Posts tagged ‘mexico’

Life in the Trump Era: Conservatives Now Define Raising Taxes as "Progress"

John Hinderaker of Powerline writes approvingly of Trump's apparent trade deal with Mexico.  First, he quotes the New York Times celebrating the higher taxes:

Under the changes agreed to by Mexico and the United States, car companies would be required to manufacture at least 75 percent of an automobile’s value in North America under the new rules, up from 62.5 percent, to qualify for Nafta’s zero tariffs. They will also be required to use more local steel, aluminum and auto parts, and have 40 to 45 percent of the car made by workers earning at least $16 an hour, a boon to both the United States and Canada and a win for labor unions, which have been among Nafta’s biggest critics.

I am not sure how narrowing the scope of products subject to lower taxes is a "boon" to this country, though I suppose labor unions might be happy and one is suspicious that this is sufficient reason for the NYT to support it.  My suspicion is that these numbers are incredibly carefully tailored by Ford and GM lobbyists to hit a couple of their competitors while missing themselves -- this has all the fingerprints of a classic crony deal that benefits very few powerful groups to the detriment of most consumers.

So the NYT can be expected to cheer for bad crony economics that helps a few unions, but what about Conservatives, who are supposed to understand markets and trade.  Hinderaker writes:

So, from 62.5% to 75% to qualify for zero tariffs. Not exactly radical, but positive.

So broadening a US government tax on US consumers is "positive."  Powerline in the past has rightfully chided Paul Krugman for abandoning his understanding of economics in favor of cheerleading the Democratic team.  Now Powerline is doing the same for Trump.

What Socialists (and Most Other People) Don't Understand About The Oil Industry

This same failure has happened over and over, at one time or another in Russia and Mexico and now in Venezuela.  Some tried to make it happen in the 1970's in the US, and Elizabeth Warren would still like to try, I bet.  Socialists take over the oil industry and revel in the first months about all they money they are able to divert to "social" expenditures.  Then, in a few year, it all comes crashing down.  This tweet from Michael Moore five years ago gives you a good idea of the thinking.

Socialists have always seen production and wealth creation as some sort of magic, a fountain in the desert where piggy rich people push to the front and take more than their fair share.  Oil looks to them as the ultimate example of this -- wealth just flows out of the ground and evil rich people at Exxon grab it all for themselves.

But in fact, oil is just the opposite of the magic fountain.  It takes a huge quantity of money and brains to get even one drop of it in usable form to your car.  Imagine trying to figure out where even to look for oil when it is hiding far under ground.  Or having to poke holes a mile into the ground from structures standing in 1000 foot deep water in the Gulf of Mexico.  And then transporting the oil hundreds or thousands of miles by pipeline and ship and train and truck.  And then carefully refining the oil almost molecule by molecule in multi-billion dollar facilities.  And then getting the usable parts to the right people, including distribution outlets for you and I on almost every corner of town.

Right now gasoline in Phoenix goes for about $2.85 a gallon, which is about $2.40 before taxes.  This is 60 cents a quart, which compares to the retail price of a bottle of water of about $2.00-$2.50 a quart.  It's a freaking miracle of modernity that you can fill your car this inexpensively.

Anyway, it turns out that oil is the ultimate "you have to spend money to make money" kind of business.  And once you spend all that money, you investment immediately starts dying.  Oil companies have to completely rebuild retail gas stations every 20-30 years.  Refineries have to be constantly updated with really expensive improvements to take advantage of new technologies, to adjust to changing markets and regulations, and to handle different types of crude oil.  And then there is oil production.  Drill a well today and the moment you open it up, the production starts to fall off.  The flow will drop, the percentage of water might increase-- a million things can happen and all of them bad.  To keep wells flowing companies constantly have to reinvest their profits in reworking the wells (fracking and such) and adding enhanced recovery systems.  As fields deplete, new wells have to be drilled in new locations or at new depths, or else whole new fields have to be developed to replace them.

The "greedy and short-term-focused" oil companies reinvest much of their earnings to make sure the supply of oil is sustained.  The "enlightened" socialists harvest all the cash they can and hand it to their cronies, allowing the production assets to fall apart and, eventually, their economy to collapse.

I Have Deleted My Twitter App. It's An Impossible Platform for Political Discourse (at Least For Me)

Those who have read this blog for a while know that I have an up and down history with Twitter.  I think it is a perfectly valid platform for sharing breaking news, following celebrities, posting cute animal pictures, and notifying folks that blog posts or longer articles are available.  I have always used Twitter for the latter function, and for those who follow me there, I will still use it to automatically publicize my blog posts.

From time to time, though, I have dived deeper into Twitter and tried to use it to actually have conversations and discussions about certain topics.  The first time I tried this I had to get off after a month.  I reported here that Twitter was making me both unhappy and a worse person, the latter because I fell quickly into the Twitter trap of going for zingers and gotchas rather than treating people's arguments civilly and with nuance.  A few days ago I gave it one more try, perhaps unfortunately the day after Trump's state of the union.  In the process I came to a final conclusion that Twitter is an impossible platform for political discourse, at least for me.  I am open to considering that the failure is in part my own, that I am simply incapable of making the kind of arguments I want to make within the Twitter character limit.   Never-the-less, I have deleted my twitter app from my phone so I will not be tempted to dive back in when I am stuck in the doctor's waiting room.  I will still scan it to see what is going on, but if I want to respond to something, I will do it here.

Just for fun, I thought I would dig through the detritus of my last 48 hours on Twitter and see if I could pull up a few examples of just what drove me crazy.  I want to make it clear that I am not leaving because people *gasp* disagreed with me, but because that disagreement was embodied in really poor discourse, the poverty of which I think is necesarily related to the nature of the platform.  After considering several, here is a good example of why I left.

It started with my seeing this post in my feed from a guy named Nick Searcy.  I don't really know who that is, but he is not just some rando with 8 followers, he has almost two orders of magnitude more followers than I.  He wrote:


While there are some solid arguments for why truly open borders might not work in today's USA, I have always considered this analogy of a country's borders to private property boundaries to be a really weak argument.  Not only weak, but one that dangerously undermines the meaning of private property and makes it harder to defend the property rights that Conservatives say they support.   I actually wrote hundreds of words on this argument here, so you can probably guess I struggled to respond to this in one tweet.  I tweeted:

(lol, the unmentioned problem I also have with Twitter is the inability to edit after the fact.  In a socialist ... what?  Dammit Coyote, learn to self-edit)

So I will confess the property rights argument is a subtle one for most people, and a difficult one to make in part because even strong defenders of property rights often don't have a very clear understanding of them.  The picture I think many property rights defenders have in their head is the old coot sitting on his front porch with a shotgun across his lap yelling "get off my land."  But for property rights to be meaningful, one needs to not only be able to protect the borders of that property but also hire whom they like to work on their property, sell to whom they like, rent to whom they like, entertain whom they like, etc.  Its not just about one's ability to exclude people, but also one's ability to associate with people of one's choice.

