Free Markets, Free People

Michael Wade

Assuming Predictability

There is a reason that economists are so rarely featured in jokes. They tend to be rather dry people, who can and will estimate anything under magical “assumptions” designed to prove their point. In fact, the only jokes with economists I know involve them making assumptions. Which is really a shame because they make hilarious statements like the following all the time:

Economists are nearly unanimous that Ben Bernanke should be reappointed to another term as Federal Reserve chairman, and they said there is a 71% chance that President Barack Obama will ask him to stay on, according to a survey.

Wow. Seventy-one percent, eh? That’s an awfully exact number for a prediction isn’t it? It suggests there was some real numbers computed and weighted in order to arrive at a probability slightly less than 5 out of 7 that Bernanke would be reappointed.

But where did those numbers come from? And what exactly would they be? Moreover, who were the “economists” that are so “nearly unanimous” who arrived at this prediction? Inquiring minds want to know.

Of course, per the article, these same economists are all enthusiastic about the economy having bottomed out, and that Bernanke is largely responsible for that, er … “success”. Perhaps they only interviewed family members of the Fed Chairman who also happen to be economists? “Five out of 7 Bernankes agree!

By the way, there is a 26.3% chance that only economists and statisticians will comment on this post, but I’m keeping my top-secret formula for arriving at that conclusion all to my self. I’ll give you a hint, though: assume I know what you’re thinking.

Podcast for 09 Aug 09

In this podcast, Bruce, Michael, and Dale discuss the furor over the Health Care bill.

The direct link to the podcast can be found here.

Observations

The intro and outro music is Vena Cava by 50 Foot Wave, and is available for free download here.

As a reminder, if you are an iTunes user, don’t forget to subscribe to the QandO podcast, Observations, through iTunes. For those of you who don’t have iTunes, you can subscribe at Podcast Alley. And, of course, for you newsreader subscriber types, our podcast RSS Feed is here. For podcasts from 2005 to 2007, they can be accessed through the RSS Archive Feed.

Racism and Crying Wolf

As we discussed on the last podcast, as well as in various posts here at QandO, the biggest missed opportunity in the whole Gates kerfuffle was to draw attention to the civil liberties issues. By immediately crying racial profiling, Prof. Gates clouded an otherwise sympathetic view of his standing as a homeowner. Of course, if he hadn’t behaved the way that he did (calling Sgt. Crowley a racist cop), then he likely would never had been arrested in the first place. Nevertheless, what we should have taken from the l’affair Gates was that scenes such as the following are all too familiar:

Pepin Tuma, 33, was walking with two friends along Washington’s hip U Street corridor around midnight Saturday, complaining about how Gates had been rousted from his home for not showing a proper amount of deference to a cop. “We’d been talking about it all day,” said Tuma. “It seems like police have a tendency to act overly aggressively when they’re being pushed around,” Tuma recalled saying.

Then the group noticed five or six police cruisers surrounding two cars in an apparent traffic stop on the other side of the street. It seemed to Tuma that was more cops than necessary.

“That’s why I hate the police,” Tuma said. He told the Huffington Post that in a loud sing-song voice, he then chanted, “I hate the police, I hate the police.”

One officer reacted strongly to Tuma’s song. “Hey! Hey! Who do you think you’re talking to?” Tuma recalled the officer shouting as he strode across an intersection to where Tuma was standing. “Who do you think you are to think you can talk to a police officer like that?” the police officer said, according to Luke Platzer, 30, one of Tuma’s companions.

Tuma said he responded, “It is not illegal to say I hate the police. It’s not illegal to express my opinion walking down the street.”

According to Tuma and Platzer, the officer pushed Tuma against an electric utility box, continuing to ask who he thought he was and to say he couldn’t talk to police like that.

“I didn’t curse,” Tuma said. “I asked, am I being arrested? Why am I being arrested?”

It should come as no surprise that, in fact, Tuma was arrested on a charge of ‘disorderly conduct”:

D.C.’s disorderly conduct statute bars citizens from breaching the peace by doing anything “in such a manner as to annoy, disturb, interfere with, obstruct, or be offensive to others” or by shouting or making noise “either outside or inside a building during the nighttime to the annoyance or disturbance of any considerable number of persons.”

[…]

Tuma spent a few hours in a holding cell and was released early Sunday morning after forfeiting $35 in collateral to the police, he said. A “post and forfeit” is not an admission of guilt, and Tuma doesn’t have a court date — but the arrest will pop up if an employer does a background check.

So, adding insult to injury, Tuma gets arrested for expressing his opinion on a public street, spends the night in jail, and then is “legally” pickpocketed by the police. This is a problem, just as it was with the Gates mess, and is the real issue that should be discussed.

Forget racial profiling and other obscurants for a moment and contemplate just how much power has been granted to the police here. Is that a wise decision? Surely we want the police to be able to use their judgment in a given situation, but when a law is drafted so broadly as to provide cover when a cop feels insulted then such law flies in the face of constitutional protections.

