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Our government in action, for good, and mostly for worse

Beer Baron John Hickenlooper Hates The Cannabis Competition

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Ballin'
Ballin’

What nearly amuses me is that Beer Baron John Hickenlooper is so opposed, still, to citizens of his state taking positive steps towards ending the ridiculous drug war in the US. The vote wasn’t even very close, considering. No, if Gov Hickenlooper had his way, only beer should be legal…

Colorado Democrat John Hickenlooper has a firm answer to other U.S. governors asking him about marijuana as source of revenue: Just say no.

Hickenlooper said yesterday that about a half-dozen called or asked him at this weekend’s National Governors Association meeting in Washington about his state’s experience legalizing recreational pot. They want to know about the potential to collect money and avoid the costs of enforcement and incarceration, he said.

Colorado projected last week that sales would generate more than $100 million a year toward a general fund of about $9 billion. But Hickenlooper, who opposed legalizing marijuana, said he’s telling fellow governors that he’s not counting on it to lower other taxes or for spending — and that they shouldn’t, either.

(click here to continue reading Colorado’s Experience With Legal Pot Has U.S. Governors Curious – Bloomberg.)

and this is despite admitting in his own state budget that legal cannabis sales could reach $1,000,000,000 in their very first year! Just consider that for a second: a newly legal industry that already is this significant, despite foot dragging from the Beer Baron, and others of his ilk who hold anachronistic viewpoints about the demon weed.

Beer Money at the MCA
Beer Money at the MCA

new budget numbers predicted that those marijuana taxes could add more than $100 million a year to state coffers, far more than earlier estimates.

The figures offered one of the first glimpses into how the bustling market for recreational marijuana was beginning to reshape government bottom lines — an important question as marijuana advocates push to expand legalization beyond Colorado and Washington State into states including Arizona, Alaska and Oregon.

In Colorado, where recreational sales began on Jan. 1 with hourlong waits, a budget proposal from Gov. John W. Hickenlooper estimated that the state’s marijuana industry could reach $1 billion in sales in the next fiscal year, with recreational sales making up about $610 million of that business.

“It’s well on its way to being a billion-dollar industry,” said Michael Elliott, executive director of the Marijuana Industry Group, a Colorado trade association. “We went from 110,000 medical marijuana patients to four billion people in the world who are 21 and up.”

In the budget proposal that Mr. Hickenlooper released Wednesday, his office said the state could collect about $134 million in taxes from recreational and medical marijuana for the fiscal year beginning in July.

(click here to continue reading Colorado Expects to Reap Tax Bonanza From Legal Marijuana Sales – NYTimes.com.)

Shiner Bock in Lower Yurtistan
Shiner Bock in Lower Yurtistan

and the truth is that Gov Hickenlooper is just a hypocrite, a politician, in other words:

But the state’s Democratic governor said he “hates” his state’s legal weed “experiment.”

Gov. John Hickenlooper revealed his feelings about marijuana legalization to the Durango Herald’s editorial board Friday.

“I hate Colorado having to be the experiment,” he told the newspaper.

The governor said he intends the regulation of legal weed to be even more strenuous than alcohol. “We are going to regulate the living daylights out of it,” he told the Herald.

Hickenlooper was a beer brewer before governor and made his fortune from selling alcoholic beverages — a fortune that wouldn’t have been possible had the U.S. not ended its prohibition on alcohol in 1933. The irony that he hates the the end of another drug’s prohibition in Colorado was not lost on Marijuana Policy Project’s communications director, Mason Tvert.

“I doubt Gov. Hickenlooper felt like he was participating in an experiment when he was making a living selling alcohol in a legal market,” Tvert told The Huffington Post. “Our state has been successfully regulating alcohol for quite some time, so regulating a less harmful substance like marijuana is hardly something new. Does the governor want to go back to a system in which cartels control marijuana instead of licensed businesses and thousands of responsible adults are punished each year simply for using it? We let that experiment go on for 80 years and it never worked.”

Tvert also called out the governor for suggesting that marijuana should be more heavily regulated than alcohol. “Every objective study on marijuana has concluded that it is less toxic than alcohol, less addictive, and less likely to contribute to violent and reckless behavior,” Tvert said. “If he is truly concerned about public health, he should be encouraging adults to consider making the safer choice to use marijuana instead of alcohol when they are socializing or relaxing after work.”

(click here to continue reading Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper Hates His State’s Legal Weed ‘Experiment’.)

Wouldn’t our society be better off if fatties were smoked at sports arenas instead of endless 20 oz mugs of beer? Not to say that pot smokers can’t be aggressive or violent, but let your own experience with drunks be a guide. 

Written by Seth Anderson

February 24th, 2014 at 12:01 pm

ADM to move headquarters to Chicago after all, sans tax break

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I Am A Lonely Visitor
I Am A Lonely Visitor

We’ve been following this story for a while, so an update from Phil Rosenthal and Ray Long:

Archer Daniels Midland, unable to secure the special tax incentives it sought from Illinois legislators, nonetheless announced Wednesday that it will go forward with its plan to move its world headquarters to Chicago from Decatur, Ill.

The agriculture giant said it plans to locate 50 to 75 executives in Chicago to a site that has not yet been selected. That’s down from the 100 jobs the company originally cited in its bid to win Springfield approval for special payroll tax incentives worth up to $30 million over 20 years.

“While we considered other global hubs, Chicago emerged as the best location to provide efficient access to global markets while maintaining our close connections with U.S. farmers, customers and operations,” said ADM Chairman and CEO Patricia Woertz said in a statement Wednesday morning. “Chicago also provides an environment where we can attract and retain employees with diverse skills, and where their family members can find ample career opportunities.”

The politicians who opposed a cash-strapped state giving a $1.5 million annual tax break to a company with a market cap of more than $27 billion can claim they held their ground. But absent the incentives package, ADM would not have to make assurances about ongoing staffing levels.

(click here to continue reading ADM to move headquarters to Chicago – chicagotribune.com.)

Like I said before, talented executives want to live in a place that’s interesting, in a city that has culture, restaurants, and so on. If free money is offered, of course corporations are going to take it, but without it? They would still rather live somewhere where nightlife consists of more than just Wednesday night bingo.

