Thursday, July 30

Illinois deficit

Illinois is another problem child. The state's general fund appropriation is some two-thirds higher today than it would be if the state had just kept those outlays in line with inflation over the last two decades. That increase, as in California, is the difference between a gaping deficit and a comfortable surplus.

Nazi "humanity"

In reaction to the experience of watching 100 human beings murdered [by Einsatzgruppen--paramilitary units established for the purpose of murdering Jews], Himmler ordered that a more "humane" method of execution be found. (Reitlinger SS 183) Otto Ohlendorf explained in his testimony at Nuremberg "That was a special order from Himmler to the effect that women and children were not to be exposed to the mental strain of the executions; and thus the men of the kommandos, mostly married men, should not be compelled to aim at women and children."

This order was first implemented with gas vans designed by Dr. Becker. Later the terrible extermination camps, where millions of people were gassed and starved, were established.

Saturday, July 25

It's OK when Democrats do it

It’s fascinating for me to watch all these children of the sixties in the Democratic Party, most of whom screamed (rightly) at George Bush continuing to implement new plans where we give up individual liberties for security. But here come those exact same people, with the exact same message - because this is what health care reform is about, at its core - giving up individual liberties in exchange for a (perceived) increase in security.

Prevention doesn't reduce costs

Preventative medicine is great as a spur to individual well-being, but does little to reduce total system costs.... [I]t is actually cheaper not to find a cancer until its almost too late. An expensive operation may be called for, but a quick death is actually cheap for the system. Finding a cancer early means expensive treatments now, and probably expensive treatements later in a longer life.

Freedom of Choice

Independence really worth celebrating would be the ability of each of us, individually, to make the following sorts of choices, and to make these choices independently of any order or restrictions imposed by government:

  • To choose to work at whatever wages we can negotiate, even if these are below some stipulated "minimum wage"
  • To choose to install in our homes and places of business toilet-tanks of whatever size we're willing to pay for
  • To choose to install showerheads that permit as much or as little water flow as we're willing to pay for
  • To choose not to have as much as one cent of our money funneled to corporations, such as General Motors, that we do not support as consumers
  • To choose to buy foreign-made goods or services without ever having to pay a special tax
  • To choose to ingest whatever substances we, as adults, deem worthwhile
  • To choose how much, if any, money to save for our retirement years
  • To choose how much, if any, funds to give to help the poor -- and to choose which charities will and will not get our money
  • To choose not to support government schools
  • To choose to buy only those works of art that we like, rather than have the National Endowment for the Arts make many such choices for us
  • To choose the level of safety that we want in our automobiles, and not be compelled to buy that level of safety deemed appropriate by Washington.

Such choices, along with countless others, are regrettably today denied to each individual American.

Wednesday, July 22

Crap documentary

Here's a short review of Beijing: Changed by the Olympics, which was broadcast on the local PBS station last night. It was just a presentation of the official point of view, with little mention of any controversy. I'd steer clear of any D3 Media Group productions, unless you're interested in PRC propaganda.

Monday, July 20

Let's tax everything!

Earlier, Greg Mankiw wrote
[E]conomists have increasingly viewed "sin taxes" as a good way to raise revenue... [S]in taxes aim to protect people from themselves. To the extent that people have problems with self-control, sin taxes can be welfare-enhancing. Economists Jonathan Gruber and Sendhil Mullainathan report evidence that smokers are happier when cigarette taxes are higher. Of course, non-smokers won't object to shifting the tax burden to others. Maybe we should consider higher taxes on smoking, drinking, gambling and other activities about which people lack self-control.
Many people also lack self-control in the consumption of other recreational drugs, so as many have suggested, maybe they should be legalized...and taxed. And if religion is the opiate of the people (and certainly many people seem to lack the self control to belief responsibly), that should be taxed, too. And the same goes for people who can't stop from accessing the internet, or playing electronic games, or having sex. Let's tax everything!