Furthermore, situations like this really undermine the concept of police being “professionals”. Having the power to arrest someone because they get a little mouthy is not a power any real professional should want or need. Being a professional means being able to negotiate the situation through one’s abilities, not through one’s grant of extraordinary power. I mean, could you imagine if lawyers had the ability to throw people in clink for insulting them? Who would be safe?

The fact of the matter is that there are just too many laws to begin with. Cut down on number if infractions cops are expected to enforce, and you will cut down on the number of incidences where the police overstep their authority. When the only thing in danger is a cop’s feelings, then I think it’s safe to say that incarcerating anyone is a monumental waste of time and resources that could be better spent going after real criminals.

Podcast for 26 Jul 09

In this podcast, Bruce, Michael, and Dale discuss the controversy over the Obama presser on Monday, and the state of health care reform’s passage in the Congress.

The direct link to the podcast is unavailable this week due to technical problems, so you’ll need to listen to it at BTR.

Observations

The intro and outro music is Vena Cava by 50 Foot Wave, and is available for free download here.

As a reminder, if you are an iTunes user, don’t forget to subscribe to the QandO podcast, Observations, through iTunes. For those of you who don’t have iTunes, you can subscribe at Podcast Alley. And, of course, for you newsreader subscriber types, our podcast RSS Feed is here. For podcasts from 2005 to 2007, they can be accessed through the RSS Archive Feed.

Chips, Skips and Apologies

Justified anger is a wonderful thing. It allows one to act like a complete ass with little, if any, impunity. For example, I recall once while backpacking my way through Egypt when a taxi driver I made a deal with for a ride ditched me for some other riders. We were in a sleepy, seaside town on the Sinai peninsula, separated by several miles of harsh desert terrain from the local bus stop. The driver wanted to maximize the trip, understandably, and sought out a few more riders (there was only two of us) before leaving. Of course, when he returned the taxi was full and we were left without a ride, stranded in Dahab. Needless to say, I was a bit miffed.

Luckily, I had consulted my trusty, Harvard-drafted “Let’s Go: Egypt” prior to entering the country, which suggested throwing a loud and boisterous fit if put in a situation where you are likely being cheated. So, I did. And it worked like a charm. I threw luggage, cursed at the top of my lungs, and glared menacingly at the taxi driver causing him to quickly exit the situation as a crowd of onlookers gathered. But suddenly, something wonderful happened; the crowd sympathized with my plight, took me under their care, and within a few minutes I was being treated to warm food, cold drink and a new taxi (driven by someone’s cousin as I recall) was summoned to take us on our journey. By acting like a spoiled child, just because I was screwed out of a ride, I was treated as a victim in need of comfort, and not a damned fool in need of discipline.

My tantrum was quite effective and confirmed to me that “justifiable anger” is a powerful, and intoxicating, thing. It is the “castle doctrine” of emotional responses which places blame for any incident squarely on the shoulders of the instigator, leaving you with unquestioned moral authority. However, like any intoxicant, it also tempts overuse and abuse.

Gates being arrested at his home

Gates being arrested at his home


By now you are probably aware of Dr. Henry Louis “Skip” Gates, Jr.’s arrest in Cambridge, Massachusetts. What should have been a non-story became a huge imbroglio because of Dr. Gates’ stature, and the media’s endless pursuit of “Racism in America” stories. Even so, it was likely on its way to dying on the back pages of Boston newspapers until Pres. Obama resurrected it with his rather careless and admittedly ill-informed denunciation of the police officer involved.

After spending most of an hour patiently reiterating his arguments for changing the health insurance system, President Barack Obama turned his press conference sharply toward an iconic moment in American race relations: The arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. earlier this week by the Cambridge Police.

[…]

“I don’t know – not having been there and not seeing all the facts – what role race played in that, but I think it’s fair to say, number one, any of us would be pretty angry; number two that he Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home,” Obama said in response to a question from the Chicago Sun-Times’s Lynn Sweet.

Gates, Obama allowed, “is a friend, so I may be a little biased here. I don’t know all the facts.”

In other words, despite not knowing all the facts, the President decided to weigh in anyway on the side of his friend and to assume the worst about the police. Unfortunately, Obama is not alone in his ignorance or willingness to castigate someone without questioning the actions of Dr. Gates.

Chips

If anything is clear about the situation, it is that escalation was not necessary and could easily have been avoided. Dr. Gates apparently has a huge chip on his shoulder with respect to white cops, in the very least, and reacted poorly to Sgt. Crowley following up on a breaking and entering call. Indeed, Pres. Obama, among many others, opined that Gates was perfectly justified in being angry (“but I think it’s fair to say, number one, any of us would be pretty angry”) because he was being accused of robbing his own house.

Yet such reaction completely ignores the reason for Crowley being there in the first place: to protect Dr. Gates’ house. Why would a policeman acting in defense of Dr. Gates’s own home upset him? Because Dr. Gates has a huge chip on his shoulder and succumbed to that sweet temptation of justifiable anger to grab the moral high ground. In doing so, he elided right past the justifications for Crowley’s visit, as well as his questions, and instead went right into victimization mode.