Your Allusion Was Too Subtle
Your Allusion Was Too Subtle

It appears that ADM has a robust enough business that they don’t need corporate welfare to stay in business after all, in contrast to the barely above-water Office Depot/OfficeMax corporation, which decided to keep its HQ in Florida. 

Office Depot said Tuesday it has chosen Boca Raton, Fla. for its new headquarters over Naperville.

Office Depot completed its merger with Naperville-based OfficeMax last month, but the pair hadn’t yet announced where the combined company would be based.

The companies asked for tax breaks from both states. Illinois lawmakers adjourned last week before making a decision.

(click here to continue reading Office Depot picks Florida over Illinois for new headquarters – Chicago Tribune.)

A cynic might note that Office Depot was the purchaser of OfficeMax, and Office Depot’s HQ was already located in Florida, thus any discussion of moving to Illinois was mostly about leverage to shake down the State of Florida for tax breaks. Also, for what its worth, Florida doesn’t have a state income tax, a fact overpaid executives are probably well aware of.

One last point, ADM might have negotiated a back-room deal with Illinois politicians – the tax incentives might miraculously show up during next year’s legislative session, we’ll have to continue to pay attention.

Written by Seth Anderson

December 18th, 2013 at 10:34 am

Remember all those Obamacare horror stories

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Doctor of Thinkology
Doctor of Thinkology

Shocking! Shocking, I say…

Statisticians dismiss the practice of using personal stories to argue about an objective reality as “anecdata”, but it might be more accurate to call the “Obamacare horror stories” that have taken over social media “urban legends”. There are urban legends about a lot of things – from spiders in hairdos to red velvet cake. Some are funny, some feature a satisfying come-uppance, but folklorists agree that the stickiest of them, the ones that last for generations and resist debunking are the ones that live off ignorance and feed off fear. As one researcher put it: It’s a lack of information coupled with these fears that tends to give rise to new legends. When demand exceeds supply, people will fill in the gaps with their own information … they’ll just make it up.

I can’t think of a better description of the conservative media ecosystem at the moment.

The failure of the exchanges created an information vacuum as far as Obamacare successes went; in rushed the individual stories of those who claimed to have been hurt by the changes to the market. It didn’t matter that these stories are, even without enrollment numbers from the exchanges, demonstrably unrepresentative! Only a fraction of Americans, 5%, even have the kind of policies that could have been cancelled – these were the people who could claim to have been “lied to”… or worse. Their stories became part of an Obamacare horror story canon.

(click here to continue reading Remember all those Obamacare horror stories? Not looking so bad now | Ana Marie Cox | Comment is free | theguardian.com.)

 Turns out in nearly every case, the reported facts were erroneous, or there were significant details left out. I’m sure you are as surprised as I am that there is gambling in this casino…1

and the really scary part of this story is how quickly these fake stories spread, even on the so-called corporate media. For instance, CBS, Yahoo, and Mediate all reported on Ashley Dionne’s complaint without fact-checking it.

There is the one about Ashley Dionne, who claimed that Obamacare “raped” her generation:

I have asthma, ulcers, and mild cerebral palsy. Obamacare takes my monthly rate from $75 a month for full coverage on my “Young Adult Plan” to $319 a month. After $6,000 in deductibles, of course.

It turned out that her own Tumblr post contained evidence that she would be eligible for a low-cost, “silver” plan for $22.17 per month, with out-of-pocket spending capped at $2,250. (Also, with her medical conditions, it’s hard to believe that she ever found a company to cover her pre-ACA.)

Footnotes:
  1. or however that cliché goes []

Written by Seth Anderson

December 5th, 2013 at 9:28 am

Posted in government,health

Tagged with , ,

Sympathy for the Devil Worshipers

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Sympathy for the Devil

Sympathy for the Devil

The Christian Taliban has infiltrated everywhere, including the Supreme Court, as evidenced by this discussion regarding The Town of Greece vs. Galloway

Standing before the court, the residents’ lawyer, Douglas Laycock, suggested that a nonsectarian prayer would be satisfactory. Justice Alito wasn’t so sure.

“How could you do it?” Justice Alito asked. “Give me an example of a prayer that would be acceptable to Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus … Wiccans, Baha’i.”

“And atheists,” Justice Antonin Scalia added. “Throw in atheists, too.”

Mr. Laycock reminded the justices that atheists were already out of luck based on the court’s prior decisions. Then, riffling through his documents, he suggested, “The prayers to the Almighty, prayers to the Creator.”

“To ‘the Almighty,’” Justice Alito said skeptically. “So if — if a particular religion believes in more than one god, that’s acceptable to them?”

Justice Scalia, often impatient in religion cases, couldn’t resist. “What about devil worshipers?”

Over the laughter of the courtroom, Mr. Laycock said meekly, “Well, if devil worshipers believe the devil is the almighty, they might be okay. But they’re probably out.”

And so it went, the justices trying in vain to determine what sort of prayer, if any, would be sufficiently nonsectarian, and who should be responsible for making that determination. None of them seemed to relish the idea of playing at prayer editor.

As the argument progressed it was increasingly difficult to discern any grounds on which to justify legislative prayer other than the fact that it’s something we’ve always done — which was the basis for the court’s ruling upholding such a prayer in the Nebraska legislature in 1983, when it last considered the question.

Lawyers…

(click here to continue reading Sympathy for the Devil Worshipers? – NYTimes.com.)

Dance of the Devil Corn

Dance of the Devil Corn

and the only real solution that comports with our secular Constitution: don’t allow government sanctioned prayers at all! Why is this a difficult concept?

But there is an alternative to “eliminating” prayer — a moment of silence, which is what the town of Greece did for years without complaint. It allows everyone to pray exactly as they wish; it even makes room for the atheists and devil worshipers.

For some — including several members of the current court — a “silence only” policy is surely a step too far. But it would be a reasonable compromise in a pluralistic society, and for justices who don’t want to become de facto prayer editors, it’s a bright line on an otherwise blurry canvas of conflicting tests and standards that have rarely satisfied anyone.

Don’t these fools read their own sacred texts? You know, the Constitution and its amendments? Like the first one!

