All posts by Animal

Rule Five Inauguration Day Friday

Programming note:  This post was finalized and scheduled last night, as this morning I have departed early to drive west, from Denver to Silicon Valley via Las Vegas.  There I will spend the next 6-12 months helping a Valley company get their Quality Management ducks all in a row, and if I were a religious man I would add “and may God have mercy on my soul.”  There are few places on the planet where I fit in less than Californey, and the Bay Area is one of the nuttiest environs in a nutty state.

But still, as I’m fond of pointing out, they pay me to go where the work is, not where the fun is.

Moving right along:  It’s Trump Day!  At noon EST today, The Donald takes the reins of power from outgoing President Obama – the very reins he pretty much grabbed from the lamest of lame ducks some time ago.  Today’s ceremonies just make it official.  But it’s significant, as this heralds another peaceful transition of power, one that goes back to when George Washington peacefully left office in 1797, handed the reins of power over to John Adams and went back to his farm, making the world’s kings, queens, emperors and potentates let out a collective “…what the fuck?”

Note that qualifier:  “Peaceful” transition of power.  It may be technically peaceful, but it remains to be seen how peaceful the Imperial capital will be while the ceremonies take place.  Notorious dissembler and blowpig Micheal Moore has promised to lead a protest, and an unprecedented number of Democratic pols are protesting by eschewing the inaugural festivities.

One could apply the term “sore loser,” but by all means let us be generous and apply the benefit of the doubt, that they are being sincere in their convictions, no matter how misguided.

So, what shall we expect to see in this brave new world, with our unexpected, unprecedented and somewhat surreal real-estate mogul/developer/reality TV star President?  Here are some tidbits:

As I’ve been saying for a while now, it’s going to be an interesting four years – hell, it’s going to be an interesting first 100 days, traditionally that magical interval in which a new President expends a bunch of political capital to get agenda items implemented while the blush is still on the rose.

Here’s where it’s going to be different this time, True Believers; this rose has no blush.  Never did, never will.  The Donald won the GOP nomination over the objections of much of his own party, and won election (handily) in what a lot of folks, yr. obdt. included, saw as an unexpected upset.  Most of the legacy media makes little effort to conceal their contempt for The Donald, and the feeling is certainly mutual.

But if he follows through on some of his stated positions – tax rate cuts, repairing the ACA, reducing regulation, and if we can persuade him to maybe eliminate a few unnecessary Imperial agencies, we may just have a few pretty prosperous years ahead.  Cross your fingers!  It’s going to be an exciting ride.

Animal’s Daily Professional Protester News

Tomorrow’s inauguration of The Donald promises to be rancorous, with plenty of the usual suspects showing up to protest.  In recent years, one of the more common political movement descriptions  has been “astroturfing.”  Why astroturf?  It’s fake grass, of course – and the astroturfers are guilty of setting up fake grass-roots movements, using a very few, very loud people to make their case.

A comment I made the other day on this story got me to thinking, though.  Might there be a business opportunity here?  Providing protestors on demand, say, for a variety of causes?  Maybe covering both sides of an issue at the same protest?  Reproduced below is a hypothetical interview I posted at the link, between an unnamed interviewer and the protest organizer:

Interviewer:  “So, you will supply protesters on demand?”
Protest Organizer:  “Sure. As many as you like.”
I:  “For what causes?”
PO:  “Oh, any cause. Any cause at all.”
I:  “Any cause?”
PO:  “Sure. Remember that big fracas at the President’s press conference last week? All the people in the street screaming and throwing things at each other?”
I:  “Sure.”
PO:  “Mine. Those were all my people. Both sides.”
I:  “Both sides?
PO:  “Yep. Both sides.”
I:  “Don’t you have any principles at all?”
PO:  “Sure. The kind that involves cashing checks.”

Capitalism at its finest; see a need, create a business to fill it.

It seems to me that the key to success in such a venture is to be completely impartial in providing paid protestors; double your market share, as it were, at a stroke.  Personally I’d draw the line at supporting terror groups or anyone advocating violence, but other than that – go for it.  Political rally?  Supply protestors for both sides.  Animal rights kooks protesting?  Provide vegan bikini bunnies and pro-meat grower protesters alike.

