Thursday, August 22, 2013

From the annals of bad law:
By midcentury some thinkers in the law schools and elsewhere had come to see lawsuits as a kind of surrogate social insurance, identifying deep pockets from whom accident victims might obtain compensation. Justice Roger Traynor of the California Supreme Court, in an influential concurring opinion in a 1944 case called Escola v. Coco-Cola Bottling Co., led the way by proposing that courts should not have to find that manufacturers had behaved negligently to hold them liable for injuries resulting from defects in their products: "Even if there is no negligence … public policy demand that responsibility be fixed wherever it will most effectively reduce the hazards to life and health inherent in defective products that reach the market.”
- "The Rule of Lawyers", by Walter Olson, via Megan Mcardle

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The hyper-partisanship of our bureaucracy:
So has the IRS gone off the rails into hyper-partisanship, leaving behind other more balanced federal agencies? One might imagine that the IRS is different from other federal agencies in ways that would attract employees who more readily support Democratic candidates. Conservative-leaning lawyers might lack the tax-collecting zeal that could lead a lawyer to a career position in the IRS.

The data show, however, that the partisanship of the lawyers in the IRS is not unsual or even particularly extreme among federal agencies. In fact, the lawyers in every single federal government agency--from the Department of Education to the Department of Defense--contributed overwhelmingly to Obama compared to Romney.
Take a look at that table.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Environmental activism commonly doesn't have anything to do with the environment, as evidenced in this article from the environmentalist website The Grist:
The storm has brought a surge of tech-driven initiatives designed to supplant services that have traditionally been viewed as public domain... And on the streets, Google and other companies now run their own, very private version of public transit: a fleet of unmarked buses that shuttle the tech class to and from jobs at corporate campuses south of the city.

Much has been made of Silicon Valley’s private bus system lately because there is much to be made. The private shuttles ferry upwards of 35,000 workers each day between San Francisco and the sprawling tech company campuses 40-50 miles south. That’s about 35 percent of Caltrain’s ridership, and 17 percent of the number that rides the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system.

They may use the city’s public bus stops, but these are no ordinary buses. They are pure, gleaming white, unsigned and completely anonymous. Riders flash their work IDs to gain access to these luxury shuttles, each outfitted with wifi, of course.

“Sometimes the Google Bus just seems like one face of Janus-headed capitalism; it contains the people too valuable even to use public transport or drive themselves,” Rebecca Solnit wrote in an essay at the London Review of Books.
When private companies unroll programs for their employees to ride-share, simultaneously lowering congestion and CO2 emissions, they are greeted with outright hostility and anti-capitalist vitriol. This has nothing to do with the environment.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Environmental regulations don't help the environment, and ruin everyday things while they are at it:
The whole trend began in (wait for it) California. Regulations began in 2000, with the idea of preventing spillage. The notion spread and was picked up by the EPA, which is always looking for new and innovative ways to spread as much human misery as possible.

An ominous regulatory announcement from the EPA came in 2007: “Starting with containers manufactured in 2009… it is expected that the new cans will be built with a simple and inexpensive permeation barrier and new spouts that close automatically.”

The government never said “no vents.” It abolished them de facto with new standards that every state had to adopt by 2009. So for the last three years, you have not been able to buy gas cans that work properly. They are not permitted to have a separate vent. The top has to close automatically. There are other silly things now, too, but the biggest problem is that they do not do well what cans are supposed to do.

And don’t tell me about spillage. It is far more likely to spill when the gas is gurgling out in various uneven ways, when one spout has to both pour and suck in air. That’s when the lawn mower tank becomes suddenly full without warning, when you are shifting the can this way and that just to get the stuff out.

There’s also the problem of the exploding can. On hot days, the plastic models to which this regulation applies can blow up like balloons. When you release the top, gas flies everywhere, including possibly on a hot engine. Then the trouble really begins.
This happened to me just a few weeks ago, I hit the release button on the gas can, and was rewarded with a geyser of fuel arching over the top of my lawnmower, a spill far worse than I've ever had with a traditional gas can.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Americans are far more generous than every European nation:

Friday, August 9, 2013

Michael Totten sets the record straight on the Prime Minister of Tunisia:
Ennahda is described as “moderate” in almost every single article published by wire agency hacks, but the only reason it’s relatively moderate is because it’s forced to share power. Tunisia’s Islamists conceded to building a civil state instead of an Islamic state because they face massive resistance and they don’t have enough seats in the parliament to do anything else. Since the police and the army are loyal to the country and not the party, that’s that. If Ennahda had won a majority and had the strength to muscle everything through, we would be looking at a different Tunisia—an Egypt in the Maghreb.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Apparently radio was once controlled by the mob:
From the late 1970s through 1986, radio was controlled by the mob, and you had a lot of people getting hundred dollar bills in record sleeves or cocaine hidden inside cassette tapes.... Yes, the Gambino family. There's a great book on payola in the 1980s by Fredric Dannen called "Hit Men." Basically, there was a cartel of consultants called "The Network" that bribed programmers and was extorting money from record labels. If you didn't pay their billings they'd blacklist your artists.Most famously they had Pink Floyd kicked off the LA airwaves during an extremely successful concert tour as retaliation against their label.This cartel was connected to Piney Armone, a Gambino underboss.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The War on Poverty has failed:

