Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Twitter, publishing and a pissed off landlord

The Twitterverse and blogosphere have been abuzz with the lawsuit filed by Horizon Reality today targeting a woman, @JessB123, for bashing Horizon in a tweet.

According to the complaint filed in Cook County court today, Bonnen "maliciously and wrongfully published the false and defamatory Tweet on Twitter, thereby allowing the Tweet to be distributed throughout the world."

As pointed out by Kiyoshi Martinez on the Windy Citizen, this is far from the first complaint written about them online. It is also not the first about mold even.

So what about this one has cause such a stir? As best as I can tell there are really only two reasons this has become such a major story. First, this is absurd to anyone that uses Twitter or spends a good deal of time on the Internet. Second, this suit will become the “go to” case for many future libel cases targeting online publication.

Number one doesn't need much explanation, so onto number two. Is 140 characters, on a service free to everyone, publishing? The courts will be forced to define this to make a ruling. It will also lay the foundation for a very dangerous trend.

If something as simple and tiny as tweeting is considered publishing and not a form of conversation, then it is fair to guess that anything the size of and larger than a tweet will be considered publishing if the entirety of the Internet could potentially access it. That means every blog, Facebook, MySpace, YouTube video, and so forth, will now be considered a form of publication and as such can be brought up on libel charges.

Libel used to be difficult to commit because it was hard to be published. With the Internet though, publishing your own work is incredibly easy. To prove my point, you are reading this.

Here we are, 140 characters from an unhappy tenant, and we may all need to screen what we type from now on. At least it may land Perez Hilton in jail for a long time and keep him from cyberspace.

On the other hand though, if it is not a form of publishing, then we can all say whatever the hell we want through Twitter. Watch out Steve Ballmer, I have my 140 characters ready for you.

Intimidated by the Administration

Some sage words of wisdom about the tactic of "Rahming it Through":
When you rush these budgets that are a foot high and nobody has any idea what's in them and nobody has read them, it gets rushed through without any clear deliberations or debate then these kinds of things happen...I mean you remember there was no real debate about that. It was so quick that it was introduced that people felt very intimidated by the administration.
And here's the video of who said it:


Monday, July 27, 2009

Obama's Metrics

There is a lot to be said for the likes of the Rasmussen and Zogby polls about the president and his policies. However, both the Left and the Right tend to ignore certain polls as being either too liberal-minded, or too conservative-minded in their samplings. That said, the big breakthrough for conservatives of late has been that that ever-so-pesky Zogby poll is starting to show disapproval for Obama as well. But what happens when we go even further? Many during the election viewed Facebook as a major influence politically, so much so that debate questions were taken live online from Facebook chat sessions. So what does the Facebook community have to say about the agenda our president has been pushing of late?

Are you in favor of a government run healthcare system?

Yes: 112,367 (22%)
No: 381,234 (74.5%)
Maybe: 18,016 (3.5%)

Should the U.S. adopt a Universal Health Care System?

Yes: 141,143 (69.7%)
No: 60,218 (29.7%)
I Really Don't Care: 1,178 (0.6%)

Would you support a nationwide handgun ban?

Yes: 38,242 (8.0%)
No: 434,705 (91.1%)
Not Sure: 4,379 (0.9%)

Do you approve or disapprove of Obama's job in office?

Strongly Approve: 35,583 (17.1%)
Approve: 20,882 (10.0%)
Neutral: 5,992 (2.9%)
Disapprove: 22,645 (10.9%)
Strongly Disapprove: 123,498 (59.2%)

Pretty interesting results, with some huge samplings at that, from a realm that most consider to be vastly liberal.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Deification of Youth

Craig Ferguson really hits the nail on the head with a diatribe about how society has come to deify youth.


I think the point is best driven home by the now infamous moron at the Santa Cruz City Council.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Nerds Rejoice! New Tron Trailer!

Debuted at Comic Con. Enjoy!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Nuke the plants!

In previous wars targets were based often on their ability to supply troops with goods that were needed for war. Anything from tank to shoe factories could be justified as a target. What was made was created for the purpose of supplying a military. The attacks on such targets were understood by the vast majority of people.

The face of war has changed though. We no longer are at war with other industrialized countries. We have to fight regimes that exist more as an idea with bullets rather than a government. They need only to buy their weapons and materials, and they need very little to create havoc. They are spread apart and work in small numbers that are hard to detect. Honestly, it is pretty brilliant, they use the same ideas that we used during the Cold War to spy on the USSR. Send in a single plane that blended in and keep it far enough out of range and keep it moving and quiet.

Well, it is really hard to attack an idea. So you must resort to attacking those things that support the idea. The militia is hard to target because of how they operate and they are the ones that support the idea. So, you must then attack what supports the militia, money, but you can't run around shooting bills. So, you have to attack the goods that generate money. In this case, drugs.

Opium and heroin are the drugs of choice in Afghanistan, so we blew the shit out of some poppy seeds.

We have declared a war on drugs there (shifting focus away from what really matters) and are now spending munitions on killing plants. I keep having the scene from Predator where Jesse Ventura mows down the jungle with the Minigun go through my head.

I understand the need to destroy the product, but we are going a little over the top with it. From a CNN article on recent bombings:

The military dropped a series of 1,000-pound bombs from planes on the mounds of poppy seeds and then followed with strikes from helicopters.

They were already in mounds! Couldn't have just had a nice camp fire?

The people running the farms are just those trying to make a living and selling poppy makes a decent amount of money and there is a constant demand. It is a smart business move. Then we asked farmers to grow wheat and offered help to farmers by supplying them and giving quick lessons. Well, if I was a farmer and had been growing poppy for years, I really wouldn't be too keen on changing my specialty. You need to find new buyers, new fertilizer, new harvest times and risk pissing off some crazy guys with guns, and who knows what else. I should really go ask a poppy farmer, assuming any are left alive.

But we are at war with drugs to help the war on terror! Damn the farmers! Also, only about 50 percent of the money generated from opium and heroin sales make it back to the Taliban. Somewhere out there is a group, or groups, with the same size and need for these drugs that we are pissing off just as much.

The leader of this fiasco has also given the OK to kill drug dealers and anyone to have any part in the opium business. Damn the farmers! Beyond that though, I have been in the company of drug deals and dealers before (as has anyone who spent much time in Chicago bars) and they keep themselves hidden really well. If they didn't there would be no need for this war to help a war, war — I think I said that right. So, just go out and find drug dealers, dressed in full military garb with a helmet and big guns and fancy cars, right? The military probably has some super-secret drug-ray seeing goggles.

Oh, by the way, Afghanistan produces over 90 percent of the world's opium and heroin. I have a bad feeling we are going to open up a whole new case of animosity with these actions. And despite what we would all like to believe, we are in no position to go picking more fights.

I don't think we should not be at war — we should have just stayed there and could be done with it by now, but we gave them a nice intermission while we wandered around Iraq. What we are doing is not the way to fight this war, we are getting too far away from the real source of the problem. If the Taliban needs money, they will get it, with or without opium.

Please, just think of the farmers.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Digg: Digging their own grave

Digg is a name any blogger should know. In fact, according to Quantcast, digg pulls in about 30 million views a month, so a lot of people should know what it is. That is a massive amount of people, ESPN pulls in 13 million and is a far more common name with the power of Disney behind it.

