Monthly Archives: June 2011

Walter Olson brings back the “Cash For Clunkers is why used cars have become so expensive” argument:

Guess what’s the newest trouble to hit the car business? As news outlets around the country are reporting, the price of used cars has lately soared to a modern-day record, with some cars commanding more used than they sold for when new. News accounts commonly finger the Japanese earthquake and high gas prices as reasons, but there are some problems fitting either reason to the case. While the earthquake affected the supply of new cars, it’s the previously driven kind that has scored the more impressive price jump. And while the rise in gas prices would explain a relative shift in buyer demand from SUVs and trucks toward smaller vehicles — which has indeed happened — the strength of the used-vehicle market lately has been such that even the thirstier vehicles have advanced in price, $4 gas or no.

No doubt there are multiple reasons for the price spike, including the severe general slump in new-auto sales in recent years, which has reduced the volume of newer cars coming onto the resale market. But — as Washington scrambles to take undeserved credit for whatever passes for normalization in the auto business these days — it’s worth remembering that an artificial scarcity of used cars isn’t just bad for the poor as a group: it’s bad in particular for the upwardly mobile poor, since in most of the country landing a job means needing to line up transportation to get to that job. When it suddenly costs $6,000 instead of $3,000 to get wheels, the move from unemployment to a paying job faces a new and discouraging barrier.

At least he points out that there are “multiple reasons,” which is something that a lot of C4C critics have glided over in the past. Even so, he acts like C4C is the driving factor when there is comparatively little reason to believe it’s more than just a contributor. I wrote about C4C here and here. My basic view is that Cash For Clunkers was an idiotic proposal, a poor way to go about reducing emissions and destroying a lot of capital along the way, but that it’s hard to blame all – or most – of the increased cost of used cars on the law. I previously pointed out that some of the cars where the price increase is the highest, late-model used cars for instance, were not the ones taken off the road. While it’s possible that there is a cascading effect (people can’t buy a targeted, fuel-inefficient vehicle and instead buys an ineligible care taking that one off the road) you would still see the biggest impact on the cars that were targeted and more impact on cars from that period and not more recent cars. Instead, it’s the other way around, suggesting that the biggest reduction in used car availability (where increased demand is meeting decreased supply) is a result of people buying late-model used rather than new vehicles and – more likely – holding on to the car that they have.

Olson cites this article, among others:

Bill Visnic, analyst and senior editor at, said the auto industry went from selling 16.5 million new cars annually before the recession, down to 10.5 million in the depths of the crisis. He said the average age of a used vehicle on the road today is in excess of ten years old, as well, meaning that overall more consumers are keeping their older cars.

“About five million people or so dropped out of the market,” Visnic said. “A vast number of those people would have been trading in a used car when they bought a new one. That’s a big whammy when the replacement rate has been lagging so much.”

Consumers looking to buy used cars will find that prices are up markedly, Visnic said. The Wall Street Journal reports that prices for used cars are up 5% this year at wholesale auto house Manheim. He said the Car Allowance Rebate System, which was introduced in 2009, also set off the price hike in the used market. The government program dubbed “Cash for Clunkers” offers economic incentives to U.S. consumers for turning in their used cars for a newer, more fuel-efficient vehicle. In turn, instead of ending up on the used car lots across the country, those vehicles went to junkyard graves.

So there has been a reduction of 6 million car sales per annum. Cash for Clunkers may be responsible for – at maximum – 1/7th of that. That assumes that everyone who totaled their car in 2009 would have sold it in 2010. Given that a frequent (and valid!) criticism of C4C is that it didn’t even increase the sale of new cars because it merely time-shifted purchasing (they bought in 2009 what they might have waited a couple years to get rid of), it seems likely that a lot of them would still have the car.

Be that as it may, it is likely that it is contributing to the problem to at least some extent. The “lost capital” that I lament is going to have some effect. And it is another reason to dislike this bit of free pudding policymaking. But there are a lot of other factors at work (an economy that went to hell, primarily) that swamp the effects of the policy.

Category: Market, Road

As Physicians’ Jobs Change, So Do Their Politics

They are abandoning their own practices and taking salaried jobs in hospitals, particularly in the North, but increasingly in the South as well. Half of all younger doctors are women, and that share is likely to grow.

There are no national surveys that track doctors’ political leanings, but as more doctors move from business owner to shift worker, their historic alliance with the Republican Party is weakening from Maine as well as South Dakota, Arizona and Oregon, according to doctors’ advocates in those and other states. {…}

Because so many doctors are no longer in business for themselves, many of the issues that were once priorities for doctors’ groups, like insurance reimbursement, have been displaced by public health and safety concerns, including mandatory seat belt use and chemicals in baby products.

