August 21, 2012 3:37 PM
Over at Peter Samuel's invaluable TOLLROADSnews, we learn that Marty Stone, director of planning for Tampa's successful all-electronic reversible tolled Lee Roy Selmon Expressway, has a bone to pick with rail-obsessed Honolulu planner Toru Hamayasu. Specifically, Stone writes [PDF] to the Honolulu Advertiser to correct Hamayasu's "intentional misrepresent[ion of] the facts associated with the cost and operation" of the Tampa toll road. Samuel provides an excellent summary of Stone's corrections here.
OpenMarket readers may recall Honolulu's proposed elevated rail project to nowhere. Honolulu suffers from serious traffic congestion problems, yet rail advocates have opted to build a multi-billion-dollar rail transit system that will do nothing to alleviate congestion, will ruin Honolulu's famous ocean views, and will do little to address existing environmental concerns. The Cato Institute's Randal O'Toole has been covering the Honolulu rail project for some time and in great detail. One of the latest galling aspects he flags was a claim made by Honolulu's transit agency that the 1964 Civil Rights Act required them to issue expensive, pro-rail propaganda.
For more information on Honolulu's ridiculous planned rail boondoggle, see HonoluluTraffic.com. And here's a campaign ad from former Hawaii Governor Ben Cayetano, who is running for Honolulu mayor, which highlights the absurdity of this project:
August 21, 2012 12:07 PM
The Class Action Fairness Act puts limitations on coupon settlements. In In re Online DVD Rental Antitrust Litigation, however, the district court approved a settlement that would pay $5.2 million in cash and $8.9 million in Walmart.com coupons to the class and held CAFA did not apply because the parties called the coupons "gift cards." Does the Class Action Fairness Act regulate semantics or something more? I argue the latter in a Ninth Circuit opening brief filed today.
The district court also awarded a disproportionate $8.512 million to the attorneys. Our appeal addresses that issue as well. And because I miss Lionel Hutz, the brief cites the classic case of Homer Simpson v. The Frying Dutchman Restaurant.
August 21, 2012 10:59 AM
SALLY PIPES: "Gov. Deval Patrick's New Health Law Is Flat-Out Dangerous"
"Beacon Hill was the scene of great fanfare earlier this month when Governor Deval Patrick signed controversial new healthcare reform legislation into law. The governor proudly proclaimed that Massachusetts was 'the first to crack the code' on the problem of ever-increasing healthcare costs. The mood outside the statehouse, however, has been far more sober. "
PETER GALLAGHER: "How Government-Grade Spy Tech Used A Fake Scandal To Dupe Journalists"
"An email claiming to reveal a political scandal will grab the attention of almost any journalist. But what if the email was just a ruse to make you download government-grade spyware designed to take total control of your computer? It could happen—as a team of award-winning Moroccan reporters recently found out."
MASHA GESSEN: "We Must All Stand With Pussy Riot"
"The case of Pussy Riot, three young women sentenced last Friday to two years behind bars for performing a protest song in a Moscow cathedral, has drawn more attention than any Russian cause in at least a couple of decades. People who have never followed news from Russia have felt moved to speak up in support of Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich. I am sure that at least some members of the Russian leadership are now scratching their heads."
August 20, 2012 4:01 PM
“Imagine there’s no countries. It isn’t hard to do,” John Lennon once told us. Ignoring Lennon's grammatical error, that is exactly what University of Wisconsin-Madison economist John Kennan tried to do in a new paper released this month by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER). Kennan modeled the world economy without immigration restrictions and found that free labor mobility could have a dramatically positive effect on global GDP.
“The estimated gains from removing immigration restrictions are huge,” he concluded, “more than $10,000 a year for a randomly selected worker from a less-developed country (including nonmigrants)… with a relatively small reduction in the real wage in developed countries, and even this effect disappears as the capital-labor ratio adjusts over time; indeed if immigration restrictions are relaxed gradually, allowing time for investment in physical capital to keep pace, there is no implied reduction in real wages.”
This rapid increase in worldwide wealth achievable at very little cost is due to productivity disparities for workers in different countries. Similarly skilled workers from different countries can have dramatically different levels of productivity. One paper (Clemens, Montenegro, and Pritchett (2005)) found, for example, that Mexican worker wages are 2.5 times less than those in the United States, which means their labor produces far less than the American worker with similar skills.
Therefore, simply allowing that Mexican to relocate, without any increase in education or skills, would dramatically increase his or her productivity. These wage differences have everything to do with America’s free market institutions and capital that has developed over time. Preventing from foreigners from accessing America’s capital and institutions results in massive inefficiencies, as workers produce far less than they would in the U.S. Higher production levels mean lower prices for American consumers, not to mention the rest of the world.
