual sex.  If only abuse of power had such an immediate impact on politicians as sex:

The Justice Department and the housing department's inspector general
are investigating whether the [HUD] secretary, Alphonso R. Jackson,
improperly steered hundreds of thousands of dollars in government
contracts to friends in New Orleans and the Virgin Islands.

On Wednesday, Democratic lawmakers also raised concerns about
accusations that Mr. Jackson threatened to withdraw federal aid from
the director of the Philadelphia Housing Authority after he refused to
turn over a $2 million property to a politically connected developer.

Update:  More on the press and its support for prosecutorial abuse of power, in Spitzer's case and others.

Gun to the Head in Seattle

David Stern is putting a gun to the head of Seattle taxpayers:

NBA commissioner David Stern is putting the screws to Seattle
in his attempts to get the community to provide taxpayer subsidies that
are lucrative enough to keep the team from departing the "Emerald City"
to even greener fields in Oklahoma.

Stern blasts city officials
and the overwhelming majority of voters in the city for passing a law
requiring (gasp!) that any funds used to help build an arena earn the
same rate of return as a treasury bill. "That measure simply means
there is no way city money would ever be used on an arena project,"
Stern said. Effectively, Stern has just confirmed what sports
economists have known all along: taxpayer spending on sports
infrastructure is unlikely to provide significant returns on the
investment.

We went through the exact same thing here in Phoenix, with various outsiders and city politicians chiding the voters to voting down taxpayer funded palaces for the Cardinals and Coyotes  (eventually, they found a sucker in the local city of Glendale).  In the past, I have written about sports team and corporate relocations as a prisoners dilemma game.

To see this clearer, lets take the example of Major League Baseball
(MLB).  We all know that cities and states have been massively
subsidizing new baseball stadiums for billionaire team owners.  Lets
for a minute say this never happened - that somehow, the mayors of the
50 largest cities got together in 1960 and made a no-stadium-subsidy
pledge.  First, would MLB still exist?  Sure!  Teams like the Giants
have proven that baseball can work financially in a private park, and
baseball thrived for years with private parks.  OK, would baseball be
in the same cities?  Well, without subsidies, baseball would be in the
largest cities, like New York and LA and Chicago, which is exactly
where they are now.  The odd city here or there might be different,
e.g. Tampa Bay might never have gotten a team, but that would in
retrospect have been a good thing.

The net effect in baseball is the same as it is in every other
industry:  Relocation subsidies, when everyone is playing the game, do
nothing to substantially affect the location of jobs and businesses,
but rather just transfer taxpayer money to business owners and workers.

   

The Sports Economist writes about this move in the context of another economic game:

Indeed this is a classic example of the time inconsistency problem for
which Finn Kydland and Ed Prescott (my graduate school macro
professor!) won the Nobel Prize in 2004. Stern would like to threaten
Seattle with the permanent loss of their NBA team in order to secure
taxpayer concessions now. But should the team move, the NBA has every
reason to want to back off its previous threats and relocate a team
back into to the area due to the size, location, and income levels of
the city. Even having lost a team, Seattle will likely remain a better
candidate for a successful franchise than smaller and poorer cities
such as New Orleans or Memphis. Certainly Seattle should not fall for
Stern's bluster.

New Orleans, Progressive Paradise

From the USA Today:

In working-class areas here, homes for sale
have begun to move briskly. But in the ritzy Uptown district and other
well-to-do neighborhoods, the picture is bleaker. "New Price" and
"Reduced" signs adjoin grand Victorian homes "” symbols of a struggling
upscale housing market.

They're the lingering effects of Hurricane
Katrina. In coastal Louisiana and Mississippi, a glut of higher-end
homes points to soaring property insurance costs that are pricing many
people out of the market. It also speaks to the legions of doctors and
other professionals who have left the area and have yet to return. The
price of their exodus could be severe: Economic development experts
warn that if these professionals stay away en masse, it could cripple
the region's recovery.

For anyone with a stake in the region's recovery, the loss of
higher-income residents "” and their job skills "” is alarming. The
problem is compounded by the shortage of upper-income buyers willing to
put down stakes to replace those who have left.

So what is the problem?  I thought this would make New Orleans a progressive paradise.  No rich to get richer and create envy in the working classes.  No issues with income distribution.  Just a worker's paradise with no capitalist oppressors.  Huge portions of the populations dependent on the government and refusing to rebuild until they get government handouts to do so.  This sounds like everything Progressives are working for.  But...

Doctors, bankers and other professionals are "the backbone of the
community," says William H. Frey, a demographer at the Brookings
Institution, a Washington think tank. "They're the people who will help
the tax base. If they leave, they are going to be very hard to replace."

Oh, I see.  We don't really want them around, but we need milch cows we can tax so we can have handouts for everyone else.  It must be a hard tightrope for progressives to walk -- they hate rich people but need them to pay for their schemes.

The Individual Responsibility Bomb

Yesterday I saw Live Free or Die Hard, and I must say that it was an unexpectedly enjoyable film.  Good action from earlier movies combined with an unlikely buddy movie element.  I was disappointed only with one bit towards the end that overtaxed my suspension of disbelief.

