Posts tagged ‘san francisco’

Trading Cribs

Brian Caplan compares his life with that of the richest of the Gilded Age:

I just returned from the Biltmore, America's largest home.  Built by George Vanderbilt between 1889 and 1895, the Biltmore is a symbol of how good the rich had it during the Gilded Age.  I'm sure that most of the other visitors would answer "very good indeed."

But how many would actually want to trade places with George?  Despite his massive library, organ, and so on, I submit that any modern with a laptop and an internet connection has a vastly better book and music collection than he did.  For all his riches, he didn't have air conditioning; he had to suffer through the North Carolina summers just like the poorest of us.  Vanderbilt did travel the world, but without the airplane, he had to do so at a snail's pace.

Perhaps most shockingly, he suffered "sudden death from complications following an appendectomy" at the age of 51.  (Here's the original NYT obituary).  Whatever your precise story about the cause of rising lifespans, it's safe to say that George's Bane wouldn't be fatal today.

I made this observation several years ago, though, though I went west coast railroad entrepreneur rather than east coast.  I showed pictures of a San Francisco mansion and a middle class home of a friend of mine in Seattle.

One house has hot and cold running water, central air conditioning, electricity and flush toilets.  The other does not.  One owner has a a computer, a high speed connection to the Internet, a DVD player with a movie collection, and several television sets.  The other has none of these things.  One owner has a refrigerator, a vacuum cleaner, a toaster oven, an iPod, an alarm clock that plays music in the morning, a coffee maker, and a decent car.  The other has none of these.  One owner has ice cubes for his lemonade, while the other has to drink his warm in the summer time.  One owner can pick up the telephone and do business with anyone in the world, while the other had to travel by train and ship for days (or weeks) to conduct business in real time.

I think most of you have guessed by now that the homeowner with all the wonderful products of wealth, from cars to stereo systems, lives on the right (the former home of a friend of mine in the Seattle area).  The home on the left was owned by Mark Hopkins, railroad millionaire and one of the most powerful men of his age in California.  Hopkins had a mansion with zillions of rooms and servants to cook and clean for him, but he never saw a movie, never listened to music except when it was live, never crossed the country in less than a week.  And while he could afford numerous servants around the house, Hopkins (like his business associates) tended to work 6 and 7 day weeks of 70 hours or more, in part due to the total lack of business productivity tools (telephone, computer, air travel, etc.) we take for granted.  Hopkins likely never read after dark by any light other than a flame.

If Mark Hopkins or any of his family contracted cancer, TB, polio, heart disease, or even appendicitis, they would probably die.  All the rage today is to moan about people's access to health care, but Hopkins had less access to health care than the poorest resident of East St. Louis.  Hopkins died at 64, an old man in an era where the average life span was in the early forties.  He saw at least one of his children die young, as most others of his age did.  In fact, Stanford University owes its founding to the early death (at 15) of the son of Leland Stanford, Hopkin's business partner and neighbor.  The richest men of his age had more than a ten times greater chance of seeing at least one of their kids die young than the poorest person in the US does today.

Hopkin's mansion pictured above was eventually consumed in the fires of 1906, in large part because San Francisco's infrastructure and emergency services were more backwards than those of many third world nations today.

Here is a man, Mark Hopkins, who was one of the richest and most envied men of his day.  He owned a mansion that would dwarf many hotels I have stayed in.  He had servants at his beck and call.  And I would not even consider trading lives or houses with him.  What we sometimes forget is that we are all infinitely more wealthy than even the richest of the "robber barons" of the 19th century.  We have longer lives, more leisure time, and more stuff to do in that time.   Not only is the sum of wealth not static, but it is expanding so fast that we can't even measure it.  Charts like those here measure the explosion of income, but still fall short in measuring things like leisure, life expectancy, and the explosion of possibilities we are all able to comprehend and grasp.

You Libertarians are So Paranoid. Government Would Never Use its Power to {Fill in the Blank}

From San Francisco, of course.  Via Maggies Farm's great daily link roundup

If the commission approves the ordinance at its meeting tonight, San Francisco could soon have what is believed to be the country's first ban on the sale of all pets except fish.That includes dogs, cats, hamsters, mice, rats, chinchillas, guinea pigs, birds, snakes, lizards and nearly every other critter, or, as the commission calls them, companion animals.

"People buy small animals all the time as an impulse buy, don't know what they're getting into, and the animals end up at the shelter and often are euthanized," said commission Chairwoman Sally Stephens. "That's what we'd like to stop."

This is the same city that is replacing Cokes with Soy Milk in its vending machines.  Oddly, when you read the pet article, it turns out their main concern is with hamsters, that get euthanized a huge rates as people who initially think they are cute wake up one day and realize they are just irritating rodents.  One wonders then why they ban on all animals just to get at one kind.  And why are fish OK but dogs are not?

I think I blogged this the other day but I want to repeat the un-ironic comment made by a city official on the soda ban in vending machines:

"It's entirely appropriate and not at all intrusive for city government to take steps to discourage the sale of sugary sodas on city property."

One wonder if any limitation on individual choice (save perhaps on abortion) would be considered inappropriate or intrusive by these folks.

How Can You Argue with Logic Like This?

From the Thin Green Line:

So much for criticism that California's environmental leadership "” notably AB 32 "” kills jobs: The state has the most green-collar jobs of any in the nation, and San Francisco leads the Golden State with 42,000 positions. For a city with a population of 809,000, that's pretty impressive.

I think of my father-in-law when I read something like this.  He was a lifelong environmentalist as well as a PHD physicist and a researcher at MIT's Lincoln Labs.  While we often disagreed on various issues, he always tried to bring both science and the scientific method to environmental issues.  I wonder what he would think about this bozo.

Not that this quote really deserves further attention, but here are a couple of random thoughts:

  • While AB32 has been law for a number of years, the CARB has made only limited progress actually setting up the enabling regulations and carbon trading schemes.  In effect, AB32 is largely un-implemented at this point, making its lack of effect on job growth fairly unsurprising
  • Wow, what a surprise -- the state with the largest number of workers has the largest number of workers in a particular employment category.  My guess is they have the most car mechanics in the country too, and the most SUV owners.  So what?
  • The whole definition of a "Green collar job" is total BS.  Basically it means you work in a job that has been deemed to be in a politically correct energy related field.  But why are solar executives green jobs but hydro plant workers not?
  • The implication in the post is that this is some kind of public policy victory, but of course there is no evidence at all of why these jobs exist or are located in California
  • Even if these jobs are the result of some kind of California public policy initiative, how much did they cost?  How many jobs were lost when the government shifted resources around by fiat?  In Spain, its been calculated that more than 2 jobs were lost for every green job created.

