Saturday, December 24, 2016

MAYBE THINGS AREN'T SO BAD. A lot of people look at labor costs as a reason to move manufacturing out of the United States. Cao Dewang speaks of the advantages U.S.-based manufacturers have over China
The latest to enter the fray is Cao Dewang, one of China’s richest tycoons and a leading philanthropist. Over the past 10 days, his interview with a mainland newspaper in which he suggested the investment climate was more favourable in the US than in China has become the talk of the town.

Cao certainly speaks with authority. The founder of Fuyao Glass, the car glass manufacturer which supplies the world’s leading automakers from BMW to GM, has invested nearly US$1 billion in the United States including a US$600 million car glass manufacturer in Ohio.

In the interview, he said manufacturing costs in the US were much lower than in China because electricity cost half as much, natural gas a quarter, and transport even less (because US highways are free).

Although he said an American blue collar worker’s salary was at least eight times higher than that of a Chinese worker, he also said US corporate income tax was much more favourable than that of China. The official American corporate income tax rate is 35 per cent, rising to about 40 per cent when state taxes and other fees are added.

By comparison, China’s corporate income tax rate is 25 per cent but the overall tax burden is much higher due to the 17 per cent value added tax (VAT) and a litany of other taxes on vehicle use, urban construction, education and stamp duty.

By Cao’s estimates, a Chinese firm needs to pay 35 per cent more in taxes.

As far as manufacturing is concerned, according to Cao, everything is cheaper in America apart from manpower.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

CHICAGO SCHOOL WOES. The Chicago Public School system is in serious financial trouble
Chicago's public school (CPS) system plans to sell a new type of bond issue in an attempt to separate the debt from the district's severe financial woes and protect it in a potential bankruptcy filing, according to a document released by the district on Tuesday.

The preliminary prospectus for the debt indicates the Chicago Board of Education will issue $500 million of bonds secured solely by a capital improvement property tax and not by the district's general obligation pledge.

That pledge currently covers about $6.8 billion of existing bonds that are rated junk by Moody's Investors Service, S&P, and Fitch Ratings.

CPS, the nation's third-largest public school system, is struggling with pension payments that will jump to about $720 million this fiscal year from $676 million in fiscal 2016, as well as drained reserves and debt dependency - factors that have pushed its GO credit ratings deep into the junk category and led investors to demand fat yields for its debt.

Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner last week vetoed a bill to give CPS a one-time $215 million state payment to help cover pension costs.

Friday, December 9, 2016

BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR. Jill Stein's call for a recount in Michigan in order to "protect the integrity" of the election system wound up inspiring legislation. And Democrats are not happy:
Michigan’s Republican-led House on Wednesday night approved a strict voter identification proposal over strenuous objections from Democrats who argued the plan could disenfranchise properly registered voters.

Michigan voters without photo identification could still cast a provisional ballot under the controversial legislation, but they would have to bring an ID to their local clerk’s office within 10 days of an election in order for their vote to count.

The legislation seeks to “protect the integrity of every single Michigan citizen’s vote, because every vote is diluted if fraudulent votes are cast,” said Rep. Gary Glenn, R-Midland.

Current state law allows registered voters to cast a ballot without photo identification if they sign an affidavit affirming their identity under threat of perjury, an option 18,388 residents used in the Nov. 8 election, according to the Michigan Secretary of State.

Nearly half of those voters were in Wayne County, including 5,834 in Detroit.

Trump's margin of victory was less than 11,000 votes in Michigan.
CONTINUING OBAMA'S PIVOT TO ASIA. Obama leaves Trump a crumbling position in the South China Sea and South-east Asia. Austin Bay explains what Trump is up to
A month after the presidential election, U.S. president-elect Donald Trump has executed his own political "pivot to Asia."

Trump's pivot consisted of two phone calls, one with Taiwan's president and the other with the president of the Philippines.

The explicit topics discussed matter, but the critical fact is that Trump spoke with the Asian leaders. Taking the personal calls sends a diplomatic message. In Taipei and Manila, it is a message of reassurance and support. Taiwan, the Philippines and several other Asian nations confront a China pursuing increasingly militant and expansionary policies in the South China Sea and northeast Asian littoral.

Beijing had a different take on Trump's conversations -- particularly his chat with Taiwan. The Chinese government appeared to be shocked. Beijing regards Taiwan as a province of China, not a separate country. China insists on a "One China" policy. Since the U.S. recognized the Communist regime in Beijing as China's government, American presidents have deferred to Beijing's wishes and avoided overt contact with Taiwan's leaders.

Trump isn't president -- not yet. His phone calls, however, indicate he may not practice "business as usual."

Trump's decision to speak with Taiwan's president should be what I'll call an "expected surprise." Surprise is a component of Trump's "art of the deal." (Advice to Beijing: Go brush up on Sun Tzu's "Art of War.")

Frankly, China's Communist government has earned a mild shock or two, perhaps two dozen mild shocks.

Read the whole thing.
SHOULD WE CALL IT MATRYOSHKA NEWS? The Washington Post ran a story about fake news that itself relied on a source some would call fake news. Here's the editor's note:
Editor’s Note: The Washington Post on Nov. 24 published a story on the work of four sets of researchers who have examined what they say are Russian propaganda efforts to undermine American democracy and interests. One of them was PropOrNot, a group that insists on public anonymity, which issued a report identifying more than 200 websites that, in its view, wittingly or unwittingly published or echoed Russian propaganda. A number of those sites have objected to being included on PropOrNot’s list, and some of the sites, as well as others not on the list, have publicly challenged the group’s methodology and conclusions. The Post, which did not name any of the sites, does not itself vouch for the validity of PropOrNot’s findings regarding any individual media outlet, nor did the article purport to do so. Since publication of The Post’s story, PropOrNot has removed some sites from its list.
IS THAT WALL GETTING BUILT? When I listened to Trump speak in Fayetteville, NC, I wondered if he referenced a guest worker program. With his pick for Labor Secretary, Andrew Puzder, I wonder how pissed off Trump supports will get. The National Review's Mark Krikorian explains:
Finally, there’s the Labor Department. Labor is central to the process of certifying and importing all the various categories of guestworkers that undermine the bargaining power of American workers – H1-Bs for the tech industry, H-2As for agriculture, H-2Bs for non-ag cheap-labor employers, and more. In addition, prior to the Obama administration, Labor Department inspectors were a force multiplier for immigration regarding worksite enforcement – coordinating with ICE (and before that, INS) on worksite problems the immigration people weren’t aware of.

Trump’s pick for Labor secretary is perhaps the worst person imaginable for that role: Andrew Puzder, CEO of CKE Restaurants, the parent company of fast-food chains Carl’s Jr., Hardee’s, and others. He is one of the nation’s most outspoken business voices for Gang of Eight-style immigration policies. He didn’t just sign an open letter once as a favor to a friend; he’s been a high-profile champion of amnesty and huge increases in immigration and guestworkers. This op-ed in Politico, timed to coincide with the launch of the Gang of Eight effort in 2013, could have been written by Jeb Bush. Here he is at AEI in 2013 making the case for importing more low-skilled workers. Here he joins with the Bloomberg-Murdoch Billionaires for Open Borders outfit and Grover Norquist in an effort to “push 2016 presidential candidates and congressional Republican leaders to support immigration reform this year.” There’s plenty more.

Now, Trump has been waffling and contradictory on the worker side of immigration (among other things) all along – I’ve written about it here, here, and here, for instance. Nor is it the case that Trump’s simply a liberal con man – Sessions could be one of the best Attorneys General we’ve ever had, Price and DeVos are solid conservative picks, and there’s every reason to think his Supreme Court nomination will be sound.

But for the most important job that involves protecting American workers, Trump has opted for someone who thinks there are jobs Americans won’t do. Andrew “Gang of Eight” Puzder would have been a better fit for the Jeb Bush administration, though even Jeb might have blushed at the idea of appointing him. Assuming he’s actually nominated and confirmed, the Labor Department will go from being run by a post-American socialist to a post-American capitalist. So much for putting American workers first.
Suckers. Then again, I thought Gary Johnson's guest worker program was a good idea.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

HE HAS THE BEST WORDS. Jonah Goldberg lays out the case that Trump's way of communicating as a candidate is inadequate for a president
What’s the trick? All you have to do is take Trump seriously, but not literally.