There is one issue with digg though, it sucks.

Now, it didn't always suck, this is a more recent thing. The suck is growing though, festering like bacteria in a wound of the Internet. And Kevin Rose seems to want it. But I am getting ahead of myself, time to take a step back.

Digg was founded in 2004, ad free and small. By 2005 the site had gained popularity and ads were added. By 2008 they were getting over 230 million views per year and were in talks of selling the site for a reported $300 million. The site had gone through a few make overs and is the clustered mess of links that you know and love today.

In the early days nearly everything posted to digg was worth reading and clicking through. Like any social networking site though, after enough time passes and it becomes popular enough, it gets filled with crap. Anyone been to Friendster lately? It is all porn and spam.

Every day I search digg for Chicago news stories, the stuff that slipped through the cracks that digg used to pick up and make sure it wasn't forgotten. Now, I have to sift through dozens of advertisements and crap that stays at one digg until it dies. The service of digg is gone for the user that wants to see content and has become a free advertising platform. This is because there are so many people contributing to the site now, which anyone would think is a good thing, until you see it in action.

What good is an aggregator without lots of people to submit links and lots of traffic to send off to other sites? Well, the Internet has shown that two sorts of sites work. There is the massive site that covers everything like CNN or ESPN, or there is the niche site. Digg began as a niche site almost, or rather a gathering of niche sites that wanted to reach a small audience that was hard to target. It then blew up into a massive site and the niche quality of it was sacrificed for the ability to link to all the content on the Internet.

So, digg sounds pretty amazing right now, not a lot of suck. But digg let people add buttons, and lots of people did. So a lot more stuff was shared. And more people came to digg and used it and wanted their video or blog to go viral and be the next Tron Guy. So now, real, quality material is often looked over or the audience just does not care because there is a cat doing funny things over there.

Go to the Chicago Tribune site, every single story has a digg button in the corner. And how many do you see with a single vote, or even 10? And how much on there do you actually care about? Digg has given everyone the ability to advertise with the strategy that if you throw enough shit at a wall that something will eventually stick. So the more content you pump out, regardless of quality, increases your odds of inflating your traffic.

Here is where digg starts to suck more. The traffic that comes from digg is all hot air. According to a report on Mashable, a study by TubeMogal showed that the average user would view a video for 58 seconds, compared to nearly two minutes from a referral by Twitter.

That is just the tip of the digital iceberg though. Jacob Nielsen has a great piece on site traffic.

Low-value referrers, such as digg. People arriving through these sources are notoriously fickle and are probably not in your target audience. You should expect most of them to leave immediately, once they’ve satisfied their idle curiosity. Consider any value derived from digg and its like as pure gravy; don’t worry if this traffic source has a sky-high bounce rate.
Digg visitors make quick judgments when they click on something. Some may like it and stay, but odds are most just close out of your site. This not only inflates your “unique views” (which is it a view if they only see a few pixels for a second or two?) but also shoots your bounce rate to the planet formerly known as Pluto.

Back in 2006 Jason Clarke had already figured out that digg traffic was akin to the calories in beer, empty.

But how valuable is digg traffic, really, and is the digg community one that we should even care about? Unfortunately, after observing the digg community for about a year, I'd have to conclude no, it's not.
Advertisers are getting smarter about where to advertise online now too. A high bounce rate is a very bad thing. People don't want to pay you money to advertise based on a million views if 99 percent of them leave in under 20 seconds.

A piece by Ian Smith just about nails what digg is now.

In short, like most real world Democracies, digg is becoming nothing more than a rubber stamp for the powerful, the prominent, and the well funded.
These are all understandable side effects of a popular site with user submitted content. But digg did not stop there! Recently more and more rumors and numbers and reports have been floating around that digg is failing. Bing in its first month stomped digg views, but with $100 million advertising campaign that isn't much of a fair comparison. Yahoo buzz has passed digg though, essentially dethroning digg as the king of sharing sites.

So, in what I speculate as an attempt to boost their views for a while, mainly from those lost to Twitter, all digg links go to the digg site first and not the real content. Digg went ahead and basically told their audience that they are more worried about their own page views and not the service they provide.

Digg is now full of crap, links back to the site that is full of crap and sends views to your site that are worth... well, crap. Sounds like a site that sucks to me. I wouldn't be shocked if in the next few months digg is sold. And if Kevin Rose and gang don't sell it, they basically just dugg their own grave.

Oh, I forgot to mention that the system with so many viewers doesn't work anymore and can be manipulated by a very small number of people.

It has been reported that the top 100 Digg users posted 56% of Digg's frontpage content, and that a niche group of just twenty individuals had submitted 25% of the frontpage content.
Also, if the digg moderators don't like your story, but lots of other people do, doesn't matter. The moderators will bury anything they don't like.

It turns out that this article was submitted to digg, and has been amassing diggs at a steady rate in the Technology / Industry News category for the past two hours. At this moment, it has enough diggs that it should be listed 3rd 1st with more than double the number of diggs as the next highest entry on the list of most dugg upcoming stories in the Industry News category, but mysteriously it doesn't show up at all. It seems that this can only be attributed to digg's quiet use of moderators.
Digg sucks, it really does.

Guarding Obama's House: The REAL Costs

It has been 258 days since Barack Obama was elected President of the United States. Since that day, the City of Chicago has spent at least $2.2 million keeping his south side home secure.

Now I know what you're about to say. It's the home of the President of the United States. The government has an obligation to keep him and his family safe. And I agree. The problem is that he is the Commander in Chief of the Federal Government, and all $2.2 million of that security has been paid for directly by the City of Chicago.

We Chicagoans are reassured, however, according to Jacquelyn Heard, that "...the federal government will fully reimburse us for all costs associated with protecting President Obama in Chicago." One wonders quite simply then, from where within the federal ranks will the reimbursement come? The first option would seem to be the Secret Service. Sadly, that appears to be a dead end.

Darrin Blackford, U.S. Secret Service spokesman, said it is "not equipped or funded" to provide reimbursement. "We rely heavily on the assistance we receive from our law-enforcement partners."
In fact, we are told by the City's Office of Legal Affairs that "There is no reimbursement mechanism currently in place for this [post-inauguration] money." Indeed, when we look at the article as a whole, it appears that the only money the federal government intends to reimburse the City of Chicago for is that $1.5 million spent to secure the premises between the election and the inauguration.

That total works out to be $19,736.84 per day, by the way.

We are told relating to that whopping sum that

Police Department spokesman Roderick Drew said the department spent the money to pay officers overtime to secure only the Obama residence, but he could not go into detail about how many officers were assigned to the house.
Well thankfully I'm able to do some simple math, and I'll even be very fair. Assuming the officers assigned to the security detail were reasonably experienced, and had been with the force for at least 2.5 years, they were making a total of $63,616 per year, including duties and uniform allowances. Let's assume they actually cost the City 30% more than that in benefits, for a total of $82,700 per year. On a normal pay scale, that works out to a base-salary of $30.58 per hour, and a total base cost of $39.76 per hour. Assuming time-and-a-half for overtime hours that were indicated by Drew to be the driving costs, the base-salary becomes $45.88 per hour, yielding a total base cost of $55.05 after adding the benefits.

