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Sayonara, Washington Print E-mail
by Martin Hutchinson    Sun, May 29, 2011, 07:13 AM

My apologies, first, for the hiatus in columns last week – I was moving from Vienna, VA., a suburb of Washington, D.C. to Poughkeepsie, a semi-suburb (it’s 73 miles away) of New York City. Many have clearly regarded this as an eccentric choice, and much of the motivation stems from things like hating the Washington summer more than the Poughkeepsie winter that are personal to each of us. Nevertheless, there is also a philosophical background for the move, in that I believe the rapid growth of the Washington area to be profoundly unhealthy.
 
Washington’s unhealthiness has been highlighted during the Great Recession, for example by the housing market. Other regions of the country suffered a severe real estate price decline in 2006-09, except for a few places such as Houston that had not previously enjoyed a boom. The Washington area enjoyed an extraordinary 150% price gain in 2000-06 according to the S&P Case-Shiller data, third after the Miami and Los Angeles areas and more than Phoenix, San Francisco or Las Vegas. Unlike those other regions, however, its price decline in 2006-09 was considerably less, 33% compared to 47% in Miami, 56% in Las Vegas and 42% in Los Angeles. Then after 2009, the recovery in Washington was considerably stronger than in other areas, with prices now up 10% from the bottom and still continuing to rise while house prices in most other areas decline.
 
The explanation, of course, is that Washington is not on the same economic cycle as the rest of the country. There was some pretense in the late 1990s that northern Virginia had developed a substantial tech sector, but the reality was that most of the sector was either evanescent (like AOL), or highly dependent upon government contracting or, like MicroStrategy, both. The reality is that when government expands, Washington does well, and vice versa.
 
You can see this in its local real estate market also. There is very little housing dating from the 1920s, a major real estate boom era around most East Coast cities, but a period of well-run, economical government. Conversely, there is a vast amount of housing, generally rather small and unattractive with very mean rooms, dating from the New Deal and wartime 1930s and 1940s. The 1960s, genesis of the two houses we lived in around Vienna, produced the Great Society and another housing boom of rather larger houses, most of them shoddily built. Then the 1980s was another period of recession, when Washington house prices were far below those around New York and little building took place. Finally the Bush years, stretching into the Obama years, saw a massive building boom and the apotheosis of the Washington area McMansion – huge, shoddily built and packed tightly together on the suddenly expensive land.
 
Whereas the modest and unattractive 1940s housing was inhabited mostly by government bureaucrats when first built, as were the larger 1960s offerings and some of the more reasonable sized modern housing stock, the true market for McMansions was not those working in government, let alone private sector entrepreneurs, but the parasites, the swarm of lobbyists (whose numbers doubled under the supposedly limited-government Bush) and lawyers who have come to dominate the big money around Washington. Like Detroit in 1900-1915, Washington in recent years has been a boomtown, and the creaking infrastructure and monstrous traffic delays are the result of this.
 
The other special feature of Washington life is the nature of its inhabitants. They have far higher academic qualifications than the rest of mankind, even those lucky residents of the up-market suburbs around New York and San Francisco. Fairfax County, Virginia has 55% college graduates, compared with 41% in Westchester County, New York and 51% in Marin County, California. Fairfax residents would argue that this factor justifies them in having the nation’s highest average household income -- $107,000, compared with a mere $79,000 in Westchester and $90,000 in Marin.
 
Washington area residents will argue that their greater qualifications justify their higher earnings, but from inspection the percentage of college graduates is not sufficiently higher in Fairfax than in the very affluent Marin County for any such premium to be justified. Furthermore, there is no living cost differential that would justify the income differential; indeed rather the opposite as the average owner-occupied residence in Marin is valued at $514,600 compared to $233,000 in Fairfax. Fairfax County real estate is overpriced – this was another reason for leaving the place – but is nothing like as lunatic economically as the fancier bits of California – or indeed southeast England.
 
As I have remarked before in these columns the Washington area is a kind of anti-Hollywood. Whereas Hollywood is full of people with room-temperature IQs but attractive looks and winsome personalities, the Washington area is full of Ph.D.-credentialed trolls. Thus not only are the academic qualifications of Fairfax County not sufficiently superior to those of Marin County to justify their higher earnings, but Washington-area people are often seriously lacking in other qualifications that make for a commercially successful existence, such as looks, charm, salesmanship and workaholism. Plenty of insurance, real estate and used car salesmen lack substantial academic qualifications, but are nevertheless sufficiently well endowed in other respects to make very large amounts of money indeed, whatever their defects would be as GS-15s.
 
