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FIFA Under Fire

About damned time:

Hours after Swiss authorities arrived unannounced at a Zurich hotel and arrested top FIFA officials early Wednesday morning, the Justice Department and prosecutors for the Eastern District of New York forcefully declared that their investigation had only just begun and pledged to rid the international soccer organization of systemic corruption.

“These individuals and organizations engaged in bribery to decide who would televise games, where the games would be held, and who would run the organization overseeing organized soccer worldwide,” said Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch, who supervised the investigation from its earliest stages, when she was the United States attorney for the Eastern District of New York. “They did this over and over, year after year, tournament after tournament.”

Soccer officials treated FIFA business decisions as chits to be traded for personal wealth, United States officials said. Whether through convoluted financial deals or old-fashioned briefcases full of cash, people were expected to pay for access to FIFA’s river of money and publicity. The federal indictment lists 47 counts, including bribery, fraud and money laundering.

FIFA is one of the most corrupt organizations in the world. It’s not just the bribery, which has amounted to tens of millions of dollars. It’s the way they persuaded Brazil to burn billions of dollars building stadiums that are now useless (FIFA made an estimated $4 billion off the 2014 World Cup. Brazil invested over $15 billion in hosting it). It’s the way they look the other way as Qatar builds a World Cup on bribery, slavery and thousands of dead workers. If you missed it, here is John Oliver on the subject:

I’m going to make a confession: I really like international soccer. Last year’s World Cup was thrilling for the United States and I’m looking forward to 2018. But the organization that controls this sport is horrifying. They make American sports leagues — who extract billions in free stadiums from bankrupt cities based on economic nonsense — look like angels.

This is just beginning. This organization is thoroughly corrupt. I’m glad to see some justice may finally be done to them.

The Minimum Wage Follies

Ten days ago, LA made a historically dumb decision to raise its minimum wage to $15 an hour. The usual chorus of Leftists emerged to claim that the contention that raising the minimum wage destroys low-wage jobs — a premise that was accepted by most economists until about two years ago — has been “debunked” as a myth (it hasn’t and it won’t be because the Law of Supply and Demand isn’t magically suspended for low-wage labor).

Some of the biggest supporters of the minimum wage hike were labor unions. You may wonder why labor unions would support hiking the minimum wage since most labor members don’t make minimum wage. The reason is that many union wages are pegged to the minimum wage and are set to automatically rise if the minimum wage does. It further gives them leverage in negotiations. If the minimum wage if $30,000 a year, it gives them an argument for larger starting union salaries. And since, in California, most labor arbitration is done by former union lawyers, it’s a nice racket. So their support has nothing to do with how much they care about the poor masses. It’s about cynically playing on sympathy for those masses to leverage their own pay hikes.

The unions have been at the forefront of claiming that the idea that minimum wage hikes destroy jobs is a myth. Well, guess what folks: they are perfectly aware of what a higher minimum wage will do. Why else would they want this:

Labor leaders, who were among the strongest supporters of the citywide minimum wage increase approved last week by the Los Angeles City Council, are advocating last-minute changes to the law that could create an exemption for companies with unionized workforces.

The push to include an exception to the mandated wage increase for companies that let their employees collectively bargain was the latest unexpected detour as the city nears approval of its landmark legislation to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2020.

For much of the past eight months, labor activists have argued against special considerations for business owners, such as restaurateurs, who said they would have trouble complying with the mandated pay increase.

But Rusty Hicks, who heads the county Federation of Labor and helps lead the Raise the Wage coalition, said Tuesday night that companies with workers represented by unions should have leeway to negotiate a wage below that mandated by the law.

So here’s how this two-step works:

1) the unions advocate for a higher minimum wage.

2) the raising of the minimum wage either triggers pay hikes for union members or gives them a leg up in negotiations.

3) However, they allow exceptions for industries that might have to lay people off … as long as those industries are unionized.

4) Industries that can’t pay the minimum wage either leave or … become unionized.

The net result? More money for unions, more union members, less jobs and higher prices for everyone else. And liberals wonder why we are so cynical about Big Labor.

Memorial Day

Just a reminder of why today is a holiday. It’s not to barbecue:

Over a million men and women have sacrificed their lives to keep this nation free. Take some time off today to acknowledge the sacrifice they made for you, for me, for everyone. There are children who will never see their fathers again, parents who will never see their children again, parts of families and communities ripped out, never to be replaced.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young.
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England’s foam.

