Monday, October 31, 2005

"Who needs men when there's anatomically correct bar stools?"

Previous: The lady doth admit too much, methinks

Matt Drudge has a hilarious list of reader-submitted headlines for a photo of Maureen Dowd. My favorites:

  • "For TimesSelect's amazingly low price of $49.95 a year you also get..."

  • "Who needs men when there's anatomically correct bar stools?"

  • "If You Want To Keep The Beer Cold, Put It Next To My Heart."

  • "I'm sorry, lady, it's closing time. You're going to have to leave."

Sunday, October 30, 2005

A painting, part II

This evening, I seized an opportunity to make a quick purchase at a Circuit City. Armed with a new tripod for my camera, here is a better photo of my Buenaventura painting. The tripod allowed me to use long-term exposure and thus forego the flash (which was unfortunately highlighting the black paint, as you can see in the previous photos). After playing around with various exposure times, I found that 2.0 seconds worked best. Insofar as capturing the proper colors, auto color worked better than tungsten compensation (at least from how I've calibrated my monitor's colors, and I'm pretty careful with that).

Update: on further reflection, this seemed a little too light. The photo turned out a little too dark with a 1.5-second exposure (actually 1.4 seconds according to the EXIF info). However, the 2.0-second photo seems "just right" after being reduced to 80% gamma.

For a larger image (1200x590) where the wood pieces are more visible, click here.

People in need of an appointment with reality, part IV

I. Lewis Libby has only been indicted; Karl Rove has not been. You shouldn't need a J.D., which John Cornyn has, to understand that a grand jury indictment is far from conviction, that the trial itself hasn't even begun.

But Harry Reid just doesn't get it.
WASHINGTON Oct 30, 2005 — Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid said Sunday that President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney should apologize for the actions of their aides in the CIA leak case.

Reid, D-Nev., also said Bush should pledge not to pardon any aides convicted as a result of the investigation into the disclosure of CIA officer Valerie Plame's identity.

"There has not been an apology to the American people for this obvious problem in the White House," Reid said. He said Bush and Cheney "should come clean with the American public."

Reid added, "This has gotten way out of hand, and the American people deserve better than this."

Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, resigned Friday after he was indicted on five charges relating to statements he made to the FBI and a grand jury investigating the Plame leak.

Reid also said that Karl Rove, the president' closest political adviser, should step down. Rove has not been charged with a crime.

The closest the indictment comes to Rove is its discussion of an unnamed senior White House official who talked to columnist Robert Novak about Plame and discussed the matter with Libby. That could describe Rove.

The prosecutor in the CIA leak case has said his investigation is "not quite done," but declined comment on Rove during a news conference on Friday.

"If you ask me any name, I'm not going to comment on anyone named, because we either charged someone or we don't talk about them," Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald said.

When the investigation began, the White House denied that Rove had been involved. Bush promised to fire anyone on his staff responsible for such a leak. He later stepped back, saying just that he would remove aides who committed crimes.

"I think Karl Rove should step down," Reid said. "Here is a man who the president said if he was involved, if anyone in the administration was involved, out they would go." ...

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said it was premature to discuss a presidential pardon because no one has been convicted in the investigation.

"People who actually were trying to use this, of course, to the president's political disadvantage, I think, are going to be disappointed by the fact that this appears to be limited to a single individual," Cornyn said.
Not that I'm a knee-jerk Republican shill, but Cornyn couldn't have said it any better. This has become so politicized that Democrats aren't interested in the truth, like one of my old co-workers who simply wanted to see Karl Rove jailed, period, just because Rove is a prominent Republican and hence must be guilty of something.

Nor were Democrats interested in the truth in 1998 or 2001. In demanding that President Bush not issue any pardons related to this NadaGate, is Reid just ignorant or is he willfully ignoring all the pardons that Clinton issued in his final hours at the White House? There are familiar names like Roger Clinton, Jr., John Deutch and Patty Hearst. But chief among the long list:
  • Henry Cisneros -- convicted of lying to FBI investigators, who were scrunitizing payments that he had made to a former mistress, Linda Medlar (aka Linda Jones). Cisneros got off easy, pleading guilty to a single misdemeanor charge that garnered only a $10,000 fine and no jail time. Medlar pled guilty to 28 charges (including lying to investigators and bank fraud) and was sentenced to three years in prison...but she eventually got a Clinton pardon too.
Imagine that: a member of Clinton's cabinet -- a major part of what Clinton said would be "the most ethical administration" -- was convicted of lying to investigators, regarding hush money paid out before he was appointed HUD Secretary, and it's all but forgotten today.
  • Susan McDougal -- Whitewater. She was covering up something so large that she preferred jail to testifying; no need to say more.

  • Marc Rich -- the billionaire who, from 1983 through his pardon in 2001, lived in Switzerland as a fugitive from U.S. law enforcement. He was accused of tax evasion, wire fraud, and even doing business with the enemy (illegally trading in Iranian oil while Americans were held hostage in our Tehran embassy). Could his pardon have had anything to do with his wife's generous contributions to Democrats, including Hillary's 2000 Senate campaign? Now Rich is being implicated in the Oil-for-Food scandal -- perhaps if indicted, he'll flee back to Switzerland in the hope Hillary can someday pardon him.

For all the rest of us know right now, Libby might be as guilty as sin. Yet what about what Democrats demanded in 1998, that a man is entitled to a fair trial? What Reid is saying is pure hypocrisy. And even if Libby is guilty of what are, at most, mild lies, President Bush pardoning him would be nothing compared to the 141 questionable "midnight pardons" that Bill Clinton issued.

People in need of an an appointment with reality
People in need of an an appointment with reality, part II
People in need of an an appointment with reality, part III

Saturday, October 29, 2005

A painting

My friend Chris Masse asked about a painting behind me in a photograph. This oil painting -- on wood, not canvas -- is by the Filipino painter Cesar Buenaventura (not to be confused with the central banking official). At about 48x24 inches (122x61 cm), it's wider than the few Buenaventura paintings I have heard about.

It's not hung where direct light can hit it, or where there's strong lighting, and the flash doesn't do so well against some of the black paint. No flash and a long exposure time might do the trick, so if I have time and the opportunity today when out, I'll see about getting a tripod.

Admittedly I'm not familiar with the artists of my mother's home country. My father, an American who had initially visited the Philippines and then returned for business (and wound up staying for over 20 years), paid 3000 pesos for it in the early 1970s. When we moved to U.S. in 1983, after he decided it was time for him to repatriate, it was one of several paintings we couldn't bear to leave behind.

It's still not terribly valuable, mostly since Buenaventura produced so much, but it's highly unusual in that he glued pieces of wood onto the canvas, painting over them for a raised effect. He did this for the calesas, horses, drivers, the house on the right, even the calesa wheels in the very front. I've never heard of this technique used anywhere else.

Friday, October 28, 2005

At what cost?

I saw on the news yesterday morning that Westchester County wants to offer "free" inspections to determine how energy efficient your home is (principally in retaining heat). These inspections normally cost homeowners about $300. Depending on how much additional insulation, new glass, etc., is needed, homeowners might save money in the very first winter, possibly the second.

The quote from Bastiat's The Law that I used last night also applies tonight. Will people not perform certain rational actions just because there is no law compelling them? Most people are generally aware that improved insulation will help reduce heating bills, but they've made the decision that hiring a professional inspector, then having the work done, is not worth it. For whatever reason, they may prefer to spend a few hundred dollars more each winter, instead of spending many hundreds of dollars in the short term to save in the long term. Or they might instead be radically ignorant (being so unaware that they don't know the information even exists) of the potential savings. In that case, making them aware (bringing them to rational ignorance, where they realize they don't know but choose not to expend resources to know) might even cost more than what would be saved in heating. Informing the county via ads will cost money, and there is the possibility that people will hire inspectors when they didn't need to; both are wasted money and could offset any savings in energy costs.

