Quotulatiousness

September 11, 2017

Harvey, Irma, and Frédéric – the “Broken Window Fallacy” returns

Jon Gabriel tries to set the record straight on what a natural disaster means for the economy (hint, ignore anyone who says the GDP will rise due to the recovery efforts):

Ever since Hurricane Harvey slammed into Texas two weeks ago, we’ve seen countless images of heroic rescues, flooded interstates and damaged buildings.

As awful as the human toll was, it was not as bad as many of us feared. But it will take months to repair the homes, businesses and infrastructure of Houston and the surrounding area. The same will be true in Florida after Hurricane Irma.

The economic impact could be felt for years, but many economists and financial experts think there’s a silver lining.

The Los Angeles Times crowed that Harvey’s destruction is expected to boost auto sales. CNBC reported that Harvey “could be a slight negative for U.S. growth in the third quarter, but economists say it may ultimately provide a tiny boost to the national economy because of the rebuilding in the Houston area.”

Even Goldman Sachs is looking at the bright side, noting that there could be an increase in economic activity, “reflecting a boost from rebuilding efforts and a catchup in economic activity displaced during the hurricane.”

Economically speaking, it’s great news that all this damage in Texas and Florida needs to be fixed, right? Not only does this mean big bucks for cleanup crews, but think of all the money that street sweepers, construction workers and Home Depots will rake in.

And what about all those windows broken by the high winds? This will be the Golden Age of Texas Glaziery!

Not so fast.

All of this is based on a misunderstanding of what the GDP actually measures. It’s a statistic that often gets mentioned in the newspapers and on TV, but it is almost always used in a way that misleads people about what is happening in the economy. GDP — Gross Domestic Product — is intended to show the approximate total of goods and services produced in a national economy. Thus, when the GDP goes up, it means that the current period being measured recorded more goods and services produced than in the previous period.

When a natural disaster like a hurricane, earthquake, flood, or tornado strikes a city, state or region, all the work required to fix the damage will artificially boost the recorded GDP for that year. But the affected area isn’t that much richer than it was before, despite the GDP going up, because the GDP does not measure the losses suffered during the natural disaster.

This is where Frédéric comes in. I’m referring to the French economist and author Frédéric Bastiat, who brilliantly illustrated the GDP misunderstanding in his essay “What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen“:

In the economic sphere an act, a habit, an institution, a law produces not only one effect, but a series of effects. Of these effects, the first alone is immediate; it appears simultaneously with its cause; it is seen. The other effects emerge only subsequently; they are not seen; we are fortunate if we foresee them.

There is only one difference between a bad economist and a good one: the bad economist confines himself to the visible effect; the good economist takes into account both the effect that can be seen and those effects that must be foreseen.

Yet this difference is tremendous; for it almost always happens that when the immediate consequence is favorable, the later consequences are disastrous, and vice versa. Whence it follows that the bad economist pursues a small present good that will be followed by a great evil to come, while the good economist pursues a great good to come, at the risk of a small present evil.

The GDP problem I identified at the start of this post is a general case of what Bastiat called the “Broken Window Fallacy”:

Have you ever been witness to the fury of that solid citizen, James Goodfellow, when his incorrigible son has happened to break a pane of glass? If you have been present at this spectacle, certainly you must also have observed that the onlookers, even if there are as many as thirty of them, seem with one accord to offer the unfortunate owner the selfsame consolation: “It’s an ill wind that blows nobody some good. Such accidents keep industry going. Everybody has to make a living. What would become of the glaziers if no one ever broke a window?”

Now, this formula of condolence contains a whole theory that it is a good idea for us to expose, flagrante delicto, in this very simple case, since it is exactly the same as that which, unfortunately, underlies most of our economic institutions.

Suppose that it will cost six francs to repair the damage. If you mean that the accident gives six francs’ worth of encouragement to the aforesaid industry, I agree. I do not contest it in any way; your reasoning is correct. The glazier will come, do his job, receive six francs, congratulate himself, and bless in his heart the careless child. That is what is seen.

But if, by way of deduction, you conclude, as happens only too often, that it is good to break windows, that it helps to circulate money, that it results in encouraging industry in general, I am obliged to cry out: That will never do! Your theory stops at what is seen. It does not take account of what is not seen.

It is not seen that, since our citizen has spent six francs for one thing, he will not be able to spend them for another. It is not seen that if he had not had a windowpane to replace, he would have replaced, for example, his worn-out shoes or added another book to his library. In brief, he would have put his six francs to some use or other for which he will not now have them.

Let us next consider industry in general. The window having been broken, the glass industry gets six francs’ worth of encouragement; that is what is seen.