Double your money, double your fun!

Is this possible business model cynical and mercenary?  You bet your sweet bippy it is.  But it might just be a viable model:  Very little overhead, a wide market, sustainable as long as political and social issues still cause tension in our country.

Thoughts?

Animal’s Hump Day News

Happy Hump Day!

Ever gotten a traffic-cam ticket?  So has this guy:  That Time I Turned a Routine Traffic Ticket into the Constitutional Trial of the Century.  Excerpt:

We proceeded to trial. The city produced one witness, the police officer who had signed the affidavit. On direct examination, he explained how the traffic camera system works. A corporation in another state called American Traffic Solutions operates the camera system, chooses the photographs on which to predicate enforcement, recommends the Montgomery police department initiate an action against a vehicle’s owner, and is paid for its work.

On cross-examination, I established that:

  • He was not present at the time of the alleged violation.
  • He has no photographic evidence of the driver.
  • There were no witnesses.
  • He does not know where Adam MacLeod was at the time of the alleged violation.

And so on. I then asked the question one is taught never to ask on cross—the last one. “So, you signed an affidavit under the pains and penalties of perjury alleging probable cause to believe that Adam MacLeod committed a violation of traffic laws without any evidence that was so?”

Without hesitating he answered, “Yes.” This surprised both of us. It also surprised the judge, who looked up from his desk for the first time. A police officer had just testified under oath that he perjured himself in service to a city government and a mysterious, far-away corporation whose officers probably earn many times his salary.

The city then rested its case. I renewed my motion to dismiss, which the judge immediately granted.

I’m not sure I’d call this the Constitutional trial of the century, especially given that the century is only sixteen years old; but it does set a very interesting precedent, and provides a template for anyone caught in one of these traffic-cam scams.

Note the key thing on which the case turns:  The traffic-cam citation appears to have been issued to a vehicle.  There was no attempt to establish that the vehicle’s registered owner was in fact the person that committed the infraction; in any sane system, Mr. MacLeod’s establishing that he was in a faculty meeting miles away at the time of the infraction should have resulted in an immediate dismissal.

Instead, read the entire article and you’ll see the laughable circumlocutions the court went to to try to preserve their case – and the traffic-cam system.

We have stoplight-mounted traffic cams here in the Denver area, too.  It’s a horrible system that should be removed, but one suspects it will take some more cases like this one to convince cities to remove that revenue stream.

 

Animal’s Daily News

A great deal of the hand-wringing over the Electoral College and the results of the recent election is due to the undue influence big states like California have on national politics – or how they would, were it not for the Electoral College.  Here’s an interesting idea how to fix that – re-draw state lines along population and cultural lines.  Excerpt:

The answer lies in limiting state size to a human scale in which human beings can still associate, travel, and trade across jurisdictional boundaries without incurring a great cost. The standard for “great cost” is subjective, of course, and over time has changed substantially. The cost of traveling 50 miles in the 16th century, for example, is significantly different form the cost of traveling the same distance today. 

There are ongoing attempts by geographers, however, to determine the “natural” size of a region that encompasses a population’s economic, political, and social institutions. In a recent study, for example, Garret Dash Nelson and Alasdair Rae attempted to identify regions that “have been substantively tied together by the forces of urban development, telecommunications, the frictionless circulation of capital, and the consolidation of both public and private institutions.” 

Basing their standard of scale on tolerance for commute times, the geographers selected 50-mile commutes as an indicator of how closely tied together is a specific region.

Here’s the commute time map and the resulting new state-line map:

Here’s my concern with this idea; note how the new, proposed state lines are drawn.  Note that they are all centered on major metropolitan areas.  Given the increasing urbanization of our population, that’s not surprising.

But the political divides in our country now are primarily rural v. urban, with some suburbs going either way (as you might expect.)  This proposal places a major urban area at the heart of each of the new States; that alone threatens to aggravate this divide.

It’s more likely that the United States will balkanize altogether.  Alaska and Texas in particular have more than sufficient infrastructure and resources to go it alone, given their current populations.  I’ve written on the subject before, and I think it’s a far more likely outcome than completely re-drawing State lines.

