Posts tagged ‘PPS’

Oops, Coyote Blog's 10-year Anniversary Passed About a Month Ago

I guess as I have aged I don't tend to pay much attention to birthdays either, but as of last month this blog is ten years old.  Hard to believe.  Celebrating a decade of my inability to proof-read.  Thanks for your patients.

PS- yes, I did that on purpose.

PPS - I actually do know the difference between its and it's, for example, but I just don't always execute carefully.  However, I use "them" and "they" and "their" intentionally as a third-party singular pronoun in an effort to establish from the ground up a gender-neutral third party pronoun, because saying "he or she" sucks.

Obama's Demand for Wage Rules for Salaried Workers Will Have Far More Impact Than Proposed Minimum Wage Changes

The $10.10 minimum wage discussion has gotten a lot of attention.   But in 2011 only 3.8 million workers made at or below the minimum wage, and of these, at least half earn substantially more in reality through tips.

Obama's announcement yesterday that he wanted to substantially change the way salaried workers will likely have far more negative impacts on employment than his minimum wage proposals.

President Barack Obama is expected to order a rule change this week that would require employers to pay overtime to a larger number of salaried workers, two people familiar with the matter said.

Currently, many businesses aren't required to pay overtime to certain salaried workers if they earn more than $455 a week, a level that was set in 2004 and comes to roughly $24,000 a year. The White House is expected to direct the Labor Department to raise that salary threshold, though it is unclear by how much.

Ross Eisenbrey, vice president of the liberal Economic Policy Institute, and Jared Bernstein, a former White House economist, recently proposed the limit be increased to $984 a week, or roughly $50,000 a year.

"That would mean between five- and 10-million people could be affected, but they might choose a lower number," Mr. Eisenbrey said about the White House plans.

5-10 million is potentially 3x or more the people affected by a minimum wage change.  But in some sense, this still underestimates the impact.  Here is one example.  Last year the average starting salary of college graduates is about $45,000.  The median is likely lower.  This means that over half of all college graduates going into the work force will be taking hourly jobs that used to be salaried.   Teachers will be hourly.  Budget analysts will be hourly.  Etc.

So all these folks are saying - Yeah!  I get overtime!   Wrong.  They will be eligible for overtime.  But companies will quickly restructure their work processes to make sure no one works overtime.  And since their new hires are working just a straight 40 hours (with mandatory unpaid lunch break time in CA), they will likely pay less.   If I am paying $40,000 a year for someone who will work extra hours for me, I am not going to pay that amount to someone just punching a time clock.  And the whole psychological relationship is changed - a salaried person is someone on the management team.  A person punching a timeclock may not be treated the same way.

Further, when someone gets switched from salary to hourly, they lose a minimum pay guarantee.  When I get a $3,500 a month offer, I know that no matter how slow things are, until I am fired I get $3500 a month.  There is a floor on my earnings.  As an hourly worker, my hours can be adjusted up or down constantly.  There is no floor at all.

Oh, and by the way, remember Obamacare?  The PPACA penalizes companies who do not provide a health plan that meets certain (expensive) criteria.  But that penalty is not applied for workers who are "part-time" or work less than 30 hours a week.  Salaried workers are automatically full time.  But once you convert all those people to hourly and make sure they are working no more than 40 hours a week, is it really so large a step to getting them under 30 hours a week?

PS-  Well, for those who think schools assign too much homework, this could well be the end of homework.  The most dangerous possible thing with hourly workers is to give them the ability to assign themselves unlimited overtime.  Teachers could do this at home with grading papers.  If I were a school, I would ban teachers from doing any grading or schoolwork prep at home -- after all, it's hourly and probably overtime and they could work unlimited hours at home and how would you get it under control?  The only way to manage it would be to ban it entirely.

PPS- What about travel?  Would you ever let workers paid hourly travel?  You would have to pay all the travel time and maybe part of the hotel time and there would be huge potential for ending up with overtime bills so better to just ban travel all together.  I know this seems knee-jerk to ban something that might impose a lot of extra labor costs seems extreme, but just look at California.  In California, employees have the right to a half-hour lunch break without work.  They can work through lunch if they choose, but courts have imposed enough onerous reporting standards around this that most companies (like mine) have just banned working through lunch.  It is a firing offense in my company, and in many others in CA, to be caught working during lunch.  We are going to see the same thing working from home.  In fact, we already see this, as there are class actions right now against companies who provided employees with cell phones saying that giving them a cell phone put them "on call" and subject to overtime hours that had to paid at home.  Companies are now making it a firing offense to take one's company cell phone home.

Sorry this post is so disorganized, but this initiative caught be by surprise and I have not been thinking about it for very long.  I will try to work out a more rigorous article in the next few weeks.

