Thursday, December 27, 2001

Homeless: If one only read the New York Times, one might suspect that Clinton had solved homelessness once and for all -- the number of stories the Times published on homelessness plummeted after Clinton took office (which also coincides with the time that Arthur "Pinch" Salzburg Jr. took over as publiser.) Today's New York Times editorial page contends that mayor-elect Bloomberg needs to address the homeless problem in the city.

Of course, the Times has all kinds of ideas for how to take care of the homeless, proposing that the government provide housing subsidies for the poor. How about this -- END RENT CONTROLS IN NEW YORK CITY! Not next year, right now. Price controls create excess demand. In the housing market, excess demand equals homelessness.

Wednesday, December 26, 2001

I have begun writing for the Libertarian Samizdata page. I assume that nearly everyone (i.e. both of you) who reads LibertyBlog are already familiar with Samizdata. Now that Perry de Havilland and the Samizdata staff have given me access to their blog, I am considering shutting down LibertyBlog, for the following reasons:

(1) There is a strong likelihood that I will be relocating soon, moving half a continent away to accept a promotion at work. I will not have a lot of time to troll around the internet for blog-fodder if this occurs.
(2) Samizdata gets as many hits in a day as I do in a week. (Who knows, maybe they don't have more readers, but their readers hit the site seven times as often.) At any rate, the stuff I post to Samizdata will likely find a larger audience, as the "bigshots" read Samizdata more than they read my little broadside.
(3) There are now a preponderance of terrific liberty-oriented blogs out there, and a little consolidation is probably in order.
(4) If I only wrote for Samizdata, I would not feel compelled to cover every news story, or write every single day. There are days when I get in at 11:00pm and think to myself: "if I don't post something every day, my readership will dwindle!"

My plan is to post fewer, but higher-quality, pieces in the coming few weeks. I will post to both Samizdata and LibertyBlog for the time being. If I do decide to euthanize LibertyBlog, I will leave the archives out on the web for a while.

Thanks to everyone who has read my column, written to me, started arguments, etc. By writing for Samizdata, I am certain that I will only be able to look forward to more of the same.

Christopher Pellerito
Editor, LibertyBlog
Rochester Hills, MI, USA

Sunday, December 23, 2001

How NOT to get rid of Castro: This latest Don Feder column, advocating the continued embargo against Cuba, nearly chokes to death on its own contradictions. First, Feder contends:

Castro has nothing we want and nothing to pay for what he wants from us.

If Cuba had something we wanted, of course, they would have something with which to pay for what they want. And in his concluding paragraph, Feder, perhaps unintentionally, concedes that Cuba does indeed have something Americans want:

Besides supporting oppression of the Cuban people, unrestricted U.S. trade -- and the tourist dollars to follow -- would be invested in America's destruction. As U.S. forces clean out the Tora Bora caves, we would be nuts to subsidize a branch office of the terrorist international 90 miles from our shores.

Hmmm ... so Cubans do have something Americans want -- tourism, for one thing. If they "had nothing we wanted," they would not earn any income with which to pad the coffers of terrorists, now, would they?

The antiterrorist argument is a nonstarter. We do not trade with Cuba now, and they are already a bastion of terrorism. Terrorists could function anywhere, and they generally choose not to set up shop in open, free societies. They operate from repressive places like Afghanistan, Libya and Cuba, right? By keeping Cuba cordoned off from US markets, we are making the place more inviting to terrorists. Moreover, if we opened trade to them, we could at least threaten to shut them out of our markets again if they don't vigorously prosecute terrorists.

Castro has plodded on in Cuba precisely because of the embargo. With no access to American products, Cubans do not see what they have been forcibly denied. Castro can blame America rather than his own kleptomania / thuggery for the nation's woes. End the sanctions on Cuba, and watch Castro topple.
Slander of the year: In its story announcing Time Magazine's selection of Rudolph Giuliani as the 2001 "Man of the Year," The New York Times can resist taking a pathetic cheap shot at hizzonner:

Giuliani had his share of difficulties -- from a series of fatal police shootings of unarmed black men in which he reflexively defended the officers, to a losing battle with the Brooklyn Museum of Art over what he labeled ``indecent'' art.

That's it? He was the mayor of a city of 7 million people for eight years, and those two items constitute his share of difficulties? The Brooklyn Museum flap was more about the public funding of blasphemous art than about the art itself, and the piece WAS indecent regardless of whether Giuliani "labeled" it as such. And the adverb "reflexively" in the first sentence is totally meaningless in that context.

Giuliani is a strong choice for Man of the Year -- certainly better than OBL, who was rumored to have been Time's initial choice, although I would have considered a few others: Mr. Beamer and the "let's roll" gang on Flight 93, Dubya, the FDNY, etc.
WHO's better, WHO's best: Reason's Brian Doherty runs this excellent expose of the World Health Organization. A classic example of how, even in a non-political bureaucratic setting, politics quickly takes over: mission creep, posturing and grandstanding, competing with other bureaucracies (such as the Center for Disease Control) and so on. The piece carries a couple of hilarious anecdotes -- the "buckle up" billboard in Mozambique is a classic.

Friday, December 21, 2001

The perfect car: Standing in line at the grocery store, a banner on the cover of Reader's Digest caught my eye: "The perfect car!" What did they think was the perfect car? I wondered. The BMW M5 would be a good candidate -- a dignified, reliable, luxurious sedan with 400 hp. But that car costs over $70,000. RD probably had something more mainstream in mind ... so I took a peek inside.

Their perfect car? The gas-electric hybrid Honda Insight. The Insight is a brilliant car, but is it perfect? High performance in one area always entails compromise in another -- this is why there is not a Ferrari SUV. The Insight is a high-performance car; not in terms of straight line performance but in fuel economy, where it holds the undisputed EPA mileage crown. You might think that only hippies and ultra-enviros would embrace the Insight, but Car and Driver editor Patrick Bedard, who is strongly libertarian and raced on the Indy circuit in the 1980s, and the Cato Institute's Patrick Michaels, have lavished praise on the Insight, and use them as daily drivers.

The Insight seamlessly blends two power sources -- a 1.0 liter, 3-cylinder gas engine and an electric motor -- and it does so in intriguing ways. When you come to a stop light, the engine does not idle; it shuts off. Then when you launch it again, the electric motor restarts the gas engine in less than the time it takes to dump the clutch. The combination of light weight, efficient gas combustion, the electric motor assist and slippery aerodynamics produce 60+ mpg in a car that never needs to be plugged in and runs on plain old gasoline.

But just as the single-minded pursuit of performance and handling requires compromise, the single-minded pursuit of gas mileage requires compromise as well. The Insight, to minimize drag, tapers dramatically from front to back. The rear track is narrower than the front, leading to mulish handling. The car weighs only 1900 lbs -- less than a Miata. The car has only two seats and very few concessions to driver comfort.

Oh, and one other thing ... Honda is not making any money selling it. The car stickers for about $20k, and Honda is not finding many takers. Perhaps it's because their own Civic models cost less and still get excellent mileage. But for a car to be "perfect," it has to provide some return for the shareholders of the business. (Note that this pretty much eliminates all Fiat products.)

Economists and engineers understand that you don't get any closer to making a "perfect" car by "solving" problems -- all you do is trade in one set of problems for another. The fatuousness of CAFE lies in its assumption that there are no trade-offs in life. The quest for the "perfect" car is rooted in the same fallacies.

Thursday, December 20, 2001

Putting out fire with gasoline: According to this FOXNews story, the Bush administration supports the IMF loan package for Argentina. But this is not a news story. The US must approve of every loan package the IMF remits. It takes 85% of the voting power at the IMF to sign off on a loan, and since the US controls upwards of 20% of the vote, no nation could ever receive an IMF loan if the US opposed the measure. (Voting shares are apportioned according to the amount contributed to the Fund, which is how the UN ought to work.)

Particularly mystifying is the statement from Paul O'Neill (the treasury secretary, not the former Yankee rightfielder), who has never been a big fan of the IMF:

This is an important step as we continue to work toward a sustainable long-term solution to Argentina's economic problems ... A portion of the new program is specifically dedicated to assisting in a voluntary debt exchange to help make Argentina's fiscal situation more sustainable.

What are Argentina's economic problems? The inability to obtain credit was never one of them -- the government ran up $130 billion in foreign debt. Some, like Paul Krugman, have blamed the currency board (the analogue to the Federal Reserve, although they operate and make policy very differently.) The currency board actually did a pretty good job of de-politicizing the money supply, until the politicians decided to play with it.

A lot of coverage has centered on the greed and incompetence of Argentinian politicians, and rightly so. But their politicians are likely no better and no worse than American or British or Italian politicians -- they just have more power under their political system. If Daschle and Hastert and DeLay were running the Argentinian legislature, they would have made just as big a mess.
British scientific breakthrough: Sure, American scientists are mapping the human genome, inventing cool battery-powered scooters, leading the world in biotechnology, etc. But the British Institute for the Advancement of Science announced that it has isolated the world's funniest joke. Not surprisingly, the joke's protagonists are British -- follow the link to the joke.
Milton Friedman, sex symbol? The Economist declares that economics is sexy. Well, it's about time somebody noticed! Talk about a pickup line -- hey, baby, did you know that I have a master's degree in sexy?
Dangerous phase: First there was the "risky scheme," then "gravitas," then the "quagmire." The new uber-cliche, as Slate's Jack Shafer acutely observes, is dangerous phase. The war in Afghanistan has entered "a more dangerous phase" so many times that the war must now be as dangerous as smoking a cigarette while eating red meat in a tanning bed in an SUV.

