Friday, July 31, 2009


There are severe limits to the good that the government can do for the economy, but there are almost no limits to the harm it can do.
Milton Friedman, Nobel laureate

1. Rider trash fee opposition op-ed in SD UNION-TRIBUNE.

2. One area of employment grew in the county – you’ll never guess. Well, actually you probably WILL guess.

3. County dismissing volunteer firefighters like crazy – and crazy is the word for it.

4. Read about Rider’s heroes – volunteer firefighters.

5. Media blacks out story predicting 1.1 million California jobs lost from AB 32’s Draconian environmental regs

6. For a great daily dose of free market economics, go to . . .

7. Fools! You could have made a fortune (like me) investing in greedy health care companies. Or not.

8. California “only” the 6th worst state? We wish!

9. Feds’ stimulus often “much ado about nothing.” Their PR departments are working overtime. Naturally at our expense.

10. If Obama disappoints his fans, they will have only themselves to blame.

1. Rider trash fee opposition op-ed in SD UNION-TRIBUNE

In the Sunday, 26 July edition of the San Diego Union-Tribune "Dialog -- Insight and Opinion" section there is a full page "Trash Talk" two-opinion debate. I wrote the pro-taxpayer column – you’ll see the details below.

The issue is whether to repeal the San Diego city "People's Ordinance" which includes single unit residential trash pickup as a city service. Proponents of the repeal want to start charging fees for this city service, while opponents (such as I) see this as a slippery slope -- a way to start raising DE FACTO taxes without the required 2/3 vote of the electorate (or any vote at all, actually). See my column for more thoughts on this.

BTW, the U-T (hopefully inadvertently) summarized the issue with a pro-fee, anti-taxpayer explanation published with each column -- omitting any reason for NOT imposing the fee.

Here's the U-T summary. See what you think.


The city of San Diego is mandated, under the People's Ordinance of 1919, to use tax money, rather than a fee for service, to pay for trash pickup at most single-family residences. Over the years, many have called for the repeal of the ordinance on the grounds that it is unfair to those who live in multifamily units and that by charging for trash pickup, as many municipalities do, the city could ease its financial problems.


BACKGROUND: The San Diego County Grand Jury did an "investigation" and concluded that we should start charging fees. But their investigation is by law secret, and they won't tell you who they talked to. Their foreman wrote the "raise fees" column.

Well, I have a good idea who they talked to -- and, more important, I know who they DIDN'T talk to. They went to city bureaucrats and politicians who favor charging the fee, and probably some Big Government professor at a local government college. Apparently the (not so) Grand Jury spoke with NO ONE who disagreed. Not me, not Carl DeMaio, not the San Diego County Taxpayers Association (which actually has not yet taken a position on the matter) -- not anyone I can find who is familiar with city government and opposes the new fees.

IF this change would result in REBATES to all San Diego taxpayers of the current taxes being spent on trash pick-up, I could support such a measure. But this is about one thing – getting more revenue for the city so the politicians don’t have to face down the city workers over excessive compensation issues.

You can read the two columns online. Of course, you can read the comments by readers – and my devastating retorts. There a lively give-and-take between yours truly and the fee fanciers.

Here are the two SD U-T columns, each preceded by the URL.


Trash talk
Before we pay more, spending must be controlled
By Richard Rider

July 26, 2009

To now start charging “fees” – in reality taxes levied without a vote of the citizens – for city services previously paid for by taxes is a dangerous idea, and shear madness in a recession.

For generations, the city of San Diego has provided for single-unit residential trash pickup, paid out of city revenues. Now we are told that this historical service is a budget problem, contributing to the city budget deficit. A recent grand jury report calls for new fees for residential trash pick-up. What has changed?

Granted, this recession is dramatic. But city revenue has dropped only modestly. Indeed, property tax revenue is still going up. The city's 2009-2010 general fund revenue is projected to be only 3.7 percent lower than 2008-2009.

What is different is San Diego's municipal expenses. They have soared. And clearly the driving force is our runaway city salaries, pensions and health care costs.

A recent grand jury report claimed that these compensation excesses have largely been brought under control – an embarrassingly silly assertion. In this stock market, the city pension fund deficit is approaching $2 billion. Unfunded retiree health care costs exceed $1 billion. Three years after the citizens mandated that the city begin competitive bidding of municipal services, there has been zero progress. The vaunted two-tier pension plan for new non-safety employees saves only a tiny amount for taxpayers, and is still far too generous. This past calendar year, city payroll costs – not counting benefits – rose by $43 million.

To now start charging “fees” – in reality taxes levied without a vote of the citizens – for city services previously paid for by taxes is a dangerous idea, and shear madness in a recession. It's a slippery slope, leading to city labor unions insisting on fees for all sorts of municipal functions in order to maintain the employees' opulent compensation packages.

How bad can it get? Some towns in other states have been charging fees exceeding $500 to have police or firefighters to come to a traffic accident – even a minor one.

Trash fee proponents want us to pay more, but refuse to control costs. Before such fees are even considered, we should first make every effort to improve efficiency.

Most important, we should put city trash collection out to aggressive competitive bid for substantial savings. We are the only city in the county to use government workers to pick up refuse.

Just because city taxpayers pay for a service does not mean that overpriced city employees have to provide the service. Given our incredible overcompensation of city workers, taxpayer savings could easily exceed 30 percent. Similar savings can be achieved by putting other city functions out to bid – libraries, printing, street light maintenance, landscaping, etc.

The majority of the San Diego City Council is beholden to the labor unions that put them in office. But these politicians are not fools. They know they can't keep spending what they don't have.

It comes down to this: If our politicians run out of revenue options, they will control spending: seeking ways to deliver city services at lower cost. If they can talk us into paying more taxes and fees, they won't control spending.

