Archive for September 2009

Obama Still Lost In Honduras

Juan Carlos Hidalgo, via The Liberty Papers:

The Obama administration is threatening not to recognize the result of Honduras' presidential election in late November unless Manuel Zelaya returns to the presidency beforehand.

The presidential poll was already scheduled prior to Zelaya's (constitutional) removal from office last June. The candidates had already been selected by their parties through an open primary process. The current civilian interim president, Roberto Micheletti, is not running for office and plans to step down in January as stipulated by the Constitution. Both major presidential candidates supported the ouster of Zelaya. The political campaign is playing out in an orderly manner, and there's a significant chance that the candidate from the opposition National Party will win the presidency. The independent Electoral Tribunal is overseeing the process.

And yet the U.S. Department of State is signaling that it won't recognize the result of the poll in the name of defending Zelaya's return to power.

I am still really, really scratching my head over this.  I suppose such efforts of the US to ignore due process in Latin America have occured in the past to support a pro-American regime, but Zelaya is if anything anti-American and explicitly aligned with Hugo Chavez.  This simply makes no sense.   As Quincy of the Liberty Papers writes

The Obama Administration has been going out of its way to be on the wrong side of both the law and morality when it comes to Honduras. Obama has his first chance to rebuke the shameful history of the US being propping up dictators in Latin America and what does he do? He goes out of his way to prop up a would-be dictator who had neither the support of the people nor of the Honduran Constitution. He's laid sanctions on the Honduran people. He refuses to recognize the legal, constitutional government of a country.

Agreed.  Shameful.  If Zelaya gets away with this, expect to see a rash of Latin American leaders attempting to overstay their terms as president.

Economic Ignorance

The WSJ is reporting that Obama's speech will propose:

Starting next year, the plan also calls for annual fees of $6 billion on health-insurance providers, $4 billion for medical-device makers, $2.3 billion on drug makers and $750 million on clinical laboratories. The fees would be levied on individual companies based on market share.

Don't you love that, by the way.  The benefits are not programmed to begin until 2013 but the taxes start in 2010.  But let's rewrite this paragraph to be less economically ignorant:

Starting next year, the plan also calls for annual fees of $6 billion on customers of health-insurance providers, $4 billion for customers of medical-device makers, $2.3 billion on customers of drug makers and $750 million on customers of clinical laboratories. The fees would be levied on individual companies based on market share, then passed on to their customers in the form of price increases, as are all such fees, particularly on low-margin industries such as health insurance.

Congratulations.  Obama has embarked on his quest to reduce the cost of health care by increasing the costs of health care suppliers by over $13 billion per year.  That should work.

For years I have been saying that the government has only one lever to reduce costs (as any thought that they might reduce costs through increased productivity is just a joke rebutted by all of history):  Force people to use less, either by raising the price, reducing the supply, or outright banning certain expenditures in certain situations.

The New Middle Class Tax

From Joe Biden, in the debates:

"No one making less than $250,000 under Barack Obama's plan will see one single penny of their tax raised, whether it's their capital gains tax, their income tax, investment tax, any tax."


Under the plan, people who earn between 100% and 300% of the poverty level (or between about $22,000 a year and $66,000 a year for a family of four) would face fees ranging from $750 to $1,500 a year.

For taxpayers with incomes above 300% of poverty, the penalty starts at $950 a year and reaches as high as $3,800 for families. Nearly 12 million people fit in this category, according to the National Institute for Health Care Management.

The idea behind the penalty is that those who can afford insurance but don't buy it are imposing costs on the entire health system. Under the proposal, nearly 12 million people who currently have no insurance could be subject to such fines, according to figures compiled by the National Institute for Health Care Management.

People focus too much on the penalty itself being a new tax.  But the new tax is actually the requirement that individuals buy a product (in this case a health insurance policy) that they feel has no value (or else they would purchase it of their own free will today).  The government stopped pretending long ago that these younger middle class families will get much value from such a policy.  In fact, if they did get value commensurate with the premiums they will be paying, the mandate would not be achieving its purpose.  The whole point is that healthy people pay more into the insurnace system than they get back to support sick people.  If that payment is mandatory, then it is a tax, even if it is called an "insurance mandate" instead.