Now, I can imagine a number of reasonable rebuttals.  Someone might argue that this is all fine and good when 100 people want to come and seek a job from folks like me, but what if the number is a billion?   Anyway, we could have an interesting discussion along those lines.  But instead I got this:

Uh, what?  This makes about zero sense in context.  He was criticizing a open border policy, which would represent a change in current law.  I offered a partial defense of open borders and why I thought his property rights analogy for border restrictions was a bad analogy.  And so he answers "because laws".  Honestly, this may be my failing, but I really did not understand how laws were the reason we could not change immigration laws (he may have an implicit assumption that immigrants are dangerous and laws are thus necessary to protect us from them, but if this is his core assumption driving this comment it goes entirely unstated).   So I assumed I had not explained myself well, and made the mistake of trying to clarify my point (instead of just walking away as I should have).  I will confess that the 40+ likes he got for a tweet which was true on its face but made zero sense in context influenced my decisions to try again.  Perhaps if I clarified, so would he, so I tweeted:

 

And here you go, the payoff for reading so far into this post, the true WTF moment of the thread

and here, because repetition using slightly different insults just reinforces the point

I am not even sure how to parse this.  More than even the statement itself, the 60 likes and 4 retweets just sort of floored me.  "Yeah, Nick, you showed that guy!"  Anyway, I assume what is going on here is that rather than understand my actual argument, he assigned to me the same package of both real and straw man arguments Conservatives assign to all immigration supporters and then started arguing some of those, rather than the actual issue we were arguing.   Anyway, just to make sure I had the full Twitter experience in this thread we had an appearance by the super Internet sleuth who has figured it all out:

lol, nice job.  The few folks who were reading my blog at the beginning -- which had its first post in 2004 a full 18 months before the first tweet on Twitter -- will know the blog is named after the Warner Brothers animation character, who in my mind should be one of the patron saints of small business owners -- he works his *ss off to achieve a goal and something unexpected screws his quest up every time.

Anyway, I guess I should make clear that my position on Twitter is roughly the same as it is on incentives.  In the case of incentives, bad organizations don't have bad people, they have ordinary average people with bad incentives.   As far as Twitter goes, I am more than willing to believe that, despite what he thinks of me, that Nick Searcy is not a dolt or a loser.  He is likely a reasonably smart guy on a platform that turns everyone on it into morons and *ssholes.

So I will use twitter to publish so people can find my articles in their feed there, and I will look at it from time to time if I need a blogging topic, but otherwise I am going to limit my discourse to places I can write in long form.

Postscript: OK, I figured out who this guy is.  I have not seen him in a lot of things but he played Deke Slayton in the HBO mini-series From the Earth to the Moon and that entire series, including his contribution, was excellent.  I give him kudos as an (apparently) vocal Conservative in the entertainment world, as I think the constant drumbeat of unthinking Leftism in that industry tends to cause most of the Conservatives to just go into turtle mode to protect their careers and sanity.   Still don't agree with him on immigration.

I Saw a Lot of Arguments Against Immigration on Twitter Yesterday, But Most of Them Are Poor

Against my recent personal resolutions, I spent the last 24 hours active on Twitter.  My memory of the platform turned out to be largely correct -- it took only a little while on Twitter before I became a worse person, abandoning rational argumentation in favor of clever "gotcha" zings at people whose minds aren't going to be changed anyway. So I am going to respond to some of the things I saw here on the blog, rather than on Twitter.

Much of the traffic in my feed, the day after the President's State of the Union speech, centered around immigration.  As many of you know, I grew up an immigration restrictionist, but morphed over time into a largely open immigration supporter because I simply cannot come up with a moral justification for a free society restricting anyone's freedom of movement and association.  I became convinced (more on this in a second) that not only did immigration restrictions limit the rights of those trying to immigrate, but despite being native born, they limited my property and association rights.

Yes I have concerns and I think there are some valid arguments out there.  It is, for example, really hard to square open immigration with our current definitions of citizenship and various government benefit programs.  In addition, I am frequently concerned that we libertarians are being suckers on immigration, justifying immigration on the grounds of individual liberty and then having waves of immigrants who vote for things that limit personal liberty.  I see that already with "immigrants" moving from California to Arizona, who leave California because of the effects of the crazy regulation regime there and then come to Arizona and vote for all the same crazy stuff that ruined California.

But I actually saw neither of these arguments made all day.  Instead, I saw one form or another of these four arguments:

1.  There are individual examples of immigrants who did bad things. Trump's invocation of the MS-13 gang certainly set the tone for this, but I saw it all day.   This is a classic Conservative civilization-barbarism argument and tends to have immense appeal in that community.  But here is what is funny to me.  Conservatives (rightly in my opinion) oppose using tail-of-the-distribution individual weather events to "prove" climate change.  But those same Conservatives sure like to use rare individual acts of criminal behavior to "prove" immigration is dangerous.  Tied in with this is an observer bias -- the media only presents us with the extreme examples.  When the media only puts the weather on the news when it is extreme, it leads to a false impression that the weather is becoming more extreme.  When Fox News fills the news with crimes committed by immigrants, rather than say crimes committed by natives or acts of kindness committed by immigrants, it leads to a false impression that immigrants are all criminal barbarians making us less safe.  Which leads to #2:

2.  Immigrant crime is 100% preventable because we could just have kept them out.  This is a variation of the Skittles immigration meme that went around before the election, asking if one would voluntarily eat from a bowl of 1000 Skittles if one knew 2 or 3 were poisonous.  An example I saw of this yesterday was this:

I suppose this is correct on its face.  Because in any group of 10,000 randomly-selected human beings some will be criminals, such that banning any group from the country would also ban some criminals.  But the problem is that you could make this argument for any group.  Heck, you could use this equally well as an advertisement for abortion, because every 10,000 births you prevent will likely eliminate some criminals.  Because this argument is equally valid for any group one might ban from the country, it is not a valid argument against immigration.  You still have to say why you want to pick on immigrants vs. some other group.  The first thing Conservatives would say is, "Because they are illegal!" and I will deal with the rule of law argument below in #4.  But the other thing they might say is that immigrants commit crimes at a higher rate than natives, an impression formed by wall-to-wall Fox News coverage over every alleged immigrant crime (see #1 above).  But this impression is simply not the case.  Study after study shows that immigrants commit crimes at a lower rate than native born Americans.  If you really care about crime, immigrants are the last group you want to send away.  Here is one such study from Cato, but there are many.

