Thursday, July 30, 2009

The New York Times -- more confused than the people it polls 

The New York Times conducts a poll and, befuddled by the result, reports...
Over all, the poll portrays a nation torn by conflicting impulses and confusion.

In one finding, 75 percent of respondents said they were concerned that the cost of their own health care would eventually go up if the government did not create a system of providing health care for all Americans. But in another finding, 77 percent said they were concerned that the cost of health care would go up if the government did create such a system.
Where's the conflict and confusion in that? People think the cost of their health care will go up either way -- without or with a new government plan.

And they are right!

Tell the story editor to change that "But" at the start of the last sentence to an "And", and all is resolved.

How a monopoly gambling franchise can go bankrupt, cont'd. 

Have it be run by the government. Updating the story...


ALBANY -- New York City's OTB, saddled with a bloated payroll, too many outlets, a huge fleet of cars and several no-bid contracts, "is unlikely to avoid financial insolvency," a scathing state audit has found...

The Post disclosed last week that OTB's senior management was considering an unprecedented filing in federal bankruptcy court...

The audit found that OTB management had not conducted a study of its staffing needs since 1981 -- before the initiation of telephone and Internet betting options that account for an increasing percentage of wagering.

It also discovered that OTB maintained a total of 87 vehicles, including several recently purchased high-priced SUVs, 22 of which were routinely used by executives to commute to and from work.

The audit noted there were "no written rules governing the assignment of the vehicles" and "no written explanation for the existing assignments."... [NY Post]
As noted in a prior post...
OTB is operating with a negative cash flow of $600,000 to $800,000 a month on a betting handle of $900 million a year.
When politicians can manage that, of course I want them managing my health care too!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Can nationalized health care reduce cost? What does our experience right here in the USA say? 

Instead of going through the current debate about health care reform imagining the good and bad possible results of nationalized health care, let's consider our actual experience of it right here in the USA.

We have more than most people think. For more than 40 years we've had two single-payer government-run health care plans right here. One is Medicare, which everyone talks about, the other is Medicaid -- the government-run health program for low income individuals and families. The cost of Medicaid is now over $330 billion [.pdf] annually, rivaling that of Medicare, though it receives much less attention.

The Obama administration claims a critical reason to move to nationalized health care is to reduce rising health care costs that otherwise project to grow so great as to threaten the very solvency of the US government as soon as 20-odd years from now (which is true enough!)

It claims that its health care program can cut the projected level of health spending over the next 20 years by as much as 30 percent [.pdf] -- through application of careful scientific analysis to direct medical expenditures towards the most effective procedures, and so forth.

But what does experience say?

Well, by far the most wasteful cost to cut, and the simplest, the "lowest-hanging fruit" of all costs to cut, is fraud. No scientific analysis is needed for that at all!

How good is the government's record of cutting fraud from the health care it pays for?

"Of $34 billion annually spent by the Medi-Cal program for health care for some 7 million poor Californians, state officials estimate that as much as 40 percent or nearly $14 billion is stolen in fraud..." [LA Daily News]

New York Medicaid fraud may reach into billions ... "It's like a honey pot," said John M. Meekins, a former senior Medicaid fraud prosecutor in Albany who said he grew increasingly disillusioned before he retired in 2003. "It truly is. That is what they use it for"...

James Mehmet, who retired in 2001 as chief state investigator of Medicaid fraud and abuse in New York City, said he and his colleagues believed that at least 10 percent of state Medicaid dollars were spent on fraudulent claims, while 20 or 30 percent more were siphoned off by what they termed abuse, meaning unnecessary spending that might not be criminal. "So we're talking about 40 percent of all claims ..." [NY Times]

These are reports of 40% fraud in Medicaid -- not "inefficient medical procedures", but f-r-a-u-d and abuse -- from coast-to-coast, or at least on both coasts, 3,000 miles apart. (Remarkable consistency!) Total Medicaid fraud is estimated to be in the deca-billions, nobody really knows the exact number obviously.

How can this be?
Over half of states now spend less than one-tenth of 1 percent of their Medicaid budgets to fight fraud ... New York cut the number of health-department staffers combating Medicaid scams from 200 to 50 [as] expenditures have grown by $30 billion ...

Federal supervision of these fraud-fighting efforts is almost nonexistent. The GAO reports that the federal agency responsible for overseeing Medicaid employs just eight people, wielding a minuscule budget of $26,000 annually ... [City Journal]
Well, how can this be?

The answer is simplicity itself. Government-run health care is run by politicians, and politicians get votes by providing medical benefits to people -- not by taking benefits away from people, especially from the poor (Medicaid) and the old (Medicare).

Now, combine that with the fact that politicians get contributions, votes, and labor support from a huge range of groups who want more payments for medical services to flow easily, without check, from the government. Doctors, hospital CEOs, unions of health care workers, medical supply businesses -- they all lobby for more, easier funding of medical care.

Where is the interest group that is advocating reducing health expenditures, even if only to reduce fraud, to balance these political drivers? There isn't one. It's as simple as that.

Politicians do what gets them elected. They get elected by handing out more, and get un-elected by handing out less. "Efficiency" doesn't enter the equation at all.

Now the "trillion dollar question" (literally) for health care is, what is there in the Obama/Democratic proposal to remedy this problem of the behavior of politicians -- and the political incentives that drive their behavior? Do Obama and the Democrats even mention this issue?

At any point in the debate have you heard Obama, or anyone on the left, anyone at all, even mention the deca-billion fraud losses in Medicaid? Even thought they ought to be the easiest cost savings at all -- and in fact are large enough to pay for a significant portion of Obama's entire health care proposal by themselves!

If nationalized, politician-run health care can't even cut fraud like this, what cost can it cut?

Monday, July 27, 2009

Regulators in action 

Serving us all, with regulatory deeds big and small. A recent sampling:

1) How to create a black market.

In New York City ...

An undercover investigation of street food carts has uncovered massive fraud, with $200 city vending permits fetching as much as $15,000 in a thriving black market, officials said yesterday...

"I can't sugarcoat the fact that we found a black market ...", said Investigations Commissioner Rose Gill Hearn. "It's not a couple of instances." [NY Post]

A sharp discrepancy in supply and demand was a key factor in facilitating the fraud. There are 15,000 licensed vendors, but only 5,100 food vending permits.
So the city requires vendors to have a license to sell food, and issues 15,000 those, but also requires the same vendors to have a permit to sell food, and issues only 5,100 of those.

Uh ... the result being...

DOI reported that more than 500 permit holders may have illegally peddled them for 10 to 75 times what they paid to desperate vendors who couldn't wait years for their names to be called from the lengthy list....

... scammers [also] pretend to be vendors who have died or left the country. The crooks pay $200 renewal fees for the lucrative permits -- which should have been returned to the city -- in the name of the vendors. And then they either operate the carts themselves or lease the permits for thousands of dollars.
Well, at least the solution to this is obvious enough -- just match the number of permits to the number of licenses. (One might wonder: After they make you get a license to sell, why should they also make you get a permit to sell?)

