Monday, January 30, 2012

JOBS: 10 Hot Careers for 2012

At the end of 2011 CNN-Money posted 10 hot careers for 2012 - and beyond.

Of course nobody should be surprised that IT experts, engineers and health professionals dominate the list. They have been in top-10 spots for two decades and despite the relatively high unemployment in the U.S., college enrollment in demanding technical and professional fields has been relatively stable when adjusted for population growth and GDP fluctuations. The U.S. Congress is considering expedited immigration procedures for retaining foreigners who obtain advanced degrees in the U.S., many of which are lured back to China, India and to developing members of the EU.

This list contains one big surprise for me. No mention at all of "green jobs" or "renewable energy." This is because this list is sane, as opposed to less-than-sane proposals, incentives and "renewable portfolios" setup by legislatures attentive to zealous environmentalists. The result of these as manifest by Spain and other "green energy pioneers" is the substantial squandering of public funds with minimal impact on oil dependence or advancement of the state-of-the-art (e.g., Solyndra, Spopogy, etc.)

Sunday, January 29, 2012

How Stimulus Spending Ruined Buffalo -- Lessons for Honolulu

Recently Steven Manlanga of the Manhattan Institute authored "
How Stimulus Spending Ruined Buffalo" in the Wall Street Journal. It describes that stimulus was the vehicle for ruining Buffalo, New York and at the core of this stimulus was none other but a light rail system:

  • In his State of the State Address this month, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced $1 billion in incentives to attract new investment. Too bad Mr. Cuomo ignores the factors that help keep areas like Buffalo inhospitable to new investment—namely steep tax rates and the high cost of government.
  • Sometimes these schemes have done real harm. In the 1970s, the federal government decided to invest $530 million to build a 6.2-mile light-rail system through downtown Buffalo. It was supposed to further spur redevelopment.
  • Opened in 1985 and anchored by a transit mall that banned cars, the rail line fell well below ridership projections—and downtown businesses suffered mightily from the lack of traffic. As Buffalo landlord Stephen P. Fitzmaurice wrote in 2009: "Walk down Main Street on the transit mall; aside from a few necessities like drug and cell phone stores, blight dominates." Last month the city received a $15 million federal grant to restore traffic to Main Street.
  • These massive investment subsidies failed partly because officials were ill-suited to select the right projects and often instead gave money to favored insiders. Even former Mayor Anthony Masiello described the federal government's redevelopment funds as "a politically motivated system trying to please everybody."
  • Image: Main Street in Buffalo: Emptied of traffic and stores by a light-rail infrastructure stimulus project in the 1980s.

Lesson 1: Factors that help keep areas like Honolulu inhospitable to new investment—namely steep tax rates and the high cost of government.

Lesson 2: Rail systems are planned as reasons to spur development. They do not. Quite the opposite they produce blight which cost even more money to reverse.

Lesson 3: Yet another rail line where projected rail ridership was a myth ( a lie.)

Lesson 4: Clueless politicians (i.e., Hannemann, Carlisle, Calwell) and appointed boards (HART) are “ill-suited to select the right projects and often instead gave money to favored insiders” (Mr. Malanga refers to pay-to-play politics which are prominent in Hawaii.)

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Serious City Mayor: Assessment, Priorities, Solutions, Policies(Tulsa)

Tulsa: Open for Business -- Tackling city's challenges requires willingness to embrace innovation, competition and market ideas. By Dewey Bartlett, Jr. Mayor of Tulsa, Oklahoma

This is an excellent article that summarizes how to run a city under financial distress. (Aren't they all?)

I quote this passage:
Water/Wastewater Study: As a result of the KPMG recommendations, the local public utility authority issued an RFP and engaged Infrastructure Management Group, a nationally recognized team of public infrastructure efficiency experts, to review the governance, operations, finances and strategy of Tulsa’s entire utility operations.

And I note that the highly reputed IMG quoted above conducted the Honolulu Rail financial report for Gov. Lingle, issued in December 2009. The report said that the likely minimum cost to build the elevated rail would be $7.2 Billion as opposed to City's $5.3 Billion estimate.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Demographia's W. Cox on Honolulu Infrastructure

Wendell Cox of St. Louis based made an interesting presentation at the 36th annual Business and Investment Conference organized by Smart Business Hawaii at the Ala Moana Hotel on January 11. Link to Cox's 1/11/12 slideshow.