Crowley, for his own part, also seems to be carrying a chip or two. One, that is not uncommon to policemen, appears to be a distinct aversion to challenges to his authority. After all, yelling at a cop in your own front yard hardly seems like a criminal offense. In addition, and more understandably, Crowley carries a big chip on his shoulder regarding being called a racist. Here’s why:

The Cambridge cop prominent Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. claims is a racist gave a dying Reggie Lewis mouth-to-mouth resuscitation in a desperate bid to save the Celtics [team stats] superstar’s life 16 years ago Monday.

“I wasn’t working on Reggie Lewis the basketball star. I wasn’t working on a black man. I was working on another human being,” Sgt. James Crowley, in an exclusive interview with the Herald, said of the forward’s fatal heart attack July 27, 1993, at age 27 during an off-season practice at Brandeis University, where Crowley was a campus police officer.

It’s a date Crowley still can recite by rote – and he still recalls the pain he suffered when people back then questioned whether he had done enough to save the black athlete.

“Some people were saying ‘There’s the guy who killed Reggie Lewis’ afterward. I was broken-hearted. I cried for many nights,” he said.

Surely someone who faced such criticism, despite administering his best efforts, is going to be a little sensitive to being called a racist. I wouldn’t be surprised if “oh no, here we go again” was the primary thought running through Crowley’s mind while Gates was delivering his tirade.

Unfortunately, Crowley’s chips may have caused him to ignore the obvious (if unwarranted) source of Gates’ ire, and instead to grab for that justifiable anger high ground himself. The end result is that a normally routine procedure becomes a huge production that serves the interests of no one.

Skips

Of course, to be fair, Gates’ reaction was quite confusing to the officer.

Consider for a moment, how you would assess the situation had you been in Crowley’s place. You receive a call about a B&E in progress and immediately respond, asking the caller who reported the incident to meet you at the front door to the residence. In all likelihood you’ve responded to similar calls before only to find that the either it’s someone breaking into their own home, or that an estranged girlfriend/wife is calling for backup in a domestic situation, or something other than an actual robbery. Therefore, you request the caller to be there just to be sure.

Upon arrival, you have to assess the situation without having any knowledge. You meet the caller who tells you that two black men with backpacks were observed trying to “wedge” the front door open with their shoulders, thus raising suspicion and precipitating the call. OK, now you can be reasonably certain that it’s not a domestic situation, but there still may be an innocent explanation. You notice someone inside the house, looking out at you as you approach the front door. Who could it be? The owner? A friend? Or perhaps a potential burglar? You don’t know but the only way to find out is to question the person.

Now, stop and think for a moment. If the person you are about to question is the home’s owner, wouldn’t you expect a rather cooperative attitude? You are defending their home after all. In contrast, if the person inside is someone who shouldn’t be there, then you would expect a more evasive, or possibly hostile reaction. But how do you deal with the rightful owner calling you a racist (pdf)?

As I turned and faced the door, I could see an older black male standing in the foyer of [redacted] Ware Street. I made this observation through the glass paned front door. As I stood in plain view of this man, later identified as gates, I asked if he would step out onto the porch and speak with me. He replied “no I will not.” He then demanded to know who I was. I told him that I was “Sgt. Crowley from the Cambridge Police” and that I was “investigating a report of a break (sic) in progress” at the residence. While I was making this statement, Gates opened the front door and exclaimed “why, because I’m a black man in America?”. I then asked Gates if there was anyone else in the residence. While yelling, he told me that it was non of my business and accused me of being a racist police officer. I assured gates that I was responding to a citizen’s call to the Cambridge Police and that the caller was outside as we spoke. Gates seemed to ignore me and picked up a cordless telephone and dialed an unknown telephone number. As he did so, I radioed on channel 1 that I was off in the residence with someone who appeared to be a resident but very uncooperative. I then overheard Gates asking the person on the other end of his telephone call to “get the chief” and “what’s the chief’s name?”. gates was telling the person on the other end of the call that he was dealing with a racist police officer in his home. Gates then turned to and told me that I had no idea who I was “messing” with and that I had not heard the last of it. While I was led to believe that Gates was lawfully in the residence, I was quite surprised and confused with the behavior he exhibited toward me. I asked Gates to provide me with photo identification so that I could verify that he resided at [redacted] Ware Street and so I could radio my finding to ECC. Gates initially refused, demanding that I show him identification but then did supply me with a Harvard university identification card. Upon learning that Gates was affiliated with Harvard, I radioed and requested the presence of the Harvard University Police.

The statement above if from Sgt. Crowley and, most likely, is self-serving. Then there is Gates’ version of events:

When Professor Gates opened the door, the officer immediately asked him to step outside. Professor Gates remained inside his home and asked the officer why he was there. The officer indicated that he was responding to a 911 call about a breaking and entering in progress at this address. Professor Gates informed the officer that he lived there and was a faculty member at Harvard University. The officer then asked Professor Gates whether he could prove that he lived there and taught at Harvard. Professor Gates said that he could, and turned to walk into his kitchen, where he had left his wallet. The officer followed him. Professor Gates handed both his Harvard University identification and his valid Massachusetts driver’s license to the officer. Both include Professor Gates’ photograph, and the license includes his address.