Sunday, July 19

Obama's “transparency” is pretty opaque

President Obama has often talked of the importance of transparency and accountability in government and he has chalked up some landmark achievements in this area... Unfortunately, transparency and accountability go out the window when they conflict with the demands of organized labor and environmentalists, two special-interest groups that are key supporters and contributors to Obama's political campaigns.

At the U.S. Department of Labor, Hilda Solis, Obama's Secretary of Labor, is moving rapidly to rescind Bush administration reforms that greatly strengthened reporting requirements that enable union members to see, via annual LM-2 reports, how their leaders are spending membership dues. In a recent Federal Register notice, Solis agreed with the preposterous assertion of Big Labor leaders that there was no proof members would benefit by knowing this financial information, and that compiling the report was too costly and time-consuming.

Former Bush labor officials have also expressed concern over the Obama-Solis approach toward another union disclosure form, the LM-30, which requires shop stewards to report information needed to expose "no-show jobs" that funnel paychecks into union coffers instead of into an actual employee's bank account. Solis is reassuring the Big Labor bosses that she won't enforce the LM-30 reporting requirements.

Then there is the case of Alan Carlin, the EPA economist whose critical statistical analysis of a proposal for that agency to assume a leading role in regulating greenhouse gases was blatantly suppressed. Obama's EPA administrator Lisa Jackson and other senior EPA officials made it clear to Carlin that his study was not supportive of the Obama administration's policy agenda and so would be buried in the bowels of the bureaucracy. He was also instructed not to talk to the news media. Carlin is a 38-year EPA veteran and a respected economist. His study pointed out the many flaws in the data used to support the UN's case for human causes of global warming, notably with regard to the use of carbon-based fuels like oil and natural gas. Carlin was muzzled by representatives of the same president who repeatedly bashed Bush for allegedly "politicizing science."

Obama: the keeper of the Bush flame

The key to understanding Obama's predicament is to realize that while he ran convincingly as a repudiation of Bush, he is in fact doubling down on his predecessor's big-government policies and perpetual crisis-mongering. From the indefinite detention of alleged terrorists to gays in the military to bailing out industries large and small, Obama has been little more than the keeper of the Bush flame. Indeed, it took the two of them to create the disaster that is the 2009 budget, racking up a deficit that has already crossed the historic $1 trillion mark with almost three months left in the fiscal year.

Saturday, July 18

Apple = Communist thugs?

Microsoft COO Kevin Turner told the Worldwide Partner Conference in New Orleans that Microsoft's latest ads are so effective that Apple, Inc. wanted them pulled. The ads show a PC hunter selecting a PC over a too-expensive Mac.
The Xinjiang riots has not only affected the political climate, now it looks like it´s also leaking over to the artistic area as well. Last week China made an attempt to stop a film from being screened at Australia´s biggest film festival, Melbourne International Film Festival.

The Reason: The movie, "The 10 conditions of love", is a highly sympathetic portrayal of the life of Uyghur activist Rebiya Kadeer and her attempts to bring increased autonomy to the ten million Uyghurs living in China. Rebiya Kadeer is currently in exile, and most recently, China has accused her of inciting the ethnic riots in the Xinjiang province last week (a charge she denies).

Friday, July 17

Community colleges? Really?

Neal McCluskey discussed Obama's proposals for community colleges earlier, saying
we’re not wanting economically for college graduates. As reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 25 percent of all jobs in 2006 required a bachelor’s degree or higher. As of March 2007, nearly 29 percent of Americans ages 25 and older had at least that level of education.
He adds,they
make little sense in light of Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers showing that positions requiring on-the-job training will grow in much greater numbers than jobs requiring at least an associate’s degree. What I didn’t mention was the dismal performance of community college students, who take remedial courses in droves and complete their programs at very low rates.

Health-care proposals could worsen escalating medical spending

Congress's chief budget scorekeeper cast a new cloud over Democratic efforts to overhaul the nation's health-care system, telling lawmakers Thursday that the main proposals being considered would fail to contain costs -- one of the primary goals -- and could actually worsen the problem of rapidly escalating medical spending.

