Archive for May, 2010

Another local government in California is contemplating bankruptcy. That’s hardly big news, though, since many California jurisdictions have been bled dry by greedy public sector unions and the city of Vallejo already has thrown in the towel. What is amazing, though, is that the government unions are trying to get the state to pass a bill barring bankruptcy. This is eerily akin to the part of Atlas Shrugged where government officials torture John Galt in hopes of trying to force him to produce. The political thugs in Atlas Shrugged were desperate because people no longer were producing anything they could steal. The pathetic politicians and government workers – both in Ayn Rand’s book and in California – obviously don’t understand that parasites should not be so greedy that they kill the host animal. Here’s a Reuters excerpt:

Antioch’s leaders earlier this month said bankruptcy could be an option for the cash-strapped city of roughly 100,000 on the eastern fringe of the San Francisco Bay area. …But cost-cutting measures may not be enough to keep Antioch’s books balanced, so its city council is openly discussing bankruptcy. …Orange County Treasurer Chriss Street would not be surprised if more local governments across the Golden State sound a similar alarm. …Despite its stigma, bankruptcy has paid an important dividend for Vallejo: It has forced public employee unions to the negotiating table, providing city leaders an opportunity to rein in compensation, which city officials said accounts for more than three-quarters of Vallejo’s general fund spending. City Councilwoman Stephanie Gomes said the effort has led to concessions from three of four city unions. Like Vallejo, Los Angeles is suffering from weak revenue at the same time the cost of its pensions and other retirement benefits are rising. Former Mayor Richard Riordan said those factors put the government of the second largest U.S. city on track to declare bankruptcy between now and 2014. …Talk of municipal bankruptcy has not escaped California’s politically powerful public employee unions. A number of them are pressing the legislature to pass a bill that would require local governments to get the approval of a state board before filing for bankruptcy. Since the board could be stacked with union-friendly appointees, bankruptcy pleas could be rejected or delayed. “It’s a horrible bill,” Levinson said. “If you don’t have the bankruptcy outlet, what do you do? If you can’t pay your bills what do you do?”

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There’s a controversy in Texas because the State Board of Education has mandated the inclusion of certain materials in textbooks. This has elicited howls of protests from the left, which generally has controlled how some issues are portrayed. Since I don’t want leftist propaganda being pushed on kids, I’m mildly sympathetic to the Texas educrats, but the best way to solve the controversy is school choice. As Jeff Jacoby explains for the Boston Globe, education in America should be more like religion. This means getting rid of one-size-fits-all monopoly schools operated by the government:

“Throughout American history,’’ writes Neal McCluskey of the Cato Institute, “public schooling has produced political disputes, animosity, and sometimes even bloodshed between diverse people.’’ Political fighting is neither rare nor anomalous: In the course of just one school year, 2005-06, McCluskey tallied almost 150 reported cases of public-school conflicts. There were bitter battles that year over Darwinism-vs.-intelligent-design in Pennsylvania and Kansas, heated fights over books about Cuba in Florida, and an emotional dispute in California over the portrayal of Hindus in history texts. In Lexington, Mass., a teacher’s decision to read a story celebrating gay marriage to her second-grade class without first notifying parents triggered a fight that ultimately wound up in federal court. Again and again, Americans find themselves at war with each other over public schooling. Yet furious conflict over religion in this country is almost unheard-of. Why? Why don’t American Catholics and Protestants angrily attack each other’s views of clerical celibacy or papal infallibility? Why is there no bitter struggle between Orthodox and Reform Jews to control the content of the Sabbath liturgy? Why don’t American atheists clash with American believers over whether children should be taught to pray before going to sleep? …The answer is no mystery. America is a land of religious freedom, in which people decide for themselves what to believe and how to worship. No religion is funded by government. Elected officials have no say in the doctrine of any faith or the content of any religious service. Religion flourishes in America because church and state are separate. And it flourishes so peacefully because no one is forced to support anyone else’s faith, or to attend a church he isn’t happy with, or to bring up children according to the religious views of whichever faction has the most votes. Religion is peaceful because it is government-free. Liberate the schools, and they too would be at peace. Taxpayer-funded, one-curriculum-fits-all schooling makes conflict inevitable. There would be far less animosity if parents were as free to choose how and where their children learn as they are to choose how and where they worship. Separation of church and state has made America an exemplar of religious pluralism and tolerance. Imagine what separation of school and state could do for education.