Even the issue of liability, while still important to the A.M.A. and many of its state affiliates, is losing some of its unifying power because malpractice insurance is generally provided when doctors join hospital staffs.

Because doctors are, apparently, completely unaware that the medmal liability insurance that their employer has to pay on their behalf comes at the expense of the value that they add (and therefore the compensation they can demand) to the overall organization. Oh, and the reimbursements they make are completely unrelated to how much of a salary that they can expect. I can buy that these things are not as much on the forefront of their minds as they previously were since they are negotiated or paid by their employer, but there’s something in the air in Maine if doctors up there no longer think medical malpractice doesn’t matter to them. Or more likely, it’s not an issue there because the issue isn’t pressing because Maine has remarkably low malpractice insurance rates despite the lack of traditional tort reform.

It also entirely contradicts my experience. Even in tort-unfriendly states, frivolous lawsuits weigh very heavily on doctors minds. It weighs on my wife’s, despite the fact that her medmal is paid for. It matters above and beyond dollars and cents. It’s partly a matter of pride, wherein a doctor doesn’t want to have to explain to a jury of 12 people who know little of medicine while the baby didn’t have a chance while John Edwards is on the other side talking to the dead baby’s spirit. Maybe this is impossibly arrogant. Maybe this is foolish. But in the years I have been surrounded by doctors – some liberal, some conservative – I have never once heard that it’s not a big deal. If anything, I think that they are too obsessive over it. But then, that’s easy for me to say because it’s not my ass – and career – on the line.

Unfortunately, this “see, they’re coming around!” tone taints my view of the rest of the article. But really, I think that there is something to the article in its totality. Particularly in family medicine, which is disproportionately populated with women and less entrepreneurial men. But I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s happening more generally. Doctors are, I think, caught between two realities. The first is that they have lived in a very Republican world. They worked hard, they were smart, they got ahead. Others that worked hard and were smart got ahead, too. It’s a very meritocratic atmosphere. Then, when they’re out of their education and residencies and/or fellowships, they are thrust into a world where they have mountains of debt but are getting taxed like they’re rich. Further, they’re taking care of people who have often broken their own bodies through ignorance or gross misjudgment and expect someone else to put them back together (almost always having worked in charity hospitals, where the expectation is that you will do so on someone else’s dime). This all lends itself to a more conservative worldview. Even the liberal docs I know have suspicious attitudes towards those below the working class.

But on the other hand, there’s this: they’re educated, high-earning individuals. This group has been trending Democratic for a while now. Regardless of the merits of conservatism and the Republican Party, the peer pressure is leaning against it. The Republican Party has become increasingly embarrassing, on a social level. The party that went from embracing George H. Bush to embracing his son to embracing Sarah Palin. Yes, yes, conservatives can argue that George W. Bush wasn’t actually conservative or was a RINO, but among the friends and colleagues of educated individuals, that is not the perception. Medicine and engineering seem to be the last two strongholds of educated, white collar (or white coat, anyway) Republicanism. So, especially when considering the demographic shifts (women into medicine, foreign imports into engineering), it’s not surprising to see the movement.

Obama, whether by benign policy or crude politics, is making the transition particularly easy for primary care physicians. Regardless of our resistence to his health care plan, there is at least the sense that Obama “has our back” in a way that previous presidents did not. By “has our back” I mean the backside of primary care docs and their families. He named a primary care doc as surgeon general. His reimbursement restructuring favors primary care over specialists. At least rhetorically, he “gets it”. He also defines “rich” as income above what most primary care physicians will make (and those who do make that much are more likely to have been doing it a while and less anxious about it). If it’s all rhetorical or political posturing, it’s really quite shrewd. Driving a wedge between primary care docs and specialists isn’t particularly hard and primary care docs are more likely to be supportive anyway, for a variety of reasons (more likely to be female, less likely to be money-driven).

I don’t know how this would translate to specialists, though, and the extent to which the Democrats may be making gains there. Obama hasn’t been as kind to them, though he might not need to be. Since they earn a lot more than their primary care counterparts, they might feel less stingy when it comes to taxes as they can pay off their student loans and such a lot faster than primary care docs can.

Or it’s possible that the NYT is drawing a trend from nothing but some weirdness in Maine.

Category: Hospital, Statehouse

Humor that nobody will get. And those who get it might be offended.

I was reading an article about how the LDS church has its own online bookstore app. I actually chuckled at one of the comments:

They have also announced an app that will automatically transfer the money in your savings account to the most charismatic person in your ward. This will save you the time of listening to his get-rich-quick sale while he slaps you on the back and calls you brother.

