There is plenty of journalistic malpractice going on with regard to the 53-hour closure of a stretch of Interstate 405 this weekend.
Closing the heavily traveled road connecting the west side of Los Angeles with the San Fernando Valley may well cause traffic problems around town — though based on apparently universal awareness of the impending closure, and observably lighter traffic on the 405 as this week has progressed, I'm guessing it will be a big nothing.
But I have not read a single word on this phenomenon that is in any way practical or geared toward minimizing the inconvenience.
As it happens, Reason's office sits just off ground zero: Between the 405 and Sepulveda Blvd., south of the junction with Interstate 10, where the southern end of the closing will occur. (The 405 will be shut down north to the junction with U.S. Highway 101.) And I can tell you, the stuff being said about the 405 closing is multiple shades of stoopit:
The 405 hosts about 500,000 vehicles over the course of a mid-July weekend, about 9,400 vehicles per hour. That's a lot, but it's not impossible to absorb over a 600-square-mile road network. Wilshire Blvd. alone [pdf] handles 2,896 vehicles per hour, and along some stretches as many as 4,292 vehicles ride Wilshire in an average hour.
But if the point of Carmageddon hype is to solve the impending problem, you would not be talking about Wilshire or any other surface street. The destination media, however, are talking about just that. In the Los Angeles Times, Rob Long advises diverting 405 traffic into the local streets. This makes no sense because the 405 is a freeway, a distance run, in this case from the airport to Sherman Oaks or vice versa. And for through traffic there are plenty of options. Just ten miles north of the closed zone the 405 links up with Interstate 5. Less than ten miles south it links up with Interstate 105 (which despite its high-sounding title is not even an Intercounty road, but is broad and so fast-moving that they filmed the original Speed on it). And there are all kinds of other numbers — 110, 710, 134, 210 — with incantatory powers if you just know how to use them. But even most of those nobody's going to have to use because...
Overhype 2: The Reoverhyping
There are pretty clearly going to be fewer than 9,400 vehicles needing to redirect every hour this weekend. In fairness, huzzah to the panicking media and politicians on one tiny point: Awareness of Carmageddon has been raised locally and nationally. But the media and politicians still deserve to be skinned because of...
Wrong Directions 2: U-Turn? No, You Turn
Long isn't alone in his surface street pontification, and he at least understands which surface streets will be affected. Not so ABC's Dave Lunz. In a how-to-survive-Carmageddon consumer piece, Lunz advises readers to take Olympic Blvd., because it moves fairly quickly when the 10 is jammed. Not only is this the wrong particular advice (Pico is generally a better option than Olympic), but it solves the non-problem of east-west traffic when it's a north-south route that's been closed.
Wrong Directions 3: The Final Direction
Here's a shuttle service that plans to pitch in by offering rides along Sepulveda, the street that parallels the 405 and is the most likely to get spillover from the closing.
Here's Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa offering up the same smorgasbord of Smart-Growther, Chamber-of-Commerce, Polycentric, New-Urbanist flapdoodle California politicians shovel out at all other times: "Stay home, Shop LA, Do NOT Drive, Walk or Bike, Free Public Transportation."
Here's a Department of Transportation official offering up some patchwork of freeways for a hypothetical commuter.
Here's somebody suggesting you hang out at home and enjoy the sunshine — which sounds appealing but doesn't address the question of cutting off normal traffic while the government takes more than two days to dismantle a damn bridge.
The most relevant approach is JetBlue's offer of $4 helicopter rides from Long Beach to Burbank, which at least lands pretty close to the general areas that are going to be affected. (Though even that doesn't really address the problem: The point isn't just to get from the Westside to the Valley. It's to get there in your own car, like a grownup.)
So far, the most sensible piece of journalism I've found on this issue is this from Examiner.com:
As we prepare for this citywide cacophony, what comes to mind is how on a day no one can predict, people all over the world will unsuspectedly be going about daily life when Jesus Christ descends from Heaven in His Second Coming. That is when the true Armageddon will be ushered in. How long it takes to get to Home Depot, whether or not we make an early flight out of LAX, or the devastating drop in sales for retailers will make no difference at the moment the Lord of glory appears. In an instant, believers in Christ will be raptured out of this world, and the seven-year tribulation period will begin. This is not a theatrical sci-fi story or mythical fable – this is very real.
I'm not agreeing with Ci'Monique Green's position, just saying that among all the people talking about Carmageddon, she at least knows her subject. If Carmageddon occurs, it won't be because people ignored the experts but because they listened to them.
And so it ends. What began 10 years ago in a blaze of magical wands, mysterious potions, swooping Quidditch brooms, and enchanted banquet halls now concludes in terror and sorrow, death and resurrection. And as Kurt Loder observes, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 is more than just an exciting adventure, it's also a grand and fitting conclusion to the cinematic series.View this article
On the campaign trail, President Obama backed banning health insurers from excluding individuals from coverage based on pre-existing conditions. It was a "personal issue" for him, he said. “For my mother to die of cancer at the age of 53," he said, "and have to spend the last months of her life in the hospital room arguing with insurance companies because they’re saying that this may be a pre-existing condition and they don’t have to pay her treatment, there’s something fundamentally wrong about that.” The only problem with this story? It may not be strictly true. From The New York Times:
The White House on Wednesday declined to challenge an account in a new book that suggests that President Obama, in his campaign to overhaul American health care, mischaracterized a central anecdote about his mother’s deathbed dispute with her insurance company.
During his presidential campaign and subsequent battle over a health care law, Mr. Obama quieted crowds with the story of his mother’s fight with her insurer over whether her cancer was a pre-existing condition that disqualified her from coverage.
In offering the story as an argument for ending pre-existing condition exclusions by health insurers, the president left the clear impression that his mother’s fight was over health benefits for medical expenses.
But in “A Singular Woman: The Untold Story of Barack Obama’s Mother,” author Janny Scott quotes from correspondence from the president’s mother to assert that the 1995 dispute concerned a Cigna disability insurance policy and that her actual health insurer had apparently reimbursed most of her medical expenses without argument.
...On Wednesday, in response to repeated requests for comment that The Times first made in mid-June, shortly after the book’s release, a White House spokesman chose not to dispute either Ms. Scott’s account or Mr. Obama’s memory, while arguing that Mr. Obama’s broader point remained salient.
“We have not reviewed the letters or other material on which the author bases her account,” said Nicholas Papas, the spokesman. “The president has told this story based on his recollection of events that took place more than 15 years ago.”
Last year, Obama signed a health care overhaul that included a ban on pre-existing conditions exclusions in health insurance.
A Tea Party leader and voucher advocate was quoted in the Newark Star-Ledger on the future of public schools, saying what school reformers are never supposed to say out loud:
"We think public schools should go away,’’ says Teri Adams, the head of the Independence Hall Tea Party and a leading advocate—both in New Jersey and Pennsylvania—of passage of school voucher bills....
They should "go away," she says, because "they are hurting our children.’’
Those who look at the system as it is and argue that we should do away with it are...wrong. The right to a free public education is not only essential to our future success, but a cornerstone of the American creed that anyone who works hard can make it here—because they have the fair shot at a quality, state-funded education.
Her response generated this headline:
Michelle Rhee says push to do away with public schools is wrong.
Ah well. Nobody's perfect.
The Internet—the medium that has probably done more than any other to open the channels of communication between cultures—is regularly accused of encasing us in cocoons. This summer the accuser is Eli Pariser, board president of the liberal group MoveOn.org, who levies the charge in his much-discussed book The Filter Bubble. Managing Editor Jesse Walker looks at the long history of this idea, and explains why all its iterations have been wrong.View this article
Back in March, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius showed up in Politico touting a whole bunch of reasons why Americans should feel just dandy about last year's health care overhaul. None of them were terribly convincing, however, in particular her insistence that health care cost growth could be restrained through ever-better technocratic management of the health care sector. "As part of the health care law," she wrote, "we have invested in preventive care, and innovative programs aimed at slowing that growth of premiums. By testing and implementing new ideas to coordinate care, improve patient safety, and reduce waste, fraud and abuse, the law will create additional savings for decades to come."
As I wrote at the time, there's never been much reason to believe that those "innovative programs" she brags about would be very effective. Now there's even less reason: The Congressional Budget Office is readying a report essentially saying that all those fancy pilot programs Sebelius is so proud of don't work very well,
From a joint Fiscal Times/Kaiser Health News report by Merrill Goozner:
A forthcoming report from the Congressional Budget Office shows that more than two dozen demonstrations projects launched by Medicare and Medicaid over the past decade have failed to stop the upward march of health care costs, CBO director Doug Elmendorf said Tuesday.
...Elmendorf defended CBO's projections that delivery system reforms like the accountable care organizations allowed under reform would only save a few billion dollars in the coming decade. "The demonstration projects that Medicare has done in this and other areas are often disappointing," he said. "It turns out to be pretty hard to take ideas that seem to work in certain contexts and proliferate that throughout the health care system. The results are discouraging."
There's already a fair amount of evidence that Medicare pilot programs haven't worked very well, with innovations frequently proving tougher to scale or replicate than expected. And the law's overly prescriptive approach to accountable care organizations—another of the law's frequently touted delivery system reforms—has turned out to be so off-putting that a number of the highly integrated providers who inspired the idea have said they won't participate in the program as it currently exists.
Even still, this is a major blow to the foundation of ObamaCare's promises to rein in health spending and keep premium prices from rising as fast as otherwise projected. Those savings are largely premised on the notion than empowered, independent health policy experts can identify successful delivery-system innovations, then copy them throughout the system, thus saving lots of money without any sort of explicit rationing or reducing the quality of care. What the CBO is now confirming is that when the government has tried this approach in the past, it's rarely worked.
Billionaire T. Boone Pickens is urging Congress to pass the New Alternative Transportation to Give Americans Solutions Act (NAT GAS Act) to subsidize the deployment of vehicles fueled by compressed natural gas and associated infrastructure. By one estimate, the NAT GAS Act would spend $9 billion to subsidize the creation of a fleet of CNG vehicles. It's probably just a coincidence that Pickens is a major shareholder in the natural gas fueling station company Clean Energy Fuels Corp. In a press release today, Pickens asserted:
“The NAT GAS Act (H.R. 1380), would create half a million jobs. Simply by switching 18-wheelers to natural gas, the US could cut its dependency on OPEC in half. Until we end our dependence on foreign oil and get on our own domestic resources, we will continue to be faced with uncertainty. We need to take control of our own future and we can do that by getting on our own domestic resources.”
But there other things to do with natural gas than burn it in vehicles. In an op/ed in Roll Call, Calvin Dooley, head of the chemical industry's lobbying group, the American Chemistry Council notes that demand for natural gas is already increasing for power generation and argues that the NAT GAS subsidies would increase price volatility for gas. This would have a deleterious effect on the chemical industry. As Dooley explains:
Natural gas is the primary raw material, or feedstock, used by the chemical industry to create ingredients for 96 percent of all manufactured goods. To put it simply, natural gas is to the chemical industry, and chemical products are to manufactured goods, as flour is to a bakery. Stable feedstock costs for the chemical industry mean greater certainty for other manufacturers, which helps keep consumer prices low and leaves more resources available for expansion and hiring throughout the economy....
In recent months, numerous chemical manufacturers have announced new investments thanks to the outlook for predictable domestic natural gas markets. For example, Dow Chemical Co. announced it will restart operations in facilities idled during the recession and Eastman Chemical Co. has already done so. Executives from Bayer are in talks with companies interested in building new ethane crackers at its two industrial parks in West Virginia, and other companies including Chevron Phillips Chemical Co. and LyondellBasell are considering expanding operations in the U.S.
These investments will generate new, high-paying jobs in the chemical industry and hundreds of thousands more throughout the economy.
A recent American Chemistry Council study found reasonable increases in shale gas production would result in nearly 400,000 new jobs in the chemical sector and supplier industries, more than $132 billion in U.S. economic output and nearly $4.4 billion in local, state and federal taxes annually.
It's well past time for the Feds to stop trying to tell Americans what they should burn to drive their vehicles. That's the job of prices in markets. Let's stop all subsidies, tax breaks, and any other government meddling in energy markets and may the best fuel win!
Special bonus Bloomberg article here for Koch conspiracists. You know who you are.
Disclosure: I receive several thousand dollars per year in royalties from conventional gas wells that I inherited. I suspect that I would benefit if Pickens' subsidies were enacted.
In her latest column at The Daily, Reason Foundation Senior Analyst Shikha Dalmia writes:
Every few years, the stars misalign and some social conservative comes out and does the political equivalent of baying at the moon. In the wake of 9/11, Dinesh D’Souza penned a whole book explaining that Osama bin Laden attacked the United States because Hollywood makes movies depicting America as a decadent, promiscuous country instead of a modest, God-fearing one.
And last week, an Iowa-based religious outfit, FAMiLY LEADER, asked presidential candidates to sign a pledge to defend traditional marriage and fight Islamic law, or Sharia. The trouble is that the steps that the four-page document lists to defend traditional marriage are tantamount to imposing Sharia.
Author and journalist Nancy Rommelmann says that Hollywood sends this message to people: "If you show up, I'm going to deliver your destiny. But you've got to stay, you've got to believe in me."
The death of the Hollywood dream runs through Rommelmann's new novel, The Bad Mother . The work follows teenagers living on the streets on and around Hollywood Blvd,, a place that combines a seedy reality with the enduring Tinseltown dream.
Rommelmann sat down with Senior Editor at Reason Tim Cavanaugh to discuss the book.
Topics include: Why city money can't save Hollywood; why readers mistake The Bad Mother for a work of non-fiction; and why Spiderman is really just a 60-year-old out-of-work actor.
Shot by Alex Manning, Zach Weissmueller and Hawk Jensen. Edited by Paul Detrick.
About 8:30 minutes. Scroll down for downloadable versions and subscribe to Reason.tv's YouTube Channel to receive automatic notifications when new material goes live.
During the first Republican presidential debate in May, erstwhile Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain was asked about expert projections that his proposal for a national sales tax would hurt poorer Americans and involve taxation of real estate and rental property. Cain got a round of applause for shooting back, “With all due respect, your experts are dead wrong.” Although the rest of his reply avoided responding to the question, observes Senior Editor Tim Cavanaugh, Cain’s barb was the point: All discussion of the national sales tax must commence with the assertion that your interlocutor is either malicious or misinformed. Several Republican presidential candidates, 61 members of Congress, and six senators support a “Fair Tax” that would replace the income tax with a levy on retail sales. And very few of these people, Cavanaugh writes, are lukewarm about the idea.View this article
Evidently the activists at something called UK Tar Sands Network think so. The group performed a takeoff of Swan Lake in which Odette is doused in oil as a way to disrupt an open-air live broadcast of the Royal Opera's Cinderella in Trafalgar Square. Odette dies as a way to protest BP's oilsands projects in Canada. In a nice HuffPost UK article, Nathalie Rothschild explains that the oil-soaked Swan Lake disruption is "part of a bigger drive to pressure arts institutions into refusing sponsorship from 'destructive companies,' with the goal of making it "'socially unacceptable' for cultural institutions to accept funding from 'Big Oil'."
Rothschild then asks:
So where should the money come from, especially in these times of endless austerity packages?
It seems the guerrilla arts activists haven't thought that far. But there is at least an underlying presumption in these campaigns that corporate money is tainted, impure and hides a sinister agenda, while public funding is benign and harmless. Recent history tells us otherwise.
During the New Labour years, state funding for the arts in Britain was relatively plentiful, but so were the conditions tacked on to it. This legacy lives on, as arts practitioners and institutions seeking state funding are still compelled to prove that they can meet a range of targets that have nothing to do with creating and presenting high-quality art and everything to do with fulfilling various political agendas. The price of state funding is all too often turning art into an instrument for tackling everything from racism and bullying to obesity and crime.
Rothschild of course notes that by supporting opera, museums, and so forth, companies like BP are trying to buy good PR. However, corporations rarely try to dictate the "message" of the arts they support. Their hope is that the better and more popular the art, the better the PR they garner. In contrast, it is rare that government-supported art goes untainted by politics, e.g., National Endowment for the Arts support for "Appalachian Voices" performances against strip mining or New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani Sen. Jesse Helm's attempt to censor "Piss Christ."
Corporate support arts message: Please buy our products. Government support arts message: Do this or don't do that.
Hollywood mocks capitalism, which seems odd because the people who make movies are such aggressive capitalists—competing hard to make money. Still, Hollywood's usual message is that capitalism is shallow and cruel. Which is why David Mamet’s recent turn to the political right is so notable. As John Stossel notes, Mamet, the celebrated author of more than 50 plays and movies, says that after reading F.A. Hayek and other free-market writers, he could no longer justify his faith in big government.View this article
How private are financial transactions that use the "virtual currency" Bitcoin? According to Timothy Lee, writing at Forbes, not very:
Bitcoin’s peer-to-peer method for clearing payments means that the currency’s “books” are inherently open. Every transaction ever made using the currency is available for inspection using a tool like Bitcoin’s Block Explorer.