Professor Gates then asked the police officer if he would give him his name and his badge number. He made this request several times. The officer did not produce any identification nor did he respond to Professor Gates’ request for this information. After an additional request by Professor Gates for the officer’s name and badge number, the officer then turned and left the kitchen of Professor Gates’ home without ever acknowledging who he was or if there were charges against Professor Gates.

In comparing the two statements, they contain a lot of agreement on how the events unfolded. Both accounts state that Crowley asked Gates to step outside and that he explained the reason for his visit. They also both agree that Crowley asked for verification that Gates belonged in the residence, as well as that Gates provided at least his Harvard ID. They further agree that Gates asked for Crowley’s identification, although they differ as to why.

In fact, Gates never suggests why he wanted the officer’s ID, nor what could have possibly prompted the request. If Gates’ statement is to be accepted as true, we would have to believe that he was a perfect gentleman throughout the process until his request for Crowley’s ID was ignored. Indeed, Gates’ entire story depends on the idea that he only became outwardly upset when Crowley refused to give him identification. And even if that were true, it does not explain how the charges of racism and racial profiling came to be leveled. It’s not as if refusing to show official ID has some racially disparate component to it.

Gates has further problems with his story as well. According to Crowley’s statement, he radioed into ECC with pertinent information as he got it and requested the presence of Harvard Police. In addition, he observed Gates making a phone call to someone and asking for the “chief” while declaring that a racist police officer was in his home. All of these statements are verifiable by looking at the radio transmissions from Crowley and the phone records from Gates. Oddly, Gates makes no mention of the phone call, nor offers any explanation as to how the Harvard Police came to be at the scene. That tends to lend credibility to Crowley’s version of events.

On the other side of the ledger, however, it sure does look like Crowley lured Gates outside in order to arrest him and show him who was boss. His claim that he went outside to speak with Gates because the acoustics were inhibiting his ability to communicate with ECC sounds just a little too perfect. Crowley further neglects to explain why he could not have offered to write the information down for Gates, or even better, simply handed him a business card (which every cop I’ve ever dealt with has had plenty of). That would have presumably satisfied Gates for the time being and allowed Crowley to exit the situation without any further ruckus. Instead, both parties claim that Crowley asked the professor to step outside, in full view of the poor crowd who’s tender mercies were then violated by Gates’ tirade, and voilà Crowley then had a reason to arrest him.

Despite all the foregoing, and regardless of whose version of events you believe, there is simply no indication of why this has been turned into a racial incident. Some suggest that the original caller was racist for immediately assuming that two black men trying to force a door open were criminals. But that’s just absurd, and I would hope that if a passerby sees anyone of any color breaking into my home they call the police. Others hypothesize that a white professor would not have experienced the same treatment at the hands of the police, but that ignores (a) the agreed upon facts, and (b) the fact that police would be derelict if they did not verify who was in the home, and whether or not they belong there. I’m sure there are plenty of people who have run into similar circumstances regardless of race (I know I have). To date, no one has offered a reasonable explanation as to how the incident justifies charges of racism and racial profiling, although plenty of people are perfectly willing to assume such is the case.

Apologies

I may as well get the ball rolling for turning what could have been a succinct piece into a meandering tome. So, sorry about that.

Next up is Officer Crowley who is adamant that no apology will be forthcoming.

Crowley himself, speaking to the Globe yesterday and again last night in Natick, said he will not apologize and asserted, “I am not a racist.’’

Crowley’s police union issued a statement saying it had reviewed the arrest of Gates and expressed “full and unqualified support’’ for his actions.

“Sergeant Crowley is a highly respected veteran supervisor with a distinguished record in the Cambridge Police Department,’’ said the Cambridge Police Superior Officers Association. “His actions at the scene of this matter were consistent with his training, with the informed policies and practices of the Department, and with applicable legal standards.’’

I guess you can forget about the Police Department delivering one either.

As for Gates, well he hasn’t been asked for one, and it does not appear that one will be forthcoming, especially now that the President of the United States has backed him.

Obama acknowledged that Gates is a friend and that since he was not there, he cannot know exactly what role race may have played in the incident.

Gates’ daughter and attorney said they were pleased by the president’s comments.

Charles Ogletree, Gates’ attorney and a fellow Harvard professor, told “Good Morning America’s” Dan Harris today that Gates “was simply pleased that Barack acknowledged he was a friend and what he had read and heard and understood to have been reported that Professor Gates did not violate the law.”

Perhaps the media will apologize for turning this into a major story, and perceptibly backing Gates’ version by playing up the racism angle, not to mention raising the issue at a prime time news conference on health care. Hmmm … no, I guess that’s just silly.

Once the tempting fruit of justifiable anger is consumed, it almost impossible to give up. Should Crowley apologize for arresting Gates? Yes, he probably should, but I’m sure he feels too justified in his anger to do so: Gates shouldn’t have berated him for protecting Gates’ own home, and certainly shouldn’t have called him a racist.

