Friday, September 30, 2005

The man has no shame

Fernando Ferrer, Democratic candidate for NYC mayor, earlier this week was caught in a probable lie, and after claiming, "God is on my side." Now he's breaking campaign rules. From the New York Post (registration required, use

September 29, 2005 -- Fernando Ferrer brazenly broke city Department of Education rules by campaigning in a Queens high school yesterday, Mayor Bloomberg and education officials charged.

It's the second controversy in two days involving Ferrer and education — coming right after his false claim that most of his education was in public schools.

Yesterday, Ferrer spoke to more than 200 12th-grade students at Flushing HS, in an event that was listed on his campaign schedule.

City rules bar political candidates from electioneering in schools within 60 days of an election.

Bloomberg was clearly irked at Ferrer for thumbing his nose at the rule, and the mayor also rapped Flushing HS Principal Cornelia Gutwin.

"A principal did decide to let him in. The principal should not have. There is a rule against campaigning on school property," Bloomberg said.

"That shouldn't have happened, and he [Ferrer] knows the rules as well as anybody."

Outside the school after he spoke to students, Ferrer insisted the event was not political — even though his campaign told the media about it.

"I didn't campaign. I made it a point to talk to these kids about civic participation and my own experiences at a young age," Ferrer said.

In Queens, students said Ferrer answered questions about education and giving teachers a pay hike — a highly political topic, since Ferrer is courting the teachers' union for an endorsement.

"He was saying that he is going to improve education for the students and he's going to raise the salary of the teachers," said Farah Matthew, 16.

The electioneering ban gives something of an edge to incumbent pols, since the rules permit them to hold events in schools at any time, as long as they are related to their official public duties.

Bloomberg, for example, joined Klein last week at PS 40 in Brooklyn to release new fourth- and eighth-grade math test scores.

Ferrer spokeswoman Jen Bluestein accused Bloomberg of having a double standard.

She said it's "very remarkable" that the mayor thinks it's OK to announce test scores in a school during his re-election campaign, while at the same complaining about Ferrer talking to students about being good citizens.

Meanwhile, Ferrer met with Randi Weingarten, the head of the teachers union, which is embroiled in bitter contract talks with the Bloomberg administration.

A spokesman for the United Federation of Teachers president said she made no commitment to back Ferrer during their power breakfast at the Regency Hotel.
Now, I have no love for Bloomberg. I've unhesitatingly criticized him on things like his misleading campaign ads and advocacy of the West Side Stadium. However, Ferrer can't weasel out of his latest blunder by pointing at Bloomberg and whining, "Hey, he did it too!" Bloomberg was indeed getting publicity, but ask this: would a lame-duck mayor have done the same announcement? Yes.

Ferrer, on the other hand, was clearly campaigning. He was talking about "civic participation," which principally means voting, but he went beyond that and his "experiences at a young age." A student clearly recalled that Ferrer spoke of what he would do for teachers and schools as mayor. Add two and two, and it's clear that Ferrer was promoting his candidacy, not including the fact that it was on his campaign schedule.

As far as the UTF, their support for Ferrer is, at this point, tacit. As mayor, he would give them what they want: cushier jobs at taxpayers' expense.

One letter to the Post, probably by a teacher, claimed:
All teachers in New York City schools must possess a master's degree to become licensed.

This extra education expense is shouldered by the teacher, but in private industry, this cost is covered by the employer.

Most teachers spend their own money - which is not reimbursed - for supplies and equipment that the city does not provide.
I do not wish at all to disparage the hard work of good teachers, but the first and second paragraphs are not quite true, and the third is misleading.

Perhaps it hinges on the definition of "licensed," but one can teach in NYC public schools with only a bachelor's degree. I've seen recruiting advertisements seeking people with just bachelor's, and as I recall you can start as high as $38K, if you're willing to teach at schools in need of teachers. Usually that means a tougher part of the city, though if you graduated from college and need a job, teaching can be a very viable option because of great benefits: generous health insurance, pension plans, and the state will pay tuition for a master's in education. That's what a business associate's niece is doing. A graduate degree in education isn't exactly the most flexible of choices, but it generally means higher pay.

I should add that the rest of us know that not all private employers will pay for or reimburse tuition, whether in whole or in part, and at any level. So the two claims about teacher education are worse than silly. I find them insulting for their implication that people don't know any better and will believe them.

The third paragraph doesn't consider that part of a teacher's pay implicity covers out-of-pocket expenses. My new job doesn't reimburse me for my monthly Metro-North train ticket, let alone my subway fare, but I wouldn't have accepted the job if it didn't pay enough to justify my monetary (and time) cost of commuting. Let's say my employer initially hired me with the promise to pay for my train and subway expenses. Who really thinks I'd be paid as much as I currently am? When I was doing computer upgrades at the Ford Foundation, the Foundation "bought" us dinner. Or did it?

So while it seems "proper" that the public school system cover the costs, if it did that, then teachers would have to be paid less. The same applies to health insurance and other benefits. More and more Americans are coming to believe the Great Hillary Lie, that health insurance should be free. But it's hardly free. The employer does not pay anything, just like businesses do not really pay taxes. The costs must eventually be born by people.

If the employer elects to maintain the employee's wages and instead charge more for its products, then that affects consumers' overall purchasing power. Remember what Bastiat said in the first chapter of his Sophisms: "Man produces in order to consume. He is at once both producer and consumer." So though we initially aren't affected by our employer's higher prices, because we're too busy feeling pleased about the health insurance, the prices eventually circle back to us. A particular person will pay higher prices on everything to cover the costs of others' work-based health insurance, just like the others all pay higher prices on everything for the same purpose. The fair way would be to let each individual pay for his own consumption.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Strike two for Ferrer

Fernando Ferrer, the Democratic candidate for New York City mayor, claimed this past Sunday, "God is on my side." The New York Post reported:
During a service at the Maranatha Baptist Church in Queens Village, Ferrer likened the race for mayor to the battle between David and Goliath.

"I will be your David — your mayor," Ferrer told parishioners. "And all the height or money or tattoos won't matter, because God is on my side."

Ferrer's reference to tattoos was apparently used to try to make the biblical story contemporary....

Ferrer later denied that he made the comment, but a Post reporter who was at the church and took notes during his speech said he did. The church's pastor, A'kim Beecham, also confirmed Ferrer's remarks.
And what a tangled web Freddie continues to weave. Now he claims he's been "inaccurately edited" after being caught in what many will consider a lie:

September 28, 2005 -- Fernando Ferrer yesterday got caught red-handed falsely claiming in a first-person account on his campaign Web site that he attended mostly city public schools.

"I was born in the South Bronx and educated in public schools for most of my education," Ferrer wrote in a Sept. 6 personal blog entry posted on

But the Democratic nominee for mayor was forced to remove the posting yesterday less than an hour Mayor Bloomberg's re-election campaign blew the whistle on the tall tale — flunking Ferrer for rewriting his childhood history into fiction.

The statement to reporters from the Bloomberg campaign highlighted Ferrer's public-school claim on his Web site — then listed the Catholic schools that he had attended beginning in the first grade and ending with his graduation from Cardinal Spellman HS in 1968.

"Freddy was wrong on accountability, wrong on social promotion, and wrong on standards at CUNY. Now he's wrong about his own résumé," said Bloomberg adviser Bill Cunningham, a "proud graduate" of St. Augustine's HS in Brooklyn.

"I can't imagine why anyone would hide such a fact."

Some observers speculated that Ferrer may be trying to downplay his parochial schooling to court the city's teachers union or to bolster his assertion that he understands the struggles of working-class New Yorkers.

"Every time something like this happens, it reduces his credibility," said Democratic political consultant Hank Sheinkopf, who is not involved in the mayor's race.

"He's got a flip-flop history — on abortion, the death penalty, the Diallo case and now education. Every time he does this, it helps Bloomberg."

The Ferrer campaign blamed a staffer for the fib, claiming the candidate's Web site writing had been "inaccurately edited."

"In a blog entry from earlier this month, an item submitted by Freddy Ferrer was inaccurately edited regarding Freddy's education. We apologize for the mistake and have corrected the entry," said Ferrer campaign manager Nick Baldick.

During a campaign event with Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean yesterday, Ferrer insisted he didn't write the line about attending public schools.

"It's my campaign and my responsibility," he said. "So that's been corrected."

Ferrer denied that he intentionally lied about his schooling.

"That's absolute nonsense and everyone knows it. I'm proud of the schools I went to and the after school programs I went to, and everyone who knows me in public life knows that," he said.

But New Yorkers wouldn't know that from his Web site.

Ferrer's extensive biography posted on the site makes no reference whatsoever to his Catholic-school education.

The blog flap is not the first time Ferrer got caught fudging his family's education.