And after expending due thought on the problem, the city's regulators are on the job ...

The Health Department wants to yank the permits of more than 500 street food vendors after undercover investigators found widespread fraud ... [NY Post]
... punishing the vendors by making the gap between licenses and permits 500 larger. That'll teach 'em! And this problem will never arise ever again.

2) How to show you're still aggressively on the case (if a little late).

From the Securities and Exchange Commission, at taxpayer expense, another case of extraordinary bungling. Or was it?

A federal judge dealt a blow to the Securities and Exchange Commission on Friday when he dismissed its insider trading lawsuit against Mark Cuban, owner of the National Basketball Association’s Dallas Mavericks.

The S.E.C. asserted in a lawsuit in November that Mr. Cuban had sold shares of, a Canadian Internet search company, after receiving confidential information from its chief executive in a telephone call that the company was going to sell additional shares through an equity offering in 2004.

But the S.E.C. failed to prove that Mr. Cuban had made an agreement with the chief executive during the call that he would not sell his own shares, Judge Sidney A. Fitzwater of the Federal District Court in Dallas wrote in a 35-page decision released Friday....

Judge Fitzwater has given the S.E.C. 30 days to file an amended complaint to the court. If it files another complaint, “the S.E.C. must allege some facts that were not previously known, i.e., that Cuban somehow became or consented to be a fiduciary to,” said Joshua Davis, a Texas trial lawyer... [NY Times]
What happened here basically is that the president of called Cuban, who owned shares in the company, on the phone and told him that the business was short of cash and so was going to sell more shares. Cuban heard "short of cash ... my shares will be diluted", and sold his shares before it happened.

I don't write much about law here because on a hobby blog, frankly, it's more fun to write about what one doesn't know about. And not so much fun to write about work.

But this case turns on a fundamental principle that is worth noting. I.e.:

The legal prohibition against "insider trading" applies to ... hey, try to guess ... think about it ... you've probably got it ... yes! ... insiders.

Marc Cuban was not an "insider" of The president of was an insider, but that doesn't make everybody he calls on the phone one. If Bill Gates ever calls you on the phone after misdailing your phone number for Steve Ballmer's and starts ranting "The whole company's going to hell, the jig is finally up!", feel free to short Microsoft stock -- his talking to you does not make you a Microsoft insider. To become an insider you have to explicitly agree to be an insider.

There was not a whit of evidence presented in this case that Cuban had agreed to be an insider, a fiduciary of So it was a dead lock sure thing that the case would be bounced by the judge -- just as it was. Considering the supposed expertise of the lawyers of the SEC, of all agencies, on such matters this sure looks like a truly impressive piece of bungling ... But was it?

The SEC, in addition haplessly missing so much in the financial crash of late last year, also incredibly totally whiffed on the Bernie Madoff $65 billion Ponzi scheme, in spite of being approached by enough whistle blowers on Madoff to staff the refereeing ranks of a junior soccer league.

If you are government agency that has just screwed up sooooooo badly, your reaction of course then is to tell the public and your politician masters, "We're so incompetent that obviously the world will be a better place if you just close us down and fire us all "In these troubled times you need us more than ever, and we are on the job hunting down wrongdoers no matter how famous and powerful they are!"

As for an example, who better to hunt down than a voluble, high public profile billionaire who's also the outspoken owner of a pro sports team? And if he's in fact not a wrongdoer, even better! That shows how aggressively you are doing your job!
Legal experts said the ruling is a setback for the SEC, which has tried to expand its enforcement of insider-trading laws... [NY Post]
Successful regulators never play defense. If you've totally screwed up the responsibilities you've got, expand them!

3) How to show you're still aggressively on the case (if a little late), II.

Closing on eight years after 9/11, the World Trade Center site is still not cleared as the as the wreck of the Deutsche Bank tower still stands.

In part this is due to the fatal fire that occurred two years ago as the building was being disassembled. Two firemen responding to the call were killed as the result of rampant brazen violations of fire and safety regulations -- fire hose lines were cut off of from water, exit routes blocked, more...
Everyone failed them. The two firefighters killed in last year's inferno at the old Deutsche Bank building died as a result of a perfect storm of neglect and tragic mistakes, the FDNY's internal review of the fatal fire shows ...

The report ... blames the FDNY for not conducting mandatory inspections, the Buildings Department for not issuing a formal permit for demolition and the building's contractor for shoddy work that turned the condemned skyscraper into a death trap...

"It is stunning and disgusting," said Linda Graffagnino (widow of one of the firefighters). "There are so many people responsible who need to stand up and say they made mistakes."

The report also indicated the Buildings Department did not issue a demolition permit ... Instead, "alteration" permits were issued, which may have led to fewer inspections by agency personnel... [etc. etc.]
But let it not be said that the city's safety inspection bureaucracy will ever be distracted from its duty...
The Deutsche Bank demolition project ... was issued a Buildings Department violation after a cigar butt was found at the site near Ground Zero on June 16, department records show. [NY Post]
Aggressively on the job -- and better late than never!

4) How to cause the world's worst recession in 70 years.

Last September 15, the Lehman Brothers investment bank failed and filed the largest bankruptcy case in the history of the U.S. In the opinion of a great many analysts, this triggered the recession the world is experiencing today, as in what was until then a stressful but contained world financial market it set off a chain reaction cascade of calamitous events. (Including triggering the AIG $85 billion bailout two days later.)

Oh, if only the parties had been able to work out a private deal to save Lehman from bankruptcy, as they had for Bear Stearns just a few months previously ... but hey...
Leaders of Wall Street’s biggest commercial and investment banks had crafted a plan to bail out Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. the weekend before it went bankrupt, only to see the deal die when U.K. regulators blocked a sale to Barclays Plc, according to a book on the Federal Reserve’s role in the financial crisis...

The plan collapsed when Hector Sants, chief executive of Britain’s Financial Services Authority, refused to waive regulations requiring London-based Barclays to hold a shareholder vote before guaranteeing Lehman’s liabilities... [Bloomberg]
This is not a revelation, it was known at the time. As one financial industry blogger put it...
When I arrived in NYC on that Monday, the first thing one senior partner in the firm said to me was, "So, do you think the FSA is the stupidest financial regulator in history, or just the stupidest financial regulator in the world right now?" [Economics of Contempt]
There you have 'em, regulators in action, a sampling of big and small.

During today's troubles we hear the populist call on all sides that more regulation is needed to cure the economy of today's ills, more regulation is needed to make sure problems like today's never arise again.

Maybe it is so, maybe more and better regulations would indeed be helpful.

If only we could get rid of the damned regulators who run them!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

My reading material while waiting in my doctor's office ... 

.. for my cancer screening: A New York Times page one story about the ineffectiveness of cancer screenings, and the wasteful costs they lard into our health care system.

