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Handcuff Everyone with Brown Skin -- We'll sort 'em Out Later

Our execrable sheriff Joe Arpaio conducted another of his famous roundups of people with brown skin.  This time descending on an area landscaping company, our brave deputies zip-tied anyone who did not look Anglo-Saxon.  To have their handcuffs removed, workers of Latin descent had to first provide proof that they were in the country legally.  Note that there is no legal requirement that I know of that workers in this country carry proof of citizenship at all times, on the off-chance the local Gestapo will descend on them and demand to see their papers.

Deputies from the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office raided a Mesa landscaping company early Wednesday morning, arresting nearly three dozen people suspected of being in the country illegally.

The raid on offices of Artistic Land Management, on Main Street just west of Dobson Road, happened about 4:30 a.m., according to one worker who was handcuffed and detained before being released when he produced documentation that he was in the country legally....

Juarez estimated about 35 workers were handcuffed with plastic zip-ties while deputies checked for documents. Those who could provide proof they were in the country legally were released, while others were put on buses and taken away.

Posted on August 27, 2008 at 11:56 AM | Permalink | Comments (12)

Proletarianization of the Middle Class

Marxism holds that the middle class will eventually disappear, as the world is polarized between a few large business owners and the masses of the proletariat.  Small and independent businesses would disappear, and most of the middle class would be pedestrianized.  The middle class was always a sticking point for Marx, and there is some question whether this is really prediction or wishful thinking.  I say wishful thinking, because Marx knew that he could not achieve his socialist end-state with a middle class in place -- he had to drive the middle class into the proletariat.

In a large sense, that is what was are seeing at the Democratic Convention -- the effort to convince the middle class that, against all reason and reality, they are actually not well-off, that they are marginalized victims.  It is an attempt to pedestrianize the middle class.  Thus we get this classic quote from Rahm Emanuel, via Matt Welch:

The truth is, the Bush crowd has been giving the middle class a thumping. This November, the middle class is going to give it right back. This election comes down to a simple question: do we want four more years of Bush-McCain or do we want the change we need?

There is only one candidate from the middle class, that understands the middle class, and that can deliver the change the middle class needs: Barack Obama. A strong economy depends on a strong middle class. But George Bush has put the middle class in a hole and John McCain has a plan to keep digging that hole with George Bush's shovel.

Posted on August 27, 2008 at 08:55 AM | Permalink | Comments (10)

Good News

The absurdly porked-up transportation initiative has been dropped from the November ballot in Arizona.  So we can relax for another year, and local jurisdictions will be forced to pay for their own silly projects with local money.  My last post on this ballot initiative was here.

Posted on August 27, 2008 at 08:38 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Open For 19th Century Business

From the grasping at straws file, Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm has been talking for a while about remaking Michigan as an alternative energy powerhouse.  Henry Payne reports on her breakfast talk yesterday morning at the DNC Convention:

At a breakfast talk, Michigan’s deeply unpopular governor Jennifer Granholm explained that she was chosen to moderate Tuesday night’s energy panel from the convention stage because of the Wolverine State’s efforts in renewable power. The idea that windmills will rescue one of America’s great manufacturing states is absurd on its face, but she persisted in spinning a fairy tale that Michigan is perfectly positioned to take advantage of alternative energy manufacturing because of the “Five Ws” (I’m not making this up) in abundance in the state: “Wind, water, waste, workforce and wood.”

That's terrific - they have all the key inputs needed for setting up an early 19th century business.  What is left unsaid is that Michigan has the highest unemployment rate in the country, driven by fussy and high cost unions and a crushing taxation and regulatory burden.  The only message I take from the governor's talk is that if one is not in an alternative energy business, it's time to get out of Michigan, as the majority of businesses are about to face higher power costs and more taxes to support the governor's preferred industrial investment.  Which, come to think of it, is a message most businesses have already internalized about Michigan, seeing as the population of its largest city has dropped by more than 50% over the last several decades.

It is highly entertaining to see people who have never even worked in, much less have run, a real business (including Obama, Clinton, and about everyone else on the DNC rostrum) express the hubris that only they know what the right industrial investment plan for the US is and that only they know how to build a major new industry.  In particular, we saw last night the repetition of Obama's ridiculous made-up 5 million jobs number that I critiqued in depth several days ago.

Disclosure:  I actually run a few campgrounds in the UP of Michigan, but since sleeping in tents seems to fit the governor's industrial policy, I'll probably be OK.

Posted on August 27, 2008 at 08:30 AM | Permalink | Comments (10)

Global Warming Eye Test

I have an interesting global warming eye test up at Climate-Skeptic.   The two graphs below are both scaled exactly the same, and are each 51-year periods from the global temperature record of the last 150 years.  The only difference is that one period of warming is described by scientists as "natural" (1895 to 1946) and the other is described as "man-made" (1957 to present).

  Periodb       Perioda_3

Which is which?  Which is man, and which is mother nature?

Kind of makes the claim that "current warming is unprecedented" ring kind of hollow, huh?

Posted on August 26, 2008 at 09:34 AM | Permalink | Comments (8)

The Modern China. Really. We Swear.

Rick Reilly of ESPN  (what a travesty that he is not the last page of SI any more -- I can hardly pick the rag up any more) has an article on many of the shams pulled off by the Chinese with NBC's help what an auspicious example of Chinese solidarity were these Olympic games.

Posted on August 25, 2008 at 08:12 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Throw All The Speculators in Jail! Tax Their Windfall Profits!

Clearly a speculative bubble:  (via Mark Perry)

Azsthpi_max_630_378

Tax their windfall profits!  Throw the speculators in jail!  Oh, wait.  That would be all of us Arizona homeowners.  Never mind, then.  This is entirely different from oil, because, um, well, it just is.

Posted on August 25, 2008 at 10:30 AM | Permalink | Comments (12)

Necessity is the Mother of ... a Great Kindle Gadget

Today I found myself out-of-town with my Kindle almost out of battery life, no Kindle charger, and a long plane flight tomorrow.  Passing a Radio Shack, I went in, with the intention of buying yet another charger for it  (I knew from a similar experience that I needed 5 volts with an "A" plug).  But I knew my charger was at home, and was hesitant to pay $20-30 for what would after today be an extra.