During a Democratic Party mayoral debate last month, Ferrer claimed his daughter, Carlina, "did graduate from public schools."

But while she attended public elementary and middle schools, Carlina graduated from Spellman HS — like her father.

For his part, Bloomberg attended public schools in Medford, Mass.
Oh what a tangled web Freddie continues to weave. Four years after losing the Democratic primary, he wants to be mayor so badly that he'll say and do anything.

Even before Ferrer's two mistakes, I think Dick Morris, the renowned politican consultant, was overly optimistic to warn, "Don't bet against Ferrer":
Ferrer, for whom I once worked, is a typical politician who sees the city divided by class and race and chooses to exploit those divisions to get elected. He lacks Bloomberg's depth, dispassionate commitment to New York and sense of how to improve the city. But make no mistake, he could be our next mayor.
Ferrer is a divider who emphasizes his belief in social programs (while hiding the tax burdens required), "progressive" policies, "rich versus poor" tax structures, and most of all his Latino roots that garner so much support from minority voters. And who is surprised that he, a liberal's liberal, is hypocritical about true school choice? Ferrer went to a Catholic school, from which his daughter also graduated, but Ferrer opposes the school vouchers that would enable many families to afford sending their children to decent private schools. Instead, the children are doomed to attending graffiti-ridden, gang-infested, violent schools that are taught by bad teachers.

Ferrer's solution to the awful state of NYC public schools, from which only 54% of students graduate on time, is to throw even more money at them. As I've noted, NYC already has a low ratio of 14 students per teacher, but inefficient class structuring and sabbaticals have left its class sizes averages at 28 students. But Ferrer isn't really interested in results. On Monday, Herman Badillo, former CUNY president and himself a former Bronx borough president like Ferrer, slammed Ferrer for doing nothing about education in two decades. Ah, but 2005 is different: Ferrer can propose spending money -- other people's money -- because it will get him the teachers unions' backing, and critical support for his mayoral campaign.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Going nowhere fast

Gasoline "too cheap" sounds too good to be true, right? It is. I didn't get around last night to discussing this from Monday's New York Post (free registration required, I recommend

September 26, 2005 -- A New Jersey gas station with the lowest prices in the area is filling up with customers, while local business owners and cops are fuming over the long lines.

For the past two weeks, Glenn Guarino has been charging a pre-Hurricane Katrina level of $2.69 a gallon for unleaded regular at his tiny Ridge Road gas station in Lyndhurst — compared with his competitors' prices, which average just under $3.

The lines of honking motorists waiting for a fill-up are reminiscent of the gas lines of the 1970s. And local merchants are so fed up, they've complained to local cops, who wave away customers to keep the peace and to keep traffic moving.

Many are told either to waste gas by driving around the block — or keep moving and miss out on the savings.

"What am I going to do? I'm caught between a rock and a hard place," said Guarino.

"Prices are sky-high. The people are complaining about the traffic now, but what if there's another energy crisis and lines start running for blocks? What are they going to do then?"

Guarino claims that cops have been called five to six times a day by nearby store owners to break up the gridlock, which blocks parking spots.

"It's illegal. It interrupts the flow of traffic, and cars can't get in or out. It's hurting the other businesses," said an owner of a nearby store.

State law says that cars on the busy road are not allowed to idle or double-park, requiring cops to chase away would-be customers.

"I understand where they are coming from, but I don't think I'm doing anything wrong. I'm even taking a hit in profit," said Guarino.

But Lyndhurst police Capt. John Valente said, "If it becomes a hazard, we have to keep it moving, mostly to keep the spots open.

"A person's right to buy cheap gas doesn't give them the right to disrupt traffic." ...
Apparently a lot of people consider it worth the time and wasted gas (idling and circling around the block) to save 30 cents per gallon. For me, the aggravation alone is too high a search cost. I also don't understand why some people risk getting tickets, especially with the prominent warning sign.

The police are unquestionably right to tell motorists to move along when they're blocking parking lots and street traffic. Mr. Guarino has the right to charge whatever he wants, and take any reduced profits he'd like, but his customers' practices are interfering with the neighboring businesses. Selling "more affordable" gasoline sounds noble enough, but in fact he's causing more harm than good.

The proper thing for him to do is raise his prices. He doesn't need to match his competitors, either: 15 cents higher will probably be enough to eliminate most the waiting customers. They won't go through the mess just to save that. His profits won't be hurt (quite the contrary in all probability), and meanwhile he'll be doing society a favor. His higher prices will encourage potential buyers to give up and go elsewhere, which will reduce their high search costs from trying to buy his artificially cheap gasoline.

I don't know how old Guarino is, but if he's old enough that he personally remembers the 1970s gasoline shortages (presumably what he meant by "energy crisis"), then he doesn't understand what caused them. What caused the lines then is the same as what causes them today: a price for a high-demand resource that's too low, i.e. lower than equilibrium. If there's a shortage, whether actual or just perceived, higher prices will temper demand, and they also force people to think rationally about whether they really need that resource more than others. These are principles I discussed in a fairly recent entry, The power of markets.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

See what happens when you try to rush?

The local Metro North train station is only several minutes away on foot, so unless the weather is bad, I'd rather walk and get fresh air than pay $3 to park for the day. I can put $60 a month to better use. This morning, however, I was running late and drove down the road in order to catch my usual train. It's much cheaper to park at Westchester train stations than in Manhattan, where space is very much in demand, and parking fees reflect it. One parking garage across the street from where I work, in midtown, advertises a "special" of $5.91 for a half hour. Also, the Metro Transit Authority implicitly gets the bulk of my business after I've parked, unlike the parking garages.

After finding a seat, I realized I had forgotten my necktie. Normally I bring one in my portfolio and put it on at the office, but I had my tie in my hands when scampering out the door. Hopefully I left it in my car and didn't drop it at the train station; it's one of my favorites. I'll find out when I get home, but my more pressing concern this morning was not having a necktie. A suit by itself is not enough here, at the formal global headquarters. A tie is a must, which doesn't bother me since dressing well is my personal norm. Even in college, for a long while I frequently wore suits to class, when I regularly met a friend after she got off work. She would be in business clothes, and I wanted to look nice.

I mulled over where I could buy a necktie and how long it would take: a shop at Grand Central Terminal, or one in midtown? Then I remembered one of the ubiquitous souvenir shops near work has a display of cheap neckties: for $4 I picked up a plain blue one to match my clothes. Viva capitalism! It ties well, looks okay, and for today nobody need notice how gauche I am, wearing a polyester tie. I won't say it looks "good," because I'm a fussy type who believes that polyester is fine for young boys, but a grown man's ties should be silk.

Just one question

Page Six, the celebrity gossip section of the New York Post, is claiming a victory over Dr. Phil. (Free registration required to view the online article, but I recommend

September 26, 2005 -- PAGE SIX gets results! After our story revealing that multimillionaire TV shrink Dr. Phil (above) was paying his transcribers just $7 an hour, the rate was raised by a buck — to $8 an hour. Our spy adds, "You get a few extra perks if you work the graveyard shift. Eight dollars an hour is better, but most transcription jobs pay $12 to $14 an hour or $17 to $20 an hour." Dr. Phil's rep did not return requests for comment.
I will preface my comments with a disclaimer that I have never seen his show, and I don't believe I had ever seen his picture until today. Thus I can claim full objectivity here.

My single, very simple question to his transcribers: if they could earn more transcribing for someone else, then why don't they? I doubt that Dr. Phil can coerce them into continuing to work for him, so why do they persist in low-grade jobs when they could do better elsewhere?

The simple answer: they evidently cannot compete with transcribers who are worth $12, $14, $17 or $20 per hour. A production whose transcripts are of the greatest importance, like a show that posts transcripts very soon after broadcast, would necessarily need to hire very productive, very accurate, very good transcribers. Dr. Phil could probably hire transcribers who are at the top of their pay scale, but he apparently does not need that quality of work for his show's transcripts -- that is his choice, and a function of his particular circumstances.

So many people complain, "I deserve a raise. I could make more elsewhere!" The response to this is the same that I give certain customers when I help manage my aunt's wine store. To those that complain some of our prices were higher than our competitors, I would reply politely, "Well, that's what we charge, and you may go elsewhere if that's what you wish." Now, we sometimes bargained on, for instance, Krug or Taylor Fladgate (20-year tawny is just yummy). A customer might deem it worthwhile to drive across the hamlet to save $5 or $10 at one of our competitors. But when it came to most items, profit margins were small enough (typically 30% on wine, 20% on liquor) that we had to be firm on prices.