Let's assume the home was secured 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and that officers were rotated in such a manner that one shift was regular time, followed by two shifts of overtime. Our equation to determine the number of officers involved then looks like this:

($39.76/HR)*(8HR)*(X) + ($55.05/HR)*(8HR)(16HR)*(X) = $19,736.84

and we find that X = 26.02 16.46

That's 26 16 officers. Every single hour of the day for 76 days. And if there was less overtime paid, it means even MORE officers of the Chicago Police Department were assigned to watch his home. Now obviously I've left out the daily cost of food, fuel, equipment, etc. But comparative to the daily cost of the officers, these costs are minimal, so we are still looking at well over 20 probably 12 or 14 officers every hour assigned to what is a relatively peaceful area of the city.

And what about since Barack Obama was inaugurated and moved into the White House? The City spent another $650,000 through the end of April, coincidentally the duration of the "First 100 Days." That's another $6500 per day. It makes sense that the cost would be far less money every day considering the house is empty now. But the City is unwilling to tell us what those dollars have been spent on. If we use our same equation, we are left with X = 8.56 5.42. That's eight five police officers dedicated to securing an empty house, every single hour of the day.

And here is our real cost. Where was the Secret Service between the election and the inauguration? Why did the City have to allocate more than 20 14 police officers every hour of every day to this cause, without even knowing for sure that it could ever possibly be reimbursed? And how does the City justify allocating eight five officers every hour of every day to guarding an empty building? With a police force that is dwindling in numbers every year, and that requires officers to fill in the gaps on off-duty hours for overtime to begin with, who is making the decision to allocate this many resources to what is essentially an empty box full of furniture?

Not that I should expect an answer as a subject in the Kingdom of Daley.

UPDATE: It occurs to me that my equation was incorrect. Given my stated assumptions, the $55.05 needed to be multiplied by 16 hours, not 8. Therefore X = 16.46 in the first term, and 5.42 in the second term.

Not quite as egregious, but egregious nonetheless.

Apologies for the initial mistake.

Healthcare Freedom

There are a lot of questions swirling around the healthcare debate right now, not the lease of which is how much it's going to cost, both in terms of pricetag and in reduction of quality through rationing. But there's one issue that's really been bothering me of late that has nothing to do with the end result, and everything to do with the arguments that are being made for the public "option" by those on the Left.

The gist of the argument in question is to expound on how terrible it is that people lack freedom of mobility in the workplace.

The details of this argument boil down to the situation where, for instance, I might have fantastic coverage at my current job, but want to go work somewhere else because it offers a better opportunity, or perhaps I am just unhappy where I am. But the other companies I might work for have lesser, or no, health coverage. I find myself therefore, jailed in the workplace, chained to a job I do not want because of the insurance coverage. The public option, the proponents tell me, would allow me not to have to worry about this.

This was a tenuous argument at best a few weeks ago. Now that we come to find that the public "option" disallows employer coverage from accepting new enrollees, the argument should be obliterated.

Even presupposing that the private insurance market could still remain in tact, which it could not, if I cannot go to work for a company that offers better health coverage than the public "option" and enroll in that better coverage, my freedom of mobility in the marketplace has been just as limited, if not moreso, than it supposedly already is.

Currently, I have the freedom to choose whether or not to take that new job and risk the fact that I take on a lesser insurance coverage. In fact, I have done this in the past, actually to work where I work now, because the work was more exciting than the work we were doing at my previous place of employ. I gathered this to be a reasonable risk to take due to the fact that I am young and healthy. But I currently also retain the option to leave this company, for the same salary, or perhaps a slightly lesser salary, should health coverage become a more weighted factor in my decision making. Perhaps I get older and decide I want better coverage with a lower deductible. I have the option to work for a larger company that provides a better plan than where I am now.

If the public "option" limits this freedom of choice, and my current employer offers a program that is just as good or even one penny better than that public "option" I am just as chained to this company as I ever might have been without a public "option," if not moreso.

To tell the American people that a public option somehow increases their freedom in the workplace is nothing less than a lie.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Rediscovering the Final Frontier

One imagines Gene Roddenberry, Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov to be rolling over in their graves at the current state of affairs. Roddenberry emblazoned on our minds the idea of space as our final frontier; that we had it in us as humans to conquer our vast differences in a common effort to expand outward beyond our own small atmosphere in order to maintain ourselves as a species. Heinlein imagined a future wherein space travel and interplanetary colonization were not only possible, but commonplace. Asimov contemplated a future where we had expanded as a species to every corner of the galaxy, finding only ourselves as sentient beings, guardians of our own survival by means of our ability to expand.

The 40th Anniversary of the first moon landing has brought about memories amongst us of those longings to move ever outward from within, and with them, questioning about why, exactly, we find ourselves moving ever inward.

Megan McArdle is nostalgic:
Four years before I was born, man walked on the moon for the first time, the most magnificent single feat our little tribe of East African Plains Apes has ever managed. Now we don't even do that. What happened to the dream? Government mismanagement, yes, but something more than that, too, some failure of imagination and will.
Charles Krauthammer does a better job of pinpointing what seems to have happened:

Why do it? It's not for practicality. We didn't go to the moon to spin off cooling suits and freeze-dried fruit. Any technological return is a bonus, not a reason. We go for the wonder and glory of it. Or, to put it less grandly, for its immense possibilities. We choose to do such things, said JFK, "not because they are easy, but because they are hard." And when you do such magnificently hard things -- send sailing a Ferdinand Magellan or a Neil Armstrong -- you open new human possibility in ways utterly unpredictable.

The greatest example? Who could have predicted that the moon voyages would create the most potent impetus to -- and symbol of -- environmental consciousness here on Earth: Earthrise, the now iconic Blue Planet photograph brought back by Apollo 8?

Ironically, that new consciousness about the uniqueness and fragility of Earth focused contemporary imagination away from space and back to Earth. We are now deep into that hyper-terrestrial phase, the age of iPod and Facebook, of social networking and eco-consciousness.

And it seems to me that it's the issue of our depth of commitment to eco-consciousness that has played a role in derailing our space interests. As we hurdle forward with ever more stringent regulation over our emissions, without a full understanding of their effects, we ignore the fact that no matter how much we limit our consumption of this planet's resources, we will eventually run out of everything. As I attended grade-school, I always had this in mind. I was deluged by stories of the necessity of recycling in the Weekly Reader and those were only reinforced in my afternoon cartoons as Captain Planet burst onto the scene as a new superhero. To my mind, it was our responsibility to preserve the planet until such time as we could find ourselves hurtling through that great black void to some as yet undiscovered new home. It always seemed to me, as Heinlein put it, that "The Earth is just too small and fragile a basket for the human race to keep all its eggs in."

But as Heinlein rolls, Conor Friedersdorf sums up what seems to be the current attitude:
But look. Earth is going to be hit by another extinction level asteroid long before the sun is going to burn up. An obligation to preserve the only meaningful life that we know suggests that we spend money on scanning the sky for gargantuan rocks hurtling toward us, safeguarding humanity against pandemic diseases and stopping nuclear proliferation. I'd be thrilled to learn that we'll survive half as long as it takes the sun to burn up!