The privacy benefits come from the fact that you can create an unlimited number of anonymous Bitcoin identities. Block explorer tells me that someone sent 36953.2525 Bitcoins to the address 148X4kTYZhjeKQcd1AVhcytXvh5gL6FNSe. I don’t know who owns that address and there’s no central database where I can look it up. Nor is there a Bitcoin Inc. that could be compelled to create such a database. And this, Bitcoin enthusiasts say, give their currency a privacy edge over the US dollar.
But the fact that the database doesn’t exist doesn’t mean it couldn’t be created. Remember, people want money so they can buy stuff. There are a few goods and services, like pornography or consulting work, that can be delivered entirely over the Internet. But people mostly buy products that need to be physically delivered. An American who wants to deal primarily in Bitcoins will, at some point, need to either buy food and shelter in Bitcoins or convert some of their Bitcoins to dollars. And that means making Bitcoin payments to people in the US.
But the US government could easily require any business accepting Bitcoin payments (or converting Bitcoins to dollars) to collect identification information from their customers in the same way that “know your customer” regulations require financial institutions to collect information about their customers. And once the government has de-anonymized a significant fraction of the addresses on the network, they’ll be able to infer many of the others using basic detective work.
Lee suggests that a sufficiently determined individual could use Bitcoin in a way that mostly preserved his or her anonymity, but only with significant technical savvy and lifestyle changes. This tracks with what one Bitcoin developer told Reason's Katherine Mangu-Ward last month: "With bitcoin, every transaction is written to a globally public log, and the lineage of each coin is fully traceable from transaction to transaction....Attempting major illicit transactions with bitcoin, given existing statistical analysis techniques deployed in the field by law enforcement, is pretty damned dumb." Naturally, Sen. Chuck Schumer is worried about illegal purchases using Bitcoin anyway.
In June, Reason.tv talked with Mercatus Institute scholar Jerry Brito about Bitcoin:
We hear it all the time: Red states are for limited government; blue states are for heavy spending. While this may be true when it comes to broad political preferences, writes Veronique de Rugy, it’s false as measured by patterns of federal spending. In fact, de Rugy notes, when you compare the 50 laboratories of democracy after sorting them based on how their citizens voted in November 2008, only 10 Democratic-voting states are net recipients of federal subsidies, as opposed to 22 Republican states. Only one red state (Texas) is a net payer of federal taxes, as opposed to 16 blue states. One blue state (Rhode Island) pays as much as it gets. So why do liberal states give while conservative states take?View this article
The Wall Street Journal’s Jess Bravin profiles the efforts of Montana activist Gary Marbut, who hopes to use the case for gun rights as a method to roll back federal regulatory power:
For years, Mr. Marbut argued that a wide range of federal laws, not just gun regulations, should be invalid because they were based on an erroneous interpretation of Congress's constitutional power to regulate interstate commerce. In his corner were a handful of conservative lawyers and academics. Now, with the rise of the tea-party movement, the self-employed shooting-range supplier finds himself leading a movement.
Eight states have adopted his Firearms Freedom Act, which Mr. Marbut conceived as a vehicle to undermine federal authority over commerce.
Ten state attorneys general, dozens of elected officials and an array of conservative groups are backing the legal challenge he engineered to get his constitutional theory before the Supreme Court. A federal appeals court in San Francisco is now considering his case.
Read the whole story here.
This chart, by Reason columnist and Mercatus economist Veronique de Rugy, is worth looking at for a long time - like one of those 3D posters, gaze with deep focus until you see the secret spaceships or dolphins come alive in the data.
From the writeup:
Data from the President’s FY2012 budget shows historical amounts of federal government borrowing on the dollar from fiscal year 1980 to present day. Positive amounts represent budget deficits or the amount by which total government spending exceeds total revenues during a specified period.
Today, 43 cents of every dollar spent is borrowed; this amount is about 4 times the rate in 1980. Between 2007 and 2011 alone, the rate has increased 38 cents per dollar. At this pace, the historical trend of deficit spending continues at a distressing rate.
The government ran a budget deficit in every year from 1980 to 1997, and continued this trend in 2001 and onward. The surplus that finally emerged in 1998 was produced by increased tax revenues that a sustained economic expansion generated; and without the aid of increases in tax rates.
As critical debate over the debt ceiling continues, the amount of spending that is borrowed should be put in proper perspective. A continued proliferation of federal spending won’t help to contain the debt.
And check out Ron Paul's ad about how past deals on raising taxes and cutting spending have worked out:
And while you're at it, read "Five Uncomfortable Facts About the Wonderful, Horrible Debt-Limit Debate."
And then, for a laugh, read the 2009 classic, "Obama: Tomorrow We Scrimp, but Tonight We Spend Like There's No Tomorrow."
And there's this roundup of polling by Ed Morrissey of Hot Air about whether the debt ceiling should be raised. The short version? Respondents are against an increase by a 2-to-1 margin.
- Moody's isn't happy about the debt ceiling situation.
- A bombing in Mumbai kills at least 17 people.
- A federal judge blocks a New York City law coercing speech at anti-abortion pregnancy centers.
- The consequences of using a vaccination campaign as a front for a covert op.
- Homeland Security's spending priorities.
- Beezus wept.
The latest from Reason.tv: "Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.)."
When it comes to sexual relationships and cohabitation among consenting adults, Utah takes a permissive approach. If a guy wants to shack up with a lady, that's fine. If he wants to shack up with several, no problem. But if he marries one woman and represents three others as his "spiritual wives," like Kody Brown? Then he's committed a felony. And as Steve Chapman explains, it’s not because of the stuff that goes on behind closed doors. It's the public act of claiming to be part of a lifelong "plural marriage" that raises the specter of jail. But should it really be a crime?View this article
Pulitzer-winning tax journalist David Cay Johnston has been forced to withdraw his first column for Reuters. Aptly named commenter OFF TOPIC notes in another thread that Johnston, whose unreliability and bullying style have put him in bad odor in various forums (including this one), has issued a rambling, self-dramatizing series of explanations for why he falsely claimed Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. was paying negative income taxes.
You may have gotten an alert about the shocking Murdoch news yesterday. As Johnston claimed in a column that has now been replaced with a humiliating 404:
Over the past four years Murdoch's U.S.-based News Corp. has made money on income taxes. Having earned $10.4 billion in profits, News Corp. would have been expected to pay $3.6 billion at the 35 percent corporate tax rate. Instead, it actually collected $4.8 billion in income tax refunds, all or nearly all from the U.S. government.
Please be advised that the David Cay Johnston column published on Tuesday stating that Rupert Murdoch’s U.S.-based News Corp made money on income taxes is wrong and has been withdrawn. News Corp’s filings show the company changed reporting conventions in its 2007 annual report when it reversed the way it showed positive and negative numbers. A new column correcting and explaining the error in more detail will be issued shortly.
Johnston expands on this (sort of) in his high-carb, low-protein retraction:
How did I miss the switch in convention for reporting positive and negative numbers? The company disclosed in its 2007 annual report that it was changing the way it reported some numbers. Here is the entire disclosure, from Note 2 on Page 87:
Certain fiscal 2006 and fiscal 2005 amounts have been reclassified to conform to the fiscal 2007 presentation.
Reuters commenter TinyOne notes the flimsiness of Johnston’s excuse:
I think it needs to be made clear that in NO WAY was it necessary to know that the reporting convention had been changed in 2007 to catch this error. Cash interest paid, the line item directly below the tax numbers DCJ cited, was negative as well. Sale proceeds from investments, the next line, was positive. EVERY INDICATION suggested that negative numbers were outflows from the company, positive numbers were inflows to the company.
This is what happens what you have a dedicated ideologue reporting on technical topics. This is a case of serious and gross incompetence and stupidity by DCJ and the responsible editors. There should be terminations– truly an embarrassment.
Johnston’s columns frequently get a lot of traction on the left, regardless of their factual bases. You may recall that a few months ago the husky newsman hit paydirt with this claim: "Out of every dollar that funds Wisconsin's pension and health insurance plans for state workers, 100 cents comes from the state workers."
My critique of that piece got a heavy response from Johnston (along with a correction of one of my own numbers, which I immediately updated with thanks). I also had a very tiresome email exchange with Johnston that supported many of the complaints you can hear about him around the web. There was at one point a davidcayjohnstonwatch.blogspot.com to keep track of his errors, and although it has disappeared, references to it can still be found, along with rave reviews like this one from commenter arbitrageur:
David Cay Johnston showed up here on the forum a couple of years ago and left with his tail between his legs. What a coward. Wanted to dictate, not debate.
Also recently, Johnston declared all Objectivists to be objectively terroristic.
In a 2007 interview, Johnston assured Reason Senior Editor Brian Doherty, “I’m not an ideologue; I’m a practical reporter. I don’t think in those terms.”
It's hard to imagine the practical reporter continuing at Reuters after a total retraction like this one, but I fear we’ll be hearing more from David Cay Johnston, and I don't mean a postcard:
The sexual assault case against former International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn now seems to lie in a shambles. And as Contributing Editor Cathy Young observes, nearly everyone who weighed in on the story early on may be up for a generous helping of crow.View this article
One more reason to keep government out of the booze biz: If government shuts down, so do the taps. And with two of their own already "exchanging blasts" in the presidential primary, Minnesotans are going to need a drink or two to keep their famous nice going.
In the days leading up to the shutdown, thousands of [restaurants, bars, and liquor stores] scrambled to renew their state-issued liquor purchasing cards. Many of them did not make it.
Now, with no end in sight to the shutdown, they face a summer of fast-dwindling alcohol supplies and a bottom line that looks increasingly bleak.
"It's going to cripple our industry," said Frank Ball, executive director of the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association, which represents thousands of liquor retailers in the state.
The same horrible fate awaits cigarette sellers come Labor Day.
A new report finds that Atlanta is chock full of cheating teachers and principals, at least 179 of them in 44 schools. The confessed cheaters blame an over-emphasis on test results and "unreasonable goals" set by the administation. Senior Editor Katherine Mangu-Ward asks whether cheating is inevitable in a high-stakes testing environment and if it's really so unreasonable to demand that fourth graders be able to read, write, and do basic math?View this article
Citing Congressional Budget Office director Doug Elmendorf's warning that American cannot repeat its budgeting history because “the aging of our population and the rising cost of health care have changed the backdrop for federal budget policy in a fundamental way,” David Leonhardt of The New York Times declares that at some point, taxes will have to go up. And if they don't? "For taxes to remain where they are," he writes, "Washington would need to end Medicare as we know it, end Social Security as we know it, severely shrink the military — or do some combination of the above." That probably sounds pretty good to folks around these parts, but it won't happen, Leonhardt says, because "national polls show huge majorities favor keeping Medicare and Social Security in something approaching their current form."
Leonhardt is correct about this. But it's also true that few people know how much America spends on Medicare, or how much of the budget — and the long-term debt problem — is tied up in health programs and Social Security, a fact that may color their preferences. And even still, raising taxes alone doesn't actually solve the problem of mandatory health spending. Leonhardt notes that there is broad public support for raising taxes on high earners. But while a tax hike on those with high incomes might make an entitlement reform deal more politically palatable, it won't keep up with the projected growth in Medicare spending, which means there's no easy, poll-tested way to deal with the long-term debt. Somehow, some way, Medicare and Medicaid, at least, will have to be transform from thier current incarnations into fiscally sustainable programs. In the long run, it may be that taxes are part of a deal to make that happen. But by itself, simply raising taxes on the wealthy won't fix the problem.
Now, as Leonhardt also suggests, it may be that a long-term debt deal comes packaged with new revenue raised by closing off the myriad targeted tax breaks that distort the system; coupled with a substantial entitlement overhaul, that could be quite appealing. But a deal of that sort might be even less popular amongst the general public. "Closing loopholes has much stronger support among economists and columnists than it does among voters," Leonhardt writes. But then, it's hardly news that public preference makes dealing with the federal debt exceedingly difficult. If there were an easy solution that majorities agreed upon, it probably would have passed by now. In the end, though, the long-term debt will have to be dealt with, even if there's no combo of choices from the deficit reduction menu that a majority of the public actually supports.
Give a listen as Our Leader explains how the American people don't really understand the concept of borrowing money:
It's too late to ask the obvious followup question: "Then why are we allowed to vote?" But there's still time to hear Reason Senior Editor Tim Cavanaugh speak up for the 69 percent of voters who don't want to raise the debt ceiling on the Jerry Doyle radio show at 1:30 PM Pacific Time today (4:30 PM Eastern).
Is going broke too important to be left to citizens, like President Obama says?
Does anybody warning about the debt-limit impasse today remember that we had one of these hyperpocalyptic catastrogeddons back in 1995, and it didn't cause any problems at all? Are we taking crazy pills?
And the score on correct QE3 predictions is: Cavanaugh 1, Suderman 0. Time for an end-zone dance? Time to buy silver? Time to start betting on QE4? (Actually, that probably won't be a topic, but Federal Reserve Bank Chairman Ben Bernanke's new QE3 rumblings might be.)
Debtors, creditors, taxers, spenders, Grid Epsilon Irregulars and others are urged to listen in.
Jerry Doyle's show is on 230 radio stations around the country. To find a local station, click here.
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Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Arizona) has represented the Diamondback State's sixth congressional district since 2001, cutting a pro-immigration, pro-trade, limited-government, anti-spending path that contrasts sharply with the mainstream of the Republican Party.
Flake's campaign against "earmarking," or larding up bills with giveaways for legislators' home districts, brought national attention to this issue and inspired some important rule changes. He has been a lonely voice in the House calling for an end to the U.S.-imposed travel ban on Cuba . And in a state that has shocked much of the country with its intolerance toward both documented and undocumented immigrants, Flake has consistently argued for reducing obstacles to legal immigration and establishing more effective guest worker programs.
Now Flake has his eye on the Senate seat being vacated next year by the retiring Republican Jon Kyl. While there's plenty of competition for his House job, Flake is so far alone in the race for Arizona's junior Senate seat.
A former head of the Goldwater Institute and practicing Mormon, Flake is a leading voice for freer markets and more personal freedom within the Republican Party.
Late in June, Flake sat down with Reason Senior Editor Tim Cavanaugh to discuss these matters and more.
Approximately 28 minutes
Shot by Zach Weissmueuller, Paul Detrick and Alex Manning. Edited by Meredith Bragg.
The New York Times' C.J. Chivers reports that Libyan rebels in the western part of the country have taken to beating Qaddafi loyalists and looting and raiding their villages:
The looting included many businesses and at least two medical centers that, like the towns, are now deserted and bare.
Rebel fighters also beat people suspected of being loyalists and burned their homes, [Human Rights Watch] said.
Rebel officials in the mountains have played down the looting and arson in recent days. In an interview on Sunday, Col. Mukhtar Farnana, the region’s senior commander, said that reprisals were not sanctioned and that he did not know any details about them.
But Human Rights Watch said the same commander shared details with its investigators and conceded that rebels had abused people suspected of being collaborators as towns changed hands.
A rebel near Qawalish on Tuesday confirmed Colonel Farnana’s view, saying that the rebels had instructions not to “break anything or burn houses,” but that orders ran up against the realities of waging war with a nonprofessional, quasi-military force.
“Before we liberate an area, we do have intelligence information about the people who were helping the army in the local town,” said the rebel, Hatam Idris. “So we do know these people, and their homes. And when we liberate a town, we go straightaway to those homes.”
The houses often have ammunition or weapons in them, he said, and often are ransacked and burned. “Some people do this individually,” he said.
Chivers argues convincingly that Qaddafi's forces are worse, what with bombing civilians and executing prisoners. Then he notes that the rebels have a mixed record of treatment themselves, with some captured Qaddafi troops receiving "medical treatment in rebel hospitals and have been kept in detention centers that nongovernment organizations have been allowed to visit," while others have been beaten and "shot through the feet, either as a punishment or as a means to prevent escape."
I suppose the consolation here is that we are funding the lesser of two evils?
In a commentary (sub required) in the Journal of the American Medical Association, a lawyer and a doctor are arguing that child protective services should perhaps be allowed to take fat kids away from their unfit parents. The rationale for involving the authorities is:
Many biological, psychosocial, and behavioral factors affect energy balance and, therefore, childhood weight gain, with parents playing an important mediating role. Ubiquitous junk food marketing, lack of opportunities for physically active recreation, and other aspects of modern society promote unhealthful lifestyles in children. Inadequate or unskilled parental supervision can leave children vulnerable to these obesigenic environmental influences. Emotional distress and depression, or other psychological problems arising from abuse and neglect, may exacerbate this situation by leading to disordered eating and withdrawal from sports and other social activities.
Even relatively mild parenting deficiencies, such as having excessive junk food in the home or failing to model a physically active lifestyle, may contribute to a child's weight problem.