The formulation is credited to reporter Salena Zito, who, in an article for The Atlantic last September, noted that the news media take Trump’s more outlandish statements literally but not seriously, while his supporters do the inverse.


The non-literal approach to Biden is safe for two reasons. Because he is a well-known character in the Washington establishment, the public knows more or less what to expect from him. And, as a vice president, there’s only so much harm he can do. (In other words, we don’t have to take him too seriously.)

Trump is different. On his own terms he’s an outsider and a “disrupter” who claims that political elites range from stupid to malevolent. He also has zero experience in foreign or domestic policy. What he says — and how he says it — takes on greater importance precisely because he lacks a track record in public office to put his language in context.

This seriously-not-literally thing is a great analytical insight into how then-candidate Trump communicated with his supporters. But it is fairly ridiculous hogwash as a prescription for how to treat an actual president, or president-elect, of the United States.

REALPOLITIK IN SOUTHEAST ASIA. The State Department is unhappy, but apparently Trump has his own opinion on China and apparently is working to reestablish ties with old allies. Case in point, the Philippines
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who has repeatedly threatened to break away from the U.S., praised Donald Trump and reassured the president-elect of his country’s ties with America in a call late Friday.

“I could sense a good rapport, an animated President-elect Trump, and he was wishing me success in my campaign against the drug problem,” Duterte said in a statement. “I appreciate the response I got from President-elect Trump and I would like to wish him success. And he wishes us well. And I said that, well, we assured him of our ties with America.”


Duterte has been tilting toward China and Russia in his foreign policy. While in Beijing in October, he said it could be the three nations “against the world.” Before flying to the APEC gathering in Peru last month, he said he would be the first to join if China and Russia decide to create a new world order. In a meeting with Vladimir Putin in Peru, he said America and Western nations are bullying smaller countries like his and that “they are into so much hypocrisy.”

“It’s good for President Duterte to realize that in his pursuit of an independent foreign policy, he can’t swing to the extreme and must continue to strengthen his relations with the nation’s long-time allies,” Manhit said.
SO ABOUT THAT VISIT FROM AL GORE. For all the people who thought that Al Gore would influence Trump, think again
President-elect Donald Trump plans to nominate Scott Pruitt, the Republican attorney general of Oklahoma and a frequent legal adversary to President Obama, to lead the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a transition official told The Hill.

If confirmed by the Senate to oversee the 15,000-employee agency, Pruitt would take the lead on dismantling the EPA regulations that Trump targeted throughout his campaign as job killers that restrict economic growth.

Reuters first reported the news Tuesday.

Pruitt has been a legal opponent of President Obama over nearly every major regulation and executive action, not only on environmental issues but also ObamaCare, immigration and bathroom use by transgender people.

Pruitt has led litigation against Obama’s landmark climate rule for power plants, as well as water regulations and standards for ground-level ozone pollution, haze, methane and more.

As EPA head, Pruitt would help carry out Trump’s campaign promises to repeal Obama’s entire executive climate change agenda, including the Clean Power Plan, which the president-elect said he will target in his first 100 days in office.

Democrats and enviromentalists are already gearing up to fight his nomination.

“We’re certainly going to draw a line in the sand,” said Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), a member of the Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee.

“This is the worst-case scenario when it comes to clean air and clean water, to nominate a climate denier to the agency charged with protecting our natural resources.”
FOX NEWS IS NOT THE ONLY ONES GETTING SUED. On Tuesday, former and current black employees of CNN, Turner Broadcasting, and Time Warner filed a class action suit for racial discrimination
The 40-page lawsuit filed in the United States District Court in the Northern District of Georgia said blacks – especially black males – are discriminated against in evaluations, compensation and promotions. Blacks receive “disproportionately lower scores on evaluations,” the lawsuit alleges.

It says based on data provided by Turner, blacks are terminated at a higher rate than whites and promoted at a significantly slower rate. And the lawsuit said written and unwritten policies and practices for performing evaluations and promotions discriminate against blacks. Those policies “allow supervisors to essentially handpick candidates through word of mouth for available positions and make promotion decisions on the basis of subjective criteria,” the lawsuit said. “This system prevents qualified African-Americans from competing equally for positions or even knowing that they are available.”

Meachum said at a press conference Wednesday morning at his downtown Atlanta office that he has been collecting information about CNN and Turner for three years before filing the class-action suit.

“Upon information and belief,” the suit says, “African-American employees have had to endure racial slurs and prejudicial biases from superiors such as, ‘it’s hard to manage black people’ and ‘who would be worth more: black slaves from times past or new slaves.’ ”

Meachum said he is “outraged as an African American lawyer to have to sit down and go through the facts with people telling what I’ve been told these past three years.”

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

THE NEGOTIATOR-IN-CHIEF. We held a presidential election. Did we get a chief trade negotiator instead
The head of Japan's SoftBank Group Corp (9984.T), which in October set up a $100 billion fund for technology investments, said on Tuesday he would invest $50 billion in U.S. businesses, a move President-elect Donald Trump claimed was a direct result of his election win.

The investment, which could create 50,000 new U.S. jobs, revived speculation on Wall Street that U.S. telecommunications giant Sprint Corp (S.N), 82-percent-owned by SoftBank, might rekinkdle merger talks with T-Mobile US Inc (TMUS.O) that died under pressure from U.S. regulators.

Trump's moves since the election to engage with individual companies, while turning his back on broader, years-in-the-works trade deals, show that the President-elect is leaning on the deal-making skills he honed in the boardroom. Trump campaigned against the overregulation of business and is expected to be more open to mergers than President Barack Obama.

The investment announced Tuesday would come from the $100 billion investment fund SoftBank Chief Executive Masayoshi Son is setting up with Saudi Arabia’s sovereign-wealth fund and other potential partners, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Trump made the announcement in the lobby of Trump Tower in Manhattan where he met with the head of SoftBank, a $68 billion telecommunications and tech investment behemoth.

"Ladies and gentlemen, this is Masa from SoftBank of Japan, and he’s just agreed to invest $50 billion in the United States and 50,000 jobs," Trump said.

"He would never do this had we (Trump) not won the election!" Trump later Tweeted.
FEEDING INTO TRUMP'S NARRATIVE. Cicero doesn't have the best reputation, but I think a lot of people will find this story in the New York Times surprising: 
A group of African-American workers filed a class-action lawsuit in federal court on Tuesday against a nationwide job placement agency and several of its clients, accusing them of discriminating against black applicants by favoring Hispanic applicants.

The lawsuit, filed in United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, alleges that the agency, MVP Staffing, used a range of discriminatory practices, including code words for job applicants of different races, to honor the requests of corporate clients who refused to employ African-Americans in temporary positions. The company operates about 60 offices in 38 states.

The suit accuses the company of eight counts of racial discrimination based on the operations of its office in Cicero, Ill. A phone message and an email seeking comment from MVP Staffing on Monday night were not returned, and a person who answered the phone on Tuesday declined to comment.


The vast majority of Hispanic job applicants served by MVP were in the United States illegally, Ms. Ceja added, and their vulnerability made them attractive short-term workers. “That makes it harder for them to complain or do anything,” she said. “They are so scared to raise their voice and say, ‘Hey, this is not fair.’”

Ms. Ceja said MVP employees would start the day by separating Hispanic job applicants from African-Americans. They would enter the Hispanic applicants’ contact information into a database so they could be easily reached when jobs opened up. African-American applicants rarely received the same treatment, she said: They were usually instructed to go to an MVP office at dawn to wait for assignments that rarely came.

When African-Americans were given jobs, they were often marked “D.N.R.” when they returned, short for “do not return” to the client company, Ms. Ceja said. Dispatchers who sent African-Americans to a company that had asked not to be sent black employees would be reprimanded by their boss, she added.

“If it was 10 Mexicans that would come at 1:30 p.m., and 25 African-Americans that were there at 4:30 a.m. and were waiting to be sent to work, they would send the Mexicans first,” she said.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

AN INTERESTING CLIMATE. I'm waiting for Trump supporters to blow their tops, especially the people from coal country that helped him carry Pennsylvania: 
President-elect Donald Trump met on Monday with Al Gore -- one of the most vocal advocates of fighting climate change.