-Laurence Binyon, Ode of Remembrance

Science Sunday: Gene Editing

Genetic engineering has been with us for about forty years. During that time, it has helped us develop more effective drugs, drought- and disease-resistant crops, and a barrage of genetic tests that can measure your risk for such things as breast cancer. It has also sparked a lot of opposition from those who fear its power as well as luddite hatred from anti-GMO types who have successfully slowed the implementation of such as things as “the golden rice” and therefore condemned thousands of children to unnecessary blindness.

Things took another step a couple of weeks ago, however, when researchers in China used the new CRISPR technology to modify the genes of non-viable human embryos. Does this mean we are on the verge of a real-life Gattaca? Should we be worried about this?

Francis Collins, the NIH Director, makes the case against allowing this kind of research:

It’s also very hard to identify the need for this kind of embryo manipulation for human purposes. If you’re talking about genetic disease, we have pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, which gives couples at risk for genetic disease a chance to avoid that risk without any manipulation of the germline.

Last, there are deep concerns of a philosophical sort, about what it means for human beings to intentionally manipulate their own genomes. If applied broadly and widely, does that result in us being changed into something other than homo sapiens? I don’t think we even have to go to that one to say this is something we shouldn’t do. The safety arguments and lack of medical need trump [these concerns].

Collins gets one thing very wrong in that paragraph: his claim that pre-implantation diagnosis is enough for couples screening for genetic disease. We looked into this when we were doing fertility treatments (Hal 11000 Beta came about the old-fashioned way after fertility failed). Our doctor told us that the diagnosis tech is shaky at best. And with some disorders — such as Down’s — the errors can occur in some cells but not others. So the idea that there is no “need” for this — even assuming we have to show a need to the likes of Collins — is a bit of a reach.1

But Collins hits most of the points probably going through your head: that this kind of research would be unethical, that messing with the human genome is a dangerous road, etc.

The counterpoint is given by Ramez Naan at Marginal Revolution in two posts (here and here).

[Banning this research] is a mistake, for several reasons.

1. The technology isn’t as mature as reported. Most responses to it are over-reactions.

2. Parents are likely to use genetic technologies in the best interests of their children.

3. Using gene editing to create ‘superhumans’ will be tremendously harder, riskier, and less likely to be embraced by parents than using it to prevent disease.

4. A ban on research funding or clinical application will only worsen safety, inequality, and other concerns expressed about the research.

Part 1 I didn’t find terribly interesting. He’s right that CRISPR can’t create viable genetically modified embryos. But the ethical issues remain. Someday, we probably will have that power.

His other points are much more germane. He points out the human genome, like almost everything in the human body, has many moving parts. There is no single gene for high intelligence or good looks. You would have to make massive changes to many parts of someone’s DNA to, say, make them taller. This is why short parents can have tall kids and vice versa — the genetics are far more complex than, say, hair color.

Manipulating IQ, height, or personality is thus likely to involve making a very large number of genetic changes. Even then, genetic changes are likely to produce a moderate rather than overwhelming impact.

Conversely, for those unlucky enough to be conceived with the wrong genes, a single genetic change could prevent Cystic Fibrosis, or dramatically reduce the odds of Alzheimer’s disease, breast cancer or ovarian cancer, or cut the risk of heart disease by 30-40%.

Reducing disease is orders of magnitude easier and safer than augmenting abilities.

That addressed Collins’ major point. There is a medical need for this sort of technology; a big one. One that could be filled very easily and at low risk.

Now, it’s possible we could one day have the technology to modify more complex things like height or intelligence. But that technology is decades away at this point, even assuming it is possible at all. It would require an understanding of genetics, and possibly even more importantly, epigenetics, that is a quantum leap beyond where we are now. It’s something to worry about, but not if its means blocking technology that could cure Cystic Fibrosis.

Naam’s third point is that parents are risk-averse. This plays on the first point. Parents might, in theory, want to give their child a genetic leg up. But the best they might face is a possibility of increasing their child’s IQ by ten points at the potential risk of unknown disorders or complications. While I agree with him, it’s certain that some parents will embrace these risks, especially as the technology matures.

Naam’s final point is basically that this is going to happen. And once it does, there is no putting the genie back in the bottle. If we ban it here, it will pop up in China. If we get China to ban it, it will pop up in India. If we get India to ban it, it will pop up in South Africa.

This is not something we can unlearn. It’s something we have to deal with. At this stage, given the crudeness of the technology, I am more than happy for the NIH to ban research into genetically engineering humans. But that’s kicking the can down the road. At some point, we will have to decide what we will and will not allow and who gets to decide what risks are and are not worth it.