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

There is no recovery:

Diana Carew reports "in July 2013, just 36 percent of Americans age 16-24 not enrolled in school worked full-time, 10 percent less than in July 2007."

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Quote of the day:
It is not dependence per se, which is a universal fact of human life, but dependence without mutual obligation, that corrupts the soul. Such technocratic provision enables precisely the illusion of independence from the people around us and from the requirements of any moral code they might uphold. It is corrosive not because it instills a true sense of dependence but because it inspires a false sense of independence and so frees us from the sorts of moral habits of mutual obligation that alone can make us free.
-Yuval Levin

Friday, April 5, 2013

There is broad scientific consensus that genetically engineered crops currently on the market are safe to eat. After 14 years of cultivation and a cumulative total of 2 billion acres planted, no adverse health or environmental effects have resulted from commercialization of genetically engineered crops (Board on Agriculture and Natural Resources, Committee on Environmental Impacts Associated with Commercialization of Transgenic Plants, National Research Council and Division on Earth and Life Studies 2002). Both the U.S. National Research Council and the Joint Research Centre (the European Union’s scientific and technical research laboratory and an integral part of the European Commission) have concluded that there is a comprehensive body of knowledge that adequately addresses the food safety issue of genetically engineered crops (Committee on Identifying and Assessing Unintended Effects of Genetically Engineered Foods on Human Health and National Research Council 2004; European Commission Joint Research Centre 2008).

These and other recent reports conclude that the processes of genetic engineering and conventional breeding are no different in terms of unintended consequences to human health and the environment (European Commission Directorate-General for Research and Innovation 2010)...

Still, to date, compounds with harmful effects on humans or animals have been documented only in foods developed through conventional breeding approaches. For example, conventional breeders selected a celery variety with relatively high amounts of psoralens to deter insect predators that damage the plant. Some farm workers who harvested such celery developed a severe skin rash—an unintended consequence of this breeding strategy (Committee on Identifying and Assessing Unintended Effects of Genetically Engineered Foods on Human Health and National Research Council 2004).
-Scientific American (online), Aug, 2011.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Economist is changing its tune, "The climate may be heating up less in response to greenhouse-gas emissions than was once thought."

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Realpolitik in the Middle East:
This is one of the reasons conspiracy theories are popular in the Middle East. Bizarre conspiracies actually happen in this part of the world. It’s “normal.” The Syrian regime has been pulling stunts like that one for decades.

The liberal Syrian dissident Ammar Abdulhamid recently highlighted similar shenanigans in NOW Lebanon: “The campaign by the Assad regime included releasing known jihadist and terrorist elements from state prisons at the same time nonviolent protest leaders were imprisoned. This tactic is sometimes called ‘tailoring your enemies.’ It is inherently a risky approach, but can serve to divide enemy ranks by creating a more radical camp in their midst, and in this case, undermining the advocates of nonviolence. This tactic had been repeatedly used by the Assad regime during the Lebanese civil war, allowing it to emerge as the main power broker there.”

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

"Every time we look at them, they want more money. Like pigs, you know. Here we’re slaving, and we’re starving and the goddamn workers don’t give a s--- about anything.”
-Cesar Chavez, man of the people
A Washington Post op-ed claims:
Nearly all of the mass shootings in this country in recent years — not just Newtown, Aurora, Fort Hood, Tucson and Columbine — have been committed by white men and boys.
However, that's not what the facts say:
Whites are under-represented by race in mass shootings, as are Hispanics, when you look at percentage of total population. Don’t take my word for it, either; look at the stats kept by über-left-wing Mother Jones.

Over-represented are Asians, like Virginia Tech shooter Seung-Hui Cho, One L. Goh, Jeong Soo Paek, Jiverly Wong, Byran Koji Uyesugi and Gang Lu who are all East Asian, and West Asian/Arabs, such as Nidal Hassan, and Abdelkrim Belachheb, whom the sisters dishonestly label “white.”