Before the meeting, Trump spokesman Jason Miller told reporters on a daily briefing call that Gore would meet with Ivanka Trump, the President-elect's daughter, about climate issues, but he did not know what specifically was on the agenda. He had also said the former Democratic vice president would not meet with Trump himself.

But Gore told reporters after the meeting that he met with Trump himself after seeing Ivanka. "I had a lengthy and very productive session with the President-elect," Gore said, according to the pool report. "It was a sincere search for areas of common ground. I had a meeting beforehand with Ivanka Trump. The bulk of the time was with the President-elect, Donald Trump. I found it an extremely interesting conversation, and to be continued, and I'm just going to leave it at that."
APPEALING TO THE COMMON MAN. Glenn Reynolds compares Trump to FDR
And even if it did work, a lot of laid-off workers would still be unhappy. Losing a job, especially one you’ve held for a long time, is traumatic for a lot of reasons beyond money. For many people, especially men, a job is a major part of their identity. When technocratic politicians such as President Obama or Hillary Clinton dismiss their feelings, that’s irritating at the very least, especially when the Democratic Party as a whole, as operative Van Jones admitted recently, has a “problem with elitism.” If anything, Democrats have seemed almost smug about the travails of blue-collar America.

Trump, by contrast, promised to save Carrier jobs during the campaign and then, even though Obama mocked him for it at the PBS town hall (“What are you going to do? ... What magic wand do you have?”) Trump then went ahead and delivered. A conspicuously kept campaign promise that benefits the little guy sends a signal of caring that talk of macroeconomics does not.

FDR knew this. His New Deal economic policies were mostly snake oil — according to a study by UCLA economists, they actually prolonged the Great Depression by seven years. But FDR made people feel like he cared, even though he was a rich man from New York who had never been poor himself.

Now another rich man from New York seems to be repeating the formula. FDR gave the Democrats two decades of political dominance. Today’s Democrats should be worrying that Trump could do the same for the Republican Party.
THEY TOLD ME IF I DIDN'T VOTE FOR HILLARY, WE WOULDN'T HAVE TACO TRUCKS ON EVERY CORNER. AND THEY WERE RIGHT! I like the option of going to a food truck for lunch, but Chicago's regulations are killing the industry
It's a tough time to be a food truck in Chicago.

After a four-year court battle, a Chicago food truck owner on Monday failed in her effort to overturn what she calls "burdensome" and "damaging" rules governing mobile vendors in the city. The judgment likely will have a significant and lasting impact on Chicago's food truck industry, which has struggled to grow, in contrast to other U.S. cities.

Food truck owners say the regulations, first passed in 2012, have hurt sales and caused many trucks to go out of business altogether. Those who remain say they're locked in hypercompetitive fights for parking at the most popular serving locations in the Loop, and are forced to adopt extreme strategies, like sending out cars to hold lunch spots in the early morning hours, or opting to serve in more food truck-friendly areas outside downtown.

"The food truck industry will survive, it will thrive, just not in the city of Chicago," said Robert Frommer, the Institute for Justice attorney who represented food truck owner Laura Pekarik in the case. "Look at LA, look at New York, look at Philadelphia. They all have vibrant food truck scenes because they don't play favorites."

Monday, December 5, 2016

HAVE I GONE CRAZY? Scott Adams has some thoughts on Trump's telephone call with the president of Taiwan that paralleled my thoughts on the matter: 

But if you look at this situation through the filter of a Master Persuader, it makes perfect sense. Trump is “setting the table” for future negotiations with China. He just subtracted something from China’s brand that they value, and later he will negotiate with them to maybe give it back in some fashion. Probably in return for some trade concessions.


But why take that call now? Shouldn’t Trump have cleared this with Obama, or waited until he was President?

No. Because the Obama administration would have advised him not to do it. And waiting until January is the way old politics is done. This sort of bold, rapid action is evidently what Trump wants you to think is his brand as president. The Taiwan call is consistent with the New CEO Play that I described in this post. He’s setting the tone as bold, effective, and not waiting for red tape to slow him down.

Don’t worry about China going to war over a phone call. They understand Trump, in part because they read my blog too. And look at the brilliance of China’s diplomatic response. Their Foreign Minister labelled the phone call, "a shenanigan by the Taiwan side.“ That is exquisite diplomatic framing, Master Persuader-style. You can see why China and Trump respect each other; they both earned it.
UPSETTING THE DRAGON. And here I thought it was China's aggressive actions in the South China Sea that were causing friction between China and the U.S.

In a Friday meeting with Henry Kissinger in Beijing before Mr Trump spoke to Ms Tsai, China’s President Xi Jinping said that Sino-US relations stood at a critical juncture.

“We are watching the situation very closely,” he told Mr Kissinger, who masterminded the Sino-US detente as President Richard Nixon’s secretary of state. “Now is a period of transition.”

Shi Yinhong, an international relations professor at Renmin University in Beijing, said Mr Trump was sending a “very clear” message. “The US president-elect hates China and will encourage Tsai to resist pressure from the mainland,” he said.

Evan Medeiros, a former Asia director at the White House national security council who now heads Asia research at Eurasia Group, said “the Chinese leadership will see this as a highly provocative action, of historic proportions”. 


Mr Trump suggested it was hypocritical for Washington to provide Taipei with weapons but prevent the US and Taiwanese leaders from communicating. The US is legally obliged to help Taiwan defend itself in the event of war with China, but the avoidance of communication between the leaders is due to the One China policy.

“Interesting how the US sells Taiwan billions of dollars of military equipment but I should not accept a congratulatory call,” Mr Trump tweeted. 

If all it took was a phone call, I guess the relationship was pretty rocky to begin with.
I WONDERED WHY THAT HAPPENED. Megan McArdle looked at the actions by the political Left that led evangelicals to vote for someone like Trump: 
Over the last few years, as controversies have erupted over the rights of cake bakers and pizza places to refuse to cater gay weddings, the rights of nuns to refuse to provide insurance that covers birth control, the rights of Catholic hospitals to refuse to perform abortions, and the rights of Christian schools to teach (and require students and teachers to practice) traditional Christian morality, some Christians have begun to feel that their communities are under existential threat.

The response from the left has (mostly) been that this is so much whining, clinging to a victimhood belied by Christians' social power and majority status. No one, they have been assured, wants to touch their freedom to worship, but when they enter the commercial realm, they have to abide by anti-discrimination laws, whatever their private beliefs.

I’ve heard from a number of evangelicals who, despite their reservations about the man, ended up voting for Donald Trump because they fear that the left is out to build a world where it will not be possible to hold any prominent job while holding onto their church’s beliefs about sexuality. Discussions I’ve had in recent days with nice, well-meaning progressives suggest that this is not a paranoid fantasy. An online publisher's witch hunt against two television personalities -- because of the church they attend -- validates the fears of these Christians.

When you think that you may shortly see your church’s schools and your religious hospitals closed, and your job or business threatened in the private sphere by the economic equivalent of “convert or die,” you will side with whoever does not seem to set its sights on your conservative beliefs. If that side is led by an intemperate man who more than occasionally says awful things … well, at least he doesn’t want to destroy you.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

GREEN ENERGY SUBSIDIES GONE BAD. Remember all those subsidies for solar and wind power the Obama administration was so proud of? It led to the Illinois legislature approving a subsidy for nuclear power plants in order to keep them open:
In a nail-biter more reminiscent of overtime at the Super Bowl, the Illinois State Legislature passed The Future Energy Jobs Bill (SB 2814) with less than an hour remaining in the legislative session. The bi-partisan bill allows Exelon’s Clinton and Quad Cities nuclear power plants to remain open, saving 4,200 jobs and over 22 billion kWhs of carbon-free power each year, more than all of the state’s renewables combined.

These two plants were in jeopardy of closing because even at a low cost of five cents or so per kWh, they were losing a combined $100 million per year because they could not compete with cheap natural gas and wind energy that is subsidized at 2.3¢/kWh. Illinois taxpayers subsidize solar energy at 21¢/kWh. This bill provides these nuclear plants with just 1¢/kWh, and only until market conditions change.

