Friday, September 29, 2006

How can federal law overstep the Constitution?

The House of Representatives passed H.R.5825 earlier today, 232-191, with 160 of the "nay" votes coming from Democrats. It more or less permits the executive branch to conduct certain wiretaps without warrants, prompting me to ask rhetorically, "How can Congress pass a law that supercedes the Constitution?" Then I answered myself, "Easily! What do you think they do almost all the time but do exactly that?"

Peek at the House's daily digest, and ask yourself how many of those violate the Constitution, ignoring the Constitution's clear restrictions on government. For example, on Wednesday, the Senate passed "S.1848, to promote remediation of inactive and abandoned mines, with an amendment in the nature of a substitute." How many millions will be wasted there, taken from those who produce to those who use government to gain jobs?
Under the measure, the president would be authorized to conduct such wiretaps if he:

• Notifies the House and Senate intelligence committees and congressional leaders.

• Believes an attack is imminent and later explains the reason and names the individuals and groups involved.

• Renews his certification every 90 days.
It's giving carte blanche to the president by letting him surveil who'd he like, with only the stipulation that he tell certain members of Congress. Effectively, they're giving the executive branch a universal warrant, but I fail to find in any part of American legal tradition where members of the legislative branch are given the power to issue warrants (which are simply permission for the government) to search and seize people, their property and their effects. Maybe I'm just a silly originalist and all, but I thought warrants were issued by members of the judiciary. Well, the ACLU and others will undoubtedly sue. If the law is struck down (depending on the circuit court), it would be for that reason: Congress is giving up authority it doesn't have in the first place.

And if an attack is imminent, and the evidence is sufficient to justify wiretapping someone, why not procure a warrant from the FISA court? Why circumvent that court, when it's known for giving lots of easy warrants and so far has never denied one, and when it can give retroactive warrants seventy-two hours after the surveillance begins? Are three full days not enough for the executive branch to explain things to a judge?

Now, are the Republicans engaging in mere election year tactics? You bet, but let's not forget the Democrats are just as bad in pandering to the electorate. And in fact, the Democrats are hypocrites: Bill Clinton did the same warrantless searches during his presidency. It took a Republican-controlled Congress -- though doing no more than playing politics -- to force Clinton to start getting warrants from FISA. It doesn't matter which party is in power, proving what Jefferson said that "The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground."

Thursday, September 28, 2006

An announcement -- good news

And I thought I was busy before. Work was taking a lot out of me, apparently more than I thought. For a few months I've generally needed to sleep much earlier than the usual 1, 2, 3 a.m. to which I was accustomed. A few nights ago, I stayed up until 2 a.m. to complete a proposal, and I was amazed to make it through the next day. Last night I got nearly eight hours.

It's not official yet, pending final approval from my Chief Compliance Officer, but hopefully that's just a formality. Starting very soon, I'll be freelance writing for Intrade. You may be more familiar with it as TradeSports. Most people think Intrade in terms of "betting," which strictly speaking is true, but stock markets are also about "betting" in the general sense of the word. However, Intrade and similar venues are more properly termed prediction markets. My friend Chris Masse specializes in them and has a lot of good stuff on his site.

I'm indebted again to Don Luskin, and to John Delaney, Intrade's CEO, for this opportunity. Mr. Delaney recently asked Don if he knew someone who could do a once-weekly newsletter, analyzing recent political developments in the 2006 elections and the "action" in the related futures contracts. Don recommended me, so a few nights ago I put together a rudimentary sample, and things appear ready to go.

Each newsletter will be about one or two pages' worth, including charts, and I'll rotate through the more prominent contracts. The coverage may seem superficial to those familiar with prediction markets, but there are a couple of important factors: it's a newsletter, not an op-ed or academic paper, and Mr. Delaney also wants it to help introduce people to prediction markets and illustrate how the processes work.

It will be principally weekend work, I think, so hopefully soon I can get a hold of my schedule during the week so I can blog more often. It's been so long since I thought of a good Trek quote, let alone put up a Daily Star Trek Quote challenge.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Vicente Fox: a moron and a hypocrite

Quién viven en casas de vidrio no deben tirar peñas.

That's a literal translation of our English saying, "People who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones." And it applies to Vicente Fox, who has just said the U.S. should work on its own (allegedly) rising crime rates instead of criticizing Mexico's. On an aside, maybe the reporter isn't a native English speaker, but her editor should have caught "knocks". Slang is too unprofessional.
"There is work to be done on both sides. As we've always said, it's a shared responsibility," Fox said while traveling in Puerto Penasco, a tourist destination in the northern state border of Sonora that's referred to in Arizona as Rocky Point.

"I saw that crime rates in the United States increased 3.5 percent so far this year. So they have their own problems," Fox said. "And with numbers of homicides, it's better we don't speak about them, because, even though they show up on the front pages every day, there are many fewer here than there."
Fox pulled a Marion Barry, who infamously said, "Aside from the murders, D.C. has one of the lowest crime rates in the country." Nationmaster maintains a list of per-capita murder rates by country, with Mexico in sixth place out of 62 (0.130213 murders per 1000 population). The U.S. isn't terribly impressive in 24th place, but it has 0.042802 murders per 1000 people -- a full third of the Mexican rate.

Note: the rankings come from "Total reported intentional homicides" in 1998 through 2000, so these don't appear to be annual figures. However, we're still comparing figures in the same time frame. Also, we can't begin to estimate how much higher Mexico's crime rate really is, because many crimes tend to go unreported in undeveloped countries that have a "culture of corruption." In its somewhat subjective ranking of countries by corruption, Nationmaster puts the U.S. at #17 with a 7.6 (a 10 being the "cleanest"), and Mexico at #67 with a mere 3.5. When your brother or cousin is killed by drug dealers, would you report it to Mexican authorities who are probably taking bribes, if not part of drug gangs themselves?

So what sparked Fox's idiotic comment? Apparently our ambassador to Mexico merely warned Americans to be careful traveling to Mexico -- with damned good reason, noted in the article:
Scores of U.S. citizens have been abducted in Nuevo Laredo in recent years and more than two dozen cases remain unresolved.
And that's just one Mexican border town. On the other hand, when was the last you heard that "scores" of Mexican citizens were abducted in one U.S. border down? Even including INS detainees (a ridiculous comparison at best), that just doesn't happen. A Mexican would have to be in the worst parts of New York City to experience the same general risk of an American in Mexico City.

I'm sure some bleeding heart will say, "But you're comparing apples and oranges. Mexicans generally don't have as much money and so aren't as valuable to kidnap for ransom." That's beside the point, though: when comparing crime rates, it's ludicrous to adjust for socioeconomic differences. Should we adjust for income levels and educational background when comparing the Scarsdale Metro-North stop with the regular subway stations on 125th Street? Once we do, we're just as stupid as Marion Barry trying to downplay D.C.'s crime.

Oh, all this time I forgot to mention that "overall violent and property crime" in the U.S. has hit a 32-year low. Does Fox need to fire his advisor that provided him that "3.5%" statistic, or did Fox just pull a number out of his trasero?

Well, that last article does note a sudden increase in U.S. murders and robberies, 4.8% and 4.5% respectively. However, that's such a serious jump for the U.S., and a "preliminary report" anyway, that we can immediately lean toward questioning the statistical methods used, rather than believing crime actually jumped. One factor to consider involves what one police chief said: "Every year we're losing 16,000 people to murder, mostly young people and mostly killed by guns," which doesn't account for a lot of those "young people" being gang members who kill each other. That's why the relatively higher homicide rate for young black males isn't just because they're victimized, but because a relatively higher percentage of them are in gangs.

What galls me is the police chiefs' complaint that they can't put as many officers on the street because they're not receiving as much "federal money." And of course, blame Bush, because he cut the federal spending on local law enforcement, whereas Clinton increased it. Just where do these people think federal tax dollars come from, Santa Claus? Actually, they know precisely where the money comes from: mostly from everyone else. The great race, whether you're a sheriff or U.S. Senator, is to get Congress to give you as much of other people's money as you can get.