3.  You lock the front door of your house, don't you?  An example of this argument is here:

The first problem with this argument is that it is fundamentally socialist.  Only in a socialist country is the entire country one entire single block of property.

I really hate the house analogy but if you simply have to use it, then don't think of the country as a house, think of it as a giant apartment building with 100 million apartments.   Each apartment has its own door and then there is a door into the building itself.  When people talk about immigration restrictions, they are talking about limiting who I can and cannot buzz into the front door to come up and visit me.

Bad analogy?  Well, I wasn't the one who started the whole stupid building analogy. Anyway, the correct way to put it is that if I want to hire someone from Mexico in my business, and I want to rent that person a place to live on my property, why do you get to lock the door barring that person from doing these things with me?  That is why I said above that immigration restrictions don't just limit the rights of immigrants, they limit my association and property rights as a native-born American.  I can't hire anyone I want.  I can't have anyone I want come visit me.  I can't rent my property to anyone I like.  I can only do all those things with a person who has been licensed by the Federal government to be able to interact with me in this country.  And those licenses are very scarce and hard to get.

4.  They're illegal!

I will admit the rule of law argument is seductive, but I have a couple of thoughts on it.

First, do you file and pay state use tax whenever you buy things over the Internet that have not had sales tax applied?  Do you pay all the proper employment taxes for your household help, or if they are contractors, file 1090's for what you paid them each year?  Do you always stay under the speed limit and come to a full and complete stop at every red light and stop sign?  Do you always have your dog on a leash in public areas that require it?  If the answer is "no", then stop lecturing me on the rule of law.

I know that the answer to the queries above is typically that those things are all trivial sh*t compared to breaking immigration laws.  Hmm, maybe or maybe not -- they are all basically victim-less, often paperwork crimes.  But here is another way to think of it.  You are breaking the law for some trivial reason, because you want to get to work 30 seconds faster or can't be bothered with an hour of paperwork.  Illegal immigrants are often breaking the law for life and death reasons.  Which of you is more admirable?  More than anything else about the immigration system, I hate that it takes people with qualities we generally admire -- they are trying to improve themselves, trying to make a better life for their kids, trying to find better jobs and schools -- and we turn them into criminals.  Trump is right about one thing -- many of these countries have been turned into sh*tholes by their governments.  I would like to think that if I were born in one, I would be doing everything I could to get out, laws or no laws.

Finally, I would observe that the statement "I am not against immigration, just illegal immigration" is just a cover for most people who say it.  If that were really true, we could fix it in a second -- just make it legal.  But few on the Conservative side are suggesting any such thing.

What A Disaster Nationalization of the US Oil Industry Would Have Been!

Back in the 1970's, there were serious proposals in Congress to nationalize US oil companies.  My dad, who was an executive at a major oil company, was being constantly dragged to DC to testify in front of Congress to try to explain what a bad idea that would be.  This was a time of incredible economic ignorance in Washington, perhaps even more than average, when a Republican President had recently instituted wage and price controls and Congress was looking for ways to "fix" problems with oil supply that they themselves had caused with price control rules and other restrictions on exploration.

Think about what we know about state-run oil companies in Venezuela, Mexico and even Saudi Arabia:

  • They always under-invest capital in well maintenance, preferring to route cash flow to social spending that helps maintain shaky governments in power.  Many folks don't understand this, but production from a well starts falling off almost from the moment you drill it.  Well's must be expensively reworked and maintained and upgrade to keep flowing over their life.  This has gotten so bad in Venezuela that the country with the world's largest oil reserves is running out of gas.  I worked with Pemex for years and, at least in the 1990's, were about 1 step away from Pemex looking just like Venezuela's state oil company
  • They have missed most of the recent revolutions in technology, and do no technology development of their own.  If not for technology developed by private western oil companies, they would barely be ahead of Edwin Drake.
  • They deal with price downturns by forming cartels and attempting to fix prices and reduce output.

Private oil companies at the same time:

  • Reinvest massively in both new and existing fields, often with 20-30 year time horizons
  • Continue to revolutionize technology - the shale boom is just one example
  • Respond to market price downturns with innovation and efficiency improvements.

The link above is gated so here is an excerpt:

Now, with oil currently trading near $50 a barrel, these producers are trying to unleash fracking 2.0, the next step in the technological transformation of the sector that is aimed at extracting oil even faster and less expensively to eke out profits at that level.

The promise of this new phase is potentially as significant as the original revolution. If more producers can follow EOG’s lead and profitably ramp up output from shale drilling even at lower prices, the sector could become a lasting force that challenges OPEC’s ability to control market prices.

For a sector in which the previous era’s success was tied to the rapid expansion of output, the shift toward finding more cost-effective ways to get to that oil and gas is full of challenges. When oil prices dropped, critics wondered if the shale industry—rife with heavily indebted companies that had never turned a profit—would collapse.

EOG, with its longtime focus on low-cost production, is the producer many hope to emulate, thanks to the iSteer app and dozens of other homegrown innovations. Dubbed the “Apple of oil” by one analyst, EOG made its name as a pioneer in horizontal drilling and in finding ways to get oil out of shale—often dense layers of rock that hold oil and gas in tiny pores—a feat many once believed impossible.

Can you imagine people like Gina McCarthy running our state oil company?  Good god, we would have $10 gas and import 80% of our oil.

California: Easy to Love, Impossible to Do Business In

California is beautiful.  Many parts have great weather.  There are a lot of smart people there and some good schools.  Both my kids live there right now, though it is really expensive given the state and local governments' propensity to take many steps to limit the supply of housing.

But it is simply impossible to do business in.  Every single legislative session brings a series of new time-consuming and expensive regulatory requirements.  Despite California having some of the best recreation spots in the world, we have systematically reduced our business in California by 50%, and I have a moratorium in place on accepting new business (I won't even look at RFP's and proposals to avoid being tempted.)  I wrote about this process a number of times, including here.

This week, Hans Bader covers this ground and more in his article about businesses fleeing California to places like Texas.

It does not surprise me that service industries, particularly those that provide high-margin services to the wealthy, stay in California -- service businesses have to be close to their customers.  But it always blows me away when I see anyone manufacturing in California.  Why?  Move over the border into Nevada or Arizona or Mexico and costs go down a lot without any real increase in logistics costs.  California does not even want you there -- I am convinced they achieve most of their environmental goals merely by chasing folks over the border, exporting these issues rather than solving them.