Exelon had drafted a press release announcing the closure of the two plants that was to be issued last night if the bill failed. Instead, these plants will be operating for at least another 10 years, producing over 200 billion kWhs of carbon-free energy.
So green energy subsidies are killing nuclear power. And environmentalists are concerned. Why?
The fate of these Illinois nuclear plants had drawn the attention of the entire country, including the leading climate scientists, since Illinois generates more zero-emissions electricity than any other state, 90% of which comes from nuclear power, and climate scientists are in favor of nuclear power.

Earlier this year, a coalition of scientists and conservationists, including famed climate scientist James Hansen, anti-nuclear activist turned nuclear proponent Michael Shellenberger, and Whole Earth catalogue founder Stewart Brand, sent an open letter to Illinois legislators asking them to “do everything in your power to keep all of Illinois’s nuclear power plants running for their full lifetimes.”

Even the Sierra Club reluctantly supported this bill.

Nuclear plants across the country are at risk of being closed prematurely mainly because they are excluded from federal and state clean energy policies. First, the federal production tax credit subsidy for wind is not available to nuclear energy. This credit sometimes turns wholesale electricity prices negative by encouraging wind farms to overproduce during periods of low demand when no one wants their electricity and it threatens to overload the grid. Nuclear plants must pay to supply the grid during temporary wind surges, while wind farms continue earning money from the tax credit.
So the solution to fighting off the bad effects of a subsidy is to grant another subsidy. You would think the best solution is getting rid of the first subsidy.
FIRST THE UK, THEN THE US, NOW ITALY? Voters in Italy are voting on a constitutional reform today that could lead to the assumption of power of anti-EU politicians: 
Italians started to vote on Sunday in a referendum on constitutional reform which will decide the political future of Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, who has promised to resign if he loses.

Financial markets and Europe's politicians fear victory for the opposition 'No' camp could trigger political instability and renewed turmoil for Italy's battered banks, pushing the euro zone towards a fresh crisis.

Polls opened at 7 a.m. (0600 GMT), with about 51 million Italians eligible to vote on Renzi's plan to drastically reduce the role of the upper house Senate and claw back powers from regional authorities.

With all the opposition parties lined up against the reform, a victory for Renzi would be a surprise and represent an enormous personal triumph for Italy's youngest prime minister who often appeared to be fighting the campaign single-handed.

All surveys published in the month before a blackout was imposed on Nov. 18 put the 'No' camp ahead. Private polls have continued to be conducted in the last two weeks and bookmakers say 'No' remains the clear favorite to win.

However, in the final days of frenetic campaigning Renzi insisted the public mood was changing, focusing his attention on the millions of Italians who said they were undecided.

Pippo Nicosia, a stall-holder at Campo dei Fiori market in central Rome, said he would vote 'Yes' but had no doubt about the result. "'No' will win, everything will collapse so we might as well all go on holiday," he said.
MATTIS IS NOT CHUCK NORRIS. Trump's Secretary of Defense nominee James Mattis is known for some colorful quotes. But he's also known as a smart, knowledgeable individual. Here is an episode of the Hoover Institute's Uncommon Knowledge in which the former general was interviewed. Here's a quote on finding the proper level of funding for the military I'm not sure the mainstream media will trot out:
Well it's hard. It's hard, and we can always find in a budge this large, we can find things that are waste or we can find things that in all likelihood we don't need in a military budget. The challenge is, how do you set up the processes to audit it, to govern it, to allocate those resources in a responsible manner. And what I found over many years in many different organizations if you take good people and good ideas and you match them with bad processes, the bad processes will win 9 out of 10 times. Right now the processes have become so convoluted, the laws are so complex, governing acquisition. The budgets themselves are so detailed in some areas directing things that in the military we don't ask for, frankly, that you can't really get the good ideas forward and have them governing all aspects of the budget.
This is normal. This is not something that we're all of a sudden one day we are going to find the Holy Grail and, presto, we know how to solve this. But we've got to work this in a manner that creates processes that return integrity -- managerial integrity -- to the system. We know what to do with corruption, we put people in jail for that sort of thing. This is not about corruption. This is about using the resources wisely that the American people have given us. You're right. It has become so big that it's hard to calculate that.

As they say, watch the whole thing.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

CRONY CAPITALISM. IT'S NOT JUST FOR DEMOCRATS ANYMORE. Jonah Goldberg looked at the significance of the Carrier deal
And while the politics of this are great for the incoming Trump administration, they are absolutely terrible for free-market conservatives. The former president of AEI and a veteran of the Reagan administration, Christopher DeMuth, used to argue that perhaps the most important thing Ronald Reagan did was fire the air traffic controllers. In isolation, it was not that big a deal. But the message it sent was hugely important at a time when Eurosclerosis was spreading in America. Reagan let it be known that the public-sector unions no longer had the whip hand and the government couldn’t be extorted.

Trump’s Carrier intervention may just send an equally loud, but nearly opposite signal: that the White House is going to pick winners and losers, that it can be rolled, that industrial policy is back, that Trump cares more about seeming like a savior than sticking to clear and universal rules, and that there is now no major political party in America that rejects crony capitalism as a matter of principle. After all, don’t expect the GOP to recycle the language it used for the bailouts, Cash for Clunkers, Solyndra, etc., when it comes to Carrier. The RNC belongs to Trump.

I’m not going to get into the weeds explaining the bad economics here, but I suggest you look at my AEI colleague Ben Zycher’s critique — or National Review’s own editorial (or the Examiner’s). My point is that I shouldn’t have to!
This is from Friday’s New York Times:  
“I don’t want them moving out of the country without consequences,” Mr. Trump said, even if that means angering the free-market-oriented Republicans he beat in the primaries but will have to work with on Capitol Hill.

“The free market has been sorting it out and America’s been losing,” Mr. Pence added, as Mr. Trump interjected, “Every time, every time.” 

I don’t begrudge Trump his distrust and/or ignorance of the free market. He ran on dirigisme, protectionism, and a cult-of-personality approach to issues of public policy (“I alone can fix it!” and all that B.S.). He has spent his entire professional life working, bribing, and cajoling politicians for special deals — and he’s been honest about it.

But Mike Pence is supposed to be one of us. He’s supposed to be, if not the chief ideologist of the Trump administration, at least the mainstream right’s ambassador and emissary in the West Wing. And here he is casually throwing the “free market” under the bus in order to elevate crony capitalism, industrial policy, and rule of man over rule of law. Does Pence really believe that America loses in the free market every time? Really?
THE MEDIA'S COLLATERAL DAMAGE. Writing at The Federalist, Lisa Liel examines the boost the media gave neo-Nazis and Klansmen in their efforts to defeat Trump: 
The president back then was either Ronald Reagan or the first Bush. If you had told these neo-Nazis and Klansmen that they could get vast amounts of media exposure simply by telling people that they supported the Republican president, they would have jumped at the chance. That’s publicity that money can’t buy. But the media hadn’t fallen to the depths that it has in 2016. They may have hated Reagan and Bush, but they didn’t hate them enough to deliberately shine a spotlight on this lunatic fringe of reprobates, all to hurt those presidents.

Over the course of the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, however, those depths were reached, if not surpassed. In their absolute frenzy to defeat Donald Trump at all costs, the media pulled David Duke and his ilk from the filthy shadows in which they lurked, and handed them a big microphone through which they could proclaim their hatred of anyone not like them. They told them, if not in so many words, that publicly supporting Trump would get them even more publicity, and they showcased every such utterance, usually on the front page.

To be clear, bigots and haters exist in both sides of the political divide. Crowds chanting: “What do we want? Dead cops! When do we want it? Now!” Jewish college students bullied and terrorized for simply being Jews. The repeated mantra that all white people are inherently racist, just because of the color of their skin. If anyone thinks the growing view on the Left that Israel should be erased from existence is any different in kind than the poison that comes out of the mouths of creatures like Duke, they need a reality check.

But the fact that there are bigots of that ilk who support Trump — or claim to — became a major talking point over the past year. A man who had never previously been accused of racism, despite his celebrity; whose daughter became an Orthodox Jew, and whose other children, almost without exception, are married or dating Jews; a man who had sent copies of “Gentleman’s Agreement” and “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” to every member of the Palm Beach town council in order to shame them into dropping their opposition to his acceptance of blacks and Jews into his Mar-a-Lago club—this man was painted as anti-black and anti-Semitic because some fringe groups on the far-right voiced support for him.
If you issue enough baseless attacks, even people who think he's a con man who should never have access to the nuclear codes start defending Trump. Way to go, mainstream media!