Wednesday, December 19, 2001

New blog alert: Jeff Goldstein, an English professor at the University of Denver, has a new weblog, Protein Wisdom. So far, the output has been prolific -- one hilarious entry used an online "translation" applet to convert a typically vapid Chomsky passage into "jive." They also weigh in on the Goldberg vs. Postrel nosebleed and other hot issues in blogland.
Blair's legacy: Iain Murray, author of The Edge of England's Sword, offers a stinging indictment of Prime Minister Tony Blair, comparing him unfavorably with the American traitor, John Walker. The piece is provocative, to say the least -- but his criticism of Blair is spot-on. Brits will now be subject to prosecution for offenses that are not illegal in Britain, among other outrages. Also, notice the amount of restraint it took not to use the caption "The Blair Bitch Project" for this post.
Virginia vs. Jonah: The National Review Online's Jonah Goldberg and author / pundit / small "L" libertarian Virginia Postrel have exchanged some verbal fireworks lately. Goldberg ran a series of columns criticizing libertarians. Reynolds and Postrel defended the libertarian cause, arguing that Goldberg was actually locking horns with a "straw man" caricature of libertarianism. On it went, until the latest Goldberg column (the one that his name above links to):

Virginia Postrel suspects that my "anti-libertarian outbursts" stem from a desire to get her and other libertarians to link to my site. Well, we can put aside the suggestion that it's a web-traffic bonanza to get linked on something called "Libertarian Samizdata" (I actually lose traffic when I indulge my anti-libertarian bent).

Well, the good folks at Samizdata hardly deserve to get dragged into this catfight. For the record, I seem to get anywhere from 20-50 referrals per day from the Samizdata site, maybe more on a day when Reynolds plugs Samizdata, or when Samizdata plugs me.

I am going to post a response to Goldberg's latest beef with libertarianism, but not tonight, okay?
Gore loses again: John McCaslin reports in his weekly beltway beat column that Timothy Berners-Lee has won the prestigious Science and Technology Foundation of Japan 2002 Prize for his pioneering work in "conceiving and launching" the World Wide Web. Mr. Gore apparently could not be reached for comment, but he must feel as Liebniz did when Newton received credit for having invented calculus. On the other hand, if Gore had made a more plausible claim -- say, having invented the spork -- he would not have sentenced himself to this eternal ridicule.
Washington What-skins?! Tony Adragna, the left-leaning half of the delightful QuasiPundit, takes issue with yesterday's LibertyBlog column about why Washington baseball is unlikely to fly.

I would counter that my beloved Bay Area has TWO baseball teams and TWO football teams in fairly close proximity to each other. But, those teams have "history" where they're at, so I really couldn't offer that example as relevant. However, unless professional football plays by different market rules, then it seems to me that "proximity" isn't a very good reason. Look, the Ravens got to go to Baltimore, even though there was already a pro football team in the area. And don't tell me that the For... um... er... I mean, the Redskins don't count.

Well, in pro football, every game is on national TV; the Ravens and 'Skins do not negotiate their own TV contracts, and teams do not get mo' money out of the national TV deals with CBS and FOX if more people tune into their games. In baseball, very few games appear on national TV, and each franchise negotiates a local TV deal. This is why "small markets" are not an issue in football, and even Green Bay can have a franchise. So the "if the Ravens and Skins can do it, why can't the Orioles and Senators do it" argument is a nonstarter.

Tuesday, December 18, 2001

Calcoholism: The latest column by Cal Thomas greases up the slippery slope in response to NBC's decision to carry ads for hard liquor. Why not allow ads for any service that is legal, argues Thomas sarcastically. He is being too clever by half -- why not?

The line that has been drawn -- beer and wine ads can appear on television, but distilled spirits cannot -- is totally arbitrary, but Thomas insists that it would be catastrophic to move the line an inch in either direction. Besides, most ads for beer aren't even about the product! They are about horses, frogs, hotties, retired jocks, anything but the beer. Liquor is sold in the same places as beer in most states, so a kid who saw a beer ad would go to a store where they sold the hard stuff as well. Liquor ads used to be commonplace in the US, and society didn't crumble. Get over it, Cal.
Hoop schemes: This is a local story here in Michigan that isn't going to get a lot of play nationally, but I want to cover it here because it deserves to see the light of day. A federal district judge ruled that the MHSAA, the body that governs high school sports in Michigan, discriminates against female athletes by scheduling girls' basketball for the fall and volleyball for the winter. Most of the other states reverse the order, so Michigan girls are among the only women playing hoops in the fall.

The lawsuit, brought by two lawyers in the Grand Rapids area, alleged that this format denied girls scholarship opportunities because college recruiters would have to visit them out of season, and because Michigan girls were busy playing the regular season while some national camps and tournaments were taking place. This, the attorneys alleged, violated Title IX of the Civil Rights Act, which mandates equal accommodation for women, blah blah blah.

It used to be that a statistical disparity was necessary, but not sufficient, to prove discrimination. Then, in the era of affirmative action and quotas, a statistical discrepancy was both necessary and sufficient to prove discrimination. Now, evidently, the disparity is not even necessary, as the plaintiffs offered no quantitative data to suggest that Michigan girls get fewer basketball scholarships than their counterparts in other states. As it turns out, Michigan ranks 5th in the nation in producing Division I (i.e. scholarship) female college basketball players. The News article that I linked to even quotes the University of Michigan ladies' coach, Sue (no relation to Che) Guevara, who contends that the system gives the Michigan ladies an advantage because recruiters can give them more attention as fewer other girls nationwide are playing.

But even if it could be proven that Michigan girls were not getting as many college basketball scholarships, it would still be a lame lawsuit. Only a tiny fraction of the ladies who play high school basketball will ever play in a Division I college program. Why do the needs of this subset of the girls' basketball population trump the demands of everyone else, including those who are actually footing the bill? Boys and girls have the same opportunity to play high school basketball in Michigan, period.

In Iowa, the ladies play a "6-on-6" mutation of basketball, in which each team fields three forwards and three defenders. The forwards must stay in the frontcourt; the defenders must stay in the backcourt. So it is like two simultaneous games of 3-on-3, but with one ball. Obviously, girls who play in this system will only learn half the skills (either offense or defense) needed to play the college 5-on-5 game. But 6-on-6 basketball is hugely popular in Iowa, with the annual state playoffs often outdrawing the boys' playoffs. I am yet to see the lawsuit contending that 6-on-6 is denying Iowa girls the fundamental right to play Division I basketball.

Moreover, by offsetting the boys' and girls' schedules, this alleviates the needs for gym capacity, and requires fewer trained referees and other personnel, which in turn frees up athletic department budgets for things like, oh, say, girls' sports. Many schools in Michigan will not be able to accommodate simultaneous boys' and girls' basketball, which will force athletic departments to pay to use other venues, etc.

It seems likely that the judge's decision will get ripped to shreds by the court of appeals. But this lifetime-tenured judge is potentially messing with the lives of hundreds of thousands of high school athletes in Michigan, in the name of some hollow pursuit of gender equity.

Monday, December 17, 2001

Lynx hyjinks: One weblogger I have been meaning to plug for a while, Colorado undergrad Matthew Edgar, has some good observations today on the Canadian Lynx hoax. In case you missed that story, a group of National Forest Service officials planted evidence of a Canadian Lynx in two National Forests in the Pacific northwest. They had taken a few hairs from a captive lynx and claimed that they had been found in the forest -- but other agency workers eventually matched the DNA from those hairs to the captive lynx. (Duh!)

What is it lately with people getting trapped by their own lies? Michael Bellesiles, Orange Coast College, George O'Leary at Notre Dame, and now this. While I am not surprised by this story, I feel sorry for the honest Forest Service workers whose work will now be met with glaring skepticism. And why hasn't the Bush administration pressed charges against these workers -- or even fired them?
Boss Tweed Feminism In this excellent commentary by Wendy McElroy of iFeminists, she explores the contradictions of equal gender representation laws that have been enforced in Kosovo and are being considered for the new government in Afghanistan.

Equality and representative government are fundamentally at odds. If certain outcomes are mandated, then the government is not democratic. Representative government is a process, not an outcome -- giving women and men equal rights to vote and equal rights to seek office can be consistent with representative government; mandating that a certain number of women -- or minorities or gays or religious people -- is incompatible with democracy.
Brussels bouts: Ian Black of The Guardian looks east at the rest of Europe and does not like what he sees. The Brits are being ridiculed for their hidebound adherence to tradition instead of joining the EU. But I think that the British have it right. The British people oppose joining the European Union and oppose the Euro currency -- whether they are right for the right reason or right for the wrong reason, they are still right.
The Washington Times editorial board carried this unusual column on Major League Baseball over the weekend. They argue that a more liberal relocation policy, while not necessarily doing anything to help the overall cause of MLB's beleaguered finances, would at least serve the admirable goal of bringing a franchise to "baseball-starved" Washington DC.