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The government’s so-called War on Poverty has been a dismal failure, largely because giving people money as a condition of being poor is a very good way of ensuring that some of them will choose to remain poor. But now the White House wants to make a bad situation even worse by concocting a new definition of poverty completely divorced from reality. As Robert Samuelson explains in his Washington Post column, this rigged system means that the poverty rate would remain the same even if every person in America suddenly had twice as much income:

…the poor’s material well-being has improved. The official poverty measure obscures this by counting only pre-tax cash income and ignoring other sources of support. These include the earned-income tax credit (a rebate to low-income workers), food stamps, health insurance (Medicaid), and housing and energy subsidies. Spending by poor households from all sources may be double their reported income, reports a study by Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute. Although many poor live hand-to-mouth, they’ve participated in rising living standards. In 2005, 91 percent had microwaves, 79 percent air conditioning and 48 percent cellphones. …the administration’s…new poverty number would compound public confusion. It also raises questions about whether the statistic is tailored to favor a political agenda. The “supplemental measure” ties the poverty threshold to what the poorest third of Americans spend on food, housing, clothes and utilities. The actual threshold — not yet calculated — will almost certainly be higher than today’s poverty line. Moreover, the new definition has strange consequences. Suppose that all Americans doubled their incomes tomorrow, and suppose that their spending on food, clothing, housing and utilities also doubled. That would seem to signify less poverty — but not by the new poverty measure. It wouldn’t decline, because the poverty threshold would go up as spending went up. Many Americans would find this weird: People get richer but “poverty” stays stuck. …The new indicator is a “propaganda device” to promote income redistribution by showing that poverty is stubborn or increasing, says the Heritage Foundation’s Robert Rector. He has a point. The Census Bureau has estimated statistics similar to the administration’s proposal. In 2008, the traditional poverty rate was 13.2 percent; estimates of the new statistic range up to 17 percent. The new poverty statistic exceeds the old, and the gap grows larger over time. To paraphrase the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan: The administration is defining poverty up. It’s legitimate to debate how much we should aid the poor or try to reduce economic inequality. But the debate should not be skewed by misleading statistics that not one American in 100,000 could possibly understand. Government statistics should strive for political neutrality. This one fails.

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I finally figured out why I had children. My oldest son came back from Austria last night, so I drafted him and my youngest sin (oops, I meant to write “son,” the error must somehow be a Freudian slip) into slave labor. They got to sop up the toxic mess left in the freezer and then empty the freezer and the trash bags full of rotting food and maggots at the dump. But as you can see, they enjoyed this wonderful opportunity to help their doting father.

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Two cheers for House Republicans, who plan on offering an amendment to freeze the pay of federal bureaucrats. There are two reasons, though, why they don’t deserve three cheers. First, they should be proposing significant pay cuts, as nations such as Spain and Ireland have implemented. Second, they didn’t do anything to rein in excessive pay for government workers when they were in power, so Stenny Hoyer actually is right when he accuses them of playing politics. That being said, I don’t complain when politicians do the right thing for the wrong reason. Here’s a blurb from the Politico story:

House Republicans will try to force a vote on freezing federal wages when Democrats bring a defense spending bill to the floor Friday afternoon. …Even though the proposal would be attached to the defense bill, military salaries would be exempt from the pay freeze. The proposal would also freeze pay for members of Congress. …Republicans say that freezing federal salaries — except for those in the military — would save the government $30 billion in the next decade. The Obama administration intends to increase federal salaries 1.4 percent. …“We need to reject this cynical ploy to make federal employees a scapegoat for spending after congressional Republicans added trillions to the debt when they were in the majority,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) wrote in an e-mailed statement.

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I don’t know who did this, and I’m not sure what point they are trying to make, but it’s rather amusing and it also makes a good point about the idiocy of bailouts.

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Pardon the deviation from commentary on political economy, but I have to tell this story – perhaps as a form of catharsis.

As regular readers know, I got back from Europe Thursday afternoon. When I got to my house, I noticed a very unpleasant smell. Given that there was a cat box that hadn’t been changed in 11 days, that wasn’t too much of a surprise, but the smell was beyond that.

Something was rotting. My first instinct was to blame the cats. It is not uncommon for me to smell something terrible and then find a dead mouse or bird that one of the cats dragged into the house. This was a very strong odor, so I was worried that something large – like a rabbit or squirrel, was decomposing under a sofa someplace.

I checked the usual places, but couldn’t find anything. So I shrugged my shoulders and went to sleep.

The next day, Friday, I went to work and stayed late catching up on things that built up during my absence. I came home, noticed the smell again, but couldn’t find anything and went to bed.

I woke up today, greeted by the same foul smell and was beginning to think I would have to take the house apart. But my first order of business was to mow the lawn and handle some other yard work. So I mowed and then decided to open the garage to get some weed killer.

Big mistake.

The odor hit me like a freight train, followed by an awareness of hundreds of flies buzzing around, and then followed by the horrifying realization that the freezer door was open.

Nothing I write can capture the scene that greeted me, but let your imagination contemplate the combination of a full freezer and nearly two weeks of warm weather. I won’t provide too many gross details, but I will say that if maggots were worth anything, I’d be a rich man today.

So I spent over one hour pulling various disgusting and putrid things out of the freezer, breathing only with my mouth, and trying not to recycle my lunch. Tomorrow, I’ll have to sop up a disgusting brown liquid that has accumulated in the bottom of the freezer. Oh, and to add insult to injury, garbage pickup isn’t until Tuesday, so the smell won’t go away anytime soon (and it will probably linger even after then).

I’ve had some unpleasant experiences in my life, including the discovery of no toilet paper (or paper towels, or anything) after making an emergency bathroom visit in Romania. Nothing, though, comes remotely close to the nightmare I endured today.

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