There used to be a joke in Texas during the 80's oil bust -- "How do you make a million dollars in oil?  Start with $10 million."  The same likely applies here -- "How do you create 42,000 green jobs?  Start with 100,000."

Chinese Factories

TJIC writes:

Chinese factory conditions may not be the exact cup of tea for a San Francisco graphic designer or a Connecticut non-profit ecologist grant writer "¦ but they're, by definition, better than all the other alternatives available to the Chinese workers (or the factories would find it impossible to staff up).

I wrote previously:

One morning, a rice farmer in southeast Asia might faces a choice.  He can continue a life of brutal, back-breaking labor from dawn to dusk for what is essentially subsistence earnings.  He can continue to see a large number of his children die young from malnutrition and disease.  He can continue a lifestyle so static, so devoid of opportunity for advancement, that it is nearly identical to the life led by his ancestors in the same spot a thousand years ago.

Or, he can go to the local Nike factory, work long hours (but certainly no longer than he worked in the field) for low pay (but certainly more than he was making subsistence farming) and take a shot at changing his life.  And you know what, many men (and women) in his position choose the Nike factory.

Update: In an interesting question of incentives, Foxconn, the manufacturer much in the news for a rash of suicides at its plant in China, apparently pays about 10-years salary to the families of workers who kill themselves.  They have ended the practice, worried that they are incentivizing some of the suicides.

Black Swan

It is not often that the NY Times will question the long-term consequences of any Democratic program ostensibly aimed at mitigating a short-term need.  So I don't want to fail to highlight this:

The Obama administration's $75 billion program to protect homeowners from foreclosure has been widely pronounced a disappointment, and some economists and real estate experts now contend it has done more harm than good.

Since President Obama announced the program in February, it has lowered mortgage payments on a trial basis for hundreds of thousands of people but has largely failed to provide permanent relief. Critics increasingly argue that the program, Making Home Affordable, has raised false hopes among people who simply cannot afford their homes.As a result, desperate homeowners have sent payments to banks in often-futile efforts to keep their homes, which some see as wasting dollars they could have saved in preparation for moving to cheaper rental residences. Some borrowers have seen their credit tarnished while falsely assuming that loan modifications involved no negative reports to credit agencies.

Some experts argue the program has impeded economic recovery by delaying a wrenching yet cleansing process through which borrowers give up unaffordable homes and banks fully reckon with their disastrous bets on real estate, enabling money to flow more freely through the financial system.

"The choice we appear to be making is trying to modify our way out of this, which has the effect of lengthening the crisis," said Kevin Katari, managing member of Watershed Asset Management, a San Francisco-based hedge fund. "We have simply slowed the foreclosure pipeline, with people staying in houses they are ultimately not going to be able to afford anyway."

In Case You Were Not Depressed Enough...

I wrote the other day about restrictions in the Federal stimulus bill that substantially reduced the ability of state governments to cut spending in response to lower tax revenues.  It turns out there are a myriad of other limitations, including court cases and past consent decrees, that make it nearly impossible for states to do much if anything about their budget shortfalls (except raise taxes, of course).  Just about everyone except for taxpayers have a set of lawyers in courts full time preventing budget changes that affect their special interests.

If you thought elected officials in your state were running the budget show, you might be in for a surprise.  Likely as not the federal courts are more powerful budget authorities than the state's legislature or executive.  A few consent decrees can easily cripple any attempt to pass a balanced budget requirement in a state legislature, and overturn the act itself in federal court if it does happen to pass.  Tennessee, for instance, was shacked by three consent decrees, all of which were administered by federal judges.  Before even writing budget legislation, the governor of Tennessee had to persuade two federal judges, who were the de facto managers of the state's health care system, that any changes were a good idea.

The most damaging consent decrees to state budgets tend to be related to staffing levels.  A number of state agencies settled all manner of employment and discrimination claims by entering consent decrees freezing staff levels.  Often state employee unions were among the most active consent decree wielders.  These decrees tend to lock up not only staff levels, but salaries (through "constructive termination" clauses that equate even modest pay cuts with termination and thereby trigger staffing minimum clauses) and pension benefits as well.

Explain to me again how these government officials who signed these incredibly short-sighted consent decrees just to get through their own term in office are more long-term focused than private actors?  Would any of you short-term-focused capitalists sign an open-ended agreement to never cut staff or salaries or benefits for employees no matter what the future fortunes of your company were?

The only way through this is going to be a massive string of state and local government bankruptcies.

Update: Sort of related, I got this in my email today from a reader

The City of San Francisco pays for two Police Departments and two Fire Departments, less about 5%.
Both have one active-duty department and one retired-duty department.
When a cop or firefighter retires in San Francisco, he receives a 90% pension.

Then, every year THEREAFTER, the retiree receives 50% of every raise negotiated by the active duty Memorandum of Understanding.

He seems to have it right, he links to this site, which does indeed show that the COLA on retiree pay includes 50% of all raises given to active duty employees.  I wonder how early they are vested?

Update #2: Via Nick Gillespie, update #1 is not that unusual:

Retirement incomes for the most experienced government employees top out at 88 percent of their active-duty pay. Unlike most private-sector workers, whose retirement is driven by the strength of the stock market and their 401-k plans, the pensions for government employees are guaranteed.

In addition to higher average retirement incomes, government retirees in Ohio also enjoy government-sponsored health care, can retire as young as 48 for police and firefighters, and have the opportunity to 'retire' and collect a full pension while going back to work, often at full pay for doing the same job. Such 'double-dippers' were paid more than $741 million by the State Teachers Retirement System last year and $240 million by the Public Employees Retirement System, records show.

In Toledo, even the mayor is a double-dipper.

Since starting his current term in January 2006, Toledo Mayor Carty Finkbeiner has drawn his annual salary of $136,000 in addition to a state pension for more than two decades in elected and unelected positions. He is leaving office on Monday.

And because he is already receiving a Public Employees Retirement System pension, Toledo taxpayers have paid $75,221 into an annuity as an additional retirement fund for Finkbeiner.

San Francisco: Progressive Paradise or Bankrupt Banana Republic?

Great article in the SF Weekly on San Francisco:  The Worst Run Big City in the US.  The article is lengthy and packed full of government fail.  Just one example:

You can't get San Francisco running efficiently, because that would require large numbers of unionized city workers to willingly admit their redundancy and wastefulness. Inefficiency pays their salaries. "It's been going on for decades," Peskin says.

