Archive for June, 2015


Supreme Court duct tape

June 26, 2015

Peter Suderman writes at Reason’s blog (my emphasis below).

In Upholding Obamacare’s Subsidies, Justice Roberts Rewrites the Law—Again
Time to start calling the Affordable Care Act SCOTUScare.

Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts has rewritten the law to save Obamacare—again. […]

“Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets, not to destroy them,” he writes. “If at all possible, we must interpret the Act in a way that is consistent with the former, and avoids the latter.”

And so Roberts decided that a law which explicitly and repeatedly states that subsidies are limited to exchanges “established by a State,” and which defines “State” as one of the 50 states or the District of Columbia, actually allows subsidies in exchanges established by a State or the federal government. Roberts’ decision does not interpret Obamacare; it adds to it and reworks it, and in the process transforms it into something that it is not. […]

As Justice Antonin Scalia writes in a scathing dissent, Roberts presumes, with no definitive evidence, that his interpretation is the one that Congress intended. “What makes the Court so sure that Congress ‘meant’ tax credits to be available everywhere?” Scalia asks. “Our only evidence of what Congress meant comes from the terms of the law, and those terms show beyond all question that tax credits are available only on state Exchanges.” […]

As even Roberts admits in his opinion, the law “contains more than a few examples of inartful drafting” and generally “does not reflect the type of care and deliberation that one might expect of such significant legislation.” It is a shoddy, messy piece of legislation, held together, barely, by Supreme Court duct tape.

It looks like we’ll be saddled with the PPACA indefinitely, despite passing it and finding out what’s in it.


Big Yellow

June 22, 2015

This struck me for a couple of reasons. First is the heavy-duty geekery going on to build a 500-ton vehicle.

How an enormous Caterpillar mining truck is built
Forget a factory assembly line. The Cat 797 mining truck is so gigantic, it’s assembled on-site. Watch how it’s done.

Everything about the Cat 797 mining truck is huge. It has 4,000 horsepower, the engine displacement is nearly 6,500 cubic inches, it weighs more than a million pounds, and it has a payload capacity of 400 tons. “Big” barely does it justice.

What does it take to build such a monster? Caterpillar shows us in the Cat 797 assembly video. It starts at the plant in Decatur, IL, but the pieces aren’t assembled into a mammoth machine until they get out to the job site.

The second reason is memories: my dad spent all his working life at Caterpillar and my sister works there now. In fact, I think sis has been up inside one of these monsters (though they didn’t let her drive, as I recall).

I recall stories from the 60s about the Scottish woodcarvers Caterpillar had "imported" whose job it was to carve the masters for sand casting. Imagine carving a full-scale wooden crankshaft or cylinder head for a large diesel engine. (Not the engines used in the 797, I should add.)


A memorial to property rights?

June 22, 2015

An editorial in the Wall Street Journal (behind its paywall).

Lessons from a little pink house, 10 years later.

June 23 marks the 10th anniversary of Kelo v. City of New London, when the Supreme Court held in a 5-4 ruling that government could use eminent domain to take private property for “economic development.” At issue in the case were 15 homes, including a little pink house owned by Susette Kelo, in the city of New London, Conn., which wanted to transfer the properties to a private nonprofit with plans to revitalize the area. But after the court ruled and the houses were razed (with the exception of Ms. Kelo’s, which was moved at private expense), those plans fell through.

The condemned land remains empty, housing only a few feral cats. After Hurricane Irene in 2011, the city used it as a dumping ground for debris. Yet the first real development since the Supreme Court’s controversial decision might now be on its way: New London Mayor Daryl Finizio, who was elected in 2011 as a critic of the government taking, recently announced a plan to turn the former site of Ms. Kelo’s house into a park that will “serve as a memorial to all those adversely affected by the city’s use of eminent domain.”

It would be a fitting tribute. Although the Supreme Court’s decision in Kelo was consistent with precedent, it was nonetheless a serious error.