We have, however, been here before. In the 1970’s, there were efforts to ban the very genetic engineering that has been so beneficial to us and brought us to this point. Supporters of the ban included James Watson, one of the discoverers of DNA’s structure, and Al Gore, supposed science luminary (Watson later admitted he was wrong). They failed, barely. And as it turned out, it was for the best. As P.J. O’Rourke noted twenty years ago in All the Trouble in the World:

Biotechnologists could still come up with something awful by accident, not to mention on purpose. Nature does it all the time. Nature is forever inventing things like the bubonic plague, although whether intentionally or not is a question too deep for this state college graduate. But, in the meantime, we’ve got a four-billion-dollar biotech industry that produces cheap insulin, accurate tests for everything from pregnancy to colon cancer, new vaccines, the diagnostic process that keeps the nation’s blood supply freed of AIDS and hepatitis, and hundreds of other products, with thousands more on the horizon — a small price to pay for an occasional giant sheep.

Nature is forever editing the human genome. The possibility of humans tampering with their own genetics is frightening and I think we should take the potential risks seriously. But, given history, it is much more likely to result in the ability to cut the risk of cancer than to produce a race of Uma Thurman clones.

Genetic engineering did play one role in Hal’s birth. Thanks to a new genetic screening technique, we were able to test Hal at ten weeks for potential trisomies with 99% accuracy.</sup

Hillary Clinton Strangles A Puppy

So, over the last few weeks, we’ve been finding out some stuff about the Clintons. We’ve found out that foreign countries and people with business before government donated millions to the Clinton Foundation. We found out that she and Bill are getting six-figure speaking fees to the tune of tens of millions, including from people with business before the government. We’ve found out that, as a Senator, she worked her influence for Corning in exchange for a campaign contribution. We’ve found out that, until it went to hell, she and her staff were flogging Libya as her big achievement that would vault her into the White House.

The response to all this from the media and her supporters has been a collective shrug. In fact, Vox wrote a bizarre article claiming that the problem is that the media are just mad because Hillary doesn’t “need” them (Vox apparently being under the impression that the candidates need the media as their publicity hacks, not that the media’s job to vet them and hold them accountable. That’s not surprising coming from the creator of Journolist.)

I’ve been trying to imagine what would make the media and the Left Wing turn on Clinton and … I really can’t come up with anything. She has strong ties to Wall Street. They don’t care. She opposes marijuana legalization, supports an aggressive foreign policy and cheers for NSA surveillance. They don’t care. The last Clinton Administration created Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the Defense of Marriage Act, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the Crime Bill that massively expanded police militarization and put hundreds of thousands in jail. They don’t care. Actually, they claim that this is unfair because she was just the First Lady. This is about ten seconds before they claim that her time as First Lady and her active role in her husband’s Administration counts as “experience”.

Watch this as a group of voters struggle to come up with any accomplishments they can credit to Mrs. Clinton:

What would it take for them to turn on Hillary? I don’t think there is anything. If video emerged tomorrow of Hillary Clinton strangling puppies with her bare hands, the response would be:

  • A think-piece from Vox about how puppy strangling isn’t as bad as it seems.
  • Rachel Maddow would do a bit about how Republicans have done much worse and “strangling” is an extreme word to make slowly euthanizing stray dogs sounds worse than it is.
  • Comment boards would fill up with comments saying, “Another faux Republican scandal. PUPPYGHAZI!!!”
  • Several pieces at Daily Kos about how this is really all Republicans’ fault for opposing subsidized birth control for dogs.
  • Numerous outlets claiming the focus on puppies is sexist.
  • A deep analysis at LGF “proving” that the video is a fake.
  • A think piece from Salon claiming the dogs had it coming.
  • A CNN report, to be retracted in December 2016, about how the Republican candidates all strangled kittens.
  • A statement from Debbie Wasserman Schultz that Republicans wanted to “drag us back” to the era before spaying and neutering.
  • Ultimately, a uniform consensus that the dog strangling doesn’t matter because Clinton is good on the most important issues (despite, at present, Clinton having no position on most of the important issues. Check out her website and see if you can find a section on policy).

Like so much that the Left believes in right now — “living wage”, single payer healthcare, gun control — Clinton’s ascendancy has become religion. She is going to be President no matter what the rest of us say. We had a black President. Now we’re going to have a woman. It’s her turn. End of story.