So I bought the following:

  • The cheapest USB cable I could find
  • An "A" plug
  • A short wire Radio Shack sells with a socket for the plug on one end and bare wires on the other (both the last two of these are located in the store near the replacement transformers)
  • A small roll of black electrical tape

I realized something key:  I already had a 5v power supply, in my computer, with a handy outlet, called "USB."  All I had to do was get all the plugs to match.

I borrowed some scissors and cut the USB  cable about 8 inches from the flat end, throwing the rest away.  I stripped off the insulation, and found the red and black wires - these are the 5V and ground wires (just search the Internet for USB pinouts if you want to be sure).  I then twisted one wire from the plug wire to the red and the other to the black, and taped the whole thing up (a bit of soldering would have been better, but I forgot my handy MacGyver construction kit). 

And what do you know, I now have a USB charger for my Kindle  (When I first plugged it in, the charge light did not go on, but I reversed the plug in its socket and that did the trick).  This will now charge my Kindle on the road from my laptop or when I am driving from my 12V car charger that has a USB connection.

I think this is a pretty handy accessory, and a quick Internet search did not show anyone currently selling one.

Update:  OK, someone else already thought of this, and has pictures of the procedure.  He notes that the supplied Kindle usb cable will not charge the device as well  (the Kindle cable goes from USB to a special miniature USB port, like the ones on a camera -- my cable goes from USB to the power inlet).  My homegrown version charged it very quickly.

Posted on August 23, 2008 at 04:49 PM | Permalink | Comments (11)

Cities from Space

This is a pretty cool collection of photos from the ISS of the world's cities from space, sent to me by a friend.  These are an order of magnitude more detailed than you are used to seeing in other earth-lights photos.

Posted on August 21, 2008 at 09:40 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Why Does The US Appear to Have Higher Infant Mortality?

I am sure you have seen various rankings where the US falls way behind other western nations in terms of infant mortality.  This stat is jumped on by the left as justification for just how cold and heartless America is, and just how enlightened socialized medicine must be.  However, no one seems to bother to check the statistic itself (certainly the media is too incompetent to do so, particularly when it fits their narrative).  Statistics like this that are measured across nations are notoriously unreliable, as individual nations may have different definitions or methods for gathering the data.

And, in fact, this turns out to be the case with infant mortality, a fact I first reported here (related post on medical definitions driving national statistics here).  This week, Mark Perry links to an article further illuminating the issue:

The main factors affecting early infant survival are birth weight and prematurity. The way that these factors are reported — and how such babies are treated statistically — tells a different story than what the numbers reveal.  Low birth weight infants are not counted against the “live birth” statistics for many countries reporting low infant mortality rates.

According to the way statistics are calculated in Canada, Germany, and Austria, a premature baby weighing less than 500 kg is not considered a living child.
But in the U.S., such very low birth weight babies are considered live births. The mortality rate of such babies — considered “unsalvageable” outside of the U.S. and therefore never alive — is extraordinarily high; up to 869 per 1,000 in the first month of life alone. This skews U.S. infant mortality statistics.Norway boasts one of the lowest infant mortality rates in the world. But when the main determinant of mortality — weight at birth — is factored in, Norway has no better survival rates than the United States....

In the United States, all infants who show signs of life at birth (take a breath, move voluntarily, have a heartbeat) are considered alive.

If a child in Hong Kong or Japan is born alive but dies within the first 24 hours of birth, he or she is reported as a “miscarriage” and does not affect the country’s reported infant mortality rates....

Efforts to salvage these tiny babies reflect this classification. Since 2000, 42 of the world’s 52 surviving babies weighing less than 400g (0.9 lbs.) were born in the United States.

Hmm, so in the US we actually try to save low-birthweight babies rather than label them unsalvageable.  Wow, we sure have a cold and heartless system here.  [disclosure:  My nephew was a very pre-mature, very low-birthweight baby who could have fit in the palm of your hand at birth and survived by the full application of American medical technology.  He is doing great today]

Posted on August 21, 2008 at 09:11 AM | Permalink | Comments (19)

Great Moments In Government Spending: The Station to Nowhere

Mayor Daley of Chicago has a great idea:  despite already having rail transit service between O'Hare Airport and Downtown, he wants to build a new non-stop express rail line to save travelers about 9 minutes.  After all, if Moscow just did this, it must be a good idea.

OK, this is dumb enough.  But what is really amazing is that Chicago embarked on building a $320 million downtown station for the project without even a plan for the rest of the line -- no design, no route, no land acquisition, no appropriation, no cost estimate, nothing.  There are currently tracks running near the station to the airport, but there are no passing sidings on these tracks, making it impossible for express and local trains to share the same track.  The express service idea would either require an extensive rebuilding of the entire current line using signaling and switching technologies that may not (according to Daley himself) even exist, or it requires an entirely new line cut through some of the densest urban environments in the country.  Even this critical decision on basic approach was not made before they started construction on the station, and in fact still has not been made.

Though the article does not mention it, this strikes me as a typical commuter rail strategy -- make some kind of toe-in-the-water investment on a less-than-critical-mass part of the system, and then use that as leverage with voters to approve funding so that the original investment will not be orphaned.  Its a kind of blackmail that both makes me sick, and is necessary for these systems as voters would never ever approve the kind of money that would be required to build the whole project  (If this express line requires $320 million just for one station on one end of the line, can you imagine the total cost?  $10 billion? for 9 minutes time savings).

Posted on August 21, 2008 at 08:47 AM | Permalink | Comments (15)

The Hands That Currently Produce Things People Actually Want Can Also Fix Broken Windows

If you have watched the Olympics at all, you have likely seen the Obama commercial promising:

"The hands that install roofs can also install solar panels. The hands that build today's cars can also build the next generation of fuel-efficient vehicles. Barack Obama [will] ... create 5 million jobs developing homegrown energy technologies."