Why Are We Making It So Hard For the Chinese to Provide Us With Lower-Cost Aluminum?

This WSJ article's hook is a huge cache of raw aluminum photographed in the Mexican desert.  American aluminum manufacturers claim that this is Chinese aluminum being illegally transshipped through Mexico to get a lower tariff rate.

The U.S. Commerce Department says it is investigating the Mexican aluminum’s origin as part of a slew of trade complaints by the U.S. metals industry against China, many of which include allegations of transshipping.

China’s booming industrial production has reordered global markets, few more dramatically than aluminum. Fueled by access to inexpensive electricity and tax breaks, Chinese aluminum output doubled between 2010 and 2015. With local demand slowing,more of it was sent to the U.S., which was importing 40% of its aluminum by 2015—up from only 14% in 2010.

By the end of 2016, only five aluminum smelters will be operating in the U.S., down from 23 in 2000.

Alcoa Inc., the largest American aluminum maker, is splitting in two, isolating its profitable parts-making units from its troubled raw-aluminum operations. Alcoa Chief Executive Klaus Kleinfeld last year said illegitimate Chinese exports were “the major driver” of lower aluminum prices.

I suppose to an incumbent who has convinced himself that he has a God-given right to his historic market share, new sources of competition are always "illegitimate."  But through the whole article I kept asking myself, why are we forcing these folks in China to jump through so many hoops just to bring us lower-cost aluminum?  Given how fundamental aluminum is to almost every manufactured product today, we should be welcoming them as heroes, not forcing them to play silly games in the Mexican desert just to deliver their product at the price they want to sell it for.

It turns out that all this government effort to "protect" us from lower cost aluminum is to support an American aluminum industry that is tiny, maybe 2% of world production.

p1-by551b_china_16u_20160908113905

The industry would argue that the lower prices of Chinese imports are "illegitimate" in part because the sales price in the US is subsidized by Chinese taxpayers.  To which I answer, "so what?"  Or actually, to which I answer, "yay!"  If another country's taxpayers want to pay higher taxes so that they can provide valuable raw materials to US industry at lower prices, why in the heck would we want to stop them?

What Exactly Is the Conservative Theory of Free Markets?

Conservatives say they are for free markets and free enterprise, but then I read stuff like this (have have added the bold):

Lynch supports Obama’s unconstitutional amnesty, believes illegal immigrants should have the same rights to employment as American citizens, opposes voter ID laws, advocates federal intrusion in local law enforcement under the guise of civil rights, supports the government taking private property on flimsy grounds, and offers no opposition to using drones against American citizens.

I agree with some of these concerns, but the one in bold is a real head scratcher.   What theory of free markets do Conservatives hold that accepts as valid the government licensing of labor?  On what possible grounds should a government bar me from hiring, say, a Russian immigrant to do my programming?  Or crazier still, why can I hire a Mexican in my Mexico office but can't have the same person working for me in my Phoenix office?

I have a theory about the Romans that is probably shared by nobody.  The Romans were strong and powerful and vital when they were creating a variety of citizenship types to accommodate multiple peoples who entered the empire in multiple ways.  In particular I think of civitas sine suffragio or citizenship without the vote.  But this was just one of many variations.   By the first century AD  (or CE per the modern academic trend), a lot of people of a lot of cultures and races and over a wide geography called themselves Romans.

By the end of the empire, the "reforms" of Diocletian and Constatine purged all flexibility from both governance and the economy (in sum, their laws amounted to the Directive 10-289 of the ancient world).  By the time the Empire started falling apart, they had lost all ability to integrate new peoples or innovate with citizenship models.  What was eventually called the Barbarian invasions began decades earlier as the attempted barbarian migrations.   The barbarians wanted to just settle peacefully.  And Rome desperately needed them -- their system was falling apart as their farms and countryside was depopulated from a combination of government policy and demographic collapses (e.g. plagues).  Rome desperately needed new people to settle their farms and form the new backbone of the army and the barbarians desperately wanted to settle and had a lot of military skill, but they couldn't make it work.

Police and Patents of Nobility

I don't have much to add to all the commentary on the Ferguson killing, except to say that many, many examples of police abuse of power are covered by libertarian blogs --but seldom more widely -- so it is nice to see coverage of such an incident hit the mainstream.

Defenders of police will say that police are mostly good people who do a difficult job and they will mostly be right.  But here is the problem:  In part due to our near fetishization of the police (if you think I exaggerate, come live here in Phoenix with our cult of Joe Arpaio), and in part due to the enormous power of public sector unions, we have made the following mistake:

  • We give police more power than the average citizen.  They can manhandle other people, drag them into captivity, search and take their stuff, etc.
  • We give police less accountability than the average citizen when things go wrong.   It is unusual even to get an investigation of their conduct, such investigations are seldom handled by neutral third parties, and they are given numerous breaks in the process no citizen gets.

The combination of these two can be deadly.

Ken White at Popehat writes to some of this

If you are arrested for shooting someone, the police will use everything in their power — lies, false friendship, fear, coercion — to get you to make a statement immediately. That's because they know that the statement is likely to be useful to the prosecution: either it will incriminate you, or it will lock you into one version of events before you've had an opportunity to speak with an adviser or see the evidence against you. You won't have time to make up a story or conform it to the evidence or get your head straight.

But what if a police officer shoots someone? Oh, that's different. Then police unions and officials push for delays and opportunities to review evidence before any interview of the officer. Last December, after a video showed that a cop lied about his shooting of a suspect, the Dallas Police issued a new policy requiring a 72-hour delay after a shooting before an officer can be interviewed, and an opportunity for the officer to review the videos or witness statements about the incident. Has Dallas changed its policy to offer such courtesies to citizens arrested for crimes? Don't be ridiculous. If you or I shoot someone, the police will not delay our interrogation until it is personally convenient. But if the police shoot someone:

New Mexico State Police, which is investigating the shooting, said such interviews hinge on the schedules of investigators and the police officers they are questioning. Sgt. Damyan Brown, a state police spokesman, said the agency has no set timeline for conducting interviews after officer-involved shootings. The Investigations Bureau schedules the interviews at an “agreeable” time for all parties involved, he said.

Cops and other public servants get special treatment because the whole system connives to let them. Take prosecutorial misconduct. If you are accused of breaking the law, your name will be released. If, on appeal, the court finds that you were wrongfully convicted, your name will still be brandished. But if the prosecutor pursuing you breaks the law and violates your rights, will he or she be named? No, usually not. Even if a United States Supreme Court justice is excoriating you for using race-baiting in your closing, she usually won't name you. Even if the Ninth Circuit — the most liberal federal court in the country — overturns your conviction because the prosecutor withheld exculpatory evidence, they usually won't name the prosecutor.