Friday, December 2, 2016

TRUMP NAMES MATTIS AS HIS NOMINEE FOR SECRETARY OF DEFENSE. DEMOCRATS SAY? Given Trump's tendency to act like Donald Trump, I'd feel a lot better with General Mattis around the White House. Dan McLaughlin wrote the following at National Review:
Will Senate Democrats block a waiver or change to the statute? Bear in mind, it takes a simple majority of the Senate to confirm Mattis (due to Harry Reid having abolished the filibuster for confirmation of executive appointments in 2013), and the same majority can pass a waiver or amendment if they can break a filibuster. House Republicans are likely to support the nomination, and have the votes to pass a waiver or amendment themselves. So it will come down to whether 41 of the 48 Senate Democrats want to block a change in the law – a maneuver that will easily be interpreted by the public as tantamount to filibustering a distinguished general and leaving Trump without a steady hand to advise him on military matters. Even the Democratic base, much as it desires blood right now, is unlikely to really want a fight that removes that kind of support from a Commander-in-Chief they already see as dangerously impulsive. Indeed, Mattis is also likely to have the prestige to act as a check on the more potentially problematic Flynn. And for all the Democrats’ complaints about Republican obstruction, the Obama Administration got the national security team it wanted, often with little or no opposition: Panetta was confirmed by a 100-0 vote, Petraeus 94-0, Carter 93-5​, Hillary Clinton 94-2, and John Kerry 94-3.
A GREEN TAX? I DO NOT THINK THAT WORD MEANS WHAT YOU THINK IT DOES. Cash strapped Chicago is imposing another tax I'll have to pay when I'm downtown: 
A new tax on paper and plastic bags in Chicago will generate an estimated $12.9 million annually for the city's coffers but is unlikely to reduce the number of bags used by Chicagoans.

The 7 cent per bag tax was included in the new city budget approved on Nov. 16 and will go into effect on Jan. 1, but analysts say the fee is probably too low to change the behavior of Chicago residents or businesses. After the tax is collected, most of the revenue will flow directly to the city's budget and will not be used for environmental restoration or pollution clean-up—as is the case in other places where similar taxes have been imposed for supposedly environmental reasons.

The city will get 5 cents of the tax from every bag, while retailers will be allowed to keep the other 2 pennies per bag. An analysis by the Better Government Association, an Illinois-based civil action organization, found that retailers could pocket as much as $3.7 million next year because of the tax.

While the city and retailers will be able to get more money from shoppers, the bag tax probably won't do much to change behavior.

"The Chicago tax, which will apply to paper as well as plastic, is far lower than the 30-cent a bag charge that successfully curbed behavior in Ireland, raising questions about whether shoppers at grocery and retail outlets will view it more as an annoying trifle than a penalty to actively avoid," the Better Government Association concludes.
Honestly, the only green thing about the tax is the money it will bring in.

THE MASTER PERSUADER-IN-CHIEF. Scott Adams explains what Trump is doing with the Ford and Carrier situations
One of the things I will enjoy about the Trump presidency is watching non-business writers try to explain his methods. Case in point, the recent stories about Ford and Carrier keeping some parts of their manufacturing in the United States because Trump negotiated/bullied them into staying. If you tell that story through a political filter – which is all I have seen so far – you focus on the facts. In this case, the political story is that both the Ford and Carrier situations are exaggerated claims of success.

The political filter misses the story completely. As usual.

Here’s the real story. You need a business filter to see it clearly. In my corporate life I watched lots of new leaders replace old leaders. And there is one trick the good leaders do that bad leaders don’t: They make some IMMEDIATE improvement that everyone can see. It has to be visible, relatively simple, and fast.


Because humans are not rational. Our first impressions rule our emotions forever. Trump has a second chance to make a first impression because his performance as President is fresh ground. Trump is attacking the job like a seasoned CEO, not like a politician. He knows that his entire four-year term will be judged by what happens before it even starts. What he does today will determine how much support and political capital he has for his entire term.

So what does a Master Persuader do when he needs to create a good first impression to last for years? He looks around for any opportunity that is visible, memorable, newsworthy, true to his brand, and easy to change.

Enter Ford.

Enter Carrier.

Trump and Pence recognized these openings and took them. Political writers will interpret this situation as routine credit-grabbing and exaggerated claims. But business writers will recognize Trump’s strategy as what I will call the “new CEO Move.” Smart CEOs try to create visible victories within days of taking the job, to set the tone. It’s all about the psychology.

If you are looking at Trump’s claims of success with Ford and Carrier in terms of technical accuracy and impact on the economy, you will be underwhelmed. But if you view it through a business filter and understand that psychology is the point of the exercise, you’re seeing one of the best new CEO moves you will ever see.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

IF YOU'RE NOT PAYING FOR THE CONTENT, YOU ARE THE CONTENT. Reason's Nick Gillespie looks at what Mitt Romney's willingness to serve in a Trump administration means
So far, he's been more than happy to fill his cabinet with insiders rather than outsiders and there doesn't seem to be any real method to his madness. But whatever happens in the end, Romney's willingness to entertain joining Trump's cabinet further erodes all of our beliefs that sometimes principles are more important than partisanship and personal gain. A few months ago, Gallup released its annual survey of confidence in major U.S. institutions and found that we trust such things at historically low rates. For the third year in a row, in fact, the average trust in 14 major institutions (churches, government, the military, etc.) was below 33 percent.

The reason for that isn't because Americans have suddenly become incapable of or unwilling to trust authority. It's because authority, especially as it relates to government, has relentlessly driven down expectations through rotten behavior. Romney's dinner with the president-elect—"main course, Priebus & PEOTUS had prime sirloin a citrus glaze and carrots. Romney lamb chops with mushroom bolognese sauce," according to New York Times reporter Eric Lipton—will only help keep the number of Americans who trust the government to do the right thing for the right reasons at or near historical lows. If that simply turns the United States into a low-trust nation that demands more and more regulation, we'll be sorry.

But maybe, just maybe, what the Trump era will usher in is righteous indignation at pols who have no scruples and a movement to limit government control over our lives, our futures, and our pocketbooks. The two legacy parties have near-record low rates of voter identification and Americans generally refused to come out in large numbers to back either candidate (indeed, it seems to be the case that while Trump only pulled around as many votes as blah Mitt Romney did four years ago, Democrats just couldn't be bothered to hustle to the polls for Hillary Clinton). Beyond lack of voter enthusiasm, there are grounds for cautious optimism that some aspects of a Trump presidency will be OK to better-than-OK. Education, transportation, regulation, health-care, and even foreign policy look somewhat promising, even as the bad stuff (immigration, trade, and more) look truly terrible.
I THOUGHT EVERYONE WAS IN MOURNING BECAUSE HILLARY LOST. Bloomberg is reporting that consumer confidence rose higher than first thought in November due to Trump's surprise victory over Hillary Clinton: 
Consumer confidence rose more than previously reported to a six-month high in November, showing Americans became more optimistic about their finances and the economy after Donald Trump won the presidential election.

The University of Michigan said Wednesday that its final index of sentiment rose to 93.8 from 87.2 in October, after a preliminary reading of 91.6 that reflected pre-election views. The split was stark between respondents in the month’s survey before and after the Nov. 8 vote, with sentiment rising 8.2 points in the post-election group from the pre-election cohort.

The lift suggests that Americans were heartened on the whole by Trump’s victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton, with broad gains in confidence across incomes, ages and regions, according to the report. At the same time, the increase may reflect a “honeymoon” period that could fade unless actual economic conditions improve, said Richard Curtin, director of the Michigan survey.