But either would signal the end of the United States as we know it.  I hope I don’t live to see either happen.

Goodbye, Blue Monday

Goodbye, Blue Monday!

Thanks as always to Barking MoonbatPirate’s Cove and The Other McCain for the Rule Five links!

It’s not often I read about a proposed piece of legislation at the Imperial level and think, “hey, that’s actually not a bad idea!”  But Wisconsin’s own Jim Sensenbrenner has one such idea – shut down the BATFE.  Here’s the bit from his web page:

Today, Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner reintroduced the ATF Elimination Act, legislation that would dissolve the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and merge its exclusive duties into existing federal agencies. 

Additionally, the Act calls for an immediate hiring freeze at the agency and requires the Department of Justice (DOJ) to eliminate and reduce duplicative functions and waste, as well as report to Congress with a detailed plan on how the transition will take place. Further, it would transfer enforcement of firearms, explosives and arson laws to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and illegal diversion of alcohol and tobacco products would be transferred to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). 

Under this bill, the DEA and FBI would be required to submit to Congress a plan for winding down the affairs of the ATF after no more than 180 days, and field offices, along with other buildings and assets of the ATF, would be transferred to the FBI. It would have one year to report excess property to the General Services Administration (GSA).

Let’s forget for a moment the inefficient, possibly unConstitutional and scandal-ridden mess that the BATFE has been since at least the late 1980s.  Look at the larger precedent set; this bill would shut down an entire Imperial agency largely due to the fact that other, existing Imperial agencies can easily absorb their function, and probably do a better job of it.

This kind of legislation is tailor-made for the incoming Trump Administration’s stated goal of ‘draining the swamp.’  Here, Mr. Trump, is a pretty good puddle to start with.   If we can make this happen, let’s get some Cabinet-level agencies up next on the block – say, Energy, Education, Commerce, and a few more.

Personally I stand with Barry Goldwater, who famously said: I have little interest in streamlining government or in making it more efficient, for I mean to reduce its size. I do not undertake to promote welfare, for I propose to extend freedom. My aim is not to pass laws, but to repeal them. It is not to inaugurate new programs, but to cancel old ones that do violence to the Constitution, or that have failed their purpose, or that impose on the people an unwarranted financial burden. I will not attempt to discover whether legislation is “needed” before I have first determined whether it is constitutionally permissible. And if I should later be attacked for neglecting my constituents’ “interests,” I shall reply that I was informed that their main interest is liberty and that in that cause I am doing the very best I can.

We may just have a chance to do that now.  I say, let’s get cracking.

Rule Five Bad Decisions Friday

Ever given any thought to the worst Supreme Court in recent history?  I’m not talking about miscarriages of justice like the Dred Scott decision; I’m talking about the post-Depression era, when many of the Imperial institutions in place today were brought into play.

When posed this question, many will mention Roe v. Wade, or some other decision on social issues.  I’m not talking about those, at least not today.  And I’m not denying there have been some good decisions in recent years, particularly on Second Amendment issues.

But one decision paved the way for a massive expansion of Imperial power on commerce; it was a bad decision, it was unjust, and it should be overturned.  That 1942 decision was Wickard v. Filburn, which opened up the definition of “interstate commerce” to include anything Congress thinks it should mean.  Here’s a summary of that decision:

An Ohio farmer, Roscoe Filburn, was growing wheat for use to feed animals on his own farm. The U.S. government had established limits on wheat production based on acreage owned by a farmer, in order to stabilize wheat prices and supplies. In 1941 Filburn grew more than the limits permitted and he was ordered to pay a penalty of $117.11. He claimed his wheat was not sold in interstate commerce and so the penalty could not apply to him. The Supreme Court stated “The intended disposition of the crop here involved has not been expressly stated” and later “Whether the subject of the regulation in question was ‘production’, ‘consumption’, or ‘marketing’ is, therefore, not material for purposes of deciding the question of federal power before us … [b]ut even if appellee’s activity be local and though it may not be regarded as commerce, it may still, whatever its nature, be reached by Congress if it exerts a substantial economic effect on interstate commerce and this irrespective of whether such effect is what might at some earlier time have been defined as ‘direct’ or ‘indirect’.”[4]