Washington is thus a region whose inhabitants are paid more than their qualifications are worth, do particularly well in recessions, and often lack the qualities that make them attractive to others. It is thus not surprising that they have little empathy with the travails of those outside Washington whose lives are entangled in the maelstrom of this very serious and damaging recession. 

  • Far from maintaining sound monetary and fiscal policies, which would enable ordinary businesses to recover their footing and begin to grow again, they pursue a chimera of negative real interest rates and gigantic budget deficits that produces high bureaucrat employment, a surface health in financial markets, and long-term unemployment for everyone else. 
  • Far from realizing that in a globalized world market, less skilled and older workers are especially vulnerable, they persistently refuse to enforce immigration laws, producing a large illegal immigrant population that can satisfy Fairfax County’s insatiable demand for maids and gardeners, while driving down wages and job opportunities for low-skill labor to Third World levels.
  • Far from attempting to relieve burdens on small business and allow them to produce the jobs that are needed, they produce a series of health, environmental and labor regulation schemes that impose massive additional costs on the businesses that produce the country’s wealth.

These impositions are not particularly generated by one or other political faction; they are the result of Washington’s cocooning from the rest of its countrymen. Washington insiders like Newt Gingrich, who has lived within the Beltway for thirty years, cross party lines to support these economically damaging schemes. Conversely a few “blue dog” Democrats whose ties remain outside Washington oppose them, like Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) who while campaigning for his West Virginia Senate seat took a hunting rifle to a copy of his own party’s cockamamie environmental legislation.
 
It is not surprising that outsiders find U.S. politics dysfunctional; it is dominated by a pampered super-class of lobbyists, lawyers, most politicians and senior bureaucrats, all of which are not only protected from the economic forces that afflict the rest of the economy but actually benefit, both relatively and in absolute terms, from hard times in the U.S. economy as a whole and the “stimulus” schemes for which they provide an excuse. The same effect can be seen in Brussels. When I knew it in the 1970s it was a very pleasant modestly wealthy capital of a small country with good restaurants, a fine banking system and legendarily affluent “Belgian dentists” who were the major investing force behind the early Eurobond market. Needless to say, Brussels is today richer per capita, but its wealthy now are not dentists but bureaucrats, lawyers and lobbyists, sleek, pampered and utterly cut off from the people for whom they invent damaging regulations.
 
The idea, pioneered by the Founding Fathers, of a capital city inhabited only by statesmen and bureaucrats, without any other significant economic base, is a very dangerous one. While government is small, it produces the quirky charm of nineteenth century Washington or 1949-99 Bonn – lacking as they did most big-city amenities, they were universally detested by their inhabitants, who left them on weekends whenever possible. However as government grows, it becomes itself a sufficiently large employer to finance a major city – with amenities like the Kennedy Center and the Washington Metro that can easily be paid for by beyond-Beltway taxpayers who gain no benefit from them. Eventually they become bureaucrat Xanadus, like Brasilia, Napyidaw (Burma) or Astana (Kazakhstan), in which government, freed from significant outside pressure, can indulge its fantasies at the expense of a people kept safely remote.
 
My new abode, New York’s Dutchess County, is only half as rich as Fairfax County, with commensurately lower house prices (yippee!) and only half the proportion of university graduates. While it has a couple of large businesses and several colleges, most of its richest inhabitants are successful used car dealers and realtors, whose depredations extend only to their customers. I look forward eagerly to its modest amenities.
 
This post originally appeared in the The Bear's Lair.

Martin Hutchinson is the author of "Great Conservatives" (Academica Press, 2005)—details can be found on the Web site www.greatconservatives.com–and co-author with Professor Kevin Dowd of “Alchemists of Loss” (Wiley–2010). Both now available on Amazon.com, “Great Conservatives” only in a Kindle edition, “Alchemists of Loss” in both Kindle and print editions.

 

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Texas Senate: Not Worthy of Texas? Print E-mail
by Paul Perry    Sat, May 28, 2011, 04:22 PM

It appears that the federal government has successfully threatened your state legislature and your state.

House Bill 1937 passed the Texas House of Representatives with a unanimous voice vote. If it had passed both houses of the state legislature, it would have made it illegal under state law for Transportation Security Administration security to touch a passenger’s private parts during random searches at the airport without probable cause.

But after a letter from the federal Department of Justice threatening to shut down Texas air traffic was circulated in response to the bill’s eminent passage into law, your Texas Senate caved and did not bring the bill to a vote.


The fact is, every time you buy an airline ticket, the federal government runs a background check on you. They know who you are before you board the plane. Your luggage is already X-rayed. Your body is generally X-rayed to a level with which many people are already uncomfortable. A former head of Homeland Security was rewarded for the X-ray machine contract.