For one, a reduction in profit from $3 to $2.25 (25%) can be significant to a business of any size. Second, it's not robbery to charge what the market will bear. It was ever a ridiculous claim that Microsoft could have charged less for Windows 98 "and still made a profit." If at my aunt's store we charged 75 cents more for a bottle of cheap vodka, based on how much we bought it at wholesale, well, that's simply what we could charge. Lots of people clearly had time more valuable than our slightly higher prices, because they came to us instead of elsewhere.

Now, Dr. Phil's wealth is irrelevant to how much his staff should get paid, but the gap in their compensations is indicative of how much their particular forms of labor are valued. People are worth in pay only what others are willing to give. People apparently value Dr. Phil's entertainment a great deal, enough to make him a millionaire. By the same token, they indirectly don't place an especially high value on his transcribers' labor. For further reading, I recommend my previous entry, "How much do you 'deserve' in pay?"

Monday, September 26, 2005

My forecasting record: so far, so good

In July, I predicted that the random searches of NYC subway and commuter train passengers' bags, backpacks and briefcases are "diverting police from other duties, and they don't make New York one whit safer." In August, I was proven correct when someone was smoking inside the subway. Update: I didn't finish my thought there. The person was smoking in the underground passage connecting Grand Central to the subway, in violation of NYC law. But there were no cops around, including at the kiosk down the hall, because they're all so busy checking innocent people's bags.

On September 8th, I predicted fraud and abuse of the $2000 debit cards that were handed out to those claiming to be victims of Hurricane Katrina:
Let me throw out a few predictions. People will falsify records to obtain more cards, and government bureaucrats will be so eager to help as many as possible; their programs' success is determined by numbers, not results. Others may use only cards obtained "legitimately," but they'll spend the money all on clothes and other items which can be resold readily for cash -- perhaps to support drug addictions or even crime. Are you a criminal in need of firearms, and you were too slow to steal them from evacuated homes? No problem: the federal government just gave you a $2000 gift card! Strike up a deal with a black market supplier and see what he wants that you can get.

If the possibilities weren't so tragic, this might be a good lesson for economics students on the barter system.
Though I didn't predict strippers and Louis Vitton handbags, McQ of QandO confirmed my general idea. He cited this from the Times Online -- a UK writer, keenly aware of the fraud and waste while most Americans remain ignorant! Not only that, he properly criticized us for keeping a government bent on runaway spending.

McQ's commentary:
Yes, we're doing a world of good with most of those $2,000 debit cards which are being handed out like candy in an Iraqi village. Or so we hope. But really, is it going where it needs to go? Ask the strippers at Baby Dolls in Houston...

Seems that some define "necessities" much differently than others.

It is this sort of misuse and fraud which have many, many people very leary about how the money literally being thrown at Katrina relief will be managed. People don't mind helping and don't mind giving, but they expect those charged with executing the relief effort to spend what they worked so hard for and then gave away is used for its intended purpose.
One of the people who left comments provided this Orlando Sentinel story, which documents fraud and waste in money FEMA had given out after previous disasters.

Government charity is consistently doomed to fail. It's impersonal, with the donor and recipient almost always isolated. It's coerced, with the donor forced to "give" to someone who doesn't necessarily need (or deserve) the "help." Yet many people still insist the programs are necessary, because despite their many failings, "at least some people get help." The same people insist that private charity cannot compete, which is not true: Americans give $250 billion annually to private charity. Our actions after 9/11, the tsunami and now Hurricane Katrina prove that people still have a heart -- we just need to shake off the 70-year-old paternalist mentality that government's purpose is to take care of us. Could Jefferson have defined government's role any more plainly in the Declaration of Independence?
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. -- That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed...
So that I don't just repeat my earlier entries, I invite you to read my previous entries on government charity:

What kind of "privatization" is this?
What did we really expect?
The umpteenth failure of government charity
"We want to get them enrolled"
When government makes people poor

I will, though, repeat a few memorable quotes:

Adam Smith: "How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortune of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it except the pleasure of seeing it. Of this kind is pity or compassion, the emotion which we feel for the misery of others, when we either see it, or are made to conceive it in a very lively manner."

James Madison: "The government of the United States is a definite government, confined to specified objects. It is not like state governments, whose powers are more general. Charity is no part of the legislative duty of the government." Also, "I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents." (With thanks to Walter Williams.)

Congressman Davey Crockett: "We have the right, as individuals, to give away as much of our own money as we please in charity, but as members of Congress, we have no right to appropriate a dollar of the public money."

Frédéric Bastiat: "Do those worshippers of government believe that free persons will cease to act? Does it follow that if we receive no energy from the law, we shall receive no energy at all? Does it follow that if the law is restricted to the function of protecting the free use of our faculties, we will be unable to use our faculties? Suppose that the law does not force us to follow certain forms of religion, or systems of association, or methods of education, or regulations of labor, or regulations of trade, or plans for charity; does it then follow that we shall eagerly plunge into atheism, hermitary, ignorance, misery, and greed? If we are free, does it follow that we shall no longer recognize the power and goodness of God? Does it follow that we shall then cease to associate with each other, to help each other, to love and succor our unfortunate brothers, to study the secrets of nature, and to strive to improve ourselves to the best of our abilities?"

Milton Friedman: "...if I spend somebody else's money on somebody else, I'm not concerned about how much it is, and I'm not concerned about what I get. And that's government. And that's close to 40% of our national income."

Russell Roberts: "There are two different philosophical arguments against the idea of people taking care of themselves. One view argues that government provision of social security is simply better because it is a contract between the generations where we all take responsibility for one another. To me this is romance at best or a hoax or a fraud at worst. What does it mean to say we all take responsibility for one another? A family of 300 million people isn't a family. And somehow I lose all the romance when poor workers are taxed to support wealthy retirees. I just don't get it."

"Your papers are not in order"

My friend Charlie sent me this last night. While the British police may not have said the stereotypical Gestapo line, they certainly acted like the Gestapo in their actions:
Suspicious behaviour on the tube

David Mery
Thursday September 22, 2005
The Guardian

A London underground station was evacuated and part of a main east-west line closed in a security alert on Thursday, three weeks after suicide bombers killed 52 people on the transport network, police said. (Reuters)

This Reuters story was written while the police were detaining me in Southwark tube station and the bomb squad was checking my rucksack. When they were through, the two explosive specialists walked out of the tube station smiling and commenting: "Nice laptop." The officers offered apologies on behalf of the Metropolitan police. Then they arrested me.
Please read the whole thing: Mr. Mery's encounter with British law enforcement is nothing short of mind-boggling.
The police decided that wearing a rain jacket, carrying a rucksack with a laptop inside, looking down at the steps while going into a tube station and checking your phone for messages just ticked too many boxes on their checklist and makes you a terrorist suspect.
I've written at length on NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg, as of late July, ordering the NYPD to conduct random searches of subway and commuter train passengers' bags, backpacks and briefcases. Since they began, I've wondered if I look "suspicious."

An MTA worker (not a policeman but a general worker) seemed to watch me closely this past Friday evening, as I held my portfolio in one hand while performing minor legerdemain with the other. Having made a brief call as I walked from work to the subway, I still had my cell phone in my hand as I walked down the subway station steps. I was going to put it away in any case, then I remembered I needed to put more money on my Metrocard. So I placed my phone in one of my pockets and retrieved my wallet from the same, which garnered the MTA worker's attention.

I also try not to make eye contact with the police, because I thought that might be construed as suspicious. Apparently it's damned-if-you-do: don't look at the police, and that's suspicious, but so is looking at them. When I open my portfolio and pull out my earbuds, do I alarm anyone in the brief moment before also producing my CD player? What about my usual dark suit, since Osama advised his operatives to wear Western dress to blend in? It's finally a little cool during the evenings, but what about when the weather was warm? Up until a week ago, it wasn't unusual for me to be a little warm when leaving work, if not visibly sweating. Does noticeable perspiration count as "suspicious" behavior?
Under current laws the police are not only entitled to keep my fingerprints and DNA samples, but according to my solicitor, they are also entitled to hold on to what they gather during their investigation...
Charges have been formally dropped, yet they can continue to hold on to his belongings that they seized but haven't returned. Is he still under suspicion of a crime? If so, then why is he not being charged? If not, then by what moral justification -- and by this I mean the highest order of justice, that which is above what any law might say -- can they keep his belongings?

His DNA will be kept on file, and U.S. federal law enforcement likely will have that power very soon. Charlie sent me this today, from the Washington Post:
Bill Would Permit DNA Collection From All Those Arrested

Suspects arrested or detained by federal authorities could be forced to provide samples of their DNA that would be recorded in a central database under a provision of a Senate bill to expand government collection of personal data.

