Congress Finally Passed Biden’s Inefficient, Deficit-Hiking Infrastructure Bill

“The bill is also larded up with provisions that will make infrastructure projects more costly for taxpayers. That matters, of course, because if you inflate the cost of building a bridge and you have a fixed amount of money to spend on new bridges, you’ll get fewer bridges.

For example, the bill’s “Buy American” provision is nothing more than performative patriotism and a handout to politically powerful unions. By mandating that materials used in road, bridge, and rail projects come primarily from the United States, Congress will effectively hike prices and engage in arbitrary protectionism.”

“The infrastructure bill could have been an opportunity to reform other federal rules that unnecessarily drive up the cost of building infrastructure. Like the Davis-Bacon Act, which requires that most workers on federally subsidized building projects are paid the local “prevailing wage” negotiated by unions even if the workers themselves are not unionized—and only about 13 percent of construction workers are part of a union. The Davis-Bacon Act rules can increase the costs of infrastructure projects by as much as 20 percent.

Similarly, the infrastructure package could have suspended or eliminated parts of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in order to streamline environmental reviews of infrastructure projects. Currently, NEPA reviews take more than four years on average, and they are frequently used as tools to block development for reasons that often have little to do with the environment.”

A Soviet-Style Strongman Still Rules Belarus

“Democratic governance, freedom, and flourishing in Belarus have long been hampered by Alexander Lukashenko, a demagogue and dictator who took power in 1994. In the country’s first and only open election, Lukashenko—who ran on an anti-corruption platform—was elected president. But once in office, he proved reluctant to let go of power or tolerate dissent.
“Openly nostalgic for Soviet times,” as the Associated Press put it in 1996, Lukashenko was dismissive of the country’s parliament, hostile to constitutional limits, and enthusiastic about state control of information. From the beginning, he was warm to Russia, signing a friendship treaty in 1995 that included concessions such as allowing Russian troops to be stationed in Belarus. He continues to encourage the people to speak Russian, not Belarusian.

By 1996, Lukashenko was proposing constitutional amendments to extend his term in office and expand his power. Parliament would not approve a referendum on it, instead proposing impeachment. “I will not give up the reins of power,” Lukashenko vowed in response. And he hasn’t.

Lukashenko has held on to his position by quashing opposition, suppressing nonstate media, interfering with elections, and otherwise denying civil liberties and political freedom to Belarusians.”

Amy Klobuchar and Tom Cotton’s Big Tech Anti-Monopoly Bill Exempts Their Preferred Firms

“Note, however, the bill stipulates that it only covers firms that are over the $600 billion line “as of the date of enactment.” In other words, if a company has a market cap under $600 billion on the day the bill becomes law, then that company is permanently exempt—even if it later crosses the threshold.

Two companies that are currently under the $600 billion line and thus exempt from the bill are mega-retailers Target and Walmart. These companies are both worth hundreds of billions of dollars, and their e-commerce platforms are growing at a faster rate than Amazon’s. But under the Klobuchar/Cotton law, it wouldn’t matter if Target and Walmart overtake Amazon—they would be immune from this new antitrust action, as long as they are small enough on the day the bill is signed.

Readers may be interested to note that Target is headquartered in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Walmart is headquartered in Bentonville, Arkansas. Isn’t that interesting? It’s probably just a coincidence that the $600-billion-at-date-of-enactment provision would shield the two most important companies in Klobuchar and Cotton’s home states.”

Texas’ Costly ‘Operation Lone Star’ Leaves Alleged Illegal Immigrants Trapped in Jail with No Due Process

“Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s border-control crusade is overwhelming court systems, leaving detainees stuck in jails for weeks or even months without due process, and generally isn’t resulting in many convictions.
Abbott launched “Operation Lone Star” in March. Border enforcement is ordinarily the federal government’s job, but Abbott decided to deploy the state’s Department of Public Safety and the Texas National Guard to “deny Mexican Cartels and other smugglers the ability to move drugs and people into Texas.”

Instead, according to media reports from multiple outlets, suspected illegal immigrants caught at the border are being arrested for misdemeanor trespassing and then being held in jail. And then…nothing, frequently. The Wall Street Journal reports that only 3 percent of the 1,500 people who have been arrested under Operation Lone Star have been convicted, all with guilty pleas of misdemeanor trespassing.