People are already free to hire the inspectors, but Westchester leaders apparently think we're not hiring them often enough. And if this plan goes through, since people think they're not paying for an inspection, they have every incentive to get one even if they don't really need it. The inspections will be "free" just like the "free" Bee Line bus rides that my county offered this year, to compensate riders after the employee strike. Free, just like the "free" bus shuttle between my alma mater (SUNY Purchase) and White Plains, which is mostly paid for out of a transportation fee. Perhaps "free" like Canada's, as Don Boudreaux put it, "insanely stupid health-care system"?

The money has to come from somewhere. Perhaps it can come from Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, or some other benevolent being that Paul Krugman and others apparently think will redeem the U.S. Treasury notes in the Social Security "trust fund."

I am always incredulous at how people think things are "free." Even broadcast radio and TV aren't free. At my work we have "free" beverages, but they do not come without cost. The zero cost also means a higher rate of consumption than otherwise, even if we are conscious of the cost to the company. I myself am partial to Fresca at all hours of the day, and I admit to drinking much more than had I to pay directly.

Regarding another bit of news about county government: in a recent election debate, County Executive Andy Spano claimed, "I reduced or froze county taxes for four out of seven years." That did not rebut what his opponent said, that Westchester property taxes have gone up 40% under Spano's leadership. I don't suppose that had anything to do with tax hikes in the other three years that offset (and then some) any freezes or reductions?

"We have been a very fiscally responsible government," Spano boasted in the same debate. Well, "fiscally responsible" just doesn't have the same meaning it once did. Like most Democrats, he wants to hike taxes to support their profligate spending, instead of the supply-side Reaganomics push to cut taxes (stimulating economic production) and drastically cut spending to balance the budget.

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Thursday, October 27, 2005

Losing my voice

I've had a mild cold for the last week, nothing too severe. Ideally I should have stayed home, but there's been so much to do at work, and my biggest worry is only a sore throat.

Just now I was getting ready for bed, and when starting to hum something, I realized my voice is mostly gone. My range is down to less than an octave, in the bottom of my normal bass-baritone range. It's been several years since a cold made me lose my voice like this, and it's hard on me because I love to sing. But it was probably singing that did it. After getting home earlier tonight, I took my car to do a little shopping. As usual, I was singing along to the old crooners, and I likely exerted my vocal cords too much.

The queen of state-worshippers, part II

Previous: The queen of state-worshippers

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?

- Frédéric Bastiat, The Law

The word "energy" is ironic, considering the topic of this entry. Hillary Clinton is a true worshipper of government, and chief among those of whom Bastiat warned. This New York Post article listed her latest political maneuvering, which you can be assured is strictly to position herself as the populist candidate in the 2008 presidential race:

October 26, 2005 -- WASHINGTON — Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton yesterday called for fees on oil-industry profits to fund clean-energy research and ease the fuel "crisis on our hands."

"The country that put a man on the moon can be the country to find new lower-cost and cleaner forms of energy," Clinton told a group of alternative-energy backers.

Clinton proposed a "Strategic Energy Fund" that she said could bring in as much as $20 billion a year in oil-company fees to fund development and give rebates to folks struggling to pay rising heating bills and transportation costs.

She said oil companies should post signs at gas stations reminding motorists to check their tire pressure.
Could Bastiat have been any more right to ask why "worshippers of government believe that free persons will cease to act" when there is no law to compel them? Don't people already have the free exercise of common sense, that they already know to check their tire pressure without being prompted by signs? A vegetarian group has called for laws requiring labels on milk, warnings for those who are lactose intolerant. As the saying goes, you cannot make this stuff up. What will be next, requiring chocolate stores to post warning signs about obesity and diabetes?

But no, no, the federal government never engages in mission creep, right?

I debunked the Democrats' claim of an energy crisis, and the claim that we should cut back on oil imports in favor of domestic sources of alternative entry, in my previous entry "The Democrats' myth of "energy independence'." Note that in no wise do I advocating importing all our oil: I'm merely saying we should import oil when it's cheaper than producing the equivalent energy ourselves.

Why would a rational person spend $2 on an item when a substitute can be had for $1, and just as readily? With all factors like equivalence and ease of obtainability being equal, a rational person would not, but that's precisely what Hillary is asking us to do. By relying more on wind, solar and other "clean" sources of energy, people will spend more money to get the same amount of (or less) energy. Meanwhile, she wants oil companies to be taxed more heavily. When will state-worshippers like Hillary and Paul Krugman, those who believe that businesses don't pay enough taxes, realize that businesses do not pay any taxes? Business' customers pay the taxes, because as anyone who has managed a business can tell you, a business passes its taxes on to its customers.

Hillary is again advocating the redistribution of wealth, just in a different form: taking from those who produce things of great value and giving to those who do not produce as much. If oil companies' "excessive profits" are taxed heavily, that in itself will likely not produce higher prices at the pump. It indirectly may not even cause higher prices, but it will hurt consumers in two ways by preventing their energy costs from going down. The taxes will subsidize scientists' inefficient programs and studies on wind, solar and hydroelectric energy; there's a plain and simple reason we don't already use those sources, and it is because, through the free market, we know they're too expensive compared to oil. And the oil companies will lose billions of dollars that they could have invested in new oil fields, new equipment, and other things that would increase supply and reduce demand. Who can rationally argue that it's good to increase our supply of more expensive energy and reduce our supply of cheaper energy?

Also, oil company employees (at all levels) will not be paid as much as they could have been, and their shareholders will receive dividends less than what they could have been. Whether these people are working class and trying to build up an IRA, or "big oil" executives whose spending habits sustain dozens of jobs, that money is lost to them. The government supposedly will have that money to spend, but there are two problems: taxes are a disincentive to produce, and government spending by nature is inefficient. The latter itself is proved by Hillary's plans to spend it on alternate energy research.

Hillary claims that if we can put a man on the moon, we should spend money on "new lower-cost and cleaner forms of energy." I won't debate the worthiness of space travel, as I have mixed feelings on its scientific value (especially today, when it is nil) versus its cost, but when it comes to federal spending money on alternate sources of energy, Hillary's essentially asking American taxpayers to burn money -- literally. The Department of Energy will spend $380 million in 2005 on "energy efficiency and renewable energy"; it seeks "only" $353 million for 2006. Add to that a few billion dollars annually to subsidize ethanol that's not worth the price, and I prefer more than ever that I keep all my money, so that I can buy what I believe is my best energy value for my money. Unfortunately Hillary, most of Congress, and even President Bush don't feel the same way: one way or another, like the bad energy bill passed earlier this year, they facilitate the federal government doling out our money to energy pork projects.

Now look at this from New York Newsday:
Clinton takes on Cheney

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton yesterday blamed Vice President Dick Cheney for bungling U.S. energy policy - and proposed a $20 billion-per-year tax on oil profits to subsidize clean-fuels development.

Tapping growing anger over skyrocketing fuel costs, Clinton (D-N.Y.) criticized oil companies for reaping billions in profits from hurricane-driven price spikes.

She also laid partial responsibility for rising prices on Cheney, the former head of industry giant Halliburton, who chaired a secretive White House energy task force in 2001. "The vice president basically sets energy policy in America," Clinton told a meeting of alternative energy development investors. "And it's not been to the benefit, I think, of our long-term or short-term interests, and I hope that can change."

