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Monday, November 30, 2015

When You Don't Have the Lincoln Bedroom......

During Bill Clinton's presidency, the Lincoln Bedroom in the White House was essentially rented out by the Clintons to big bucks contributors.  If you gave major money, you got to stay overnight at the White House.  It was sort of a precursor to AirBnB, except this one was BigCashBnB.  The AP is reporting today that when Hillary became secretary of state (and she didn't have the White House anymore), she basically rented out access to her office.  There were over 100 major corporate heads, union leaders and wealthy individuals who Hillary chatted with at length in her office at the State Department.  That comes to one every ten days or so while she was in office.  If you subtract travel time from the total, Hillary Clinton met with political contributors and supporters on roughly one-quarter of the days she held the office.  And before you start wondering if these meeting had anything to do with State Department business, don't worry about it; they didn't.  For example, Hillary met with the head of the United Federation of Teachers at length more than once.  That union has nothing to do with foreign policy.  They can't even claim to be worried that the members' jobs are being sent overseas.

It's truly amazing just how much attention Hillary paid to her political future (and how little to State Department business) while she held office.


Things More Important Than Climate Change

President Obama is in Paris with many world leaders to discuss and discuss and discuss the supposed threat of climate change and how to deal with it.  According to Obama, this is the ultimate rebuke to ISIS (although some might argue that bombs, artillery and rifle fire would be bigger rebukes.)  Hopefully, the Paris conference will end with the usual platitudes but with no other concrete action.  After all, the basic action on which Obama and the world are most likely to agree is the imposition of crippling limitations on the economies of the developed world, in particular the USA.  Adding such limitations to our already shaky economy won't help reduce global warming, but it could send us back into a deep recession.  The move would be more akin to self-flagellation than to a fight against global warming.

While the climate games go on in Paris, there are many other subjects that could benefit from attention from the White House.  Here are just a few:

1.  The fight against ISIS.
2.  The inadequate and untimely medical care give to our veterans by the VA.
3.  The porous border with Mexico.
4.  The failure of Obamacare to lower premiums.
5.  The impending death spiral of Obamacare.
6.  The impending bankruptcy of Medicare and Social Security.
7.  The military expansion of both Russia and China.
8.  The crushing burden put on local and regional banks by regulations which promote banks to be too big to fail and reduce the ability of new businesses to get financing.
9.  The tax burden on American companies which is the highest in the world.
10.  The regulatory burden imposed on all Americans by the EPA power grab to control all land with any sort of water on it (even puddles.)

It may be that Obama would be unable to bring positive change to these items.  Okay, most likely Obama couldn't or wouldn't help on any of these fronts, but that does not mean he should not make the effort.  Work done now might help the next president (hopefully a competent one this time) to make the needed changes.  It's sad that Obama, instead, spends his time on photo ops in Paris to discuss imagined problems like climate change.


Sunday, November 29, 2015

Belgium as Terror Ground Zero

There are reports today that three mosques in Belgium have received letters containing threats to kill Moslems and destroy their homes and businesses.  The letters are from a group that calls itself the "Christian State".  The authorities describe the letters as filled with misspelled words and grammar mistakes.

So is this the beginning of a sectarian terror war in Europe with Belgium as ground zero?  I doubt it very much.  More likely, these letters have been written by supporters of ISIS or other radical Islamic terror groups in an effort to instill fear into the Belgian Moslem population and to gain new supporters for their cause.  Unless and until the forensic scientists of the Belgian police can determine who wrote the letters, we cannot be 100% certain of the author of these letters.  Nevertheless, one needs to keep in mind that Belgium has a literacy rate of greater than 99%.  In other words, people born in Belgium are essentially guaranteed to be able to write a letter of this sort without misspelling many words and certainly without making all sorts of grammatical mistakes.  Those sorts of errors are more likely the result of someone authoring the letters whose native language is something other than French or Flemish (the languages spoken in Belgium.)  And if you think about it, what better way does ISIS and the other terror groups have to stoke support than to instill fear among the Moslems in Belgium of an impending attack from the "Christian State."

So far, every news story I have seen about these letters is completely silent on the possibility that the letters were sent by ISIS itself as a ploy.  In other words, the media is falling into the trap most likely set for it by ISIS.  It seems that in Europe, as in the USA, the possibility that there are Christian terrorists is just too enticing for the media to actually investigate and think rationally about the facts before reporting.