Our job as voters and taxpayers is to provide the adult supervision needed to get our elected officials to do the job we pay them for – making citizens' welfare a higher priority than the prosperity of city workers.

Rider is chairman of San Diego Tax Fighters.


RAISE FEES OP-ED by Rider’s opponent

Trash talk
Paying for a service many San Diegans don't get

By Leonard D. Martin

July 26, 2009

Yada, yada, yada (I thoughtfully summarized it for you, but the link IS above for you to read).

2. One area of employment grew in the county – you’ll never guess. Well, actually you probably WILL guess.

RIDER COMMENT: For me, two items stood out from a 20 July Rick Toscano blog/column in the Voice of San Diego concerning the San Diego County job market for the fiscal year just ended 30 June, 2009:

A. Of the 9 categories of employment in the county, the largest was “government.” An amazing 18% of working folks in the county are employed by some government – federal, state or local. Of course, this does not count people employed under government contracts. Nor does it count those employed by government regulations, or the government-created legal morass we find ourselves in.

B. Of these 9 categories of employment, only one category actually grew. Need I tell you which one? HINT FOR DULLARDS: I don’t even need to bother telling you what the other 8 categories are.

3. County “firing” volunteer firefighters like crazy – and crazy is the word for it

RIDER COMMENT: As you probably recall, I headed up the opposition to last November’s San Diego countywide parcel tax (the perennial Prop A) to pay for a regional fire fighting agency. Everything I said in our opposition argument seems to have been proven true.

Except one thing.

My “official” published opposition SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE op ed was titled “No: County already has funds to improve firefighting.” Of course, that assertion proved correct.

What I got wrong was the timing. On election night when it became apparent that we opponents would indeed win, I predicted in a Channel 10 TV interview/debate that “within six months the county will come up with the funding for the fire district.” Actually it took less than three weeks after election night.

We saw this “found money” turnaround before when a few years ago the county pushed a ¼% sales tax proposition for libraries. Their actual semi-official campaign slogan was “There is no Plan B” – claiming that there was no source available to fund new and renovated branch libraries. We won that election handily. As it turned out, they started coming up with the needed funding less than 48 hours after they lost the election. Essentially everything was built that they wanted without the “critical” sales tax increase.

But back to the county’s new regional fire agency. Here’s the ironic postscript. As I’ve said before, government can screw up anything. Now they’ve screwed up our county volunteer firefighting.

The meddling of the County Supervisors has been disqualifying or driving away many of the volunteer firefighters that used to work for free, but are now essentially being banned from volunteering and forced to quit. In particular, this includes our grizzled veterans who know more about back country firefighting than those labor union city slicker firefighters who assist in the big brushfires.

It's apparent that the politicians and others who are so anxious to raise the standards for volunteer firefighters miss one important point -- supply and demand.

PAID fire departments have oodles of applicants -- as many as 100 applicants per opening. Most of today's newly hired urban paid firefighters are, if anything, overqualified. Paid fire departments can be picky.

On the other hand, VOLUNTEER fire departments have a constant battle getting volunteers. Along with the lack of pay, volunteers are required to take the same fire fighting (and often EMT) training of our paid firefighters -- sometimes at their own expense. This involves hundreds of hours of training and studying. And has been pointed out, the volunteers often must pay for most of their own gear.

Raising the standards shrinks the pool of volunteers. And it looks like that shrinkage is going to hit us hard this fall just when we may be facing major back country fires. Given our drought situation, that seems to be a likely event.

The irony is we can expect the labor union firefighters and politicians to place substantial blame on the county-forced understaffed volunteer fire departments for the property damage and lost lives from such fires. 'Vat a country!

How this mass disqualification of firefighter volunteers saves lives and property is an absolute mystery. But it’s a tale worth telling. Or, in this case, reading. And I strongly encourage you to read my next item as well – an excellent ode to volunteer firefighters.


Big Agency Burns Little Volunteers
By Joe Deegan | Published Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The history of wildfires in San Diego’s backcountry has yielded a vigorous volunteer firefighting subculture. Its foundations are self-reliance, strong community involvement, ingenuity, independence, and thrift. Today, those who embody the tradition feel threatened. They perceive the enemy to be the new San Diego County Fire Authority.

A plan to consolidate fire departments, both professional and volunteer, has been the pet project of county supervisor Dianne Jacob since the mid-1990s. But after the 2003 Cedar fire, according to the Los Angeles Times on October 31, 2003, Jacob conceded that “even with [consolidation], there is a dark cloud over all of us called lack of adequate resources.”

On May 29, 2008, the County Grand Jury pinned the blame for wildfire damage on too much trust in backcountry volunteer fire departments. The report suggested that people were acting as if it was still “the ‘Old West,’ when people banded together and formed groups to protect themselves.” What is needed, according to the report, is what most large counties use, a regional firefighting agency.

So the County asked citizens to fund it. But at the polls last fall, voters narrowly defeated a $52-a-year parcel-tax initiative to consolidate all fire departments in the region. The plan had wider support than the outcome indicates, as a two-thirds vote was required for passage. In the wake of defeat and anticipation of more big wildfires, a familiar rant went up that San Diegans are too cheap to pay for government services.

But Jacob had Plan B ready to go, a $15.5 million agency with the power to coordinate firefighting efforts in San Diego’s backcountry. “County officials said the authority [could] be formed although voters rejected the tax,” according to a November 23, 2008 California Fire news release. The new agency has responsibility to watch over “about a third of the county,” more than 920,000 acres. Within that area, “The authority will cover about 50,000 people…now served by six volunteer agencies and Cal Fire.… The volunteer agencies will remain but will be better-funded and administered by a fire warden, a new position.”

“The fire authority is one of the first steps in the process of creating a countywide agency,” the news release continued. “Jacob said she hopes to expand the regional authority within the next two years to include other parts of the unincorporated county now served by rural fire districts. After that, urban areas served by fire departments would be included.”