Boy … if the GOP gets their shit together and beats Clinton next year, it’s going to get really ugly.

Biker Wars

So, someone enlighten me. After this weekend’s shootout in Waco between two biker gangs that left nine dead and 18 wounded, we started getting a bunch of think pieces from the usual liberal outlets about how the media coverage of this awfulness was “different”.

Those who are using what happened in Waco to start conversations about stereotypes and media biases against black people aren’t complaining about the tenor of this weekend’s media coverage. They’re saying something a little different: that by being pretty reasonable and sticking to the facts, this coverage highlights the absurdity of the language and analysis that have been deployed in other instances, when the accused criminals are black.

I have no idea what Vox is on about. The coverage of this weekend’s events was not very different from the coverage of any other violence. You can read Ed Morrissey here where he talks about the many politicians who have denounced these gangs, the efforts law enforcement has made to reign them in, the arrest of almost two hundred gang members and the efforts made to prevent this before the weekend even started. No one is downplaying this or pretending this isn’t a problem. No one is failing to denounce them as violent thugs. And no one is trying to claim that this event was somehow justified.

Another line of commentary that’s predictable in media coverage and commentary surrounding violence involving black people has to do with black cultural pathology.

Politicians and pundits are notorious for grasping for problems in African-American communities — especially fatherlessness — to explain the kind of violence that, when it happens in a white community, is treated as an isolated crime versus an indictment of an entire racial group’s way of life.

The total absence around the Waco incident of analysis of struggles and shortfalls within white families and communities is a painful reminder of this.

What a bunch of crap. The difference between violence in the black community and violence in the white community is scale. Black people are six times as likely to be murdered as white people and eight times likelier to be involved in a murder. The community in Waco is not nearly as dysfunctional and crime-ridden as Baltimore is. Saying that violence is more endemic to black communities than white ones isn’t racism; it’s a fact.

Now what we make of that fact, how we respond to it; that’s a different ballgame. Then it’s reasonable to discuss institutional racism, the collapse of families, the cycle of violence, the destruction of inner cities, the War on Drugs, etc. I also think it’s perfectly reasonable to question why people get involved in biker gangs or why the media tend to romanticize biker gangs and have previously failed to report on biker violence. But let’s not pretend that a shootout in Waco reflects violence in our nation the same way the constant drumbeat of death and destruction in our inner cities does (Baltimore, to make one example, has had 34 murders just since Freddie Gray died).

And frankly, outlets like Vox are in a glass house on this. They seem to think it’s wrong for conservatives to talk about absent fathers as a contributor to violence. But it’s OK to discuss racism, decaying infrastructure and failing schools?

But the key thing to understand is that the criticism here is not really of the coverage of what happened in Waco. It’s of the juxtaposition of what happened here with what happens when the people involved are of a different color. The message is not that the conversation about Waco should be overblown, hypercritical of an entire culture, or full of racial subtext. It’s despair over the sense that if the gang members were black, it almost certainly would be.

Bullshit. There are about thirty mass shootings a year in this country, many of them involving gang violence. Almost of all of them are ignored by the media. In fact, I expect think pieces next week about why the media doesn’t cover shootings between black gangs with the same intensity they covered this one.

Salon, of course, takes the cake, wondering why the events in Waco weren’t called a riot (mainly because … there wasn’t a riot). CNN wonders why we react to Muslim violence more sharply than biker violence (because no biker gang ever murdered 3000 people). NPR wonders why the National Guard wasn’t called out (because all the perpetrators were arrested and the violence finished on the first day).

You can read a response from National Review, that points out that the media has had no problem labeling riots as such when it involves white sports fans or college students.

And who, precisely, is denying that organized crime syndicates are thuggish? Isn’t that generally what is meant by “biker gang”? No one is arguing that these were the Wild Hogs.

I understand that people get frustrated when conservations about the excessive use of force by police or the militarization of police gets sidelined into discussion of black-on-black violence. It is possible to denounce both at the same time (as indeed most people do). But trying to sandwich media coverage of the Waco shooting into that discussion is a stretch at best.

Sorry, guys. This isn’t about the media. This is about a bunch of thugs who started a brawl that resulted in nine people being killed (including, most likely, several killed by the police trying to deal with the situation). No one is defending them. No one is romanticizing them. No one is pretending this was something other than a vile incident. And if the result is crackdowns on other violent gangs, almost everyone is fine with that.

