Posts Tagged ‘Budget’

LinkSwarm for January 13, 2016

Friday, January 13th, 2017

Time to extract more pure wheat from chaff!

  • Glenn Greenwald says Democrats will go to any lengths to avoid blaming themselves for their debacle:

    I really haven’t experienced anything even remotely like the smear campaign that has been launched by Democrats in this really coordinated way ever since I began just expressing skepticism about the prevailing narrative over Russia and its role that it allegedly played in the election and, in particular, in helping to defeat Hillary Clinton. I mean, not even the reporting I did based on the Edward Snowden archive, which was extremely controversial in multiple countries around the world, not even that compared to the attacks now.

    And the reason is very, very obvious, which is that it has become exceptionally important to Democratic partisans to believe that the reason they lost this election is not because they chose a candidate who was corrupt and who was extremely disliked and who symbolized all of the worst failings of the Democratic Party. It’s extremely important to them not to face what is really a systemic collapse on the part of the Democratic Party as a political force in the United States, in the House, in the Senate, in state houses and governorships all over the country. And so, in order not to face any of that and have to confront their own failings, they instead want to focus everything on Vladimir Putin and Russia and insist that the reason they lost was because this big, bad dictator interfered in the election. And anyone who challenges or anyone who questions that instantly becomes not just their enemy, but now, according to their framework, someone who’s actually unpatriotic, that if you question the evidence, the sufficiency of the evidence to support this theory, that somehow your loyalties are suspect, that you’re not just a critic of the Democratic Party, you’re actually a stooge of or an agent of the Kremlin.

  • In fact, Greenwald is all over this week’s LinkSwarm, saying that the U.S. “deep state” is at war with Trump:

    For months, the CIA, with unprecedented clarity, overtly threw its weight behind Hillary Clinton’s candidacy and sought to defeat Donald Trump. In August, former acting CIA Director Michael Morell announced his endorsement of Clinton in the New York Times and claimed that “Mr. Putin had recruited Mr. Trump as an unwitting agent of the Russian Federation.” The CIA and NSA director under George W. Bush, Gen. Michael Hayden, also endorsed Clinton and went to the Washington Post to warn, in the week before the election, that “Donald Trump really does sound a lot like Vladimir Putin,” adding that Trump is “the useful fool, some naif, manipulated by Moscow, secretly held in contempt, but whose blind support is happily accepted and exploited.”

    It is not hard to understand why the CIA preferred Clinton over Trump. Clinton was critical of Obama for restraining the CIA’s proxy war in Syria and was eager to expand that war, while Trump denounced it. Clinton clearly wanted a harder line than Obama took against the CIA’s long-standing foes in Moscow, while Trump wanted improved relations and greater cooperation. In general, Clinton defended and intended to extend the decadeslong international military order on which the CIA and Pentagon’s preeminence depends, while Trump — through a still-uncertain mix of instability and extremist conviction — posed a threat to it.

    Whatever one’s views are on those debates, it is the democratic framework — the presidential election, the confirmation process, congressional leaders, judicial proceedings, citizen activism and protest, civil disobedience — that should determine how they are resolved. All of those policy disputes were debated out in the open; the public heard them; and Trump won. Nobody should crave the rule of Deep State overlords.

    Yet craving Deep State rule is exactly what prominent Democratic operatives and media figures are doing.

    One need not buy all of Greenwald’s analysis of geopolitics or Trump to conclude that his analysis of the current alliance between Democrats, the media and the intelligence community is essentially correct. (Hat tip: Ace of Spades HQ.)

  • Borepatch, who is a real life computer security expert, is not impressed with the Russian hacking claims:

    My take is that several state actors certainly hacked Hillary’s email server for years and years, and silently read all her communications. Probably more than one state actor penetrated the DNC email system for several years.

    It’s plausible than an insider leaked the DNC emails – some BertieBro IT Admin type who saw how the sausage was being made and who was smart enough to cover his tracks while pointing clues towards Russia.

    Bottom line, this is a tale told by an idiot; full of sound and fury and signifying nothing. We know that something happened, but we don’t know who did it, and what they say in the report doesn’t change that.

  • Borepatch, in turn, points to this detailed analysis of the security on both Hillary’s email server and the DNC:

    At this point, we can largely dispose of Hillary’s Hack. It was an open book to all comers and at least one was Romanian (and sharing with friends) and not Russia. However, I’d say it was almost certain that at some time a Russian intrusion happened. The name of the server was obvious. The location insecure. The operating system and protective layers a joke. Frankly, I’d expect them to be “in” the same day they first looked at it. Which means something like 8 years ago. So why didn’t things leak then?

    Because the Russians Are Not Stupid. A fundamental of spycraft is you don’t expose sources and methods, you use them to collect intel for your use, not publication. I suspect they enjoyed a near real time email feed from the Secretary Of State for years, in silence. This argues for email dump to be someone other than them. My personal muse would be an NSA guy, aghast at what was in evidence. Like a Snowden, but not willing to give up the $1/4 Million salary… He (or she…) would have all the requisite skilz to pull it off and leave no finger prints, access to PRISM, and lots of neat toys to work with. Though more likely would be the underpaid I.T. guy Hillary had set it up who was making a backup one day and dropped a load… But I digress.

    The bottom line on Hillary is we know she kept a full copy (found on Huma’s Laptop with the Wiener…) and that it was around until she had her lawyers erase it. We know it surfaced in full at the time the laptop went to the FBI, and in parts before that. We know at least one of her hackers was found (though he had likely not leaked it) and that he said he had a doomsday copy for safety. He wasn’t a very good hacker, so that shows lots of good ones walked right in and snagged copies. Assigning source of any Hillary leaks is going to be an exercise is “ME ME MEE!!! PICK MEEE!” with a dozen hands up in the room.

  • More from Guccifer 2.0 himself: “I have totally no relation to the Russian government. I’d like to tell you once again I was acting in accordance with my personal political views and beliefs. The technical evidence contained in the reports doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. This is a crude fake.” (Hat tip: Zero Hedge.)
  • “The opposition research firm that hired a former British spy to dig up dirt on Donald Trump is the same shady outfit that was hired by Planned Parenthood to put a positive spin on videos showing the sale of baby parts.” (Hat tip: Director Blue.)
  • Our new Secretary of Defense sounds serious about defeating the Islamic State. “We should try to shut down its recruiting, shut down its finances, and then work to fight battles of annihilation — not attrition, but annihilation — against them; so that the first time they meet the forces that we put against them, there should basically be no survivors.”
  • Speaking of which: “Islamic State publishes video of toddler executing prisoner on playground.”
  • House Republicans are already laying the groundwork to repeal ObamaCare.
  • News media buries story of Jeff Sessions bankrupting the Klu Klux Klan in Alabama because it doesn’t fit their narrative. (Hat tip: Dierctor Blue.)
  • Mexican illegal aliens are already self-deporting in advance of Trump’s inauguration. (Hat tip: Director Blue.)
  • The problem with rule by experts:

    The problem that we are faced with, and what the American people seem to be rebelling against, are the “experts” who seek to influence government policy in ways voters are either opposed to or at the very least find ineffective and expensive.

    To put it bluntly: those experts have screwed a lot of shit up. Obamacare, American foreign policy, the war on drugs, domestic environmental policy, the economy…the list of issues is seemingly endless. The American people were told for at least the last eight years that the smart set was in charge, and things would be just dandy if only we allowed the “experts” free rein. The problem is that there are a lot of things that may seem smart on paper but which just won’t work when forcibly applied to the citizens of 50 separate states, with 50 separate economies, and 50 distinct voting bases, and this assessment assumes that those implementing policy actually have America’s best interests as a free republic at heart.