The good news for the volunteer firefighters seemed to be the $95 to $110 per 24-hour shift they’re set to receive under the new plan. But as paid employees, they had to qualify for workers’ compensation. And that meant passing a physical exam, as well as background and credit check, conditions of the contract the County offered them. A number of volunteers are in their 70s and/or out of shape. So many resisted signing the contract, saying they were thinking over their decision until the last minute of an initial July 1 deadline the County gave them. But on June 24, the County told the volunteers they had until the next day to sign or lose the opportunity to fight future backcountry fires.

During the period of mid- to late June, the Ramona Sentinel and North County Times aired out volunteer firefighters’ grievances about having to take the physical exam. One fire chief stated that some volunteers feared an exam failure would mean they wouldn’t be able to qualify for health insurance in the future. The newspaper accounts focused mainly on the volunteer departments surrounding Ramona.

To get a different perspective, I speak with three volunteers from the Shelter Valley Volunteer Fire Department. Shelter Valley lies 16 miles east and downhill from Julian. All three of the volunteers concurred that the physical exam constitutes a serious issue for many firefighters who still have much to contribute. Fire operations chief Tony Mayors, who is 53, tells me he knows he can’t pass the exam due to his high blood pressure. But he has been a volunteer in Shelter Valley for 12 years and the operations chief for 5. He believes his experience of fighting fires in the area is still a valuable resource.

Mayors eventually did fail the physical, but, the County has not rejected him outright. Instead, he’s been placed on hold while officials try to figure out how he might be used. “I think I should still be able to go out on calls,” Mayors says. “Call it quality control or whatever you want, but I’ve been doing this so long I can correct less experienced firefighters’ mistakes when I see them. That’s why I became a chief. I know I can’t carry a hundred-pound fire hose up a steep hill. But I can hardly be useful in my own way if I’m not allowed to go out on calls.”

I speak about the issue with Gig Conaughton, a spokesman for the County’s Department of Planning and Land Use, the administrative home for the new fire authority. Conaughton tells me the County cannot even allow volunteers to perform field supervision if they can’t pass the physical. “Think about it,” he says. “Somebody who goes out on a call might suddenly face a dangerous situation where they’re needed to help. It wouldn’t be safe. We [do] have one to three administrative positions that experienced chiefs could be offered.”

Gerald Sanders is currently the administrative chief at the Shelter Valley department. He has worked as a local volunteer for 30 years. He is 78 years old. “I know I could pass the physical,” he tells me, “because I walk eight miles every other day.” But these days, he confines himself to the “technical issues and paperwork.”

For years, Sanders has written grants for the Shelter Valley department. He thinks the money he has brought in totals somewhere near $800,000. With some of it, the department bought several of its own trucks, including one brush clearer and a small fire engine, and converted a station wagon into a medical emergency response vehicle. The department also built the Shelter Valley fire station.

The County gave Shelter Valley another truck. But it’s a bulky gas guzzler, says Sanders, and his colleagues agree. “The ladder is so high on the truck,” says Tony Mayors, “that you’d have to be seven feet tall to pull it out.”

Does the County prefer, I ask, that you use that truck?

“Yes, it’s got their name real big on the door,” says Mayors, laughing. “Our trucks have a small Shelter Valley logo.”

What would have happened if the volunteer departments did not sign the county contracts? “They would have taken our equipment and buildings,” Gerald Sanders tells me, “and replaced our volunteers with Cal Fire firefighters. Of course, the professionals would fight the fires as well as we have. But we have a record of having never missed a call out here and never having anyone get hurt. The Shelter Valley department covers a 582-square-mile area, so that’s not too bad. And one thing we do know better than outsiders is the terrain, all the little canyons. We’ve been to every one of them.

“But only 10 percent of our calls are fire related,” Sanders continues. “The rest are emergency rescues. For stopping fire, the biggest need in the backcountry is brush control around people’s properties. If the County wanted to help us, they would do more of that. But they don’t have the personnel to do it.”

I ask the County’s Gig Conaughton how brush management is handled. “The County has an ongoing relationship with Cal Fire regarding brush and weed control,” he writes me by email. “We loan budgeted equipment (trucks) to Cal Fire, which provides manpower to do inspections. Our County Code Enforcement follows up if abatement is called for.”

Ron Thornhill used to drive Shelter Valley’s fire engine. Not anymore. He decided not to take the physical even though he’s 50 and believes he would pass it. Thornhill is the angriest of the men I speak with. His biggest concern is the money the County is spending on its new fire authority.

“The volunteers were doing a very good job,” says Thornhill, “and doing it for nothing. I can’t tell you the number of small fires we stopped before they got going. If they reach the top of the hill and there’s a Santa Ana wind, you’re going to get the next Cedar fire. But that never happened on our watch.

“Now the County comes along and is going to spend $15 million and not do any better than we’ve been doing. And we did it free.

“I heard the County is renting a house for Cal Fire firefighters who will come in here from the outside and work out of our station. That’s new salaries they’ll pay and new benefits packages and new workmen’s comp payments they’ll make with taxpayer dollars. Today, I went down and turned in my equipment. No more firefighting for me.” Thornhill is not the only one. Of 12 original volunteers, 6 decided to take the physical. Among those 6, 2 passed to become County-approved firefighters.

I confirm with the County’s Conaughton that two Cal Fire firefighters, one an officer, will live in a rented building at Shelter Valley. He wants to emphasize, however, that the new guys will become members of the Shelter Valley community.

It’s a touchy point for operations chief Tony Mayors. “Yeah,” he says, “they say the County can generate money better than our barbecue fund-raisers. But we care about this community, and the community cares about us. I’m going to feel terrible if I have to let them down. And it won’t be the same not making the hamburgers.”

