Libertarians Are Losing
How do I know libertarians are losing? Because our local paper can write 396 words on rising "weed complaints" and ensuing city citations for weeds without once even questioning whether the government needs to be enforcing landscape aesthetics. Here is one local house that is endangering the Republic enough to require government intervention:
Is the Global Warming Hysteria Killing Environmentalism?
Of late, I have been getting the strongest sense that the global warming hysteria is sucking all the oxygen out of the rest of the environmental movement. Quick, what is the last environment-related article you read that didn't mention global warming?
Here is an example: I give a lot of my charity money to groups like The Nature Conservancy, because I personally value preservation of unique areas and habitats and I don't sit around waiting for the government to do it for me. But it has become almost impossible of late to drum up enthusiasm from contributors for such causes, unless the land can be labeled a carbon-sink or something. In fact, the global warming hysteria has really been a disaster for private land conservation because it has caused politicians to subsidize ethanol. This subsidy is bringing much more wild land into cultivation in this country and has been the single biggest driver for deforestation in the Amazon over the last decade.
Or take China. China's cities are an unhealthy mess. But focus on global warming has led environmentalists to take the position with China they have to stop coal combustion and growth in auto-miles entirely. This is a non-starter. There is no WAY they are going to do this. But it is much more achievable to start getting China focused on a Clean-Air-Act type of attack on vehicle and coal plant emissions of real pollutants like SO2. China could be made much more healthy, as the US has done over the last 30-60 years, but instead of working with China to get healthier, the focus is on getting them to shut down their growth altogether.
- drinking water
- pollution of rivers, lakes, and ecosystems
- forest preservation
- acid rain
- tropical rain forests
- national parks
- greenhouse emissions
- ozone layer
- nature around "my" home
- urban sprawl
I feel like #1 is overblown based on a lot of media scare stories, but most of the top 6 or 7 would all be things I would rank well above global warming fears as well. There are still real issues to be dealt with in these areas which can have far more of a positive impact on health and quality of living than CO2 abatement, but they are being suffocated by global warming hype.
Update on the "Right Not To Be Offended"
Every decade or so, enemies of free speech adopt a new strategy for trying to curtail the First Amendment. The current effort consists of attempting to define a "right not to be offended", and college campuses are a leading laboratory for this approach (see here and here).
Chris Robinson was recently brought up on trial at the University court for violating this right not to be offended of some of the women at Colorado College (you may notice that this "right not to be offended" seems to be enforced suspiciously asymmetrically, like all speech restrictions). He has fired back with a marvelous editorial, of which I include one short excerpt:
Hyper-sensitivity in service to a purported greater good became the justification for an authoritarian lock-down on speech. It's the same logic every time: the state comes down hard on behalf of "community." Changing the rhetorical justification only masks the tyranny. The effect of this on citizens, in the words of John Adams, is "reducing their minds to a state of sordid ignorance and staring timidity."...
The simple fact that we were brought before a Soviet-style show trial has already sent a message to campus, and it is a clear one, namely that every other potential bearer of heterodox views should think long and hard about expressing them for fear of ending up in the same situation as us. In order to avoid even the possibility of offending one group or another, nobody outside the "approved" ideological categories will say anything.
This is precisely the chilling effect that the First Amendment is specifically designed to guard against, and to sanction it is a fundamental violation of the mission of this college. Transparently selective enforcement against ideologically disallowed speech is categorically the same as those abhorrent thought-control missions carried out by the Saudi Ministry of the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, a perfect example of what John Adams called "the most mischievous of all doctrines, that of passive obedience and non-resistance." It's Orwell and Kafka, together at last.
Bonus judos to Mr. Robinson for recognizing that as a private institution, Colorado College can legally implement whatever speech restrictions it likes, and so frames the question as an issue of "should it" rather than "can it?"
Every food service operation has some problems matching supply with demand, but strikes me as staggering incompetence (via a reader):
Hospitals are throwing away as much as half of their food, NHS figures show.
Close to 13 million meals were thrown away last year, with 33 hospitals dumping more than a quarter of their food, including two that discarded more than was eaten.
Meanwhile, almost 140,000 patients left hospital malnourished, double the figure a decade ago.
Last year, Ivan Lewis, the health minister, admitted that many elderly people were in effect being starved in hospitals. He said that some were given a single scoop of mashed potato as a meal, while others were "tortured" with trays of food placed beyond their reach and no help with eating.
Maybe the last bit shows that the Brits are enshrining the same "duty to die" that is being discussed in Canada.
Long Overdue: Some Style In Manufactured Homes
Now, I will confess to be a lover of quite modern home designs, but with that in mind, I really think that this design is a breath of fresh air in manufactured homes. A lot of people are buying these as vacation homes or cottages for land they have bought, either permanently or as a temporary solution until they build their dream vacation home (Don't click the "decor" button though - it seems that furniture design for manufactured homes is still stuck in the 50's).
Can't Anyone Solve Problems Without the Government?
Here is today's lament in the Arizona Republic:
Government plans to more than double the size of Petrified Forest National Park appear to be in jeopardy because Congress has failed to come up with the cash to buy surrounding properties.
The upshot: An irreplaceable treasure of dinosaur bones and Indian ruins may be lost as ranchers sell off their properties for subdivision and development.
And Petrified Forest is not alone. A study to be released April 8 by the non-profit National Parks Conservation Association, says 56 federal historic and recreation sites "could lose land inside their borders to developers this year." Others on the list range from Gettysburg National Military Park near Philadelphia to Golden Gate National Recreation Area in San Francisco.
Here is an idea: All you folks who are worried about these "treasures" can pool your money and buy the properties yourselves. That way you can either take charge of the preservations or donate the land to the government to do so. This is how many public parks came into being in the first place, from private donations.
Of course, this was back in the days when environmental groups actually spent their money on the environment. Today, they spend their money instead on lobbying. The more modern approach is not to spend your own money on the environment, but to lobby the government to force other people to spend their money on the environment. That is why people have apparently donated $300 million dollars (!) to Al Gore to create an advertising campaign dedicated to trying to spur government action on CO2. Rather than donating money to help solve the problem, people now donate money to push for government coercion.
Besides representing the modern approach to environmentalism (ie don't work the problem, just lobby the government to force other people to work the problem), Gore's campaign also represents a new frontier in rent-seeking. He has managed to get people to donate $300 million dollars to advocate government action that will likely have very little actual impact on the climate, but may have a huge impact on Al Gore's managed $5 billion investment fund. Congrats, Al. Even the kings of rent-seeking at ADM would not have had the cojones to ask folks to donate to a charitable advertising fund to support their subsidy requests.
Day Late, Billions of Dollars Short
The NY Times has finally published a comprehensive take-down on the insanity of biofuel subsidies here. All well and good, but this is at least five years too late. For years, while this and other blogs have tried to point out that the biofuel emporer's has no clothes, the NY Times has been publishing breathless articles in support of biofuel subsidies and mandates, in fact criticizing the Bush administration and Congress for not moving faster on them.
So is this what we must expect from the NY Times and the rest of the media? Shameless pandering to politically correct policy goals that make no scientific sense until it is virtually too late to halt their momentum? If so, everyone should read the Times' coverage on climate with a jaded eye, because it would not surprise me in the least to see the Times publish the definitive article on why the global warming alarmists are full of hot air only after Congress has gutted our economy with new climate taxes and mandates.
The Statist Trap
I thought this comment was kind of interesting for what it reveals:
And to some degree, doctors are the property of the state. It is impossible to have medical education without significant state subsidization, and although I don't know the specifics of every single country in Africa, that's a safe generalization to make.
For instance, here in the US, your medical education is heavily subsidized by the state. Probably on the order of 100k/student. Resident training programs also receive about 100k/resident from government entitlement programs.
I haven't a clue whether or not there is a net subsidy of medical education in this country, but assume it to be true. This is the statist trap in a nutshell. Statists insist that the government should subsidize (or, in more extreme cases, entirely fund) public education. But once you have attended these government schools, which one virtually has to do because of the steps the government takes to maintain its education monopoly, you then become the property of the state because the statists claim "well, you took our money for your education..."
How I Stopped Demagoguing and Learned To Love The Oil Companies
I am on the road this week, and still do not have time to write the post I want to write about Obama demagoguing against oil companies. Fortunately, I do not have to, because Q&O has this post.
Here is the short answer: companies like ExxonMobil, even in the best of times (or most rapacious, as your perspective might be), makes 9-10% pre-tax profit on sales. They make something like 5-6% when things are not so good. This means that if gas prices are $3, when you take out the 45 cents or so of tax, Exxon is making between 13 and 25 cents a gallon profit. Call it 20 cents on average. So, wiping out profits completely with various ill-advised taxes or regulations would achieve the substantial goal of ... cutting about twenty cents off the price of gas, or about $2.50 off the price of a fill-up. Of course, that is at the cost of eliminating all investment incentives in the world's most capital intensive resource extraction business. Which in turn will mean that that price cut will last for about 2 years, and then be swamped by price increases from disappearing gas supplies (exactly what happened in the late 1970s).
Part of the problem is that most people do not understand the supply chain in crude oil. It would seem logical that if the price of oil rises form $30 to $100, then all that $70 price increase is pure profit to Exxon. That would have been true in 1905, but is not true today. Exxon, even when it does the exploration and drilling, gets its oil via complicated agreements with state-owned corporations which in the main are structured so that the country in question, and not Exxon, gets windfall. This means that if Obama wants to tax windfall profits, he needs to seek out Venezuela and China and Saudi Arabia.
The article covers all this and more.
News Stories You Really Don't Want to See
I know there are people who take the position that all PR is good PR, but really, do you really want newspapers running a photo spread entitled "Hookers Made Famous by [Fill In Your Name]"?
No Bias Here
Greenbang: What do you think is wrong with the debate on climate change?
Dr Kate: It hasn’t really got to grips with the fundamental problem, which is that Western, industrialised lifestyles are literally unsustainable. Climate change is just one symptom of this. WWF famously calculated that if everyone on earth were to enjoy the lifestyle of an average Western European, we would need three planet earths.
Not even the most optimistic believers in technology think that we can technofix this problem so that 6 billion people (let alone the projected 9 billion) can enjoy a western lifestyle without ecological meltdown. It follows that we urgently need to rethink what we currently mean by a ‘high standard of living’ and move away from materialistic versions of this to an understanding of quality of life that could be enjoyed by everyone, without causing environmental mayhem. This is about values, not just about technology.
To a large extent, understanding the passion of climate alarmists is a chicken and egg problem. Normally, scientists identify a problem and then we seek to solve it. But, as you can see with this woman, climate science works in reverse. The debate began with people who believed that technology and economic growth needed to be diminished, and then found global warming as a conveniently manufactured "problem" that pointed to their already preferred solution.