"Senator Clinton should go ask her husband and his administration why they never passed a comprehensive energy bill," responded Brian Nick, spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Still, Clinton's comments came on a day jittery House Republicans huddled to discuss ways to address growing anger on the issue.

The oil and gas industry - which gave four times as much to Republicans as Democrats in 2004 - is expected to post a record $28-billion profit for the third quarter, analysts have said.

The temporary oil profits fee proposed by Clinton would be collected on "unanticipated" windfalls, like the profits resulting from price hikes following the hurricanes, Clinton said.

The money would be used to develop wind turbines, solar power and hybrid cars, and to increase funding for programs to assist low-income Americans with winter heating costs, she said.
So, according to Hillary, our energy crisis is all Cheney's fault. Strange, however, that it was President Bush who signed the 2005 energy bill that Congress sent him -- the energy bill for which Senator Hillary voted "yea." So just who is setting energy policy?

Update: I forgot to add that Cheney's supposedly secret task force was meaningless. Regardless of what secret policies and agreements the moonbats think came from it, it didn't and could never free oil companies from market forces. However, most Americans seem to believe the reverse, and completely erroneously: that oil companies should set "fair" prices, regardless of market conditions. On the contrary, the globally high demand for petroleum and gasoline (I separate them because they have their own supply shocks) means that their producers and arbitrageurs are especially subject to market forces.

And the oil industry gave four times as much to Republicans as it did to Democrats. Big deal -- what's the ratio with lawyers? According to, for the 2004 campaigns the entire energy industry donated over $39 million to Republicans, and just under $13 million to Democrats (so a 3:1 ratio for the entire industry). But, again for the 2004 campaigns, lawyers and law firms donated three times as much to Democrats as they did Republicans, and in much larger numbers: $135 million to $45 million. In fact, this "New York Times on the Web" article from March 2000 talks about law firms donating money in the hope of preventing then-Gov. George W. Bush from being elected, because he was a direct threat to their bread-and-butter.

Let's be fair: both parties get donations from different industries and lobbying groups, so it's hypocritical for a liberal rag to point fingers at just Republicans. However, I'll say again that the problem is not with the special interests. It's that our federal government has assumed so much unconstitutional power that it sustains the special interest groups -- the plunderers perverting the law.

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Is it censorship for a school to forbid students to blog?

Not if it's a private school.
School Orders Students to Remove Blogs
Catholic High School in N.J. Orders Students to Remove Blogs, Citing Threat From Cyberpredators

NEWARK, N.J. Oct 26, 2005 — A Roman Catholic high school has ordered its students to remove their online diaries from the Internet, citing a threat from cyberpredators.

Students at Pope John XXIII Regional High School in Sparta appear to be heeding a directive from the principal, the Rev. Kieran McHugh.

McHugh told them in an assembly earlier this month to remove any personal journals they might have or risk suspension. Web sites popular with teens include and

Officials with the Diocese of Paterson say the directive is a matter of safety, not censorship. No one has been disciplined yet, said Marianna Thompson, a diocesan spokeswoman.

She said the ban has been on the books for five years but is only now being strictly enforced. Thompson said students aren't being silenced but rather told that they cannot post online writings about school or their personal lives.

A search of both and Wednesday by The Associated Press found no postings by users who mentioned the school. Profiles posted by other users include photos and detailed personal information on topics such as musical tastes, body measurements and sexual history.

Kurt Opsahl of the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation, which champions the rights of bloggers, said there have been several attempts by private institutions elsewhere to restrict or censor students' Internet postings.

"But this is the first time we've heard of such an overreaction," he said. "It would be better if they taught students what they should and shouldn't do online rather than take away the primary communication tool of their generation."

Thompson said parents of students who enroll in the schools sign contracts governing student behavior, including responsible Internet use.

That could dilute the students' free speech claims somewhat, acknowledged Ed Barocas, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey.

"The rights of students at private schools are far different than those of public schools because administrators at public schools are agents of government," he said. "That's not the case here."
Apparently the AP wasn't savvy enough to check Blogspot or LiveJournal, which I'd suspect would have some student blogs.

The EFF is completely wrong. The ACLU started to admit the lack of a "free speech" basis but probably doesn't quite understand why. A private institution has the right to regulate its members' conduct, including requiring certain standards and disciplining (or expelling) members who fail to meet them. The students are at the Catholic high school by choice, so they accept certain limitations on their freedom of speech. It's irrelevant whether the school is practicing censorship or wants to shield their students from online predators; it's also irrelevant what students put in their blogs.

Are the school officials overreacting? They have a great concern for their students' safety: the officials weighed the risks and decided that curtailing some of students' online activities is worth the increase in their safety. If the parents disagree with the policy, they have the option to send their children to a different school. Ultimately it's only the parents who can determine if the school is doing the right thing, by keeping their children there.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Thou shalt not house thy goldfish in bowls

Walk thy dog, lest thy god smite you

Someone please tell me this is a joke.
Rome bans goldfish bowls, orders dog walking
Italian capital also backs feeding of the city's stray cats

ROME - The city of Rome has banned goldfish bowls, which animal rights activists say are cruel, and has made regular dog-walks mandatory in the Italian capital, the town's council said on Tuesday.

The classic spherical fish bowls are banned under a new by-law which also stops fish or other animals being given away as fairground prizes. It comes after a national law was passed to allow jail sentences for people who abandon cats or dogs.

"It's good to do whatever we can for our animals who in exchange for a little love fill our existence with their attention," said Monica Cirinna, the councilor behind the by-law.

"The civilization of a city can also be measured by this," she told Rome daily Il Messaggero.

The newspaper reported that round bowls caused fish to go blind. No one at Rome council was available to confirm this was why they were banned. Many fish experts say round bowls provide insufficient oxygen for fish.

In July 2004, parliament passed a law setting big fines and jail terms for people who abandon pets and since then local governments have added their own animal welfare rules many of which will be difficult to police.

Dog-walking fine

The northern city of Turin passed a law in April to fine pet owners up to $598 ( 500 euros) if they do not walk their dogs at least three times a day.

The new Rome by-law requires owners to regularly exercise their dogs, and bans them from docking their pets' tails for aesthetic reasons.

It also provides legal recognition for cat lovers who provide food for the colonies of strays which live everywhere from the city's ancient Roman ruins to modern office car parks.

Animal rights groups estimate that around 150,000 pet dogs and 200,000 cats are abandoned in Italy every year.
I love animals as much as anyone, but these laws are indescribably stupid. My entry on "Walk thy dog" was about Turin's law, and I think it's worth repeating:
Big government, in its claimed benevolence and self-professed omniscience, can plan society so well that it even knows your dog's precise needs. What about the elderly or handicapped who like dogs but can't walk them three times a day, but whose dogs nonetheless enjoy the companionship? What about some dogs that don't like to be walked? Mine didn't, being a true and very lazy house dog. We had fenced front and back yards, so we'd let him out to do his business, or so he could stretch out on the lawn and enjoy "his" domain. It was so funny how the pooch really did consider it all "his" territory.

Note that part about "tipsters" to alert the police. Got a grudge against your neighbor? Accuse him of not walking his dog. Did you get stuck in traffic on the way home from work? You'd better eat out or order out if you won't have time to cook dinner and take Rover out.