In fact, this is made all the more clear when politicians also suggest that cheaper high deductible health insurance plans be banned, as they were in Massachusetts.  Again, the whole point is to get young healthy people to overpay for insurance, and allowing them to buy sensible, cheaper, high deductible insurance defeats the whole purpose.

This is a tax on middle America, and Obama knew he was going to propose it way back in the campaign.  This is not something he just thought up or was a victim of changing circumstance.  This is an out and out lie on his part.

Solar Economics: Would You Pull A Lever to Get $12,000 if Somewhere in Massachusetts a Person Lost $58,000?

With articles about solar prices coming down, and living in Phoenix (one of the best solar sites in America), I yet again have priced out solar for our home.  The short answer is that it makes sense, IF you don't mind reaching into the pockets of all your neighbors.

For this analysis, I will use the prices here.  The $72,167 cost for a 11.76kW system is pretty competitive at $6.13 per watt installed  (this is rated watts, not actual -- see footnote).  The panels themselves can be bought for about $3 per watt, with about $1 a watt for other equipment like inverters and $2 per watt for installation.  Do-it-yourself packages for a similar size system are here and go for around $4-$4.50 per watt.

The solar company estimates that this system in Phoenix will save me$2,779 a year on my electric bill.  I have not checked their math, but I assume they are not under-estimating this number in their marketing literature.  Taking this savings, we get a payback on the installation of about 26 years.   This ignores future electricity price increases, but also ignores the time value of money.  At 8% over 20 years, it has a net present value of  NEGATIVE $41,558.   At the end of the day, this is a terrible return -- in fact a huge value destruction.

But I began this post saying a solar investment might make sense.  How?  Well, that is where your willingness to reach into your neighbor's pocket comes in.  Our solar company estimates the following tax breaks and rebates on the system described above:

  • Utility rebate:  $35,280
  • State income tax credit: $1,000
  • Federal income tax credit:  $21,650

So, in building this $72,167 improvement on my house, I get to use $57,930 of other peoples' money**.  As Steve Martin says in the Jerk:  "That takes the pressure off!"

Like in many other cases, other peoples' money suddenly makes solar a good investment.  Now we are looking at $2,779 a year in savings from a net investment of $14,237, or about a five year payback.    Over 20 years even assuming no inflation and an 8% cost of money that has an NPV of $12,081.

So -- I officially reverse my past conclusions that home solar does not pay.  It can in fact be a good investment -- for you.  For the country, it is a terrible investment.   Your neighbors are contributing $57,930 in subsidies while you receive just $12,081 in benefits.  The remainder, just over $45,000, is a dead-weight loss to the economy.  It is money destroyed by the government.

This is surprisingly like the ethics problem of pulling a lever to get a million dollars but someone you don't know in China dies.  The only difference is that you get $12,000 and someone you don't know loses $58,000.

** Footnote: Yeah, I know, theoretically the utility rebate is a substitute for the capital spending and not a wealth transfer.  But trust me, it's a wealth transfer.  To understand this, we have to shift from rated solar watts to actual capacity in watts.  In Phoenix, one of the best solar sites in the world, panels produce only about 25% of their rated capacity in a day (6 equivalent sun hours per day divided by 24 total hours in a day).  So, on average, a 100 watt panel is producing 25 watts.

This means that by APS paying about $3 per rated watt in rebates, they are paying about $12 per actual watt.  And there is no way this is what they are paying for other capacity.  A typical brand new power plant might be $2-$3.50 per watt.  So at $12, this is clearly a transfer mandated by the PUC, and not a smart substitute for capital expenditure.   Besides, if this payment made economic sense for the utility, there would not be an annual cap on the amount paid out.

