Monday, June 30, 2008

Brazen "Environmental" Corruption in Los Angeles
Gail Heriot

This is serious, ladies and gentlemen.  Los Angeles Mayor Villaraigoso just signed into law what purports to be a plan to clean up Los Angeles air.  But look closer.  It is in fact a plan to promote the Teamsters Union. It's the kind of corruption that will make your head spin.  It makes me dizzy just thinking about it.

Under the plan, "exhaust-spewing diesel trucks" (i.e. almost all trucks) will be banned from carrying cargo from the Port of Los Angeles.  That puts large numbers of independent truckers, who have made huge investments in their trucks, up the proverbial creek.  The plan therefore subsidizes new trucks and requires these independent truckers to become employees of the major trucking companies (rather than simply independent contractors), supposedly because these trucking companies can better afford to purchase and maintain the newer, cleaner trucks.   Independent contractors would thereafter be banned.  As the Los Angeles Times reports, "Both Villaraigosa and port authorities argue that independent, low-income drivers will not be able to afford the new $100,000 trucks that meet the port's strict low-emissions requirements."

The driving force behind this travesty is that well-know friend of the environment the Teamsters Union.  They have (probably correctly) concluded that this is the most effective way to promote the unionization of the trucking industry in California.  Trucking companies here in California frequently use independent truckers as independent contractors.  The notion that the Teamsters Union is motivated by a desire to clean Los Angeles air is laughable.

Chester Finn had an article in Friday's Wall Street Journal entitled "The Self-Inflicted Economic Death of Ohio."  You may think that such a thing can't happen in California, but it can.  If a thriving competitive industry can be captured by the Teamsters Union this easily, California can become the New Rust Belt in less time than you'd think.  Packaging all this as "green" was obviously key.  Even the most brazen corruption passes as public spiritedness these days if it's presented as pro-environment.

June 30, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Be Careful About Your Eight-Year-Old's Birthday Party Invitations
Gail Heriot

File this under "I" for "It's a crazy old world."

June 29, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

The Politicization of DOJ: A Complicated Issue
Gail Heriot

I wish all issues were as easy as the one Tom wrote about last week.   "High School teachers should not have sexual relations with their students."  There's a rule I can live with.  And "Department of Justice officials should not reject applicants for career positions because the applicants are Democrats (or Republicans)."  That's another easy one.  Even if you prefer a political system in which all hiring is patronage hiring, that's not the system we have, so at the very least, rule of law considerations demand that applicants not be rejected on account of membership in the out-of-power party.  The same goes for applicants to the Department of Justice Honors program and other internship programs.  (I will ignore the elephant in this paragraph:   Should DOJ have the authority to reject a member of the American Nazi Party, and if so, how can that be harmonized with the broader principles here?  But that's an issue too).

Today's Washington Post  editorial, however, which calls Ashcroft and Gonzales "disgraceful" for failure to root out political hiring and put a stop to it, seems a bit over the top.  The particular condemned behavior is a bit more complex than the Post seems ready to acknowledge.   DOJ officials don't appear to have been motivated by a desire to give plum jobs to party members as political patronage.  That would be an easy case.  Rather, they appear to have been motivated at least in part by a desire to ensure that politics won't play a role at the Department of Justice--that those who get hired understand that their role is to execute the policy of the United States of America as articulated by Congress and not to make policy.  These officials may well be dumbfounded as to why they are the ones who are being accused of politicizing DOJ.  And, if so, I have some sympathy for their position.

Here is a quote from the editorial: 

How did [DOJ officials] sniff out political proclivities? According to the report, [one official] searched candidates' applications for ..."'buzzwords' such as 'environmental justice,' 'social justice,' 'making policy,' or 'anything else that involves legislating rather than enforcing'" ....