The controversial measure was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee last week and is supported by the White House, but has not gone to the floor for a vote. It goes beyond current law, which allows federal authorities to collect and record samples of DNA only from those convicted of crimes. The data are stored in an FBI-maintained national registry that law enforcement officials use to aid investigations, by comparing DNA from criminals with evidence found at crime scenes.
This is another of those proposed laws that sound nice but don't hold up to scrutiny in the least -- not after careful application of logic and the principles of justice.

Once Senators Kyl and Cornyn's bill becomes federal law, federal law enforcement can keep your DNA samples permanently once you've been arrested for a crime, even if you were arrested in error. This is not just about people who are still suspects in unsolved crimes: this law applies to people who were once suspected and arrested but were eventually cleared. How does it serve justice to keep DNA records of people that even law enforcement acknowledges are innocent? So when Kyl talks about empowering police to catch perpetrators via DNA taken from them after a previous crimes, how can records on innocent people possibly be useful?

His logic is also faulty. He spoke of catching perpetrators after the first crime, but these methods necessarily require two crimes: the original when a suspect's DNA is taken, and the second where he is linked to the first. I wonder if he's seen too much "Law and Order" (actually one of my favorite shows) where a criminal "got away" because of insufficient DNA evidence. Point of logic: if there's sufficient reason to suspect someone of a crime, a judge can already, without this proposed law, issue a warrant to get a DNA sample from a suspect. It's true that this new law would allow a suspect's permanent DNA records to be compared with the perpetrator's DNA taken from the crime scene. However, if the suspect cannot be found, then he or she couldn't have been prosecuted anyway.

While this law may be useful in linking serial criminals to multiple crimes, there is too great a danger of "Big Brother." Corrupt police officers will be further empowered to pursue "witch hunts," continuing to harass innocent people they have previously arrested. Or they can appear like they're "doing something," when the public demands action but there's no real suspect. Both reasons are partly why we have the Fourth Amendment requiring judges to issue warrants:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
And why must an innocent person expend time and money, essentially pleading with the government to finally exonorate him or her?
"DNA is not like fingerprinting," said Jesselyn McCurdy, a legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union. "It contains genetic information and information about diseases." She added that the ACLU questions whether it is constitutional to put data from those who have not been convicted into a database of convicted criminals.

The provision, co-sponsored by Kyl and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), does not require the government to automatically remove the DNA data of people who are never convicted. Instead, those arrested or detained would have to petition to have their information removed from the database after their cases were resolved.

Privacy advocates are especially concerned about possible abuses such as profiling based on genetic characteristics.

"This clearly opens the door to all kinds of race- or ethnic-based stops" by police, said Jim Dempsey, executive director of the Center for Democracy and Technology, a digital policy think tank.

Originally, the federal DNA database was limited to convicted sex offenders, who often repeat their crimes. Then it was expanded to include violent felons. Several states, including Virginia, also collect DNA from those arrested for violent crimes.

"It's a classic mission-creep situation," said Jim Harper, a privacy specialist with the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank. "These guys are playing a great law and order game...and in the process creating a database that could be converted into something quite dangerous."
The CDT's concern about racial profiling is minor. DNA is, after all, just DNA. However, Cato is correct, and the ACLU has the strongest point. This proposed law is wholly unconstitutional, clearly violating the Fourth Amendment. When you are no longer charged with a crime, is it not logical that keeping your DNA records constitutes an unreasonable seizure?

And though there are problems with how the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified, this proposed federal law could violate that too:
No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
I would say that a government keeping my biological data in a database, after I've been cleared and only because I might be a suspect in a future crime, constitutes a violation of my liberty after I've been given "due process."

Should the Fourteenth Amendment apply only to states' laws, leaving federal law unchecked? Clearly not. We've had decades of jurisprudence, based on the Fourteenth Amendment new rules of citizenship, that apply the First Amendment to all levels of government, not just Congress. With that, and the Supreme Court ruling that federal law can supercede state law, what's good for the goose should be good for the gander: federal law must be held to the same standard that state law is.

I am more concerned, however, with the violation of the Fourth Amendment. Warrants necessarily expire when there is no longer suspicion of criminal wrongdoing. We're now back to the days of J. Edgar Hoover, who did some good in modernizing the FBI, but also a great deal of bad by spying on Americans who he deemed "unpatriotic," but who were in fact innocent of actual crimes.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Just a quick entry for tonight

"Hard work never killed anyone, but it is illegal in some places."

Guess where.

Liberals' double standards

Via Michelle Malkin's blog, I learned what two of Chuck Schumer's goons did:
Have you heard what Democrats working for Sen. Charles Schumer at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee tried to do here in my home state of Maryland to bring down Republican Lt. Gov. Michael Steele?

Steele, a rising star in the party, is considering a Senate bid. Two of Schumer's staffers, including a former researcher for David Brock's Media Matters, obtained Steele's credit report by using his Social Security number, which they got from public documents. Under federal law, it is illegal to knowingly and willfully obtain a credit report under false pretenses.

There has been no outcry from privacy advocates, the ACLU, the champions of clean campaigns, or any major MSM editorial board. Needless to say, if it had been Republicans involved in this outrageous scheme and the target had been a liberal minority politician, it would be a front-page NYTimes scandal. The Times (surprise, surprise) has yet to cover the story, but other local NY papers are hammering the Schumer angle.
Clearly a very serious crime may have been committed, but it's largely being ignored by the mainstream media. Contrast this with the insider trading allegations being hurled at Bill Frist, which Professor Bainbridge has been detailing. He also gave a very lengthy explanation of insider trading a couple of days ago, with analysis of Frist's situation. [Edit: I originally wrote, "which Professor Bainbridge has been top of," which might imply he's among those hurling allegations. The Professor clearly is not, because his dissection has been very neutral.]

However, the more I read about it, the more I see another Rovegate, i.e. allegations about nothing. From the AP:
Frist Sold Stock Along With HCA Insiders

WASHINGTON - When Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist asked a trustee to sell all his stock in his family's hospital corporation, a large-scale sell-off by HCA Inc. insiders was under way.

Shares of the Nashville, Tenn.-based hospital company were near a 52-week peak in June when Frist and HCA insiders were selling off their shares — just about a month before the price dropped.

Information about the insiders' moves was publicly available through disclosures required by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

About 2.3 million shares, worth about $112 million, were sold by HCA insiders from January through June, with sales getting larger as the spring wore on, said Mark LoPresti of Thomson Financial. In May and June, 770,629 shares were sold for total gains of $42 million, he said.

The sales, which included moves by Hospital Corporation of America's chief executive, treasurer, senior vice president for government programs and several directors, were among the largest insider selloffs analysts had seen, LoPresti said. Many officers made their largest trades ever in April, only to top them again in May and June, LoPresti said.

Meanwhile, HCA shares continued a steep climb that would ultimately take the price up 56 percent from October 2004 to July 2005, peaking in late June, LoPresti said.

But insider selling is sometimes seen a sign of looming trouble. Uninsured patient admissions were rising faster than those of insured patients, federal reimbursements were declining in real terms and payments did not keep up with cost increases. LoPresti himself discussed the insiders' moves on an April 11 broadcast on the cable channel CNBC.

Shares of HCA peaked June 22 at $58.40 and then began a slide that would drop the stock almost 16 percent by mid-July. They have still not recovered, closing Thursday at $45.90.

On June 13, Frist asked his trustees to sell his HCA holdings, as well as those of his wife and children. Letters from his trustees on July 1 and July 8 confirmed the sales, said Frist spokeswoman Amy Call.

The value of his stock at the time of the sale was not disclosed. Earlier this year, he reported holding blind trusts valued at $7 million to $35 million.

Frist, R-Tenn., widely considered a potential presidential candidate in 2008, ordered the stock sold to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest, Call said. The senator declined to comment Thursday.

For years, Frist, a heart surgeon, was criticized for holding stock in the nation's largest for-profit hospital chain while directing legislation on Medicare reform and patient issues. HCA was founded by his father, the late Thomas Frist Sr.; and his brother, Thomas Jr., is a director and leading stockholder.

His office has consistently deflected criticism by noting that his assets were in a blind trust and not under his active control.

The Senate Ethics Committee has cleared Frist several times to work on health care-related legislation, saying as recently as April 2004 that because neither he nor his family had a controlling interest in HCA, he could participate at his own discretion.

Under Senate ethics rules, senators can directly order the sale of any asset known to have been in the trust before the metaphorical curtain was drawn. The senator also can communicate in writing matters of concern, including "an interest in maximizing income or long-term capital gain."

That is not how blind trusts normally work, said David Becker, who was general counsel at the SEC from 2000 to 2002. To avoid potential insider-trading conflicts, the beneficiary usually has no knowledge or participation in investment decisions.

If Frist was allowed to ask for stock to be sold, "the question here is, How blind is blind?" Becker said.