Also see Kevin Williamson.

Expensive Legislation Whose Only Benefit is a Politician's Talking Point During Re-election

I absolutely despise legislation like this.  Some legislator wants to pat him or herself on the back during their re-election that they "did something" about human trafficking so they pass this law:

New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez approved a law requiring employers to post a notice containing information about the National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline. The new law, H.B. 181, unanimously passed by both legislative chambers, becomes effective July 1, 2014.

Employers subject to the state Minimum Wage Act must post a sign containing the following notice in English and in Spanish and in any other written language where at least 10 percent of the workers or users of a covered facility speak that language:

NOTICE ON HUMAN TRAFFICKING: OBTAINING FORCED LABOR OR SERVICES IS A CRIME UNDER NEW MEXICO AND FEDERAL LAW. IF YOU OR SOMEONE YOU KNOW IS A VICTIM OF THIS CRIME, CONTACT THE FOLLOWING: IN NEW MEXICO, CALL OR TEXT 505-GET-FREE (505-438- 3733); OR CALL THE NATIONAL HUMAN TRAFFICKING RESOURCE CENTER HOTLINE TOLL-FREE AT 1-888-373-7888 FOR HELP. YOU MAY ALSO SEND THE TEXT “HELP” OR “INFO” TO BEFREE (“233733”). YOU MAY REMAIN ANONYMOUS, AND YOUR CALL OR TEXT IS CONFIDENTIAL

Oh yeah, that is going to make a big difference.  Have you seen a labor poster wall lately?  Probably not, because no employees ever look at these things unless they are by the microwave and they have nothing better to do while waiting for their popcorn.  But every time some legislator wants to "do something" about an employment related issue, another poster is added.

Here is the really hilarious part -- do they really think that a person who who is so lawless as to engage in forced labor is going to post this poster?  Seriously?    I have this picture in my head of a southern plantation owner in 1864 tacking the Emancipation Proclamation up in the slave quarters.

I will take a picture of all the posters required in California, because I was just working on it, but here is a list of what has to be posted.

Triangle Trade and Physics

You have heard of the Atlantic triangle trade in school.  It is always discussed in terms of its economic logic (e.g. English rum to African slaves to New World sugar).  But the trade has a physical logic as well in the sailing ship era.  Current wind patterns:

Earth-wind-map

 

Real time version here.  Via Flowing data.

Seriously, click on the real time link.  Even if you are jaded, probably the coolest thing you will see today.  One interesting thing to look at -- there is a low point in the spine of the mountains of Mexico west of Yucatan.  Look at the wind pour through it like air out of a balloon.

ACLU's Distaste for Commerce

Walter Olson writes (emphasis added)

Elane Photography LLC v. Vanessa Willock is the case in which an Albuquerque, NM woman has (thus farsuccessfully) sued husband-and-wife photographers under New Mexico’s “public accommodations” discrimination law for their reluctance to shoot photos of her commitment ceremony to a female partner. One of the most dismaying elements of the case is that the American Civil Liberties Union has taken the anti-liberty side. Adam Liptak in the NYT:

I asked Louise Melling, a lawyer at the American Civil Liberties Union, which has a distinguished history of championing free speech, how the group had evaluated the case.

Ms. Melling said the evaluation had required difficult choices. Photography is expression protected by the Constitution, she said, and Ms. [Elane] Huguenin acted from “heartfelt convictions.”

But the equal treatment of gay couples is more important than the free speech rights of commercial photographers, she said, explaining why the A.C.L.U. filed a brief in the New Mexico Supreme Court supporting the couple.

Earlier, Olson made the useful point that large organizations like the ACLU are not monolithic -- they have internal conflicts on issues like this.  But based on my interactions with the ACLU, I believe the key word is in bold:  "commercial".   For many at the ACLU, the fact that an activity is commercial or for money voids or cancels out any rights one has.  Property rights or rights exercised in the conduct of commerce tend to always come last (if at all) at the ACLU.  Which is why I donate every year to the IJ, the organization the ACLU should have been if they had not been founded by Stalinists.  Update:  That is unfair.  It's like criticizing someone because of what his father did or believed.  Many organizations move beyond their original founder's legacy.  But it is never-the-less undeniable that -- at best -- the ACLU has no interest in property rights or commercial freedoms.

New Development: Our Closure Creates Chaos in Sedona

As you know (and am sure are tired of hearing about) the US Forest Service has closed all our privately-funded and operated parks on their land.  These include a number of very popular campgrounds and parks in the Sedona area.

Today we got a call from the County Sheriff saying that visitors were parked all over the highway and walking into our (closed) concession areas.  He said they were creating a serious public safety problem, particularly at Call of the Canyon** (also known as West Fork) and Crescent Moon Ranch (also known as Red Rock Crossing).  I told him that I had specifically raised this issue about these specific sites all the way up to Cal Joyner, Regional head of the USFS in Arizona, New Mexico and parts of Oklahoma and Texas.  And the US Forest Service had closed us anyway.  The Sheriff begged us to reopen the facilities and I told him I would love nothing more but my contracts were suspended and I had no legal basis for doing so.

So, apparently, the sheriff cut the cable on the facilities and is letting cars into the facilities, creating even more chaos.  There is no one there to monitor safety, provide security, clean the bathrooms, pick up trash, etc. -- all the things we do every day without taking one dollar of Federal money, if only the US Forest Service would let us.  I am actually happy the Sheriff is giving visitors access.  These facilities are particularly lovely in the Autumn.  But the US Forest Service needs to send 15 or 20 people to help manage them, but that would cost them money they do not have.  Or they could just let us get back to operating the sites, which does not cost them one dime.

 

** The West Fork of Oak Creek Canyon is so beautiful in the fall that Zane Grey immortalized it in a novel called "Call of the Canyon."  The trailhead and parking area are cramped and require a lot of active management even when staffed to keep them operating safely.

Arizona's Real Immigration Issue: Californians

Some libertarians, who would normally be all for open immigration, have expressed concern about -- in the name of liberty -- allowing into the country people who will generally vote against it.  I have at times shared this concern but in the end find it wanting.

However, I have personally observed this happening in both of the recent states in which I have lived (Arizona and Colorado).  But the source of the problem has not been immigration from Mexico or any other country but from California.  Californians seem hell-bent to escape the mess they have made of their state.  They run to other states complaining of the disaster they are escaping.  And then they proceed to vote for the same taxation and regulatory policies that screwed up California.