Has our eco-consciousness and environmentalism really become so pervasive that our attitude toward the progression of our species as a whole has become emasculated to the point of just being happy to be here? Is the attitude really that we're going to be obliterated at some point so we may as well enjoy it while it lasts?

NASA's budget is about $17.6 billion per year. This represents our commitment to exploring the cosmos and progressing the science necessary to preserve our species. In the meantime, we find ourselves at the brink of watching our government commit more than $31 trillion over the next 90 years to a cap and trade bill that intends only to limit how much we are able to progress the industrial and nuclear sciences that would propel our species into the stars and our future salvation, and to do it absurdly in the name of that self same preservation. That works out, by the way, to a cost to society as a whole of over $344 billion per year.

One can only wonder, if we were to reverse our current self-immolatic attitude of "preservation" through the denial of resources, to one of real preservation through progress, what the future might hold.

Perhaps we might begin again to work toward conquering our final frontier.

Friday, July 17, 2009

A Message from Russia

Leave it to the Russian press to provide better news coverage of the United States than or own press...

Enjoy the Video!

Hat Tip (C4L)

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Liberty vs. the Red Light Camera

Yesterday I wrote about the hypocrisy in Chicago and its suburbs surrounding Red Light Cameras. Our aldermen and other elected officials continuously proclaim that we need these cameras to reign in an apparent pandemic of dangerous collisions. The reality of the situation is that it is nothing more than a fundraiser, and like all good little statists, they are pounding the fear monger's pulpit in order to reach into our wallets yet another way. The citizens of Chicago and the surrounding communities are justified to be outraged at the way they are being robbed on a daily basis, unless of course you are of Dennis Byrne's ilk.

Byrne writes for the Chicago Daily Observer, and has made berating those of us that would question our Red Light Overlords (not to mention our Parking Meter Pimps) something of a personal pleasure over the past year. Almost jovially, he has expounded that those of us complaining about tickets that are largely unfairly enforced (e.g. legal right turns on red) are simply whining scofflaws upset that Mother Daley has rapped her ruler down across our knuckles:

All the carping about the camera’s unfairness and unconstitutionality is nothing more, when it comes right down to it, than an excuse to break traffic laws without getting caught. No one is stupid enough to admit it, but the truth of it is self-evident. I just wish these law-breakers would do us all a favor and stop whining about entrapment, violations of privacy rights and all the other red herrings.

Driving is a licensed activity in a public place. Because it is a public place, any expectations of privacy are ill founded. Because the government regulates driving, expectations that the government shouldn’t use a camera to enforce its laws in a public place are ridiculous.

What a person like Byrne doesn't understand, or simply doesn't believe in, is the prospect of personal liberty. A great article by Jeffrey Tucker at Mises.org outlines the issue perfectly, albeit with stop signs as the symbol of the fight for individual liberty:

In some ways, then, it is true that the stop sign — as with every regulation by the state — embodies all that is wrong with the public sector. The rules are made to benefit the state. You are on the hot seat if any policeman says that you have done wrong. The pretense of a fair trial is a complete farce, as you have to tangle with judges who hate you, waste several days of work, and throw yourself on the mercy of the court. Once you are entangled in the web, you can't really get out.
And who makes the rules? The central planners make the rules, and the public be damned. The rules are there to serve the state, not us, and the stop sign that is oddly placed in order to extract revenue makes the point very well.

When you are stopped, you become aware that the imbalance between the citizens and the state couldn't be more obvious. Deliver an insult and you are arrested. Try to run and you are gunned down. Fail to pay and you end up in the slammer. And maybe the cop will find something else about your life to be suspicious of. Whatever they want to know, you must tell them.

Government is not reason; it is force. What was the actual social rationale for that stop sign in the first place? You dare not ask, for then you are questioning the elites who are in charge of your life. And why was it removed? It's not for you to question why; it is for you to do or die. It was there and now it is gone. All "law-abiding citizens" must change with the arbitrary dictate of the traffic masters.

Someone like Dennis Byrne, however, assumes that the safety of the public in general is more important than an argument of liberty versus traffic masters. He mockingly likens us to those people that complained about the institution of the Denver Boot as enforcement of unpaid parking tickets:

The red-light camera is raising the same kind of objections we once heard when cities first started to use the Denver Boot to immobilize the ars of drivers who habitually flouted parking regulations and refused to pay their fines. All that their complaining accomplished was to make them ustifiable objects of scorn and ridicule. Just like the red-light runners look today.
Lost in this statement is the fact that the City owns its property, and like any property owner, retains the right to lease out its space to those who might want to pay for it. This is the justification for something like a City Sticker on your car, particularly in a permit area. The city ensures that the people parking within its limits are indeed those who live within its limits. The permit areas ensure that people who live in certain high traffic neighborhoods have adequate recourse to park near their homes. To compare an issue of property to an issue of privacy is to compare apples to oranges.

I defer again to Jeffrey Tucker, with some minor edits for perspective:

Now, I'm not saying that we don't need rules in society. But the question of who makes the rules and on what basis becomes supremely mportant. Will the rule making flow from the matrix of voluntary exchange based on the ethic of serving others through private enterprise? Or will the rules be made and enforced by people wearing guns and bulletproof vests with a license to shock or kill based on minor annoyances?

Something as seemingly innocuous as a stop sign red light camera can become the occasion for the use of terrible violence and terrible oppression. And think about it: we are talking about local government that is especially sensitive to public opinion. If we see corruption here, what about at the national level, where the citizens are nothing but an abstraction?

So, no, I have no problem with making the stop sign red light camera a symbol of the fight. It shows that even the least objectionable aspects of the state can mask despotism and that we should think hard — very hard — before ever ceding control of even the smallest parts of life to the state.

Ultimately, the state is in control or we are.

There is nothing in between.

So I ask that the next time you roll up to one of the City of Chicago's 141 different intersections that is home to a red light camera, that you stop and think about these words.

Who is in control of your life, and are you happy about it?

If you're unhappy, what will you do to stand in between?

Crazy Birthers Not Letting Go

Drudge is giving it the Red Headline treatment. WorldNetDaily (ugh) is calling it a BOMBSHELL!
A U.S. Army Reserve major from Florida scheduled to report for deployment to Afghanistan within days has had his military orders revoked after arguing he should not be required to serve under a President who has not proven his eligibility for office.
For those of you not already in the know, Major Stefan Cook filed suit to block his deployment to Afghanistan on the grounds that President Obama is not a natural born US Citizen. And you thought the legs had come out from under this one. According to Cook:
"As an officer in the armed forces of the United States, it is [my] duty to gain clarification on any order we may believe illegal. With that said, if President Obama is found not to be a 'natural-born citizen,' he is not eligible to be commander-in-chief."
Even crazier, his lawyer, perhaps aptly named Orly Taitz (wow) is assuming now that the military has pulled back his deployment, it obviously means that Obama must not be a citizen.
"We won! We won before we even arrived," she said with excitement. "It means that the military has nothing to show for Obama. It means that the military has directly responded by saying Obama is illegitimate – and they cannot fight it. Therefore, they are revoking the order!"
You'll forgive me if I see this chain of events unfold and think that it represents a hypothetical mathematical equation wherein I'm given 1 + 1 + X + Y = Z, and I immediately exclaim that Z = 3,456,578.26. The intellectual leap here has no basis in reality. If one is thinking in terms of 1 + 1 = 2, then one simply assumes the military just wants this stupid jackass to go the hell away and stop being a publicity hound, particularly since he's an engineer anyway, and they can just fill his position with somebody else.