A Small Bit of Good News -- DC Circuits Slaps Down the IRS

The creeping regulatory / corporate state gets a setback

Faulting the IRS for attempting to “unilaterally expand its authority,” the D.C. Circuit today affirmed a district court decision tossing out the agency’s tax-preparer licensing program. Under the program, all paid tax-return preparers, hitherto unregulated, were required to pass a certification exam, pay annual fees to the agency, and complete 15 hours of continuing education each year.

The program, of course, had been backed by the major national tax-return preparers, chiefly as a way of driving up compliance costs for smaller rivals and pushing home-based “kitchen table” preparers out of business. Dan Alban of the Institute for Justice, lead counsel to the tax preparers challenging the program,called the decision “a major victory for tax preparers—and taxpayers—nationwide.”

The licensing program was not only a classic example of corporate cronyism, but also of agency overreach. IRS relied on an 1884 statute empowering it to “regulate the practice of representatives or persons before [it].” Prior to 2011, IRS had never claimed that the statute gave it authority to regulate preparers. Indeed, in 2005, an IRS official testified that preparers fell outside of the law’s reach.

Perhaps a first indication that the Obama Administration strategy to pack the DC Circuit with Obama appointees may not necessarily protect his executive overreach.

PS - you gotta love the IJ.

PPS - The IRS justified its actions under "an obscure 1884 statute governing the representatives of Civil War soldiers seeking compensation for dead horses"

Resort with Spectacular Views

I don't like to recommend destinations that are really expensive (why get people excited about a place they can't afford to visit) but we splurged this weekend on the Enchantment Resort in Sedona, Arizona.  It is the most spectacular location I have ever seen for a landlocked (ie non ocean-front) resort.  It is almost impossible to do it justice in photos, because it sits at the end of a box canyon and is surrounded on three sides by red rock walls.    Some pictures are here in the google image result.  Expect to pay $300-400 and up for a night, though you will get a very nice room even for the lower rates, and large casitas for higher rates.  As is usual for resorts, meals are crazy expensive -- its hard to get through breakfast, for example, for less than $20 a person.  But the views and hiking and everything else here are just beautiful.

One of the things I enjoyed was the resort had a native american climb onto a local rock outcropping a couple of times a day and play peaceful flute music that echoed around the resort.  You can see a group gathered around to watch (update:  A reader was nice enough to Photoshop out some of the haze using a levels command trick he taught me a while back -- you can compare below to this original)

enchantment1 copy

It freaked me out for a while because I would here this low-volume music as I walked around the resort and I could not figure out where it was coming from (I kept looking for hidden speakers until I figured it out).

As an added bonus, the night sky is totally dark -- you are out in the wilderness about 15 miles from Sedona and out of site of any other habitation of any sort and almost completely surrounded by canyon walls.  As a result, it is one of the few places where us city folk can see the Milky Way in all its glory (below is my amateur photography (you may have to click to enlarge to really see the Milky Way, but its there).

click to enlarge

 

The restaurant there is quite good and there are excellent tables on the deck outside to watch the sunset.  But if you want a slightly different Sedona experience (though equally expensive) the Restaurant at the L'Auberge resort right in the town of Sedona on Oak Creek is terrific.  The food is great and the location on the creek is very romantic at night.  Here is the view from my table right around sunset.

laub

You can't get closer to the water than that!

Postscript:  If you like the idea of creekside dining but don't want to blow a hundred bucks a person for dinner, I have eaten at a much less expensive, much less highbrow restaurant that had a very similar location.  It is the Rapids Lodge Restaurant at Grand Lake, Colorado, and is a great place to eat on a trip through Rocky Mountain National Park before you turn around and head back to Estes Park.  Here is the view from our table there:

click to enlarge

 

PPS:  Other US resort views I like:  Highlands Inn, near Carmel;  Hapuna Resort, Big Island, Hawaii;  Sanctuary Resort, Phoenix, AZ (though the rooms really need an update);  Trump Hotel, Las Vegas (located right on the bend of the strip so the strip view rooms look straight down the strip at night).

Update:  In the spirit of equal time, a reader writes that the Enchantment Resort ruined Boynton Canyon.  Its impossible for me to say -- I never knew it in its pristine state.  I will say the resort itself does a pretty good job of keeping a low profile in the canyon -- no buildings that I saw over 2 stories tall, most of the old trees are preserved.

OK, This Is The Most Absurd Defense I Have Seen of Obama, At Least This Week

Via Kevin Drum

Dave Weigel notes a conundrum today: according to a new poll, 54 percent of the public disapproves of Barack Obama's handling of the deficit. And yet, as the chart on the right shows, the deficit is shrinking dramatically. Last year it dropped by $200 billion, and this year, thanks to a recovering economy, lower spending from the sequester, and the increased taxes in the fiscal cliff deal, it's projected to fall another $450 billion.

Weigel notes that this has deprived conservative yakkers of one of their favorite applause lines: "You don't hear Republicans lulz-ing at Obama for failing to 'cut the deficit in half in my first four years,' because he basically did this, albeit in four and a half." That's true. It's also true that contrary to Republican orthodoxy, it turns out that raising taxes on the rich does bring in higher revenues and therefore reduces the deficit.