How touching that the mayor of New London wants to make a park as a "memorial to all those adversely affected by the city’s use of eminent domain."

If I were one of the victims, I think I’d prefer to have my house and land back.


Spoilers ahead

June 20, 2015

Via CoyoteBlog I ran across some news recently that left me thinking worse of my fellow citizens. Some people just can’t leave well-enough alone.

First, here’s a report about Deborah Vollmer in Chevy Chase, MD. She seems to be conducting some type of social justice warfare over property zoning. (My emphasis below.)

Declaring war against thy neighbor over a house and a shared driveway

Deborah Vollmer wants to make one thing very clear. Under no circumstances can you park on the driveway. This is not a drill. This is not a joke. Please park on the street.

This isn’t just a driveway, Vollmer explained, stepping across it on a soggy Thursday morning. It is the fault line dividing two titanic forces, a battlefield between past and present, between the haves and the have-nots, between environmental conservation and environmental degradation.

Put another way, the driveway separates her million-dollar house from her neighbor’s million-dollar house.

Suddenly, a figure materialized at the window in the neighbor’s house. It was Vollmer’s next-door neighbor and nemesis — an elegantly dressed, blond-haired woman named Linda Schwartz, who at this precise moment looked very unhappy. Seconds later, a garage door screeched open and Schwartz backed her ­Mercedes-Benz onto the driveway.

Vollmer, eyes widening in alarm, darted out of sight. “I got to get out of here!” she yelled as she vamoosed. “There’s a no-contact order against me!” […]

Thus passed another tense moment in what local officials say has become the town of Chevy Chase’s lengthiest, costliest, and most litigious neighborhood spat in recent memory. What began as a contested building permit six years ago has spiraled into a clash of wills, spawning five lawsuits, two misdemeanor convictions, arrests, anger-management classes, and a court order that Vollmer steer clear of the Schwartzes — or risk spending 18 months in the slammer.

“It is so sad that this has happened,” said Arthur Schwartz. “She is independently wealthy, has not had to work and has little else to do but continue to sue us and her own town, without regard to the law or what any court has told her.” […]

Read the whole thing to get the flavor of Ms Vollmer’s state of mind. Thank goodness she doesn’t live in my neighborhood.

And from the other coast, Megan McArdle writes about Barbara Berwick’s suit against Uber (and quotes one of Coyote’s posts). RTWT.

‘Employee’ Label Would End Uber as We Know It

If you’re a freelance writer who occasionally sells articles to a website, are you actually an employee? If you live in California, I think the answer might be — yes?

The California labor commissioner has ruled that Uber drivers are employees, not contractors, because they can’t be Uber drivers without the application, because the company pulls DMV records and does background checks, and because the company specifies various rules about how the work may be performed and cuts off access to the application if you get persistently low ratings or are inactive for 180 days (presumably since they no longer have good data on your driving ability).

On the face of it, this ruling seems ludicrous. Raise your hand if you’ve ever had an employer who said: “Hey, as long as you don’t actively alienate the customers, you can just show up and work whenever you feel like. No need to let me know when you’re coming, just show up and I’ll pay you for any work you do. Just put in a couple of hours every six months, m’kay?” Yeah, I never had that job either, and neither did anyone else who wasn’t blackmailing the boss or working for a family member. […]

But wait… there’s more! Here’s an article by Lauren Smiley about Ms Berwick and her legal actions against Uber and others.

The Many, Many Cases of the Woman Who Just Beat Uber
“I’m enjoying my five minutes of fame.”

As Barbara Ann Berwick tells it, she came to San Francisco in 1969 “to be a hippie” — but ended up as an online funds trader, a defeated political candidate, and a repeat litigant, who has pressed legal claims against everyone from a hospital to a media company for leaving newspapers at her doorstep. (She lost.)