Why The Data is So Important

Ever hear of Karthick Ramakrishnan?  If you answer no to that question, don't be surprised.  Mr. Ramakrishnan is a professor of "public policy" at the University of California and a "global fellow" at the Wilson Center.  He is also the author of an op-ed column that just appeared in the LA Times.  What makes Mr. Ramakrishnan notable is not that he is a fellow, excuse me, a global fellow at a place named for a noted racist, but rather that he puts out an entire column based upon totally faulty data.  The point of the column, you see, is that the number of Mexican immigrants illegally in the USA is actually declining.  There's a net outflow according to Ramakrishnan.  The only problem with what Ramakrishnan has to say, is that he is entirely wrong.  He relies, you see, upon a "study" from the Pew research center which does not show any decline in current immigration or any increase in current emigration.

Let me explain.  In 2008 and 2009, at the depth of the recession, there actually was a halt to much of the illegal immigration.  Not surprisingly, many of the people coming from Latin America did not see the point of being in the USA where there were no jobs for them.  The recession also led to an increase in the number of illegal aliens who departed from the country.  In most years, thousands of illegal aliens depart; usually the ration is about twice as many arrivals as departures.  During the depth of the recession, however, there were more departures than arrivals.  Once the economy stabilized and slow growth returned, the situation reversed.  The numbers of illegal immigrants started soaring and the number of departures fell.  The Pew study was initially done about three years ago at a point where we had just had the big decrease in illegal immigration due to the recession.  Recently, that study was updated by adding another year to the base period.  As a result, since the most recent years when the number of arrivals exploded were not included, Pew announced that more illegals were actually leaving than arriving.  To say the least, the Pew study was designed to come up with that result.

What the Pew study actually shows, however, is something quite different.  Forget the bogus statistics which are supposed to convince people that the current immigration problem is not real.  Look instead at the effect that the lack of jobs had on the illegal immigrant community during the recession.  When the jobs dried up, many of the illegals departed.  What this tells us is that if programs like "E-verify" are used, the numbers of illegals will decline.  E-verify is a computer system that will let an employer know if his prospective employees are in the country legally.  If that system is available for an employer to consult and if the penalties for employing illegals are imposed through diligent enforcement, the number of jobs available to illegals will plummet.  This will have two good results:  1) The number of jobs available to American citizens and legal residents of the USA will increase.  All those unemployed and underemployed people who want to work will find it easier to gain employment.  2) The number of illegal aliens staying in the USA will decline.  To use Mitt Romney's word, they will self-deport.  This system has to be coupled with a denial of welfare benefits to those here illegally. 


A Guaranteed Outcome

It is highly unlikely that anything will come out of the Paris climate conference of world leaders other than a bunch of statements and announced goals.  There will be few if any actions besides the production of more hot air from all the speeches.

I've written many times about the serious problems with the theory that Earth is seeing man made climate change.  Today, I want to look at another aspect of the issue.  Let's assume for the moment that there really is global warming and that it is caused by the carbon dioxide that man is unleashing into the atmosphere (no matter how shaky that assumption is.)  Let's consider how likely it is that the government of the USA or the governments of the world will be able to control or reverse that problem.  Here are some things to think about.

1.  Since the mid-1960s, the USA has spent trillions of dollars on programs which the government designed to eradicate poverty.  The level of poverty in the country, however, has not declined at all during that time.

2.  Over the years, there have been many government programs to help disadvantaged children get a better education.  One, Head Start, provides pre-school education to help the disadvantaged children when they start elementary school.  The government has funded the program for almost 50 years.  The Department of Education did a major study on the efficacy of Head Start a few years ago.  That study confirmed the findings of many other studies, namely, Head Start does not work.  The children who go through the program do no better than the children from similar socio-economic backgrounds by the end of second grade.  In other words, any effect from Head Start is gone in two years.  One would think that these findings in the government's own major study would lead to the ending of Head Start and the search for something that works.  Instead, president Obama has proposed making Head Start universal.  Spending would increase so that every child in America went to a Head Start pre-school or the equivalent.  The program doesn't work, so the government (under Obama) wants to make it bigger.

3.  The Congress enacted Obamacare in 2010 and provided generous funding for that program for the first ten years of its existence.  One critical piece of the program is the federal exchange to sell individual health insurance policies.  The government had almost four years to construct that website.  By the date the site went live, the government had spent more on that site than any other website in the history of the internet.  In fact, it wasn't even close; the Obamacare exchange cost at least four times more than had ever been spent on any previous website.  As we all know, the website did not work and it was incomplete.  Today, two years later, the Obamacare exchange functions, but it is still incomplete.  The government just gave up ever trying to complete the back end of the site.  In other words, the government spent over a billion dollars to finally get part of the site completed.

4.  Think back over all the accomplishments of the United Nations during the last 70 years.  That is one of the world's shortest assignments.  Even better, think of all the UN has accomplished during the last 25 years.  There's nothing. 