Rand Stands Again

So today, Rand Paul engaged in his second filibuster, this time against the Patriot Act, talking for ten hours. Specifically, he was filibustering against Section 215, which supposedly enables the NSA meta-data collection program.

This has been building for several weeks now. The Second Circuit, in fact, ruled that the Patriot Act doesn’t authorize the data collection program and the NSA has said they will not change anything until Congress acts. Following this, the lying sack of shit that leads the NSA claimed that he lied to Congress about the program because … and I’m not making this up … he forgot the program existed. Defenders of the program are demanding Congress reauthorizing it, making dubious and sometimes outright false statements about the success of the program. And last week, the House voted to reign in the NSA’s power, albeit in water-down version. The ball is currently in the Senate’s court.

I don’t think the Patriot Act should be renewed. This has been primarily used as a smokescreen for prosecutions on drug and other non-terrorism charges. It was passed in the first place on false claims that 9/11 happened because the government didn’t have the powers within the Patriot Act. If it must be passed however, it should only pass after the USA FREEDOM Act directly curtails the NSA’s power.

I have my disagreements with Paul, but this is another occasion on which he has made me proud. Let’s hope other Senators will stand not just with Rand, but with us.

Ramadi Falls

You remember how the Obama were boasting about killing a key ISIS member last week? The exact same way the Bush people used to always boast about killing Al-Qaeda’s #2 leaders over and over again?”

Well, ISIS captured Ramadi this week, which is a much more significant event than killing one of the numerous members of ISIS’s leadership.

And just think … Clinton’s going to be running for President on her experience building this nightmare.

No, Hillary is Not Inevitable

(There’s a delayed Science Sunday coming. Been recovering from proposal deadlines.)

Every day, we are told that Hillary Clinton is going to be our next President and there is nothing that can stop it. Despite growing evidence that Clinton personally took money from people who had business before the government, despite the $16 million the Clintons have made in speeches over the last year and a bit, despite a growing scandal with the Clinton Foundation … she is inevitable. We might as well not even have an election.

One source of this inevitability is the supposed “blue wall”, the long list of states that Republicans simply can’t compete in. Supposedly the Democrats have so many electoral votes locked up in guaranteed blue states, that they could run Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer and win.

I’ve long been suspicious of this claim, since many of these supposedly unbreakable states have happily elected Republican governors and legislatures (hell, Massachusetts just elected another Republican governor). But now Nate Silver demolishes the wall. Looking back at the 2012 election, he find no real electoral advantage for either party:

Republicans, in all likelihood, would have won by similar Electoral College margins if they’d done as well as the Democrats in the popular vote, casting all sorts of cracks in the blue wall. Suppose, for instance, that Romney, rather than Obama, had won the 2012 election by 3.9 percentage points. What would the map have looked like?

It would have looked pretty red. A 3.9-point Romney victory represents a 7.8-point swing from the actual result. So if the swing were distributed uniformly, Obama would have lost every state that he won by 7.8 percentage points or less. That means he’d have lost three “blue wall” states — Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — along with Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio and Virginia.

Silver goes on to point out that there is a blue wall, but it’s different than what most people think. If either party won a massive amount of the popular vote — the way Reagan did in 1984 — the result would not be as huge an electoral landslide. Both the Democrats and the Republicans would still win about 100 electoral votes even if they lost by 20 points because more states are either very red or very blue. Even then, however, I’m dubious. A real electoral implosion could change things even more than Silver anticipates.

(I think we are going to get a close election simply because most elections are close. The parties work pretty hard to align themselves along that 50% axis. After electoral massacres in 1984 and 1988, for example, the Democrats move right and nominated Clinton (who was liberal, but way less liberal than Mondale or Dukakis).)

In terms of 2016, this means that electoral strategizing — i.e., going with a Florida Republican to lock up Florida — is a fool’s game. The Republicans should concentrate on nominating the candidate who is going to win a national election, whether’s that Rubio or Bush or Perry or Walker or whomever.

There’s something else though. I think the effort to pretend Hillary is inevitable is strategic. I think the Democrats and their dogwashers in the media want the Republicans to feel hopeless and helpless, unable to stop the coronation that the Democrats and the media have been waiting for since January 2001. It’s why they pretend this “blue wall” of unbreakable states exists. It’s why they poo-poo every scandal that emerges with Clinton. It’s why they aren’t willing to ask the same questions about Hillary’s health that they were asking about McCain’s or Reagan’s (Clinton in 2016 would be only two years younger than McCain was in 2008 and one year older than Reagan was in 1980).