The article fails to mention that during the twenty year period (1953-72) when relocation was common practice, not one but TWO franchises vacated Washington. Calvin Griffith's original Washington Senators became the Minnesota Twins in 1961;that year MLB awarded Washington an expansion franchise, which also adopted the name Senators. This team bolted for Dallas / Ft. Worth and became the Texas Rangers in 1972. So the record of easy relocation does not look too promising for Beltway baseball fans.

The Times also overlooks the nearby Baltimore Orioles. Downtown Washington and downtown Baltimore are barely 30 miles apart; I live nearly as far from Comerica Park, the home of the Detroit Tigers, but I do not describe my hometown as "baseball-starved Rochester Hills." For most of the tenure of the old Senators teams, there was no team in Baltimore -- the Orioles arrived in 1954 (they had been the St. Louis Browns) and Griffith picked up his stakes less than a decade later.

The editors discuss the silliness of baseball's longstanding "antitrust exemption," but the whole argument about barriers to competition is pointless. It confuses the athletes (who surely compete with each other on the playing field) with franchises (who do not compete with each other but rather collaborate to provide an entertainment product, pro baseball.) Baseball in turn competes with other forms of entertainment and recreation.

General Motors and Ford compete with each other: they sell rival products in the same classes, and they are trying to take market share from each other and ultimately put each other out of business. The Yankees and Red Sox do not compete for the same fans, and they do not participate in the same television markets; they are both trying to increase the demand for major league baseball. For this reason, the whole notion of anti-competitiveness seems silly.

Until the owners lost their collusion suit in 1986, there was no pervasive "major market" bias in baseball. In the previous decade, teams in Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Baltimore, Detroit and Kansas City -- all tagged "small markets" -- won titles. After the demise of the A's dynasty in the mid-'70s, the baseball on the field was highly competitive because the owners did not compete for players.

If the Times wants Washington baseball, they ought to recommend that baseball organize as a pure cartel, with total control over where franchises will locate, how much they can spend on players, etc. The league could organize in such a fashion as to optimize its media coverage and serve all the major markets. They could also allow for a super-minor league (with a provision for promotion and demotion) that could field teams in Charlotte, San Antonio, and current MLB cities such as Minnesota and Montreal.

This would allow "minor" markets (and when you split the Balto-Wash area in half, each half is a minor market) to have competitive baseball. It would not give the teams in New York and Los Angeles an unearned advantage. And it would still not necessarily create stultifying parity -- the NBA has been dynasty-prone since the early '80s when they adopted a salary cap and revenue sharing. But it requires getting past a debate whose terms were established by Oliver Wendell Holmes 80 years ago.

Sunday, December 16, 2001

What an age we live in: General Mills will soon allow customers to make their very own custom cereal online. I want Frosted Cracklin' Chocolate Marshmallow Froot Loops, please. This is a brilliant idea (General Mills' service, not my cereal) because (1) people will pay a premium for their cereal of choice and (2) General Mills is essentially getting its market research for free, or cheaper than free, actually.

After a few days of technical difficulties with the Blogger system, I have returned. Lots of ideas for posts have been churning in my head over the extended weekend, so get ready for lots of fresh material in the next few days.

Friday, December 14, 2001

The Big U: On the topic of ABM, Charles Krauthammer celebrates the resurgence of The Big U -- unilateralism. Before 911, the Bush administration was skewered by liberal pundits for opposing Kyoto, for opposing ABM, etc. After 911, the same liberal pundits argued that we needed to push the same globalist agenda to maintain the support of key allies.

If we back out of Kyoto, we were told, we could alienate the Europeans whose support we may need in the war on terrorism. (Actually, the US is taking the front door out of Kyoto while the EU is taking the back door out, but no matter.) If we back out of ABM, Putin may not support the ongoing war on terrorism. There was seemingly no end to such arguments.

But guess what? We put the Taliban away without the EU or Russia. We will defend our borders without the EU or Russia. And we will continue to push our own national security interests, whether the multilateral crowd approves or not.
RIP ABM: Nick Schulz, an editor of TechCentralStation, offers one of the day's best commentaries on the administration's decision to withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty of 1972. One of the recurring flaws of our national security policy is that we are obsessed with yesterday's problems. Our airport security pre-911 was designed to prevent the types of politicized hijackings that were prevalent in the '70s. Our airport security post-911 seems designed to do nothing more than prevent the exact same incident from happening again. Not a very dynamist strategy, is it?

So the withdrawal from ABM strikes me as a step in the right direction -- at least we have admitted that our future national security priorities will not exactly mirror the past or even the present. We don't know who the rogue states of tomorrow will be, so there is no point in clinging to the arms-control priorities of yesterday.

Thursday, December 13, 2001

Free trade for Pakistan:: In an excellent commentary in today's Washington Times, US Senator John Kyl (R-AZ) calls for freer trade in textiles to strengthen the Pakistani economy (and, oh yeah, benefit US consumers.) A similar argument could be made for freer trade in steel to give the Russian economy a viable export (and, oh yeah, benefit US consumers.) The only thing that could have made Kyl's column better: calling out fellow GOP Senators Thurmond and Helms.
Phat: Surgeon General David Satcher, addressing one of the nation's most critical problems, urges a war on obesity. The Surgeon General, with a straight face, released his Vision for the Future, advocating a variety of social engineering initiatives to fight the menace of obesity.

I cannot think of any better response to this than to call for the abolition of the Surgeon General's office, as they have proven that they either have nothing better to do, or are capable of doing nothing more productive than, micromanaging Americans' diets. I did, however, find a terrific parody site called Forces.org, which predicts various stages of the War on Fat, beginning with the usual busybodying, then progressing to studies condemning "second-hand fat," etc.
Justice for Hearlson: Orange Coast College has finally reinstated history professor Kenneth Hearlson, whom they suspended without pay after a handful of Islamic students fabricated charges that he insulted them during class. Even after another student's audiotaped transcript of the class made it obvious that the charges were bogus, the university merely gave Hearlson a written reprimand instead of admitting that the administration had erred by suspending him without an investigation of the charges. According to FIRE, the academic freedom watchdog group that broke this story and placed intense public pressure on OCC, the school neither apologized to Hearlson nor reprimanded the students who invented the charges against the embattled prof.
Certifiably insane: Reason's Michael Lynch runs an outstanding column today on teacher certification. He quotes Frederick Hess, professor of education at the University of Virginia:

[T}eacher certification is more akin to cosmetology licensing, where the emphasis is on completing a required course of classes and tasks, not acquiring difficult knowledge. It functions as an entry barrier to the profession, one that serves the already certified teachers and the schools that get paid to produce them.

Exactly. The certification process requires prospective public school teachers to spend their undergraduate years taking unchallenging, largely unproductive education courses -- more of a fraternity hazing ritual than an education. And Hess is absolutely right about the barrier to entry argument. Millions of Americans are qualified to teach high school students and are knowledgeable and passionate about their fields, but cannot teach because they do not have an education degree. I have better credentials than many public high school economics teachers, but I would be barred from most high school classrooms.

Tuesday, December 11, 2001

9/11 Opportunism update: Charles Schumer, the senior Senator from New York State, does what he does best -- makes up preposterous nonsense -- in today's Washington Post op-ed.

From 1912 to 1980, the federal government grew with little interruption. The modern conservative movement, beginning with Barry Goldwater in 1964 and attaining power with Ronald Reagan's victory in 1980, argued that Washington had grown too large, too inefficient and too out of touch ... For the next two decades, the federal government stopped growing, and by some measures even shrank, with Bill Clinton doing more of the shrinking than any other president. But our new situation has dramatically reversed that trend.

If Charles Schumer thinks that the government "shrank" during the '80s and '90s, then he must have bought into Clinton's "smallest government in 30 years" bit -- but it is hard to find any indicator of governmental activity that has shrunk since 1965 or even since 1980. The federal workforce, if you count both civilian and military workers, has stagnated -- that's about as close as you can come. But it would be difficult to find even a single agency whose budget has been curtailed or even reduced to less than the level of inflation since 1980.

Reagan made a campaign promise to eliminate the Dept. of Education in 1980, but its budget has grown larger than ever under the Bush administration. The GOP's Contract with America vowed to abolish the Dept. of Energy, but it is with us, and spending more than ever. The federal law-enforcement agencies are flush with dollars and with staff. The personal income tax generates enough revenue to pay for the expansion of the federal budget since 1992 -- that is, eliminate the income tax, and put every agency back on its 1992 budget, and you have a balanced budget.
Double standard on civil liberties: James Morrow finally makes the point that many of us have been screaming about for a month now: Europe is shedding its civil liberties at a pace that would make Ashcroft see red. But ACLU types don't see it that way, because the US has capital punishment and the EU does not. Morrow doesn't even get into the horrors of the ICC, which many of the same civil liberties types think the US ought to join.

Monday, December 10, 2001

Risky scheme for the poor: Bill Raspberry finally notices the obvious -- the poor have the most to gain from overhauling Social Security, because they have the lowest life expectancy and because they pay the highest proportion of their income in payroll taxes. Yet the silence among the "poverty pimps," as Thomas Sowell colorfully describes them, has been overwhelming. Why might this be the case? A few possibilities:

(1) the Democrats don't need Social Security reform because they "own" the Social Security issue. Bill Clinton blathered for eight years about how "saving Social Security" was his top priority; and even though he did absolutely nothing to address the matter during his tenure as President (except to coin the phrase "risky scheme") polls still show that the voters prefer the Democrats' priorities for the program (whatever they are.)

