Class War: How public servants became our masters

This Reason article about government corruption (redundancy noted), and specifically the public pension disaster, is just infuriating:

Quoting Reason:

These days, government workers fare better than private-sector workers in almost every area -- pay, benefits, time off, and job security. ... The average federal worker made $59,864 in 2005, compared with the average salary of $40,505 in the private sector.  [...]

The average federal salary (including benefits) is set to grow from $72,800 in 2008 to $75,419 in 2010, CBS reported.  But the real action isn’t in what government employees are being paid today; it’s in what they’re being promised for tomorrow.  Public pensions have swollen to unrecognizable proportions during the last decade. [...]

These huge pension increases have eaten away at public finances, most spectacularly in California, where a bipartisan bill that passed virtually without debate unleashed the odious "3 percent at 50" retirement plan in 1999.  Under this plan, at age 50 many categories of public employees are eligible for 3 percent of their final year’s pay multiplied by the number of years they’ve worked.  So if a police officer starts working at age 20, he can retire at 50 with 90 percent of his final salary until he dies, and then his spouse receives that money for the rest of her life.  [...]

Although Americans may have a vague sense that the nation has run up a great deal of debt, the public employee benefit problem is not well known.  Yet the wave of benefit promises is poised to wash away state and local government budgets and large portions of the incomes of most Americans.  Most of these benefits are vested, meaning that they have the standing of a legal contract.  They cannot be reduced.  [...]

In California unfunded pension and health care liabilities for state workers top $100 billion, and the annual pension contribution has shot up from $320 million to $7.3 billion in less than a decade.  In New York state, local governments may have to triple their annual pension contributions during the next six years, from $2.6 billion to $8 billion, according to the state comptroller.

That money will come from taxpayers.  The average private-sector worker, who enjoys a lower salary and far lower retirement benefits than New York or California government workers, will have to work longer, retire later, and pay more so that his public-employee neighbors can enjoy the lifestyle to which they have become accustomed.  The taxpayers will also have to deal with worsening public services, since there will be less money to pay for things that might actually benefit the public.  [...]

The United States had 2.3 state and local government employees per 100 citizens in 1946 and has 6.5 state and local government employees per 100 citizens now. ... 54 percent of the economy is private, 28 percent goes to the feds, and 18 percent goes to state and local governments.  The trend lines are ominous.

Bigger government means more government employees. Those employees then become a permanent lobby for continual government growth.  The nation may have reached critical mass; the number of government employees at every level may have gotten so high that it is politically impossible to roll back the bureaucracy, rein in the costs, and restore lost freedoms.  [...]

It’s a two-tier system in which the rulers are making steady gains at the expense of the ruled.  The predictable results: Higher taxes, eroded public services, unsustainable levels of debt, and massive roadblocks to reforming even the poorest performing agencies.

Read the whole thing -- it includes a few specific examples of scumbag officials gaming the system that will make your blood boil.  It’s enough to make you want to torch your house and dive-bomb your plane into a government building.

Posted by Anthony on reply

Joe Biden and Michelle Obama on Sarah Palin

In two separate interviews last week, both Joe Biden and Michelle Obama were asked about Sarah Palin.  And not only did they both avoid calling her names and insulting her intelligence, they both kinda-sorta said nice things about her.

Quoting Joe Biden:

"I like her," Biden said, who debated the former Alaska governor during the presidential campaign.  "She’s an engaging person.  She has a great personality."


Quoting Michelle Obama:

"I try not to set opinions about people that I haven’t had a substantive interaction with," the first lady said. ... "I think it’s wonderful to have strong female voices out there, but I don’t know her."

Those aren’t exactly glowing endorsements, but kudos to them for being civil.  It seems like virtually every time a liberal opens his or her mouth regarding Palin, what comes out is nothing but hatred, disgust, and personal insults.

Posted by Anthony on reply

The Truth Is a Precious Commodity

Quoting Victor Davis Hanson:

The problem with Obama’s new hedging on taxing those who make below $250,000, or his administration’s taking credit for victory in the Iraq War that they once so fervently tried to abort, or the flip-flop on renditions and tribunals, or the embarrassments over closing Guantanamo and trying KSM in New York or Mirandizing the Christmas Day bomber, or trashing/praising Wall Street grandees, is not that presidents cannot change their minds as circumstances warrant, or even that all politicians are at times hypocritical.  No, the rub is that Obama is not merely flipping and triangulating on issues in a desperate attempt to shadow the polls, but he is doing so on matters that he once swore were absolutely central to his entire candidacy and his signature hope-and-change agenda.