HB 1937 is a well-crafted and narrowly focused bill.

This bill, written by freshman House member David Simpson, dealt with the most controversial act of the TSA, the searching of the private parts of many individuals – the groping, including of children and passengers in wheelchairs.

Does everyone get the search? No, but I'm personally familiar with one 78-year-old lady who was carrying an FAA-approved oxygen bottle and, since she couldn't go through the normal X-ray machine, was searched most thoroughly. An 82-year-old lady who cannot stand or walk long enough to go through the normal procedure was searched in her wheelchair -- intimately.

On Youtube, it has been documented that 6-year-old boys and girls and at least one baby has been groped and abused.

Federal transportation groping includes moving gloved hands inside all layers of your clothing. It also has been widely reported that agents do not change gloves between searches, leading to a risk of passing parasites or disease.

Tuesday night, the TSA released a letter from the federal Department of Justice claiming that if the Texas Senate joined the state House and this bill became law in Texas, your federal government might have to shut down all commercial air traffic in Texas in order to keep us safe.

Only an over-fatigued or cowardly politician could really believe this threat. DFW International Airport is a major international hub, not just a large regional airport. Houston Intercontinental is a large airport and also a port of entry.

Shutting down just these two airports would have an immeasurable effect on air traffic throughout the United States, as well as the national economy. It would be a politically indefensible move. No administration, not even the administration of Barack Hussein Obama, would
do that. Can you imagine the flight delays? Passengers equal voters.

It was an empty threat, but for now, it worked. In retrospect, our state senators might as well have had a spitting contest on the walls of the Alamo.

It is a tragedy that our state senators caved in to an empty threat, a threat that was from many angles undoable and a farce. None of these men who buried this bill deserves reelection.

Many senators assert that the Texas Senate should operate like a private club and that has never been more evident. By not publicly attempting to rally the citizenry, those senators supposedly for HB 1937 ultimately indicated their desire to submit to tyranny without even a court fight. I guess in the name of club loyalty.

To Dan Patrick, Brian Birdwell and the handful of senators who were still trying to pursue this bill to the end, thank you.

Otherwise, the Senate of Texas was fooled by a bluff. It can only begin to redeem itself by joining with the citizens of this state and requesting that our Governor call for a SPECIAL SESSION in order to pass HB 1937. Our citizenry deserves to be protected from random gropings that do nothing to protect us from terrorism. Only a nation afraid of its shadow would submit to such. Call for a special session now, demand it. The Governor’s phone number is 512-463-2000.

Ben Franklin said it best. "Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." I believe a free people is ultimately our best defense.

Paul D. Perry

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Is College Education For Everyone? Print E-mail
by Tom Pauken    Sat, May 28, 2011, 06:05 AM

Over the last week, college seniors across the country attended commencement ceremonies where they were lauded for their educational accomplishments. Such events are a time of celebration for graduates, their families and their friends. But the good mood will come to a quick end for many students and their parents. One study says that 85 percent of seniors will move back home upon graduation as they struggle to find work that will justify the high cost – in both dollars and time – of their new degrees.

Meanwhile, a story in the May 6 edition of The Wall Street Journal reports that manufacturing businesses across the country are struggling to find employees with the math and science skills and training necessary to “operate and repair sophisticated computer-controlled factory equipment.” These jobs pay well – some as high as $80,000 – yet high school students are consistently pressured not to pursue them by an educational system that believes earning a college degree is the only path to success.

Walter Gasper, one of the students profiled in the Journal article, had an interest in working with machinery but was discouraged from pursuing vocational classes by a school counselor because he had good grades in his college-prep courses. He rejected the advice and at age 17 he became an apprentice at a plant near Pittsburgh that makes small, precision crafted metal parts for ships and machinery. Gasper was later wooed away by a larger firm who needed his talents and could offer him more money. He makes $55,000 and he didn’t have to give up four years to attend college or take on the high levels of debt that saddles many young adults and their parents.

Since 1990, the cost for college has increased by more than 285 percent, a growth rate some three times higher than inflation during the same period of time. We’ve long justified the high cost of college by citing statistics claiming that over the course of a lifetime, a degree holder makes a million dollars more than those with only a high school diploma. But a new study by Mark Schneider of the American Enterprise Institute says that the difference is much smaller. When you factor in the cost of tuition and forgone wages, someone with a bachelor’s degree makes, on average, about $300,000 more in lifetime earnings than a high school graduate. And the difference is less than $200,000 for graduates of universities with low admission standards.