(2) The poverty industry is more about creating jobs for bureaucrats than it is about reducing poverty. The amount of money it would take to raise everyone below the poverty level up to the poverty level is far less than the total amount spent on federal transfer payments.

(3) Poverty advocates will have to find another line of work if they actually alleviate poverty, and the last thing they want to do is concede that the poor themselves can be part of the solution to poverty.

It is probably some combination of the three. But the situation is reminiscent of Hernando de Soto's analysis in The Mystery of Capital. He argues that the third-world poor own prodigious quantities of assets, but that these assets cannot be converted into financial wealth because of byzantine property laws. Social Security poses a similar problem -- payroll tax contributions can't be used as collateral to start businesses in the inner city, they can't be passed along to the next generation, and they are worthless if the contributor doesn't survive until the age of eligibility.
I didn't ask to be born! Countless teenagers have used this old platitude in arguments with their parents. But according to the Christian Science Monitor, a French court of appeals ruled that children born with Down's Syndrome have a legal right to never have been born, and could sue the doctors who attended the pregnancy for not performing an abortion.

One of the problems with the "right to die" legislation and referendums was that they took a civil rights approach to the issue -- most of them called for the creation of some kind of governmental tribunal to determine whether a patient was "terminally" ill and had the "right" to die. But of course, a right to die has to exist independently of condition, if it is to exist at all.

Down Syndrome is a form of retardation (this is the disease in which patients have an "extra chromosome" -- Al Gore once got into some hot water for chiding the "extra-chromosome right wing.") If this condition creates the right to have been aborted, what else does? Can a child sue if he is born into poverty? Born addicted to drugs? Born under a bad sign? If the right to have been aborted exists, then it has to ultimately apply for everyone, and if everyone has the right to sue over their very existence ... well, is there anything that can't be litigated?
Please don't let me be misunderstood: Andy Rooney released this inane editorial in NandoTimes last week, arguing that we need to take OBL alive so that we can: hear what bin Laden has to say in defense of himself. Everyone has a reason or excuse. We ought to do everything we can to understand this kind of a mind because we're facing many other people just like him.

Andrew Hofer, editor of the excellent More than Zero weblog, offers the best possible retort to the cantankerous one:

There's little to be gained and much to be lost from interrogating OBL. Excuse my French, but how much questioning do we need to reach the final diagnosis of "sick f---"? Kill him slowly but quietly. Claim he fled and show everyone the pink panties you found in his sock drawer.

Well done, Andrew.
Barone's winners and losers: Columnist Michael Barone identifies the biggest winners and losers since 9/11. His loser column includes the religious right, the radical feminists, and the multiculturalists. His comments on multiculturalism are breathtakingly eloquent:

The war has also weakened the multiculturalists who want to keep us apart. The victims of the September 11 attacks, the rescue workers who chanted "U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!" when George W. Bush first went to ground zero, hailed from every ethnic and racial group. Much more important, they were all Americans. Watching on television, Americans instinctively recognized that our differentness is one of the things that make us the same. In particular, Latinos, who the multiculturalists hoped would become an adversarial proletariat, are now proudly flying the American flag and volunteering for military service. This war may turn out to be an annealing event for them, as World War II was for Italian-Americans, an opportunity to prove that they are an integral part of this country.

The rest of his column is just as good. Check it out.

Sunday, December 09, 2001

The 51st state? Jeremy Lott, writing in Reason, suggests that the recent border-tightening along the world's longest friendly border has devastated Canada. As a Detroit-area resident, I have witnessed this firsthand. Stores in Windsor (the Ontario town on the other side of the Detroit River) have suffered horribly as Detroiters, wary of unending lines at customs, stay away from Canada.

Windsor is not a charming town -- lots of strip clubs and casinos. Since the drinking age is 21 in Michigan and 19 in Ontario, the city caters heavily to the appetites of 19- and 20-year olds. But the city has been devastated by the loss of American business. America's import spending is heavily income-sensitive, and as America lapses into recession, Canada's export base suffers horribly. As a result, the Canadian dollar has sunk to a record low level.

One of Lott's proposals is that Canada adopt a currency board. Yes, the declining Canadian dollar would stimulate exports to the US (if they can get here) but Canada cannot afford to see the cost of American goods slip out of reach. I do not support Britain joining the EU, because I think that Britain's interests diverge too much from the rest of Europe's, but a US-Canada currency agreement would be worth exploring. In an upcoming LibertyBlog exlcusive, I will examine the currency board of Argentina, and why certain "establishment" economists oppose currency boards. Stay tuned!
CAFE's 10Best: Ann Arbor-based automotive magazine Car and Driver has released their annual 10Best cars for the 2002 model year. The honored cars, listed in alphabetical order, were: Acura RSX, Audi A4, BMW 3-series/M3, BMW 5-series, Chevrolet Corvette, Ford Focus, Honda Accord, Honda S2000, Porsche Boxster, Subaru Impreza WRX.

Five sedans, three two-seat convertibles (the Vette, Boxster and S2000) and two compact sporty cars (the Acura and Ford.) So how many American sedans made 10Best? Ah, none. The A4 has made the 10Best four times in its six year history; the 3-series has been honored 11 times. The big 3 have spent more than a decade reverse-engineering those two cars, so why can't they make a model to compete with them? The answer is simple: they aren't allowed to.

If GM wanted to make a low-volume, high prestige division, they would have to water it down with smaller, less-desirable cars to meet the fleet-wide average targets preordained by CAFE. Cadillac has tried to meet the terms of CAFE with "entry-level" cars such as the underpowered Catera and the infamous Cimarron, which was a gussied-up Cavalier thinly disguised as a Caddy -- but this is the price that an American automaker has to pay for its desire to sell premium sedans. Thus, we get a 10Best list whose only American entries are a low-volume sports car (which hardly makes a dent in Chevy's overall fuel economy) and the compact Focus.
Family values Swedish style: Reuters reports that a Swedish court has ordered a man who donated his sperm to a lesbian couple must pay child support to the woman who took custody of his progeny after the two women broke up.

Most sperm donors remain anonymous to the recipient, but in this case, the donor had known the couple and offered his sperm specifically to them, so the court ruled that he was the father and had to pay about 2800 kroner ($265 at the present exchange rate) per month to the woman who presently cares for the child.

So this couple, who did not want a man involved in the rearing of their child, now want a man to pay for the child's rearing. The case is under appeal, but be warned, men -- if a lesbian couple asks for your sperm, just say no.
Hello! I was out all day and didn't get a chance to post anything ... I will be back tomorrow with commentary on the Argentinian crisis, England and the EU, etc. Thanks for your patience...

Friday, December 07, 2001

Oops! An ad for Microsoft Flight Simulator 2002 is shown at Samizdata, a British blog. The European version of the software arrived in stores on Nov. 9th, which would be written "9/11/01" in Europe since their convention is to list day/month/year rather than month/day/year. So they end up with an ad for FS with an airplane and the date "9/11/01" -- guaranteed to shock anyone outside Europe who overlooks the date convention.
St. Paul bandito? Back when the Boulder Bandito story broke, Glenn Reynolds remarked that conservatives were increasingly resorting to low-level acts of civil disobedience. This story from St. Paul, MN, seems to strengthen that conjecture.

St. Paul City Hall once had poinsettias in its holiday display, but Ramsey County officials ordered the poinsettias removed after a few people complained that the flowers were "a Christian symbol." Sure enough, an anonymous St. Paulian surreptitiously deposited poinsettias all over the City Hall display. As of 12/7, the flowers had not been removed. As for the "Christian" symbolism of poinsettias, the excellent Snopes Urban Legends site has this to say:

Mexican legend has it that the poinsettia originated in a miracle. Having nothing to offer Christ on his birthday, a poor child gathered weeds into the form of a bouquet. Upon approaching the altar, the weeds transformed into brilliant red blooms. (Another version of this tale has the poor child's sadness causing the colourful plant to spring from the ground at his feet.) The product of a miracle, the poinsettia's colourful bracts became known as Flores de Noche Buena, or Flowers of the Holy Night.

In other words, the poinsettia has absolutely no significance in Christian doctrine. The "legend" of the poinsettia emerged sometime during the 19th century. It would make about as much sense for these Ramsey County pecksniffs to ban anything made of gold, since that was one of the gifts of the Magi according to lore. While they're at it, why do they allow the state capital to take the name of a Christian saint?
Peter's Principle in action: The BBC and others ran this story on UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who settled a multi-ethnic dispute. Actually, it happened on the show Sesame Street, and he mediated a dispute between Elmo and other monsters about whose turn it was to sing the Alphabet song.

After filming the episode, Annan said it was "wonderful to reach out to young people" and reveled in teaching the young monsters "the spirit of the UN, a spirit of understanding, sharing and working together". Finally, a challenge worthy of the United Nations...

Thursday, December 06, 2001

Navel Gazing: I was about to congratulate the Boomer generation for not engaging in pointless navel-gazing over the death of former Beatle George Harrison. I figured I would give it about a week, and was ready to fire off the congratulatory post -- when Bob Herbert had to blow the whole deal.

