Tuesday, August 11, 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. SD County firing 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 is a lively give-and-take between yours truly and the fee fanciers.

Here are the two SD U-T columns:
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. (Find this article on line here)

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 you can read it here).

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 categories are. Click here

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.” Click here to continue

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.

You can read it here

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 here.

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 "igoogle.com" 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.
If the graphics aren't there to see, go to his website -- See here.

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. Click here

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. Continued here

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 Reason.tv 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 Here.
Watch another version of the video and find out more here at Reason.tv.

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

Posted: 21 Jul 2009 08:08 AM PDT
Despite Troubles In the U.S., GM Thrives Abroad; Sales in China Increase by 38%

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." (Click here to read and listen to the story)

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