As wealth transfers go, this is a particularly egregious one, as it tends to add costs to the electric bills of the poor and middle class so rich folks can build hobby solar systems so they can tell their friends at cocktail parties that they are "green."

Update: All of this is not to say that I am so good a person as to not take the money that is being put at my doorstep.  I'm still thinking about it.

So Why Are We Benchmarking Health Care v. France?

This is awesome, from Carpe Diem:


On a purchasing power parity basis, France, Japan, and Germany would all be the poorest states in the United States, based on per capita GDP.  People on the coasts don't benchmark their education or health care spending against Mississippi, except perhaps to make the case that Mississippi is spending too little.  So why do they benchmark their spending against Germany or France.  Of course we spend more on health care per capita - we spend more than these countries per capita on everything from TV's to cars to movie tickets.

Licensing Is About Protecting Incumbent Businesses

Most licensing efforts are nominally sold based on some public or consumer good but almost always end up being mostly about protecting politically connected incumbent businesses against new competitors.   Nowhere is this more obvious than in liquor licensing.

If you want to start a new liquor-based business (restaurant or bar) in Phoenix, it is going to cost you a hundred grand just for the license.

In fact, the sales price for existing licenses has dropped in recent years, with prices for a bar license in the Phoenix area slipping from $100,000 to $85,000 or $90,000, he said.

And these are the numbers with record-low demand.  Why does Arizona (or most other states) limit the number of licenses at all?  Why not just issue them to all comers, and let the market sort out who is successful and who is not?  Certainly we would likely see a lot more interesting restaurant startups if there was not an effective $100,000 tax on starting a restaurant imposed by the state.

State officials used to pretend the reason was to protect the community from being overrun by, er, dining choices or bars or whatever, but nowadays they don't even bother with such justifications and just give the true reason - they are protecting incumbents from competition.

Arizona hadn't awarded licenses since the late 1980s before the 2005 law passed. That was largely because holders of existing licenses didn't want to diminish their resale value.

Well, I am a holder of several existing Arizona licenses and I say -- open the floodgates!

Wow, I Have Something In Common with Al Franken

Like Franken, I can freehand draw the US with all fifty states from memory.  But I start from the opposite corner, in Washington state.  But, I can also drink a beer while standing on my head, and used to (when I played rugby) race people saying I would drink one upside down in the time they drank two normally.

Lock of the Week

For the betting man, here is the lock of the week:  Obama, in his Wednesday speech, will outline a plan that does one thing but describe it as something nearly opposite.  This is a common political game, so it always is a good bet with any politician, but Obama has sharpened this approach into an art form.

The more interesting bet, which is probably more like 50/50, is whether Obama will

  1. Offer only incremental changes, to make sure he gets something passed he can call health care reform, but will describe it to the radical end of his base as sweeping change, -OR-
  2. Offer nearly the exact same core plan that is in the House bill that has so many folks concerned, but via changes in wording and euphemisms describe it to a worried public as something much more moderate.

I am honestly torn as to which it will be.  How are y'all betting?

Why I Don't Want to be Young

I suppose we all fantasize about being a teenager again.  One reason not to be young again:  My son's high school soccer team played at 4PM the other day in Phoenix.  Game time temperature:  114F.

Avoid Jericho, Arkansas at All Costs

Not many people have seen it, but one of my favorite movies is Interstate 60.  It has a story thread through the movie, but what it really becomes is a series of essays on freedom and slavery.  One the best parts is the town where everyone is a lawyer.  The only way anyone makes money is when someone breaks the law, so their laws are crafted such that it is impossible not to break the law.

The town of Jericho, Arkansas sounds very similar.  It has 174 residents, no businesses, but a police force of 6 that tries to find ways to support itself.  Apparently, everyone in town is constantly in court for traffic citations.  When one man got fed up, and yelled at the police in court for their stupid speed traps, the police shot him - right in the courtroom.  In a scene right out of Interstate 60, the DA, after investigating the shooting, couldn't remember the name of the police officer who did the shooting and said no charges would be filed against the police, but that misdemeanor charges were being considered against the man shot.  Probably for littering, due to his bleeding on the floor.

