Ramps to Nowhere

Back in 2005, a proposal to use more than $300 million of federal money to build a bridge in Alaska made headlines as a sensational example of government waste. The proposed bridge, which would have connected the city of Ketchikan with an island of only 50 people, is now famously known as the “Bridge to Nowhere.”

After an outcry, the Alaskan bridge was never built. But wasting money is the only activity in which government demonstrates imagination and innovation. And so, instead of bridges to nowhere, government now embraces ramps to nowhere.

Along one half-mile stretch of crumbling sidewalks in Detroit, there are 52 new sets of wheelchair ramps. Some provide access to an empty lot where a middle school was razed in 2009. On many corners, sidewalks end after the ramps.

The ramps are being built as part of a decade-long effort to force Detroit into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. But the efforts are facing criticism as the bankrupt city installs ramps in areas with little traffic while well-traveled areas, including some near downtown, still don’t have them.

“You drive down some of these streets, and there are blocks of no houses but pretty new curbs,” said Sherman Hayes, 84, a retired nurse who lives nearby. “Look at all these ramps to nowhere. It makes my blood boil.”

The city has spent $30 million over eight years to install 25,000 ramps, and officials estimate that $60 million more must be spent to build another 50,000, The Detroit News reported. The ramps cost about $10,000 per intersection.

A federal court order requires the city to build ramps on every road it resurfaces as well as at every local intersection of major roads, said Ron Brundidge, director of the city’s department of public works.

“We aren’t disputing the need for sidewalks to be accessible for all, but someone could make an argument that it isn’t the best use for taxpayer dollars when you look at the money spent and compare it to how much it is used,” Brundidge said.

Were those ramps built with union labor, perchance?

This is the sort of story to keep in mind next time government officials claim they don’t have enough money for important things, like protecting the public from Ebola.

And when you think about it, “ramp to nowhere,” is a pretty good metaphor for almost everything Big Government does. ‘High speed’ rail in California? Just another ramp to nowhere. Stimulus? Another ramp to nowhere. Cash for Clunkers?…

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Government makes importing Ebola from Africa easier than cheese from France

One of the most important security functions of government is protecting the public from deadly and dangerous pathogens. For instance, when it comes to microbes in cheese, the government springs into action, banning certain types of foreign cheese, and seizing shipments at the border.

As we’ve reported previously, the government takes such action even when the cheese microbes involved are non-toxic and pose no risk to human health.

The limits for nontoxigenic E. coli were cut from 100 MPN (most probable number) per gram to 10 MPN. These are bacteria that live in every human gut; they are typically harmless and we coexist happily. But the FDA considers them a marker for sanitation: If a cheese shows even modest levels of nontoxigenic E. coli, the facility that produced it must be insufficiently clean.

Dennis D’Amico, an assistant professor at the University of Connecticut whose specialty is dairy microbiology, says this premise is flawed. But that’s little comfort to producers whose cheeses are denied entry…

“There was no health risk in all the years we operated at 100 MPN,” says David Gremmels of Oregon’s Rogue Creamery, which produces several raw-milk blues….

The stepped-up testing creates headaches for companies like Gourmet Imports, a Los Angeles cheese importer and distributor.

“In the past year, we’ve had delays on things you never would have imagined would be held before,” reports general manager Alex Brown. Even Parmigiano-Reggiano, a well-aged, low-moisture cheese unlikely to have microbial issues, was recently held for testing.

“It’s the safest cheese on the planet,” Brown says.

Consider now the government’s policy on imports of a different microbe:  Ebola. The government refuses to place a ban on travel from Ebola-affected countries of West Africa. Instead, the government is content to merely check travelers for fever, perhaps inaccurately, and to ask them if they’ve exposed themselves to the virus.

A low-grade fever, however, can easily be suppressed by aspirin or Tylenol. And of course, checking for fever does nothing to intercept Ebola carriers who have not yet developed symptoms. This, in fact, seems to be the way in which Thomas Eric Duncan was able to bring Ebola into the United States. A CDC spokesman admitted at much.