Oh, and of course we're forgetting that a significant portion of violent crime in the southwest U.S., from California to Texas, is committed by Hispanics -- particularly the illegals whom Fox practically beatifies.

Friday, September 22, 2006

A government vigilante -- but par for the course

Jackson, Mississippi's mayor Frank Melton has been indicted for "malicious mischief" and burglary. According to the Jackson Free Press blog, these are felony indictments. And they should be.

Melton has been known to don police gear, carry a shotgun while joining police in raids, and have two cop buddies "vouch" for him so he can wear "LE" credentials. Those sound to me like impersonating a police officer, since his apparent intent is to convey the appearance that he is a member of law enforcement (a mayor is not). If you go here and search for "Crazed Jackson Mississippi Mayor" (a little past halfway), there's a hell of a timeline: everything from Melton terrorizing the city with arrests for minor crimes, to "pursuing" a murder suspect and in the end fining him a mere $250. Let's ask ourselves, however, if it's any better when the real police do the same? In truth, "impersonating a police officer" is the least of these offenses.

What is undeniable is that Melton has bypassed not just the rule of law (which contrary to authoritarian conservatives isn't about following the law no matter what, but applying the law equally to everyone), but the principles of justice. Bastiat wrote in The Law that "The nature of law is to maintain justice." As I added, justice is the upholding people's rights, namely life, liberty and property. Well, Melton discarded justice when he trampled over someone's private property. The Jackson Free Press' in-depth coverage and its interview with the victim detail how Melton and his henchmen drove up to what they claimed was a crack house, then smashed it up themselves. No warrant, let alone police, merely their own belief that Evans Welch's house was a crack den.

Melton's volunteer work includes counseling youth against joining gangs, but what have he and his hooligans become, but the very thing Melton claims to oppose? You cannot fight evil by using evil. One of his supporters said "his heart is in the right place," but when is that ever enough? Does that person not understand why we have the saying, "The road to hell is paved with good intentions"? Perhaps Melton's policies are helping to reduce crime, but at what cost? So the people can be just as afraid of government thugs accosting them instead of street thugs?

Pay attention to Melton's Doublethink:
Will I continue to take down houses? Absolutely. I'm going to make sure they're legally taken down, but we're going to continue to aggressively take down the crack houses in Jackson, Mississippi.
Oh, he'll take down houses? I find it interesting that he didn't specify "crack houses," just "houses." In his mind, he's the law, and he believes he can do as he damn well pleases, based on his personal belief that a dwelling has crack addicts inside.

Maybe, though, he misspoke and did mean "crack houses." Nonetheless, he claims he'll "legally" "take down" those dwellings, but then what did he do to Evans Welch? Well, I guess that was the "aggressively" part he mentioned. There wasn't even enough evidence to qualify as "suspicion," let alone "probable cause" that would induce a magistrate to issue a warrant. No, Melton and his thugs merely took matters into their own hands and wrecked a person's home. However, "legitimate" police do almost as bad as a matter of routine. If they think you're dealing drugs, they may not splash paint around your kitchen, but they'll toss around a lot of your belongings (creating a huge mess if not destroying things), seize your computers, and sometimes even rip up your mattresses and teddy bears.

So once again, the War on Drugs manifested itself as government's war on peaceful people and their property -- peaceful people who are harming themselves, certainly, but not others. If a crack addict is stealing, then arrest, prosecute and punish him for stealing. If a gang member kills someone, then go after him for the real crime. Evans Welch has a record of "mostly petty crimes," borne of a mental illness, but he was doing nothing of the sort when Frank Melton and several of "the boys" came over at 8:30 that night.

Because government's powers come from the people, a citizen has the same right as the police to detain a suspect. Most people simplistically call it "citizen's arrest" when it in fact is one way of upholding justice. Beware, however: if you're wrong, you'll face severe consequences for false apprehension and imprisonment, just as police should face the same. Now, if Melton and his punks had observed Welch committing a crime, or fleeing a crime scene with reason to suspect him of wrongdoing, it certainly would have been proper for them to use physical force to detain him until real law enforcement could arrive. Similarly, I don't have a problem with them carrying firearms, even "unlicensed" ones. My problem is what they did, not that they carried certain items.

Evans Welch wasn't committing a crime, at least not a real one with a specific, identifiable victim who was genuinely damaged. He wasn't defrauding anyone. He wasn't damaging anyone else's property. He wasn't threatening or physically harming anyone. All anybody could pin on him was possession of a crack pipe and an outstanding "contempt of court" warrant. The latter was apparently so serious, such incontrovertible proof that he's a menace to society, that police officers were never sent to pick him up for it.

Welch has been convicted of having an "open container," again a victimless crime. Sometimes I see people drinking beer on our Metro-North train ride home, and being perfectly honest and serious, I am harmed more by sober people's coffee. I've never seen a fellow train passenger with an alcoholic beverage spill it, act intoxicated, or bother me with the smell. Contrast that with the people whose mocha-hazelnut-caramel concotions can be smelled halfway down the car, whose myriad paper cups are left anywhere. Fresh in my mind is the guy yesterday morning who spilled his entire cup: he grabbed his stuff and fled to another car, letting the mess spread all over the floor.

Ayn Rand said, "There's no way to rule innocent men. The only power government has is the power to crack down on criminals. When there aren't enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws." Evans Welch has committed numerous crimes, but he's a minor criminal with nothing worth bragging about in jail. Is he really such a danger to "the people" that Melton and his hoods could smash up his home, destroy his belongings, and even pour paint around his kitchen?

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Who's retarded?

Some liberal moron (a redundant phrase) called me "fucking retarded." Well, let's see who's really retarded.

Fact: the Laffer Curve exists. When taxes are cut significantly to have an effect (i.e. the 1920s, the early 1960s, the 1980s and 2003), economic booms result.

Fact: a rich person facing heavier taxes won't work as hard, meaning less tax revenue than expected. If you scroll down through this, you'll see my explanation that the 1990 tax hike failed to achieve its stated objective of balancing the federal budget. Clinton's 1993 tax hike also failed, as Don Luskin explained:
As you can see, from 1993 (the first year of the Clinton tax hike) to 1996 the increase in revenue is somewhere between negative and negligable -- the increased revenues Clinton hoped for from his tax hike simply did not materialize. The positive surprise versus expectations started in 1997 and the years after. What happened in 1997? A Republican congress cut the capital gains tax. So it all went just perfectly according to supply-side theory.
And federal spending didn't exactly go down, either. The budget deficit was reduced more because of increased tax revenues than any sort of "fiscal responsibility."

Fact: a rich person taxed more will have less money to spend (on goods and services that other people produce, almost always people of far lower incomes). This means lost jobs. A rich person taxed more will have less money to save, meaning less money for businesses to borrow, meaning reduced business expansion. This also means lost jobs. Also, higher taxes on the rich means less money available for the rest of us to borrow in the form of mortgages/home equity loans, auto loans, even credit card and store debt. Interest rates will therefore go up, meaning "the poor" won't be able to afford loans they previously could, or the Fed will pump more money into the economy, causing inflation that hurts "the poor" the most.

Do liberals honestly think it's better to have high taxes so that a government bureaucrat can make a cut for himself, waste some more on "overhead," and return pennies on the dollar to you? They must, because no matter how benevolent the purpose behind their beloved "social spending," that is the inevitable result. It's like forcing someone in an apartment building to keep his front door open, so that heat can flow out and into the open apartment of his neighbor across the way. Yeah, it'll work a little, but not as well as the other neighbor getting his own source of heat. Who actually thinks the neighbor with heat will want to keep his running as strongly, knowing so much is going to waste?

To make another analogy, I don't know about the rest of you, but I'd rather get out there and earn my wages honestly so that I can earn entire loaves, instead of relying on government to seize others' loaves but give me only breadcrumbs.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Mainstream Media 102: How to make stuff up

(Updated 11:55 p.m. EDT)

Mainstream Media 101: How to twist words

It's lunchtime, I'm catching up on the news, and Yahoo News' headline "Bush Says Stable Mideast Was a Mirage" made me immediately suspicious.