This problem comes up almost every time the city negotiates labor contracts, which is part of the reason San Francisco is constantly on the brink of fiscal ruin. Politically powerful unions "” the progressives are beholden to the service unions; moderates cater to police, firefighters, and building trades; and Republicans ... what's a Republican? "” negotiate contracts the city knows it can't afford. Politicians approve them, despite needing to balance the budget every year, because the budget impact of proposed contracts is examined by the Board of Supervisors only for the following year, no matter how long contracts run. According to former city controller Ed Harrington, it has become common practice not to schedule any raises for the first year of a contract, but to provide extensive raises in later years.

The result is a contract that looks affordable one year out, then blows up in the city's face. City employees receive up to 90 percent of their already generous salaries in pensions and many also receive lifetime health care "” meaning that as they retire, labor costs soar.

Sounds like the health care bill in Congress, no?  The bit near the beginning on the problem in the parks department - overstaffing, no one showing up for work, lost money, poor controls, no process - particularly resonate with me.  My business is the privatization of public parks.  I can't tell you how many public parks agencies I know to be providing terrible service (service levels that I would be ashamed of) with grossly inflated budgets tell me face-to-face that they can't privatize because that would jeopardize the quality of the parks.  Well, that and the fact that the public employees unions would not allow it.

I always laugh when folks tell me that government intervention is needed because private industry is too short term oriented.  But no one is more short term oriented than politicians looking to the next election or closing this year's budget hole.  In particular, capital maintenance is always ignored until infrastructure is literally falling apart.   We see it in parks, transit systems, roads, schools, etc.  It is the same phenomenon that causes third world state-run oil companies to have their production fall off - instead of reinvesting their profits into upgrades and maintenace of their fields and infrastructure (as those short-term focused American oil companies do) they transfer the money into social giveaways that cement their political power.  Here is a great example from San Francisco:

In 2002, the San Francisco Chronicle revealed that the city had, for decades, been siphoning nearly $700 million from its Hetch Hetchy water system into the San Francisco General Fund instead of maintaining the aging aqueduct. Several mayors and boards of supervisors used that money to fund pet causes, and the Public Utilities Commission didn't say no. Unfortunately, spending maintenance money elsewhere doesn't diminish the need for maintenance. By 2002, the water system was in such desperate condition that voters were asked to pass a $3.6 billion bond measure to make overdue fixes. Obligingly, they did "” who doesn't like water? Since then, the projected costs have swelled by $1 billion. So far.

My favorite line:

"San Francisco is Disneyland for adults, or a place people go until they grow up."

Update on Government Salaries

Over 700 employees of San Francisco's BART transit agency make over $100,000 just in cash wages.  This does not include lucrative benefits that probably add $30,000 or more to total compensation for most employees.  (SF Chron, via Thin Green Line)

Legalize Immigrants From Mexico; Ban Immigrants From California

Until a few years ago, I did business up and down the Pacific Coast.  If I had to rank the business climates of these states, from worst to best, I would informally come up with something like:

  1. (worst) Certain California counties (e.g. Ventura, San Francisco, Santa Barbara)
  2. Oregon
  3. Western Washington
  4. Rest of California
  5. Eastern Washington

So I was interested to see that Oregon may finally be getting the bad press it deserves as a difficult place to do business, though, interestingly enough, this particular article blames it on the Californians:

Some might call this California disease. This refers to a chronic inability to make hard decisions as well as a general disregard for business and economic activity....

With all the influx of Californians, it's not surprising that Oregon shows some signs of California disease. It recently increased its tax rates so that Oregon's highest-income taxpayers face marginal tax rates that match Hawaii's for the highest in the nation. Oregon's land-use planning had been extremely centralized for some time. Indeed, Oregon's land-use planning may be the most centralized in the United States. This makes it harder for communities to control their own destinies, whether they want to grow or not.

Interestingly, I actually wrote about similar effect in the context of immigration into the US.  While I am a supporter of open immigration, my greatest fear is that in the name of individual liberty, we would let in millions of new people who would someday vote against individual liberties.  It seems that may be a more substantial problem with Californian than Mexican immigration.

The good news for the rest of us is that Oregon may preferentially be attracting the slackers

Our analysis of California migrants has shown a gradual reduction in their earnings over what they were earning in the Golden State. There also are less quantifiable impacts. Portland, a city attractive to many unemployed and underemployed younger Californians, could well be becoming the "slacker" capital of the world.

Fortunately, Arizona is so politically un-correct with slacker/socialist/statist/greenie types that we don't get a lot coming here.

More Indentured Servitude in San Francisco

Via the Thin Green Line:

Throwing orange peels, coffee grounds and grease-stained pizza boxes in the trash will be against the law in San Francisco, and could even lead to a fine.

The Board of Supervisors voted 9-2 Tuesday to approve Mayor Gavin Newsom's proposal for the most comprehensive mandatory composting and recycling law in the country. It's an aggressive push to cut greenhouse gas emissions and have the city sending nothing to landfills or incinerators by 2020.

"San Francisco has the best recycling and composting programs in the nation," Newsom said, praising the board's vote on a plan that some residents had decried as heavy-handed and impractical. "We can build on our success."

The ordinance is expected to take effect this fall.

The legislation calls for every residence and business in the city to have three separate color-coded bins for waste: blue for recycling, green for compost and black for trash.

Failing to properly sort your refuse could result in a fine after several warnings, but Newsom and other officials say fines will only be levied in the most egregious cases.

I think if I lived there I would save some really rank crap buried in the back yard, maybe a few animal carcasses, to throw in the trash when the inspector came by to dumpster dive.

But the whole concept confuses me.  There is this assumption that everything environmentalists always wanted us to do, like recycling, is automatically and without need for critical thought going to reduce CO2 emissions.  But will it?

Doesn't composting increase greenhouse gas emissions vs. land filling? I have always wondered about this with Christmas tree recycling programs. If the program was really about reducing greenhouse gasses, why are we chipping the trees and spreading the chips around so they can decompose faster?  Decomposition is basically just slow combustion, producing CO2 and some methane.  Shouldn't we instead be shrink-wrapping the trees and burying them deep in the name of carbon sequestration?

By the way, advocates will say that recycling saves money.  Well, it is not clear that it even saves the state any money but it certainly does not save you and I any.  In fact, the only way people can even fool themselves into believing there is any economic benefit is to assume that the value of your and my time is $0.  We are indentured servants, working for the state as trash sorters for no compensation.

Postscript: Assume there are 110 million households in the US, and each household has to spend 5 minutes a week sorting trash.  And assume that the value of folk's time is $20 per hour (and I can guarantee you the marginal value of my free time is a LOT higher).  This is $9.5 billion of stolen labor each year.

You Must Subsidize My Unrealistic Choices

I found this a fairly typical example of the thinking by the modern victim class.