Via Radley Balko (who else?)

A Bug or a Feature?

Kevin Drum shows this chart as evidence we need government health care like the rest of the "civilized" world:


I write back in the comments:

I wonder if the graph you show is a bug or a feature.  My guess is that you could draw the same chart in the same shape with the US on the far left for consumption of items as diverse as "big screen TVs" and "pro sports tickets."  We would chalk up spending in any other area as simply a result of wealth.  Why not on health care?  Why is it so bad that we spend more money on something like health care which is arguably less frivolous and more critical than TV's or baseball games?

I would understand it if the argument was that we are not getting our money's worth, but that meme is just about dead.  The evidence is pretty clear that though life expectancy in the US is lower than some of these other countries, this is due to issues unrelated to health care (specifically murders and auto accidents).  When the cause of death is limited to things amenable to the health care system, the US ranks #1 in the world in life expectancy.  This is not even to mention the customer experience in accessing the health care system, which for all its irritations, is still ranked the best in the world.  We pay the most, and get the best results, because we can afford the best.

It makes me nervous that you think this is a problem.

PS- I certainly think there are efficiencies that could be wrung out from the health care system if people actually shopped with their own money for their own health care, as they do for every other product and service they buy.  This is proved out in the falling prices for non-insurance covered health procedures, such as laser eye surgery.  But it is a laugh to think the government will wring these savings out.  The government has never, ever, ever made a process more efficient.  All it can do to cut costs is a) institute price controls on suppliers, which eventually lead to shortages and reduced R&D and/or b)  Eliminate services.

Update: OMG, we need government take over of the automotive sector, because we spend more money on cars than any other country, and by the left's logic that is a sign of failure of the status quo.


Can I Get My Copy of this Contract

Apparently I have entered into a contract, which keeps getting amended, but no one ever sends me a copy or asks for my signature.

I heard an angry town-hall participant in Texas claim health insurance was not a right. If you could not pay for it, you should not have it. That's neither realistic nor desirable. Everyone requires certain goods and services, such as food and shelter. There exists an implicit social contract that people who cannot afford these goods will get them from the state.

The last time I understood that we entered into a social contract was in the late 18th century, when we exited our old relationship with Great Britain and entered a new one defined by the Constitution.  But I am pretty sure that government provision of food, shelter, and health care were not in this contract.

Then, in the 1930s, we were told"food" is in the contract.  Then, in the 1960's, we were told "shelter" is on the list.  Now apparently health care is on the list.  Can someone send me a copy of this contract, so I can know what else is on it?

Isn't it ironic that the only "contract" the Left respects is the kind that I don't sign, don't consent to, and don't enter of my own free will?   Of course, a contract that one party doesn't consent to and only enters into by force is not a contract at all.  As Wikipedia puts it for the definition of a contract, "Agreement [to a contract] is said to be reached when an offer capable of immediate acceptance is met with a 'mirror image' acceptance (ie, an unqualified acceptance)."

At Least 14.3 Years Too Early

The World Wildlife Fund made an ad showing hundreds of planes zeroing in on the World Trade Center to'm not sure what.  Somehow this is linked with tsunamis and pandas, but most of the world has just linked it with the WWF being idiots.   Print and video ad shown at the link.

The post title refers to this.

Regulating the Process, not Actual Safety

Kevin Drum says:

The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act makes it illegal to sell toys that haven't been tested for lead content.  In general, I think that's a perfectly fine idea.

He can't understand, though, why its effects seem so perverse and Draconian when its core is such a "perfectly fine idea."  It is amazing to me that the law of unintended consequences is so hard even for seasoned political observers to grasp.

A sensible restriction might be that a child cannot by any reasonable use of the product ingest more than X concentration of lead.  But of course that is not what the government does.  The government requires that every toy undergo expensive testing and batch tracking (almost like that of an aircraft part).  This is not by any means the same as simply requiring products to limit lead exposure.  It is a one-size-fits-all regulation of process, rather than true safety.  It imposes huge testing and tracking expenses on products that can't possibly have any lead in them.