Arizona state politicians are excited to get all that new income tax money.  While I am happy to see new wealth and talent flowing into our state, I fear that these new immigrants are plague carriers, bringing the virus of out-of-control state power to heretofore only mildly infected states.

Ha! Not in California

Eugene Volokh is writing about a case against an attorney who defrauded his firm.  The details are not important, what caught my eye is what is highlighted below:

Once again, this case does not turn on the bare fact that Attorney Siderits wrote-down his time; this case is about Attorney Siderits abusing his write-down discretion and lying to his law partners in order to collect almost $47,000 in bonuses to which he was not entitled. Attorney Siderits cannot seriously contend that firms must have a written policy forbidding stealing and lying before a misconduct charge for one of these actions can be sustained.

That certainly makes sense, but it does not apply at the California EDD, which administers (among other things) the state unemployment insurance program.  We terminated an employee for accepting money from a customer to provide a service, then pocketing the money and not providing the service.  I call this "theft", and had assumed all would understand that stealing from customers is a firing offense.   When California sent out its unemployment paperwork, we said this employee had been fired "for cause", which in many states means that they are ineligeable for full unemployment payments.

However, after some back and forth, I was eventually informed by the EDD that since I did not have an explicit policy in the employee manual that said "employees may not steal money from customers", then they could not recognize that she was fired for cause.  Even if I had put that in the manual, it probably would not have counted because the next thing EDD asked for is something in writing proving, with the employee's signature, that she had read that passage.   And from past experience with the EDD, my guess is that they likely would not have accepted firing on the first offense, but would have insisted we needed to have her steal from multiple customers, with written warnings each time, before we terminated her.

Basically, what this all means is that while the law technically says people can't be paid unemployment if fired for cause, California has made the standards of proof so absurd that this requirement is meaningless.  Everyone is going to get unemployment.

As it turns out, there is a silver lining from this lack of diligence by the state.  My business is seasonal and I can only offer summer work.   Most of my employees are happy with this, as they like to take the winter off (many are retired).  One is not supposed to collect unemployment if he or she is not actively seeking work, but my employees have discovered that California does zero dilligence to check this.  So some of them lie and say they are looking for work over the winter when they are not, and collect unemployment.  I know of two couples who spend their winter in Mexico but still collect their California unemployment like clockwork.   Not only is California not dilligent about it, but when I tried to report someone I knew who was collecting unemployment but not even in the country, I was threatened by the EDD official that I was risking substantial personal liability by submitting such a claim and opening my self up to civil suits and even prosecution for harassing the worker.  So of course I dropped it.

So what is the silver lining?  California is so eager to hand money in the off-season to support my employees' seasonal vacations that my unemployment insurance premium rate is already the worst possible.  My rates can't go any higher.  So if they insist on giving state money to a thief, it's not coming out of my pocket.

A Defense of Israel

I can't call myself a defender of Israel per se because they have done a number of illiberal things in their country that tick me off.  However, I can say that for all the problems they may have, their response to a neighboring country dropping rockets on its citizens is FAR more restrained than would be the response of, say, the US.  If Mexico were dropping rockets into El Paso, Mexico would be a smoking hole in the ground.   We still maintain a stricter economic embargo on Cuba, which has never done a thing to us, than Israel does on Gaza.

I pay attention to the Amherst College community since my son enrolled there.  I thought this was a pretty powerful article by an Amherst student who has taken a leave of absence to join the IDF.  Given my understanding of how Eastern liberal arts faculty think about Israel and Palestine, one should think of this as a voice in the wilderness.

Most Honest Government Web Site

Congrats to New Mexico for this picture on their Department of Revenue site.  This is EXACTLY how I feel when I am trying to track down some bizarre new tax I have just found out that we may owe.

Worst American Rail Project Ever?

Last week I was in Albuquerque several hours early for my meeting in Santa Fe.  Several years ago I had written about the Railrunner passenger rail line that operates from south of Albuquerque north to Santa Fe.  Our Arizona Republic had written a relentlessly positive article about the line, focusing on how much the people who rode on it loved it.  Given that the picture they included in the article showed a young woman riding in a nearly empty car, I suspected that while the trains themselves might be nice for riders, the service probably wasn't a very good deal for taxpayers.

Of course, as is typical, the Republic article had absolutely no information on costs or revenues, as for some reason the media has adopted an attitude that such things don't matter for rail projects -- all that matters is finding a few people to interview who "like it."  So I attempted to run some numbers based on some guesses from other similar rail lines, and made an educated guess that it had revenues of about $1.8 million and operating costs of at least $20 million, excluding capital charges.  I got a lot of grief for making up numbers -- surely it could not be that bad.  Hang on for a few paragraphs, because we are going to see that its actually worse.

Anyway, I was in Albuquerque and thought I would ride the train to Santa Fe.  I had meetings at some government offices there, and it turns out that the government officials who spent the state's money on this project were careful to make sure the train stopped outside of their own workplaces.    I posited in my original article that every rider's trip was about 90% subsidized by New Mexico taxpayers, so I might as well get my subsidy.

Well, it turned out I missed my chance.  Apparently, trains do not run during much of the day, and all I saw between 9:30AM and 4:00 PM was trains just parked on the tracks.  I thought maybe it was a holiday thing because it was President's Day but their web site said it was a regular schedule.  I caught the shot below of one of the trains sitting at the Santa Fe station.

Anyway, I got interested in checking back on the line to see how it was doing.  I actually respected them somewhat for not running mid-day trains that would lose money, but my guess is that only running a few trains a day made the initial capital costs of the line unsustainable.  After all, high fixed cost projects like rail require that one run the hell out of them to cover the original capital costs.

As it turns out, I no longer have to guess at revenues and expenses, they now seem to have crept into the public domain.  Here is a recent article from the Albuquerque Journal.  Initially, my eye was attracted to an excerpt that said the line was $4 million in the black.  Wow!  Let's read more

New Mexico Rail Runner Express officials said Wednesday the railroad will receive an additional $4.8 million in federal funding this year that puts the operating budget more than $4 million in the black.

The injection of new money boosts Rail Runner’s revenues this year to $28 million, well in excess of expected operating costs of $23.6 million, said Terry Doyle, transportation director of the Mid Region Council of Governments, which oversees Rail Runner.

OK, I am not sure why the Feds are putting up money to cover the operating costs of local rail lines in New Mexico, but still, this seems encouraging.  This implies that even without the Fed money, the line was withing $800,000 of breaking even, which would make it impressive indeed among passenger rail lines.  But wait, I read further down:

The announcement comes as state lawmakers debate a measure that would require counties with access to the Belen-to-Santa Fe passenger railroad to pay for any deficit in Rail Runner’s operations with local taxes. Currently, almost half its revenues, $13 million, comes from local sales taxes.