If the window had not been broken, the shoe industry (or some other) would have received six francs’ worth of encouragement; that is what is not seen.

And if we were to take into consideration what is not seen, because it is a negative factor, as well as what is seen, because it is a positive factor, we should understand that there is no benefit to industry in general or to national employment as a whole, whether windows are broken or not broken.

Now let us consider James Goodfellow.

On the first hypothesis, that of the broken window, he spends six francs and has, neither more nor less than before, the enjoyment of one window.

On the second, that in which the accident did not happen, he would have spent six francs for new shoes and would have had the enjoyment of a pair of shoes as well as of a window.

Now, if James Goodfellow is part of society, we must conclude that society, considering its labors and its enjoyments, has lost the value of the broken window.

From which, by generalizing, we arrive at this unexpected conclusion: “Society loses the value of objects unnecessarily destroyed,” and at this aphorism, which will make the hair of the protectionists stand on end: “To break, to destroy, to dissipate is not to encourage national employment,” or more briefly: “Destruction is not profitable.”

Related: Shared by Thomas Forsyth on Facebook:

September 1, 2017

The complex dance of supply, demand, scarcity, and price

Filed under: Economics, Environment, Government, Law — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Tim Worstall explains why laws against “price gouging” are denials of economic fact and actually work against getting urgently needed items to the people who require them:

Those little diagrams at the start of the Econ 101 class (supply, demand, price) are not optional extras to our universe, they are instead accurate descriptions of how we humans interact with it. If and when demand rises then price rises, this in turn encouraging an expansion of supply. Thus why we desire to have price flexibility in the face of either changes in supply or demand.

Consider Houston right now in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. It seems a good bet that the tapwater supply is disrupted — flooding has a tendency to do that. We would therefore assume the demand for bottled water has risen – the sensible who normally hydrate from that wondrous invention, the municipal water supply, will not be able to do so, thus increasing the demand for the bottled stuff. Equally, on the other side, there’s going to be a certain difficulty with supply at present — roads 5 feet underwater don’t exactly help trucking.

We thus desire to do two things simultaneously. We want to restrain demand to only the really important things and we want to incentivize greater supply.

Which is exactly what a price rise does for us.

With water at (just to make up a price) $99 a case, people are only going to buy it for drinking water, perhaps only in sippy cups. Which is excellent — we want whatever limited supply of potable water (we’ve really plenty of non-potable around, that’s the basic problem) there is in place to be used for that most valuable use, being potable. We’ve achieved one of our goals therefore, by allocating that scarce resource to its most valuable use: keeping people alive.

We also want to increase supply, though, and being able to sell in Houston for $99 something bought for $9.99 in Beaumont (again, just to invent an example) might well get a few boats carrying loads in – although quite possibly not from Beaumont. Thus, by allowing prices to rise, we’ve at least potentially increased supply.

Our price system, operating without constraint, is thus achieving the two things we desire, a curtailing of demand through rationing to only truly important uses, and a rise in supply.

“But,” goes the cry, “this isn’t fair!”

Indeed it isn’t, and ain’t that a shame, fairness not being a notable feature of this universe we’re struggling to inhabit. All we can do is the best we can. Which is, again, why I insist that there should be variable prices, why there should be no laws against price-gouging. Because this really is a disaster, there really are significant shortages in Houston right now, we really do want to solve them. Which means that we should be using all of the tools at our disposal.

August 31, 2017

“Harvey is not Katrina”

Nicole Gelinas on the crucial differences between the situation faced by New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina and that currently faced by Houston after being inundated by Hurricane Harvey:

The Houston region has received record rain, more falling in less than a week than it usually does in a year, and at least 30 people, including a Houston police officer, have died. Harvey, however, is not Katrina. One measure of this difference is in electricity provision. After Katrina, New Orleans was almost entirely without power for weeks. In Houston, by contrast, 94 percent of customers still had power as of early Wednesday.

Though we won’t know for sure for a while, the fact that Houston has kept the power on is likely in part a legacy of infrastructure investment after previous storms. Five years ago, Hurricane Ike actually cut power to 95 percent of Houston. But, as NPR reported after the storm, the city’s power company, CenterPoint, took steps after Ike, as well as after Tropical Storm Allison in 2001, to upgrade the grid, spending $400 million. Houston, helped by $50 million in federal money, cut down tens of thousands of trees along power lines and outfitted poles with the ability to re-route electricity away from damaged routes toward undamaged ones.

With power, hospitals can continue to operate; even Ben Taub Hospital, surrounded by water, kept the power on. Stores, too, have quickly begun to reopen. Power also means that people whose homes didn’t flood can stay put, lessening the burden on police to keep neighborhoods safe from looters. If the power stays on — as it should, now that worst of the storm is over — Houston should do well. If it goes out, the city will have far more serious problems.