And it's not just feeding kids too many calories. Letting them watch too much television, play too many video games, or, in the case of my parents, letting me read a book a night, can also contribute to being a porky child. As comprehensive health care reform (aka socialized medicine) advances, can proposals for licensing parents be too far behind?
Ars Technica has an interesting article about a recent conference in Germany that asked, what are the biggest challenges for global health? The conferees picked out "peak child" as a major one. As Ars Technica reports:
The majority of the world's nations now look very much like the industrialized world, with small family sizes and life expectancies of around 70 years and up. Many of them, however, have gotten there without the sort of economic growth that preceded a graying population in the industrialized world. As a result, one of the big challenges in global health is now caring for an older population on a low budget.
The trends were driven home by the Karolinska Institute's Hans Rosling, who relied on graphs that can be created using a site called Gapminder.org. These track various demographic features of most of the world's nations, such as life expectancy, GDP per capita, etc. The plots can be rolled forward and backward in time, and individual countries can be traced as changes occur. Rosling used a series of these graphs to demonstrate a number of points about the trends that have taken place over the past century.
Rosling started with a plot of family size vs. life expectancy; in the 1960s, the industrial world occupied the upper-left corner of the graphs below, with small families and longer life expectancies. Track forward to today, and all but a few African countries (many of which are suffering from HIV epidemics) have made their way to the upper left of the graph. Now, as he pointed out, Bangladesh is where Germany was in the 1960s. For adults, the greatest risk of death is in traffic accidents; for children, it's drowning. "The world has gotten better," Rosling declared. "It's bullshit to say otherwise."
The net result is that we reached what he termed "peak child" in about 2005. The world used to be dominated by the population in the lowest age brackets. That's now starting to shift—with the biggest chunk of the population now being in adolescence. The world isn't getting gray just yet, but, as Rosling put it, "we now just have adult population growth."
But that's going to pose some significant challenges, since Bangladesh hasn't tracked Germany exactly. If you plot life expectancy against GDP/capita, you'll see that Bangladesh's growing life expectancy hasn't been paralleled by economic growth. Similar things are happening all over the globe; Vietnam now has a life expectancy that US had during Vietnam war, but its purchasing power is where the US was during its Civil War. "We've never had a point in our history where countries have modern life expectancy illnesses without the income to support treatments," Rosling concluded.
This isn't to say that diseases related to abject poverty weren't a problem; there are certainly areas of the globe with failed governments or persistent poverty that don't have the basic nutrition and sanitation to see these sorts of extended life expectancies. But, in general, those have become the exceptions.
The whole article is well worth reading.
Can ARRA Stimulus be considered a success even if it didn't stimulate anything?
Will the total collapse of everything finally put a pin in the Keynesian balloon?
Or do we just need some Keynesian Wahhabis?
Can you only see the Phillips Curve when you're wearing Hoffman lenses?
If Tim Geithner and David Gregory were in Moonwatcher's tribe, which one would figure how to use a bone as a tool?
Reason senior editor Tim Cavanaugh talks with Clarence "C4" Mitchell on Baltimore's WBAL radio, tomorrow (Wednesday) at 1:35 PM Eastern time, 10:35 AM Pacific.
To listen on old-school radio, tune your Sony Walkman to WBAL at 1090 AM.
To listen on the international cybertubes, click "Listen Live" at the WBAL.com.
Mothers: Don't try to protect your daughters from invasive Transportation Security Administration searches—not if you want to stay out of jail, that is:
A 41-year-old Clarksville woman was arrested after Nashville airport authorities say she was belligerent and verbally abusive to security officers, refusing for her daughter to be patted down at a security checkpoint.
Andrea Fornella Abbott yelled and swore at Transportation Security Administration agents Saturday afternoon at Nashville International Airport, saying she did not want her daughter to be “touched inappropriately or have her “crotch grabbed,” a police report states.
After the woman refused to calm down, airport police said, she was charged with disorderly conduct and taken to jail. She has been released on bond.
The more invasive and frequent the searches, the more frequently we'll see conflicts and incidents like this. The pat-downs practically encourage bad bad behavior on the part of TSA agents: Way back in 2004, the ACLU warned that hands-on airport searches offer an "invitation to sexual harassment."
Short of murdering them, Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) will do anything to rid Alabama of its undocumented workers.
“They have no right to be here. They are clogging up our emergency rooms and making our education system more expensive,” Brooks told an Alabama TV station. "As your congressman on the House floor, I will do anything short of shooting them. Anything that is lawful, it needs to be done because illegal aliens need to quit taking jobs from American citizens.”
About those jobs: Alabama will soon have a surplus of them, thanks to the state immigration law that goes into effect on September 1:
Farmers in Alabama and Georgia have dismissed the new laws as unduly harsh and threatening to the region's migrant-dependent agricultural economy. "Farmers are law-abiding citizens," said Jeff Helm, spokesman for the Alabama Farmers Federation, which represents 48,000 farmers. "They want to do what is right.
"But they are concerned, one, that even the workers who are here legally would flee the state out of concern for what the law means. And, two, farmers [want assurance] that if they follow the law, but there's some breakdown in the system, that they won't suffer criminal repercussions. ... We believe these issues are better handled at the federal level."
And here's John Zippert, program director for the Federation of Southern Cooperatives Rural Training & Research Center in Epes, Ala.:
"This is scaring Hispanic workers away, not just from the Alabama fields, but also from the northern Alabama, in chicken processing plants. I don't think other unemployed people are going to take those jobs. It's very hard work and not fairly paid. From an economic standpoint, this is a real problem."
A small price to keep America's dirt free of sweats foreign and domestic.
A small army of health policy wonks helped Democrats pack ObamaCare full of big ideas that they hoped would transform American health care, making it less expensive and more effective. Perhaps the biggest of those ideas is IPAB, the Independent Payment Advisory Board, a 15-member panel of bureaucrats appointed by the president and tasked with holding total Medicare spending to predetermined targets. The panel’s name suggests it’s merely an advisor to Congress, which has traditionally been in charge of Medicare spending, but its “recommendations” have the force of law unless Congress holds down spending enough to meet the target or eliminates the board, which it can only do with a supermajority vote in the Senate.
Rather than serve in an advisory capacity, IPAB is really designed to take over Congress’s job. Indeed, that’s the primary point. Over the years, Congress has repeatedly failed to hold Medicare spending in check—the program is speed walking towards insolvency in 2024—overriding scheduled payment reductions again and again under political pressure. IPAB is intended to take tough decisions about Medicare spending out of the purview of politically motivated legislators and turn those decisions over to a board of independent, unelected bureaucratic experts. Health wonks, in other words, convinced Congress to put a panel of health wonks in charge of the nation’s biggest health insurance program.
In a major speech on the federal debt earlier this year, President Obama took this big idea and proposed to make it bigger by tightening IPAB’s official spending targets. Spending control and reduced political liability for Medicare cuts—what’s not to like?
Plenty. Aside from the individual mandate, IPAB is arguably the health care law’s most controversial provision, and according to Associate Editor Peter Suderman, it faces a host of hurdles. To name a few: It may not work. It might be unconstitutional. And it could block other reforms.View this article
According to The Washington Post, officials at the Federal Reserve have suggested that it may soon be time to pursue additional monetary stimulus through a third round of quantitative easing.
At a June 21-22 meeting, some leaders of the central bank argued that if there were no progress reducing unemployment, the Fed should consider further expanding the money supply — which in practice would mean a third round of “quantitative easing,” or buying hundreds of billions of dollars in Treasury bonds.
“Some participants noted that if economic growth remained too slow to make satisfactory progress toward reducing the unemployment rate,” and if inflation pressures dissipated, “it would be appropriate to provide additional monetary policy accommodation,” said minutes from the Federal Open Market Committee meeting released Tuesday afternoon.
That was the most clear acknowledgment to date that at least some Fed policymakers are discussing such a possibility. If anything, the latest economic data — particularly a very weak report on job creation in June that came out last Friday — would tend to make the Fed more open-minded about new steps to bolster growth.
The last round of quantitative easing was an unprecedented experiment that the Federal Reserve took on despite limited potential upsides. In April, a report in The New York Times looked at expert opinion on the success of the program and found that the benefits were "surprisingly small." So it wasn't the disaster that some critics warned of, but it was hardly a resounding success either. Given the risk and the likely backlash, as well as the potential for politicization, it's not clear why the Fed would pursue yet another round of a policy that so far has not done much good.
In today's Wall Street Journal, Janet Adamy notes that large employers (those with 50 or more employees) are worried about the health care overhaul's employer mandate. Regulators, meanwhile, are having trouble figuring out exactly how to enforce it. One problem she notes: the law requires employers to adhere to a standard for health insurance affordability that's based on family income:
Moreover, companies are worried about another standard that requires they offer care that is "affordable," or roughly 9.5% of an employee's household income. The employers say they can't calculate that without asking employees how much their spouses or dependents earn—a potential privacy violation that may not be verifiable, either.
So employers may be put in a situtation in which they either forced to either violate the law or intrude into the family finances of their employees. At minimum, this provision has the potential to seriously alter how Americans conduct salary and compensation negotiations: Who wants to pay Sally more when her husband brings in a million bucks a year on Wall Street? Why give Mike a raise this year when his wife just made partner at her law firm, and brought in a giant bonus? Even if employers make it explicit policy to avoid making compensation decisions on such factors, the knowledge that one employee's spouse makes a ton of money is almost sure to have a subtle effect.
As I noted last summer, the law's government-run health insurance exchanges, which dole out subsidies based on family income, may have similar verification issues.
- The Weekly Standard shreds Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell's debt ceiling plea deal with the White House.
- The House Oversight Committtee claims Senate-confirmed political appointees to the DOJ were involved with Fast and Furious.
- Mitt Romney joins Gary Johnson and Newt Gingrich in refusing to sign that silly FAMiLY LEADER pledge.
- BREAKING NEWS: The connection between excess salt and heart disease is tenuous, perhaps totally BS.
- Wisconsin Supreme Court justices "can't kick each other off cases for alleged bias, the court ruled Tuesday."
- "Every day in America, an average of 18 veterans commit suicide."
New at Reason.tv: "C-SPAN's Brian Lamb Interviews Nick Gillespie"
Our friends at ThinkProgress are at it again.
The Wall Street Journal lays out the grim reality of just how much Hamilton County, Ohio, home to football's Bengals and baseball's Reds, shelled out to keep those team's owners fat and happy:
At its completion in 2000, Paul Brown Stadium [where the Bengals play] had soared over its $280 million budget—and the fiscal finger-pointing had already begun.
The county says the final cost was $454 million. The team's estimate, which doesn't include infrastructure work around the stadium, puts the tab at $350 million.
But according to research by Judith Grant Long, a Harvard University professor who studies stadium finance, the cost to the public was closer to $555 million once other expenditures, such as special elevated parking structures, are factored in. No other NFL stadium had ever received that much public financing.
Add to that at least another $280 million in public financing for the Reds stadium. Needless to say, the taxpayers get virtually no cash flow from the stadiums.
That's a lot of tax dough anywhere but especially in an area in which, the WSJ reports, "one in seven people lives beneath the poverty line and budget cuts have left gaps in the schools and sheriffs department." Up next is a rollback of a property tax rebate that was used to get voters to support the financing of Paul Brown Stadium. To put it bluntly, the voters in Hamilton County were suckers: They voted for temporary tax breaks and long-term debt obligation, all for a sort of White Elephant construction that is proven not to increase the size of the local economy.
Is this any way to run a city, county, state, nation? And before you answer that, remember that while broke, the city of Cinncinnati is still pushing to build another proven money-suck: an old-timey streetcar.
Back in 2005, Reason reported on a court case pushed by a Hamilton County commissioner that in part charged the Bengals with breach of contract because they hadn't fielded a competitive team. Sadly, the Bengals had a couple of strong seasons...
A few days ago, we posted a must-watch video that asked whether you'd be willing to give up the Internet for a million dollars.
Let's revise that a bit and ask: Would you give up your sports franchises for a billion dollars? Hamilton County taxpayers are already on the hook but kids, don't let this happen to you.
Your tax dollars at work (awful taxpayer-subsidized team mascot edition):
The highest-paid state employee in California last year, a prison surgeon who took home $777,423, has a history of mental illness, was fired once for alleged incompetence and has not been allowed to treat an inmate for six years because medical supervisors don't trust his clinical skills.
Since July 2005, Dr. Jeffrey Rohlfing has mostly been locked out of his job — on paid leave or fired or fighting his termination — at High Desert State Prison in Susanville, state records show. When he has been allowed inside the facility, he has been relegated to reviewing paper medical histories, what prison doctors call "mailroom" duty.
Rohlfing's $235,740 base pay, typical in California's corrections system, accounted for about a third of his income last year. The rest of the money was back pay for more than two years when he did no work for the state while appealing his termination. A supervisor had determined that Rohlfing provided substandard care for two patients, according to state Personnel Board records.
Rohlfing won that case before the board and was rehired and assigned to "mailroom" work in late 2009.
"We want taxpayers to know we had no choice in this," said Nancy Kincaid, spokeswoman for the court-appointed receiver in charge of California's inmate healthcare.
Want to begin addressing state budget woes? Heck, do you want to stop the incessant reminders by publications such as the one you're reading that public-sector compensation does not pass the rationality test? Then fix the system that produces this.
According to the White House website, President Obama enjoys the comfort and convenience of two "highly customized" Boeing 747s with "4,000 square feet of floor space on three levels," including " a medical suite," two galleys that "can feed 100 people at a time," and "an extensive suite for the President that features a large office, lavatory, and conference room"—all at taxpayer expense. But as he proved at his press conference on Monday, Obama cannot stop complaining about other people's fancy airplanes. After all, writes Senior Editor Jacob Sullum, children's lives are at stake.View this article
Days after the Obama Administration’s attempt to seize control of the U.S. budget was roundly shown to be illegal, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) and Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) have stepped up to show that Republicans want to tear up the Constitution too.
Instead of letting the president usurp Congress’ budget-making authority, McConnell is now offering to give it up freely. AP’s David Espo writes that under McConnell’s plan…
Obama could request increases of up to $2.5 trillion in the government's borrowing authority in three separate installments over the next year, as long as he simultaneously proposed spending cuts of greater size.
The debt limit increases would take effect unless blocked by Congress under special rules that would require speedy action - and even then Obama could exercise his authority to veto such legislation. Significantly, the president's spending cuts would be debated under normal procedures, with no guarantee they ever come to a final vote.
In essence, McConnell's proposal would greatly enhance Obama's authority to avoid a default, while also virtually absolving Republicans of responsibility if one occurred...
Under his proposal, the debt limit would rise by $100 billion as soon as Obama requested the first of the three increases envisioned.
Officials have said that the government normally borrows about $125 billion a month to finance operations, meaning Obama could avoid a default for a brief period of time simply by asking for it.
This cession of legislative power to the president is getting a remarkably warm reception from Republicans. “Everybody believes there needs to be a backup plan if we are unable to come to an agreement,” Boehner agrees agreeably. “I think Mitch has done good work." Boehner also claims fellow Republicans Rep. Eric Cantor (Virginia) and Sen. Jon Kyl (Arizona) are in agreement.
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-New York) has said executive borrowing authority is “certainly worth exploring” but has shown less enthusiasm than Republicans. "It's something worth looking at for the next time around,” Schumer said Friday, “but I don't think it's had enough fermentation-examination, to employ at this time."
In an opaquely worded statement, Americans for Tax Reform’s Grover Norquist praises McConnell without endorsing his plan. “ATR wants to ensure a debt limit deal contains the maximum amount of real spending cuts and absolutely no tax increases,” Norquist writes. “Leader McConnell has put forth a plan that attempts to put this goal in motion.”
There is no constitutional authority for the legislative branch to surrender its clearly delineated duty to write bills for raising revenue and borrow money on the credit of the United States.
Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner recently employed a clever but easily falsifiable argument, which cites Section 4 of the 14th Amendment to claim that the president can override the separation of powers.
I dismantled this argument last week. On Friday, the highly regarded law professor Laurence Tribe rebutted Geithner’s suggestion that the administration was considering the “Section 4” or “constitutional” option and also provided a humiliating disproof of Geithner’s subsequent denial that he had made the suggestion. (Note that once again the labeling of a political initiative “constitutional” indicates that it is in fact unconstitutional.)
McConnell’s enthusiasm for this unconstitutional gimmick is disheartening, but it does not change the law. Congress has no more right to give up its authority than the president has to confiscate it.
The self-described "newspaper" goes high dudgeon against Republican debt-ceiling negotiators, in a July 7 piece headlined "Shame on them":
In three weeks, if there is no political deal, the American government will go into default. Not, one must pray, on its sovereign debt. But the country will have to stop paying someone: perhaps pensioners, or government suppliers, or soldiers. That would be damaging enough at a time of economic fragility. And the longer such a default went on, the greater the risk of provoking a genuine bond crisis would become.
There is no good economic reason why this should be happening. America's net indebtedness is a perfectly affordable 65% of GDP, and throughout the past three years of recession and tepid recovery investors have been more than happy to go on lending to the federal government. The current problems, rather, are political. [...]