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances

(click here to continue reading First Amendment to the United States Constitution – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.)

Contrasting Religions
Contrasting Religions

If the government sanctions a particular kind of prayer as being the “right kind” of prayer, who could argue with a straight face that this is not the government establishing a preferred religion? Only the Christian Taliban would be so bold. When is the last time you read about a city council mandating a Pastafarian chant before a city council meeting? Right, never. Only the Christians do this repugnant shit.

And Scalia and Alito ought to be impeached if they rule in favor of the Town of Greece, NY 

Somebody Please Tell This Machine I'm Not A Machine

Somebody Please Tell This Machine I’m Not A Machine

Carl Esbeck is much more knowledgeable about the subject, and writes:

Can government knowingly take sides in a matter of religious belief or practice?  More to the point, can government actively support a practice that is explicitly religious, such as prayer?  This is the issue in Town of Greece v. Galloway as it ought to be framed.

Quoting with approval from Marsh v. Chambers, the Town’s main brief states that the purpose of legislative prayer is “[t]o invoke Divine guidance on a public body entrusted with making the laws.”  The practice not only calls upon a God or gods, but to a Divinity interested and active in human affairs.  Why else invoke guidance?  This act of prayer is thus consistent with some religions but not others.  Deists, for example, believe in an impersonal God.  A policy of legislative prayer is doubtlessly taking a side, and no phony pluralism dressed up as “nonsectarian” prayer – a vague theism not actually practiced by anyone – can cover up that fact.

(click here to continue reading Town of Greece symposium: Can government actively favor a religious practice? : SCOTUSblog.)

and concludes:

A related corruption is civil religion, the conflating of piety with patriotism. Civil religion is the confusion of religious faith with one’s love of country, an elevation of certain ceremonies, traditions, and habits of a nation to the level of the sacred. In Weisman, Justice Kennedy for the Court noted its false allure. After acknowledging the attempt by school officials to advance a “common ground” prayer, he said the Court’s precedents “caution us to measure the idea of a civic religion against the central meaning of the Religion Clauses . . . which is that all creeds must be tolerated and none favored. The suggestion that government may establish an official or civic religion as a means of avoiding the establishment of a religion with more specific creeds strikes us as a contradiction that cannot be accepted.”

Ultimately religion does not exist to sustain the political order. It’s not a program for municipal improvement or to bless those who take up civic duties. When government uses religion as a tool to achieve its political goals, the danger to religion is that it becomes a courtier in the halls of State.

 

Written by Seth Anderson

November 7th, 2013 at 11:15 am

Five Hundred Seventy Four Dollars a Year to Be Spied Upon

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Watching - Polapan
Watching – Polapan

Harumph. I thought my AT&T bill was on the high side, but seems like my NSA bill trumps that, for usefulness…

Indeed, as the Washington Post revealed when it released portions of the so-called Black Budget, this year’s price tag on America’s spook infrastructure comes out to a whopping $52.6 billion.

This is, of course, a tremendous sum – more than double the size of the Department of Agriculture, more than triple the size of NASA; the list goes on… But, what really puts this number into perspective is its average cost to each American taxpayer, or what I would call the NSA and associated agencies’ “rent.”

Yes, the NSA’s rent, charged to every taxpayer living under its web of surveillance, comes out to an exorbitant $574 per year. If this is the price the federal government is charging American taxpayers to have their own privacy invaded, then I say the NSA’s rent is too damn high.

(click here to continue reading The NSA’s Rent Is Too Damn High | Cato @ Liberty.)

On the bright side, if you add in the 53,676,039 non-taxable returns (from 2011) – i.e., the Takers™ – that means we are only paying $361 a year for the privilege of having our personal information scooped up by the N.S.A. power-vacuum…

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Seth Anderson

October 29th, 2013 at 10:52 am

Posted in government

Tagged with ,

Suzanne Somers’s Factually Challenged WSJ Obamacare Critique

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Pippen Peruses the Newspaper
Pippen Peruses the WSJ

And the slow, sad decline of the Wall Street Journal continues under Rupert Murchoch’s helm. Today’s edition of Punditry Gone Wrong is via an OpEd from noted policy expert Suzanne Somers.

Jonathan Chait of New York Magazine writes:

Reminder: This appeared in The Wall Street Journal.

In addition to offering her “down and dirty” advice for retirees, Somers has strong views on socialism:

And then there is another consideration: It’s the dark underbelly of the Affordable Care Act reminiscent of what Lenin and Churchill both said. Lenin: “Socialized medicine is the keystone to the arch of the socialist state.” Churchill: “Control your citizens’ health care and you control your citizens.”

Unsurprisingly, Lenin never said that line — it’s a decades-old right-wing fabrication. The more curious line is the Churchill quote. It’s almost certainly fake, too; it does not appear in the LexisNexis database or in Google. Unless Somers has done original archival work on Churchill, she seems to have fabricated that quote on her own, or possibly received it via chain e-mail.

But the more interesting question is what does Somers think it means? Does she believe Churchill was warning the world of the dangers of a national health-care system? If so, that’s weird, because he strongly favored such a system. Given the latter, is she holding up Churchill as another European despot who, like Lenin, sought to impose universal health care on his citizens? Somers’s side-by-side listing of Churchill with Lenin, along with Churchill’s actual support for nationalized health care, makes the latter more plausible.

(click here to continue reading Suzanne Somers’s Strong WSJ Obamacare Critique — Daily Intelligencer.)

 News You Can't Use

News You Can’t Use

Philip Bump of the Atlantic adds:

Her argument bounces around a bit, but centers on three things. First: Canadian health care doesn’t work and Canadian doctors want to come to the United States because “they want to reap financial rewards.” Second: Pre-existing condition coverage is good for seniors, but nothing else is. And, third: Lenin and Churchill saw health care as a tool to control the public.

The Canadian stuff is based mostly on an anecdote. That her sister-in-law had to wait to see a doctor is sad! But an old Maclean’s article isn’t terribly compelling, nor would be the idea that Canadian doctors want to come to America to make money. That’s the whole point! Doctors here have far fewer limitations on their ability to make money, which is one factor in increasing health care costs. If you were told you could make way more money doing the same thing somewhere else, you might move, too. That doesn’t mean you’re doing bad work where you are. Regardless, Somers’ claim is not true.