Stimulus dollars for new fare boxes strikes me as very close to the extreme in Keynes's insight that stimulus from the gov't can be needed and serve well, when he said something like that a "stimulus" could be burying bottles of dollars under a field and people digging them up - his point being that ANY stimulus would help. 50+ yrs later, surely the thought that "yeah, but, a smarter-placed stimulus would have more effect." Stimulate the company (and its employees) that make fare boxes, or allow SF residents to not be yet further pressed for money? I think the latter is smarter, and am stunned that the former seems to be going to happen.

I beg you to write and publish something on this. Raising fares at Muni also has a ripple effect on local business -- I won't ride the bus on the wkend out into the neighborhoods and maybe use my little splurge money to buy something there. In addition to that, for MTA, I will be overall paying less to them (while feeling a lot more confined, riding a lot less). The fare increase will get less money from me, while imposing more hardship on me, and I will be putting less money into local business.

Thank you for noticing and writing of we "the working poor." We're increasing in number. I'm well-educated and under-employed, and right now just trying to get by each month. I am desperately trying to avoid having to move out of SF.

So here is the situation:

  • He is well-educated, presumably with portable skills, but insists on staying in San Francisco where he cannot find full employment.  My sense is he has not tried to find a job anywhere else in the country
  • He considers himself to be poor, but refuses to entertain the idea of living in the most expensive city in the country (save possibly Manhattan)
  • He wants the rest of us via stimulus money to to subsidize his rail transport to help him better live in a city that has no work for his skills and which is too expensive for him to afford

I am OK with helping out folks who have tried everything they can to make ends meet and still need help to survive.  But should I really be thrilled to rush to the aid of someone who refuses to take even the first and most obvious step to address their poverty?

I have moved 9 times in my life trying to make things work for me and my family. I loved Boulder CO the best, and would love to live there, but there is no work for me that fits my skills. I guess I could have stayed and lived their in a financial situation that is less than I desire, but if I did so, it would be hard for me to imagine that I would lash out at the rest of the world for not subsidizing my choice.

Postscript: These guys are on drugs thinking light rail is the answer for the working poor.  As I wrote in the comments:

...light rail is simply not transit for the working poor. It is transit for yuppies that happens to be used by some working poor.  They are built for white collar workers commuting to town who are too high and mighty to be caught dead in a "grubby" bus.  But since light rail is orders of magnitude more expensive than buses, two things happen in every city that ever builds light rail.

1) Light rail fares skyrocket to cover their immense operating deficits and capital costs, giving the lie to politicians that sold these systems as helping working poor.

2) Bus service, the form of transit that serves most of the working poor even today in the Bay Area, is cut back to help pay for rail.

Light rail is the worst enemy of providing transit services to the working poor ever devised in this country.

Only The Taggart Building Will Be Spared

One of the images I remember form reading Atlas Shrugged was of darkened skyscrapers, as the government forced the closure of the upper stories of buildings to save energy.  Only building owners with political pull were excepted.  It seems San Francisco is following a similar plan:

Turn the lights out -- or pay.

That's the message of legislation being revived by Board of Supervisors President David Chiu, who will introduce a measure Tuesday mandating that skyscrapers turn off all nonemergency lights at night as a way to save energy. The introduction comes just days before Earth Hour Saturday, in which people are urged to turn off their lights for an hour at 8 p.m.

The legislation is essentially a new run at a law introduced a year ago by former board president Aaron Peskin that ultimately withered after strong opposition by the Building Owners and Managers Association of San Francisco. (We couldn't reach them by press time Monday). Peskin's proposal mandated building owners turn the lights out, or face administrative fines, but it was criticized as difficult to enforce. Chiu actually pushed Peskin to introduce that legislation, he said.

I would have assumed that if electricity consumption were really so high and so useless, that building owners would have had sufficient reason on their own to turn lights off.  After all, isn't it already turn the lights out or pay?  Unless of course electricity is free in SF.

One problem poorly understood by academics and government officials is that many folks outside of government actually work longer than a 9-4 work day.  As it happens, I am in my office tonight, likely until midnight, catching up on some things I could not with the phone ringing off the hook all day.  The only time I have ever occupied prime downtown real estate in an office tower was when I consulted with McKinsey & Co., and I can say for sure that there was seldom if ever a night when there weren't people in the office working well past midnight  (unfortunately, I was often one of them, which explains why my consulting career outlasted the birth of my first kid by only as long as it took me to find a new job).

Postscript: There is an incentive mis-match at work here in most leases.  Few commercial leases include individual metering for utilities, since most buildings are not set up for it  (it would actually be moderately hard, since office space is often reconfigured over time, shifting from one suite to another).  As a result, there is a kind of tragedy of the commons where renters pay their share of average use for all occupants, diluting the effect of their own usage on their own bills.  I am not sure how fining building owners when their tenants work late is going to help, though.

At the end of the day, this is all micro-managed bullsh*t.  If you want less electricity usage, raise rates, and let individuals figure out how to get the savings.  Just because a particular use (eg night lights in skyscrapers) is the most visible to policy makers does not make it the marginal use or the low hanging fruit for energy savings.

More on California's Big Dig

The Anti-Planner has more on the California high speed rail proposal I wrote about earlier.  My guess was that the first $9 billion bond issue, on the ballot this fall, would not get the train out of the LA metro area.  Well, I was right and wrong.  The smart money thinks the line will start at the other end, in San Francisco.  But the betting is that for $9 billion the line won't even get out of the San Francisco metro area, making it perhaps as far as San Jose. 

But we have a second data point -- there is a proposal on the table to extend BART from Fremont to Santa Clara for $4.7 billion, a distance (as shown on the map below) about a third of that from San Francisco to San Jose.

I am not sure what high-speed rail technology that they are considering, but a true high-speed line requires special alignments, track, and signaling that should make it FAR more expensive per mile than a BART line (just as an example, a true high-speed line could take miles to make a 90 degree turn, eating up land and reducing alignment flexibility in a very congested and hilly area).  And remember, the BART cost estimate is probably low.

No way these guys get to San Jose for $9 billion, much less to LA for $40 billion.  Just what Californians need with their massive budget deficit:  a brand new white elephant.

The $9 Billion Dollar Toe

A few weeks ago I was amazed at the story of the city of Chicago spending hundreds of millions of dollars to build the terminal rail station of a rail line that had no plan, no route, no approval, and no money.  Why spend hundreds of millions on a station that could well be orphaned?  The reason, I supposed, was to make a toe in the water investment where the public could later be shamed into voting more funds for building a rail line to actually connect to their fabulous new station.

It appears that California may be doing the same thing. This November, voters in that state will have the chance to approve a $9.95 billion rail bond issue.  $9 billion of this is earmarked for building a high-speed rail line from Anaheim to San Francisco.  But current estimates for this line's cost, which are always way too low, are for $30 billion.  Who in their right mind would proceed with a $30 billion (or likely more) project when only $9 billion of funding has been obtained?  Only scam artists, Ponzi schemes.... and the government.