The sticking-point is not on the spending side. It is because the vast majority of Republicans, driven on by the wilder-eyed members of their party and the cacophony of conservative media, are clinging to the position that not a single cent of deficit reduction must come from a higher tax take. This is economically illiterate and disgracefully cynical. [...]
This newspaper has a strong dislike of big government; we have long argued that the main way to right America's finances is through spending cuts. But you cannot get there without any tax rises.
Bold bit mine, to take your attention away from that "one must pray"-style drama queenery, and also to focus your attention on an altogether different-sounding Economist piece from just nine days prior:
Many other rich countries have big debt burdens and are facing similar problems [to Greece]. The chart below shows OECD calculations of what it would take governments to reduce gross debt to 60% of GDP by 2026. This is around the level considered healthy and is also the ratio set by the widely ignored Maastricht agreement, which is meant to govern debt in the European Union. It is not pretty.
Shall we see who's the second-worst looking OECD country in this nifty Economist debt/death chart?
Thanks to Scott Ross for the second link.
Sheriff Joe Arpaio will not be parading a chain-gang of illegal immigrants and DUI offenders in front of Chase Field in Phoenix today after all. The idea was ostensibly to have the men and woman convicts clean up for today’s Major League Baseball All-Star game, but most publicity after the sheriff's initial announchment leaned negative, noting that this was just another look-how-tough-on-crime-I-am, America, stunt from the Maricopa County sheriff known for a laundry list of expensive lawsuits, and depressingly-high approval ratings (lessened recently).
Arpaio know that making inmates wear pink boxer shorts with “Go Joe” (or “Vamos Joe” in the newly available bilingual-friendly version) is in America’s interests, but distracting people from America’s past-time is perhaps not:
"’If they had called and asked me to knock it off, I probably would have done it anyway,"' Arpaio said” according to the Phoenix New Times blog. "’I decided to let the people enjoy the game without any outside distraction.’"
Apraio deigned to let baseball fans enjoy the game without having to weigh heavy civil liberties questions or play Cool-Hand Luke. The rest of us tough-on-crime skeptics get to enjoy the (sadly tax-payer-funded) schadenfreude of Maricopa County being ordered to pay 200,000 dollars to a father and son who were held for several hours in one of Apraio’s deputies’ broad looking-for-illegals sweeps. Don’t expect the light touch in law enforcement from a man who once teamed up with Steven Seagal and a tank in order to bring in a man suspected of cockfighting.
Reason has covered many of Sheriff Joe’s shenanigans.
Here's how: According to this New York Times sob story, only one of the 50 states in these troubled times has closed down its government-run tourism-promotion office. Because without the state, no one would think to advertise touristic destinations.
So while economic illiterates like Van Jones run around the country getting huge applause (and donations) from the left for saying stuff like "We are not broke—we were robbed, we were robbed. And somebody has our money," out there in the terra firma of accounts payable and receivable, governments are proving unable to pay for the promises they have negotiated with their own employees. Here's the story, from today's New York Times:
The small city of Central Falls, R.I., appears to be headed for a rare municipal bankruptcy filing, and state officials are rushing to keep its woes from overwhelming the struggling state.
The impoverished city, operating under a receiver for a year, has promised $80 million worth of retirement benefits to 214 police officers and firefighters, far more than it can afford. Those workers' pension fund will probably run out of money in October, giving Central Falls the distinction of becoming the second municipality in the United States to exhaust its pension fund, after Prichard, Ala. [...]
The city, just north of Providence, is small and poor, but over the years it has promised police officers and firefighters retirement benefits like those offered in big, rich states like California and New York. These uniformed workers can retire after just 20 years of service, receive free health care in retirement, and qualify for full disability pensions when only partly disabled. [...]
If the city were contributing the recommended amount to the [pension] plan each year, it would take 57 percent of local property tax revenue. [...]
Other states limit what can be decided in collective bargaining, but Rhode Island's law says that for police and firefighters, "wages, hours and any and all terms or conditions of employment" are subject to negotiation.
"That means even the length of a mustache," said [Daniel L. Beardsley Jr., executive director of the Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns], who over many years has represented Central Falls and other municipalities in contract negotiations. Talks broke down more often than not, he said, and then the same state law called for binding arbitration, which for many years was a clubby process that emphasized comparable benefits all across the state more than any city's ability to pay.
Government spending really is a zero sum game–if you truly want to have your open-ended, silver-plated retirements for various subsets of government employees, then that really does mean you need to spend less money on Stuff Constituents Like. I look forward to this fact dawning on political dead-enders of every flavor.
UPDATE: Walter Olson has some thoughts on the Central Falls case & binding arbitration for public sector employees over at Cato.
Scientific literacy is no guarantee against confirmation bias, finds a new study from the Yale Cultural Cognition Project. In fact, the more scientifically literate you are, the more certain you are that climate change is either a catastrophe or a hoax, depending on your cultural values. Reason Science Correspondent Ronald Bailey looks into the implications of the new study for public policy.View this article
Last week, the Humane Society of the United States got chummy with United Egg Producers and hammered out an agreement on proposed federal standards for hen housing. The onetime enemies will push for the standards together on the Hill. It's not quite lions and lambs laying down together, but it's pretty darn close. So what's going on?
The environmental website Grist smells a rat (my god, this post is becoming a regular Noah's ark), and not just because the standards will phase in over 18 years.
As the folks at Big Egg admit, complying with the existing (and increasingly diverse) patchwork of state regulations is annoying and expensive. The goal of the new proposed rules is preemption. The feds will have the final say on chicken conditions, and states or localities won't be able to up the ante. Thus the surprise defense of states' rights smack in the middle of an article about chicken cages:
We learn about what works by experimenting at the state level. That's why states are called laboratories of democracy. Are enriched cages the best method, or might cage-free be better? What about the food safety implications: Do enriched cages reduce risk of bacterial infection such as salmonella? (Remember last year's recall of half a billion eggs?) What about the potential economic impact on small and medium size farmers? These sorts of questions are often better answered at the local level before making national policy decisions. But now, that opportunity has been taken away, maybe forever.
In the end, though, Grist can't resist and winds up pitying the poor, defenseless Humane Society of the United States, writing that because of a "political system that is so heavily tilted in favor of economic interests that groups like HSUS are put in a position where they have to make such huge concessions to see change happen."
Reason's Nick Gillespie, co-author with Matt Welch of The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What's Wrong With America, sat down with C-SPAN's Brian Lamb for an in-depth interview about the themes of the book, the evolution of Reason.tv since its 2007 launch, Gillespie's tenure at Reason magazine, what's with the all-black, all-the-time, and much more.
Approximately 55 minutes.
Writing in the Newark Star-Ledger, George Mason law professor David Bernstein and Josh Blackman of the Harlan Institute take aim at Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer’s hostility towards the judicial protection of individual rights:
Breyer’s cramped understanding of freedom of expression is especially troubling. Longstanding Supreme Court precedents, dating to the dawn of the modern constitutional law era in the late 1930s, require the justices to be especially protective of certain “fundamental rights,” including and especially free speech.
According to Breyer, however, most laws that infringe on freedom of expression should be upheld if the government has a rational reason for interfering with free speech, an extremely forgiving and deferential standard....
The full implications of Breyer’s lassitude on civil liberties were on display last month in Brown vs. Entertainment Merchants Association. All three of Breyer’s liberal colleagues joined a seven-Justice majority holding that a California statute banning the sale of violent video games to minors violated the First Amendment.
Breyer, however, penned the dissent. Although purporting to apply “strict scrutiny,” he gave virtually no weight to the free speech rights protected by the First Amendment. Instead, he focused on the government’s interest in censoring speech deemed harmful to minors.
On Sunday a Kern County, California, sheriff's deputy shot and killed David Lee "Deacon" Turner, a 56-year-old former running back for the Cincinnati Bengals, outside a convenience store in Bakersfield. Police questioned Turner, who was coming out of the store with his 19-year-old son, while investigating reports of teenagers asking adults to buy them alcohol and cigarettes. The Kern County Sheriff's Office says Deputy Wesley Kraft fired twice at Turner after the former football player hit Deputy Aaron Nadal over the head with a bag containing two 24-ounce cans of beer. Turner's son offered a strikingly different account:
Turner's son was too shaken to speak with Eyewitness News on Sunday, but he told his sister what he witnessed.
"They asked my dad if he was the person buying alcohol for underage youth," Jerrica Cor-Dova said.
According to Turner's son, his father denied the claims, but deputies continued to question him. Turner then asked officers if he was being arrested. The deputies said no, and Turner grabbed his stuff and began to walk away.
"As he was walking away, the officers came up behind him and hit him in the back of the legs with a club, causing him to fall on his knees," Cor-Dova said.
Turner's son said the bag his father was carrying fell to the ground and the beer in the bag exploded. The next thing he heard was two shots being fired.
"My brother said he yelled my dad's name, and my father was lying there still," Cor-Dova relayed the story.
But according to the sheriff's department, the shots were fired because one of the officers was hit over the head with the items in the bag. His son said that never happened.
"I know that there is a video recording, so we are relying heavily on the video recording from Fastrip," Cor-Dova said.
As readers proved in the comment thread on an unrelated post last night, this case so far is a Rohrschach test for attitudes toward the police. Assuming the surveillance video does materialize, we should eventually find out whose prejudices will be confirmed.
Seriously, did someone set my time machine back to 1998? Not only do we have frightening legislative overreactions to the booga-booga threat of online child porn, but a rash of curmudgeonly complaints about cyber-life straight outta early Brill's Content.
James O'Shea, CNN.com:
Contemporary media ethics have been sliding downhill ever since the Internet gave voice to the likes of Matt Drudge, the blogger who reportedly got his start rooting through trash cans at CBS Studios in Hollywood looking for gossip in the 1990s.
Note that this comes in a column about the utterly unrelated News of the World scandal (though it's also cribbed almost word for word from O'Shea's book The Deal from Hell: How Moguls and Wall Street Plundered Great American Newspapers, which I reviewed for the Wall Street Journal).
[E]mpowerment was supposed to come through the removal of intermediaries. Mainstream media outlets were to be replaced by bulletin boards, e-zines and later by forums and blogs. Elected representatives were to be replaced by "electronic townhalls" and direct online voting. [...]
Overall, this vision of a world without intermediaries satisfied the communitarian former hippies and the libertarian anti-system cyber-pundits. They both wanted the internet to "flatten" the world, by which they meant level things out—make things fairer. [...] That former hippies found themselves dining with venture capitalists only seemed to confirm the great bridging potential of the internet. The ex-hippies genuinely believed that all their utopian blueprints could be executed with the help of private capital. [...]
While we are being empowered as consumers, we are simultaneously being disempowered as citizens, something that the cyber-libertarian digital prophets didn't foresee. "Electronic town halls" never took off either. When Barack Obama tried to hold one shortly after being elected president, the most popular question posed to him concerned the legalisation of marijuana. The internet does not and cannot replace politics—it augments and amplifies it. The Tea Party in the US does not limit its activism to social media, but uses it as part of a broader political campaign. Politics is still primary and technology secondary.
The whole article is, if anything, even more stupid than the above passage (my favorite line: "Why the venture capitalists found the internet so appealing is a mystery"). What a bizarre worldview, where individuals asking the president of the United States about a technically insane and inhumane policy of marijuana prohibition (a question most credentialed journalists are too embarrassed to bring up) is proof that, um, individuals are being disempowered?
[M]y mild, moderate, think-it-through-and-get-it-right style doesn't mesh well with blogosphere culture, which seems more to resemble, say, Roman gladiatorial entertainment, only without the subtlety. Plus...I'm not getting paid. That's good for you, but it's not so good for me. Or for reporting. Or for journalism. And don't even get me started on commenters.
Am I whining? Sure. But I submit that the whining of traditional journalists (you know, the kind of people who punched their tickets on newspaper police beats where they learned quaint notions of fairness and accuracy and keeping one's opinions out of it and all that) is nothing compared to the self-congratulatory smugness of internet culture, which tells us at least five times before breakfast that it is the Great New Thing.
It isn't. For people who want to read and think, which is still a lot of people, the worldwide web is an incorrigibly hostile environment. [...]
If some strange magnetic pulse wiped out every blog post written since the format began, hardly anything memorable or important would be lost
Sniff sniff, Rauchy!
But for sheer psychosexual WTFery, today's Grumpy Gus 3.0 Award goes to Stephen Tippins, for his cover story in The American Conserative:
Kenny reaches into his front jeans pocket and retrieves his smart phone. Within minutes he has accessed his Facebook account and the table is passing his phone around from one person to another, like kindergartners at show and tell, each taking turns looking at the Facebook page of one Henrik Bjornson, which lives up to all its shallow hype. [...]
I'm living in a Gene Rodenberry teleplay. Minus the space exploration. [...]
Most Rodenberry-esque, though, are these women. Oohing and aahing over Henrik, they are about as alien as the Borg and about as soulless. Of course, they are blissfully ignorant of this fact, but that is beside the point—or maybe it reinforces the point.... The feminist movement was consummated at least two generations ago, but the aggression continues. Eventually, the post-feminist woman, believing that she epitomizes equality and choice, will assimilate all men into her collective, until we all resemble either the metrosexual Henrik or the spineless runts that these women dominate at home.
The modern man is a perfectly emasculated descendant of his ancestors. In fairness, men are to blame for the defeat—men like Henrik, for example, who think "poking" is some kind of foreplay. Maybe we really are the weaker species; maybe we deserve to be eradicated.
Looks like we've finally found some people to take the million-dollar pledge....
Innocent airline travelers can expect to be groped, fondled, or otherwise mistreated by agents of the Transportation Security Administration. It’s almost like the TSA is running a contest to see which agent can commit the greatest outrage. In his latest column, A. Barton Hinkle takes a closer look at what the TSA is really up to.View this article
Can ARRA Stimulus be considered a success even if it didn't stimulate anything?
Will the total collapse of everything finally put a pin in the Keynesian balloon?
Or do we just need some Keynesian Wahhabis?
Can you only see the Phillips Curve when you're wearing Hoffman lenses?
If Tim Geithner and David Gregory were in Moonwatcher's tribe, which one would figure how to use a bone as a tool?
Reason senior editor Tim Cavanaugh talks with Clarence "C4" Mitchell on Baltimore's WBAL radio, tomorrow (Wednesday) at 1:35 PM Eastern time, 10:35 AM Pacific.
To listen on old-school radio, tune your Sony Walkman to WBAL at 1090 AM.
To listen on the international cybertubes, click "Listen Live" at the WBAL.com.
Update: I've been bumped. Tune in at new time listed above, exactly 23 hours after original listing.
The last time I wrote about Texas beer regulations, I noted a rule that helps big brewers fend off competition from local brewpubs, which are forbidden to sell their products via retailers or wholesalers. Today a reader called my attention to another arbitrary restriction that also hurts smaller brewers: According to the website of Colorado's New Belgium Brewing (which makes a nice, reasonably priced Abbey Ale and Trippel), "we are not allowed to show beer locations inside the state of Texas due to regulations by the Texas Alcohol[ic] Beverage Commission." Delaware's Dogfish Head Brewery (which makes an excellent 90-Minute IPA and Indian Brown Ale) similarly advises website visitors looking for Texas retailers who carry the company's products:
Sorry Texans, we've been informed by the Texas Alcohol Beverage Commission that it is illegal to list retail outlets in the Lone Star State on our Fish Finder. Even though we continue to sell Dogfish beers in Texas, we cannot tell you where.
But California's Pyramid Breweries (which makes a nice Hefeweizen and IPA) apparently did not get the memo. The company's "Global Pint Seeker" illegally displays a map of bars and retailers in Dallas where you can buy its beer.
This rule hardly inconveniences the huge beer companies that dominate the market, since you can find their products pretty much anywhere. It's the smaller companies making interesting, less widely available beers that really suffer from such censorship. The only exception is...Texas brewpubs, which are allowed to tell people where they are, even though they sell their beer for home consumption.
If a manufacturer’s product is only carried in a limited number of stores, can the manufacturer or wholesaler include in an advertisement a list of all the stores that carry their product?
Yes, if it is a winery. Otherwise, no. This type of advertisement by any supplier or wholesaler other than the holder of a winery permit would be a violation of the Alcoholic Beverage Code Sections 102.07, 108.05 and 16 TAC 45.110. Section 108.09 of the Code authorizes a winery to engage in this activity.
The regulations are here (PDF). The context indicates that the original rationale was to prevent "tied houses" and similar arrangements in which breweries controlled taverns or taverns agreed to carry one brand of beer exclusively. Hence a rule that was supposed to discourage monopolies has become anti-competitive.
[Thanks to Daniel Bryce for the tip.]
Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tx.) won't be running for reelection in the House, his Washington, D.C., office has confirmed. Paul shared his decision with The Facts, a Brazoria County, Texas, website, shortly after informing his staff.