Hope and change.

Posted by Anthony on reply

The NOW Response to the Tebow Superbowl Ad

Here’s the response from Terry O’Neill, president of the National Organization for Wild Women:

What I saw was a pro-violence-against-women message... The ad connects the idea of male happiness with violating -- committing violence -- against a woman... It’s really a disturbing message when you think about it.

That’s in response to an ad showing a quarterback who pretends to tackle his mom -- while she’s in the middle of talking about him affectionately -- and after which he gets up and gives her a hug.  The ad is so sweet it almost makes you gag.

O’Neill’s comment is stupid beyond words.  It’s hard to believe that just a few weeks into 2010 we already have such a strong contender for the dumbest statement of the year.

Posted by Anthony on reply

Villaraigosa Orders 1000 City Employee Layoffs

Wait, the government is laying off workers it can’t afford to pay?  Is it April Fools’ Day already?

What’s next, Obama appointees who actually pay their taxes?

Posted by Anthony on reply

Obama's First State of the Union Speech

Glenn Reynolds has a roundup of good quotes on the SOTU:

The "stimulus" didn’t produce any jobs, but if we pass a new stimulus and call it a "jobs bill," it will!

More from Cato: "Wonderful, more government-directed investment.  That worked really well with Fannie and Freddie."  Plus this prediction: "He’ll pivot from a new $100 billion jobs bill to cutting the deficit."

Ann Althouse: "Small businesses are good.  Big business sucks though.  We want to help small business grow... so it can become big business and then we can hate it."

"Oh for heaven’s sake.  It’s a freaking stump speech.  You’ve been elected already Mr. President.  Now you have to do things.  See the difference?"

The freeze starts next year?  And I start my diet tomorrow.

Stephen Green: "’I have embraced the vision of John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan.’  Okay.  Except you embraced the competence of Jimmy Carter & Herbert Hoover."

And Doctor Zero was on fire:

This isn’t a State of the Union speech.  It’s a deluded exit interview from someone who doesn’t realize he’s fired.

So, his new interest in transparency means he’s going to say the word "transparent" a lot.

Talk to your union buddies about what happens to workers who dream of becoming their own bosses.

Endorsing nuclear power and drilling = greatest concession opposing party was right all along in my lifetime.

What I don’t understand is how we could possibly all be here after 200+ years without state-run health care.

Pelosi is going into screen saver mode.

Plus this:

OBAMA’S SPENDING FREEZE IN SIX WORDS: Big Mac, large fries, Diet Coke.

Posted by Anthony on reply

Scott Brown vs. Obama

Quoting Glen Johnson and Liz Sidoti:

In an epic upset in liberal Massachusetts, Republican Scott Brown rode a wave of voter anger to win the U.S. Senate seat held by the late Edward M. Kennedy for nearly half a century, leaving President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul in doubt and marring the end of his first year in office.

Ah... marring just "the end" of his first year in office?  As opposed to the rest of his first year, which was such a smashing success what with all those jobs he created, his closing of Gitmo, and his reforming of the health care system?  Right.  Back on planet Earth, the reality is more like this:

Quoting Karl Rove on Fox News:

Remember: a year ago [the stimulus bill] got passed in February.  The president himself said if you pass the bill, unemployment won’t go above 8%, we’ll have 3.65 million new jobs, and 90% of them will be in the private sector.  And on each one of those points, this stimulus program has been an utter failure: none of those markers have been met.

Over the past few months, Obama has gotten involved in off-year elections to support the Democratic candidate in Virginia, New Jersey, and now Massachusetts.  In all three of those cases the voters rejected the Democrat.  The majority of voters also don’t want Obamacare, don’t want civilian trials for terrorists, and, judging by the fact that businesses still just aren’t hiring, don’t want all the new taxes that Obama’s policies will inevitably entail, particularly cap & trade and health care reform.

When the American public does not want the policies Obama advocates, and then in the most liberal state they elect the Republican when Obama himself stumped for the Democrat, it’s hard to see how that’s not a referendum on Obama’s policies.

