July 17, 2014
Helsinki's ambitious plan to make car ownership pointless in 10 years

From the article:

The Finnish capital has announced plans to transform its existing public transport network into a comprehensive, point-to-point “mobility on demand” system by 2025 – one that, in theory, would be so good nobody would have any reason to own a car.

Helsinki aims to transcend conventional public transport by allowing people to purchase mobility in real time, straight from their smartphones. The hope is to furnish riders with an array of options so cheap, flexible and well-coordinated that it becomes competitive with private car ownership not merely on cost, but on convenience and ease of use.

Subscribers would specify an origin and a destination, and perhaps a few preferences. The app would then function as both journey planner and universal payment platform, knitting everything from driverless cars and nimble little buses to shared bikes and ferries into a single, supple mesh of mobility. Imagine the popular transit planner Citymapper fused to a cycle hire service and a taxi app such as Hailo or Uber, with only one payment required, and the whole thing run as a public utility, and you begin to understand the scale of ambition here.

That the city is serious about making good on these intentions is bolstered by the Helsinki Regional Transport Authority’s rollout last year of a strikingly innovative minibus service called Kutsuplus. Kutsuplus lets riders specify their own desired pick-up points and destinations via smartphone; these requests are aggregated, and the app calculates an optimal route that most closely satisfies all of them.

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April 27, 2012
Socialism!
via Krugman

Socialism!

via Krugman

March 20, 2012
Let's Stop Condemning Poor People To Live In Neighborhoods With Low-Quality Public Services

From Yglesias:

Should Atlanta invest in improving the quality of life in Atlanta? Seems like a no-brainer. And yet:

But suburbanites aren’t the only ones with reservations. Many Atlantans worry that the Beltline and other transit improvements will bring gentrification, pricing longtime locals out. […] In other words, it’s nice that all you white folks suddenly think the city is the hip place to be, but don’t come stampeding back in here and push the black folks out to the new slums on the urban fringe.

As I write in my book, this is one of the subtlest and most damaging impacts of poorly designed land use regulation. It should be the case that when conditions improve in some neighborhoods, that new construction is undertaken and now more people live there. But if construction isn’t allowed to keep pace with demand, then instead of the population going up the population goes upscale. This creates a political constituency that’s against the kind of improvements in public services—better transportation access, nicer parks, better schools, safer streets—that they fear will spark a wave of gentrification and displacement.

This is particularly a problem in New York City, where building height regulations prevent people from expanding the height of residential buildings to “preserve the historic skyline.”  Unfortunately, the people paying for that skyline are low-income residents who feel the pinch of high housing costs more than any other group.

January 29, 2012
The Worst Political Failure Of The Obama Administration

Joe Weisenthal moves in for the kill:

On Meet The Press this morning, host David Gregory began a segment with Obama political guy David Axelrod, challenging him on the seemingly “small bore” nature of the State Of The Union proposals, while asking him why it was that Obama refuses to get serious about deficits, and the sacrifices that the American people will have to make in the coming years.

Instead, said Gregory, Obama has only offered up stimulus programs, and expansions to entitlements.

Axelrod responded that Obama was willing to strike a “grand bargain”, and that he’s offered up trillions in potential savings, and that it was only a matter of how all these cuts were distributed.

But the whole exchange highlighted the problem: The premise of the question is accepted by everyone. That premise is that Obama has been a wild spender, and that now there’s an urgent need to make cuts.

As we highlighted yesterday, there’s simply nothing special about the growth of government spending under Obama. Here’s a look at annual real growth in government spending going back to 1947.



chart

While that chart should get people’s attentions, the real chart that Obama needs to point to is this one posted by the NYT’s David Leonhardt.

chart

The New York Times

The hero of this recovery has been the private sector, while government has been a drag for sometime now.

This chart is so opposite to what people think. The average person on the street well-connected insider has accepted the basic outline that the government has grown like crazy under Obama, and that the private sector has been cowering in fear of government deficits and regulations, and that there’s all this money waiting to be unleashed if only the government would get out of the way.

It’s pure fiction, and the inability of the inability of The White House to tell this story, is a big problem.

I agree 100%.  For all my real problems with the President, his alleged “socialist” designs are not one of them.  The size of government has gone down, and the private sector has expanded under Obama.  That’s one of the things that makes the “socialist” meme that has dominated Obama’s Presidency so frustrating, particularly if you happen to be one of the people who thinks government should play a larger role in the economy.  There are less people employed by the government now than when Obama took office.  In fact, Obama has 273,000 fewer non-military federal employees than Reagan did.  Granted, Obama can’t take all the credit for that, since much of the post-Reagan reduction took place under Clinton, notwithstanding GWB’s huge expansion of the military-intelligence complex.  But this idea that Obama is turning America into a 300-million-man Commune is sheer idiocy.