A few reactions:

  • Private individuals, not politicians, create jobs
  • Job promises like this are never incremental, nor can they be.  If the hands that build current SUV's can build electric cars instead, then we haven't added any new hands, we've just changed what they are working on.
  • It strikes me that this is the broken windows fallacy writ large.  In effect, Obama promises to make much of our perfectly-serviceable transportation and electrical generation installed base obsolete, requiring an enormous effort to replace it.  But the resources to fund this huge new investment have to come from somewhere.  Industries that flourish and grow under this government enforced shift in capital will be offset by those that are starved.  Every other part of the economy will slow due either to higher taxes or higher prices (or both) that subsidize this effort.  But since it is harder to find and count the latter than the former, it makes for a good, un-auditable political pledge
  • I'll bet that 5 million number focus groups really well, but does it make any sense at all?  Here are some current employment numbers for the US as of January, 2008:

Construction of power generation facilities:           137,000
Power generation and supply:           399,000
Production of power gen. equipment           105,000
Production of transportation equipment (planes, trains, autos, boats, etc)         1,637,000
        2,278,000

OK, so the total employment of all these industries that might be related to an alternate energy effort is about 2.28 million.  So, to add 5 million incremental jobs would require tripling the size of the utility industry, tripling the size of the utility construction and equipment industry, tripling the size of the auto industry, tripling the size of the aircraft industry, and tripling the size of the shipbuilding industry.  And even then we would be a bit short of Obama's number.

Posted on August 20, 2008 at 09:46 AM | Permalink | Comments (18)

Exaggerated Security Threats and Civil Liberties

From Eric L Muller's "Hirabayashi:  The Biggest Lie of the Greatest Generation" which studies the Supreme Court decision upholding race-based civil rights restrictions (eg curfews) in WWII.

This Article presents new archival evidence of an enormous lie that Executive Branch officials presented to the Supreme Court in the Japanese American litigation of World War II, one that impugns Hirabayashi at least as much as it does Korematsu. The lie concerns what might be termed the “external” component of the national security threat in early 1942 – the danger that Japanese military forces posed to the West Coast of the United States.  The government’s brief in Hirabayashi did not mince words about that external threat: The “principal danger” that military officials “apprehended” was “a Japanese invasion”  which “might have threatened the very integrity of our nation.”  With the Japanese “at the crest of their military fortunes,” the brief maintained, military officials found it “imperative” to “take adequate protective measures against a possible invasion of the West Coast.”  The nighttime curfew on Japanese Americans was one such measure.

This depiction of the external Japanese threat found a sympathetic audience in the Supreme Court in Hirabayashi. Chief Justice Stone, writing for the unanimous Court, accepted that the men “charged with the responsibility of our national defense had ample ground for concluding that they must face the danger of invasion,” a danger that concurring Justice Douglas insisted was “not fanciful but real.” Singling out Japanese Americans for curfew was reasonable because of their “ethnic affiliations with an invading enemy.”

Archival records now make clear that all of this talk of a threatened Japanese invasion was a massive distortion of the actual military situation in the eastern Pacific in early 1942. There was at that time no danger of a Japanese invasion of the West Coast. The army and navy viewed any sort of Japanese invasion of California, Oregon, or Washington as impracticable. They were neither anticipating nor preparing for any such event. Indeed, during the key time period of early 1942, the Army was more concerned with scaling back the defense of the West Coast from land attack than with bolstering it.

Wow.  Exaggeration of a security threat as an excuse to curtail civil rights.  Gee, I'm sure glad that doesn't happen anymore.  HT:  Jonathon Adler

Posted on August 19, 2008 at 08:14 PM | Permalink | Comments (24)

More Great Moments in Government Spending

Apparently, 3-1/2 miles of new border wall near San Diego will cost at least $57 million, or $16.3 million a mile (or a bit over $3000 per foot).  For comparison, the 350 mile long Maginot line cost France about $150 million in the 1930s, or about $2.3 Billion in today's dollars.  This puts the cost of the Maginot line, underground tunnels, bunkers, gun emplacements, and all, at $6.5 million current dollars per mile.  Of course, the Maginot line was not built as a continuous wall to catch individual infiltrators, but on the other hand the San Diego wall is (presumably) not being built  30 kilometers deep with layered emplacements to handle massed tank and artillery attacks.

It could be worse for taxpayers - they could be laying railroad track instead of building a wall, since that costs about $96 million per mile here in Phoenix.

I can't wait for those huge administration cost savings that are promised from nationalizing health care.

Update: I just thought of one other comparison- like the Maginot line, at least one end of this San Diego wall hangs in the air, meaning it just ends hundreds of miles before the border does, allowing it to be easily flanked.

Posted on August 18, 2008 at 04:38 PM | Permalink | Comments (17)

Due Process?

Reason has been on top of the LA crackdown on bacon-dog sales from mobile carts for some time.  Recently, the police stormed in and confiscated a number of vendors' inventory and push carts.  OK, its bad enough that bacon product sales have been deemed a threat to the Republic.  But what freaked me out is that the police did not impound the carts but rather junked them (pictures here).  So where is the due process?  If the police are found to have acted precipitously in arresting these folks, if they are found to be not guilty for whatever reason, their property is still gone forever.  This is roughly equivilant to having your car crushed in a mobile hydraulic press within minutes of being given a speeding ticket.  I wonder how many of these carts, which likely represent a huge investment relative to the investment capital these small business people possess, are collateral for loans?

Posted on August 18, 2008 at 02:28 PM | Permalink | Comments (8)

When Did This Happen?

My son and I like to play Guitar Hero together, though he kicks my butt, of course.  To show him that I was cool and "knew stuff," I showed him this YouTube posted by Megan McCardle showing a guy scoring 100% on "Through the Fire and Flames" on expert.  (If you don't know what this means, just trust me that Neo from the Matrix loaded with amphetamines in full bullet-dodging twitch reflex mode would struggle with completing this level of the game).

About 5 seconds in, my son says "It's a bot.  He's faking."  And then he walked away.

"Huh? Really?"  I stared at it for a while, and realized that he was very probably correct.  So when did I become more credulous than my teenager?

Posted on August 18, 2008 at 12:50 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)

A Brief Observation on Pricing

Michael Cannon writes about the new trend in airline pricing to charge extra fees for different services (ranging from sodas to checked baggage).  I have seen several writers of the progressive ilk all up in arms about these extra fees.  Which in my mind confirms that there is no foundational position among progressives on such matters, only opportunistic attacks on corporations for whatever they happen to be doing.  They want air travel pricing to be bundled into one rate, covering all potential services one may or may not use.  But wait, they want cable TV pricing to be unbundled, with a la carte pricing rather than one rate so viewers can pay for only what they use. 