Sadly, I fear many more thousands of dogs will be abandoned on the street, because owners will no longer be able to take care of them "as mandated by law." Like the minimum wage and France's 35-hour work week, it demonstrates the law of unintended consequences. Yes, some will be better off, but others will be left behind. Government didn't think anyone would be left worse off, because it didn't account for incentive.
Now Rome has done Turin one better, but these laws are pure idiocy, not just Big Brother government. Of course, we're talking about the same city that banned bottled and canned beverages at night, to cut down on litter and "combat anti-social behaviour."

Ben Bernanke

It's old news now, but I want to do a round-up of what's been said. I would have done this last night, but I'm still not feeling my best.

Don Luskin predicted on October 17th,
You know, maybe it's not all this talk about inflation that has spooked stocks these last few weeks. Maybe investors are worried that President Bush will nominate someone to replace Alan Greenspan as Fed chairman next year who believes that inflation can be controlled by leeches or bleedings — or by human sacrifice.

Let's hope Bush chooses wisely. If his choice is a man or woman who understands the simple truth that inflation is caused by too much money chasing too few goods, then the stock market will say, "Thank you, Mr. President," with a wonderful and well-deserved rally.
And Don was right, listing various news headlines about yesterday's rally. Even after today's expected profit-taking, the major indices were down only slightly. The DJIA was down -7.13 (-0.07%), the NASDAQ fell -6.38 (-0.30%), and the S&P 500 lost -2.84 (-0.24%).

But some financial writers just don't get it. This AP article is headlined "Dow Sheds 7 on Falling Consumer Confidence" but says in the first paragraph:
NEW YORK Oct 25, 2005 — Wall Street closed lower in profit-taking Tuesday after the previous session's big gain, though the market held on reasonably well despite a surprising drop in consumer confidence and a disappointing forecast from Texas Instruments Inc.
So which is it? The headline blames the fall in consumer confidence, yet the article says the slight decline was despite the news.

While waiting yesterday morning for Bush to make the nomination, I read Russell Robert's Cafe Hayek entry on Bush nominating his tax accountant to head the Fed. Had I not realized immediately it was a satire, I would have had a heart attack. It's no less than brilliant: how does one criticize a politician's actions without specifying them?

On a serious note, Tyler Cowen of Marginal Revolution extolled Bernanke as a macroeconomist who has contributed important work. Cowen's main emphasis is Bernanke's commitment to price stability.

Larry Kudlow had some great insight:
In my view it is a good choice. Though Mr. Bernanke is not a hardcore advocate of the price rule, he does favor an inflation target, which is the second best option. Noteworthy is the fact that in recent speeches he has emphasized the slow and steady 2 percent zone of core inflation and inflation less energy. So he is not as militant as some of the crazed Fed presidents....

Bernanke will also support an extension of Bush’s tax cuts for capital gains and dividends, and he has told me in the past that raising tax rates would only harm the economy....

Thank heavens that Fed board member Donald Kohn, who is a demand-sider and a Phillips Curver, did not get the nod.
In his follow-up, he made a very important point:
The cause of inflation is excess money creation by the Fed—not rapid economic growth, nor too many people working, nor temporary oil shocks, nor hurricanes.
He and Don Luskin are hardly Austrians, but like Milton Friedman, they agree with Milton Friedman that inflation is strictly a "monetary phenomenon." I addressed this briefly some months ago in "What is 'free'? And what is 'inflation'?"

Don had written in his aforementioned TrendMacro article:
OK, get this (and try not to laugh). According to the minutes, the Fed believes that all the government spending to rebuild the Gulf Coast will overheat the economy and cause inflation. Or in the Fed's arcane language, it will be "an increase in fiscal stimulus at a time when the margin of unutilized resources in the overall economy was probably thin."

The core idea here is that prices across the economy will be driven up by people competing for scarce resources required for rebuilding — construction labor, building materials, and so on. Well, maybe some prices will be driven higher, at least temporarily. It's not too much of a stretch to think that the price of cement or lumber will be higher for a while. But more people wanting wood and cement isn't inflation — it's just supply and demand. Inflation is when the Fed prints too much money, and the price of goods denominated in that debased currency rises in response. But that's not the way some of the econometric gurus at the Fed see it. They believe that rising consumer demand causes inflation. That means they believe that prosperity causes inflation. They believe that jobs cause inflation.
Usually it's Austrian economists who drive home the point that the Federal Reserve is the sole cause of true inflation.

As Don Boudreaux of Cafe Hayek explained,
Because the Fed largely controls the supply of U.S. dollars, the Fed's role isn't to "tame" inflation. Rather, the Fed's role simply is not to generate it. It can achieve this goal very, very easily -- namely, by not increasing the money supply.

This is no difficult task.

But the popular account of inflation still portrays inflation not as something caused by excessive monetary growth but as some alien-like demon, or animal spirit, that visits us from time to time and needing "taming" by smart and brave central bankers.

Too often, things that are simple -- for example, not causing inflation -- are treated as though they are challenges of the first rank, while things that are impossibly complicated -- for example, government provision of health care -- are treated as though they are quite easy to achieve.
Indeed. Here is wisdom.

Big government: yo, where's our cut? Part II

Big government: yo, where's our cut?

What's the difference between big government and a mobster extorting you?

Not much, when their greatest similarity overshadows the rest: both want their percentage of your business, right off the top.

The title of this AP article doesn't sound like it's about big government, until it gets into why Eliot Spitzer pressured UPS. At least Spitzer is being honest. Reducing underage smoking is clearly a secondary, if not incidental goal; mentioned only twice, it's just a pro-motherhood, anti-sin excuse. The article emphasizes the real reason several times: Albany and other state governments want their tax money. Especially in New York, enough is never enough when it comes to government laying taxes on just about everything it can.

Curiously, New York's name is omitted when the article identifies Spitzer as "state Attorney General" -- was that an inadvertent implication that he considers his office powers to extend beyond New York's borders?
UPS Agrees to End Cigarette Deliveries

The world's largest shipping carrier, UPS Inc., will stop delivering cigarettes to individuals in the United States under an agreement announced Monday with state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer.

The agreement is the latest in federal and state efforts to combat the sale of under-taxed cigarette and to fight underage smoking. Most under-taxed or untaxed cigarettes are sold by Indian tribes, where the taxation of sales to non-Indians is disputed.

Monday's agreement leaves only the U.S. Postal Service among major carriers to continue to deliver cigarettes to individuals, Spitzer said. He called that practice "an embarrassment."

Despite a new policy adopted by the Postal Service in September to refuse delivery of illegal products, the federal service allows employees to accept packages suspected of containing under-taxed cigarettes, Spitzer said.

"Internet cigarette traffickers are increasingly using the federal mail system to distribute their wares," Spitzer said. He said the Postal Service "clearly" has the authority to refuse to deliver cigarettes to individual smokers. "It is an embarrassment that major private companies have stopped carrying contraband cigarettes, but the federal government continues to accept them," said Spitzer, a Democrat running for governor. "Congress needs to step in and stop this practice immediately."

The Postal Service can't stop delivery even if it suspects a package clearly marked as coming from a retailer contains untaxed cigarettes, said Postal Service spokesman Gerry McKiernan.

"There could be souvenirs in the package. We don't know because we can't see inside the package," he said.

Instead, the Postal Service will watch for packages if advised by law enforcement agencies. They also will alert law enforcement agencies when the service is shipping those packages, he said.

"It's up to law enforcement agencies to enforce the law," McKiernan said.

Earlier this year, DHL banned cigarette deliveries to individuals nationwide and the nation's largest credit card companies stopped processing payments for cigarette sales.

Spitzer said Internet and mail-order cigarette retailers violate federal, state and local laws governing taxes and underage smoking. Sales to minors also violate federal wire fraud and mail fraud laws, he said....