We’ve seen how these “inevitable” elections have been going for the Left in general (see recent UK and Australia elections) and Democrats in particular. Scott Walker was going to be recalled; instead he’s won three elections in a blue state. The Democrats were going to hold the Senate; instead they lost it. They were going to take back the House; they lost again. Since 2008, Barack Obama is the only real electoral success they’ve had.

That’s what’s going on here. Part of it is wishful thinking: if they pretend Clinton is inevitable, they hope it will make her inevitable. But it’s also conditioning designed to weaken the opposition and weaken the vetting of the presumptive candidate.

Don’t believe the hype. Clinton can be beaten. It won’t be easy — she’s going to be determined and have the press at her back. But it can be done.

Update: Politico has another of these the GOP is finished articles. Their logic is that Republican voters tend to be older (true) and older people are more likely to die (also true), therefore the GOP is dying. Because, apparently, in Politico’s world, no one ever ages and become conservative.

BS on Amtrak

The motto of the Democrats is that they can never let a good crisis (or tragedy) go to waste. Before the bodies were even cold from the recent Amtrak train crash, the Left Wing was claiming that it was obviously Republicans’ fault. They had “gutted” infrastructure spending and “slashed” Amtrak spending and if they hadn’t, we’d have had a positive control system that would have slowed the train down. My favorite rant is here in which Thom Hartman manages to blame Reagan, work in a Somalia comparison and say our system should be more like Spain’s (which had a far deadlier high-speed train crash just two years ago).

There’s only one problem with all this. It’s bollocks:

In the federal budget, Amtrak is within the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). The president estimated that fiscal 2015 outlays on the FRA would be $3.6 billion. Of that, $250 million is for Amtrak operating subsidies, $1.1 billion is for Amtrak capital grants, $1.8 billion is for high-speed rail grants, and the rest is for safety, research, and other rail activities.

The chart shows total FRA outlays from 1990 to 2015 in current dollars (not adjusting for inflation). Outlays have soared in recent years, partly due to rising high-speed rail spending. During 2009 to 2015, high-speed rail grants were $2 million, $16 million, $304 million, $513 million, $768 million, $1.1 billion, and $1.8 billion. But even aside from that spending, FRA outlays were up modestly over the past decade.

The problem with Amtrak is that many of its routes do not make economic sense. Because of politics, the company is forced to run services through low population regions that have few passengers. Passenger rail makes sense in the Northeast corridor, but few other places in America—at least within today’s costly and unionized rail structure. The distance from Boston to Washington, D.C. is less than 500 miles, yet Amtrak operates a 21,000-mile system through nearly all the states. Money that should be used on maintenance and upgrading in the Northeast is being used on services elsewhere in the country that lose hundreds of dollars per passenger.

In short, much of the money that could be going to maintain Amtrak is going to subsidize pointless light rail systems in cities that can’t use them. The Fed is also throwing money at high-speed sinkholes that will never happen.

The lack of a positive control system was instantly cited as the reason for the crash. The problem is that the line already has the system:

The Amtrak train that derailed in Philadelphia on Tuesday night was equipped with an automatic speed control system that officials say could have prevented the wreck, which killed eight passengers and injured hundreds. But the system, which was tantalizingly close to being operational, was delayed by budgetary shortfalls, technical hurdles and bureaucratic rules, officials said Thursday.

In 2008, Congress ordered the installation of what are known as positive train control systems, which can detect an out-of-control, speeding train and automatically slow it down. But because lawmakers failed to provide the railroads access to the wireless frequencies required to make the system work, Amtrak was forced to negotiate for airwaves owned by private companies that are often used in mobile broadband.

We’ve see this all the time from the supposedly fact-based Left Wing. Every time a tragedy happens — a shooting, a derailment, a hurricane — they can tell you what went wrong before the smoke has even cleared. They can tell you the motivations of people who messed up. And somehow, miraculously, it always comes down to Republican budget cuts.

Japan’s bullet train is often dragged out as the example of what we should be doing on rail. This ignores two things: 1) Japan is a lot smaller and its population more concentrated that the United States; 2) Japan’s rail system is privatized. As far as I can tell, they only get government subsidies to build new track or expand their capabilities. But their bullet trains operate at a profit.

This tragedy wasn’t a result of evil Republican budget cuts or Reaganism. We’re still not sure what happened. But as far as government policy goes, it was a result of a blundering agency and a government that is committed to building rail where it isn’t needed instead of maintaining it in the one place — the Northeast Corridor — where it makes sense.