Now, though, Berwick has won an important blow against one of the most powerful companies in today’s San Francisco. The California Labor Commissioner’s Office determined her to be an employee of Uber — not just a contractor — and awarded her approximately $4,000 in expenses, according to court documents. […]

Berwick waved off naysayers who will accuse her of cruising for another legal settlement by taking the wheel of her car for Uber. This is, after all, a time when the behemoth ridesharing company faces battles across the country about classifying its drivers as contractors, meaning that they are not eligible for benefits or other perks. She wasn’t cynical, says Berwick. She said she’d been homeless in the past. But now in general, “I’m doing quite well.”

“I want social change,” Berwick says. Before she took the Uber gig, she says, she didn’t realize that she’d be driving as a contractor. “I didn’t actually read the box I checked, so I assumed I’d be an employee, because it makes no sense to be an independent contractor. I found out real fast.” She says she was regularly driving more than 40 hours a week.

She says she stopped driving in September and filed her claim. […]

I think Berwick got her "social change" – for herself and for all the other Uber drivers in California. Be sure to tell Barabara "Thanks," folks.

Ms Berwick’s claim that she didn’t understand that she’d be treated as a contractor strikes me as pretty disingenuous. A person who’s been an online trader and a repeat litigant (a) doesn’t read agreements and (b) doesn’t know how Uber works? What?

Perhaps there’s more behind her suit against Uber than has been reported. Who benefits from the labor commissioner’s decision? Not Uber, certainly. Not most other Uber drivers, probably. Berwick’s benefits were the small windfalls of $4,000 and "five minutes of fame," so no clear winners so far.

So who will benefit from this?

Or did Berwick have her eye on more than recovering her expenses?

Trans Woman Who Sued Uber For Expenses Wants To Become CEO.


Interesting news from Jefferson City

June 20, 2015

From the Post-Dispatch this week; readers can draw their own inferences.

Nixon gets $50K from UAW days after veto on right to work
June 13, 2015 11:20

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Democratic Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon has received a $50,000 campaign contribution from the United Automobile Workers.

The donation posted in campaign finance documents this week came on June 10, less than a week after Nixon vetoed a contentious right-to-work measure. […]

And, no, I don’t know how much money was contributed (or to whom) by people & organizations who were supporting the Right-to-Work law in Missouri.


Sounds like my kind of place

June 14, 2015

While meandering the web one day, I came across the Smoking Policy statement for The Vortex. I’ve never been there but I gather it’s a bar/grill kind of place with a couple of locations in Atlanta, Georgia. (My emphasis below.)


We allow the smoking of cigarettes and e-cigarettes on our premises. If you decide to smoke either one, please only do so in our designated smoking area. Be advised, we do not allow the smoking of cigars, pipes, clove cigarettes or anything forbidden by our Statist overlords.


While we’re happy to welcome smokers and non-smokers alike, we will never tolerate crybabies. So if your personal preference is to avoid being around any amount of smoke, then this may not be the place for you. That’s okay. Don’t be sad. We’re not. There are many “smoke-free” establishments in town that will gladly welcome your business. We believe that freedom of choice should always be celebrated, as it’s a rare commodity these days.


Ultimately, we feel that matters of personal risk assessment are best left to the individual, not the State. We believe that sovereign individuals must have supreme authority over their personal choices with regard to their own body, life and behavior, without the interference of governing powers. As advocates for this kind of freedom, we are deeply concerned that more citizens do not seem to understand the real dangers of coercive legislation. Any time you create a State apparatus capable of repression, it will inevitably fall into the hands of bullies, busy-bodies and tyrants. History has proven this time and time again.

Second-Hand Smoke is better than Second-Hand Fascism.

An establishment with a sensible policy like this one – plus the declaration that The Vortex is an "Official Idiot-Free Zone" is my kind o’ place. If & when I get to Atlanta, I believe I’ll stop by.


The dog that didn’t bark?

June 5, 2015

News from the Riverfront Times.

St. Louis County SWAT Team Killed Family Dog Over Code Violation, Suit Says

A St. Louis County woman claims a police tactical unit killed her dog while investigating whether her home had natural gas.