Also over-represented are black mass murders like Omar S. Thornton, Maurice Clemmons, Charles Lee Thornton, William D. Baker, Arthur Wise, Clifton McCree, Nathan Dunlap, Colin Ferguson, and we’re not even including the DC Snipers, John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo, because they are arguably serial killers instead.
There are some problems with the Mother Jones data, but, this is basically right.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Woody Guthrie, Liberal Fascist:
In a 1941 version of the song, “Talking Columbia,” Guthrie sang:

“Well, the folks need houses and stuff to eat,

And the folks need metals and the folks need wheat.

Folks need water and power dams,

And folks need people and the people need the land”.

But by “circa 1947,” after the war, Guthrie had substituted “folks” with “Uncle Sam,” shifting the focus from the needs of the people to the needs of the state, and effectively blurring the distinction between the two. This was an expression of Popular Front politics just as much as it was a result of Guthrie’s own changing views, but it gets to the heart of his full-throated support for the war effort, even in its most cruel and violent expressions.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Day-age theory on the Bible and the Age of the Universe.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

How the government killed swing:
In 1944, a new wartime cabaret tax went into effect, imposing a ruinous 30% (later merely a destructive 20%) excise on all receipts at any venue that served food or drink and allowed dancing. ... [I]n the next few years, struggling nightclub owners were trying every which way to avoid having to foist the tax on customers.

The tax-law regulation's ... exception had the biggest impact. Clubs that provided strictly instrumental music to which no one danced were exempt from the cabaret tax. It is no coincidence that in the back half of the 1940s a new and undanceable jazz performed primarily by small instrumental groups—bebop—emerged as the music of the moment.

"The spotlight was on instrumentalists because of the prohibitive entertainment taxes," the great bebop drummer Max Roach was quoted in jazz trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie's memoirs, "To Be or Not to Bop." "You couldn't have a big band because the big band played for dancing."

The federal excise tax inadvertently spurred the bebop revolution: "If somebody got up to dance, there would be 20% more tax on the dollar. If someone got up there and sang a song, it would be 20% more," Roach said. "It was a wonderful period for the development of the instrumentalist."
h/t taxprof

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Pew Research Center's "The State of the News Media in 2013" on the mix of reporting and opinion in the cable news business:

In prime time, opinion exceeds reporting at all three channels. Not so in the daytime. CNN maintains higher levels of straight reporting in both the morning and mid-day. Fox’s morning programming is a pretty even mix of reporting and opinion, with opinion overtaking reporting in mid-day. At MSNBC, opinion overwhelms reporting in both the morning and at mid-day.

Monday, March 25, 2013

How ABC manufactured a fake controversy about so called "pink slime":
In particular, the latest example has been ABC’s lax ethics that visited devastation on a company with a thirty-year history of safe operation, Beef Products, Inc. The company pioneered the provision of lean, finely textured beef which is blended with fattier hamburger to make it more learn and nutritious. It also protects it against pathogens with a process that won the coveted 2007 “Black Pearl” award from the International Association for Food Protection.

ABC reporter Jim Avila, in hot pursuit of a journalism award, wrote a series of reports claiming that BPI was producing “pink slime” with the network hyping the term by using it 52 times in a two-week period in March. Any reporter investigating BPI would have swiftly found a mountain of evidence exonerating the company from any hint of the allegations made against it.

Avila’s reporting put BPI in jeopardy of closing down entirely, forcing the suspension of business at plants in Texas, Kansas, and Iowa, while the headquarters plant in Dakota Dunes, South Dakota, struggles to continue operations. So far 650 employees have lost their jobs with several thousand more jobs at risk at companies that relied on BPI, affecting their families and communities...

The product in its present form has been used for more than a decade with coverage in the Washington Post, the New York Times, a Hollywood movie and more! As for the “experts” in Avila’s reports, he chose a former federal bureaucrat who called the product “pink slime” in a ten-year-old email to fellow employees at the Department of Agriculture.

In an April Bloomberg Business Week article, reporters, Bryan Gruley and Elizabeth Campbell examined the way BPI had been subjected to “sliming”, noting that its finely textured lean beef had been purchased for use by McDonald’s, Wal-Mart Stores, Burger King, Kroger, Taco Bell, and scores of grocers for many years. In short, if you have had a hamburger in the past decade, you have eaten lean finely textured beef and enjoyed it.

Avila repeated the formula in July when ABC aired a story about “super bugs” that it alleged was a strain of bacteria in chicken that could lead to urinary infections in women. ABC did acknowledge that “there is no study showing a definitive link between the presence of e-coli in chicken and infection in women…” but not until viewers had become alarmed by the report.