“I think he [Duncan] got on the plane asymptomatic, without any symptoms whatsoever… the symptoms occurred after he landed or after he arrived in the US so it’s very difficult to prevent that. I mean the viruses don’t respect borders.”

Yes, viruses don’t respect borders. Which is a major reason why the people grant their government power to enforce borders. In this case, however, the government refuses to do the necessary enforcement.

So let’s summarize our government’s border enforcement policies on microbes.

Bringing into the country non-toxic microbes in cheese? Out comes the ban hammer.

Potentially carrying a deadly microbe that causes its victims to bleed from the eyes before enduring an agonizing death? Here’s a questionnaire and a quick check for fever.

Truly government is the stupidest substance in the universe.

Of course, there are always reasons for the government’s stupidity. Cheese is an easier target than Ebola. And the cheese ban perhaps benefits a well-connected interest group (big industrial cheese producers). So the government has its reasons. The reasons just aren’t very good ones from the point of view of public safety.

Obamacare will reduce employment by equivalent of 4 million full-time jobs

That’s the prediction of the University of Chicago’s Casey Mulligan, an expert on the impact of government policies on employment. Mulligan identifies three distinct channels through which Obamacare creates disincentives to work.

First, consider employers who do not currently offer health insurance to full-time employees. Under Obamacare, these employers now face a fine equivalent to $3,000 per uncovered employee. These employers now have an incentive to avoid fines by eliminating some employees or reducing their weekly hours below 30.

Second, consider firms that do currently offer “affordable” coverage to full-time employees. Remarkably, Mulligan shows that in some cases employers and employees can together realize a net gain by reducing hours below 30.

For example, suppose an employee costs his employer $16 per hour, $12 of which takes the form of wages and $4 the cost of health insurance. The employer can drop health coverage and avoid the fine by reducing hours below 30. Using the $4 saved on health benefits, the employer can now pay $16/hr in wages without increasing his per hour cost of labor. The newly part-time worker now qualifies for a subsidy to replace employer coverage with Obamacare coverage. Mulligan shows that, despite working fewer hours, the higher wage means that the employee can actually end up with more disposable income. It’s win-win for the employer and employee, except there’s a net loss for the economy overall because fewer working hours means less wealth is produced. In this case the net cost is borne by whichever third party must pay taxes to support the subsidy.

A third way that Obamacare discourages work is due to the fact that insurance subsidies phase out as income increases. This creates an implicit tax on work, because if you work more and earn more you will lose at least part of your subsidy.

The lost hours of employment largely take the form of a shift from full-time to part-time jobs. Mulligan estimates the total lost hours to be equivalent to 4 million full-time jobs. Obamacare’s “overall impact on employment,” concludes Mulligan, “will arguably be larger than that of any single piece of legislation since World War II.”

Now let’s flash back to February, 2010, shortly before Obamacare became law. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi claimed that Obamacare would “create 4 million jobs,” the diametric opposite of Mulligan’s finding. She actually had the correct number of jobs, but the change was in the wrong direction!

If you want to know the truth, a pretty good rule of thumb is to believe the exact opposite of whatever the political class is telling us.

 

Is the Census Bureau Faking Economic Data?

Wall Street analysts, Federal Reserve policymakers, and academic researchers, seeking to understand what is happening in the economy, rely heavily on the Census Bureau’s monthly surveys on employment and prices. But how accurate are those surveys?

About a year ago, John Crudele of the New York Post reported that some of the surveys were being fabricated. The fraud that Crudele was able to document, however, was limited specifically to a single employee in the Philadelphia regional office. Moreover, the employee had been caught and relieved of his duties. At the time, we saw no reason to believe that the damage incurred was any more than minimal.

But Crudele now reports that a whistleblower has come forward to expose data fabrication by multiple employees in a second regional office, Denver, which is responsible for conducting economic surveys in 12 western states.

And this whistleblower — who asked that I not identify her — said her bosses in Denver ignored her warnings even after she provided details of wrongdoing by three different survey takers.

The three continued to collect data even after she reported them.

When I spoke with this whistleblower earlier this year as part of my investigation of Census, she told me that hundreds of interviews that go into the Labor Department’s unemployment rate and inflation surveys would miraculously be completed just hours before deadline.