Anyway, not to spoil too much, a mysterious group has hacked into government computers to shut down most public functions - air traffic control, traffic lights, emergency response.  They've also messed with communications and stock market computers. 

In pushing their terrorist attack, the message was interesting.  I can't remember the exact words, but it was stuff like "what if you called the government and no one was there to answer.  What if you needed help and government agencies could not help you.  You are all alone"  This struck me as a thoroughly modern form of attack -- the terrorists cut the welfare state off from the government, forcing them to take responsibility for their own lives, and everyone panics in response.

I remember one line where Bruce Willis says "Surely the government has departments full of people to deal with this kind of thing" and the other character says "it took the government five days after Katrina to get water to the Superdome."  Again, the assumption is that as the tools of civilization fail, only the government could put things together again, and they were undermanned.  But after Katrina, Wal-Mart and Home Depot had extra inventory in their local stores, with a focus on plywood and generators and the like, in hours rather than days.  FEMA on the other hand spent more time after Katrina keeping individuals from helping in New Orleans of their own initiative than doing anything themselves.   Civilization was built by individuals, not the government, and if it ever comes to rebuilding it, the same will be true.

Government as a Barrier to... Everything

I have had experience on several occasions attempting to bring private solutions (at no cost to the city government) to certain municipal problems.  The general approach to such offers, which seems to be similar in every city I have lived in, is to get together a meeting of every single government authority that could possibly have some tangential jurisdiction over the particular problem (e.g, city, county, state, highways, parks, water, environment, etc. etc.).  In this meeting, the discussion goes around the table, with every single participant adding another reason why the proposal is a problem and/or another roadblock or required approval.  This is not an exaggeration - I can't remember one person in such a meeting try to fix a problem or make something happen.  Everyone in government has an incentive system, it seems, that revolves around avoiding risk and preventing change. 

That is why I know that this story is typical of government, not an aberration:

LSU hospital officials began planning for a temporary network of
neighborhood clinics in early November 2005, barely two months after
Hurricane Katrina knocked Charity Hospital out of commission and threw
health-care services for many of the city's uninsured into disarray.

Eight months later, in late June and early July, FEMA delivered the
trailers to New Orleans, with the $761,000 bill picked up by the
federal government.

It wasn't until last week that the New Orleans City Council agreed
to temporarily waive the city's zoning code to allow the trailers to be
located at six schools around the city -- three on the east bank and
three in Algiers -- for two years.

In between fell more than 100 meetings and dozens of e-mails about
the issue involving LSU executives and officials at the city, state and
federal levels. And the journey is not over. The zoning waivers still
need approval from Mayor Ray Nagin, which cannot occur until next week
at the earliest, as well as permits from the city that could take up to
six months to acquire.

Katrina, General Patton, and Individual Responsibility

How can you resist that title?  I took this from Stephen Ambrose's wonderful Citizen Soldiers:

Patton entered the town [of Bitburg, Germany] from the south while the fighting was still going on at the northern edge of town.  "In spite of the fact that the shells were falling with considerable regularity, I saw five Germans, three women and two men, re-roofing a house.  They were not even waiting for Lend-Lease, as would be the case in several other countries I could mention [including France]."   Dozens of GIs make the same point:  in Italy and France, the residents left the rubble in the streets, waiting for someone else to clean it up, while in Germany the residents were cleaning up as soon as the battle passed their villages.

Does this make anyone else think of Katrina and New Orleans?  I guess they don't call it the French Quarter for nothing.

Katrina was Government Revealed

It frustrates me some when the government's Katrina response is cited as an example of government failure.  This implies that the government should perform better, but just didn't in this particular case because of some process or personnel problem.  But the government's Katrina response was not the government failing, but the government doing exactly what it always does.  Governments of all types are hard-wired to produce the mess we saw.  And it was a mess, as Ralph Reiland summarizes a recent NY Times article:

  • An estimated 1,100 prison inmates across the Gulf Coast collected in excess
    of $10 million in rental assistance and disaster-relief money. Crime pays! FEMA,
    in addition, distributed millions of tax dollars to people who used names and
    Social Security numbers belonging to state and federal prisoners.
  • A hotel owner in Sugar Land, Texas, has been charged with submitting
    $232,000 in invoices for evacuees who allegedly never stayed at his hotel,
    billing FEMA for purportedly empty rooms or rooms occupied by paying guests or
    hotel employees.
  • An Illinois woman who was living in Illinois at the time of the storm sought
    relief benefits by claiming she had watched her two daughters drown in the flood
    waters of New Orleans. The children never existed.
  • A Department of Labor employee in Louisiana, appropriately named Wayne
    Lawless, has been charged with handing out nearly 100 falsified disaster
    unemployment benefit cards in exchange for kickbacks of up to $300 per card.
  • In New Orleans, two FEMA officials have pleaded guilty to pocketing $20,000
    in bribes in exchange for inflating the count on the number of meals a
    contractor was serving to relief workers.
  • With the $2,000 debit cards distributed by FEMA for disaster relief, an
    estimated 5,000 people have double dipped, receiving both the $2,000 plastic
    card and a second $2,000 by check or electronically.
  • Two men, one a representative of the Army Corps of Engineers, have pleaded
    guilty to taking kickbacks in exchange for approving payments for removal of
    nonexistent loads of hurricane debris. In contrast, with loads of debris that
    were not nonexistent, a councilman in St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana, has been
    charged with attempting to extort $100,000 from a debris-removal contractor.
  • One creative scam artist is charged with collecting 26 federal disaster
    relief checks totaling $139,000 by using 13 Social Security numbers and fake
    claims of damage at bogus addresses. Others collected and pocketed hurricane
    relief donations by posing as Red Cross workers.
    All told, what the above
    represents is "one of the most extraordinary displays of scams, schemes and
    stupefying bureaucratic bungles in modern history," reports the Times, "costing
    taxpayers up to $2 billion."