The trustee of Frist's personal holdings, Kirk Scobey Jr., declined to comment except to say that, in general, the owner of a trust "can direct the elimination of a holding he or she originally contributed to the trust." Scobey is president of Nashville-based Equitable Trust Co.

The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, a California-based group, called for the SEC to investigate the majority leader's financial relationship with his brother. The group, which has wrangled with Frist over medical malpractice, has long called for Frist to divest himself of the HCA stock and for an inquiry to the ethics committee.

"If there was any sort of insider information that caused Frist to use ethical considerations as a cover, we think the SEC needs to investigate," said Carmen Balber, the group's consumer advocate.
I'm immediately suspicious of any group that claims to be for any "rights" other than the unalienable variety. Not surprisingly, the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights is a "progressive" organization, i.e. far-left. For evidence, look at their claim that high gas prices, pre-Katrina, are caused by oil company profiteering, including allegations that oil companies intentionally keep low reserves. This is their revenge for all the previous political conflicts with Frist. There's just one problem: it's highly unlikely that Frist used any insider information. He shouldn't have needed it to know to sell his stock!

"Shares...were near a 52-week peak in June when Frist and HCA insiders were selling off their shares — just about a month before the price dropped." But the article later admits the sell-off, which was perfectly allowed by SEC regulations, had started in January. That still doesn't stop the article from throwing around "insider," a subtle insinuation (however false) that illegal things were going on. But think about it: had the "insiders" used any "insider information," they'd have made much more money by holding onto their shares until closer to the peak, then selling. They profited, but not as much had they refrained from selling their holdings for a few months.

If you examine HCA stock's history for the last 12 months, it may not have recovered from its peak, but you'd have done more than pretty well to have bought it a year ago, when it was about $38 per share. It closed Thursday at $45.90; right now it's at $46.06 in after-hours trading. While it's been falling in recent days, it's hardly collapsed, especially compared to September 2004. But the liberal media has to make things sound bad: "The stock hasn't recovered from the peak, but all these 'insiders' sold their stock beforehand! They must have known something!"

Actually, reasonable and prudent investors had several months of publicly digestible information. The big clues: LoPresti's warning on CNBC, HCA's financials (plus industry news) that were not predicing a rosy near-future, and company officials subsequently starting to sell ("rats fleeing a sinking ship," in a way, which apparently was still within SEC rules, otherwise they certainly would been charged by now). There's no Enron or WorldCom here: HCA made all required filings with the SEC, with no figure-fudging. (If they did, why didn't they "fix" the company's near-future prospects from looking so disappointing?) Investors' worries were manifested in the stock's fairly flat period from mid-May to early June, ending a five-month climb. That happens to be when HCA "insiders" were selling the most stock, but why is that so wrong or at all unusual? Like any other intelligent investors would do, they guessed the run was over, and they elected to cash out.

Kirk Scobee, Jr., Frist's personal holdings trustee, was absolutely correct to give only a general comment. Had he said anything specific pertaining to his client, he could have gotten in a great deal of trouble. But it appears that Frist was like any regular investor who paid attention to company news: he ordered his trustee to sell the stock when he had felt it was higher than the company's performance warranted. While not "normal" for a blind trust, it is still permissible, including within Senate rules.

And just what does the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights want Frist to do? They wanted him to sell his HCA stock, which he did eventually, but now they're accusing him of using insider information.

You can't win with liberals, not when they employ double standards. I hope a federal prosecutor goes after Schumer's Wonder Twins, but I fear they'll not be punished severely if convicted (probation, fines, but no jail time). Frist, however, could be ruined, even if nothing goes to trial, if the American people believe the tripe being told about him. I should add that I'm not the most knowledgeable about Senate ethics rules, so I'm refraining from that aspect, although he was cleared by a committee to work on health care legislation. But insofar as actual insider trading, I see no evidence for it.

Update: the Professor's second blog entry on Frist, made yesterday, has a comment where someone basically said what I have here. Just for the record, I hadn't seen it till this evening.


Thursday, September 22, 2005

Ferrer sells out?

The New York Post reports (registration required, use that the 1199 health care workers union has officially backed Democrat Fernando Ferrer in his NYC mayoral bid, after Mayor Bloomberg refused to promise them a $1 billion benefits package in exchange for their endorsement.

Dennis Rivera, the union boss, told the New York Post, "We don't get mad. We get even." He said of Ferrer, "He has given a commitment to us to work with us to basically find a solution to upgrade the conditions of those workers and try to get them out of poverty." The article notes,
Both Ferrer and Rivera denied there was any "specific agreement" or quid pro quo for the endorsement.

"The only commitment I have made is based on an understanding of who these men and women — mostly women — are," Ferrer said.
Regarding the first statement, I would sooner believe that Bloomberg having the NYPD to randomly search subway and commuter train passengers has made the city any safer (which it has not).

The second statement is quite an inadvertent confession. Of course Ferrer knows who they are: they're voters! They're voters whose support he desperately needs.

The union's headquarters is in midtown Manhattan. Did they ever considered a cheaper, albeit less fashionable location, so that they could cut the dues payments and directly help their members in poverty?

This picture (Ferrer on the left, Rivera on the right) is from the article's online edition. The print edition has a couple of great dialogue balloons for the two, with the caption, "Here's what Fernando Ferrer and Local 1199 boss Dennis Rivera might have been thinking at the union's HQ in Midtown yesterday."

What might have Ferrer been thinking? "Let's see: $1 billion for 200,000 supports -- it'll cost the city just $5,000 a vote. Sure hope my antiperspirant is working."

What might have Rivera been thinking? "Ha! I'll show that fool Bloomberg. Uh, wait a second...what happens to us if he wins? Sure hope my antiperspirant is working."

Judging by Bloomberg's strong showing in the polls, Rivera has much to worry about.

The print edition has a very telling insert about the politics Rivera plays:
Gov.'s race, 2002
  • Gov. Pataki uses $1 billion from a new state health fund to provide raises to the workers in Rivera's union.

  • Local 1199 endorses Republican Pataki for re-election.

  • Mayor's race, 2005
  • Rivera wants 25,000 private home health-care aides added to the city payroll in return for the 1199 union endorsement, sources said.

  • Bloomberg refused the deal, saying it could cost taxpayers as much as $1 billion. Union endorses Ferrer.
  • Is anyone that naïve, to believe that Pataki's subsequent action had nothing to do with getting 1199's endorsement, and that Ferrer didn't get 1199's support by making a similar deal?

    "Bad analogy" is an understatement

    Apparently this AP reporter had nothing else to write about; he had to reach back to early August for source material. This article "Bush's Words on Iraq Echo LBJ in 1967" tries to make a comparison between these two statements:

    "America is committed to the defense of South Vietnam until an honorable peace can be negotiated...We shall stay the course." - Lyndon Johnson, March 15, 1967

    "We will stay the course, we will complete the job in Iraq. And the job is this: We'll help the Iraqis develop a democracy." - George W. Bush, August 3, 2005

    There's one phrase common to both, but the rest of the statements, and indeed their very tone, are completely different. Johnson wanted to "negotiate" an "honorable peace." Bush said that "we will complete the job in Iraq," which is a far cry from negotiation.

    In Afghanistan and Iraq, there never was and never will be a peace to negotiate. The only peace we should accept comes through total, unconditional victory.

    Wednesday, September 21, 2005

    Accusations of "price gouging" are a bad rap

    I didn't have time yesterday to bring up the great conversation that John Crudele of the New York Post had with Jim Tisch. It's an understatement to call the latter "a major businessman."

    I'm quoting the article in full because Tisch is simply great from start to finish.

    September 20, 2005 -- JIM Tisch called me the other day because he wanted to defend capitalism. He was annoyed that a column of mine accused the oil and gas industry of overcharging consumers — of gouging.

    If you don't know the Tisch name then you haven't been in New York very long.

    The family has been a success in all sorts of enterprises from hotels, to tobacco, to the media and natural gas pipelines. One of Jim's uncles is owner of the Giants.

    The Tisch name is on schools and hospitals.

    With money-making credentials like that, I thought Jim earned the right to defend free enterprise. Here's what he had to say during an interview in his office.

    Me: So you called me the other day, Jim, and complained that I was picking on oil companies and gasoline station owners for gouging customers. You don't agree?

    Jim: First of all, I don't know what price gouging is. I don't know that price gouging has ever been defined.

    Me: All right, price gouging is 'making excessive profits.' Let's define it as that.

    Jim: What are excessive profits?

    Me: Excessive profits are profits that are well beyond what is considered conscionable.

    Jim: By whom? There are many industries where the price of a good can vary dramatically.

    Look at the airline industry. You can be sitting on a plane and one guy is paying $100 to go to California and the guy sitting in the middle seat - next to him - is paying $1,000. Was the guy paying $1,000 subject to price gouging?