    This leads us to the real heart of the matter: liberty. The Washington political and bureaucratic classes have no Constitutional right to force the “solutions” to any of these problems on their fellow citizens. The health insurance “problem” is not a national problem insofar as there is no Constitutional right to health insurance (or even healthcare), and the answer to what problems there are in healthcare in Texas are very probably not the same as the answer for New Hampshire or Oregon. The federal government institutes regulations constantly affecting the economy that have no Constitutional basis. There is no Constitutional basis whatsoever for banning or regulating any drug at the Federal level, and yet we’re told we have a national “opioid epidemic” that demands a federal solution. Foreign policy experts are undoubtedly necessary, but our foreign policy, when any logic or reason can be discerned in it at all, certainly doesn’t seem to be guided by any experts in the field. There is even a very good possibility that actually fixing any “problem” at the federal level is viewed as bad for business, because without the problem to solve there would be a lot of unemployable experts.

    In short, the American people don’t have a problem with experts or intellectuals. What they have a problem with is incompetence, and it is just a fact of life that the larger and more remote the government and bureaucracy become, the more incompetent and unaccountable they will be.

  • Thanks Obama. “93 percent of police officers are concerned about their safety on the job; 72 percent are less willing to stop suspicious characters; and 75 percent report increased tension between cops and the black community.” (Hat tip: Instapundit.)
  • U.S. troops sent on permenant deployment to Poland. Given that Poland joined NATO in 1999, it’s a surprise it took this long. (Hat tip: Director Blue.)
  • About half the EU has been cheating on the 3% deficit ceiling fiscal discipline rule half the time. Only Finland, Estonia, Luxembourg and Sweden have never broken the rule. And Poland, France and the brexiting UK have actually violated the rule more than Italy and Ireland. Once again: Austerity hasn’t been tried and found wanting in the EU, it’s been declared difficult and left untried.
  • Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan blames “terrorist exchange rates” for attacking his country. Fun how that happens when you ruin your own country… (Hat tip: Stephen Green at Instapundit.)
  • Social Justice Warriors already deterring people from the “Women’s March on Washington.” See, they were all set to flaunt the peacock feathers of their leftwing virtue, only to be told “they had a lot of learning to do.” Because there’s nothing more fun than being lectured about how you’re a racist when you’re not. Welcome to Red State America, liberal white women! (Hat tip: Instapundit.)
  • “DNC Chair Candidate Forum to Be Held at Anti-Israel Restaurant” (Hat tip: Director Blue.)
  • Germany court rules that an attempt to burn down a synagogue is a “justified expression of criticism of Israel’s policies.” You know, I think I’ve seen this movie before…
  • Heh: “Intolerance at Berkeley as Faculty Demand Gay Immigrant Stay Off Campus.”
  • More: Berkley Social Justice Warriors dox the hosts of Milo’s speech. (Hat tip: Instapundit.)
  • 1. “CEO Raises Salaries to $70K for EVERY Employee” 2. ???? 3. Wrecked company. (Hat tip: Borepatch.)
  • Teach women not to lie about rape.
  • Social Justice Warrior drama at the Free Software Foundation. “‘Developer’ Leah Rowe has been making unhinged, outrageous claims of harassment and bullying on behalf of her anonymous friend who was let go by the FSF. She then stole the Libreroot project from the community, locked it down away from the other devs, and made a unhinged claims of wrongdoing by the FSF and two employees. She has provided no evidence of any of these claims and as she is a post-modernist, we’re supposed to substitute her feelings for any facts as being equivalent.” The amazing thing is that, for once, FSF head honcho Richard Stallman (who is somewhere on the continuum between “true software visionary” and “fanatic lunatic no one wants to deal with”) isn’t the person at fault for the drama…
  • “An Arizona Department of Public Safety officer has survived an attempt on his life after a passing motorist shot dead a highway sniper who took aim at the trooper after stopping to assist an individual in a rolled vehicle.”
  • Also from Arizona: Naked woman steals police car, goes joyriding.

  • Clockboy’s lawsuit dismissed.
  • William Peter Blatty, RIP.
  • What the hell? YouTube takes down Legal Insurrection’s channel at the behest of anti-Israeli activists.
  • Slate won’t even delete their big mistakes:

  • 85th Texas Legislative Session Begins Today

    Tuesday, January 10th, 2017

    Lock up your women and liquor, the legislature is back in town!

    The 85th Texas Legislative Session started today, and one of the biggest concerns is a smaller budget, as detailed by the comptroller:

    For 2018-19, the state can expect to have $104.9 billion in funds available for general-purpose spending, a 2.7 percent decrease from the corresponding amount of funds available for the 2016-17 biennium. If not for the new constitutional provision dedicating up to $5 billion in biennial sales tax revenue to the State Highway Fund (SHF) starting in fiscal 2018-19, projected funds available for general-purpose spending for 2018-19 would be $109.6 billion, 1.7 percent greater than in 2016-17.

    The $104.9 billion available for general-purpose spending represents 2018-19 total revenue collections of $106.5 billion in General Revenue-related (GR-R) funds, plus $1.5 billion in balances from 2016-17, less $3.1 billion reserved from oil and natural gas taxes for 2018-19 transfers to the Economic Stabilization Fund (ESF) and the SHF.

    Tax revenues account for approximately 87 percent of the estimated $106.5 billion in total GR-R revenue in 2018-19. Sixty-two percent of GR-R tax revenue will come from net collections of sales taxes, after more than $4.7 billion is allocated to the SHF. Other significant sources of General Revenue include motor vehicle sales and rental taxes; oil and natural gas production taxes; franchise tax; insurance taxes; collections from licenses, fees, fines and penalties; interest and investment income; and net lottery proceeds.

    In addition to the GR-R funds, the state is expected to collect $74.9 billion in federal income as well as other revenues dedicated for specific purposes and therefore unavailable for general-purpose spending. Revenue collections from all sources and for all purposes should total $224.8 billion.

    Absent any appropriations by the Legislature, the ESF balance is expected to be $11.9 billion at the end of the 2018-19 biennium, below the ESF constitutional limit of an estimated $16.9 billion.

    Following a strong 5.9 percent increase in real gross state product in fiscal 2015, the Texas economy is estimated to have grown by only 0.2 percent in 2016, well below the average growth rate of 3.8 percent per year over the past 20 years. Contraction in activity related to oil and natural gas production has been a drag on state economic growth. Still, the diversity of the Texas economy has allowed for continued growth in employment over the past two years and we expect sustained growth over the coming biennium. Texas stands in contrast to other states with large energy industries, many of which have suffered through declines in employment and economic output.

    Here’s an eyechart visual summary. Click for a bigger version.

    The budget is the meat-and potatoes of the legislature, but we’ll get to some hot-button issues (like sanctuary cities and tranny bathrooms) at a later date.

    Interview with TPPF’s James Quintero on the Texas Municipal Pension Debt Crisis

    Monday, January 2nd, 2017

    James Quintero, the Director of the Center for Local Governance at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, was kind enough to provide some detailed answers to questions I sent him about the municipal pension crisis in Dallas and other large Texas cities. My questions are in italics.


    The Dallas police/fireman’s pension fund issue is generally described as stemming from the fund manager’s risky real estate speculation. Are there any additional structural problems that helped hasten that fund’s crisis?

    When it comes to Texas’ public retirement systems, one of my greatest concerns is that there are other ticking time-bombs, like the DPFP, out there getting ready to explode. It’s not just Dallas’ pension plan that’s taken on excessive risk to chase high yield in a low-yield environment.

    Setting aside the issue of risk for a moment, the DPFP, like most other public retirement systems around the state, suffers from a fundamental design flaw. That is, it’s based on the defined benefit (DB) system, which guarantees retirees a lifetime of monthly income irrespective of whether the pension fund has the money to make good on its promises or not. This kind of system is akin to an entitlement program, warts and all, and is very much at the heart of pension crises brewing in Texas and across the country.

    One of the biggest problems with DB plans is that they rely on a lot of fuzzy math to make them work, or at least give the appearance of working. Take the issue of investment returns, for example. Many systems assume an overly optimistic rate of return when estimating a fund’s future earnings. Baking in these rosy projections is, among other things, a way to understate a plan’s pension debt. In an October 2016 study that I co-authored with the Mercatus Center’s Marc Joffe, I wrote the following to illustrate this very point:

    For example, the Houston Firefighters’ Relief and Retirement Fund (HFRRF) calculates its pension liability using a long-term expected rate of return on pension plan investments of 8.5%. During fiscal year 2015, the plan’s investments returned just 1.53%. Over a 7- and 10-year period the rates of return were 6.4% and 7.9%, respectively. Not achieving these investment returns year-after-year can have a dramatic fiscal impact.