FIRST of all, Herbert names his column "Yesterday," a song on which Mr. Harrison's vocals and guitar are not heard at all -- in fact, the track consists only of McCartney's vocals, a McCartney guitar overdub and strings. It was also not released in 1964, the year he dwells on. That formality aside, Herbert recalls his contented state in early 1964, when the Beatles struck gold in the US:

I don't remember feeling threatened by anything in 1964. Crime was not considered a big problem. No one had ever heard of AIDS. And the reality of Vietnam for most Americans was still a year away ... Reality can take a long time to sink in. Kennedy's assassination was viewed as an aberration. Meanwhile, the Beatles had arrived and the 60's were a fun time and we were happy to sing along with them.

Hmmmm ... young Herbert's political conscience was still hitting the snooze button in 1964, and, having slept through the Cuban missile crisis, Dr. King's "I have a dream" speech, the death of JFK, etc., the Beatles' music provided the soundtrack to his salad days. By 1966, the year of Rubber Soul and Revolver, the Beatles' music had grown more topical, less r&b-oriented, more sophisticated, more angular, not as much "fun" to sing along with but still brilliant. In 1968, the Beatles ridiculed the Tom Haydens of the world with "Revolution."

To look at the Beatles as a snapshot in time, suspended in 1964, is to dismiss what the Beatles were all about -- restlessness, innovation and forward thinking. That's how you look at a one-hit wonder -- the Strawberry Alarm Clock in 1967 or Devo in 1980. Not much of a tribute from Bob Herbert.
Score one for the left: Old-time liberal Joe Califano, chairman of the old HEW (Health, Education and Welfare) under Jimmy Carter, gets it right -- Congress' post 9/11 passage of legislation further expanding the federal police agencies (DEA, ATF, etc.) proves that Republicans are "fair-weather federalists" and Democrats no longer care about police power, either. This quote is particularly revealing:

All 100 members of the Senate voted to create the newest federal police force under the rubric of airport security. In its rush to judgment, the Senate acted as though a federal force was the only alternative to using the airlines or private contractors. Quite the contrary, policing by the individual public airport authorities, guided by federal standards, would be more in line with our tradition of keeping police power local.

Reason's interview with Chris Hitchens, a former radical, carries many of the same themes -- old leftists might favor a comprehensive welfare state, but they do not support a police state. While I will not attempt to explain away this incongruity, I will at least concede that Hitchens and Califano can fall on the correct side of an issue -- hey, even a blind squirrel finds a few acorns.

Wednesday, December 05, 2001

BIAS WATCH: Does anyone in America still believe that the press does not have its own agenda? NBC News correspondent Keith Miller tells Tommy Brokaw:

Today's violence continues a battle between two men that goes back more than 30 years: Arafat, the freedom fighter, intent on winning a homeland for Palestinians; and Sharon, the tank commander, defending the state of Israel. Today, both men are in their seventies, losing patience and running out of time.

Bernard Goldberg's book, Bias, is one of the hottest selling books in America right now, having briefly hit #1 on the Amazon.com list. Gee, do you suppose he's onto something? Kudos to Andrew Sullivan for catching Keith Miller's editorializing.
The semantics of global warming: Chris Horner of the Competitive Enterprise Institute reports in today's Tech Central Station that environmentalists are "Clintonizing" -- carefully evaluating their rhetoric through polling data and focus groups -- instead of spouting off alarmist rhetoric. Hence, instead of "global warming" or "climate change" or "apocalypse", the preferred term is "carbon dioxide blanket."

Of course, there is nothing new about this -- remember when "rain forests" were called "jungles?" Remember when "gas guzzling SUVs" where known as SUVs? Remember when "climate change" meant dire predictions of a new ice age?

One of the very few fringe benefits of 9/11 is that nobody takes these people seriously anymore now that we have real problems again. Even though prosperity and environmental improvements have walked hand-in-hand for the past fifty years, environmentalists generally enjoy the largest audiences during times of peace and prosperity, because people are sufficiently isolated from other problems that they can worry about the environment.
TDI vs. CPI: Weblogger, fellow Michigander, guitarist and all-around good guy Rand Simberg posted this astute observation about my Twelve Days of Christmas story:

I'm ... wondering if this can serve as a new surrogate for true inflation and as a general index of the economy. It could turn out to be as useful as the Economist's use of the Big Mac as a benchmark for exchange rates (as representative of purchasing power parity between different countries)... Ahh, one of the evils of computers--they make it all too easy to do pointless statistics.

It might as well serve as a surrogate for inflation, because the Commerce Department's calculation of the Consumer Price Index (CPI) is almost as crude as the Twelve Days Index (TDI). In fact, you could argue that the TDI is actually somewhat less hopelessly flawed than the CPI, for several reasons:

First, the CPI cannot capture a substitution effect. Suppose that the price of oranges skyrockets -- the CPI will assume that households would purchase just as many oranges at the higher price as at the lower price, when in reality consumers of oranges would cut back orange consumption and switch to apples, pears, bananas, etc. Since my true love gave to me the same items in the same proportions for over two centuries, the TDI does not have to worry about this inherent flaw.

Second, the CPI is always forced to choose between two mutually-exclusive goals: keeping the contents of the "basket" of goods relevant, and keeping the basket consistent so that meaningful time-series comparisons can be made. The CPI's market basket was last revised in 1986 -- not that the things we were buying in 1986 are all relevant now. Since my true love gave to me the same swans, geese, maids, etc. every year, the TDI does not suffer from this weakness either.

Simberg is right -- you can use computers to derive all kinds of useless statistics -- and the CPI is fast becoming one of those useless statistics. Except that hundreds of billions of dollars in federal outlays depend on the accurate calculation of that statistic ... oh, well.
Memorial to millions: I spotted this item in John McCaslin's Beltway Beat column: an organization called the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation is close to selecting a site in downtown Washington, DC for a memorial / museum to recall the 100 million plus who were murdered at the hands of Communist governments in the previous century.

The organization is holding an awards dinner on Tuesday, Dec. 11th, at which time they will announce their plans to proceed with the monument. Zbigniew Brzezinski, who Maureen Dowd would describe as a "veteran from the Carter administration," will give the keynote speech that evening.

There are holocaust museums all throughout the United States, so why not a Communism museum? Hitler would have needed to exterminate almost a third of Europe to match the death toll wrought by Marxist-Leninist regimes over the past 100 years.
My true love has to pay more: MSNBC cites a PNC Advisors' study suggesting that the cost of purchasing all the items in "The Twelve Days of Christmas" has risen 4.36% in the previous year. (This assumes that your true love gave you a partridge in a pear tree on each of twelve days, two turtle doves on each of eleven days, or twenty-two turtle doves total, etc.)

A couple of interesting observations -- first, the goods (five golden rings, etc.) increased in price faster than the services (maids-a-milking and the like.) This suggests that real wages, vis-a-vis the goods they can purchase, are falling. This is exactly how the economy "wrings out" a recession. Second, the golden rings increased the most in price -- beware of rising gold prices!
Chasing Roger: In 1998, it was Roger Maris' record that came under assault; now we have a different Roger being challenged. I have long considered Roger Rosenblatt, the "bard of banality," to be the Worst Pundit in the Universe. But the New York Times' Maureen Dowd is mounting a serious challenge to the crown. Her latest column, comparing Bush and his cabinet to the "Rat Pack," simply defies explanation.

Unlike Rosenblatt, who rails against frivolity and the "ironic" culture, Ms. Dowd revels in 7th-grade sophistry. She thinks it is funny to call Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld "Rummy" and to compare Attorney General John Ashcroft to Shirley Maclaine. She also proves herself to be wholly out of touch with the political scene, weighing in with this inanity:

President Bush's veterans from the Ford administration started out as macho dinosaurs, threatening to spike the water with arsenic, drill at will, bring back coal mines and revive Star Wars and the cold war with a cocky my-way-or-the-highway attitude toward the world.

The EPA is not run by a "veteran from the Ford administration" but rather by Christine Todd Whitman. The Dept. of Energy is not run by a Ford holdover but rather by former Michigan Senator Spencer Abraham. That arsenic standard didn't date back to the Ford era either; in fact, they proposed the same standard that Congressional Democrats, including Daschle, agreed upon in 2000. And coal mines never went anywhere -- the US makes just as much energy from coal as ever, although its share is shrinking as total energy consumption grows.

Maureen Dowd knows that she has nothing compelling to say, and that she has nothing to offer but cutesy analogies and cheap slanders. That she believes that anyone could mistake her frivolity for sophistication indicates her irrelevance. Look out Roger Rosenblatt, there's a new bard of banality on the scene.
Calling the kettle black, part 2: Jim Rutenberg of the New York Times fears that FoxNews' coverage of the war may be biased.

The New York Post's late editorialist Eric Breindel once wrote, in an op-ed ridiculing his paper's cross-town rival:

By [The Times'] lights, conserative journalists are -- ipso facto -- ideologues; liberal editors and writers, on the other hand, believe that they, somehow, manage to check their ideological baggage at the door and carry out their journalistic duties in an entirely apolitical fashion. Unless, of course, they happen to write or edit editorials and columns. Americans are expected to accept this fantasy at face value..."

