Gammon’s Law and the TSA (Bumped)

In a 1991 article in the Wall Street Journal, Milton Friedman explained Gammon’s Law, which states that large, bureaucratic organizations become black holes that suck in more and more funds, but produce no more.

Some years ago, I came across a study by Max Gammon, a British physician who also researches medical care, comparing input and output in the British socialized hospital system. He took the number of employees as his measure of input and the number of hospital beds as his measure of output. He found that input had increased sharply, while output had actually fallen. He was led to enunciate what he called “the theory of bureaucratic displacement.” In his words, in “a bureaucratic system . . . increase in expenditure will be matched by fall in production. . . . Such systems will act rather like `black holes,’ in the economic universe, simultaneously sucking in resources, and shrinking in terms of `emitted production.'”

Gammon’s study didn’t stop the British government, under Tony Blair, from trying to improve the flagging performance of the healthcare system by pouring money into it. Over a period of about 10 years, the amount of funding was nearly doubled. Yet performance hardly changed. The system is just a black hole, a money pit.

Gammon’s Law has innumerable applications. Consider the Transportation Safety Administration. The folks at TSA didn’t perform very well on their latest tests. In fact, they were able to catch only about 5 percent of contraband items.

Department of Homeland Security said Monday that the acting administrator for the Transportation Security Administration would be reassigned, following a report that airport screeners failed to detect explosives and weapons in nearly every test that an undercover team conducted at dozens of airports. According to a report based on an internal investigation, “red teams” with the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General were able to get banned items through the screening process in 67 out of 70 tests it conducted across the nation.

The failed tests included, for instance, having a tester walk through security with a fake bomb taped to his back. The fake bomb sets off an alarm at the scanning machine, but agents doing the subsequent pat down fail to locate the device. Top notch!

So: a success rate of 5 percent. Good enough for government work?

When the TSA performed poorly on tests back in 2009, the attempted solution was to spend more money. Guess how that worked out.

In addition, the review determined that despite spending $540 million for checked baggage screening equipment and another $11 million for training since a previous review in 2009, the TSA failed to make any noticeable improvements in that time.

$551 million spent, and nothing to show for it, just a black hole, as Gammon’s Law would predict.

Government has no money of its own–that $551 million had to be taken from the taxpayers. If left in their hands, the taxpayers would have put that money to good use. If a new home costs $250,000, then $551 million amounts to 2,204 new homes. Assuming 2.5 persons per household means that the money wasted by TSA would put 5,510 people in new homes, bought and paid for. Instead…nothing.

TSA should be abolished, and responsibility for security placed where it belongs–with the airlines. But abolishing TSA seems a political impossibilty. Think about it; have you heard any prominent member of the Political Class propose abolishing TSA? Democrats love TSA because it provides union jobs and therefore Democrat campaign cash. Republicans love TSA because it shields large corporations–the airlines–from accountability. Only the traveling public dislikes TSA, but that is of little concern to the Political Class.

Finally, consider the video below in which John Stossel documents the inefficiency of TSA. Our favorite bit starts at about 5:10 and concerns Glacier Park International Airport, which serves Montana’s Glacier National Park. The airport’s director explains that TSA assigns her airport the same number of screeners year round, even though traffic triples during the summer tourist season. That’s government. But how would the private sector handle it? Does anybody really believe that the private sector, in response to a tripling of demand, would remain totally unresponsive and inflexible, the way the TSA does?

Compared to today, life in the 19th century was simpler, and change came gradually and infrequently. In those days, the relative inefficiency of government perhaps mattered less. So Bismarck or the Russian Czar could bureaucratize social services without a catastrophic loss of efficiency. The bureaucrats moved slowly, but in the 19th century, so did everything else.

But now we’re in the 21st century, and in this complex and rapidly changing world, it makes no sense to put important tasks such as airline safety, schooling, or health care in the hands of incompetent and sclerotic bureaucracies–behemoths that reason with the cognitive ability of a cow and react with the dexterity of a decrepit elephant.

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Reminder: Government Wiretapped MLK, Tried to Goad Him into Suicide

Today we observe MLK Day, a holiday created by the federal government. It is worth remembering, however, that back in the day, it was the federal government that wiretapped MLK and tried to get him to commit suicide.

FBI director J. Edgar Hoover feared Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. so much he sent the civil rights leader an anonymous letter urging him to commit suicide, it has emerged.


After delivering his ‘I Have A Dream Speech’ at the 1963 March on Washington, the government’s interest in the leader intensified and Hoover allocated significant resources to monitoring King’s movements and eavesdropping on his conversations, according to ‘The Burglary: the Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover’s Secret FBI.’