Meanwhile, Cal Fire firefighters have been rotating in and out of Shelter Valley, making it difficult for local volunteers to help them learn locations. And fiscal reality may be setting in. In talks with their new supervisors, chiefs Sanders and Mayors have learned that the County probably can’t afford to keep two Cal Fire firefighters permanently stationed in Shelter Valley. Since the local volunteer force has been “decimated,” in the words of Sanders, new volunteers will have to come from outside the area, and none will be officers. The Mount Laguna Volunteer Fire Department is already sending down new volunteers.

There may be hope that some of the lost Shelter Valley volunteers might still contribute. There has been a tiny bit of progress, Sanders tells me. “The County agreed to allow us mediation on points of dispute. But they’ve reserved the right to walk away from talks after ten days. Which means that if they don’t like something we want, they can wait ten days."

4. Read about Rider’s heroes – volunteer firefighters

RIDER COMMENT: PARADE MAGAZINE (that color supplement in many of the big papers’ Sunday edition) is one of my LEAST favorite publications. Their cover stories seem to alternate between self-indulgent articles about narcissistic celebrities who overcame adversity (truly pathetic stuff, sometimes), and stories about “The Crisis in ______________” (a different crisis every time – but always a crisis).

Last Sunday’s crisis was day care/preschool for tykes. The INEVITABLE conclusion of every such crisis story is that we need massive new government spending to cure the problem of the week.

But something went VERY wrong in their 5 July issue. Their cover story was a truly inspirational article lauding the nation’s volunteer firefighters.

VOLUNEER firefighters! Not our government often-overcompensated labor union firefighters. VOLUNTEERS! I was stunned to read about my REAL firefighter heroes in PARADE.

This was a GREAT piece! I’m suspect heads later rolled in PARADE’s pinko home office.

Here are some salient factoids in the article that few Americans are aware of:

A. 72% of all our nation’s firefighters are volunteers.

B. By most states’ laws, these volunteers have to receive the same training as the full time paid firefighters. Plus EMT training often is included.

C. More than 20,000 of the nation’s 30,200 fire departments are all-volunteer (and thousands more fire departments are a mix of paid and volunteer firefighters).

D. Of the 118 firefighters who died in the line of duty in 2007, 68 were volunteers.


72% of America's firefighters are volunteers

Why They Serve
by Peter Greenberg

published: 07/05/2009

When the fire alarm sounds, across America, grocers immediately leave their checkout lanes, architects put down their pencils, plumbers drop their wrenches, chefs hand over their cooking chores, and telephone repairmen leave the lines cut. Our nation’s volunteer firefighters are always prepared to serve.

Of the estimated 1.15 million firefighters in the U.S., 72% are volunteers. Their departments can be found in small towns and large cities, in isolated areas of Alaska and New Mexico, on Indian reservations, even abroad. Since March 2008, 10 volunteer firefighters from New York State have helped to lead the fire department at Camp Phoenix in Afghanistan. More than 20,000 of the nation’s 30,200 fire departments are all-volunteer. In Massachusetts alone, there are about 120 fire departments made up entirely of volunteers. In fact, most small and midsize communities in the U.S. rely primarily on volunteer firefighters.

There are departments located completely underground, their stations mined out of the side of a mountain (Creede, Colo.), others staffed by high school students (Aniak, Alaska), and others, such as the department in Dover, Del., that work solely to protect state capitals. Yet all share one thing in common: They are central to the American community, and in many towns, they are the community.

The volunteer fire department is often the first line of defense in times of emergency. When Continental Flight 3407 crashed short of the runway near Buffalo, N.Y., in February, killing 50, the first responders were the 64 members of the Clarence Center Volunteer Fire Company.

These days, volunteer fire service can sometimes mean making do with a barely equipped firehouse on a limited budget or having the local car dealer pitch in to fix broken equipment. But it doesn’t mean using untrained staff. Most volunteer fire departments require the same standards of their members as paid municipal firefighters. The volunteers train in CPR, hazardous materials, communications, and advanced firefighting techniques. The work also is no less dangerous: Of the 118 firefighters who died in the line of duty in 2007, 68 were volunteers.

On Fire Island National Seashore, a 32-mile-long strip of beach 50 miles east of New York City, most of the fire trucks are specially converted four-wheel-drive vehicles. “Out here, when you turn 18, you join the volunteer department,” says Ed Horton, 52, a building contractor who has been a member of the Ocean Bay Park Fire Department for more than 30 years and currently serves as fire commissioner. “It’s just the way it is.”

For Horton, the fire department is all about community and family. His grandfather helped found it in 1950, his father was a chief, his mom served as fire commissioner, his brother Michael is the current chief, and his youngest daughter just joined. “There’s this feeling that because we’re on an island and we’re volunteers, that we’re untrained,” Horton says. “But it’s not true. We’re subject to the same rules and regulations as mainland departments. You do this job because it’s part of your family, part of your community.”

The Ocean Bay Park Fire Department consists of a 1957 Willys Jeep fire truck and three other vehicles. Two are 1000-gallons-per-minute pumpers, which carry more than 1000 feet of hose—nearly enough to reach across Fire Island, from bay to ocean. With limited water on the island, it’s not unusual for the firefighters to pump seawater from the south bay to fight a blaze. In winter, there are few fires. But in the summer, when the population on Fire Island explodes from several hundred year-round residents to more than 50,000 people, the department can be extremely busy.

In fact, at many resort and vacation destinations, volunteer fire departments are nothing less than lifelines. Take the small Alaskan community of Skagway. In the high summer season, the population doubles to about 1600. That would be tough enough on the small department, which was created during the Gold Rush of 1898. But on most days, there can be as many as six cruise ships that pull into Skagway’s tiny harbor, instantly expanding the population to around 16,000 and making the Skagway volunteers stay on duty for at least eight hours a day. Fighting fires? No—mostly providing EMT services and racing sick cruise-ship passengers to hospitals 200 miles away.