"I felt it was better that I concentrate on one election," Paul told The Facts. "It’s about that time when I should change tactics."
A Paul staffer told Reason's Brian Doherty that the decision came as a total surprise when Paul told his office this morning. Paul's congressional staff were not able to comment on whether this means the Texas congressman will try for a third party run if he doesn't win the Republican primary.
The American Enterprise Institute has published a monster package of proposed reforms for the 2012 Farm Bill, which cost $307 billion when it was passed by Congress in 2008. The key points of the AEI papers are
- Most farm subsidies go to substantial and successful operations and provide little support for the farms they were once intended to benefit. Many of the programs create barriers to more efficient agriculture in the United States, interfere with international trade, and have adverse effects on farmers in developing countries.
- US agricultural policy influences global supply and demand. Many of those adversely affected by current US trade and domestic agricultural policies are among the poorest on the planet.
- A failure to increase publicly funded agricultural research and development (R&D) will likely have long-term consequences for the sustainability of US agriculture in a competitive global environment and for the natural resources on which it depends.
- The federal government has created an array of policies—production controls, subsidies, and marketing orders—that increase the price of milk for US consumers and increase the income of milk producers.
- US families pay nearly twice the world price for sugar and other sweeteners because of federal government policies intended to protect domestic beet and cane sugar producers from cheaper foreign competitors.
The entire series of white papers is here.
Friday marked the space shuttle's swan song, as the Atlantis lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center for the program's 135th and final flight. "We are retiring the shuttle in favor of nothing," Michael Griffin, President Bush's NASA administrator, told The Washington Post. Gene Healy has a different take. Here, as usual, Healy writes, doing “nothing” gets a bad rap. Maybe we should be “in favor of nothing” until the advocates of federally funded spaceflight can come up with an argument for it that doesn’t make us spray coffee out of our noses.View this article
According to the Cato Institute's Michael Cannon, the Government Accountability Office has issued 159 separate reports on fraud prevention in Medicare since 1986. It doesn't appear that they did any good. The Associated Press reports on a new GAO report that once again highlights the system's failure to prevent fraud:
The federal government's systems for analyzing Medicare and Medicaid data for possible fraud are inadequate and underused, making it more difficult to detect the billions of dollars in fraudulent claims paid out each year, according to a report released Tuesday.
The Government Accountability Office report said the systems don't even include Medicaid data. Furthermore, 639 analysts were supposed to have been trained to use the system—yet only 41 have been so far, it said.
Earlier this year, the GAO issued
a report estimating that Medicare made $48 billion in improper
payments in 2010—much of it fraud—equal to almost 10 percent of the
program's total spending.
Rick Perlstein has a tribute to the late Betty Ford in today's Times, making the case that the former first lady's historical importance may have exceeded her husband's:
in August 1975 Betty Ford went on "60 Minutes" and said that if her 18-year-old daughter had an affair, she would not necessarily object. Soon after, she volunteered in McCall's that she had sex with her husband "as often as possible."
Those comments were widely reported. Less well known is what happened next.
Experts considered her a political liability. A syndicated humor columnist imagined aides seeking her resignation -- before it was too late: "The networks and women's magazines...are making incredible offers to get the First Lady to sit down and openly discuss adultery, drinking, homosexuality and a proposed postal rate hike."
Bad joke. Two months later a Harris poll found that 64 percent of Americans supported what Mrs. Ford had said on "60 Minutes." By then she was known for her self-assuredness before the media: she had already announced that she had breast cancer, then let herself be photographed in her hospital room after her mastectomy -- at a time when respectable people only whispered the word "cancer."
Then, a year and a half after leaving the White House, she famously owned up to her alcoholism and addiction to prescription drugs, even as her husband was quietly putting himself forward as a 1980 presidential possibility. Once more the public embraced her, voting her ahead of the first lady, Rosalynn Carter, no slouch in the popularity department herself, on Good Housekeeping's list of the country's "Most Admired Women."
No one would have predicted this. America had been a nation of shame-faced secrecy in so many of its intimate domestic affairs. The 1970s was when that began to change. Betty Ford was that transformation's Joan of Arc.
Read the whole thing here.
Betty Ford didn't create the social trends that she spoke about so openly, but she reflected and reinforced them. If nothing else, she allowed a cultural revolution to find a home in the White House, sharing a bed with the head of state but representing something larger and more important than mere politics.
Have you heard about The Protecting Children from Internet Pornographers Act of 2011? It's the latest in a l-o-n-g line of just terrible bills proposed to calm (though never quite eliminate) the fears of middle-aged people about what that scary Internet might potentially do to Our Children. There's a hearing on the legislation taking place as we speak. Here's Cato's Jim Harper:
It's got everything: porn, children, the Internet. And it's got everything: financial services providers dragooned into law enforcement, data retention requirements heaped on Internet service providers, expanded "administrative subpoena" authority. (Administrative subpoenas are an improvisation to accommodate the massive power of the bureaucracy, and they've become another end-run around the Fourth Amendment. If it's "administrative" it must be reasonable, goes the non-thinking...)
This isn't a bill about child predation. It's a bald-faced attack on privacy and limited government.
Meanwhile, former Reasoner Julian Sanchez (also of Cato) muses that "I guess the 'You Are All Criminals Act' didn't have the same ring," and provides some context:
Thanks to an unwise Supreme Court decision dating from the 70s, information about your private activites loses its Fourth Amendment protection when its held by a "third party" corporation, like a phone company or Internet provider. As many legal scholars have noted, however, this allows constitutional privacy safeguards to be circumvented via a clever two-step process. Step one: The government forces private businesses (ideally the kind a citizen in the modern world can't easily avoid dealing with) to collect and store certain kinds of information about everyone—anyone might turn out to be a criminal, after all. No Fourth Amendment issue there, because it's not the government gathering it! Step two: The government gets a subpoena or court order to obtain that information, quite possibly without your knowledge. No Fourth Amendment problem here either, according to the Supreme Court, because now they're just getting a corporation's business records, not your private records. It makes no difference that they're only keeping those records because the government said they had to.
Current law already allows law enforcement to require retention of data about specific suspects—including e-mails and other information as well as IP addresses—to ensure that evidence isn't erased while they build up enough evidence for a court order. But why spearfish when you can lower a dragnet? Blanket data requirements ensure easy access to a year-and-a-half snapshot of the online activities of millions of Americans—every one a *potential criminal.
Re-read Jacob Sullum's phenomenal piece about "Perverted Justice" from our July special issue on criminal justice. That Time cover above comes from our great Radley Balko/Jeff Winkler collection of "The Top 10 Most Absurd Time Covers of The Past 40 Years."
When it comes to immigration policy, writes Shikha Dalmia, President Barack Obama has found his inner Machiavelli. He has devised an enforcement approach that both disarms conservatives and delights labor unions. But as Dalmia explains, under the guise of immigration enforcement, the White House is pushing a pro-union, job-killing agenda.View this article
Over at The New York Times, Reason contributor Bruce Bartlett frets that it's beginning to look a lot like 1937 - and not just because the Giants are killing it in the National League. In '37, federal spending was cut in absolute terms, taxes were raised, bank reserve requirements were raised, and the Fed tightened the money supply. The result was a slide into recession that extended the Depression years. Bruce (whose work I often disagree with but always benefit from reading), is worried that Obama, conservatives, and everyone else are pushing for big budget cuts, which might stall the so-called recovery in 2011:
Given President Obama’s endorsement of large budget cuts, the only question now appears to be how much fiscal policy will tighten and how fast. If it is back-loaded and mainly involves cuts in transfer programs, the impact on growth may be modest. But if – as I suspect Republicans will demand – the spending cuts are front-loaded and involve reductions in government consumption and investment spending, the impact could be severe.
While it’s unlikely that the Fed will repeat its error of 1936-7 and raise reserve requirements or the federal funds rate, it has already begun de facto tightening by moving from monetary stimulus to a more neutral stance. Moreover, with interest rates on Treasury bills hovering near zero, there is little it can do to stimulate growth on the monetary side.
Let's leave aside for the moment any and all questions about the causes of catastrophe in the 1930s (though if you're interested in that topic, go here and here). Precisely who is calling for actual budget cuts right now? The correct answer is zero. That's certainly true in the near term and all the trims (believe 'em when I see 'em) are from future increases in spending. The two budgets that are being debated remain Obama's, which grows federal spending from about $3.8 trillion this year to $5.7 trillion in 2021, and Paul Ryan's, which grows it to $4.7 trillion. Even factoring in the current arguments over the debt limit, nobody is talking about taking this year's budget and cutting from it. That's why they keep yapping about "deficit reduction," which will take place somewhere down the road, at the intersection of Bushwah and Malarkey.
The reality is that no one in DC is talking about what would pass for austerity around any kitchen table in this sweet land of liberty. Faced with an incredible, long-term mismatch between revenue and expenditures, even "the adults" are still living in a land of denial, expecting to spend far more than they earn forever and ever amen.
Contra Bruce, there's a strong case to be made that government austerity is precisely the tonic our sick economy needs. But whether you agree with that, there's currently next to no chance that we'll ever get a chance to find that out. If the first step of getting out of a jam is to use basic descriptive language, well, we're not even talking yet.
- The debt talks are going swimmingly.
- Is Italy too big to fail?
- After watching the Casey Anthony trial, Sen. Mitch McConnell concludes that American juries cannot be trusted to convict terrorists.
- Indiana state senator queries constituents about legalizing marijuana, receives overwhelmingly positive response.
- The News of the World hacked the cell phones of Scotland Yard while the police agency was investigating The News of the World for hacking.
- Ten years after the first Lebowski Fest, Miller-McCune rounds up the best academic papers on the dude.
New at Reason.tv: "Economist Murat Yülek on Greek Debt, Turkish Growth, & U.S. Budget Woes"
As Congress grappled over the federal government’s $14.3 trillion debt ceiling this spring, the first-ever quarterly Reason-Rupe Poll found that 69 percent of Americans consider it “very important” to reduce the national debt. Another 17 percent deemed it “important,” while 10 percent said “moderately important.” And a full 84 percent of Americans want a reduction in government spending to be part of the solution to the debt crisis. In other words, the first Reason-Rupe Poll shows a country more radical than its politicians.View this article
At The Weekly Standard, Adam J. White has a fascinating profile of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito. According to White, Alito should be considered the “last heir” to Yale University legal scholar Alexander Bickel, “a Burkean conservative whose work was largely overshadowed by the emergence of modern ‘Originalist’ jurisprudence.” Here’s how White sums up Bickel’s legal approach:
Born of Jewish-Romanian immigrants, Bickel graduated summa cum laude from Harvard Law School, clerked for Justice Felix Frankfurter, and joined the Yale faculty in 1956. But he rose to prominence with the publication of his second book, The Least Dangerous Branch. In that volume, which drew its name from Alexander Hamilton’s Federalist 78, Bickel reassessed the Court’s constitutional role in the aftermath of Brown v. Board of Education’s then-controversial school desegregation order. Because the Court is a counter-majoritarian force in American politics, he argued, the Court must exercise “the passive virtues,” deciding constitutional issues only when truly necessary. Instead of jumping headlong into heated political disputes, the Court’s justices, who (ideally) have “the leisure, the training, and the insulation to follow the ways of the scholar in pursuing the ends of government,” should take care to act as “the pronouncer and guardian” of the nation’s “enduring values.”
White describes Bickel’s views as “utterly distinct from the Originalist theories that Robert Bork” and others made popular among legal conservatives. I’m not so sure about that. Like Bickel, Bork also consistently emphasized judicial restraint and letting the majority rule. So while there are important shades of difference between the two, calling their ideas “utterly distinct” goes too far.
But regardless, this is a very interesting profile of one of the Court’s key conservative members. Read it for yourself here.
Last Friday we told you about a pledge authored by Iowa's THE FAMiLY LEADER [weird caps theirs] encouraging presidential candidates to outlaw prostitution, porn, abortion, promiscuity and maybe no-fault divorce. So far, only Rep. Michele Bachmann and former Sen. Rick Santorum have signed this pledge. On Saturday, former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson came out against it.
“This 'pledge' is nothing short of a promise to discriminate against everyone who makes a personal choice that doesn’t fit into a particular definition of 'virtue,'" reads a statement from Johnson's office, which is accompained by a video:
ObamaCare creates a network of health insurance exchanges—state-run marketplaces through which individuals can purchase subsidized, regulated insurance. Today, the administration released a first draft of its proposed exchange rules.
In theory, the exchange requirements make possible some of the law’s sweetest benefits: Inside the exchanges, insurers are forced to sell policies to all comers, regardless of preexisting conditions, and are strictly limited in terms of how they can charge different prices based on health history.
The problem with these regulations, essentially price controls, is that they they stack the financial incentives against the sick. For insurers, the best way to increase their bottom lines is to cherry pick the healthiest—and thus the cheapest—individuals. Because insurers aren’t allowed to charge more to enroll those likely be sicker and more expensive to cover, they stand to make far more money if they successfully sign up and keep a larger pool of healthier individuals. The costly sick, meanwhile, become financial liabilities, and insurers inevitably end up working to encourage those individuals to change plans as soon as possible, perhaps by providing them with stingier benefits and poorer service.
This happens despite the fact that the rules are designed to facilitate equality amongst enrollees, regardless of health. But even within regulated environment that resemble the exchanges, insurer cherry picking is well documented. As John Goodman, president of the National Center for Policy Analysis, explained in his book Lives at Risk, plan providers operating under such rules offer benefits likely to attract healthy people, like sports club memberships, but avoid or dump services that will attract sick and expensive individuals.
Last year’s health care overhaul attempts to deal with the problem through a system known as risk adjustment—a system of forced financial transfers from plans that enroll more health individuals to plans that enroll more of the sick. The idea is to smooth over the incentives to cherry. As Bloomberg reports, today’s proposed exchange regs lay out the risk adjustment guidelines:
The rules create a “risk-adjustment” program that would take money from insurers in a state with low-cost patients and give it to plans whose customers run up the highest bills. The policy applies both to insurers selling coverage within the exchanges and those operating independently.
“The risk-adjustment program serves to level the playing field, both inside and outside of the exchange,” the government said in a description.
The problem is that there’s quite a bit of evidence that risk adjustment doesn’t work. Not only does it fail to put a stop to cherry picking, it can actually end up making things more expensive overall.
In a 2010 working paper, a quartet of authors from Stanford, Princeton, the U.S. Treasury, and the University of Maryland took a look at risk adjustment in within Medicare Advantage, which offers seniors a selection of regulated private plan alternatives to fee-for-service Medicare. In 2004, Medicare advantage began using a risk adjustment model in hopes of reducing cherry picking. It didn’t work. “Our research finds that favorable selection, and consequently overpayments, have not fallen appreciably since the introduction of the most comprehensive model of risk adjustment in 2004,” the paper concludes.
Noting that last year’s health care overhaul calls for a similar sort of risk adjustment amongst the private insurers operating through the exchanges, the authors write that “in light of the results presented here, one question is how well a risk adjustment mechanism will reduce adverse selection in the exchanges.” Indeed, risk-adjustment may be even more difficult within the exchanges. “A comparable data source does not exist for the commercial market,” they write, “which leads to the question of how risk adjustment will be implemented, and whether one can reasonably expect it to perform near the level of Medicare’s model.” In a related publication for the National Bureau of Economic Research, meanwhile, the same group of authors note that another side effect of risk adjustment was actually to make Medicare more expensive overall.
The comparison between Medicare Advantage and the exchanges isn’t perfect. Within the Medicare Advantage program, insurer cherry picking leads to sicker enrollees ending up on traditional Medicare. No such option will exist within the exchanges. So if risk adjustment fails in the exchanges, what might happen? According to the authors of the paper, “possible alternatives are lower quality care across the exchange for high risk individuals as plans seek to avoid them, or perhaps the emergence of plans that do provide quality care to high risk individuals but at higher premiums that incorporate the increased risk that risk adjustment misses.” Given the choice, higher premiums and better service seem like the better outcome, but with the insurance regulations and the law’s rate review requirement, it’s not clear how much pricing leeway insurers will have—which may mean that lower quality is the only remaining option.
Here is another not so healthy consequence of drug prohibition: The Montreal Gazette reports that Marc "Prince of Pot" Emery, the Canadian cannabis activist who is serving a five-year sentence in a U.S. prison for selling marijuana seeds online from a business in Vancouver, has been infected by methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA):
Jodie Emery [his wife] said he was diagnosed earlier this year after a boil above his buttock tested positive for the infection.
While his initial outbreak has been treated, methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus is a staph bacterium that can cause infections that are resistant to most antibiotics.
MRSA is highly contagious and has become a widespread problem in prisons and hospitals, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control website....
While Emery is trying to stay safe by washing his hands frequently and avoiding injuries, Jodie worries the MRSA could lead to fatal complications.
"Marc suffering this sort of dangerous infection after being extradited and imprisoned in the U.S.—after harming nobody at all—proves the insanity of war on marijuana," Jodie said.