Anyway, the only irritation I have with the new airline pricing is that it drives people to try to carry on every bag they can, particularly since, at least on US Airways currently, bags that are gate-checked are not charged a fee.  This is fouling up security lines and making it a necessity to board early on a plane to have any hope of finding a carry-on space.  Which may add another revenue opportunity, that of charging extra for the option to board early.  Which, come to think of it, Southwest is already doing.

Posted on August 18, 2008 at 08:40 AM | Permalink | Comments (21)

Licensing is Anti-Consumer

Whatever its stated purposes, in reality most professional licensing efforts are mostly aimed at using the power of government to limit new entrants, and thus new competitors, from a certain business:

In Alabama it is illegal to recommend shades of paint without a license.  In Nevada it is illegal to move any large piece of furniture for purposes of design without a license.  In fact, hundreds of people have been prosecuted in Alabama and Nevada for practicing "interior design" without a license.  Getting a license is no easy task, typically requiring at least 4 years of education and 2 years of apprenticeship. Why do we need licenses laws for interior designers? According to the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) because,

Every decision an interior designer makes in one way or another affects the health, safety, and welfare of the public.

This hardly passes the laugh test.  Moreover as Carpenter and Ross point out in an excellent article in Regulation from which I have drawn:

In more than 30 years of advocating for regulation, the ASID and its ilk have yet to identify a single documented incident resulting in harm to anyone from the unlicensed practice of interior design...These laws simply have nothing to do with protecting the public.

As always on this topic, I end with a quote from Milton Friedman on licensing:

The justification offered is always the same: to protect the consumer. However, the reason is demonstrated by observing who lobbies at the state legislature for the imposition or strengthening of licensure. The lobbyists are invariably representatives of the occupation in question rather than of the customers. True enough, plumbers presumably know better than anyone else what their customers need to be protected against. However, it is hard to regard altruistic concern for their customers as the primary motive behind their determined efforts to get legal power to decide who may be a plumber.

Update:  This is timely, as 1-800-CONTACTS has informed me that due to various state and federal laws, they may not sell me the contact lenses any more that I have been purchasing from them for a year.  I must go into an office and pay a government-licensed eye doctor to get an updated prescription.  This is despite the fact that, once sized, contact lens strengths are easy to understand.  Every year or so my eyes go up by about 0.5.  I could easily get by still with my old contacts, or I could, if I wanted, self-medicate by adding 0.5 (the minimum step at my level of vision) to each eye and testing to see if this new setting was any better.  This is exactly how people buy reading glasses (or pants, or shoes), by simple trial and error in the store.  But I can't do this with my contact lenses -- or actually I do exactly this, but can only do it in a doctor's office, paying the government mandated annual toll to get my prescription updated.

Yes, I know, there are all kinds of fabulous reasons to go to the eye doctor each year, to test for glaucoma and other stuff.  But why shouldn't that be my choice?  The government doesn't force people with good vision to go to the eye doctor for such tests each year, only those of us with bad vision.  The only analogy I can come up with would be having to go to your physician each year to get your shoe size validated before you could buy shoes for the coming year.  After all, I am sure there are substantial health and safety issues with wearing poorly-fitted shoes.

Posted on August 17, 2008 at 10:52 PM | Permalink | Comments (11)

A Quick Note on Solar Capacity

Via Jonathan Adler:

The [two new solar] plants will cover 12.5 square miles of central California with solar panels, and in the middle of a sunny day will generate about 800 megawatts of power, roughly equal to the size of a large coal-burning power plant or a small nuclear plant.

I don't know this exact location, but you can see from here, the best one can probably expect from central California is about 6 peak sun-hours per day (more explanation here).  This means that even in a very good solar location, the plant will produce over the course of a year 25% (6/24) of nameplate capacity.  This means that to actually replace a large coal-burning power plant, 50 square miles of solar panels would be required  (assuming that one has a 100% efficient way to store power for non-sunny times, a technology that does not currently exist).

Posted on August 17, 2008 at 10:44 PM | Permalink | Comments (11)

Wealth and the Olympics

One of Megan McArdle's readers wonders why India, which in population is larger than any other country save China, has so few Olympic medalists.  I think the answer is fairly easy:  wealth.

It's a situation very parallel to the Italian Renaissance.  Then, the issue was the proliferation of so many great artists rather than athletes, but the fundamentals were fairly similar.  For a society to be able to give up its strongest and most talented youth to non-productive (meaning they don't contribute to food, clothing, or shelter) occupations like painting or competitive swimming requires a lot of wealth and leisure time.  Subsistence farmers can't give up a strong back from the fields, much less pay any kind of specialized training costs.  The explosion of artists in the Italian Renaissance was made possible by an explosion of wealth in the great Italian city-states of Florence and Venice and the like.   Further, wealth also means better neo-natal care and better childhood nutrition which leads to bigger and stronger adults. 

As with Renaissance painters, modern Olympic athletes need either a family that is wealthy enough to give up their labor and support him or her; or, they need a wealthy patron; or, they need support of the government.  US Olympic athletes generally have some of all three, though the role of the government is smaller than in other nations thanks to corporate patrons and the relative wealth of the American middle class.  China, and before it Russia, were successful because, lacking the first two, they had the government shoulder the entire burden.  India has chosen not to go the government route, which is fine.  It will have its successes in time, as the exploding middle class will raise kids who have the time and money to pursue excellence in various sports.

Posted on August 16, 2008 at 09:44 AM | Permalink | Comments (17)

Not The Best of Times Because, Why?

Kevin Drum posts this chart as a one-picture refutation of McCain's statement that we are living in the best of times.

Um, OK.  We all got wealthier.  And the problem is, what?  That someone else got even wealthier than I did?  So what.  Do we really have to keep refuting this zero-sum economics-of-envy argument?

I won't get into the whole zero-sum thing, because the chart itself proves that the world can't be zero-sum, since everyone got richer on average.  But here is a full refutation of zero-sum wealth arguments.  Also, a zero-sum wealth quiz here.

Looking at changes in income brackets is always misleading. In the US, most folks are migrating up the brackets as they age and gain experience. So most folks benefit not just from the increase in their bracket but a migration to the next bracket.