Here's the full, unedited text of the article, shown on the San Francisco Chronicle's website:
Bush Says Stable Mideast Was a Mirage
- By NEDRA PICKLER, Associated Press Writer
Tuesday, September 19, 2006

(09-19) 09:34 PDT NEW YORK, (AP) --

President Bush addressed the 61st meeting of the United Nations General Assembly Tuesday with a call for nations to unite to work for a more peaceful world where "extremists are marginalized by the peaceful majority."

Citing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Bush outlined to world leaders his vision of a 21st century framework for global security.

Before his speech, Bush pressed Iran anew to immediately begin negotiations on its nuclear program. He warned that any delay on the part of Tehran would bring consequences.

Iran's defiant pursuit of a nuclear program was at the top of the agenda when Bush talked with French President Jacques Chirac on the sidelines of the three-day U.N. General Assembly meeting. The French leader is balking at the U.S. drive to sanction Iran for defying Security Council demands that it freeze uranium enrichment.

"Should they continue to stall," Bush said of Iranian leaders, "we will then discuss the consequences of their stalling." The president, speaking after his meeting with Chirac, said those consequences would include the possibility of sanctions.

Chirac proposed on Monday that the international community compromise by suspending the threat of sanctions if Tehran agrees to halt its uranium enrichment program and return to negotiations. The U.S. and other countries fear Iran is trying to build nuclear weapons, while Tehran insists its uranium enrichment program is to make fuel for nuclear power plants.

Bush said that Iran must first suspend uranium enrichment "in which case the U.S. will come to the table."

But he also stressed that he and Chirac "share the same objective and we're going to continue to strategize together."

"Time is of the essence," the president said. "Now is the time for the Iranians to come to the table."

Both Bush and Chirac stressed they are working together, and the French president said twice that they see "eye to eye."

Chirac said there never has been any ambiguity in the European Union's position toward Iran's nuclear program.

The French leader also said the European Union would not negotiate with Iran until it suspends uranium enrichment. "We cannot have negotiations if we do not have on one hand prior suspension," Chirac said.

Bush said that he and Chirac also discussed the bloodshed in the Darfur region of Sudan, and hostilities between Israel and Palestinians.

Besides Chirac, Bush also was meeting with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and General Assembly President Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa.

Bush's speech was the last in a series on the war on terror, timed to surround last week's fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks and to set the tone for the final weeks of the U.S. midterm elections.
Other than the headline, I don't see "mirage" in there, do you? I don't see a single hint of the word. Now if you look here, the article has a different headline and a later timestamp:
Sep 19, 12:58 PM EDT

Bush appeals to Muslims in U.N. speech

Associated Press Writer

UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- President Bush on Tuesday appealed directly to Muslims to assure them that the United States is not waging war with Islam as he laid out a vision for peace in the Middle East before skeptical world leaders at the United Nations.

On the sidelines, Bush pressed Iran to return at once to international talks on its nuclear program and threatened consequences if they do not.

But his speech to the United Nations General Assembly was less confrontational and aimed at building bridges with people in the Middle East angry with the United States.

"My country desires peace," Bush told world leaders in the cavernous main hall at the U.N. "Extremists in your midst spread propaganda claiming that the West is engaged in a war against Islam. This propaganda is false and its purpose is to confuse you and justify acts of terror. We respect Islam."

Addressing Iraqis specifically, Bush said, "We will not abandon you in your struggle to build a free nation."

Bush said Iran "must abandon its nuclear weapons ambitions." Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was scheduled to speak to the body later Tuesday, but he was not at the country's table in the hall when Bush spoke.

Speaking to Iranians, Bush said their country's future has been clouded because "your rulers have chosen to deny you liberty and to use your nation's resources to fund terrorism and fuel extremism and pursue nuclear weapons."

On the crisis in Sudan's violence-wracked region of Darfur, Bush delivered strong warnings to both the United Nations and the Sudanese government, saying that both must act now to avert further humanitarian crisis.

Bush said that if the Sudanese government does not withdraw its rejection of a U.N. peacekeeping force for Darfur, the world body should act over the government's objections. The U.N. Security Council last month passed a resolution that would give the U.N. control over the peacekeeping mission in Darfur, now run mostly ineffectively by the African Union. But Sudan has refused to give its consent.

"The regime in Khartoum is stopping the deployment of this force," Bush said. "If the Sudanese government does not approve this peacekeeping force quickly, the United Nations must act."

With more than 200,000 people already killed in three years of fighting in Darfur and the violence threatening to increase again, Bush said the "credibility of the United Nations is at stake."

Iran's defiant pursuit of a nuclear program was at the top of the agenda when Bush met earlier with French President Jacques Chirac at the Waldorf Astoria hotel where the U.S. delegation was staying. The French leader is balking at the U.S. drive to sanction Iran for defying Security Council demands that it freeze uranium enrichment.

"Should they continue to stall," Bush said of Iranian leaders, "we will then discuss the consequences of their stalling." The president, speaking after his meeting with Chirac, said those consequences would include the possibility of sanctions.

Chirac proposed on Monday that the international community compromise by suspending the threat of sanctions if Tehran agrees to halt its uranium enrichment program and return to negotiations. The U.S. and other countries fear Iran is trying to build nuclear weapons, while Tehran insists its uranium enrichment program is to make fuel for nuclear power plants.

Bush said that Iran must first suspend uranium enrichment "in which case the U.S. will come to the table."

But he also stressed that he and Chirac "share the same objective and we're going to continue to strategize together."

"Time is of the essence," the president said. "Now is the time for the Iranians to come to the table."

Both Bush and Chirac stressed they are working together, and the French president said twice that they see "eye to eye."

Chirac also said the European Union would not negotiate with Iran until it suspends uranium enrichment. "We cannot have negotiations if we do not have on one hand prior suspension," Chirac said.

Bush's challenge is to build international support to confront multiple problems in the region: the Iran issue, a stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process, armed Hezbollah militants in Lebanon and unabated violence in Iraq.

Bush planned to meet later Tuesday with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani.

Bush's speech was the last in a series on the war on terror, timed to surround last week's fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks and to set the tone for the final weeks of the U.S. midterm elections.

Bush was speaking in the same room where four years and one week ago he made another plea for action in the Middle East. On that day, Bush said Saddam Hussein had stockpiles of deadly chemical and biological agents that the United Nations must confront.

He was wrong, but still forged ahead with war against Iraq without the support of many other nations. And he is still trying to rebuild credibility with the body, experts say.

"The sense outside of the U.S. is that the United States is responsible for many of the failures in Iraq, first by going in mostly alone and then by incompetent administration," said Jon Alterman, a Mideast expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

"The problem with the way he's talked about democracy in the Middle East is not that people see it as undesirable," Alterman said, "it's that people see it as naive. He needs to persuade cynical people that not only is he sincere, but it's achievable, and here's what they need to do to make it so."
And here's what it looks like on Yahoo's news headlines:

So what's the matter, couldn't they back up their original claim? Was the original headline just plain bullshit, which we've come to expect from mainstream media?

All this notwithstanding, nobody ever claimed Iraq would be easy. Nobody ever claimed it would be bloodless, contrary to Pat Robertson's myth that Bush told him there would be "no casualties." (As the article shows, Robertson also said, "I mean, the Lord told me it was going to be A, a disaster, and B, messy.") What President Bush and his administration did say is that the people of Iraq would welcome us as liberators -- and they have, with the exception of the insurgents. The elections proved it: tens of millions of Iraqis risking their lives to vote in truly free elections (with many voting for the first time).

Update: It looks like President Bush did use the word mirage, just not in the way the headlines implied. You can find the full text of the remarks on the White House website:
Some have argued that the democratic changes we're seeing in the Middle East are destabilizing the region. This argument rests on a false assumption, that the Middle East was stable to begin with. The reality is that the stability we thought we saw in the Middle East was a mirage. For decades, millions of men and women in the region have been trapped in oppression and hopelessness. And these conditions left a generation disillusioned, and made this region a breeding ground for extremism.
So in fact President Bush was not talking about stability in post-Saddam Iraq being a "mirage," but that Middle East stability is a "mirage" because it was never "stable to begin with."