“President-elect Trump appears to appreciate the importance of his first hundred days; the key issue is whether his economic policies will resonate with the nation’s consumers,” Curtin said in a statement. “The honeymoon may be shorter than usual given the intensity of the opposition, although President-elect Trump has proven himself to be a skilled communicator.”
HOPE AND CHANGE, TRUMP EDITION. I've always said that Trump is a New York Democrat, so why wouldn't he use their tactics? The National Review's Jim Geraghty points out one similarity
Do you recall the Obama administration’s “stray voltage” theory? The gist was, “the president purposefully overstates his case knowing that it will create controversy… Controversy sparks attention, attention provokes conversation, and conversation embeds previously unknown or marginalized ideas in the public consciousness.” Part of it was a cynical calculation to let an argument about a presidential statement ensure a topic stayed front and center in the public’s mind; there’s also the side effect of ensuring that a brouhaha about a presidential statement overshadowed actual policy decisions – decisions that may be more consequential, but are less dramatic and interesting to the news media.

Almost like, say, a president-elect declaring he wants to strip away the citizenship of those burning the flag.

If the incoming Trump administration really is using a variation of the “stray voltage” approach, and Democrats really have an uncontrollable impulse to focus on the controversial statement du jour, the Trump administration could end up being stunningly effective in policymaking. A lot of seemingly dry and boring regulations can be repealed, executive orders withdrawn, rewritten and issued, legislation passed by GOP majorities in Congress and signed, all while the political world froths at the mouth about the president’s latest Tweet or denunciation of the media, or theater performers, or anything else that comes to mind.

I still say Trump is just a troll, but whether by accident or design, the effect is the same.
TROLL LEVEL: MASTER. I don't subscribe to Trump's use of Twitter some sort of brilliant PR plan. He's just an accomplished troll. Glenn Reynolds evaluated Trump's Twitter usage yesterday on his blog: 
As for “Twitter meltdowns,” where have you been for the past two years? This is what Trump does, and it neither hurts him nor forecasts what he’s actually going to do. You’re being trolled and it’s working. Trump has basically lured Democrats (and a few #NeverTrump Republicans) into defending flag-burning, and reminded people of Hillary’s position in 2005. Sure, the idea is dumb and unconstitutional (as I said yesterday), but it’s a tweet, not a piece of legislation. And it also brings attention to the fact that the Dems haven’t been exactly friendly to people’s First Amendment rights on issues they care about. Now they have to publicly argue that you should go to jail for not baking a gay wedding cake, but not for burning a flag. To the surprise of many Democrats, this turns out not to be the popular position.

So who, exactly, is crazy here?
ROLL HARD LEFT AND DIE. Sci-fi writer Sarah Hoyt has a theory I can get into:

I’ve got a blog post about it somewhere in the archives.  But it’s not quite the same thing. Now entire industries are doing this, and it’s amazing.  (Not in a good way.)

Years ago, watching science fiction magazines and newspapers of various sorts come and go, I identified a process I called “roll hard left and die.”

When a magazine or a newspaper or any news or entertainment media was in real trouble, they went hard, hard left, then died.

It took me a little while to realize this was a sane strategy.  In a field completely controlled by the left, when you knew that your job was in peril be it through missmanagement or whatever, your last hope was to go incredibly hard left, so you could blame the failure on ideology.  And instead of not being able to find a job, you found yourself lionized by all the “right” (left) “thinking people.”  New jobs were assured.


I mean this campaign was amazing by the brazen way they supported Hillary.  Part of the reason I decided Donald Trump was the least of two evils is that the press was covering so hard for Hillary that I couldn’t trust her with power of any kind.  In fact, I voted for Trump because of the press’s performance.  I’m not alone, either.  Pollsters are “blaming” his victory on “suburban females who changed their mind the last week.”  (Thereby causing the democrats to manufacture insufficient votes, one presumes.)

Having managed this amazing feat, what is the news doing? Rolling harder left, chasing dust motes and nonsense, making a case out of the president elect going out alone with his family for a family dinner without informing them, and generally going even more in the tank for the left.

I’ve been watching this with mainstream publishers for three years now, and I still don’t believe it.  I’ve watched publishers who were “lean left” become wholly owned subsidiaries of the leftist project, no dissenters need apply to the point they’re now shedding middle-of-the-road writers.  And I’ve thought “How much trouble are they in?”

And now I’m watching this with the news AS A WHOLE.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

FREE SPEECH ISN'T VERY POPULAR. Katherine Timpf doesn't believe Donald Trump is the champion for free speech his supporters want
First of all, let me say that I completely understand the desire to want to stop the influence of the so-called snowflakes from spreading. It’s gotten ridiculous, and there are new examples of just how ridiculous it is coming out every single day. For example, just recently, Tufts University’s student government rejected a free-speech measure that would have eliminated the college’s restrictions on speech, including “hurtful words,” “bias-fueled jokes,” and “comments on an individual’s body or appearance” on the grounds that allowing these things could be “unsafe.” Obviously, these are insane restrictions — taken literally, these rules would mean someone wouldn’t even have the right to come up to me and tell me that he likes my sweater without risking a violation.

What’s more, I can also understand why people might automatically see Donald Trump as the guy we can count on to fight against our culture becoming one that’s subject to the kind of restrictions that are in place at Tuft’s. After all, Trump is the guy who said, “I think the big problem that this country has is being politically correct,” and who talked about that “big problem” nearly every chance he got.

But ask yourself: When Donald Trump is also flippantly tweeting about taking people’s citizenship away for burning flags, can we really be so sure?

If, as his tweet suggests, Trump really does want to enact the equivalent of “speech codes” for the country — and really does want to send people to jail for violating them — then is he really on the side of free speech at all? Many people complain that liberals’ so-called safe spaces only claim to be “tolerant” and “accepting,” when really they are only ”tolerant” and “accepting” of views like their own. As soon as someone says something they disagree with, then it’s hate speech and must be punished. Isn’t Trump doing the same thing? Free speech for me and for those who support me — even when it’s offensive —  but speech that I deem hateful must be punished. 
A MAN WITH A PLAN. Trump picked Rep. Tom Price of Georgia as his Secretary of Health and Human Services. Price actually has a plan to replace Obamacare
Price, in contrast, has actually drilled down, a sign of his seriousness about tackling the challenges of U.S. health care policy. Many of the Republican replacement plans take the form of statements of principle or white papers. Price's plan, on the other hand, already exists in legislative form, as a 250-page bill known as the Empowering Patients First Act. The plan offers a level of detail that allows you to better imagine how it might work, and what sort of trade-offs it might entail.

The plan has a number of virtues, including its specificity, its emphasis on eliminating mandates, and its potential for massive reductions in federal spending. But it also comes with some risks and concerns, and, because Congress controls the legislative process, it may not prove the best guide as how Republicans end up treating health care in the Trump era.

Price's plan is focused on getting rid of a lot of the rules and regulations that make coverage under Obamacare expensive. It would eliminate the health law's essential health benefits rules—the list of mandates that require insurers to include a government-determined list of features, whether or not they're wanted. This would free up insurers to offer a wider array of types of coverage, and could help make coverage cheaper for many people, especially those who are in relatively good health and don't want or need comprehensive coverage. It would also allow for the purchase of health insurance across state lines to an even greater extent than already allowed under Obamacare.

Price's plan offers two mechanisms for sicker individuals who might be sicker and more expensive to cover: a provision that does not allow insurers to charge more for health conditions so long as someone maintains continuous coverage, and $3 billion in funding, over a three year period, for high risk pools. The continuous coverage provision is designed to encourage people to find insurance when they are young and then stick with it in hopes of creating a sustainable, long-term insurance pool—something that Obamacare, which has struggled to attract young people, has had trouble with so far. The $3 billion in funding for high risk pools—which comes to $1 billion a year—would help cover some of the hard cases, but may end up being too little for the job: Obamacare's high risk pools, which bridged the gap between when the law was signed and when its coverage provisions kicked in, ended up drawing a far more expensive patient pool than expected. And other Republican plans that rely on high risk pools estimate the cost at more like $2.5 billion a year.

Price's plan would result in a huge net savings to the federal government—about $2.3 trillion over a decade, according to a 2013 analysis by former Congressional Budget Office Director Douglas Holtz Eakin. So even with a significant increase in high risk pool funding, the plan would still represent a significant trimming of the country's budget.
MORE BAD NEWS FOR GERMANY. If this type of thing keeps up, Merkle will wind up out of power: 
A German citizen employed by Germany's domestic intelligence agency has been arrested on accusations that he made Islamist declarations on the internet and revealed internal agency material, the agency said on Tuesday.

