Congress Bankrupts Puerto Rico

The media’s focus in recent days on the bankruptcy of Greece has overshadowed the unfolding bankruptcy of another polity–Puerto Rico. We thought that, much like Greece, Puerto Rico’s bankruptcy was due to socialism causing the state to eventually run out of other peoples’ money. That phenomenon does account for a big part of the story, but not the whole story. A recent report put out by top-notch economists–Anne Krueger, Ranjit Teja and Andrew Wolfe–highlights the role of two acts of Congress in crippling Puerto Rico’s economy.

Puerto Rico is an island. As on any island, stuff is just more expensive there. Yet because of an obscure law known as the Jones Act, which bans foreign vessels from shipping goods between U.S. ports, businesses in Puerto Rico have to use the U.S. merchant marine to import anything. They can’t just hire whatever boats and crew are available, which makes shipping even more expensive. The cost of transportation in Puerto Rico is twice that in the neighboring Caribbean nations.

The second law is a much more famous one, in fact one that many people feel they have to support in order to be considered a Good Person.

Another problem is that just 40 percent of the population has a job—or is even looking for one. That figure has plummeted in recent years. In the United States as a whole, it is 62.9 percent.

Why are so few people working or looking for work?

The report cites one surprising problem: the federal minimum wage, which is at the same level in Puerto Rico as in the rest of the country, even though the economy there is so much weaker. There are probably some people who would like to work, but because of the sickly economy, businesses can’t afford to pay them the minimum wage.

Someone working full time for the minimum wage earns $15,080 a year, which isn’t that much less than the median income in Puerto Rico of $19,624.

Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but Puerto Rico’s economy started declining in 2007, right after the Democrats won control of Congress and jacked up the minimum wage.

The minimum wage–what can’t it do? Oh yeah, increase employment.

When we lived in DC, we met numerous bureaucrats who had convinced themselves that the federal government was the only thing standing between America and total chaos. They really believed that, if not for those noble bureaucrats setting off for their offices every morning, America would devolve into a four-season Somalia.

In truth, the federal government more closely resembles Milton’s Chaos Umpire, creating the crisis, then making sure not to let it go to waste.

Chaos Umpire sits,
And by decision more imbroiles the fray
By which he Reigns

The federal government creates the crisis, then tells the people suffering through it, “See, you need us.”

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On Independence Day, A Word from Calvin Coolidge

To celebrate the true meaning of Independence Day, we could hardly do better than to recall the words of President Calvin Coolidge. On July 4, 1926, Coolidge made a speech in Philadelphia to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. Coolidge explained clearly the significance of the Declaration.

It was not because it was proposed to establish a new nation, but because it was proposed to establish a nation on new principles, that July 4, 1776, has come to be regarded as one of the greatest days in history. Great ideas do not burst upon the world unannounced. They are reached by a gradual development over a length of time usually proportionate to their importance. This is especially true of the principles laid down in the Declaration of Independence. Three very definite propositions were set out in its preamble regarding the nature of mankind and therefore of government. These were the doctrine that all men are created equal, that they are endowed with certain inalienable rights, and that therefore the source of the just powers of government must be derived from the consent of the governed.

Coolidge correctly pointed out that any departure from the political ideals set forth in the Declaration–equality, rights, and consent–is inevitably retrograde. The Declaration therefore represents the final stage in the evolution of thought regarding political principles.

About the Declaration there is a finality that is exceedingly restful. It is often asserted that the world has made a great deal of progress since 1776, that we have had new thoughts and new experiences which have given us a great advance over the people of that day, and that we may therefore very well discard their conclusions for something more modern. But that reasoning can not be applied to this great charter. If all men are created equal, that is final. If they are endowed with inalienable rights, that is final. If governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, that is final. No advance, no progress can be made beyond these propositions. If anyone wishes to deny their truth or their soundness, the only direction in which he can proceed historically is not forward, but backward toward the time when there was no equality, no rights of the individual, no rule of the people. Those who wish to proceed in that direction can not lay claim to progress. They are reactionary. Their ideas are not more modern, but more ancient, than those of the Revolutionary fathers.

Coolidge, being a scholar of history, included in his statement a remarkably erudite account of the historical origins of the ideas of the Declaration.