Oops, looking worse.  Now it looks like taxes are covering over half the rail's costs.  But this implies that perhaps $10 million might be coming from users, right?  Nope, keep reading all the way down to paragraph 11

The Rail Runner collects about $3.2 million a year in fares and has an annual operating budget of about $23.6 million. That does not include about $41.7 million a year in debt service on the bonds — a figure that include eventual balloon payments.

So it turns out that I was actually pretty close, particularly since my guess was four years ago and they have had some ridership increases and fare increases since.

At the end of the day, riders are paying $3.2 million of the total $65.3 million annual cost. Again, I repeat my reaction from four years ago to hearing that riders really loved the train.  Of course they do -- taxpayers (read: non-riders) are subsidizing 95.1% of the service they get.  I wonder if they paid the full cost of the train ride -- ie if their ticket prices were increased 20x -- how they would feel about the service?

Of course, the Railrunner folks are right on the case.  They have just raised prices, which "could" generate $600,000 in extra revenue, assuming there is no loss in ridership from the fare increases (meaning assuming the laws of supply and demand do no operate correctly).  If this fare increase is as successful as planned, they will have boldly reduced the public subsidy to just 94.2% of the cost of each trip.

By the way, it is interesting to note in this Wikipedia article (Wikipedia articles on government rail projects generally read like press releases) that ridership on this line dropped by over half when the service went from free to paid (ie when the government subsidy dropped from 100% to 95%).  The line carries around 2000 round-trip passengers (ie number of boarding divided by two) a day.  It is simply incredible that a state can directly lavish $60 million  a year in taxpayer money on just 2000 mostly middle class citizens.  That equates to a subsidy of $30,000 per rider per year, enough to buy every daily round trip rider a new Prius and the gas to run it every single year.

Postscript:  This person seems to get it.  One thing I had not realized, the trip from Albuquerque to Santa Fe that I did in my rental car in 60 minutes takes 90 minutes by "high-speed rail".

Good for Gary Johnson

Gary Johnson gave the finger to the Republican my-family-values-must-be-your-family-values set

Presidential candidate and former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson charged today in a formal statement through his campaign that the Family Leader “pledge” Republican candidates for President are being asked to sign is “offensive to the principles of liberty and freedom on which this country was founded”.  Governor Johnson also plans to further state his position against the Family Leader pledge this afternoon in Las Vegas, NV at a speech he will deliver at the Conservative Leadership Conference.

Johnson went on to state that “the so-called ‘Marriage Vow” pledge that FAMILY LEADER is asking Republican candidates for President to sign attacks minority segments of our population and attempts to prevent and eliminate personal freedom.   This type of rhetoric is what gives Republicans a bad name.

“Government should not be involved in the bedrooms of consenting adults. I have always been a strong advocate of liberty and freedom from unnecessary government intervention into our lives. The freedoms that our forefathers fought for in this country are sacred and must be preserved. The Republican Party cannot be sidetracked into discussing these morally judgmental issues — such a discussion is simply wrongheaded. We need to maintain our position as the party of efficient government management and the watchdogs of the “public’s pocket book”.

“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’.

Johnson is easily my favorite Presidential candidate in recent memory.

World's Most Dangerous Lizard

It could kill thousands of jobs.

For years I have resisted the meme that environmentalists were anti-energy and anti-industrialists. However, the current strong and growing environmental opposition to natural gas production in the US, probably the cleanest, sanest source of energy that we have, is quickly changing my opinion.  Texas and New Mexico residents fear that the dune sagebrush lizard will get endangered species status specifically as a lever to reduce oil production.

Angola?

I love maps like this one, and a year or two ago I linked an earlier version.  This one is from the Economist via Carpe Diem, and shows the name of the country whose GDP is similar in size to that of the state.

I have to criticize the map-maker, though.  They used Thailand at least four times on this map -- the original version managed to do it without repeats.  But I am amazed that Arizona ranks right there with Thailand.  This is not to diss the rest of the state, which has a lot going for it, but in terms of population and economic activity, a huge percentage in in just one city, Phoenix.

I do have to wonder whether New Mexico being matched up with "Angola" is really very flattering, and pairing Mississippi with Bangladesh is funny on a couple of levels.

Did Your SUV Cause the Haiti Earthquake?

The other day, environmental blog the Thin Green Line wrote:

At the American Geophysical Union meeting late last month, University of Miami geologist Shimon Wdowinski argued that the devastating earthquake a year ago may have been caused by a combination of deforestation and hurricanes (H/T Treehugger). Climate change is spurring more, stronger hurricanes, which are fueled by warm ocean waters....

The 2010 disaster stemmed from a vertical slippage, not the horizontal movements that most of the region's quakes entail, supporting the hypothesis that the movement was triggered by an imbalance created when eroded land mass was moved from the mountainous epicenter to the Leogane Delta.

I have heard this theory before, that landslides and other surface changes can trigger earthquakes.  Now, I am not expert on geology -- it is one of those subjects that always seems like it would be interesting to me but puts me in a coma as soon as I dive into it.   I almost failed a pass-fail geology course in college because in the mineral identification section, all I could think to say was "that's a rock."

However, I do know enough to say with some confidence that surface land changes may have triggered but did not cause the earthquake.  Earthquakes come from large releases of stored energy, often between plates and faults.  It's remotely possible land surface changes trigger some of these releases, but in general I would presume the releases would happen at some point anyway.  (Steven Goddard points out the quake was 13km below the surface, and says "It is amazing that anyone with a scientific background could attempt to blame it on surface conditions.")

The bit I wanted to tackle was the Thin Green Line's statement that "Climate change is spurring more, stronger hurricanes."   This is a fascinating statement I want to attack from several angles.

First, at one level it is a mere tautology.  If we are getting more hurricanes, then by definition the climate has changed.   This is exactly why "global warming" was rebranded into "climate change," because at some level, the climate is always changing.

Second, the statement is part of a fairly interesting debate on whether global warming in general will cause more hurricanes.  Certainly hurricanes get their power from warm water in the oceans, so it is not unreasonable to hypothesize that warmer water would lead to more, stronger hurricanes.  It turns out the question, as are most all questions in the complex climate, is more complicated than that.  It may be hurricanes are driven more by temperature gradients, rather than absolute temperatures, such that a general warming may or may not have an effect on their frequency.

Third, the statement in question, as worded, is demonstrably wrong.  If he had said "may someday spur more hurricanes," he might have been OK, but he said that climate change, and by that he means global warming, is spurring more hurricanes right now.