To this last point, the bottom end of the bracket is being flooded with new immigrants (legal or not) with poor skills and often no English. They drag down the averages, again understating how well the typical person is doing.  Lifetime surveys of individuals rather than percentile brackets always demonstrate that individuals gain wealth over time much fast than this type of analysis demonstrates.  And even the new immigrants at the bottom are presumably gaining vs. their previous circumstances, or else why else would they have immigrated in the first place.

Here is an alternate response to whether we are in the best of times.

By the way, here is an interesting article on why using a single inflation rate for the poor and the rich to get real income growth may be incorrect.  There is an argument to be made that the poor have a lower inflation rate than the rich, thanks to Wal-Mart.

Posted on August 13, 2008 at 11:29 AM | Permalink | Comments (34)

United States: Export Tiger

Barrack Obama and most of the Democratic Party (as well as a sizable Lou Dobbs contingent in the Republican Party) fear trade and globalization.  But like it or not, much of our economic growth is driven directly or indirectly by trade.  In particular, even I found the export growth rates in this chart from Mark Perry surprisingly large:
Exports

Posted on August 12, 2008 at 08:54 AM | Permalink | Comments (8)

A Senior Moment

Via TJIC:

http://www.boston.com/news/nation/articl…

If you’re a senior citizen and make less than $50,000 a year, Barack Obama has a deal for you: the rest of your life free of federal income tax.

Sounds appealing, right?

If we look at two people, each making $49,999, which one should get a sizeable government subsidy?

Why, the one who’s already living off of welfare, and has taxpayer supplied healthcare, subsidized transportation, “senior centers”, discounted meals at restaurants, etc., of course!

Posted on August 12, 2008 at 08:23 AM | Permalink | Comments (8)

Buying Dollars for $45.50 each

Our light rail cheerleader in chief, the Arizona Republic, laments that if Proposition 203 does not make it to the ballot this November, "light rail [in Phoenix & Maricopa County] will lose a chance to win hundreds of millions of dollars for the system's expansion".

Well, let's think about that.  The proposition would raise $42.6 billion statewide through a 1% point increase in the state sales tax rate.  But here's the rub:  Phoenix and Maricopa County constitute a huge part of the state's population, and presumably, retail spending.  In fact, checking the most recent Arizona state tax facts (for May, 2008), we find that Maricopa County pays about 64% of the state sales tax.  That means that approximately $27.3 Billion of that $42.6 billion in new taxes will be paid right here in the Phoenix metropolitan area. 

Good grief.  So, with a tax increase of $27.3 billion in Phoenix, we can get $0.6 billion back from the state for our light rail boondoggle.  Gee, thanks.  That hardly sounds like my definition of "winning" money.

By the way, this was hilarious:

Ziemba believes that Proposition 203 would have an "extremely significant" impact on light rail expansion if it becomes law.

"This would be the funding to really take our light rail system to the next level, to expand it to more roots, to connect it to more of the county," he said. "It will provide the resources to connect the light rail system in a meaningful way throughout Maricopa County."

Why is that so funny?  Well, because the next $306 million in light rail spending is expected to get us 3.2 whole miles of track.  So at this rate, this $27.3 billion tax increase would net us $600 million which would, before inevitable cost overruns, get us at most 6.5 miles of track.  Wow, that sure sounds meaninful to me.

Posted on August 11, 2008 at 07:53 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)

Let's Make Sure To Put These Guys In Charge of Health Care

I suspect many of my readers also read Megan McArdle, but in case you missed her story, its pretty funny (as long as you are not the person experiencing it):

While consuming my one (1) beer, I was apprehended by agents of the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board.  They called my parents, fined me, and made me attend a class on the horrors of underaged drinking (did you realize that drinking can lead to uncontrollable vomiting?)  It was during that class, with the errors of my ways now readily apparent, that I made a pledge to myself to quit underaged drinking with all due speed.  And on January 29th, 1994, I honored that pledge....

The problem, you see, is that at the time of my conviction, I did not have a Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Driver's License.  Indeed, I had no driver's license at all, being one of those benighted city people who get their first driver's license at the age of 23.  The laws of the State of Pennsylvania, however, say that the Department of Transportation is entitled to suspend the driver's license of anyone arrested for underaged drinking.  And the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Department of Transportation is, apparently, determined to exercise this privilege.  Thus, the spectacle of a 35 year old woman being informed that she is about to have her driver's license suspended for underaged drinking.

To add insult to injury, I am expected to fill out a form and, at my own expense, mail it to the DOT in order to commence this suspension.

This would be funny and mildly annoying if it were not for the fact that until they clear the suspension, I cannot get a DC driver's license, because states are required to scan for violations from other states before they issue a new license.  (No word on how I got one out of the State of New York). And until I get a DC driver's license, I cannot register the car I just bought.  The DMV here, after much wrangling, gave me temporary tags, but it looks like I'm going to have to garage the thing for three months unless the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania relents.  Which, at this time, they show no evidence of doing.

Posted on August 11, 2008 at 10:53 AM | Permalink | Comments (7)

"All of America's Problems"

I am starting to discover that I am an exception in the blogosphere, which seems to turn its collective noses up at the Olympics.  Well, my family loves to watch the Olympics together, and it is a real event in our house these two weeks.

Anyway, I was watching Bob Costas interview President Bush last night, and he asked a question I would paraphrase as "how is the US going to exercise influence on China given China's increasing strength and all the problems we have in the US."

Now, I am the first one to criticize the US and its government on any number of dimensions, but when one pulls back to an international view, one has to have some perspective.  What are these overwhelming problems we face when compared to the struggle for freedom and/or economic sufficiency in much of the world?  The US media has developed a bedrock assumption that the US is some kind of wasteland in need of total overhaul, when in fact we are the example all the world emulates.  Just look at the images from China -- sure there are a lot of unique cultural differences, but in many ways you see a people trying to be like us.

Posted on August 11, 2008 at 09:43 AM | Permalink | Comments (6)

Settled Science

I always find it fascinating to observe how the same folks who criticize the US for not taking drastic action based on the "settled science" of global warming are often the first to ignore hundreds of years of study in the science of economics.  While the full breadth of economics is far from settled science, one thing that is far better understood than the effect of CO2 on global temperatures is the effect of higher prices on demand:  (via Market Power)

This chart confirms that for teenagers, those between the ages of 16 and 19 years old, all of the jobs that disappeared in 2007 were minimum wage jobs. In essence, a total of 94,000 hourly jobs disappeared for this age group overall. This figure is the net change of this age group losing some 118,000 minimum wage earning jobs and gaining some 24,000 jobs paying above this level.