They, in turn, will have an app that will text their heartfelt apology to the judge (also in their ward) who will sentence him to 24 months, translating into wages of roughly 1.5 million per year.

I love technology.

Get-rich-quick schemes in Deseret were allegedly so common that wards stopped passing out phone directories for their church because they were being used in various money-making schemes. Indeed, there were three major employers in the town where I worked. A federal government installation, my employer (tangentially involved in a lot of people trying to get rich quick), and an Amway sort of company that sells snake oil. Edgar, a guy who was let go from my employer, got a multilayer marketing job afterwards and hit us all up for a chance to get rich quick, too. That these sorts of things appeal to Mormons speaks to their industriousness, though it certainly has its downsides.

Mitt Earnesty

In a thread over in TLoOG, I realized something noteworthy: I would actually be shocked if it came out that Mitt Romney cheated on his wife. I really would. Some of it has to do with the fact that he’s as stiff as a sitcom starched shirt, but there’s also the Mormon thing. I hadn’t though about it too much, but I really do have a greater expectation on the practice-preach. Particularly the ones, like Romney, who are somewhat understated about it.

I can’t say that I was surprised about Gingrich. I’d be surprised to find out that Huckabee cheated, but not shocked.

It could be related to the fact that, until Huckabee entered the race last time around, the Mormon was the only major candidate to have only married one woman. Giuliani and McCain had five between them. Fred Thompson would later enter with two, though he wasn’t a major candidate.

Category: Church, Market

{In keeping with the policies of Hit Coffee: this post is about judicial impropriety, the appearance of same, and its contributions to public loss of faith in the judiciary. Please keep your comments to those grounds. No license to slag upon republicans, democrats, gay, straight, lgbt, polka-dotted, or anyone else is warranted or implied.}

Over in Slate, an article by Dahlia Lithwick regarding why Vaughn Walker’s late-breaking announcement that he is gay should not be used as a reason to re-try the Prop 8 case on the grounds that Walker should have either (a) recused or (b) revealed his preferences pre-trial so that the question of recusal could at least have been brought up in court.

Meanwhile, the recent revelations that Clarence Thomas’s wife is/was a lobbyist with Tea Party organizations and other right wing groups making sizable sums per year, and that Clarence Thomas himself has direct links to the Citizens United group… who he happily helped rule, in a 5-4 decision, were entitled to spend unlimited money influencing elections in the US.

As a third point impugning both Thomas and Walker: Judicial Code of Conduct, Canon 2, adopted in the Federal courts as well as every State court system: A Judge Should Avoid Impropriety and the Appearance of Impropriety in All Activities.

The appearance of impropriety is a strong problem. Politicians are regularly brought down, forced to resign or failing to re-elect, on the strength of an “appearance” of impropriety even if the letter of the law is not broken. Public officials of unelected nature often die on the vine in similar situations, forced to resign lest the elected officials who appointed/hired them face the same fate. When it comes to judicial impropriety, appearances do far worse; they make the citizenry distrust the courts. On a day-to-day basis, this much resembles the Badged Highwaymen conundrum, whereby citizens feel they do not get a “fair shake” without at least spending money on lawyers… who happen to be friends of judges and lawyers and cops… who, in essence, become the “gatekeepers” to actual justice, whether the facts are on the side of the citizens or not. In a larger picture, impropriety usually comes to the fore through stings: the cases of Thomas J Maloney and Mark Ciavarella come easily to mind.

More subtle, however, is the corrupting influence – whether payments to a spouse, or preferential treatment at events, will prejudice a judge. The comings and goings of other governmental employees, or spouses, routinely draw calls of corruption. The habit of lawyers for the almost-universally-despised RIAA to come and go from government positions, where they make often rulings that benefit the RIAA at the expense of common sense, and then leave to go to cushy, overpaid jobs at RIAA firms, certainly violate the appearance of impropriety. So, too, do the comings and goings of Wall Street personnel from Federal financial jobs, whether legal or accounting in nature.