"Peaceful, non-violent people like Marc are being put in harm's way because of prohibition."
MRSA makes surgery risky and can create severe infections in open wounds. One of Emery’s former cellmates died of post-surgical complications involving an infection, Jodie said.
[Thanks to CK for the tip.]
Contrary to the smoking gun being waved around in the right blogosphere, there’s still no evidence that Attorney General Eric Holder knew about the Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms program "Fast and Furious," in which ATF agents stood idly by as guns that were illegally purchased in the United States were trafficked to Mexico, where cartels used them to kill U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry and God only knows how many Mexicans.
As evidence that Holder knew about the program, Big Government and the Washington Examiner have both cited a speech Holder gave in Cuernavaca, Mexico, in April 2009, in which the AG said:
Last week, our administration launched a major new effort to break the backs of the cartels. My department is committing 100 new ATF personnel to the Southwest border in the next 100 days to supplement our ongoing Project Gunrunner, DEA is adding 16 new positions on the border, as well as mobile enforcement teams, and the FBI is creating a new intelligence group focusing on kidnapping and extortion. DHS is making similar commitments, as Secretary Napolitano will detail.
Big Government and the Washington Examiner have pointed to this speech as evidence that Holder lied when he told the House Oversight Committee in May that he had no knowledge of Fast and Furious while it was being conducted. But Project Gunrunner, which Holder mentioned in his Cuernavaca speech, and Fast and Furious, which led to Terry's death, aren’t the same program.
Project Gunrunner began under President Bush in 2005 and involves several law enforcement agencies within the DOJ, including the FBI, the DEA, the ATF, and the U.S. Marshals. Straw buyers would purchase guns illegally, and ATF would bust them before they left the parking lot. The program apparently turned up a lot of meth heads.
Fast and Furious, the subject of two investigations--one by the DOJ Inspector General’s office, one by the House Oversight Committee--began in 2009 and was intended to catch bigger fish; perhaps whoever was directing the straw buyers. Since the program was exposed by CBS earlier this year, the DOJ has called the actions of those involved with Fast and Furious "illegal."
DOJ Spokesperson Tracy Schmaler said in an email today that it was inaccurate to conflate the two programs.
"Holder said he became aware of the ATF agents concerns about certain tactics used in Fast and Furious earlier this year. That’s when he asked the IG to investigate those concerns,” she emailed today. “That’s different than knowing there are enforcement efforts along the SW border to stop illegal gun trafficking. The department has several agencies working on those efforts including ATF, FBI, DEA, Marshals."
And yet, Big Government and the Examiner both seem to think that Project Gunrunner and Fast and Furious are the same operation. "Holder bragged about Operation Gunrunner in 2009," is the title for the Examiner's post, in which Barbara Hollingsworth writes,
Big Government found a 2009 speech by Holder on the Department of Justice's own website that proves the attorney general was well aware of Operation Gunrunner back in 2009:
The problem with Holder’s feigned ignorance is that he gave a speech in Cuernavaca, Mexico, on April 2, 2009, in which he boasted about Operation 'Gunrunner” and told Mexican authorities of everything he was doing to insure its success.
When questioned by the media, Holder also denied knowing anything about Gunrunner:
"Holder's office at first vehemently denied ATF has ever knowingly allowed weapons to get into the hands of suspected gunrunners for Mexico's drug cartels," CBS News investigative correspondent Sharyl Attkisson reported.
But at the arms trafficking conference in Cuernavaca, Holder not only acknowledged the program, he bragged that he was in the process of expanding it.
Not only has Justice denied that Holder's 2009 speech proves he knew about Fast and Furious, but Oversight told me pretty much the same thing.
"The speech doesn't prove Holder knew about Fast and Furious. It shows the framework, the mindset, of the Department of Justice and Obama Administration," an Oversight Committee spox told me. "You're basically seeing the foundation for operation Fast and Furious. You're seeing these new programs, and that two months into Holder's time at Department of Justice they had decided to change the way ATF operated."
There's also the word of Acting ATF Director Ken Melson, who told Oversight last week that Holder had no knowledge of Fast and Furious. The entire transcript from that hearing has not been released, but according to the Washington Post, “people familiar with [the hearing] said that [Melson] indicated that Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. did not know about [Fast and Furious], that it would be unusual for other Justice Department officials in Washington to know the details and that the U.S. attorney’s office in Phoenix was overseeing the program.”
The business of America isn’t necessarily business, observes Editor in Chief Matt Welch. It’s change. Constant, creative, destructive, entertaining change. As we look back over the last 10 years since that awful, still-indigestible morning of September 11, 2001, it’s tempting to make the counterintuitive claim that we’re the same country as ever, gossiping about the sex lives of politicians, enforcing no-fly zones against Middle East dictators, tuning in to The Simpsons. Much of that is true. But as Welch writes in his editor’s note from our August/September issue, on a daily basis we vastly underestimate how dynamic America is, particularly in comparison to the aims of the Islamic medievalists who turned commercial aircraft into flying death machines 10 years ago.View this article
It is encouraging that the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) felt a need to address both medical marijuana and general legalization of the plant in its 2011 strategy booklet, which was released today. It is also encouraging that the ONDCP's arguments are so lame:
Confusing messages being conveyed by the entertainment industry, media, proponents of "medical" marijuana, and political campaigns to legalize all marijuana use perpetuate the false notion that marijuana use is harmless and aim to establish commercial access to the drug. This significantly diminishes efforts to keep our young people drug free and hampers the struggle of those recovering from addiction.
Marijuana and other illicit drugs are addictive and unsafe especially for use by young people. The science, though still evolving in terms of long-term consequences, is clear: marijuana use is harmful. Independent from the so called "gateway effect"—marijuana on its own is associated with addiction, respiratory and mental illness, poor motor performance, and cognitive impairment, among other negative effects.
The ONDCP never entertains the possibility that a product could be legal even though it is not harmless. Do the legality of alcohol and tobacco send the message that they are harmless? If you oppose a return to alcohol prohibition, should you be blamed for encouraging kids to drink and making life harder for recovering alcoholics? ONDCP Director Gil Kerlikowske may have renounced the use of martial rhetoric to describe the government's anti-drug crusade, but he still manages to imply that reformers are traitors whose "confusing messages" are undermining morale in the nation's struggle against the existential threat of pot smoking.
The main impact of President Obama's determination to "think more about drugs as a public health problem" is that the ONDCP now sprinkles the phrase "public health" throughout its reports. For example:
The Administration steadfastly opposes drug legalization. Legalization runs counter to a public health approach to drug control because it would increase the availability of drugs, reduce their price, undermine prevention activities, hinder recovery support efforts, and pose a significant health and safety risk to all Americans, especially our youth.
But you know what's totally consistent with a public health approach? "Zero tolerance" laws that treat a driver who smoked pot a few days ago like someone who polished off a pint of bourbon right before hitting the road—a policy that the Obama administration continues to advocate in the name of "combating drugged driving." Also public healthy: increased scrutiny of doctors' painkiller prescriptions, which is bound to leave some patients in agony so that others won't get high.
At least Kerlikowske, who two years ago claimed marijuana "has no medicinal benefit," now concedes "there may be medical value for some of the individual components of the cannabis plant" (hard to deny, since the FDA has approved one of them, THC, as a medicine in capsule form), although he worries that "smoking marijuana is an inefficient and harmful method for delivering the constituent elements that have or may have medicinal value." Actually, smoking pot is pretty efficient compared to swallowing a Marinol capsule, since patients feel the effects right away and can stop once they get the relief they want. As for the hazards of inhaling combustion products, those can be avoided by using vaporizers, another option Kerlikowske does not consider. But he is right that whole cannabis has never been approved as a medicine by the FDA. To use it as such therefore is an unacceptably subversive act of individual autonomy, which is plainly inconsistent with public health.
[Thanks to LEAP's Tom Angell for the tip.]
Breaking news: If you base teacher layoffs on seniority rather effectiveness, you wind up firing some really good teachers and keeping some teachers who are pretty meh.
OK, that's not breaking news. But a new study by Dan Goldhaber and Roddy Theobald from the University of Washington does the important and depressing work of quantifying just how many effective teachers (as measured by value-added scores) are getting the boot—and how many senior teachers are handing around until their pensions kick in—thanks to powerful teachers unions and the "last in, first out" policies they favor.
The overlap between the subgroup of teachers who received a layoff notice and the subgroup of teachers who received one in our simulation is relatively small—only 23 teachers (or 16 percent of the teachers for whom we could estimate value-added who received a layoff notice)....
As expected, there are large differences in classroom effectiveness between teachers who actually received layoff notices and those who would have received them in our effectiveness-based simulation. The two groups differ by about 20 percent of a standard deviation in students’ math and reading achievement. The magnitude of the difference is striking, roughly equivalent to having a teacher who is at the 16th percentile of effectiveness rather than at the 50th percentile. This difference corresponds to roughly 2.5 to 3.5 months of student learning.
There's also the question of sheer quantity of teachers. If you lay off newer teachers with smaller salaries, you have to lay off more of them to reach your budget goals:
The authors find that if the RIF-notified teachers made the average salary in their district, it would only be necessary to lay off 1,349 teachers [instead of 1,717 teachers] in order to attain the same budgetary savings, or roughly 20 percent less than the actual number of teachers who received layoff notices.
Via Education Next.
Message to President Obama: give peas a chance.
That's the reaction of the USA Dry Pea & Lentil Council to the president's urging of budget negotiators to make the difficult choices necessary to reach a "grand bargain" to raise the nation's debt limit.
"It's not going to get easier, it's going to get harder. So we might as well do it now; pull off the Band-aid, eat our peas," Obama said at a White House news conference.
A spokesman for the pea council said it wasn't interpreting the remarks in a negative context.
"We take President Obama's comment on the need to 'eat our peas' as a reference to the first lady's push to get all Americans to eat a more healthy diet as part of the Let's Move campaign," Pete Klaiber, the council's director of marketing.
"We know that if tasty and nutritious meals featuring peas are served more frequently in the White House and in the cafeterias of both Houses of Congress, it will contribute to a balanced diet, if not a balanced budget."
More news from the First Lady's Let's Move Campaign, courtesy of the Washington Post's 44 blog: "Michelle Obama orders 1,556-calorie meal at Shake Shack."
How bad is the Greek debt crisis? How will the U.S.'s inability to get its fiscal house in order impact rising countries such as Turkey? Economist Murat Yülek hails from Turkey and is a former Georgetown University professor and finance company CEO, who's worked with the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the Islamic Development Bank.
In early July, Yülek sat down with Reason Foundation's Director of Economic Research Anthony Randazzo to discuss how the Greek and American situations may just make it harder for countries such as Turkey to fully liberalize their economies.
Approximately 5.08 minutes.
Shot by Joshua Swain and Jack Gillespie. Edited by Swain.
The United Nations kicked off the first World Population Day on July 11, 1987. World population has risen from 2.5 billion in 1950 to 7 billion later this year. The United Nations released its latest population projections [PDF] back in May:
The high projection variant, whose fertility is just half a child above that in the medium variant, produces a world population of 10.6 billion in 2050 and 15.8 billion in 2100. The low variant, whose fertility remains half a child below that of the medium, produces a population that reaches 8.1 billion in 2050 and declines towards the second half of this century to reach 6.2 billion in 2100. For long-term trends the medium variant is taken as reference.
The medium-variant projection for 2050 is more certain than for 2100 because people who will be 40 years and older in 2050 are already born. According to the medium variant, it will take 13 years to add the eighth billion, 18 years to add the ninth billion and 40 years to reach the tenth billion.
High fertility is associated with lower life expectancies. The U.N. report notes that the highest fertility countries have an average life expectancy of just 56 years. The good news is that the U.N. expects that life expectancies among high-fertility countries to rise to 69 years in 2045-2050 and to 77 in 2095-2100. Total fertility rates plummet [PDF] when women can expect to live more than 60 years. Improving life expectancy trends could put the world population on the lower variant trend toward a population peak in 2050 with a decline thereafter.
World Population Day Bonus: Researchers at Oregon State University have helpfully calculated the carbon legacy [PDF] that breeders leave behind with each additional child:
Under current conditions in the United States, for example, each child adds about 9441 metric tons of carbon dioxide to the carbon legacy of an average female, which is 5.7 times her lifetime emissions. A person’s reproductive choices must be considered along with his day-today activities when assessing his ultimate impact on the global environment.
As someone who is voluntarily childless, where do I pick up my carbon credits? At say, $50 per ton, that would come to nearly $500,000 per forgone child.
For more background see my columns, "The Invisible Hand of Population Control," and "Why Are People Having Fewer Kids?" (BTW, the answer to the question in the second column is it's because they don't like them very much.)
Former Reason.tv producer Ted Balaker has put together a nice vid for The Fund For American Studies. It features Reason contributor Michael Cox of Southern Methodist University and Students For Liberty's Michelle Fields. From the writeup:
The number of Internet users worldwide has now surpassed two billion and so many of us have integrated the web into our lives so much that it's hard to quantify how much it's worth to us. But why not give it a shot? Think about it.
How much would someone have to pay you to give up the Internet for the rest of your life?
Would a million dollars be enough? Twenty million? How about a billion dollars?
Tonight the House of Representatives is expected to vote on a bill sponsored by Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) aimed at repealing the ban on conventional incandescent light bulbs that will start to take effect in January. Over at FrumForum, David Jenkins says the whole exercise is a charade, because "there is no light bulb 'ban.'" Instead there are federal energy efficiency standards that will make the least expensive, most popular bulbs illegal. See the difference? Me neither.
Jenkins says those efficiency standards are clearly justified because the industry supports them and because they benefit consumers, who will save enough money on electricity to more than make up for higher bulb prices. Consumers, of course, have always been free to take advantage of this bargain, and the vast majority have not: According to the Energy Department (PDF), more than 80 percent of residential light sockets were still occupied by standard incandescent bulbs last year. Because consumers are too stupid to perceive the clear advantages of compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), LED bulbs, halogen bulbs, or the new, extra-efficient incandescents, they must be forced to buy them. Is it surprising that manufacturers support a law that allows them to foist newer, more expensive products on customers who otherwise would pass them up?
Jenkins accuses Barton of misleading the public by "saying that bulbs meeting the new standards are cost prohibitive." In fact, Jenkins says, "a Philips incandescent bulb that meets the new standards currently sells for $1.49, lasts about 50 percent longer than older incandescent bulbs, and saves consumers more than $3.00 in energy expenditures." He presumably is referring to the Philips EcoVantage bulb. By his own account, it costs nearly five times as much as a standard 100-watt incandescent bulb, which can be had for 31 cents (in a $2.48 eight-pack) at Lowe's. But I can't find a vendor that sells the EcoVantage equivalent of that 31-cent bulb for less than $3 (in a $5.99 two-pack), almost 10 times as much.
Is that "prohibitive"? (That seems to be Jenkins' word, by the way, not Barton's.) No, but it means people will have to spend more money on light bulbs and less on other things they value more. Let's assume that the EcoVantage bulbs, unlike CFLs, perform just as well as standard incandescents, and their only disadvantage is that they cost a lot more. Even if the calculations about long-term savings (which depend on longevity assumptions that in my experience are highly exaggerated) are accurate, people should be free to pass them up in favor of more money in their pockets now. Otherwise there is no end to the purchase decisions the government might choose to override in the name of saving people money over the long term. Why let people buy cheap cars, appliances, or luggage when they could get more durable, more reliable products for five or 10 times as much?
Australia has long term plans in place to develop a market-based, carbon credit trading scheme for CO2 emissions by 2015. In the meantime, it’s imposing a tax on carbon. Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced yesterday that CO2 emissions would be taxed to the tune of $23 per ton starting in 2012, with a 2.5 percent increase each year until 2015. The tax would affect about 500 companies.
Following the announcement, Australian stocks dropped 1.5 percent today, with steel, coal mining, and transport firms taking the biggest hit.
Gillard who promised before last August’s election not to introduce a carbon tax, now claims that “as a nation we need to put a price on carbon.” Opposition leader Tony Abbott calls her change of heart “a performance worthy of Walt Disney.”
The announcement follows months of protests in Canberra, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth. Participants objected to predicted increases of consumer prices, decreased competitiveness of Australian companies abroad, and job losses at home. Increases in energy bills are of particular concern to voters in the country, which generates 80 percent of its electricity from coal.
Similar plans twice failed to pass Parliament in 2009. The latest polls show roughly 60 percent of Australian voters against the measure. However, unlike Obama’s failed efforts to address global warming, it is expected to pass Parliament later this year.
