Goodbye, Blue Monday

Goodbye, Blue Monday!

Thanks to Pirate’s Cove for the blog of the day pingback, and to them and The Other McCain for the Rule Five links!

Here’s an interesting proposal from Utah Senator Mike Lee:  The Article One Project.  Excerpt:

The premise of the Article I Project is simple: the federal government is broken, and congressional weakness is to blame.

The authors of the Constitution made Congress the most powerful of the federal government’s three co-equal branches. Congress was designed both as the most powerful and the most accountable to the people.

But over the course of the twentieth century, and accelerating in the twenty-first, Congress has handed many of its constitutional responsibilities to the Executive Branch.

Increasingly harmful federal laws are written by people who never stand for election, via processes contrary to those provided for in the Constitution, and, indeed, with the explicit purpose of excluding the American people from the decision making process and shielding policymakers from popular accountability.

But there’s good news: what a weak Congress has broken a strong Congress can fix.

The constitutional powers necessary to put a representative, accountable federal government back to work for the American people are still right there in Article I, ready to be reasserted.

Now, I’m sure Senator Lee has the best intentions in mind for this proposal, and yes, he is absolutely correct in describing the unconstitutional power grabs by the Executive branch.

But I think he badly underestimates the resistance to such a proposal, not only from the Executive branch but also from Congress.  Why?

Because executive overreach is a knife that cuts both ways.

It’s becoming less and less important which of the major parties holds Congress, and more and more important which party holds the Imperial Mansion.   Handing one man that much power goes much farther to ensure that his party’s agenda will hold sway.

There are two things you can count on in politics:  1) Congress will never vote to strip themselves of power, and 2) political parties will never vote to make it more difficult to seize and hold power.

Government will never vote to neuter itself.  Once any branch of government seizes power, they will fight to hold it.  That’s how we came to be in our current predicament.

Rule Five Labour Lunacy Friday

Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the UK’s left-wing Labour Party, has just released a bat-guano nutty manifesto that, if enacted, would take the United Kingdom straight back to the lackluster Seventies.  Excerpt:

Jeremy Corbyn will take Britain back to the 1970s by nationalising industries, forcing wage caps on businesses and giving huge power to the unions if he gets into power, a leaked copy of Labour’s draft manifesto reveals.

The 43-page document, obtained by the Daily Telegraph, shows that Mr Corbyn plans to nationalise energy, rail and mail and will introduce a 20:1 pay cap for businesses. 

The manifesto says Mr Corbyn is committed to achieving a “nuclear free world” and is “extremely cautious” about using Britain’s nuclear deterrent.

The Labour leader will only send the armed forces into combat if “all other options have been exhausted”, the copy of the manifesto states.

It also says that Labour will rule out a “no deal” Brexit and refuse to set a migration target, in a move that is likely to drive away its traditional supporters who voted Leave in the EU referendum.

The party will also create a Ministry of Labour to hand more power to trade unions, stating: “We are stronger when we stand together”.

Pay bargaining and increased unionisation across the workforce will also be introduced according to the draft plan.

The party will fund its socialist agenda though a huge programme of increased tax and £250billion of borrowing over the next decade with more spending on education and health and big levies on business and industry.

Here are some of the crazier aspects of his tax plan:

  • Income tax hikes for those earning more than £80,000 a year
  • Ensuring 60 per cent of the UK’s energy comes from renewable sources by 2030
  • Fines for businesses that pay their staff high wages and a business levy on profits
  • Companies with government contracts would only be allowed to pay their highest earner 20 times more than the lowest

These far-left policies (and let’s describe them in a whisper, lest the cabal of nutbars running California overhear us and think these proposals are a good idea) would send the productive and a whopping big chunk of Britain’s successful businesses (read that: employers) running for the hills, or for Ireland, or wherever the grass is greener and the politicians less greedy.

Fortunately for Britain, it looks like the Tories have a pretty good grip on Parliament for the moment.  But read these looney-tunes policies and remember them, True Believers, because we have plenty of our own nutty pols who would love to make these things the law of the land here.