Rev. Thomas Hooker, of Connecticut, as early as 1638,… said in a sermon before the General Court that—

“The foundation of authority is laid in the free consent of the people.”

“The choice of public magistrates belongs unto the people by God’s own allowance.”

This doctrine found wide acceptance among the nonconformist clergy who later made up the Congregational Church. The great apostle of this movement was the Rev. John Wise, of Massachusetts. He was one of the leaders of the revolt against the royal governor Andros in 1687, for which he suffered imprisonment. He was a liberal in ecclesiastical controversies. He appears to have been familiar with the writings of the political scientist, Samuel Pufendorf, who was born in Saxony in 1632. Wise published a treatise, entitled “The Church’s Quarrel Espoused,” in 1710, which was amplified in another publication in 1717. In it he dealt with the principles of civil government. His works were reprinted in 1772 and have been declared to have been nothing less than a textbook of liberty for our Revolutionary fathers.

[…]

It can scarcely be imagined that Jefferson was unacquainted with what had been done in his own Commonwealth of Virginia when he took up the task of drafting the Declaration of Independence. But these thoughts can very largely be traced back to what John Wise was writing in 1710. He said, “Every man must be acknowledged equal to every man.” Again, “The end of all good government is to cultivate humanity and promote the happiness of all and the good of every man in all his rights, his life, liberty, estate, honor, and so forth. …” And again, “For as they have a power every man in his natural state, so upon combination they can and do bequeath this power to others and settle it according as their united discretion shall determine.” And still again, “Democracy is Christ’s government in church and state.” Here was the doctrine of equality, popular sovereignty, and the substance of the theory of inalienable rights clearly asserted by Wise at the opening of the eighteenth century, just as we have the principle of the consent of the governed stated by Hooker as early as 1638.

We have to confess that we had never heard of Samuel Pufendorf, and couldn’t have told you much about Rev. John Wise. Such was the erudition of President Coolidge.

For purpose of comparison, here is the statement posted today on the White House blog.

In this week’s address, the President wished everyone a happy Fourth of July. He honored the individuals who, throughout the history of America, have struggled and sacrificed to make this country a better place, from our Founding Fathers, to the men and women in uniform serving at home and overseas. The President asked that on this most American of holidays we remember the words of our founders, when they declared our independence and that all are created equal, and that we continue to protect that creed and make sure it applies to every single American. And finally, he wished good luck to the U.S. Women’s National Team competing in the World Cup Final this weekend.

No mention of rights or consent, just ‘equality’, a slippery word that leftists misconstrue to mean ‘equality of outcome’ rather than its true meaning, ‘equality before the law.’

And frankly, the shout out for women’s soccer which most Americans, including us, don’t give a fig about, seems beneath the gravity of the occasion.

The decline of America shows up in a lot of different ways. President Coolidge’s statement comes across like an informative lecture from a good college history professor. President Obama’s more closely resembles the banal platitudes of a 4th grade classroom.

If President Obama knows about Samuel Pufendorf and the Rev. John Wise, he’s not letting on.

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The End of Jobs: Anesthesiologist Edition

Some people think that the coming revolution in robots threatens only the jobs of people who are unskilled. Not so. Researchers have already developed robots that come pretty close to doing the same job done by anesthesiologists. In fact, the robot promises to be better and safer than the anesthesiologist, because the robot is not subject to human error.

This new device, [iControl-RP] being tested by University of British Columbia researchers, monitors a patient’s brain wave activity along with traditional health markers, such as blood oxygen levels, to determine how much anesthesia to deliver.

“We are convinced the machine can do better than human anesthesiologists,” said Mark Ansermino, one of the machine’s co-developers, who works as director of pediatric anesthesia research at the university’s medical school in Vancouver.

The iControl-RP has been used to induce deep sedation in adults and children undergoing general surgery. Researchers say the device has been used on 250 patients so far. These patients were totally knocked out. Some had liver resections and major spinal operations.

Below is a video report about a different device already being used in limited circumstances (basically just colonoscopies).

Anesthesiologists spend more years in school than almost anyone, and earn an average of $270,000 per year.

Cutting out highly-paid anesthesiologists sounds like a good way to reduce health care costs.