Should Gates apologize for his tumultuous behavior and unwarranted accusations? Most definitely, but that isn’t likely to happen either because Gates feels justified in his anger as well: Crowley shouldn’t have arrested him, causing him embarrassment and extreme discomfort, simply because he was yelling and screaming while on his own property.

So, nobody will apologize, nothing will be fixed, and no wounds will be healed. Welcome to post-racial America.

Podcast for 19 Jul 09

In this podcast, Bruce, Michael, Bryan, and Dale engage in the usual libertarian carping about government, and whether or not we “owe” the GOP something.  We don’t, by the way.

The direct link to the podcast can be found here.

Observations

The intro and outro music is Vena Cava by 50 Foot Wave, and is available for free download here.

As a reminder, if you are an iTunes user, don’t forget to subscribe to the QandO podcast, Observations, through iTunes. For those of you who don’t have iTunes, you can subscribe at Podcast Alley. And, of course, for you newsreader subscriber types, our podcast RSS Feed is here. For podcasts from 2005 to 2007, they can be accessed through the RSS Archive Feed.

The Recession is Racist (Updated)

Just thought you should know:

While unemployment rose steadily for white New Yorkers from the first quarter of 2008 through the first three months of this year, the number of unemployed blacks in the city rose four times as fast, according to a report to be released on Monday by the city comptroller’s office. By the end of March, there were about 80,000 more unemployed blacks than whites, according to the report, even though there are roughly 1.5 million more whites than blacks here.

Across the nation, the surge in unemployment has cut across all demographic lines, and the gap between blacks and whites has risen, but at a much slower rate than in New York.

Economists said they were not certain why so many more blacks were losing their jobs in New York, especially when a large share of the layoffs in the city have been in fields where they are not well represented, like finance and professional services. But in those sectors, the economists suggested that blacks may have had less seniority when layoffs occurred. And black workers hold an outsize share of the jobs in retailing and other service industries that have been shrinking as consumers curtail their spending.

Hmm, so maybe it’s just NYC that’s racist?

“Low-wage workers and workers who lack skills are really getting hit hard,” he said. “These are the workers who are sort of fungible. They lose their jobs very quickly, particularly in retail, the people who move boxes and do unskilled work. There are large numbers of African-Americans in that sector.”

Manufacturing, which has shed more jobs than any other sector of the city’s economy, had become a mainstay for black workers, Mr. Jones said. Government jobs had also become a prime source of solid, stable work for many blacks in the city, he added. But lately there have been cutbacks there, too, as falling tax revenue has forced the paring back of budgets.

So it’s those who hire unskilled workers who are racist? This theme is confusing.

Still, Mr. Parrott’s analysis painted a stark picture of how uneven the effects have been for whites, blacks and members of other minorities. His figures show that whites gained about 130,000 jobs in the year that ended April 30 over the previous 12 months, but blacks, Hispanics and Asians all lost jobs during that period. Employment fell by about 17,000 jobs for blacks, 26,000 jobs for Hispanics and 18,000 for Asians and other ethnic groups, the data show.

“That’s a black-and-white employment picture,” Mr. Parrott said. “It’s like night and day over the 12 months. “There’s a real racial shift taking place in the city’s labor market in the past year.”

Okay, I’ve got it now. It’s white New Yorkers who are racist. Or maybe its the high-skilled labor market that’s racist? Again, I’m not sure.

But the article seems to imply pretty strongly that racism is at the bottom of this problem. Otherwise, why not mention how many of the unemployed are men, or of prime-age, or well-educated? Heck, why not mention that of the 108,000 [139,100 newly] unemployed workers in NYC [over the 12 month period between April 2008 and 2009], 61,000 [92,000] (or a little more than 56% [66%]) are white (which really makes you wonder where the 130,000 jobs figure came from)?* Obviously, the story is intended to tell us that somebody is being racist, and that’s why the “black-white gap in joblessness” is being discussed at all.

Welcome to post-racial Obamaland. If you don’t know whose fault it is, then it’s probably yours, racist.

UPDATE: Those numbers (in the sentence marked above with the *) were really bothering me. I went back and looked at the Bureau of Labor Statistics figures for New York City’s unemployment and discovered that the NYT article is way off. The number of jobs lost between April 2008 and April 2009 was 139,100, of which (according to the article) 17,000 were lost by blacks, 26,000 were lost by Hispanics, and 18,000 were lost by Asians and other races. Somehow or another, Mr. Parrott, who the article cites for the numbers, came up with 130,000 jobs gained by whites in this period. Of course, that makes absolutely no sense because, if it were true, then there would have been an increase in employment during that period, and the unemployment rate would have fallen, not skyrocketed. Instead, 139,100 people became unemployed, only 47,000 of whom were non-white. Ergo, instead of whites gaining 130,000 jobs, they lost 92,000.

There are other problems with the article as well, some of which you can discover by reading the NYT (in fact, the stories are written by the same person). For example, the story above cites low-wage, manufacturing and government workers as hardest hit, but last month the picture was just the opposite (emphasis added):

In the private work force, the weakness in May was concentrated in the fields of communications media, advertising and other information services, as well as in finance and education, according to James Brown, an analyst with the state’s Labor Department.