Ashley Peterson, Ph.D., the vice president of science and technology for the National Chicken Council, noted that, even if there was a “super bug”, it would be easily avoidable through “proper cooking and handling of poultry products, because all bacteria, resistant or not, are killed by proper cooking.” Cooking meat properly is a 10,000 year-old practice, but when someone forgets to do it, Avila and ABC thinks it is news.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Why are there so many murders in Chicago? The New Geography offers some possibilities:
  1. The number of police officers
  2. Police tactics
  3. Politically controlled policing
  4. William Bratton
  5. Gang fragmentation
  6. Depopulation
  7. Public housing demolitions
Numbers one to three are the most convincing, however, note that the example of police tactics, "stop and frisk", is moderately recent, and came after the most dramatic reductions in New York, where the important tactical shifts relied mostly on data analysis and broken windows theory of crime enforcement.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Megan Mcardle walks through pension history:
The UAW, which represented Studebaker's employers (some of the highest paid in the auto industry, by the way), had not only allowed the company to stretch out its payments into the fund, but had arguably actually encouraged it, because the alternative was lower wages. Nonetheless, workers were devastated.
So, that gave use the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation (PBGC).
ERISA mandated that companies had to keep their pensions funded at all times--if a company had a shortfall, they had to make it up immediately, and no, we don't care if the union said it was all right. But this, it turned out, created a new problem. The assets in pension funds tended to fall precipitously during recessions. So, of course, did company profits. So the law demanded that companies put millions of dollars into pension plans just when they were least able. Pushing companies into bankruptcy wouldn't do anyone any good: the PBGC would have to make up the shortfall, the workers would get less (because the PBGC makes them take a haircut), and of course, the corporate shareholders would lose their whole investment.

Companies could have dealt with this problem by overfunding during boom years... But even if they wanted to do this (and I'm not sure that many did), there were structural reasons that they couldn't. Instead of requiring them to behave sensibly, the government required them not to.

Overstuffed pension plans were often an attractive target for LBO operators, who would "unlock" the cash (and pay it out to bondholders or themselves). Worse, they became a target of the IRS. An overfunded pension fund can, in slightly unscrupulous hands, be used as a tool for tax management: stuff the funds in during very profitable years, take them out later when you want them. The IRS takes a dim view of such maneuvers, and therefore essentially forces employers to stop contributing to overfunded defined benefit pension plans, or add new benefits.
Megan goes on to discuss proposals for shifting more to Social Security, pointing out that it carries all the same problems, but with greater risk. Read the whole thing.

Friday, March 22, 2013

An interesting technical note on the calculation of GDP:
As George Mason University’s Garett Jones rightfully notes government spending raises GDP “by definition.” That, however, doesn’t mean that the GDP boost induced by government hiring, for instance, is real or more productive than private hiring. For private hiring to boost GDP, something valuable has to be produced: Not so for government. As he explains:

Hiring a worker who (through no fault of her own) accomplishes absolutely nothing raises GDP if the government does the hiring. Hiring a worker who (through no fault of her own) accomplishes absolutely nothing does nothing to GDP if the private sector does the hiring.

Why? Because GDP counts government salaries as “government expenditures” as soon as the government hires a person. But the “consumption” and “investment” parts of GDP only count genuine purchases by the private sector (leaving the oddities of imputed spending for the coda below). So if a private sector product spends years in the incubator, burning through thousands of person-hours of work and millions of dollars of salary–but never sees the light of day–then the product never shows up in GDP. But if the government had hired those same workers who worked just as long on a similarly fruitless project, their labor would give a big boost to GDP. Government hiring creates GDP by definition. Private hiring only creates GDP if the worker actually creates a product.

The reverse is true. Reduction in government spending may cause a temporary shrinkage of GDP, but it doesn’t always mean that something valuable has been destroyed.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The left-leaning Brookings Institution on universal preschool:
This relatively recent explosion of public pre-K programs has been underpinned by research findings from two iconic preschool interventions from 30 to 40 years ago whose participants have been followed into adulthood, the Perry Preschool Project and the Abecedarian Project... In my view, generalizations to state pre-K programs from research findings on Perry and Abecedarian are prodigious leaps of faith. Perry and Abecedarian were multi-year intensive interventions whereas state pre-K programs are overwhelmingly one year programs for four-year-olds. Costs per participant for Perry and Abecedarian were multiples of the levels of investment in present-day state preschool programs, e.g., $90,000 per child for Abecedarian.[3] Both Perry and Abecedarian were small hothouse programs (less than 100 participants) run by very experienced, committed teams, whereas widely deployed present day preschool programs are, well, widely deployed. The circumstances of the very poor families of the Black children who were served by these model programs 30 to 40 years ago are very different from those faced by the families that are presently served by publicly funded preschool programs.

But we do have the Head Start findings I reviewed last week and we should not ignore them in thinking about state pre-K. Head Start spends about twice as much per child per year as states ($8K per child per year for Head Start vs. $4K for state pre-K). And Head Start includes many program components that are advocated by early childhood experts such as health, nutrition, and parental involvement that are much less prevalent in state pre-K. If a year of Head Start does not improve achievement in elementary school, should we assume that a year of state pre-K does?