What really happened that necessitated changing the headline within 30 minutes? Perhaps an idiot reporter and her equally stupid editor think they had a great "Gotcha!" headline (implying that Bush admitted some sort of "failure" in Iraq), then they realized how obvious it was that they quoted Bush out of context?

Maybe this reporter didn't keep good enough notes, and in rushing to submit the first article about Bush's speech, she somehow didn't realizing she didn't say one damn thing about the most important word in the headline -- a quoted word, in fact. Maybe it was an innocent mistake, and I can dismiss occasional occurrences as such. However, when something happens over and over, even "incompetence" isn't enough to excuse it.

Those of you who read me regularly know I'm far from a Bush shill. Basically, I support him when he pushes for tax cuts and privatization, but I cringe when he moves toward big government. Nonetheless, I cannot believe how mainstream media consistently goes after the man. And I thought they were merciless and vicious toward his father! It was bad enough that every nightly news broadcast in 1992 seemed to feature something on the allegedly "bad economy" (which Bush had nothing to do with). With George W. Bush, no matter what he's said since he announced his candidacy, mainstream media tries to find some way to spin it.

Just remember:


Saturday, September 16, 2006

Watch your pocketbook when government "compromises"

"Compromise" among government officials is never about how much, but simply how.
Senators compromising on FEMA expansion

September 16, 2006

WASHINGTON --Senators have agreed on a compromise to restructure and expand the Federal Emergency Management Agency, restoring some of its responsibilities. The FEMA director, currently David Paulison, would have direct access to the president in a crisis, but the agency would remain a part of the Homeland Security Department. The compromise will be included in a budget bill Congress is scheduled to vote on this month.

Sen. Susan Collins, who heads the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, worked out the compromise late Friday with Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, the committee's top Democrat.

"This legislation will provide FEMA with the authority, resources, and leadership necessary to help us be better prepared for the next catastrophe, whether it is natural disaster or a terrorist attack," Collins, R-Maine, said Saturday.
More truthfully stated: "This legislation will coerce taxpayers into further funding FEMA with the authority, resources, and leadership necessary to blunder again."

Democrats have criticized the Medicare prescription drug bill, but for not spending enough. Their criticism of FEMA has the same basis, and Republicans are only too eager to accept the challenge of spending more of other people's money.

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Friday, September 15, 2006

Will the jihadists really leave you alone if you play isolationist?

There's no need for us to answer the question when the terrorists do it for us.
Al-Qaida Joins Algerians Against France

PARIS Sep 14, 2006 (AP)— Al-Qaida has for the first time announced a union with an Algerian insurgent group that has designated France as an enemy, saying they will act together against French and American interests.

Current and former French officials specializing in terrorism said Thursday that an al-Qaida alliance with the Salafist Group for Call and Combat, known by its French initials GSPC, was cause for concern.

"We take these threats very seriously," Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy said, adding in an interview on France-2 television that the threat to France was "high" and "permanent," and that "absolute vigilance" was required.

Al-Qaida's No. 2, Ayman al-Zawahri, announced the "blessed union" in a video posted this week on the Internet to mark the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States.

France's leader have repeatedly warned that the decision not to join the U.S.-led war in Iraq would not shield the country from Islamic terrorism. French participation in the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Lebanon could give extremists another reason to strike.
After becoming the land of dhimmitude, via the great French pasttime se rendre, France is still a target for the terrorists. Who's really surprised? You don't win by capitulation, and the jihadists are an enemy who are only emboldened by increasing signs of weakness.

How about putting the story in another context?
Mexican Group Joins Japan Against U.S.

Washington, D.C. December 7, 1942 (AP)— For the first time, a group of Mexican border bandits has announced a union with Japan, saying they will act together against American interests.

Current and former Department of War officials specializing in terrorism said Thursday that Japan's alliance with the Sons of Pancho Villa, known by the Mexican government by its initials LHDPV, was cause for concern.

"We take these threats very seriously," Secretary of War Henry Stimson said, adding in a radio broadcast from the White House that the threat to Americans was "high" and "permanent," and that "absolute vigilance" was required.

LHDPV's number two, Eduardo Gonzalez, announced "this union blessed by Our Lady" in a letter sent to several major American newspapers on the first anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

Several members of President Roosevelt's administration have repeatedly warned that with the country's focus on the Axis Powers, it has ignored the threat from Mexican guerrillas. These groups have previously raided border towns only to finance their fighting against the Mexican government, but they apparently have gained courage by the U.S. war effort going badly.

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What's worse than sticking your nose into others' business?

Involving yourself where you don't belong is bad enough, but it's worse when you get others involved in things that don't concern them, and even worse when you let people get you involved in what's "none of your beeswax."

My best friend at work informed me today that certain people, who he refused to name or number, are taking issue with me over something extraordinarily trivial. I won't detail it here, in no small part because I generally avoid blogging about my job, but also because it's not worth mentioning.

Supposedly these people have come talked to me, but I can't remember who, so therefore I don't even know how many. Two? Ten? Maybe I don't recall because I'm actually too busy doing my damn job to pay attention to trifling matters. I seriously doubt that these people have approached me, anyway, suspecting that my friend is misguidedly trying to "protect my feelings" or some other BS by anonymizing them. Either way, what he's really doing is letting these people involve him in a matter that doesn't concern him.

If you have something with a co-worker, relaying it through that person's friend is not the way to do it. It's simply not professional, and it's not considerate. If you've brought it up with the person and got nowhere, then bring it up with the person's immediate superior, or bring it up with your own superior (who can then talk to the person). After work, my friend said I have a very Asian way of looking at it. No, as a matter of fact, that's not something peculiar to Asians. It is, however, part of my old-fashioned perspective on many things. It's also how the military operates.

My friend excused these peoples' refusal to go through the proper channels, saying that "It means you're in deep shit" if your boss talks to you about something, but why should that necessarily be the case? If something's up, I'm professional enough to accept a sit-down as just that; if I take it personally, perhaps I'm not professional enough to deserve my job. Also, my manager is one of the nicest guys you could ever meet, so I could never take any offense from him anyway. It didn't surprise me to learn that he's so widely respected across the entire firm.

I truly hope I don't find out who these individuals are. It's not that I'll be vindictive about this or even take offense, but that I just don't like losing respect for people who I otherwise considered nice (like my co-worker who spread gossip about me last December). Had they come talked to me, supposedly again, I would not have taken any offense at all. But now I am, not because of their issue with me, but how they're doing it.

My friend said that he didn't mind them involving him, but I replied that I do: he's my friend, but that doesn't make him a conduit, so the next time this happens, he should refuse and instead tell them to go talk to me. No offense to him, but I'm really surprised that my 40-something friend, who has worked in business world for a couple of decades, chose to be a superfluous link in a silly chain. It's a high school mentality.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

The inherent tyranny of democracy

Michelle Malkin cites the news story of a Dutch minister who said, "It must be possible for Muslim groups to come to power [in the Netherlands] via democratic means." Well, Michelle is right to expose him as a dhimmy, but the minister is correct in what he said. If a majority of voters in a democracy decided they wanted Sharia law, that is in fact perfectly fine.

Some of you are probably wondering right now how I can claim to cherish freedom but directly oppose democracy. That's because democracy isn't freedom: democracy is the tyranny of majority, as many before me have stated. In a true democracy, a society of 100 people has at least 51 dictators working collectively to rule the other 49 -- hence the Founding Fathers' term "mobocracy." What I do support is the underlying democratic process of a republic by which voters choose who represents them in the government.

Democracy does not allow for the rights of the individual, because those are irrelevant. Democracy is all and only about the absolute rule of the majority, whether the majority is defined as "50% plus one person" or as a super-majority of two-thirds. The Dutch minister was halfway right, since what he should have said was, "The majority is all that counts. That is the essence of democracy." In a democracy, life, liberty and property are not an individual's rights, but privileges granted and revoked at the pleasure of the majority. That's why the Constitution's authors defined the United States as a republic, not as a democracy.