Those losses offset employment gains in tourism-related businesses and construction, Mr. Brown said. He said that aggressive price-cutting by hotels had kept tourists visiting and saved jobs. Construction benefited from the flow of federal stimulus funds, he added.

The latest numbers, Mr. Brown said, illustrate that New York’s economy is still contracting, despite recent fluctuations in the city’s unemployment rate, which was 8 percent in April.

“Although the unemployment rate actually dipped slightly in three of the last five months, the trend is still strongly upward,” he said. “Despite some positive notes, the city’s job market is still weak and the weakest areas — financial activities and professional and business services — will not resume growth until after the national economy improves.”

I’m sure there’s other stuff that’s wrong as well, but it doesn’t change the fact that you are a racist.

Podcast for 12 Jul 09

In this podcast, Bruce, Michael, and Dale discuss the health care bill that will presented on the House floor.

The direct link to the podcast can be found here.

Observations

The intro and outro music is Vena Cava by 50 Foot Wave, and is available for free download here.

As a reminder, if you are an iTunes user, don’t forget to subscribe to the QandO podcast, Observations, through iTunes. For those of you who don’t have iTunes, you can subscribe at Podcast Alley. And, of course, for you newsreader subscriber types, our podcast RSS Feed is here. For podcasts from 2005 to 2007, they can be accessed through the RSS Archive Feed.

Paranoia, The Destroyer

Obviously, as one with a severe bent towards freedom, I think it is always advisable to keep a close eye on what our government is doing. Especially when it comes to said government granting itself extraordinary powers over the conduct of our lives, and/or over our liberty, in light of particular opinions we might hold, or because of the people we hang around with. The danger in allowing the government latitude to impinge upon our liberty in such cases should be apparent. However, sometimes people start seeing a red under their bed, or a little yellow man in their head, and act just a wee bit paranoid about actions that the government has proposed.

And it goes like this:

… legislation quietly making its way through Congress would give the White House power to categorize political opponents as hate groups and even send Americans to detention centers on abandoned military bases.

Rep. Alcee Hastings – the impeached Florida judge Nancy Pelosi tried to install as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee until her own party members rebelled – introduced an amendment to the defense authorization bill that gives Attorney General Eric Holder sole discretion to label groups that oppose government policy on guns, abortion, immigration, states’ rights, or a host of other issues. In a June 25 speech on the House floor, Rep. Trent Franks, R-AZ, blasted the idea: “This sounds an alarm for many of us because of the recent shocking and offensive report released by the Department of Homeland Security which labeled, arguably, a majority of Americans as ‘extremists.'”

Another Hastings bill (HR 645) authorizes $360 million in 2009 and 2010 to set up “not fewer than six national emergency centers on military installations” capable of housing “a large number of individuals affected by an emergency or major disaster.” But Section 2 (b) 4 allows the Secretary of Homeland Security to use the camps “to meet other appropriate needs” – none of which are specified. This is the kind of blank check that Congress should never, ever sign.

It’s not paranoid to be extremely wary of legislation that would give two unelected government officials power to legally declare someone a “domestic terrorist” and send them to a government-run camp.

(my emphasis)

In support of author Mark Tapscott’s ipse dixit argument that this isn’t paranoia, he points to the internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII. That’s a fair enough point (i.e. it has happened before here), but the analogy between Hastings’ amendment and the WWII internment camps is still pretty weak. For one thing, the internments were not done on the sly, as Tapscott suggests is being done now, and secondly, rounding up a relatively small number of people during WWII, is a lot more plausible than attempting to imprison half the country.

Ed Morrissey also pours some cold water on Tapscott’s theory:

To be fair on the second point, most legislation includes phrases similar to the “meet other appropriate needs” as a means of allowing flexibility in using facilities commissioned by Congress. Under unforeseen circumstances even apart from creating concentration camps for abortion opponents, the six national emergency centers might need to get some use other than housing military personnel or civilians evacuated from a disaster area. That language allows the Pentagon and Homeland Security leeway to adapt for other issues without having to worry that lawyers will descend upon them like locusts for not strictly limiting use to the statutes.

Nevertheless, I decided to delve into the Hastings amendment that Tapscott referred to, and which can be read in its entirety here (pdf). This is the pertinent language that woke some people up feelin’ kinda queer:

‘(2) DEFINITION OF HATE GROUP.—In this subsection, the terms ‘group associated with hate-related violence’ or ‘hate group’ mean the following: …

(G) Other groups or organizations that are determined by the Attorney General to be of a violent, extremist nature.

First of all, note the qualifier “violent” in that definition. Just being pro-life or anti-tax would not bring one under the aegis of this provision unless you also advocated violence in support of the cause.

The other part that seems to have been missed by some, is that this entire amendment is aimed at rooting out hate-group supporters from the military:

(1) PROHIBITION.—A person associated or affiliated with a group associated with hate-related violence against groups or persons or the United States Government, as determined by the Attorney General, may not be recruited, enlisted, or retained in the armed forces.