    Me: Yeah, but gasoline prices are now about $3.25 a gallon. They had been about $2 a gallon and the price of oil is essentially the same.

    Jim: No, no. That's not so. Gasoline prices are about $3 a gallon now in New York City, up from about $2.50 or $2.60.

    Firstly, let me give you my view on price gouging. Price gouging is a term used by politicians.

    Me: But was the increase in the price of gasoline justified this time?

    Jim: In a pure economic sense, yes, because justification is how much the market will bear.

    Me: So that's in the strictest, free-market sense?

    Jim: I'm a free marketer. But do you complain when Bloomingdale's raises the price of shirts?

    Me: Well I don't need to buy a shirt but I do need to fill my tank.

    Jim: Can you take public transportation? Look what happened.

    Hurricane Katrina struck, a whole bunch of refineries got shut down in the Mississippi and Louisiana area, Colonial pipeline that hauls gasoline and other products up north was shut down.

    Me: But prices were going up even before Katrina.

    Jim: No, no, no!

    So there was a severe, severe supply constriction. Prices went up and you know what happened, gasoline consumption went down.

    There was a report that some New York State authority reported 6 percent less traffic than last year. People were responding to prices.

    Me: Does Loews or Tisch have any business in oil?

    Jim: We have two main interests. Number one, we are in the offshore oil and gas drilling business. And, number two, we are in the interstate natural gas transmission business.

    Me: But you are arguing here mostly in the interest of capitalism.

    Jim: I am arguing solely in the interest of capitalism, free markets and freedom of choice.

    I defy anybody to give me a definition of price gouging and I submit to you that it's a term used by people, especially politicians, who are frustrated by unexplained increasing in prices.

    Me: Jim, thanks.
    Tisch knows his economics, and he knows what he's talking about when emphasizing the sudden refinery constraints (when so many think oil companies are "taking advantage of the situation"). Bravo!

    My previous related entries:
    The power of markets
    Rising oil costs: still nothing to worry about
    What to do about the price of oil?
    Nobody can afford "high-priced" gasoline?

    People in need of an appointment with reality, part II

    Update: oops! I inadvertently switched the time from AM to PM. That has been corrected. The actual post time was indeed 3:47 this morning. (Yes, I was up too late. No, I don't really sleep much during the week.)

    Previous: People in need of an appointment with reality

    [Update: I originally said Paul Krugman continues to republish his columns on his personal site, which is incorrect. A couple of columns were published on, but the Times stopped that.] We can see that Paul Krugman's done it again in his latest Times column. I finally got around to it, and I must say, Krugman plays the race card so skillfully that he makes Al Sharpton's hand look like only two pair. Having run out of economic spectres, he must now play the part of a shameless race-baiter.
    By three to one, African-Americans believe that federal aid took so long to arrive in New Orleans in part because the city was poor and black. By an equally large margin, whites disagree.
    Based on a principal subject of my previous post, I'm calling this Kanye West Syndrome: the slanderous nonsense that "President Bush doesn't like black people," that it had anything to do with the speed of the federal response.

    I'm not the first to point out that for supposedly being racist, George W. Bush has appointed Colin Powell, Condi Rice, Janice Rogers Brown, and even Alberto Gonzales. Nor am I the first, but permit me to remind you, that Bill Clinton's administration was far more "white" than GWB's, yet the Clinton's were never accused of "not doing enough" for minorities.
    The truth is that there's no way to know. Maybe President Bush would have been mugging with a guitar the day after the levees broke even if New Orleans had been a mostly white city. Maybe Palm Beach would also have had to wait five days after a hurricane hit before key military units received orders to join rescue operations.
    After being castigated in print by the Times public editor, Krugman needs to tread lightly -- at least for now -- and cut back on outrageous claims. He'll still make others so improbable that they can't be dignified as musing fantasies, with the caveat, "The truth is that there's no way to know." It's a nice verbal trick to dismiss his critics preemptively: "Well I can't know for sure, but you can't either."
    But in a larger sense, the administration's lethally inept response to Hurricane Katrina had a lot to do with race. For race is the biggest reason the United States, uniquely among advanced countries, is ruled by a political movement that is hostile to the idea of helping citizens in need.
    Two whoppers in a two-sentence paragraph. The first one has no logical or empirical basis at all, while the second is an evolution in his standard Marxist rhetoric (which are necessarily a distortion of reality when it comes to Krugman). It's no longer his standard definition of American society as rich versus poor, capitalist owners versus the workers. Now he's turned it into white, racist capitalist "haves" versus black, exploited "have-nots."

    People are said to relive the 60s, but Krugman takes the cake. Just what "political movement" is he referring to? I don't know about anyone else, but I can't recall the last time I saw "Let 'em starve" marches. What I do know is that Americans all over are donating untold millions to the Katrina relief efforts, which is true charity and helping one's fellow man. Charity is not sitting at home, comforted by the thought that Congress will do the dirty work for us via automatic withheld taxes and $60 billion appropriation bills.

    I've written before that we must do charity ourselves, getting our hands dirty, and witnessing just how bad life can be. This is not to brag or make myself out to be a saint, but I've helped out at food pantries, and I've seen how poor some people can be. So many of those families were depending on us for every meal, and the rest of us need to witness that first-hand. No amount of government social spending, with its bureaucratic overhead and inherent waste, can compensate for shocking people into voluntarily donating their time and money, once they see there are people in need. Now, I rarely bring up religion, but as a Christian, I worship a God who taught us to help each other directly, not call upon our leaders to tax us more and institute programs.

    Imagine how much more we could donate were it not for all the taxes we pay, and how much more efficiently our money would be spent if we entrusted it to the Red Cross, Salvation Army, and others we know would use it competently. Don Luskin recently wrote about the $250 million that will be spent on "legal and mental health counseling." How many houses could have been rebuilt with that, or roads paved, or families fed? The reasoning behind that spending provision befits no one but a 21st century Marie Antoinette: families may have to ration their food, with public shelter their only refuge, but let them have good shrinks.

    Notice that Krugman curiously used "citizens" instead of "people." If a Republican had said it that way, he'd be accused of racism, xenophobia, and ultra-radical right-wing fascist-nationalist extremism.

    If any single political thought "rules" the country, it's the erroneous belief in government paternalism, that government's role is to protect and take care of us when anything goes wrong, and that we're "entitled" to government help. Though that didn't germinate with FDR, it certainly saw full flower once the New Deal got underway. So the reality is that the U.S. is hardly the unique example Krugman thinks -- most of Europe is far better at the welfare state than we are.
    Race, after all, was central to the emergence of a Republican majority: essentially, the South switched sides after the passage of the Civil Rights Act. Today, states that had slavery in 1860 are much more likely to vote Republican than states that didn't.
    And what about all those years, from after the Civil War to the 1960s, that formerly slave states were voting solidly Democratic?

    Thank goodness Krugman doesn't teach history, although when you look at some of his bad economics and economic Armageddon predictions, you wonder how he can teach that. The South's period of Jim Crow, lynchings and other terrible crimes was principally while Southern states were Democratic strongholds. Political parties are quite irrelevant to the terrible crimes that were indeed racially motivated, but if Krugman wants to make this a partisan issue, let's be fair.

    I should note that his second sentence is his common error of assuming that correlation is causation, like when he said "And don't forget that President Clinton's 1993 tax increase ushered in an economic boom." (I never noticed until now that Krugman violated the Times' stylistic standard, calling him President Clinton instead of Mr. Clinton.) The South became staunchly Democratic for decades as a reaction to the generally Republican North, but not entirely because of slavery, or that the Republican North had devastated much of the South. It was after several Southern states initially refused to ratify the Fourteenth Amendment. The Union Army was sent to occupy their capitals and effectively institute martial law, until the legislatures would "cooperate." I discussed this at length in my entry "Historical Revisionism" -- referring to Republican historical revisionism.
    And who can honestly deny that race is a major reason America treats its poor more harshly than any other advanced country? To put it crudely: a middle-class European, thinking about the poor, says to himself, "There but for the grace of God go I." A middle-class American is all too likely to think, perhaps without admitting it to himself, "Why should I be taxed to support those people?"
    I can honestly deny it, and I'm also unaware that I've treated any poor people "harshly."

    Again, Krugman's pulling another "correlation equals causation" trick. Of the world's advanced economies, only the U.S. has a very racially heterogeneous population. So according to Krugman, since the U.S. has poor people, and some are minorities, their conditition must be the product of racism. Krugman will accept nothing else but some mythos to support his agenda. Instead of trying to find the spectre of Jim Crow, how about we take a cold look at the last 40 years of the "War on Poverty"? It's virtually reared black Americans in a new form of slavery: dependency on government.