But fortunately, it was not so for me! As mine resulted in no fewer than 14 pre-cancerous keratoses being frozen off my skin, two more sliced off with a blade, and two days of laser treatment scheduled in September for what's left. (Such is the result later in life for those of us with a Scottish genetic heritage who during our 20s spent a good part of our recreational time scuba diving in the Caribbean).

I guess that was fortunate...

Why Democrats undercut Democrats. 

To save us all from Republicans, of course. Viking Pundit gives us one more amusing vignette of how politics works...

Here's Democratic chair Henry Waxman explaining why he may bypass a vote on the Democrat-controlled Energy and Commerce committee if Blue Dog Democrats fail to vote health care reform out of committee:

"I won't allow them to hand over control of our committee to Republicans," Waxman told reporters....

Thursday, July 23, 2009

How a monopoly gambling franchise can lose money. 

Have it be run by a government...
Saddled with debts of $46 million and facing mounting losses each day, New York's beleaguered Off-Track Betting Corporation is considering the unthinkable -- bankruptcy...

Sources said that was one of the options discussed in a hastily called meeting of OTB's board of directors on Tuesday. "It's sort of a logical thing to look at when you're paying out more than you take in," said one source...

OTB officials have been desperately juggling payments to keep the city's only legal bookie afloat through the summer. "Right now they're robbing Peter to pay Paul," said one official.

OTB is operating with a negative cash flow of $600,000 to $800,000 a month on a betting handle of $900 million a year, largely because of a revenue-sharing formula dictated by Albany that forces it to pay out more than it takes in after operating expenses...

OTB is a public-benefit corporation created by the state ... Perhaps most troubling to the workers and OTB retirees is that their future medical benefits, worth an estimated $200 million, could be wiped out... [NY Post]
Wow, the politicians force it to pay out more than it takes in -- that's clever financial mangement!

(If only these same politicians could run a single-payer government health care program and control its costs ... oh, wait, they do!)

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

"Starve the beast" certainly does work! (Alas, "Gorge the Beast" does too.) 

Looking at recent fiscal history, Megan McArdle opines...

For a long time, Republicans, and conservatives, and libertarians, embraced a strategy known as "starve the beast". The idea was that you pass tax cuts now, and the resulting budget deficits will hold down spending increases. Eventually, it will get so bad that they'll have to cut spending, because tax increases will be so unpopular.

Hrm. Didn't work out as planned.
But she errs, as do many others who reach this conclusion after looking at all the spending on earmarks and "bridges to nowhere" of the Bush years.

Look again. Adjust your perspective from tiny expenditures like earmarks and bridges to the big picture that really matters.

If "starve the beast" doesn't work and isn't working now, why does Krugman moan and lament that Bush and his tax cuts have set the revenue baseline so low that that Obama and the Democrats can't raise revenue for the spending he wants -- especially for nationalized health care?
the tax cuts enacted by the Bush administration are, in effect, a fiscal poison pill aimed at future administrations ...

... it’s remarkable and disheartening to see how effective President Bush’s fiscal poison pill has been in restricting the terms of debate.
Beyond that, the Reagan deficits resulted in real paygo spending rules that significantly restricted new government spending programs for most of a decade until the surplus came in.

Even on Brad DeLong's blog, if you go back, way back, to the days when he entertained differing point of views (there was such a a time!) you'll find former Congressional Budget Office head Rudy Penner saying that those paygo spending restrictions collapsed and government spending surged when the surplus suddenly, unexpectedly came in -- so deficits no longer restrained spending.
DeLong:... the rapid dissolution of the effectiveness of the [paygo spending discipline] process after 1997 puzzles me greatly...

Penner: I believe it was the surplus...
Going forward, since the historical record clearly shows that Congress closes big fiscal gaps with compromise solutions, spending cuts to go along with tax increases -- the 1983 Social Security "bailout" was near exactly 50% tax increases and 50% spending cuts -- we can expect that dropping taxes by 2 points of GDP currently will in the long run cut spending by around one point of GDP in the future compromise that comes out to save Medicare and the rest of the government's finances a decade from now.

The only way to believe "starve the beast" hasn't worked is by being distracted by tiny expenditures like earmarks and bridges to nowhere. Look at "points of GDP" level expenditures, and it is very clear it does work.

Milton Friedman urged: Cut taxes at every chance for any reason, it will reduce future spending. That's good!

Paul Krugman laments: All those stupid tax cuts are limiting our spending. That's bad!

When Friedman and Krugman agree on something, pay attention!!

Ms. McArdle then goes on...
It seems to me that many Democrats want to do the same thing in reverse. Pass programs now, and figure out how to control costs later.
She's noticed! Except she gives too much credit -- often there is no even pretend intention to cut costs later. The goal is just to get people hooked on programs they wouldn't vote for if the cost was presented to them up-front, and then force them later to pay for the programs by the hard necessity of paying for run-up debt.

This is in fact an explicit strategy peddled on the left that we might call "Gorge the Beast with Meals Put on the National Credit Card then Wait for the Bill to Come", but which they describe more aesthetically as "Feed the Beauty" ...
The tacit wager of “Feed the Beauty” is that taxes will eventually rise to come in line with higher spending. Why? Because Americans will, over time, come to realize that the government we want is actually worth paying for...
Even though this stategy admits American's don't want that government at its real cost, which is why it has to be provided "free" -- until huge debt piles up, at which point they will be forced to incur big increases in taxes to pay for it all, or see the country auctioned off to the Chinese...
...(as opposed to having our children borrow money from the Chinese to pay for it, the de facto “plan.”) The paradox of this revolution in governing philosophy is that its success relies on the same underlying political dynamic [as "starve the beast"].
Except it is far, far more committing and dangerous.

If deficits created by tax cuts are too large, then the cuts can always can be reversed later. Simple.

But if deficits and massive debt are run up by bad, wasteful, porked-up spending until it gets a hold of the national credit rating, there are no tax cuts to reverse, just masses of constituents tied into that spending, relying upon it and politically defending it. What can you do then?

Of course, this is hardly a new strategy for Democrats. Say: "Medicare, and huge tax increases or national bankruptcy circa 2030".

So as to all those current Democratic promises to the effect that, while their national health care reform will cost a trillion dollars over the next ten years up-front, they will find ways for it to produce big savings later... buyer beware!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Mayo Clinic slams Obama's health care plan. 

The Mayo Clinic, which has been held up by Obama as a model for providing quality health care, takes a shot at the Democrats' health care plan in its Health Policy Blog:
... the proposed legislation misses the opportunity to help create higher-quality, more affordable health care for patients. In fact, it will do the opposite.

In general, the proposals under discussion are not patient focused or results oriented.

Lawmakers have failed to use a fundamental lever – a change in Medicare payment policy – to help drive necessary improvements in American health care. Unless legislators create payment systems that pay for good patient results at reasonable costs, the promise of transformation in American health care will wither.

The real losers will be the citizens of the United States.