Texas does not have the authority to deport any of these people, so the rest are either still detained in jail or being released back into the community—the very outcome Abbott insists he was trying to stop.”

“Lacking any ability to deport these immigrants and apparently not being able to charge most of them with crimes other than trespassing and some property crimes (because they likely are not the drug cartel smugglers and human traffickers Abbott claims they are), many of them are just sitting in pretrial detention for weeks or months. Normally a person arrested in Texas for a nonviolent misdemeanor would be released or out on bail quickly, in a matter of days at most. That’s not happening here.”

“Meanwhile the courts on these border counties are being overwhelmed. Texas Monthly reports that Kinney County (population: 3,659), the ground zero for a lot of these arrests, hasn’t had a jury trial in seven years. Kinney officials have filed charges against those they’ve detained, more than 1,000 migrants, but it’s not entirely clear how they’ll be able to arrange trials.

Abbott’s crusade comes with costs, and they’re considerable. Abbott shifted $250 million dollars from elsewhere in the budget (including the prison system itself) to fund this program. And the state legislature directed another $3 billion his way for border enforcement. Officials in Kinney County calculate that actually prosecuting all these immigrants will cost them $5 million, but Operation Lone Star’s funding is sending only $3.19 million their way, according to Texas Monthly.”

Soviet Ethnic Policies Split Kyrgyzstan

“Former physicist Askar Akayev was Kyrgyzstan’s first president. He built a reputation for striving to create a real liberal democracy but shifted into a more autocratic stance as parliament resisted some of his economic policies.

Akayev’s rule lasted until 2005, when his administration fell amid a violent revolution. His successor, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, was toppled by another uprising in 2010. Tribalism, nepotism, corruption, and the meshing of government with organized crime—the nation produces and is a transit point for heroin in international markets—have been hallmarks of Kyrgyz politics for much of the post-Soviet period.”

Biden’s Build Back Better Plan Contains One Potentially Helpful Housing Program

“Homelessness is a major issue in the U.S., and is inherently intertwined with the cost of housing. In fact, in a recent poll, respondents from the 20 metro areas that experienced the largest population growth between 2010–2019 listed both the cost of housing and homelessness as their top two concerns, and by almost identical margins (86 and 87 percent, respectively). The average cost of rent has increased nearly 20 percent within the last year alone, and since 2001, in nearly every state, rents have risen at a faster rate than incomes.

But simply offering rental assistance without a simultaneous increase in the supply of housing would only serve to exacerbate the cost problem, as a larger amount of money would chase after the exact same amount of inventory. In fact, the U.S. is currently as many as 5 million houses short of meeting estimated demand.

Of the roughly $150 billion which the Build Back Better Act appropriates toward housing, more than half is put toward dubious use, via rental assistance programs. About a third of that portion, though, is specifically tailored toward the construction or rehabilitation of more affordable housing units to increase the overall supply, which could help drive down costs.”

“The Build Back Better Act does fund the establishment of a “competitive grant program,” the Unlocking Possibilities Program, to incentivize “streamlining regulatory requirements and shorten[ing] processes, [and] reform[ing] zoning codes.” As with any grant program, its efficacy will be dictated by its implementation, but with more than $4.26 billion appropriated, there is plenty of breathing room to potentially make a difference.

In an ideal scenario, of course, there would be as few zoning restrictions as possible, allowing developers to simply respond to the needs of the community without requiring the government’s stamp of approval. While public funding to incentivize a reduction or simplification of red tape is better than the status quo, it is still not a perfect solution.”

America’s Ports Need More Robots, but the $1 Trillion Infrastructure Bill Won’t Fund Automation

“A lack of robots is one of the single biggest problems among the many logistical issues currently tangling America’s supply chains.

At most major ports around the world, the cranes that unload shipping containers from boats to trucks are largely automated. That means they can operate around the clock at lower cost and—extra importantly right now—have zero risk of catching COVID-19. One recent study found that cranes at the mostly automated port in Rotterdam, Netherlands, are roughly 80 percent more efficient than cranes at the Port of Oakland, California, where humans still man the controls. In other words, it takes nearly twice as long to unload the same ship in Oakland as it would in Rotterdam.

One of the major hurdles to automation is the expense. It can cost as much as $500 million to install new, fully automated terminals at existing ports, according to the Journal of Commerce, a trade publication. Even if it might make sense to do that in the long run, short-term considerations keep American ports operating at their current, less efficient status quo.