    To put it bluntly, a typical middle-class European doesn't have enough money left after taxes to think about giving significantly to charity, nor do most Europeans today grow up with a belief in private charity (see above where I talked about the necessity of getting your hands dirty). Meanwhile, the middle-class American thinks, "Why should I be taxed to support people who could support themselves?" Considering that Americans give $250 billion annually in private charitable donations, how can anyone even insinuate that we're stingy, let alone slander us like Krugman is doing?

    Or would Krugman say I treat subway beggars "harshly" because giving them handouts is rarely a good idea? Remember the one who said "The government doesn't give me enough?" This can only demonstrate the superiority of private charity, because only the individual, in the actual process of giving money, can determine whether the recipient is worthy. Government, I've said before, only cares about enrolling the most people so the programs can appear successful, regardless of their efficiency or results.
    Above all, race-based hostility to the idea of helping the poor created an environment in which a political movement hostile to government aid in general could flourish.
    What poppycock! It's the same outright misrepresentation that Krugman used in the Great Social Security Debate. His statist attitude is that if government doesn't do it, nobody can. But like St. Paul said at the end of 1 Cor. 12, "yet shew I unto you a more excellent way": that people help themselves and each other. This is the love, the true love, that he talked about in chapter 13.
    By all accounts Ronald Reagan, who declared in his Inaugural Address that "government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem," wasn't personally racist. But he repeatedly used a bogus tale about a Cadillac-driving Chicago "welfare queen" to bash big government. And he launched his 1980 campaign with a pro-states'-rights speech in Philadelphia, Miss., a small town whose only claim to fame was the 1964 murder of three civil rights workers.
    Krugman talks about the "welfare queen" as if such people didn't exist, but it's only natural, because he refuses to believe that big government can fail. There were three families on my block, when I grew up in a working-class neighborhood, that abused the system; I should know as much as anyone how government "charity" never bothers to scrutinize the recipients.
    Under George W. Bush - who, like Mr. Reagan, isn't personally racist but relies on the support of racists -
    Which is worse, to receive the support of a few people with whom you disagree, or the people of a certain state who consistently reelect a certain elderly veteran of the Senate with a horribly racist past?

    I cannot grasp the convoluted logic of insinuating bad things about an elected official just because of the bad traits of an exceedingly few that voted for him.
    the anti-government right has reached a new pinnacle of power. And the incompetent response to Katrina was the direct result of his political philosophy. When an administration doesn't believe in an agency's mission, the agency quickly loses its ability to perform that mission.
    This is laughable at best. While Bush has a few policies I agree with, in all frankness, he's hardly the staunch anti-government crusader that Krugman makes him out to be, nor is the U.S. dominated by such an ideology. I'm not sure which Bush speech that Krugman heard the other night, but it certainly sounded to me like a speech about big government and why we should love it. Krugman won't support that kind of big government, though, as Don Luskin recently explained: "...he loves it when his party controls it, and hates it when anyone else does."
    By now everyone knows that the Bush administration treated the Federal Emergency Management Agency as a dumping ground for cronies and political hacks, leaving the agency incapable of dealing with disasters. But FEMA's degradation isn't unique. It reflects a more general decline in the competence of government agencies whose job is to help people in need.
    The real blame lies with Louisiana officials, who were the ones that delayed in asking for federal help (notwithstanding my opposition to a federal agency like FEMA).

    However, while not speaking specifically, I won't deny that certain appointments are purely political. That's an unavoidable symptom of...big government.
    For example, housing for Katrina refugees is one of the most urgent problems now facing the nation. The FEMAvilles springing up across the gulf region could all too easily turn into squalid symbols of national failure. But the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which should be a source of expertise in tackling this problem, has been reduced to a hollow shell, with eight of its principal staff positions vacant.
    And like a good statist, Krugman is more worried about having enough bureaucrats, rather than qualified and good ones who will actually do something. Just what would these eight positions serve? Would they travel to New Orleans and physically help in the construction, or would they sit back in Washington, collecting paychecks while poring over superfluous paperwork?
    But let me not blame the Bush administration for everything. The sad truth is that the only exceptional thing about the neglect of our fellow citizens we saw after Katrina struck is that for once the consequences of that neglect were visible on national TV.
    And just how did we "neglect" them? Perhaps because big government was too slow to respond, while Louisiana officials turned away the Red Cross and Salvation Army from helping?
    Consider this: in the United States, unlike any other advanced country, many people fail to receive basic health care because they can't afford it. Lack of health insurance kills many more Americans each year than Katrina and 9/11 combined.

    But the health care crisis hasn't had much effect on politics. And one reason is that it isn't yet a crisis among middle-class, white Americans (although it's getting there). Instead, the worst effects are falling on the poor and black, who have third-world levels of infant mortality and life expectancy.
    As Don Boudreaux so well pointed out last January, "...lack of health insurance is not the same thing as lack of health care – and much health care is readily affordable even without a shred of insurance; and losing a job in America doesn't mean starvation and death."

    Far more people die each year than from Katrina and the 9/11 attacks not because they couldn't get health care, but because they failed to take care of their own health. Oh, there's yet another thing for which Krugman wants a big government solution. But I thought this "crisis" was not just among the "poor and black."

    I suggest that Krugman look at page 6 of this PDF datasheet from the Population Reference Bureau, keeping in mind that American blacks' life expectancy is about 72 years. There are a few countries that might be considered Third World and have life expectancies around 70 years, but the truth is that blacks in the U.S. have far, far better life expectancies than practically all Third World nations.
    I'd like to believe that Katrina will change everything - that we'll all now realize how important it is to have a government committed to helping those in need, whatever the color of their skin. But I wouldn't bet on it.
    Do Americans give $250 billion to charity every year with any concern for the recipients' skin tone? Haven't virtually Americans, perhaps not to the recently projected extent and though big government isn't the way to do it, supported massive federal assistance to Katrina victims?

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    Tuesday, September 20, 2005

    The price of a mayor

    Previous: The NYC mayoral race: how about "None of the above"?

    "Price" now means two things. First there was the cost of finding one (the mayoral race), and now we look at what it takes to bribe a mayoral candidate.

    Bravo to Hizzoner, Mayor Mike. From the New York Post (registration required, use

    September 19, 2005 -- Higher-ups at powerhouse health-care union Local 1199 offered Mayor Bloomberg their politically potent endorsement if he would put 25,000 private home health-care aides on the city payroll, sources told The Post.

    But the Republican mayor rejected out of hand the overture, which would have cost upward of $500 million — and 1199 is expected to throw its support behind Democrat Fernando Ferrer tomorrow.

    Had the deal gone through, the new city workers, most of whom are not unionized, would presumably have joined 1199.

    Brass at 1199 and top Bloomberg staffers were in high-level negotiations on and around primary day last week, as the health-care behemoth — which many expected to back Ferrer much earlier — tried to figure out who it would support.

    "It was non-negotiable," said one source of the demand that the 25,000 employees of private agencies, most of them nonprofits, be added to the public payroll.

    "They wanted to make that a quid pro quo for the endorsement."

    The Bloomberg staff's response: "No deal. No way," the source said....

    For Ferrer, 1199's backing is critical, as a slew of normally Democratic-leaning unions, including District Council 37, have sided with Bloomberg.

    For Ferrer to have a real shot at dethroning a mayor willing to spend upwards of $100 million of his own money on the campaign, he'll need the troops and organizational skills of a large union, insiders say.

    It was unclear if Ferrer, who received the 1199 endorsement for mayor in the 2001 Democratic primary campaign, would sign off on the same home health-care worker deal offered to Bloomberg.

    At present, home health workers aren't city employees. Instead, City Hall hires private contractors to provide manpower and services.

    Although the city pays these workers' salaries, that's a fraction of what it would cost if the taxpayers also had to pick up the tab for their health insurance, pensions and other fringe benefits.

    The proposed deal to Bloomberg reminded many insiders of an alleged bargain between Rivera and Gov. Pataki in the 2002 gubernatorial election.

    In that race, Rivera got a $1 billion health-care package for his 220,000- member union around the same time the normally Democratic union backed Republican Pataki against Carl McCall.

    Yesterday, Ferrer picked up the endorsement of Rep. Charles Rangel (D-Manhattan)....
    Just another New York City mayoral race, replete with backroom deals that trade political favors for public backing. My cynicism tells me that Bloomberg may have refused, knowing that if a "deal" were leaked, subsequent accusations of effective bribery would destroy his campaign. Now, if 1199 wouldn't endorse Bloomberg unless he agreed to their deal, why should we think they wouldn't demand the same of Ferrer? Once they back him, you can bet it's because he quietly said, "Yeah, I'll do that, I just need your support."

