Germany -- April Fool No More?

Germany -- April Fool No More?

It was only a short two and a half months ago -- April 1 to be precise -- that I nominated the country of Germany as "The Biggest April Fool."  The reason for the nomination was that Germany's so-called Energiewende ("energy transition") program, initiated in 2010, had saddled German consumers with electricity rates approximately triple the U.S. average, but had brought about exactly zero reduction in Germany's CO2 emissions.  Don't believe it could be that bad?  Here's the chart of Germany's greenhouse gas emissions by year from that post, data from the Umwelt Bundesamt (Germany's Federal Environmental Agency)

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At NYCHA, Spectacular Failure -- Or Is It Spectacular Success?

Anyone who pays even a little attention to the bureaucratic/socialist business model quickly figures it out:  the fundamental problem is that the people who run the system view "success" not in achieving their stated mission, but rather in growing their own staffs and budgets.  And the way to grow your staff and budget is to reveal that the problem you are tasked with addressing is worse than anyone ever thought, and only more money can cure it.  In other words, the way to "success" is through failure, and the more spectacular the failure, the better.

Last July, I highlighted a particularly notable example of this phenomenon in the New York subway and commuter rail system, in a post titled "In Government, Failure Is The Way To Get Yourself More Money."   The system had just suffered a disastrous series of derailments and other major delays -- things that should have been completely avoided through normal, ordinary maintenance.  Facing a political firestorm, the Governor demanded immediate fixes; and the bureaucracy responded as you would expect they would:  We can do it for an immediate cash infusion of an extra $800+ million!  And, why wasn't the previous multi-billion dollar annual budget sufficient to do the job?

The genius of this is that, in the crisis of the moment, with derailments and delays constantly in the news, nobody stops to ask why the vast sums of money they were already getting were not sufficient to maintain the system.  Is the current budget being used effectively?  This question is just too crude to be asked in the middle of such a crisis.  Certainly, the politicians are unanimous in their view that this is not the time to start blaming the inefficiency of the unionized work force, but rather is an opportunity to hit up the taxpayers.

Today the functionaries at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority are in the process of being shown up as rank amateurs at this game by their compadres at another New York bureaucracy, the New York City Housing Authority.

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So Which Is It: High Energy Prices Or Low?

Ex-President Obama may have understood next-to-nothing about climate and energy policy, but at least he understood (I think) that the main idea that he was advocating was to reduce usage of fossil-fuel energy through the method of intentionally forcing up the price of same.  Obama's principal "plan" for climate and energy policy was what was euphemistically called a "cap and trade" system -- in other words, a system of putting artificial government-imposed limits on how much fossil fuel could be produced or used (the "cap"), and then letting markets exchange the remaining artificially-scarce supplies (the "trade").  With demand the same and supplies reduced, the price would necessarily have to go up, and probably by a lot, thus forcing rationing and impoverishment on the people.  Here is a link to the famous 2008 video of Obama, in the early part of his first campaign, admitting the obvious with the famous line, "Under my plan of a cap and trade system, electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket."  He doesn't mention gasoline prices in that particular video, but obviously the consequence would be the same.

And upon his election, Obama wasted no time in trying to put the "cap and trade" (i.e., intentionally higher prices for energy) idea into effect.  Before there was even Obamacare, there was the so-called Waxman-Markey "American Clean Energy and Security Act," otherwise known as the "cap and trade" bill.  Do you remember it?  It was introduced in the Congress on May 15, 2009.  In the grand tradition of progressive efforts to use legislation to remake the world unto perfection (see also, Obamacare and Dodd-Frank), this one was a good 1400 pages long.  It provided for forced "emissions cuts" starting in 2012, rising to 17% (against a 2005 base) in 2020 and 42% by 2030 (and on up from there), and for an unbelievably complicated system of permits and trading for everybody from manufacturers to utilities.  The bill passed the House by a close vote of 219 - 212 (all Republicans opposing and a few Democrats defecting).  But then it got to the Senate, where it died.  Under Majority Leader Harry Reid, it was never put to a vote.  I guess Reid knew that he didn't have the votes, although the Democrats had 59 seats at the time.