States lose more than $1 billion a year in tax revenue from Internet tobacco sales, according to the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Enforcement, however, has been difficult, even though in many states, including New York, the Internet sale of tobacco products is illegal.
Forgotten is Bastiat's second great principle from "What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen": the first is the "broken window" fallacy, and the second is that government may take in less, but the people by definition retain that very same amount to spend or save as they see fit. In short, there is no economic gain to government spending, and there is in fact a deadweight loss, once we examine the disincentives that taxes have.

So when any government cries over losing revenue because people find ways to circumvent a particular tax, I myself rejoice that the people have that money to themselves. It's far preferable that a government cut its own spending when faced with revenue shortfalls, allowing the people to dispose of their money as they wish, instead of following the Democrats' new notions of "fiscal conservatism" that balances budgets by hiking taxes. (I addressed that at the beginning of my entry on Democrats' new myth of energy independence.)

Spitzer's proposed crackdown at the USPS is completely unenforceable. These "cigarette traffickers" need only commence sending packages in plain packages with a name and address that won't attract attention. They might spend a couple more bucks to ship each package, but their buyers would still find those worth paying. (I wonder if Spitzer and others would accuse me of breaking a law by giving advice to aid these "criminals.") But you can bet your last withheld dollar that big government will spend a dollar to collect a dime in taxes, particularly with such "principled" men as Eliot Spitzer. Yes, he's certainly principled, about getting big government's cut.

What will be next? Will the USPS start opening packages to check the contents, or will it require that we bring packages unopened and seal them only after a proper inspection? Heaven help us if the inspection process is as efficient and effective as airport searches -- the lines at most post offices are already long enough.

When the FBI has secretly monitored U.S. citizens for as long as 18 months, "without proper paperwork or oversight," don't put it past the USPS to start searching "suspicious packages." This is mission creep at its worst. Big government wants to save us from terrorists. Now it wants to save us from "cigarette traffickers" whose crime is not helping to fill up government's coffers.

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Monday, October 24, 2005

Getting your ducks in a row

It was really cold today at Central Park, but the ducks are still around. I managed to take a couple of cute pictures.

All your ducks in a row

Though the expression didn't originate because of actual ducks, I still liked the formation.

A cute couple!

There was another pair swimming far apart from the others. A female was swimming along with a male right behind her; as my friend put it, they were "courting." So we named the male one Perry, and the second one after...well, someone I doubt any of you know. But my friend and I had a good laugh.

He's the new king...of the socialist moonbats

I wanted to discuss this last weekend but haven't had the time to address it properly. Like any good socialist leader, Hugo Chavez is never short on half-truths, damned lies, and economic ignorance. Can we expect anything else from someone so paranoid that he accuses the U.S. of planning to invade his country and assassinate him? (The latter was long before Pat Robertson suggested it, which mainstream media almost always took out of context anyway.) And, of course, Chavez again blames capitalism for just about everything.
Chavez: World Faces Major Energy Crisis
Sat Oct 15, 7:15 PM ET

SALAMANCA, Spain - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said Saturday that the world faces an energy crisis but there is little chance of his country and other OPEC members increasing production because they are already pumping near "their capacity."

"The world will have to get used to a barrel price, I think, of above $50, and energy will have to be saved," he told reporters as leaders from Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking countries met in this central Spanish town.

After soaring in August, crude oil prices have been between $60 and $70 a barrel for more than a month.

"We're at the doorway of major energy crisis worldwide," Chavez said. "We'll have to develop other resources such as wind, solar and nuclear energy naturally for peaceful purposes." He said Venezuela was in talks with Argentina and Brazil regarding nuclear power.

"Prices will continue to rise but oil is running out," he said.

Chavez said a "lack of imagination in the United States and the war in Iraq, which has destabilized the market in the Middle East, has also driven up prices." Increased demand from countries such as China and India is making the problem worse, he said.

"The whole world right now is producing petroleum at their maximum capacity," he said. "In Venezuela, for example, we can't produce a single barrel more."

Venezuela, a member of Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, is the world's fifth largest oil exporter and a major supplier to the U.S. market.

Venezuela's state oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela, says it pumps 3.2 million barrels of crude oil a day. But industry analysts put the figure lower, saying the country has never fully restored output since an extended strike in 2003 that sought to force Chavez's resignation.

Increased production would not solve the price problem, Chavez said.

"The cause of the increase in the price is not in the production. It's partly the intermediaries who make things dearer. It's also because of the increase in demand and the irrational capitalist consumerism model," he said.

"The United States for example, with scarcely five percent of the world's population, uses almost 25 percent of the petroleum and combustion fuels produced in the world," he said.
The arrogant central-planning bureaucrats of Hayek's essay "The Use of Knowledge in Society" could not be more perfectly represented. Typical of socialists, Chavez erroneously believes that he has perfect knowledge, or at least such extensive knowledge (compared to the rest of us) that he can predict a barrel price for oil, that the world is on the brink of an "oil crisis," and that his nation is producing oil at 100% capacity. When anyone learns of his qualifications to make such statements, please let me know.

Chavez claims that Venezuela cannot produce any more oil. The article notes that industry experts don't believe Venezuela's production is what it was before its disruption two years ago. However, we'll even put aside Chavez' ignorance of his country's own oil industry. Even if Venezuela were producing oil at maximum capacity, it could certainly produce more -- if offered enough money. If oil reached $100 per barrel, Venezuela would start drilling in oil deposits that before were not worthwhile, but are now profitable because the oil can be sold at a higher price. That's the power of markets: offer someone a sufficiently high price for a good or service that you want badly enough, and it will become feasible to provide it. Offer enough if you really, really want it, and someone could probably, given enough time and money, genetically engineer a turnip with a drop of blood inside.

Don Luskin reminded us last year that global oil reserves keep increasing through the years, but the energy doomsayers still maintain we're running the wells dry. As I mentioned in my entry about Malthus' philosophical descendants, OPEC nations are investing a large portion of their profits in developing new oil fields. Instead of wringing their hands and warning about energy crises, they're always looking to expand their capacity. More recently I pointed to, as part of a large entry, an article describing the technological development so that someday we might extract 1 trillion barrels of oil in the western U.S. -- locked away in shale. Even if it will never be feasible, in the meantime we might develop a cheap, efficient source of energy, whether undiscovered or currently known. Who is to say? Certainly not Chavez and the the other delusional central planners.

Granted it's not a precise quote, but the article did say, "Increased production would not solve the price problem, Chavez said." Chavez then proceeded to blame "intermediaries," increased demand, and capitalism. Is he that blind to the laws of supply and demand? The increased demand is precisely why oil suppliers are always looking to increase their output; the higher prices are their incentive, and as I've said before, the fact that they don't want oil to get so expensive that its substitutes become economical. Moreover, Chavez doesn't understand the very role of "intermediaries," i.e. middlemen: they reduce the total cost of making transactions by facilitating deals between buyers and sellers, but they lack the significant power over final prices that Chavez thinks they have. No matter how much a broker tries to profit, by definition the buyer will still not pay more than what he deems the item is worth. I addressed that in "Rising oil costs: still nothing to worry about" and then in "The power of markets" as a semi-follow-up.

Chavez brought up a tired and wholly fallacious accusation, that the U.S. uses a larger "share" of the world's resources than its percentage of the global population. First, Chavez forgets that what's "fair" is that an entity (whether an individual of a nation) uses however much of a resource as desired after paying an agreed-upon market price. Being a certain percentage of the population has nothing to do with it. I, for example, eat more red meat than the typical American, far more than my "share," but I'm willing to pay for it, whereas others may prefer chicken. My boss at my previous job was shocked at how often I eat beef. Surprisingly, my recent cholesterol test came back 172, not 1172.