These three studies fall far short of providing a convincing case for investment in universal pre-K: The Georgia study finds impacts that are at best very small and do not pass a cost-benefit test. The Texas study provides evidence for value in a targeted program and is silent on the effectiveness of a universal program. The Tulsa study and other studies that use a design that compares children who just meet or just miss the age cut-off for pre-K can't estimate the impact of state pre-K because they are comparing children that may differ in many experiences in addition to their participation in state pre-K.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Is it rational to neglect savings in favor of conspicuous consumption?
Historically, how did we handle enemy combatants in the United States?
In the debate over this subject, the most ubiquitous of the examples of Americans killed fighting for the Nazis comes from the famous Supreme Court case of Ex Parte Quirin (1942). He is Hans Haupt, one of several Nazi saboteurs who infiltrated the U.S. in 1942 by secretly landing on Long Island and Ponte Verde Beach.

The interesting thing about that for present purposes is that, once ashore, they shed their uniforms. (By the way, Judge Mukasey had a very interesting explanation of why they did this in his district court opinion in the 2002 case of another American enemy combatant, Jose Padilla. See Padilla v. Bush (SDNY 2002), Op. p. 62 & n. 12 — link here.) When the Nazis were captured days later — by the FBI, not the military — they were wearing civilian clothes and not in the act of carrying out any of the terrorism they had plotted. Despite the fact that Haupt was an American and that the U.S. courts were open and functioning, FDR had them designated as enemy combatants, tried by military commission, and put to death (i.e., Haupt and five others, all German nationals, were executed; others who had cooperated were given lengthy sentences).

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

[A]s the evidence has built up, Head Start is failing its test. The latest evidence appears in the “Third Grade Follow-up to the Head Start Impact Study: Final Report,” which was released in December. The report was carried out by a company called Westat and published by the Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Basically, the report shows that Head Start provides short-term gains to preschool children, but those gains have faded to essentially nothing by third grade.

To appreciate how depressing this conclusion is, you need to appreciate the high quality of the study. It’s based on a nationally representative sample of more than 5,000 3 and 4 year-olds from low-income families who were eligible for Head Start. These children were randomly either assigned to Head Start, or not. Data collection started in 2002, and so by 2008, data was available on how the children were performing in third grade. The study didn’t just look at test scores: it considered a range of data on how Head Start might affect aspects of cognitive development, social-emotional development, health status and services, and even parenting practices.
Daniel Mitchell points out that we can balance the budget in only five years if all we do is hold spending to the rate of inflation. Even allowing 3.4% annual growth above inflation, we can balance the budget in ten years.

Of course, this ignores the largest driver of spending growth, entitlements are growing largely because of demographic change, and our current Medicare covers everything approach to health care sacks us with much of the cost overruns there too.

Monday, March 18, 2013

The CDC says "The legalization of induced abortion beginning in the 1960s contributed to an 89% decline in deaths from septic illegal abortions during 1950-1973." Similarly, the pro-abortion Alan Guttmacher Institute claims "By making abortion legal nationwide, Roe v. Wade has had a dramatic impact on the health and well-being of American women. Deaths from abortion have plummeted, and are now a rarity." However, the data says otherwise. The first legal abortion on demand was in 1970, and Roe was in 1973. Here's the data, which those dates indicated with vertical lines:

Here is AGI's own data, with Roe highlighted:

All of the reduction in abortion deaths came before legalization. It was solely the result of advances in medicine, particularly antibiotics.

Hat tip: Christina Dunigan.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Hugo Chavez didn't help the poor. Here's the data:

But hey, wait a minute . . . shouldn't the country with some of the largest proven oil reserves in the world be doing better than the regional average?

Looked at in the context of Latin America as a whole, the poverty reduction achieved doesn't look so special either:

Oil prices are booming, but Venezuela is not. Why? Because they're pumping less oil than they used to.
Even Slate piles on:
What has Chávez bequeathed his fellow Venezuelans? The hard facts are unmistakable: The oil-rich South American country is in shambles. It has one of the world’s highest rates of inflation, largest fiscal deficits, and fastest growing debts. Despite a boom in oil prices, the country’s infrastructure is in disrepair—power outages and rolling blackouts are common—and it is more dependent on crude exports than when Chávez arrived. Venezuela is the only member of OPEC that suffers from shortages of staples such as flour, milk, and sugar. Crime and violence skyrocketed during Chávez’s years. On an average weekend, more people are killed in Caracas than in Baghdad and Kabul combined. (In 2009, there were 19,133 murders in Venezuela, more than four times the number of a decade earlier.) When the grisly statistics failed to improve, the Venezuelan government simply stopped publishing the figures.
But, it is also a stretch to call him freely elected too:
And unlike Castro and many other autocrats, Chávez didn’t fear elections; He embraced them. Most opposition leaders will tell you that Venezuelan elections are relatively clean. The problem isn’t Election Day—It’s the other 364 days. Rather than stuffing ballot boxes, Chávez understood that he could tilt the playing field enough to make it nearly impossible to defeat him. Thus, the regime’s electoral wizards engineered gerrymandering schemes that made anything attempted in the American South look like child’s play. Chávez’s campaign coffers were fed by opaque slush funds holding billions in oil revenue. The government’s media dominance drowned out the opposition. Politicians who appeared formidable were simply banned from running for office. And the ruling party became expert in using fear and selective intimidation to tamp down the vote. Chávez took a populist message and married it to an autocratic scheme that allowed him to consolidate power. The net effect over Chávez’s years was a paradoxical one: With each election Venezuela lost more of its democracy.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Looming trouble in China:
Xi Jinping, named Communist Party general secretary in November, reflects a new militancy. On Tuesday, he delivered a hard-edged speech to the Politburo in which he effectively ruled out compromise on territorial and security issues. His tough words were in keeping with the ever-more strident tones of his messages to the People’s Liberation Army about being ready to plan, fight, and win wars. Chinese leaders have traditionally addressed the army and urged improvement in general readiness, but, as veteran China watcher Willy Lam notes, Xi has put a special emphasis on it. Moreover, his calls on preparing for conflict go well beyond those of his two predecessors, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao.

In the past, the military’s war talk contrasted with soothing words from senior civilian leaders. Now, with Xi, the aggressive comments from flag officers are consistent with what he, as top leader, is saying. Worse, as the Financial Times notes, Xi’s words of war are now “being bundled” with his rhetoric, which seems calculated to “fan nationalism.”

In this environment, Chinese military officers can get away with advocating “short, sharp wars” and talking about the need to “strike first.” Their boldness suggests, as some privately say, that General Secretary Xi is associating with generals and admirals who think war with the U.S. might be a good idea.

China looks like it is taking one of its periodic wrong turns.
Unremarked is the extent that this rising militancy is being inadvertantly stoked by the Obama administration. In recently announcing its "Shift to the Pacific", this administration has directly called out China as our primary military adversary. While the policy is mostly correct on its merits, it is also something that the President of the US shouldn't be saying out loud. China is a highly nationalistic, militarized country with an unfulfilled self-conception as a global superpower. Rumsfeld's previous "lillypad" strategy had the benefit of boxing in China (by establishing basing agreements fully surrounding them), while ostensibly keeping the eye on global Islamic terrorism--purposefully offering an excuse against inflaming nationalist sentiment in China.

The Obama administration seems intent on letting domestic politics drive foreign policy. This administration wants to put the War on Terror behind them, thus driving their recent, regrettable policy that puts China in our sights. This is similar to the policy of closing Guantanamo to try terrorists in civilian courts--which could only guarantee acquittal or devastate domestic civil rights protections. This administration is rushing to "Move On" from George W. Bush, thinking tactically, not strategically, and leading to some dramatic policy blunders.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Ramesh Ponnuru on the sources, and reality of the Gender Wage Gap:
Economist Diana Furchtgott-Roth cites a 2005 study by economists June O’Neill and Dave O’Neill, which found that for the most part “the gender gap is attributable to choices made by women concerning the amount of time and energy to devote to a career.” They continue: “There is no gender gap in wages among men and women with similar family roles.”

In addition to being more likely to seek part-time work, women are also more likely to have gaps in their employment history and to enter lower-paying fields. The consulting company Consad, in a 2009 report for the Labor Department, found that these factors account for most of the pay gap. Correct for them, and men make only 5 percent to 7 percent more than women for the same work.

Even the American Association of University Women, in a recent report playing up the pay gap, conceded that 5 percent is a reasonable estimate of the difference between men’s and women’s wages that cannot be explained by choice of occupation, employment history and the like.

Not even that smaller gap can be attributed wholly to employer discrimination. Lawson, although she favors “legislative solutions,” also writes that women are less likely than men to drive hard bargains in salary negotiations. If true, that would explain part of the gap, as well.

To say that women’s choices result in their being paid less, on average, than men is not to deny that unfair social conditions may constrain those choices. Perhaps men should do more of the work of running households and raising children, and boys should be brought up with that expectation. Perhaps child care should be made more affordable. Perhaps efforts should be made to make sure college women aren’t being steered toward majors that won’t prepare them for lucrative careers.

Carrie Lukas, who has written often about the pay gap for the conservative Independent Women’s Forum, says “it’s a mistake to default to the idea that it’s all discrimination.” She agrees with Lawson, however, that women should be less reticent about demanding higher pay: “As parents of daughters we can make a difference in that.”