The Supreme Court interpreted the United States Constitution‘s Commerce Clause under Article 1 Section 8, which permits the United States Congress “to regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes.” The Court decided that Filburn’s wheat growing activities reduced the amount of wheat he would buy for animal feed on the open market, which is traded nationally (interstate), and is therefore within the purview of the Commerce Clause. Although Filburn’s relatively small amount of production of more wheat than he was allotted would not affect interstate commerce itself, the cumulative actions of thousands of other farmers just like Filburn would certainly become substantial. Therefore, according to the court, Filburn’s production could be regulated by the federal government.

The decision turned on the idea that a crop, like wheat, is a fungible commodity, and that a farmer growing wheat on his own land for his own use has some effect on the overall price of the commodity.  The decision involved the Constitutionality of the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1938, a statute that is in and of itself in direct conflict with fundamental liberties and free markets.

Look, though, at the original issue here.  The Imperial government, then under President Franklin Roosevelt, held that the Congress has the ability to regulate the growing of a crop on private land for personal use.  The result of this is that the Commerce Clause of the Constitution exploded to cover any damn thing that Congress can possibly shoehorn into that definition.

That’s insane.  The argument is that the fungibility of a crop and the Imperial government’s unfair and unreasonable controls of the prices of agricultural commodities overrules the rights of a private citizen to grow crops on private land for personal use.

I’ve stated repeatedly in these virtual pages that there are two principles that are paramount in a free society:  Liberty and Property.   Wickard v. Filburn violates both of those principles.  This decision, along with the the Agricultural Adjustment Act and it’s successors, should be overturned.  I’d like to see the incoming Trump Administration, which has paid lip service to free markets, to move in this direction; to overturn one of the most liberty-restrictive laws and supporting Supreme Court decisions in recent history.

Animal’s Daily News

It seems small-business optimism is on the way up.  I wonder why?  Excerpt:

Optimism among America’s small businesses soared in December by the most since 1980 as expectations about the economy’s prospects improved dramatically in the aftermath of the presidential election.

The National Federation of Independent Business’s index jumped 7.4 points last month to 105.8, the highest since the end of 2004, from 98.4. While seven of the 10 components increased in December, 73 percent of the monthly advance was due to more upbeat views about the outlook for sales and the economy, the Washington-based group said.

The share of business owners who say now is a good time to expand is three times the average of the current expansion, according to the NFIB’s data. More companies also said they plan to increase investment and keep hiring, which reflects optimism surrounding President-elect Donald Trump’s plans of spurring the economy through deregulation, tax reform and infrastructure spending.

“Rising confidence adds to the economy’s upward momentum,” Jim O’Sullivan, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics in Valhalla, New York, said in a note. At the same time, the “NFIB membership appears to be disproportionately Republican, so it is possible that the data will start overstating strength, opposite the pattern during the Obama administration.”

The NFIB report was based on a survey of 619 small-business owners through Dec. 28. Small companies represent more than 99 percent of all U.S employers, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration. A small business is defined as an independent enterprise with no more than 500 employees.

Why is this important?  Because small businesses are the engine of job growth and job creation in our economy.  Take a look at this line from the story:  The share of business owners who say now is a good time to expand is three times the average of the current expansion, according to the NFIB’s data. More companies also said they plan to increase investment and keep hiring

That’s key.  A big company like Ford or Microsoft is fairly stable; they hire, but mostly to replace employees lost through attrition.  But a small business may have two employees this year, ten next year, and a hundred the year after that.

That’s where job creation happens.  That’s where economic growth comes from.  And the incoming Trump Administration, at least as judged by this group of small business owners, is expected to be great for small business.

One of the most onerous burdens a small business has to deal with (bear in mind yr. obdt. is a small business owner) is Imperial taxes and regulation; The Donald has promised to ease both of those burdens.  If he can do this, and if it’s the only thing he manages to do in the course of his administration, he will have justified the votes of the people who supported him.

Animal’s Hump Day News

Happy Hump Day!