But for those of you thirsting for blood on this one, Doug Mataconis is your huckleberry, as he outlines that Cook looks to have been planning to pull this fast one all along.

So, let’s get the timeline down:

February 1, 2009:

Major Cook signs on as a “military Plaintiff” with Orly Taitz, a phenomenon I noted back in February

May 8, 2009:

Major Cook volunteers for deployment to Afghanistan

July 10, 2009:

Major Cook files a lawsuit asking to get out of his deployment because Obama is not a “natural born citizen”

Something smell fishy to you? Yea, me too.

We would all be much better served if people like Stefan Cook and his lunatic lawyer would find a way to articulate their opposition to Obama through discussion and real grass roots activism. You're an engineer, Major Cook. You've obviously got a rational brain in there somewhere. You're a lawyer, Ms. Taitz. You may not have a rational brain in there because of that, but you at least have one that has to be functioning highly on some level.

Help organize a Tea Party. Join a PAC. Start a blog. Make friends and influence people. Be the leaders of society that your highly functioning minds demand that you be.

But for the love of god and country, STOP WASTING OUR TIME!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Red Light Special

The City of Chicago lists that it currently has installed 141 Red Light Cameras. Spurred by the revenue generated by these cameras, several different suburbs have been installing them as well. Both the City of Chicago and its surrounding suburbs have expounded that these cameras are installed for the purpose of safety. Those of us that have been burned by the City over the past few years would certainly beg to differ, as the ticketing policy absolutely reeks of a revenue generation scam. I support this with my own experiences of having been ticketed when being stuck out in the middle of an intersection for a left hand turn until the light goes red, a situation that any city driver will tell you is entirely unavoidable should you ever want to actually make that turn. I have additionally been ticketed for making right turns on red lights where there is no "No Turn on Red" sign visible anywhere. In all instances, the City's response to a protest claim is "Pay Up."

Over the past month or two, all of our gripes seem to be coming to the forefront as more and more instances of public sector thievery rear their ugly heads. It began in early June, as the Sun Times reported on Alderman Ed Burke's request that the City look into instituting an education program on top of the already $100 per-ticket fines:

If the City Council’s most powerful alderman has his way, they’ll also have to go back to school — at a cost of $25.

Finance Committee Chairman Edward M. Burke (14th) wants to require red-light runners to complete a “Red Light Education Program” to prevent them from becoming repeat offenders.

At today’s City Council meeting, Burke introduced an ordinance directing the city’s Department of Administrative Hearings to launch a “red light education program”—both on-line and in person—bankrolled by charging red-light runners a $25 fee in addition to the $100 ticket.

Motorists who fail to complete training would pay an additional $50 fine.

So that's $125, plus another $50 for those of us who view the ridiculous class as the giant waste of time that it truly would be. According to the same article, the cameras, at $100 a pop are generating abotu $50 million in revenue as it is. Up that by an additional 75%, and that becomes $87.5 million simply by creating an excuse to charge more money. But they're not stopping there. As the Big Brother network of cameras grows ever larger, a company by the name of InsureNet has pitched to the City that it could generate yet another $100 to $200 million by tapping into the network of both red light cameras and surveillance cameras already installed on our corners. How, you ask? Why, by using that video to check our plates and see who out there is driving without insurance, of course! Thankfully, at least for the time being, the State of Illinois hasn't got a law in place that forces insurance providers to make that information available. I doubt it will be long before they do, though, with 13 other states already doing it and $200 million at stake.

With dollar signs in their eyes, does anyone believe officials with the City or even the surrounding suburbs are really going to care about who a program like this actually hurts? I have been to court a few times for speeding tickets. I've seen the people that are there to address their speeding ticket plus the additional fine for not having insurance. There is a reason they don't have insurance, and that reason is that they can't afford it. Seeing a judge sentence someone who is obviously scraping by to make the rent and eat to a $1,000 fine, if it weren't so sad, would almost be comical. ARS Technica sums it up nicely:
It's not hard to connect the dots on this one. If unemployed workers are the most likely to cancel their insurance, and InsureNet's system targets the uninsured, than the city of Chicago would, in effect, be balancing the books on the shoulders of those least able to afford it. Indeed, the city could find itself confronting a virtual mob of angry citizens who are funding social services and unemployment benefits out of their own unemployment checks.

The Sun Times saw fit to ignore that aspect of the situation. They did ask Burke about the money though, and of course, when pressed about the fundraising aspect of it all, Burke was limp-wristedly adamant that, “The focus shouldn’t be on the fee as much as on the educational benefit this could create.”

One assumes that the educational benefit would, of course, be that of recognizing that we are not supposed to be running red lights. Apparently we must be taught that the red lights mean stop. Of course, this would all be brought into focus if only somebody would crunch the numbers on safety! That's the ticket!

Until this past Sunday, of course, when the Chicago Tribune did exactly that.

(I give a HUGE hat-tip here to the Parking Ticket Geek and his tremendous blog The Expired Meter for this story, since I rarely read either of this town's awful publications.)

And what do we find out from this rare piece of actual effective journalism? What we suspected all along: Red Light Cameras are for making money. Nothing more. There is no better example than the town of Bellwood, a town with eight red light cameras, including one located next to the expressway on-ramp that churns out between $65,000 and $70,000 every month.
In his municipal league talk, McCampbell said he and other Bellwood officials lobbied for the new law. He said the driving force was the deaths of four people in a July 2005 crash that involved red light running at Mannheim Road and Madison Street.Bellwood has eight traffic cameras, but none at that intersection.

The 25th and Harrison locale is unusual for a red-light camera because traffic only flows in three directions, not four, reducing the likelihood of side-impact crashes. The east side of the intersection is flanked by the back of Wilson Elementary School, and its presence is one of the reasons officials gave for placing the camera there.

But the entrance to Wilson is a block away and there's no crosswalk at the intersection. What's more, the school has been closed for a year.

In an interview, McCampbell said Bellwood uses fine revenue from traffic cameras to underwrite the costs of police video surveillance equipment that watches the town of 20,000. The biggest financial contributor is the 25th and Harrison camera.But that's not the only reason why Bellwood officials value that particular camera, McCampbell admitted. He said 90 percent of violators it catches don't live in Bellwood and are headed to he expressway.

"To be very crass, they are less likely to return and complain about it," he said.


Paul Krugman on Colbert

So Paul Krugman found himself on Colbert last night, where he discombobulatedly tried to make the same point he's been failing to make very well in his NYT columns for the past few months: that the Stimulus package was enough to help, but just not enough to cure the economy's woes.

Krugman backs up the Obama administrations ludicrous claim that the stimulus has aided in making things worse, but more slowly, and begins discussion of Stimulus #2. If Colbert wasn't so good at running an interview, this guy would have driven this train right off a cliff.

Ladies and gentlemen, the winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics.

Enjoy the video if you can. I'll be cleaning the vomit off my keyboard.