The FBI was apparently looking for a communist party connection – which is how they got permission from Attorney General Robert Kennedy – however the only information they garnered was about the reverend’s extramarital affairs.

When Hoover learned King would be the recipient of the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize, he stepped up his attack, instructing his agents to send King an anonymous note in which they threatened to divulge details about his affairs if he didn’t take his own life.

The FBI’s fake letter purported to be from an indignant African-American.

‘You are no clergyman and you know it. I repeat you are a colossal fraud and an evil, vicious one at that. You could not believe in God… Clearly you don’t believe in any personal moral principles.’

It then went on: ‘King, there is only one thing left for you to do. You know what it is…. You are done. There is but one way out for you. You better take it before your filthy, abnormal fraudulent self is bared to the nation.’

The agents told him he had just 34 days in which to ‘do it.’

We agree with Nick Gillespie that this incident offers some insight into the general character of government as an institution.

Though it was sent 50 long years ago, the FBI’s so-called suicide letter to Martin Luther King, Jr. is very much of a piece with today’s America, where fear of and anger toward the government casts a shadow over everything from web-surfing to starting a business….

Fifty years ago—again, right around the time that the FBI was about to become the subject of a hagiographic hit TV show and trying to goad Martin Luther King, Jr. into killing himself—Richard Hofstadter was denouncing the “paranoid style in American politics.” He lamented that, “American politics has often been an arena for angry minds.”

But today’s lack of trust and confidence in the government doesn’t seem all that angry. It’s more like we’re resigned to the fact that our rulers think little of us—that is, when they think of us at all. In gaining new knowledge about how people in power almost always behave, we are wiser and sadder and, one hopes, much less likely to put up with bullshit from the left, right, or center.

There’s a real opportunity to the politicians, the parties, and the causes that dare to embrace real transparency —about how legislation is being crafted, about our surveillance programs at home and abroad—as a core value and something other than a throwaway slogan. But as an unbroken thread of mendacity and mischief binds the present to the past, a future in which government can be trusted seems farther off than ever.

That same government that can’t be trusted is the institution in which ‘progressives’ put their faith, and which they want to enhance in power and in scope.

Modern Parenting is Impoverishing the Childhood Experience

In a fascinating article in The Atlantic, Hanna Rosin reveals how much parenting, and therefore also the childhood experience, have changed since we were kids.

It’s hard to absorb how much childhood norms have shifted in just one generation. Actions that would have been considered paranoid in the ’70s—walking third-graders to school, forbidding your kid to play ball in the street, going down the slide with your child in your lap—are now routine. In fact, they are the markers of good, responsible parenting. One very thorough study of “children’s independent mobility,” conducted in urban, suburban, and rural neighborhoods in the U.K., shows that in 1971, 80 percent of third-graders walked to school alone. By 1990, that measure had dropped to 9 percent, and now it’s even lower.

Walking to school by the third grade? We were walking ourselves to school by the first grade. To be sure that we remembered correctly, we checked with mom, who confirmed it.

Another change is that the parents we know seem to spend a lot more time with their kids than our parents spent with us. Rosin confirms that parental contact hours have in fact increased, even though parents work more than they used to. So parents both work more, and spend more time with their kids. That can only imply that the adults have less time to themselves. The life of a parent has gotten tougher, which perhaps explains in part why fewer people these days want to do it.

Rosin’s own experience is typical of modern practice.

My mother didn’t work all that much when I was younger, but she didn’t spend vast amounts of time with me, either. She didn’t arrange my playdates or drive me to swimming lessons or introduce me to cool music she liked. On weekdays after school she just expected me to show up for dinner; on weekends I barely saw her at all. I, on the other hand, might easily spend every waking Saturday hour with one if not all three of my children, taking one to a soccer game, the second to a theater program, the third to a friend’s house, or just hanging out with them at home. When my daughter was about 10, my husband suddenly realized that in her whole life, she had probably not spent more than 10 minutes unsupervised by an adult. Not 10 minutes in 10 years.

Not 10 minutes without adult supervision? That’s just sad.

When you ask today’s parents why they are so much more protective, they reply that today’s world is more dangerous, and in particular, that children today face an increased risk of being abducted. The problem with that view is that it simply does not square with the facts.

David Finkelhor is the director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center and the most reliable authority on sexual-abuse and abduction statistics for children. In his research, Finkelhor singles out a category of crime called the “stereotypical abduction,” by which he means the kind of abduction that’s likely to make the news, during which the victim disappears overnight, or is taken more than 50 miles away, or is killed. Finkelhor says these cases remain exceedingly rare and do not appear to have increased since at least the mid‑’80s, and he guesses the ’70s, although he was not keeping track then. Overall, crimes against children have been declining, in keeping with the general crime drop since the ’90s.