This, by the way, is her complete answer to the question about what is wrong with climate debate. You can see her answer to this climate science question has nothing to do with climate, but everything to do with her pro-poverty position. She actually states her position as anti-western-standard-of-living, because that plays better with the soccer moms, but this is exactly the same as pro-poverty. And get a load of this great scientist quoting WWF advocacy press releases as if they were peer-reviewed science.
By the way, I personally believe that the world could easily sustain 6 billion people in a western standard of living, and love humanity enough to root for this to occur, so here statement is untrue (by the way, why are people who advocate for universal poverty like this person considered "sensitive" while folks like me who would love to see all the world wealthy considered evil and cold-hearted?) I don't know exactly how this will happen, but if I stood in the year 1908 I would not know how (or probably believe) even a single person could enjoy what we call a western standard of living today, but billions do. The human mind is a wonderful thing, and can achieve a lot, at least when scientists pursue new possibilities rather than simply shrieking that we need to turn the clock back.
Update: Here is one faulty assumption she is making:
Current levels of consumption in industrialised societies are too high - as the three planet earth analysis clearly shows. This presents a major problem for current economic thinking, which is premised on growth, and which requires us all to keep consuming more, not less. Clearly we can’t grow infinitely, and consume infinitely, on a finite planet.
Her assumption is that the Earth is somehow at capacity. How do we know that? If a scientist bases all of her beliefs on an assumption like this that has never been proven and the scientist is perfectly comfortable taking on faith, can we really call her a scientist? Or do we call her a religionist?
Cheap Cables? Well Mostly
This post advocates always buying the cheap home theater cables. I agree up to a point. I have never been able to hear the difference in really, really expensive cables, say for 3 foot interconnects.
But there is an exception to this, and it is interesting the author Glen is quoting actually uses this example -- long runs of video cable, particularly HDMI. If your TV sits on top of your video source, and the video run is 6 feet or less, then the average person with the average equipment will not notice the difference in video cables. But should your cable run extend to, say, 25 feet or more, then you are going to have problems. Video is both very high bandwidth and very susceptible to noise. HDMI and other digital cables are no exception -- the only thing that changes are the symptoms.
In an analog cable, you will start getting a lot of video noise with longer cable runs. Computer VGA cables were notorious for this -- if you went more than 6 feet, your picture could be a real mess.
SVGA S-video also had such problems. Now, with digital cable, the picture does not gain noise but at some point the signal is lost altogether and the picture drops out completely -- think of a youtube video streaming over a bad wireless connection. I will about gaurantee this will happen with 25 feet of JC Penny HDMI cable.
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 Medicare.
"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 service.
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.
Unfortunately, the EU Is What Many US Politicians Long to Emulate
An award-winning winemaker whose wares are sold at the royal palaces is facing a £30,000 bill after European bureaucrats ruled that he was using the wrong-shaped bottles. Jerry Schooler, who sells 400,000 bottles of fruit wines and mead a year, has been threatened with prosecution over his determination to use traditional measurements. The proprietor of the Lurgashall Winery in West Sussex, has been told to halt the sale of beverages such as mead, silver birch wine and bramble liqueur in 75cl and 37.5cl bottles. If he continues to sell them, he could be taken to court under a new EU directive that permits the sale of such products in 70cl, 50cl or 35cl measures only. …Mr Schooler now faces costs of about £30,000 to change his production line. “We are going to have to change all our bottling, the labels, machinery, boxes and maybe the corks as well and it is going to cost me thousands to do it,” he said. …West Sussex County Council’s trading standards department said that the winery was bound by EU Directive 2007/45/EC, which was drawn up in September to “lay down rules on nominal quantities for prepacked products”. It said the directive meant that the use of 37.5cl bottles for liqueurs was illegal.
Don't miss his other story of passengers having to hop off buses every 30 miles to satisfy EU regulations. The latter regulation is actually one that is remarkably similar to railroad regulation in the US, where a crew day was defined as something like 100 miles. Modern freight railroads were having to change crews every two hours - I don't know if that one is still on the books.
Not many people predicted to 12-13 matchups in the second round, but if they had, they would have runup some nice points given our upset-bonus in the scoring system. Here are the standings to date, which I reproduce only because, well, I am in them:
Bracket Rank Points Correct Games Upset Risk % Possible Games Jeff Charleston 1 74 37 16.7 52 hopeful 2 71 34 23.4 44 Keith Ehlers 3 70 36 16.7 48 Warren Meyer #2 4 70 33 21.4 46 Ron Gallagher 5 69 36 10.8 47 Nicholas Stergion ii 6 69 32 35.3 43 Dawn Werner 7 69 31 29.2 40 Stan Brown 8 69 30 32.0 43 Wade Condict #2 9 67 35 25.0 44 Craig 10 67 35 10.3 47 Paul Noonan 11 66 31 26.3 42 Warren Meyer 12 65 34 14.3 47
The good news is that both my brackets are in the top 12. The bad news is that I do a good job every year of picking early upsets and racking up early round points, and then I fall by the wayside in later rounds. We will see if I can hang in there. By the way, my loud-mouthed, smack-dealing son is in 76th place. The leader has 14 of his sweet-16 still intact, while my brackets have 11 and 9 respectively, which are pretty good leading indicators for future problems for yours truly.
One of the reason I like pickhoops.com is that they have some cool analysis tools. Here is my favorite, analyzing who has the best chances to win:
|15 games remaining||Must wins for best finish|
|Super Sixteen||Exciting Eight||Final Few||Champion|
|1 (74)||1 (29.6%)||47 (<1%)|
|2 (71)||1 (7.1%)||90 (<1%)||Wiscon|
|3 (70)||1 (4%)||85 (<1%)||Memphs|
|4 (70)||1 (7.2%)||83 (<1%)||Xavier|
|5 (69)||1 (<1%)||67 (<1%)|
|6 (69)||1 (4.3%)||100 (<1%)|
|7 (69)||1 (<1%)||95 (<1%)||Memphs Xavier||Memphs|
|8 (69)||1 (19.5%)||92 (<1%)|
|9 (67)||1 (<1%)||95 (<1%)||Memphs Xavier||Memphs|
|10 (67)||1 (1.5%)||68 (<1%)|
|11 (66)||1 (3.1%)||101 (<1%)|
|12 (65)||1 (2.9%)||89 (<1%)|
|13 (64)||1 (<1%)||64 (<1%)||UNC||UNC||UNC|
|14 (63)||1 (<1%)||66 (<1%)|
|15 (63)||1 (<1%)||62 (<1%)||Kansas Memphs||Kansas|
|16 (62)||1 (<1%)||74 (<1%)||Memphs||Memphs|
|17 (62)||1 (1.6%)||85 (<1%)|
|18 (62)||1 (1.6%)||104 (<1%)||Tenn||Tenn|
|19 (61)||1 (<1%)||93 (<1%)||Davdsn Stanfd UCLA Xavier||UCLA||UCLA||UCLA|
|20 (60)||1 (1.2%)||112 (<1%)||Texas||Texas||Texas||Texas|
See the whole analysis here.
Flaws with the Constitution
Three day laborers filed a lawsuit Tuesday that seeks to overturn a suburb's law prohibiting people standing on public streets from soliciting employment from occupants of cars.
The federal lawsuit alleges Cave Creek's law passed is unconstitutional because it restricts the free speech rights of people trying to find work as day laborers.
“Cave Creek does not have the right to pick and choose who has free speech rights,” said Monica Ramirez, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, one of the group's representing the day laborers. “The town cannot bar people from peaceably standing in public areas and expressing their availability to work.”
The stated reason for the law is this, but don't believe it:
Mayor Vincent Francia said the law was a response to concerns raised by residents over traffic being impeded by people congregating on street corners.
If you followed the genesis of this law, it has less than zero to do with traffic. It was crafted as a way to prevent people of Mexican birth, with or without the proper papers from the US government, from seeking work in Cave Creek. Which explains why sheriff Joe Arpaio is so eager to help enforce the law, and why, by some statistical fluke, everyone arrested under the law seems to be of
Mexican Latin descent (the three laborers filing the suit are Mexican and Guatemalan and are in this country legally).
I am happy to see this suit get filed under whatever auspices that it can, and have in the past supported using the first amendment to protect free commerce. Further, I am thrilled to see the ACLU, given its Stalinist origins, for once actively support the right to publicly advertise and conduct commerce. However, it is sad to me that Thomas Jefferson and company did not think it necesary to enshrine the right to free commerce as an protected right up there with speech and association.
One might argue that the enumerated power concept and the 9th amendment should be protection enough, but obviously Jefferson did not think so or he would not have pushed for the Bill of Rights. And saying the following may just prove that I am not a Constitutional expert, but it strikes me that another problem with the original Constitution that probably wasn't fixable at the time was the fact that the Bill of Rights did not originally restrain the states, only the Federal government. Only with the beat-down of states rights concepts in the Civil War and the passage and later interpretation of the 14th amendment did the Supreme Court begin to apply the Bill of Rights to states and municipalities as well. It is good that they have done so, but these protections enforced on states only tend to be the enumerated protections of the Bill of Rights. In fact, in this context, the 9th is meaningless because it reserves unenumerated powers to the people or the states, so it contributes nothing to reigning in municipalities, only the Feds.
All that being said, it should would have been nice to have three extra words such as "or conduct commerce" inserted after assembly:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble [or conduct commerce], and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Our Technology Is Not Economic -- Do We Invest in R&D, or Lobbying?
Lobbying of course! Silly rabbit.
The wind industry's trade group spent nearly $816,000 to lobby last year as wind companies tried to persuade Congress to extend a key tax credit and make power companies use more renewable sources.
Despite the efforts of the American Wind Energy Association, neither desire found its way into legislation this past year.
The group, whose members include General Electric Co., BP PLC, AES Corp. and FPL Group Inc., is still pushing for the tax-credit extension after lawmakers failed to tuck into the economic stimulus plan. The industry argues that 116,000 jobs and $19 billion in investments are at risk if the 1.9 cents per kilowatt-hour tax credit doesn't get a second wind. It expires in 2008.
Here is the really, seriously amazing part: In 2004, there were just over 400,000 people employed in the US power generation, transmission, and distribution business. This means that, incredibly, this advocacy group is claiming nearly 30% of the electric utility industry owes their job to wind power, despite wind generating a bit less than 1% of all the power in the US. If this is true, then here is a solution - forget the 1.9 cent subsidy, and cut some staff.
Oh, you mean that job number probably isn't real, kind of like those municipal stadium and sports team subsidy studies. Really? Boy are you cynical.
