Lightening the Sled


Juneau Mayor Dies Under Mysterious Circumstances

In related news the newly-elected and apparently reform-oriented mayor of Juneau, Alaska has been found dead under mysterious circumstances. Via CNN:

(CNN)Just weeks after he took office, the mayor of Alaska’s capital has been found dead, prompting a flurry of rumors that he was assaulted.

“Those rumors are speculation,” the Juneau Police Department said. “Detectives are actively investigating facts of the incident, and all evidence is being preserved and documented.”

This much police will say: Juneau Mayor Stephen “Greg” Fisk, 70, didn’t commit suicide, Chief Bryce Johnson told the Juneau Empire. And there were no signs of forced entry into his house.


Annals of Irony

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has demanded the resignation of Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy:

(CNN)Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Tuesday that he has asked for the resignation of Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy.

The announcement at a news conference came amid angry protests in Chicago over the way the city responded when a white police officer shot a black teenager 16 times in October 2014. Dashboard camera footage of Laquan McDonald’s killing was not released until last week after a judge ordered it be made public.

“Superintendent McCarthy knows that a police officer is only as effective as when he has the trust of those he serves,” said Emanuel, speaking at City Hall.

or, said more bluntly, he fired him. The mayor has also taken the time-hallowed first step in burying the issue of the police execution of Laquan McDonald and the foot-dragging on the part of the CPD: he’s announced the formation of a blue-ribbon panel to investigate the matter:

He went on to describe a new task force on law enforcement accountability that will review how the city trains and oversees its police officers. It will include five Chicagoans who have been leaders in the justice system. Chicago native and former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick will be a senior adviser to the group, Emanuel said.

Note well: when confronted with a management crisis—which this clearly is—a strong manager actually interested in solving the problem does not turn it over to a blue-ribbon commission. That’s what weak managers who are just trying to get the whole thing to go away do. We’ll see.


The Deficit

Speaking of rationalizations, in his Washington Post column, Richard Cohen complains about the president’s lack of ideas:

It’s not that Obama has lost his gift of eloquence. His problem is that he often has nothing to say. When he does, as after the mass murder in June at a Charleston, S.C., church, he can be moving and eloquent. It is on foreign policy particularly where he goes empty and cold. His policy, after all, is to avoid yet another Middle East quagmire. It entails the ringing call to do as little as possible.

Obama’s self-inflicted predicament was apparent in the statement he issued following the Paris terrorist attacks. Unlike many other mass killings, this one was broadcast in real time — unfolding on TV as it happened. It left the United States both shaken and horrified. Yet Obama spoke coldly, by rote — saying all the right things in the manner of a minister presiding at the funeral of a perfect stranger.

Fiddle dee dee. I see no signs that Barack Obama has had an idea since grad school. He wasn’t elected for ideas, anyway. He was elected through a combination of personal charisma, virtue signalling, racial politics, and the perception that he was a better choice than the other guy.

In fairness the balance of the column clearly represents that what counts for an idea in Mr. Cohen’s terms is a more aggressive stance in the Middle East. For such ideas he should have supported John McCain.


Educational Policy As Industrial Policy

I’m glad to see that Dan Drezner has grasped at least part of the reality. In his tentative defense of universities in his Washington Post op-ed, “Four tough things columnists should do before writing about universities”, one of the “tough things” he lists is this:

4) Be honest that you’re using higher ed reform as an implicit industrial policy. An implicit theme of Pearlstein’s essay is that too much money is being thrown at the humanities and not enough at the STEM fields [UPDATE: This morning Pearlstein called me directly to state that he does not in fact believe this. The hard-working staff here at Spoiler Alerts apologizes if this inference was made in error]. This theme is hardly unique to him. President Obama has scorned art history majors in the past and GOP presidential candidates have been bashing philosophers in the present.

Over the period of the last twenty-five years the closest thing the U. S. has had to to an industrial policy has been educational policy and it has enjoyed bipartisan support. Defenders of the policy always point to aggregate numbers as proof but fail to realize the degree to which a handful of high-earning majors (some of which are only offered in a handful of schools) skew the results. Let alone the degree to which the incomes of a frighteningly small number of individuals skews the results. Mark Zuckerberg does not prove that the key to a bright economic future for the United States is higher education. Let alone Bill Gates. Gadzooks, both men are doing their darnedest to ensure that’s not the case.

What they do prove is that there are some people who will become wealthy whether they attend college or not. Now there’s an industrial policy for you.

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The Chicago Scene

Phil Kadner ties Chicago’s stories up in one, ugly package:

From the theft of millions of dollars in public school funds by the mayor’s public schools chief, to the closing of public schools, to Chicago’s financial free fall, there is a line to be traced to the death on the streets of a 17-year-old at the hands of a police officer who within seconds decided to repeatedly fire his weapon.

There is a failure here of an entire system that needs to be condemned, examined, and rebuilt to restore public confidence in institutions that have completely failed the public.

McDonald was a product of that system, in foster care and out, through the public schools, and onto the city streets where, with PCP in his system and a folding knife in his hand, he was seen burglarizing cars and eventually shot down like a dog.

If you see a benign solution to Chicago’s problems, I’m all ears. Do you think the Chicago police department, the states attorney, and the mayor will self-reform? They can’t even be fired or voted out of office.