Maybe Armstrong didn't bungle the first sentence spoken from the moon? 

When Neil Armstrong became took the first human step on the moon, he had a carefully prepared line to speak: "That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind."

Instead, what the world heard was the grammatically confusing: "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind".

Armstrong always insisted he said the "a", it was just that people didn't hear it...

But in 2006, a computer analysis found evidence that Armstrong said what he said he said.

Peter Shann Ford, an Australian computer programmer, ran a software analysis looking at sound waves and found a wave that would have been the missing "a." It lasted 35 milliseconds, much too quick to be heard.

Armstrong and experts at the Smithsonian Institution looked at the evidence and it was convincing, said Smithsonian space curator Roger Launius.

"I find the technology interesting and useful," Armstrong said in a statement. "I also find his conclusion persuasive."

And NASA stands by its moon man.

"If Neil Armstrong says there was an 'a,' then as far as we're concerned, there was 'a,'" NASA spokesman Michael Cabbage said.
The advance of science reveals the truth?

Or another govenment cover-up of its own mistakes?

You decide!

Monday, July 20, 2009

It's 40 years today since arguably the human race's greatest achievement. 

Or was it?


Saturday, July 18, 2009

Possibly disturbing sights.... 

World's worst tattoos.



Michael Jackson, of course, lest we forget.

The world's scariest view?

The view from one of the world's tallest skyscrapers has just got even more unnerving. The Sears Tower in Chicago has installed a glass-floored observation deck - 1,353ft up in the air ... [Ananova]

Thursday, July 16, 2009

How much is a trillion dollars of debt ... in the taxes you will pay for it? 

Most people have no idea how much "a trillion dollars" really is. Interviews show this amusingly. In response to which, videos give illustrations and bloggers provide examples of their own, such as "the price of 222 Nimitz class aircraft carriers" of QandO.

But all that still seems rather academic. What are dollar bills stacked a third of the way to the moon or a Nimitz class aircraft carrier to me?

How about this question to bring the matter home: How much will a trillion dollars added to the national debt add to your personal tax bill?

We can work through it easily enough ...

The national debt incurs interest that is paid with taxes. The interest rate on US debt is projected be about 6% annually in the long run, according to the Social Security Administration's actuaries and other such governmental budget projectors. Six percent of one trillion dollars is $60 billion.

There are 80 million payers of income tax in the US. (If that seems low for a population of 300 million remember that 47% of all "tax units", 70 million potential taxpayers, pay no income tax or receive refundable tax credits from the government.)

Now $60 billion divided by 80 million taxpayers equals $750 per taxpayer -- so each trillion dollars of the national debt costs the average taxpayer $750 per year, every year that the debt is carried, forever. (Or until the government pays down its debt ... Ha! Just kidding!)

Thus, Obama’s expected $1.8 trillion deficit for this year projects to add $1,350 to the tax bill of each and every taxpayer on average, forever.

Well, one might judge that to be "not so bad" to mitigate a bad recession, standing by itself as a one-time thing. One can decide for oneself.

Except it is not a one-time thing standing by itself.

As of the end of last year the government’s outstanding explicit and implicit debt was $64 trillion. Add another year's interest on that, plus this year's $1.8 trillion deficit, and we will be well over $66 trillion at the end of this year. Which creates an explicit and implict annual interest liability to just carry the debt of more than $49,000 per taxpayer.

As of today most of that is implicit (for unfunded Medicare liabilities, etc.) but every year from now on (as more seniors retire and start collecting Medicare, etc) more of the debt will shift from being implicit to explicit, requiring cash tax collections to pay for it.

Median household income in the US is about $50,000. So as more and more of the debt becomes explicit, moving the cash tax cost of carrying it towards $49,000 per taxpayer, we will by the year 2027, a mere 18 years away, get to here.

Hmm ... $66 trillion is 22 separate piles of dollar bills each reaching all the way to the moon, or 14,652 Nimitz class aircraft carriers.

So I guess, in this big scheme of things, a mere ‘nother trillion dollars added to the national debt, as a “stimulus” or whatever, may not be so much after all.

Sort of like a tray of ice cubes spilled on the deck of the Titanic.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Is Krugman going to be really mad at Obama again soon? 

Lest we forget, not long ago Paul Krugman was acting up as Obama's #1 critic from the left, earning a Newsweek cover story as "Obama's toughest liberal critic."

Then, suddenly, he became a cheerleader for all things Obama! Wha' happened?

We learn from New York Magazine that Obama invited Krugman to a nice meal, applied the Obama charm, and maybe made a promise...
Today, Krugman's message is: Stay the course. By "the course," does he mean the one that previously had us headed over the cliff?... Whoa. How did he get from there to here?

[T]he White House had him over for dinner ... The conversation between them and the Obama economic team was off the record, but the White House's "engagement" policy sure seems to have worked ...

So what might Krugman have learned at the White House that adjusted his vision? He provides a clue in an interview published over the weekend in the Guardian....

"You know, the buzz I'm getting is that a second-round stimulus might well come on the agenda."

Hmmm, the buzz — where could that be coming from?

"It's what you hear from people who talk to people who talk to people," he said. Of course, you hardly need the intermediary if you have direct access to the people, like over dinner at the White House ...

For now, the White House has solved its Krugman problem. Next stop: North Korea!
Wow, back in my single days I applied the old "dinner, charm and a promise" routine many times, and never got results like that! Is Krugman a cheap date? (Or is dinner more seductive at the White House than at White Castle?) Since then, Krugman has been all over the place as an Obama supporter enthusiastically arguing for more stimulus.

But you know, those you seduce rarely stay "wowed" forever -- and about that promise...

Around the blogroll we find a lot of informed opinion that there is no chance a second stimulus is coming, or that Obama will stick his neck out to lobby for one he knows he can't get.

(E.g., Megan McArdle, "would Obama and the Democrats rather have a second stimulus or health care reform?"; and Economics of Contempt, "Krugman is a first-rate economist, but he's not especially savvy politically, and this is one of those times when his political/legislative inexperience shows. The reality is that the administration isn't going to come back to Congress for a second stimulus package, and for good reason: A second stimulus is politically impossible", among others.)

And while I don't remember "wowing" many of my dates, I sure remember the blowback I got from some of them after breakin..., er, they unfortunately misunderstood, over-interpreted, carefully qualified representations I'd made to them.

I still carry the scorch marks. There is no wrath like that of someone who rolled over for you after a cheap date due to a promise you made, after you explain to them the mistake they made in trust..., er, interpreting what you said.

So are Obama's Krugman problems really over? Or only on hiatus until the results of that meal are fully digested? So that Obama should be stocking up on some heartburn medication...

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Man of the day. 

Drinker blames drain fall on the beer

A German man's love of beer proved his undoing after he fell into an open drain - and couldn't get out because of his beer belly.

Gerhard Wilder, 46, from Bochum in western Germany, was wedged so tightly in the drain that he had to be freed by firefighters.