    Even a small change in the actuarial assumptions can have major consequences for the fiscal health of a pension fund. According the HFRRF’s 2015 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, a 1% decrease in the current assumed rate of return (8.5%) would almost double the fund’s pension liabilities, from $577.7 million to $989.5 million.

    So while risky real estate deals were certainly a catalyst in the current unraveling of the DPFP, I suspect that its refusal to move away from the defined benefit model and into a more sustainable alternative—much like the private sector has already done—would have ultimately led us to this same point of fiscal crisis.

    To what legal extent (if any) is Dallas police/fireman’s pension fund backstopped by the City of Dallas and/or Dallas County?

    Let me preface this by saying that I’m not a lawyer nor do I ever intend to be one. However, Article XVI, Section 66 of the Texas Constitution plainly states that non-statewide retirement systems, like DPFP, and political subdivisions, like the city of Dallas, “are jointly responsible for ensuring that benefits under this section are not reduced or otherwise impaired” for vested employees. Given that, it’s hard to see how the city of Dallas—or better yet, the Dallas taxpayer—isn’t obligated in some major way when their local retirement system reaches the point of no return, which may be a lot closer than people think given all the lump-sum withdrawals of late.

    Likewise, does the state of Texas have any statutory backstop to the Dallas police/fireman’s pension fund, or any other local pension funds?

    For non-statewide plans, I don’t believe so. Again, I’m not a lawyer, but the Texas Attorney General wrote something fairly interesting recently touching on aspects of this question.

    In September 2016, House Chairman Jim Murphy asked the AG to opine on “whether the State is required to assume liability when a local retirement system created pursuant to title 109 of the Texas Civil Statutes is unable to meet its financial obligations.” Title 109 refers to 13 local retirement systems in 7 major metropolitans that are a small-but-important group of plans that have embedded some of their provisions in state law (i.e. benefits, contribution rates, and composition of their boards) I’ve written a lot about this problem in the past (read more about it here).

    In response to Chairman Murphy’s question, the AG had this to say:

    In no instance does the constitution or the Legislature make the State liable for any shortfalls of a municipal retirement system regarding the system’s financial obligations under title 109. The Texas Constitution would in fact prohibit the State from assuming such liability without express authorization.

    …a court would likely conclude that the State is not required to assume liability when a municipal retirement system created under title 109 is unable to meet its financial obligations.

    So at least in the AG’s opinion, state taxpayers wouldn’t be required by law to bail out this subset of local retirement systems. But of course, the political calculus may be different than what’s required by law.

    Compared to the Dallas situation, how badly off are the Houston, Austin and San Antonio public employee pension funds?

    If you’re a taxpayer or property owner in one of Texas’ major cities, I’d be concerned. Moody’s, one of the largest credit rating agencies in the U.S., recently found that: “Rapid growth in unfunded liabilities over the past 10 years has transformed local governments’ balance sheet burdens to historically high levels,” and that Austin, Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio had a combined $22.6 billion in pension debt—and it’s growing worse!

    Using the Pension Review Board’s latest Actuarial Valuations Report for November 2016, we can parse the systems within each municipality to get a little bit better sense of where the trouble lies. Pension debt for the retirement systems in the big 4 looks like this:

  • Austin Employees’ Retirement System: $1.1 billion, Austin Police Retirement System: $346 M, and Austin Fire Fighters Relief and Retirement Fund: $93 M;
  • Dallas Employees’ Retirement Fund: $809 M, Dallas Police and Fire Pension System—Combined Plan: $3.3 B, and Dallas Police and Fire Pension System—Supplemental: $23 M;
  • Houston Municipal Employees Pension System: $2.2 B, Houston Firefighters’ Relief and Retirement Fund: $467 M, and Houston Police Officer’s Pension System: $1.2 B; and
  • San Antonio Fire and Police Pension Fund: $360 M.
  • Of course, it’s important to keep in mind that the figures use some of the same fuzzy math as described above, so the actual extent of the problem may be worse than the PRB’s latest figures indicate.

    What similarities, if any, are there to current Texas municipal pension issues and those that forced California cities like San Bernardino, Stockton and Vallejo into bankruptcy? What differences?

    The common element in most, if not all, of these systemic failures is the defined benefit pension plan. Because of the political element as well as the inclusion of inaccurate investment assumptions in the DB model, these plans are almost destined to fail, threatening the taxpayers who support it and the retirees who rely on it. And sadly, that’s what we’re witnessing now across the nation.

    As far as the differences go, California’s municipal bankruptcies as well as Detroit’s were preceded by decades of poor fiscal policy and gross mismanagement. I don’t see that same thing here in Texas, but it’s also important that we don’t let it happen too.

    California pensions were notoriously generous (20 years and out, spiking, etc.). Do any Texas state or local pensions strike you as unrealistically generous?

    Any plan that’s making pension promises but has no plan on how to make good on those promises is being unrealistically generous. And unfortunately for taxpayers and retirees alike, a fair number of plans can be categorized as such.

    The Pension Review Board’s Actuarial Valuations Report for November 2016 reveals that of Texas’ 92 state and local retirement system, only 4 of them are fully-funded. At the other extreme, a whopping 19 of the 92 plans have amortization periods of more than 40 years. Six of those 19 plans have infinite amortization periods, which effectively means that they have no plan to keep their promises but are instead planning to fail.

    As far as specific plans go, there’s no question that the Dallas Police and Fire Pension System is the posterchild for the overly generous. The Dallas Morning News recently covered the surreal levels of deferred compensation offered, finding that:

    The lump-sum withdrawals come from the Deferred Retirement Option Plan, known as DROP. The plan allows veteran officers and firefighters to essentially retire in the eyes of the system and stay on the job.

    Their benefit checks then accrue in DROP accounts. For years, the fund guaranteed interest rates of at least 8 percent. DROP made hundreds of retired officers and firefighters millionaires. And once they stopped deferring the money, they received their monthly benefit checks in addition to their DROP balance. [emphasis mine]

    It’s probably fair to say that any public program that makes millionaires out of its participants is probably being too generous with its benefits.

    There seem to be only two recent local government bankruptcies in Texas, neither of which were by cities: Hardeman County Hospital District Bankruptcy and Grimes County MUD #1. Did either of these involve pension debt issues?

    I’m not familiar with those instances, but when it comes to the issue of soaring pension obligations, I can tell you that the system as a whole is moving in bad direction.

    In November 2016, Texas’ 92 state and local retirement systems had racked up over $63 billion dollars of unfunded liabilities, with more than half owed by the Teacher Retirement System. That’s a staggering amount of pension debt that’s not only big but growing fast. And worse yet, that’s in addition to Texas’ already supersized local government debt-load.

    How we’re going to make good on all of these unfunded pension promises is anyone’s guess. But I imagine that it’ll involve some combination of much higher taxes, benefit reductions, and fewer city services.

    What limits or constraints does Texas place on Chapter 9 bankruptcy?

    The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Stateline has some good information on this, at least as far as municipal bankruptcy is concerned. A November 2011 report, Municipal Bankruptcy Explained: What it Means to File for Chapter 9, had this to say about the process:

    Who can file for Chapter 9? Only municipalities — not states — can file for Chapter 9. To be legally eligible, municipalities must be insolvent, have made a good-faith attempt to negotiate a settlement with their creditors and be willing to devise a plan to resolve their debts. 

They also need permission from their state government. Fifteen states have laws granting their municipalities the right to file for Chapter 9 protection on their own, according to James Spiotto, a bankruptcy specialist with the Chicago law firm of Chapman and Cutler. Those states are Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Idaho, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New York, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas and Washington. 

    Hopefully this is a process that can be avoided entirely, but given the fiscal condition of the DPFP and potentially a few other systems, I’m not sure that’ll be the case.

    Next to Dallas, which municipal pensions would you say are in the worst shape?

