Tuesday, December 28, 2010

How insensitive can the government be?

Dan Mitchell:

After looking at the “humor” section of the archives and finding this post, a reader emailed to reminisce about a very funny Dave Barry column from the 1990s that made fun of bureaucratic stupidity. After a bit of digging, I found a link. Here’s my favorite part of the column, but I encourge you to read the whole thing:

On May 11, two employees of DeBest Inc., a plumbing company, were working at a construction site in Garden City, Idaho, when they heard a backhoe operator yell for help. They ran over, and found that the wall of a trench – which was NOT dug by DeBest – had collapsed on a worker, pinning him under dirt and covering his head. “We could hear muffled screams,” said one of the DeBest employees. So the men jumped into the trench and dug the victim out, quite possibly saving his life. What do you think OSHA did about this? Do you think it gave the rescuers a medal? If so, I can see why you are a mere lowlife taxpayer, as opposed to an OSHA executive. What OSHA did – remember, I am not making this up – was FINE DEBEST INC. $7,875. Yes. OSHA said that the two men should not have gone into the trench without (1) putting on approved hard hats, and (2) taking steps to insure that other trench walls did not collapse, and water did not seep in. Of course this might have resulted in some discomfort for the suffocating victim (“Hang in there! We should have the OSHA trench-seepage-prevention guidelines here within hours!”). But that is the price you pay for occupational health and safety.
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Monday, December 27, 2010

States taxing themselves to death


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Jailhouse lawyer


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Does 'Smart Growth' help quality of life?

New Geography:

Generally, the states with the highest Smart Growth America ratings perform the worst by these quality of life indicators.

California is first in Smart Growth America score, at 82 (out of a possible 100). Yet, California ranks 49th in housing affordability, 48th in cost of living and 45th in net domestic migration, having lost 4.4 percent of its population (1.5 million) to other states since 2009. California's average rank among the quality of life indicators is 47, essentially a mirror image of its Smart Growth America rating. Only New York has a worse average ranking (49th).

Maryland is second in Smart Growth America score, at 77. However, Maryland ranks 42nd in housing affordability, 41st in the cost of living and 36th in net domestic migration, having lost 1.8 percent of its residents (nearly 100,000) to other states since 2000. Maryland's average rank is 40th on the quality of life indicators.

New Jersey ranks third, with a Smart Growth America score of 75. New Jersey ranks 45th in housing affordability, 47th in the cost of living and 47th in domestic migration, having lost 4.5 percent of its population (450,000) to other states during the decade. Among the top ten, only California has a worse average ranking than New Jersey's, at 46th on the quality of life indicators.

Connecticut ranks fourth, with a Smart Growth America score of 70. Connecticut ranks 40th in housing affordability, 46th in cost of living and 40th in domestic migration, having lost 2.8 percent (nearly 100,000) of its population. Connecticut's average rank is 42th in the quality of life indicators.

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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

John Stossel on the 10 biggest lies of the year

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Julian Assange's OkCupid dating profile

Julian Assange is "DANGER, ACHTUNG, and ??????????????!"

(Yes, apparently, it's real.)

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More on red light cameras

Rutherford Institute:

Each municipality has its own protocol for what happens next, but generally, the photos are reviewed by Redflex, which then issues tickets to the drivers. And this is where your right to a fair and full hearing largely goes out the window. Indeed, while there is a system for challenging a ticket, it is often convoluted and onerous, with the burden of proof resting upon the driver. Even the courts have a tendency to view the cameras as infallible. According to the Washington Post, Montgomery County, “in screening the tickets to mail out, has had to kick out 23,266 ‘violations’ from May 2007 to June 2009 because ‘No violation occurred/operator error.’ And 10,813 were tossed for reasons including ‘power interruption’ and ‘equipment malfunction.’” Once in court, however, the drivers were invariably found guilty 99.7 percent of the time.