(HT Tom Nelson)
Maybe Its Not So Lucky
I don't mean to draw too much from a cutsie human interest story, but the Freakonomics Blog links an article in the Chicago Tribune about a guy who claims to have found 160,000 four-leafed clovers. My only real take was that maybe they really aren't very lucky, since the previous record-holder recently died in prison.
Just What We Need
It has already been reprinted around most of the freedom-loving portions of the blogosphere, but in case you have missed this quote from Hillary Clinton:
We need a president who is ready on Day 1 to be commander in chief of our economy.
Also revealed by Hillary: John Galt has been captured and has been offered Wesley Mouch's job.
The Division of Labor
The joy of free exchange, and the law of comparative advantage, are explained quite well by Jeffrey Tucker.
Many seem to think of economics and capitalism as sterile or even ugly. This article helps get at the real beauty of free exchange and capitalism, which I would boil down to the following:
- Every exchange between free and uncoerced people increases the well-being of both parties (by each individual's definition of their own well-being). It has to or there would be no transaction.
- Point #1 can and does occur even when one party to the transaction has no absolute advantage in any type of labor or production over the other party
Arizona Politicians Pursue Protectionism -- Against New Mexico
Taking the economically illiterate but apparently politically powerful notion that it is important that commerce across arbitrarily selected geographic boundaries be minimized, some Arizona politicians are taking the argument to the next, ridiculous level: Not content to blame perceived problems in the state economy (which has outperformed most other states) on NAFTA, Mexico, or Mexican immigrants, Arizona politicians are now blaming them on New Mexico.
An Arizona energy regulator is frustrated that Arizona Public Service Co. is passing up in-state wind-energy for power from New Mexico and Utah....
The state's largest utility buys 90 megawatts of energy from the Aragonne Mesa Wind Project near Santa Rosa, N.M., and officials have informed Corporation Commissioner Kris Mayes of plans to buy more renewable energy from out of state, including from a Utah geothermal-power plant.
"I am concerned that such out-of-state purchases hinder the development of renewable energy here in Arizona, and potentially deprive our state of much needed economic development," Mayes said in a letter to APS, echoing concerns she raised at a regulatory meeting last week.
Of course, everyone knows that silly government energy mandates have much more growth potential than, say, low electrical rates. So obviously the power company is just being treasonous in buying power from the cheapest sources:
When APS [one of our electric utilities] chose to buy power from the Aragonne project in New Mexico, it rejected a similar proposal from a company that wanted to build a wind farm in northern Arizona, which wasn't built because of the decision from APS, Mayes said.
Brandt said the New Mexico project was better for customers.
"We put all these projects out with a competitive bid," Brandt said. "Then we select the resource that comes out the best. It's not always the cheapest. It's a combination of price, reliability and do-ability, all the things a common businessperson would look at."
He said APS would rather support Arizona power projects, but so far those that have bid on power have not been competitive.
Of course, all of this, even taking the cheapest source, is more expensive than electricity would be without these mandates:
When the Corporation Commission approved the renewable-energy standard in 2006, officials estimated it would raise an existing monthly tariff on customer bills from less than 50 cents to $1.05 to help APS meet the goal, but those projections have gone up. Regulators are expected to set a new limit on the tariff in the next month, according to Mayes and APS officials, with some proposals nearing $2.
The protectionist argument is summed up:
"This is Arizona ratepayer money that is currently going to other states that ought to stay in Arizona," she said. "We are in an economic downturn. It's a terrible time to be investing out of state."
Yes, yet another blow is struck against economic literacy and the concept of division of labor. Just how arbitrarily small does a geographic area have to be before protectionists will accept that this area does not need to be self-sufficient of all products and services?
I Told You Arizona Was Conflicted
The state Senate voted 17-11, with two senators not voting, to allow a rock-and-roll theme park proposed between Phoenix and Tucson to issue $750 million in revenue bonds to help build the project....
Revenue bonds are repaid with income from the funded projects. The park would tax visitors to repay the bonds.
To issue the bonds, the developers must come up with $100 million of their own financing.
Oh my god, three quarters of a billion dollars of public financing for a theme park? And we give the theme park operator taxation authority? And the developer has to come up with less than 1/8 the total cost from private sources? Yuk. Just for scale (I know the spending sources are apples and oranges), $750 million is more than 2.5 times the total of the federal earmarks that go to Alaska, the #1 porkbarrel state. So here we are patting ourselves on the back for being Congressional pork-free, and then our state Senate does something like this. Sigh.
Trying to Market Poverty
Best-selling author Bill McKibben, who wrote one of the first books on global warming, will be the featured speaker at a roundtable discussion on sustainability Tuesday afternoon at the Burton Barr Central Library...
In his latest book, McKibben argues that accelerated cycles of economic expansion have brought the world to the brink of environmental disaster.
Instead, he suggests that we should be creating smaller, more sustainable local economies.
I have never fully understood the word "sustainability," but in this context, doesn't it mean "poorer"? It strikes me that McKibben is trying to sell poverty, or at least advocating that everyone voluntarily become poorer. He is successful with middle-class soccer moms at the library only to the extent that he hides this fact and calls poverty something else -- in this case "smaller, more sustainable local economies."
By the way, does jetting from city to city across the country to sell his book make him a sustainability expert? If he believes what he says, why doesn't he just sell his book within a 50-mile radius of his home?
Sustainability is always for thee and not for me.
This Is What You Like To See: AZ Last in Pork-Barrel Cash
Arizona can be a weird place, politically. Sometimes it can be among the most libertarian, part of the Goldwater legacy, and sometimes it can be absurdly statist, for example in the huge popular support our individual-rights-abusing Sheriff Arpaio enjoys. But this is certainly good to see:
Arizona has some powerful lawmakers in Washington, including Republican presidential candidate John McCain.
But when it comes to pork-barrel spending, otherwise known as earmarks, the state isn't very powerful. In fact, it ranks last.
That's mostly because three of the state's 10 lawmakers in Washington, McCain and House Republicans Jeff Flake and John Shadegg, refuse to ask for any federal money for local projects. Another Arizona Republican, Sen. Jon Kyl, strictly limits his earmark requests. They all say the earmark process wastes taxpayer money and desperately needs reform. But other Arizona lawmakers counter that their colleagues' stance hurts the state.
rizona, one of the fastest growing states in the nation, will receive $18.70 per capita in federal earmarks this fiscal year. By comparison, Alaska, with roughly a 10th of Arizona's population, is set to receive $506.34 per capita, the highest in the nation, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense, a watchdog group that tracks earmarks.
Alaska receives about three times as much as Arizona in actual dollars, $346 million to $119 million. That means Arizona gets less money for water projects, bridge repairs, road construction and rural clinics.
Good for us. While I have my problems with McCain, Shadegg and Flake are two of my favorite people in Congress.
The article, since it comes from the Republic, of course fails to really explain the issues well. It tries to get the reader confused into thinking that zero earmarks means zero government spending in the state:
"When you have reformers and purists, you end up not getting a reasonable share of money coming out, which hurts the state," said James Thurber, director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University. "When you're holier than thou, you don't get much of the money."
This is, of course, silly. Having no earmarks merely means that the huge amounts of money the Feds spend are doled out by existing statute and by the bureaucracy, rather than the whim of individual Congress persons trying to pay back favors to large donors.
update: see the bad half of AZ here.
CoyoteBlog Readers' Tournament Pick Count
I am a glutton for stats, so I always love to post this analysis. Of the 125 brackets we have in the tournament, this is how many picked each team in each game (teams in red are those already knocked out)
By the way, how about that buzzer-beater in overtime by Western Kentucky!
|Round 1||Round 2||Round 3||Round 4||Round 5||Round 6|
Why Is Easter So Early?
The answer to why Easter comes so early this year is actually up in the sky tonight: the full moon. Easter is defined as the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox (which was today rather than the normal March 21, presumably due to it being leap year but someone may correct me on this).
Ich Bin Ein Terrorist
Megan McArdle observes (via data from the ACLU) that over 900,000 Americans have their name on various terrorist watch lists. One could argue that this is perhaps four orders of magnitude off the actual number of active terrorists running around the country. How can such a travesty occur? Well, its the government, and McArdle points out, unsurprisingly, its an incentives issue.
Can some smart lawyer from the ACLU find a way to void this list on due process or maybe 14th amendment grounds?
The Rent-Seekers Ball
The audience -- a sold-out crowd of hundreds who had to apply to be admitted and pay a $3,500 fee -- consisted of representatives of the myriad businesses that seek to make a financial killing from climate alarmism. There were representatives of the solar, wind, and biofuel industries that profit from taxpayer mandates and subsidies, representatives from financial services companies that want to trade permits to emit CO2, and public relations and strategic consultants to all of the above.
We libertarians would call such an event a rent-seekers ball -- the vast majority of the audience was there to plot how they could lock-in profits from government mandates on taxpayers and consumers.
It was an amazing collection of pseudo-entrepreneurs who were absolutely impervious to the scientific and economic facts that ought to deflate the global warming bubble.
In the interlude between presentations by the CEOs of Dow Chemical and Duke Energy, for example, the audience was shown a slide -- similar to this one -- of the diverging relationship between atmospheric CO2 levels and average global temperature since 1998. That slide should have caused jaws to drop and audience members to ponder why anyone is considering regulating CO2 emissions in hopes of taming global climate.
Instead, it was as if the audience did a collective blink and missed the slide entirely. When I tried to draw attention to the slide during my presentation, it was as if I was speaking in a foreign dialect.
The only conclusion I could come to was that the audience is so steeped in anticipation of climate profiteering that there is no fact that will cause them to reconsider whether or not manmade global warming is a reality.
But of course we all know that it is the skeptics that are corrupted by money ;=)
Third Annual NCAA Tournament Bracket Challenge
Note: This post sticky through 3/20. Look below for newest posts.
We had a blast with it last year, so back by popular demand is the annual Coyote Blog NCAA Bracket Challenge. Yes, I know that many of you are bracketed out, but for those of you who are self-employed and don't have an office pool to join or who just can't get enough of turning in brackets, this pool is offered as my public service.
Last year we had close to 100 entries, and we expect more this year. Everyone is welcome, so send the link to friends as well. There is no charge to join in and I have chosen a service with the absolutely least intrusive log-in (name, email, password only) and no spam. The only thing I ask is that, since my kids are participating, try to keep the team names and board chat fairly clean.
To join, go to http://www.pickhoops.com/Coyote and sign up, then enter your bracket. This year, you may enter two different brackets if you wish.
Scoring is as follows:
Round 1 correct picks: 1 points
Round 2: 2
Round 3: 4
Round 4: 6
Round 5: 8
Round 6: 10
Special March Madness scoring bonus: If you correctly pick the underdog in any round (ie, the team with the higher number seed) to win, then you receive bonus points for that correct pick equal to the difference in the two team's seeds. So don't be afraid to go for the long-shots! The detailed rules are here.