As for the elderly, Somers is very concerned about their health coverage, though in generally vague ways. She acknowledges the value of covering preexisting conditions, but then segues into “let’s get down and dirty; the word ‘affordable’ is a misnomer.” Why? Because premiums are “doubling and tripling” as you “hear on the news” and “most frightening of all, your most intimate and personal information is now up for grabs.” In this case, “the news” probably means Hannity, and “personal information” means … no idea. No idea what that means. She of course misses the whole point about pre-existing conditions: yes, premiums for some people with pre-existing conditions will go up — since many pay no premiums, since they can’t get coverage. And that’s good for kids with cancer just as it is for the elderly.

(click here to continue reading Having Conquered Cellulite, Suzanne Somers Takes On Obamacare – Philip Bump – The Atlantic Wire.)

——

update: apparently, Mr. Murdoch’s fact checker army had been furloughed, but are now back in the office. The WSJ appended this to the bottom of the story later on today:

CORRECTIONS AND AMPLIFICATIONS:

An earlier version of this post contained a quotation attributed to Lenin (“Socialized medicine is the keystone to the arch of the socialist state”) that has been widely disputed. And it included a quotation attributed to Churchill (“Control your citizens’ health care and you control your citizens“) that the Journal has been unable to confirm.

Also, the cover of a Maclean’s magazine issue in 2008 showed a picture of a dog on an examining table with the headline “Your Dog Can Get Better Health Care Than You.” An earlier version of this post incorrectly said the photo showed and headline referred to a horse. 

(click here to continue reading Suzanne Somers: The Affordable Care Act Is a Socialist Ponzi Scheme – The Experts – WSJ.)

Written by Seth Anderson

October 28th, 2013 at 6:00 pm

Posted in government,health

Tagged with , , ,

N.S.A. Gathers Data on Social Connections of U.S. Citizens

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Eye see u Willis
Eye see u Willis

Oh, nothing to worry your pretty heads about

A series of agency PowerPoint presentations and memos describe how the N.S.A. has been able to develop software and other tools — one document cited a new generation of programs that “revolutionize” data collection and analysis — to unlock as many secrets about individuals as possible.

The spy agency, led by Gen. Keith B. Alexander, an unabashed advocate for more weapons in the hunt for information about the nation’s adversaries, clearly views its collections of metadata as one of its most powerful resources. N.S.A. analysts can exploit that information to develop a portrait of an individual, one that is perhaps more complete and predictive of behavior than could be obtained by listening to phone conversations or reading e-mails, experts say.

Phone and e-mail logs, for example, allow analysts to identify people’s friends and associates, detect where they were at a certain time, acquire clues to religious or political affiliations, and pick up sensitive information like regular calls to a psychiatrist’s office, late-night messages to an extramarital partner or exchanges with a fellow plotter.

(click here to continue reading N.S.A. Gathers Data on Social Connections of U.S. Citizens – NYTimes.com.)

PRISM
PRISM

except, as reported by Maureen Dowd of all people, the NSA has built a monster in Utah

The Bluffdale sinkhole, which has quietly started sucking in mountains of data in the shadow of mountains, is the lockbox. This squat, ugly complex of four buildings is the creepy symbol of the N.S.A.’s remorseless reach deep into our lives. I drove onto the Utah National Guard’s Camp Williams base to see the concrete data cloud up close.

Never mind puny terabytes. Or even exabytes, a handful of which can hold all knowledge from the dawn of man, according to estimates.

James Bamford, the chronicler of the untrammeled powers of the “Puzzle Palace,” as he calls the N.S.A., wrote in Wired that the Utah tower of Babel may be able to store a yottabyte. That is equal to a septillion bytes or about 500 quintillion (500,000,000,000,000,000,000) pages of text.

“It’s basically the N.S.A.’s external hard drive,” Bamford told me, noting that our phone call was no doubt being logged by the Bluffdale computers. “It holds more private information than anyplace else on earth.”

Bamford believes that the N.S.A. has transmogrified from an agency that “watched the Soviet Union to make sure it didn’t blow us up with nuclear weapons,” to one “that keeps collecting and collecting and collecting but doesn’t seem to do us any good.”

“They saw 9/11 and all these other terrorist attacks on CNN. They didn’t have a clue. The more electronic hay they stack on their haystack, the more difficult it is to find the needle.”

(click here to continue reading Creeping Cloud – NYTimes.com.)

Revolution of The Innocent
Revolution of The Innocent

because, in truth, the NSA doesn’t have to tell the truth about what it does, allegedly in our names:

Democratic Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon told me ruefully that on Thursday, “Alexander put in a lockbox information that he’s told the public he doesn’t have. This is what we’re dealing with.

“They think it’s O.K. to repeatedly say one thing to the public about domestic surveillance and do something completely different in private,” continued Wyden, who pressed Alexander about whether they’re collecting cellphone location information.

The senator is skeptical that the N.S.A. is open to reform, noting, “They’re just putting the same wine in a new bottle.”

We’ve always been at war with Eurasia, right?

Written by Seth Anderson

September 29th, 2013 at 9:45 am

Posted in government,politics

Tagged with ,

Illinois Roads, Texas Roads

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Interstate
Illinois Interstate

There seems to be some sort of metaphor here. Compare and contrast, Illinois vs. Texas…

Illinois increases highway speeds:

Drivers tooling through the Illinois countryside will be able to nudge the gas pedal a little harder next year after Gov. Pat Quinn overcame safety concerns and approved legislation Monday that will raise the speed limit on rural interstates to 70 mph.

Dodging a possible veto showdown, Quinn signed the measure despite opposition from the Illinois Department of Transportation, state police and leading roadway safety organizations, who feared increased mayhem on the highways, especially between cars and trucks.

“This limited 5 miles-per-hour increase will bring Illinois’ rural interstate speed limits in line with our neighbors’ and the majority of states across America, while preventing an increase in excessive speeding,” Quinn said in a statement.

The six-county Chicago region — home to some of the nation’s busiest interstates — would be allowed to set lower speed limits under the law, as would two Illinois counties near St. Louis. The speed limit would increase on the Illinois Tollway but also could be kept at current limits on some stretches, according to the governor’s office.