He has now pledged to stay off beer and go on a diet after embarrassing pictures of the incident were shown all over German media... [Ananova]

Monday, July 13, 2009

How we know the Democrats know their health reform plan isn't worth its cost. 

We know from how they intend to cover its price -- by dropping the tax cost exclusively on "the rich".
The proposal calls for a surtax on individuals earning at least $280,000 in adjusted gross income and couples earning more than $350,000, said the chairman, Representative Charles B. Rangel of New York. [NYT]
Compare this to the financing scheme of Social Security, which is funded with a payroll tax that lands on all employed workers -- the same people who are intended to benefit from Social Security. Thus, the people who receive benefits pay for them. They are willing to do so because in their mind the benefits they get are worth the price they pay.

This financing method was no accident. Franklin Roosevelt famously insisted on it so that workers would view their benefits as paid for with their own money, and thus earned, providing a bedrock foundation of political stability for Social Security, "With those taxes in there, no damn politician can ever scrap my social security program", while also removing any taint of it being a rich-pay-for-poor "relief" or welfare program.

(Payroll tax financing also stabilizes benefits in the other direction, against wanton growth. When workers pay for their own benefits, politicians lose the ability to buy votes by taxing the rich to pay for a free handout to every interest group that pleads a special case. Workers as a group support only benefit expansions that pay off for them. Today's Democrats may not appreciate this, but FDR did -- he was soldly in the fiscally conservative wing of his Democratic party, a Blue Dog by today's standards).

For these reasons, from FDR's time until today, every top administrator and trustee of the Social Security Administration has insisted that this financing method be maintained -- rejecting every proposal to add general revenue (income tax) financing to Social Security, and insisting that every dollar of tax paid into Social Security be eligible to earn some benefit. This is why there is a cap on the amount of wages subject to Social Security payroll tax -- because wages above the cap level earn no benefits.

And obviously, this financing scheme has been hugely successful (at least politically) for Social Security and its Democratic champions. FDR was no dummy!

So a logical question is: Why don't Obama and Rangel and the Democrats in Congress follow this successful model set for them by FDR, their hero, with their own plan?

The answer is: For FDR's model to work -- for workers to be happy to pay to get something -- they have to believe it is worth the price. And today's Democrats clearly believe that the average people who are supposed to be the beneficiaries of their health care plan won't think it is worth the price if the plan's cost drops on them.

Which is why Obama and the Democrats keep selling their health care reform to voters as "something for nothing"...
"The president is committed to enacting reform that will lower costs, protect choice of doctors and plans, and assure quality and affordable health care for all Americans," said Linda Douglass, a spokeswoman for the White House health reform office. "He has made it clear that we would not support a reform plan that would require people to leave their current insurance plans"... [AP]
Their promise is that people will get to keep everything they have to today, and get more too, plus the uninsured get insurance ... all for lower cost! But "lower cost" does not come in the form of new payroll tax subtracted from your wages to pay for it.

The Democrats have tied their political credibility to getting a health reform bill enacted. But clearly they have made the calculation that the average people whom they say would be the big winners under their plan will not provide the votes to pass it if they have to pay for it -- meaning, it would not be worth the cost to them.

Thus, to get the votes needed to pass it, they are following a time-honored political practice in all democracies: promise the many something for nothing, drop the full cost on the few.

But remember the lesson of FDR: Rich-pay-for-everyone-else benefit programs are politically unstable, tainted as being unearned "relief" or welfare, and tend to have unhappy fates. This is not the model to use if you can convince average citizens that their benefits are actually valuable enough to be worth paying for out of their own pocket.

The Democrats simply know that they can't convince the average citizenry of that.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Seen around and about... 

Marriage announcements of women who should not have hyphenated their names. No matter how liberated they were. Really.

You know things are getting rough in the mortgage market when banks are suing themselves over defaulting.

...court documents clearly label "Wells Fargo Bank NA" as the plaintiff and "Wells Fargo Bank NA" as a defendant ...

Wells Fargo hired Florida Default Law Group., P.L., of Tampa, Fla., to file the lawsuit against itself. And then Wells Fargo hired another Tampa law firm -- Kass, Shuler, Solomon, Spector, Foyle & Singer P.A. -- to defend itself against its own lawsuit ...

Wells Fargo's defense lawyers even filed an answer to their client's own complaint: "Defendant admits that it is the owner and holder of a mortgage encumbering the subject real property," the answer reads. "All other allegations of the complaint are denied"...

Compuserve is dead. It was the first major commercial online service, hosted the first "chat rooms" (called "CB simulators" after CB radio channels) and trademarked the term "email" for its popular messaging service. Originally an in-house network for an insurer...
Access [by the public] was granted generally outside of business hours, when CompuServe's mainframes were normally idle. In 1981, the cost for 300 baud access was $5.00 an hour during non-peak hours (6 p.m. to 5 a.m. weekdays and all day on weekends and holidays); $22.50 an hour during peak hours (5 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays). The service was a hit ...

"It doesn't matter what kind of computer you own. You'll use Compuserve's Electronic Mail System (We call it EMailTM) to compose, edit, and send letters ..." [advertisement]
$5 an hour in 1981 was worth $12 in today's money, $22.50 was worth $53. You probably can't even imagine how slow 300 baud was.

(Yes, I remember. I never used Compuserve myself but had business associates who did and had to contact them through it using my employer's dial-up service, and later my own. Of course, all this was long before there was anything like a "Web" or a "browser".)

For all that, it sure started something. RIP.

Site feeds, and request for suggestions 

The "state of the art" circa 2004 technology that this blog happily has run on until now is, under the strain of an inexplicable rise in traffic over the last few months, beginning to show signs of stress (the carved wooden template is starting to give off splinters).

So some modest upgrades are beginning. First up: site feeds. All promises are that this back-end change will be invisible to users -- but on the principle that everything that can go wrong will go wrong, be informed that should your feed be interrupted you can restore it quickly by simply hitting the subscribe button on the left.

Beyond that, if you have any suggestions you'd like to make to improve this place, either technology- or content-wise, drop them in a comment or in an e-mail to scribbler at All will be appreciated. But please, start at the extreme "most result to least effort involved" end of the return curve. This blog is strictly a spare moments project. TIA.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

The power of the having the marginal vote 

If you've been following the story of the New York State Senate clown show over the last month [one, two, three], well, things may finally be shaking out -- with a nice illustration for us all of how politics works ...


The chaotic state Senate stalemate came to a stunning end yesterday as two-time turncoat Sen. Pedro Espada Jr. of The Bronx double-crossed his GOP allies, returned to the Democratic fold -- and was rewarded with the post of majority leader...

Espada was demonized by Democrats during the past month as a "criminal" and an "extortionist," and he once vowed "never" to return to the party. Last night, he was introduced as the new majority leader under a deal that guaranteed him higher pay, substantial patronage, and power over the day-to-day operations of the Senate....