Guess which American cities are going broke.  Excerpt:

Chicago and New York rank at the bottom of a new analysis of fiscal strength based primarily on data from 2015 financial reports issued by the cities themselves. The analysis includes 116 U.S. cities with populations greater than 200,000. See the full rankings here.

Chicago’s position at the bottom of the ranking is no surprise to anyone who follows municipal finance. The Windy City has become a poster child for financial mismanagement, having suffered a series of ratings downgrades in recent years. Aside from having thin reserves and large volumes of outstanding debt, Chicago is notorious for its underfunded pension plans.

For example, the city’s Municipal Employees’ Annuity and Benefit Fund (MEABF) reported $4.7 billion in assets and $14.7 billion of actuarially accrued liabilities at the end of 2015, representing a funded ratio of just 33 percent. The actuarial calculations rely on a controversial practice of discounting future benefits at a rate of 7.5 percent, which is the assumed return on the fund’s portfolio return. If a more conservative assumption was employed, MEABF’s liabilities would be higher and its funded ratio lower.

And:

While Chicago’s place at the bottom of the list is unsurprising, New York City’s position — just one step above — was unexpected. An extended bull market and soaring real estate prices have pumped money into the Big Apple’s coffers. Total municipal revenues rose from $60 billion in 2009 to $81 billion in 2015. But the city has been spending the money almost as quickly as it has been coming in.

At the end of its 2015 fiscal year, the city’s general fund reserves amounted to just 0.67 percent of expenditures — well below the Government Finance Officers Association recommendation of 16.67 percent (equivalent to two months of spending). A city’s general fund is roughly analogous to an individual’s checking account.

Here’s the common thread at the root of all these municipal bankruptcies:  Public-sector unions.

I have no issue with unions in private business, as long as membership in said unions is strictly voluntary, and as long as unionization in those businesses is by secret ballot.  In these cases, contracts are decided between the union membership and the employer.

Public sector unions are different.  Public sector unions negotiate their contracts with the very politicians whose campaigns they (heavily) fund.  That is a deep and fundamental conflict of interest that cannot be reconciled.  No less than Franklin Roosevelt agreed that this conflict of interest should preclude the legality of public sector unions.

There is no better illustration of such conflict than the cities of Chicago and New York.  Public sector employees typically enjoy benefits far, far above any equivalent worker in the private sector (when was the last time you heard of a private company offering a defined-benefit pension plan?) and pay that is at least on a par, if not above the private sector.

It’s driving our major cities into bankruptcy.

Animal’s Daily Interstellar News

The Future.

Uh oh.  It seems a rogue star is going to fly right through our solar system.

In 1.35 million years.  EVERYONE PANIC NOW.  Excerpt:

Researchers have known for a while that a star called Gliese 710 is headed straight for our solar system, but they’ve now worked out precisely when it should arrive.

The star is currently hurtling through space at about 32,000 mph, and is around 64 lightyears away. (One lightyear is around 5,878,000,000,000 miles.)

Gliese 710 is about half the size of our sun, and it is set to reach Earth in 1.35 million years, according to a paper published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics in November.

And when it arrives, the star could end up a mere 77 light-days away from Earth — one light-day being the equivalent of how far light travels in one day, which is about 26 billion kilometers, the researchers worked out.

As far as we know, Gliese 710 isn’t set to collide directly with Earth, but it wil be passing through the Oort Cloud, a shell of trillions of icy objects at the furthest reaches of our solar system.  

So although 77 light-days sounds like a relatively safe distance, the speeding star could burst through the cloud and shoot these icy objects and comets all around our solar system. Any one of these is pretty likely to collide with Earth.

Let’s be honest; the only reason I find this interesting is because of my own personal science-geekery.  It’s fun to read about.  But nobody should waste much brain-pan activity worrying about the eventuality.  If Gliese 710 does come barreling through our neighborhood in 1.35 million years, one of two things will be the case:

  1. There won’t be any humans left on Earth, or
  2. The humans left on Earth will be so advanced (look back at the last 100 years of technological progress, and imagine where we’ll be in 13,500 times that duration) that the incoming shower of comets and whatnot won’t pose any threat.

So, relax.  If you want to find a real threat to the future of the human race, you need look no farther than the Imperial City – or Tehran.  Those are threats we can do something about.