[I]t was clear that Mr. Elmendorf's remarks struck a nerve with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who jointly appointed the economist to his post after the previous CBO director, Peter Orszag, was made White House budget director.

Ms. Pelosi, a California Democrat, complained that the CBO, in calculating the impact of health legislation, doesn't give "any credit" to certain proposals designed to reduce spending, such as preventive-care measures that backers of the bill say will reduce costs throughout the system.

In his appearance, Mr. Elmendorf suggested lawmakers could take steps to control costs. Among other things, he said Congress could reduce the tax subsidy that critics say encourages employers to offer large health-insurance policies. That idea was being considered by members of the Senate Finance Committee, but dropped after Senate Democratic leaders -- including Mr. Reid -- voiced concern. The proposal has been sharply opposed by labor unions, among other groups, that have big tax-advantaged plans.
By the way, according to The New England Journal of Medicine:
Although some preventive measures do save money, the vast majority reviewed in the health economics literature do not.

We all like money!

Bruno wasn’t as lucrative as Sacha Baron Cohen and his cohorts would have liked. So they’ve now chopped out enough of its rudest material for it to be granted a 15 certificate...

[I]interesting to learn that Baron Cohen and co, who get their laughs from pulverising taboos, shouldn’t want to pulverise quite so many when there’s money at stake.

How we hurt poor third world farmers

You have groups in the U.S. who have a very big interest in seeing the farm subsidy system continue the way it is, and it's their first interest. You don't have a political constituency organized around fighting hunger for hunger's sake. It's hard to find someone in the House or Senate who thinks of the hungry overseas as a constituency.

Tuesday, July 14

Good luck to Obama & McCain

Christopher Preble at CATO notes there is substantial resistance from politicians to cutting funding for the F-22, even though

The Washington Post reports that the F-22 requires

more than 30 hours of maintenance for every hour in the skies, pushing its hourly cost of flying to more than $44,000, a far higher figure than for the warplane it replaces.

So it's good news that President Obama Joins With McCain to Eliminate Raptor Fighter Jets. Good luck!

No wonder they're spending like drunken sailors

In a city where work can border on obsession, the Obama staffers stand out. They are not quite the walking dead, but their eyes are frequently ringed with the bags that accompany exhaustion.

"This is a place, because of the stress, the schedule and the sheer hours, that just chews people up and spits them out," said press secretary Robert Gibbs, whose alarm clock is set to 4:30 a.m., though he ignores the early ring more often these days.

All West Wings face fatigue at some point, but the Obama team has had a particularly frenetic start, the result of inheriting the worse economic crisis since the Great Depression and the team's own seemingly chaotic drive to push an agenda that includes the creation of a new health insurance system, auto bailouts, Middle East peace, nuclear nonproliferation, two wars and education reform.

Political Washington has long fostered a workaholic culture, the expectation that the rewards of service on the big stage of national government come with 18-hour, on-call days. But even the most hardy of Obama's staff members are beginning to recognize the toll that the pace is taking.

"I felt like a heavyweight boxer lying on the mat," Gibbs said last week, describing his mood before leaving with the president for an eight-day trip across 10 time zones.

Air Force One landed early yesterday at Andrews Air Force Base, carrying a presidential team that caught just a few hours of sleep each night in Russia, Italy and Ghana. All plan to return to work before sunrise today.

The grueling schedule has forced most of the presidential aides to abandon physical exercise, and the few who persist -- often because of incessant goading from their fitness-fixated commander in chief -- have planned their workouts at times that stretch their schedules even further.


Obama is now testing the limits of his staffers' endurance. So far, there is a palpable sense of pride in the West Wing that treaties are negotiated, complex legislation is crafted and banks are bailed out -- all on very little sleep.


Martin Moore-Ede, a former Harvard University professor, calls it the "iron man" syndrome and says the American political workplace is one of the few that still resists a mechanism for ensuring people get rest.