Posted by Anthony on reply

Congress makes job creation top 2010 priority

I’m of two minds about this.  My first reaction is, where have these clowns been for the past 2 years?  NOW they’ll make job creation a priority?

But my second reaction is: great, with congress getting involved, we can wave goodbye to any hope we might have had about job creation happening soon.

Posted by Anthony on reply

Health Care, C-SPAN, and Obama: Government Corruption At Its Worst

During his presidential campaign, Barack Obama repeatedly and explicitly promised that the health care reform process would be broadcast on C-SPAN.  He lied, and now the White House refuses to even acknowledge the issue.

Perhaps worse than the lie itself, though, is what it means: the Democrats pushing this absurd health care bill absolutely do not want the public to know what’s in it.

These people are supposed to represent us.  Instead, they’re creating laws in secret, forcing through the largest and most expensive government program in history -- one which the majority of Americans oppose.

This is the opposite of democracy.  The only thing these people represent is the complete corruption and perversion of our system of government.

On top of the fact that the people don’t actually want this bill, there’s the fact that we can’t afford it, and we’ll be lucky if it doesn’t destroy the country.

That’s why federal spending above its revenues should be illegal, punishable by crucifixion (or perhaps something even more painful).

Crucifixion would be too kind a fate for these people.

Posted by Anthony on reply

Making criminals out of all Americans

More on the criminalization of everyone:

Quoting Gene Healy:

The Founders viewed the criminal sanction as a last resort, reserved for serious offenses, clearly defined, so ordinary citizens would know whether they were violating the law.

Yet over the last 40 years, an unholy alliance of big-business-hating liberals and tough-on-crime conservatives has made criminalization the first line of attack -- a way to demonstrate seriousness about the social problem of the month, whether it’s corporate scandals or e-mail spam. [...]

There are now more than 4,000 federal crimes, spread out through some 27,000 pages of the U.S. Code.  Some years ago, analysts at the Congressional Research Service tried to count the number of separate offenses on the books, and gave up, lacking the resources to get the job done.  If teams of legal researchers can’t make sense of the federal criminal code, obviously, ordinary citizens don’t stand a chance. [...]

A federal criminal code that covers everything delegates to prosecutors and the police the power to pick their targets at will, leaving everyone at risk.

Our federal apparatus is growing more unwieldy by the minute; the 2000-page $1 trillion "health care" boondoggle is only the latest example.

Posted by Anthony on reply

Mass insanity in Copenhagen

Lorrie Goldstein nails it on Copenhagen:

It has everything to do with some of the world’s most corrupt dictators and regimes extorting billions upon billions of dollars from the developed world -- us -- which they will then spend not on reducing their own greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), but in any way they please.

The science is far from settled and the "fix" won’t fix a darn thing.

Posted by Anthony on reply

ClimateGate Roundup

There’s been so much ClimateGate stuff lately that it’s been hard to keep up with it all.  Below are some of the more interesting items I’ve read over the past week or two.  All of these are worth reading in their entirety but here are some quotes.

A nice non-technical overview:

Quoting Richard S. Lindzen:

Is there a reason to be alarmed by the prospect of global warming?  Consider that the measurement used, the globally averaged temperature anomaly (GATA), is always changing.  Sometimes it goes up, sometimes down, and occasionally--such as for the last dozen years or so--it does little that can be discerned.

Claims that climate change is accelerating are bizarre.  There is general support for the assertion that GATA has increased about 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit since the middle of the 19th century.  The quality of the data is poor, though, and because the changes are small, it is easy to nudge such data a few tenths of a degree in any direction.  Several of the emails from the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit (CRU) that have caused such a public ruckus dealt with how to do this so as to maximize apparent changes. [...]

The notion that complex climate "catastrophes" are simply a matter of the response of a single number, GATA, to a single forcing, CO2 (or solar forcing for that matter), represents a gigantic step backward in the science of climate.  Many disasters associated with warming are simply normal occurrences whose existence is falsely claimed to be evidence of warming.  And all these examples involve phenomena that are dependent on the confluence of many factors.

Lots of technical detail about where the "warming" comes from (hint: not from the data):

Quoting Willis Eschenbach:

So you can see why Wibjorn was concerned.  This looks nothing like the UN IPCC data, which came from the CRU, which was based on the GHCN data.  Why the difference?  The answer is, these graphs all use the raw GHCN data.  But the IPCC uses the "adjusted" data.  GHCN adjusts the data to remove what it calls "inhomogeneities". [...]