Note that this isn't a unique failure - this story can be written about any government handout program.  And this wasn't a case of FEMA moving too fast without restraints when everyone around it was signaling caution - in fact just the opposite.  Everyone on the sidelines at the time was criticizing FEMA for being too slow in handing out money willy-nilly.

One of the problems never discussed very often is that increasingly, the government has insisted on an exclusive monopoly position for itself in providing disaster assistance.  In effect, past disaster assistance was provided by people you never see or hear about, private people taking private action.  In Katrina, the government worked hard to shut most of these people out.  So, in this sense, Katrina was probably a worse response than in other disasters because the bottom-up, thousands-of-people-helping-out response was not allowed.  FEMA, under pressure from both sides of the aisle, increasingly take the Al Haig "I'm in charge here" approach, much to everyone's detriment. 
Unfortunately, most analyses of Katrina are saying the government did not do enough.  I think it did too much.

Fortifying the Border

So we're going to build a wall and send an army to the border.

Maintaining a military to defend a group of people against outsiders who wish to use force against them is one of the core functions of government.  Even crazed libertarian anarcho-capitalists like myself concede it as a function of government.  If libertarians were to have their version of the ten commandments, the only phrase that would have to be on the stone is "Thou shalt not deal with thy neighbor through force or fraud."  The government maintains police and a military to handle the people who wish to violate this one commandment.

Throughout the years, countries have built armies and fortifications to defend against invaders who wanted to loot their lands, or steal their property, or impose their own version of racial or religious uniformity.  The US Army itself has fought for freedom, it has fought to restore democracy and individual rights, it has fought to stop genocides. 

Today, the US Army sallies forth again, to fight for and defend .... what? 

It fights to stop waves of Mexican immigrants that are dangerous because they ... want to freely exchange their labor with US Citizens?

It fights to protect Americans from ... competition for unskilled labor jobs?

It valiantly rides forth to make sure Americans never face the horror of ... interacting with someone with only broken English?

The soldiers racing to the borders are not fighting for me, because I am not in danger.  And neither is anyone around me here in Arizona -- no one from outside the border is threatening me with force or fraud (surprisingly frequent emailers sending me messages about Mexicans all being diseased criminals notwithstanding).  Its not like I live blithely ignorant of the border area in Kansas.  I life in Phoenix, and run businesses  right down on the border.  I don't feel a threat or danger.  In fact, the only danger I see is that the army may come down and drag families who are my friends out of their homes and out of the country (or into concentration camps, as one conservative writer longed for).

Immigration opponents are sometimes a little hazy about what danger they are trying to fix.  I agree there is a problem with the welfare state when it meets immigration, which I discussed here and proposed a solution for it here.  Democratic politicians still are confused on this particular problem, wanting some immigration solution but refusing to consider limiting access to the welfare state.   If the problem is infrastructure (police, prisons, schools, etc.) then it could be possible to provide national funds to border regions for this purpose, rather than for armies and walls (the Feds, after all, are handing out hundreds of billions to New Orleans).  And if the problem is too many people who don't look like us Anglo-Saxons, well, sorry  (If you don't think that this is the real issue for many anti-immigration folks, think about the recent scare headlines that soon a majority in the US may be Hispanic.  Can you imagine similar anxiety over the headline "majority of US may soon be of Canadian descent"?)

Update:  Nick Gillespie comments on the fact that Congress has given its official sanction to my speaking English.

Thank you, Middle Eastern 9/11 hijackers, for finally getting the point
through our thick skulls (forgive our slowness, but all too many of us are
descended from immigrants) that the greatest security threat to the United
States is the influx of Spanish speakers from across the border with Mexico.

Christ, it's bad enough that we have to eat foreign food, live in states
with Spanish-derived names, and answer that extra question about which
language to use at the ATM. (Thought experiment: How much is that extra
second or two of time slowing down the U.S. economy and driving down our
productivity, precisely at the moment when the Chinese are breathing down
our
necks like a bunch of post-industrial railroad coolies? You can be damn sure
that the Chinese government doesn't allow ATM users to pick their own
language.)

As I have written before, I have gotten more bizzaro emails on my pro-immigration stand than anything else I have written about.  Gillespie apparently has had the same experience.