The logic here is that Obama has been diligent about cutting the deficit, so therefore Republicans are wrong to try to use the debt ceiling and continuing resolution as a vehicle for forcing more cuts.

It is just possible that a person from another planet landing today might buy this story, but how can anyone who has lived through the last 5 years read this without laughing their butts off?  Every one of Obama's budgets have been dead on arrival, even within his own party, because they have raised spending to such stupid levels.  There has not been even a hint of fiscal responsibility in them.  And the Democratic Senate has passed one budget in something like five years**.

The only fiscal discipline at all has come from the Republican House, and they have only had success in keeping these deficit down by ... using continuing resolutions and debt ceilings as bargaining chips.  This is the President that treated the almost insignificant sequester as if it were the end of the world, and now these sycophants from team Donkey are giving Obama the credit for the deficit reduction?

PS-  This is not an advocacy for Republicans as much as for divided government.  The Republicans when they had years of controlling the Presidency and both houses of Congress under Bush II did zero to get our fiscal house in order and in fact with the Iraq war and Medicare part D, among other things, showed a profligacy that belies their current pious words.

PPS- Kevin Drum needs to have the balls not to play both sides of the street.  He has made it clear in other articles that he thinks it is an economic disaster that the government is spending so little right now.  When he shows a deficit reduction chart, if he were consistent, he should be saying that Republicans suck for forcing this kind of deficit reduction against Obama's better judgement and we need the deficit to go back up.  Have the courage of your convictions.  Instead, he plays team loyalty rather than intellectual consistency, crediting Obama for deficit reduction while at the same time hammering Republicans for austerity.  Dude, its one or the other.

PPPS-  For the first time during this Presidency, both the President and both house of Congress offered a budget:

[The] House passed a budget calling for spending $3.5 trillion in 2014, the Senate passed one calling for $3.7 trillion, and Obama submitted one calling for $3.77 trillion

So the actor that submitted the highest budget gets the credit for deficit reduction?

It's Not Over When it's Over

So the head of the IOC declares the Olympics over, the flame is out, but there still seem to be people on the stage.  It seems that Canadians, so long without an overt sense of nationalism, have decided to use the stage to hold a pep rally for their country.   Can you imagine how unbelievably creepy, and probably scary, it would have been had the Chinese closed the Olympics in a similar China-uber-alles manner.  But since the Canadians are thought to be (mostly) harmless, I suppose its OK.

Postscript: Not 30 seconds before this started, I was lamenting the fact that Rush was not a musical act, with the silver lining that we had not seen William Shatner either, when lo and behold he rises onto the stage.

PPS: I thought the way they opened the show, with the clown fixing the broken torch, was much more consistent with the Canadian style, and more flattering in a sense than the goofy show at the end.  It is particularly funny, to me at least, to see that all the people who they have chosen so far to extol the virtues of Canada actually left the country for the US to make their fortune.  What are they selling, that Canada is a great place to be from?  They couldn't have found someone like Jim Balsillie who actually mad his fortune and reputation, you know, in Canada.

PPPS:  OK, it was only the talking quasi-celebrities I thought was odd.  Who couldn't love the giant inflatable beavers that followed?

On What Freaking Basis?

Tampa Rail writes (hat tip to a reader):

The new Phoenix light rail system is emerging as one of the most successful new systems in the country.  This is especially poignant for Tampa because in scale, project scope, and demographics, Phoenix represents the apogee of operating examples.

Over the course of its first year the system has received high marks in community integration, stunning ridership figures, and respectful financial constraint (making tough decisions on long-term planning that do not inhibit the value of its starter-line status today).  This is exactly what Hillsborough County is shooting for in its own implementation.  A perfect balance of conservative control and benchmarking combined with progressive action and democratic freedom, the latter which may finally come to Hillsborough County in the form of a referendum.  That all good stuff was achieved by such a strikingly similar auto-depenent culture is a great omen.  A starter light rail system can be championed by civic conservatives (Mark Sharpe), and civic progressives (Ed Turanchik) to great outcome....

Both pieces I link to here embarass anti-rail or anti-tax groups who are, as the Phoenix article notes, "muted" if not definetively silenced.  Their arguments against community investement were loud, often intelligent (once one bought into the ideological premise that rail systems must 'pay for themselves' and that community investement is somehow inherently evil - points not firmly established by any means among rationale individuals), and grossly atypical.  I will forever hype on how mechanical, unchanging, and how pre-web these attacks were formulated.

Ooh, how can I overcome my embarrassment?  Look, I don't think I have ever argued that Phoenix Light Rail was run poorly or didn't have pretty trains.   And I don't know if moving 18,000 round trip riders a day in a metropolitan area of 4.3 million people is a lot or a little (though 0.4% looks small to me, that is probably just my "pre-web" thinking, whatever the hell that is).