[…]

Empty neighborhoods and business districts invite looting. Houston had already arrested 15 people as of late Tuesday for allegedly trying to steal everything from liquor to an ATM, and for attempted robbery, as well. These arrests, plus a nighttime curfew, are a good sign; after Katrina, New Orleans police officers failed to keep control over the city, both because of the severity of the damage, which left most of the city empty and dark, but also due to their longstanding poor performance. Harris County district attorney Kim Ogg and Houston police chief Art Acevado have already set the right tone to deter wrongdoing. Ogg said Tuesday that thieves “are going to feel the full weight of the law,” and Acevedo said he would push for tough sentences for people convicted. In New Orleans, by contrast, state and local officials’ apocalyptic invocation of “martial law,” rather than calm reliance on the rule of normal law, only exacerbated the sense of chaos.

With some, though not most, Houston neighborhoods now deserted, state law enforcement have a role to play here, as well, with federal support. A competent local police force will be busy, after a storm, in helping still-populated areas. In turn, state police and the National Guard, who have less experience interacting with people on a neighborhood level, can help by patrolling and securing empty areas. To that end, Texas has already activated the National Guard, adding 12,000 people to safety efforts, as well as for rescue and food distribution.

Oh, and as Caroline Baum points out, don’t be misled by idiotic claims that hurricane damage is somehow good for the economy:

You will no doubt hear assertions that the rebuilding effort will provide a boost to contractors, manufacturers and GDP in general. But before these claims turn into predictable nonsense about all the good that comes from natural disasters, I thought it might be useful to provide some context for these sorts of events.

The destruction wrought by a hurricane and flooding qualifies as a negative supply shock. Normal production and distribution channels are destroyed or disrupted. Producers have to find less-efficient (i.e. more expensive) ways to transport their goods. The net effect is lost output and income, and higher prices.

Over the years, I’ve observed a tendency among economists and traders to view such events through a demand-side prism. They see lost income translating into reduced spending on goods and services, which might even warrant some largesse from the central bank.

Of course, that is precisely the wrong medicine. Supply shocks reduce output and raise prices. The Federal Reserve’s interest-rate medicine affects demand. Lower interest rates will increase the demand for gasoline, among other goods and services, but they have no effect on supply. An easing of monetary policy under such circumstances would increase demand for already curtailed supply, raising prices even more.

But wait. What about all the new construction and investment necessitated by the devastation? Homeowners will have to rebuild. Businesses will have to replace destroyed or damaged plants and equipment. Pretty soon, we should start to hear about a boost to GDP growth.

In the short run, yes. But focus on the prefix, “re,” as in re-building and re-placing. After a natural disaster, housing starts are bound to increase, but there will be no net addition to the supply of homes. Capital spending will increase as well, but it will not expand the nation’s capital stock.

She also provides a link to this very topical essay by Frédéric Bastiat: That Which Is Seen and That Which Is Unseen. In short, we see the spending caused by the need to repair damages (in this case from the flooding), but we don’t see what might have been done if the money hadn’t needed to be spent just to replace existing stock.

June 18, 2017

Meet the Texas Lawmaker Fighting Trump on Civil Asset Forfeiture

Filed under: Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 7 Jun 2017

Konni Burton has emerged as the state’s fiercest opponent of civil asset forfeiture.

When the White House hosted a meeting of sheriffs from across the country last February, President Donald Trump joked about destroying the career of a Texas state senator who supported reforms to civil asset forfeiture laws — a controversial practice where police can seize cash and property of people suspected — but in most cases never convicted or charged with a crime.

Though Trump’s comments were meant to support police, they’ve had the opposite of their intended impact — it’s re-energized the push for reform.

Texas state senator Konni Burton was one of many local lawmakers outraged by Trump’s comments. She’s a tea party leader from the Dallas-Fort Worth area who also happens to be pro-life and pro-borders. Burton isn’t the unnamed state senator Trump offered to destroy, but she’s emerged as the state’s fiercest opponent of civil asset forfeiture.

“When you give law enforcement the ability to take your property without a conviction that’s big government,” Burton says.

Last December, Burton filed legislation that would repeal civil asset forfeiture in the state and replace it with criminal asset forfeiture.

“Police can still seize property that they think has been involved in a crime,” says Burton, “but for them to keep it … you have to be convicted of a crime.”

Texas has tried for years to reform civil asset forfeiture laws after horror stories began to emerge about the practice.

One of the most horrifying cases occurred in 2005, when cops seized $10,000 from Javier Gonzales who was driving from Austin to the border town of Brownsville to make funeral arrangements for his dying aunt. The cops didn’t find any drugs or contraband in his car, but they pressured Gonzales to sign away his rights to the cash under the threat of a felony money laundering charge.