Admittedly, I am trying to look at this in the light that is most favorable to the DOJ officials.  That's in part because I don't know all the facts, so you shouldn't consider my comment a defense of anyone.  But I'm worried that all this overheated rhetoric about politicization is missing  something.  What if these very same DOJ officials had interviewed a candidate for a career position, and the candidate had said, "I want this job because I would like to help guide policy in this area of the law.  I believe that my views on this area of the law are very wise and should be heeded."  The whole reason that the job is a career position and not a political position is that it is NOT supposed to be about policymaking.  It's supposed to be about executing policy set by others.  Yet we all know that the so-called career attorneys at the Department of Justice are sometimes more  politicized than the political appointees and can be keen on advancing their ideological agendas from their safe civil service perch(all the while chiding the political appointees for being political).

Isn't it entirely appropriate for a DOJ official to reject an applicant for a career position on the ground that he seems more interested in policy making than the execution of somebody else's policy?  Indeed, it's not just okay, it is exactly what the official should do.  Arguably, that's what these officials were doing or at least part of what they were doing.  I suppose one might respond that this is only okay if would-be conservative policymakers are also rejected, and maybe that's right.  But the Washington Post editorial seems utterly oblivious to the complexity of the issue with which it is dealing.  It appears to suggest that these officials should not have considered whether the applicants were more interested in policymaking than enforcement and that can't be right.  It makes you wonder if the Post isn't a bit guilty of partisanship too.

June 29, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Phil Gramm
Mike Rappaport

As of now, I have been planning to write in Phil Gramm's name for President.  Here is why.  He's right about everything, except for John McCain. 

June 29, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Mike Rappaport

This movie by Pixar is a big disappointment.  I have liked every Pixar movie (the only one I haven't yet seen is Ratatouille).  But Wall-E is very mediocre.

First, apart from any theme or message, the story is not terribly enjoyable.  It is just not that funny or interesting.  Not a lot of talking, even.  A couple of nice references to 2001, but other than that, mediocre.  My family gave it about a 5.5-6.0 on a scale of 1 to 10.

But the worst part of the movie was the underlying theme.  It is strongly environmentalist, worried about one of the least troubling environmental problems -- what to do with all the garbage.  As far as I am concerned, this is largely a made-up problem.

It is also anti-technology -- with opposition to robots and other labor saving devices.  (Forgot about the singularity.)  Just awful.  Evil, really.

Strangely, this movie is done by the same company that produced the Incredibles -- which had a very life affirming, non-PC theme. 

Update: The critics, however, love this movie.  In fact, many of the statements are way over the top, such as "this is the perfect movie."  Well, I suppose it is no surprise that the critics would love the PC themes.  The ordinary viewers also seem to like it, but not as much as the critics.

Another update: My family must be the only ones on the planet who did not think this was a great movie.  I really don't get it.   See here and here.

June 29, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, June 28, 2008

The astonishing Justice Stevens
Tom Smith

Is this as dumb as it sounds?

The Court properly disclaims any interest in evaluating

the wisdom of the specific policy choice challenged in this

case, but it fails to pay heed to a far more important policy

choice—the choice made by the Framers themselves. The

Court would have us believe that over 200 years ago, the

Framers made a choice to limit the tools available to

elected officials wishing to regulate civilian uses of weapons,

and to authorize this Court to use the common-law

process of case-by-case judicial lawmaking to define the

contours of acceptable gun control policy. Absent compelling

evidence that is nowhere to be found in the Court’s

opinion, I could not possibly conclude that the Framers

made such a choice.

This is from Stevens's dissent in Heller at 46.  Can he really be so far from getting it?  Is he not aware that that is what constitutions do, limit the "policy choices" that can be made by legislators (and one hopes by judges as well)?   You can imagine making the policy choice that criminals should just be imprisoned without a trial, or to dispense with that pesky passed by both houses and signed by the President thing, but you don't because the Constitution says you shall not.  No doubt many sensible policy choices are not allowed by the Constitution, and uncontroversially many unspeakably stupid choices are allowed by the Constitution.  That's all the Constitution does, year in and year out -- allow some policy choices and not others!  Not only would the majority "have us believe" that the Constitution "limits policy choices."  One would have thought the majority quite took it for granted one already knew that!