Animal’s Daily Cosmic News

Sitting here on our little blue ball, it’s hard as hell to get even a little understanding on how vast the cosmos actually is.  Now, it turns about that our own galaxy is linked to its smaller satellite galaxies by an enormous magnetic field.  Excerpt:

For the first time, astronomers have detected a magnetic field associated with the Magellanic Bridge, the filament of gas stretching 75 thousand light-years between the Milky Way Galaxy’s nearest galactic neighbors: the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds (LMC and SMC, respectively). “There were hints that this magnetic field might exist, but no one had observed it until now,” says Jane Kaczmarek, at the University of Sydney, and lead author of the paper describing the finding.

“Not only are entire galaxies magnetic, but the faint delicate threads joining galaxies are magnetic, too,”said Bryan Gaensler, Director of the Dunlap Institute for Astronomy & Astrophysics, University of Toronto, and a co-author on the paper. “Everywhere we look in the sky, we find magnetism.”

“In general, we don’t know how such vast magnetic fields are generated, nor how these large-scale magnetic fields affect galaxy formation and evolution,” says Kaczmarek. “The LMC and SMC are our nearest neighbours, so understanding how they evolve may help us understand how our Milky Way Galaxy will evolve. Understanding the role that magnetic fields play in the evolution of galaxies and their environment is a fundamental question in astronomy that remains to be answered.”

Visible in the southern night sky, the LMC and SMC are dwarf galaxies that orbit our home galaxy and lie at a distance of 160 and 200 thousand light-years from Earth respectively.

Think about those distances.  160 thousand light  years is 9.405801e+17 miles – that’s 940,580,100,000,000,000 miles.

That’s a pretty good hike.

Our Milky Way galaxy contains somewhere between 100 and 400 billion stars.  Moving out past the Magellanic clouds, we have the Local Group, a group of 54 galaxies with a gravitational center somewhere between our galaxy and the Andromeda galaxy.  The galaxies of the Local Group cover about 10 million light years, and are bound together by a webbing of hydrogen and a few single stars.

The Local Group is part of the Virgo Supercluster, a massive structure of 100 groups of galaxies like the Local Group, and spans about 33 megaparsecs – that’s 110 million light years.

The Virgo Supercluster is part of the Laniakea Supercluster, which contains about 300 to 500 clusters the size of the Virgo Supercluster, and spans 160 megaparsecs, or 520 million light years.  And the Laniakea Supercluster has as its cosmic neighbors the Shapley Supercluster, Hercules Supercluster, Coma Supercluster and Perseus-Pisces Supercluster.

Problems closer to home occupy most of our waking thoughts and that’s as it should be, but once in a while a little cosmic perspective is in order.

Animal’s Hump Day News

Happy Hump Day!

Could President Trump end up being known to history as The Great Deregulator?  It’s possible.  Excerpt:

Few things have mattered more to libertarian policy activists over the past half-century than deregulation. Rolling back government restrictions on individual and corporate behavior, breaking up state-backed cartels, getting bureaucrats out of the price-setting business, and allowing private entities to compete for services routinely monopolized by government—these have long been fundamental goals of libertarian organizations including Reason Foundation, the 501(c)(3) nonprofit that publishes this magazine and engages in public policy research that promotes choice and competition. The reasons for eliminating federal regulations can be many: Well-intended rules frequently result in harmful unintended consequences, time and money directed to compliance or workarounds could often be better spent elsewhere, and one-size-fits-all decrees from Washington rarely incorporate the kind of local knowledge that individuals and companies possess about how their own business works best. Libertarians have made these arguments early and often to every new president, but since the deregulatory salad days of Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, few administrations have applied these insights into their policy making.

But as the initial shock of the 2016 election results gave way to the normal D.C. stuff of transition teams, Cabinet nominees, and policy rollouts, the city’s libertarian policy wonks began to rub their eyes and adjust to a surprising new vision: a Trump administration that was stocking up on faces who have long worked to expand freedom by contracting the regulatory state.