And then there are the “Dragon Slayers,” volunteer firefighters in the remote town of Aniak, Alaska. The entire department: four adults, including a schoolteacher and bush pilot, and nine high school students. Their equipment: one ambulance and an aging 1976 pumper truck in need of repair. Aniak is isolated. There are no roads to any other village in Alaska, and Anchorage is 350 miles away. “We struggle a lot, but somehow we make it work,” says Fire Chief Pete Brown, 64, a retired fishing guide. This year, the Aniak fire department expects to handle at least 300 alarms—a huge number for a town of 600 residents.

No matter where NBC News anchor Brian Williams goes on assignment, the first place he stops is the local volunteer firehouse. “If you want to know what’s going on in town, that’s where you need to be,” says Williams, who joined the Middletown Township, N.J., fire department as a volunteer at 18. “The volunteers know their town, because they are their town. It’s all about community.”

“I never had any thoughts of becoming a firefighter,” says Mary Hauprich, 45, a writer and mother of two from New York. But three years after moving to Islesboro, a small enclave (pop. 600) off the coast of Lincolnville Beach, Maine, she was approached by its volunteer firefighters. “They heard I was a writer, and they said they just needed someone to take notes at their meetings,” she recalls. “I said I would. And the next thing I knew, I had signed on. As it developed, I never took a single note!

“It uncovered a passion I didn’t know was there,” she says. Before long, Hauprich was learning about all the pumps, how to attack an interior fire, and how to fix a fire truck. Currently, there are 21 members in the department (her husband Brian, a former chef, also volunteers as an EMT) and only four vehicles. “For six years, I was the only woman in the department, but I recruited another,” she says proudly. “She manages a nearby farm.” Hauprich’s 15-year-old son is now a captain of Islesboro’s junior firefighters program.

Recruiting is a worrisome issue for many volunteer fire departments. “It’s a real problem,” Brian Williams says. “We need to find more people willing to serve.”

In some departments, membership levels are dropping to—pun intended—alarming levels. “We need folks to support their volunteer fire departments,” Williams adds. “They’re the guys who come when you call, and they truly are the backbone of America.”

Author and travel expert Peter Greenberg has been a volunteer firefighter since he was 18.

5. Media blacks out story predicting 1.1 million California jobs lost from AB 32’s Draconian environmental regs

RIDER COMMENT: My maven Chris Reed succinctly says it all below.


July 24, 2009
Yet another media greenout: Report predicting 1.1 million job loss from AB 32 is ignored

A study commissioned by the California Small Business Roundtable -- see the PDF here -- suggests California may someday look back on the current 11.6% state unemployment rate as a golden era.

Sanjay Varshney, dean of the college of business administration at Sacramento State, and Dennis Tootelian, director of the university's center for small business, predict that AB 32 will cut the state's economic output by 10 percent and lead to the loss of 1.1 million jobs.

That's right. 1.1 million jobs. More than the 904,300 jobs California has lost since the recession officially began in December 2007.

Now, of course, the fact that a business group sponsored the study raises questions about it. But the study's warnings about the dire effects of forcing state businesses to switch to cleaner but much costlier forms of energy -- unlike their rivals in other states and nations -- track precisely with the high-profile economists who trashed the California air board "scoping plan," which ridiculously asserted AB 32 would have no economic downside.

Here's the kicker: The California media eagerly report the claims coming from a handful of zealot UC Berkeley professors that their "research" shows AB 32 will be an economic bonanza. But how many California newspapers detailed Varshney's and Tootelian's findings?


According to Nexis, the only coverage it got was from Investor's Business Daily.

This is pathetic. And typical. Remember, the high-profile economists who trashed the AB 32 "scoping plan" were ignored by almost everyone -- until after the plan was adopted by the air board.

Arnold thinks AB 32 will be his lasting legacy. It sure will. Just not remotely in the way he thinks. Abetted by the media, the Schwarzenegger depression is just around the corner.

Posted by Chris Reed at July 24, 2009 11:44 AM

6. For a great daily dose of free market economics, go to . . .

RICHARD RIDER COMMENT: Below are (probably too many) examples of a terrific free blogging service you might want to sign up for. You can receive updates as a daily email with links (the sample below). Or for you Internet sophisticates, receive an RSS feed to your computer or Blackberry. You can click on the "Google" icon below will post the “CARPE DIEM” RSS feed on your "" home page, if you have one (like me!). Or to your "Google Reader" service if you use that option.

The blogger, a rather libertarian free market college professor, is big on the fact that the economy has already turned around, and that few have noticed it (until this week!). He’s been saying so for months.

More important, the author has LOTS of interesting insights on economic and political issues, with data. Excellent stuff. See below.

If the graphics aren't there to see, go to his website --



Bidding Wars Break Out On Low-Priced FL Homes
Median Home Prices in Houston Hit Record High
Why America Shouldn't Buy "Buy American"
Despite Troubles In the U.S., GM Thrives Abroad; Sales in China Increase by 38%
Markets in Everything: EKGs, MRIs on a Blackberry
Chicago Fed Index Increases for 5th Straight Month
Now Here Is a Real Housing Crisis; And It Probably Won't Be Getting Better Anytime Soon
Bidding Wars Break Out On Low-Priced FL Homes

Posted: 21 Jul 2009 04:48 PM PDT

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – July 21, 2009 – Bidding wars are returning to South Florida’s housing market, as investors and first-time buyers compete for homes and condominiums listed at $200,000 or less. The race for properties is reminiscent of the boom years from 2000 to 2005, when multiple offers on all types of dwellings helped push prices to record highs.

Back then, a dearth of properties for sale had buyers rushing to scoop up anything they could find, for fear that prices would keep rising. Now, frustrated with a bloated inventory of foreclosed homes in disrepair, buyers go to great lengths when they spot a house or condo in pristine condition.