Drawn from hundreds of hours of footage shot over a seven year period, the new documentary Battle for Brooklyn shines a spotlight on New York’s controversial use of eminent domain on behalf of the Atlantic Yards project, a corporate welfare boondoggle orchestrated by Bruce Ratner, a real estate tycoon and part-owner of the New Jersey Nets basketball team. As Associate Editor Damon Root observes, this riveting film offers audiences the rare opportunity to watch a massive government swindle unfold before their eyes.View this article
When Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announces the release of the first draft of the federal regulations governing ObamaCare's health insurance exchanges this morning, she'll do so in front of Frager's Hardware, a 90 year old hardware store on Pennsylvania Ave. in Washington. The official White House spin on the insurance exchanges is that they're marketplaces that "will offer affordable high-quality health insurance options" for families and "for small businesses that cannot afford small group health insurance." No doubt Sebelius will make similar claims today.
But the administration and the law's backers have had quite a bit of trouble getting individuals and business owners to buy this argument. Among the small business owners who aren't so sure about administration's line: the owner of Frager's. Kaiser Health News reports:
John Weintraub, the store’s co-owner, is one of [the skeptics]. “I am not confident at all that Obamacare will lower my costs,” Weintraub told KHN Friday. “It seems like whenever the government does get involved in something like this, it never works out.”
...Like many employers, Frager’s has struggled to keep pace with the rising cost of providing health insurance to its workers, Weintraub said. His store on Pennsylvania Avenue pays half the cost of coverage for its 25 full-time employees and dependents. He’s been able to control some of the increase in premiums by raising the annual deductible on employees from $1,000 to $2,500. The store, though, helps pick up that extra deductible cost for employees. “We constantly have to find creative ways to keep the costs down,” he said.
To be sure, Weintraub admits he hasn't followed the debate too closely (rational ignorance!). But Weintraub's less-than-enthusiastic reaction offers a telling illustration of the deep public skepticism that's continued to plague the law—public opinion about the law has gone down steadily since last year—and a reminder of the serious difficulty that the administration has had in making its case so far.
ObamaCare's backers, of course, continue to insist that once the public experiences the law's benefits, they'll come around. But they've been saying this since before the law's passage, and yet with each new round of benefits—the high-risk pools, new preventive care guarantees, coverage for adult dependents—public opinion continues to fall. Consultants who've managed to profit off the law seem to like it, but it's hardly surprising that it's popular among those who've turned the law into a new revenue stream. But maybe that suggests that Weintraub, at least, might finally see some virtue in the law after today. He told KHN that he accepted the booking in hopes that publicity from this morning's event will give his business a boost.
Here's a rundown on what's going on with Matt Welch and my new book, The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What's Wrong With America (coming soon in Nook format and currently burning up the Amazon Kindle charts at #20 in Politics).
Last night, I appeared on C-SPAN's Q&A show for an hour, during which the channel's founder Brian Lamb grilled me like a lobster tail on everything from my opinion on John Boehner (low) to baseball guru Bill James (high) to my choice in sideburns and shirts. Watch it now:
Over at RealClearReligion, Mark Judge praises Matt and me for our treatment of the liberatory dimension of pop music:
It's a good thing that libertarians are writing about rock and roll, because both the right and the left don't seem to get it. In The Declaration of Independents, Gillespie and Welch cite some truly embarrassing things conservatives have said about pop music.
Here is William F. Buckley, writing in September 1964 (right around the day of my birth): "Let me say it, as evidence of my final measure of devotion to the truth. The Beatles are not merely awful, I would consider it sacrilegious to say anything less than they are so unbelievably horrible , so appallingly unmusical , so dogmatically insensitive to the magic of the art, that they qualify as crowed heads of antimusic, even as impostor popes went down in history as 'anti-popes.'"...
Yet rock and rollers and the critics who write about them like to think of themselves as rebels, as long as they are rebelling against Michele Bachmann's America. This can lead to the strange phenomenon of right-wing fans who sometimes grasp the message in the life-affirming energy of the music more than the artist himself. Witness Tom Petty threatening legal action against Bachmann's use of his song "American Girl."
In The Declaration of Independents, Welch and Gillespie note an incredible irony. In October 1989, a month before the Berlin Wall was torn down, rock and roll and hippie icon Neil Young released the album Freedom. Young meant the title ironically. The title track was about how the world was collapsing with Reagan-inspired greed and violence. But when the album was received in Central Europe, the newly free young masses took to it without irony.
This is the kind of thing that irritates left-wing rock writers, who enforce a humorless orthodoxy on the music. You are only allowed to enjoy it as a kind of clenched rebellious posture. The truth is, most rock critics, and not a few rock and rollers, could easily find themselves on the side of the Communists that the Plastic People of the Universe were revolting against.
This weekend, Matt and I are headlining Reason Day at Freedom Fest in Las Vegas (it's not too late to come on out!). Join us and rub shoulders with the likes of Whole Foods co-founder John Mackey, PayPal visionary Peter Thiel, Fox Business' Judge Andrew Napolitano, iconoclastic Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), and Steve Forbes - along with 2,000 folks interested in free minds and free markets. Reason Day (Saturday, July 16) will feature a multimedia book talk by Matt and me plus a signing, and a slew of panels featuring great policy analysts from Reason Foundation, the nonprofit that publishes this website. Go here for more information.
And for those of you in the DC area, please come on by to our July 19 event at legendary bookstore Politics & Prose. True story: Last week, I happened to be browsing the store when who should walk in but Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. I ambled over to her, gave her a copy of Declaration and suggested she read it immediately. She read the jacket copy and carried it around with her (along with some greeting cards she'd picked up and - I'm making this part up - what looked to be either a copy of The 4-Hour Body or Fear of Flying). Did she buy our book, much less read it? I've got no idea (I went next door to Comet Pizza to meet some friends for dinner) but if she suddenly comes out in favor of disbanding TSA, chances are strong she did.
And because it's Monday and there's already an hour-long video to watch at the start of this post, here's our recent presentation at the Cato Institute. Because it's practically lunch time and you deserve some more time to yourself before going outside in this heat.
For more information about The Declaration of Independents, including quick links to your favorite online booksellers, go here now.
Obama delivered the game-winning RBI for the Wall Street bailout in 2008, and rewarded the bailout's authors, Ben Bernanke and Tim Geithner, with renomination and a promotion, respectively.
The president's signature legislative accomplishment, the 2010 health care law, was championed by the drugmakers, the biggest single-industry lobby in Washington and one of the most profitable industries in America.
Obama in 2008 shattered fundraising records including the biggest-ever hauls from Wall Street, the defense industry, drug companies, tech companies, HMOs, and more -- and he'll likely repeat that feat this time around.
So, on debt talks, if Obama can focus on tiny quirks in the tax code -- such as five-year depreciation for corporate jets as opposed to seven-year depreciation for commercial jets -- why don't Republicans declare war on corporate welfare, putting the president in the position of defending his Reverse-Robin Hood policies? Obama wants to soak the rich by raising their taxes? Why not soak big business by taking away their taxpayer-funded goodies?
Start with the handouts such as billions in direct grants, in the name of "green energy," to big, well-connected companies like Florida Power & Light. Then there are the green energy loan guarantees, also enriching revolving-door lobbyists and Big Business.
Along the same lines, Republicans could block this year's reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank, a corporate-welfare agency that Obama has been steadily expanding. A majority of all of Ex-Im's loans and long-term guarantees subsidize Boeing sales. Banks love this agency, too, because it provides private profit and socialized risk.
Imagine Republicans running to protect taxpayers and reduce the debt by abolishing Ex-Im, while Obama stands with Boeing, GE and Halliburton in preserving this Fannie Mae for manufacturers.
Speaking of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, Republicans should try to end those sinkholes. Let Obama, the Realtor lobby and the banks stick up for corporate welfare. Ending ethanol supports would be another no-brainer.
But it's not just handouts Republicans should target. [...] [T]he Mattel-backed Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act -- a death sentence to small toymakers -- is one of many other regulatory robberies that a populism-fueled GOP would target.
I have larded the above passage with relevant Reason links.
Sadly, as Carney points out (and as some of those links attest), "the GOP track record suggests this won't happen."
- Those debt talks haven't gotten anywhere.
- Egyptian protesters return to Tahrir Square.
- The Israeli Knesset ponders an anti-boycott bill.
- Jamie Leigh Jones loses her rape and sexual harassment lawsuit against KBR.
- The number of U.S. bank failures this year now stands at 51.
- Betty Ford, 1918-2011.
The latest from Reason.tv: "The Facts About Stimulus Spending."
Over at Reuters, James Pethokoukis details how Barack Obama's insistence on significantly expanded government (this time with much-higher taxes) doomed "the Mother of all budget deals." Rather than pushing for the sort of broad-based tax reform that's everywhere in the winds, the president
...apparently offered to keep top individual rates where they are, at 35 percent, in exchange for tax reform. Now that’s a big tax hike. But it’s also revealing. As a GOP source on the Hill put it:
Their fierce insistence on higher taxes is beyond bizarre. … The bipartisan consensus on tax reform (broader base & lower rates) was championed by President’s fiscal commission, and yet now is being rebuked by the President. Lowering top rates that would help make America more competitive was too large a leap for a true class warrior.
Pethokoukis notes that Obama's fiscal commission relied on revenues equaling more than 21 percent of GDP - an unprecedented take by the feds - in balancing the budget by 2035, and concludes:
Obama sees a need for a permanently bigger government and a lot more tax revenue to fund it. Had Obama agreed with his own debt commission and Republicans, a big agreement was possible. Or he could have proposed real reforms to entitlements. But he declined and there wasn’t a mega-deal. Don’t blame [Speaker of the House John] Boehner for that.
Meanwhile, Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.), who says she was leaning toward voting for an extension, explains why she is voting no on any debt-limit increase that doesn't do anything except give Congress a little more rope by which to hang our financial future. Because she's from Wyoming, she naturally has to talk about wrassling cattle or punching dogeys or spitting buckshot or something. But such cornpone shouldn't get in the way of her basic message:
I am deeply worried that an Aug. 1 agreement will fall short of what is needed to prevent a national fiscal crisis. One not related to debt default, but a crisis of spending, debt, deficits and entitlement reform — denial by the very people who know how to prevent such a crisis in the first place.
I would rather instruct Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner to: (1) pay principal and interest on our bonds (which then enables issuance of new bonds under the ceiling) (2) pay our combat troops (3) make Social Security payments, than add to the weight of our debt burden and send America plunging into the ravine – with our children and grandchildren on board.
Like backing the load of cattle down that slope last weekend, to save my truck, trailer, cattle and me from a self-imposed calamity, the debt ravine may be the most calamitous alternative that Congress is considering.
Read the whole thing. Lummis is right that reaching the debt limit IS NOT (emphasis MINE!) the same as defaulting. As Reason columnist and Mercatus economist Veronique de Rugy has pointed out time and again (read this interview with her in The Daily Caller), the government can prioritize its spending to make sure there is no default; additionally, it can use cash on hand, sales of TARP assets, and more to cover its bills in the near term. There is simply no reason to create a panic-driven "grand bargain" to deal with a spending-revenue mismatch that requires serious, dare-we-say-it transformational thinking?
Meanwhile, The Daily Beast is running with a "Will Failed Debt Deal Doom Boehner?" headline to a squib suggesting the Speaker may be in trouble with anti-tax colleagues for simply considering a deal that might have jacked taxes by a trillion-plus dollars over the coming years. Maybe, but the only reason Boehner was resisting at all was due to the pressure not so much from fellow Republicans but from Tea Party voters who sent a clear message about spending in the midterm elections. Recall that prior to last fall's elections, Boehner (and possible rival Eric Cantor) couldn't even be bothered to push a serious plan to reduce short- and long-term spending, opting instead to go with a phoney-baloney Pledge to America that had more loopholes than a pound of Swiss Cheese (hats off to mangled metaphors!).
Here's hoping that after all these stupid preliminaries, the same government that can't pass a budget (hell, Senate Democrats can't even be bothered to propose one on the agreed-upon schedule!) will start to talk seriously and realistically about bringing spending and revenue into balance.
When they do, they might want to consult "The 19 Percent Solution" proffered by de Rugy and me in the March issue of Reason. It lays out how to balance the budget over 10 years without raising taxes while leaving spending higher as a percentage of GDP than it was in Bill Clinton's final year. That's not ideal, but it can get the conversation on the proper size and scope of government started.
It's a good thing that defense spending, which accounts for roughly a fifth of all federal outlays, is no longer considered immune to the need for frugality. But as Steve Chapman observes, both supporters and opponents have a stake in portraying any trims as far more significant than they really are. So while talk of the two parties agreeing to cut the Pentagon budget may sound like a monumental change in American politics, it really isn’t.View this article
As failed Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner prepares for his inevitable separation from employment, his squirming, desperate public relations campaign is providing the country with great entertainment.
In his appearance with David Gregory on Meet the Press this morning, Geithner bombed like Larry Crowne, but his performance beautifully revealed what a stupid, arrogant, stubborn, entitled, ignorant fool he is. His doomsday ravings were not credible. (Samples: “greater shock than the Great Depression,” “off a cliff,” and “worst economic storm since the Great Depression.”) His constant appeals to the authority of “most business economists” and “credit rating agencies around the world” and even just “the leaders” were unfit for a public official in a free republic.
His delivery was cramped and creepy. Also condescending: When Gregory pulled up a simple table – demonstrating the non-disputed truths that unemployment has risen by 26 percent, from 7.3 percent to 9.2 percent, since the Obama Administration took office; and that public debt subject to limit has increased from $10.6 trillion to $14.3 trillion, a 35 percent increase, over the same period – Geithner’s response was the milk-curdling “David, let me just say that’s a ridiculous table.”
The peruked secretary’s end-of-interview attempt at buddy-buddy jocularity with the simian-jawed NBC newsman was chilling. Pressed to reveal whether he would be sent packing before or after the election, Geithner quibbled over the definition of “foreseeable.” I can understand that a man who predicted unemployment would top out at 8 percent would have a special interest in this term, but the bottom line at every copydesk is that you never say “foreseeable future” for the obvious reason that no part of the future is foreseeable.
Even Geithner’s diction is distressingly mushmouthed for a Dartmouth grad.
The substance was even worse than the style. Geithner’s claim, “Remember, we have to borrow now 40 cents for every dollar we spend,” boomeranged on him by underscoring how out of control federal spending is. It also clashed with his separate claim that the 2008 correction occurred because “Americans borrowed too much…. We were living beyond our means for a long period of time.”
Geithner even managed to let that last bit of truth – that the credit unwind was preceded by unprecedented inflation in credit and credit-dependent assets – ripen into falsehood. The Treasury secretary claimed, “People are going back to living within their means. They’re spending less as a share of income; they’re saving more.” In fact, personal saving as a percentage of disposable personal income was 6.4 percent in June 2010. In May of this year [pdf] it was down to 5 percent. The personal savings rate has bounced around by a percentage point or two since Obama took office. As I have noted before, the data indicate, at best, a trivial increase in savings which began under the previous administration.
And as always, Geithner's biggest troubles come during those rare instances when he unwittingly emits truth. The mythical summers of recovery, and the whole Keynesian consensus, burn up in this admission: "We don't have the ability, because of the overhang in housing and the problems in the financial system, to engineer artificially a return to recovery."
It’s indicative of President Obama’s lack of personal compassion that he has not simply let Geithner leave office to spend more time with his family, rather than making him go through more rounds of public humiliation. But I’m not going to complain about any spectacle that holds my enemies up for global ridicule. Reproach and everlasting shame sit mocking in your plume, Geithner. Shame, and eternal shame, nothing but shame.
Update: Thanks to reader Banjos for sending a link to the interview, at the urging of Au H20.
On Friday the Drug Enforcement Administration officially rejected a nine-year-old petition asking it to remove marijuana from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, the law's most restrictive category. Schedule I is supposedly reserved for drugs that have "a high potential for abuse," "no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States," and no "accepted safety for use under medical supervision." The Los Angeles Times notes that "marijuana has been approved by California, many other states and the nation's capital to treat a range of illnesses"; that "the DEA's decision comes as researchers continue to identify beneficial effects"; that "Americans overwhelmingly support [medical marijuana] in national polls"; and that the National Cancer Institute "notes that marijuana may help with nausea, loss of appetite, pain and insomnia."
This is the third time the DEA has denied a marijuana rescheduling petition: The first petition, filed in 1972, was rejected 17 years later in a decision that overrode the recommendation of the DEA's own administrative law judge; the second, filed in 1995, was rejected six years later. Last week's rejection came two months after Americans for Safe Access asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to compel the DEA to respond. Now ASA can go back to the D.C. Circuit and challenge the rationale for the DEA's decision. "We have foiled the government's strategy of delay," says ASA attorney Joe Elford, "and we can now go head to head on the merits, that marijuana really does have therapeutic value."
DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart claims "the known risks of marijuana use have not been shown to be outweighed by specific benefits in well-controlled clinical trials that scientifically evaluate safety and efficacy." Yes, that is the same Michele Leonhart who has obstructed marijuana research by refusing to allow competition with the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the only legal source of cannabis. That decision also rejected the recommendation of a DEA administrative law judge.
About 8 minutes.