“I don’t think that we ever envisioned that we would be supplying staffers to this semi-free market, semi-populist president,” Frayda Levin, board chair of Americans for Prosperity and a Reason Foundation donor, told Politico in December. “But we’re happy that he’s picking people who have that free market background, particularly because on many issues, he is a blank slate, so anybody with expertise is in an amazing position to shape his agenda.”

I voted for Trump, like many other libertarians, mostly for one reason:  Supreme Court picks.  His appointment of Neil Gorsuch validated that decision, and it’s likely he’ll get to appoint at least one more justice, leading to a right-leaning Court for quite a while to come.  But any deregulation that the Trump Administration comes up with is icing on the cake.

Fans of Imperial regulation of, well, almost everything, have been shitting their pants at almost every Trump tweet and off-the-cuff comment since he was inaugurated, and it’s been a thing to see.

Full disclosure:  My consulting business predominantly helps companies deal with their Imperial regulatory burden – and, yes, the irony of that is not lost on me.  So I’ve got a pretty good idea of what the regulatory burden costs companies.  (I’ve been in the industry damn near 30 years; I don’t come cheap.)  If President Trump can eliminate, say, 25% of the regulatory burden on businesses, watch for an economic explosion.

And if that happens, watch for President Trump to cruise to re-election in 2020.

Animal’s Daily Unfunded Liabilities News

Out on a limb.

Puerto Rico, America’s own little Caribbean paradise, is broke.  But plenty of the fifty states aren’t far behind.  Excerpt:

The study by Hoover Institution Senior Fellow Joshua Rauh, “Hidden Debt, Hidden Deficits,” is an update of a report issued last year. It should sound an alarm across the U.S. about the growing crisis of underfunded pensions at the state and local level. Instead, sadly, it will likely be ignored.

To put it bluntly, America’s pension systems are being mismanaged, which is hitting state and local budgets hard.

The Hoover study looked at 649 pension systems as of 2015. What it found was alarming. The average investment return for pensions was 2.87% for the year, while the discount rate — essentially, the expected investment return — was 7.36%. That means returns are 61% below expectations, a dismal performance to say the least.

This means that pension systems across the U.S. will have to do one of two things: Find more money to fund the expected payouts, or slash pension spending on future retirees — or some combination of the two. None of the choices is appealing.

Meanwhile these pension gaps pose a major threat to state and local fiscal health.

“While state and local governments across the U.S. largely claimed they ran balanced budgets, in fact, they ran deficits though their pension systems of $167 billion,” Rauh noted. “This deficit equals 18.2% of all state and local government tax revenue. … The deficits are large and the study reveals the fact that state and local government budgets are far from balanced when one considers pension promises.”

Here is the real money (hah!) quote, from this report:

State public pension plans are now underfunded by nearly $5.6 trillion – an increase of almost $900 billion from State Budget Solutions’ (SBS) last comprehensive report in 2014. When state pension funds are examined through the lens of a more realistic valuation, pension funding gaps are revealed to be much larger than reported in official state financial documents. This report totals state-administered plans’ assets and liabilities and finds nationwide total unfunded liabilities to be $5.59 trillion. The nationwide funding level is a mere 35 percent, which is one percentage point lower than two years ago. Combined across all states, the price tag for unfunded pension liabilities is now $17,427 for every man, woman and child in the United States.

Now, keep this in mind:  These pensions are paid with taxpayer dollars, paid to government employees who enjoy defined-benefit pensions and retained benefits far, far in excess of what almost anyone in the in the private sector can hope for today.

 We are in a situation in this country where the ever-decreasing percentage of the productive are paying for ever-increasing coin and benefits for the unproductive.  Granted, the government has to employ a certain number of people – but is there any reason that city, state and Imperial employees should enjoy such generous benefits when their employers make do with 401ks?

There is a principle in economics called Stein’s Law, postulated by economist Herb Stein:  “If something cannot go on forever, it will stop.”  The current state of government employee pensions can’t go on forever.  It will stop.

Question is, how far in debt will it drag us before it does?

Goodbye, Blue Monday

Goodbye, Blue Monday!