  Wow!  Boy, I must be dumb or something.  The website supporting this bond issue says that this project will create 450,000 permanent new jobs.  How can anyone oppose that?  This is really amazing, since the entire US railroad industry currently employs 224,000 people, but this one rail line will create 450,000 jobs! 

Update #2:  I like to make predictions about government rail projects, so here is mine for this one:  I don't know what end they are starting with, but if they start from the south, I will bet that $9 billion does not even get them out of the LA area (say past Santa Clarita or Santa Barbara), much less anywhere close to San Francisco.

I Would LOve to See This Happen

San Francisco has a ballot initiative this November to seize all PG&E transmission lines and assets in the city such that all city power comes from a new government owned utility.  Further, the initiative would require that this new entity get 100% of its power from renewables, particularly wind and solar, by 2040.  It is similar to a 2001 initiative.

All due respect to PG&E's private property, but I would love to see this happen.  If I were governor, I would be seriously tempted to encourage them to proceed, with the only proviso that no one else in California be allowed to sell electricity to San Francisco on the hugely unlikely possibility that there might be a day without sunshine in San Francisco.   (I find it hilarious that San Francisco's solar future is trumpeted in the "fog city journal.")  This might actually be a big enough disaster that even the media would have trouble ignoring its spectacular failure.  It would also do wonders for the Arizona and Nevada economy, as major industries would move our way.

I am sure San Francisco is well on their way to success.  After all, the city just completed its largest ever solar project

            The solar system is expected to generate 370,000 kilowatt hours of
electricity annually, enough to power 80 San Francisco homes.

Wow.  It can power 80 whole homes, as long as its not night time or winter (when it is seldom sunny in SF).

Peak Pricing for Parking

From my point of view, the NY Times buried the lede in this story about installation of parking sensors on San Francisco streets.  The article focuses mainly on the ability of drivers at some time in the future to get locations of empty parking spots on the streets via smartphone or possibly their GPS.  But I thought the pricing changes they were facilitating were more interesting:

SFpark, part of a nearly two-year $95.5 million program intended to
clear the city's arteries, will also make it possible for the city to
adjust parking times and prices. For example, parking times could be
lengthened in the evening to allow for longer visits to restaurants.

city's planners want to ensure that at any time, on-street parking is
no more than 85 percent occupied. This strategy is based on research by
Mr. Shoup, who has estimated that drivers searching for curbside
parking are responsible for as much of 30 percent of the traffic in
central business districts.

In one small Los Angeles business
district that he studied over the course of a year, cars cruising for
parking created the equivalent of 38 trips around the world, burning
47,000 gallons of gasoline and producing 730 tons of carbon dioxide.

install the market-priced parking system, San Francisco has used a
system devised by Streetline, a small technology company that has
adapted a wireless sensor technology known as "smart dust" that was
pioneered by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley.

gives city parking officials up-to-date information on whether parking
spots are occupied or vacant. The embedded sensors will also be used to
relay congestion information to city planners by monitoring the speed
of traffic flowing on city streets. The heart of the system is a
wirelessly connected sensor embedded in a 4-inch-by-4-inch piece of
plastic glued to the pavement adjacent to each parking space.

device, called a "bump," is battery operated and intended to last for
five and 10 years without service. From the street the bumps form a
mesh of wireless Internet signals that funnel data to parking meters on
to a central management office near the San Francisco city hall.

This is actually really cool, but my guess is that politicians will not have the will to charge the level of peak prices the system may demand.

Postscript:  As many of you know, there is a new wave of urban planners who want to impose dense urban living on all of us, whether we like it or not.  I have no problem with folks who want to fight the masses and live in downtown SF or Manhattan, but the world should also have a place for the majority of us who like to have an acre of land and a bit less congestion. 

Anyway, in singing the praises of the urban lifestyle (which often is as much an aesthetic preference vs. suburbia as anything else), you seldom hear much about this type of thing:

Solving the parking mess takes on special significance in San Francisco
because two years ago a 19-year-old, Boris Albinder, was stabbed to
death during a fight over a parking space....

The study also said that drivers searching for metered parking in just
a 15-block area of Columbus Avenue on Manhattan's Upper West Side drove
366,000 miles[!!] a year.

And here we suburbanites are complaining when we have to park more than 5 spaces from the door of the supermarket.

Danger. Danger. Danger.

If I had to name the one single biggest problem in US healthcare, it would be this:

"Twenty years ago, when I was in training, nobody really dealt with
economics," says Stephen Hufford, an oncologist in San Francisco. The
prevailing thinking, he says, was: "Cost should never be an issue in
someone's care."

In a survey of 167 cancer doctors reported last year in the Journal of
Clinical Oncology, 42% said they regularly raised the issue of costs
when discussing treatment options with patients.

Which means that even today, 58% of oncologists did not raise cost or price issues with various treatment options, despite practicing in perhaps the most costly of medical fields.  What planet are we living on, here?  Can you imagine a survey in which 58% of car dealers refused to raise the issue of cost in a new car sale?   Or 58% of real estate brokers saying they never mentioned the prices of houses when discussing them with clients? 

This represents a process failure in the health care system on two levels.  First, not having any single person in the decision-making process making cost-benefit trade-offs is a recipe for disaster.   Insured customers will consume as much as they can when price is off the table.  Many folks in the health care debate recognize this.

But there is a second problem.  Even when there is a single entity making these trade-offs, it is almost never the patient.  Most "reformers" on both the left and the right want to place this decision-making authority in government bureaucrats, in insurance companies, in Congress, in doctors -- any place but in the individual patient herself.   This particular article discusses the role of doctors in this process:

Many health-policy experts say it's high time for American doctors to
start considering costs when assessing treatment options. In 2007, the
cost of cancer care alone reached an estimated $89 billion in the U.S.,
up from $72 billion in 2004, according to the American Cancer Society
using data from the National Institutes of Health....

The study, conducted
by Deborah Schrag, an oncologist at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in
Boston, found that 23% of oncologists said costs influence their
treatment decisions, and 16% said they omit discussion of very
expensive treatments when they know the cost will place great strain on
patients' resources.

This misses the mark.  Doctors should be ready to inform patients of their options, but at the end of the day we need a system where the patient is making these tradeoffs.  Note the absolute, nearly criminal arrogance of doctors who don't suggest the best treatment regime because the cost might stress out the patients.  How does the doctor know what financial resources the person might be able to bring to bear?