And what about those who start college, because they are told that it is the key to a successful life, but lack the skills it takes to do well at that level?  Career counselor Marty Nemko cites a disturbing statistic on this topic: “Among high school students who graduated in the bottom 40 percent of their classes and whose first institutions were four-year colleges, two-thirds had not earned diplomas eight and a half years later.” Are we setting young people up for failure by promoting the idea that a college education is their only ticket to the good life?

Texas community colleges play an essential role in providing skills training and I believe that we need to place a greater emphasis on vocational and technical education at the secondary and post-secondary levels of education. Many young Texans would be better off receiving training in the skilled trades starting as early as high school.

We must stop pushing a one-size fits all approach to education which emphasizes the goal of every high school student getting a four-year university degree. The skills required for so-called blue-collar jobs are impressive, and they allow young workers to make a good living and raise a family. Having a recognizable skill and using one’s talents to fill demands in the workforce is my definition of a “good job.” It is high time we got over the notion that a four-year college degree is the only piece of paper that indicates a person’s potential for success.

Tom Pauken is the Chairman of the Texas Workforce Commission and author of Bringing America Home

 

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Indecency at the Airport and the State Senate Print E-mail
by Paul Perry    Wed, May 25, 2011, 04:25 PM

It appears that the federal government is threatening your state legislature and your state. House Bill 1937 passed the Texas House with a unanimous vote. It protects airline passengers from being intimately searched unnecessarily. It is a well-crafted and narrowly focused bill.

The fact is, every time you buy an airline ticket, the federal government runs a background check on you. They know who you are before you board the plane. Your luggage is already X-rayed. Your body is generally X-rayed to a level with which many people are uncomfortable with already. A former head of Homeland Security was rewarded for the X-ray machine contract.

But this bill written by freshman House member David Simpson dealt with the most controversial act of the Transportation Safety Administration , the searching of the private parts of many individuals, the groping, including children and passengers in wheelchairs.

Does everyone get the search? No, but I’m familiar with one 78-year-old lady who was carrying an FAA-approved oxygen bottle and, since she couldn’t go through the normal X-ray machine, was searched most thoroughly. An 82-year-old lady who cannot stand or walk long enough to go through the normal procedure was searched in her wheelchair – intimately.

On youtube, it has been documented that 6-year-old boys and girls and at least one baby has been searched.

Federal transportation groping includes moving gloved hands inside all layers of your clothing. It has also been widely reported that agents do not change gloves between searches, leading to a risk of passing parasites or disease.

Tuesday night, the TSA released a letter from the federal Department of Justice claiming that if the Texas Senate joined the state House and this bill became law in Texas, that your federal government might have to shut down all commercial air traffic in Texas in order to keep us safe.

Only an over-fatigued politician could really believe this threat. DFW International Airport is a major international hub, not just a large regional airport. Houston Intercontinental is a large airport and also a port of entry. Shutting down just these two airports would have an immeasurable effect on air traffic throughout the United States, as well as the national economy. It would be a politically indefensible move. No administration, not even the administration of Barack Hussein Obama, would do that. Can you imagine the flight delays? Passengers equal voters.

I would encourage anyone interested in this issue to call their state senator and the lieutenant governor, who presides over the state Senate. You can view a list of the Texas senators at www.senate.state.tx.us.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst can be reached at 512 463-0001.

My perspective is that anyone who would vote against HB 1937 is not fit to hold office in the state of Texas. It doesn’t take courage to vote for this bill. You just have to understand common decency and your oath to the Constitution.

Regardless of what any court or pundit says, this kind of search without probable cause flies in the face of the Fourth Amendment of the federal Constitution, and anyone who values liberty knows it. Your government needs to hear from you.

Ben Franklin said it best. "Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."

Paul D. Perry

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More Wacky Warning Labels, and Other Assorted Weirdness Print E-mail
by John Browning    Wed, May 25, 2011, 03:08 PM

One of the things I look forward to is bringing readers news of the annual Wackiest Warning Labels contest sponsored by the Roswell, Georgia-based Center for America.  Since 1997, the Center and its founder, Bob Dorigo Jones, have been using this humorous approach to convey a very serious message: that because of lawsuit abuse and fear of lawsuits, manufacturers selling products in the U.S. often go to ridiculous and unnecessary lengths with the warnings and instructions accompanying their goods.