Our heartfelt thanks to blogging pal Doug Hagin over at The Daley Gator and to Watcher of Weasels for the pingbacks; thanks also (as always) to The Other McCain and Pirate’s Cove for the rule five links!

This seems to be a rather appropriate story for a Monday morning when, like so many other Monday mornings, I’m bound for the airport:  People Are Happier Than Ever With Airline Service.  Excerpt:

J.D. Power, a top market research company well-known for tracking customer satisfaction, released a survey last week that found “customer satisfaction with airlines has reached its highest level ever, continuing a trend that now stretches five consecutive years.”

How could that possibly be, given the United Airlines (UAL) passenger dragged off a plane, the traveler nearly hit with a stroller on an American Airlines (AAL) plane, a California family thrown off a Delta (DAL) flight, a brawl at a Spirit Airlines (SAVE) counter, and several other recent incidents?

It turns out that those horror stories are more like shark attacks than bee stings — rare events that capture a huge amount of publicity because they are rare.

That hasn’t stopped some from using these anecdotes to depict the entire industry as indifferent, if not openly hostile, to the needs of their passengers.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said that the “degrading treatment” of the United passenger “is the latest example of a major U.S. airline disrespecting passengers and denying them their basic rights.”

USA Today recently asked: “Can air travel get any more miserable than it already is?” to which it answered “yes.”

The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank described the industry this way: “packed cabins; tiny seats; proliferating fees for food, bags and flight changes; boarding delays; higher fares; labyrinthine contracts; and routine overbooking.”

There’s a reason for this: Democrats, and most reporters, like government regulation and think the airlines need more of it. So every time something bad happens, they use it as the latest evidence that the government should step in.

 Bear in mind here that the calls for more airline regulation aren’t just coming from Democrats or the political Left in general.  Republicans have been threatening the airlines with the heavy hand of government regulation as well.  And the GOP is (supposedly) the party of smaller government and less intrusive regulation, right?

Right?

I can and will only speak for myself in this matter as in many others, an act of circumspection that I wish many reporters and commentators would try to emulate; however, my experience with air travel has been pretty positive.  There are a few folks that fly more than me, and a hell of a lot of folks that fly less, and I’m overall pretty pleased with air travel and with my airline of choice, the oft-maligned of late United.

 The problem with a lot of the reaction on this is that too many folks are apt to make judgements based on insufficient data.  Just as I have a preferred airline, I also have a preferred brand of automobiles; for forty-some years now I have been buying and driving Fords, and I’m pretty happy with them.  But I would love to have a sawbuck for every time someone has told me how they once had a 1974 Pinto that was a lemon, and so they’ll never own a Ford again.

The same thing applies here.  Stories of horrible customer service by the airlines are big news precisely because they are rare; the airlines service tens of millions of customers a year, and their overall track record is damn good.  Never in the history of aviation has air travel been so cheap, so convenient, so available to the general public.

This is a case where a little perspective is in order.

Rule Five 3rd Annual Commencement Speech Friday

It’s that time of year again, when high school and college graduates all over the country are trying on caps and gowns and making post-graduation plans.  Today, for the third year, I will present here my own carefully prepared commencement speech to those grads – presented here because there’s damn little chance of my being asked to deliver it in person to a group of impressionable yutes.

So, here it is.  Enjoy.

“Graduates of the Class of 2017, let me be the first to extend to you my congratulations on this, your day of entry into reality.

For the last four years you have been working towards this goal, towards this day. That’s a good thing. One of the most important skills you will ever need, one of the most important ways to achieve success in the world into which you are about to enter, is the ability to formulate goals, to plan how to achieve those goals, and to see things through until you reach those goals. Today you’ve shown you can do that. Congratulations and good job.

Now, before you go out to enjoy the rest of this day, before you go out to celebrate this goal you have achieved, let me tell you a few harsh truths about the world you’re entering. I’m not going to give you any trigger warnings; if you can’t handle what I’m about to say, there’s damn little future for you out there in the real world, so cowboy up.  Moments ago I congratulated you on your day of entry into reality, so to get you started off right, here is a hefty dose of reality for you.