I've objected to "democracy" thrown around in the second Star Wars trilogy. Now that I think about it, Obi-Wan's line "My allegiance is to the Republic, to democracy!" in Episode III is self-contradictory. Does he support the Republic and its system of democratically elected Senators, or the principle of absolute rule by the majority?

John Kerry, of course, loves the word and the principle. As a Senator in the United States federal government, he of all people should know that we're not a democracy. However, he'll pander to the majority of voters who have no problem voting for representatives who will steal from the minority -- because it's a small minority of the population that pays the vast majority of taxes.

If the Netherlands' other leaders realize and emphasize that they're not a true democracy, they'll be fine. In fact, where government is limited by the people in some manner that protects the individual's rights, there wouldn't be anything to fear even if every elected official were a jihadist. I wrote a while back about conservatives' fear of immigrants "taking over":
But so long as government does not steal from my paycheck, and as long as the Constitution is still in force throughout United States jurisdictions, it would not matter to me if Los Angeles became 100% Hispanic, no more than it matters to me that Harlem is predominantly black. It does not affect me while my rights to life, liberty and property (including the right not to have government coerce taxes from me) are intact.
Under limited government, imams already have every right to refrain from shaking hands with women. So why do certain Muslims push for Sharia law anyway? Because Sharia law is naturally another manifestation of tyranny, and it's no contradiction that it can be established in a democracy by a majority of voters: 51 out of 100 can decide that adultery can be punished by stoning, for example.

We talk and worry about the danger of Islamofascism, but we amplify the threat when we understand our Western political processes so poorly.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

I don't fly the American flag -- and may never again

On Monday, a lot of people brought out flags, and other things in red-white-and-blue, in what's become an annual show of patriotism. I'm not sure where my American flag lapel pin is, but it doesn't matter. I didn't join them, and it's not from a lack of love for or pride in my country.

My father ran his house like most Americans: avowedly proud to be one if you asked him, but not enough that he felt a need to display it with a flag. I grew up with largely the same attitude. For 14 years, I hardly noticed the Salt Lake Tribune front page, on appropriate days, with "Fly the flag" in the upper corners. Even when I began learning what real liberty is, I never wondered why I still didn't feel a need to fly the flag. Subconsciously, I guess, I knew that it's become so superficial for most Americans, and the genuine meaning behind my attempt would be lost.

When I helped my aunt run her wine store, we'd use small American flags, the kind glued onto dowels, for the Fourth of July displays. On 9/11, she quickly gave them all away as people enquired where they might get flags, as the normal retail outlets had run out themselves. Oh, how I was glad not to follow suit. I was unfortunately correct: it became pathetically fashionable to put an American flag of some sort on your car, just like with "Support the troops" decals today. There was no genuine meaning behind the action, only a bandwagon reflex.

It was bad enough that one schmuck had a tattered flag attached to his car's antenna (which is his legal right), but let's be frank: most people who have no idea what that flag really represents. "Freedom," they'll say. Indeed? The freedom to use government to live off others' money (via taxes)? The freedom to be scammed by fellow citizens because of government's coercion? The freedom to have uninvolved parties interfere in your peaceful, voluntary commerce? The freedom to elect officials who deprive peaceful citizens of the means to defend themselves?

Most Americans think all those are just fine, and that's worse than sad. Soften the phrasing a bit, and they'll support them as readily as they would motherhood. Most Americans accept at least a bit of a welfare (i.e. socialist) state, figuring that losses to scammers are offset by all the people "helped" by government's coerced redistribution of wealth. Most Americans think "market regulation" and "gun control" are fine, even necessary. Well, every one of those things, every damned one, is anathema to true freedom. So whatever holidays, principles and people those people are celebrating, commemorating, "honoring," whatever, by flying the American flag, I want no part of it. We're not on the same page, and I won't have them confusing me as one of them.

Now, there's ignorance, and then there's evil. After attending a friend's Labor Day barbecue, I was driving along a country road and saw some election signs. A certain judge's sign, with an American emblazoned upon it, really stuck in my craw. I've mentioned him before, but I didn't get into his corruption. Some years ago, when his predecessor was retiring, a bunch of prominent local business owners, a real good ol' boy network, saw the opportunity to get a "pocket judge." They picked a local lawyer, someone not terribly bright (his high school classmates reportedly were surprised he became a lawyer) and thus easy to manipulate. Encouraging him to run, they bankrolled his campaign and every one since. That son of a bitch is still there, betraying his oath, his office, the Constitution, and every principle of justice -- and he dares to use the flag.

With people who don't understand freedom on one side, and people who deliberately betray liberty and justice on the other, I have decided that I'll never fly the American flag again until real freedom is restored to this country. Until then, this is my flag:

Monday, September 11, 2006

"Accomodation": a euphemism for using government to coerce

Though I had far too many "progressive" beliefs when younger, I nonetheless knew that the Americans With Disabilities Act spelled trouble. I've previously written on how it doesn't even make economic sense, let alone how it violates everything about the right to one's own property.

Few rulings have angered me, and I mean really made my blood boil, as the abominable "eminent domain" ruling against Susette Kelo and other New London residents. Well, this recent ruling has inflamed me just as much. Last Thursday, a dipshit judge in California made a dipshit ruling that some dipshits' lawsuit against Target could go forward (Target hasn't lost, but the lawsuit can proceed). The lawsuit's entire basis is that Target's website isn't very "accomodating" to blind people under the Americans With Disabilities Act and a couple of similar California statutes. That's it.

Well, here's a free clue for these visually-impaired people and their cohorts, as they're apparently more blind to reason and logic than they are to photons: this is the World Wide Web we're talking about, which originated as a visual medium and is still a primarily visual medium. If you're blind and can't make use of a site's content, then go to a competing site that has the functionality you desire. If there's no one who does, then face the fact that you're just not a profitable customer, and it's up to you to make do.

The free market, not government, has a perpetually amazing way of providing goods and services -- to those who are willing to pay, that is. Suppose a business won't serve a particular section of society, whether it's the handicapped because of an unwillingness to spend the money to "accomodate" them, or an ethnic group out of disdain. If those would-be customers are willing to pay enough, some other competing business will step up and offer substitutes. "Pay enough" is the operative phrase here, because the competitor will act purely out of a profit motive. And why not? They'll offer to sell at a price, and the potential customers are free to accept or decline; there's no such thing as a right to getting what you want, let alone at the price you want.

I'd read the story Friday and was reminded to blog about it when a friend sent me the link to Slashdot's summary. So far, I haven't seen this discussed on my friends' blogs that I try to read regularly: Don Luskin, Josh Hendrickson, Billy Beck and Three Sources. No coverage on QandO or Cafe Hayek or Larry Kudlow's blog, which greatly surprised me since they're all great defenders of the free market. I was likewise surprised that Instapundit hasn't mentioned this as part of his news roundup. I wasn't too surprised that Marginal Revolution, Power Line and Michelle Malkin haven't touched on this; this isn't really their type of story.

Some uninvolved parties claim that the ruling is a good thing: "Not only is it the right thing to do and the law, but it also leads to much better Web design. It keeps people from doing stupid stuff just because they can. It's amazing that Target would bother to fight this." This person is sadly unable to comprehend that Target fought this because changing its site will be a costly waste of time. Does he really think Target's executives are so stupid that they'll throw money away on legal fees when it supposed would be easier to change their website? And who is this person to decide what is "better web design" and what is "stupid stuff"? He's perfectly free to do that for his own site, but when did God leave him in charge of making those decisions for others?

Oh, and the hypocrite's blog title is a PNG image, which wouldn't qualify as ADA-compliant if his blog were part of a business. Maybe if he reflected on his personal motivation, he'd realize that a lot of businesses do the same with their "non-ADA-compliant" websites for better layout control.