There's a lot more failure that could be listed for the US or the UN governments.  Why would anyone now assume that controlling the climate is going to be any different?  Isn't Paris going to be just another fool's errand on the list of great government failures?  The simple answer is YES!


Saturday, November 28, 2015

The Inability of the Government to Run Transit Systems

I just happened across a tweet from Connecticut senator Chris Murphy in which he calls for "massive investment" in transportation.  As is usually the case with Murphy, he offers no actual solution but does call for more spending.  It might be nice were he to tell us all exactly what he wants to do with that massive spending, but that is hoping for too much from Connecticut's poster child for OCD who must always call for more spending no matter what the issue.

In discussing massive spending for transportation, it's worth taking note of the inability of the government to handle that spending/investment in an efficient or timely way that achieves the intended result.  Let's look at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in New York since it is by far the largest supervisor of transportation spending in this region.  In this century, the MTA has worked on four major transportation initiatives:  1) the Fulton station complex; 2) the Second Avenue subway; 3) the East Side Access project and 4) the extension of the subway to the Javits Center.  The Fulton station was conceived as a way to tie all of the downtown subway and other transportation lines together and to make the system more coherent after the 9-11 attacks left part of the system in a shambles.  The plan for a grandiose station was supposed to cost three quarters of a billion dollars and to take five years to build.  That was an enormous commitment for a transit system that needed ongoing subsidies just to meet its operating budget.  With its usual lack of control of the construction project, however, the MTA managed to spend twice the original budget and to suffer a seven year delay in completing the station.  Remember, this is one station for 1.5 billion dollars.  Remember also that after spending all that time and money, the transit system was not able to transport one more person than previously.  The station does look nice though.  The Second Avenue subway has been under construction off and on for more than half a century.  One piece of it, however, will finally open next year unless there are further delays (which is likely).  The cost for this line with its three stations on Second Avenue is about $4 billion which makes it the most expensive subway line per mile in the world.  The East Side Access project takes trains from the Long Island Railroad and allows them to go to Grand Central Station rather than Penn Station in Manhattan.  It is more than a decade late and is already more than ten billion dollars over budget.  To call the project management a failure is an insult to failures everywhere.

The point of all this is that after truly MASSIVE spending by the MTA, there will be just a small increase in the ability of the transit system in New York to carry passengers.  Tens of billions of dollars have been spent and there is little to show for it.  In other words, rather than promoting massive spending, it would make more sense for the politicians to come up with solutions that will increase the ability of transit systems to carry more people more quickly and reliably and increase the ability of highways to move cars more efficiently.  After those solutions have been reached, that would be the time to debate the cost.  That debate, however, requires intelligence and focus.  No wonder politicians like senator Murphy (who possess neither) talk about spending more rather than discussing the projects on which that spending should be made.


Ben Carson in Jordan

Dr. Ben Carson is in Jordan today to see first hand the refugees from the Syrian civil war housed in that country.  There are 1.4 million Syrian refugees in a country that has only about 6.5 million people.  That means that the Jordanians have taken in about 1 Syrian refugee for about every 4 Jordanians.  If that happened in the USA there would be about 80 million refugees here.  All those refugees impose a staggering burden on the country; they need help.

But let's get back to Dr. Carson.  He has had a pretty bad few weeks as the focus of the campaigns and the country has been on foreign policy and terrorism.  The hole in Carson's knowledge on that topic has become clear to many voters, and Carson's support has sagged as a result.  The trip to Jordan is a way to gain knowledge, show involvement and stay away from too many questions about policy all at the same time.  Carson, after all, can go to see the medical care being provided for the refugees and be quite knowledgeable without having to discuss which targets ought to be hit in Syria or what forces ought to be fighting ISIS or Assad on the ground.

The reality, however, is that the pressing issue is not how to deal with refugees in Jordan.  In that region of the world, being a refugee has often become a career.  There are millions of Palestinians who claim refugee status even though it was their grandparents or great grandparents who left Palestine 70 years ago when the state of Israel was founded.  For all that time, the United Nations relief agency has supported these families as refugees.  For many, claiming never-ending refugee status is the best thing in their lives.  We need to find a solution to the Syrian war so that these new Syrian refugees do not become permanently so classified.

Carson promises proposals in the next few weeks about how to deal with the Syrian civil war and the refugees.  It will be interesting to see what Carson suggests.  If it is just the usual "let's help the refugees" refrain, then we will all know for certain that Dr. Carson does not have what it takes to be president.  As a doctor, Carson knows that one has to treat the disease and not the symptoms if a cure is to be achieved.