Some opponents advocate ignoring the ticket altogether on the pretext that there are few real penalties to not paying. In Los Angeles, about 56,000 people have opted not to pay their red light camera tickets, resulting in roughly 45 percent of all tickets issued since 2006 going unresolved with no punishment.

Still, supporters contend that the ends justify the means because the cameras increase traffic safety. Yet research suggests otherwise. In fact, multiple studies indicate that red light cameras actually increase the number of crashes. For example, in Greensboro, N.C., the Urban Transit Institute at the North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University analyzed 57 months of data and concluded that the red light cameras were associated with a 40% increase in crashes. In Ontario, Canada, Synectics Transportation Consultants found a 16% increase in accidents at intersections with cameras, as opposed to an 8% increase at comparison intersections with no police enforcement or cameras. It also found a 2% increase in injury/fatal crashes at camera intersections as opposed to a 10% decrease with police enforcement.

Studies conducted in Virginia also show that the cameras result in an increased number of rear-end collisions. The Virginia Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration funded a study of seven years of crash data by the Virginia Transportation Research Council. The study associated red light cameras with a 27% increase in rear-end crashes and a 42% decrease in red-light-running crashes across six Virginia jurisdictions (Alexandria, Arlington, Fairfax City, Fairfax County, Falls Church and Vienna). Overall, however, crashes increased because there are generally more rear-end crashes than red light running crashes. Thus, the study concluded that the results "cannot be used to justify the widespread installation of cameras because they are not universally effective."

There are, in fact, far superior alternatives to red light cameras. For instance, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, intersection safety would be increased by simply lengthening the yellow light time or adding an all-red light interval. A study by the Texas Transportation Institute found that increasing the length of yellow lights by one second decreased the chance of accidents by 40%. Similarly, another case study revealed that a mere 30% increase in yellow light time produced substantial safety benefits. And when the Virginia Department of Transportation increased the yellow light duration from 4.0 seconds to 5.5 seconds at an Arlington intersection in 2000, the problem of red light running practically disappeared.

Rather than trading one type of crash for another, which is what red light cameras do, increasing the duration of the yellow light has proven to be effective in actually enhancing intersection safety. So why aren’t more communities extending the yellow lights?

Regrettably, a close examination of the history of traffic monitoring devices reveals that, on a larger scale, the profit motive figures prominently into the increased use of red light cameras. In fact, despite the fact that lengthening the yellow light duration has been shown to increase intersection safety, national guidelines have actually lowered the recommended yellow light duration at problem intersections, apparently in an effort to spawn the implementation of red light cameras across the nation.

Moreover, a 2001 report released by former House Majority Leader Dick Armey found that in 1985, the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) began to change the way signal times were calculated so as to provide at least three methods resulting in a reduction of yellow light time. The report ultimately concluded:

Transportation officials and engineers know that the yellow signal timing is essential to safety. The data showing this to be the case are found in their studies. Nonetheless, some have systematically and intentionally ignored the inescapable engineering fact that longer yellows would solve the so-called crises caused by shortened yellows. Red light cameras present a perverse disincentive for local jurisdictions to fix intersections with excessive red light entries. It’s hard to fix a "problem" that brings in millions in revenue. In other words, red light cameras aren’t fixing a safety problem, they’re creating one.
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Monday, December 20, 2010

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Another way Wilmington could improve itself

In case you don't know, Wilmington has a terrible history of sewer breaks and storm water flooding.

Raw Story:

IBM software is being used in Corpus Christi to manage wastewater treatment plants, reservoirs, approximately 1,250 miles (2,012 kilometers) of wastewater mains and a water treatment plant that can hold 170 million gallons (643,520 cubic meters).

The system is relied on to provide water to the city's more than 280,000 residents.

Tracking of water pipe repairs revealed that nearly a third of the problems were at 1.4 percent of the sites served. Plans were put in place to fix underlying problems and cut ongoing repair costs.

Data analysis also showed that small pipes accounted for a disproportionate number of water main breaks, prompting a switch to larger pipes to avoid future troubles.