Some of his important findings and suggestions include:
  • Honolulu lost 50,000 residents between 2000 and 2009 in terms of domestic migration. Its taxes, jobs, congestion, housing prices, etc. have caused a loss of domestic residents to other Hawaii counties or other states.
  • Hawaii was 8th highest in taxation in 2009 in the U.S.
  • Honolulu housing affordability was the worst in the U.S., about three times worse that the US average!
  • From the U.S., only Los Angeles and Honolulu are included in the 25 most congested cities in the world.
  • Several other cities in the US have gone bankrupt and Honolulu is racing to bankruptcy with multi-billion dollar liabilities (pensions, sewers, rail, etc.)
  • Politicians are ignorant of the fast approaching demographic time bomb of Baby Boomers who are switching from taxable paychecks to pensions and healthcare.
  • Honolulu rail ridership projections are "rosy."
  • Cautions about the rail's budget "You Won’t Know the Bill Until It’s Too Late"

Monday, January 16, 2012

Urban Rail and Terrorism

The recent article "For Transit Agencies, Terrorists Are Moving Targets" in the magazine of the New Jersey Transportation Planning Authority raises many critical issues relating to the security of urban rail systems.
  • Security experts and transit officials alike all but guarantee that some intentional tragedy will, sooner or later, befall the transit infrastructure of a major American city.
  • al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations have also struck mass transit. Since 2011, bombings have taken place on transit systems in Mumbai (2002, 2003 and 2006), Madrid (2004), Moscow (2004 and 2010) and London (2005).
  • According to the Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI) Data Base of Terrorists Attacks against Public Surface Transportation, over 4,000 people were killed in 1,434 attacks between 2004 and 2010.
  • Transit infrastructure by its very nature presents a ripe target, terror experts say. While airline passengers have to go so far as to take off their shoes and submit to controversial full-body scans, transit passengers move freely through portals like ghosts. And what passengers can do, so can couriers of bombs, nerve gas and anthrax.
  • To combat everyday crime, such as theft, that takes place on their systems, transit agencies have long maintained their own police forces, or contracted out to other law agencies.
  • Regardless of the money that Washington, D.C., does not provide, transit officials say that vigilance is their most important resource. Waiting for a threat that may never emerge—scanning subway platforms day-in, and day-out—can, however, be a mind-numbing task.
The bottom line is that:

(1) FTA does not provide funds for security,

(2) Substantial funds are necessary just to combat groping, pickpocketing and other petty crime, and,

(3) Rail transit security is nearly impossible to accomplish at any level comparable to aviation, but the cost for it is very high given the number of stations and passengers (and potential criminals and terrorists) that utilize the rail systems.

In the picture below from LA's Gold Line rail one can see six security officers (that is, six salaries and benefits) and no passengers!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Privacy Issues Survey -- The Economist and Hawaii Results

I like people, global and local issues, and numbers ... so I present a mini-series of surveys on major issues which have been debated at The Economist. I recommend that you visit their site and learn more if the issue presented is of interest to you.

I selected blocks of questions on Privacy, Economy, Technology, Energy and U.S. Politics. I used my several thousand contacts and Internet friends as well as SurveyMonkey to conduct surveys and solicit responses from Hawaii. Both my and The Economist surveys are based on "self selected" respondents so the results may provide trends or indications but they are not scientific.

Obviously the results only represent people with at least a basic level of computer and Internet savvy. However, the results may be sufficiently indicative because most questions along with the careful wording of questions lead to straightforward answer: Agree, Disagree or Do Not Know. The Economist has received a few thousand responses to each of their questions. I post results only when Hawaii surveys exceed 100 responses.

Privacy Issues Survey (click to take the survey)

I grouped four of The Economist questions into a privacy issues survey, as follows:
  • DNA sequence is a person's business, and nobody else's.
  • Loss of privacy from digitizing health care will be more than compensated by increased efficiency.
  • Cloud computing can't be trusted.
  • Government must do far more to protect online privacy.
The results are summarized below.

The immediate observation is that Hawaii responses are more agreeable than The Economist responses. The graph shows that both Hawaii and The Economist responses trend in the same way. By a large margin, Hawaii respondents prefer high levels of privacy for a person's DNA and for online transactions.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Public Apathy "Promotes" Boondoggles. Another H-3? The Obama Effect on the Rail Vote

PUBLIC APATHY. It is one of the major boosters of the ridiculous Honolulu rail, according to award winning journalist and author John Fund of the Wall Street Journal. He spoke about it yesterday at the 36th annual Business and Investment Conference organized by Smart Business Hawaii at the Ala Moana Hotel.

Cost is ridiculous, environmental impact is horrendous and federal monies are no more. Yet Honolulu rail rolls along. Why?

Because too few local citizens participate in protests, contact and pressure elected officials, contribute money and time, etc., etc. He also acknowledged that in most cases major successes are achieved by a few, so those of us really working on stopping the rail are not the exception.

So, I say, if rail happens Abe Lincoln will be correct one more time. In a moment of disappointment Abe said "People get who (or what) they deserve."