Postscript:  In an adjoining article, the WSJ has an article on the wacky way the French government makes these cost-benefit trade offs in health care:

Since 1860, when Napoleon III appropriated this
ancient Roman spa at the foot of the Alps for his empire, the National
Baths of Aix-les-Bains have been a symbol of France's cushy health-care

On a recent morning, Jacqueline Surmont and her
husband, Guy, a 77-year-old retired construction worker, headed for
their daily mud wrap. The spa's rheumatism cures, thermal baths and
13-minute deep-tissue massage all are covered by France's national
health-insurance system. Transportation and lodging are, too....

"For many people, it's like a free holiday," says Ms. Surmont, who says
all her mud wraps and massages were properly prescribed by a doctor to
soothe her ailing back. "Some patients go shopping in the afternoon.
They're hardly in pain."

Wonderful.  This kind of BS is virtually inevitable in state-run systems.  I think one can already imagine a US health care system where taxpayers foot the fill for groovy treatments loved by the dippy left, from acupuncture to aromatherapy to homeopathy, while cancer patients are denied drugs and people have to wait months or years for elective surgery.

By the way, we get this in the "goes without saying" file from a state-run spa employee facing cutbacks:

"Of course we went on strike," said Martine Claret, a 52-year-old
physiotherapist who has worked at the spa since 1979 and doubles as a
union representative.

The San Francisco Sweatshop

Several companies have been discovered to have benefited from what is in effect slave labor in certain countries.  I have never had a problem with folks in poor countries freely opting to take jobs at factories for less money than our privileged middle class attitudes think to be "fair."  But there have been examples of governments using their coercive power in a cozy relationship with certain companies, forcing people to provide their labor to companies for wages below what they would freely accept.   It is an obscene form of modern slavery.

Today's example, though, does not come from Myanmar or China, but from San Francisco, California, USA, where the government is forcing its citizens to work for free to benefit itself and a few favored corporations to produce products for export.

The resale of recycled materials is apparently big business for a few government contractors:

"When we look at garbage, we don't see garbage, O.K.?" said Robert
Reed, a spokesman for Norcal Waste Systems, the parent company of
Sunset Scavenger and Golden Gate Disposal and Recycling Company, the
main garbage collectors in the city. "We see food, we see paper, we see
metal, we see glass."...

Jared Blumenfeld, the director of the city's environmental programs,
addressed one of the main reasons the city keeps up the pressure to
recycle. "The No. 1 export for the West Coast of the United States is
scrap paper," Mr. Blumenfeld said, explaining that the paper is sent to
China and returns as packaging that holds the sneakers, electronics and
toys sold in big-box stores.

This "No. 1 export product" is wholly a product of major government subsidies.  Reading the article, you get a sense for the enormous amount of extra capital and operating expenses the city pours into the recycling program.  Here is just one example:

San Francisco can charge more for its scrap paper, he said, because of
its low levels of glass contamination. That is because about 15 percent
of the city's 1,200 garbage trucks have two compartments, one for
recyclables. That side has a compactor that can compress mixed loads of
paper, cans and bottles without breaking the bottles. (These specially
designed trucks, which run on biodiesel, cost about $300,000 apiece, at
least $25,000 more than a standard truck, said Benny Anselmo, who
manages the fleet for Norcal.)

Anyone really think they are making enough extra money on scrap paper to cover this (at least) $4.5 million incremental investment  ($25k x 15% x 1200)?   Suspiciously absent from the article is any mention of costs or budgets.  City recycling guys have given up trying to defend recycling on the basis of it being cheaper than just burying the material.  The city is subsidizing this material a lot.

But it's not enough.  Even with these enormous subsidies, the city is not producing as much recycled materials to meet its goals.  So it is going to make its citizenry provide it more labor.  For free.

...the city wants more.

So Mr. Newsom will soon be sending the
city's Board of Supervisors a proposal that would make the recycling of
cans, bottles, paper, yard waste and food scraps mandatory instead of
voluntary, on the pain of having garbage pickups suspended.

The city is going to coerce every single resident to labor for them each week, just so San Francisco and Norcal Waste Systems can have more scrap paper for export.  This is a labor tax of immense proportions.  I know, whenever I make this point about recycling, everyone wants to poo-poo it.  "Oh, its not much time, really."  Really?  Lets use the following numbers:  Five minutes per day of labor.  One million residents.  $20 per hour labor value (low in San Francisco).  That is $608 million if forced labor.  I'm not sure even Nike has been accused of using this much forced labor.

Anticipated Rejoinder: Yeah, I know, the response will be "It's not for the exports, it's to save the environment."  OK, here is my counter:

  1. Nowhere in the article does it really say how this program, or going from 70 to 75% recycling, is specifically going to help the environment.  I took the article at its face value, where it justifies the program on the basis of exports and hitting an arbitrary numerical target and beating out San Jose.  I am tired of unthinking acceptance of recycling as a net benefit.  Every study has shown that aluminum recycling creates a net energy benefit, but every other material represents a net loss.  It makes us feel good, though, I guess.
  2. Should proponents support the direct subsidy by government and the labor tax, there is still some burden to show that this is the best possible environmental use of 30 million San Francisco man-hours of coerced labor in the course of a year.
  3. For those really worked up about CO2, explain to me why we shouldn't bury every scrap of waste paper as a carbon sink.
  4. The last time I visited, San Francisco was one of the grubbier US cities I have seen of late, with trash everywhere on the streets and sidewalks.  It may just have been a bad data point, but are residents really happy the city trash department focusing on scrap paper pricing yield rather than picking up the trash?
  5. I class battery and motor oil recycling programs differently.  These substances have unique disposal needs and high costs of incorrect disposal.

Another Government Program that Misses the Point

Apparently, the state of Arizona, fearing the coming old-folks demographic boom, is looking to create programs to keep older Americans working longer (and by extension off the government teat longer).

The thought of millions of boomers taking their early-retirement
benefits is causing concern about the stability of Social Security and

"We know not everybody is going to up and retire all at once," Starns
said, "and we will have younger workers coming in. But if you look at
all the demographics, there just won't be enough people to fill all the
jobs that could be vacant."

Add that possibility to existing shortages of workers in health-care
and other fields, she said, and "there could be some pretty significant
problems in society."

Arizona, which launched its Mature Workforce Initiative in 2005 to
avert such a crisis, was one of five states lauded last month for
efforts to engage people 50 and older in meaningful jobs and community

The San Francisco-based Civic Ventures think tank also cited
California, Maryland, New York and Massachusetts, saying the five
states recognize older workers as "an experience dividend," rather than
a drain on resources.

Of course, since it is government, the state of Arizona is, with one hand, patting itself on the back for instituting vague and meaningless but well publicized programs nominally targeted at this issue, while with the other taking steps that have real and substantial effects in exactly the opposite direction.