    I’m most concerned about the local retirement systems in Title 109. The reason, again, is that these 13 local retirement systems are effectively locked into state law and there’s little that taxpayers or retirees in those communities can do to affect good government changes without first going to Austin. These systems have basically taken a bad situation and made it worse by fossilizing everything that counts.

    In the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s 2017-18 Legislator’s Guide to the Issues, I cover this issue in a little more detail. In the article (see pgs. 122 – 124), I write of these plans’ fiscal issues which can be seen below, albeit with slightly older data.

    texaspensiondebtchart

    (Funded ratios marked in red denote systems that are below the 80% threshold, signifying a plan that may be considered actuarially unsound. Source: Texas Bond Review Board.)

    The fact that these systems either are in or are headed for fiscal muck is a big reason why the Texas Public Policy Foundation is helping to educate and engage on legislation that would restore local control of these state-governed pension plans. People on the ground-level should have some say over their local plans, and that’s what we’ll be fighting for next session. Encouragingly, a bill’s already been filed in the Senate (see SB 152) and there should be legislation filed shortly in the House to do just that.

    Should Texas government agencies switched over to defined contribution (i.e. 401K) plans over standard pension plan, and if so, how might this realistically be accomplished without endangering existing retirees?

    ABSOLUTELY. Ending the defined benefit model and transitioning new employees into something more sustainable and affordable, like a defined contribution system, is one of the best things that the state legislature can do. This is something I’ve long been an advocate of.

    In fact, in early 2011, I played a very minor role in the publication of some major research spearheaded by Dr. Arthur Laffer, President Ronald Reagan’s chief economist, that advanced this same reform idea (see Reforming Texas’ State & Local Pension Systems for the 21st Century). I’ve also written a lot about the need to make the DC-switch, making the case recently in Forbes that:

    DC-style plans resemble 401(k)s in the private sector and the optional retirement programs (ORP) available for higher education employees in Texas. These DC-style plans put the power of an individual’s future in their own hands instead of depending on the good fortune of government-directed DB-style plans. DC-style plans are portable and sustainable over the long term as they are based on the contributions of retirees and a defined government match.

    With DC-style plans, retirees will finally have the opportunity to determine how much risk they are willing to take. They also reduce the risk that the government will default on their retirement or fund those losses with dollars from taxpayers who never intended to use these pensions. By giving retirees more freedom on how to best provide for their family, they will be in a much better position to prosper.

    Because of their efficiency, simplicity and fully funded nature, the private sector moved primarily to DC-style plans long ago. For the sake of taxpayers and retirees dependent on government pensions, it’s time for all governments to move to these types of plans as well.

    As far as dealing with transition costs, some much smarter people than I have written on this issue and found that it’s not as big of a challenge as it’s made out to be. Dr. Josh McGee, a vice president with the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, a senior fellow with the Manhattan Institute, and Chairman of the Pension Review Board, had this to say about the matter:

    Moving to a new system would have little to no effect on the current system. State and local pensions are pre-funded systems, and unlike Social Security, the contributions of workers today do not subsidize today’s retirees. Future normal cost contributions are used to fund new benefit accruals that workers earn on a go-forward basis and are not used to close funding gaps. Therefore, it matters little whether the normal cost payments are used to fund new benefits under the current system or a new system.

    (Source: The transition cost mirage—false arguments distract from real pension reform debates.)

    Another pension expert, Dr. Andrew Biggs with the American Enterprise Institute, published research that found that:

    In this study, I show that if a pension plan were closed to new hires, over time the duration of liabilities would shorten, and the portfolio used to fund those liabilities would become more conservative. However, the effects of these transition costs are so small as to be barely perceptible.

    (Source: Are there transition costs to closing a public-employee retirement plan?)

    I’m confident that with the right plan in place, Texas’ state and local retirement systems can make the switch to defined contribution and we’ll be all the better for it.


    Thanks to James Quintero for providing such a detailed analysis!

    And since we’re on the topic, here’s a roundup of news on the Dallas Police and Fireman’s pension fund crisis:

  • The Texas Rangers have launched a criminal probe into the shortfall.
  • City Journal offers details on the unreasonable generosity of the Dallas plan (which covers some of the same DROP issues Quintero mentions):

    Dallas created the police and fire plan in 1916. The system’s trustees eventually persuaded the state legislature to allow employees and pensioners to run the plan. Not surprisingly, the members have done so for their own benefit and sent the tab for unfunded promises—now estimated at perhaps $5 billion—to taxpayers. Among the features of the system is an annual, 4 percent cost-of-living adjustment that far exceeds the actual increase in inflation since 1989, when it was instituted. A Dallas employee with a $2,000 monthly pension in 1989 would receive $3,900 today if the system’s annual increases were pegged to the consumer price index. Under the generous Dallas formula, however, that same monthly pension could be worth more than $5,000. No wonder the ship is sinking.

    The system also features a lavish deferment option that lets employees collect pensions even as they continue to work and earn a salary. Moreover, the retirement money gets deposited into an account that earns guaranteed interest. Governments originally began creating these so-called DROP plans as an incentive to encourage experienced employees to keep working past retirement age, which in job categories like public safety can be as young as 50. In Dallas, the pension system gives workers in the DROP plan an 8 percent interest rate on their cash, at a time when yields on ten-year U.S. Treasury notes, a standard for guaranteed returns, are stuck at less than 2 percent. According to the city, some 500 employees working past retirement age have accumulated more than $1 million in these accounts—on top of the pensions that they will receive once they officially stop working.

  • The Dallas Morning News says that there’s plenty of blame to go around:

    Over the years, the Dallas Police and Fire Pension System fund has amassed $2 billion to $5 billion in unfunded liabilities, the result of bad real estate investments and blatant self-enrichment from prior management. Coupled with a possible setback in ongoing litigation over public safety salaries, Dallas is in the most financially precarious position in its history.

    City officials are openly uttering the word bankruptcy, not just of the pension fund but the city itself. As Mayor Mike Rawlings told the Texas Pension Review Board this month, “the city is potentially walking into the fan blades that might look like bankruptcy.”

    The state Legislature created this mess by not giving the city a meaningful voice in the fund’s operation and allowing the former board of the pension fund to unilaterally sweeten its membership’s promised benefits without concern to the overall fiscal damage being done. Now it must help the city clean up the mess.

    Dallas already provides nearly 60 percent of its budget to support public safety services and recently contributed $4.6 million to increase its share of pension contributions to 28.5 percent — the maximum allowed under state statute. However, if Dallas loses the lawsuit over salaries and no changes are made to the pension fund, the city could take an $8 billion hit. That is roughly equal to eight years of the city’s general fund budget.

  • That said, the bond market doesn’t seem to think Dallas is near bankruptcy.
  • And it’s not just Dallas:

    Austin, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio collectively face $22.6 billion worth of pension fund shortfalls, according to a new report from credit rating and financial analysis firm Moody’s. That company analyzed the nation’s most debt-burdened local governments and ranked them based on how big the looming pension shortfalls are compared to the annual revenues on which each entity operates.

    “Rapid growth in unfunded pension liabilities over the past 10 years has transformed local governments’ balance sheet burdens to historically high levels,” the report says.

    Chicago had the most dire ratio on the national list. Dallas came in second. According to the report, the North Texas city has unfunded pension liabilities totaling $7.6 billion. That’s more than five times the size of the city’s 2015 operating revenues.

    Both those cities may turn to the public to partially shore up their shortfalls. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner wants to use $1 billion in bonds to infuse that city’s funds. Dallas police officer and firefighter pension officials also want $1 billion from City Hall, an amount officials there say is too high.

    Meanwhile, Austin ranked 14th on the Moody’s list with unfunded pension liabilities of $2.7 billion. San Antonio ranked 22nd with a $2.3 billion shortfall.

  • LinkSwarm for December 16, 2016

    Friday, December 16th, 2016

    Next week come two joyous events: Christmas, and Donald Trump being confirmed President by the electoral college. The first is a time of family celebration, and the second means liberals can finally shut the hell up about their asinine cockamamie schemes to keep the duly-elect 45th President of the United States of America from taking office.