Monday, January 28, 2013

A common defense of hefty green energy subsidies is "Our clean-energy industry . . . has to fight uphill against the oil subsidies." Well, the facts show a different story:
A Texas Comptroller’s study in 2006 found that federal clean-energy subsidies amounted to 4.5 percent of total consumer spending on those sources, while oil-and-gas and coal subsidies clocked in at just 0.83 percent. That makes renewables more than five times more subsidized than nonrenewable sources. The single largest recipient of subsidies when the study was conducted was not the gargantuan oil-and-gas industry but that swing-state sop, ethanol. The nominal costs of renewable subsidies totaled 83 percent of the dollars allowed to fossil-fuel companies, despite the latter industry being magnitudes larger than the former.

And that was before both oilman President Bush and President Obama dramatically expanded the subsidies available to renewable-energy producers...

By the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office’s reckoning, there are only three major exemptions granted to fossil-fuel producers: the “expensing of exploration and development costs for oil and natural gas” ($800 million), the “option to expense 50 percent of qualified property used to refine liquid fuels” ($800 million), and the “option to expense investment costs on the basis of gross income rather than on production” ($900 million). (There are also $600 million, by their calculation, of other miscellaneous subsidies.)

Sunday, January 27, 2013

The much vaunted Consumer Financial Protection Bureau recently released it's new rules for mortgages, but Megan McArdle points out some significant caveats:
1. This will probably make it harder to get a mortgage, particularly if you are poorer.

2. Nonetheless, it will not do that much to prevent default Arnold Kling, a former Freddie Mac economist who has long been my favorite source on housing finance, points out that debt-to-income ratios aren't a very good predictor of default risk.
As I point out in a new essay, mortgage defaults are driven largely by the borrower’s loss of equity. Thus, the most important risk factor at the time the loan is made is the size of the down payment. The rules ignore that. Instead, the focus in the borrower’s debt/income ratio, which is far and away the least predictive of the major factors used in predicting default (the down payment is most useful, followed by credit score and then by loan purpose, although the effects of these variables interact with one another so that it is not so easy to rank-order their importance).

4. The new rules tell you a lot about how the CFPB thinks The new rules are part of the CFPB's drive to create "qualified" mortgages: low-risk, easy to understand products that will prevent consumers from getting themselves into trouble. Their mandate is not to protect banks (and savers) from default; it's to protect borrowers from themselves. That's why their approach is focused on the household income statement.
But, most troubling:
3. The government can continue writing mortgages under the old rules
This is especially important as the GSEs have already cost the taxpayers $180 Billion, and the FHA may require a bailout:
As private-financing options have disappeared, the role of the FHA has grown. Its market share has increased to about 30 percent today from 3-4 percent in 2007. That’s because the agency is now practically the only game in town, accepting borrowers with down payments of as low as 3.5 percent. As the last few years have made clear, sizable down payments -- or “skin in the game” -- are the key to avoiding defaults in the near term and to achieving a stable housing market in the long term.

So how has the FHA fared financially in serving borrowers with low down payments? As the housing bubble burst in 2007, and the number of mortgage-related defaults started to climb, the FHA’s capital reserves declined to $3.5 billion from $22 billion.

This means that the FHA is on the verge of requiring a bailout to support its outstanding mortgage guarantees, which are projected to exceed $1 trillion in 2011.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

To improve national transportation spending, eliminate the gas tax:
The basic reason the present system isn’t working is that there is no longer a consensus in Congress on what a national transportation program should be. From 1956 to 1991, the objective was to build the interstate highway system. Then, the focus shifted to highway maintenance and transit. At this point, local interests became more important and the national mission faded. Absent a grand policy, earmarks kept every congressman invested in a big transportation bill; but these are no more.

As a result, “getting back our share” has become the key objective, so that every state now gets as much (or more) money in transportation grants as it pays in federal gas taxes. Along with the money, the federal government issues various rules for spending it, many of which require the states to put in some of their own money, too. It’s common to hear state transportation officials say that the feds provide 25 percent of the money and 75 percent of the hassle.

Eliminating the federal role would enhance state autonomy and streamline decision making. What’s more exciting is that it would also lead to more and better spending on transportation.
Megan McArdle on Media Bias:
Bias matters not because liberals deliberately slant their stories, but because they are much more likely to interrogate the facts that contradict their ideological beliefs, than the ones that support them. When they come across an uncomfortable fact, they'll go out of their way to figure out why it isn't really true. When they come across a fact that confirms what they believe, they'll be more likely to accept it at face value.