And, like many laws of this kind, it imposes a huge penalty on small competitors and new entrants and rewards larger toy makers who both have the scale to pay for the testing and the political clout to shape the law in their favor.  In fact, the big winner from the legislation has actually been Matel, the company whose recalls actually led to the law in the first place.

The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) requires third-party testing of nearly every object intended for a child's use, and was passed in response to several toy recalls in 2007 for lead and other chemicals. Six of those recalls were on toys made by Mattel, or its subsidiary Fisher Price.

Small toymakers were blindsided by the expensive requirement, which made no exception for small domestic companies working with materials that posed no threat.

So while most small toymakers had no idea this law was coming down the pike until it was too late, Mattel spent $1 million lobbying for a little provision to be included in the CPSIA permitting companies to test their own toys in "firewalled" labs that have won Consumer Product Safety Commission approval.

The million bucks was well spent, as Mattel gained approval late last week to test its own toys in the sites listed above"”just as the window for delayed enforcement closed.

Instead of winding up hurting, Mattel now has a cost advantage on mandatory testing, and a handy new government-sponsored barrier to entry for its competitors.

Update: Brad Warbiany has similar thoughts.

The US Has The Greatest Health Care in the World

Via Steve Chapman at Reason:

[President Obama] says though the United States spends more per person on medical care than any other nation, "the quality of our care is often lower, and we aren't any healthier. In fact, citizens in some countries that spend substantially less than we do are actually living longer than we do."

That's one of the favorite rationales for a government-led overhaul. But it gives about as realistic a picture of American medicine as an episode of Scrubs.

It's true that the United States spends more on health care than anyone else, and it's true that we rank below a lot of other advanced countries in life expectancy. The juxtaposition of the two facts, however, doesn't prove we are wasting our money or doing the wrong things.

It only proves that lots of things affect mortality besides medical treatment. Heath Ledger didn't die at age 28 because the American health care system failed him.

One big reason our life expectancy lags is that Americans have an unusual tendency to perish in homicides or accidents. We are 12 times more likely than the Japanese to be murdered and nearly twice as likely to be killed in auto wrecks.

In their 2006 book, The Business of Health, economists Robert L. Ohsfeldt and John E. Schneider set out to determine where the U.S. would rank in life span among developed nations if homicides and accidents are factored out. Their answer? First place.

That discovery indicates our health care system is doing a poor job of preventing shootouts and drunk driving but a good job of healing the sick. All those universal-care systems in Canada and Europe may sound like Health Heaven, but they fall short of our model when it comes to combating life-threatening diseases.

That Great Public Service

Via Cafe Hayek:

American Postal Workers Union president William Burrus complains that "It is deeply troubling that Journal editors advocate ending the Postal Service's exclusive right to sort and deliver mail.  The Postal Service must remain a public service if we are to honor our nation's commitment to serve every American community "“ large or small, rich or poor, urban or rural "“ at affordable, uniform rates"

My family has  a ranch that is absolutely in the middle of nowhere in Wyoming - it is 30 minutes by dirt road from a town of 2,000.  The USPS delivers mail to a box 3 miles away from the ranch, and does it 3 days a week.  The USPS will not deliver overnight mail.   UPS delivers 6 days a week right to our door, including overnight mail.

The word "uniform" is the key -- what the USPS government protected monopoly buys us is a massive cross-subsidy, where city dwellers subsidize rural communities, Alaska, and Hawaii.   Further, because the USPS knows that these subsidized routes are cost black holes, they tend to cut back on service to try to save money.  The result is that no one is served well, as is often the case when a large cross-subsidy exists -- cities pay more for their mail, and everyone gets worse service.