Bye-bye, anesthesiologists?

Climate Science: Not Quite Settled

Climate alarmists tend to make predictions about what will happen in the very long term–50 or 100 years from now. As a result, those predictions cannot be tested to see if the alarmists are right or wrong. We are told that we just have to take the alarmists at their word because ‘the science is settled.’

But every once in a while, climate alarmists leave themselves vulnerable to accountability by making predictions for the nearer term. In such a case, we have the opportunity to see if the alarmists know what they are talking about by just waiting a little while to see what happens.

Back in 2011, one of the leading newspapers in the UK made an alarming prediction about what would happen by 2015.

Arctic sea ice ‘to melt by 2015′

Prof Peter Wadhams, of Cambridge University, said the ice that forms over the Arctic sea is shrinking so rapidly that it could vanish altogether in as little as four years’ time.

Although it would reappear again every winter, its absence during the peak of summer would rob polar bears of their summer hunting ground and threaten them with extinction.

[…]

Most models, including the latest estimates by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), track the decline in the area covered by ice in recent years to predict the rate at which it will deteriorate.

But citing research compiled by Dr Wieslaw Maslowski, a researcher from the American Naval Postgraduate School, last year Prof Wadhams said such predictions failed to spot how quickly climate change is causing the ice to thin.

[…]

Dr Maslowski’s model, along with his claim that the Arctic sea ice is in a “death spiral”, were controversial but Prof Wadhams, a leading authority on the polar regions, said the calculations had him “pretty much persuaded.”

Prof Wadhams said: “His [model] is the most extreme but he is also the best modeller around.

“It is really showing the fall-off in ice volume is so fast that it is going to bring us to zero very quickly. 2015 is a very serious prediction and I think I am pretty much persuaded that that’s when it will happen.”

Well, here we are in summer 2015 and there’s still plenty of arctic sea ice. Polar bears at the moment are not extinct, and not even officially endangered. As shown in the graph below, arctic sea ice is currently a wee bit higher than it was at the same point in 2011. Sea ice for the last three years has been consistently greater than in 2011 and 2012, and not significantly far off the average of 1979-2000.

sea_iceGiven that these ‘scientists’ have shown no ability to make accurate predictions over just a few years, what reason have we to believe their predictions for 50 or 100 years from now?

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What passes for ‘justice’ on college campuses: kangaroo courts

“The Saxon,” wrote Kipling, “never means anything serious till he talks about justice and right.”

Notice that Kipling, unlike campus leftists, did not qualify ‘justice’ by prefacing it with ‘social.’ That’s because Kipling was referring to a concept of justice commonly understood by people for countless generations. What leftists refer to by ‘social justice’ is a very different concept, in many respects the antithesis of actual justice.

Campus leftists believe they know how to run things, and they’d like to have the power to implement their ideas of social justice. But as they’re bringing about social justice, what happens to Kipling’s justice? To get a glimpse of what leftists would do to justice, take a look at what happens when leftists do get to run things. Consider in particular the college campus, where leftists reign supreme. On campus, the left is currently dealing with accusations of sexual assault by adjudicating them in kangaroo courts that deny the accused party the right to due process.

  • No right to an attorney
  • No cross-examination
  • No right to face your accuser
  • No right to be judged by peers
  • No discovery process
  • No ‘reasonable doubt’ standard of guilt

Establishing and preserving these rights as part of Anglo-American legal tradition required a struggle of a thousand years, in which blood was often spilled. Kipling’s poem is set in the year 1100, and this month we celebrate the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta. But today’s leftists are people who apparently think nothing of tossing aside longstanding and fundamental rights, effectively rolling back the clock on the justice system for a thousand years. That is who the left is. That is why they need to be kept away from power.

Admittedly, the campus courts are not adjudicating criminal guilt; they can’t send anyone to prison. But the penalties are nonetheless severe. Men found guilty of assault are expelled from school and can be labeled a sexual offender. The expulsion is noted on the academic transcript, which makes it difficult or impossible for the man to finish his degree by transferring to a different school. A young man’s whole future lies in the balance. With so much at stake, simple justice requires due process.

But what, then, shall be done about rape on campus?