The speed limit in Illinois is 55 mph in metropolitan areas and 65 on rural highways. But on Jan. 1, Illinois will become the 37th state to approve limits of 70 mph or higher since the national speed limit was repealed almost two decades ago.

(click here to continue reading Quinn signs 70 mph speed limit law for Illinois – chicagotribune.com.)

 Steep Road Ahead

Steep Road Ahead

while in some areas of Texas, the conservative mantra of private profit over public services finally yields to reality – the government cannot afford to maintain the roads anymore.

Citing a funding shortfall and the impact of a historic oil drilling boom, Texas Department of Transportation officials on Thursday announced plans to move forward with converting some roads in West and South Texas to gravel.

Approximately 83 miles of asphalt roads will be torn up and converted to “unpaved” roads, TxDOT Deputy Executive Director John Barton said. The speed limits on those roads will probably be reduced to 30 mph.

“We would do these immediately, and I would suspect we would continue to convert other roadway segments as we continue to move forward,” Barton told the Texas Transportation Commission.

All of the affected roads have been so heavily damaged by truck activity related to oil and natural gas exploration that they have become safety hazards, Barton said. The process of converting the roads to gravel can be done quickly but will probably be delayed a few weeks as TxDOT gets permission from the commissioners to lower the speed limits on all of the impacted segments, Barton said.

The impacted roads are in four South Texas counties — Live Oak, Dimmit, LaSalle and Zavala — and two West Texas counties — Reeves and Culberson. The list of impacted roads includes a three-mile stretch of frontage road for Interstate 37 in Live Oak County. Barton said a plant that processes oil and natural gas has dramatically increased the truck traffic on that road.

“Instead of whipping in at 70 miles per hour, they’ll have to move in there at 30 miles per hour,” Barton said.

(click here to continue reading TxDOT Plans to Convert Some Roads to Gravel | The Texas Tribune.)

Illinois is no haven of joy, but at least the IL government isn’t so cowed by corporations they cannot collect enough in taxes to keep roads paved…

The part I cannot understand is why Rick Perry’s friends in the oil industry are allowing this to happen. Won’t slower traffic impact profits? 

Austin Capitol From The East Side
Austin Capitol From The Left Side

Steve Benen adds:

The state legislature briefly considered tax increases on energy companies — the companies that have benefited greatly from the energy boom, and which are chiefly responsible for pushing the roads quite literally past the breaking point — but as you might have guessed, those proposals faced stiff political opposition and never gained traction in Austin.

Darlene Meyer, a 77-year-old rancher whose property sits along a state road marked for conversion to gravel, told the Texas Tribune, “Texas used to have the best roads…. I just can’t believe the Department of Transportation is going back to the dark ages.”

…On the one hand, Gov. Rick Perry (R) believes Texas’ economy is amazing, and he’s managed to strike the perfect balance between meeting the public’s needs and keeping the private sector happy. Every other state, the governor assures us, should be following Texas’ lead — after all, thanks to the energy sector, the Lone Star State has plenty of money.

On the other hand, thanks to wear and tear from the oil companies, which have made themselves remarkably rich from Texas’ resources, Texas can no longer afford to pave many of its roads, and will instead transition from pavement to gravel.

(click here to continue reading A different kind of Stone Age – The Maddow Blog.)

Written by Seth Anderson

August 20th, 2013 at 8:15 am

Divvy Bike-sharing Program Off To A Good Start

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Yayyy, got my DivvyBikes key today
Yayyy, got my DivvyBikes key today

Jon Hilkevitch of the Chicago Tribune reports:

The Divvy bike-share service, less than two months old, surpassed the 150,000-trip mark Friday, according to CDOT. About 5,000 annual Divvy members are enrolled, at $75 each, and more than 37,000 24-hour passes have been sold, at $7 each.

More than 458,000 total miles have been logged on individual trips since the service was introduced June 28, and the trips have averaged roughly 18 minutes each in recent days as more docking stations have opened, according to city transportation data.

Also, the three-speed bikes painted “Chicago blue” have logged more than 11,000 miles a day in recent days this month, with some weekend days exceeding 25,000 miles, the data show, based on the start and end points for each trip.

The service, dubbed Divvy to reflect the divide-and-share nature of bike-sharing, is not designed or priced for users to hog the bikes on leisurely, hourslong trips. Customers are supposed to use the bikes for 30 minutes or less on each ride. Riders get unlimited trips lasting up to a half-hour; after that, overtime fees are charged.

While on the one hand calling the public response to the Divvy program “beyond expectations,” city officials have set a high bar for ultimate success.

(click here to continue reading Divvy bike-sharing program, almost 2 months old, getting in gear, data show – chicagotribune.com.)

You Always Have Options
You Always Have Options

I signed my company up for Divvy Bike membership about two weeks ago, wanting to wait until the opening night jitters were worked out, and have been using the bikes for short trips around my office. I’ve taken more than ten rides so far, experiencing only one incident of faulty station – but a Divvy Bikes employee was on hand and took my bike to a different location for me. Also once the station I was planning to use didn’t have any bikes in it, but the next station was less than 2 blocks away. One other minor issue I encountered was that the amount of force you have to use when docking a bike surprised me, and at first I couldn’t get the bike to dock, but eventually a fellow Divvy-rider did it for me. I returned to favor to another rider the next day.

I own a bike of my own, but having a Divvy bike membership encourages brief bike rides; times where I might have taken a cab, or walked, instead I’ll jump on a Divvy bike. Of course, it’s summer right now, and Chicago has been having a beautifully mild season, the real test will be in mid-January. I’d also like to be able to travel farther, this will be possible when more stations are installed. Currently only 160 out of a planned 400 are active, less than half.

Regardless, I’m happy to support the idea of more bikes in Chicago. More bikes on the road means less cars, in general, and also encourages the government to install more bike lanes, which encourages more bikers, and so on. 

Written by Seth Anderson

August 19th, 2013 at 9:16 am

Your mortgage documents are probably fake

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There Oughta Be A Law
There Oughta Be A Law

If you didn’t read about Lynn Szymoniak recently, you should familiarize yourself with her lawsuit against the corrupt mortgage banking industry. According to her research, some $1,400,000,000,000 of mortgage-backed securities are actually not mortgage-backed securities. That’s a lot of missing cheese!