Espada, who is under investigation for funding related to a chain of government-subsidized Bronx health clinics he runs and over whether he resides in his Bronx district, will also get special access to millions of dollars in pork-barrel "member items" that will be doled out in his district...

"It was never about power, but about empowerment," Espada insisted... [NY Post]

Empowering Espada.

Get it: This guy has no seniority (is in the first year of his term, though he served a couple terms some years back), has double-crossed everybody in sight in both political parties, has been publicly damned by the Democratic senators, damned them in return, is under criminal investigaton ... and the state senate Democrats now have elected him their Majority Leader!

Why? Because he had the vote they needed to regain power.

What's politics about? Power. Not doing "what is right", but power.

Another fine example of what's been described here before...'s "First Law of Politics": Every elected politician truly and sincerely desires to do what is good and right for the nation and the people as a second priority. With the first priority being to get oneself elected and one's party in power, whatever hypocritical or scabrous behavior is required, the second priority be damned. Because after all, if one doesn't get elected and gain power, one can't do anything good for the nation and the people. QED.
There's another practical, profitable lesson for all in this as well: If you ever find yourself a voting member of a committee, board or legislature, set yourself up to be the marginal, swing vote. You'll do very well for yourself.

Just as all the United States Senators who right now are positioning themselves to be swing votes on Cap-and-Trade and National Health Care, issue by sub-issue, are sure to do.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Are US health care costs really rising excessively fast? 

The Obama Administration says "excessive growth" in health care costs threatens the government's future fiscal solvency, as the amount it has to pay for Medicare and Medicaid every year goes up, up, up.

So in lobbying to get its national health care program enacted it is arguing against all experience and logic that indicate putting the cost of more health care on the government's bill will be an extra fiscal cost, to claim that national health care is needed to reduce this dangerously excessive growth rate of health care costs. As its lobbyists and advocates are putting it, "Health Reform is Budget Reform".

But are US health care costs really rising at an excessive rate?

Data that say "maybe not!" come from Andrew Biggs. He looked at the "excessive growth" in health care costs (the amount by which they grow faster than GDP) in 23 OECD countries since 1990, and found an average of 1.62%. The rate of excessive growth in the US: 1.66% -- almost exactly the same.

The US's "excess growth" rate ranked ninth of the 23. If the national health care advocates' goal is to get this excessive growth rate down to the level of France (held up as a model by Paul Krugman) or Britain (which exerts direct government control over hospitals and medical services) the rate will go up to 1.87% (France) or 2.08% (Britain).

But if the fiscal problem with health care costs isn't their growth rate, what is it? It's their base amount to which the growth rate applies. Prof. Mankiw gave us a heads up on this just a little while back, quoting this data....

"U.S. per capita spending for physician services was the highest in the OECD in 1999: $988, compared with an OECD median of $342. Physician services accounted for 22.7 percent of total U.S. health spending in 1999, compared with 15.2 percent in the median OECD country...

"The ratio of the average income of U.S. physicians to average employee compensation for the United States as a whole was about 5.5. Germany’s was the next highest, at only 3.4; Canada, 3.2; Australia, 2.2; Switzerland, 2.1; France, 1.9; Sweden, 1.5; and the United Kingdom, 1.4..."...

Addendum: These broad issues apply not just to doctors but to other skilled healthcare workers as well. If you look here, you will find that dentists, nurses, and physiotherapists are also paid more in the United States than in other nations...
Read his whole post. There might be reasons why the US wage rate for the health profession is higher than elsewhere.

But in any event, if you think the cost of health care in the US is too dang high, the "bogeyman" you have to deal with to fix things is not the rate at which health care costs are rising here, that's world-normal -- nor is it the profits of greedy insurance companies, nor their high overhead, nor "wasteful competition"...

It is the incomes of the people in the medical profession. If you want Canadian-level health costs, you'll have to drop US doctors' incomes by half to get them down to the Canadian level. If you want French-level costs, you'll have to drop doctors' incomes by two thirds.

And not just doctors' incomes, you'll also have to slash and control the incomes of nurses, medical technicians, and of members of the United Health Care Workers Union.

Does the plan being bandied about by Obama and the Democrats address any of this? Do any of its advocates?

It's kind of ironic how national health care is being sold using such a misdiagnosis.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

The New York State government clown show continues... 

The governor enters the center ring!

Early last evening the phone rang, I picked it up, and Governor Paterson (New York State's "accidental governor") told me he'd just named Dick Ravitch to be his lieutenant governor. This way he, through Ravitch, will have the tie-breaking vote in the continuing 31-31 State Senate standoff.

Huh? It was an autodialed call. Ravitch is an OK guy who did a tough job leading the city subway system back from ruin 20 years ago, but... as the NY press corps' senior (and best) Albany member reports...
Gov. Paterson yesterday put New York on a course to become a banana republic, with an unelected governor (himself), an unelected lieutenant governor (Richard Ravitch) and an unelected state comptroller (Tom DiNapoli), who, under pressure from Paterson, has refused to give elected senators their pay.

Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez, c'mon up -- to Albany!

Maybe now we know why Paterson flunked the bar exam after three years at Hofstra Law School.

Paterson's unprecedented move -- in defiance of Attorney General Andrew Cuomo and 230 years of state history -- is mind-boggling in its implications ...

New York's Constitution says the succession goes from governor to lieutenant governor and, when there is no lieutenant governor, to the elected Senate president and the elected Assembly speaker.

Paterson is taking his unprecedented action in the face of an unequivocal finding by Cuomo, New York's only elected statewide official, that such an action is unconstitutional.

Former Gov. Mario Cuomo, the father of the current attorney general and a first-class legal mind who graduated first in his class from St. John's Law School, saw his first lieutenant governor, Alfred DelBello, quit. Then-Gov. Cuomo never considered naming a replacement. He considered such an action illegal, as well as unconstitutional.

Gov. Malcolm Wilson, a Republican who, like Paterson, had been a lieutenant governor at the time a governor (Nelson Rockefeller) resigned, never considered naming his own replacement because, an associate said, he would have considered such a possibility "absurd."

If Paterson ... gets his way, New Yorkers could have a team of unelected and therefore unaccountable executives serving through Dec. 31, 2010 -- with enormous powers of spending, policy making and appointments... [NY Post]
The lawsuits have already been filed, so don't worry about that. This show is far from over...

Death by chocolate ... again! 

Factory Worker Dies After Falling Into Vat of Chocolate

A 22-year-old factory worker died Wednesday after he fell into a vat of boiling chocolate at a manufacturing plant in New Jersey, police said.

The Camden County prosecutor's office identified the victim as Vincent Smith II. He was a temporary worker at the Cocoa Services Inc. plant.

Smith had been in the melting pot for about 10 minutes by the time rescue crews arrived, reported.

Prosecutor's spokesman Jason Laughlin says a co-worker tried to shut off the machine and two others tried to pull Smith out of the 8-foot-deep vat. He was hit and fatally injured by the agitator that mixes the chocolate.