    Enjoy a Friday LinkSwarm:

  • Speaking of the electoral college, publicity whore faithless elector Chris Suprun turns out to be a serial liar rather than a 9/11 first responder.
  • Linux guru Eric S. Raymond (who I’ve been on panels with at the odd science fiction event and such) has a long piece on the hard truths Democrats need to face to exit the political wilderness:

    First, your ability to assemble a broad-based national coalition has collapsed. Do not be fooled into thinking otherwise by your popular vote “win”; that majority came entirely from the West Coast metroplex and disguises a large-scale collapse in popular support everywhere else in the U.S. Trump even achieved 30-40% support in blue states where he didn’t spend any money.

    County-by-county psephological maps show that your base is now confined to two major coastal enclaves and a handful of university towns. Only 4 of 50 states have both a Democratic-controlled legislature and a Democratic governor. In 2018 that regionalization is going to get worse, not better; you will be defending 25 seats in areas where Trump took the popular vote, while the Republicans have to defend only 8 where Clinton won.

    Your party leadership is geriatric, decades older than the average for their Republican counterparts. Years of steady losses at state level, masked by the personal popularity of Barack Obama, have left you without a bench to speak of – little young talent and basically no seasoned Presidential timber under retirement age. The fact that Joseph Biden, who will be 78 for the next Election Day, is being seriously mooted as the next Democratic candidate, speaks volumes – none of them good.

    Your ideological lock on the elite media and show business has flipped from a powerful asset to a liability. Trump campaigned against that lock and won; his tactics can be and will be replicated. Worse, a self-created media bubble insulated you from grasping the actual concerns of the American public so completely that you didn’t realize the shit you were in until election night.

    Your donor advantage didn’t help either. Clinton outspent Trump 2:1 and still lost.

    Your “coalition of the ascendant” is sinking. Tell all the just-so stories you like, but the brute fact is that it failed to turn out to defeat the Republican candidate with the highest negatives in history. You thought all you had to do was wait for the old white men to die, but anybody who has studied the history of immigration in the U.S. could have told you that the political identities of immigrant ethnic groups do not remain stable as they assimilate. You weren’t going to own the Hispanics forever any more than you owned the Irish and the Italians forever. African-Americans, trained by decades of identity politics, simply failed to show up for a white candidate in the numbers you needed. The sexism card didn’t play either, as a bare majority of married women who actually went to the polls seem to have voted for Trump.

    But your worst problem is less tangible. Trump has popped the preference bubble. The conservative majority in most of the U.S. (coastal enclaves excepted) now knows it’s a conservative majority. Before the election every pundit in sight pooh-poohed the idea that discouraged conservative voters, believing themselves isolated and powerless, had been sitting out several election cycles. But it turned out to be true, not least where I live in the swing state of Pennsylvania, where mid-state voters nobody knew were there put Trump over the top. Pretty much the same thing happened all through the Rust Belt.

    That genie isn’t going to be stuffed back in the bottle. Those voters now know they can deliver the media and the coastal elites a gigantic fuck-you, and Republicans know the populist techniques to mobilize them to do that. Trump’s playbook was not exactly complicated.

    Some Democrats are beginning to talk, tentatively, about reconnecting to the white working class. But your real problem is larger; you need to make the long journey back to the political center. Not the center you imagine exists, either; that’s an artifact of your media bubble. I’m pointing at the actual center revealed by psephological analysis of voter preferences.

    First on his list of suggestions: Give up their suicidal gun control policies.

    (Hat tip: Sarah Hoyt at Instapundit.)

  • The always pungent Jim Goad talks about how victimhood identity politics destroyed the Democratic Party:

    Still scratching their pointy heads over losing an election they were certain that history had preordained them to win, the Democrats are blaming everything except their own stupidity and arrogance.

    The intersectional house of cards has fallen. Every maladjusted minoritarian mini-tyrant in the country is freaking the frick out that their ragged, patchwork coalition of misfits is crumbing before their eyes. From coast to coast, every HIV-positive mulatto one-armed transgender lesbian midget is suddenly worried that Trump and his supporters in the heartland will become “normalized.”

    Huddled inside a rainbow-colored yet opaque bubble, it’s obvious that they have no idea what just hit them. Many overpaid and demonstrably clueless strategists seem to think that perchance they didn’t call people racists, sexists, homophobes, and Islamophobes enough. Maybe if they just verbally shat upon the stupid, uneducated, hateful, and soon-to-be-extinct white masses in flyover country who put Trump over the top, they could have shamed enough of these irredeemable rubes into voting for a party and an ideology that clearly hates their guts.

    Not for a moment does it seem to have occurred to them that maybe it’s not so wise to play aggressively hostile identity politics when your designated opponent is still the demographic majority.

    Listen up, dimwits: When you encourage racial pride in all groups except whites, you aren’t exactly making a case against “racism.” If you have even a semblance of a spine, sooner or later you’ll hear this nonstop sneering condescension about how you were born with a stain on your soul and say, “Hey, fuck you. I’ve done nothing wrong, but you’re really starting to bother me.”

    I suspect that for perhaps the majority of those who voted for Trump, it had nothing to do with the stupid, juvenile, leftist catchall excuse of “hatred.” If you really think extraordinarily complex social conflicts over power and resources can be explained by a dumb word such as “hatred,” I hate you.

    Instead, a large swath of voters grew so tired of being actively hated, they struck back and said “enough.” They didn’t “vote against their interests,” as is so often patronizingly alleged; they voted against the condescending, scolding, sheltered creampuffs who try to dictate their interests to them.

  • “NY Times Hires Reporter Who Sent Stories to Hillary Staffers for Approval.” This is my shocked face. (Hat tip: Ace of Spades HQ.)
  • For all the lunatic leftist blather, Obama Administration Attorney General Loretta Lynch says that there’s no evidence Russians hacked voting machines. (Hat tip: Director Blue.)
  • Also, it wasn’t Russia that obtained Hillary’s emails, it was disgruntled Democratic insiders that gave them to Wikileaks.
  • And speaking of disgruntled Democratic insiders, some Clintonistas are only too happy to see the back of Huma Abedin. (Hat tip: Ace of Spades HQ.)
  • “Records: Too many votes in 37% of Detroit’s precincts.” (Hat tip: Director Blue.)
  • Lots of Democrats are pretty clear about the contempt they hold regular Americans in, but few are so stupid as to actually call America’s heartland “flyover country” in public.
  • “David Brock’s Media Matters Has Hidden $1,052,500 From The IRS Since 2010.”
  • In another entry in the “liberals keeping it classy” annals, a reporter tweets about Trump having sex with his own daughter.
  • Hillary Clinton didn’t win “America’s” vote, she won California’s:

    California voters are alone responsible for Clinton’s “win” in the popular vote. The latest tally shows Clinton up by about 2.8 or so million votes. She’s won California by nearly 4.3 million votes. So, take away California and the rest of the country starts to look like… well, it looks like the rest of the country. California is weird, but if that’s what the Democrats want to elect a president of, then the only thing you can really say to them is, “Congrats, you already have Jerry Brown.”

  • Scott Adams on dwindling liberal protests against Trump: “What are you doing that is more important than stopping Hitler?????????”
  • More on that Trump vs. Department of Energy dust-up. How long do you think that stonewall will last when Rick Perry is running the place? (Hat tip: Borepatch.)
  • Along with the selection of Mad Dog Mattis for Secretary of Defense, the selection of Michael Flynn for National Security Advisor signals that Trump is tossing political correctness out of the Pentagon. Good.
  • How Trump can use the power of the purse to crack down on illegal alien sanctuary cities. (Hat tip: Director Blue.)
  • “Get ready for more Scott Walkers as Republicans control 25 state capitals: tax cuts, pension reform, right to work, school choice.” (Usual WSJ hoops apply.)
  • Obama tries to create a new ethnic group for Democrats to pander to.
  • How an underachieving screwup from Plano named John Georgelas became Yahya Abu Hassan, a leader of the Islamic State.
  • Indian prime Minister Narendra Modi’s insane “demonitization” scheme continues to wreck India’s economy.