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Paul Krugman
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorJeff Goldblum

New Conservative Intellectuals

Drake Bennett's article from this past Sunday made some waves yesterday. In it he outlines a few of the voices he sees as being able to pull conservatism out of the muck. Specifically he notes Luigi Zingales, W. Bradford Wilcox, Megan McArdle and Reihan Salam. Rick Moran has already provided a brilliant summarization of the article with his own commentary about each (save for Wilcox), and I am not going to bother you with a rehashed version of what's already been done. What I would like to do, however, is respond to Moran's commentary, specifically regarding Zingales and Salam.

Before I get into my looks at those two, however, I should mention that Megan McArdle is one of the best voices on the web, and that anybody not already reading everything she writes, whether you might agree with it or not, is sorely missing out on one of the most important minds available.


First, from the original article:

Luigi Zingales says it’s time for conservatives to fall out of love with businesses, and fall back in love with the free market. In an argument that’s begun to catch the ear of a few conservative thinkers, Zingales suggests that it’s often business itself, rather than the government, that the market needs protection from.

“I’m very strongly pro-market and very strongly against business,” says the Italian-born economist, a professor at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

Separating the support of free markets from the long Republican alliance with business isn’t easy, says Zingales, but it’s important. As he and colleague Raghuram Rajan laid out in their 2003 book, “Saving Capitalism from the Capitalists,” powerful companies, given the chance, work hand-in-glove with government officials to craft laws and regulations that protect them while limiting competition and transparency.

Given the arguments Zingales makes, it would perhaps be far more appropriate for him to have called his book "Saving Capitalism from the Corporatists," but hey, he's got books to sell, and his title attracts far more attention. The argument is simple, and often made, as Moran points out. And that argument, as I would hope more and more on the liberal left might begin to comprehend, is that we have indeed NOT been operating as a Capitalist society for some time. Respectively, the failure of our economy at the moment has not signified a failure of Capitalism, but rather a failure of the Corporatist culture that has susbsumed the title of Capitalism as of late. Moran outlines it simply:
Four years ago I would have wondered what Zingales was smoking in order to call himself a conservative and not support business. But the Democratic takeover of congress should have convinced anyone on the right that big business cared little about markets and more about being able to control government for their individual aggrandizement. The latest example: Wal-Mart hopping aboard the Obamacare train before it left the station. By supporting the public option and the insurance mandate for companies to supply health insurance to their workers, Wal-Mart gets to influence the final package so that it is tailored more to their needs.

We also see the dangerous big-business influence of Corporatism in the recent developments being recognized surrounding Goldman-Sachs, who after being bailed out is experiencing record profits after helping to craft legislation, and to place its former employees high within the ranks of the Federal government. Such is the nature of Corporatism that a business like Goldman, big enough to affect the nature of the market itself, finds itself able to profit from bubbles they have the ability to lend a hand in creating (upcoming Carbon Credits) and those that they have the necessary talent on hand to foresee ending (housing bubble).

Zingales' message is one that many Libertarians have been touting for years, not to mention one they have continually been ridiculed as crackpots for, as our false economy's "super bubble" had been booming for the past three decades. After all, what could be wrong when everything was moving along so well? His message is one that ought to attract the anti-big-business crowd from the Left, and one that Republican conservatives need to begin heeding. There is a difference between the true morality of Capitalism, and the awful cronyism of corporatism, and now is the time, more than ever, for us to be represented by people who understand this.


I will preface what is going to ultimately turn into a major disagreement with Salam and Moran by first saying that I enjoy Salam's writing. He is cognizant of, and more willing than most to publicly acknowedge, the Libertarian spirit of the Right. This was evident in what I referred to previously as his eulogy of Mark Sanford. That said, let the games begin. Again, first from the orignal article:

If big government is necessary, Salam asks, and can even help create a society more agreeable to conservatives, then what should it be doing? Drawing in part on the work of scholars such as Wilcox, Salam and Douthat craft a vision of a government that is activist in a different way, putting priority on stability and responsibility, along with opportunity. They push for child-care subsidies, market-friendly healthcare reform, more affordable housing, and for wage subsidies to boost the incomes of poor young men and make them more eligible for marriage and stable fatherhood.

“The idea is, let’s actually reduce the scope of government in some areas, where it’s kind of pernicious, but let’s increase its role in some areas, insofar as increasing the role can actually increase freedom,” Salam says.

Under the Obama administration, Salam has continued to press the case for big-government conservativism in articles and as a blogger for both the National Review and the online Daily Beast.

Moran, ever the proponent of moderate big-government conservatism, obviously agrees:

Salam was an early Sarah Palin supporter which should give anyone pause about accusing him of being anything other than a pragmatic conservative. His argument is the same I have been making for many months on this site; the road back for conservatism is not through the ideological terrorists who have set themselves up as arbiters of conservative dogma, condemning those they determine to have strayed from their extraordinarily narrow minded and confining definition of conservatism.

Rather, it is through advocating the reasoned and pragmatic application of conservative principles to government as it exists today that will bring the right out of the darkness.

The basic thing wrong with Salam's look at the government comes in the first few words of the first quote: "If big government is necessary." Salam, like Moran, presupposes that there is literally no way for the United States to exist without Big Government. Both of them simply shrug their shoulders and move on to say, well, if we must be saddled with this elephant, let's see how many little sticks we can poke it with to nudge it in a little bit better direction, never realizing that such small sidesteps cannot possibly deter the beast's course as it heads for the autocracy cliff.

Moran goes so far as to refer to voices calling for wide-scale reduction in government as ideological terrorists. Moran has identified these voices for us in the past. He singles out Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Ann Coulter in the punditry. One assumes there is no question in his mind about the likes of Ron Paul and Lew Rockwell.

It is my opinion that the voices that are going to affect the greatest change in the conservative intellectual spectrum are those voices that can best define their core values and proceed to spread their message. In that respect, Salam is a good writer that makes good points, but has he established a strong core message? It seems like he is trying to straddle a line that the likes of Christopher Buckley, David Brooks and Peggy Noonan have found themselves roundly criticized for straddling, that of the intellectual elite.

Utlimately the intellectual leaders of the conservative movement must be able to stand tall and proud of their intellectual arguments. I see it in McArdle. I see it in Zingales. Because he is a fantastic writer, I hope for it from Salam. I just don't know if he recognizes what I think I see coming: a tideswell of support by the grass-roots for a smaller federal government. Those of us in that tideswell do not agree that Big Government is a constant. We believe that it is a blockade to our freedoms and a hindrance to our liberty. We find the current state of affairs unacceptable. We recognize we cannot prod the elephant with sticks. It must be attacked with spears to force a change in course, and if necessary, shot down in its path.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Meet the Next Senator from Illinois

Politico reports today that Mark Kirk will have the GOP nomination for the controversial Senate seat to be vacated by Roland Burris, and he'll have it uncontested.

Illinois Republican party chairman Andy McKenna announced today that he won’t be pursuing a Senate campaign if GOP congressman Mark Kirk wants to run, clearing the way for Kirk to face an uncontested GOP nomination.

“As Party Chairman my goal has been to build Party unity. Mark Kirk and I met last evening as part of an ongoing discussion about the U. S. Senate race. I reassured Mark that if he chooses to be a candidate, I will not oppose him,” McKenna said in a statement.