    Bloomberg will probably win despite 1199 endorsing Ferrer. Bloomberg's approval rating is still above 60%, because he may have "converted" to the Republican Party but is still liberal enough not to alienate a majority of New York voters. As David Siefman wrote in the Post, "the mayor's single most important selling point in a Democratic town is that he's governed largely as a Democrat."

    The NYC Democratic mayoral primary was held on Monday, September 12. Turnout was extremely low, only 17% ("An estimated 456,263...of 2.6 million active Democrats in the Big Apple"). The lack of Democratic desire to unseat Bloomberg prompted him to joke that night at a celebrative rally that more attended his event than voted in the primary. The first official result was that Ferrer won 39.95% of the tallied votes, only 290 votes short of an outright victory. New York state law stipulates that a primary candidate must get 40% or more to win, otherwise a runoff election must be held between the top two vote-getters. Anthony Wiener came in second with 29%, and with very poor prospects against only Ferrer (especially because Ferrer appeals far more to minorities), Wiener dropped out of the race on Wednesday.

    Incredibly, the Board of Elections said that state law still required a runoff election, at a possible cost of $12 million, though there would be only one candidate! Part of the cost would be over $400,000 each in matching funds to the Ferrer and Wiener campaigns. However, ballots needed to be recounted, and some mail-in ballots still needed to be processed. Thankfully, the Board of Elections finished on Sunday, certifying that Ferrer actually won 40.15% of the vote.

    Ferrer was the only NYC mayoral candidate to campaign on the September 11 anniversary. The rest -- Virginia Fields, Gifford Miller, Anthony Wiener, and incumbent Mike Bloomberg -- all respected the tragedy and wouldn't even air commercials. Ferrer, however, shamelessly used it as a photo-op, and to emphasize winning Al Sharpton's endorsement:

    Or as Sean Delonas, Post cartoonist, depicted the meeting:

    Delonas was also accurate four years ago (ironically published the morning of the 9/11 attacks) about Ferrer's divisive campaigning:

    But Ferrer is not alone in his tactics or platform. From the September 12th print edition of the Post, the Democratic candidates' platforms are laid out:

    Ferrer wants to reinstate the commuter tax. Wait a minute, Freddie: I already pay 2% in income tax to a city I work in but don't reside in. Just how much does he think I and others will take before we give up our city jobs? At a certain threshold of taxation, no matter how well we're paid, we'll lose enough in taxes that it's no longer worth our time to travel to Manhattan for work. This will undoubtedly backfire like the failed 1990 luxury tax, which on the whole lost revenue.

    Virginia Fields wants the commuter tax too. Gifford Miller and Anthony Wiener aren't as specific: they just want to soak the rich, which I've pointed out never works. Miller wants to raise taxes on New Yorkers earning more than $500,000 per year, which would drive many wealthy people out of the city, just like when Bloomberg started his tax hikes. Miller's proposed $200 million in small business tax cuts wouldn't be enough to save those businesses that depend on wealthy people's patronage. Wiener wants to raise taxes on those making more than $1 million, which will have the same effect, regardless of his 10% tax cuts for those making under $150,000 a year.

    The one thing common to all the Democratic candidates: kowtowing to the teachers unions. All four candidates support the cliché of hiring more teachers to reduce class sizes, and paying teachers more. There's still no evidence that smaller class sizes help performance, but the numbers solution will ensure that the teachers union will back any of the Democratic mayoral primary winner. Teachers pay union dues based on a percentage, and more teachers means even more money controlled by Randy Weingarten (president of the United Federation of Teachers).

    I still would prefer "none of the above," but at least Bloomberg isn't in the teachers unions' pocket. A few years ago, he wrested NYC schools from effective UFT control, after the New York state legislature passed a law placing the Board of Education, and thus the city's public schools, under the mayor's control. It was a long-overdue necessity to make someone accountable for the atrocious condition of the NYC school system. There's still a long way to go. Standardized test scores may be up, but it's very probable that the questions have been dumbed down. And Bloomberg is still having difficulty ending "social promotion," the practice of passing failing students so they'll move on to the next grade with their proper age group.

    Monday, September 19, 2005

    A pub that can't make a daiquiri?

    When starting a new job, I enjoy sampling the local establishments at lunchtime. "Cassidy's Pub and Restaurant" in midtown is just half an avenue from my work, and I was surprised they couldn't make a daiquiri (it felt so hot today, and that was the only drink on my mind). I guess that as an Irish pub, they're just into brews and easily mixed drinks. It's nonetheless quite a pleasant place that must be doing something right, as they're packed during the noon hour. Most of the men sounded native Irish with their brogues, and the four young women tending bar had pronounced Irish lilts.

    I elected to precede my Reuben with a Heineken, which I shouldn't have consumed as I did before my sandwich arrived. I had a blood test this morning that required fasting since yesterday evening, so on an empty stomach, drinking it so quickly gave me a sudden and mildly uncomfortable buzz (which wore off before I headed back to the office).

    Should this be permitted?

    Doctor Pushes for First Face Transplant

    Sep. 17, 2005 - In the next few weeks, five men and seven women will secretly visit the Cleveland Clinic to interview for the chance to have a radical operation that's never been tried anywhere in the world....

    They will smile, raise their eyebrows, close their eyes, open their mouths. Dr. Maria Siemionow will study their cheekbones, lips and noses. She will ask what they hope to gain and what they most fear.

    Then she will ask, "Are you afraid that you will look like another person?"

    Because whoever she chooses will endure the ultimate identity crisis.

    Siemionow wants to attempt a face transplant....

    The "consent form" says that this surgery is so novel and its risks so unknown that doctors don't think informed consent is even possible.

    Here is what it tells potential patients:

    Your face will be removed and replaced with one donated from a cadaver, matched for tissue type, age, sex and skin color. Surgery should last 8 to 10 hours; the hospital stay, 10 to 14 days.

    Complications could include infections that turn your new face black and require a second transplant or reconstruction with skin grafts. Drugs to prevent rejection will be needed lifelong, and they raise the risk of kidney damage and cancer.

    After the transplant you might feel remorse, disappointment, or grief or guilt toward the donor. The clinic will try to shield your identity, but the press likely will discover it.

    The clinic will cover costs for the first patient; nothing about others has been decided.

    Another form tells donor families that the person receiving the face will not resemble their dead loved one. The recipient should look similar to how he or she did before the injury because the new skin goes on existing bone and muscle, which give a face its shape....

    It took more than a year to win approval from the 13-member Institutional Review Board, the clinic's gatekeeper of research. Siemionow assembled surgeons, psychiatrists, social workers, therapists, nurses and patient advocates, and worked with LifeBanc, the organ procurement agency she expects will help obtain a face....

    Despite its shock factor, it involves routine microsurgery. One or two pairs of veins and arteries on either side of the face would be connected from the donor tissue to the recipient. About 20 nerve endings would be stitched together to try to restore sensation and movement. Tiny sutures would anchor the new tissue to the recipient's scalp and neck, and areas around the eyes, nose and mouth.

    "For 10 years now, it could have been done," said Dr. John Barker, director of plastic surgery research at the University of Louisville, where the first hand transplant in the United States was performed in 1999.

    Several years ago, these doctors announced their intent to do face transplants, but no hospital has yet agreed. They also are working with doctors in the Netherlands; nothing is imminent.
    The article is a bit longer than what I quoted here, and very interesting, especially considering doctors have been able to do this for a decade now. This is nothing like "Face-Off" with Nicholas Cage and John Travolta, with its implausible (insofar as our current medical technology) premise that requires reshaping facial muscle and altering the underlying bones, not just the entire facial skin graft that Dr. Siemionow plans to do.

    I cannot find any reason that a medical body or government can or should prevent the doctor from performing such surgery on a consenting patient, using facial skin obtained from a cadaver with the deceased's survivors' consent. The consent form should be extremely frightening because of its sheer uncertainty: "We don't even know what could happen to you," in essence. That should make a potential patient very wary, and Dr. Siemionow's personal interviews will weed out those she believes harbor secret doubts.
    The care of every man's soul belongs to himself. But what if he neglect the care of it? Well, what if he neglect the care of his health or estate, which more nearly relate to the State? Will the magistrate make a law that he shall not be poor or sick? Laws provide against injury from others, but not from ourselves. God Himself will not save men against their wills.
    What Thomas Jefferson said applies more to my immediately preceding entry on the market solution to obesity, but the last two sentences do apply here. No one is being coerced into this highly experimental procedure, and to some it may well be worth the risk (and any medical costs once Dr. Siemionow starts charging for it). Any medical boards and governments that deny a voluntary procedure to patients are simply deny people the freedom to assume risks for themselves, in a perfectly voluntary transactions that harm no one else.