    The parched branches of big banks are still fortunate. For unexplained reasons the RBI has supplied almost no new cash at all to India’s hundreds of smaller rural co-operative banks or to its 93,000 agricultural credit unions, so keeping millions of farmers from deposits that total some $46bn. It has also banned these institutions from competing with “pukkah” banks in exchanging old bills for new. With no cash flowing, farmers cannot even seek help from informal networks that in normal times account for more credit in rural areas than formal institutions. And although India’s 641,000 villages house two-thirds of its people, they contain fewer than a fifth of its ATMs. These are being slowly modified to supply the new notes, which unhelpfully are smaller than old ones; for now most stand idle.

    Starved of cash, India’s rural economy is seizing up. A study by two economists at Delhi’s Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research found that in the second week of the drought, deliveries of rice to rural wholesale markets were 61% below prior levels. Soyabeans were 77% down and maize 29%. Prices have also collapsed. In Bihar, Scroll’s reporters found desperate farmers selling cauliflower for 1 rupee ($0.01) a kilo, a twelfth of the prior price.

    It is not only farm incomes that are pinched. An investigation by Business Standard, a financial daily, found that virtually none of the estimated 8m piece workers who hand-roll bidis, a kind of cigarette, has been paid since the cash ban. Another Indian daily, the Hindu, reports that more than half of the 600-odd ceramics factories in the town of Morbi, a centre of the tile industry in the state of Gujarat, with a combined output worth some $3.5bn a year, have temporarily closed because they cannot pay workers. In Agra, the hub of Indian shoemaking, some firms are paying workers with supermarket coupons to keep them on the job.

    India’s wealthy few have servants to take their place in the still dismally long queues snaking outside banks, but the pain reaches even to the top. A dentist in a posh part of Delhi is shocked by a 70% fall in trade since the cash ban. “All my patients can pay with plastic so I assumed I was safe, but I guess people are just being careful about spending in general.” This does seem to be the case. A brokerage that surveys consumer-goods firms says November sales have fallen by 20-30% across the board. Property sales, which traditionally are made wholly or partly in cash, have plummeted even more.

    Small wonder that Fitch, a ratings agency, on November 29th cut its forecast for India’s GDP growth for the year to March 2017 from 7.4% to 6.9%. That is in line with most financial institutions’ trimmed estimates, although some economists think the damage could be even worse. “There will be no or negative growth for the next two quarters,” predicts one Delhi economist who prefers anonymity. “Consumer spending was the one thing really driving this economy, and now we are looking at a negative wealth-effect where people feel poorer and spend less.”

    Perhaps more embarrassingly for Mr Modi’s government, there are few signs that its harsh economic medicine is achieving the declared goal of flushing out vast hoards of undeclared wealth or “black” money. Officials had predicted that perhaps 20% of the pre-ban cash would not be deposited in banks, for fear of disclosure to the taxman. Yet within three weeks of the “demonetisation”—well before the deadline to dispose of old bills, December 30th—about two-thirds of the money had already found its way into “white” channels. Some of this is doubtless illicit: inspectors of Delhi’s bus system have found that the bulk of daily takings now mysteriously appears in the form of the banned bills, which public-sector firms can still deposit, rather than the usual small change. Reports from Maharashtra, in the centre of the country, suggest that brokers are offering to buy old notes with a face value of 10m rupees for 8.4m, suggesting that they have found ways of laundering them.

  • India’s Foxconn cell-phone factory has let 25% of its workforce go due to declining sales.
  • Speaking of phones, how long you have to work earn enough to buy an iPhone varies widely by country, from 24 hours in New York to 627 hours in Kiev, which is even more than Nairobi (468 hours).
  • Popping the liberal university bubble:

    When students inhabit liberal bubbles, they’re not learning much about their own country. To be fully educated, students should encounter not only Plato, but also Republicans.

    We liberals are adept at pointing out the hypocrisies of Trump, but we should also address our own hypocrisy in terrain we govern, such as most universities: Too often, we embrace diversity of all kinds except for ideological.

  • “In 2015: 4,454 men died on the job (92.4% of the total) compared to only 367 women (7.6% of the total). The ‘gender occupational fatality gap‘ in 2015 was again considerable — more than 12 men died on the job last year for every woman who died while working.”
  • Another day, another fake anti-Muslim “hate crime” exposed.
  • Llewellyn Rockwell of the Mises Institute explains Trump: “To get to where we want to go, the American political class has to be hit hard, and the media and the universities need to be exposed for the propaganda factories they are.”
  • Liberal women cutting off their long hair because of Trump. Says Instapundit: “Trump wins, and Democratic women respond by making themselves less attractive. Sorry, Democratic men!”
  • Formerly rich man forced to sublet his palatial digs to renters to make ends meet. Wait, did I say man? I meant The New York Times.
  • Pictures from an abandoned Russian military base above the arctic circle. (Hat tip: Ace of Spades HQ.)
  • “City Of Chicago Working Around Clock To Clear 18 Inches Of Bullet Casings From Streets.”
  • Dripping Springs ISD stonewalls open records request over tranny bathrooms.
  • Could Trump Actually Cut the Bureaucracy?

    Monday, December 12th, 2016

    One of the great conservative disappointments of my lifetime is how the federal government continues to overrun the landscape like kudzu no matter who occupies the White House. Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush, Obama, didn’t matter: the size and scope of the federal government always seemed to expand, never contract.

    Which is why it’s thrilling to find out that the incoming Trump Administration is asking questions about the staffing levels (not to mention details like funding levels and statutory authority) at the Department of Energy.

    The Trump Energy Department transition team sent the 74 question memo on Dec. 6. One question asked for a list of all department employees or contractors who have attended meetings on the social cost of carbon, a measurement federal agencies use to weigh the costs and benefits of new energy and environment regulations. Another asked for all publications employees at the DOE’s 17 national laboratories have written in the past three years.

    And the DOE is apparently alarmed at actually having to answer to elected officials. Poor babies.

    There’s been lots of talk about zeroing in on global warming advocates, but Borepatch noticed that many of the questions are all about the Benjamins:

    1. Can you provide a list of all boards, councils, commissions, working groups, and FACAs [Federal Advisory Committees] currently active at the Department? For each, can you please provide members, meeting schedules, and authority (statutory or otherwise) under which they were created?

    If I were at DOE, this first question would indeed set MY hair on fire. The easiest way to get rid of something is to show that it was not properly established … boom, it’s gone. As a businessman myself, this question shows me that the incoming people know their business, and that the first order of business is to jettison the useless lumber.

    6 The Department recently announced the issuance of $4.5 billion in loan guarantees for electric vehicles (and perhaps associated infrastructure). Can you provide a status on this effort?

    Oh, man, they are going for the jugular. Loan Program Office? If there is any place that the flies would gather, it’s around the honey … it’s good to see that they are looking at loan guarantees for electric vehicles, a $4.5 billion dollar boondoggle that the government should NOT be in. I call that program the “Elon Musk Retirement Fund”.

    Could a Trump Administration actually downsize the federal government? I don’t want to place too much weight on this strange emotion I tentatively identify as “hope,” especially since Trump isn’t a movement conservative and didn’t exactly make cutting Leviathan the centerpiece of his campaign. But maybe, just maybe, a man famous for firing people, backed up by full Republican control of congress, just might be able to take on the behemoth of ever-expanding bureaucracy…

    Update: It looks like Borepatch was quoting Watt’s Up With That and somehow fumbled the linkback for it. The Watt’s Up With That post has a lot more information and a rundown of all the DoE questions.

    LinkSwarm for September 30, 2016

    Friday, September 30th, 2016

    Another Friday, another LinkSwarm. On a personal note, I am once again looking for a Senior Technical Writing position in the greater Austin area. If you have any leads in that direction, please let me know.