Gonzales took the case to court and eventually won his money back in April of 2008.

And in 2012 the ACLU settled a class action lawsuit against the city of Tenaha where cops illegally seized nearly $3 million from traffic stops involving mostly Black and Latino drivers. Victims were told that they could either sign their cash over to the city or go to jail.

Cases like this have earned Texas a D+ from the Institute for Justice for forfeiture laws. Data from the libertarian legal organization shows that the state takes in an average of $41.6 million dollars a year to local law enforcement agencies as a result of these seizures.

Burton’s bill has bipartisan support, but it faces an uphill battle in the Texas legislature where it’s faced opposition from “tough on crime” lawmakers and law enforcement agencies. Burton says her legislation isn’t about stopping police from doing their job, but protecting the property rights of all Texans.

“Everybody is ready for this to be reformed,” Burton says. “You know it’s just upside down and antithetical to what our country should stand for.”

Produced by Alexis Garcia. Camera by Paul Detrick, Austin Bragg, and Meredith Bragg. Music by the Unicorn Heads.

February 19, 2017

NFL tries to bully Texas … here’s how Texas should respond

Filed under: Economics, Football, Government — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

At Ace of Spades H.Q., Ace offers some advice to Texas or to any other state on the receiving end of some NFL “persuasion”:

Texas Governor to NFL: Worry About Your Own Spousal Abuse Scandals Before You Go Dictating to Us That We Need to Allow Penises in the Ladies’ Rooms

The NFL warned a Texas that a bill proposed in its senate — which would reserve bathroom use to the “biological sex” indicated on the door — might jeopardize Texas from getting to host any future Super Bowls.

Governor Greg Abbot had some words for the NFL.

However, if Texas, or any other state, wishes to bar professional sports teams from ever attempting to blackmail them into what laws they can and cannot pass or enforce, I have a much more powerful corrective.

States should begin proposing this law:

No municipality shall have the authority to issue any bonds, or direct any public monies, towards the construction of any arena, stadium, or venue of any type intended partially for use by a private company, unless permission to do so is first granted by an act of the state legislature itself or a statewide referendum affirmatively permitting such a corporate-enrichment boondoggle.

Municipalities are delegated whatever powers of the state the state wishes to confer upon them. Municipalities, you may or may not know, act with the power of the state when they pass ordinances and tax bills and such — but that power derives from the reservoir of powers the state possesses, and which the state has conferred upon them via charters of incorporation.

Those powers can be circumscribed, expanded, limited, or cancelled.

You don’t have to include that last part, the part about the legislative or popular referendum override of the general forbiddance, but that could be thrown in there for RINOs who really do want to do favors for corporate bullies and who therefore won’t vote for such a bill without an escape clause.

When the states get serious about simply cutting off cities’ rights to issue bonds or directly subsidize, with taxpayer money, the new stadiums these free-riding vulture socialists are always demanding, then you’ll see the NFL and NBA adopt a much less high-handed tone.

Previous posts about the economic idiocy of local or state governments subsidizing billionaire sports team owners here, here, and here.

March 22, 2016

QotD: Barbecue, properly considered

Filed under: Quotations, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

I was on the road in Texas last week, addressing Linux user groups in Dallas and Austin. I always enjoy visiting Texas. It’s a big, wide-open place full of generous people who cultivate a proper appreciation of some of my favorite things in life — firearms, blues guitar, and pepper sauces.

And, of course, one of the biggest things Texas has going for it is barbecue. And not the pallid imitation served up by us pasty-faced Yankees here where I live (near Philadelphia, PA) but the real thing. Barbecue, dammit. Red meat with enough fat on it to panic a health-foodist right out of his pantywaist, slow-cooked in a marinade sweeter than a mother’s kiss and eaten with sauces hot enough to peel paint. Garnish with a few extra jalapenos and coleslaw and wash it down with cheap soda, lemonade, or beer. Food of the gods.

I swear your testosterone level goes up just smelling this stuff. After a few mouthfuls of Rudy’s carnivoral bliss you’ll be hankerin’ to cultivate a drawl, wear a Stetson and drive a pickup truck with a gun rack. (I draw the line at country music, though. A man’s got to have some standards.)

Eric S. Raymond, “The Non-Portability of Barbecue”, Armed and Dangerous, 2002-07-18.