If you know about foreclosure fraud, the mass fabrication of mortgage documents in state courts by banks attempting to foreclose on homeowners, you may have one nagging question: Why did banks have to resort to this illegal scheme? Was it just cheaper to mock up the documents than to provide the real ones? Did banks figure they simply had enough power over regulators, politicians and the courts to get away with it? (They were probably right about that one.)

A newly unsealed lawsuit, which banks settled in 2012 for $95 million, actually offers a different reason, providing a key answer to one of the persistent riddles of the financial crisis and its aftermath. The lawsuit states that banks resorted to fake documents because they could not legally establish true ownership of the loans when trying to foreclose.

This reality, which banks did not contest but instead settled out of court, means that tens of millions of mortgages in America still lack a legitimate chain of ownership, with implications far into the future. And if Congress, supported by the Obama administration, goes back to the same housing finance system, with the same corrupt private entities who broke the nation’s private property system back in business packaging mortgages, then shame on all of us.

(click here to continue reading Your mortgage documents are fake! – Salon.com.)

Some additional back-story here

Sometimes That's How It Works
Sometimes That’s How It Works

and what her lawsuit revealed is systematic, intentional fraudulent activity:

A mortgage has two parts: the promissory note (the IOU from the borrower to the lender) and the mortgage, which creates the lien on the home in case of default. During the housing bubble, banks bought loans from originators, and then (in a process known as securitization) enacted a series of transactions that would eventually pool thousands of mortgages into bonds, sold all over the world to public pension funds, state and municipal governments and other investors. A trustee would pool the loans and sell the securities to investors, and the investors would get an annual percentage yield on their money.

In order for the securitization to work, banks purchasing the mortgages had to physically convey the promissory note and the mortgage into the trust. The note had to be endorsed (the way an individual would endorse a check), and handed over to a document custodian for the trust, with a “mortgage assignment” confirming the transfer of ownership. And this had to be done before a 90-day cutoff date, with no grace period beyond that.

Georgetown Law professor Adam Levitin spelled this out in testimony before Congress in 2010: “If mortgages were not properly transferred in the securitization process, then mortgage-backed securities would in fact not be backed by any mortgages whatsoever.”

The lawsuit alleges that these notes, as well as the mortgage assignments, were “never delivered to the mortgage-backed securities trusts,” and that the trustees lied to the SEC and investors about this. As a result, the trusts could not establish ownership of the loan when they went to foreclose, forcing the production of a stream of false documents, signed by “robo-signers,” employees using a bevy of corporate titles for companies that never employed them, to sign documents about which they had little or no knowledge.

Written by Seth Anderson

August 13th, 2013 at 12:23 pm

Posted in Business,government

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Why The US Congress Is So Dysfunctional

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Your Radiant Squares
Your Radiant Squares

If you were told you needed to spend 5 hours of every day in office doing a certain activity, wouldn’t you assume that activity was the biggest reason you were hired for the job? The US Congress is dysfunctional for a lot of reasons, but this is a large one.

After the elections in November, Democratic Party leaders gave a PowerPoint presentation urging their freshman members to spend as much as four hours a day making fund-raising calls while in Washington, and an additional hour of “strategic outreach” holding breakfasts or “meet and greets” with possible financial supporters. That adds up to more time than these first-term lawmakers were advised to spend on Congressional business.

(click here to continue reading For Freshmen in the House, Seats of Plenty – NYTimes.com.)

Of course it buys happiness
Of course it buys happiness

Five hours a day fundraising, on average, probably some days more. How is this even considered serving the citizens? How does this advance the national interest? It only advances the moneyed interests…

The amount of time that members of Congress in both parties spend fundraising is widely known to take up an obscene portion of a typical day — whether it’s “call time” spent on the phone with potential donors, or in person at fundraisers in Washington or back home. Seeing it spelled out in black and white, however, can be a jarring experience for a new member, as related by some who attended the November orientation.

Former Rep. Tom Perriello (D-Va.), now a top official at the Center for American Progress, said that the four hours allocated to fundraising may even be “low-balling the figure so as not to scare the new Members too much.”

Congress members make the dreaded calls from a room in the office of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, or a similar one at the headquarters of the National Republican Congressional Committee. After votes in the House, a stream of congressmen and women can be seen filing out of the Capitol and, rather than returning to their offices, heading to rowhouses nearby on First Street for call time, or directly to the parties’ headquarters. The rowhouses, where Larson said he prefers to make calls, are typically owned by lobbyists, fundraisers or members themselves, and are used for call time because it’s illegal to solicit campaign cash from the official congressional office. Former Rep. Walt Minnick’s (D-Idaho) career in finance enabled him to buy a Capitol Hill rowhouse that he allows Democrats to use for call time. “There’s less turmoil and background noise” in the rowhouses compared with the DCCC call center, said Rep. Brad Miller (D-N.C.), who retired from office this year.

 

(click here to continue reading Call Time For Congress Shows How Fundraising Dominates Bleak Work Life.)

Written by Seth Anderson

August 11th, 2013 at 7:32 pm

Posted in government,politics

Tagged with ,

Investor Group Sues Richmond, CA Over Eminent Domain Plan

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plus ça change…
plus ça change…

Complications. This had sounded like an interesting way out of the national home owner crisis, but the banks are worried they will lose their paper money value. Of the 624 properties in discussion, 444 are still current in their payments, just that their houses assessed valuation is significantly less than the mortgaged value. Is eminent domain allowable in this sort of circumstance? The legal precedent is unclear, so presumedly, this lawsuit and similar is going to take a while to be settled.

Banks representing some of the nation’s largest bond investors filed suit against the city of Richmond, Calif., on Wednesday to block plans by city officials to seize and buy mortgages using their powers of eminent domain.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in San Francisco, could serve as a key test for whether a city can move forward with such a strategy, which would allow it to forcibly buy mortgages from investors at a price potentially below the property’s current market value. The city would then reduce the loan balance and refinance the mortgage to help struggling homeowners avoid foreclosure.