  • Polls show Hillary losing ground after debate.
  • Likewise, LA Times poll shows a slight bump for Trump.
  • Professor says there are 13 keys for an incumbent to lose the White House. By my count, Democrats suffer from just about all of them.
  • Minnesota, the only state to vote for Walter Mondale in 1984, is now a battleground state. (Hat tip: Director Blue.)
  • Democrats give up on Ohio. (Hat tip: Stephen Green at Instapundit.)
  • Nineteen dead people registered to vote in Virginia. Yet more of that voting fraud Democrats swear up and down doesn’t exist… (Hat tip: Director Blue.)
  • Republicans cave on everything and leave town. But somehow it’s Trump that’s going to sully the spotless reputation of the Grand Old Party…
  • But at least congress overrode Obama’s veto of bill allowing 9/11 survivors to sue the Saudis 97-1. One wonders why Obama even bothered vetoing the bill, given how he had already stabbed the Saudis in the back with the Iran deal.
  • Blue Cross/Blue Shield drops out of ObamaCare exchange in Nebraska.
  • More illegal aliens on the way. (Hat tip: Praire Pundit.)
  • Two Maryland Democrats fight over which is more responsible over making Baltimore burn.
  • Chicago schools are boned. (Hat tip: The American Interest.)
  • Taxis vs. Uber.
  • Will Franklin of WILLisms put a lot of work into this school choice video:

  • Texas among four states to sue to stop the transfer of ICANN to an international governing body.
  • “Target Corporation’s transgender bathroom pander costing its shareholders billions.” (Hat tip: Ace of Spades HQ.)
  • Scott Adams think that the Middle East is just building a wall around the Islamic State.
  • Ace of Spades declares war on the Republican leadership:

    Apparently, some in this party really do think they’re going to hand the election to Hillary, and, bizarrely, they think this will bully the rest of us into knuckling under to their agenda in 2020.

    Rather than simply getting payback and tanking their candidate in return.

    This party is on the verge of self-destructing. The upper class of the party is upset that the lower class has finally had its say, and they’re determined that should never be permitted to happen again.

    Why then would anyone of the lower class ever vote for the GOP again? Are they required to sign a piece of paper confirming that they are Lessers who should know their place in order to have the privilege of voting against their own interests?

    He’s also turns his fire on #NeverTrump:

    we have a hundred people who claim to be #NeverTrump and #NeverHillary but, strangely enough, never talk about the downsides of a Hillary presidency. Oh, they’ll talk up how much of an authoritarian Trump is, but not Hillary’s sense of entitlement, grievance, vengeance, and her own history of authoritarianism and lawlessness in covering up her crimes.

    They talk all day about “Principles,” but discard the most basic principles — such as keeping a proven lawbreaker out of the White House, or just honestly admitting which candidate they’re actually supporting to their readers — as convenience may recommend.

    In fact, right now they’re howling about Ted Cruz’ “calculations” in endorsing Trump, while not admitting their own pose of “Being Against Both Equally” is in fact a completely contrived lie they’ve calculated will permit them to agitate for their candidate (Hillary) while not compromising their career prospects within Conservatism, Inc. too much.

    How much can I agitate for Hillary while still retaining plausible deniability?

    How much can I agitate for Hillary to appease my anti-Trump donors while still keeping enough pro-Trump readers that my anti-Trump donors will feel they’re getting enough eyeballs per dollar of their patronage?

    The party — not just the party;the writers who are supposed to have telling the truth as their first mission, but instead of become nonstop liars all the time decrying Trump as a liar himself — has declared war on all of the Lessers beneath their station, those not in The Media and who should, therefore, not have quite as much of a say in things as they themselves have.

    They’ve made themselves into exactly what they pretend to oppose — and exactly what I do in fact oppose.

  • Canada launches prescription smack. Part of me wants to see how the experiment turns out. And part of me wants to start offering junkies one-way bus tickets to the Great (China) White North.
  • Other Canadian craziness: Montreal to euthanize all non-owned pit bulls. Way to jerk those knees, French Canadians.
  • Navy changes the way it categorizes sailors.
  • Burning Man camp vandalized.
  • More of that vaunted liberal tolerance we hear so much about these days. “Kill yourself bitch.” (Hat tip: Will Shetterly.)
  • There’s a proper and an improper way to turn down an orgy. Proper: “No thank you.” Improper: Getting stabby. Don’t they teach kids basic manners these days?
  • I picked up some signed William F. Buckley, Jr. books cheap.
  • Texas vs. California Update for July 25, 2016

    Monday, July 25th, 2016

    Enjoy another Texas vs. California roundup:

  • June marked the 114th month that Texas was at or below the national unemployment average. Texas also created 246,600 jobs in the service sector.
  • Once again Texas ranks as the best state for business, and California ranks worst. (Hat tip: Fox and Hounds via Pension Tsunami.)
  • Elites watch while California crumbles:

    The basket of California state taxes — sales, income, and gasoline — rates among the highest in the U.S. Yet California roads and K-12 education rank near the bottom.

    California depends on a tiny elite class for about half of its income-tax revenue. Yet many of these wealthy taxpayers are fleeing the 40-million-person state, angry over paying 12 percent of their income for lousy public services.

    Excessive state regulations and expanding government, massive illegal immigration from impoverished nations, and the rise of unimaginable wealth in the tech industry and coastal retirement communities created two antithetical Californias.

    One is an elite, out-of-touch caste along the fashionable Pacific Ocean corridor that runs the state and has the money to escape the real-life consequences of its own unworkable agendas.

    The other is a huge underclass in central, rural, and foothill California that cannot flee to the coast and suffers the bulk of the fallout from Byzantine state regulations, poor schools, and the failure to assimilate recent immigrants from some of the poorest areas in the world.

    The result is Connecticut and Alabama combined in one state. A house in Menlo Park may sell for more than $1,000 a square foot. In Madera, three hours away, the cost is about one-tenth of that.

  • CalPERS suffers $30.8 billion annual loss. “CalPERS has notoriously minimized the annual pension contribution for its 3,007 government entities by fantasizing that its superior investments expertise will allow its investments to compound every year without loss for the next three decades at an annual rate of 7.5 percent.” (Hat tip: Pension Tsunami.)
  • CalSTRS isn’t doing much better: “The California State Teachers’ Retirement System [earned] 1.4% for the fiscal year ended June 30.” (Hat tip: Instapundit.)
  • Record tax revenues, yet somehow California is still broke:

    California taxpayers are getting taken to the cleaners, but most of them are completely in the dark about how and why.

    I will pose a quick question: Does it seem strange that California has recorded record revenue increases, yet we also see a record number of tax increases and bond issuances on the ballot?

    In other words, the state’s tax system is collecting massive amounts of revenues, record amounts, yet politicians are still asking for a record number of new tax increases. For taxpayer advocates, it just doesn’t seem fair and seems very strange at first glance as to how this can even occur.

    The truth of the matter is that California’s system of public finance is a complete train wreck and is set up such that no amount of tax revenues collected will ever be enough to satisfy “spending needs.” The so-called baseline expenditure increases are on autopilot and deficit projections are generated despite record revenue increases, a trend projected in the Governor’s May Revise.

    (Hat tip: Pension Tsunami.)

  • “As we roll toward the November ballot, I’m reminded of H.L. Mencken’s quip that “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.” We always get it “good and hard” in California given the ever-expanding one-party rule. The worse it gets, the more voters from the GOP high-tail it to Nevada and Texas — and the worse it gets as political competition evaporates. It’s the political equivalent of a death spiral.” (Hat tip: Pension Tsunami.)
  • Lots of tax hikes are on the California ballot this November, for a variety of different ostensible reasons, but actually for a single reason: Pensions. (Hat tip: Pension Tsunami.)
  • Beaumont, California: “Seven former officials were arrested and charged with stealing nearly $43 million during the city’s development boom. Now, residents are learning that the town’s problems go much deeper than the criminal case.” (Hat tip: Gregory Benford’s Facebook page.)
  • “California’s high-speed rail project increasingly looks like an expensive social science experiment to test just how long interest groups can keep money flowing to a doomed endeavor before elected officials finally decide to cancel it.” $68 billion and rising. (Hat tip: Ace of Spades HQ.)
  • Teachers union writes a $10-million check for income tax ballot measure.”
  • “Oakland police officer Malcolm Miller more than quadrupled his $107,627 salary to $489,662 with overtime, benefits and other specialty pays last year — making him Oakland’s highest paid employee for the third year in a row.” (Hat tip: Pension Tsunami.)
  • “C.C. Myers Inc., one of California’s highest-profile freeway builders, has filed for bankruptcy.”
  • Also filing for bankruptcy: California-based developer Criswell-Radovan, which owns the Tahoe Cal Neva casino Frank Sinatra used to own.
  • One tiny bit of dubious good news for the Bankruptcy Court for the Central District of California: Now they’re only the second in bankruptcy filings in the nation at 45,000, having been overtaken by the Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of Illinois at 47,535 filings.
  • Nissan and Toyota battle over Texas. “Both automakers are zeroing in on Texas as a key growth opportunity.”
  • California’s Democratic State Controller Betty Yee fined $2,082 for violations during her 2014 campaign.
  • Rent a security robot for $7 an hour. How many human security guards will be left at California’s $15 an hour?
  • Old and Busted: Participation trophies. The New Hotness: California’s Democratic officials giving awards to their own family members.
  • “Judge throws out ex-L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca’s plea deal, saying six months in prison not enough.” (Hat tip: Dwight.)
  • Venezuela: Socialism Is Death