In spite of what you may have been told during all your years of education, nobody owes you anything, and you aren’t special. Any perceived ‘need’ you may have does not entitle you to anything – most especially, not to one red cent of the product of anyone else’s effort. If any of your professors have told you that, then they are economic illiterates, moral frauds or outright charlatans.

Our wonderful Constitution, which has stood for well over two hundred years as the founding document of our Republic, guarantees you the opportunity to your pursuit of happiness. It does not require anyone to provide you the means to your happiness at their expense. You and you alone are responsible for your own life. You have no moral claim on anyone else’s productivity. Accept that fact and you are already one step ahead of most of your peers.

You are entitled to what you have earned through your own efforts, and not:

One.

Damn.

Thing.

More.

If you are accepting a degree today in LGBT Studies, or Women’s Studies, or any of the other assorted bullshit Underwater Dog Polishing degrees our universities crank out today, then you have my sympathies. You are the victim of a fraud perpetrated by our university system, a vicious and cynical fraud that has resulted in you spending a lot of money for no gain. But more importantly, you are the victim of your own poor judgement. You decided to pursue a useless degree, and now you’re stuck. Here is another harsh reality: You are responsible for your own situation.  It’s not anybody else’s fault.  Nobody else is responsible.  You are.

Your university experience had one goal – producing a young adult with marketable skills, someone who can provide value to an employer and to the economy. In this your university has failed, and in choosing this degree, so did you. You have relegated yourself to uselessness in the workplace, and when a few years from now you are working as a barista or checkout clerk and crying over your six figures of student debt, remember what I said a few moments ago: You and you alone are responsible for your own life. You made a decision; now you get to deal with the consequences of that decision. Pull yourself up, look around at the other opportunities around you, and figure a way out of this mess your youthful indiscretion has landed you in.

But you still have one thing going for you. You have shown that you can set yourself a goal and achieve it. Do so now.

So, where do you go from here?

Because nobody owes you anything, including a living, one of the tasks ahead of you now is finding gainful employment. If you’re going to find employment, it will only be because you can demonstrate to the employer that you can provide value to him or her in excess of your costs of employment. Employment is an economic transaction.  In any free market transaction, both parties have to realize a perceived gain in value or the transaction won’t happen. If a prospective employer doesn’t think you’re able to provide value to his/her business in excess of your cost of employment, which includes not only your salary but all the extra taxes, fees and other various government extortion that you never see in your pay stub – then they won’t hire you. So be able to present yourself as someone who can provide value, in whatever field you have been studying these last few years.

Once you have gained that employment, once you are in the workplace, remember these three rules for success:

Show up a little earlier than the other guy,
Work a little harder than the other guy,
Never pass up a chance to learn something new.

Words that should never pass your lips include such things as “that’s not my job,” and “I don’t have time for that.” Your reputation in the workplace should be, to put it bluntly, the one who can get shit done. Results matter. Be the one that the boss can count on. Be the one who brings things in on time. Be the one who finishes the job. Be the one that produces value and you will never have to worry about where your next meal is coming from.

Bear in mind also that you are entering the workforce as a tablua rasa as far as potential employers are concerned.  You’re not going to leave these halls and be CEO of General Motors.  You will be working in an entry level job, probably not making a lot of money, probably doing work your longer-term co-workers don’t want to do.  Suck it up.  There are no lousy jobs, only lousy people.  Any work that produces value is worth doing.  How do you know if your work is producing value?  The answer to that is trivially easy:  If someone is willing to pay you to do the work, then you are producing value.  Bear in mind also that the job belongs to the employer, not to you, and if you don’t meet the employer’s expectations, someone else will.

How do you meet those expectations?  Better yet, how do  you exceed them?  When you are doing that job, keep these things in mind:

Be known for your integrity. Don’t say anything you don’t believe and don’t make promises you can’t deliver on. Your employers and co-workers must know you as the person who means what you say and who delivers on your promises.

Be known for your reliability. Show up on time, every day, for every event. Show up on time for meetings. Your employers and co-workers must know you as the person who will always be there when you’re needed.