Now, what if I, you, or anyone else, decided that his use of an image was "stupid"? How would we have any more right to decide that for his site than he has the right to decide that for others' sites? In fact, Target was far from "stupid" in how it designed its site, because as anyone who understands business can tell you, a bad design anywhere in your company means lost customers. Target designed its site for maximum functionality at the least cost so it can service the most possible customers -- and that didn't include the blind, very few of whom would bother shopping online anyway. Target's number crunchers decided that there just wasn't enough potential business to justify the cost of making its website "accomodating" to the blind. And if Target is wrong, then its competitors can gain that business by offering "accomodation."

Also, look at the "BusinessWire" story that Slashdot linked to: the whole thing is just an advertisement, complete with phone number and staff description, for Mindshare Interactive Campaigns. You can bet that they had no small part in bringing forth this lawsuit. Think of all the new business they'll get from companies now worried about getting sued -- what a great scam! Meanwhile, Wahlbin distracts people from the real issue by talking about "accessibility" making it easier to be found on search engines, and she throws out outright lies like "being compliant is not difficult nor is it expensive." If it weren't difficult nor expensive, then Target would have already done it to gain business from its blind customers. Also, businesses that want to be found on search engines don't need government telling them how to do it: they can figure it out on their own how to do it, whether copious amounts of text to generate hits, tags, or paying a search engine.

As Bastiat warned in The Law,
See if the law takes from some persons what belongs to them, and gives it to other persons to whom it does not belong. See if the law benefits one citizen at the expense of another by doing what the citizen himself cannot do without committing a crime.
The first test clearly faults this judge's ruling. Winners: the lawyers, Mindshare, and the blind who still won't make much use of Target's website. Losers: the rest of us, not just Target. Companies will inevitably pass on to their customers the costs of website redesign, including "consultation" with Mindshare's "experts." They're not doing it by choice, but because they are being forced by a law, so the many will wind up paying for the benefits of a very few.

What about the second test? Well, what if I with my neighbors, save one, decided that our last neighbor should install a brick walkway up his front lawn, instead of concrete? Of course we would have no right to tell him what to do, even if it were all of us against him: it's his own property, and even if he ran a business out of his home, we have no right to force him into permitting us to use his property. If we threatened to seize part of his property in a "fine" because he didn't design his property as we wished, then we'd be committing extortion. And our attempt at coercion would be no more legitimate than if we got together, called ourselves a "government," and made a "law" or got a court to rule in our favor.

"Because it's the law" is the most idiotic way to excuse government coercion. Some liberals and conservatives genuinely don't understand, as Don Boudreaux explained, that just because something is "the law," that still does not make it right. Others do understand that but will invoke "the law" when it suits their political agenda. "Eminent domain" is the law by which many governments at various levels have stolen people's land and homes. It was "the law" in Denmark for Jews to wear armbands. It has almost universally been "the law" in dictator-ruled societies that if you dissent, you can be jailed or executed. It was the law in many states, for the first several decades of United States history, that you could literally own another human being.

Others say, "More 'machine readable' data on your site also translates into better (non-visual) accessibility." That's a ridiculous statement in its generality, because it assumes "better" for everyone, when in fact we need to ask, "Better for whom?" Flash was impossibly slow when dial-up was the norm, but the advent of broadband made it quite viable for jazzing up websites. It's also a great way to protect your website's content from copycats.

But the economic viability is a red herring from the real issue: as always, a relatively few people find a way to use government to force others to kowtow to their wishes. Who owns your property, you, the government, or others? If you own it, then how can others tell you what to do with it, when your choices do not at all affect (let alone harm) them? And if changing something about your property is such a great thing for you to do, why aren't you jumping at the chance to do it, and why must government coerce you into it under penalty of fine and/or jail?

As I wrote in my aforementioned post discussing the ADA,
Private property rights must include the right to hire whomever you'd like and set your own standards, and necessarily the right serve only those customers you would like. If we are to have real liberty, then we (as individuals or government) must not infringe upon others' private property rights, even if they are engaging in racism, sexism, etc. Few probably envisioned the slippery slope when it began in the 1950s with the desegregation of so-called "public establishments" (which is really a misnomer since they're privately owned). From then on, it was easy for government to regulate businesses more and more. "Regulate" is government's nice euphemism for control. You may have the title, but you can't really make use of your property as you see fit.
That must also include the choice not to run your business in a certain manner that allows certain customers to do business with you. A business owner does not "refuse" to serve blind customers, but he is declining their patronage. This is not semantics: "decline" implies choice, and choice is the very essence of liberty. What's next, a court ruling that a business isn't complying with the ADA because it won't offer free shuttle service? After all, a business that won't pick up handicapped customers isn't "accomodating" them.

My blog isn't a business, but I still added the little message at the top to make a statement. One of your individual rights, as enumerated in the Declaration of Independence, is "the pursuit of happiness." Read that again: it doesn't mean you have the right to happiness itself, only to the pursuit of it. And it also doesn't mean I'm required to help you in your pursuit if I don't want to.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

I'm the jerk?

When I arrived at Grand Central last night, I had some time before the next train home even arrived, let alone departed. So I bought a Snapple, sat on one of the bottom level's pew-style benches, and started reading my copy of the New York Post. A panhandler approached me and asked the familiar line, "Could you help me with something to eat?"

Having picked up a few things after work, I had a shopping bag in addition to my usual carrying case. I placed them on the floor, between my feet, since keeping them next to me would make them easier to steal (directly or surreptitiously). This beggar didn't smell or look dirty, and he also approached only me, when the bench's other occupants didn't have packages. So in case he tried to snatch something, I quickly drew my feet together tightly against my bags. It wouldn't guarantee he couldn't pull one away, but at least he'd have to bend down, leaving the back of his neck vulnerable to a downward blow. I take defending my property very seriously.

"Sorry," I replied dryly. Then the little bastard muttered, "Jerk," and walked away. I'm a jerk, though he "rebuked" me as if he were somehow entitled to my money? I retorted, "Get a job!" He may not have heard me, but at least I did my homage to Ted Nugent. Once on Sean Hannity's radio show, he said, "You want a cure for poverty? Get a job!" And he is right. I recently saw a man near the MetLife building, holding up a sign that included, "$20 can feed my family for a week." Then let him get a job, which at minimum wage will net him $20 in only a few hours. Or is it too profitable for him to sponge off others?

There's a verse I was thinking of today, where the Apostle Paul wrote, "Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares." Could angels test the character of men from time to time, asking for help? Quite possibly, but I really doubt one of God's angels would call me a "jerk" just for what I said.

This black man appeared to be in his 40s, able-bodied, and capable of an honest day's work. So what's his excuse, white people's racism? Illegal immigrants take the jobs he would do? "Disabled vet"? Well, I don't give handouts anymore, period, whether to beggars in the transit system, the vagrants who hang around where I work, or the couple of women I've seen on Fifth Avenue. Remember the punk who rides the subway claiming "The government doesn't give me enough"? And the other one who was on 54th and Broadway, shaking a cup of coins at pedestrians while munching a burger?

Tonight I did some more shopping. How much food could I buy for those less fortunate with what I spent? A lot, to be sure, but I don't feel selfish or guilty at all. I work damn hard for my pay and will dispose of it by my own desires, not according to some ass who calls me a "jerk" when he should be out there working. But I do believe strongly in helping those less fortunate -- helping them effectively.

Charity in its only true form is done by individuals and not government, proven by the colossal failures of FDR's welfare state, LBJ's failed "war on poverty," and George W. Bush's post-Katrina blunders. There are too many scammers and drunkards, though, and others just plain lazy. How can one tell who needs help the most? Well, I can't, not with my limited time, so instead I give money to the Salvation Army, which has a pretty high comparative advantage in performing charitable services. Also, I don't attend church regularly but try to give generously when I visit one, in the hope that some will make its way into the church's ministry for the poor. That sort of giving, I believe, is ultimately more effective than handing a few dollars to any panhandler who asks.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Should government protect people from their own stupidity?