 

Here are the top 5 finalists (the top three will receive cash prizes, and the winner will be chosen in June).  Hometown boy Alex Saenz of Dallas submitted the label on a common dust mask, which reads “Does not supply oxygen.”  Good to know—I won’t take that scuba diving with me.  Another finalist is the warning label that appears on a hot tub cover, which says, “Warning: Avoid Drowning.  Remove safety cover from spa when in use.”  Okay, fellas, time for some tough love—if you have to be admonished to “avoid drowning” and you have to be reminded that the cover comes off the hot tub in order to use it, then it’s time that you crawled out of the hot tub and, for that matter, out of the gene pool as well (you’re clearly in the shallow end as it is).

 

Yet another contender is the label appearing on the advertisement for a leather handgun holster designed to look like a daily planner, very subtle and professional-looking.  Unfortunately, the makers felt they needed to cater to the lowest common denominator by affixing the cautionary statement “For gun only, not a functional day planner.”  If you really need that warning, perhaps you shouldn’t be trusted with a firearm in the first place.  Another finalist is the warning emblazoned on a bicycle brochure that reads “Warning: The action depicted in this brochure is potentially dangerous.  The riders seen are experienced experts or professionals.”  While that may superficially seem like a responsible message, its seriousness is undermined by the photos in the brochure itself, which depict not Hollywood stuntmen or X Games professional riders, but little kids riding their bikes.  “Experienced experts or professionals,” indeed!

 

One of my favorites, though, is the label appearing on the packaging for a ballpoint pen.  It reads “Warning: Pen caps can obstruct breathing.  Keep out of mouth.”  As silly as it may seem to place a common sense caution like this, consider this observation.  The pen’s instruction manual is printed in 4 different languages: English, Spanish, German, and French.  All four translations discuss the same features, instructions, and warnings—except the warning about swallowing the cap appears only in the English version.  Why?  Not because people in Germany, France, or Spanish-speaking countries are any smarter than us or any less accident-prone, but rather because they are less likely to run to the courthouse and file a lawsuit over something that was their own fault.  While these warning labels are amusing to read and poke fun at, they’re also a sad commentary on the litigious nature of our society and our unwillingness to accept responsibility for our own actions.

 

But that is not all the weirdness in the legal world of late.  In previous columns, I’ve discussed how not to get out of jury duty.  Here’s another one to add to that list—don’t ask for a cut of the verdict.  53 year-old Deonarine Persaud has been arrested and charged with felony bribe receiving and misdemeanor jury misconduct.  While serving as a juror in a New York medical malpractice trial, Persaud allegedly approached the plaintiff’s father and offered to sway fellow jurors in exchange for 5% of the verdict.  If convicted, he faces up to 7 years in prison.

 

I’ve also written about strange names for children and bizarre 911 calls.  Here are two more for those lists.  In Israel, a couple have decided to name their newborn daughter after the Facebook “like” button.  Lior and Vardit Adler said they chose the name because it was “modern and innovative.”  Let’s hope the little girl grows up with lots of “friends.”  On the 911 front, 18 year-old Daniel Moore of Gainesville, Georgia will probably be a lot more careful in the future with his cell phone—once he gets out of jail and can use one again, that is.  Moore allegedly “pocket-dialed” 911, enabling the police dispatcher to hear him discussing a drug deal about to go down at a local Waffle House.  The 911 operator sent police to the restaurant where they arrested Moore and charged him with possession of illegal prescription narcotics.  I wonder if he had to pay roaming charges as well.

 

I also have some additions to past columns I’ve written about judges who get creative in their sentencing and young prodigies headed to law school.  Ohio Judge Michael Cicconetti is known for his creative, “let the punishment fit the crime” approach to sentencing.  Grace Nash and Bruce Crawford pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges of misconduct during an emergency; during flooding, the couple boarded a raft without life preservers, resulting in a rescue operation that involved 2 helicopters and 9 police and fire departments (they also lied about it to the emergency responders).  Judge Cicconetti could have just left it at the 100 hours of community service and the written apology to all the rescue personnel that he imposed as a sentence.  But he also gave Nash and Crawford a choice: serve jail time or stand in a wading pool at a local outdoor festival wearing bathing suits and flotation devices, while handing out water safety brochures to passersby.  Needless to say, the penitent couple got out their swimsuits and their sunblock for a day of public service.

 

Finally, there’s another would-be “Doogie Howser, J.D.” to report.  15 year-old Ty Hobson-Powell is the youngest person ever to graduate from the University of Baltimore, and he’s already been accepted to 3 law schools: Howard University, William & Mary, and North Carolina Central.  The wünderkind’s father teaches at Howard’s medical school, while his mother is an officer for U.S. Public Health Service.  According to his mother, ever since Ty was 4, “he’s always said he wanted to be attorney general.”

 

Ty, read my columns and see for yourself how bizarre the legal system can be.  It’s not too late to go to medical school.

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