Bracket entry appears to be open. Online bracket entry closes Thursday, March 20th at 12:20pm EDT. Be sure to get your brackets in early. Anyone can play -- the more the better.
For All Our Problems...
For all our problems in this country with protecting individual liberties, we at least still have pretty free reign in criticizing public figures. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of Canada. I am not really that sympathetic to all that gets written on these Canadian web sites, but I support their right to say it.
Do not be too complacent, however. I am absolutely positive that there are many prominent people in this country who are scheming to bring exactly this sort of regime to the US. In fact, it is already being tested at various college campuses, where a newfound right "not to be offended" has begun to trump free speech, at least so far as offense is defined and felt by the ruling elite on campus.
Last Reminder - Brackets Due by About Noon EDT
We have 99 brackets so far, lets get it over 100. Remember, entry is free and fun. As an added incentive, I will send the winner a copy of either of my books (yes, I know the inevitable joke - 2nd place gets two copies). Enter here: http://www.pickhoops.com/Coyote. More about the rules and scoring here.
24 Hours Left to Get That Bracket In
Remember, entry is free and fun. As an added incentive, I will send the winner a copy of either of my books (yes, I know the inevitable joke - 2nd place gets two copies). Enter here: http://www.pickhoops.com/Coyote . More about the rules and scoring here.
What is Wrong With Tort Law
Despite seeing all kinds of major problems in tort law today, I have never been a huge proponent of many tort law reforms (though I support loser pays). I don't see why my ability to pursue legitimate damages in court should be curtailed. What all these tort law reforms never get at is this:
A Glendale jury on Friday cleared an emergency room doctor of negligence and liability in John Ritter's death, holding he did everything he could to save the comic actor. ... Jurors, who voted 9 to 3 against liability for Lee and Lotysch, said they were torn between sympathy for Ritter's wife and children and their conviction that the doctors were blameless.
The fact that the jury is at all conflicted on this point represents a huge miscarriage of justice, but this goes on every day in court. In fact, if the doctors had worked for Exxon, you can bet Exxon would have been paying despite being blameless.
What patients (and juries) really seam to want is bad outcomes insurance rather than malpractice insurance. This is in part born out by the fact that researchers can usually find little statistical relationship between truly bad doctors and the size of court malpractice payouts. Maybe the answer to malpractice insurance is to convert it to a workers-comp-like no-fault insurance systems that pays off on bad/unexpected outcomes following a fixed schedule and keeps everything out of court. The reduction in legal costs alone would be staggering.
More Sick Children
I mentioned yesterday that, consistent with our perfect 15 for 15 history of having sick kids on the family vacation, I missed a day of skiing to take care of my sick son. Well, the other shoe dropped today, and my wife missed a day of skiing with my sick daughter. Fortunately, we only have two kids so we may all ski tomorrow.
By the way of disclosure, I enjoy the fun my family has skiing but it really is not my favorite activity or even in my top 50 or so activities. Too cold, too much stuff to bring, too expensive, too many lines. Like having to buy $1000 of equipment to go to Disney World and finding that they moved it to Alaska. With the added risk of breaking a leg.
Bear Stearns & Enron
I wondered if folks would find my analogy from Bear Stearns to Enron I posted the other day stretched.
Because Enron's demise came in exactly this sort of liquidity crisis, and the situations are nearly entirely parallel, all the way up to and including the CEO telling the world all is well just days before the failure. But no one understood Enron's business, so its failure seemed "out of the blue" and therefore was attributed by many to fraud, lacking any other ready explanation. In the case of Bear Stearns, the public was educated in advance as to the problems in their portfolio (with mortgage loans) such that the liquidity crisis was less of a surprise and, having ready source of blame (subprime loans) no one has felt the need to apply the fraud tag.
Apparently, the Economist sees the same connection (via a reader):
For many people, the mere fact of Enron’s collapse is evidence that Mr Skilling and his old mentor and boss, Ken Lay, who died between his conviction and sentencing, presided over a fraudulent house of cards. Yet Mr Skilling has always argued that Enron’s collapse largely resulted from a loss of trust in the firm by its financial-market counterparties, who engaged in the equivalent of a bank run. Certainly, the amounts of money involved in the specific frauds identified at Enron were small compared to the amount of shareholder value that was ultimately destroyed when it plunged into bankruptcy.
Yet recent events in the financial markets add some weight to Mr Skilling’s story—though nobody is (yet) alleging the sort of fraudulent behaviour on Wall Street that apparently took place at Enron. The hastily arranged purchase of Bear Stearns by JP Morgan Chase is the result of exactly such a bank run on the bank, as Bear’s counterparties lost faith in it. This has seen the destruction of most of its roughly $20-billion market capitalisation since January 2007. By comparison, $65 billion was wiped out at Enron, and $190 billion at Citigroup since May 2007, as the credit crunch turned into a crisis in capitalism.
Mr Skilling’s defence team unearthed another apparent inconsistency in Mr Fastow’s testimony that resonates with today’s events. As Enron entered its death spiral, Mr Lay held a meeting to reassure employees that the firm was still in good shape, and that its “liquidity was strong”. The composite suggested that Mr Fastow “felt [Mr Lay’s comment] was an overstatement” stemming from Mr Lay’s need to “increase public confidence” in the firm.
The original FBI notes say that Mr Fastow thought the comment “fair”. The jury found Mr Lay guilty of fraud at least partly because it believed the government’s allegations that Mr Lay knew such bullish statements were false when he made them.
As recently as March 12th, Alan Schwartz, the chief executive of Bear Stearns, issued a statement responding to rumours that it was in trouble, saying that “we don’t see any pressure on our liquidity, let alone a liquidity crisis.” Two days later, only an emergency credit line arranged by the Federal Reserve was keeping the investment bank alive. (Meanwhile, as its share price tumbled on rumours of trouble on March 17th, Lehman Brothers issued a statement confirming that its “liquidity is very strong.”)
Although it can do nothing for Mr Lay, the fate of Bear Stearns illustrates how fast quickly a firm’s prospects can go from promising to non-existent when counterparties lose confidence in it. The rapid loss of market value so soon after a bullish comment from a chief executive may, judging by one reading of Enron’s experience, get prosecutorial juices going, should the financial crisis get so bad that the public demands locking up some prominent Wall Streeters.
The article also includes more details of exculpatory evidence that was withheld from the Skilling team and will very likely lead to a new trial. The Enron prosecution team has not had a very good record in appeals court scrutiny of their actions at trial:
For what it is worth, prosecutors have had a tougher time in the appeals court with Enron-related cases than in the initial jury trials. Convictions have been overturned in a case relating to Nigerian barges that Enron sold to Merrill Lynch. The conviction of the chief financial officer of Enron Broadband has also been vacated, after two trials. So, too, was the decision to convict Enron’s auditor, Arthur Andersen (albeit too late to save the venerable firm from liquidation).
Solar Has A Ways to Go
I have not ever been able to make solar installation on my house get a reasonable payback, even with rising electricity rates, the best location in the country for solar, and huge government subsidies. Large solar installations remain a publicity stunt, a sort of really expensive indulgence bought to garner the "green" title:
Scott Gustafson runs the numbers on the solar installation at the revamped Phoenix convention center:
capital cost: $850,000
operating costs: not provided
annual electricity savings: $15,000
return on investment (ignoring operating costs and interest): 1.7%
Solar is still a fine toy for the rich and public figures like Al Gore looking to disguise their true carbon footprint. But the economics aren't there yet for big boy investors -- its still off by an order of magnitude, at least.
Hopefully, this will change as high energy prices encourage innovation.
Eww, Yuck, I missed this
"A primary purpose of the educational system is to train school children in good citizenship, patriotism and loyalty to the state and the nation as a means of protecting the public welfare," the judge wrote, quoting from a 1961 case on a similar issue.
Don't Bother Reading the News; Just Read My Novel
Excerpt from my novel BMOC that I posted hours after the Spitzer revelations:
Taking a deep breath, Givens said, “Senator, there is a reason that this one is not going away. I will spell it out: S-E-X. The press doesn’t give a shit about a few billion dollars of waste. No one tunes in to the evening news if the teaser is ‘Government pays too much for a bridge, news at eleven.’ The Today Show doesn’t interview the contractors benefiting from a useless bridge.”
“However, everybody and his dog will tune in if the teaser is ‘Your tax dollars are funding call girls, film at eleven’. Jesus, do you really think the CBS Evening News is going to turn down a chance to put hookers on the evening news? Not just tonight but day after day? Just watch – Dan Rather will be interviewing hookers and Chris Mathews will be interviewing hookers and for God’s sakes Barbara Walters will probably have a weepy interview with a hooker.”
OK, I missed it by that much. It is Diane Sawyer, not Barbara Walters.
At least one good thing has come out of Eliot Spitzer's fall from grace: Diane Sawyer will finally get to air her hooker special!
Almost two years ago, Sawyer and producers at "Prime Time Live" set out to do a story on prostitution. Wanting to examine Nevada's legal brothels, she headed out to the famous Moonlite Bunny Ranch.
"She really hit it off with all my girls," Bunny Ranch head Dennis Hof tells us. "We even gave her one of the terry-cloth bathrobes they wear. We had it embroidered, "Diane: Trainee."
Home Theater Projector Reviews
I am a big proponent of front projection for serious home theater. I currently have a 108" wide (not diagonal) projection set up and I paid less for it than many people do for their 50" flat screens. Unfortunately, it is 720p rather than 1080p, but there is a great new crop of affordable 1080p front projectors that I am lusting after. This site has very good, complete reviews of front projectors and has just posted its roundup of the best 1080p machines.
Reminder - NCAA Bracket Contest
Enron Class Action Lawyers Attempt to Extort More than Enron Management Was Ever Accused Of
Bear Stearns Roundup
My friend Scott, who actually worked for Bear Stearns years ago, sent me one of the more down to earth explanations of a liquidity trap that I have heard of late. Imagine that you had a mortgage on your house for 50% of its current value. Then suppose that in this alternate mortgage world, you had to renew your mortgage every week. Most of the time, you are fine -- you still have good income and solid underlying asset values, so you get renewed with a rubber stamp. But suppose something happens - say 9/11. What happens if your renewal comes up on 9/12? It is very likely that in the chaos and uncertainty of such a time, you might have trouble getting renewed. Your income is still fine, and your asset values are fine, but you just can't get anyone to renew your loan, because they are not renewing anyone's loan until they figure out what the hell is going on in the world.