Long-Term Chernobyl Harm Revised Downwards

You know those towns along the highway where people joke "don't blink, or you'll miss it?"  Well, apparently I blinked and missed this story.  If the ice in a climatologist's bourbon & water melts faster than she expected, it gets a three-day spread in the New York Times, but this environmental good-new story (surely an oxymoron to most editors) seems to have been pushed to the back page last September:

The long-term health and environmental impacts of the 1986
accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine, while severe,
were far less catastrophic than feared, according to a major new report
by eight U.N. agencies.

The governments of Ukraine,
Belarus and Russia, the three countries most affected by radioactive
fallout from Chernobyl, should strive to end the "paralyzing fatalism"
of tens of thousands of their citizens who wrongly believe they are
still at risk of an early death, according to the study released Monday.

The 600-page report found that as of the middle of this year, the
accident had caused fewer than 50 deaths directly attributable to
radiation, most of them among emergency workers who died in the first
months after the accident.

In fact, even the "while severe" added into the first paragraph seems to be the last gasp of an editor unwilling to accept any environmental good news, since nowhere in the article is there any evidence published of any negative long-term effect at all except that caused to the mental well-being of local citizenry by the continual onslaught of media and governmental horror-predictions.

In fact, the article goes on to say:

Over the next four years, a massive cleanup operation
involving 240,000 workers ensued, and there were fears that many of
these workers, called "liquidators," would suffer in subsequent years.
But most emergency workers and people living in contaminated areas
"received relatively low whole radiation doses, comparable to natural
background levels," a report summary noted. "No evidence or likelihood
of decreased fertility among the affected population has been found,
nor has there been any evidence of congenital malformations."

In
fact, the report said, apart from radiation-induced deaths, the
"largest public health problem created by the accident" was its effect
on the mental health of residents who were traumatized by their rapid
relocation and the fear, still lingering, that they would almost
certainly contract terminal cancer. The report said that lifestyle
diseases, such as alcoholism, among affected residents posed a much
greater threat than radiation exposure.

The other major "fallout" seems to be massively wasted government spending:

Officials said that the continued intense medical monitoring of tens of
thousands of people in Ukraine, Russia and Belarus is no longer a smart
use of limited resources and is, in fact, contributing to mental health
problems among many residents nearly 20 years later. In Belarus and
Ukraine, 5 percent to 7 percent of government spending is consumed by
benefits and programs for Chernobyl victims. And in the three
countries, as many as 7 million people are receiving Chernobyl-related
social benefits.

Sounds like post-Katrina proposals.  We have already seen more level-headed analysis debunk similar horror stories (remember "toxic soup") in New Orleans.  I wonder what a sober analysis of the real long-term health effects around the PG&E site that Erin Brockovitch made her name on would reveal?  When I lived in St. Louis, we had a local meteorologist we used to joke had "accurately predicted twelve of the last three blizzards".  Environmentalists who perplexedly scratch their heads as to why everyone does not yet fully buy into global warming should move past their "everyone is in the pay of the oil companies" explanation and maybe consider for a minute that their panicked prediction of twelve of the last three environmental disasters may be part of the explanation as well.

By the way, what really killed nuclear power was the costliness of the ridiculous regulatory regime.  In a prior post, I suggested an alternative regulatory regime, copied from airlines (see, we libertarians can sometimes hold our nose and actually make a regulatory reform proposal short of "throw it all out").  Reason's Hit and Run points to an example of those on the left reconsidering nuclear power.

Post-Katrina Price Gouging in New Orleans!

Gee, why isn't the Congress doing something about this price gouging in a scarce commodity post-Katrina?

    Burger King is offering a $6,000 signing bonus to anyone who agrees to work for
    a year at one of its New Orleans outlets. Rally's, a local restaurant chain, has
    nearly doubled its pay for new employees to $10 an hour...

    On any given day, contractors and business owners pass out flyers in
    downtown New Orleans promising $17 to $20 an hour, plus benefits, for people
    willing to swing a sledgehammer or cart away stinking debris from homes and
    businesses devastated by Hurricane Katrina ...

    "I'd say I'm paying two to three times as much as I would in normal
    circumstances," said Iggie Perrin, the president of Southern Electronics, a
    supplier in New Orleans, who has offered as much as $30 an hour when seeking
    salvage workers on Canal Street...

The Senate Gets Its Temperature Taken

Last week, the Senate got its temperature taken, with a vote that very effectively checked the health of the putative "World's Greatest Deliberative Body".  This was not a very invasive test, more like using an oral thermometer than having a colonoscopy.  Never-the-less, the results were stark:  The Senate is very sick.

The test was called the Coburn Amendment, and was a test to see how attached the Congress is to pork barrel spending.  The reason that the test was fairly non-invasive was that it it sought to move the spending from only a few of the most egregious pork projects in the highway bill, and shift the money to infrastructure replacement in New Orleans, a use that garners substantial public support.  The bill was voted down resoundingly, 86-13  (though both of our Arizona Senators voted for it, more credit to them).

This post from Mark Tapscott is a pretty good summary.

The charade [is] of endlessly mouthing the cliches of fiscal responsibility
while taking to record levels the shameful practice of log-rolling - "I'll vote
for your pet spending project no matter how bad it is if you vote for my pet
spending project, no matter how bad it is."