I confess I did not make it through Steven's dissent.  The part of my brain that suffers when the intelligence is insulted was whimpering so pathetically, I just had to stop.  The faux-originalism of the dissent was too much for me.  I am quite ready to reach a counter-intuitive conclusion if logic and/or even history supports it.  But when an argument feels like bounding from one cloud to the next, with lots of arm-waving, self-congratulation and conclusory language all there is for support, I think you've just got to take mercy on yourself and stop reading.  It would be a lot more honest just to say, look, the Second Amendment may have meant an individual right back in the day of the Minuteman, but now in the day of gangstas and nines, it has evolved (and if it hasn't we are evolving it) to mean something else.  Then the debate is about whether that sort of interpretation is legitimate.  Instead, we get cruel and unusual punishment of logic and the brains of readers.  I suppose it says something for the victory of originalism that even Stevens feels he must try his hand at it.  Perhaps it is as Ken Starr has said, We are all originalists now.

June 28, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)

Progress in the War on Terror
Mike Rappaport

This article in the London Times, via Instapundit, is quite powerful. The first two thirds gets the progress exactly right.  The West has greatly diminished the ability of Al Qaeda to attack through its actions in Afghanistan and Iraq.  The first three years in Iraq involved massive incompetence, but the last two have been much improved. 

The last third of the article is a surprise to me -- that Muslims have started to reject the extremists.  I hope it is correct.  (It relies in part on an article by Lawrence Wright, whose book The Looming Tower, is fantastic.  I am now reading it and will have more to say when I am finished.  For now, let me say, that it is indispensable.)   While the article suggests that the Muslims have rejected the extremists because of they have recognized the latter's evil, I am not so sure this is the principal reason.  Instead, it may be that Al Qaeda has been on the run and failure by that group makes them a much less attractive organization. 

Wright's book makes clear how much of the appeal of Al Qaeda and other Islamic terrorist groups is based on the perceived humiliation of many Muslim men at the hands of the West.  In an honor society, like traditional Islam, humiliation is horrible.  If Al Qaeda seems like it might be successful, it will be irresistable to those who are seeking to restore their honor.  If it is being beaten, then it loses its appeal.

June 28, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, June 27, 2008

Candidate-general's song
Tom Smith

A former student and notorious libertarian reveals his song for Obama, and a considerable creative effort it is.

June 27, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Ethics is not free
Tom Smith

Helix high school, out towards my neck of the woods, or brush, rather, has had a rash of incidents involving teachers having sex with their students.  Now the high school has hired an ethics expert to see what's up, and try to make this stop.  This is going to cost the school district $43,000.

One of the teachers, widely admired I have heard, is off to jail, as the student in question was underage at the time of the shenanigans.  One poster in the comment section of the UT story opined that the student in question was a well-known hussy, or words to that effect, given to sitting in the laps of teachers, flirting and the like.  One can easily imagine how this sort of thing could happen, especially if the man involved was a complete idiot.

I'm all for ethics.  But do you really need to spend 40 large to bring in an expert to tell high school teachers not to have sex with their students?  What can a consultant possibly add to the message already being sent by the state of California, which is slinging the butt of one of these guys into da big house, where his sex life is likely to be a lot less appealing than anything involving high school bad girls?  How about a sign in the faculty lounge that says "Beyond the Pale, Go to Jail!" or something even catchier (but less expensive that $43,000), or "This is Fat Eddy.  How'd ya like to be his honey?"

It's not the money that offends me.  It's the stupidity.  What on earth is this consultant going to say?  What is there to say?  You can't have sex with your students, O Soccer Coach.  That's just kind of it, isn't it?  You may want to, but you can't.  Go for a run.  Kick 500 penalty kicks.  Or whatever.  Same for you, O lady teacher.  (One the offenders is in fact female.)  Do we need an ethics consultant to explain why we should not rob banks?  "But doctor, there's money in there, and I want it . . . It just seems so wrong!"

June 27, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack (0)

Justice Breyer culture warrior
Tom Smith

Professor Kerr makes a good point.  I suspect the good Justice is completely unaware of any inconsistency, if that is the right word.

June 27, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)