Rape is a crime. If it happens, don’t call a leftist. Call the police.

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Reminder: The Left Hates Freedom

In case one needed any more evidence that leftists hate freedom, consider the latest proposal put forward by a prominent liberal journalist. Ron Fournier wants to bring back conscription, a form of modern slavery.

I know a better way to fight ISIS. It starts with an idea that should appeal the better angels of both hawks and doves: National service for all 18- to 28-year-olds.

Require virtually every young American—the civic-minded millennial generation—to complete a year of service through programs such as Teach for America, AmeriCorps, the Peace Corps, or the U.S. military, and two things will happen:

1. Virtually every American family will become intimately invested in the nation’s biggest challenges, including poverty, education, income inequality, and America’s place in a world afire.

2. Military recruiting will rise to meet threats posed by ISIS and other terrorist networks, giving more people skin in a very dangerous game.

Hear that millenials? You may have plans for your life–school, work, family, travel, whatever–but you’ll have to give up those plans to work on whatever Ron Fournier and the rest of the Political Class think is important. That’s a year of your life that you’ll never get back.

These proposals to bring back conscription spring up from time to time, and when they do, it always seems to be a liberal Democrat making the proposal. Liberals recently proposing conscription include Rep. Charlie Rangel and television buffoon Jon Stewart. For modern liberals to advocate bringing back the draft might seem surprising until one recalls that–say it with us–Liberals. Hate. Freedom.

Millenials, most of whom attended public schools and vote liberal Democrat, probably aren’t typically aware of the history of the draft. Just for the record, the last war in which draftees served was the Vietnam War. The Vietnam War was started by and expanded by Democrats. As American draftees were fighting and dying in Vietnam, the intellectual case against the draft was put forward by libertarian economist Milton Friedman and by the libertarian and also blind economist Walter Oi. Friedman and Oi traveled around the country speaking out against the draft. Finally, the draft was abolished in 1973 by Republican president Richard Nixon. In 1980, liberal Democrat president Jimmy Carter brought back mandatory draft registration.

Liberals often accompany their calls for a draft with an interesting argument. They maintain that a draft would reduce the likelihood of war. The argument is summarized by Mark “Windypundit” Draughn.

[T]he reason we live in a time of seemingly continuous war is that not enough Americans care enough to oppose it, and they don’t oppose it because they know that it would mostly be fought by other people’s children. Bringing back the draft would mean no one was safe from the consequences of war, which would make us think more carefully as a nation before going to war.

Draughn shows, however, that the numbers contradict the idea that a volunteer military leads to more war.

The gigantic death toll of World War II would skew the numbers in a way that’s hard to think about, so for the sake of argument let’s set aside those 400,000 dead soldiers and consider the period from the end of World War II to the end of conscription in 1973. In that 29-year period, we had the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and a number of small deployments that lead to the combat deaths of almost 95,000 American soldiers, for an average of a little over 3200 deaths per year.

After conscription ended in 1973, no American solders died in war for the next 6 years. Things got only a little more violent over the next two decades, with about 400 more combat deaths in the ’80’s (mostly Beirut) and the ’90’s (mostly the first Gulf War). Even with the explosion of violence from the War on Terror (6700 U.S. soldiers dead and still counting) the average annual combat death rate for the post-conscription era is only about 200 per year, or 1/16th the rate during conscription.

A crucial flaw in the liberal argument is that it would be difficult or impossible to apply the draft equally to the Political Class and to everyone else. The rich and politically connected would find ways to shelter their own children from the draft, while the children of the powerless would have to fight and die.

Finally, we find it hard to imagine that anyone could make an effective fighting force out of flabby, helicopter-parented, millenial Pajama Boys. They’d be on social media bitching about how the drill sergeant said something mean to them.

pajama_boy

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Then They Came for the Nutella

This story should be of particular interest to Tony, since he’s a big fan of Nutella, the chocolate hazelnut spread that originated in Italy. In fact, last time we taught in Rome with Tony, one of the first products he picked up at the local supermercato was a jarnutella-jar of Nutella.

Tony, however, might want to start increasing his stash, because leftists are now gunning for Nutella since it contains palm oil.