My Climate Plan

From the comments of this post, which wondered why Americans are so opposed to the climate bill when Europeans seem to want even more regulation.  Leaving out the difference in subservience to authority between Europeans and Americans, I wrote this in the comments:

I will just say:   Because it's a bad bill. And not because it is unnecessary, though I would tend to argue that way, but for the same reason that people don't like the health care bill - its a big freaking expensive mess that doesn't even clearly solve the problem it sets out to attack. Somehow, on climate change, the House has crafted a bill that both is expensive, cumbersome, and does little to really reduce CO2 emissions. All it does successfully is subsidize a bunch of questionable schemes whose investors have good lobbyists.

If you really want to pass a bill, toss the mess in the House out. Do this:

  1. Implement a carbon tax on fuels. It would need to be high, probably in the range of dollars and not cents per gallon of gas to achieve kinds of reductions that global warming alarmists think are necessary. This is made palatable by the next step....
  2. Cut payroll taxes by an amount to offset the revenue from #1. Make the whole plan revenue neutral.
  3. Reevaluate tax levels every 4 years, and increase if necessary to hit scientifically determined targets for CO2 production.

Done. Advantages:

  1. no loopholes, no exceptions, no lobbyists, no pork. Keep the legislation under a hundred pages.
  2. Congress lets individuals decide how best to reduce Co2 by steadily increasing the price of carbon. Price signals rather than command and control or bureaucrats do the work. Most liberty-conserving solution
  3. Progressives are happy - one regressive tax increase is offset by reduction of another regressive tax
  4. Unemployed are happy - the cost of employing people goes down
  5. Conservatives are happy - no net tax increase
  6. Climate skeptics are mostly happy -- the cost of the insurance policy against climate change that we suspect is unnecessary is never-the-less made very cheap. I would be willing to accept it on that basis.
  7. You lose the good feelings of having hard CO2 targets, but if there is anything European cap-and-trade experiments have taught, good feelings is all you get. Hard limits are an illusion. Raise the price of carbon based fuels, people will conserve more and seek substitutes.
  8. People will freak at higher gas prices, but if cap and trade is going to work, gas prices must rise by an equal amount. Legislators need to develop a spine and stop trying to hide the tax.
  9. Much, much easier to administer. Already is infrastructure in place to collect fuel excise taxes. The cap and trade bureaucracy would be huge, not to mention the cost to individuals and businesses of a lot of stupid new reporting requirements.
  10. Gore used to back this, before he took on the job of managing billions of investments in carbon trading firms whose net worth depends on a complex and politically manipulable cap and trade and offset schemes rather than a simple carbon tax.

Payroll taxes are basically a sales tax on labor.  I am fairly indifferent in substituting one sales tax for another, and would support this shift, particularly if it heads of much more expensive and dangerous legislation.

Update: Left out plan plank #4:  Streamline regulatory approval process for nuclear reactors.

Update #2: Readers of TJIC wonder if this is effective, calling it just a rebate of the tax.  I answered in the comments as follows:

I think "rebate" is the wrong way to think of it. Of COURSE if you paid a higher price and then had the exactly that amount rebated to you, then it would not be a very powerful incentive. But that is not what is being proposed.

I think things are easier if you consider payroll taxes to be a sales tax on labor, which they are in effect. So we have a sales tax regime, with differing tax levels on different types of products. If we raise taxes on one item, but drop taxes on the others, then sales of that one item are certainly going to suffer. Its price just went up relative to all the other things we buy. Let's imagine a simplified world where we can buy any of 10 items (call them A, B, C, etc), each priced at $10, and we have $100 in income. Now imagine the same world tilted such that we have $105 of income and all items are $10 except "A" which now costs $20 each. On average, most people will buy less "A" and more of other stuff.

I'm a libertarian, so I grit my teeth at such games. I don't like the taxes in the first place. I don't like the government playing outcomes games with taxes. But my point is that if we are going to insist on doing something to limit CO2, then shifting the sales tax burden so that total taxes are the same but taxes on fuels are higher while taxes on labor are lower strikes me as a substantially lower cost solution than any of the other alternatives being suggested.