First, Arizona has some of the toughest laws in the country to penalize businesses for hiring, even accidentally, young vigorous immigrants who don't have all their government licenses in order.   Young workers are pouring into this state every day, but Arizona is turning them away and locking them up. 

Second, Arizona has been legislating as fast as it can to make it nearly impossible to hire older workers.  I know, because the vast majority of my work force managing campgrounds is over 65.  These workers tend to work for a free camp site plus minimum wage.  They like the job despite the low pay because they get a place to park their RV and because the job is part time and very flexible in how they work (not to mention offers the opportunity to take whole chunks of the year off).  I like these workers because they are experienced and reliable and paying them minimum wage helps offset their slowing productivity and higher workers comp costs as they age. 

Here is the math:  Older workers might work 30-50% slower than a younger worker (I have workers right now in their nineties!)  They also have higher workers comp costs, maybe equating to as much as 10% of wages.  This means that an older worker at the old minimum wage of $5.15 an hour might be financially equivalent to a younger worker making $9.50 an hour, which is about what we might have to pay for such a worker. 

However, many states have implemented higher minimum wages with annual cost of living escalators.  States like Oregon and Washington now have minimum wages over $9.00.  At $9.00 an hour, an older worker is now financially equivalent to a younger worker making $16.50 an hour, well above what I can hire such a person for.  This means that as minimum wages rise, I have to consider substituting  younger workers for older but slower workers.

Last year, Arizona adopted just such a minimum wage system with annual escalators.  Though we have not reached the point yet, the state soon may make it impossible economically to hire older workers.  Already, we are looking at some automation projects to reduce headcount in certain places.  This is sad to me, but in a business where a 12% rise in wages wipes out my entire profit, I have to think about these steps.  I have to react to the fact that, no matter how many "policy advisers on aging" the state hires, in reality it is increasing the price to my company of older people's labor vis a vis younger workers.

San Francisco City Government Outspends Exxon on Climate Advocacy

A bunch of media outlets credulously ran a Greenpeace press release as a news story last year, hammering on Exxon for donating a cumulative $2 million dollars to "skeptical" climate researchers.  Never mind that no one could explain what was so ominous about an American company exercising its free speech rights.  I and other pointed out that this $2 million was a trivial amount of spending compared to the billions that had been routed to global warming activists. 

This week, we get a great example.  While over a period of a decade, the great Satan ExxonMobil spent $2 million on climate issues, it turns out one city government, in San Francisco, spends this much each year on global warming activism:

In his quest to make San Francisco the greenest city in the nation,
Mayor Gavin Newsom recently created a $160,000-a-year job for a senior
aide and gave him the ambitious-sounding title of director of climate
protection initiatives.
But officials in the Newsom administration say that even 25 people working on climate issues is not enough and that having a director in the mayor's inner circle is necessary to coordinate all the city's climate initiatives."

there are 25 people working on climate protection issues for the city,
that's a good start," Newsom spokesman Nathan Ballard said. "Ten years
ago [when the "globe" was still "warming"], there probably weren't any.
It's smart policy to have one point person at the highest level of city
government to coordinate all 25 of them."

The city has a climate
action plan, issued by Newsom after he took office in 2004, that aims
to cut the city's greenhouse emissions by 2012 to 20 percent below
1990's level.

In addition to the director of climate protection
initiatives in Newsom's office, San Francisco has an Energy and Climate
Program team of eight people in the Department of the Environment, who
combined earn more than $800,000 a year in salary and benefits,
including a "climate action coordinator." At least 12 San Francisco
Public Utilities Commission staff members work on climate issues
related to water and energy, including a $146,000-a-year "projects
manager for the climate action plan."

Also in the name of
climate control, the Municipal Transportation Agency has a "manager of
emissions reductions and sustainability programs" who works on making
Muni's bus fleet greener, and the San Francisco International Airport
has a "manager of environmental services" who oversees such projects as
the installation of energy-efficient lighting and solar panels.

list doesn't include the scores of staff members who work on broader
environmental policies, like the recently hired $130,700-a-year
"greening director" in Newsom's office, or Jared Blumenfeld, who earns
$207,500 a year in salary and benefits as the head of the city's
Environment Department, which has a staff of 65 and annual budget of
about $14 million.

It borders on journalistic malpractice that nearly every article on skeptics delve into their funding sources but no reporter ever seems to have ever asked climate alarmists about their funding sources nor delved into these funding issues.

Advice for Writers

John Scalzi has what looks to be good advice for writers.  Why?

Because it very often appears to me that regardless of how smart and
clever and interesting and fun my fellow writers are on every other
imaginable subject, when it comes to money "” and specifically their own money
"” writers have as much sense as chimps on crack. It's not just writers
"” all creative people seem to have the "incredibly stupid with money"
gene set for maximum expression "” but since most of creative
people I know are writers, they're the nexus of money stupidity I have
the most experience with. It makes me sad and also embarrasses the crap
out of me; people as smart as writers are ought to know better.

Beyond really liking Scalzi's work, he does an amazing amount of work promoting other writers.  Just skim his blog for the last several months.  A hell of a lot more of it is about promoting other authors than it is about promoting his own work.  Here is an example of his advice.

8. Unless you have a truly compelling reason to be there, get the hell out of New York/LA/San Francisco.

Because they're friggin' expensive, that's why. Let me explain: Just
for giggles, I went to and looked for apartments in
Manhattan that were renting for what I pay monthly on my mortgage for
my four bedroom, 2800 square foot house on a plot of land that is,
quite literally, the size of a New York City block ($1750, if you must
know, so I looked at the $1700 - $1800 range). I found two, and one was
a studio. From $0 to $1800, there are thirteen apartments available. On
the entire island of Manhattan. Where there are a million people. I love that, man.

Government Health Care: Trojan Horse for Fascism

In about the hundredth post in this series, yet another example of government health care costs being used to micro-regulate even the smallest personal lifestyle decisions:

The city that banned plastic grocery bags and styrofoam take-out
containers has found a new cause: your favorite soft drink. San
Francisco may impose a new fee on those big retail stores that sell
them. The purpose is to curb the obesity problem among kids and adults.
Such fee or tax would be the first in the nation.


San Francisco says the obesity problem is costing the city too
much money in health care costs. Studies have linked obesity to
diabetes and heart disease.

"One third of all of our new
on-set diabetics are type 2 because of obesity and this is in children
now," says Robert Lustig, M.D., Endocrinologist, UCSF.