I'm not claiming that liberals do this more than conservatives (I think that being human, they're equally prone to this phenomenon)--only that in the media, liberal bias is mostly what matters, because the media is overwhelmingly somewhere to the left of the American center. Even if you have a conservative reporter prone to insufficient interrogation of convenient facts, those same facts are going to set off alarm bells with his editors, who are quite likely to question the whole story.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Robert Stacy McCain:
Watching it, I noticed that Michael Moore wasn’t really trying to explain what caused the mortgage meltdown. No, he was telling his audience who (and what) to blame for the mortgage meltdown.

A preference for blame over understanding is a hallmark of prejudice. There’s not really that much difference in hating “the rich” and hating any other group of people.

Using loaded language about “greed” and labels like “Corporate America” isn’t any less prejudicial than talking about how Mexicans are sneaking over the border to take away American jobs. As a matter of fact, Democrats spent a lot of time the past year talking about “outsourcing” and “shipping jobs overseas,” which is really just another method of xenophobic blame-shifting: The Foreigners! Are Taking! Our Jobs!

Why don’t we recognize the language of the Left as expressions of prejudice? Why is demonization of ”the rich” accepted as a substitute for actual understanding of how the economy works?

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The problem with modern High School:
This Industrial Era approach (public schools were organized in the 19th century on a Prussian model, explicitly to produce obedient, orderly workers) had advantages. But it also had disadvantages. Like interchangeable parts in an industrial machine, students were treated alike, regardless of their individual characteristics and needs. Square peg, meet round hole.

Putting kids together and sorting by age also created that dysfunctional creature, the “teenager.” Once, teen-agers weren’t so much a demographic as adults-in-training. They worked, did farm chores, watched children and generally functioned in the real world. They got status and recognition for doing these things well, and they got shame and disapproval for doing them badly.

But once they were segregated by age in public schools, teens looked to their peers for status and recognition instead of to society at large.
Amen. But, there are some interesting options on the horizon. Read the whole thing.
The Environmental Protection Agency:
Why would the EPA insist on regulating stormwater, which it has no authority over, instead of simply regulating sediment? After all, it has written rules for sediment literally thousands of times. That insistence makes no sense. But it does look like part of a larger pattern.

Last spring, the Supreme Court ruled against the agency in the case of Mike and Chantell Sackett. The Sacketts owned a piece of land, a little larger than half an acre, in a growing lakefront development in Idaho. They were building a vacation home on the spot when the EPA declared it might be a wetland and ordered them to cease construction, and restore the land to its prior state or face fines of up to $75,000 a day. The agency decreed that the Sackettshad no right to challenge the order in court.

The Supreme Court unanimously call that bunk. It’s not easy to get Justices Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsberg on the same page, but the EPA managed to do so. The agency also drew the wrath of The Washington Post, which editorialized that “The EPA Is Earning a Reputation for Abuse.” The editorial began by condemning the now-infamous remarks of now-former EPA administrator Al Armendariz, who compared his enforcement philosophy to Roman crucifixions: “They’d find the first five guys they saw and they’d crucify them. And then, you know, that town was really easy to manage for the next few years.”

Troubling stories about the EPA just keep piling up. In Texas, the agency went after Range Resources Corp. for allegedly polluting two wells. The company racked up more than $4 million in fees defending itself before the EPA grudgingly admitted it had no proof Range Resources had contaminated anything.

In July, the federal district court in D.C. ruled that the EPA had overstepped its bounds regarding Appalachian coal operations. That ruling followed another concluding the EPA had no business revoking a waste-disposal permit, issued by the Bush administration, for a West Virginia mine. Judge Amy Berman Jackson—an Obama appointee—called the agency’s action “a stunning power for the EPA to arrogate to itself,” and accused the agency of “magical thinking.”

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Nate Silver on What is Driving Growth in Government spending:

Can we please stop the rhetoric about our budget problems being driven by "putting two wars on the credit card"?

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Forbes: "Assault Weapon is Just a PR Stunt Meant To Fool The Gullible"

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Greenpeace co-founder points out the murderous results from the War on Science:
According to the World Health Organization between 250,000 to 500,000 children become blind every year due to vitamin A deficiency, half of whom die within a year of becoming blind. Millions of other people suffer from various debilitating conditions due to the lack of this essential nutrient.

Golden Rice is a genetically modified form of rice that, unlike conventional rice, contains beta-Carotene in the rice kernel. Beta-Carotene is converted to vitamin A in humans and is important for eyesight, the immune system, and general good health. Swiss scientist and humanitarian Dr. Ingo Potrykus and his colleagues developed Golden Rice in 1998. It has been demonstrated in numerous studies that golden rice can eliminate vitamin A deficiency.

Greenpeace and its allies have successfully blocked the introduction of golden rice for over a decade, claiming it may have “environmental and health risks” without ever elaborating on what those risks might be.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Today is 150 years since the Emancipation Proclamation. Happy 2013.
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