And so we get around to Clarence Thomas and Vaughn Walker. Had Clarence Thomas and Antonio Scalia recused from the Citizens United case, what would the outcome be? We don’t know for certain, but it’s hard to imagine that those who believe CU was wrongly decided don’t have thousands of dollars worth of justification for their suspicion of impropriety. Likewise, despite Ms. Lithwick’s arguments – carefully constructed though they are – about why Vaughn Walker shouldn’t have recused, two things bug me. The first is that this argument should have been able to be brought before the trial even began; instead, the courtroom got its own annoying little sideshow whereby the judge’s supporters shouted an annoying cacophany of “he’s not” and “it doesn’t matter anyways.” Given how “revolutionary” his opinion was, given the accusations even from the beginning of the trial that he was trying to tilt the playing field… the appearance of impropriety, of bias, is a strong thing. Almost any other federal judge could have written the opinion Vaughn Walker wrote, and not had the appearance of impropriety that is fueling the current round of litigation. For the best results, a trial needs to be as evenhanded as possible. In the case of the Prop 8 trial, it seems that one side felt the tables were being tilted going in. Give them a “reason” to believe it was tilted, and you’ll never shake their faith that the game was rigged again. For this reason, I submit that Vaughn Walker was the wrong man to handle the trial.

Category: Courthouse

As discussed previously, Hit Coffee is a non-partisan, generally apolitical site. So much so that I have taken pains to conceal my own ideology. I don’t really know how successful I’ve been, but even if I’ve been failing the attempt has kept me from going off on political tangents and has forced me to at least try to represent both sides of issues I’ve discussed (usually tangentially) with neutral (non-partisan, at least) language. Now that the tone of the site is set, though, I think that I’m ready to take another step forward. Partially because some of the things that I would write about, I can’t without disclosing this tidbit, and partially because it looks like I might be doing some contributing elsewhere. So without further ado, I am… (more…)

Category: Statehouse

For a variety of reasons, I am on the record as opposing any sort of college football playoffs. I stand by that position. I am curious, though, as to why EA Sports, the exclusive makers of the NCAA football (and other sports) video games never had a “playoff option” on their game. My first thought is that maybe it’s written in the contract that they can’t alter the post-season format. But I’m not sure who would prevent them from doing this. The conferences, maybe, but the conferences (apparently) don’t mind people shifting teams around between conferences, which would seem to me to be a bigger deal. Maybe it’s the bowl games? Institute a playoff system on the game and you’re likely getting a Rose Bowl with #3 from the Pac-10/12 and #3 from the Big Ten. Or maybe EA Sports has never pursued it because they don’t want to go there with their comfortable collection of conference and bowl licensing. The freedom to try different playoff formats and get and such would wet public appetite even more, which some people (other than me) wouldn’t like. Old versions had it, though. And seriously, if the SEC doesn’t care about somebody putting Florida Atlantic University in their conference, why would the Rose Bowl care about getting the #3 team in some fictitious scenario that may well involve a 12 year old kid making a 7′, 300lb running back. And yet, it seems that it would be an incredibly popular feature, the only reason not to do it is if somebody says “not cool.”

Category: Theater

I was considering changing my gravatar to the old Simpsons image that I made. But when I tracked it down, I realized that I had created it before my weightloss. So I’ve updated it, putting me in front of a classroom rather than an office and changing my appearance somewhat.

Here’s my previous self.

Category: Server Room, Theater

A reminder that I came up in the 80’s…

I didn’t say *my* 4th grade class. Even so, this was another class in my school, so I knew a lot of the kids because I was in the same class as them in earlier grades or the 5th grade. This picture will not be up for very long and will be replaced with an obscured one.

1 – Lived down the street from me. Disappeared from our school system at some point not long after this picture was taken (in fact, I could have sworn she had been gone by the 4th grade). She later died of a drug overdose.

2 – One of my best friends through parts of middle school. Then we went on different trajectories. He got a girlfriend pregnant almost immediately after high school and never went to college.

3 – I knew him quite well growing up, then at some point he just turned. He dropped out of high school and did a stint in prison.

4 – My family was close to her family and I’ve written about her on this blog before. She moved to Deseret and became part of some strange religion that required that she change her name. She was pregnant by 19 and had another kid by 21. While pregnant with her second, she cut off all ties to her family. She had one brother who ended up in Cascadia. He, too, severed all ties with his parents. It’s really weird, because their parents (who used to sit us often) seemed like great folks.

5. I was a horrible, horrible friend to this kid. I don’t even want to recount what exactly I did, but it ruined him socially. He must have known. Yet, years later, sent a Facebook friend request and we’ve chatted. If his Facebook info is to be believed, he has done unbelievably well for himself.

6. Remember that girl I posted about who married the guy several leagues below her? For those of you who don’t remember, she’s an MD now.

7. Is female. Even today, looks a little bit like a guy in drag.

8. Went to the prom with a guy who turned out to be gay. It should have been the first clue. She was gorgeous and he was utterly uninterested in her all night long. She was pissed, but they’re Facebook friends now, so I guess she got over it.