The problem is that it is freaking expensive, so it is a beautiful toy as long as one is not paying for it.  Specifically, it's capital costs are $75,000 per daily round trip rider, and every proposed addition is slated to be worse on this metric (meaning the law of diminishing returns dominates network effects, which is not surprising in this least dense of all American cities).

Already, like in Portland and San Francisco, the inflexibility of servicing this capital cost (it never goes away, even in recessions) is causing the city to give up bus service, the exact effect that caused rail to reduce rather than increase transit's total share of commuters in that wet dream of all rail planners, Portland.  Soon, we will have figures for net operating loss and energy use, but expect them to be disappointing, as they have in every other city (and early returns were that fares were covering less than 25% of operating costs).

PS- I get a lot of comments that I have some weird anti-train bias.  Actually, I have an n-scale model railroad in one room of my house, and spent a lot of my teenage years traveling along rural rail lines and photographing trains.  I love trains.  I just don't like stupid investments.

PPS- I was just thinking, on the basis the Tampa writer declares the building of Phoenix Light Rail a raving success, I could say the same thing about buying a super-size 100" flat screen TV for $50,000.  It is beautiful.  Everyone who sees it will love it.  It works flawlessly.  Lots of people will be able to enjoy it at one time.  In fact, it is the greatest, most sensible and successful purchase of all time as long as you never mention the cost.  Which is, by the way, why only one person I have ever met has one (I happened to be at a Reason reception the other night and the homeowner had such a beauty on his living room wall).

Update: I try to anticipate every argument in these posts.  The one other argument is that rails takes congestion off roads.  But for most of its length, Phoenix light rail displaced one lane of road in each direction.  These lanes had a capacity as large or larger than what Phoenix light rail carries.  The were also much cheaper to build.  I must say I liked my quote from that post

If running trains requires, as you suggest, draining resources from millions of people just to move thousands, how is it sustainable?

Did Obama Cross the Line Yesterday?

I am starting to wonder if Barack Obama crossed the thin red line between traditional American liberalism and socialism yesterday.  Traditionally, liberals in the US have taken pains to generally argue that the rich need to pay for their programs because theyare most able to pay.  This differs a bit from socialists, who would argue that the rich should pay because they are guilty.    For a libertarian like myself, it tends to be a pretty subtle difference, but I think it is important -- are taxes on the rich enforced charity, or are they reparations?

I woke up this morning profoundly depressed, which is unusual for me.   I have a good friend who is having some personal problems, so it is hard for me to separate effects in my mind, but I really feel like Obama stepped over a line yesterday.  TARP pissed me off, but we have bailed out companies before (though not for this much).  The stimulus bill absolutely offended me, but we have seen stupid pork spending insanities before (though not for this much).  But Obama's plan to remake tax law and the budget began with this paragraph:

This crisis is neither the result of a normal turn of the business cycle nor an accident of history, we arrived at this point as a result of an era of profound irresponsibility that engulfed both private and public institutions from some of our largest companies' executive suites to the seats of power in Washington, D.C.

From the rest of the rhetoric in this document, and that of Obama and his supporters, the overriding message is that "the rich are being taxed more because they have sinned.  This is pennance."  This is all the more amazing to me because Obama (and to be fair, his predecesors in the Bush administration) have gone out of their way to interrupt the normal market processes that punish failed behavior.  Normally, if you take out a mortgage you can't afford, you default and lose your home, and are hopefully wiser the next time.  If you lend to someone who can't pay, you lose your principal.  If you make products no one wants to buy, you go bankrupt.

But every one of these market mechanisms are being interrupted.  Its as if Obama and the feds not only want to hand out penance, they want to have a monopoly on the process.  No longer will the market dictate winners and losers -- we in Washington will.  It's thoroughly depressing.

Postscript: I guess I am the last person in America to believe it, but I DO believe that this is "a normal turn of the business cycle," or at least that it started out that way until everyone from Paulson to Obama worked to convince folks otherwise.   It is clear that there was an international over-exuberance of lending that goes far beyond just CDO's as the culprit, or even mortgages in general.  And such bubbles do occur from time to time.

PPS: It will be interesting to see which race is tighter -- Obama's race to spend money so he can take credit for a third quarter recovery which is going to happen anyway, or Obama's race to put in CO2 limits in time to take credit for the global cooling cycle many solar observers are starting to predict.

PPPS: I really didn't want to open global warming discussions in general with the last bit of snark.  I have a whole website for that.  I have a subtle enough understanding of the issue to know both that 1) CO2 is causing some warming 2) warming estimates are likely way overblown, for a variety of reasons that include feedback assumptions and 3) behaviors of temperatures over decade-long periods are not necesarily indicative on long-term trends.  If we want to talk about climate modeling and model accuracy vs. current trends, see this post or this post.

Taxing People With No Money

Update:  Over the weekend, without comment, the Obama team pulled down the language below and put up new, vaguer language without the "required."  Discussion and a screen shot of the original is here.