Members of Congress call it
"congressional courtesy." Weary taxpayers don't.

Closely related to
log-rolling is the congressional maxim that "to get along, you have to go
along," especially if you are a freshman or from a small state. Coburn is both a
freshman and from a state with only a handful of electoral
votes.

Senators and Representatives have been log-rolling since the First
Congress, of course, but never before with the intensity of the current GOP-led
Congress. Appropriations bills now routinely gain approval with hundreds or
thousands of "earmarks," which is Hill-talk for pork barrel projects inserted by
individual members to benefit their district or state.

Patty Murray, of Washington, freaked at the prospect of losing her poetry shelter or whatever it is they proposed cutting from the highway bill, and threatened Senator Coburn with excommunication from the go-along-Senators-club.  Coburn's response to the legendarily dimwitted Murray is here.

Murray (recorded):  You know, as the old saying goes, what is good for the goose is good for the gander, and I tell my colleagues, if we start funding for individual projects, your project may be next.  And so, Mr. President, when members come down to the floor and
vote on this amendment, they need to know if they start stripping out this project, Senator Bond and I are likely to be taking a long, serious look at their projects, to determine whether they should be preserved during our upcoming conference negotiations.
               

             

Jed Babbin: Well, does that bother you,  Senator? I mean, are you worried so much about Oklahoma projects?
             

Tom Coburn: No. I don't ask for any projects.  I ran on a platform of saying the biggest problem we face in our country is financial and economic, and cultural in Washington, that if we don't change that, I promised you I will not earmark
a thing until the budget is in surplus.
             

JB: Wow.
             

TC: So I don't have any earmarks.
So I don't have any...you know, there's no power over me to withhold
earmarks, because I have none.
             

JB: Well, how tough is it going to be, though, to undo this culture of pork? I mean, the porksters are all around you. I mean, we're not naming names, but you're
                outnumbered there pretty solidly, so...
             

TC: Look, when the American people want things to change, they will change. Just as like in 1994, they changed? It's this year's time. Make them change. You know, hold them accountable. There's Democrats and Republicans up here, but we're all Americans, and we ought to be thinking about the
heritage that has come before us, and the legacy that's going 
to follow us. And the legacy that's going to follow us today is  a millstone around the neck of our grandchildren, because we're going to leave them so far in debt, and we haven't even begun
to talk about how do we fix Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid.

 

Ahh, but saving best for last, there is Alaska.  Many months ago, I took some shots at the famous bridge to nowhere, and called Don Young the New Huey Long.  Now, even some Alaska residents are willing to give it up to help New Orleans:

The amendment became a cause celebre on the left and the
right, with watchdog and conservative groups reporting updates on their
Web sites throughout the day. The Club for Growth alerted readers early
yesterday on its Web log, or blog: "As of last night, the opposition is
putting up a big fight. They sense this amendment, if successful, as
establishing a precedent. A precedent where all pork is vulnerable and
no lawmaker is safe."

Later in the day, the Heritage
Foundation circulated a paper, "The Bridge to Nowhere: A National
Embarrassment," and noted, "fiscally responsible members of Congress
should be eager to zero out its funding." Even the Sierra Club backed
the amendment, noting, "We must fix the nation's existing
infrastructure first."

And, there is a curious twist
to the story: Many residents of Alaska appear to support forfeiting the
bridge money for hurricane relief. "This money, a gift from the people
of Alaska, will represent more than just material aid; it will be a
symbol for our beleaguered democracy," reads a typical letter to the
Anchorage Daily News.

Young, who made sure his state
was one of the top recipients in the highway bill, was asked by an
Alaska reporter what he made of the public support for redirecting the
bridge money. "They can kiss my ear! That is the dumbest thing I've
ever heard," he replied.

Anyone want to be that a large portion of Mr. Young's campaign donations come from local construction contractors?

 

Politics as Usual in Louisiana

I got a fair amount of grief for being unfair when I posted this about Louisiana politics.  Based on emerging evidence, I stand by my assessment:

Acting New Orleans Police Superintendent Warren Riley said Thursday
that as many as 40 officers from the department's 3rd District,
including the commanding captain, are "under scrutiny" for possibly
bolting the city in the clutch and heading to Baton Rouge in Cadillacs
from a New Orleans dealership.

As many as 200 cars may have been stolen from this dealership by police deserting their posts in New Orleans.  Those trying to defend the police as merely commandeering the vehicles in an emergency will have to explain why 1) They were leaving the city without leave from their commanders and 2) Why Cadillacs are missing but Chevy's from the same district appear to be mostly undisturbed.

British Censors Rewriting... the Future?

Government censors often try to rewrite the past, but Reason's Hit and Run passes on this funny story of British attempts to rewrite the future:

Britain's Meteorological Office has instructed forecasters to describe the
country's damp, dismal, seasonal-affect-disorder-inducing, godawful weather in
Bob Rossian terms:

Prolonged sunshine is expected under new "positive" forecast
guidelines issued by the Meteorological Office...