All of this extra time that parents spend with their children is supposedly for the benefit of the children. So children must be doing better than they used to, right? Well, not so much.

[Kyung-Hee] Kim has analyzed results from the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking and found that American children’s scores have declined steadily across the past decade or more. The data show that children have become:

“less emotionally expressive, less energetic, less talkative and verbally expressive, less humorous, less imaginative, less unconventional, less lively and passionate, less perceptive, less apt to connect seemingly irrelevant things, less synthesizing, and less likely to see things from a different angle.”
The largest drop, Kim noted, has been in the measure of “elaboration,” or the ability to take an idea and expand on it in a novel way.

We wonder if this generation, when it reaches adulthood, will be able to match the achievements of previous generations.

Finally, Rosin writes about a research study from the 1970s that filmed children playing unsupervised in ways that today seem unthinkable.

Andrew and Jenny, a brother and sister who are 6 and 4, respectively, explore a patch of woods to find the best ferns to make a bed with. Jenny walks around in her knee-high white socks, her braids swinging, looking for the biggest fronds. Her big brother tries to arrange them just so. The sun is shining through the dense trees and the camera stays on the children for a long time. When they are satisfied with their bed, they lie down next to each other. “Don’t take any of my ferns,” Jenny scolds, and Andrew sticks his tongue out. At this point, I could hear in my head the parent intervening: “Come on, kids, share. There’s plenty to go around.” But no parents are there; the kids have been out of their sight for several hours now. I teared up while watching the film, and it was only a few days later that I understood why. In all my years as a parent, I have never come upon children who are so inwardly focused, so in tune with each other, so utterly absorbed by the world they’ve created, and I think that’s because in all my years as a parent, I’ve mostly met children who take it for granted that they are always being watched. (Emphasis in original.)

Exit question, and a chilling one: Will people who grow up accustomed to constantly being watched feel comfortable with, or complacent about, being watched by a Big Brother surveillance state? Can human freedom survive overprotective modern parenting?

25 Years Ago Today, A Historic Triumph of Liberty

Some of us remember 1989 as more than just the name of Taylor Swift’s solipsistically titled new album. It was the year in which a seeming miracle occurred, something that many people thought they would never see in their lifetimes. The Berlin Wall came down and, in a historic triumph for human liberty, hundreds of millions of people in central and eastern Europe were freed from more than forty years of communist tyranny.

Back in December of 1986, before the Wall came down, we were on a ferry crossing Long Island Sound in the company of our physics professor. The conversation turned to the fate of those hundreds of millions of people trapped behind the Iron Curtain. Our professor assured us that those people living under communism must be quite happy. We’re not sure how exactly our professor came to this conclusion. We doubt that he had much experience visiting the region or interacting with those who lived there. Instead, we suspect that he came to his conclusion merely because in his mind socialism was a good thing, and since eastern Europe was socialist, the people there must be happy.

We recall that, at the time, we were skeptical about our professor’s assertion. Less than three years later, that skepticism was validated as the Wall was finally breached and we watched on the news the people celebrate in jubilation. Under communism, they hadn’t been happy, after all. They had been slaves, and they embraced their liberation with joy and euphoria. Our professor was a highly intelligent man. How could he have been so wrong?


Seventeen years later, while lunching with colleagues, one colleague related a personal story of traveling in Asia during the 1980s. On her travels, she encountered a woman from Hungary who was sightseeing. Since this Hungarian woman was, for whatever reason, free to travel, our colleague concluded from this single incident that people behind the Iron Curtain were not actually held captive. Indeed, we listened with amazement as our colleague speculated that the term “Iron Curtain” itself was probably nothing more than electoral propaganda made up cynically by Ronald Reagan’s political campaign.

The term actually was coined by Winston Churchill, but in any event, a woman who attended that same luncheon later confided to us that she was dismayed by our colleague’s remarks. As a student, she had interned with the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, and she could not believe that anyone would so nonchalantly dismiss the reality of communist oppression.

The Berlin Wall was in fact a real barrier. Over the years, 138 people were killed trying to cross it to escape to freedom. How could our colleague have been so wrong?

Is seems there are two types of people in the world; those who acknowledge communist tyranny and those who…just don’t get it. Or don’t want to get it.

Professor Glenn Reynolds, who has a talent for pithy and punchy phrasing, summed it up well on his own blog today.