How do you tax people with who have no money?  Why, you take their labor by force.  It worked when we dragged Africans over here against their will in the 19th century, and it can work today.  From the Obama transition site:

The Obama Administration will call on Americans to serve in order to meet the nation's challenges. President-Elect Obama will expand national service programs like AmeriCorps and Peace Corps and will create a new Classroom Corps to help teachers in underserved schools, as well as a new Health Corps, Clean Energy Corps, and Veterans Corps. Obama will call on citizens of all ages to serve America, by developing a plan to require 50 hours of community service in middle school and high school and 100 hours of community service in college every year.

So what was that about no tax increase for people making under $250,000?  Because my guess is that most high school and college kids made close to zero, but here is Obama seeking to expropriate 50-100 hours of their labor.  Sure looks like a tax to me.  By law, high school kids, by DOL rules, can work up to 1200 hours per year.  For kid that works every hour she can, this is about a 4% tax.  Kids that work less pay a higher effective tax rate, up to infinite for kids not working at all  (hey, this tax is even regressive).  Also, richer kids trying to get into top colleges will be the least affected, as they are already volunteering at a level close to this, so most of the burden of this tax will fall on the poor.

I remember when I was slammed by Obama supporters during the election when I said that his call for "universal" community service meant that he was going to mandate it.  Carefully avoiding being clearer about what he meant before the election, Obama sure has not wasted any time making sure everyone understands he is talking about government coercion here, not volunteerism.

PS- I thought this site was fake, because it was amazing to me to see Obama's intentions stated so baldly after he so strenuously avoided clarifying his position during the election.  But the Huffpo and other sites link to this site as if it is real, so I will treat it as such.

PPS - Here is Obama's pledge on taxes from the same site:

Middle class families will see their taxes cut "“ and no family making less than $250,000 will see their taxes increase. The typical middle class family will receive well over $1,000 in tax relief under the Obama plan, and will pay tax rates that are 20% lower than they faced under President Reagan. According to the Tax Policy Center, the Obama plan provides three times as much tax relief for middle class families as the McCain plan.

OK, we are not going to take more money, we are just going to take your labor directly.

Update: Radley Balko adds the chilling speech implications of such a program:

So who gets to decide what constitutes "community service"?  Who gets to decide which causes and organizations will be credit-worthy, and which ones won't?

Something tells me that you'd be more likely to get one of Obama's vouchers by going door to door for one of ACORN's living wage campaigns than, say, volunteering for a libertarian nonprofit organization that advocates against things like government-mandated community service.

Obama supporters will say, no problem, we trust Obama.  Hmm.  The folks who wrote our Constitution designed our government assuming all politicians would be knaves.  Writing laws that depend on the good intentions, fairness, correct incentives, and intellectual capacity of the government folks who run it are doomed to failure.  Would Democrats have been happy to have GWB deciding what community service their kids were forced to endure?  I doubt it.  Well, we don't live in an autarky, and sooner or later GWB's party will be back and making exactly those decisions under such a program.

Scam Alert: Board of Business Compliance

This may not be of much interest to regular readers, but is being posted so future recipients of this letter may find this article when searching in Google. 

I got this in the mail the other day (click to enlarge)
Board_of_business_compliance_scam

It is laid out to mirror the typical format of a state annual report or business license renewal form.  It purports to be from a government-sounding "Board of Business Compliance."  The layout and wording is very similar to the California State required annual report form, as is the $125 fee the letter claims is "now due."  Only in the really fine print near the bottom right does it admit to being a business solicitation. 

Beware.  Despite all their efforts to fool you, filling out this form and filing this $125 fee is not required by any government agency.   I am not sure if you pay money to this group whether you will actually receive any services (I did not pay).  But I will observe that there is absolutely no way that a third party could create a legally meaningful set of minutes for your company based on the information in this form.  Remember, though, that it is important for small corporations to keep their minutes in order -- but I am pretty sure this is not the best way to do it.

Business that must be obtained this way is not worth having, at least in my book. 

Postscript:  One might ask, how can anyone fall for this?  The biggest problem is the government itself.  Doing business in 12 states, 20 counties, and a number of large municipalities, I get literally a hundred "legitimate" forms like this requiring a $50-$150 filing fee from government institutions all the time.  This form, at first, looks more legitimate than say, the application for egg license I get from two states (which are in fact real government requirements). 

PPS:  Don't even get me started on yellow page vendors, directory listing providers, and companies claiming your URL registration is expiring.