Second, Chavez is still wrong when we determine what is actually "fair." Despite high oil prices, U.S. economic growth through 2005 will be very strong: GDP will be well over $12 trillion. That's more than a fourth of the $44 trillion that the IMF estimates for global GDP in 2005, so if we want to be as nonsensical as Chavez and implement any "fair share" standard, then the U.S. is actually entitled to use more oil. And how much oil does Venezuela use? How much more than his "fair share" does Chavez use to live far more comfortably than the average Venezuelan?

The problem isn't with the "irrational capitalist consumerism model," but with a socialist, central-planning government that keeps people poor. Don Boudreaux recently blogged about how Niger's government keeps its people in economic serfdom; I have detailed how Robert Mugabe economically enslaves the poor of Zimbabwe. Chavez seems to be taking a page out of their book. Nearly half of Venezuelans already live in poverty (straight from the World Bank's mouth), and Chavez wants to make them effectively more poor by forcibly increasing Venezuela's use of more expensive wind, solar and nuclear energy instead of petroleum. It's an elementary conclusion that the three are more expensive than petroleum: if they were cheaper, Venezuelans would already be using them. But Venezuela has tremendous oil wealth, so wind, solar and nuclear energy would have to be extremely cheap to be price-competitive.

So why does Chavez persist? Insanity? Stupidity? Arrogance? Evilness? All four? What we do know is that he's following all too well in the footsteps of previous state planners, most notably Lenin, Stalin, Mao and Kim Jong Il. He just hasn't caused millions of people to starve to death. That's only because Venezuela can abundantly supply a commodity that's in high global demand (oil is about 80% of Venezuela's exports). That has still hardly helped the third of Venezuelans who live in extreme poverty, despite Chavez's professions of anti-capitalist, socialist-egalitarian ideals. Besides, mineral wealth, as we've seen in Zimbabwe and other nations, is no guarantee of keeping the people from starving when a socialist ruler sets his mind to things.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

"Are they trying to set her up?"

On the front page of the LA Times (registration required, I recommend using
Miers' Answer Raises Questions

WASHINGTON — Asked to describe the constitutional issues she had worked on during her legal career, Supreme Court nominee Harriet E. Miers had relatively little to say on the questionnaire she sent to the Senate this week.

And what she did say left many constitutional experts shaking their heads.

At one point, Miers described her service on the Dallas City Council in 1989. When the city was sued on allegations that it violated the Voting Rights Act, she said, "the council had to be sure to comply with the proportional representation requirement of the Equal Protection Clause."

But the Supreme Court repeatedly has said the Constitution's guarantee of "equal protection of the laws" does not mean that city councils or state legislatures must have the same proportion of blacks, Latinos and Asians as the voting population.

"That's a terrible answer. There is no proportional representation requirement under the equal protection clause," said New York University law professor Burt Neuborne, a voting rights expert. "If a first-year law student wrote that and submitted it in class, I would send it back and say it was unacceptable."

Stanford law professor Pamela Karlan, also an expert on voting rights, said she was surprised the White House did not check Miers' questionnaire before sending it to the Senate.

"Are they trying to set her up? Any halfway competent junior lawyer could have checked the questionnaire and said it cannot go out like that. I find it shocking," she said.

White House officials say the term "proportional representation" is "amenable to different meanings." They say Miers was referring to the requirement that election districts have roughly the same number of voters.

In the 1960s, the Supreme Court adopted the "one person, one vote" concept as a rule under the equal protection clause. Previously, rural districts with few voters often had the same clout in legislatures as heavily populated urban districts. Afterward, their clout was equal to the number of voters they represented. But voting rights experts do not describe this rule as "proportional representation," which has a specific, different meaning.

"Either Miers misunderstood what the equal protection clause requires, or she was using loose language to say something about compliance with the one-person, one-vote rule," said Richard L. Hasen, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles who specializes in election law. "Either way, it is very sloppy and unnecessary. Someone should have caught that." ...
If that is any indication of Miers' understanding of the Constitution and its amendments, she properly belongs in Congress. After all, Congress incorrectly invokes the Necessary and Proper and Interstate Commerce clauses to justify the federal government's sweeping powers to tax, spend and trump state laws.

At worst, President Bush nominated someone who doesn't know constitutional law. At best, he nominated someone whose legal ability is too imprecise to warrant trusting her as a judge on our highest court. Charles Krauthammer has a brilliant suggestion on how Miers can withdraw while she and the White House still save face. Sounds good to me, and may history books be kind.

Update: I sent the link to Professor Bainbridge, asking if he had any comment. Yes, he does here.

Baby, it's cold outside

It's 51 right now in Central Park, only 44 where I am, and the suddenly cold weather doesn't help that I feel terrible. My throat since yesterday has been bothering me, and combined with general fatigue, it forced me to bid my friends an early goodbye last night. Today I'm feeling pretty weak and don't want to do much more than watch DVDs and suck down Ricolas. I rarely get sick, which I attribute in no small part to be fastidious about frequent hand-washing (especially when just getting into work after just getting off the subway).

Here's what it looks like outside:

The autumn leaves drift by the window
The autumn leaves of red and gold

I see your lips, the summer kisses
The sun-burned hands I used to hold

Since you went away the days grow long
And soon I'll hear old winter's song

But I miss you most of all my darling
When autumn leaves start to fall

However, I'd much rather be singing "Here Comes the Sun" right now.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Oh when the Saints go marching out

I read this with amusement.
New Orleans Mayor Disparages Saints Owner for Working With San Antonio to Keep Team in Texas

NEW ORLEANS - Mayor Ray Nagin disparaged Saints owner Tom Benson on Wednesday for working with San Antonio officials to permanently keep the NFL team in Texas.

The mayor's comments came after the departures of two top Saints executives who were supportive of keeping the Saints in Louisiana. Nagin is concerned that San Antonio officials said publicly that Benson is working with them to relocate the franchise to Texas.

"We want our Saints, we may not want the owner back," Nagin said while attending the reopening of Cafe Du Monde in the French Quarter.

"I'm ready to go to the NFL and to (commissioner Paul) Tagliabue and say, 'Give us the Cleveland plan,' " Nagin added, referring to the league awarding Cleveland an expansion team almost immediately after the Browns moved to Baltimore after the 1995 season. "Whatever the Saints want to do, you let them leave, but they can't take our logo, they can't take our name, and you give us a promise to give us a franchise when this city's back."

A Saints spokesman did not return a telephone call and e-mail seeking a response to Nagin's comments.

"For them to be openly talking to other cities about moving is disrespectful to the citizens of New Orleans, disrespectful to the Saints fans who have hung in with this franchise through 30-something years under very trying times," Nagin said.

The Saints joined the NFL in 1967. In 1986, Benson was part of an ownership group that bought the team to ensure it would stay in Louisiana. Benson eventually bought out other members of the group.

During Benson's ownership, the state of Louisiana has built him a new headquarters, including spending $6.75 million for an indoor practice field in 2003. The state also has paid for repeated improvements to the Louisiana Superdome at Benson's insistence during the past two decades.

On Monday night, Benson fired Arnold Fielkow, the team's top business executive since 2000. Fielkow had overseen a 36-game sellout streak at the Superdome and negotiated an unprecedented stadium lease that called for the state to pay Benson $187 million in direct subsidies over 10 years.