For a devastating account of the overwhelming bias of America's Newspaper of Record, I would defer to Harry Stein's "How I Accidentally Joined the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy (and Found Inner Peace.)" His account of Times publisher Arthur "Pinch" Salzburg will leave you howling.

I got in late and need to get up early; so that's all for tonight, kids. I'll be back tomorrow, with all kinds of fresh material for your blogging enjoyment.

Tuesday, December 04, 2001

Krugman's Choice: In today's thrilling engagement of the New York Times, economist Paul Krugman laments the switch from defined-benefit to defined-contribution pension plans. (I recently discussed a Bruce Bartlett column that explored this distinction further.) Krugman seems to be taking a specific problem with defined-contribution plans -- too many employees have underdiversified portfolios -- and writes off the whole DC experiment.

One of the unfortunate consequences of the demise of energy marketing giant Enron is that employees who held the securities of their employer in their 401(k) accounts lost all that value. Why should we feel more sorry for these employees than for anyone else who had Enron in their portfolio? Because, says Krugman, Enron employees were required to hold some Enron shares in their subsidized retirement plans.

Of course, American workers can invest without getting into 401(k) accounts, and they can participate in tax-deferred investment programs without the participation of their employers. But Krugman nonetheless sets up this Hobson's Choice:

One hopes that corporate collapses will not become commonplace. Still, it's highly likely that millions of American workers will have near- Enron experiences, learning to their dismay that big chunks of their retirement savings have evaporated. They will be left dependent on the one great defined-benefit program that remains: Social Security. That is, if it's still around.

Even without the tax-deferred benefits and the employer-matching benefits of a 401(k), investing in corporate debt and equities is far more desirable than relying on Social Security. Paul Krugman is a very intelligent man, and knows this fully well. Why then, does he join the partisan shilling of the risky scheme crowd?
Exile on Wall St.: Former WSJ editor Bruce Bartlett's latest column pays tribute to the late George Harrison by recalling his composition "Taxman" on the Beatles' 1966 Revolver album: "Let me tell you how it will be / that's one for you, nineteen for me ..."

Bartlett notes that the top marginal tax rate in Britain at the time was something close to the 95% suggested in Harrison's lyrics. He also observes that several other British invasion acts mentioned the nation's punitive tax structure under the Labour governments of the 1960s and 1970s. He recalls the Kinks' "Sunny Afternoon" which the brothers Davies chide the taxman: "And I can't sail my yacht / He's taken everything I've got."

Amazingly, Bartlett manages to overlook the Rolling Stones' "Exile on Main Street." The Stones began to record their classic double LP in 1970 in London, but finished the project more than a year later in a home that Keith Richards had purchased in Villefranche-sur-mer, France, as the group had taxen "exile" from the high marginal tax rates of their British homeland -- hence the album title. I mean, jeez, Bartlett, how did you miss that one?
It's about damn time: This FoxNews item suggests that the AMA is considering actually permitting the market to work. In every other walk of life, the appropriate remedy for a shortage is to raise price; but the supply of many organs remains perilously low because the highest price you can charge for your organs is, uh, zero.

While the article quotes several physicians and others who oppose organ sales, these people seem to be offering substitutes for arguments instead of actual arguments. Phyllis Weber of the California Transplant Donor Network is particularly appalled:

Most donor families we talked to are quite offended at the thought that financial incentives would have made a difference.

Well, maybe, but the donor families aren't the problem, are they? What kind of logic is that -- because some people respond to the need for organs without a financial incentive, we should project their morality onto a group of "price-sensitive" donors? Dr. Michelle Peterson, who represents the Nebraska delegation of the AMA, has a problem with property rights:

I have a problem with treating the body and the human as property. This is nothing more than a sale. This is a slippery slope.

What should we treat people's bodies as, if not property? I thought that the 13th Amendment settled that issue. And yes, it is nothing more than a sale, just as other medical supplies, blood factors, etc. are purchased in free markets every day. And guess what? There are no shortages of syringes, surgical gloves, and other supplies. The "slippery slope" remark is especially mystifying -- if we let people sell their organs, what will we let them do next? Opt out of Medicare?

At least we were spared the "it gives me the willies" argument a la Leon Kass. But overall, the Fox piece was pretty balanced, offering both the arguments for paying donors and the non-arguments against paying up.

Monday, December 03, 2001

Liberal supports risky scheme: James Glassman's highly recommended site, Tech Central Station, carries an interview with Wade Dokken, CEO of the financial services firm American Skandia. Dokken is a card-carrying liberal and former staffer for Hillary Clinton, but he has just written a book in which he advocates the privatization of Social Security.

Of course, this is a little bit of political rentseeking, as privatization would tremendously benefit his industry, but his comments are enlightening nonetheless. After all, this is what the "risky scheme" liberals ought to be saying -- Dokken, unlike Daschle and Gephardt, seems to have outgrown class-warfare politics.

TCS: Wade, some people might be surprised to find out your party affiliation and that you’ve been fairly active politically. Tell us just about your politics?

Wade Dokken: Well, I’m standing in my office looking at a picture of myself and a picture of Senator Hillary Clinton, so you can get some ideas on it. I’m a Democrat and I’m a liberal. I’m a socially tolerant liberal and a fiscal conservative, and I see nothing that I’ve said which is in conflict with that.

If you create pools of capital where the guy today -- who might be a laborer or anybody today who might be of the underclass -- could have a pool of capital of $250,000 or $500,000 of their own wealth, I think that’s the greatest social program you could create.

TCS: I mean in a sense, of course, wealthier Americans already have pension plans that are oriented around stocks and bonds, and less well-off people don’t have those things and really don’t own their own retirement accounts, is that correct?

Wade Dokken: That is correct. And in fact, what people forget is the class of people most damaged by Social Security today: single, black men. And the reason is that they often are poor, and poverty creates lower mortality rates, and lower mortality rates mean that which they paid in they don’t ultimately receive. By creating private accounts, you’d create private assets and private assets could be passed onto another generation as capital. And I think that would change the lives of millions of people.
From the Get-a-life dept: Reuters reports that a substitute teacher in Canberra, Australia was banned from a certain elementary school after telling students that there was no such thing as Santa Claus. How dare she encourage young people to think critically? The teacher is fortunate -- just imagine what Orange Coast College would have done to her.
Calling the kettle black: Gene Weingarten of the Washington Post set out to find the metaphorical "Armpit of America," and ultimately settled on the northern Nevada mining town of Battle Mountain. Having read the article, it doesn't sound like anywhere I want to live, but this selection says as much about the Post as it does about Battle Mountain.

After all, Weingarten could have selected any number of nightmarish urban ghettoes as his "armpit": Compton, CA, Flint, MI, East St. Louis, IL, or Newark, NJ, for example. But those places are too much like the Post's hometown: crumbling, crime-infested, corrupt cities whose residents vote overwhelmingly Democratic. This would also require him to concede that forty years of left-liberal control of these cities created armpit-like conditions.

When Weingarten says that Battle Mountain is the nation's underarm, he really means that Battle Mountain is less like Washington, DC than anywhere else in America. There are no cable pundits, no public transit, no press club. And far worst of all, Battle Mountain residents support George Dubya, giving him 76% of the vote versus Al Gore's 19% in the 2000 election. Did these factors influence the Post's choice? It's hard to believe that they didn't.
Where is Raljon? Tony Adragna, coauthor of the fine QuasiPundit weblog, takes issue with my evaluation of RFK Stadium (from the piece on the looniness of Maryland that I had posted the other day.) I had written:

The Skins moved out of the NFL's most intimate and fan-friendly venue (RFK Stadium) into a monstrosity in Raljon, MD, wherever that is.

Adragna points out that there is no longer ANY place on the map called Raljon, and that Jack Kent Cooke Stadium (the aforementioned monstrosity) is located on Raljon Rd. in the city of Landover, MD. He also contends that RFK was a decrepit old dump -- having never seen a game there, I'll take his word for it. Thanks for the correction, Tony.

Sunday, December 02, 2001

Say What? New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd has completely lost it. She isn't even trying to make sense anymore, as the story I linked to makes evident. This is what passes for serious discourse in America's Newspaper of Record:

It's a surreal Oedipal loop de loop, made all the loopier by the spectacle of history repeating itself and putting the son at the same juncture where his father made two of the most critical and criticized decisions of his presidency.

Huh? Maureen must be trying to beat Roger Rosenblatt at his own game, that's all I can think of to explain this helping of word salad.
More post 9/11 opportunism: In the past, we have accused (and convicted) Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo (for pushing an anti-immigration agenda) and a variety of liberals calling for tighter CAFE standards. The latest 9/11 opportunists are Bill Bennett and his drug-warrior compadres at Empower America.

Bill Bennett's WSJ column on Thursday, apparently ghost-written by EA staffer Kevin Cherry, once again called for the escalation of the drug war. (I won't provide a link to the story, because you can only get it as part of the WSJ's paid premium online service.) But Michael Lynch of Reason magazine offers this summary of the Bennett / Cherry column:

The column makes these muddled arguments: 1) Terrorist groups rely on the drug trade as one source of funds; 2) We've yet to rethink our drug policy in light of the new threat from terrorism; 3) Unlike the glorious 20 months in 1989-90 when Bennett was drug czar, the federal government has since neglected the drug war, even as children increased their drug use.