January 16, 2012
TSA Agents Steal $40,000 From Passengers, Only Get Six Months In Prison

Money quote:

Grand larceny alone is enough to warrant a much longer prison sentence than just six months. And when you add the other two charges into the mix, sentencing could easily top 15 or 20 years. But because these agents worked for the government, they apparently are not subject to the same treatment as the rest of the general public.

2 thoughts:

1. In an ideal world, no one would be sent to jail for 15-20 years for any crime except for the most heinous of transgressions.  Recall that Anders Brevik will only serve 21 years for killing and/or injuring over 200 Norwegians.  Stealing $40,000 could ruin someone’s life financially, but if punishments reflect the seriousness of the crime, then there is no realm of moral calculus in which stealing $40,000 flirts near the seriousness of mass murder.  Grand Larceny is also a felony, meaning that these employees would be condemned to a lifetime of punishment even if they served no time in prison at all, including legal discrimination in the workplace, applications for public assistance, voting rights, gun ownership, not to mention virtually guaranteed increased penalties for future criminal proceedings.

2. With all this being said, the fact remains that we do have an intolerably draconian criminal justice system, and within that context, stories like this are the reason why a resilient narrative of corruption and incompetence exists about public servants.  Just like police officers and prosecutors who are given a pass for criminal conduct committed in the execution of their official duties, this type of selective enforcement reduces respect for public sector employees by giving the public the impression that public sector employees are not held accountable when they act incompetently or unlawfully.  The end result is that competent, ethical public sector employees suffer for the indiscretions of their incompetent or criminal peers, because they are made to bear the disapprobation of the public every time a story like this breathes new life into the narrative of public sector corruption and incompetence.  That’s why holding public employees accountable for wrong-doing (particularly those who have lawful power to affect your personal liberty via intimate contact or physical intervention), is so important to a functional, professional public sector.  If you believe in civic institutions, and deign to have pride in them, you can’t tolerate this sort of behavior, even for a moment.

January 11, 2012
"Frequently, demand for government services emerges because of the perception that the private sector has fallen down on the job in that area. This means that the government has been tasked with doing the things that are difficult and unprofitable to do. It is precisely because these government outputs are often so hard to measure that Newt Gingrich’s claims about Six Sigma sound pretty laughable. Even libertarians who want the government to reduce its operations drastically will acknowledge the political risks and costs of trying to execute this plan."

— Dan Drezner, "Governments Are Not Corporations."

September 8, 2011
The "Holy Shit!" Rule

Back in the mid-90s, when I was a fed, I was making some DEA agents and local Sheriffs happy by taking seriously their investigation of a relatively low-level drug trafficking organization. I was helping them with warrants, doing some grand jury work, flipping low-level mopes, that sort of thing. Nobody else was taking them particularly seriously.

So when I got them a search warrant for the ranch of one of the lead targets of the investigation, they were thrilled with me. “Ken,” they say, “we’ve arranged air support for this operation. So we want to have you picked up on top of one of the buildings downtown in one of the Sheriff’s helicopters, give you a raid jacket, and have you come along on the search to run a command center on the ground and trouble-shoot any legal issues with the search.”

HOLY SHIT, THAT SOUNDS LIKE FUN, my 26-year-old self thought. (Yes, I was a 26-year-old federal prosecutor. Defense attorney hand-wringing — which annoyed me at the time, but which I now join — goes here.) A helicopter raid! A raid jacket! A COMMAND CENTER! They’ll probably give me a gun. You know, in case any shit goes down.

But even at 26 I had a certain rudimentary old-mannish quality, and it occurred to me to ask — does that soundtoo good? So during lunch I wandered into the office of the U.S. Attorney– who had been my supervisor in rookie row not long before — to talk about it.

He listened sympathetically. Then he told me. “Ken,” he told me, “if your reaction to a proposal is “HOLY SHIT, THAT SOUNDS LIKE FUN,” then as a government lawyer and member of law enforcement, you almost certainly shouldn’t be doing it.”

It was a hard rule, but one that served me well for the rest of my government career. It helped me avoid some foolish cinematic flourishes, some bad but tempting decisions, and some social events. (Take, for instance, the local ATF’s notorious big-guns-and-barbecue-in-the-desert gatherings. Holy shit, that sounds like fun, doesn’t it? Yeah. Never attend a desert barbecue-and-gun-extravaganza by a federal agency that vacillates between “WHOOOOOOOOOOOOOO FUCK YEAH” and “Hey guys, watch this!” as a motto.)

Regrettably, many in law enforcement do not follow this simple rule. So some cops can be induced to do extremely foolish things — things that will shatter the constitutional rights of citizens, things that will expose them to vast liability, things that will threaten innocents with death — while under the influence of toys, cameras, celebrities, and tactical plans that wouldn’t make the table read in an A-Team sequel.

Hence, as Patrick pointed out, cops under the influence of cameras, celebrity, and the opportunity to drive atank (WHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAA!) will decide that it is appropriate to raid a suspected cock-fighting operation with roughly the amount of force typically reserved to take a Pacific atoll from Imperial Japan. And now,via Radley Balko, I see that it is getting them in (entirely predictable) trouble, along with the highly irritable and oddly puffy Steven Seagal.