Clearly there are some very bad assets lurking on company books, as companies are still coming to terms with just how lax mortgage lending had become. But in this context, one can argue that JP Morgan got a screaming deal, particularly with the US Government bending over and cover most of the riskiest assets. Sigh, yet another government bailout of an institution "too big to fail." Just once I would like to test the "too big to fail" proposition. Why can't all those bankers take 100% losses like Enron investors or Arthur Anderson partners. Are they really too big to fail or too politically connected to fail?
Anyway, Hit and Run has a good roundup of opinion.
Update: I don't want to imply that everyone gets off without cost here. The Bear Stearns investors have taken a nearly total loss - $2 a share represents a price more than 98% below where it was a year or two ago. What I don't understand is that having bought Bear's equity for essentially zero, why an additional $30 billion guarantee was needed from the government.
Immigration and Welfare
Well, I should be skiing right this moment, but my son woke up barfing this morning, making it a perfect 15 of the last 15 family trips where one of my kids has gotten sick.
But the ski lodge is nice, and the wireless works great, and Q&O has a very interesting post on immigration and welfare.
High unemployment among immigrants is of course not confined to just Sweden or Scandinavia. Throughout Europe, governments have found that well-intentioned social insurance policies can lead to lasting welfare dependence, especially among immigrants. Belgium is the European country with the highest difference in employment rates between the foreign-born and natives. The images of burning cars in the suburbs of Paris that were broadcast around the world illustrate the kind of social and economic problems France is facing with its restive immigrant population.
Given the high barriers to entry, many immigrants in Europe no longer start accumulating essential language and labor market skills. This is in stark contrast with the situation across the Atlantic. For example, in 2000, Iranians in the U.S. had a family income that was 42% above the U.S. average. The income of Iranian immigrants in Sweden, however, was 39% below the country’s average.
Lots of interesting stuff there. Which reminds me of something I wrote years ago:
In the 1930's, and continuing to this day, something changed radically in the theory of government in this country that would cause immigration to be severely limited and that would lead to much of the current immigration debate. With the New Deal, and later with the Great Society and many other intervening pieces of legislation, we began creating what I call non-right rights. These newly described "rights" were different from the ones I enumerated above. Rather than existing prior to government, and requiring at most the protection of government, these new rights sprang forth from the government itself and could only exist in the context of having a government. These non-right rights have multiplied throughout the years, and include things like the "right" to a minimum wage, to health care, to a pension, to education, to leisure time, to paid family leave, to affordable housing, to public transportation, to cheap gasoline, etc. etc. ad infinitum....
These non-right rights all share one thing in common: They require the coercive power of the government to work. They require that the government take the product of one person's labor and give it to someone else. They require that the government force individuals to make decisions in certain ways that they might not have of their own free will.
And since these non-right rights spring form and depend on government, suddenly citizenship matters in the provision of these rights. The government already bankrupts itself trying to provide all these non-right rights to its citizens -- just as a practical matter, it can't afford to provide them to an unlimited number of new entrants. It was as if for 150 years we had been running a very successful party, attracting more and more guests each year. The party had a cash bar, so everyone had to pay their own way, and some people had to go home thirsty but most had a good time. Then, suddenly, for whatever reasons, the long-time party guests decided they didn't like the cash bar and banned it, making all drinks free. But they quickly learned that they had to lock the front doors, because they couldn't afford to give free drinks to everyone who showed up. After a while, with the door locked and all the same people at the party, the whole thing suddenly got kind of dull.
Highly Leveraged Financial Companies Sometimes Fail
Bear Stearns is being bought for a price that is barely indistinguishable from zero:
Just four days after Bear Stearns Chief Executive Alan Schwartz assured Wall Street that his company was not in trouble, he was forced on Sunday to sell the investment bank to competitor JPMorgan Chase for a bargain-basement price of $2 a share, or $236.2 million.
The stunning last-minute buyout was aimed at averting a Bear Stearns bankruptcy and a spreading crisis of confidence in the global financial system sparked by the collapse in the subprime mortgage market. Bear Stearns was the most exposed to risky bets on the loans; it is now the first major bank to be undone by that market's collapse.
This is what happens to a highly leveraged company when there is a liquidity crisis. Fears about the company's health caused most lenders to withhold short term capital, which then in turn brought those fears to reality.
While I suspect that we may find a lot of stupid blunders (at least in hindsight) and poor decisions, my sense is that this has nothing to do with fraud of any sort. Which raises some interesting questions about Enron. Because Enron's demise came in exactly this sort of liquidity crisis, and the situations are nearly entirely parallel, all the way up to and including the CEO telling the world all is well just days before the failure. But no one understood Enron's business, so its failure seemed "out of the blue" and therefore was attributed by many to fraud, lacking any other ready explanation. In the case of Bear Stearns, the public was educated in advance as to the problems in their portfolio (with mortgage loans) such that the liquidity crisis was less of a surprise and, having ready source of blame (subprime loans) no one has felt the need to apply the fraud tag. (It also did not help that Lay and Skilling kept a higher profile than Schwartz at Bear Stearns, so that they were an easier target for vilification.
I never really had the time to fully understand all the charges against Skilling at Enron (though I do think he deserves a new trial) but I always thought that it was unfair to try to ring either Skilling or Lay up for fraud because they were out trumpeting the health of the company shortly before its collapse. Because it is clear from the Bear Sterns collapse that liquidity crises have everything to do with confidence, and you could see the Bear Stearns CEO out there in the last few days trying to boost confidence. Was that fraud? Or was that his very legitimate duty and obligation given his fiduciary responsibility to shareholders? Why is Schwartz at Bear Stearns fighting for shareholders when he is trying to build confidence in the company in a liquidity crisis but Lay and Skilling at Enron defrauding shareholders when they were doing exactly the same thing?
Lucky Here Too
Travis writes about how a customer of his web service tracked him down at home at gave him a 40-minute earful -- and why he was very lucky the customer did so, in that it revealed some problems in his delivery process of which he was not aware.
Ditto here. I was just about to write about a very similar experience on Friday, where a customer of ours ran into a new manager who was just hell bent on collecting an extra $4 he thought we were owed -- four lousy dollars -- and this employee managed to progressively anger, then intimidate, and then outright scare a customer, up to and including trying to reach in and grab stuff out of the customer's car. The father of a woman in the car contacted us absolutely irate -- as well he should have been. After about 2 hours of patient listening, we got dad and the other unfortunate customers calmed down. They will all be getting some nice freebies in the mail, and apparently we will end up with a laudatory rather than hostile customer letter, as the customers ended up being impressed that our regional VP and the out-of-state owner would spend so much time with them trying to figure out what was wrong. I will say it was easy to be sympathetic, as I was horrified by the story. I felt personal shame that such actions were taken in my name (if this sounds silly or exaggerated, think again. I have talked to a lot of people who have built successful service companies, and every one shares stories of experiencing similar shame for boneheaded actions taken by employees on their behalf.)
Unfortunately, the manager in question had to go -- this was the second time in a very short period where the manager had shown poor judgement in customer service situations. The manager was a nice person who interviewed great and did a lot of things well, but my experience is that if you don't have good judgement on such customer service interactions, you are not suddenly going to get it next week. So, like Travis, we were lucky to head off a potential problem before it got worse, and we were lucky to be given a chance to turn around the customers' experience.
The frustrating thing for me is that this manager had just been to my personal customer service training. At this training I lecture several times over two days fairly passionately about customer service issues, and in fact I cover situations almost identical to the one here. I even say in the training "I don't want you or your employees going to battle with customers over small amounts of money."
We have found that there are certain people who simply cannot put their ego aside when dealing with a customer. If these type people get it into their head that the customer is somehow trying to get over on them or the company, even for $4, they will dig in their heals and refuse to let the customer come out on top. In their mind, the customer is a "bad" person and does not deserve to win, and there is no way they are going to take the ego hit in letting the "bad" customer have a small victory at their expense. But as I tell employees all the time -- if you refuse to apologize to the customer, you are not counting coup on the customer, all you are doing is delegating the task to Warren (the owner) because he is certainly going to give that customer an apology. And likely a bunch for free camping as well. And do you know what some employee's reactions are to my giving that customer an apology and some freebies? They get mad at me, for not backing them up and letting that "bad" customer get away with whatever they think he is getting away with!
While absolutely predictable that some people will act this way, I have found it nearly impossible to screen for this in the interview process, and totally impossible to train this characteristic out of people. The best we can do is watch for the first signs of these traits and let folks who evidence them go as soon as possible. That is also why we try to make it a hard and fast rule that we never hire managers directly from outside the company, we only promote managers from field service employees who have shown good judgment on the front lines. Once in a blue moon we ignore this rule, as we did when hiring the managers I had to fire on Friday. Which just goes to show that it is probably a pretty good rule for our business.
In Case You Thought Homeland Security Knows What it is Doing
I am on my way to a few days of skiing in Utah, but I thought I would leave you with this travel story. A few weeks ago I was traveling and was at the airport really early. I had forgotten to remove the toothpaste from my stuff, and I was flagged for extra screening because they saw it on X-ray (I remember the good old days when they were X-raying for guns and stuff rather than toothpaste, but I digress).
The screener pulled it out and said - sorry, this is more than three ounces. So, as an engineer with no sense of self-preservation, I asked, "Weight or volume?" The screener asked what I meant. I said that an "ounce" is a unit of both weight and volume, which did he mean? (The TSA site is no help, it just says ounces). He said "volume." Still being stupid, I said "but the 3.5oz on that toothpaste is weight -- you can tell by the 'net Wt.' in front of it and the number in grams behind it. He looked at it for a minute, and then gives me an answer right out of Spinal Tap: "But its over 3 ounces" [but this one goes to 11]. Anyway, I gave up and surrendered my Crest to government authorities, and the world was that much safer.
I am told by an airline exec that the policy was originally volume, but after many complaints, the government realized that an ounce was also a unit of weight and they have informally changed the policy to "3 ounces weight or volume" but they never really communicated this change fully because it's too, you know, embarrassing that they operated so long not knowing the difference.
Have a good week -- I will probably post a bit but it will be light.
Climate Thought for the Day
The catastrophe that Al Gore and others prophesy as a result of greenhouse gases is actually not, even by their admission, a direct result of greenhouse gas emissions. Even the IPCC believes that warming directly resulting from manmade CO2 emissions is on the order of 1 degree C for a doubling of CO2 levels in the atmosphere (and many think it to be less).
The catastrophe comes, not from a mere 1 degree of warming, but from the multiplication for this warming 3,4,5 times or more by hypothesized positive feedback effects in the climate. Greenhouse gas theory gives us warming numbers we might not even be able to find amidst the natural variations of our climate; it is the theory of strong positive climate feedback that gives us the apocalypse.