Here is what is actually happening (paragraph breaks added)

2010 is in the books: Global Tropical Cyclone Accumulated Cyclone Energy [ACE] remains lowest in at least three decades, and expected to decrease even further... For the calendar year 2010, a total of 46 tropical cyclones of tropical storm force developed in the Northern Hemisphere, the fewest since 1977. Of those 46, 26 attained hurricane strength (> 64 knots) and 13 became major hurricanes (> 96 knots).

Even with the expected active 2010 North Atlantic hurricane season, which accounts on average for about 1/5 of global annual hurricane output, the rest of the global tropics has been historically quiet. For the calendar-year 2010, there were 66-tropical cyclones globally, the fewest in the reliable record (since at least 1970) The Western North Pacific in 2010 had 8-Typhoons, the fewest in at least 65-years of records. Closer to the US mainland, the Eastern North Pacific off the coast of Mexico out to Hawaii uncorked a grand total of 8 tropical storms of which 3 became hurricanes, the fewest number of hurricanes since at least 1970.

Global, Northern Hemisphere, and Southern Hemisphere Tropical Cyclone Accumulated Energy (ACE) remain at decades-low levels.

The source link has more, and graphs of ACE over the last several decades (ACE is a sort of integral, combining the time-average-strength of all hurricanes during the year.  This is a better metric than mere counts and certainly better than landfall or property damage metrics).

So, normally I would argue with alarmists that correlation is not causation.   There is no point in arguing about causation, though, because the event he claims to have happened (more and stronger hurricanes) did not even happen.  The only way he could possibly argue it (though I am pretty sure he has never actually looked at the hurricane data and simply works from conventional wisdom in the global warming echo chamber) is to say that yes, 2010 was 40-year low in hurricanes, but it would have been even lower had it not been for global warming.  This is the Obama stimulus logic, and is just as unsupportable here as it was in that context.

Postscript: By the way, 2010 was probably the second warmest year in the last 30-40 years and likely one of the 5-10 warmest in the last century, so if warming was going to be a direct cause of hurricanes, it would have been in 2010.    And yes, El Ninos and La Ninas and such make it all more complicated.  Exactly.  See this post.

Asset Forfeiture and the Rule of Law

Thank goodness for the drug war so we can have crappy asset forfeiture laws that allow this:

You're free to go -- but we'll keep your money.

That's the position of Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard on the failed case of Mario de la Fuente Manriquez, a Mexican media millionaire accused of organized crime.

Manriquez was arrested and charged earlier this year with 19 counts of money laundering, assisting a criminal syndicate, conspiracy and fraud. Seven other suspects, including Manriquez's son, were arrested in the alleged scheme to fraudulently own and operate several Valley nightclubs and exotic car dealerships.

Charges against Manriquez's son, Mario de la Fuente Mix, were dropped in August. And on Monday, as we reported, the state moved to drop the case against Manriquez.

But the state still wants to keep $12 million of Manriquez's money that was seized in the case, a spokesman for the AG's office tells New Times today.

The folks involved don't strike me as particularly savory characters, but due process is due process and if you drop charges against the guys, the money should be considered legally clean, especially when the authorities confess

Prosecutors acknowledged the money funneled to the United States from Mexico was earned legitimately by Manriquez. In the end, they couldn't prove he knew what was happening with his dough.

What happened to the money, by the way, is that is was invested in a series of businesses that appear to be entirely legal, their only apparent crime being that the incorporation paperwork omitted the name of Manriquez as a major source of funds.  Wow, money legally earned invested in legal businesses, with the only possible crime a desire for confidentiality (at worst) or a paperwork mistake (at best).  Sure glad our state AG is putting his personal time in on this one.

I do not know Arizona's forfeiture laws, but if they are like most other states', they probably allow state authorities to keep the seized money to use as they please, an awfully large incentive for prosecutorial abuse.

Our Arizona Governor is Truly Lame

Governor Jan Brewer of Arizona has been insisting for MONTHS that immigrants have been beheading people in the desert.  I wrote about it here,  shande doubled down on the claim in way back in June.   She repeated the claim on a televised debate the other day, and got all the national attention on this idiotic claim that she deserves.  She has reiterated this close-to-outright-racist-paranoid-fantasy any number of times through the whole summer.  So it is grossly disingenuous for her suddenly to act like it was a one-time mis-statement:

Gov. Jan Brewer rose to national fame defending the state's immigration law and warning of rising violence along the U.S.-Mexico border, including a claim that headless bodies were turning up in the Arizona desert.

But the claim has come back to haunt her after her stammering debate performance in which she failed to back it up and ignored repeated questions on the issue from a scrum of reporters.

Brewer has spent the time since backtracking and trying to repair the damage done from her cringe-worthy debate against underdog challenger Terry Goddard.

"That was an error, if I said that," the Republican told the Associated Press on Friday. "I misspoke, but you know, let me be clear, I am concerned about the border region because it continues to be reported in Mexico that there's a lot of violence going on and we don't want that going into Arizona."

That is as craven and mendacious a response as I have ever heard from a politician, and that is saying a lot (it had to be, to bet me worked up enough to blog from a seaside resort in Italy).

Back from the Big Floating Leisure Suit

I am back from the family reunion (my wife's family) which was held on a cruise last week.  The cruise was a really good venue for a family reunion -- small enough that you run into people, but large enough to escape them too.  Every night we had 4 large tables to ourselves in the restaurant.

The cruise itself was a little disappointing, but it was chosen more for being low cost and accesible to the entire group, so I can live with that.   There were way too many people in my space for my personal taste.  Someday I want to take a much smaller boat, maybe in the Greek Isles.

A couple of things amazed me.  One, the port of call in Mexico was really a dump.  And this is from someone who has spent time in Mexico, good places and bad, and has some fondness for the country.  I figured out the reason when I was laying on the deck and saw the Panamanian flag flying form the back of the boat.  By US law, for a non-US flagged ship to leave and return to a port (in this case Long Beach), it must stop in between in another country.  I am sure the cruise line would love to run four day cruises say between San Diego and Santa Barbara or San Francisco, but that would be illegal unless they took on the prohibitive cost of operating a US-flagged ship.  So we stopped in a little industrial town just over the border to make it all legal.

The other thing that amazed me was the decor of the ship.  I would have bet money that the ship was designed in the 1970's.  Our room, which had a balcony, was nice, but the common areas were right out of bad 1970's casino ambiance.  Amazingly, though, the nameplate said it was built in 1998.  Not sure what these guys were thinking.  I called it the great floating leisure suit.

Internet service was $24 per hour, so I did not do any blogging, but the good news is I got a ton of writing done on my new novel.