While it is true that terrorist groups often earn money through the drug trade, EA's first argument ignores the fact that the drug markets are highly segmented. The amount of Afghan heroin that makes it to the United States is negligible; most of the narcotics consumed in the US was sourced from Latin America. So a War on Drugs in the US would do almost nothing to weaken the terrorist networks that currently threaten us.

More to the point -- even if al-Qaeda did earn a lot of money by trafficking illegal drugs into the US, the "war on drugs" would reduce the level of competition that they face, further raising their prices and profits. We are making subtle attempts to depress world oil prices in an attempt to punish the middle eastern terrorists and their repressive governments -- but Bennett proposes pursuing exactly the opposite strategy on drugs.

As for the assertion that the Feds have not taken drug enforcement seriously since Bennett departed as drug czar, and that resources given to the DEA have dwindled, this is patently false. In 1992, the DEA had 7277 employees and spent $1.00 billion. In 2000, the DEA had 9132 employees and a budget of $1.55 billion. Seizures and forfeitures also skyrocketed in the 1990s, the decade when we "ignored" the drug war.

So we will add William Bennett and Empower America to the list of post 9/11 policy vultures, pushing their obsolete agenda despite its shaky record. At least he did not resort to the ultimate cliche about "letting the terrorists win."
Happy Capitalism Day! I had never heard of this one before the good people at Samizdata played it up, but today, Sunday 12/2, is Capitalism Day. Really, it is.

Saturday, December 01, 2001

Woohoo! Sometime this afternoon, LibertyBlog garnered its 1000th hit. Traffic has really picked up lately, thanks to recent mentions by Rand Simberg and Natalie Solent. I have greatly enjoyed my foray into blogging so far, and looking forward to my one millionth hit ...
More from England: The BBC is running a reader-debate series on the proposal to "modernise" Parliament, which would, among other things, shorten the body's hours to seven hours a day, four days a week. I was going to write something smart-alecky, until I noticed that one reader had already stolen my thought:

Absolutely! Reduce MPs' working hours as much as possible. The fewer hours they work the less time they'll have available to do further damage to this country. It's a sad fact that the people who have the intelligence to run a country responsibly generally have better things to do than get involved in politics.
Chris B, England

The New California? The mean center of population for the US has moved west in every 10-year census interval in the 20th century. In 1900, the geographically "average" American lived on the Ohio-Indiana border, just west of Dayton, OH. This average crossed the Mississippi River sometime between 1970 and 1980, and today the average American lives in southeast Missouri.

In contrast, it appears that the epicenter of loony liberalism has migrated east. Somehow, it seems that Maryland has become the new California. Sure, the city of Takoma Park, the suburb just outside of DC on the northeast border, has enjoyed a reputation as the Berkeley of the east for decdes. But now it seems that the whole state has been afflicted.

The state has taken a publicity hit lately because of two embarrassing episodes. The DC suburb of Kensington excluded Santa Claus from the town's annual tree-lighting ceremony because mayor Lynn Raufaste felt it would be insensitive to the city's two (2) families who had complained to her. Montgomery County, which contains most of the Baltimore suburbs, had passed an initiative banning smoking in private homes, although the County commission's proposal was ultimately vetoed by County Executive Doug Duncan.

As for the state's congressional representation, four of their eight Congressmen have a lifetime score of 10% or less from the American Conservative Union, which ranks Congress each year on 25 "key votes." Such ranking systems are inherently limited in their usefulness, as the party in power determines what does or does not come to a vote, among other things. But comparing state-to-state, we see that the average ranking of Maryland's congressional delegation is 38% (spearheaded by loudmouth Elijah Cummings) -- lower than California's 45% average. The Cato Institute gives a "report card" to Governors in even numbered years; Maryland Governor Parris Glendening has gotten a 'D' the last two cycles.

Maryland also leads the Union in handing out corporate welfare to creepy billionaires, having within the last decade provided such assistance to Baltimore Ravens' owner Art Modell, who of course moved there from Cleveland precisely because he could fleece the state's taxpayers; to Baltimore Orioles' owner and tobacco-shakedown lawyer Peter Angelos; and to Redskins' owner Daniel Snyder. The Skins moved out of the NFL's most intimate and fan-friendly venue (RFK Stadium) into a monstrosity in Raljon, MD, wherever that is.

What is causing Maryland to go looney-tunes? Is it the proximity to Washington? Does anyone have any theories? And what's the deal with that goofy looking flag?

Friday, November 30, 2001

Ex Parte What-again? Journalists have recently taken to intense criticism of Bush's plan to try terrorists in military tribunals, but the New York Times' Anthony Lewis escalates the propaganda war, contending that the tribunals represent "the broadest move in American history to sweep aside constitutional protections." (Italics mine) While the exeuctive order on tribunals leaves something to be desired, it is hardly the broadest move against the Constitution in American history. I wouldn't even place it in the top 10 such "broad moves" of the past decade, because, regardless of whether Lewis remembers or was paying attention, the Clinton administration is part of "American history."

The administration began with a shameless violation of the Constitutional ban on ex post facto law, in the form of a retroactive tax increase. Clinton signed the Communications Decency Act, essentially exempting the Internet from the 1st Amendment, which federal judges almost immediately overturned as grossly incompatible with the free speech clause. The 2nd Amendment, whether Lewis likes it or not, is a "constitutional protection," and the Clinton administration engaged in an unprecedented assault on the 2nd Amendment.

From day one, the Clinton administration's top priority was the federalization of health care, in bald defiance of the 10th Amendment. Clinton and/or his DOJ also supported warrantless searches and warrantless wiretaps (proscribed by the 4th Amendment); and the Dept. of the Interior and the EPA showed almost open contempt for the takings clause of the 5th Amendment -- seizing property from private citizens on the flimsiest of grounds and without due process or compensation.

Compared to these transgressions, the military tribunals -- if they are indeed unconstitutional -- seem mild. Few Americans would care whether OBL is tried in a civilian or military court (although I would prefer to see him executed than tried in any court.) So Lewis, to support his claim that there is a full-blown constitutional crisis, has to exaggerate the threat, by pointing out that the measure is pointed at "noncitizens," which include 20 million legal aliens inside the United States. And in an effort to huff up the perceived threat even further, Lewis rides the slippery slope:

And the Bush order could easily be extended to citizens, under the administration's legal theory. Since the Sixth Amendment makes no distinction between citizens and aliens, the claim of war exigency could sweep its protections aside for anyone in this country who might fit the vague definitions of aiding terrorism.

Let's look at the relevant Supreme Court precedent here, since Lewis obviously didn't; GWB's executive order does not exist in a vacuum, after all, but within a system that would permit the EO to be challenged in the judiciary. Military tribunals were used by the Union during the Civil War. During the war, an Indiana resident, Lambden Milligan, received a death sentence from a military court for "disloyal" activities. Lincoln stayed his execution until after the war; but Andrew Johnson upheld the death sentence. In 1866, Milligan's attorney appealed for his release. The case reached the Supreme Court, in what became known as Ex Parte Milligan.

The relevant question, for the Justices, was clear:

Milligan insists that said military commission had no jurisdiction to try him upon the charges preferred, or upon any charges whatever; because he was a citizen of the United States and the State of Indiana, and had not been, since the commencement of the late Rebellion, a resident of any of the States whose citizens were arrayed against the government, and that the right of trial by jury was guaranteed to him by the Constitution of the United States...

The Court found that this tribunal had no authority to try Milligan. The Court went on to rule that, as long as civil courts are operating and functional in any part of the United States, then military courts could not function in that area. Keeping this in mind, let's imagine what might happen if someone is tried, convicted and sentenced in one of GWB's tribunals, then challenges the conviction ...

(1) A citizen of the US is convicted by a tribunal -- Ex Parte Milligan leaves no wiggle room on this one; the tribunal has no jurisdiction. Lewis' fearmongering is completely unjustified.

(2) A legal alien residing in the US is convicted by a tribunal -- Obviously, the "noncitizen" language in the executive order is a nod to the Milligan decision, since the Court ruled that Mr. Milligan was protected from martial law not by virtue of his residence in the US, but by virtue of his citizenship. I would have to think that the Supreme Court would still disallow such a thing, though, because they also found that military courts have no jurisdiction in an area where a civil court is functioning. (The Court system was NOT functioning in Maryland at the time of the Civil War, by the way.)

(3) OBL is convicted by a tribunal -- Who is going to take up his case -- Cochran? Dershowitz? Anyway, this is a tough one, but either way, it would hardly represent a "broad move" against civil liberties in the US if bin Laden was convicted by a tribunal, as even Lewis acknowledges at the end of his column.

Lewis could have written a serious, thought-provoking, well-informed, illuminating column on these matters (like, say, this one.) But instead, he chose to engage in a hysterical, slope-slipping screed that wildly exaggerates the true measure of the challenges posed by the Bush executive order. Anthony Lewis should be ashamed, if he is capable of such.
Rue Brittania? In recent days, I have discussed the economic consequences of Britain ditching the pound and converting to the euro, but Paul Craig Roberts digs deeper into the political significance of integration with Europe, warning that "Anglophiles had best pop over to the Misty Isles for a last experience of Great Britain before the country is reduced to an oppressed province of the European Union."