The implication was that someone with the ability to fill in the blanks on incomplete surveys was doing just that.

The Denver whistleblower also provided to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform the names of other Census workers who can spill the beans about data fraud in other regions.

Exactly how much this fraud has undermined the accuracy of the Census reports still remains to be seen, but the quotes from the Denver whistleblower are troubling.

“When the question is asked about data quality, my answer would be simple, there is none,” she said.

“I wouldn’t trust any data from the Census Bureau,” she added.

Of course, economists have long known not to trust economic data put out by foreign governments. For instance, GDP figures coming out of Ghana were so poor that they recently had to be revised upwards by over 60%. Governments in Venezuela and in Argentina for political reasons understate the true level of inflation. But in the U.S., economists have never seriously questioned the veracity of economic data.

Perhaps now that will change. Data reliability might be just another of the many ways in which the U.S. is becoming more and more like the rest of the world.

Clear the Bases

Here is a meaningless fun fact via USA Today:

San Francisco Giants starter Madison Bumgarner came to the plate with the bases loaded in the bottom of the second inning in Monday night’s NLDS Game 3 against the Washington Nationals, so the MLB Network broadcast pointed out an eye-opening fact:

Madison Bumgarner hit more grand slams this season than Derek Jeter did in his entire 20-year career.

The right-handed hitting lefty pitcher hit four home runs in 2014, including grand slams on April 11 and July 13. Jeter hit his lone career grand slam on June 18, 2005 against the Chicago Cubs.

Bumgarner is one of the league’s best hitting pitchers, of course, and Jeter was a contact hitter who usually batted near the top of the Yankees’ batting order. Still, plenty of Jeter’s teams had deep lineups, and it’s surprising to learn that only one of his 260 career homers came with the bases loaded — especially given the Jeter mystique.

It is somewhat surprising since there has not been a player with 200+ homers without at least one grand slam.  So I would have placed higher odds on at least a few more of Jeter’s 260 coming with the bases loaded.  Of course, the Bumgarner grand slam ratio is the real outlier.

Government Not Credible on Ebola, Or Anything Else

On the subject of Ebola, Chris Wallace of Fox News on Sunday interviewed Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. In case you didn’t know (and we didn’t), NIAID is a federal agency with a budget of more than $4.5 billion. That’s billion with a ‘b.’

Wallace asked Dr. Fauci a straightforward and pertinent question.

British Airlines have suspended all flights to and from the [Ebola] infected areas of Africa. Should the U.S. do the same? And should we impose a visa ban on anybody coming from these three countries in Africa?

That’s a good question because Ebola is a deadly and communicable disease, and America’s first Ebola patient, who died in a Dallas hospital, didn’t even have a good reason for entering the United States. Thomas Eric Duncan was an unmarried male with no job and no job offer. For economic reasons alone, such persons are usually denied entry visas. Yet the government allowed Mr. Duncan to enter the U.S., bringing Ebola with him, and to put at grave risk everyone with whom he came in contact.

In light of these facts, does Dr. Fauci believe we should restrict travel from West Africa?

“No, in my opinion absolutely not,” Fauci replied.

Because when you start closing off countries like that, there’s a real danger of making things worse. You isolate them. You can cause unrest in the country. It’s conceivable that governments could fall if you isolate them completely. Fauci said suspending flights would make it difficult to get supplies to West Africa. “They need help. They need equipment and they need health care workers to come in,” he said.

But the question was not about isolating these countries completely. The question was merely about suspending flights from infected areas, as Britain and France have already done. Nobody said anything about isolating those areas completely. That’s a straw man. We can suspend commercial passenger flights coming out while still allowing medical teams and shipments of supplies to go in, as Chris Wallace pointed out in his reply.

You could send equipment and medicine and health care workers in without taking thousands of passengers out.

Yet even after Wallace called him out, Dr. Fauci persisted in attacking the very same straw man!

“That’s true,” Fauci conceded. “But experience is, when you close such a country, you create such stress and fear and amplify the problem. So, I think any health care person will agree with me that that’s not a good idea to completely block off the country.”