The legal challenge could serve as a key test for whether cities from Newark, N.J., to Seattle are able to follow Richmond’s lead.

City leaders in Richmond, a working-class suburb of around 100,000 on the San Francisco Bay, began sending letters last week to mortgage companies seeking to purchase loans on 624 properties and threatening to force sales via eminent domain if investors resisted. The city is partnering with Mortgage Resolution Partners, a private investment firm based in San Francisco, which was also named a defendant in the lawsuit.

 

(click here to continue reading Investor Group Sues Richmond, Calif., Over Eminent Domain Plan – WSJ.com.)

Back in Feburary, 2013, The New Yorker’s Tad Friend wrote an interesting overview about Steven Gluckstern’s plan1

LETTER FROM CALIFORNIA about Steven Gluckstern’s solution for the foreclosure crisis. At sixty-one, Steven Gluckstern has extensive experience handicapping risk propositions on Wall Street. This past fall, Gluckstern, the chairman of a San Francisco-based group called Mortgage Resolution Partners, was in the midst of a tour of Southern California. In between hasty meals, he raced his rented Mercedes to meetings with mayors and activists and real-estate agents and developers, trying to interest them in his company’s sole product: a plan for cities battered by the foreclosure crisis to keep their citizens in their homes.

It’s a tool so ingenious that Wall Street treats it as the gravest threat to civilization since the breakfast burrito. Even as America’s home prices have risen for six of the past seven months, twenty per cent of homeowners remain “underwater,” owing more in principal than the house is worth. It’s a national problem that’s concentrated in a few locales, most notably California. Mentions Salinas councilwoman Jyl Lutes.

In places like Salinas, a large part of the problem is not the loans that are held by banks. It’s the ones that were pooled in “private-label securitizations.” Under Gluckstern’s plan, a city would use its powers of eminent domain to seize a homeowner’s mortgage in court, pay off the bondholders, then arrange a new mortgage for the homeowner at a price much closer to what the home is actually worth. M.R.P. started its campaign in San Bernardino County. In June, the county and the cities of Fontana and Ontario established a “joint powers authority” to examine M.R.P.’s plan. The foes of eminent domain rose up almost instantly and assailed the plan. A coalition of twenty-six financial-service and real-estate groups sent a letter threatening lawsuits.

The opposition often invoked what’s known as the “moral-hazard argument”: if you reward people for risky behavior they’ll just do it more. By the time Gluckstern visited the San Bernardino area, last fall, he was a marked man. When Gluckstern dropped by county C.E.O. Greg Devereaux’s office, Devereaux ruefully acknowledged that the opposition had gummed up M.R.P.’s plans. Without quite conceding in San Bernardino, Gluckstern began stealthier campaigns, in Michigan, Maryland, and southern Florida. He hopes to convince the opposition that his campaign will continue.

(click here to continue reading Tad Friend: Can Steven Gluckstern Solve the Mortgage Mess? : The New Yorker.)

Mini Bank In Fine Style
Mini Bank In Fine Style

and from what I recall, it turns out the mortgages are often held by multiple entities because of the mortgage derivative market.

and it is unclear if these particular legal challenges are going to stand up in court:

Legal advocates of the eminent domain plan have said that constitutional challenges aren’t likely to hold up in court. The loan strategy wouldn’t burden interstate commerce “because it doesn’t prevent credit from flowing in any particular way,” said Robert Hockett, the Cornell University law professor who was an early advocate of using eminent domain to seize underwater mortgages.

“This is a bluff,” said Mr. Hockett. “It’s meant to scare city officials into saying, ‘Oh, who are we to argue with the big guns.”

Supporters say their plan would help not only specific homeowners but also the broader community by reducing foreclosures that are hurting property values and eroding the tax base. “It’s the responsibility of banks to fix this, and they haven’t, so we’re taking it into our hands,” said Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin in a call with reporters last week.

 

Footnotes:
  1. not available for non-subscribers []

Written by Seth Anderson

August 7th, 2013 at 10:22 pm

Free Congress From Grover Norquist

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Interesting discussion from Professor Robert Thurman, attempting to start a meme, questioning why signing Grover Norquist’s pledge to destroy the government is not a subversive, impeachable act. The professor has a point: signing an oath to an unelected organization whose sole purpose is to starve the “beast” of government is akin to signing an oath to violently overthrow the US Constitution. Unpatriotic at the very least, and maybe an impeachable offense. Why should we hire (i.e., elect) people who hate the country so much?

Give a listen to his ten minute speech, what do you think? 

The Oath of office1 reads:

I, [name], do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.

Americans For Tax Reforms oath against the interest of the United States Government reads:

I, ________________________, pledge to the taxpayers of the state of _______________________, and to the American people that I will:
ONE, oppose any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rates for individuals and/or businesses;
and TWO, oppose any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates.

Footnotes:
  1. full name is United States Uniformed Services Oath of Office []

Written by Seth Anderson

August 5th, 2013 at 8:31 am

Posted in government,politics

Tagged with , ,

Illinois governor to sign medical marijuana bill

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Just Catnip
Just Catnip

Welcome to the 21st century, Illinois…

Though Illinois is drastically restricting what medical conditions and under what conditions a patient can legally have the herb, nonetheless, this is progress from the Bad Old Days when Mayor Richard J. Daley’s thugs beat people with billy clubs for smoking a joint.

But unlike Colorado, which has come under fire for lax marijuana regulations even as the state gets ready to legalize recreational pot use next year, drafters of Illinois’ law say it will be among the toughest in the nation.

Patients here can’t grow their own pot and must have an existing relationship with a prescribing doctor. To qualify, patients must be diagnosed with a serious to chronic illness laid out in the law, such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, glaucoma or HIV. It’s likely that patients would have to pay out of pocket for marijuana, as it is not typically covered by insurance companies.

The Illinois Department of Public Health will be in charge of issuing medical marijuana cards to patients and their caregivers, who could purchase and administer pot on behalf of those who are ill. Patients and caregivers would be fingerprinted, undergo background checks and must promise not to sell or give away marijuana. Workers at grow centers and dispensaries will undergo the same vetting.