[Socialist] French Environment Minister Ségolène Royal has urged the public to stop eating the well known chocolate hazelnut spread, saying that it contributes to deforestation and damages the environment.

“We have to replant a lot of trees because there is massive deforestation that also leads to global warming. We should stop eating Nutella, for example, because it’s made with palm oil,” Royal said in an interview late 15 July on the French television Canal+.

“Oil palms have replaced trees, and therefore caused considerable damage to the environment,” reported Agence France Presse (AFP)

So socialists are people who believe that the global climate is substantially altered by Nutella. Spreading Nutella over toast seems innocent enough, but enlightened leftists have obtained a deeper level of insight. They know that the goddess gaia will punish that sweet indulgence by causing the seas to rise, islands to sink, crops to wither, and deserts to expand. Because Nutella.

And these socialists mock Christians for believing nonsense.

Oh, and how much of global production of palm oil goes to producing Nutella? 0.3 percent.

“Ferrero sources approximately 170,000 metric tons of palm oil, out of a worldwide production of 60 million metric tons, meaning that Ferrero’s impact on the palm oil supply chain represents less than 0.3 percent,” the company said.

Doesn’t sound like Ségolène Royal’s boycott of Nutella could possibly accomplish much. But hey, there’s always the power to tax.

Not the first time France tries to curb palm oil use
In 2011, the Senate Committee on Social Affairs tried to push through a 300% tax on palm oil, claiming that it was dangerously fattening and its cultivation was bad for the environment. The measure was defeated, says AFP.

On the very same day this Nutella story was published, the U.S. government announced a new ban on partially-hydrogenated oils.

Artificial trans fat will be removed from the U.S. food supply over the next three years under a ruling by regulators that the products pose health risks that contribute to heart disease.

There’s no longer a scientific consensus that partially hydrogenated oils, the main source of trans fat, are generally recognized as safe, according to a final decision released Tuesday by the Food and Drug Administration. The oils are used for frying and in baked goods as well as in confections.

[…]

The move “demonstrates the agency’s commitment to the heart health of all Americans,” FDA Acting Commissioner Stephen Ostroff said in a statement. “This action is expected to reduce coronary heart disease and prevent thousands of fatal heart attacks every year.”

So once partially-hydrogenated oils are removed from the food supply, what will replace them? You guessed it:  palm oil.

Better Alternative
While Jacobson said palm oil as an alternative isn’t ideal because it contains saturated fat, it’s still better than trans fat.

“Trans fat raises the bad cholesterol and lowers the good cholesterol a little bit,” he said.“Saturated fat only raises the bad cholesterol.”

About 70 percent of palm oil is produced in Malaysia and some also comes from Indonesia and South America, Tiger Tangavelu, technical director at Global Agri-Trade Corp., said in an e-mail. The U.S. market size for palm oil is 2.6 billion pounds (1.2 billion kilograms) annually, he said. He expects that to increase by half a billion pounds a year once trans fats are eliminated.

By our calculation, that extra half a billion pounds exceeds the entire palm oil content of global Nutella consumption by about one-third. Did the FDA take into account the potential impact of their policy on the climate? Does Ségolène Royal know about this?

But seriously, Royal has zilch scientific evidence that Nutella has anything more than an infinitesimal impact on the earth’s climate.

Likewise, the FDA has no convincing scientific evidence that the ban on hydrogenated oils will “prevent thousands of fatal heart attacks every year.” In fact, the evidence suggest that, even in the absence of a ban, consumption of such oils had already fallen to safe levels.

Once consumers heard about the risks associated with trans fats, they began avoiding them, and businesses consequently stopped using them as much. Between 1980 and 2009, Americans’ consumption of trans fats dropped around a third (as did our intake of saturated fats.) The FDA claims that “trans fat intake among American consumers has declined from 4.6 grams per day in 2003 to about 1 gram per day in 2012.”
As Baylen Linnekin points out, The American Heart Association has suggested that Americans consume “less than 2 grams of trans fats a day.” So, he argues, “if the FDA and AHA are correct, then current consumption levels—prior to and without any ban—are well within safe levels.”