One study conducted for the British Parliament found that "mental fatigue affects cognitive performance, leading to errors of judgement, microsleeps (lasting for seconds or minutes), mood swings and poor motivation." The effect, it found, is equal to a blood alcohol level of .10 percent -- above the legal limit to drive in the United States.

Obama administration officials, and their predecessors, shrug off such warnings, citing the adrenaline rush. They insist that their bodies have grown strangely accustomed to the rhythms of the job. But they acknowledge that the routine in the White House is more grueling than most had anticipated.

We're spending more on health care because we want to

Veterinary spending is subject to few of the perversities that either left or right suppose to be the main problems afflicting health care spending. Consumers pay full frieght most of the time. They are price sensitive, and will let the patient die if keeping him alive costs too much. There is no adverse selection. There is no free riding on mandatory care. Government regulation is minimal. Malpractice suits are minimal, and have low payouts. So why is vet spending rising along with human spending?

Two reasons, presumably: technological change and rising income. As we get wealthier, we spend more of our income on former luxuries, like keeping our pets healthy--nineteenth century veterinary care for sick cats consisted of a sack and some stones to weight it down with.

Monday, July 13

Maybe he should read the constitution

President Obama has declared that [the Honduran] "coup" was illegal. But if he had read the Honduran constitution--or even been provided with a brief analysis of the document's details--it seems unlikely he could maintain such a firm conclusion.

Stimulus not working yet? It's not Obama's fault.

[Every anti-recession program in the postwar era] invariably impacted on the economy too late to really help. There were many reasons for this. First, economists were slow to see a recession coming and often didn't see one at all until we were already well into it.

Then it took time to convince policymakers to do something and get legislation enacted. By the time a countercyclical program was signed into law, the recession was always over. Consequently, the stimulus stimulated when the economy was already on the upswing. The result was that these programs stimulated inflation more than they stimulated jobs and growth.

Sunday, July 12

GM--How will taxpayers ever break even?

The Obama administration's pre-packaged bankruptcy plan for General Motors is a recipe for disaster. Even if President Obama were sincere in his claim that he doesn't want to run a car company, it will be impossible for him to eschew policies that distinctly benefit GM. With taxpayers on the hook for $50 billion (just for starters), the administration will do whatever it takes to demonstrate the wisdom of its intervention.

That will require, at a minimum, a positive return on the coerced investment. But to merely break even on taxpayers' 60% stake, GM will have to be worth $83 billion (60% of $83 billion is $50 billion). How and when will that ever happen? At its peak in 2000, GM's value (based on its market capitalization) stood at $60 billion. Thus, the minimum benchmark for "success" will require a 38% increase in GM's value from where it was in the heady days of 2000, when Americans were purchasing 16 million vehicles per year. U.S. demand projections for the next few years come in at around 10 million vehicles. Taxpayer ownership of GM is something we should all get used to, and the "investment" is only going to grow larger. Think Amtrak.

Saturday, July 11

Drinking water can kill

But instead we hear about the dangers from bisphenol A, even though
You would have to drink 1000 liters of bottled water a day to approach Canada’s provisional tolerable daily intake for the chemical bisphenol A, according to the latest research by Health Canada. (Not only is this practically impossible, rapid consumption of even six or seven liters of water in the space of a few hours could kill you, a rather dramatic illustration of the principle that anything can be poisonous if consumed in large enough quantities).

Friday, July 10

Counterproductive regulation

Treating all consumers as hapless victims rather than recognizing that many consumers rationally respond to incentives is a recipe for unintended consequences. It can lead to counterproductive regulation that makes loans more expensive and harder to get.