American traditions of law, of course, mostly grew out of British law; American constitutional ideals such as habeas corpus, the right to confront your accuser, the right to trial by jury, and many of the evidentiary rules all evolved out of the British tradition. Unlike America, Britain has no written constitution, but its laws lay the blueprint for modern liberal societies such as the US. As PCR puts it so eloquently:

Historically, English law has been a shield of the people, standing in stark contrast to Europe's Napoleonic criminal law, which does not safeguard law against its use by government as a weapon.

Roberts can't help but take a little swipe at British culture, though:

The British also face the unpleasant prospect of being tried by European prosecutors for offenses that are not crimes in Britain. The [European arrest] warrant does not require evidence and would permit British citizens to be extradited to Europe for interrogation should they be suspected of crimes such as racism and xenophobia. Surely this spells the end of soccer.
This has been the highest-volume day in the brief history of LibertyBlog, and it had broken the old record before I had even posted anything! I suspect that I owe this in no small measure to the lovely and talented Natalie Solent, who gave my blog a favorable review yesterday. Thanks, Natalie, and to everyone who reads this little broadside.
Two observations about George Harrison (1943-2001):

First, he succeeded because he worked within his limitations and within the context of his band. He did not sing as well as Lennon and McCartney could, but he wrote songs that he COULD sing very effectively. He played the guitar extremely well, but never overplayed, and he was never about "digging his licks" or whatever.

Second, he ranks as one of the elite guitar players of all time, even if he isn't one of the first names most people would identify as a guitar virtuoso. When Mojo magazine listed their top 100 guitar players of the 20th century a few years back, they listed him 16th, surrounded on either side by such luminaries as Pete Townshend, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eddie van Halen and Charlie Christian. How good a guitarist was George Harrison? Good enough to play on 200 Beatles' songs, and that's pretty damn good. A disproportionate number of bloggers are also guitarists, it seems, including Andrew Hofer, Glenn Reynolds and myself, so I wonder what they would think of this conjecture.

Thursday, November 29, 2001

The Beeb reports that British citizens like their pound and remain opposed to the Euro. While some regard British resistance as one more manifestation of the hidebound traditionalism that has preserved the monarchy, lawn tennis, and the Mini, this time I think that British opinion is justified.

Not that British nostalgia hasn't led them to make bad monetary policy in the past -- when Churchill ran the British treasury in the late '20s, he insisted that the British pound go back on gold-exchange parity with the US dollar at the prewar rate of $4.86 per pound, even though a value of closer to $3.50 might have more accurately reflected the true purchasing power of the pound. The overpriced pound sent imports into England soaring, which led to protectionist legislation by Parliament, which led to countervailing protectionism by Congress, which led to ... stop me if you've heard this before.

But this time, I think the British hoi polloi are justified in their opposition to the Euro -- it is completely about politics and not about economics. Paul Krugman has compared the Euro zone to a fraternity hazing ritual, in which nations have to do stupid and humiliating things to their economies to prove that their loyalty to the group exceeds the limits of their individual dignity. What a great analogy ...

For an excellent discussion of the economic (as opposed to the political) costs and benefits of currency zones, check out this article, The Nobel Money Duel. Robert Mundell does not have the name-brand value that Milton Friedman enjoys (maybe because he's Canadian?) but Mundell won a Nobel Prize in Economics in 1999 for his work on "optimum currency zones." Mundell was aligned with supply-side economics during the Thatcher-Reagan years, but is best known in economic circles as an advocate of harmonizing exchange rates.

Read through Friedman's criteria for pegging your currency vs. floating, and ask yourself whether Britain passes the "harmonization" test. It appears that neither side has much to gain from British participation in the Euro ... but this matters not to the politicians in London or the bureaucrats of Brussels.
If you thought that I was harsh on Newsweek editorialist Anna Quindlen and her tiresome Scrooge act, check out fellow blogger Andrew Hofer -- he accuses her of misanthropy! And all I did was call her an "elitist hyper-snob."
Wendy McElroy runs a column for iFeminists. In this week's commentary, she takes on two topics that have gotten a lot of play at LibertyBlog recently: the Boulder bandito and the YWCA of Middle Tennessee's male-bashing ad. Does Wendy read my blog? Ms. McElroy points out that an anti-male agenda has permeated "domestic-violence awareness." I just can't believe that I scooped Glenn on a story right in his backyard! That may never happen again ...
Ira Stoll, formerly of the Wall Street Journal, now runs a daily internet-based publication called Smarter Times. He describes the site as "dedicated to the proposition that New York's dominant daily has grown complacent, slow and inaccurate. Even an ordinary semi-intelligent guy in Brooklyn who reads the newspaper carefully early each morning can regularly notice errors of fact and of logic."

At first, I thought, "this hardly sounds like a constructive use of Ira Stoll's time -- creating a 'shadow' New York Times?" But then I recalled that I spend several hours each day doing something called "blogging," so who am I to evaluate Mr. Stoll's allocation of time? The Smarter Times is definitely worth the reader's time, though ...

In today's Smarter Times, Stoll takes on this column which contends that the stunning demise of energy marketer Enron "is the best argument for the need for stronger [public] supervision of public companies' financial data." Stoll responds:

The editorialists' approach to investments seems to be ... that a strong government role is necessary to protect consumers. Yet, as the editorial itself concedes, the failure here was not the government's but that of "investors, Wall Street analysts, journalists and accountants." In the long run, in a free market ... analysts who keep touting companies that collapse will find it hard to find employers willing to pay their million-dollar-a-year salaries. And investors will learn the hard way about the tradeoff between risk and reward. There's little, if any evidence that government regulators are in the long run any better guarantors of this than the free market is.

Enron's lack of transparency made it a pariah among investors and creditors, and the financial markets punished the firm severely before regulators even knew what was going on! This argues for the fecundity of strong markets, not of strong government. So Stoll nails it...

I would have taken Stoll's argument even farther, though. The complaint against Enron is that they had overstated their net income to the investment community. But "net income" is an arbitrary concept influenced by an ever-shifting series of rules governing depreciation and amortization and the like. It is a completely artifical construct useful only in an environment of corporate income taxes. Cash flows from investing, operating and financing activities tell a more complete picture and are difficult to fudge or pad.

The corporate income tax, of course, exists only because of the government's desire to micromanage business behavior through the tax code. Aftertax profits are (eventually) returned to the shareholders as dividends, which are then taxed as personal income, so the corporate tax represents a perverse "double taxation." All corporate taxes are ultimately borne by the shareholders, customers and suppliers to the business -- the "workers" and "consumers" that the government purports to protect. If Congress eliminated the corporate income tax, it would free up analysts to work on more pressing matters, like growing their businesses, and it would eliminate the "net income" morass that doomed Enron.

MensActivism.org reports on a newspaper ad run in the two prominent Nashville daily papers. The ad, paid for by the Middle Tennessee chapter of the YWCA, shows a young boy with the caption: "One day he'll own his own house...raise his own kids...beat his own wife." Not only is this ad in poor taste, but the Men's Activism group is investigating whether the YWCA used public funds to pay for the ad. I will keep an eye on this one ...

Wednesday, November 28, 2001

Michelle Malkin offers more evidence that there is a double standard on American college campuses. Ken Hearlson, a professor of political science at Orange Coast College in California, was suspended (without so much as a hearing) after some Islamic students made claims that he insulted them in his class, calling them "terrorists" and "murderers." The students' claims were wholly disproven when an audiotaped transcript of the class was played back, but OCC has not reinstated Hearlson, nor have they taken disciplinary action against the dishonest students.

A few people have taken notice of this outrage. FIRE (the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) has published this report on their website. FIRE's A.C. Kors, coauthor of The Shadow University, piles on OCC:

Opening a new file on a professor who invites full discussion of difficult issues smacks of McCarthyism and star-chamber proceedings at best. College is a place where students are exposed to a great diversity of ideas, including those that challenge and provoke. If OCC administrators do not understand their obligation to the Constitution and to a free university, they should seek employment elsewhere. President Margaret Gratton pays lip service to diversity and multiculturalism, but she forgets that the diversity of ideas is the heart of educational pluralism.

Hearlson is an ex-Marine and a born-again Christian conservative. Apparently the notions of "academic freedom" and "tolerance" do not extend to such individuals, although leftist intellectuals like Michael Bellesiles and Rigoberta Menchu can fabricate evidence without fear of academic discipline. It is time to stand up for people like Hearlson, a non-criminal convicted of non-crimes, against an increasingly intolerant and hypocritical academic universe.
F.R. Duplantier, the director of the American Policy Foundation, has a new book called "Politickles," a book of politically-charged limericks. I like this one, on corporate welfare:

While Congress just sits there and fidgets,
We've got losses in high double digits:
We'll never come back
From the terror attack
Without federal support for our widgets.
The London Times carries a story on General Suhaila Siddiq, Afghanistan's only female general. Siddiq criticizes western feminists for obsessing with the symbolism of the burqa over the substance of women's issues there. She also dismisses Hillary Clinton as a hypocrite:

She cannot defend her own rights against her husband. How can she defend the rights of my country?

Gen. Siddiq nails the whole problem with the liberal feminists -- they define morality in terms of your political views and not in terms of individual behavior. Hillary put up with her philandering husband because it helped her career, but feminists approve of her because of her progressive politics.