By the time he was pulled out of the tank just after 11 a.m., he was already dead... [Fox]
Reading this, I had a feeling of deja vu -- had I seen this story before? Yes...

Worker Drowns in Vat of Chocolate
July 25, 2002

A Pennsylvania factory worker has drowned in a 1,200-gallon vat of melted milk chocolate, swallowed up by the gooey, quicksand-like mixture.

Yoni Cordon, 19, of Philadelphia, an employee of the Kargher Corp. in Hatfield Township, apparently tumbled from a platform into the 7-foot-deep vat, which is used for mixing and melting chocolate.

But nobody saw the accident, and Cordon couldn't save himself.

"It was like quicksand," said Jim Viscusi, assistant chief of the Volunteer Medical Service Corps of nearby Lansdale, which was first rescue unit on the scene.

"We found the gentleman immersed in the vat. It was not the heat - but [the chocolate] is particularly sticky." Viscusi said it would have been difficult for anyone to extricate himself from the vat without immediate help...

Cordon was pronounced dead at the scene by the Montgomery County Coroner's Office.

It was not known how long he had been in the vat... [NYDN]
The candy factory is not as safe a place as it may seem. This must be why Ooompa-Loompas get the big bucks. If you ever find a piece of shoelace in a Kit Kat bar...

I hate the politically correct "her" in writing for the public 

Another of countless annoying examples comes from Ezra Klien of the Washington Post...
A journalist's core competency is, in theory, her ability to write articles. But I've been interested lately ...
When did the proper reference to journalists become "her"? I do a lot of journalism and I'm not a her.

Here's a tip from my school of journalism: If you want to write in a gender-free manner, write in a gender-free manner. It's easy...
A journalist's core competency is, in theory, the ability to write articles. But I've been interested lately ...
See how easy?

To use (the factually inaccurate) "her" is nothing but a gratuitous injection of a statement of your own politics where it doesn't belong...

A journalist's core competency is, in theory, her -- see how progressive I am, sisters! -- ability to write articles. But I've been interested lately ...
If a "his" is to be scuppered because not all journalists are men and it is annoying to a minority of readers -- in spite of its usage as a universal in the English language, well, forever -- how can "her" be better?

It is just bad, egocentric, writing.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

What will a Congress that couldn't run a cafeteria do with Nationalized Health Care? 

Hey, in all the complex debate about national health care reform, let's all remember a simple, clear fact:

The US Congress could not run a cafeteria, literally!

The great mental short-circuit suffered repeatedly by those on the left takes the form of looking at something (say medical care), thinking "market failure", and then jumping to the conclusion: "Government will make it all better!" ... which of course means "politicians will make it all better".

While they never say, or think of, "government failure".

Here's a very, very simple intellectual challenge for Paul Krugman or whomever else wants to argue that of course after politicians take further control of the health care system we will all receive more and better for less.

Look at that real-life example of Congress's inability to run its own cafeteria. List for us all the specific examples of "government failure" that contributed to and caused this inability -- you know, as one would in an answer to an exam question.

Then tell us how and why these very examples of "government failure" won't apply to the government's future, greatly expanded management of nationalized health care to create the exact same screw-ups on a trillion-dollar, rather than cafeteria, scale. Be specific.

For extra points one might refer to ways that Congress has already screwed up the US medical care system -- such as by tying medical benefits to employment; reversing any coherent insurance model for Medicare by providing first-dollar coverage for routine, predictible services (thus destroying the market for them) while leaving calamatous, lose-your-home-and-life-savings nursing home and disability care uncovered; enabling the staggering fraud rates of Medicaid, etc. -- and explain exactly why Congress will never, ever commit such screw-ups ever again!

Well ... while we are waiting for that blue book to be filled out, we might drift a bit philosophical and consider how the battle between those who see market failure but are blind to government failure, versus those who have eyes open to both kinds of failure, is endless and joined even at the level of battling Nobelists ... such as Coase versus Samuelson. Coase:

"My approach is to compare the alternatives.

"People like Samuelson like to set up a perfect world and say that the market does not bring us to this point and imply that the government should do something.

"They stop their analysis at that point."

So many do.

But it is a battle the forces of light who can see clearly in all directions must never give up.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

The Shame of the World Trade Center "reconstruction" site, III. 

"If we don't build the most obscenely grandiose subway stations in the world, the terrorists will win!

"So forget rebuilding the dang towers..."

This coming 9/11, in the year 2009, will be eight years since the 9/11 2001 attacks, and the site of the World Trade Center still hasn't been cleared fully yet, as the wreck of the Duetsch Bank is still standing (and will into 2010)

Among many reasons, one of the biggest is the battle for bucks between Larry Silverstein, the real estate developer who owns the lease to the WTC properties, who actually wants to rebuild the towers, and the government transportation agencies that want the money to "rebuild" for themselves mega-sized, mega-cost "wonder of the world" ... subway stations.

This blog previously mentioned the New York's Metropolitan Transit Authority's disastrous bungling of the Fulton Street Cathedral station it is "rebuilding", six years behind schedule and $650 million (87%) over budget so far -- $1.4 billion total and counting -- sucking those millions from funds the federal government provided to rebuild the WTC area. But as the station and its infrastructure stretch far underground in all directions, other building waits (and has to be re-designed, and re-designed again) as its delays and re-workings continue.

But the big crisis that's coming to a head is courtesy of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which is on the other side of Silverstein's lease. It is outright blocking construction of two of the three towers slated to be built on the WTC site because it doesn't want to put up its share of the money, for which it says it has better uses.

Silverstein just warned that he's about to break off the endless negotiations with PA and invoke his right to go to arbitration. And the PA shot back...
"It's unfortunate [Silverstein] is walking away from the negotiating table simply because the public has been unwilling to sacrifice critical transportation projects to subsidize private speculative office space," said PA Executive Director Chris Ward.... [NY Post]
What are the "critical transportation projects" that the PA deems so much more important than rebuilding "private speculative office space" in the business district of Manhattan? The big one is ... it's own subway station!

But not just any subway station -- the PA's own "PATH train" station for trains that run under the Hudson River to New Jersey, which makes the MTA's Fulton Street Cathedral look like a monk's cloister by comparison in all relevant ways: in terms of size, design grandeur, cost, cost overruns and delays...


A PATH Station Larger Than Grand Central?

Everyone knows the Port Authority's planned World Trade Center Transportation Hub is huge. The PA celebrates the fact, boasting on its Web site that the Hub "is comparable in size to Grand Central Station" ... but is is actually, and absurdly, much bigger than Grand Central's main hall, as the drawing shows.

stations compared

This, even though the Hub will serve vastly fewer users than Grand Central.

The PA project is obscenely grandiose -- an elephantine edifice that likely can't be built even for its (already way-over-budget) $3.2 billion price tag. It might never be completed at all -- yet the complexities arising from its vast scale bedevil everything around it at Ground Zero.