But Fielkow has said he believed the Saints needed to be leaders in New Orleans' rebuilding process after Hurricane Katrina and repeatedly praised Saints fans in Louisiana as the best and most loyal in the NFL. Fielkow has since said that stance led to his dismissal....
Take this as another reason why government shouldn't spend a dime to help a private business, especially with building sports arenas. Evidently there was no contractual obligation for the Saints to stay, otherwise the mayor would be threatening litigation. Well, that's gratitude for you. I think it's deserved and even a little bit funny.

This is another critical difference between the private sector, which is very careful because it spends its own money, and government, which has no incentive to be careful as it spends other people's money. A private firm that built and kept upgrading a sports stadium would have demanded that the team sign a contract, something stipulating that the team would not leave for a minimum number of years, or that it would reimburse certain costs; something to protect the firm's investment in the stadium. Government rarely thinks of such things because it ultimately has nothing to lose; whatever is lost can be backed by "the full faith and credit" of the taxpayer's wallet. The government officials should have known better than rely on "trust," and hopefully enough voters will have the sense to hold them responsible for this. (Unfortunately they're more likely to hold officials "responsible" for not being paternalist enough in giving out aid money.)

The most important point is this: to whom do the Saints belong? Do they belong to the people of New Orleans, or to the owners? Obviously the latter, yet the former like to call them "our team." So I have a proposal: if the people of New Orleans really want the Saints to stay, then let them raise money to buy the team, or find investors with the means to take over the Saints. Then they'll have the proper authority to keep the team in New Orleans. Until then, the owners have the right to move the team.

The Saints want to move to Texas not just because they "like it" better. They have no choice because they're worried that New Orleans' economy can no longer support them. I would be greatly surprised if the NFL risked awarding a new franchise to New Orleans if/when the Saints leave. The city's population is not expected to be what it was pre-Katrina, so any football team cannot afford to stay in business with the reduced fan base, let alone in a struggling economy where far fewer fans can afford to attend games.

Mayor Nagin needs to learn that no amount of respect will keep a team solvent, and that the people of New Orleans likely lack the means to continue supporting the Saints as they have been doing.

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Thursday, October 20, 2005

Bruce Barlett: the NCPA's loss

Via Professor Bainbridge. Mr. Bartlett didn't comment, as I'd expect. Don Luskin and Larry Kudlow haven't even mentioned it, also as I'd expect. I agree wholeheartedly with Andrew Sullivan: "He has principles. His loyalty is to his ideas, not to the conservative intelligentsia's think-tank welfare-state. If I were him, I'd be delighted to be fired for dissent. It's good publicity for his book; and a sign of his integrity."

There's a reason he didn't comment to the Times or mention it in his October 19th column (which may be his most important ever). The man has too much class to start a tirade against the NCPA heads, who chose sycophancy to the Bush White House (a few weeks ago I'd have never thought I'd say anything like that) over valid criticism of presidential policies (specifically that they have betrayed the electoral base that voted him into office). If blasting the President for failing conservatives is not policy analysis from a conservative perspective, then what is?

A prominent conservative has now thundered the truth that we needed to hear. A lot of us already knew we had to hear it but didn't want to admit so:
The truth that is now dawning on many movement conservatives is that George W. Bush is not one of them and never has been. They were allies for a long time, to be sure, and conservatives used Bush just as he used them. But it now appears that they are headed for divorce. And as with all divorces, the ultimate cause was not the final incident, but the buildup of grievances over a long period that one day could no longer be overlooked, contained or smoothed over....

The Miers nomination has led to some long-overdue soul-searching among conservative intellectuals. For many, the hope of finally turning around the judiciary was worth putting up with all the big government stuff. Thus, Bush's pick of a patently unqualified crony for a critical position on the Supreme Court was the final straw.

Had George W. Bush demonstrated more fealty to conservative principles over the last five years, he might have gotten a pass on Miers. But coming on top of all the big government initiatives he has supported, few in the conservative movement are inclined to give him the benefit of a doubt any longer.
And the truth shall set us free. When he talks about "the list of grievances," I can't help but feel this is his "A Conservative's Declaration of Independence" -- from pseudo-conservative "Bushism." I agree with Professor Bainbridge, who said that nominating Harriet Miers "was the straw that broke this camel's back." I've yet to see a conservative or libertarian display any hint of sexism in criticizing her, because that's not the issue. Nor is the issue whether she's a strict constructionist like Scalia or Thomas. My misgivings (putting it mildly) are that she has been a successful private attorney and could make a fine judge, but there are so many others with better qualifications. The stories are that several possible nominees withdrew their names because they didn't want to be dragged through the mud. I can't blame them, but at the same time it tells me that George W. Bush has become afraid to fight. Some time ago, I called into a radio show that Don Luskin was on, expressing this sentiment. Whatever happened to Social Security privatization? Why isn't he using the power of the "bully pulpit" to extol how well the American economy is doing?

I grew up a Reagan Republican. In recent months, however, still caught somewhere between conservative and libertarian, I abandoned calling myself a simple "conservative." Conservatives have lost their way when it comes to limited government, and I shall not associate with them. But is my problem with conservatism, or with the conservative leaders? Rudy Giuliani believes that "freedom is about authority." Rick Santorum believes similarly, so both of them are completely wrong on the nature of freedom. Perhaps there are more conservatives like Bruce Bartlett, who are true heirs of Ronald Reagan, but I have no faith in today's conservative/Republican leaders to guide the United States toward a destiny of liberty and prosperity.

And now I find myself losing faith in George W. Bush. I have supported the President in the War on Terror (with the big exception of the Patriot Act, to which Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry would have cried out, "Tyranny! Tyranny!") I have supported the President in cutting taxes and privatizing Social Security, but the former necessitated the complement of Bush's veto pen, and the latter has evaporated. Federal spending even before Katrina has surged at its fastest pace in four decades, and the push toward Social Security privatization has failed because the American people still cling to the myth of paternalist government.

I see an upcoming split in the Republican Party, much like 1912, that will give Hillary Clinton the White House in 2008. Unless conservatives get their act together and fix this crisis of leadership that I hereby accuse President Bush of engendering, we'll be saying "Madame President" in a few years, and it won't be to Condi Rice.

"Criminals thrive on the indulgence of society's understanding."

Those were 140 minutes well-spent. I love movies of all kinds but am not a movie theatre person, so though "Batman Begins" garned a lot of great reviews, I didn't see it in the theatres. But my friend Charlie highly recommended it, and as he's a very harsh critic of any movie, it must be very good.

After I got home, I drove out to Connecticut to buy some Powerball tickets (which didn't win, so I'll have to go to work as planned). Being in the vicinity, I stopped by the Danbury Wal-Mart to pick up a few things, and I couldn't resist picking up a "Batman Begins" DVD for $15.

Not since "Spiderman 2" have I seen such a great movie. Action, comedy, the tragic romance that can't be, and a great cast. Four stars, two thumbs up. It's a far better movie than "Star Trek: Nemesis" -- although "Nemesis" wasn't as bad as I remembered. Perhaps it grew on me.

I wound up cancelling my order (for Nemesis) the same day, because estimated delivery wasn't for 10 days, and I wasn't going to pay several dollars more for faster shipping. So the day it was released, after work I took a stroll up to the Borders at Columbus Circle. For the cost of a half-hour after work, I was able to watch it that night.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Truth in reporting

I was following the story over the weekend but wasn't able to blog about it until now.