Maybe “any health care person” would agree with him on that particular straw man, but they don’t all agree with him on suspending passenger flights. For instance, consider the following passage from the Washington Post.

Bodily fluids including vomit spread Ebola, and Duncan — who presented himself to a Dallas hospital only to be misdiagnosed and sent home — vomited on the sidewalk outside of his home. It took days before a properly trained Hazmat crew was sent to the apartment to clean it. The human errors in this single case highlight why it is urgent that we ban all commercial flights from the impacted countries to all non-affected countries until the outbreak is contained. (Emphasis added).

Those are the words of David Dausey, a Yale-trained epidemiologist who works on controlling pandemics, and who is dean of the School of Health Professions and Public Health at Mercyhurst University in Erie, Pennsylvania.

Does he count as a “health care person,” Dr. Fauci?

Furthermore, what’s all this talk about how “governments could fall?” We would have thought that American public health officials would be concerned with the health and safety of Americans, not the stability of African governments. If Americans end up contracting Ebola because government officials don’t do enough to keep infected persons from reaching our shores, those sick Americans won’t find much consolation in the fact that at least no African governments had fallen. And anyway, what does Dr. Fauci know about what causes governments to fall? We thought his field was epidemiology, not political science. We are not epidemiologists, but as social scientists, we find the notion of governments falling due to restrictions on commercial flights to be rather implausible.

Dr. Fauci’s specious arguments were echoed by Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Dr. Frieden argued that

sealing borders, restricting travel to and from countries with widespread cases of Ebola, and otherwise isolating communities infected with the deadly disease “increases people’s distrust of government, making them less likely to co-operate to help stop the spread of Ebola.”

Restricting commerical flights to the U.S., as they have already been restricted to Britain and France, will make people “less likely to co-operate to help stop the spread of Ebola”? Really? So Ebola sufferers will co-operate by dragging themselves to clinics and voluntarily submitting themselves to quarantine–unless they find out that Delta has suspended flights from Liberia, in which case they’ll suddenly refuse to co-operate? Gotcha.

But you know what really does increase “people’s distrust of government?”

When we question high-ranking government officials like Fauci and Frieden about serious issues regarding our safety and well-being, and they respond with lies and obfuscation.

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Uh-oh, SpaghettiOs

In Georgia, a woman ended up spending more than 47 days in jail after a police officer spotted in her car a spoon encrusted with SpaghettiOs.

Ashley Gabrielle Huff, 23, had no criminal history and insisted that “there’s no way in hell” that there could have been any drugs in her possession during a traffic stop in July. Nonetheless, a Gainesville police officer honed in on a spoon that was “on her or near her” in the vehicle in which she was riding as a passenger.

Suspecting that the spoon had drug residue on it, the officer arrested Ms. Huff and charged her with possession of methamphetamines. Even for trace amounts, the charge of possessing “Schedule II substances” [in] Georgia is punishable by 2-15 years in prison.

After her July 2nd arrest, she spend [sic] an unconfirmed number of days in jail before she was released and required to attend a number of obligatory drug appointments. When she was unable to make all the appointments, she was rearrested and made to sit in jail from August 2nd until September 18th.

Ms. Huff insisted that she wasn’t a drug user, but had little means with which to defend herself. She relied on a public defender to represent her in court.

Finally in late September, a crime lab analysis revealed that the “residue” on the spoon was not an illegal drug. It was actually tomato sauce from a can of SpaghettiOs, as the woman had claimed all along.

Notice that she was arrested on July 2, but the well-oiled machine of the state didn’t complete a test of the spoon until past mid-September.

Look, we understand that many Drug Warriors are motivated by good intentions. They want to keep their kids away from the stuff. The problem is that prohibition, whether of drugs or alcohol, always has severe unintended consequences for society.

When SpaghettiOs in your car can get you 47+ days in jail, it’s time to reevaluate your beliefs.

 

FCC Name Ban?

Adriana Cohen makes a spirited argument against the FCC potentially punishing media outlets that use the D.C. Football franchise’s current nickname:

In a direct assault on free speech, the FCC is considering punishing reporters and TV and radio stations from saying the word “Redskins” when referring to the Washington football team.