On Tuesday, a South County woman filed a federal lawsuit that dog lovers should read with caution — the allegations are pretty disturbing.

In the lawsuit, Angela Zorich claims that St. Louis County Police tactical officers — aka the department’s SWAT team — raided her house in April 2014 and killed Kiya, her four-year-old pit bull.

The reason for the raid: to check if her home had electricity and natural gas service.

“This is an example of police overreaching and using excessive force to get a family out of their house,” said Kenneth Chackes, the attorney who represents Zorich.

Online court records suggest that Zorich and relatives have had various landlord actions and complaints filed against them since 2005 at two separate addresses in south St. Louis County.

Chackes preferred not to elaborate on the complaint, which is already 24 pages long. The St. Louis County Police Department declined to comment since the lawsuit is pending. […]

I don’t know the merits of this woman’s suit so I have no opinion about whether she deserves to win it. She might be a lowlife just trying to cash in.

The County police aren’t commenting so I suppose we’ll have to wait until it goes to trial to hear their side.

On the other hand, if the county police really did send ‘tactical officers’ on a visit about code compliance then What The Hell?

When did that become operating procedure? It takes a person armed with a gun to tell me that not all of my electrical outlets are grounded, that my house needs painting, or that my yard needs mowing?

And if those officers really did shoot her dog in the course of that compliance-checking visit then I hope she wins her suit and cleans the county’s clock – even though I’d be helping to pay whatever damages she’s awarded.


These good old days of cheap energy

June 4, 2015

Here’s a video that highlights something I think most people take for granted.

All that work to generate the electricity that costs me about 2/10 of a cent. How many Roberts for a penny’s worth of current? 5.

He’s lucky he only had to power a toaster. One of my grandmothers had no toaster. Instead, she toasted bread using the broiler in her electric oven – one side at a time. (And was that slow.) I’d like to see Robert toast bread that way.

As for granny, it gets worse: on cool mornings in spring or autumn, she’d turn the oven on with its door open to take the chill out of her kitchen.

Looking at the #toasterchallenge hashtag, I imagine that the video makers’ point is that we should all conserve energy as much as possible.

But I don’t regard energy as some finite resource that we’re likely to completely consume in the near future. We hadn’t run out of coal when we switched to oil. We hadn’t run out of trees when we switched to coal. I doubt that we’ll have run out of oil when we switch to… whatever.

As one of Carl Sagan’s sons (I don’t recall which one) said: life is possible because the Earth exists in the sun’s energy gradient. That gradient – that waterfall of energy we live within – is what drives it all. And I think we’ve got a few billion years to go before we’ll need another star.

Assuming that the market’s allowed to work, energy will continue to be available pretty much indefinitely. It may not always be available at today’s bargain prices, which allow us to waste it on things like air travel for pleasure, power sports, global computer networks, vanity satellite launches, quick and easy cooking, well-lit roads and sidewalks, and toasting bread in electric ovens.

But it’ll be available.

Update 6/6/15: Now here’s a way to toast bread that wastes even more energy than granny’s method, I think. I hate to think how many ‘Roberts’ this would take.

Via engadget

Update 6/2/15:

Maybe I was too pessimistic above or too into the current group think about energy. This article appeared recently at Bloomberg Business.

The Way Humans Get Electricity Is About to Change Forever

The renewable-energy boom is here. Trillions of dollars will be invested over the next 25 years, driving some of the most profound changes yet in how humans get their electricity. That’s according to a new forecast by Bloomberg New Energy Finance that plots out global power markets to 2040.

Here are six massive shifts coming soon to power markets near you: […]

Prices are coming down for rooftop solar and — more importantly — for home energy storage. (See Tesla’s Powerwall.)

Dry battery storage is still a little spendy; the Powerwall unit’s not cheap when you start looking at its lifetime and replacement costs. But when I can store 30-40 kWh in my basement for 10¢/kWh (counting maintenance & replacement), I’ll be all over that.

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