August 20, 2012 2:52 PM
CEI President Fred L. Smith, Jr., discusses how businesses respond to assaults on the free market in the latest episode of his vodcast.
August 20, 2012 12:37 PM
The public pension funding crisis has led to a vigorous debate over how those pension liabilities are valued and how large they are. The debate is long overdue. For state and local governments across the nation to get their finances in order, they first need to define the problem they need to tackle -- and it appears to be worse than previously thought, as The Washington Post reports:
The latest rules come on line from the bond-rating firm Moody’s at the end of this month. They are projected to triple the gap between what states and municipalities report they have in their funds and what they have promised to pay out to retirees. That hole would stand at $2.2 trillion.
For the worst-off cities, the new pension debt calculations could mean bond rating downgrades and increased borrowing costs when localities try to raise money for new projects, Moody’s has warned.
The accounting changes themselves will not force policymakers to alter how they fund pensions. But finance experts say that by simply highlighting greater funding gaps, the rules will intensify pressure on state and local governments to allocate more of taxpayers’ dollars to their pension funds. More likely, public workers may have to contribute more to their retirements or see promised benefits curtailed, measures that have already been implemented in more than 40 states
Nationwide public pension liabilities being greater than expected is nothing to cheer about. However, the Moody's accounting rule change is welcome, because it presents a clearer picture, a necessary first step toward addressing the public pension crisis.
August 20, 2012 5:00 AM
65 new rules, from offshore drilling to closed captioning.
August 17, 2012 4:07 PM
The tens of billions of dollars in taxpayer money spent on the auto bailouts did not fix the automakers' underlying problems, but rather helped mask and perpetuate them (such as inefficient work rules and high labor costs -- the Obama administration ripped off GM and Chrysler bondholders and the automakers' non-union retirees, as well as taxpayers, to enrich the UAW Union in the bailouts). For a short period, the Japanese earthquake and Thai floods so damaged the Japanese automakers that GM once again became the world's number one automaker, but when the Japanese companies recovered, Toyota once again surpassed GM as the world's biggest automaker.
At Forbes, Louis Woodhill says "General Motors is headed for bankruptcy -- again." After crunching the numbers and market share trends, and analyzing recent GM models, he says that if President Obama "wins a second term, he is probably going to have to bail GM out again. The company is once again losing market share, and it seems unable to develop products that are truly competitive in the U.S. market."
The bailouts resulted in new, even more inept and politicized management at GM (which replaced a pre-bailout CEO, Rick Wagoner, who had put in place changes that belatedly resulted in improved product lines coming out shortly after his ouster). Auto industry experts are horrified by GM's recent mismanagement of its European operations:
General Motors’ plan to displace the venerable and respected Opel brand in Europe with a new Chevrolet “global” brand really is as insane as it seems, according to Keith Crain of Automotive News. “It will take decades for Chevrolet to establish anywhere near the recognition that Opel has,” Crain argues.
August 17, 2012 3:10 PM
Fines for inaccurate weather forecasts, illegal chocolate egg smuggling, plus more.
August 17, 2012 3:07 PM
This year, Texas is experiencing its worst outbreak of the mosquito-transmitted West Nile virus ever. Fortunately, most people who get it won't suffer the severe symptoms -- some won't even notice they have been infected, and others will experience a range of flu-like symptoms. But the bad news is, some people will suffer severe, painful and even a debilitating illness with permanent neurological damage, and some will die.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tracks the number of cases reported around the country. Texas appears to be experiencing the worst outbreak, but the problem affects many states and the illnesses and death toll will continue well into the fall. In fact, most cases occur late summer and into late fall, so we have many months to go.
Some greens suggest that we should not bother to control the disease using pesticides, because most people are not affected. But even a handful of unnecessary deaths and horrible suffering of those who get the illness warrants action. When deciding to spray, Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings explained: "I cannot have any more deaths on my conscience because we did not take action." Dallas County has begun aerial spraying of pesticides for the first time in 45 years.
Greens second guess the expertise of the local public health officials working to control mosquito populations and disease transmission -- suggesting the activists somehow know better. I've presented at several meetings of the American Mosquito Control Association, which represents local mosquito control officials around the nation. The members include highly educated, hard-working people with PhDs in biology, entomology, etc., who work in concert with a host of other experts to protect communities around the nation. I'd rather put my confidence in their decisions over environmental activists who have exhibited a callous disregard for the people who suffer from West Nile.