There is no need to dwell on a "small chance of showers" when "mainly dry"
tells a better story. If there are "localised storms" then it must be "dry for
most". Clouds over Manchester mean generally clear visibility for motorway
drivers

I don't know what the Brits are complaining about in a forecast such as "small chance of showers".  In the States, the same forecast would be communicated as "huge, civilization ending storm approaching - details at 11".  When I lived in St. Louis, I remember that the local news successfully predicted 11 of the last 3 snowstorms.

Update:  I appears that the media has also been reporting 11 of the last 3 murders:

Five weeks after Hurricane Katrina laid waste to New Orleans, some local, state
and federal officials have come to believe that exaggerations of mayhem by
officials and rumors repeated uncritically in the news media helped slow the
response to the disaster and tarnish the image of many of its
victims.

Claims of widespread looting, gunfire directed at helicopters and
rescuers, homicides, and rapes, including those of "babies" at the Louisiana
Superdome, frequently turned out to be overblown, if not completely untrue,
officials now say.

The sensational accounts delayed rescue and evacuation efforts already hampered
by poor planning and a lack of coordination among local, state and federal
agencies. People rushing to the Gulf Coast to fly rescue helicopters or to
distribute food, water and other aid steeled themselves for battle. In
communities near and far, the seeds were planted that the victims of Katrina
should be kept away, or at least handled with extreme caution.

I had my own commentary about media malpractice here.

OK, Top This

The Club for Growth has identified one of the most ridiculous pieces of government spending I have seen so far. 

So, you landed a big king salmon this summer? It can't
compare to the colossal king Alaska Airlines plans to land this morning in
Anchorage.

The Seattle-based carrier has painted nearly the full
length of a Boeing 737-400 passenger jet as a wild Alaska king, or chinook,
salmon. The airline has dubbed its flying fish the "Salmon-Thirty-Salmon."

It's a bold promotional move to celebrate wild Alaska
seafood and also the carrier's role in hauling millions of pounds of fresh
salmon, halibut, crab, shrimp and other seafood out of the state each year.

The plane is kind of cool looking, in a creepy sort of way:

Fish

But here is what was buried deep in the article on the "bold" plan:

A local nonprofit agency, the Alaska Fisheries Marketing
Board, gave Alaska Airlines a $500,000 grant to paint the jet. The money came
out of about $29 million in federal funding U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska and
his congressional colleagues have appropriated to the marketing board, created
in 2003, to promote and enhance the value of Alaska seafood. The senator's son,
state Sen. Ben Stevens, is chairman of the agency's board of directors.

Maybe they can use the plane to fly the route to New Orleans.  The scary part is the article plays this whole project straight up, as if it is perfectly normal and natural, even bold and innovative.

Spending other people's money, taken from them by force, on projects they don't necessarily support, does not make you bold, or compassionate, or caring, or innovative.  It just makes you a politician.

The Death of Small-Government Republicans

My liberal in-laws always give me this strange condescending look whenever it comes up that I have voted for a Republican at some point in time, that same look you might give the otherwise beloved family dog that keeps pooping on the front lawn.  As a libertarian, I seldom fully agree with any political candidate of either party.  Every election is a tradeoff:  Do I vote for the unelectable and perhaps truly odd Libertarian candidate?  Or do I vote for a mainstream party with which I disagree with about half of everything they promote?

So here is how I normally make the decision:  On pure self-interest.  Since, as a small business owner, I am much more likely to need strong protection of property rights than I am going to need an abortion, a gay marriage, or legal marijuana, I end up voting Republican more often than I vote Democrat.  For this reason, the Republican party has generally garnered a good many libertarian votes, and the two most identifiable libertarians in Congress (Flake and Paul) have both called themselves Republican, though I am sure with some reservations.

This relationship, however, may be at an end as Republicans are disavowing their libertarian wing, and returning to their large government tendencies of the 1970's.  Bush and his buddy Tom Delay are turning out to be classic Nixon Republicans.  The most recent evidence comes from the fact that the following is not from our Republican President, or our Republican Speaker of the House, but from the for-god-sakes Washington Post:

But this spirit of
forbearance has not touched the Louisiana congressional delegation. The
state's representatives have come up with a request for $250 billion in
federal reconstruction funds for Louisiana alone -- more than $50,000
per person in the state. This money would come on top of payouts from
businesses, national charities and insurers. And it would come on top
of the $62.3 billion that Congress has already appropriated for
emergency relief.

Like looters who seize six
televisions when their homes have room for only two, the Louisiana
legislators are out to grab more federal cash than they could possibly
spend usefully. ...

The Louisiana delegation has apparently devoted little thought
to the root causes of the Hurricane Katrina disaster. New Orleans was
flooded not because the Army Corps of Engineers had insufficient money
to build flood protections, but because its money was allocated by a
system of political patronage. ...

The Louisiana bill is so preposterous
that its authors can't possibly expect it to pass; it's just the first
round in a process of negotiation. But the risk is that the
administration and congressional leaders will accept the $250 billion
as a starting point, then declare a victory for fiscal sanity when they
bring the number down to, say, $150 billion. Instead, Congress should
ignore the Louisiana bill and force itself to think seriously about the
sort of reconstruction that makes sense.