This represents what we believe to be the effect of the higher minimum wage level increasing the barriers to entry for young people into the U.S. workforce. Since the minimum wage jobs that once were held by individuals in each age group have disappeared, total employment levels have declined as those who held them have been forced to pursue other activities.

Now consider this: The minimum wage was just reset on 24 July 2008 to $6.55 per hour, a 27.2% increase from where it was in early July 2007. Our best guess is that a lot of additional teenagers will be pursuing those other activities

Meanwhile, the lack of employment opportunities for the least educated, least skilled and least experienced segment of the U.S. workforce will likely have costs far beyond the benefits gained by those who earn the higher minimum wage. The government might be able to make the minimum wage earning teenage worker disappear, but they didn't do anything to make the teenagers themselves disappear.

Numberminwagebyagegroup20052007

The increase in minimum wage earners in some of the middle brackets is likely due to a sweeping effect -- if the minimum wage is increase from $6 to $7, people making $6.50 before are swept into the "minimum wage" characterization.   

Posted on August 11, 2008 at 08:36 AM | Permalink | Comments (12)

Light Rail and CO2

The other day, I posted an update to my light rail bet saying that not only was light rail incredibly expensive for the amount of transportation it provides, it is not even clear that it provides any "green" benefits  (with "green" today meaning only the potential to reduce CO2, since the global warming hysteria has sucked all of the oxygen out of other environmental goals).

The Antiplanner has more information, this time from the transportation planners in Denver.  Normally, transportation planners grossly exaggerate the benefits of their proposed systems, so it is interesting that even they so no net CO2 savings from their proposed rail lines:

The Antiplanner’s review of rail transit and greenhouse gases found that Denver’s light-rail lines produce more greenhouse gases per passenger mile than a typical SUV. The Gold Line DEIS agrees, admitting that the rail alternative will result in a regional CO2 increase of 0.034% (see page 3.7-10).

By the way, the Denver system does not do so great on the financial part either:

Now, RTD says the line will cost more than $600 million, which is a lot for a mere 11 route miles. Moreover, RTD has changed the proposed technology to something it calls “electric multiple-unit commuter rail,” which sounds something like the Chicago Electroliners or some of the Philadelphia commuter trains.

For this high price, the DEIS reports incredibly trivial benefits. The proposed rail line is projected to take 0.0085 percent of cars off the road. Of course, that’s for the region as a whole, but in the corridor it will take a whopping 0.227 percent of cars off the road. A handful of buses could do as well.

While that might seem terrible, it actually outdistances our guys here in Phoenix, who are projecting that the next 3.2 mile line here will cost $306 million.  While the Denver line is projected to cost $10,300 per foot, the Phoenix line will cost at least $18,000 per foot.

Posted on August 11, 2008 at 08:17 AM | Permalink | Comments (6)

Wow

What are the London Olympic organizers thinking right now?  In the immortal words of Bill Paxton,"That's it man, game over man, game over." 

I was amazed by the opening ceremonies last night.  I am not sure how that will ever be topped, particularly since most democracies cannot reasonably pour several billion dollars into a single three or four hour show.  I guess one could make some Triumph of the Will allusions, but it was really the most amazing meld of technology and showmanship I have ever seen.

Posted on August 9, 2008 at 08:28 AM | Permalink | Comments (15)

Democracy and Unions

George McGovern has an editorial in the WSJ urging the Democratic party to abandon the idea of stripping secret balloting from union organizing elections:

The key provision of EFCA is a change in the mechanism by which unions are formed and recognized. Instead of a private election with a secret ballot overseen by an impartial federal board, union organizers would simply need to gather signatures from more than 50% of the employees in a workplace or bargaining unit, a system known as "card-check." There are many documented cases where workers have been pressured, harassed, tricked and intimidated into signing cards that have led to mandatory payment of dues.

Under EFCA, workers could lose the freedom to express their will in private, the right to make a decision without anyone peering over their shoulder, free from fear of reprisal.

There's no question that unions have done much good for this country. Their tenacious efforts have benefited millions of workers and helped build a strong middle class. They gave workers a new voice and pushed for laws that protect individuals from unfair treatment. They have been a friend to the Democratic Party, and so I oppose this legislation respectfully and with care.

To my friends supporting EFCA I say this: We cannot be a party that strips working Americans of the right to a secret-ballot election. We are the party that has always defended the rights of the working class. To fail to ensure the right to vote free of intimidation and coercion from all sides would be a betrayal of what we have always championed.

I have always been a bit torn on this issue.  I don't in general think the government needs to get involved in how private organizations do their business.  However, by force of law, unions are not a normal private organization. They have special rights, including ones that mimic taxation, other groups do not have:

Unfortunately, we don't live in a free society, and the term "union" comes with a lot of legal baggage.  Recognized unions are granted certain legal powers and rights that an average group of self-organized folks don't.  For example, they are the only private organizations in this country that I know of that have taxation power, and the power to demand absolutely that certain monies be withheld from employee paychecks (even of employees not in the union) and given to them. Perhaps more importantly, companies can't ignore them - they have to negotiate with a recognized union.  Unions also have informal powers.  For example, the legal system tends to tolerate a lot of violence and physical intimidation by union members (in strikes and such) that it does not tolerate in other contexts  (seventy-five years ago, the situation was reversed and the system tolerated a lot of company violence against workers).

Posted on August 8, 2008 at 05:29 PM | Permalink | Comments (7)

Some Thoughts on Peer Review

Some thoughts on the obsession with peer review as the gold standard guarantee of climate science goodness, from Climate Skeptic:

One of the weird aspects of climate science is the over-emphasis on peer review as the ne plus ultra guarantor of believable results.  This is absurd.  At best, peer review is a screen for whether a study is worthy of occupying limited publication space, not for whether it is correct.  Peer review, again at best, focuses on whether a study has some minimum level of rigor and coherence and whether it offers up findings that are new or somehow advance the ball on an important topic. 