I went to look at what happens when the GHCN removes the "in-homogeneities" to "adjust" the data. [...] Before getting homogenized, temperatures in Darwin were falling at 0.7 Celcius per century -- but after the homogenization, they were warming at 1.2 Celcius per century.  And the adjustment that they made was over two degrees per century -- when those guys "adjust", they don’t mess around. [...]

Intrigued by the curious shape of the average of the homogenized Darwin records, I then went to see how they had homogenized each of the individual station records. [...]

Yikes again, double yikes!  What on earth justifies that adjustment?  How can they do that?  We have five different records covering Darwin from 1941 on.  They all agree almost exactly.  Why adjust them at all?  They’ve just added a huge artificial totally imaginary trend to the last half of the raw data!  Now it looks like the IPCC diagram in Figure 1, all right -- but a six degree per century trend?  And in the shape of a regular stepped pyramid climbing to heaven?  What’s up with that?

Those, dear friends, are the clumsy fingerprints of someone messing with the data Egyptian style -- they are indisputable evidence that the "homogenized" data has been changed to fit someone’s preconceptions about whether the earth is warming.

One thing is clear from this.  People who say that "Climategate was only about scientists behaving badly, but the data is OK" are wrong.  At least one part of the data is bad, too.  The Smoking Gun for that statement is at Darwin Zero.

More evidence that the "warming" trend is a fraud:

Quoting Charlie Martin:

The green line is the version we saw above as part of the IPCC report, and the red line is the full series -- which goes down rather dramatically, instead of up as the story suggested.  If the full Briffa series had been included, the figure would look rather different.  The hook upward, the blade of the hockey stick, would have been much less dramatic, the implied global warming much less significant.  By truncating the data as they did, the global warming looks much worse.

And as the Climategate emails show, this was the result of a long discussion of how to best deal with "pressure to present a nice tidy story."  A story that fit the IPCC’s political goals, whether it suited the science or not.

The problem with "science" today:

Quoting Jerry Pournelle:

[O]f course science is not unitary, of course there is politics including dirty tricks and outright lying, faking data, character assassination, invocation of police and military power to suppress opposition -- and none of that changes the rules, which are that scientists when they are being scientists should welcome opposition hypotheses, and must account for all the data, not just that which favors their own positions.  Of course most of the time scientists are not acting like scientists.  They are acting like advocates, or sometimes like politicians.  When they do, they should have no more credibility than lawyers and politicians.  I covered all this years ago in The Voodoo Sciences.

Because scientists do not often act like scientists and often act more like bureaucrats, it is important to set up counter-bureaucracies when the subject matter is funded by public money (controlled by a bureaucracy) and the outcome is important to public spending.  I am a supporter of the National Science Foundation, but I want it reformed: I want 10% of its budget devoted to funding contrarian science that challenges existing consensus.  That should be done through establishment of a funded bureaucracy dedicated to finding and funding such challenges.

For better or for worse, the fact is that science is a business.  Science is no less corrupt than other businesses, and it’s just as much in bed with politicians as other businesses are.  We hold businesses accountable by choosing which ones to patronize.  We need to hold scientists accountable by demanding that they show their data.  If you’re not willing to show your data and methods -- if instead you hide and destroy your actual data, leaving only your conclusions, so that no one else can verify your work -- then you’re not a scientist, you’re a fraud.

The Russians state their belief that their climate data was misrepresented by some of these "scientists" as well:

Quoting Telegraph:

On Tuesday, the Moscow-based Institute of Economic Analysis (IEA) issued a report claiming that the Hadley Center for Climate Change based at the headquarters of the British Meteorological Office in Exeter (Devon, England) had probably tampered with Russian-climate data.

The IEA believes that Russian meteorological-station data did not substantiate the anthropogenic global-warming theory.  Analysts say Russian meteorological stations cover most of the country’s territory, [but] the Hadley Center had used data submitted by only 25% of such stations in its reports. ... IEA analysts say climatologists use the data of stations located in large populated centers that are influenced by the urban-warming effect more frequently than the correct data of remote stations. [...]

What the Russians are suggesting here, in other words, is that the entire global temperature record used by the IPCC to inform world government policy is a crock. [...]