“When they find a good listing, people are pouncing,” said Terry Story, a real estate agent for Coldwell Banker in Broward and Palm Beach counties.

Agents say the heated competition has been building in recent months, a result of low mortgage rates and the $8,000 tax credit for first-time buyers that expires Nov. 30. Steady sales increases during the past year gradually have worked off the inventory of available homes. Real estate agents are convinced that the overall market has hit bottom or is close to one.

Median Home Prices in Houston Hit Record High

Posted: 21 Jul 2009 01:49 PM PDT

HOUSTON — (July 21, 2009) — Sales of single-family homes for the greater Houston area continued to improve in June, with the highest volume recorded since August 2008 and the highest median price in history. This comes despite a year-over-year decline in overall property sales of 15.0 percent and 13.5 percent for single-family homes, according to new monthly data compiled by the Houston Association of REALTORS® (HAR).

At $164,500, the June single-family home median price – the figure at which half of the homes sold for more and half sold for less – rose 2.8% from one year earlier to reach an all-time high. The average price of a single-family home in Houston dipped 2.4% last month to $221,783 compared to June 2008. That represents the highest average price since August 2008.

Foreclosure property sales showed further decline, as they have each month this year, making up 16.8% of all single-family home sales in the Houston area in June. That compares to 34% percent in January, 28% in February, 24.5% in March, 23.6% in April and 19.9% in May. The median price of June foreclosure sales reported in the Multiple Listing Service fell 3% from $90,000 to $87,000 on a year-over-year basis.

Houston Chronicle story here, "Houston's median home price hit an all-time high last month, as the market was boosted by seasonal buying, low interest rates and a tax incentive to spur sales."

Why America Shouldn't Buy "Buy American"

Posted: 21 Jul 2009 01:06 PM PDT

Is your iPod unpatriotic?

Its 451 parts are made in dozens of nations, and creating the little doodads employs thousands of foreigners. Final assembly is done in China—a country that right-wingers and left-wingers alike fear is an economic threat to the U.S.

As the recession worsens, maybe patriotic Americans should be smashing foreign-made iPods in protest. Or at least hiring bikini-clad American women to do the job, which is exactly what did. Our patriotic, sledgehammer-wielding bikini bandits headed to California’s Venice Beach to smash some foreign-made iPods to make a political statement about saving American jobs.

Watch the video and find out more here at

See related CD post "iPod Teardown: Who Really Makes It?" from June 2007.

Despite Troubles In the U.S., GM Thrives Abroad; Sales in China Increase by 38%

Posted: 21 Jul 2009 08:08 AM PDT

National Public Radio -- General Motors, once the world's largest automaker, has had a rough few months. In June, the company filed for bankruptcy. Last week, as part of a massive restructuring plan, 60 percent of the company's ownership shifted to U.S. taxpayers.

However, the news isn't all doom and gloom for the U.S. auto giant. Many of the company's international operations are posting strong gains. In China, GM's second-largest market, sales jumped to 814,442 units in the first half of 2009 from 590,132 during the same period in 2008 — an increase of 38% (see chart above). And in Latin America, seven countries set GM sales records in 2008.

MP: In the first half of 2008, GM sold almost three times (2.7X) as many cars in the U.S. (1,589,000) as in China (590,132), and this year vehicle sales are almost the same in both countries: 947,518 in the U.S. (data here for U.S.) compared to 814,442 in China.

For GM's sake, let's hope they don't start a "Buy China" campaign, or start erecting signs saying "Parking of U.S. vehicles strictly prohibited and will be towed at owner's expense."

Markets in Everything: EKGs, MRIs on a Blackberry

Posted: 21 Jul 2009 07:42 AM PDT

Medical data delivered to the Palm of your hand, Anytime... Anywhere....

The mVisum Medical Communication System is a communication tool that allows medical professionals to securely receive, review and respond to patient data recorded at the point of care. Information is transmitted via secure HIPAA compliant internet servers then transmitted through mobile technology to the required physicians’ handheld smartphone.

Sent data can include: EKGs, DICOM Images, Cine Loops, X-Rays, CT Scans, and MRIs.

Traditional information such as vital signs and other textual information can also be included in the delivered message thus providing a complete picture of patient condition.

Chicago Fed Index Increases for 5th Straight Month

Posted: 21 Jul 2009 07:25 AM PDT

CHICAGO FED -- The Chicago Fed National Activity Index shows that economic activity improved in June - the index was –1.80 in June, up from –2.30 in May. The three-month moving average, CFNAI-MA3, was –2.12 in June, up from –2.65 in the previous month (see top chart above).

June’s CFNAI-MA3 suggests that growth in national economic activity was well below its historical trend. The increase in the index was primarily due to the production and income category of indicators. This category made a smaller negative contribution to the index in June, –0.32, compared with its contribution in May, –0.70. The smaller negative contribution was driven by the fact that total industrial production decreased 0.4 percent in June after declining 1.2 percent in May.

MP: The Chicago Fed National Activity Index (CFNAI-MA3) has increased in each of the last five months, the first five consecutive monthly increase since the end of the 2001 recession, see bottom chart above.

Now Here Is a Real Housing Crisis; And It Probably Won't Be Getting Better Anytime Soon

Posted: 21 Jul 2009 06:10 AM PDT

Forbidden to buy and sell houses, Cubans rely on informal exchange to look for a better location or something in a better condition. The bureaucratic machinery to manage these bartered trades is complicated, so many pay a "stimulus" to the bureaucrats at the Housing Institute to help the process move more quickly. There are specialists in finding each family what they need, called "exchangers," and it's an occupation at the edges of the law.