Communism was — and is, still — sold as something moral. But it’s a system of slavery, benefiting a few at the top at the expense of the many beneath. It was enforced by death and cruelty, because without death and cruelty it couldn’t work even for a little while. The people who say nice things about communism today either know this and are lying, or are profoundly stupid. Either way, you need neither listen to them, nor afford them even the smallest degree of respect.

Is this something?

Sharyl Attkisson, a former investigative reporter for CBS News, has a book coming out next week that makes some particularly troubling allegations. Attkisson claims that in 2012, when she was investigating various Obama scandals including Benghazi, somebody hacked into her computer, and the hacking can be traced back to a government ISP. Attkisson quotes an anonymous expert who examined her computer as saying that the spying was “worse than anything Nixon ever did.” Erik Wemple got hold of an advance copy of Attkisson’s book, and excerpts many of the key details on his blog at the Washington Post.

The breaches on Attkisson’s computer, says this source, are coming from a “sophisticated entity that used commercial, nonattributable spyware that’s proprietary to a government agency: either the CIA, FBI, the Defense Intelligence Agency, or the National Security Agency (NSA).” Attkisson learns from “Number One” that one intrusion was launched from the WiFi at a Ritz Carlton Hotel and the “intruders discovered my Skype account handle, stole the password, activated the audio, and made heavy use of it, presumably as a listening tool.”

As a result of this evidence, CBS reportedly hires its own expert to examine her computer. This expert finds “a massive amount of suspicious activity in the computer, including the removal of all kinds of log messages.”

Now fast forward to September, 2013.

As White House officials pressure CBS News executives over Attkisson’s Benghazi reporting, something goes haywire with her computer. “That very night, with [White House spokesman Eric] Schultz, [White House Press Secretary Jay] Carney and company freshly steaming over my Benghazi reporting, I’m home doing final research and crafting questions for the next day’s interview with [Thomas] Pickering. Suddenly data in my computer file begins wiping at hyperspeed before my very eyes. Deleted line by line in a split second: it’s gone, gone, gone.” Attkisson grabbed her iPhone to record the madness.

Don Allison, a security specialist at Kore Logic, takes a close look at Attkisson’s iMac. The results turn up scandalous, as Attkisson writes: “While a great deal of data has been expertly wiped in an attempt to cover-up the deed, Don is able to find remnants of what was once there. There’s key evidence of a government computer connection to my computer. A sort of backdoor link that leads to an ISP address for a government computer that can’t be accessed by the general public on the Web. It’s an undeniable link to the U.S. government.”

The expert explains to Attkisson: “This ISP address is better evidence of the government being in your computer than the government had when it accused China of hacking into computers in the U.S.”

If true, the story is pretty remarkable, but the most chilling part is this.

To round out the revelations of “Number One,” he informs Attkisson that he’d found three classified documents deep inside her operating system, such that she’d never know they were even there. “Why? To frame me?” Attkisson asks in the book.

Planting evidence? Yikes. Very scary.

The oddities are not limited to Attkisson’s computer. There’s also a mysterious cable attached to the outside of her house.

Phone, TV and computer service chez Attkisson all run on Verizon’s FiOS service. “Jeff” asks to inspect the exterior of the house in a check for anything suspicious. He finds a “stray cable dangling from the FiOS box attached to the brick wall on the outside of my house. It doesn’t belong.” “Jeff” says the cable in question is an “extra” fiber-optic line that could be used to download data and then send it off to another spot.

Attkisson takes a picture of the cable. Then she calls Verizon, which tells her that it’s not something they would have installed; they refer her to law enforcement. Attkisson doesn’t feel its [sic] a matter for the cops, and in any case Verizon calls back to say that they want to have a look for themselves as soon as possible — on New Year’s Day, no less. “Yeah, that shouldn’t be there,” the Verizon technician tells Attkisson.

The technician removes the cable and prepares to take it with him. Attkisson stops him and instructs him to leave it; he “seems hesitant but puts down the cable on top of the air-conditioning fan next to us.”

Days later, on her commute to work, Attkisson remembers that cable on top of the fan and calls her husband to go out and collect it. “It’s gone,” reports the husband.

Now maybe there’s no sinister government activity here and Attkisson is merely embellishing the story in order to sell books. But on the other hand there are numerous witnesses to events–at least three independent computer security experts, the Verizon technician, and others. A thorough investigation should be able to refute or verify Attkisson’s allegations. And those allegations are serious enough to warrant an investigation by Congress and high-profile coverage from the major media. As a country, we need to get to the bottom of this.

The United States fought and won a protracted Cold War struggle against Soviet tyranny so that people would not be subjected to arbitrary surveillance by the state. Let’s hope we have not won the war only to lose the peace.