Recent news articles have predicted the cost could top $4 billion ...

The Hub is an unconscionable waste of precious Ground Zero earth, money and energy. For starters, it's still basically just a new PATH terminal, serving a relative handful of commuters. Again, the drawing helps make the point ...

Their respective dimensions give you the picture. Grand Central's main hall is about 275 feet long, 120 feet wide.

Meanwhile, the Oculus -- the Hub's main public space, officially called the Transit Hall -- is 350 feet long and 145 feet wide at floor level, which is two levels below the street. It tapers to a "mere" 320 feet long by 100 feet wide when it reaches street level.

At its tallest point, the Oculus is 160 feet tall from the floor to the skylight roof. Grand Central is 125 feet high at its apex. ... And the Oculus represents only about half of the Hub ...

All that floor space and volume -- for what?

Grand Central's main-hall floor is traversed by 700,000 people a day ... the current temporary PATH station handles 40,000 riders a day.... [NY Post]

For perspective, the Freedom Tower, the main tower at the WTC that Silverstein is building, has a cost of $3.1 billion. The cost of the PA's PATH station is now up to $4 billion.


Here's a recent estimate of delays and cost overruns for various elements of the WTC rebuilding project.

Hey, the Empire State Building, from first turn-of-the-shovel to grand opening, was built in 470 days. Don't think about it.

Monday, July 06, 2009

In the news... 

What are the odds of getting away with murder? About 40% nationally, 30% her in tough-on-crime New York City. The story. Hey, 40% is a lot more than the impression you'd get from watching CSI, Law & Order, and all those procedural shows. The next time someone really annoys me...

Saddam's astute strategy: Be more concerned about what the Iranians might do to you than what the US might. Kick the weapons inspectors out because they “would have directly identified to the Iranians where to inflict maximum damage to Iraq.” Better to let the Iranians and everyone think maybe you really have those WMDs, as long as they can't prove it. Such he told his interrogators, who told the New York Times. The next time you think about starting a war, consider how probably everybody's misjudging everybody.

Climate change shrinks sheep. Is there anything it can't do? "It's too early to say if, in 100 years, we will have chihuahuas herding pocket-sized sheep." (It's also very good for the wild sheep, enabling more to survive harsh winters.)

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Happy 4th of July 

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Clown Show updates, East and West... 

In New York, some analysis of the lunatic behavior of the divided State Senate leading to the lock-up of the state government -- how all the petty factions put protecting their turf and extracting "payback" from their enemies ahead of any kind of responsible governing.

How do they imagine that they will escape accountability for this, in some future election?

Heck, they don't have to imagine it, they know they will. Key words from the story (with my emphasis)...

Yes, all of this sounds ridiculous. But key here is that lawmakers don't see any incentive to act responsibly. They know that the public rarely holds them accountable for misbehaving. By the time they're up for re-election, they figure, voters will have forgotten that they held state government hostage... [NY Post]
Not only will most voters have forgotten, but most who haven't forgotten won't care enough to do anything about it (if you are a Democrat will you vote Republican in 2010 or 2012 because Democrats closed down the government for a month in the summer of 2009?). And as to the small number who do care enough, they won't have the chance because they won't have a choice -- the state legislature is fully gerrymandered so that over 90% of legislators are guaranteed re-election.

That's why these guys are able to close down the goverment to pursue petty personal vendattas and turf wars at the cost of the citizenry -- they aren't accountable to anyone for anything.

The only consolation is, gee whiz, at least they aren't passing laws and legislating in the same way!

Meanwhile, over on the Left Coast, the great state of California finds itself paying a good number of its obligations with IOUs, instead of money, as it enters a new fiscal year with a $26 billion deficit. This after all proposals to close the deficit have been stymied by Democrats who refuse to cut spending and Republicans who refuse to increase taxes.

However, as to those obligations being paid with IOUs and money, it's interesting to see who's getting paid with what.

[] Getting IOUs: Grants to aged, blind or disabled persons; people needing temporary assistance for basic family needs, persons with developmental disablities; people in mental health treatment, small business vendors -- the needy and/or politically weak.

[] Getting cash: Legislators, legislative employees and appointees; the public employees’ retirement system; health care service payments to institutional providers (as very much opposed to the people getting IOUs); the University of California -- the very legislators and interest groups who own them behind them who've caused the crisis.

How do these legislators imagine they can escape accountability to the public for this fiasco they have created?

Well, the California state legislature is totally gerrymandered too.
Modern American politics is dominated by the doctrine that government is the problem, not the solution ... You don't have to be a liberal to realize that this is wrong-headed.
-- Paul Krugman

Don't make your woman too happy 

Teenagers assault woman's sex partner after mistaking her screams of passion for cries

The sounds of a woman having sex drew an angry crew of teenagers to her rescue after they mistakenly thought she was being assaulted.

Once in her Connecticut bedroom, one of the teens used a baseball bat to club the woman's sex partner.

Police say the incident kicked off when a 16-year-old girl heard screams coming from her mother's bedroom on June 6, and thought she was in danger.

Instead of calling the cops, the youngster went to fetch her friends ... [NYDN]
We all know that children hate to think of their parents having, um, fun, but ... "Sweetie, you have some 'splaining to do".

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

The New York State Senate clown show continues... 

Democrats and Republicans remain deadlocked 31-31, with each refusing to do any business with the other, leaving the government paralyzed. [How we got here.]

Yesterday's high points:

[] When a Republican seeking a Coke walked through a chamber where the Democrats were meeting to get to the senate lounge, the Democrats claimed that his minute spent walking through them gave them a quorum -- and they "passed" 121 bills.

[] The law authorizing the current management structure of the New York City public school system expired at midnight. Management of the schools serving 1.1 million students has reverted to a Board of Education and 32 community school boards that haven't existed since 2002.

Law extending the current management structure of the school system has been passed by the State Assembly (Democratic), and its passage by the Senate has been urged by the Governor (a Democrat) and even by the teachers union, and 45 of the 62 senators are on record supporting it. But the Democratic senate "leaders" (if one may call them that) are blocking it ... why?

[] As to our Accidental Governor's contribution to the show...
Just after midday, Gov. Bumble called us into a room to announce good news. Enough senators -- finally! -- had joined together, after nearly a month of this Clown College on the Hudson, to pass some bills. Hooray!

But within five minutes, the Clown-in-Chief changed his mind. Right there, I witnessed the most surreal event I've ever seen in a press conference.

Gov. Bumble received a telephone call from state Sen. Frank Padavan. "He's on the phone now?" the gov asked. "I'll take the call!"

Two minutes later [after hearing about the can of Coke] Paterson came back, looking as if he'd been kicked...

"I will not sign any legislation passed," said Gov. Bumble, looking as if he desperately needed that margarita ... give this man a drink. [NY Post]
I can't wait for tomorrow's highlights!