The crux of the argument is that the CRU cherry picked data following the same methods that have been done everywhere else.  They ignored data covering 40% of Russia and chose data that showed a warming trend over statistically preferable alternatives when available.  They ignored completeness of data, preferred urban data, strongly preferred data from stations that relocated, ignored length of data set.

Finally, getting right down to the core of the matter:

Quoting Jerry Pournelle:

This means -- assuming you believe in global temperature accuracies to tenths of a degree -- that the Earth experienced a warming of 0.7 degree C over the last century [through 2010].

The idea that there is such a thing as a "global temperature" number that is not only knowable by us, but able to be accurately measured repeatedly and consistently, is a myth.  Most people would probably realize that if they were to think about it -- what was the temperature in your back yard last year?  how about in your whole town?  or your entire country? -- though few people bother to think about it.  But certainly now that the ClimateGate data is coming out, and we’re able to see just what a mess and a fraud it is, few sane people would believe in such a mythical number any longer.  Unfortunately, sanity is not a defining characteristic of global warming alarmists.

Posted by Anthony on reply

Pelosi rushes votes to catch plane to Copenhagen

Quoting Byron York:

The House is rushing to pass four major bills today -- a Defense Department appropriations bill, a debt-limit extension bill, a continuing resolution to keep the government going, and a new stimulus bill.  New versions of all the bills were only introduced last night -- one of them, the stimulus, is an entirely new measure -- which means lawmakers are scurrying to learn what is in the bills before the accelerated schedule of voting.  "They introduced a brand-new stimulus bill around 11-ish," says one House GOP source.  "And we’re voting on it today." There is little doubt that few lawmakers, Democrat or Republican, will have much of a chance to examine the bills before voting.

The reason for the rush is that Speaker Nancy Pelosi is scheduled to lead a House delegation to the climate change summit in Copenhagen, and the delegation plane is scheduled to leave after the last vote tonight.


Posted by Anthony on reply

I.O.U.S.A.: The Movie

This movie is downright terrifying.  It’s also a must-see.  It’s a free instant stream for Netflix subscribers; there’s also a condensed 30-minute version on the movie’s website.

The movie explains the federal deficit, but does so in an interesting way (or maybe I’m just a nerd).  Here are just a few of the many great graphs used in the movie:

Federal spending in 2008:

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Federal revenue in 2008:

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Federal deficit in 2008:

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The last 30 years of federal budget deficits (and a few "surpluses"):

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The last 30 years of federal budget deficits, corrected for the fact that we’ve really been taking surpluses from the Social Security fund to pay for ever-increasing federal spending:

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What the next 40 years of deficits will look like, given the policies currently in place, as Social Security goes from surplus to deficit in the next few years:

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Projected spending in 2030 based on current policies; notice that "military" and "everything else" are statistically insignificant (too small to show up on the graph) compared to the health-care and social security items:

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Total unfunded liabilities of $53 trillion as of 2008 (it’s now more than $100 trillion):

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Direct quote from the movie relating to this next item: "Some people think that we can solve our financial problems by stopping fraud, waste, and abuse; or by canceling the Bush tax cuts; or by ending the war in Iraq.  The truth is, we could do all 3 of these things and we would not come close to solving our nation’s fiscal challenges."

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All of which is just another reason (not that we needed another) that this is completely insane:

Quoting The WSJ:

Last year, Mr. Obama made fiscal restraint a constant theme of his presidential campaign. ... However, since taking office Mr. Obama pushed through a $787 billion stimulus, a $33 billion expansion of the child health program known as S-chip, a $410 billion omnibus appropriations spending bill, and an $80 billion car company bailout.  He also pushed a $821 billion cap-and-trade bill through the House and is now urging Congress to pass a nearly $1 trillion health-care bill. [...]

When Mr. Obama was sworn into office the federal deficit for this year stood at $422 billion.  At the end of October, it stood at $1.42 trillion.  The total national debt also soared to $7.5 trillion at the end of last month, up from $6.3 trillion shortly after Inauguration Day.

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Posted by Anthony on 2 replies

Senator Coburn Threatening to Read Health Care Bill

Quoting Politico:

Sen. Tom Coburn, the Oklahoma Republican who developed a close friendship with President Obama when they served together in the Senate, is threatening to have the entire health care bill read on the Senate floor.