The illusion that Raul Castro would allow a real estate market has been vanishing after a year of the mandate. The Cuban leaders know that if they authorize it, citizens will redistribute themselves in a short time. Those who have convertible money will move to the best neighborhoods and those who earn only Cuban pesos will live on the periphery. The fact that there are not rich areas and poor areas is not because, as some believe, we've achieved social justice, but rather the inability to buy and sell houses. What they haven't been able to face is the people's creativity, which disguises the frequent acts of buying and selling as simple exchanges.

~Yoani Sanchez, Cuban blogger

Update: See related NY Times article "With a Whisper, Cuba’s Housing Market Booms" (January 28, 2008), thanks to Colin for the pointer

Google Inc., 20 West Kinzie, Chicago IL USA 60610

Women Now Dominate Higher Education at Every Degree Level; The Female-Male Degree Gap Grows

It's college graduation season, and according to data available from the U.S. Department of Education, an estimated 3,092,800 degrees will be granted this academic year (2008-2009) for Associate's degrees (714,000), Bachelor's degrees (1,585,000), Master's degrees (647,000), Professional degrees for MD, DDS and JD (91,000) and Doctor's degrees for Ph.D and Ed.D (55,800).

Of the more than 3 million college degrees for the Class of 2009, women will earn close to 60% of those degrees (1,849,200), or almost 149 degrees for every 100 degrees earned by men.

And it's now official: Women dominate men at every level of higher education, in terms of degrees conferred. Here's the breakdown for graduates of the class of 2009:

Associate's Degrees: 167 for women for every 100 for men.

Bachelor's Degrees: 142 for women for every 100 for men.

Master's Degrees: 159 for women for every 100 for men.

Professional Degrees: 104 for women for every 100 for men.

Doctoral Degrees: 107 for women for every 100 for men.

In fact, the last time men had more degrees than women at any level was the Class of 2006, which had slightly more men than women for both Professional and Doctoral degrees. For the other levels, it hasn't been even close for decades. The last year that men earned more Master's degrees than women was 1984-1985, for Bachelor's degrees it was the Class of 1981, and for Associates degrees it was 1976-1977 when men earned more degrees than women.

For all levels of higher education, women have earned more college degrees than men in every year since the Class of 1982, and the degree gap has widened in every year since then, and is expected to widen in the future through the 2016-2017 year (see chart above).

7. Fools! You could have made a fortune (like me) investing in greedy health care companies. Or not.

RIDER COMMENT: Certain businesses engender reflexive hate from the public – doubtless even from most of my enlightened readers. Oil companies. Loan companies. Banks. Used car dealers.

And insurance companies. Especially health care companies.

Instinctively, we all know that these firms make their living by systematically ripping us gullible consumers off, reaping HUGE windfall profits as a result. But if you can’t beat ‘em, shouldn’t you join ‘em. Better yet, OWN ‘em!

Here’s my response to the usual online commenters denigrating those evil health care companies:

Oh stop whining. Get on the capitalist bandwagon. Surely you were aware years ago that insurance companies are ripping us all off. It's common knowledge. Ask anyone.

Why weren't you bright enough to BUY stock in an insurance company? You'd be fabulously rich from their banditry. Right?

Take my example. I bought Aetna Insurance the first market day of 1982. I paid $5.59 a share. Today the stock is selling (adjusted for splits) at $25.44. I made a killing!

Or did I? Over that timeframe, my annual compounded appreciation comes to 5.65%. Acceptable, but not what one would hope for from a common stock holding.

But wait -- I'm raking in the big dividends too. Eat your heart out!

Let's see -- how much is my annual dividend per share? 4 cents a share. That a 0.17% annual return.

I suspect one would find that similar mediocre returns are the historical norm for health insurance companies. Whatever other problems we have with health insurance and health care (and there are many), the companies "ripping us off" under some supposed conspiracy or cartel action doesn't stand scrutiny.

8. California “only” the 6th worst state? We wish!

RIDER COMMENT: Good news! A new study by the National Journal says that California “only” the 6th worst run state. I feel SO much better. I should have quite reading after the first paragraph or so.

Turns out the bozos putting together this “study” came up with four criteria that they counted equally. Three were tangential, at best – having to do with nebulous state “leadership,” “criminality” of state leaders, and “media circus” surrounding the state capitol.

The only criteria they rated that mattered is this:

“The severity of the state's policy challenges.”

Guess where CA ranked in that category? Numero uno worsto!

9. Feds’ stimulus often “much ado about nothing.” Their PR departments are working overtime. Naturally at our expense.

RIDER COMMENT: It seems that every federal department is desperately spinning their local activities as part of the stimulus package. Sometimes the fanfare is simply laughable.

Doubtless the following editorial “outing” this nonsense was written by Chris Reed. It has his fingerprints all over it.

Union-Tribune Editorial
Your stimulus dollars at work
July 25, 2009

SAN DIEGO — The announcement from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was downright breathless: “San Diego Unified (is) nation's first to use federal stimulus funding to clean up school buses.”

Of the nearly $1 trillion in stimulus funds (all borrowed money) lavished on the economy by the Obama administration, a few shekels have trickled down to the local level. The result is a case study in how to waste enormous sums of tax dollars while scoring political points for such fashionable causes as greener energy. It certainly has nothing to do with spurring the sputtering economy.

It turns out that Congress added $88 million to the boundless stimulus measure for states to use in cleaning up diesel engines. (The hyperbolic EPA announcement gives full credit for this to the Obama administration, ignoring Congress altogether.) The San Diego Unified School District is getting a minuscule chunk of these dollars to retrofit its diesel buses with a pollution control device.

Now, the school district has 519 buses. Guess how many will be retrofitted with your tax dollars from Washington? A grand total of 10. That's right, 10 vehicles – or 1.9 percent of the fleet. Geez, it's pretty hard to see how that is going to stop global warming or even cleanse San Diego's air of diesel pollution. As it turns out, the school district already has retrofitted, without Washington help, all but 17 of its buses.