In other words, the worst thing that can happen as a result of this bill is that someone could be unfairly kept out of the military. I don’t want that any more than I expect anyone else does, but it’s sure a far cry from rounding up Republicans and throwing them in gulags.

That’s not to say that there aren’t problems with the amendment. As many of you probably already know, the military already has several provisions on the books prohibiting associations with extremist hate groups. Moreover, as Rep. Franks noted in arguing against the amendment, when viewed in light of the recent DHS report, allowing unelected and unaccountable officials to determine on their own who is an extremist or not seems like a pretty bad idea:

I take extreme offense that the federal government – through a report issued under the authority of a Cabinet-level official – would dare to categorize people who are “dedicated to a single issue, such as opposition or abortion or immigration” as “right-wing extremists” and it begs the question of whether the Attorney General, under Mr. Hastings’ Amendment, can look to the Napolitano report to decide who is an extremist, or can make the same categorization of the majority of Americans as extremists who may then be kept from joining the military, or who may be discharged.

The desire to risk one’s life on foreign soil for one’s country may well be considered “extreme.” To spill blood on a foreign battlefield in the name of freedom requires extreme devotion.

This amendment could have been written in a way that is more consistent with current DOD policy, which prohibits military personnel from participating in “organizations that espouse supremacist causes; or attempt to create illegal discrimination based on race, creed, color, sex, religion, or national origin…”

So, not only is Hastings’ amendment redundant, it’s also an undesirable (and perhaps unconstitutional) grant of power to the Attorney General. Clearly the amendment as drafted could use some work, and it should be watched and commented upon. However, none of it suggests that Hastings is planning on helping the Obama Administration to unilaterally declare “groups that oppose government policy on guns, abortion, immigration, states’ rights, or a host of other issues” hate groups and then have them carted off to Guantanamo-on-the-Mainland.

heck, even Franks didn’t go so far as to suggest that Democrats want to literally wall off their political rivals. Instead, he claimed that the real intentions of the House were not being reflected in the amendment:

The military has many laws and regulations in place to counter racism and the enlistment of racist militants. Recruits must be thoroughly vetted, and must even explain the symbolism behind their tattoos, body markings and writings. I understand that there is concern that the rules and regulations governing vetting of recruits are not being followed as vigilantly as they could be, and this is a legitimate cause for concern. At the same time, this is a call for better enforcement of the laws in place, rather than a sweeping categorization of persons as “extremists,” as we saw in Janet Napolitano’s agency’s report.

I want to state unequivocally that I believe that it is not the intent of this Congress to label pro-lifers, federalism proponents, and pro-immigration enforcement groups and their affiliates as extremists under the bill. My colleagues on the other side of the aisle should make a strong effort to assuage these concerns and make our intentions clear.

(my emphasis)

Is this an example of poor legislative drafting? Sure. Is the Hastings amendment really necessary in light of existing military rules and regulations? Probably not. Is it a good idea to give unaccountable officials the power to label groups of Americans as extremists simply because of some opinions that they might hold? No, no it isn’t. Does this amendment represent an empowerment of the federal government to intern a large swath of conservative America? Don’t be so paranoid.

Calling the government to account for straying outside it’s bounds of power is always a good idea, but being paranoid about it doesn’t help your cause, and may in fact hurt it. You’re blowing it all with paranoia. You may be feelin’ guilty, feelin’ scared, seeing hidden cameras everywhere, but you’ve got to Stop! Hold on. Stay in control.

‘Cuz paranoia is the destroyer.

Cap-and-Trade Bill: The Home Invasion

One of the single most important reasons we’ve been railing against the push for universal health care around here is because, at bottom, it will result in a massive loss of individual freedom. Aside from the physicians who will be treated like slaves (the only possibility if their services are considered a “right”), government will have every reason to control how we live our lives since, after all, if its paying for our health care then it has a vested interest in how we live our lives. Too much sugar, Tylenol or cigarettes? Well you’ll just have to quit or pay heavy fines or even go without health care altogether. Indeed, this is how virtually all bureaucracy works — i.e. once the state has responsibility for some part of your life, it starts taking over greater and greater portions thereof. As it turns out, cap-and-trade will be no different:

Let me introduce you to a little section of the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill called the “Building Energy Performance Labeling Program”. It’s section 304 [ed. – It’s actually Section 204] of the bill and it says, basically, that your house belongs to the state. See, the Federal Government really wants a country full of energy-efficient homes, so much so that the bill mandates that new homes be 30 percent more energy efficient than the current building code on the very day the law is signed. That efficiency goes up to 50 percent by 2014 and only goes higher from there, all the way to 2030. That, by the way, is not merely a target but a requirement of the law. New homes must reach those efficiency targets no matter what.

But what does that have to do with current homeowners like you? Well, I’m glad you asked. You’re certainly not off the hook, no way, no how. Here’s what the Democrats have planned for you. The program requires that states label their buildings so that we can all know how efficient every building (that includes residential and non-residential buildings) is and it requires that the information be made public.

First, a couple of corrections: (1) The “Building Energy Performance Labeling Program” is in Section 204 of the bill; (2) Section 304 of the Energy Conservation and Production Act (42 U.S.C. 6833) is amended by Section 201 of this bill to mandate the efficiency standards set forth above.