UPDATE: Apparently one of the commenters included contact information at the California AG.  The AG's office has written me asking to have comments and concerns about this issue routed to a different address.  I think poor Mr. Wayne was deluged with a bunch of complaints.  Here is what they sent me as their preferred alternative contact information:

 

Complaints may be filed with the California Attorney General's Office by mail, telephone, fax, the Internet, or email:
 
MAILING ADDRESS:
 
Attorney General's Office
California Department of Justice
Attn: Public Inquiry Unit
P.O. Box 944255
Sacramento, CA 94244-2550

TELEPHONE:   1-800-952-5225 (Toll-free in CA) or (916) 322-3360

 
FAX:   (916) 323-5341

WEBSITE:   http://ag.ca.gov/consumers

 
EMAIL:   piu@doj.ca.gov

Massive Campaign to Bring Back Indentured Servitude

On several occasions I have have lamented the declining standard of activism:

Activist:  A person who believes so strongly that a
problem needs to be remedied that she dedicates substantial time to ...
getting other people to fix the problem.   It used to be that activists
sought voluntary help for their pet problem, and thus retained some
semblance of honor.  However, our self-styled elite became frustrated
at some point in the past that despite their Ivy League masters degrees
in sociology, other people did not seem to respect their ideas nor were
they particularly interested in the activist's pet issues.  So
activists sought out the double shortcut of spending their time not
solving the problem themselves, and not convincing other people to
help, but convincing the government it should compel others to fix the
supposed problem.  This fascism of good intentions usually consists of
government taking money from the populace to throw at the activist's
issue, but can also take the form of government-compelled labor and/or
government limitations on choice.

It seems that there is a surprisingly large coalition ready to take this to its logical extreme:  A group called Service Nation is set to spend a ton of money lobbying the government to create a program to force every young person into servitude by 2020.

Not satisfied with taking 20-40% of our income to spend as they see fit, the government hopes also to be able to order around the labor of millions of young adults.   I feel like I am reading some bizarre historical re-enactment of the Soviet or Chinese youth programs.  This whole program, which I am tentatively going to label "happy face fascism," makes me so sick I can't even address it further tonight.  More later.

PS:  This is, not coincidentally, exactly the idea Obama has been pushing (here and here).  I say not coincidentally, because this is how one skirts stupid campaign finance laws - you get your supporters to take your top campaign planks and run with them as "independent" efforts that are not subject to campaign finance restrictions.

PPS: Just to head off an argument that came up last time in the comments, I have been a consistent opponent of the military draft as well.

Update:  I know the allusion is over-used, but we are in 1984-land when people keep using the term "voluntary universal national service" as do the leaders of this effort.  By universal, they mean that everyone has to do it.  So they are calling for "national service that everyone is required by law to perform but is voluntary." I do not think that word means what you think it means.

The solution is to develop a system of voluntary universal national
service for our country and for the world. To call upon all young
adults to take at least one year to learn the hard and rugged skills of
practicing idealism.

Yes, lets teach them the "hard and rugged skills" of being forced to do labor that no one is willing to pay for voluntarily, so must be performed by slaves instead.

Another thought:  TJIC made a relevant observation to this the other day:

I'm seeing more and more grudging praise for the efficiency of the Chinese dictatorship these days.

It tends to go something like this:

Sure, sure, they're horrible, and democracy is better, but if they
decide that they need to put in { more mass transit | a factory | a new
canal | an Olympic village }, they just tell everyone in the village
"move!", and the job gets done.

I get the same impression.  Service Nation is the end result of such thinking.

Clarification:  Service Nation denies they support mandatory service, and have removed the word "universal" from their site.  However, it should be noted that many of the prominent supporters and board members of Service Nation have individually advocated for mandatory service.  Also, no denial that they are seeking to create a new, massive government beauracracy.

Twisted Into Pretzels

A few weeks ago, Kevin Drum had a post on shale oil development, quoting from a speech by Congressman Ken Salazar.  It is hard to really excerpt the piece well, but my take on their argument against shale oil leasing is:

  • Shale oil technology is unproven
  • The government is leasing the shale oil rights too cheap
  • There is already plenty of shale oil land for development, so new leases won't increase development
  • This is just being done by the Bush Administration to enrich the oil companies
  • The administration is rushing so fast that Congress has not had the chance to put a regulatory regime in place

In many ways, the arguments are surprisingly similar to those against new offshore and Alaskan oil leasing.  Through it all, there is this sort of cognitive dissonance where half the arguments are that the oil won't be developed, and the other half seem to be based on an assumption that a lot of oil will be developed.  For example, how can the leases be "a fire sale" if shale oil technology is unproven and development is not likely to occur?  I would say that if these assumptions were true, then any money the government gets for a worthless lease is found money. 

Similarly, how are oil companies going to enrich themselves by paying for leases if the technology is not going to work and no development is going to occur?  This same bizarre argument became Nancy Pelosi's talking point on offshore oil leasing, by saying that oil companies were somehow already cheating us by not drilling in leases they already have.  Only the most twisted of logic could somehow come to the conclusion that oil companies were enriching themselves by paying for leases were they found no developable oil.

From the standpoint of Democratic Party goals, there is absolutely nothing bad that happens if the government leases land for oil shale or oil drilling and oil companies are unable to develop these leases  (there is some small danger of royalty loss if leases are not developed when they could be economically, but most private royalty agreements are written with sunset periods giving the lease-holder a fixed amount of time to develop the lease or lose it -- I don't know how the government does it).  The net result of "no drilling" or "oil shale technology turns out not to work" is that the government gets money for nothing. 