To our friends in law enforcement, here is a perfect application of the “Holy Shit” rule: if Steven Seagal asks you if you will stage a cock-fighting raid with a tank for the benefit of his reality show, if you have a badge, then you say no.

No, don’t thank me. I’m just glad I could help.

August 11, 2011
jakke:

all-the-lights:

amymariani:

New Drug Can Treat Almost Any Viral Infection By Killing the Body’s Infected Cells
Whoa. 
This new drug can work against viruses like antibiotics work against bacterial infections, according to the whizzes at MIT. Again, whoa. 
You know why there’s no cure for the common cold? Because it’s a virus. AIDS? Mono? Viruses. A cold you can ride out, but AIDS eventually catches up with you.
The drug, called a DRACO (Double-stranded RNA Activated Caspase Oligomerizers), works by targeting double-stranded RNA only found in viruses. It was tested against 15 viral infections and worked against all of them, including the common cold, the flu, H1N1 and polio — freakin’ polo!
“In theory, it should work against all viruses,” says Todd Rider, a senior staff scientist in Lincoln Laboratory’s Chemical, Biological, and Nanoscale Technologies Group who invented the new technology. (Quote taken from MIT).
One more time, WHOA!
[via popsci]

I like science.

If anyone is interested in reading the published paper that corresponds to this research, it’s open-access here. Reassuringly, this looks like it was funded entirely through public funding, and the institute itself owns all the patents on previous work on the subject. So that’s about as close as you can get to a guarantee that if this actually turns out to be feasible as a drug for humans it’s relatively likely to end up being used as such. Good work, MIT.

emphasis mine.  Government stifles innovation once again.

jakke:

all-the-lights:

amymariani:

New Drug Can Treat Almost Any Viral Infection By Killing the Body’s Infected Cells

Whoa. 

This new drug can work against viruses like antibiotics work against bacterial infections, according to the whizzes at MIT. Again, whoa. 

You know why there’s no cure for the common cold? Because it’s a virus. AIDS? Mono? Viruses. A cold you can ride out, but AIDS eventually catches up with you.

The drug, called a DRACO (Double-stranded RNA Activated Caspase Oligomerizers), works by targeting double-stranded RNA only found in viruses. It was tested against 15 viral infections and worked against all of them, including the common cold, the flu, H1N1 and polio — freakin’ polo!

“In theory, it should work against all viruses,” says Todd Rider, a senior staff scientist in Lincoln Laboratory’s Chemical, Biological, and Nanoscale Technologies Group who invented the new technology. (Quote taken from MIT).

One more time, WHOA!

[via popsci]

I like science.

If anyone is interested in reading the published paper that corresponds to this research, it’s open-access here. Reassuringly, this looks like it was funded entirely through public funding, and the institute itself owns all the patents on previous work on the subject. So that’s about as close as you can get to a guarantee that if this actually turns out to be feasible as a drug for humans it’s relatively likely to end up being used as such. Good work, MIT.

emphasis mine.  Government stifles innovation once again.

July 7, 2011

zachvaughn said: The aid info might be on some government website, but I would suspect Alto, because of its size, is receiving little to no aid; and they're not really in need of bullet proof vests, etc. (there's just not a lot of crime occurring in Alto). However, aid for education did not help the state avoid cuts to public safety this year (no amount of aid could prevent across the board cuts). But with regard to voting habits and federal aid, those who are most in need of it vote in favour of it, even in red states. This aid certainly helps low tax states maintain a social welfare infrastructure (aid which requires matching funds sometimes leads to cuts in that infrastructure). Overall, it's a complex issue - Democratic politicians fair well in Alto precincts (until 2002 they were represented by a Democratic Congressman, who was subsequently redistricted in 2003) and Alto voters have supported bonds and the related tax increases to pay for those bonds. Twenty percent of Alto's residents are living below the poverty line and the largest employers are education and healthcare. I'm not sure one could argue that Alto voters generally support less government, and thus are getting what they deserve. Any arguments about aid, etc. would probably be more effectively targeted at Houston, Dallas, etc., who are arguably receiving most of the aid and have historically been more Republican, conservative and wealthier than rural areas like Cherokee County, specifically Alto.

published for commentary.  Original post here; previous follow-up here.

July 7, 2011
Huge deficits in Texas have forced one town to lay off its entire police force. Keep this in mind next time Rick Perry talks about his state's magnificent job growth.

And there’s nothing wrong with that, if the citizens of Texas actually want to live without police.  People who collectively want less government should get less government, so long as they’re prepared to deal with the consequences.  

On a related note, it would help if the Federal government started apportioning aid on a 1:1 basis instead of giving red states proportionally more federal aid than blue states.  People who are voting for limited government should be made to accept the inevitable results of that decision, and not have their choice sugar-coated by the unseen hand of overly generous federal grants.

(Source: shortformblog)

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