The Republicans are lost.  Combine this kind of spending with their Patriot Act and Sarbabes-Oxley driven Big-Borther-Is-Watching intrusiveness, luke-warm committment to free-trade, and bizarre obsession with pornography, and I find nothing at all attractive about the party.  Only the economic insanity of the opposition party continues to keep Republicans in power. 

More on the Louisiana money grab here.

Media Malpractice

Kevin Drum passes on this Times-Picayune story that apparently, New Orleans in general and the Superdome in particular were not quite the post-apocalyptic-mad-max killing zone they were portrayed as:

"I had the impression that at least 40 or 50 murders had occurred at the two
sites," he said. "It's unfortunate we saw these kinds of stories saying crime
had taken place on a massive scale when that wasn't the case. And they (national
media outlets) have done nothing to follow up on any of these cases, they just
accepted what people (on the street) told them....It's not consistent with the
highest standards of journalism."

....The picture that emerged was one of the impoverished, masses of flood
victims resorting to utter depravity, randomly attacking each other, as well as
the police trying to protect them and the rescue workers trying to save them.
[Mayor Ray] Nagin told [Oprah] Winfrey the crowd has descended to an "almost
animalistic state."

Drum has an odd way of introducing the story, saying that "conventional wisdom about the Superdome and Convention Center was wrong" and introducing the story as an "urban legend".  Conventional wisdom? Urban legend?  This isn't a story that was created around water coolers, this is a story that was reported like this by the major media.  If the Times-Picayune story is right, then a better lead would be "Major Media Greatly Exaggerated Deaths and Disorder at Superdome". 

What Drum is so coy about pointing out is that this is yet another example of the media falling in love with a story line and selectively choosing facts, and where necessary, suspending disbelief, to support that story line.  First, the media wanted what it always wants in a disaster:  the big story that will draw viewers  (Did anyone else notice last week during Rita that when the hurricane went from category 3 to 5, all the media said it was much more dangerous at 5, but when it went back down to 3, they all said its just as dangerous at 3 as 5).  As the days progressed, the media fell in love with a new story, the story of a racist administration that was abandoning blacks to chaos.

OK, well here is my new story line:  Its about a media that won't even trust General Honore when he announces the location of the hurricane Rita evacuation site without peppering him with 20 useless questions but is willing to believe, without evidence, that a mostly black population would in a period of two days descend into Lord-of-the-Flies level violence, murder, and yes, they even mentioned cannibalism.   Message to blacks from the media: The elite media types feel your pain, support litmus test issues like affirmative action, but they will assume that at your heart you are all murderers and cannibals.   Who are the freakin' racists here, anyway?   Heck, a black "social justice advocate" started the cannibalism rumor in print.  With leaders like these, do African-Americans need enemies?

And, by the way, there is a second really interesting story line here about how the major media's desire to portray the situation in New Orleans as bad as possible, even if the facts did not support it, actually slowed the pace of help to victims.  Any number of volunteers shied away from entering the damaged area, afraid for their own safety.  Many more were turned away from the area by authorities who were afraid they could not protect them.  There is no doubt in my mind that the media's fact-free coverage, skewed to make things look as bad as possible, made things worse for victims in the early days after the hurricane, all in the name of higher ratings.  If Walmart or Haliburton had done something to impede the rescue in the name of higher profits, they would be hung out to dry.  OK, I am waiting for a similar outcry against ABC and CNN and FOX, because it seems that that is exactly what they are guilty of.

Update:  From the LA Times:

"If the dome and Convention Center had harbored large numbers of
middle class white people," [New Orleans Times-Picayune Editor] Amoss said, "it would not have been a
fertile ground for this kind of rumor-mongering."

A lot of the blame, though seems to also fall at the footsteps of the Mayor and Chief of Police:

Mayor C. Ray Nagin told a national television audience on "Oprah" three
weeks ago of people "in that frickin' Superdome for five days watching
dead bodies, watching hooligans killing people, raping people."...

Some of the hesitation that journalists might have had about using the
more sordid reports from the evacuation centers probably fell away when
New Orleans' top officials seemed to confirm the accounts.

Nagin and Police Chief Eddie Compass appeared on "Oprah" a few days after trouble at the Superdome had peaked.

Compass told of "the little babies getting raped" at the
Superdome. And Nagin made his claim about hooligans raping and killing.

Mayor Nagin has for some reason chosen the strategy, which seems insane in retrospect, of hoping that making the situation look as bad as possible would somehow enhance his personal reputation.  This strategy seems nuts, but I will say that it is one that has worked well for black politicians for years, making political hay by pointing out how bad their black constituents have it because of outside racist forces and powers outside their control.  In this case, though, the chickens come home to roost as Mayor Nagin has been unable to shed that nasty, nagging question that African-Americans should have been asking of their black leaders for years: "Uh, but in this case weren't you the one in charge?"