McKenna’s comments come after he mulled challenging Kirk in the Republican primary, angered over the congressman’s recent cap-and-trade vote. Kirk told party officials Friday that he would run only if they ensured his own party chairman wouldn’t run against him.

Kirk is now expected to pursue a Senate campaign, landing Republicans their leading recruit. But his hesitance to make his intentions official (and public) has raised some doubts about how successful he will be in translating his local political success in the Chicago suburbs into a rough-and-tumble statewide campaign.

Politically speaking, I can't imagine a scenario in Illinois where Mark Kirk doesn't pick up this seat in a cakewalk. His biggest competition from the Democrats for the seat would have been Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, but she backed out last week in favor of working on being reelected to her current position. One assumes she sees the Governor's mansion in her sights, needing only to wait out the more-comical-by-the-day Pat Quinn.

Next in line seems to be Illinois Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias. Giannoulias defeated Christine Radogno for the position in 2006 after being endorsed by then Senator Obama. He seems to have done a fairly competent job thus far as Treasurer, instituting some common sense monetary policy at the State level, and making some sound investment decisions. However, while his position as Treasurer really doesn't put him in charge of how our state spends its money, the fact of the matter is that he has been the one signing the checks, in effect, while our state has found itself mired in a $11.5 billion budget deficit. This is far too easy a target for Kirk to stick on Giannoulias during the election for Alexi to get out from under. To follow, I don't know enough about Alexi's politics to find him even a remote possibility, even with President Obama's backing. And considering how things are going lately, what good will that even be come 2010? Kirk's experience at the federal level alone should find him trouncing Giannoulias.

That leaves newcomer, and political legacy, Christopher George Kennedy, son of RFK, and the current owner of the Merchandise Mart. In running the Mart, Kennedy has taken an active role in the "greening" of the world's largest commercial building, obtaining for it a LEED-EB Certification in 2007. It seems relatively unlikely to me that Kennedy will bode much of a challenge for Kirk, either, given his general lack of experience in politics in general, much less at the Federal level.

Interestingly enough, perhaps Kennedy's green credentials serve as a reason that Kirk ultimately became one of the Cap-and-Tax Eight, currently so ruthlessly despised by conservatives and the fiscally responsible of all other reaches, including yours truly. It's appalling to me and other fiscal conservatives that he has so quickly earned the right to represent the Right in the upcoming Senatorial race. In fact, his actions in continuously straddling the "moderate" line in his admittedly extremely diverse district have spurred some to call him a coward.

However, with cap-and-tax appearing to be a dead-on-arrival issue in the Senate, it seems that this too shall pass for Kirk. Barring that bill's revival and subsequent economically destructive passage with his backing, I can't particularly see much of a way that Kirk doesn't come away with the Senate seat. Giannoulias doesn't have the experience, Madigan is out, and unless Kennedy puts twice as much money out there to buy what is already a tainted Democratic seat, it's going to be really tough for him to outmatch Kirk, and he certainly won't be winning any conservative votes.

Pre-Cap-and-Tax was a time when I would have backed Kirk wholeheartedly. He talked the talk on fiscal conservatism, and at a deeper level than most. He's lost my confidence for now, but he's got some time over the next year or so to once again start walking the walk. Whether he does or not is up to him, but from where I sit, he's our next US Senator in any case. Given his tendency to follow the polling (backup in the "coward" link) I figure it's probably best to start hoping to have some effect at that level sooner rather than later.

Misjudging Mark Sanford?

Nicole Hemmer and Neil J. Young offer an opinion piece in the Christian Science Monitor regarding Mark Sanford. They examine past instances of affairs carried out by those on the right, and the subsequent political recoveries. They cite Newt Gingrich. They cite David Vitter. Convolutedly, they also cite Sarah Palin's handling of her daughter's pregnancy. To Hemmer and Young, it all comes down to repentance and faith:

Their survival isn't in spite of the GOP's evangelical base, but rather because of it. And while liberals tend to see continued support as hypocrisy from both the politician and his supporters, what matters to conservative Republicans is not so much the behavior of their leaders as the repentance they show after their fall from grace.

In the rambling announcement of his affair, Mr. Sanford said little about politics and a lot about his faith. At times he sounded like a preacher expounding on the nature of God's law, of self, and of sin.

Sanford's remarks drew little praise, categorized even by sympathetic sources as "disjointed" and "just plain bizarre." Kathleen Parker, a conservative columnist with little affection for the politics of the Christian right, evaluated his statement this way: "Spiritually, Sanford may have succeeded in checking off several acts of contrition. But politically he did everything wrong...."

But Ms. Parker, like Sanford's critics on the left, fails to understand the mechanics of Christian conservatism: By getting it spiritually right, Sanford is well on his way to getting it politically right.

Unfortunately for Hemmer and Young, they have completely missed the political reality of the situation (not to mention having completely glossed over the facts). Those of us who actually paid attention to the Sanford situation grasped this as the political demise of a once promising talent.

The man cheated on his wife with a long-time friend turned mistress. This may be a redeemable offense in the public eye, and it is the only issue Hemmer and Young focus on. What they conveniently leave out of their essay on forgiveness and political recovery, however, is the fact that Mark Sanford flew to Argentina to nail his piece on the side...leaving his family at home...on Father's Day...and oh yeah, on public money. They also mention nothing of the fact that Sanford allowed himself apparently to fall in love with a woman outside of his marriage. One may expound all one likes about how "the heart wants what the heart wants," but it's not as if this was a woman on the other side of the office he couldn't avoid. It's a long distance relationship with a woman halfway around the world that he was so determined to be with, that he eschewed any sense of obligation, not only to his family, but to the public to whom he was supposed to have been beholden. This goes so far beyond David Vitter in a whorehouse, or Sarah Palin's unwed teenage daughter's pregnancy (who knew teen girls in small towns with nothing to do might get knocked up?) that it's ridiculous.

Is it a forgivable offense? Only Jenny Sanford can make that decision. If Jenny Sanford, and by extension, her children, can forgive Mark Sanford, his spiritual salvation will indeed be underway. Allowing that, however, let us remember that neither Newt Gingrich or David Vitter has ever had as realistic an opportunity to be considered in a presidential race as Mark Sanford seemed to have brewing up until this scandal. Here was a man many of us considered a "true conservative" both in word and in deed. Hell, the man even slept on the couch in his office when he was in the House to save money. Apparently he was saving it for those trips to Argentina.

Sanford may redeem himself personally. He may even find a future in politics at some level. But it will never be the Presidency.

With the highest office in the land waiting in the endzone, Mark Sanford didn't even get a chance to fumble the kickoff. He simply got demoted to the practice squad. Perhaps someday he'll find himself back in the game again...but only on special teams.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Mother In Law

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Imperial District: Redefining Material vs. Immaterial

What does $10 million buy? Many of you might buy property and become rental owners. Some of you might retire and live a life of leisure. Still others might decide they would like to help out those injured or in need, perhaps including those left in the dust by the federally bailed out and bankrupt GM and Chrylser. I just submitted a proposal to build a four-story, 40,000 square foot museum that should end up costing less than that to build, barring major design changes by the owners. The owners will have a fully functional and operating museum for less than $10 million dollars.