Here is the problem that smart Democrats like Drum face, and the reason behind this confusing logic:  They have adopted environmental goals, particularly the drastic reduction of CO2 in relatively short time frames, that they KNOW, like they know the sun rises in the east, will require fuel and energy prices substantially higher than they are today.  They know these goals require substantially increased pain and lifestyle dislocation from consumers who are already fed up with fuel-cost-related pain.  This is not because the Democrats are necessarily cruel, but because they are making the [faulty] assumption that the pain and dislocation some day from CO2-driven global warming outweighs the pain from higher priced, scarcer energy.

So, knowing that their policy goal is to have less oil at higher prices, and knowing that the average consumer would castrate them for espousing such a goal, smart Democrats like Drum find themselves twisted into pretzels when they oppose oil development.  They end up opposing oil development projects because in their hearts they want less oil around at higher prices, but (at least until their guy gets elected in November) they justify it with this bizarre logic that they oppose the plan because it would not get us oil fast enough.  The same folks who have criticized capitalism for years for being too short-term focused are now opposing plans that don't have a payoff for a decade or so.

At the end of the day, most Democrats do not want more oil developed, and they know that much higher prices will be necessary to meet their climate goals.  It sure would be refreshing to hear someone just say this. As I wrote at Climate Skeptic, the honest Democrat would say:

Yeah, I know that $4 gas is painful.  But do you know what?  Gas
prices are going to have to go a LOT higher for us to achieve the CO2
abatement targets I am proposing, so suck it up.  Just to give you a
sense of scale, the Europeans pay nearly twice as much as we do for
gas, and even at those levels, they are orders of magnitude short of
the CO2 abatement I have committed us to achieve.  Since late 2006, gas
prices in this country have doubled, and demand has fallen by perhaps
5%.  That will probably improve over time as people buy new cars and
change behaviors, but it may well require gasoline prices north of $20
a gallon before we meet the CO2 goal I have adopted.  So get ready.

Postscript:  By the way, oil companies have been trying to develop shale oil since the 1970s.  Their plans went on hold for several decades, with sustained lower oil prices, but the call by the industry to the government for a clarified regulatory regime has been there for thirty years.  The brief allusion in Salazar's speech to water availability is a valid one.  I saw some studies at Exxon 20+ years ago for their Labarge development that saw water availability as the #1 issue in making shale oil work.

PPS:  I mention above that the pain of fuel prices not only hits the wallet, but hits in term of painful lifestyle changes.  One of the things the media crows about as "good news" is the switch to mass transit from driving by a number of people due to higher oil prices.  This is kind of funny, since I would venture to guess that about zero of those people who actually switched and gave up their car for the bus consider it good news from their own personal life-perspective.  Further, most of the reduction in driving has been the elimination of trips altogether, and not via a switch to mass transit.  Yes, transit trips are up, but on a small base.  95%+ of reduced driving trips are just an elimination of the trip.  Which is another form of lifestyle pain, as presumably there was some good reason to make the trip before.

Update: Updated on Canadian Oil Sands production here.  Funny quote:

Fourth, and potentially most important, the U.S. "green" lobby is
pushing legislation that could limit purchases of oil sands products by
U.S. government agencies based on its GHG footprint.  It would be well
beyond stupid for Congress to prohibit our buying oil from Canada while
we increase buying it from countries that threaten our security.  But
just because something is stupid certainly does not mean Congress may
not do it.

A Super-Suggestion for the NFL

Every year about this time, the NFL earns itself some bad press for busting some small bar or local group for using the word "Superbowl" rather than that catchy phrase "the big game on the first Sunday in February down in Miami."  This year, the bad press honor goes to the NFL for shutting down a party at a church in Indianapolis for having a screen too large.  (Hey NFL!  I am breaking the law!  I have a 110" front projection TV, twice the "legal" 55-inch limit, and I am showing the game on it at my party.  HA HA HA!).  And by the way, what lapdog legislator wrote this law for them, and did he get Superbowl tickets for life?

Now, I understand the situation with copyrights - if you don't defend them vigorously and even-handedly, you can lose them.  I seem to remember Exxon or some other chemical company lost the rights tot he name Formica when they let it be used too generically for counter-top materials.  And the NFL PR people use this defense every year, saying "we really don't want to shut down these folks, but we have to." 

I don't agree that individual words should be copyrighted such that their use in a broad range of contexts should be illegal.  I am fine saying that I can't create another peanut butter and call it "Jif."  I will accept P&G has some sole right in this country to that use.  However, I don't think P&G can tell me that I can't advertise a "Jif party" feature their peanut butter.  In the same way, I am willing to grant the NFL exclusive use of "Superbowl" to describe a sporting event, but I don't think that should restrict me from advertising that people should come to my bar to watch the Superbowl.  And just to add one more example so I have a "threepeat," I don't think Pat Riley should have any ownership in that word.   However, since copyright law is not going to change tomorrow, I will offer up a more modest change.