When Insurance Covers Routine Expenses....

When insurance covers routine expenses, perverse incentives often follow.  Here is an example I found today shopping for a company to replace my car's windshield -- This sure looks to be an absolutely blatant kickback (image from a glass company website here).


All the pitches on my Google search are like this.  Here is another one:


But here is the winner, at least as far as I got through the google search:


Don't you have to wonder about a $1,000 rebate on a procedure that retails for perhaps $250?

I am not a lawyer, nor do I play one on the Internet, but it certainly appears that the glass companies are charging the insurance companies for more than the glass replacement would normally go for in a competitive marketplace, and then splitting the extra money defrauded from the insurance company with the consumer.   Another way of putting it is that in selecting a glass company for an insurance-covered repair, the consumer is acting as an agent for the insurance company, and as such an agent the consumer is taking a monetary inducement from a particular vendor to throw business to that vendor.

Arizona has explicit no-fault legislation banning insurance companies from raising insurance rates due to broken windshields.  I wonder what there is to stop someone, then, from heaving a rock at his/her windshield every other week?  Further, I wonder what stops such offers, which look like blatant kickbacks to me, from being either illegal or prosecuted?  I can only guess that in the weird interest-group-politics that substitute nowadays for ethics that its OK to commit fraud if the little guy is the beneficiary and unloved insurance companies are the victim.

Making Up The Law

It is easy to find examples of police enforcing made-up laws.  Here is an example from the Department of Homeland Security:

"There are certain things that the press cannot do when it comes to national security, and filming federal buildings is one of them," said Luis Martinez, a spokesperson for the Dept. of Homeland Security.

This is a total crock.  If it were true, no tourist would ever leave Washington DC -- they would all end up in jail.  Via Carlos Miller, who is doing a great job blogging about the growing efforts by police to make public photography illegal.  Mr. Miller, by the way, is still fighting in court against charges that he committed the ultimate no-no (as far as police are concerned) -- photographing a police officer in public.

Police have decided that the way to avoid having problems like the Rodney King beating which was caught on film is too.... prevent anyone from filming them!  The police can fix just about any evidence, they will back each other up in even the most outrageous of stories, but the one thing they can't fix is video, so they want it banned.  Lacking cooperation from legislatures in actually banning video, they have decided to ban it de facto if not de jure through their actions on the streets, hoping a cowed public will not question their actions.

To Whom Do We Pay Our Protection Money Now That Tony Soprano is Dead?

Apparently, Massachusetts companies that have bought influence via Ted Kennedy are worried about their future.

Update on Rail Subsidies

As an update on my rail subsidy post, I saw a relevant post from the Thin Green Line yesterday.  At least, I suppose, transit supporters are honest:

When I talked to Dave Snyder earlier this month about a fix for mass transit in the Bay Area, he told me, "Somehow or another we've got to get more money from driving."

However, I thought this was a hilarious lack of perspective: side effect of the green revolution has been a growing awareness of how much roads cost. I imagine you'd be surprised to learn that building a road"”not maintaining it, just building it"”costs more than $16 per square foot.

I have no doubt that this person, who is a strong light rail supporter, honestly thinks this is a lot of money.  But I did the math in my comments on his post:

$16 per square foot for highway should be considered a bargain. This means that a twenty foot wide two-lane highway is $320 per linear foot.

The Phoenix light rail system cost $1.4 billion (thats building it, not maintaining it) for 20 miles, which at 34,000 boardings per week day is carrying somewhat less traffic than the capacity of a two lane highway. However, it cost $13,258 per linear foot, or 41 times your highway numbers. Which is why highway users easily pay the full cost of their transportation infrastructure through their gas taxes, but transit users don't even come close.

In Phoenix, light rail fare revenues cover only 7% of its operating and capital costs. Which always has me scratching my head when people say light rail is somehow more "sustainable." If running trains requires, as you suggest, draining resources from millions of people just to move thousands, how is it sustainable?