But that pertains to us regular folk. What does $10 million buy you if you're in the government? Well, as I have recently discovered, it buys you something ever so much more valuable than things like museums or retirement, or even justice. The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, in awarding a construction contract in the Fall of 2008, spent 10 million taxpayer dollars on something ever so much more important than just a little old museum. They spent it on Minority Participation.

The MWRD has instituted an ordinance, for the purpose of complying with affirmative action rulings, that requires general contractors to commit to certain percentages of Minority Owned, and Women Owned businesses in their bids for construction contracts. This is not uncommon for public agencies in general, and particularly in Chicago. The Chicago Housing Authority requires it, the Department of General Services and the Public Building Commission require it, as do the Chicago Public Schools. Minority and Women Owned businesses are also required on projects built by those private developers that seek to finance their projects via TIF funds.

In committing to MWBE participation, a general contractor is typically required to submit a mountain of paperwork with its bid. This will usually include a summary page outlining what MWBE subcontractors have been committed to, and for what work and dollar amount, followed by the MWBE certification letters of those contractors, generally provided by the City of Chicago, to prove that they are indeed of currently recognized MWBE status. When committing to the use of these MWBE subcontractors for certain dollar amounts, the general contractor is not allowed to renegotiate these values after being awarded the job, thereby guaranteeing that these MWBE subcontractors will be receiving what they are promised. The general contractor retains the right to renegotiate contract values with any non-MWBE entities after the fact, a practice known in general contracting as "the buyout."

The MWRD's Affirmative Action Ordinance requires that every single piece of paperwork be in order with the bid in order for the bid to be deemed responsive. Should any one page or piece of requested information be missed, the bid will be deemed non-responsive and will be summarily rejected without question. The MWRD is ruthless in its application of this ordinance, even when staring a difference in bids of $10 million in the face. This comes to light in the recently decided case of Walsh/II in One JV v. MWRDGC.

In this case, the project at hand was worth $244, 600,000. The Walsh joint venture was the low bidder by $10 million. In its bid, Walsh provided the minority certification letters of the MWBE subcontractors it intended to utilize on the project. Walsh, however, failed to provide the required signed page D-25 summary page outlining what MWBE subcontractors were being utilized, how much money they were each promised, and for what work. In its strict compliance to the Ordinance, the MWRD rejected Walsh's bid as non-responsive. Walsh sued the MWRD and the case ultimately wound up in the Illinois State Supreme Court.

To make a long story short, as you can read the decision for yourself in the link provided, the court ruled in favor of the MWRD, arguing two points that were specifically challenged by Walsh. The first challenge was that the Ordinance itself was illegal. The court dismissed this based on years and years of precedent, and a failure by Walsh to provide a coherent case as to why. The second, more important challenge made by Walsh, was that the failure to include the signed page D-25 was an immaterial breach, and should not have constituted a reason to declare the bid non-responsive. The court ruled that the breach is in effect material, due to the legal issues that would otherwise arise if the MWRD were to reverse its decision making process on its own ordinance. The court also went out of its way, rightly in my opinion, to skewer Walsh for just plain being stupid.

Legally speaking, the court's decision is correct. However, this does not mean that the MWRD's Affirmative Action Ordinance is correct. Comparatively speaking, having dealt with public contracts from nearly all of the public agencies local to the Chicagoland area, the MWRD's percentage requirements for MWBE participation are actually quite fair. It is the only organization in the area in my experience that gives itself the ability to change the percentage requirements on a contract-by-contract basis. The CHA, for instance, always requires 40% MWBE participation, and the PBC always requires 28%, no matter the contract, no matter if it is even reasonably possible. What the MWRD does not provide, however, is the opportunity for a contractor to "cure" its bid.

I have submitted bids in the past to the CHA and the PBC that have not included the correct paperwork down to the last letter. This is due to the extremely pressing nature of the bidding environment. A bidding general contractor handles perhaps over 100 different subcontractor bids on bid day, and must decide which MWBE subcontractors to carry in the bid, and have all of their paperwork correct, up to mere minutes before the bid is required to be turned in. It is fairly common for mistakes to be made. The CHA and the PBC, respectively, will from time to time offer the low-bidding general contractor the opportunity to correct its paperwork. The agencies typically allow extremely short turnaround times for this correction, sometimes mere hours, but those mere hours are often sufficient. Subcontractor bids cannot be renegotiated in those short hours, nor would an MWBE subcontractor acquiesce to that renegotiation after knowing he or she had been utilized in the first place. The CHA and the PBC recognize this fact, and operate in a reasonable manner.

The MWRD, however, fancies itself of higher importance. It is their stance that any contractor working for them is priveleged to be working for them. In fact, many of their personnel jokingly refer to themselves as The Imperial District. Throughout the case, the Purchasing Agent for the MWRD, Darlene LoCascio testified that she had similarly rejected eight other bids in the year prior for the exact same discrepancy. This was what the court relied upon when upholding the MWRD's decision to declare Walsh non-responsive. Now not only does the MWRD have an unreasonable policy from a business standpoint, and from the standpoint of administering public dollars, but it has been upheld by the Illinois State Supreme Court, meaning it is unlikely ever to be overturned.

If the MWRD had any common sense, they would revise the Affirmative Action Ordinance to allow for a bid to be "cured" after a certain minimum amount of money was involved. However let us remember that Darth Vader wore all black. And indeed it appears the Force is strong with this one, as they have implemented an ordinance that allows one missing piece of paper to cost the taxpayers $10 million. $10 million is immaterial to the Imperial District, but you'd better believe that Minority Participation is material.

Tom Woods on the GM Bailout

Excellent interview with Tom Woods as Judge Napolitano fills in for Glenn Beck.

Woods outlines the very basic reasons why the "People vs. Profits" slogan is nonsense.


Hat Tip LRCBlog

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Men of Their Word

An interesting organization I came across via the "True Conservatives" page on Facebook after they posted this video, Oath Keepers is an association of active duty armed forces, police, etc., who are pledging not to merely follow orders, but to disavow any and all orders that they know to be illegal. The organization was started by former paratrooper Stewart Rhodes, who after graduating from Yale Law School, now serves as a staff attorney with the Jefferson Legal Foundation.

This stirring video outlines the ten orders that members of Oath Keepers will NOT obey.

1. We will NOT obey orders to disarm the American people.

2. We will NOT obey orders to conduct warrantless searches of the American people.

3. We will NOT obey orders to detain American citizens as “unlawful enemy combatants” or to subject them to military tribunal.

4. We will NOT obey orders to impose martial law or a “state of emergency” on a state.

5. We will NOT obey orders to invade and subjugate any state that asserts its sovereignty.

6. We will NOT obey any order to blockade American cities, thus turning them into giant concentration camps.

7. We will NOT obey any order to force American citizens into any form of detention camps under any pretext.

8. We will NOT obey orders to assist or support the use of any foreign troops on U.S. soil against the American people to “keep the peace” or to “maintain control."

9. We will NOT obey any orders to confiscate the property of the American people, including food and other essential supplies.

10.We will NOT obey any orders which infringe on the right of the people to free speech, to peaceably assemble, and to petition their government for a redress of grievances.