So here is my suggestion.  The NFL needs to offer a one time use license each year for a bar or other establishment to hold a Superbowl party and actually use Superbowl in the promotion.  The license would of course be non-exclusive, and would carry a myriad of restrictions on how you use the name, etc.   The license could be purchased for a price that would be cheap for a business, maybe $200, and could be purchased right over the web.  It would actually be easier, I think, to go after violators because the NFL could point to the existence of a legal licensing program the violator could easily have participated in.  I would think they could easily bring in a couple of million dollars, not to mention saving them enforcement money and PR headaches.

PS-  Welcome to the NFL intellectual property department.  I presume I included enough verboten uses of "Superbowl" to catch your search engine's attention.

PPS-  My Firefox spell checker (which I love!) does not have "Superbowl" in it.  I wonder, would the NFL consider it a copyright violation for a program to use the word "Superbowl" in its dictionary?

I vote for Noble House

Nick Gillespie at Reason asks folks for their favorite business novels.  I vote for Noble House by James Clavell.   Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged has a great deal of influence on me, but that book is ultimately about government making business impossible, not about the conduct of business per se.  Noble House is a sympathetic and hugely entertaining depiction of business people being business people in as close to a libertarian environment as we might find (1960s Hong Kong) in the modern world.  Sure its not real business -- too much deal making, not enough productive investment, but it is a novel for god sakes, and not a seminar on the capital asset pricing model.

PS - Is there anyone out there who has read both novels and would rather hang out in a bar with Hank Reardon than Ian Dunross?  I didn't think so.

PPS- Personally, I think this business novel is good too.

Political Party as Fashion Statement

A while back I lamented that so few people actually strive to maintain a consistent personal philosophy, rather than a hodge-podge of isolated political views.  In this context, I thought the profile of "progressive" Markos Moulitsas Zuniga (the Daily Kos) by the sympathetic progressive-liberal Washington Monthly was interesting.  For example:

The younger-than-35 liberal professionals who account for most of his
audience seem an ideologically satisfied group, with no fundamental
paradigm"”changing demands to make of the Democratic Party. They don't
believe strongly, as successive generations of progressives have, that
the Democratic Party must develop more government programs to help the
poor, or that racial and ethnic minorities are wildly underrepresented,
or that the party is in need of a fundamental reform towards the
pragmatic center"”or at least they don't believe so in any kind of
consistent or organized manner. As this generation begins to move into
positions of power within the progressive movement and the Democratic
Party, they don't pose much of a challenge on issues or substance. So
the tactical critique takes center stage.
Moulitsas's sensibility suits his generation perfectly. But it also
comes with a built-in cost. Moulitsas is just basically uninterested in
the intellectual and philosophical debates that lie behind the daily
political trench warfare. By his own admission, he just doesn't care
about policy. It's here that the correlation between sports and
politics breaks down. In sports, as Vince Lombardi is said to have put
it, "Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing." When the season is
over, you hang up your cleats and wait for the next season. But in
politics, that's not the case"”you have to govern, and if you don't
govern well, you won't get reelected. So while tactics and message are
crucial, most voters will ultimately demand from politicians ideas that
give them a sense of what a party is going to do once in power. Wanting
to win very badly is an admirable and necessary quality in politics,
and Moulitsas is right that Democrats have needed it in greater
quantity. But it is not really a political philosophy.

This article tends to reinforce a notion I have had of late, that is a trend toward political party as fashion statement.  For example, I get the impression that many of Kos's audience call themselves Democrats more because of the statement they think it makes about themselves rather than a thought-out comparison of the various party's positions and how they stack up vs. their own thought-out philosophy.  I am starting to sense that people choose parties for their brand-image rather than for the actual positions or people who represent them.  Democrat might mean "I am smarter than you", "I am with-it and cool", "I am dynamic" while Republican might mean "I am patriotic", "I am moral", "I am level-headed".  By the way, don't send me mail for the wrong reasons -- I am not saying the parties actually consistently meet these images, I am just saying that a large number of people seem to adopt their party to make these kind of statements about themselves.

Postscript:  If you think I am exaggerating, then someone needs to explain to me how a Democratic president can send us to war in Bosnia with Republicans opposing and then have a Republican president send us to war in Iraq with Democrats opposing when at the 40,000 foot level they are the same freaking war (US intervention to unseat a genocidal dictator with at best unclear UN mandate and opposition from key European nations).  I keep coming back to the simplistic explanation that the default political position is "I got my guy's back no matter what, and you guys suck no matter what", which I admit effectively compares the current political discourse to the chants at a Michigan-Ohio State football game, but I'm going to go with it.

PPS-  As a good libertarian, though, I am happy to know that young progressives are not necessarily pushing for more state control.