More government stupidity -- the stupidity being the fact that they aren’t required to read the bills they pass in the first place, and that the bill-creation process itself has been so perverted, its products rendered so absurdly unwieldy and unreadable, that actually reading them can be used as a threat.

Posted by Anthony on reply

Trust the Government

On the Factor on Monday, Bill and Cavuto made a couple of interesting points.  These two points are actually pretty obvious; the problem is that there seem to be large numbers of people who fail to realize them.

Regarding the 2000-page health-care bill that congress produced, Bill made the point that with this bill, the government is essentially saying just trust us.  That’s because few if any citizens -- or politicians for that matter -- will actually read the bill, since a) despite Obama’s promises of transparency they likely will not release the bill to the public, and b) even if they did, 2000 pages is absurdly, shockingly, stupidly long, and it will be incomprehensible regardless.

It should be alarming to everyone, Democrat or Republican or otherwise, that this is how our government operates.

Then Cavuto pointed out the fact that the bill will still leave millions of Americans uninsured.  But "millions of uninsured Americans" is what this bill was supposed to be fixing in the first place, so what’s the point?  The point is not so much to improve health care; it’s for the federal government to effect a massive power-grab to the tune of one trillion dollars.

The phrase "out-of-control spending" is cliched, but that’s exactly what this is: out-of-control spending from an out-of-control government.  So many of these politicians are tax cheats and corrupt in other ways that it’s not surprising that this is how they operate, but it is surprising how so few regular people seem concerned about it.  The tea parties are on the right track, though, and despite what you hear from moronic hollywood and media types, the tea parties are not really about Obama and they’re certainly not about racism; they’re about corrupt government and out-of-control spending.

Posted by Anthony on 1 reply

America's Resolve

Quoting Merlin Mann:

TERRORIST 1: Let’s commit atrocities!
TERRORIST 2: What about America’s "resolve?"
T1: Lucid point.
T2: Cancel everything?
T1: Of course.

Posted by Anthony on reply

Government Crap

Here are two depressing and disturbing stories I read this week:

Congressional leaders fight against posting bills online:

Quoting Washington Examiner:

At town hall meetings across the country this past summer, the main topic was health care, but there was a strong undercurrent of anger over the way Congress rushed through passage of the stimulus, global warming and bank bailout bills without seeming to understand the consequences.  The stimulus bill, for example, was 1,100 pages long and made available to Congress and the public just 13 hours before lawmakers voted on it.  The bill has failed to provide the promised help to the job market, and there was outrage when it was discovered that the legislation included an amendment allowing American International Group, a bailout recipient, to give out millions in employee bonuses.

Criminalizing everyone:

Quoting Washington Times:

Robert C. Scott, Virginia Democrat, and ranking member Louie Gohmert, Texas Republican, conducted a truly bipartisan hearing (a D.C. rarity this year).

These two leaders have begun giving voice to the increasing number of experts who worry about "overcriminalization."  Astronomical numbers of federal criminal laws lack specifics, can apply to almost anyone and fail to protect innocents by requiring substantial proof that an accused person acted with actual criminal intent.

Mr. Norris ended up spending almost two years in prison because he didn’t have the proper paperwork for some of the many orchids he imported.  The orchids were all legal - but Mr. Norris and the overseas shippers who had packaged the flowers had failed to properly navigate the many, often irrational, paperwork requirements the U.S. imposed when it implemented an arcane international treaty’s new restrictions on trade in flowers and other flora.

These issues infuriate me.  There’s something seriously screwed up about a system that not only can, but does routinely imprison people for accidental and trivial issues while simultaneously letting rapists and child molesters go free with merely probation -- and which is constantly passing new laws that the lawmakers themselves haven’t even read, much less given the public a chance to see.

Posted by Anthony on 1 reply

Making Conservatives Less Angry

Quoting Frank J.:

Conservatives are very angry these days.  I haven’t seen conservatives this angry since the last time a Democrat was president.  So the anger is probably because the president is black. [...]

One day the American people will become enlightened enough to surrender democracy to their betters, who would give them such rewards as free (FREE!) health care, but until then conservative anger has to be dealt with.  If not, crazy people like Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck will force absolutely anyone who happens to be an avowed Communist out of public office.