Taking these in order, the labeling program essentially coerces the states into adopting the federal standards set forth in the bill for identifying and reporting the energy efficiency of each structure, whether residential or commercial. Essentially this means that Uncle Sam will get all the information it wants about your energy use in the home by strong-arming the states into gathering it for them.

That’s bad enough, but it’s the amendment to Section 304 of the Energy Conservation and Production Act that really inserts the feds into your life. That’s where the efficiency mandates are laid out in Congress’ attempt to create a national building code:

(c) State Adoption of Energy Efficiency Building Codes-

‘(1) REQUIREMENT- Not later than 1 year after a national energy efficiency building code for residential or commercial buildings is established or revised under subsection (b), each State–

‘(A) shall–

‘(i) review and update the provisions of its building code regarding energy efficiency to meet or exceed the target met in the new national code, to achieve equivalent or greater energy savings;

‘(ii) document, where local governments establish building codes, that local governments representing not less than 80 percent of the State’s urban population have adopted the new national code, or have adopted local codes that meet or exceed the target met in the new national code to achieve equivalent or greater energy savings; or

‘(iii) adopt the new national code; and

‘(B) shall provide a certification to the Secretary demonstrating that energy efficiency building code provisions that apply throughout the State meet or exceed the target met by the new national code, to achieve equivalent or greater energy savings.

If states or localities fail to adopt measures implementing or exceeding the efficiency standards promulgated under this bill, then the federal standards simply become the law of that land:

(d) Application of National Code to State and Local Jurisdictions-

‘(1) IN GENERAL- Upon the expiration of 1 year after a national energy efficiency building code is established under subsection (b), in any jurisdiction where the State has not had a certification relating to that code accepted by the Secretary under subsection (c)(2)(B), and the local government has not had a certification relating to that code accepted by the Secretary under subsection (e)(6)(B), the national code shall become the applicable energy efficiency building code for such jurisdiction.

This is a massive arrogation of power to the federal government, and an intolerable invasion of individual property rights. In order to avoid a fairly blatant exercise of unconstitutional authority, the bill essentially denies federal funds to states that do not comply. However, it also leaves wide open just how compliance will be enforced:

‘(f) Federal Enforcement- Where a State fails and local governments in that State also fail to enforce the applicable State or national energy efficiency building codes, the Secretary shall enforce such codes, as follows:

‘(1) The Secretary shall establish, by rule, within 2 years after the date of enactment of the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, an energy efficiency building code enforcement capability.

‘(2) Such enforcement capability shall be designed to achieve 90 percent compliance with such code in any State within 1 year after the date of the Secretary’s determination that such State is out of compliance with this section.

‘(3) The Secretary may set and collect reasonable inspection fees to cover the costs of inspections required for such enforcement. Revenue from fees collected shall be available to the Secretary to carry out the requirements of this section upon appropriation.

‘(g) Enforcement Procedures- (1) The Secretary shall assess a civil penalty for violations of this section, pursuant to subsection (d)(3), in accordance with the procedures described in section 333(d) of the Energy Policy and Conservation Act (42 U.S.C. 6303). The United States district courts shall also have jurisdiction to restrain any violation of this section or rules adopted thereunder, in accordance with the procedures described in section 334 of the Energy Policy and Conservation Act (42 U.S.C. 6304).‘(2) Each day of unlawful occupancy shall be considered a separate violation.‘(3) In the event a building constructed out of compliance with the applicable code has been conveyed by a knowing builder or knowing seller to an unknowing purchaser, the builder or seller shall be the violator. The Secretary shall propose and, not later than three years after the date of enactment of the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, shall determine and adopt by rule what shall constitute violations of the energy efficiency building codes to be enforced pursuant to this section, and the penalties that shall apply to violators. To the extent that the Secretary determines that the authority to adopt and impose such violations and penalties by rule requires further statutory authority, the Secretary shall report such determination to Congress as soon as such determination is made, but not later than one year after the enactment of the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009.

Subsection g above appears to empower the Secretary to assess civil penalties against individuals for noncompliance. I say “appears” because the italicized portion does not actually show up when you view the bill, only when you cut and paste it as I’ve done here (I never considered the idea that “transparency” in law-making meant “making the law transparent”). Of course, even without that italicized section, it’s pretty easy to see where this is going. If your home isn’t as efficient as the federal government wants it to be, then you will probably be facing some sort of civil penalty. How that could possibly be constitutional I have no idea.

In addition to the outrageous invasion of our homes represented by this bill, the mandates set forth are sure to drive up the costs of new homes in ways that will probably make them unaffordable for a great many people. For example, I would guess that if homes are to be 30% more efficient in just a few years, then they will likely be roughly 30% more expensive. It may be less, it may be more, but either way those prices are going up. That’s not exactly the best prescription for an ailing home market.

The bottom line of all this is that you had better be sure to tidy up your home because the federal government is coming to stay awhile and it’s bringing an awful lot of demands with it. It’s going to make having your mother-in-law over for a spell seem like a Bahamian resort vacation.