On Sunday, July 10, C-SPAN will run an interview of me by the great Brian Lamb about my new book with Matt Welch, The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What's Wrong With America; the ins and outs of Reason.tv; my abiding dislike for politics and most politicians; and why I think my kids will inherit a better world than the one I did. And just to show that Lamb is the cagiest interrogator this side of Lynndie England, he even includes a clip reel highlighting my dazzlingly varied wardrobe over the years. It's a wide-ranging, fun, and probing interview, so please tune in.
The interview is part of the Q&A series and it airs at 8pm ET and will be rebroadcast at 11pm ET on Sunday, July 10 (an earlier post had the time wrong). For details or to watch online, go here now.
Last July In July 2009 [d'oh! time is a jet plane, it moves too fast...], C-SPAN asked me to talk about my summer reading schedule, which included Peter Bagge's Everybody's Stupid Except for Me, RU Sirius' Everybody Must Get Stoned, Joe Scarborough's The Last Best Hope, Ayn Rand bios from Anne Heller and Jennifer Burns, and Ha Jin's great novel War Trash. Full disclosure: I did not get to Balzac's The Black Sheep, though I did finish the Steig Larsson trilogy [last summer] (my comments on its verisimilitude here). Here's that clip:
There is a sense of bitter irony in Democratic Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton’s new cigarette tax proposal, which is aimed at bridging the Gopher State’s budget gap. In 2005, then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty used an increase in cigarette taxes—which he called a “user fee”—to solve a state budget crisis that had shut down the government. Yet today Minnesota finds itself right back in state finance hell. As the Reason Foundation’s Anthony Randazzo and Carson Bruno explain, trying to cover a budget shortfall with a cigarette tax—or any sin tax—is never a good idea.View this article
Minnesota Congresswoman and newly announced presidential candidate Michele Bachmann has signed a pledge titled "The Family Vow: A Declaration of Dependence upon MARRIAGE and FAMiLY" [strange caps theirs].
Authored by THE FAMiLY LEADER [again, strange caps theirs] the pledge's more mundane requirements are "personal fidelity to my spouse," "respect for the marital bonds of others," "official fidelity to the U.S. Constitution," "commitment to downsizing government," and "recognition of the overwhelming statistical evidence" that married people have better sex, and that kids raised by "a mother and father together experience better learning, less addiction, less legal trouble, and less extramarital pregnancy."
Not so ugly, as far as theocratic pledges go.
Yet the pledge would also require signatories to provide "humane protection of women and the innocent fruit of conjugal intimacy" from "seduction into promiscuity, and all forms of pornography and prostitution, infanticide, abortion and other types of coercion or stolen innocence." This depite the fact that promiscuity, pornography, and prostitution, when done right, are engaged in by consenting adult women; that laws already exist to protect children from sex slavery; and that banning adults from engaging in mutually beneficial behavior, or from viewing other adults engaging in mutually beneficial behavior, would be impossible and impossibly expensive, and also harmful to the American adult entertainment industry, which generates tens of billions of dollars per year in taxable revenue.
The pledge also asks candidates to waste time and money on "bona fide legal advocacy for the Defense of Marriage Act at the federal and state levels," and for candidates to extend "second chance" and "cool-down" periods for "those seeking a 'quickie divorce.'"
In addition to being damn expensive, many of those proposals are not "humane" and would ultimately harm women. We know, for instance, that the government cannot stop prostitution or abortion, only push those activities onto the black market where they are more dangerous and dehumanizing. And as the Quarterly Journal of Economics noted in 2006, no-fault divorce has actually made women's lives better [pdf]:
Easy access to divorce redistributes marital power from the party interested in preserving the marriage to the partner who wants out. In most instances, this resulted in an increase in marital power for women, and a decrease in power for men.
Our analysis of US data revealed the legislative change [to no-fault divorce] had caused female suicide to decline by about a fifth, domestic violence to decline by about a third, and intimate femicide – the husband’s murder of his wife – to decline by about a tenth.
Shutting down the entire adult service industry and denying women access to no-fault divorces and abortions, in addition to being inherently antithetical to the idea of personal liberty, could also only happen with a much, much bigger government.
Read the entire pledge--which is also blatantly homophobic and anti-Muslim--here.
There’s no question President Barack Obama inherited a lousy economy. Yet even many prominent Democrats now acknowledge that after two and a half years in office, the president owns the problem. And unfortunately for him, despite spending hundreds of billions of dollars on a stimulus, things still aren’t looking so good. In her latest appearance on Bloomberg TV, Reason columnist and Mercatus Center economist Veronique de Rugy explains the facts about stimulus spending by separating economic myths from economic truths.View this article
Your stimulus dollars at work helping the poor and downtrodden go green, via the Center for Public Integrity:
Federal audits are turning up misspent taxpayer dollars in a $5 billion stimulus program aimed at lowering the utility bills of disabled, poor and older Americans by making their homes more energy-efficient.
In West Virginia, which received $38 million in weatherization funds, some of the money went for lobbying, to consultants who did little work and to recipients with connections to state officials who are doling out the funds, the Energy Department’s inspector general found.
In one case, West Virginia paid $25,000 to a lawyer for writing two sentences stating that weatherization contracts had been reviewed, reportedly after four hours’ work at a state office, according to a report analyzing how the federal stimulus money was used. A $20,000 consulting fee was paid to the former director of the state's weatherization program after he left the job in May 2009 even though there were no specific work requirements set for the consulting contract.
At SCOTUSblog, George Washington law professor and Volokh Conspiracy blogger Orin Kerr summarizes what the Supreme Court’s recently completed 2010-2011 term means for the Fourth Amendment. Short answer: The government did well. Here’s a portion of Kerr’s analysis:
First, the current Court is rather friendly to the government in Fourth Amendment cases. Of the three cases on the merits, the government’s side won 23 votes and lost only 3 votes. This Term, at least, none of the Fourth Amendment cases were even close. Second, it’s interesting that Justice Alito wrote two of the three cases. Of all the current Justices, Justice Alito is perhaps the Justice seen as most often in sync with the government’s take in Fourth Amendment cases. If Justice Alito is writing a lot of Fourth Amendment cases going forward, that is likely to be very good news for the government.
Finally, it’s particularly interesting that neither of the two newest Justices, Justices Sotomayor and Kagan, voted for a defendant or civil plaintiff in any of the three cases. It’s important not to make too much of that conclusion, to be sure.... Still, it is noteworthy that the only votes for criminal defendants or civil plaintiffs in the Term’s Fourth Amendment cases were two by Justice Ginsburg and one by Justice Breyer.
Read the whole thing here.
It seems like it's all debt limit, all the time, writes Reason's Nick Gillespie, who offers up five clarifying facts about a debate that pits big-spending Republicans against big-spending Democrats. And both against the American taxpayer of the future. Can it be true that August 2 is not a drop-dead due date? Or that both sides are working this "crisis" for partisan advantage? Or that reaching a debt limit is not the same thing as defaulting on that debt? More important, how do we get out of this chicken outfit?View this article
"That's not what we want to see in a front yard," said Oak Park City Planner Kevin Rulkowski.
Why? The city is pointing to a code that says a front yard has to have suitable, live, plant material. The big question is what's "suitable?"
We asked [Julie] Bass whether she thinks she has suitable, live, plant material in her front yard.
"It's definitely live. It's definitely plant. It's definitely material. We think it's suitable," she said.
So, we asked Rulkowski why it's not suitable.
"If you look at the definition of what suitable is in Webster's dictionary, it will say common. So, if you look around and you look in any other community, what's common to a front yard is a nice, grass yard with beautiful trees and bushes and flowers," he said.
But when you look at front yards that are unsightly and overgrown, is Bass' vegetable garden really worth the city's time and money?
We asked Rulkowski what he would say to those who feel this is ridiculous.
"I would argue that you won't find that opinion from most people in Oak Park," he responded.
Does Medicaid, the joint federal-state health insurance program for the poor and disabled, actually result in better health? Given that ObamaCare relies on the program for roughly half of its health insurance expansion, it’s an important question. And there’s a case to be made that on certain specific health measures, it doesn’t.
But a number of the program’s defenders—as well as those who’ve argued in favor of the health care overhaul’s Medicaid expansion—are taking the initial results of a major new study on the program’s effects as strong evidence that the program creates real health benefits for its beneficiaries. At The New York Times, for example, Dave Leonhardt writes that the study “suggests that the law is likely to improve the health and well-being of many of the uninsured.” Others have echoed this line, arguing that the study proves Medicaid makes a clear difference. They’re substantially overstating the study’s conclusions so far.
The most interesting question isn’t whether Medicaid made a difference. Clearly it makes some difference on a variety of measures. It’s whether it actually improved overall health, and whether it did so in a cost-effective manner. The truth is, we still don't really know.
The study in question looked at the effects of Medicaid in Oregon, which in 2008 chose 10,000 individuals to enroll in Medicaid via lottery. The random nature of assignment made it easy to control for outside factors and avoid the strong selection bias that normally makes such experiments dicey.
The study does indeed show that individuals enrolled in Medicaid used far more in the way of health care services of just about every kind except emergency room visits. Presumably as a result of the increase in utilization, total spending on health care shot up by about 25 percent amongst the Medicaid population.
But greater utilization of care is not the same as better health. For that, Medicaid advocates have turned to the study’s finding that, enrollment in Medicaid “is associated with improvements across the board in our measures of self-reported physical and mental health, averaging two-tenths of a standard deviation improvement.”
So those who won the Medicaid lottery are reporting that they feel better about their health. Does that mean they’re actually healthier? Not necessarily. According to the study, the results “may also reflect improvements in objective, physical health, but this is more difficult to determine with the data we now have available.” At this point, in other words, the researchers just don’t know.
Moreover, they believe there’s a real possibility (though far from a certainty) that the increased self-reported happiness may simply be a psychic artifact of health coverage. “The self-reported physical health measures could reflect a more general sense of improved well-being rather than actual improvements in objective health,” the authors write. Indeed, the study finds evidence to support this conclusion: Self-reported health status improved immediately after enrollment—and before enrollees reported increased utilization of care. The level of improvement was equal to about two-thirds of the total increase in self-reported health states. The fact that enrollees were reporting substantially better health before getting any additional care suggests that the happier self-reporting reflects good feelings about personal health far more than any objective changes in medical care or condition.
Now, the study also shows a fair amount of financial smoothing: Health insurance certainly makes it easier for individuals to pay for health care, and reduces the chance of major financial shock. This is consistent with findings about the introduction of Medicare—findings which showed no statistically significant decrease in mortality following the program’s introduction. This is by far the clearest benefit of health insurance.
But that financial smoothing must be balanced against the study’s other findings: Greater utilization of health services and increased spending to pay for it, no reduction in emergency room visits (as is so often promised), and uncertain physical health benefits.
So far, the study has only examined one year’s worth of data. In later years, we’ll see more study of objective health measures. But even if the results do show some increase in objective health measures, that won’t necessarily provide clear evidence that Medicaid is fiscally prudent public policy. As Cato’s Michael Cannon writes, “For Medicaid to be cost-effective, it must (A) produce benefits and (B) do so at the same or a lower cost than the alternatives.”
The Oregon Health Insurance Experiment is an important piece of evidence in the study of the effects of health coverage. But it’s far from proof that health insurance actually improves health, or that government-run health insurance programs like Medicaid are worth the price the public pays for them.
Rush takes batting practice. Take it away, Kent Brockman!
Link via the Orange County Register.
The anthropologist Alberto Sánchez-Allred writes about the digital currency Bitcoin:
People would argue that the use of Bitcoin is indeed founded on a trust in institutions. These are the exchanges, vendors, websites, and individuals that use them. However, if I go around the corner from my apartment to sell or buy some US dollars, assuming I know the exchange rate and am confident in my ability to spot counterfeit bills, do I need to trust the currency exchange office per se? Many people thought that Bitcoins would stop being used after the largest exchange, Mt. Gox, came crashing down a week ago. But would I stop believing in cash just because the currency exchange folded? The fact that Bitcoins retained their value even with the crash and fiasco at Mt. Gox demonstrates the extent to which trust in any single institution is not at stake here, not as it would be with non-cash type transactions.
Whole thing here.
New York Times biz/econ columnist David Leonhardt drops some science on "the cost of austerity":
In round numbers, state and local governments have cut about a half million jobs over the last two years. If they had continued to hire at their previous pace — expanding as the population expanded — they would have added about a half million jobs.
In other words, the state and local austerity of the last two years has cost the economy about one million jobs.
By this logic, the U.S. economy after World War II would have lost many millions of jobs, resulting in economic catastrophe. Instead, the David Leonhardts of the time were not decisive in policy decisions. Here's Arnold Kling, writing about this for Reason last November:
[T]he Keynesians who were gaining prominence in the economics profession warned that a rapid decline in government spending and the size of the public work force would produce, in the late economist Paul Samuelson's words, "the greatest period of unemployment and dislocation which any economy has ever faced."
Thankfully, Truman ignored the Keynesians. Government spending plummeted by nearly two-thirds between 1945 and 1947, from $93 billion to $36.3 billion in nominal terms. If we used the "multiplier" of 1.5 for government spending that is favored by Obama administration economists, that $63.7 billion plunge should have caused GDP to fall by $95 billion, a 40 percent economic decline. In reality, GDP increased almost 10 percent during that period, from $223 billion in 1945 to $244.1 billion in 1947. This is a rare precedent of a large drop in government spending, so its economic consequences are important to understand.
The end of World War II thrust more than 10 million demobilized servicemen back into the labor market, but without the catastrophic consequences Keynesians feared. Close to 1 million took advantage of the GI bill to attend college. In addition, some of the increase in the male work force was offset by a decline in female labor force participation from World War II levels. But if Rosie the Riveter became a housewife, many of her friends continued to work outside the home. Over all, from 1945 to 1947 the civilian labor force increased by 7 million, or 12 percent. The vast majority found work, as civilian employment rose by 5 million, an increase of 9 percent.
More (including similar examples in Canada and New Zealand) here.
Leonhardt link via the Twitter feed of The Nation's Chris Hayes. Take it away, Reason.tv!
Would someone tell the know-nothing busybodies over at the Center for Science in the Public Interest to please shut up about banning salt? The CSPI's anti-salt scare campaign claims:
Salt, at the levels present in the diets of most people around the world, is probably the single most harmful substance in the food supply. Salt is used liberally in many processed foods and restaurant meals, with some meals containing far more than a day's worth of sodium.
Reducing sodium consumption by half would save an estimated 150,000 lives per year. That in turn would reduce medical care and other costs by roughly $1.5 trillion over 20 years.
Not really. Yet another study - this time a review in the American Journal of Hypertension of seven randomized controlled trials by the respected Cochrane Collaboration - does not find consuming salt to be all that much of a health problem:
Relative risks (RRs) for all-cause mortality in normotensives (longest follow-up—RR: 0.90, 95% confidence interval (CI): 0.58–1.40, 79 deaths) and hypertensives (longest follow-up RR 0.96, 0.83–1.11, 565 deaths) showed no strong evidence of any effect of salt reduction CVD [cardiovascular disease] morbidity in people with normal BP (longest follow-up:RR 0.71, 0.42–1.20, 200 events) and raised BP at baseline (end of trial: RR 0.84, 0.57–1.23, 93 events) also showed no strong evidence of benefit. Salt restriction increased the risk of all-cause mortality in those with heart failure (end of trial RR 2.59, 1.04–6.44, 21 deaths). ...
Our estimates of benefits from dietary salt restriction are consistent with the predicted small effects on clinical events attributable to the small BP reduction achieved.
Just take a look at the size of those confidence intervals. As MedPage Today described the results:
The seven studies included in the review consisted of three involving 3,518 normotensive participants; two involving 758 hypertensive participants; one with a mixed population of 1,981 participants; and one involving 232 patients with heart failure.
End-of-trial follow-up ranged from seven to 36 months and the longest period of observational follow-up was 12.7 years.
An analysis of normotensive participants showed that salt restriction was associated with a 33% reduction in the risk of death during the trial, declining to 10% at the end of observation. Both outcomes were associated with overlapping confidence intervals that precluded statistical significance.
The analysis of hypertensive participants showed even smaller effects of salt restriction on mortality: a 3% reduction at the end of the trial and 4% at end of observation.
Salt restriction was associated with a 29% lower risk of cardiovascular events among normotensive individuals and a 16% reduction in hypertensive participants. Neither difference achieved statistical significance.
In the trial involving patients with heart failure, salt restriction significantly increased the mortality risk more than twofold as compared with the control group (RR 2.59, 95% CI 1.04 to 6.44).
In May, my colleague Jacob Sullum, in a blogpost entitled "Could Eating Less Salt Be Deadly," cited new research showing the inconsequential health benefits of restricting salt consumption. Sullum makes the right point:
Whether or not eating less salt is dangerous, there is no reason to expect the entire population to adopt a diet that even its advocates concede they will not like if it benefits only a minority.
Food nanny motto: If some must suffer bland food, then all must suffer bland food!
Disclosure: At a check up last month, my blood pressure was 108/60.