So, In a large sense, the proposition that we face environmental armageddon due to CO2 rests not on greenhouse gas theory, which is pretty well understood, but on the theory that our climate system is dominated by strong positive feedbacks. This theory of positive feedback is almost never discussed publicly, in part because it is far shakier and less understood than greenhouse gas theory. In fact, it is very probable that we have the sign, much less the magnitude, of major feedback effects wrong. But if we are considering legislation to gut our economies in order to avoid a hypothesized climate catastrophe, we should be spending a lot more time putting scrutiny on this theory of positive feedback, rather than just greenhouse gas theory.
Government as Price-Maker vs. Taker
government is much better as a price taker than a price maker. Government procurement is all kinds of tedious and cluttered with red tape, but in the end there's no gigantic problem with the government pencil supply. Defense procurement, on the other hand, is pretty well agreed to be godawful-expensive for what we get, the only excuse being that we can't think of another way to buy fighter planes.
That means that government procurement alongside a free market looks a lot different from government procurement when the government is the only buyer. Yes, the health care market is extremely screwed up, but the prices in it do tell you something about demand for various services, and provide some signals about cost/benefit. You may think that viagra is a prime example of wasted pharmaceutical R&D spending (though if you do, I am willing to bet that you are either under forty, or female), but the fact that a lot of people are willing to pay a fair amount of coin for it tells you that they probably feel it is improving their lives in some significant way. Governments can estimate cost-benefit when the benefit is limited to crude mortality improvements, but they are pretty much at sea when it comes to quality-of-life. America's price signals are wildly distorted by its insurance markets--but they're almost certainly better than no signal at all.
Europe's governments operate their health care systems in the context of an existing US market that provides information about demand for new treatments (and of course I would argue, also the new treatments). They don't use that price information to set what they pay for drugs, but it does filter through to their markets--for example, more widespread use of Herceptin for breast cancer in the US is putting pressure on the British government to provide it. I think an American shift to single-payer would be more problematic than the European example for a variety of reasons related to our government structure. But one important reason is that if we did, we'd have no where left to get prices from.
I Think I Can Agree With This
I observed a while back that "Eliot Spitzer has been brought down for a crime most libertarians don't think should be a crime, by federal prosecutors who should not be involved even if it were a crime, and using techniques, such as enlisting banks as government watchdogs of private behavior, that stretch the Fourth Amendment almost out of recognizable shape."
Megan McArdle makes a pretty good point about the last part:
I'm not distressed to hear that the Feds were spying on Eliot Spitzer. No, not because I don't like the man, but because I think maybe we should spy on our politicians, all the time. No probable cause, you say? I fling back at you Mark Twain's observation that America only has one distinct criminal class: Congress. . . . I think it's entirely appropriate that the anti-corruption police watch politicians like hawks. They've chosen public office; that conveys a lot of responsibility to the public, including assuring them that your votes aren't being bought outright. I also think that politicians, when caught in a crime, should automatically get the maximum penalty; if they think the law is such a good idea, they ought to suffer heartily when they disregard it.
We Don't Need To Turn Over No Stinking Evidence
A few days ago, I pointed to a Tom Kirkendall post where he reported that a large volume of evidence, including interview notes with star witness and Enron CFO Andy Fastow, was finally turned over to the Skilling defense team. This is required by law to occur before the, you know, trial itself but in fact comes months and years after the trial. Apparently, there are a lot of bombshells in the notes, including this one as described by Skilling's attorneys in a brief linked by Kirkendall: (citations omitted)
Task Force prosecutors called the “Global Galactic” document “three pages of lies” and the “most incriminating document” in Skilling’s entire case. At trial, Fastow testified Skilling knew about Global Galactic because Fastow “confirmed” it with him during a spring 2001 meeting. Skilling denied knowing anything about Global Galactic. To bolster Fastow’s testimony and impeach Skilling’s, the Task Force introduced a set of handwritten “talking points” that Fastow said he prepared in anticipation of his meeting with Skilling. At trial, Fastow swore he “went over” the talking points with Skilling, including the crucial point “Confirmation of Global Galactic list.” Id. In closing, the Task Force relied heavily on this document to corroborate Fastow’s testimony that he discussed Global Galactic with Skilling.
The raw notes of Fastow’s interviews directly impeach Fastow’s testimony and the Task Force’s closing arguments. When shown and asked about the talking-points document in his pre-trial interview, Fastow told the Task Force he “doesn’t think [he] discussed list w/ JS.”
This obviously exculpatory statement was not included in the Task Force’s “composite” Fastow 302s given to Skilling. Nor was it included in the “Fastow Binders” the Task Force assembled for the district court’s in camera review of the raw notes. It is not possible that this omission was inadvertent. Fastow’s statement is one of the most important pieces of evidence provided during all his countless hours of interviews. Moreover, in preparing both the composite 302s and Fastow binders, the Task Force extracted and included other—relatively inconsequential—statements from the same interview date and even the same page of notes. The Task Force’s exclusion of this critical piece of evidence for over three years is inexcusable and, on its own, warrants a complete reversal of Skilling’s convictions and other substantial relief.
Disclosure: I actually worked with Jeff Skilling briefly at McKinsey & Co. From that experience, I have always thought it unlikely that this incredibly detail-oriented guy did not know about a number of these key Enron partnerships. However, that presumption on my part in no way reduces my desire to see him get a fair trial, and I am becoming convinced that he did not.
If I Were A Shill For Industry...
Bravo, Don Boudreaux (responding to the typical anti-libertarian attack that we are just "shills" for large corporations:
If I were a shill for industry...I would oppose free markets. Free markets, after all, are markets open to competition that invariably keeps the profits of existing firms from remaining excessive and, often, even bankrupts firms once thought to be invincible industry leaders. Existing firms almost all deplore competition in their industries. They seek government regulations that hamstring rivals and potential rivals. And, of course, firms are forever pleading for "protection" from foreign competition.
I just wrote a book ("Globalization") in which I make a strong and principled case for completely free trade - not free trade sometimes, for some firms, under some circumstances, with some qualifications, but free trade always, for all firms, under all circumstances, and with no qualifications.
Whether my book's case for unalloyed free trade is correct or not, it is surely not the sort of book that causes the heads of many corporate CEOs to nod in eager agreement. The typical reaction of business people whenever they hear or read me make my case for genuinely free trade is to say something like, "Professor Boudreaux, you don't understand the peculiarities of my industry." And then each executive launches into a laundry list of excuses for why Congress should protect his industry from foreign rivals.
Advice to Single Men
Guys, you may think you know what you want in a wife -- Is she hot? Is she smart? Is she funny?
I can tell you from 18 years of marriage, this is what you really want in a wife:
Harry Potter Camping Movie
Apparently, the 7th Harry Potter book will be split into two movies. Great. The second part will be killer, but the first will doom us to watching Harry run all over England camping.
This Has Got to Be Fake
All the other crazy stuff in this story aside, there is no way that the man whose girlfriend lived on the toilet for two years is named "Mr. Whipple."
If Only Abuse of Power Was Considered Worse Than Sex
In a previous post I lamented that Eliot Spitzer was lauded by the press as "Mr. Clean" despite (or because of) abuse of power, but was forced to quit within days of revealing an episode of consensual sex. If only abuse of power had such an immediate impact on politicians as sex:
The Justice Department and the housing department’s inspector general are investigating whether the [HUD] secretary, Alphonso R. Jackson, improperly steered hundreds of thousands of dollars in government contracts to friends in New Orleans and the Virgin Islands.
On Wednesday, Democratic lawmakers also raised concerns about accusations that Mr. Jackson threatened to withdraw federal aid from the director of the Philadelphia Housing Authority after he refused to turn over a $2 million property to a politically connected developer.
Update: More on the press and its support for prosecutorial abuse of power, in Spitzer's case and others.
The likely Republican presidential nominee is well to the left of the last Democratic president on economic issues. And George McGovern sounds Laissez Faire:
Under the guise of protecting us from ourselves, the right and the left are becoming ever more aggressive in regulating behavior. Much paternalist scrutiny has recently centered on personal economics...
Since leaving office I've written about public policy from a new perspective: outside looking in. I've come to realize that protecting freedom of choice in our everyday lives is essential to maintaining a healthy civil society.
Why do we think we are helping adult consumers by taking away their options? We don't take away cars because we don't like some people speeding. We allow state lotteries despite knowing some people are betting their grocery money. Everyone is exposed to economic risks of some kind. But we don't operate mindlessly in trying to smooth out every theoretical wrinkle in life.
The nature of freedom of choice is that some people will misuse their responsibility and hurt themselves in the process. We should do our best to educate them, but without diminishing choice for everyone else.
Really, its that George McGovern.
And I began to question my hatred for “the Corporations” - the hatred of which, I found, was but the flip side of my hunger for those goods and services they provide and without which we could not live.
And I began to question my distrust of the “Bad, Bad Military” of my youth, which, I saw, was then and is now made up of those men and women who actually risk their lives to protect the rest of us from a very hostile world…
But if the government is not to intervene, how will we, mere human beings, work it all out?
I wondered and read, and it occurred to me that I knew the answer, and here it is: We just seem to. How do I know? From experience…
Strand unacquainted bus travelers in the middle of the night, and what do you get? A lot of bad drama, and a shake-and-bake Mayflower Compact. Each, instantly, adds what he or she can to the solution. Why? Each wants, and in fact needs, to contribute - to throw into the pot what gifts each has in order to achieve the overall goal, as well as status in the new-formed community. And so they work it out.
And so I, like many of the liberal congregation, began, teeth grinding, to attempt to do so. And in doing so, I recognized that I held those two views of America (politics, government, corporations, the military). One was of a state where everything was magically wrong and must be immediately corrected at any cost; and the other - the world in which I actually functioned day to day - was made up of people, most of whom were reasonably trying to maximize their comfort by getting along with each other (in the workplace, the marketplace, the jury room, on the freeway, even at the school-board meeting).
And I realized that the time had come for me to avow my participation in that America in which I chose to live, and that that country was not a schoolroom teaching values, but a marketplace…
The Health Care Trojan Horse, In Connecticut
The stories keep coming about using health concerns as the thin edge of the fascism wedge. This time via Hit and Run:
Sheridan Communications and Technology Middle School eighth-grader Michael Sheridan was suspended from school for three days, barred from attending an honors student dinner and stripped of his title of class vice president.
He bought a bag of Skittles.
The punishment was meted out because the New Haven school system banned candy sales and fundraisers in 2003 as part of the districtwide school wellness policy.
In fact, this school has outlawed an financial transactions whatsoever between students:
Turner had repeatedly warned students that she would not allow any candy to be sold in schools, nor did she want money changing hands in school, said Sullivan-DeCarlo.