Conveniently, Congress has just passed a $1.2 trillion infrastructure spending bill—one that includes $17 billion for port infrastructure. Of that $17 billion, about $2.6 billion is specifically earmarked for defraying the cost of upgrading equipment at America’s ports, nominally to reduce air pollution.

If you were a member of Congress looking to spend a bunch of money to immediately and meaningfully upgrade American infrastructure in a way that would help solve the current supply chain logjams, automating ports should be at or near the top of the list. It’s quite literally a no-brainer.

The bad news, however, is buried on page 308 of the 1,600-plus page bill: “The term ‘zero-emission port equipment or technology’ means human-operated equipment or human-maintained technology.”

Yes, the subsidies doled out as part of President Joe Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure deal are expressly forbidden from being used to automate operations at American ports. Instead, taxpayers will spend billions to upgrade existing cranes with lower-emissions alternatives that won’t actually work any faster or cheaper. It’s a major missed opportunity.

Why? Biden’s close ties to labor unions probably have something to do with it. Along with the cost, unions are the biggest reason why American ports don’t have more robots. When an automated terminal was introduced at the Port of Los Angeles a few years ago, the politically powerful longshoreman’s union that represents dockworkers threw a fit.

But the automated terminals were a hit with truck drivers who work at the port. The Los Angeles Times reported in 2019 that drivers, who are paid by the delivery, were thrilled to have more reliable loading schedules, instead of having to wait around for hours to pick up a container. One truck driver told the paper that automation meant no longer having to “wait hours and hours in long lines” because the dockworkers decided to “leave early to go to lunch and come back late.””

“Automated ports in places like Norfolk, Virginia, meanwhile, are handling record volumes with no backlogs, according to the Journal of Commerce. “With the automation, you can rework your yard to say, ‘Okay, while I was expecting to be loading Ship A first, I’m now loading Ship B first,′ and can keep import flow fluid,” Stephen Edwards, CEO and executive director of the Port of Virginia, told the Journal in September.

Ports should invest in automation regardless of whether Congress is subsidizing that transition, of course. But if lawmakers are going to approve huge amounts of new spending to upgrade American infrastructure, it’s fair to wonder why one of the most useful upgrades is expressly forbidden. It looks like Congress and the White House are more interested in cowing to unions than helping fix America’s supply chain problems.”

Videos Are Making It Hard To Trust the Cops

“All too often, official versions of events turn out to be completely at odds with video and audio records of what actually happened. Given stark discrepancies between some police reports about searches and arrests and video footage of the same events, it’s difficult to avoid the suspicion that the powers-that-be habitually lie about their conduct.”

“the cops barged into a house without permission, tossed it without legal authority, and then lied about the search to conceal their misdeeds.

“If Yezek did not have the security cameras in and outside of his home, he very well could be sitting in prison,” one of Yezek’s attorneys told reporters.”

“”San Antonio police dash camera video obtained by the KSAT 12 Defenders contradicts the department’s long-held narrative that a woman shot and killed by an SAPD sergeant in early 2019 had pointed a weapon at him prior to being shot,” the TV station reported last year after the shooting death of Hannah Westall.
In addition, police originally insisted that there was no bodycam recording of the incident. That turned out to be untrue and Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzales has reopened his investigation.”

“These situations are pretty egregious, but recordings don’t have to contradict police. They can, instead, support the official story, and undermine bogus claims of abuse, rights violations, and innocence by criminal suspects. When cops are above-board, that’s exactly the purpose the recordings serve.

But it’s all too easy to find situations where police told stories that didn’t match recordings of which they were unaware or which they tried to suppress. Sometimes an officer loses a job or even (very rarely) faces charges, but it often leaves the impression that an especially incautious or unconnected cop was thrown to the wolves to appease critics. How many lies remain unexposed is anybody’s guess.

It’s worth pointing out that the FBI, which often investigates misconduct by state and local police, itself resists recording interviews.

“When the rule prohibiting FBI agents from recording interviews was instituted, the reasoning mostly was that their testimony under oath is credible and means something to the court and the public,” James M. Casey, a former FBI agent, explained last year. “That should still hold true.”

But “trust us” really doesn’t fly the more we see the government’s enforcers at work. It’s too easy to find examples of them playing fast and loose with the truth when there’s a record of their conduct.”