Be known for your responsibility.  If you take on a task, finish it.  If you commit to a timeline, meet it.  If you accept responsibility for something, own it.  It’s yours.  Don’t expect anyone else to take care of it for you.  Your employers and co-workers must know you as the person who, when put in charge, takes charge.

Be known for your dependability. Plan your tasks to bring them in on schedule. If that means long hours, work them. If that means working a Saturday, work it. Your employers and co-workers must know you as the person who can get the job done.

Success isn’t a mysterious thing. It’s not that elusive and it’s not even all that hard. I did it, and you can too, but it does involve one four-letter word:

Work.

Thomas Edison once said “people often fail to recognize opportunity when it knocks, because it usually shows up in overalls and looks like work.” At these commencement events it’s common to be told to follow your dreams, and that’s nice, flowery stuff, but in most cases nobody is going to pay you to follow your dreams. They will pay you to produce value, and that means work.  Follow your dreams on your own time.

Finally, I will leave you all with some unsolicited advice:

All through your life, people will promise you things. Most of them won’t deliver. Many of those people will be people seeking political office, and many more of them will be people pushing some sort of supposed business opportunity. Some years ago the science fiction writer Robert Heinlein observed a fundamental law of the universe, which law is represented by the acronym TANSTAAFL: There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch. Remember that; if someone offers you something for nothing, they are lying. If someone is offering you something at someone else’s expense, they are offering to commit theft on your behalf. The only moral answer to such offers is outright refusal.

There are only three types of economic transactions and only one of those – a free, unfettered, voluntary exchange of value – is morally acceptable. If a transaction is done by force, that is theft. If a transaction is done by deceit, that is fraud. Have no interaction with anyone who advocates either.

Accept responsibility for your own successes. Accept responsibility for your own failures. Learn from both. Rely on yourself. Rely on your own skills, your own abilities. Many other people will let you down, but you can always rely on yourself.

In her magnum opus Atlas Shrugged, author Ayn Rand presents the protagonist, John Galt, describing his decision to solve society’s troubles by an epic act of creative destruction. He describes the ultimate moment of his decision process with two sentences, two sentences which I have found more inspiring than any long-winded ethical or political monologue ever delivered since the times of Plato and Aristotle.  These words are the very essence of the self-directed man of achievement:

‘I saw what had to be done. I went out to do it.’

Those are good words to live by. Now, today, you graduates see what has to be done.

Go out and do it.

Thank you and good luck.”

If anyone was offended by anything contained in this hypothetical speech, too damn bad.

Animal’s Daily Testicle Transplant News

Yes, really.  Maybe only on a rat, but the implications… well.  Um.  Excerpt:

Lab rats probably don’t have many deep thoughts. But one of these days, right as a scientist is transplanting a testicle onto a rats’s neck, one of those little furry guys is going to ask itself—what did I do to deserve this? And how will I get my revenge?

Case-in-point, the little guy below. Entire testes have proven especially difficult to transplant back into the same place, at least in lab animals. So, a team of scientists decided to transplant them somewhere else in the case of these rats—onto their necks. And the scientists plan to continue transplanting testes onto rat necks, so that one day, entire testes may be reliably transplanted from person to person.

Testicles are incredibly special organs, since they’ve got something called immune privilege. That means they’re safe from the body’s immune response, and can survive in another body for a while without being rejected. The testicles’ privileged status serves to protect the sperm cells inside from an attack by the body. In theory, this means doctors should be able to easily transplant them between people—which could be useful in cases where a person undergoes a treatment that would kill all of their sperm. That’s why the researchers are doing the research, so they can study this immune privilege.

Ballchinian.

OK, now I will admit to stealing this joke from the article comments, but it’s kind of an obvious one.  Any Men in Black fans out there?  Here’s a surgical technique that could make a real-life Ballchinian.

Jokes aside, this could be pretty significant for a 9-year-old boy who is about to undergo radiation therapy.  It could give that boy the chance to have a family later in life; something that he may otherwise never have known.

It’s an amazing modern era we live in.

Of course, the jokes around this are going to be absolutely nuts.

Deep thoughts, news of the day, totty and the Manly Arts.