Skills of repair crew members are automatically factored into scheduling jobs.
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Monday, December 13, 2010

Interested in local issues?

You're not? Ok, well, I am. Here are two stories about convention centers (which we have in Wilmington), and the Davis-Bacon Act which drives up the cost of construction on government projects.

Convention Center 1, 2.


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Federal judge rules health insurance mandate unconstitutional

Oh, hell yeeeeaaaahhhh.


The Obama administration’s requirement that most citizens maintain minimum health coverage as part of a broad overhaul of the industry is unconstitutional, a federal judge ruled, striking down the linchpin of the plan.

U.S. District Judge Henry Hudson in Richmond, Virginia, said today that the requirement in President Barack Obama’s health-care legislation goes beyond Congress’s powers to regulate interstate commerce. While severing the coverage mandate, which was to become effective in 2014, Hudson didn’t address other provisions such as expanding Medicaid.
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Is the free market saving Rwanda?

National Review:

In the World Bank’s Doing Business index, Rwanda was ranked the No. 1 reformer in the world last year and No. 2 this year.

[...]With annual growth averaging 8 percent since 2004, Rwanda is becoming increasingly self-reliant. “In 1995,” says Patrick Kabagema of Rock Global Consulting, “foreign aid was 100 percent of the government budget. Today, it’s 40 percent. Give another ten years to Rwanda, and there will be no foreign aid.”

In the World Bank’s 2011 report, Rwanda is tied with America as the earth’s ninth-easiest country in which to start a business. As recently as 2008, Rwanda was ranked No. 71. Overall, Rwanda has moved from the 150th-best place to do business in 2008 to 58th for 2011. Only Georgia (the nation) has scaled that ladder more quickly.

Through the Rwanda Development Board (RDB), explains Robert Bayigamba, chairman of the Private Sector Federation, “we are able to have the business-registration process finished in 24 hours. It’s now one single window where all the authorizations are given.”

[...]Before the RDB’s “one-stop center” opened in 2008, Bayigamba says, this process took “maybe more than two or three months.

[...]Rwanda has ditched its capital-gains tax, dropped its 6 percent “arrival tax” on investment capital, dumped export taxes, decreased dividend-withholding taxes from 15 percent to 5 percent, and accelerated depreciation on purchased assets. Ranging from 20 to 28 percent, Rwanda’s corporate taxes easily trounce America’s 35-percent business levy.

[...]Meanwhile, Rwanda identified 72 state-owned companies for privatization and has sold off all but ten, including hotels, banks, and the national telephone company.

Once liberated from the government’s all-too-visible hand, newly privatized tea companies began to grow “orthodox” or long-leaf tea, target niche markets, and sell green tea as well as smooth and invigorating black varieties. Such innovations already have pushed industry revenues from $22 million in 2003 to $56 million in 2009. Amazingly, Rwanda’s largest tea company, Sorwathe in Kinihira, now exports green tea to China. This is like shipping petroleum to Saudi Arabia.

[...]Alles recalls when the government attempted to encroach excessively upon his enterprise. “The Tea Authority felt that they should have their own representative at every factory, either to police or, as they said, control everything that’s going on in the factories,” Alles remembers. “We asked them who was going to pay for his salary, his lodging, his board. It appeared that eventually we would be paying for him. We didn’t really think it was necessary. So we complained to the president at one of these meetings. And he promptly called the Tea Authority up and asked them what they were trying to do. The president is very bright. He understood very quickly the problem. He told them, ‘That’s not the way you do things. You don’t put an inspector in every taxi, just to control things . . . or someone at the reception desk in every hotel.’ And so, the Tea Authority promptly withdrew that. Sanity prevailed.”

[...]“If we could have an easier way of borrowing money, let’s say, then I think we would step up to the plate.”