In "big boy sciences" like physics, study findings are not considered vetted simply because they are peer-reviewed.  They are vetted only after numerous other scientists have been able to replicate the results, or have at least failed to tear the original results down.  Often, this vetting process is undertaken by people who may even be openly hostile to the original study group.  For some reason, climate scientists cry foul when this occurs in their profession, but mathematicians and physicists accept it, because they know that findings need to be able to survive the scrutiny of enemies, not just of friends.  To this end, an important part of peer review is to make sure the publication of the study includes all the detail on methodology and data that others might need to replicate the results  (which is something climate reviewers are particularly bad at).

In fact, there are good arguments to be made that strong peer review may even be counter-productive to scientific advancement.  The reason is that peer review, by the nature of human beings and the incentives they tend to have, is often inherently conservative.  Studies that produce results the community expects often receive only cursory scrutiny doled out by insiders chummy with the authors.  Studies that show wildly unexpected results sometimes have trouble getting published at all.

 As I read this, it strikes me that one way to describe climate is that it acts like a social science, like sociology or gender studies, rather than like a physical science.  I will ahve to think about this -- it would be an interesting hypothesis to expand on in more depth.  Some quick parallels of why I think it is more like a social science:

  • Bad statistical methodology  (a hallmark, unfortunately, of much of social science)
  • Emphasis on peer review over replication
  • Reliance on computer models rather than observation
  • Belief there is a "right" answer for society with subsequent bias to study results towards that answer  (example, and another example)

Posted on August 6, 2008 at 02:35 PM | Permalink | Comments (21)

More Attacks of Free Speech

This is cross-posted from Climate-Skeptic, but it is very much in the spirit of the Canadian tribunals and University speech codes.  There are increasing efforts, mainly on the left, to make the world a better place by limiting speech of those who don't agree with them.

 

I am not sure this even needs comment:  (HT:  Maggies Farm)

I’m preparing a paper for an upcoming conference on this, so please comment if you can! Thanks. Many people have urged for there to be some legal or moral consequence for denying climate change. This urge generally comes from a number of places. Foremost is the belief that the science of anthropogenic climate change is proven beyond reasonable doubt and that climate change is an ethical issue. Those quotes from Mahorasy’s blog are interesting. I’ll include one here:

Perhaps there is a case for making climate change denial an offence. It is a crime against humanity, after all. –Margo Kingston, 21 November 2005

The urge also comes from frustration with a ‘denial’ lobby: the furthest and more extreme talkers on the subject who call global warming a ‘hoax’ (following James Inhofe’s now infamous quote). Of course there would be frustration with this position–a ‘hoax’ is purposeful and immoral. And those who either conduct the science or trust the science do not enjoy being told they are perpetrating a ‘hoax’, generating a myth, or committing a fraud....

I’m an advocate for something stronger. Call it regulation, law, or influence. Whatever name we give it, it should not be seen as regulation vs. freedom, but as a balancing of different freedoms. In the same way that to enjoy the freedom of a car you need insurance to protect the freedom of other drivers and pedestrians; in the same way that you enjoy the freedom to publish your views, you need a regulatory code to ensure the freedoms of those who can either disagree with or disprove your views. Either way. While I dislike Brendan O’Neill and know he’s wrong, I can’t stop him. But we need a body with teeth to be able to say, “actually Brendan, you can’t publish that unless you can prove it.” A body which can also say to me, and to James Hansen, and to the IPCC, the same....

What do you think? Perhaps a starting point is a draft point in the codes for governing how the media represent climate change, and a method for enforcing that code. And that code needs to extend out to cover new media, including blogs. And perhaps taking a lesson from the Obama campaign’s micro-response strategy: a team empowered with responding to complaints specifically dealing with online inaccuracy, to which all press and blogs have to respond. And so whatever Jennifer Mahorasy, or Wattsupwiththat, or Tom Nelson, or Climate Sceptic, or OnEarth, or La Marguerite, or the Sans Pretence, or DeSmog Blog, or Monckton or me, say, then we’re all bound by the same freedoms of publishing.

He asked for comments.  I really did not have much energy to refute something so wrong-headed, but I left a few thoughts:

Wow, as proprietor of Climate-Skeptic.com, I am sure flattered to be listed as one of the first up against the wall come the great green-fascist revolution.  I found it particularly ironic that you linked my post skewering a climate alarmist for claiming that heavier objects fall faster than lighter objects.  Gee, I thought the fact that objects of different masses fall at the same rate had been "settled science" since the late 1500s.

But I don't think you need a lecture on science, you need a lecture on civics.  Everyone always wants free speech for themselves.  The tough part is to support free speech for others, even if they are horribly, terribly wrong-headed.  That is the miracle of the first amendment, that we have stuck by this principle for over 200 years.

You see, technocrats like yourself are always assuming the perfect government official with perfect knowledge and perfect incentives to administer your little censorship body.  But the fact is, such groups are populated with real people, and eventually, the odds are they will be populated by knaves.  And even if folks are well-intentioned, incentives kill such government efforts every time. What if, for example, your speech regulation bureaucrats felt that their job security depended on a continued climate crisis, and evidence of no crisis might cause their job to go away?  Would they really be unbiased with such an incentive?

Here is a parallel example to consider.  It strikes me that the laws of economics are better understood than the activity of greenhouse gasses.  I wonder if the author would support limits on speech for supporters of such things like minimum wages and trade protectionism that economists routinely say make no sense in the science of economics.  Should Barrack Obama be enjoined from discussing his gasoline rebate plan because most all economists say that it won't work the way he says?  There is an economist consensus, should that be enough to silence Obama?

Update:  His proposed system is sort of a government mandated peer-review backed with prison terms.  For some reason, climate science is obsessed with peer review.  A few thoughts:

At best, peer review is a screen for whether a study is worthy of occupying limited publication space, not for whether it is correct.  Peer review, again at best, focuses on whether a study has some minimum level of rigor and coherence and whether it offers up findings that are new or somehow advance the ball on an important topic. 

In "big boy sciences" like physics, study findings are not considered vetted simply because they are peer-reviewed.  They are vetted only after numerous other scientists have been able to replicate the results, or have at least failed to tear the original results down.

More here.