October 19, 2015

Dildos versus guns – Sarah Hoyt on a modern version of magical thinking

Filed under: Politics, Randomness, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In case the title isn’t clear enough, there’s a protest started recently at the University of Texas in Austin where students upset at a recent court ruling allowing concealed weapons to be carried on campus came up with what they thought was a perfect counterpoint: they’d open carry dildos instead. Sarah Hoyt comments:

… I have no idea what Ms. Jin majored in, but I can sort of follow the tracks of her thought. Logically, carrying sex toys to campus to protest guns makes absolutely NO sense. I could see carrying signs, or … I don’t know, police whistles, if you’re convinced you’re completely safe if you can just call the police. I can even see, in a more sane way, wearing a protective vest and claiming this is better than guns for defense. I mean, at least they are in the same general kind of thing and sort of kind of address the problem in different ways.

BUT no. Because this is not reasoning. This is magical thinking. WORSE. This is magical thinking based on a world that doesn’t exist, a world that was sold to Ms. Jin (literally. College is expensive) by academics so divorced from reality that they can’t find it with two hands, a cane and a seeing eye dog.

In this world, you see, conservatives love guns and hate sex. This is all “explained” with pseudo Freudian patter about how guns are a substitute for the penis. This is total nonsense and old nonsense at that, stuff we LAUGHED at for being pseudo profound way back in the seventies.

But they absolutely believe that we defend the second amendment not because we want to be responsible for our own self-defense, not because we believe power derives from the individual and that therefore an individual must be capable of reining in the government when it gets out of control. No. They think we want guns because that’s the way we express our sexual repression. (Actually now I think about it, my gun obsessed friends are also the most sex-positive, so their idea not only is wrong, it’s bizarrely wrong.)

Since Ms. Jin has never considered that these stories she was sold are in fact stories with no relation to reality, her reasoning went something like “They’re carrying guns and that upsets me. I must carry something that upsets them. Ahah! Dildos.”

In an even mildly sane world, the press would have made her a laughing stock, because that reasoning makes no sense whatsoever.

But the press buys into the same imaginary world in which somehow the belief in guns for defense is a Freudian thing and so the “gun” value can be countered with the “dildo” value.

This is not grown up thinking. It’s magical thinking, in which complex issues get reduced to amulets and symbols, countered by other amulets and symbols.

Again, this is sort of the human default. And believing absurd things about those you believe to be the enemy is also completely normal. The left calls it “othering” and is completely oblivious to the fact that they do it. A lot.

But it’s still human-normal.

May 29, 2015

The legacy of the great satanic sex abuse panic still resonates today

Filed under: Law, Media, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Radley Balko reports on the recent release of two former Austin, Texas daycare owners … who’ve been in prison since 1992 on the testimony of a toddler and “expert evidence” from a satanic ritual expert and how the moral panic of the day made it impossible for the courts to see how utterly unlikely the case actually was:

The panic actually began in the 1980s. It was instigated and perpetuated mostly by groups of fundamentalist Christians who saw Satan in every heavy metal album, “Smurfs” episode, and Dungeons & Dragons game, along with a quack cadre of psychotherapists who were convinced they could dig up buried memories through hypnosis. What they did instead was shed some light on just how potent the power of suggestion can be. Remarkably, children were convinced to testify about horrifying — and entirely fictional — violations perpetrated on them by care workers and, in some cases, by their own parents.

But it wasn’t just children. As the Kellers’ conviction shows, the panic was so overwhelming, it could convince trained medical professionals to see abuse where there was none. Some defendants were convicted of gruesome crimes such as the aforementioned dismembering of babies despite the fact that there were no corpses and no babies missing from the immediate area.

[…]

That the highest court in Texas still can’t bring itself to declare the couple innocent, in spite of all that we know now, shows just how difficult it can be to undo the damage caused by a moral panic and junk science in the courtroom.

[…]

Here’s an observation from the panic that I don’t think has been fully explored: These kids didn’t make up these stories. In this case and dozens of others, the kids were telling tales with details about geography, history and current events about which kids of their age couldn’t have known. That’s likely what made their stories seem somewhat credible. But the fact that it all was fictitious reveals a particularly unsettling truth: These sick, lurid, unimaginable abuses could only have been a product of the imaginations of the therapists, social workers, cops and/or prosecutors who interviewed the children. If the memories were implanted, those are the only people who could have implanted them. That means that the same people entrusted to protect these kids, and in whom these communities trusted to police the streets, prosecute crimes and administer therapy, were ultimately the ones capable of dreaming up detailed sexual fantasies that put children in bizarre rituals involving violence, animals, corpses and so on.

There’s a lot to be learned from these cases. For one, there are lessons about professional accountability: Not only were the vast majority of the prosecutors who put these innocent people in prison in these cases never sanctioned, but also most went on to great professional success, sometimes because of their role in these high-profile cases, and sometimes even after it was widely known that the people they prosecuted were innocent. There are other lessons here about how we screen “expert” witnesses, and how bad science gets into the courtroom. There are lessons about the power of suggestion that could be applied to eyewitness testimony and how we conduct police lineups.