They are also considering revoking broadcasting licenses of radio and TV stations who say the “offensive” word. This stems from a complaint filed with the Federal Communications Commission from a legal activist saying the word “Redskins” is offensive to Native Americans and therefore should be banned from airwaves.

This is very dangerous territory.

If the FCC puts the ban into effect, say goodbye to the First Amendment. With nearly 320 million Americans in this country — all with different backgrounds and sensitivities — you can find tens of thousands of words that offend somebody.

Will our government be banning them all?

There are, of course, many precedents of franchise name changes in professional sports without any heavy handed government involvement. In D.C., the late Abe Pollin changed the name of his NBA franchise to the “Wizards”.  Although the name change didn’t result in greater on the court success, it did leave us with this classic Jay Leno joke:

“The Washington Bullets are changing their name. They don’t want their team to be associated with crime. From now on, they’ll just be known as the Bullets.”

Liberal Fascism Marches On

“We have now sunk to a depth,” wrote George Orwell, “at which restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men.” Pursuant to that observation, it is perhaps our duty to point out the following seemingly obvious fact.

Saying that people should be jailed for disagreeing with you on matters of public policy is fascist, straight up.

We point this out because recent months have witnessed a disturbing pattern of people saying publicly that those who disagree with the statist agenda of ‘climate change’ should be prosecuted and imprisoned. And we’re not talking about anonymous creeps lurking in dark corners of the internet. We’re talking about wealthy, well-connected, and fairly famous people. Maybe not quite ‘A-list’ celebrities, but people who get considerable media exposure and who would surely qualify as ‘public figures’ under the Supreme Court’s Sullivan jurisprudence.

First up, consider the case of Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

The United States government, Kennedy lamented in an interview with Climate Depot, is not permitted by law to “punish” or to imprison those who disagree with him — and this, he proposed, is a problem of existential proportions. Were he to have his way, Kennedy admitted, he would cheer the prosecution of a host of “treasonous” figures — among them a number of unspecified “politicians”; those bêtes noires of the global Left, Kansas’s own Koch Brothers; “the oil industry and the Republican echo chamber”; and, for good measure, anybody else whose estimation of the threat posed by fossil fuels has provoked them into “selling out the public trust.” Those who contend that global warming “does not exist,” Kennedy claimed, are guilty of “a criminal offense — and they ought to be serving time for it.”

 

 

That’s from a man whose uncle was President of the United States, and whose father was a United States Senator and Attorney General. Disgraceful.

Next up, Terry Gilliam of Monty Python fame. Gilliam actually took things a step further. Liberal_Fascism_(cover)He doesn’t merely want to jail the people he doesn’t like. He wants to have them shot. Specifically, in an interview last month, Gilliam explained that his method of protecting the environment involves shooting the “fungus” who disagree with him.

But it’s what you do while you’re here, and what you should be doing is living hopefully and trying to balance your needs and the needs of the world and the planet, and don’t fuck the place up. So that’s the problem with the idea that it’s all going to go to rat shit eventually so let’s make as much money as possible. Those people will always be a fungus and if I was running the country I would take them out and shoot them frankly, but that’s something else [laughs].

Charming.

They say that three makes a pattern, so let’s now introduce David Suzuki, the famous Canadian biologist and television personality. In an interview last spring, Suzuki told Bill Moyers, another famous TV personality, that politicians who disagree with him about global warming “should be thrown in the slammer.” Astonishingly, Moyers expressed no disagreement with the sentiment, and the only problem he found with the plan was that there wouldn’t be enough prison space! This comes from a man who is a mainstream figure and who, as a young man, worked in the White House for President Lyndon Johnson. Back in the 1970s and 1980s, Moyers was a fixture on public television. But now he’s apparently on board with jailing people for political reasons.

As for Suzuki, in 2004 a CBC poll chose him as the “greatest living Canadian.” And that’s with Gordie Howe still living. Instead of giving Suzuki accolades, a more sane society would shun him.

Public discourse has truly taken a disturbing turn for the worse.