No matter. A grand press conference was staged at the school district's fleet maintenance yard with a bevy of federal, state and local officials. The highlight was a touted “white hankie test” demonstrating the “cleanliness of new technology.”

The officials no doubt patted themselves on the back for this popular display of forward thinking with your tax dollars. Never mind about the monstrously profligate nature of the stimulus package. Never mind that the money spent to retrofit 10 school buses will do nothing to stimulate San Diego's economy. Never mind that our children and grandchildren will be hit with higher taxes to repay the borrowed money given to the school district with great fanfare.

10. If Obama disappoints his fans, they will have only themselves to blame.

RIDER COMMENT: While most of my stuff has to do with state and local matters, we must remember that we still have a few niggling problems remaining on the federal level. Even our new messiah President is having a tad trouble solving all these matter. The following article nails our foolish expectations – and why what got Obama elected may ultimately lead to his downfall.

The Obama cult

Jul 23rd 2009
From The Economist print edition

If Barack Obama disappoints his supporters, they will have only themselves to blame

IN JANUARY 2007 Mike Huckabee, a former governor of Arkansas, said he was running for president to revive “our national soul”. He was not alone in taking an expansive view of presidential responsibilities. With the exception of Ron Paul, all the serious candidates waxed grandiloquent about their aims. John McCain said he modeled himself on Teddy Roosevelt, a man who “nourished the soul of a great nation”. Hillary Clinton lamented that America had no goals, and offered to supply some. And let us not forget the man they all sought to replace, George Bush, who promised, among other things, to “rid the world of evil”. Appalled by such hubris, a libertarian scholar called Gene Healy wrote “The Cult of the Presidency”, a book decrying the unrealistic expectations Americans have of their presidents. The book was written while Barack Obama’s career was still on the launch pad, yet it describes with uncanny prescience the atmosphere that allowed him to soar.

Mr. Obama has inspired more passionate devotion than any modern American politician. People scream and faint at his rallies. Some wear T-shirts proclaiming him “The One” and noting that “Jesus was a community organiser”. An editor at Newsweek described him as “above the country, above the world; he’s sort of God.” He sets foreign hearts fluttering, too. A Pew poll published this week finds that 93% of Germans expect him to do the right thing in world affairs. Only 14% thought that about Mr. Bush.

Perhaps Mr. Obama inwardly cringes at the personality cult that surrounds him. But he has hardly discouraged it. As a campaigner, he promised to “change the world”, to “transform this country” and even (in front of a church full of evangelicals) to “create a Kingdom right here on earth”. As president, he keeps adding details to this ambitious wish-list. He vows to create millions of jobs, to cure cancer and to seek a world without nuclear weapons. On July 20th he promised something big (a complete overhaul of the health-care system), something improbable (to make America’s college-graduation rate the highest in the world by 2020) and something no politician could plausibly accomplish (to make maths and science “cool again”).

The Founding Fathers intended a more modest role for the president: to defend the country when attacked, to enforce the law, to uphold the constitution—and that was about it. But over time, the office has grown. In 1956 Clinton Rossiter, a political scientist, wrote that Americans wanted their president to make the country rich, to take the lead on domestic policy, to respond to floods, tornadoes and rail strikes, to act as the nation’s moral spokesman and to lead the free world. The occupant of the Oval Office had to be “a combination of scoutmaster, Delphic oracle, hero of the silver screen and father of the multitudes,” he said.

The public mood has grown more cynical since then; Watergate showed that presidents can be villains. But Americans still want their commander-in-chief to take command. It is pointless for a modern president to plead that some things, such as the business cycle, are beyond his control. So several have sought dubious powers to meet the public’s unreasonable expectations. Sometimes people notice, as when Mr. Bush claimed limitless leeway to tap phones and detain suspected terrorists. But sometimes they don’t. For example, Mr. Bush was blamed for the debacle of Hurricane Katrina, although responding to natural disasters is largely a local responsibility. So he pushed Congress to pass a law allowing the president to use the army to restore order after a future natural disaster, an epidemic, or under “other condition[s]”, a startling expansion of federal power.

Mr. Obama promised to roll back Mr. Bush’s imperial presidency. But has he? Having slammed his predecessor for issuing “signing statements” dismissing parts of laws he had just signed, he is now doing the same thing. He vowed to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay, but this week put off for another six months any decision as to what to do with the inmates. Meanwhile, he has embraced Mrs. Clinton’s curious notion that the president should be “commander-in-chief of our economy”, by propping up banks, firing executives, backing car warranties and so forth. Mr. Healy reckons that Mr. Obama is “as dedicated to enhancing federal power as any president in 50 years.”

The perils of over-promising

Nonsense, say his supporters. Taking over banks and car companies was a temporary measure to tackle a crisis. When the danger recedes, Mr. Obama will pull back. The restructuring of General Motors, for example, is comfortably ahead of schedule. And far from lording it over Congress, the president has if anything abdicated too much responsibility to it.

These are all fair points. But Mr. Healy’s warnings are still worth heeding. Mr. Obama is clearly not the socialist of Republican demonology, but he is trying to extend federal control over two huge chunks of the economy—energy and health care—so fast that lawmakers do not have time to read the bills before voting on them. Perhaps he is hurrying to get the job done before his polls weaken any further. In six months, his approval rating has fallen from 63% to 56% while his disapproval rating has nearly doubled, from 20% to 39%. Independent voters are having second thoughts. And his policies are less popular than he is. Support for his health-care reforms has slipped from 57% to 49% since April.

All presidential candidates promise more than they can possibly deliver. This sets them up for failure. But because the Obama cult has stoked expectations among its devotees to such unprecedented heights, he is especially likely to disappoint. Mr. Healy predicts that he will end up as a failed president, and “possibly the least popular of the modern era”. It is up to Mr. Obama to prove him wrong.

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