Rwandans reel under 18- to 24-percent interest rates. Credit cards are rarely accepted, and Rwandan francs elicit cold stares among currency-exchange clerks at the airports in Nairobi and Amsterdam. Monetary reform would be a wise addition to Rwanda’s national to-do list.
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Thursday, December 9, 2010

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Monday, December 6, 2010

San Diego rewrites labor contracts for construction

Signs on San Diego:

Voters were overwhelmingly approving a ban on labor agreements that call for contractors to provide union-scale pay and benefits on county projects, based on early results Tuesday night.

Proposition A, placed on the ballot by the Board of Supervisors, would amend the county’s charter to rule out such deals.

The contest was being watched across the nation as a referendum on whether governments should allow the labor-friendly pacts.

“The taxpayers have spoken,” said Scott Crosby, president for the local chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors, which represents about 250 companies. “As they showed in June in Chula Vista and Oceanside, they want fair and open competition for all contracts. It’s a great thing for taxpayers.”

In summer balloting, voters approved bans on project labor agreements in those two municipalities.

Proposition A wouldn’t apply to labor agreements mandated by state or federal laws, or if those agreements are a condition of receiving state or federal funding for a project.
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Red light cameras

Wilmington has these cameras. Hopefully, they'll learn a lesson and get rid of them.

Click through for links.


The police chief focuses on side-impact collisions, which fell from 72 in 2008 to 64 in 2009 after the cameras were installed. That's a modest drop, and it wasn't consistent across the city. For example, one intersection had four side-impact collisions in 2008, five in 2009, and has seen 11 already this year.

In fact, overall collisions are up at the intersections where Clarksville has installed red light cameras (a result we've seen nearly everywhere they've been installed). The city just chooses to ignore rear-impact collisions when evaluating the cameras. Those collisions increased from 138 in 2008, to 173 in 2009, to 169 through October of this year. It's true that side-impact collisions are generally more dangerous than rear-impact collisions. But even taking that into consideration, it's a bit of a stretch to say that a decrease of eight side-impact collisions coupled with an increase of 25 rear-impact collisions shows that the cameras are preventing accidents.

But there is one way that the cameras are working out quite well:

Clarksville’s red light camera program has already issued more than 10,000 tickets, bringing in about $1 million in revenue.
Interestingly, about $600,000 of that revenue goes to Redflex Traffic Systems, Inc., the company that manufactures and operates the cameras. And how's this for a display of twisted incentives:

Buoyed by the program’s early results, police plan to expand the program to two other intersections, Highway 76-Interstate 24 and Fort Campbell Boulevard-Lafayette Road. Both are in the top 10 in number of accidents.
Ansley said they have to wait for Redflex’s approval, because any new intersections would have to be profitable for the company to cover the cost of the cameras.
So Redflex gets to dictate where the cameras go. Which means that if the cameras really are effective at preventing accidents and red light runners, as the intersections get safer, Redflex's profit margins (and city revenues) get thinner. If I were a Redflex executive, I'd put the cameras at intersections where there's lots of red-light running, but where cameras aren't likely to be very effective at preventing it.

The best approach doesn't bring in any revenue, for camera makers or city governments: Lengthening the duration yellow lights has proven to be much more effective at preventing accidents than cameras. Which of course is why several cities have been caught making intersections more dangerous by shortening yellow lights in order to generate more tickets.
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Thursday, December 2, 2010

How much does it cost to bring a movie shoot to Michigan?

Maybe Wilmington will learn from this.


Michigan taxpayers foot the bill for the most generous movie subsidies in the U.S. Since 2008, the state has allotted $282 million to lure the filming of Hilary Swank’s “Conviction,” Clint Eastwood’s “Gran Torino,” George Clooney’s “Up In The Air” and more than 120 other productions.

Now the governor-elect, Republican Rick Snyder, wants to curb the largesse. A state agency found the price of the program -- which covers as much as 42 percent of local expenses -- exceeds the economic activity generated. Jobs created in 2009 cost the state about $193,000 each, the agency estimated.
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