The Case for Doing Nothing

The first thing to note about the financial crisis is that the federal government never had any business intervening in the personal decision of whether you want to own a home. There is no rational economic argument, or any argument I know of, that says the market of buying and selling homes is imperfect in some way, requiring government action.
Bailouts took money from the taxpayers and gave it to banks that willingly, knowingly, and repeatedly took huge amounts of risk, hoping they’d get bailed out by everyone else. It clearly was an unfair transfer of funds.
The problem isn’t only that the bailout wasn’t necessary in the first place. The bailout may have made the credit situation worse. When banks hear that the Treasury Department is dangling hundreds of billions of dollars out there to purchase their toxic assets, what are they going to do? Sell their assets for 20 cents on the dollar, or hold onto them in the hope that the government will eventually buy them for 80 cents on the dollar?
President Obama’s mortgage plan uses $275 billion in tax funds to help homeowners refinance and lower rates, to subsidize payments from borrowers to lenders, to get lenders to modify loans, and so on. It gives another $200 billion to the government-created home mortgage companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. This is exactly the wrong approach.

The aim is to reduce foreclosures, so the delinquent or nearly delinquent borrowers can stay in their homes. That sounds like a laudable goal, but it ignores a fundamental reality: This money is coming from somebody else. So what the plan is doing is penalizing relatively responsible homeowners or renters—everybody who pays taxes—and rewarding those people who should have known, or at least should have had some inkling, that the loans they were being offered were too good to be true. This program creates exactly the wrong incentives for people deciding whether to borrow and whether to be homeowners.

More generally, it continues the policy of promoting homeownership. We got in this situation because the government wanted to promote homeownership. Until we create a situation where people make decisions based on their own resources and have to think about bearing the consequences of the decisions they make, the root cause of the financial crisis will only get worse.


Add in Obama’s $787 billion stimulus and his $3.6 trillion budget, and a picture emerges of an administration totally unapologetic about its designs to expand the size and scope of government. There is no question that the people advocating this spending want much more government intervention with respect to unions, energy, health care, infrastructure, and other areas. The crisis has given them the opportunity to ram through a bunch of things they’ve been pursuing for a long time.
The stunning thing about Obama’s spending proposals is that there’s almost nothing you could defend from the perspective of efficiency. It’s all about redistribution--not redistribution to the poor but redistribution to Democratic interest groups: to unions, to the green lobby, to the health care industry, and so on. At some point these everescalating government interventions will affect the size of the economic pie.
And yet so many are still in love with him.

Boycott GM

Boycott GM until the government relinquishes its grip on the company’s decision making process.

Thursday, July 9

If you believe the U.S. House of Representatives

That is, the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform:
The housing bubble that burst in 2007 and led to a financial crisis can be traced back to federal government intervention in the U.S. housing market intended to help provide homeownership opportunities for more Americans. This intervention began with two government-backed corporations, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which privatized their profits but socialized their risks, creating powerful incentives for them to act recklessly and exposing taxpayers to tremendous losses. Government intervention also created “affordable” but dangerous lending policies which encouraged lower down payments, looser underwriting standards and higher leverage.

Finally, government intervention created a nexus of vested interests – politicians, lenders and lobbyists – who profited from the “affordable” housing market and acted to kill reforms. In the short run, this government intervention was successful in its stated goal – raising the national homeownership rate. However, the ultimate effect was to create a mortgage tsunami that wrought devastation on the American people and economy. While government intervention was not the sole cause of the financial crisis, its role was significant and has received too little attention.

Monday, July 6

I wondered why that house was empty for so long

Kerry L. Smith, 37, of Carbondale has been sentenced to more than seven years in prison on federal marijuana conspiracy and other charges.

Smith was sentenced in U.S. District Court in East St. Louis to 92 months in prison and four years supervised release. He also was ordered to pay $41,802 in restitution to the Social Security Administration and the Illinois Department of Human Services, according to a news release from A. Courtney Cox, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Illinois.

Additionally, Smith was ordered to forfeit seven Carbondale residences, two vehicles, $10,576 cash and other property. To wit:
  • 111 South Dixon Avenue
  • 309 South Crestview
  • 313 Crestview Lane
  • 501 East Snider Street
  • 1005 E Cindy Street
  • 1808 West Freeman St
  • 403 North University Avenue