Be Careful What You Rationalize

This story doesn’t appear to have been as widely publicized outside Chicago as it has here. Yesterday the University of Chicago shut down in a panic. An online threat had been received to murder white students and police respondents in retaliation for the police execution of Laquan McDonald. Here’s the AP’s description:

“I think the university erred on the side of caution after putting the whole picture together,” said Michael Fagel, who teaches national security and emergency management at several schools, including the Illinois Institute of Technology. “They had to think: If we don’t react appropriately and something happens, there’ll be an outcry.”

Jabari R. Dean, 21, of Chicago, was arrested Monday on a federal charge of transmitting a threat in interstate commerce. According to a criminal complaint, Dean, who is black, posted the threat online Saturday, days after prosecutors charged Van Dyke with first-degree murder and after the city released video of the shooting.

Dean, an electrical engineering student at the University of Illinois at Chicago, wrote that he would “execute approximately … 16 white male students and or staff, which is the same number of time (sic) McDonald was killed” and “will die killing any number of white policemen that I can in the process,” the complaint says.

I don’t think that Mr. Fagel has described the actual reason for the university’s decision: liability. If the university had ignored the threat and the threat had been carried out, I guarantee you that the university would have been faced costly law suits.

What astonishes me about this particular story is the extraordinary level of rationalization that’s going on associated with it. Here’s an example, from the AP story:

The online threat allegedly read: “This is not a joke. I am to do my part and rid the world of white devils.” Phillip Rutherford, Dean’s uncle, told reporters that his nephew was never serious about an attack and had done something “silly” and “stupid” because he’d had too much time on his hands.

“He’s run out of things to do,” Rutherford said.

Go back to the basic facts of the story. Everything beyond that is a rationalization. We can’t avoid them completely—as noted in The Big Chill you can’t go a whole day without a two or three juicy rationalizations. But we should try to keep them down to reasonable levels and there are many, many things that should not simply be excused away.


Stating the Obvious

Writing at Huffington Post, Dan Karr explains why the the PPACA’s repeal or replacement is inevitable:

Political discussion aside, The Affordable Care Act (ACA) will fail for business reasons. Whether the ultimate result is the law getting repealed or modified, change is necessary to have a viable and vibrant health insurance industry that drives cost reduction and improved customer service.

The fundamental reason the ACA will fail is because it mandates a minimum Medical Loss Ratio (MLR). MLR is the percentage of premiums paid out to cover health care expenses. When this law came into effect, many American’s thought mandating MLR was good because it guaranteed a minimum level insurance companies would pay to cover health care costs. However, the unintended consequences are having the opposite effect.

The problems associated with mandating MLR are two-fold: 1) incentivizing the insurance industry to become less efficient; 2) contributing to the elimination of new insurers entering the market and increasing the level of competition.

I find this observation pretty ironic:

Health care costs increasing at more than two times the rate of increase in the Consumer Price Index is a problem the U.S. has suffered for decades. The ACA clearly did not cause this problem, however, the problem will worsen under any law that mandates MLR. The solution lies in pricing and cost transparency, encouraging competition and rewarding efficiency.

Ironic because many of us have been screaming about this for decades and the PPACA was structured as it was under the false assumption that covering more people would reduce costs. I also think that his solution is a phantasm. I think that effective solutions require providers to produce more health rather than incentivizing them to produce more care.


Siegel’s Climate Change Bullet Points

I mostly agree with David Siegel’s observations about climate change at RealClearPolitics. Here are his bullet points:

  1. Weather is not climate.
  2. Natural variation in weather and climate is tremendous.
  3. There is tremendous uncertainty as to how the climate really works.
  4. New research shows fluctuations in energy from the sun correlate very strongly with changes in earth’s temperature, better than CO2 levels.
  5. CO2 has very little to do with it.
  6. There is no such thing as “carbon pollution.”
  7. Sea level will probably continue to rise — but not quickly, and not much.
  8. The Arctic experiences natural variation as well, with some years warmer earlier than others.
  9. No one has demonstrated any unnatural damage to reef or marine systems.
  10. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and others are pursuing a political agenda and a PR campaign, not scientific inquiry.


  • Global warming is real.
  • Freak storms are going to cause a lot of damage.
  • Most of the doom and gloom stories are predictions based on wrong assumptions.
  • All the decarbonization we can do won’t change the temperature much.
  • Geo-engineering only makes sense if you are a true believer.
  • We have much bigger real problems to pay attention to.
  • Alternative energy solutions should evolve naturally, without subsidies.
  • We shouldn’t penalize developing nations who burn fossil fuels.
  • Nuclear is the future power source.

from which he concludes we should do nothing whatever to “decarbonize” which is where he and I part company. For geopolitical and reasons of prudent stewardship of resources if for no other reasons we should end our subsidies for consuming fossil fuels. Those take thousands of different forms including the full court press for “infrastructure improvement” (defined as roads and bridges). There are other kinds of infrastructure projects that don’t subsidize the consumption of fossil fuels. Tackle those first.


When I Am in Rome I Fast

Here’s an interesting test case. According to this story, Youssif Z. Omar, a native of Libya, physically dragged his 14 year old niece from a Columbia, Missouri high school on the grounds that she was not wearing a hijab.

My take: that is not our custom. Men do not drag little girls around by their hair for any reeason least of all for not wearing a veil. If the facts are as reported and he is not a U. S. citizen, his visa should be cancelled (regardless of its nature) and that should be handled administratively to the greatest degree possible. I’m afraid that would run into 14th Amendment issues but it’s my opinion.

He’s clearly a guy who doesn’t care to comport himself according to the rules of his host country. I’m against banning the wearing of hijabs but I can see the argument for doing so which involves guys like this.