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Louisiana Reconstruction Disaster

If you didn't see it on Instapundit, LSU professor Jeffrey Sadow has a great post on the huge corrupt porkfest that is being proposed in Louisiana:

  • The $250 billion [in proposed federal aid] is not far behind the $350 billion
    estimated spent on the military aspects and their aftermath of the war
    of terror since Sep. 11, 2001 "“ which means in reconstruction terms
    (leaving out the actual war-making expenses), Louisiana actually is
    asking for more than countries with 10 times its population which face
    far more damage.
  • The $40 billion [in proposed Corps of Engineering spending for Louisiana] is ten times the annual
    Corps budget, and 100 times the annual amount typically received by
    Louisiana which gets more such funding than any other state.
  • Also, it is nearly three times the size of the entire request for coastal restoration efforts in the state.
  • He concludes:

    So, let's get this straight. Louisiana, from some of her federal officials through some state officials all they way down to city and other local governments,
    countenanced negligence from benign to irresponsible in ensuring proper
    flood protection and in dealing with hurricanes. And now these same
    people have formulated a plan wanting the country to pay an incredible
    sum of money to the state controlled by people from the state to deal
    with the aftereffects and, apparently, Louisiana's past inability to
    utilize our resources efficiently in other areas?

    The rest of the country is going to look at this and think we're still stuck on stupid.

    Glenn Reynolds also has a long post with other good links on the topic here.  I particularly liked this bit he quotes from John Fund:

    Put bluntly, the local political cultures don't engender confidence
    that aid won't be diverted from the people who truly need and deserve
    it. While the feds can try to ride herd on the money, here's hoping
    folks in the region take the opportunity to finally demand their own
    political housecleaning. Change is past due. Last year, Lou Riegel, the
    agent in charge of the FBI's New Orleans office, described Louisiana's
    public corruption as "epidemic, endemic, and entrenched. No branch of
    government is exempt."

    Louisiana ranks third in the nation in the number of elected
    officials per capita convicted of crimes (Mississippi takes top prize).
    In just the past generation, the Pelican State has had a governor, an
    attorney general, three successive insurance commissioners, a
    congressman, a federal judge, a state Senate president and a swarm of
    local officials convicted. Last year, three top officials at
    Louisiana's Office of Emergency Preparedness were indicted on charges
    they obstructed a probe into how federal money bought out flood-prone
    homes. Last March the Federal Emergency Management Agency ordered
    Louisiana to repay $30 million in flood-control grants it had awarded
    to 23 parishes

    Update: Lots more at Porkopolis

    Louisiana population is 4,468,976, not all of which was
    affected by the hurricane. A reasonable assumption is to say that half the
    population was in the path of the hurricane
    . That would be about 2,234,488,
    but to keep calculations simple we'll round up the affected population to 2,
    500,000. That 2.5 million of affected Louisiana residents will make for an easy
    calculation

    $250 billion divided by 2.5 million affected residents
    results in a disaster relief request of.....(drum rooooooooooll)...$100,000 per person!

    And these juicy details:

    • $100 million for "psychological trauma response early intervention,
      prevention, and disorder treatment by culturally competent counselors and mental
      health professionals for children who are 0 to 5 years of age; see page 38, line
      1.
    • $100 million for mosquito abatement; see page 39, line 12.
    • $1 billion "shall be used for a program to aid the travel and tourism
      industry"; see page 45, line 17
    • $5 million for Project Serv under the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and
      Communities Act; see page 49, line 13
    • NOAA weather radio for every eligible person; see Sec. 526 .

    Occasioning this statement:

    "It's all vital," said Landrieu. "There's not
    anything in here that we would consider a wish list or pie in the sky. This is
    what we really believe is essential."

    This is just the macro-scale version of this, business as usual in Louisiana:

    Police found cases of food, clothes and tools intended for hurricane
    victims in the backyard, shed and rooms throughout the home of a chief
    administrative officer of a New Orleans suburb, officials said
    Wednesday.

    Police in Kenner searched Cedric Floyd's home Tuesday because of
    complaints that city workers were helping themselves to donations for
    hurricane victims. Floyd, who runs the day-to-day operations in Kenner,
    was in charge of distributing the donations.

    The donations, including lanterns, vacuums and clothes with price
    tags attached, had to be removed in four loads in a big pickup truck,
    Kenner police Capt. Steve Caraway said.

    "It was an awful lot of stuff," he said.

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    My Urban Plan for New Orleans

    Cafe Hayek points out that Rep. Earl Blumenauer wants to make sure that New Orleans is rebuilt with a strong urban planning vision.  Since Mr. Blumenauer represents Portland, Oregon, the city beloved of planners that has been planned into having some of the highest priced housing and worst traffic of any city of its size in America, I presume he wants something similar for New Orleans (Portland was also the city that thought it had solved global warming).

    Here is my urban plan for New Orleans:  Every person who owns property can build whatever the hell they want on it.  If other people want something else built on that property, and value this outcome enough, they can buy the property from its owner.  This novel concept is called "private property rights" and falls under the broader category of what are called "constitutionally protected individual rights" or even more broadly, "freedom".  It is a concept that used to be taken for granted in this country and but now is seldom even taught in schools. 

    For the property owned by the government, well, they are going to build whatever dumbshit thing they want to on it anyway, so I'll just root for their choice to be fairly inexpensive.  We here in Phoenix built a half-billion dollar stadium for the for-god-sakes Arizona Cardinals that is used for its core purpose 3 hours a day for 8 days a year.  It couldn't be worse, could it?

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