"They may wonder about the proper course. But I am convinced that here, as in all other areas of public policy, the just and efficacious solution is liberty." - Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tx), MD.

This BusinessWeek Online article talks about the alleged danger of the increasingly popular Adjustable Rate Mortgage. It cites several anecdotes of people who didn't realize what they were getting into and, frankly, should have known better: always read the fine print.

"Those who took the bait" -- as if we were dealing with instinct-driven fish, instead of living, breathing capable of intelligent thought. There's the old caveat that "if something seems too good to be true, it probably is," but that doesn't apply here. The lenders aren't scamming anyone, and people should realize almost instinctively that if their mortgage payments are reduced, there will likely be a catch sometime in the future. Didn't Gordon, the Sacramento police officer, stop to question what was happening when his monthly payment went from $2443 (assuming a $500K house, 10% down, 30-year fixed-rate mortage at 5.1%) to $1697? What about Harold, who refinanced his home and seems to be quite aware of the future payments he can't afford? What was he doing?

"But others, caught up in real estate mania, ignored or failed to appreciate the risk [of ARMs]." Why must the rest of us be condemned when we were smart enough to pay attention to the Federal Reserve's actions, and to seek clarification from anyone possible so we would know exactly what we were getting into?

"There was plenty more going on behind the scenes they didn't know about, either: that their broker was paid more to sell option ARMs than other mortgages; that their lender is allowed to claim the full monthly payment as revenue on its books even when borrowers choose to pay much less; that the loan's interest rates and up-front fees might not have been set by their bank but rather by a hedge fund; and that they'll soon be confronted with the choice of coughing up higher payments or coughing up their home." However, these are irrelevant, as are the allegations of deceptive accounting practices, to the real issue: the borrowers were never forced into the deal, nor were they denied opportunities to understand every ramification. Do you buy a car from a dealership based on how much the salesman will make in commission, or based on how good a deal it is for you? Do you worry about the particulars of the relationship between the dealership and its loan financing company, or do you only care about the interest rate?

The article tries to imply that the financial sector's usage of ARMs is shady or improper, but it's no different than someone selling a bond for ready cash to a buyer who's willing to assume the risk that the borrower may not repay the full balance. Mortgages, primarily fixed-rate ones, are often used as assets in mortgage-backed securities for certain investors to buy. Such transference of risk has happened for a long time, and the investors, like mortgage borrowers should be, are well aware of the risk. Similarly, certain hedge funds may be snapping up ARMs, but buying heavy-risk investments is what they do. They'll pay banks a certain percentage of the loan's total value, counting on enough borrowers to pay back the loans successfully so the hedge funds will make an overall profit. What they're not counting on is people defaulting: they're not in the real estate business, so mortgage holders will auction a seized house as quickly as possible for whatever they'll get. Rarely will they break even, let alone exceed the balance still owed, and some states also don't permit banks (or whoever the mortgage is payable to) from making a profit on foreclosures.

Some people feel that government should regulate ARMs more strictly, although not what financial firms do with them afterward. These people, as the article describes, want government to regulate ARMs' availability to the borrowers. I ask, are people unable to read through a legal document and understand it thoroughly? Are they too cheap or lazy to pay an accountant a few hundred dollars to give them an amortization table and explain every implication? Shouldn't they be intelligent enough to realize that this isn't something they can just return to the store when they find it doesn't work for them?

Some, like Paul Krugman, believe that government must insulate people from life's risks. Libertarians and true conservatives oppose that primarily from a moral, freedom-based perspective, but we also note that such protection doesn't make economic sense. Government has no true ability to protect people: it can only force people to protect themselves, at higher costs to themselves, though some people perfectly accept the risks and don't want to assume those costs. Sometimes a higher cost is not getting the product or service you wanted, not because of availability in a free market, but because government policies have made it so expensive that they priced it out of your reach. Perfect examples are live-saving medicines and medical procedures that are illegal in the U.S. without the FDA's say-so: FDA approval involves delays, which kill people who could have used the medical breakthroughs, and higher prices because of all the jumping through bureaucrats' hoops, which kills people who can't afford the increase to the drugs' prices.

"[The lenders] know they're selling crap, and they're doing it in a way that's very deceiving," said the Sacramento policeman. Well, one of my friends and his wife have an ARM, and it's been great for them. They were smart enough to make much higher payments when interest rates were low, so when interest rates rose, they already had paid off a lot of principal and weren't hit as hard. But how would they be affected if government decided to start "protecting" people from ARMs? Let's consider some scenarios.

1. Mandatory disclosure of all details before closing, so that people know what they're getting into. But that already happens, and in black and white too: borrowers aren't prohibited from reading the contract, which lays out every detail.

2. A mandatory sit-down with a bank official, who will explain the risks involved. Most people, however, would go through this like they're back in school: with glazed eyes and short attention spans.

3. Mandatory consultation with an accountant. But my friends clearly didn't need this, so it would only make them waste money. Even if the law required banks to pay the fee, who's stupid enough to think the bank wouldn't somehow pass it on to the borrower? Perhaps there could be an option to waive this, but then what's the point of a law requiring it? Moreover, people would sign a waiver indicating they understand all the risks, yadda yadda, only to claim later that they weren't fully informed.

4. Legislation restricting the number of ARMs (perhaps as a percentage of all mortgages issued), or restricting them to to people who meet a certain debt-income ratio. But what of people who don't happen to win the inevitable "lottery" for ARMs, or who can't meet the arbitrary requirements, notwithstanding that they know what they're doing?

It's a nice thought that government policies can reduce the risks of life, but protecting a few people denies the rest their freedom to assume risk, and it's economically inefficient anyway. Without exception, government's "protection" makes it more expensive for everyone: the stupidity of some becomes unnecessarily higher costs for everyone else. Think about this the next time your car passes a safety and emissions inspection with flying colors, the next time you buy agricultural products that had to be inspected before you could buy them, or the next time you're stopped at a "sobriety checkpoint." Each of these, and countless other examples where government interferes in our lives, involves a pound of prevention to get an ounce of cure.


Sunday, September 03, 2006

"Middle ground" on Wal-Mart?

(Updated 4:12 p.m. Eastern)

So one of the Writing on the Wal socialists extended an olive branch to me. Maybe.
Shalom Perry,

I'm one third of the blogging troika at The Writing On The Wal and I'm curious. Do you think there is a middle ground between our two positions on which we could hold a reasonable discussion on how Wal Mart affects our economy and national policies?


Jeff Hess
I replied:

Ask yourself why boys aren't half-circumcised (at least not deliberately), and you'll have your answer.

The issue isn't Wal-Mart, or any other business. That's just a red herring. The issue is purely choice: there's no such thing as half-choice, only whether you can do what you want without harming others. I'm still wondering why you bunch want to restrict people's freedom to shop where they'd like, when nobody is forced to work or shop there.
He replied:
Shalom Perry,

The restricting people's freedom to shop meme is a straw man. Everybody should absolutely have the right to patronize the retailers they wish to. But you know that.

And thanks for answering my question.


Jeff Hess
To which I replied:
No, it's far from a straw man: it's precisely what you're doing. You claim that "Everybody should absolutely have the right to patronize the retailers they wish to." (I'll hold you to that, be warned.) But you belie that statement by advocating certain government policies that interfere with and hinder that freedom. How are you not infringing on people's freedom to shop where they want? Instead, they can shop where you will let them.

It's your turn to answer my question: if people are in fact worth more than what their employers are willing to pay, then why don't they find a job with someone else who's willing to pay that? But I don't really expect you to understand the basis of private property and voluntary commerce.

And you can stop using "shalom" with me. It's insulting when the first thing you should have written is an apology for your blog's misrepresentation of and personal attack upon me.
Normally I post e-mail messages only with the other party's permission, but considering it's one of the "troila" at a blog which misrepresented and personally attacked me...screw them.

Shalom Perry,

Since it seems we do have a dialogue here, I'll consider your first reply a matter of private communication. Any further responses will be on the record.