ANOTHER H-3? John also quoted past Mayor Mufi Hannemann who after the marginal 50.6% "yes to steel on steel rail" vote proclaimed that "this is not going to be another H-3." Yet as you know from my previous posts the cost of rail was predicted in late 2010 to be at least 40% higher compared with the cost estimates during 2008 campaign. Project construction is 3.5 years late.

Rail has already faced one lawsuit in state court on Hawaiian issues and is facing a major one in federal court for NEPA violations. But this is only the beginning. There will be lawsuits for illegal agricultural land conversions and usage. Noise impacts in the proximity of HUD financed homes and apartments because rail noise violates HUD night time noise levels. A challenge for the misuse of TheBus funds to sore-up TheRail finances is also in consideration. And of course dozens of eminent domain lawsuits.

H-3 was built in the middle of nowhere, whereas rail steps on the toes of thousands of citizens. We have not seen anything yet in terms of legal challenges.

THE 2008 ELECTIONS OBAMA EFFECT ON RAIL. John Fund provided statistical evidence that in the 2008 election "island son" presidential candidate Barrack Obama drew thousands of new voters in the polls particularly younger ones who overwhelmingly voted in favor of rail. (I add that I have noted this attitude in young people. Rail is a government project for their future which will cost them next to nothing because it is the government's monies and not theirs...) John argued that if there was a more typical election without the prominent "Obama effect" in the local polls, the rail question would have been a solid No.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Survival of the Unfittest: Why the Worst Infrastructure Gets Built

The worst infrastructure gets built! This is the concise conclusion of analysis by Oxford University professor Bent Flybjerg who for many years has been emphasizing the pitfalls of "megaprojects" which typically turn out to:
  • be much more costly than predicted before construction started
  • provide fewer benefits that planners predicted, and
  • attain a 50% lower ridership than predicted, for urban rail systems
Dr. Flybjerg attributes this to several factors, many of which are prevalent in the proposed Honolulu rail megaproject, as shown below, followed by my assessment from * meaning "not so much in Honolulu rail " to ***** "spot on for Honolulu rail":
  • Such projects are inherently risky owing to long planning horizons and complex interfaces. (***** Honolulu rail is all elevated, heavy rail in the middle of vital arterial streets of a a crowded city with cultural, historical and soils issues)
  • Technology and design are often non-standard. (** Honolulu rail is heavy rail guideway with light rail automatic trains by Ansaldo)
  • Decision-making, planning, and management are typically multi-actor processes with
  • conflicting interests. (**** Honolulu rail is heavily political project built as a city project in the middle of state highways with political push from Senator Inouye in Washington DC.)
  • Often there is ‘lock in’ or ‘capture’ of a certain project concept at an early stage, leaving analysis of alternatives weak or absent. (***** This is exactly why the NEPA-based lawsuit was filled in federal court. Mufi Hannemann took office in Jan. 2005 and by late fall 2006 the ~100 page Alternatives Analysis had selected elevated rail as the "winner".)
  • The project scope or ambition level will typically change significantly over time. (**** Honolulu rail started as a 34 mile proposal for about $4 Billion and right before construction it is a 20-mile $5.2 Billion project that excludes Kapolei town, Waikiki and UH-Manoa!)
  • Statistical evidence shows that such unplanned events are often unaccounted for, leaving budget and time contingencies sorely inadequate. (*** Honolulu rail will be subjected to many changes as eminent domain lawsuits begin once construction starts.)
  • As a consequence, misinformation about costs, benefits, and risks is the norm throughout project development and decision-making, including in the business case. (**** Even pro-rail local newspapers and City Council members gripe about the lack of transparency and the ever evolving changes in costs.)
  • The result is cost overruns and/or benefit shortfalls during project implementation. (***** If built, Honolulu rail's ultimate result will be a 50% cost overrun and a 50% ridership attainment, at best.)
LINK to the full article Survival of the unfittest: why the worst infrastructure gets built—and what we can do about it by Bent Flyvbjerg. Sa¨ıd Business School, University of Oxford, e-mail: Part of the research for this paper was carried out while the author was professor at Aalborg University, Denmark, and Delft University of Technology, the Netherlands.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Large Unions and Massive Labor Laws Lead to Fewer Jobs

France is a prime example of having large and powerful unions, a 3,300-page Labor Law and employee payroll taxation at 39%. The result of all this is more automation and fewer jobs.

In the late 1990s Paris totally retrofitted metro line 14 which today carries 725,000 passengers a day. It is totally automated and the computerized trains run much closer to each other.

Self checkout has proliferated and continues to gain ground in countries where labor is expensive. Other examples from France include:
  • Orders at many McDonald's are taken via touchscreen devices.
  • Transit services operate with smart cards
  • Self-serve car washing Elephant Bleu has grown to 472 stations
One result is that France is a leader in the creation and adoption of automation. Another is that unemployment rarely drops below 10%. More details in The Economist's Driverless, Workless article.