The state will license 22 growers, one for each State Police district, as well as up to 60 dispensing centers to be spread across the state. Exactly where those growers and sellers could locate will be up to state regulators. Local communities could enforce strict zoning laws, but they could not prevent a grower or dispensary from setting up shop in town.

Growers and dispensaries will be charged a 7 percent “privilege tax,” which will be used to enforce the medical marijuana law. Patients will be charged a 1 percent tax for purchasing pot, the same rate that applies to pharmaceuticals. Additionally, growers and dispensaries would be banned from donating to political campaigns.

Marijuana use would be banned in public, in vehicles, around minors and near school grounds. Property owners would have the ability to ban marijuana use on their grounds. Employers would maintain their rights to a drug-free work place, meaning someone with a valid medical marijuana card could be fired for using the drug if their employer prohibits it.

Advocates argue that Illinois’ law is drafted tightly enough to prevent intervention from the federal government, which classifies all marijuana use as illegal. But the discrepancy between state and national law is already causing concerns for some military veterans, as federally run veterans hospitals say their doctors won’t issue prescriptions for illegal drugs.

(click here to continue reading Illinois governor to sign medical marijuana bill today – chicagotribune.com.)

Afghanistan Kush

Afghanistan Kush

 

and the qualifying medical conditions are currently listed as:

 “Debilitating medical condition” means one or more of the following:

  • (1) cancer,
  • glaucoma,
  • positive status for human
  • immunodeficiency virus,
  • acquired immune deficiency syndrome,
  • hepatitis C,
  • amyotrophic lateral sclerosis,
  • Crohn’s disease,
  • agitation of Alzheimer’s disease,
  • cachexia/wasting syndrome,
  • muscular dystrophy,
  • severe fibromyalgia,
  • spinal cord disease, including but not limited to arachnoiditis,
  • Tarlov cysts,
  • hydromyelia,
  • syringomyelia,
  • Rheumatoid arthritis,
  • fibrous dysplasia,
  • spinal cord injury,
  • traumatic brain injury and post-concussion syndrome,
  • Multiple Sclerosis,
  • Arnold-Chiari malformation and Syringomyelia,
  • Spinocerebellar Ataxia (SCA),
  • Parkinson’s,
  • Tourette’s,
  • Myoclonus,
  • Dystonia,
  • Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy,
  • RSD (Complex Regional Pain Syndromes Type I),
  • Causalgia,
  • CRPS (Complex Regional Pain Syndromes Type II),
  • Neurofibromatosis,
  • Chronic Inflammatory Demyelinating Polyneuropathy,
  • Sjogren’s syndrome,
  • Lupus,
  • Interstitial Cystitis,
  • Myasthenia Gravis,
  • Hydrocephalus,
  • nail-patella syndrome,
  • or the treatment of these conditions; or

(2) any other debilitating medical condition or its treatment that is added by the Department of Public Health
by rule as provided in Section 45.

(click here to continue reading HB0001ham001 98TH GENERAL ASSEMBLY.)

 

Louis Armstrong with Gage

Louis Armstrong with Gage

Written by Seth Anderson

August 3rd, 2013 at 10:59 am

Airport Security Is A Sham

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The Truth Is Not So Comfortable
The Truth Is Not So Comfortable

The TSA is a joke, as is 98% of American airport security protocols. It isn’t that we passengers want unsafe flights, it is that the anti-terror measures taken are simply security theatre, and not at all an enhancement of our safety.

But it is absurd for the T.S.A. to demand background checks and fingerprinting for what amount to small modifications in the screening routine. The agency could relax airport security for everyone without gravely endangering the traveling public.

The former head of the T.S.A., Kip Hawley, has argued that the agency should allow passengers to carry on all liquids, in any quantity. As a safeguard against explosives, passengers would simply have to put their liters of Evian in gray bins and pass them through scanners. Mr. Hawley sees reasons for keeping footwear checks, but those, too, are of questionable value. Passengers do not remove their shoes in the European Union, or even in Israel, one of the world’s most security-conscious countries, with a famously stringent screening process.

It is time to stop pretending that annoying protocols like these are all that stand between us and devastation. The most effective security innovation post-9/11 was also the simplest: the reinforcement of cockpit doors, which has made it virtually impossible to hijack an aircraft.

As things stand, the T.S.A. asks its officers to enforce rules of questionable utility while giving them remarkably little discretion; they’re more like hall monitors than intelligence personnel. That is a huge waste of human talent and a source of inefficiency. At Heathrow Airport in London, passengers need to remove their shoes only if asked to do so by security officers. Imagine that: a screening agent entrusted with the solemn power to wave through a teenager in flip-flops en route to Honolulu.

(click here to continue reading Airport Security Without the Hassle – NYTimes.com.)

Ready For Take Off
Ready For Take Off

Kip Hawley, the former head of TSA, admits what we knew, the TSA was more concerned about confiscating our nail clippers than stopping a terror incident:

More than a decade after 9/11, it is a national embarrassment that our airport security system remains so hopelessly bureaucratic and disconnected from the people whom it is meant to protect. Preventing terrorist attacks on air travel demands flexibility and the constant reassessment of threats. It also demands strong public support, which the current system has plainly failed to achieve.

The crux of the problem, as I learned in my years at the helm, is our wrongheaded approach to risk. In attempting to eliminate all risk from flying, we have made air travel an unending nightmare for U.S. passengers and visitors from overseas, while at the same time creating a security system that is brittle where it needs to be supple.

By the time of my arrival, the agency was focused almost entirely on finding prohibited items. Constant positive reinforcement on finding items like lighters had turned our checkpoint operations into an Easter-egg hunt. When we ran a test, putting dummy bomb components near lighters in bags at checkpoints, officers caught the lighters, not the bomb parts.

I wanted to reduce the amount of time that officers spent searching for low-risk objects, but politics intervened at every turn. Lighters were untouchable, having been banned by an act of Congress. And despite the radically reduced risk that knives and box cutters presented in the post-9/11 world, allowing them back on board was considered too emotionally charged for the American public.

 

(click here to continue reading Why Airport Security Is Broken—And How to Fix It – WSJ.com.)

Written by Seth Anderson

July 28th, 2013 at 8:50 am

Posted in government

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