A spokesman for the Bundesverfassungsschutz (BfV) declined to provide details on the man's position at the agency or say when he joined. He also declined to comment on a report in Die Welt newspaper that the 51-year-old had planned to explode a bomb at the agency's central office in Cologne.

"There is no evidence to date that there is a concrete danger to the security of the BfV or its employees."

"The man is accused of making Islamist statements on the Internet using a false name and of revealing internal agency material in Internet chatrooms," he said.

The suspected mole also offered to share sensitive data about the BfV which could have endangered the agency's work, the spokesman said, without elaborating.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

TRUMP'S ATTORNEY GENERAL NOMINEE WOULD APPROVE. Whatever happened to proving crimes in court?
Illinois law enforcement confiscated more than $319 million in property and cash from individuals over the past decade, using a system that does not require convictions — or even charges in some cases — to validate the forfeitures, according to a new study.

In a joint report issued by the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois and the Illinois Policy Institute, researchers detail the financial incentives for police departments and local prosecutors to seize personal property from the public. In Illinois, law enforcement agencies receive about $30 million in forfeited property each year, the study found.

"Asset forfeiture in Illinois has become policing for profit," said Ben Ruddell, criminal justice policy attorney with the ACLU and the report's co-author. "Without meaningful reform that ensures transparency, this system will continue to take millions of dollars in property from people without true justice."

Under state and federal laws, law enforcement agencies can take cash, land, vehicles and other property they suspect are involved in illegal activity. The laws do not require that the owner be charged with a crime — let alone convicted — in order for their property to be permanently confiscated.
THE BRITS HAVE TO ONE-UP THE AMERICAN NSA. Reason's Scott Shackford covers the expanding scope of the British police state
The Investigatory Powers Act makes the surveillance authorized by America's PATRIOT Act look remarkably tame in comparison. The law requires Internet Service Providers to keep all metadata and web browsing history of users for 12 months. And it allows top officials of dozens of government agencies to demand access to this information, not to fight terrorism, but any sort of crime.

The list of agencies granted access included in Schedule 4 of the 300+-page law includes several government bodies whose job it is to fight various forms of fraud or general crimes. It contains rules on how to get warrants to access confidential information stored by journalists and to try to track down a journalist's sources. It, of course, creates special protections for members of Parliament to provide extra requirements before snooping on them.

This is not a law about fighting terrorism. This is a law that completely destroys citizens' online privacy for the benefit of any sort of governmental investigation to solve domestic crimes. Edward Snowden called it "the most extreme surveillance in the history of Western democracy."

This was a pet project of new Prime Minister Theresa May, and I've previously noted that she is absolutely awful on surveillance and privacy, going so far as to think that snooping on private communications is an acceptable way to fight "cyberbullying."
CAN'T WE WAIT FOR THE FACTS? Some people can't wait to use a tragedy to push an agenda. Case in point, former Democratic vice-presidential candidate Senator Tim Kaine on the occasion of an attack at Ohio State University using a car and a large knife.

Seriously, people should wait for the facts to come out, or they risk making fools of themselves.

Monday, November 28, 2016

A volcano in Mexico erupted, sending ash three miles into the air and prompting warnings from government officials for tourists and residents to stay away.

The Popocat├ępetl volcano, located in Pueblo state, erupted with a billowing cloud of dark ash billowing into the morning sky Friday. In the 24 hours since the eruption started, Mexican officials said there have been 129 exaltations of ash, three explosions and one measurable earthquake, a magnitude-1.8 tremor.
A PROBLEM FOR DEMOCRATS. Kevin Williamson points out how identity politics causes a problem for the Democratic Party: 
The longer-term problem for the Democrats is that they are finding out that they have to play by their own rules, which are the rules of identity politics. This is a larger problem for the Democratic party than is generally appreciated. The Democratic party is an odd apparatus in which most of the power is held by sanctimonious little old liberal white ladies with graduate degrees and very high incomes — Hillary Rodham Clinton, Elizabeth Warren, Randi Weingarten — while the manpower, the vote-power, and the money-power (often in the form of union dues) comes from a disproportionately young and non-white base made up of people who, if they are doing well, might earn one-tenth of the half-million dollars a year Weingarten was paid as the boss of the teachers’ union. They are more likely to be cutting the grass in front of Elizabeth Warren’s multi-million-dollar mansion than moving into one of their own. They roll their eyes at Hillary Rodham Clinton’s risible “abuela” act, having actual abuelas of their own.

As in the Republican party, the Democrats have a restive base that is more radical than its leadership, more aggressive, and in search of signs of tribal affiliation. The Democratic base is not made up of little old liberal white ladies with seven-, eight-, and nine-figure bank balances, but the party’s leadership is. It is worth noting that in a year in which the Republican candidate painted Mexican immigrants with a rather broad and ugly brush, Mrs. Clinton got a smaller share of the Hispanic vote than Barack Obama did in 2012. She got a significantly smaller share of the black vote, too. Interestingly, Mrs. Clinton’s drop in the black vote came exclusively from black men. Many black Americans had very high hopes that an Obama administration would mean significant changes in their lives and in the state of their communities, but that has not come to pass. There is nothing about Mrs. Clinton that inspired similar hopes. “She’s not right, and we all know it,” the comedian Dave Chappelle said.
THE FLAG IS A POWERFUL SYMBOL. I don't think that college figured on a counter-protest
At least one thousand veterans gathered in Amherst this afternoon to protest the removal of the American flag at Hampshire College. 22news spoke to protesters about why they strongly disagreed with the college’s decision.

Freedom is not free. That’s the lesson that hundreds of veterans, their families and friends and other local residents hoped to teach students at Hampshire College Sunday afternoon.

Jerry Maguire, Veteran said, “They took down my flag, they have a right to that, I’m here to defend their right to do that but I want them to understand how bad that hurts me.”

Hundreds gathered to show their support of the American flag and what it stands for after the College removed the flag on campus earlier this week following the presidential election results. A decision by the college that outraged many.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

I'M SO GLAD I DON'T EAT FOOD LABELED AS ORGANIC. Baylen Linnekin wrote about the controversy over allowing hydroponic crops to be labeled "organic"
All that said, it seems we've a robust debate about the issue. The only downside to that debate is that it pertains to regulations, and that one side will win not because it prevailed within consumers in the marketplace of ideas but because it won over a majority of the handful of members of a USDA-appointed committee.

It was, in this spirit, that a truly wonderful Boston Globe editorial last week argued that organic food is not "about facts and dictionaries" and called on the USDA to get out of the organic-oversight business altogether.

"It would be better for the authorities to focus on ensuring the safety of food and the accuracy of label information about things like nutrition and allergens, while letting consumers figure out for themselves what organic means to them," write the Globe's editors. "Farmers who grow crops only in soil and want to market themselves to consumers that way have every right to try, and if enough customers care then they'll be successful. But asking the federal government to define and enforce the boundaries of personal beliefs is just too much to ask."
DAMN, THOSE RUSSIAN HACKERS ARE GOOD! Nate Silver took a look the Jill Stein challenge of election results in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. Interestingly enough, although the rationale for the recount is the difference in voting between paper and electronic ballots, Michigan only used paper:
Without a recount, all we can do for now is look for any meaningful difference in the three states named in the New York article between votes in counties that used paper ballots and votes in ones that used machines. That quickly crossed Michigan off the list: The entire state uses paper ballots, which are read by optical scanners.2 So we couldn’t compare results by type of voting in that state. Instead, we checked the six other states with a margin between Clinton and Trump of less than 10 percentage points that use a mix of paper and machine voting: Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas and Virginia.