Which government policies are you referring to? I don't believe that I've ever read or heard about any law prohibiting any person in the United States from entering, shopping at and purchasing from any retailer not engaging in a proscribed business.

As to whether or not people are worth more than an employer is willing to pay, I have to say that I grew up in a part of the country – the Ohio River Valley – were I knew men and women who experienced first hand the battles against corporations like Peabody Coal and others over just this point.

If two entities sit down in good faith and negotiate a fair exchange of financial capital for human capital, then we have an example of people being paid what they're worth. If, on the other hand, one entity holds several advantages as regards factors such as choice, geography and ease of transport, no such fair exchange is possible. I'll give you that neither side is without it's abuses, but that cannot negate the basic rule of what constitutes an equitable negotiation.

In what way have I misrepresented you? Am I wrong in my understanding that you receive regular or periodic financial consideration (or its equivalent) from Wal Mart?

Finally, I choose my salutation and closing based on a matter of ethnicity. The only other closing that I use is Love, and that I reserve for my family and closest friends. So I'm afraid I must remain with:


Jeff Hess
My reply:
As far as I'm concerned, your initial e-mail was already on the record. I'm hardly a conservative, which you'd have realized had you bothered to research my blog before categorizing me. Also, for the record, I receive no "regular or periodic financial consideration (or its equivalent)" from Wal-Mart whatsoever. Thrice-weekly e-mails from a friend, particularly when I was already blogging positively about Wal-Mart prior to receiving them, hardly constitute such. So I'll thank you to stop repeating this new manisfestation of your old misrepresentation and personal attack. Meanwhile, I can still wait for the apology but will not hold my breath.

You speak of dialogue, but there's no dialogue here. Dialogue assumes that one side is capable of understanding the arguments made by the other. In this case, you cannot comprehend basic principles of voluntary trade. Let me try to explain it as simply as possible for the sake of your limited comprehension. This isn't about whether someone can shop at Wal-Mart: it's whether Wal-Mart is restricted from offering goods on its own terms. Every time you get government involved against Wal-Mart, by any action and not just by law, you hinder Wal-Mart's ability to offer goods on its own terms. You still don't see, do you, how this mostly affects the poor, who you claim to support?

You demand not higher wages, but higher minimum wages as mandated by government. Maryland's government unlawfully mandated minimum health care expenditures, which got struck down in the courts. Every time your ilk does such things, it forces Wal-Mart to compensate somehow, either by capping hourly workers' salaries (I wasn't surprised, were you?) or perhaps not entering a particular market. It took, what, a couple of years before White Plains would permit Wal-Mart to open a store? And because of the New York City Council's actions, Wal-Mart won't open a store anytime soon in the boroughs, though it otherwise would. So how can you claim government isn't hindering people's freedom to shop wherever they want? You're confusing "shop wherever they want" with "shop wherever they want that government has permitted."

And then you dare to talk to me about people negotiating with each other in good faith? There can never be good faith when government favors one side and/or hobbles the other. Despite your rhetoric, all you want to do is use the power of government to force employers into certain conditions. In other words, you're a hypocrite for espousing a double-standard. You'd never permit businesses to use the government to force employees into employment, would you?

I don't know how old you are, but I guess your daddy never explained, as mine did to me, that everyone may be born equal, but after that first moment, we become unequal. The law treats (or should) people as equal, but when it comes to living our lives, we all have different abilities and weaknesses. It's all up to you to improve and exploit your own strengths, including starting up your own business. If you don't like a private property owner's terms, then don't accept them. Find work elsewhere. Move if you have to. I did that myself, driving over 2000 miles to start over. What about you?

As like I said, you can stop using "shalom." You want nothing of the kind with me, nor do I with you, so stop the charades and speak plainly.

Friday, September 01, 2006

It's the First and Ninth Amendments, Post morons

The New York Post's editorial staff is sometimes good, sometimes stupid. They don't know the difference between justice and law, but today they outdid their typical authoritarianism by defending a judge's upholding of a "disorderly conduct" charge against Ramon Morena. And what was Morena's crime? He was arguing with someone in public, but the reason he received a summons was because he told an NYPigD (who approached them on his own), "Go fuck yourself. Fuck you, cop."

The Post gleefully notes, "Morena got slapped with a summons for disorderly conduct, because his behavior to the police was alarming to the general public."

How can uttering something "alarming to the general public" be a crime, when the words did not harm anyone and in fact could not have possibly harmed anyone? If such uses of "fuck" were truly "alarming to the general public," then the police should do their "duty" and take 99% of New York's drivers to Central Booking. The word is so common in everyday American society that it's virtually impossible to say it in any manner that "alarms" anyone older than 10. I'm just using a general age there; you should hear the "darndest things" that NYC elementary schoolchildren say.

Even playing the NYPigD's game, no one would have been "alarmed" anyway if the pig hadn't come over to stick his snout in others' business. Had Morena harmed the woman in any way? Had he even threatened her? Was there any appearance of assault, battery or menacing? Had the woman called out for help, let alone specifically requested police assistance? Apparently none of those happened, meaning it was a private matter. It became a "public" one only because the pig made it by his interference.

Some years ago, a friend's nephew got into an automobile accident. It was his fault, and he was privately settling the matter with the other person. There was no need for police intervention. Yet a cop came up, investigated, and insisted on getting information though neither party needed that "help." It wound up going to court, where my friend's nephew received a minor fine. I consider that a badge of honor, because he preferred the state's punishment to voluntarily bowing down and licking someone's hand.

That's the police's job, you know: to subjugate and harass the people. Then should we dare to stand up to them, they try to bully us into submission. (Too bad for them that they might have greater numbers and firepower in real life, but online their only ammunition are their sorely deficient intellect and wit.) Morena rightfully didn't see any reason to show respect to this jack-booted thug in blue, so in response, the self-important prick used the force of law to punish Morena for not bowing down. Also, imagine the brownie points that this judge Weinberg scored for the next time he's caught speeding, gets a parking ticket, or has a problem with a neighbor.

So much for equality, huh? Your neighbor could threaten you with bodily harm, and because of their caseload and/or laziness, police in many jurisdictions won't even bother sending over a squad car to talk to him: "We can't really do anything until a crime is committed." (The same governments also tend to keep people disarmed "for their own good," when it only leaves them unable to defend themselves.) But tell a policeman "Go fuck yourself," and that could garner you 15 days in jail. Few will dare call that fascism, but I will. Fascism demands full allegiance to the state and its representatives, and punishment awaits those who aren't obedient.

The Post even said, "But Judge Weinberg has already struck a blow for public civility with a needed reminder that, yes, cops are different - and deservedly so, given the responsibilities and sacrifices that are asked of them." Let's overlook the idiotic belief of using government to enforce "civility." Oh yes, it's a tremendous responsibility and sacrifice to ticket cabbies who are doing no harm to anyone, and to entrap gun shop owners. It's a tremendous responsibility to lean against walls, watching people go by, isn't it? That reminds me, it must have been some "responsibility" for them one day at Grand Central. I was behind a particularly attractive woman as we went down some stairs. She was in a form-fitting T-shirt and low-rise jeans, and several NYPigD were watching her so intently that they wouldn't have noticed Osama himself dancing in front of them wearing full Arab dress.

Ask Abner Louima about "responsibilities and sacrifices." Ask Amadou Diallo -- oh wait, we can't, since he died after being shot 19 times at close range. How about we ask the victims of Louis Eppolito and Stephen Caracappa? If you want to talk about heroes, talk about firefighters. They are the ones whose jobs are all about risking their lives to help others.

Virtually all members of all levels of government set themselves above the rest of us, and enough of "we the people" are stupid enough to elect and re-elect them. Cynthia McKinney assaulted a Capitol Hill policeman who was justified in stopping her, and no thinking person was surprised when charges were dropped. At least enough voters woke up to her moonbattery and fired her in the primary. By contrast, an everyday Joe pulled a Dick Cheney on a nosy flatfoot, and now he might spend up to 15 days in jail. Membership does have its privileges, because they all watch out for each other.

Welcome back to the 1760s, people.

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