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Goodbye To Obamacare

Obamacare!  It was supposed to usher in a new era of healthcare nirvana.  Universal "coverage"!  Better health!  "Bending the cost curve"!  "Affordable" care!

Have you noticed that you haven't been reading much about Obamacare recently?  Yes, there was a blip of press mentions last year, when the Republican Congress was making some failed attempts at full repeal of the Act.  (See my coverage here from September 27, 2017.)  And since then, mostly radio silence.  So, was universal "coverage" in fact achieved?  And, what happened with the health results?  And with the famous "cost curve"?  I'll bet you don't know.  Could it be that the press just doesn't report things that are unfavorable to the official narrative?      

And now, rather suddenly, it looks like Obamacare may be on its last legs.

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Can You Tell Witness Tampering When You See It?

On Monday, a party identifying itself as the "Government" (aka the Mueller special prosecution team, led in this case by one Andrew Weissman) filed a motion in the D.C. District Court seeking to have the pre-trial release of Paul Manafort revoked, and thus to have Manafort thrown in the pokey pending his trial.  Up until now Manafort has been in something called the "Pretrial Services Agency's high-intensity supervision program," sometimes euphemistically referred to as "house arrest."  Here are links to the Motion and to a supporting Declaration by an FBI agent named Brock Domin.  However, I suspect that those links may not work for you unless you subscribe to the federal "PACER" system for online access.  

So what are the grounds for seeking to lock up Manafort at this time?  According to the Motion, Manafort has been engaged in what they call "attempting to tamper with potential witnesses while on pretrial release," which they say is a violation of 18 U.S.C. Section 1512(b)(1).  And what does the alleged "attempted witness tampering" consist of?  Get ready for this:  It seems that Manafort attempted to (and in one case did) get in contact with a few of the dozens of prospective witnesses in his case, and to talk to them about their prospective testimony.  Imagine that!  Did you know that that was even a crime?

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Are The Residents Of New York City Public Housing "Poor"?

Following up on yesterday's post, I thought it might be interesting to take an in depth look into the question of whether typical residents of New York City public housing are or are not "poor."  It turns out to be not such an easy question to answer.  Here is the nub of the problem:  These are people who are provided by government with resources of value far in excess of the amount deemed to constitute the federal poverty "threshold."  In the official measures, these additional resources are not counted, and the recipients are therefore, for the most part, deemed "poor."  But should the additional resources be counted?  If these resources don't count toward alleviating poverty, why again do we provide them?

First, consider a profile for a typical New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) family.  NYCHA in 2017 reported the "average" income of its resident families as $24,336, and the average monthly rent as $509.  The $24,336 is slightly below the 2018 federal poverty threshold for a family of 4, which is $25,100.  Thus it is likely that about half, or somewhat more, of NYCHA families are said to be "in poverty."  But of course, the $24,336 does not include any increment for the implicit subsidy of the NYCHA apartment.  How much is that?  Because it is not paid in cash, there are different ways to value it.  One way would be to take the annual HUD operating subsidy to NYCHA, which is about $2 billion, and the forgiven NYC property taxes, which would be at least $500 million, and divide that up among the 170,000 +/- NYCHA apartments.  That is basically the methodology used by Mr. Early in his study discussed in yesterday's post.  That methodology would give you an implicit subsidy of about $15,000 per year per NYCHA apartment.  But that is a very low-end way of looking at it.  At the high end, you could value the NYCHA apartments by looking to what comparable apartments in their neighborhoods are currently renting for.  By this alternative methodology, many NYCHA apartments -- particularly those now located in fancy Manhattan neighborhoods, and those lining the Lower East Side waterfront -- come with annual subsidies in the range of $50,000 and even $100,000 per apartment.

So, just to make a case that draws out the contrasts, consider a 4 person family with the average NYCHA family "income" of $24,336 living in a water view apartment that comes with a $100,000 annual subsidy by the second methodology.  Add in that it is highly likely that such a family would also receive other government benefits:  Medicaid (that costs about $10,000 per beneficiary in New York, so $40,000 for this family), food stamps, heating assistance, clothing assistance, school lunches, Pell grants, cell phones, EITC, etc.  The full package likely costs the taxpayers well in excess of $150,000 per year.

So, is this family "poor"?

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