    Wednesday, May 18th, 2016

    When socialists run out of other people’s money, everything falls apart. In Venezuela, socialism is killing babies:

    By morning, three newborns were already dead.

    The day had begun with the usual hazards: chronic shortages of antibiotics, intravenous solutions, even food. Then a blackout swept over the city, shutting down the respirators in the maternity ward.

    Doctors kept ailing infants alive by pumping air into their lungs by hand for hours. By nightfall, four more newborns had died.

    “The death of a baby is our daily bread,” said Dr. Osleidy Camejo, a surgeon in the nation’s capital, Caracas, referring to the toll from Venezuela’s collapsing hospitals.

    Also this: “At the University of the Andes Hospital in the mountain city of Mérida, there was not enough water to wash blood from the operating table.” With a picture to match.

    (Hat tip: Althouse.)

    Is this the point where the bankrupt socialist regime changes course and implements economic reform? Of course not. “Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced a sweeping crackdown Saturday under a new emergency decree, ordering the seizure of paralyzed factories, the arrest of their owners and military exercises to counter alleged foreign threats.”

    Naturally the democratically elected opposition refuses to knuckle under to Maduro’s unconstitutional decrees.

    “Opposition leader Henrique Capriles also said the army must decide whether it is ‘with the constitution or with Maduro,’ a day before nationwide protests demanding the president’s ouster through a referendum.”

    The Atlantic offers up a photo essay on how little food Venezuelans have to eat. (Hat tip: Instapundit.)

    And all this has come to pass thanks to The Magic Power of Socialism™:

    The government doesn’t just control the oil industry, imposing windfall taxes as high as 50 percent on the few private sector projects that remain. The government has nationalized rice mills, large producers of agricultural products, and expropriated millions of acres of farmland; it has acquired some banks and shut down others; nationalized the cement sector; tried to nationalize gold miners; nationalized the country’s largest steel mill and the country’s largest telecommunications company; expropriated the nation’s largest power producer (remember those rolling blackouts?), and more.

    People close to the regime have benefited from many of those deals. Corruption has skyrocketed since the beginning of Venezuela’s “Bolivarian revolution.” According to the Cato Institute, $22.5 billion in public funds have been transferred from Venezuela to foreign accounts with no plausible explanation. Relatives of President Nicolas Maduro have been implicated in drug trafficking, with suspicions of drug money used to finance his campaign.

    Oh, and Venezuela’s capital has earned the distinction of being the murder capital of the world.

    All of these tragedies were avoidable. They are all the result of a mentality that sees only nails for the hammer of government control. Chavez and Maduro kept saying that everything that was wrong with Venezuela was the fault of markets and that if the government either eliminated or regulated those markets, things would get better. They implemented their agenda and it has been a disaster. This socialist brand of economic authoritarianism had the predictable consequence of political authoritarianism, corruption, and a breakdown of the rule of law.

    How many more babies have to die before Venezuela abandons its failed socialist experiment?

    Texas vs. California Update for May 10, 2016

    Tuesday, May 10th, 2016

    Time for another Texas vs. California update:

  • In a fiscal test of which states are best prepared for the next recession, Texas ranked best and California ranked worst. (Hat tip: Jack Dean of Pension Tsunami.)
  • And California didn’t just flunk the test, it flunked it badly. (Ditto)
  • A big reason is the top-heavy nature of income tax receipts. “Nearly half of the state’s personal income tax revenue comes from the top 1 percent of earners — 150,000 individual tax returns. And personal income tax revenue is 65 percent of total revenue, which means the One Percent provides 33 percent of the state’s total revenue.”
  • Here’s a handy comparison of Texas vs. California debt ratios using a number of different metrics. You can also look at several different metrics with the general pension tracker tool, put together by the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research. (Hat tip: Pension Tsunami.)
  • The same source tells us that California has the third highest market/pension debt ratio in the country, while Texas ranks 34th.
  • “During the Great Recession and since, Texas has been America’s jobs engine, creating 34 percent of all U.S. civilian jobs during the last eight years in a state with less than 10 percent of the nation’s population.”
  • Moody’s downgrades bond ratings for the Pasadena Unified School District right when the district passes a 6% salary increase.
  • Reno is increasingly benefiting from companies relocating from California.
  • Texas company wants to store California’s nuclear waste.
  • “In 2014, a study by the conservative American Enterprise Institute found that full-career state workers in five states — California, New Mexico, Oregon, Texas and West Virginia — earned more in retirement income than in their final salary.” I’m pretty sure Texas salaries on average were significantly lower than California’s, and that there were less of them…
  • Court strikes down California Attorney General Kamala Harris’s unconstitutional attempt to compel conservative nonprofits to reveal their donors. (Hat tip: Ace of Spades HQ. )
  • Bay area law enforcement offices have “lost” over 500 guns since 2010.
  • The headquarters for Jamba Juice is relocating from Emeryville, California to Frisco, Texas. (Hat tip: Jack Dean of Pension Tsunami.)
  • The U.S. headquarters for Mitsubishi Heavy Industries relocated from New York to Houston.
  • Venezuela’s So Poor Soldiers Steal Goats To Survive

    Thursday, May 5th, 2016

    For all the depression over an ascendant Donald Trump, let’s remember remember that a lot of other countries, much further down the road to serfdom than we are, have it much worse.

    Take, for example, Venezuela, where The Magic Power of Socialism™ has so wrecked the economy that soldiers are stealing goats to survive:

    Over the weekend, six members of the Venezuelan military were detained by local authorities for stealing goats, the Venezuelan newspaper El Nacional reported Sunday. It said the soldiers confessed to stealing the goats and said they did it to feed themselves, since they had no food left in their barracks.

    “It’s not a good sign when your military doesn’t have enough food, and when the military has been relegated to guarding and protecting food lines,” said Jason Marczak, director of the Latin America Economic Growth Initiative at the Atlantic Council. “This is endemic of the problems going on across the country.”

    A military without enough food to eat. Boy, that’s a swell recipe for happiness in Latin America. (Hat tip: Instapundit.) As the Washington Post‘s Wonkblog put it: “It’s a grim race between anarchy and civil war.”

    Venezuela’s opposition evidently has enough votes to recall idiot socialist President Nicolas Maduro:

    Venezuela’s right-wing opposition coalition, the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), turned over 1.8 million signatures in support of a recall referendum against President Nicolas Maduro to the National Electoral Council (CNE) on Monday.

    As part of the initial requirement to solicit a recall, the MUD was given 30 days to collect signatures from 1 percent of the electorate in each of the 23 states– 197,721 total signatures nationwide– a target which the coalition managed to surpass in a matter of days, accruing as many as 2.5 million overall.

    There are still considerable barriers to a recall election even if the government doesn’t cheat (and what are the odds of that?).

    Also, beer production has stopped. Just an all-around recipe for for happiness.

    So cheer up, America! We have to face the horror of a Clinton-Trump presidential race, but at least we’ll do so with food, water, electricity and beer…