But the drawing of lessons is something we typically do once a crisis is over. This one still isn’t. There are still people in prison awaiting exoneration in these cases.

May 5, 2015

The DEA don’t pay

Filed under: Business, Law, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

At Techdirt, Tim Cushing carefully explains that the US Drug Enforcement Agency takes on no responsibility when they hijack your company’s equipment and set you up as a drug gang “competitor”, even when one of your employees dies in the resulting gunfight:

Craig Patty runs a tiny trucking company in Texas. He has only two trucks in his “fleet.” One of them was being taken to Houston for repairs by his employee, Lawrence Chapa. Or so he thought.

In reality, Chapa was working with the DEA, which had paid him to load up Patty’s truck with marijuana and haul it back to Houston so the DEA could bust the prospective buyers. That’s when everything went completely, horribly wrong.

    [A]s the truck entered northwest Houston under the watch of approximately two dozen law enforcement officers, several heavily armed Los Zetas cartel-connected soldiers in sport utility vehicles converged on Patty’s truck.

    In the ensuing firefight, Patty’s truck was wrecked and riddled with bullet holes, and a plainclothes Houston police officer shot and wounded a plainclothes Harris County Sheriff’s Office deputy who was mistaken for a gangster.

    The truck’s driver was killed and four attackers were arrested and charged with capital murder.

Until Patty received a call notifying him that his employee had been killed, he was completely unaware of the DEA’s operations involving both his truck and his driver. Unbelievably, things got even worse for Patty after this discovery.

Patty’s truck was impounded by the DEA. After it was released to him, it was out of service for several months as it underwent more than $100,000-worth of repairs. The DEA offered him no financial assistance for the truck it helped fill with bullet holes nor did it offer to make up for the revenue Patty lost while his truck was out of commission. His insurance company likewise turned down his claim, citing his truck’s use in a law enforcement operation.

Nor did the DEA offer to do something to repair his newly-acquired reputation as a drug runner and/or DEA informant — something that makes Patty’s life a little bit more dangerous.

November 5, 2014

Adrian Peterson’s legal situation now clear … NFL disciplinary situation less so

Filed under: Football, Law — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 07:04

Yesterday, Adrian Peterson agreed to a plea deal that would reduce the charges he faced from a felony to a misdemeanor (thereby also reducing the maximum punishment from jail time to a fine, probation, and community service). He pleaded no contest to the lesser charges and if he completes the probation without incident, he won’t have a criminal record. He will also be subject to random drug testing but no travel restrictions. Despite this, his situation with the NFL is still up in the air — he’s been on the commissioner’s exempt list since week two, getting paid but not being allowed to practice with the team — and the only way he’ll be allowed back on the field is after Roger Goodell decides on what league discipline is now called for.

August 27, 2014

Disappointingly, SpaceX plays the crony capitalist game with Texas politicians

Filed under: Business, Government, Space — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 10:28

If you’ve been reading the blog for a while, you’ll have picked up that I’m a fan of SpaceX and other non-governmental organizations in the space race. I wouldn’t go so far as to say Elon Musk is a hero, but I’ve generally been happy about his company’s successes in bringing more private enterprise into the launch business. However, as Lachlan Markay explains in some detail, Elon Musk is not above taking government funds to do things he’d be doing anyway, just like crony capitalists in the rest of the government-industrial complex:

Shortly before a private spaceflight company’s test rocket exploded over southern Texas last weekend, state lawmakers announced millions in subsidies to get the company to continue launching rockets in the Lone Star State.

Space Exploration Technologies, commonly known as SpaceX, will receive more than $15 million in public financing to build a launch pad in Cameron County, near the Mexican border.

The subsidies came after SpaceX’s founder, billionaire tech mogul and pop technologist Elon Musk, made campaign contributions to key state lawmakers and hired lobbyists with ties to Austin.

SpaceX is one of a number of innovative and disruptive startups that, though lauded by some free marketeers for making government-run markets more competitive, are finding themselves drawn to political advocacy, whether out of shrewdness or necessity.

Of the more than $15 million in incentives for a SpaceX launch facility in Brownsville, Texas, announced this month, $13 million will come from the state’s Spaceport Trust Fund.

Initially created in 2002, the fund began to wind down together with the idea of commercial spaceflight. But with the ascendancy of SpaceX and similar companies, Texas looked to secure its place as a destination for commercial spaceflight operations.

Musk took notice. A prolific political donor, he began pouring money into the campaigns of key state lawmakers. On November 7, 2012, he donated $1,000 to state representative Rene Oliveira (D). Two weeks later, he gave state senator Eddie Lucio Jr. (D) $2,000.