Posted on August 5, 2008 at 11:37 AM | Permalink | Comments (20)

The Real Reason Why ExxonMobil Profits Suck

Because they are too freaking low!  ExxonMobil (XOM) is a cyclical company that is following on 20 years of middling prices for their commodity and finally have a price spike, and they only manage to make 8.5% return on sales  ($11.68 billion profit on $138 billion of revenues).  At the top of their cycle they are barely making the same profit margin as the average industrial company.  This is not good.   Sure, the absolute dollars are large, but it is a large company, and the absolute dollars of revenues, expenses, and taxes are also large.

While this outcome may be confusing to many  (since the press and politicians insist on calling these mediocre profits "windfall"), they are in effect the reflection of a new reality for western oil companies.  Less and less do companies like XOM operate their own oil fields.  They are increasingly concession operators or really glorified service companies and middle men to state producers. 

Disclosure:  I am an XOM stockholder, and I am not happy.

Postscript:  This from Mark Perry is kind of interesting:

Exxon has already paid $19.828 billion in income taxes for 2008 (data here), and will probably pay almost $40 billion in income taxes this year (see graph above, income tax data for 1999-2007 taken from Exxon's annual reports).

To put $40 billion of income taxes in perspective, it can be reasonably estimated that Exxon will pay more in income taxes this year (both here and outside the U.S.) than the entire bottom 50% of American individual taxpayers (about 67 million) will pay in income taxes this year.

Perry has a number of notes and updates in response to questions about how he got these figures at the bottom of his post.

Update:  Yahoo Finance data and ranking on profitability by industry.  Integrated oil companies come in around #60.

Posted on August 5, 2008 at 10:50 AM | Permalink | Comments (27)

Update on My Light Rail Bet: The Energy Issue

I generally have a bet I make for new light (and heavy) commuter rail systems.  I bet that for the amount the system cost to build, every single daily rider could have instead been given a Prius to drive for the same money; and, with the operating losses and/or subsidy the system requires each year, every one of those Prius drivers could be given enough gas to make their daily commute.  And still have money left over.  I have tested this bet for the systems in Los Angeles and Albuquerque.

Well, it turns out I left something out.  Many people are interested in commuter rail because it is perceived to be greener, which nowadays generally means narrowly that it uses less energy and thus produces less CO2.  But in fact, it may not.  Blogger John Moore sent me a link to this article by Brad Templeton analyzing energy usage in various transportation modes.  While a full train can be fairly efficient (just as a full SUV could be if 7 passengers were in it), cars and trains and busses are seldom full.  When you look at their average load factors, trains are seldom better than cars:
Transenergy

In fact, a car at its average load factor (1.57 pax) has about the same energy use as busses or light rail per passenger mile.  The analysis is difficult to do well, but even with errors, its clear that rail projects do not dominate over car travel in terms of energy use  (One must be careful to differentiate rail project construction decisions from individual choice of mode decisions -- an individual at the margin shifting from car to train saves a lot of energy;  a city choosing to invest in a large new rail system to entice drivers off the road does not).

In fact, relevent to my bet, Mr. Templeton says this:

My first conclusion is that we would get more efficient by pushing small, fuel efficient vehicles instead of pushing transit, and at a lower cost.

He explains his results, which are counter-intuitive to many

A full bus or trainload of people is more efficient than private cars, sometimes quite a bit more so.   But transit systems never consist of nothing but full vehicles.   They run most of their day with light loads.  The above calculations came from figures citing the average city bus holding 9 passengers, and the average train (light or heavy) holds 22.   If that seems low, remember that every packed train at rush hour tends to mean a near empty train returning down the track.

Transit vehicles also tend to stop and start a lot, which eats a lot of energy, even with regenerative braking.   And most transit vehicles are just plain heavy, and not very aerodynamic. Indeed, you'll see tables in the DoE reports that show that over the past 30 years, private cars have gotten 30% more efficient, while buses have gotten 60% less efficient and trains about 25% worse.   The market and government regulations have driven efforts to make cars more efficient, while transit vehicles have actually worsened.

In order to get people to ride transit, you must offer frequent service, all day long.  They want to know they have the freedom to leave at different times.  But that means emptier vehicles outside of rush hour.   You've all seen those huge empty vehicles go by, you just haven't thought of how anti-green they were.    It would be better if off-hours transit was done by much smaller vehicles, but that implies too much capital cost -- no transit agency will buy enough equipment for peak times and then buy a second set of equipment for light demand periods.

A lot of his data can be checked at the US Department of Energy data book here.  In particular, you can see the key numbers in table 2.12.  After perusing this data for a bit, I had a few other reactions:

  • Commercial air travel gets a bad rap.  On a passenger mile basis, it is really not worse than driving and only about 20% worse than Amtrack  (and probably the same as Amtrak or better if you leave out the Northeast Corridor). (table 2.14)
  • Busses have really gotten way more inefficient over the years, at the same time cars have become substantially more efficient.  While the government criticizes its citizens for not practicing enough energy conservation, in fact its citizens have been buying more and more fuel efficient vehicles while the government has been buying less efficient vehicles.  (table 2.13)
  • While passenger cars have increased substantially in efficiency, over the road trucks have seen no progress, and have actually gotten less efficient over the last 10 years (table 2-18)

Make sure to read the whole article.  I think the author is pretty fair at achnowleging where the uncertainties are in the analysis.  He also has comparisons of mass transit energy numbers between cities.  A few individual cities seem to beat even the most efficient cars -- most, including places like New York, do not.

Postscript:  I don't think numbers for New York include taxis.  If they did, New York would likely look terrible.  From an energy standpoint, taxis are a horrible transportation option, perhaps the worst possible.  It would be interesting to know how many New Yorkers who look down on SUV's routinely get around town using taxis.

Posted on August 4, 2008 at 11:22 AM | Permalink | Comments (44)

Goodbye, Astroworld

I had the same reaction as Dale Franks when I drove through Houston a while back and found that Astroworld was gone.  When I grew up in Houston, there was absolutely nothing that would get me as excited as the prospect of a trip there.  Another piece of trivia, for years the nearby Astroworld hotel had a penthouse suite that was listed by the Guinness Book of World Records as the most expensive hotel room in the world.  Hard to believe when you see what a pit it is now.

Posted on August 3, 2008 at 11:07 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)