Posted by Anthony on reply

Toxic Waters

Great reporting by The New York Times on the appalling state of enforcement (i.e., virtually none) of water quality and safety regulations, at both the state and federal levels, throughout the US:

Quoting The New York Times:

In the last five years alone, chemical factories, manufacturing plants and other workplaces have violated water pollution laws more than half a million times.  The violations range from failing to report emissions to dumping toxins at concentrations regulators say might contribute to cancer, birth defects and other illnesses.

However, the vast majority of those polluters have escaped punishment.  State officials have repeatedly ignored obvious illegal dumping, and the Environmental Protection Agency, which can prosecute polluters when states fail to act, has often declined to intervene. [...]

Some violations are relatively minor.  But about 60 percent of the polluters were deemed in "significant noncompliance" -- meaning their violations were the most serious kind, like dumping cancer-causing chemicals or failing to measure or report when they pollute.

Finally, the Times’s research shows that fewer than 3 percent of Clean Water Act violations resulted in fines or other significant punishments...

"I met our inspector at the spill site, and we had this really awkward conversation," [DEP regulator] Crum recalled.  "I said we should shut down the mine until everything was cleaned up.  The inspector agreed, but he said if he issued that order, he was scared of getting demoted or transferred to the middle of nowhere.  Everyone was terrified of doing their job."

Mr. Crum temporarily shut the mine.

In the next two years, he shut many polluting mines until they changed their ways.  His tough approach raised his profile around the state [of West Virginia]. [...]

In 2003, a new director, Stephanie Timmermeyer, was nominated to run the Department of Environmental Protection.  One of West Virginia’s most powerful state lawmakers, Eustace Frederick, said she would be confirmed, but only if she agreed to fire Mr. Crum, according to several people who said they witnessed the conversation.

She was given the job and soon summoned Mr. Crum to her office.  He was dismissed...

The 7-page report focuses on some specific West Virginia problems but deals largely with nationwide issues.  They’ve also compiled a national database of pollution-discharge compliance and violations.

Posted by Anthony on reply

Training Drivers to Ignore the Road

Interesting article in The Atlantic comparing American and British road systems:

Quoting John Staddon:

The four-way stop deserves special recognition as a masterpiece of counterproductive public-safety efforts.  Where should the driver look?  What must he remember? ... "The rules for a four-way stop are like those for a two-way: Stop and look for oncoming traffic, and proceed when it is safe to do so."  So far so good, but then: "You may occasionally arrive at a four-way stop sign at the same time as another driver.  In such cases the driver to the right has the right of way.  However, not all drivers know this.  If someone to your left decides to go first, let them!"  Thanks! But remind me: aside from bewildering the driver, what’s the point of stopping traffic in all four directions? [...]

Speed limits in the U.S. are perhaps a more severe safety hazard than stop signs.  In many places, they change too frequently--sometimes every few hundred yards--once again training drivers to look for signs, not at the road. [...]

A particularly vexing aspect of the U.S. policy is that speed limits seem to be enforced more when speeding is safe.  As a colleague once pointed out, "An empty highway on a sunny day?  You’re dead meat!"  A more systematic effort to train drivers to ignore road conditions can hardly be imagined. [...]

When you’ve trained people to drive according to the signs, you need to keep adding more signs to tell them exactly when and in what fashion they need to adjust their behavior.  Otherwise, drivers may see no reason why they should slow down on a curve in the rain.

Posted by Anthony on reply

It's Not the Party, It's the System

Cringely has a medical malpractice post that I don’t find terribly compelling, but here’s one of the comments on it:

Government trying to do anything for us is always bloated and inefficient because there are no checks and balances to keep costs down.  None.  Private business (up until the bailouts) must keep costs in check.  Government doesn’t care about that.  Why should they?  So when costs go out of control they either tax us at higher rates and/or print more money.

It’s not the party that’s in power, it’s the system that it has evolved into.  Have we not figured that out by now?

You might say that’s overly cynical but it seems about right to me.  I’m certainly no fan of insurance companies; I think insurance in general is just about the biggest scam that there is.  But I don’t consider it an improvement to replace [insurance system] or [other broken part of health-care system] with [corrupt politicians] or [additional layers of bureaucracy].