It is perhaps appropriate, given the polls in Iowa, that Mike Huckabee precipitated one of the earliest posts in this series:

Mike Huckabee, the Governor of Arkansas, now
requires annual fat reports. These are sent to the parents of every
single child aged between 5 and 17; a response, he says, to "an
absolutely epidemic issue that we could not ignore" in the 1,139
schools for which he is responsible.

just cannot craft any reasonable theory of government where this is the
state's job.   The "obesity" crisis in this country just amazes me.
"Experts" every few years broaden the definition of who is overweight
or obese, and suddenly (surprise!) there are more people defined as
overweight.  Even presuming it is the state's job to optimize our body
weights, is it really the right approach to tell everyone they are too
fat?  Having known several people who were anorexic, including at least
one young woman who died of its complications, is it really a net
benefit to get young people more obsessed with looks and body style?
And what about the kids that are genetically programmed to be
overweight?  Does this mean that years of taunting and bullying by
their peers is not enough, that the state's governor wants to pile on

It is interesting to note that governor Huckabee apparently started
this initiative after his own personal battle with weight loss:

[Huckabee] lost 110lb after being warned that his
weight, more than 280lb after a life of southern fried food, was a
death sentence. A chair even collapsed under him as he was about to
preside over a meeting of state officials in Little Rock.

all have friends who have lost weight or gotten into homeopathy or
became a vegan and simply cannot stop trying to convert their friends
now that they see the light.  Now we have the spectacle of elected
officials doing the same thing, but on a broader scale and with the
force of law, rather than  just mere irritation, on their side.  One
can only imagine what report cards kids would be carrying home if
Huckabee had instead had a successful experience with penis
enlargement.  What's next, negative reports for kids with bad acne?
For women whose breasts are too small?  For kids who are unattractive?

Update: I see Q&O posts on the same issue

Environmentalists are Anti-Change, Not Pro-Environment

Here in Hawaii, much of the talk is about the Hawaiian Island ferry service that was supposed to start up this summer.  Most of you who have not spend much time here would probably expect that there already exists some kind of ferry service between the islands.  But for some reason, there is no such service.  Lacking you own boat, the only way to get to the island that I can see right across the water (I can see Maui right now from the north shore of the Big Island of Hawaii) is for me to drive forty miles south to an airport, get on an airplane, fly to the Maui airport, and then drive tens of miles to my destination.  Those of you who live in San Francisco, imagine if the only way to get to Oakland were by airplane.  One would think a ferry service would not only be a great service for residents and tourists, but would be a huge environmental benefit, giving folks an alternative to driving and flying.

Well, not according to the Sierra Club,
which has sued to block the ferry service on environmental grounds.  Of course, absolutely everything Hawaii uses comes in by ship, and there are always ships coming in and out of port, not to mention hundreds of fishing boats.  But we just can't have this one extra boat.  It makes much more environmental sense to the Sierra Club that people drive miles and miles to an airport and fly between the islands than to take a sensible ferry.

Note, by the way, as an added libertarian bonus, the ferry service seems to be entirely for-profit and does not appear to involve any major government subsidies.  Though I could be wrong about that, there are always hidden ways to subsidize such efforts.

Update: The main reason for opposition is that the ferry will make it easier for "undesirable" people to come to Maui and make the place less, uh, desirable.  First, it is unclear to me why the ferry service should be held accountable for future environmental damage that might be committed by its passengers - certainly airlines are not held to the same standard.  Second, this is snobbery, not environmentalism.  It is the same argument that prevented the red line in Boston from being extended to Lexington -- the upscale residents didn't want an easier path for the undesirables to get in.  So now Lexington residents have to drive for miles if they want to ride the train.  My sense is that this kind of faux environmentalism has become a very popular way for the reach to keep the middle class and poor at bay.  See:  Hamptons.

More Anti-Consumer Regulation

We seem to be getting these stories in batches lately (others here and here) but leave it to the EU to trump even San Francisco in anti-consumer stupidity:

Microsoft lost its appeal of a European antitrust order Monday
that obliges the technology giant to share communications code with
rivals, sell a copy of Windows without Media Player and pay a $613
million fine - the largest ever by EU regulators.

The EU
Court of First Instance ruled against Microsoft on both parts of the
case, saying the European Commission was correct in concluding that
Microsoft was guilty of monopoly abuse in trying to use its power over
desktop computers to muscle into server software.

It also said regulators had clearly demonstrated that selling media software with Windows had damaged rivals.

court observes that it is beyond dispute that in consequence of the
tying consumers are unable to acquire the Windows operating system
without simultaneously acquiring Windows Media Player," it said.

that regard, the court considers that neither the fact that Microsoft
does not charge a separate price for Windows Media Player nor the fact
that consumers are not obliged to use that Media Player is irrelevant."

Yes, you are reading it correctly.  Microsoft is being penalized for giving the consumer too much value by bundling in additional features and programs for free into its OS.  And just to make sure that you understand that this has nothing to do with the consumer, but is purely a complaint of large competitors that can't keep up, they make it clear that they want the bundling stopped even if it does not change the price of the OS one penny (pfennig or whatever the Euro equivalent is).  They want the product stripped down and are deliberately trying to reduce its value to customers.

Gwynnie at Maggie's Farm has a funny comment, saying, "Microsoft is guilty of succeeding while American."

Worst Law I Have Seen In A While

From San Francisco, of course! via Market Power

Prop. G obligates the
Planning Commission to conduct a hearing for any chain store (also
known as "formula retail") proposed in neighborhood commercial

Formula retail is defined as any retail sales establishment with 11
or more stores in the United States that maintains two or more
standardized features, including decor, facade, color scheme, uniforms,
signage or a trademark.

Incredibly, freaking 58% of the voters passed this turkey.  It's hard to know where to start, but here are a few thoughts:

  • Equal protection?  Anyone?  Buehler? 
  • One of the most obvious punishments of success I have ever seen.  If you only have one store, you are fine.  But if you are succesful and your concept flourishes and you have many stores, then you are automatically penalized.
  • One of the single most anti-consumer pieces of legislation I have ever seen.  Stores using a proven formula that has been succesful in other areas have a sort of consumer good housekeeping seal of approval.  They are by definition retail establishments where many consumers have already voted with their wallet "we like this."  So in effect, proven customer favorites are penalized vs. less proven concepts.  What an odd zoning concept when you put it that way -- we don't want anyone doing business here that has already proven themselves to be succesful with customers.  We only want you if you have no proof customers want what you are selling.

The other night I was staying in Arcadia, CA (a suburb of LA near Pasadena) on what I was told was the old Route 66.  There were a ton of restaurant choices, many of which I did not recognize, and there was a Chile's, which I grew up with in Texas.  I am positive some of those restaurants would have provided me a more satisfying meal than Chile's.  I am also sure some would have been worse.  Sometimes I am in the mood to find something new, but that night I just wanted a predictable experience.  All that stuff San Francisco is trying to penalize -- those standardized features -- bring real value to many consumers.