The next month, the Associated Press reported that Lucio and Oliveira were working to secure state backing for a potential SpaceX launch pad in Brownsville.

As Drew M. says at Ace of Spades H.Q., it’s not like this is a new thing for businesses or for politicians, it’s just disappointing:

I’m not naive to think this sort of stuff hasn’t gone on forever and will go on forever, it’s simply human nature. That’s why making government at levels as small as possible is so important.

What does continue to surprise me when it shouldn’t is how cheap it is to buy politicians. Remember Team GOP’s hero, Mississippi Senator Thad Cochran’s longtime aide who accepted $20-30K in gifts from Jack Abrahmof in return to ensuring the felon’s clients received millions in government money?

When you think about it it’s really no surprise that politicians sell themselves so cheaply. Unlike honorable whores who sell their own bodies, politicians sell other people’s money. Plus, they make it up in volume.

This bi-partisan rush to hand out everyone’s money for their own gain is part of why I’m drifting away from conservatism and towards libertarianism. Screw them all.

August 23, 2014

SpaceX test launch goes wrong

Filed under: Space, Technology — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 08:36

As they say, this is why you do the testing: to find out what can go wrong (and hopefully fix the design to prevent that from happening again). The Washington Post‘s Christian Davenport reports:

A new test rocket manufactured by Elon Musk’s upstart space company, SpaceX, blew itself up a few hundred feet over the Texas prairie after a malfunction was detected, the company said in a statement Friday evening.

At its facility in McGregor, Tex., the company was testing a three-engine version of the F9R test vehicle, the successor to its re­usable Grasshopper rocket, which was designed to launch and then land on the same site.

“During the flight, an anomaly was detected in the vehicle and the flight termination system automatically terminated the mission,” company spokesman John Taylor said in the statement.

The rocket never veered off course, and there were no injuries or near injuries, the statement said. A representative from the Federal Aviation Administration was on site during the test flight.

The company stressed that rooting out problems like the one exposed in the flight is the purpose of the test program and said Friday’s test “was particularly complex, pushing the limits of the vehicle further than any previous test. As is our practice, the company will be reviewing the flight record details to learn more about the performance of the vehicle prior to our next test.”

May 9, 2014

The 1964 trial of Jack Ruby

Filed under: History, Law, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

The Toronto Sun shares a portion of Peter Worthington’s Looking for Trouble (now available as an e-book) dealing with the trial of Jack Ruby. Worthington had been in the room when Ruby gunned down Lee Harvey Oswald.

The Ruby trial was pure showbiz. While the witnesses and characters who surfaced during the trial were Damon Runyon, the judge and lawyers seemed straight out of Al Capp and Dogpatch. Judge Joe B. Brown’s legal education before he was elected to the bench consisted of three years of night school 35 years earlier. In Dallas he was known as Necessity – “because Necessity knows no law.”

[…]

One day as a stripper who worked at Ruby’s nightclub called Little Lynn (who was over nine months pregnant at the time), was waiting to testify, seven prisoners in the connecting county jail grabbed a woman hostage and fled. They had fashioned a pistol of soap, pencils and shoe polish, persuaded guards that it was real, and made their break, witnessed by some 100 million viewers.

Little Lynn fainted and Belli prepared to play midwife. A BBC reporter on the phone to his office was describing the action and repeatedly swore to his editors that he was neither kidding, nor had he been drinking. “Listen, you bloody fools, this is America, this is Texas … any bloody insane thing is possible here!”

The next day, the New York Daily News ran an eloquent black headline: “Oh, Dallas!”

The jury returned in 140 minutes with a guilty verdict. In Texas, where the juries set the penalty, they opted for the electric chair.

Belli returned to San Francisco in disgust. “I shall never return here; it’s an evil, bigoted, rotten, stinking town.”

As it happened, Ruby died three years later and won a form of immortality and a place in criminal and political legend.

And as for conspiracy theories, the flaw is that Oswald was an ideologue, a semi-literate left-wing extremist, while Ruby wouldn’t know what an ideologue was unless he did a strip-tease for him.

To choose two such perfect foils on which to base a presidential murder plot challenges credulity. There has been so much official deceit, perjury, rationalization and cover-up that the deeds seem […] more sinister than they actually have been.

We will probably never know the truth.

November 23, 2013

Houston – sex trafficking capital of the world (says Dallas newspaper)

Filed under: Law, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:17

According to a Dallas newspaper, Houston is the focal point of a vast sex trafficking operation:

Check out this obvious crap — unbelievable to any thinking person — in the November 22 Dallas Morning News.