In the real world, you need to clearly identify the problem before you implement the solution.  But not in government.  It drives me crazy that these politicians are insisting on speed at the expense of correctness.  When Obama insists we must pass health care reform ASAP, it makes lots of people suspicious.  When Arlen Specter says that we have to "make judgments very fast" on a 1000-page bill that hardly anybody has even read, the crowd reacts instantly and angrily -- and rightly so.  What sane person thinks that it’s a good idea to make quick judgments rather than careful decisions on such huge and important matters?  Only politicians think that.

I’m all for reforming things that are broken.  But we need to clearly identify those things before we can fix them.  Ramming through a 1000-page bill is not a solution, and a government that would do such a thing is in itself broken, in a far more serious way than the health-care system is.

Posted by Anthony on 1 reply

A Space Program for the Rest of Us

Writing in The New Atlantis, Rand Simberg presents an interesting and informative insider’s view of the history of our space program.  He takes a critical but rational view of the space program and presents some reasonable solutions to some of the bigger problems.

Quoting Rand Simberg:

[With a] space-refueling infrastructure, propellant would be cheaper, flight hardware wouldn’t have to be as heavy, and alternative launch vehicles would flourish. Every year that we starve the kind of research and technology that would make this possible and instead spend our money on mega-launchers like the Ares V is another year that we delay developing a truly sustainable space transportation infrastructure--and becoming a truly spacefaring people. [...]

The Bush administration might have done well to establish an Office of Space Development (with "exploration" being merely a means to an end) that could draw on other federal resources--not just NASA, but the Departments of Defense and Energy--as well as the private sector.

Of course, an independent space development organization with such power would be politically unfeasible. But that is part of the problem: our sclerotic space agency is subject to forces of legacy politics; it protects existing bureaucratic structures and emphasizes jobs over achievement; and it perversely rewards failure with more funds and punishes success with budget cuts.

He makes a persuasive case for the need to reform the space program.

Posted by Anthony on reply

The Statistics That Colleges Hate To Share

This article and the many comments on it are pretty interesting.  Here’s one that sticks out to me:

The cost of a college education has exploded since the Federal government began pumping huge sums of money into grants, scholarships and subsidized loans.  As with any such intervention on this scale the government has created disincentives, skewed incentives and inelastic pricing (or more accurately inflation).

The days of paying for college with a summer job are long over precisely because the government in its infinite wisdom decided that every student should attend a four year university, a right of attendance in fact.

The parallels with medicine are striking and the only reasonable solution is so simple it is beyond the grasp of Statists, stop subsidizing college tuition and in short order costs will plummet.

Directing all high school grads into four year universities with subsidies is a terrible misallocation of resources as evidenced by highly indebted grads who are stuck in low wage service sector jobs.  Debt slaves for life through no fault of their own.

When I was in (private) high school, it was clear that everyone was supposed to go to college.  Almost everyone in my school did.  And the clear implication was that going to college means getting a well-paying job afterwards.  The truth is, that’s far from guaranteed, and isn’t even necessarily very likely -- but no one tells you that.  And somehow, everyone conveniently fails to mention that you’ll likely be saddled with absurd amounts of debt for years if not decades, regardless of whether you get any job at all after college, let alone one that pays well.

Posted by Anthony on reply

We're Bankrupt Because Republicans Didn't Make Enough Profit!

On an NPR story about California’s bankruptcy, there’s this unbelievable comment:

The Republicans won’t admit that the tax revenue problems are due to the abject failure of the private sector to earn money on which taxes are paid.  The budget is set using economic predictions about the income and spending in the state.  When the economy collapsed due to fraud and abuse (by Republican company CEOs!), they blame government for overspending.  They need to look in the mirror, it was their failure to maintain a stable economy and earn money that is causing the problems.

This is so absurd that it seems likely to have been written in jest, by someone intending to make fun of extreme liberal positions.

On the off chance that it’s meant to be taken seriously, well, I don’t even know where to begin.  I guess I would want to point out the flaw in the overarching viewpoint here: the idea that budget problems are income issues rather than spending issues. 

When an individual spends more than he earns, we call it irresponsible, and we say he must spend less.  It would be absurd to suggest that he go to his boss and demand a higher salary to pay for his irresponsible spending.

It’s hard to imagine that anyone would believe that the reverse is true for governments.  But even if you did believe that, you’re still bound by the laws of reality: you can’t simply create more income, but you can simply reduce your spending.

Posted by Anthony on reply
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