9. Graduated college at age 20, got two masters degrees and a PhD. Is a statistical analyst for a major insurance company. Four kids. Writes zombie fiction.

10. I was often confused with her brother, who was decidedly unpopular.

11. He left after the 4th grade, I think. He and I were friends, but the guy has the personality of a Monty Card dealer. I hope he ended up in Vegas.

With the exception of the tall brown kid, the boy below #4, and the girl between #7 and #8, I actually don’t remember any of the other kids in this picture. Which is rather astonishing to me, because it used to be that I remembered everybody.

Category: Ghostland, School

I’m not even a gun person (and, for that matter, have no idea of the authenticity), but watching awesome guns is awesome. And Tom Clancy gave me an appreciation of Russians.

Here’s more about the gun.

Category: Theater

Ohio State’s Terrelle Pryor has decided to “go pro” a little late. For those of you not familiar with the story, Pryor is one of the players alleged to have accepted illegal gifts in the form of tattoos. The snowballing from that story ended up with the resignation of Ohio State’s coach. He thinks he has the stuff to go all the way to the NFL. It’s actually a questionable proposition because, while he was on a successful team, he was not the focal point of that success the same way that Troy Smith was. But he is sufficiently confident that he is not interested in the Canadian Football League:

The Saskatchewan Roughriders own the CFL negotiating rights to Pryor and had extended him a tentative offer.

“They sent the package last night, I forwarded it to Terrelle and Terrelle said that he wasn’t interested today,” James said.

Asked if Pryor gave him a reason for his lack of interest in the Roughriders, James said: “He did not go into discussion. He just said he’s not interested in the Canadian Football League. Obviously the offer was not sufficient to whet his taste buds.”

And yet, the article goes on to say:

If Pryor’s application for the supplemental draft isn’t accepted, the United Football League might provide him with a temporary home.

A well-placed UFL source told Schefter Wednesday that Pryor would benefit from the coaching in the league, which includes high-profile former NFL coaches Marty Schottenheimer, Dennis Green, Jim Fassel and Jerry Glanville. The source said he believes there’s “a decent shot” Pryor could wind up playing this year in the UFL.

Any player who signs with the UFL must remain in the league for the entire season before signing with an NFL team. The UFL will announce its schedule Thursday.

Michael Huyghue, the UFL’s commissioner, told the Las Vegas Review Journal Wednesday that his league would have a spot available for Pryor.

If he’s not interested in the CFL, there’s little reason to believe he would be interested in the UFL. And even the “well-placed UFL source” doesn’t say otherwise. He just says it would be good for the kid. It might be, though I think his main interest is that it would be good for the UFL. Heck, getting mentioned in an ESPN article with an article that doesn’t mention the word “crisis mode” is good for the UFL.

Speaking of the UFL and Ohio State, Maurice Clarett has chimed in:

Clarett, ruled ineligible after carrying Ohio State to its first national championship in 34 years in 2002, said the university cannot control everything that players do.

“There wasn’t any coach or any booster or any member in or around Ohio State who helps you get a car,” Clarett said, recalling his own time on campus. “It doesn’t go on. It’s just guys doing what they want to. People will forever do what they want to. It’s nothing more than young guys making mistakes.” {…}

“People didn’t reach out to me. I reached out to people,” he said. “Just when you’re traveling around the community, I reached out to people: ‘Hey, I’m struggling with this. Hey, I need help with this.’ “

Clarett’s name may be familiar to even casual sports fans. He is the anti-Pryor, having declared for the draft too early (before he was eligible). He went on to sue the NFL for the right to play for it. Then he robbed a bank and went to jail. As tempting as it is to dismiss Clarett (and given his views on paying student-athletes, I itch for a reason), by all accounts he has really cleaned himself up since getting out of jail. When he got his second chance with the UFL, he was genuinely grateful for the chance to be there. No doubt he would go to the NFL if he could, but he was jazzed up for the chance to play for a team in Omaha. Anyhow, he also had this to say:

Going to prison had altered his view of the world, Clarett said. Five years ago, he said he might have celebrated that Ohio State and Tressel were going through the NCAA problems they are now. But that isn’t the way he feels.

Clarett also said he did not consider Tressel, who until a few months ago had a squeaky clean image around the country, to be a cheater or a fraud.

“You can’t be a fraud for 30 years. It’s impossible,” he said. “People can smell a fraud in the first month, two, three, four, five months. They’re going to be exposed. To do what that man has done … it’s wrong for that man to get dealt like that.”

Asked where his national championship ring is, Clarett said: “That’s at my mother’s house. There’s not one piece of memorabilia that I don’t have.”

Category: Theater