The Texas Senator and Representative that the paper apparently very credulously and obediently took notes from contend that there are 300,000 sex trafficking cases prosecuted every year — “in Houston alone.”

Here’s the quote from the Dallas Morning News editorial:

    Editorial: Cracking down on sex traffickers

    Two Texas Republicans, Sen. John Cornyn and Rep. Ted Poe of the Houston area, are co-sponsoring a bill that would impose stiff penalties on these adult victimizers of up to life in prison. The Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act, which has bipartisan support in both houses, would supplement an existing law that focuses primarily on punishing sex-trafficking organizations abroad.

    Poe and Cornyn estimate that one-quarter of U.S. sex-trafficking victims have Texas roots. Poe says our state’s proximity to Mexico and high immigrant population give the state a particularly high profile. In Houston alone, about 300,000 sex trafficking cases are prosecuted each year.

Do they work butt-drunk at this paper?

300,000? Do you realize how many people that is?

[…]

Of course, Houston’s population is only 2.161 million. So, throw in my fantasy guestimate of at least 200,000 uncaught and unpunished people guilty of sex trafficking on top of the 300,000 supposedly documented. This suggests that a vast segment of Houston’s population — at least 15 percent and maybe 25 percent — is engaged in the business of sex trafficking.

Math is hard.

August 10, 2013

Vikings lose preseason opener to the Texans

Filed under: Football — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 10:10

With it being just a preseason game, I knew there was little chance of watching this game on TV, but I thought the live radio coverage might be available. I was surprised to find that even radio feeds are now territory-locked so that you can’t listen to them outside the US. Instead, I followed the course of the game on Twitter. It allowed me to keep playing Guild Wars 2 between checking for updated tweets, so that was positive.

Not so positive was the game’s outcome, where the Texans scored two unanswered touchdowns in the second half to put the game out of reach. You can watch the game highlights here. Starting quarterback Christian Ponder was only in for one series that ended prematurely on an interception:

Christian Ponder has made strides this offseason and training camp, and he’s poised to take another step forward in his career development now that he has more experience under his belt and the weapons around him in the passing game are more lethal. Friday night was his first chance to showcase this improvement on the big stage, but it was too short-lived for the casual observer to glean much. He connected with Jerome Simpson in impressive fashion for 15 yards on his first passing attempt, but he went back to Simpson on the next play and the offering went off the receiver’s fingertips and into the arms of a waiting defender. Ponder’s stat line won’t blow anyone away, and the stat line of his backup will cause some to wonder if there should be a quarterback controversy, but we are nowhere near that at this point and now we’ll just have to wait another week to see Ponder in a game situation.

Despite the final score, the wide receiving corps does seem to have improved since last year:

On Friday night, the receivers made good on that praise by performing well. Burton hauled in three catches for 67 yards, Patterson had four for 54 and even Joe Webb made a couple of impressive grabs in important situations. He had two receptions for 11 yards on three targets, which included a tough behind-the-body catch on 3rd and 2. Greg Jennings didn’t play and Jarius Wright made a quick exit, but the receivers had a strong showing and the Vikings will rest on Friday night knowing this group has made huge progress since the end of the 2012 season.

[…]

It was a great night for Patterson. The Vikings won the toss and received, and Patterson took the opening kickoff and dashed 50 yards through Houston’s coverage group, taking a few easy strides toward the middle before sticking his foot in the ground and turning upfield with an extra burst you just don’t see in a lot of football players. After that, Patterson made plays in the passing game, including receptions of 22 and 18 yards. In total, Patterson had five touches for an average of 20.8 yards per touch. He broke a few tackles, refused to go down and displayed a playmaking quality that tempted the Vikings into trading back up into the 1st round to draft him.

Christopher Gates has a few “knee-jerk reactions” as he calls them:

-Nice job by Zach Line on his touchdown reception. As PA pointed out numerous times on the broadcast, he had more all-purpose yards at SMU than Eric Dickerson (but not Craig James), so he has some ability with the football. Will it be enough for him to make the team? We’ll have to see.

[…]

-Bobby Felder had an up-and-down night, giving up the Texans’ first touchdown to DeAndre Hopkins on a play where he actually had pretty solid coverage. He also made a couple of nice plays in goal-line defense in the third quarter that forced the Texans to settle for a tying field goal. Then he got caught in no man’s land on the Texans’ second touchdown.

-It’s going to sound like a cliche, but Michael Mauti just looks like an NFL middle linebacker. As we’ve said before, if the guy stays healthy, he was an absolute steal where the Vikings got him.

-Sharrif Floyd had a decent night with a tackle for loss and a batted pass (somehow, what with those short arms), before leaving with a knee issue. He’s not going to miss any practice time, according to the reports, so his being held out the rest of the game was strictly precautionary.

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