Thoughts on Prosecutorial Abuse
With Eliot Spitzer going down for what shouldn't be a crime (paying for sex) rather than what should be (abuse of power), now is as good a time as ever to focus on prosecutorial abuse. As in the case of Spitzer, the media seems to have little desire to investigate overly-aggressive prosecution tactics. In fact, in most cities, the local media cheer-leads abusive law enforcement practices. It makes heroes of these abusive officials, whether their abuses be against the wealthy (in the case of Spitzer) or the powerless (as is the case of our own Joe Arpaio here in Phoenix).
Tom Kirkendall continues to be on the case of the Enron prosecution team for their abuses, which have been ignored in the media during the general victory dance of putting Jeff Skilling in jail and running Arthur Anderson out of business. But, guilty or innocent, Skilling increasingly appears to have solid grounds for a new trial. In particular, the Enron prosecution team seems to have bent over backwards to deny the Skilling team exculpatory evidence. One such tactic was to file charges against every possible Skilling witness, putting pressure on them not to testify for Skilling. Another tactic was more traditional - simply refuse to turn over critical documents and destroy those that were the most problematic:
The controversy regarding what Fastow told prosecutors and FBI agents who were investigating Enron became a big issue in the Lay-Skilling prosecution when the prosecution took the unusual step of providing the Lay-Skilling defense team a "composite summary" of the Form 302 ("302's") interview reports that federal agents prepared in connection with their interviews of Fastow. Those composites claimed that the Fastow interviews provided no exculpatory information for the Lay-Skilling defense, even though Fastow's later testimony at trial indicated all sorts of inconsistencies.
However, I have spoken with several former federal prosecutors about this issue and all believe that the government has a big problem in the Skilling case on the way in which the information from the Fastow interviews was provided to the Lay-Skilling defense team. None of these former prosecutors ever prepared a composite 302 in one of their cases or ever used such a composite in one of their cases. The process of taking all the Fastow interview notes or draft 302's and creating a composite is offensive in that it allowed the prosecution to mask inconsistencies and changing stories that Fastow told investigators as he negotiated a better plea deal from the prosecutors.
Similarly, the Enron Task Force's apparent destruction of all drafts of the individual 302s of the Fastow interviews in connection with preparing the final composite is equally troubling. Traditionally, federal agents maintain their rough notes and destroy draft 302s. However, in regard to the Fastow interviews, my sense is that the draft 302s were not drafts in the traditional sense. They were probably finished 302's that were deemed “drafts” when the Enron Task Force decided to prepare a composite summary of the 302's.
Note that showing how a person's story has changed over time is a key prosecution tactic, but one that is being illegally denied to Skilling. Apparently Skilling's team has now seen the actual interview notes, and believe they have found "a sledgehammer that destroys Fastow's testimony" against Skilling. Stay tuned, a new trial may be on the horizon.
More Health Care Trojan Horse
This one comes via a reader, and is from Belgium:
Two sets of parents in Belgium were recently handed five month prison terms for failing to vaccinate their children against polio. Each parent was also fined 4,100 euros ($8,000)....
"Nobody has the right to unfettered liberty, and people do not have a right to endanger their kids," said John Harris, a professor of bioethics at the University of Manchester.
"The parents in this case do not have any rights they can appeal to. They have obligations they are not fulfilling."
Why Libertarians are Dancing on Spitzer's Grave
Eliot Spitzer has been brought down for a crime most libertarians don't think should be a crime, by federal prosecutors who should not be involved even if it were a crime, and using techniques, such as enlisting banks as government watchdogs of private behavior, that stretch the Fourth Amendment almost out of recognizable shape. So why are we libertarians so happy?
He routinely used the extraordinary threat of indicting entire firms, a financial death sentence, to force the dismissal of executives, such as AIG's Maurice "Hank" Greenberg. He routinely leaked to the press emails obtained with subpoena power to build public animosity against companies and executives. In the case of Mr. Greenberg, he went on national television to accuse the AIG founder of "illegal" behavior. Within the confines of the law itself, though, he never indicted Mr. Greenberg. Nor did he apologize.
In perhaps the incident most suggestive of Mr. Spitzer's lack of self-restraint, the then-Attorney General personally threatened John Whitehead after the former Goldman Sachs chief published an article on this page defending Mr. Greenberg. "I will be coming after you," Mr. Spitzer said, according to Mr. Whitehead's account. "You will pay the price. This is only the beginning, and you will pay dearly for what you have done."
Jack Welch, the former head of GE, said he was told to tell Ken Langone -- embroiled in Mr. Spitzer's investigation of former NYSE chairman Dick Grasso -- that the AG would "put a spike through Langone's heart." New York Congresswoman Sue Kelly, who clashed with Mr. Spitzer in 2003, had her office put out a statement that "the attorney general acted like a thug."
These are not merely acts of routine political rough-and-tumble. They were threats -- some rhetorical, some acted upon -- by one man with virtually unchecked legal powers.
Eliot Spitzer's self-destructive inability to recognize any limit on his compulsions was never more evident than his staff's enlistment of the New York State Police in a campaign to discredit the state's Senate Majority Leader, Joseph Bruno. On any level, it was nuts.
As I wrote before, the real crime here is that despite all his history, he was until two days ago a press darling labeled as "Mr. Clean." In reality, he has always been Mr. Abuse of Power and Mr. Personal Vendetta. I am happy to see him brought down, even if for the wrong reasons.
Update: A lot more here
Health Care Trojan Horse, Canada Edition
Next in my series about the health care Trojan Horse for fascism, comes this story via Q&O in Canada (McQ gives as good a definition of any of the Trojan Horse: "once government has control over your health care, it will use all sorts of justifications and excuses to exert more and more control over your life as a result.")
For 60 years or more, libertarians and conservatives have been arguing that government programs intended to promote the public welfare inevitably end by restricting freedom more and more: as the state does more for you, it finds itself doing ever more to you. Who would dare challenge that premise now, in the face of Judge James Blacklock’s decision? The man made no secret of the chief pretext for his ruling. Motorcycle riders who don’t wear helmets are more costly to the medicare system; therefore, in the name of reducing those costs, the government is free to require the wearing of helmets, even if that conflicts with a fundamental Charter right and interferes with the most personal and intimate sort of decision-making conceivable.
From the Archives: Eliot Spitzer and the Antarctic Liberation Front
I posted this in 2004, but it seems relevant today:
OK, but what is this Antarctica thing? Back when I was an undergrad at Princeton, one of my fondest memories was of a bizarre Student Body Governing Council (USG) election. The previous USG administration, headed by none other than fellow Princetonian Eliot Spitzer, had so irritated the student body that, for the first time in memory, the usually apathetic voting population who generally couldn't care less who their class president was actually produced an energetic opposition party. Even in his formative years, Spitzer was expert in using his office to generate publicity, in this case frequent mentions in the student newspaper that finally drove several students over the edge.
The result was the incredibly funny and entertaining Antarctic Liberation Front. I wish I had saved their brochures, but their proposals included things like imposing a dawn to dusk curfew on the school and funding school parties by annexing the mineral rights between the double yellow lines of the US highways. All of this was under the banner of starting jihad to free Antarctica. The ALF swept the USG election. This immensely annoyed Spitzer and other USG stalwarts, who decried the trivialization of such an august body. The pained and pompous wailing from the traditional student council weenies (sounding actually a lot like liberals after the last presidential election) only amused the general student population even further. After a few student-council-meetings-as-performance-art, the ALF resigned en mass and life went back to being just a little bit more boring.
If you think I am exaggerating in saying that the Spitzer-led student council types had a whiny reaction to this bit of fun, you should know that Spitzer was still whining about it 20 years later to the New Yorker magazine. Virginia Postrel, also a Princetonian at the time, had a similar reaction to mine here, and fisks the New Yorker article.
Stranger than Fiction -- Eliot Spitzer and Prostitutes
My novel BMOC included an incompetent and power-abusing Senator who managed to remain a darling of the press as long as he focused his attention on pork-barrel spending and using government power to help and hurt his friends and enemies. However, the press finally turned on him when it became known he was involved with prostitutes. The fairly cynical (if not realistic) moral was that it was fine to abuse government power, just don't get caught in a sex scandal.
Well, it seems that we will get to test that notion in real life. Apparently, NY governor Eliot Spitzer has been dallying with prostitutes. Now, I couldn't really care less about his purchase of sex -- I have argued many times for legalization of prostitution. But it will be an interesting test of my book's cynical hypothesis, since to date the press has been in love with Spitzer despite (even because of) his abusive practices as AG and governor. The radio news a few minutes ago actually said "Mr. Spitzer, who to date has had a squeaky clean reputation..." Huh? Only if you read the fawning PR work done for him by the NY Times in the past.
Update: Here is the passage from the book. Sound familiar?
Taking a deep breath, Givens said, “Senator, there is a reason that this one is not going away. I will spell it out: S-E-X. The press doesn’t give a shit about a few billion dollars of waste. No one tunes in to the evening news if the teaser is ‘Government pays too much for a bridge, news at eleven.’ The Today Show doesn’t interview the contractors benefiting from a useless bridge.”
“However, everybody and his dog will tune in if the teaser is ‘Your tax dollars are funding call girls, film at eleven’. Jesus, do you really think the CBS Evening News is going to turn down a chance to put hookers on the evening news? Not just tonight but day after day? Just watch – Dan Rather will be interviewing hookers and Chris Mathews will be interviewing hookers and for God’s sakes Barbara Walters will probably have a weepy interview with a hooker.”....
“You guys in the Senate can get away with a lot, as long as long as a) you don’t get caught or b) the scandal is so boring or complex that it won’t sell newspapers. Hell, I saw a poll the other day that a substantial percentage of Americans to this day don’t understand or even believe what Richard Nixon did was wrong. But if you polled those same people, every freaking one of them would say that they knew and believed that Bill Clinton got [had sex with] an intern.
Update #2: Disclosure -- I did not like Spitzer, even at Princeton. This, however, was not uncommon. In fact, Spitzer managed to inspire a jihad in response to his governance of the student council there.
Update #3: ROFL! I got this email from a reader:
I eagerly await your comments on the latest imbroglio involving your favorite Princeton classmate. Please don't take the high road.
It seems I may not be the only person who does not care for Mr. Spitzer.
Update #4: I hope the girls paid sales taxes on their transactions and have all their payroll taxes in order. Certainly Mr. Spitzer has established the principle that illegal businesses still owe taxes.
That seems to be the axiom in New York these days, where Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer (D), struggling to close a $4.4 billion budget gap, has proposed making drug dealers pay tax on their stashes of illegal drugs. The new tax would apply to cocaine, heroin and marijuana, and could be paid with pre-bought "tax stamps" affixed to the bags of dope.