For each county in those states, we looked at Clinton’s vote share and whether it was associated with the type of voting system the county used, based on voting-system data compiled by a nonprofit electoral-reform group called Verified Voting and 2016 vote data from Dave Leip’s U.S. Election Atlas and ABC News.3 It doesn’t make much sense, though, to just look at raw vote counts and how they differed, because we know there are many factors that affect how a county voted, both in those states and everywhere else around the country. So we separated out two of the main factors that we know drove differences in voting results: the share of each county’s population age 25 and older with a college degree, and the share of the county that is non-white.4

We found no apparent correlation5 between voting method and outcome in six of the eight states, and a thin possible link between voting method and results in Wisconsin and Texas. However, the two states showed opposite results: The use of any machine voting in a county was associated with a 5.6-percentage-point reduction in Democratic two-party vote share in Wisconsin but a 2.7-point increase in Texas, both of which were statistically significant.6 Even if we focus only on Wisconsin, the effect disappears when we weight our results by population. More than 75 percent of Wisconsin’s population lives in the 23 most populous counties, which don’t appear to show any evidence for an effect driven by voting systems.7 To have effectively manipulated the statewide vote total, hackers probably would have needed to target some of these larger counties. When we included all counties but weighted the regression by the number of people living in each county, the statistical significance of the opposite effects in Wisconsin and Texas both evaporated.8

WHY YOU SHOULD AVOID ASPARTAME. I've always preferred Sweet-N-Low to NutraSweet: 
Why does aspartame not aid weight loss? "We found that aspartame blocks a gut enzyme called intestinal alkaline phosphatase (IAP)," explains Professor Hodin, who teaches at Harvard Medical School.

IAP is produced in the small intestine. "We previously showed [this enzyme] can prevent obesity, diabetes and metabolic syndrome [a disease characterized by a combination of obesity, high blood pressure, a metabolic disorder and insulin resistence]. So, we think that aspartame might not work because, even as it is substituting for sugar, it blocks the beneficial aspects of IAP."

However, aspartame does not block the enzyme directly. It does so through one of its intestinal breakdown products called phenylalanine.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

ENERGY POVERTY VS CLIMATE CHANGE. Is forcing poor people to forego economic development in order to prevent climate change morally dubious? Ronald Bailey examined the question for Reason Magazine:
But what about climate change? Current renewable sources of energy are not technologically capable of lifting hundreds of millions of people out of energy poverty. Consequently, the Breakthrough writers see "no practical path to universal access to modern levels of energy consumption" that keeps the projected increase in global average temperature below the Paris Agreement on climate change goal of 2 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial level. This implies that atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide will exceed 450 parts per million. They correctly point out that forcing poor people to forego economic development in order to prevent climate change is a "morally dubious proposition." They additionally observe that the wealth and technology produced by economic growth increases resilience to climatic extremes and other natural disasters. When bad weather encounters poverty, disaster ensues.

It is worth noting that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's shared socioeconomic pathway narratives for the rest of the century include one, dubbed "SSP5," in which fossil fuels remain cheap, greenhouse gas concentrations more than triple, the average global temperature increases by nearly 4 degrees Celsius, and the rate of economic growth is high. Is that future a hell on earth? Not at all.

The "development first" SSP5 agenda results in the eradication of extreme poverty, greater gender equality, and universal access to education, safe drinking water, and modern energy before mid century, along with a strong build-up of developing countries' human and social capacity. "Lower socio-environmental challenges to adaptation result from attainment of human development goals, robust economic growth, highly engineered infrastructure with redundancy to minimize disruptions from extreme events, and highly managed ecosystems," notes the SSP report. In other words, people living in this economically robust scenario have greater incomes (up from the current average of around $10,000 to about $140,000 per capita in current dollars by 2100) and have access to much more advanced technologies with which to address whatever problems man-made climate change may throw at them.

MAYBE IDENTITY POLITICS ISN'T SUCH A GOOD IDEA. Charles Krauthammer wrote why Democrats should question the use of identity politics:
And why assume that identity politics creates permanent allegiances? Take the Hispanic vote. Both Mitt Romney and Donald Trump won less than 30 percent, but in 2004 George W. Bush won 44 percent. Why assume that the GOP cannot be competitive again?

As these groups evolve socioeconomically, their political allegiances can easily change. This is particularly true for the phenomenally successful Asian-American community. There is no reason the more entrepreneurial party, the GOP, should continue to lose this vote by more than two to one.

Moreover, the legitimation of identity politics by the Democrats has finally come back to bite them. Trump managed to read, then mobilize, the white working class and to endow it with political self-consciousness. What he voiced on their behalf was the unspoken complaint of decades: Why not us? All these other groups, up to and including the relatively tiny population of transgender people, receive benefits, special attention, and cultural approbation, yet we are left out in the cold, neglected and condescended to as both our social status and our economic conditions decline.
FIDEL CASTRO IS DEAD. Yale professor Carlos Eire had some thoughts published in The Washington Post: 
If this were a just world, 13 facts would be etched on Castro’s tombstone and highlighted in every obituary, as bullet points — a fitting metaphor for someone who used firing squads to murder thousands of his own people.

●He turned Cuba into a colony of the Soviet Union and nearly caused a nuclear holocaust.

●He sponsored terrorism wherever he could and allied himself with many of the worst dictators on earth.

●He was responsible for so many thousands of executions and disappearances in Cuba that a precise number is hard to reckon.

●He brooked no dissent and built concentration camps and prisons at an unprecedented rate, filling them to capacity, incarcerating a higher percentage of his own people than most other modern dictators, including Stalin.

●He condoned and encouraged torture and extrajudicial killings.

●He forced nearly 20 percent of his people into exile, and prompted thousands to meet their deaths at sea, unseen and uncounted, while fleeing from him in crude vessels.

●He claimed all property for himself and his henchmen, strangled food production and impoverished the vast majority of his people.

●He outlawed private enterprise and labor unions, wiped out Cuba’s large middle class and turned Cubans into slaves of the state.

●He persecuted gay people and tried to eradicate religion.

●He censored all means of expression and communication.

●He established a fraudulent school system that provided indoctrination rather than education, and created a two-tier health-care system, with inferior medical care for the majority of Cubans and superior care for himself and his oligarchy, and then claimed that all his repressive measures were absolutely necessary to ensure the survival of these two ostensibly “free” social welfare projects.

●He turned Cuba into a labyrinth of ruins and established an apartheid society in which millions of foreign visitors enjoyed rights and privileges forbidden to his people.

●He never apologized for any of his crimes and never stood trial for them.

Friday, November 25, 2016

AN IMMIGRATION MESS. Something I think was expected, but not acknowledged, is happening.

Central American countries warned on Thursday that large numbers of migrants have fled their poor, violent homes since Donald Trump's surprise election win, hoping to reach the United States before he takes office next year.

Trump won the Nov. 8 vote by taking a hard line on immigration, threatening to deport millions of people living illegally in the United States and to erect a wall along the Mexican border.

Trump's tough campaign rhetoric sent tremors through the slums of Central America and the close-knit migrant communities in U.S. cities, with many choosing to fast-forward their plans and migrate north before Trump takes office on Jan. 20.

"We're worried because we're seeing a rise in the flow of migrants leaving the country, who have been urged to leave by coyotes telling them that they have to reach the United States before Trump takes office," Maria Andrea Matamoros, Honduras' deputy foreign minister, told Reuters, referring to people smugglers.

Carlos Raul Morales, Guatemala's foreign minister, told Reuters people were also leaving Guatemala en masse before Trump becomes president.

"The coyotes are leaving people in debt, and taking their property as payment for the journey," he said in an interview.

Last week, U.S. Customs and Border Protection opened a temporary holding facility for up to 500 people near the Texan border with Mexico, in what it said was a response to a marked uptick in illegal border crossings.

U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said earlier this month immigration detention facilities were holding about 10,000 more individuals than usual, after a spike in October of migrants including unaccompanied children, families and asylum seekers.

LET'S PARTY LIKE IT'S 2000. Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein is leading an effort to hold recounts in three key battleground states
Stein's campaign says it has raised enough money to pay for a recount of the presidential vote in Wisconsin, one of a number of states that surprisingly helped Republican Donald Trump win the election.

According to the Wisconsin Elections Commission, a lawyer for Stein's campaign has already told the commission it will formally request a recount by Friday's deadline.

Moreover, the Stein campaign is continuing to raise money to pay for recounts in two other crucial states: Pennsylvania, where the deadline is Monday, and Michigan, where the deadline is Wednesday. Trump won all three states.

Stein can request the recounts by virtue of having been a candidate in the election, where she finished behind Trump, Democrat Hillary Clinton and Libertarian Gary Johnson in the popular vote.

However, she must bear the costs which, in Wisconsin alone, could approach $1 million.

As of early Thursday evening, Stein's campaign said it had raised more than $4.4 million toward a goal of $4.5 million to fund the three recounts.