Here is Attkisson’s iPhone video of her laptop being hacked in real time.


Ballpark Security

This is sad.  Over time, this will be seen as normal and our children and grandchildren will laugh at our tall tales about being able to go to a baseball game without any security checks:

NEW YORK (AP) — Entering a big league ballpark will be a bit like going through an airport by 2015. Major League Baseball has told its 30 teams they must implement security screening for fans by then, either with hand-held metal detection or walk-through magnetometers. “This procedure, which results from MLB’s continuing work with the Department of Homeland Security to standardize security practices across the game, will be in addition to bag checks that are now uniform throughout MLB,” baseball spokesman Michael Teevan said Tuesday.

Not Spying on the Cheap

John Hopkins University’s Steve (homer) Hanke hits one out of the park:

For months, the American public has received a steady streamof new information detailing the massive scale and scope of the United States’ spying activities. Of course, maintaining a surveillance state powerful enough to reach into the inboxes of world leaders, friend and foe, is not cheap. Indeed, as the Washington Post revealed when it released portions of the so-called Black Budget, this year’s price tag on America’s spook infrastructure comes out to a whopping $52.6 billion.

This is, of course, a tremendous sum — more than double the size of the Department of Agriculture, more than triple the size of NASA; the list goes on… But, what really puts this number into perspective is its average cost to each American taxpayer, or what I would call the NSA and associated agencies’ “rent.”

Yes, the NSA’s rent, charged to every taxpayer living under its web of surveillance, comes out to an exorbitant $574 per year. If this is the price the federal government is charging American taxpayers to have their own privacy invaded, then I say the NSA’s rent is too damn high.


Digital Spy

Maybe one day soon every mile we drive will be relayed back to government tax collectors. Hey, it’s not like we pay copious gasoline taxes already or anything. No, the little digital spy in your car will determine how much you owe above and beyond your Income taxes, payroll taxes, sales taxes, highway tolls, phone taxes, and a load of other taxes that don’t immediately come to mind.  Here is the full story from the L.A. Times.

Like we said, government always fails

At the Wall Street Journal, Daniel Henninger has a good run down on the spate of recent government screw ups and various offenses against all that is decent and civilized. Can’t say that any of this surprises us, but we do appreciate Henninger’s really good writing.

If the ObamaCare meltdown were a one-off, the system could dismiss it as a legislative misfire and move on, as always. But ObamaCare’s problems are not unique. Important parts of the federal government are breaking down almost simultaneously.

The National Security Agency has conservative philosophers upset that its surveillance program is ushering in Big Brother. What’s more concretely frightening is that a dweeb like Edward Snowden could download the content of the NSA’s computers onto a thumb drive and walk out of the world’s “most secretive” agency. Here’s the short answer: The NSA has 40,000 employees. (Some say it’s as high as 55,000, but it’s a secret.)

Echoing that, when the IRS’s audits of conservative groups emerged, the agency managers’ defense was that the IRS is too big for anyone to know what its agents are doing. Thus both the NSA and IRS are too big to avoid endangering the public.

It is hard to imagine a more apolitical federal function than the nation’s weather satellites. The ones we have—to predict hurricanes and such—are about to wear out and need to be replaced. Can’t do it. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NASA and the Pentagon have been trying to replace the old weather satellites, since 1994. The Government Accountability Office says “we are looking at potentially a 17-month gap” in this crucial weather data. NOAA has good scientists whose bad luck is they work for a collapsing constellation of bureaucracies…

Even some conservatives have given up and boarded the death star. The Senate immigration bill throws $46 billion at the Department of Homeland Security to implement a “border surge” strategy that has no chance of achieving its goals. Securing the border is the conservatives’ Solyndra.

To call the U.S. federal government a black hole is a disservice to black holes, which have a neutral majesty. Excepting the military’s fighting units, the federal government has become a giant slug, like Jabba the Hutt, inert but dangerous. Like Jabba, the government increasingly survives by issuing authoritarian decrees from this or that agency. Barack Obama, essentially a publicist for Jabba’s world of federal fat, euphemized this mess Monday as the American people’s “democracy”…

Those indispensable but dying weather satellites are a metaphor for the U.S. now. Whether ObamaCare or the border fence, Washington is winding down into a black hole of its own making.

We didn’t even know about the weather satellites. Maybe the fact that the weather satellites are relatively “apolitical” is the very reason why the government does not act–not enough opportunities for graft and wealth transfers. Oh well, another day, another new failure of Big Government.

And we certainly agree that any conservatives who believe the government will ever secure the border and implement a fair and rational system of immigration are as foolish as those liberals who believe the government can run the health care system.