Update #5: Libertarians like myself will point out that this is all between consenting adults. Of course, that did not stop Eliot Spitzer from trying to prosecute Dick Grasso for a pay package that was approved by consenting (and quite sophisticated) adults.
Update #6: It is being reported that Spitzer will resign. QED folks. Spitzer uses the state police to spy on political rivals and the press continues to call him a squeaky clean reformer. But pay for sex with a consenting adult, and your gone.
Update #7: Tom Kirkendal has been all over Spitzer for years. He writes:
But I hope that the most important lesson that Spitzer's political career teaches us is not lost amidst the glare of a tawdry sex scandal. As with Rudy Giuliani before him, Spitzer rose to political power through the misuse of the state's overwhelming prosecutorial power to regulate business interests. In so doing, Spitzer manipulated an all-too-accommodating mainstream media, which never misses an opportunity to take down an easy target such as a wealthy businessperson. Spitzer is now learning that the same media dynamic applies to powerful politicians, as well.
However, as noted earlier here, where was the mainstream media's scrutiny when Spitzer was destroying wealth, jobs and careers while threatening to go Arthur Andersen on American Insurance Group and other companies? Where was the healthy skepticism of the unrestrained use of the state's prosecutorial power to regulate business where business had no available regulatory procedure with which to contest Spitzer's actions?
So I Guess I Got Caught Up In It Too
The Mises Blog, not one to give the government much of a break, argues that the decision on home education last week in California was narrow and has been mis-interpreted, and applies narrowly to the credentialing of home tutors, not parents performing home-schooling.
Maybe, but the teacher's union certainly thought that was what the judge was saying and the judge went out of his way to say specifically "Parents do not have a constitutional right to home school their children" which is an overly broad statement that was not at all required had the decision really been intended to be narrow. Jeffrey Tucker at Mises argues:
It comes down to a case of a judge who got carried away with his rhetoric and didn't understand the law.
Oh, OK. I feel so much better now.
Taking Preventative Action to Ensure No One Is Kindof Sortof Maybe Offended
If you have not seen it, the Indiana University-Purdue University in Indianapolis (IUPUI) reaction to a university employee reading a history book almost defies parody. As far as I can tell, someone got offended or maybe was concerned someone might be offended because the Klan was in the title (notwithstanding the fact that the book is apparently decidedly anti-Klan). This makes the whole "niggardly" controversy seem well-targeted in comparison.
However, I think Jacob Sullum misses the mark when he says:
To clarify, then, Sampson was not in trouble because of the book he chose to read. He was in trouble because of what he might have been thinking while reading the book.
In fact, this is still not correct. In fact, Sampson was in trouble because of what other people might think when they see him reading a book that has "KKK" somewhere in the title. Pathetic. Another lunatic step in trying to establish a "right not to be offended" at universities.
Licensed to Parent
I guess it was inevitable, but a court in California has determined that the most basic function of parenting, ie educating your children, requires a license from the state. If you don't have such a license, you have to turn your kids over to the state to educate them for you (via Overlawyered)
Parents who lack teaching credentials cannot educate their children at home, according to a state appellate court ruling that is sending waves of fear through California's home schooling families....
"Parents do not have a constitutional right to home school their children," wrote Justice H. Walter Croskey in a Feb. 28 opinion signed by the two other members of the district court. "Parents who fail to [comply with school enrollment laws] may be subject to a criminal complaint against them, found guilty of an infraction, and subject to imposition of fines or an order to complete a parent education and counseling program."
Whoa! No Constitutional right to educate our kids how we see fit? With an imminent government takeover of our kids' eating habits as well, that will leave exactly what parental duties to parents?
Of course we are just concerned about the well-being of the children. Of course it has nothing to do with unionized teachers protecting their turf. Or not:
Teachers union officials will also be closely monitoring the appeal. A.J. Duffy, president of United Teachers Los Angeles, said he agrees with the ruling.
"What's best for a child is to be taught by a credentialed teacher," he said.
Update: It is being argued that this is actually more narrow than it first appears. The current debate seems to come down to whether the judge is an idiot and the decision is overly broad or whether the judge is an idiot and the decision is narrow.
Solar Cells in Sheets From Dalton, Georgia
Every 2-3 years I do the math on solar cells for my home. I live in a house with a large flat roof and in one of the top 10 cities in the world for solar potential, so it seems to make sense in theory. Unfortunately, even with large government / power company subsidies, the math never works as an investment.
The problem for me is not efficiency - I have enough flat space on my roof for a lot of cells - but cost. We need a solar technology that can be rolled out of the factory like carpet from Dalton, Georgia. To this end, this looks promising.
I Really, Really Needed My Camera Today
I was driving back to Phoenix today from San Diego on Interstate 8 and I really needed my camera.
As many of you in this area will have observed, the INS is out in force, setting up roadblocks and checkpoints on highways to look for illegal immigrants. On top of our current rules requiring employers to act as immigration agents, our labor force is drying up in Arizona, making the search for workers harder. That is why I thought it was hilarious that at the INS checkpoint near Yuma, the INS had a big sandwich-board type sign out front on the road saying "We're hiring!"
Cargo Cult Drug Enforcement
This is a great example of what I call cargo cult thinking: If drugs are sold in small baggies, then banning these baggies will reduce drug sales:
Tiny plastic bags used to sell small quantities of heroin, crack cocaine, marijuana and other drugs would be banned in Chicago, under a crackdown advanced Tuesday by a City Council committee. Ald. Robert Fioretti (2nd) persuaded the Health Committee to ban possession of "self-sealing plastic bags under two inches in either height or width," after picking up 15 of the bags on a recent Sunday afternoon stroll through a West Side park.
Great idea. But it seems that Chicago may not be after drug dealers after all:
Lt. Kevin Navarro, commanding officer of the Chicago Police Department's Narcotics and Gang Unit, said the ordinance will be an "important tool" to go after grocery stores, health food stores and other businesses.
Huh? We need to "go after" health food stores?
This is the weirdest bit of problem-shifting I have seen since Oakland started assigning legal liability for teenage littering to the McDonalds corporation
Observation on Norton Security
I just bought a new Fujitsu Lifebook P8010 (which I love). It came installed with a 90-day trial for Norton security suite. Here is my observation on Norton: It is hard for me to imagine a piece of spyware or malware that puts as many spam messages on the screen, exhibits so many bad behaviors, or is so hard to remove as Norton itself. In the middle of a 30-minute task that was within 30 seconds of completion, Norton just rebooted my computer for some reason. It spams me with messages every startup, keeps adding its own toolbar to my browser, and I am having a terrible time getting it off my computer. Norton is perhaps the worst spyware I have ever had on a computer. Except maybe for the McAfee trial version on my last laptop.
Useful Advice from John Scalzi
Another fake memoir has been revealed:
In “Love and Consequences,” a critically acclaimed memoir published last week, Margaret B. Jones wrote about her life as a half-white, half-Native American girl growing up in South-Central Los Angeles as a foster child among gang-bangers, running drugs for the Bloods.
The problem is that none of it is true.
Margaret B. Jones is a pseudonym for Margaret Seltzer, who is all white and grew up in the well-to-do Sherman Oaks section of Los Angeles, in the San Fernando Valley, with her biological family. She graduated from the Campbell Hall School, a private Episcopal day school in the North Hollywood neighborhood. She has never lived with a foster family, nor did she run drugs for any gang members.
You know, the rules of a memoir are pretty simple. If an event actually happened to you, you can use it in a memoir. If it didn’t actually happen to you, you can’t. Because then it’s fiction, you see. Which is different from a memoir. No, really; you can look it up. I’m not sure why this has suddenly become so difficult for everyone to process.
I must say that this actually sounds like a good book -- he should go for it:
On the other hand, I’m looking forward to selling my memoir of my life as a teenage transvestite in the Bogota slums, who later joined the Navy SEALs and adopted the twin daughters of the ruthless Afghan opium warlord whom I battled to the death using only a spoon and 14 bars of the 1812 Overture, and then, having beaten back a terrible addiction to khat, went on to become one of the most famous celebrity chefs on The Cooking Channel. Because apparently this would be at least as true as most of the other memoirs on the market today. And, I’d wager, a great deal more entertaining. I’m waiting for my check, I am.
Thank God George Bush Supports Ethanol...
... because that may make it easier for the Democrats to summon the political will to kill ethanol subsidies, though don't hold your breath. Certainly, though, the NYT, after years of cheerleading ethanol, may finally be coming around:
Congress must take a hard look at the effect of corn ethanol on food supplies in the same way the new energy bill requires it to review the environmental effects. It must move toward ending subsidies that will become even more difficult to justify as oil prices rise and the costs of producing corn ethanol decline. And it must press other wealthy countries to do the same before hunger turns to mass starvation.
Via Tom Nelson
By the way, these problems with ethanol we are experiencing today were are inevitable as night follows day, yet we still had to blunder into it before we started questioning the economics. The power of political correctness to trump science and logic is amazing.
More on the Cost of College
I don't know why I can't just move along from Michelle Obama's rant about the terrible cost of her Princeton / Harvard Law degree. Maybe its because I attended the same schools (different degrees) and my reaction is just so different -- I had a fabulous experience and live in awe that I had such a unique chance to attend these schools, while Michelle Obama seems to experience nothing but misery and resentment. Granted that I did not have to take on a ton of debt to get these degrees, but I have plenty of friends (and a wife) that did.
This analogy comes to mind: Let's say Fred needs to buy a piece of earth-moving equipment. He has the choice of the $20,000 front-end loader that is more than sufficient to most every day tasks, or the $200,000 behemoth, which might be useful if one were opening a strip mine or building a new Panama Canal but is an overkill for many applications. Fred may lust after the huge monster earth mover, but if he is going to buy it, he better damn well have a big, profitable application for it or he is going to go bankrupt trying to buy it.
So Michelle Obama has a choice of the $20,000 state school undergrad and law degree, which is perfectly serviceable for most applications, or the Princeton/Harvard $200,000 combo, which I can attest will, in the right applications, move a hell of a lot of dirt. She chooses the $200,000 tool, and then later asks for sympathy because all she ever did with it was some backyard gardening and she wonders why she has trouble paying all her debt. Duh. I think the problem here is perfectly obvious to most of us, but instead Obama seeks to blame her problem on some structural flaw in the economy, rather than a poor choice on her part in matching the tool to the job. In fact, today, she spends a lot of her time going to others who have bought similar $200,000 educations and urging them not to use those tools productively, just like she did not.
Postscript: Ironically, two Ivy League schools have actually decided that they want their graduates to be able to afford any career they wish, without fear of student debt, and so endeavor to provide student aid nowadays in the form of grants rather than loans. One of those is Princeton University, her and my alma mater.