All the rhetoric about saving lives and the planet is just posturing and political theatre intended to obscure a more cynical agenda of power and follow-the-money crony capitalism. (Monsanto corporation reportedly stands ready to cash in by selling a substitute oil made from soybeans.)

The company that produces Nutella claims that each jar contains 50 hazelnuts. But even nuttier than a jar of Nutella is anybody who takes seriously the assertions of politicians and bureaucrats.

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How Taxes Changed Boxing

Came across this older piece for the Atlantic that both presents Joe Louis’s sad battle with the IRS and suggests a possibly interesting research topic:

It is April 15, Tax Day, and so a sports fan’s fancy turns to thoughts of…boxing?

It’s now on the periphery of sporting awareness or interest, but there was once a time—and a very long time it was—when there was no bigger event in sports than a heavyweight title fight. And no bigger pay day. That’s where taxes come in.

For a very long time, boxing was the only really big-money sport for athletes. Not for nothing did Marlon Brando’s Terry Malloy regret taking the dive that cost him “the title shot outdoors in the ballpark” in On the Waterfront. At a time when Babe Ruth was being razzed for his $80,000 salary (more than the President of the United States, it was pointed out, to which Babe supposedly replied in 1930, “Well, I had a better year than he [President Hoover] did”), heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey made about nine times as much—over $700,000, for his unsuccessful title defense against Gene Tunney in 1926. And Tunney made $990,000 when he defended the title (and survived the infamous “long count”) against Dempsey the next year. Between the two of them, they earned more than the entire 1929 payroll of baseball’s American League in their two championship fights.

[—]

The 1950s was the era of the 90 percent top marginal tax rate, and by the end of that decade live gate receipts for top championship fights were supplemented by the proceeds from closed circuit telecasts to movie theaters. A second fight in one tax year would yield very little additional income, hardly worth the risk of losing the title. And so, the three fights between Floyd Patterson and Ingemar Johansson stretched over three years (1959-1961); the two between Patterson and Sonny Liston over two years (1962-1963), as was also true for the two bouts between Liston and Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali) (1964-1965). Then, the Tax Reform Act of 1964 cut the top marginal tax rate to 70 percent effective in 1965. The result: two heavyweight title fights in 1965, and five in 1966. You can look it up.

So, do the number of heavyweight boxing matches per year move inversely with the top marginal tax rate? I found some data here that students needing an econometrics, forecasting, or applied statistics paper topic may find useful.

Civil Forfeiture at Airports Too

We’ve heard about civil forfeiture at the roadside and on trains, but of course the Feds have not forgotten planes as well. Basically, it is now illegal in America to travel at all with large amounts of cash. That’s in addition to the apparent crime of making multiple cash withdrawls of less than $10,000 from a bank account.

The following story hits hits home for us because it involves an airport that we frequent.

Carrying large amounts of cash is not a crime, yet thousands of Americans who do so are being treated like criminals. Law enforcement officials are using civil forfeiture to seize the cash of domestic travelers at airports, like 24-year-old Charles Clarke. Charles had $11,000 seized at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky airport in 2014.

In February 2014, law enforcement officials took Charles’ entire life savings right before he was scheduled to board a flight, and they have kept his money for over a year.

[…]

Charles saved his money for the past five years from financial aid, various jobs, educational benefits based on his mother’s status as a disabled veteran and gifts from family. Charles was visiting relatives in Cincinnati while he and his mother were moving to a new apartment back in Florida. He did not want to lose the $11,000, so he took it with him. On his way home, law enforcement officials at the airport seized Charles’ money because they claimed his checked bag smelled like marijuana. Although Charles was a recreational smoker at the time, the officers did not find any drugs or anything illegal on his person or in his carry-on or checked bag. The government should have to prove that Charles committed a crime if it wants to keep his money.

“Carrying cash is not a crime,” explained IJ Attorney Darpana Sheth. “No one should lose their life savings when no drugs or evidence of any crime are found on them or their belongings.”

Since the late 1990s, the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky airport police took part in a couple dozen seizures per year—but by 2013 that figure skyrocketed to almost 100 seizures, totaling more than $2 million.

Almost 100 seizures at just one airport, and an airport that is not even particularly large. That’s an average of two seizures a week. Amazing. We’ll never view Cincinnati airport the same way again.

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