Sunday, 7:26 a.m. (Yahoo News timestamp):
Emergency Declared After Anti-Nazi Riots
Ohio Mayor Declares Emergency, Sets Curfew After White Supremacists' March Turns Violent

TOLEDO, Ohio Oct 16, 2005 — Protesters at a white supremacists' march threw rocks at police, vandalized vehicles and stores and cursed the mayor for allowing the event.

Mayor Jack Ford said when he and a local minister tried to calm the rioters Saturday, they were cursed and a masked gang member threatened to shoot him. At one point, the crowd reached 600 people, officials said.

Rioters set fire to 86-year-old Louis Ratajski's neighborhood pub, Jim & Lou's Bar, but he and his nephew escaped the flames.

"To be honest with you, there weren't enough police to take care of them," he said.

At least 65 people were arrested and several police officers were injured before calm was restored about four hours later.

Ford blamed the rioting on gangs taking advantage of a volatile situation. He declared a state of emergency, set an 8 p.m. curfew through the weekend and asked the Highway Patrol for help.

"It's exactly what they wanted," Ford said of the group that planned the march, which was canceled because of the rioting.

At least two dozen members of the National Socialist Movement, which calls itself "America's Nazi Party," had gathered at a city park to march under police protection. Organizers said they were demonstrating against black gangs they said were harassing white residents.
So it wasn't the neo-Nazis who were rioting, causing severe property damage and assaulting police officers. It was the blacks who were "protesting." Let's be perfectly honest: Mayor Ford is absolutely right that these weren't "protestors," but gang members who took advantage of the situation -- just like hoodlums took advantage in Los Angelas in 1992, after three of the police who arrested and beat Rodney King were acquitted. I was surprised to Mayor Tom Bradley admit that on TV, that the rioters weren't at all interested in justice, only their ability to use the trial as an excuse for violence.

Sunday, 3:29 p.m. (Yahoo News timestamp):
Police: Ohio Riot Was Worse Than Expected

TOLEDO, Ohio Oct 16, 2005 — Police began receiving word midweek that gangs were going to descend on a neighborhood where a riot erupted over a planned march by a white supremacist group, but the resulting disturbance was worse than expected, the police chief said Sunday....

Officers who work in the area reported that gang members were planning to turn out in force, and authorities made plans to handle any disturbances, Police Chief Mike Navarre said at a news conference Sunday morning....

Authorities want to determine why protesters turned their anger toward police after the Nazi group left, Lucas County Sheriff James Telb said. Officers wearing gas masks fired tear gas canisters and flash-bang devices designed to stun suspects, only to see the groups reform and resume throwing rocks.

People were "highly angry over the idea that someone from outside the community could come in and insult them" in their neighborhood, Mayor Jack Ford said.
Who is at all surprised that the gangs had already planned to riot? Mayor Ford gave a sensible soundbite in the first story, and a naïve one here. The rioting gang members turned on police because they could. They were already rioting because they could, using the neo-Nazi march as an excuse to unleash their inner criminal natures. The neo-Nazis could have sung "My Country 'Tis of Thee" and the gangs would have still rioted.

What really got me was this, which Yahoo News timestamped Sunday, 10:49 p.m.:
Neighbors: Neo-Nazis Had No Right to March

Much of the anger boiled over because people were upset that city leaders were willing to allow the supremacists to walk through the neighborhood and shout insults, residents and authorities said.

"You can't allow people to come challenge a whole city and not think they weren't going to strike back," said Kenneth Allen, 47, who watched the violence begin near his home.

Authorities said there was little they could do to stop the group, because they did not apply for a parade permit and instead planned to walk along sidewalks.

"They do have a right to walk on the Toledo sidewalks," said Mayor Jack Ford, who at one point confronted leaders of the mob and tried to settle them down.

A gang member in a mask threatened to shoot him, and others cursed him for allowing the march, the mayor said. He said he didn't know if the man who threatened him was actually armed, but he blamed gangs for much of the violence. The march had been called off because of the crowds, and the white supremacists had left.

If the Nazi group tries to come back, Ford said he would seek a court order to stop them.

Navarre said the riots escalated because members of the National Socialist Movement took their protest to the neighborhood, which is predominantly black, instead of a neutral place. "If this march had occurred in downtown Toledo, we wouldn't have had the unrest," he said....

"They don't have the right to bring hate to my front yard," said Terrance Anderson, who lives near a bar that was destroyed.
As Evelyn Hall of the Friends of Voltaire said, "I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

Those who wanted the neo-Nazis stopped from marching are just as intolerant as the neo-Nazis they accuse. They want freedom of speech for themselves but not for others. It reminds me of "The American President" with Michael Douglas and Annette Bening. I caught the tail end sometime this weekend, where a good point was made in the middle of ultra-leftist bunk (like making America safer by disarming peaceful citizens, and "the safety of our natural resources). If you want true freedom of speech, then you must accept that someone else has the same freedom to express things completely at odds with what you believe. Are the neo-Nazis wrong to believe what they do? Without a doubt. But if government has the power to censor them, then why do we deserve our own freedom of speech? And what is to prevent government from censoring us?

The answer is to prosecute them for actual crimes, where they violate people's life, liberty and property. But they apparently weren't causing any damage; how ironic that the police were so focused on the wrong people.

And Mayor Ford apparently caved in to racial pressure. No doubt he's seeking reelection and doesn't want to let his opponent use this issue against him. "Why should you re-elected Mayor Ford, who supports the right of neo-Nazis to march!"

Incredibly, the story doesn't end here. Via Michelle Malkin's blog, I learned that, after carrying all those AP articles to the contrary, ABC News actually blamed the rioting on the neo-Nazis:

Notice the side picture used, with all silhouettes so that newcomers to the story don't realize that the title is false:

Michelle pointed to this updated story at ABC News' website:

The side picture is still the same. Don't we all love a press that can take photos so ambiguous that they can use them for something different?

The true cost of privatizing public lands

Last night I discussed the true cost of communities trying to "preserve" open space from development. Over the weekend, I read this article along the same lines. Like most news items, there's never any attempt to hide the liberal bias: the stupid insinuation is that the land is being sold too cheaply.
Colorado Residents Challenge Mining Laws

Colorado Residents Challenge Antiquated Mining Laws That Allow Government to Sell Public Land

CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. - The ruddy slopes of 12,392-foot Mount Emmons loom over this town, drawing hikers, backcountry skiers and snowshoers. But to residents such as Jim Starr, they also stand for what is wrong with the nation's antiquated mining laws.

Those laws allowed the Bush administration to sell 155 acres of public land on the "Red Lady" to a mining company for less than $900. The land has deposits of molybdenum, a gray metal used to make steel, alloys and lubricants.

"It's a huge threat. If anyone did put a mine in there, it's hard to imagine that it would not destroy this area," said Starr, a lawyer and Democratic chairman of Gunnison County's board of commissioners.

The sale was made possible by an 1872 mining law that lets the government sell, for just $2.50 or $5 an acre, public lands that contain minerals. This land sale, known as a patent, gives companies absolute title to the property.

Since October 1994, Congress has voted each year to renew a temporary ban that prevents companies from submitting new patent applications to buy more government land at rock-bottom prices.

That left the Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management with 405 applications it had received before October 1994. Those applications came from companies looking to buy land managed by the BLM and the Forest Service.

John Leshy, who approved 68 of those patents as the Interior Department's top lawyer during the Clinton administration, said the law requires the government to give land away needlessly.

"The mining law was a cover for getting the land for non-mining purposes like hunting, fishing, brothels or a saloon. I don't think people need incentives to settle the West any longer," said Leshy, a University of California law professor and author of "The Mining Law."

The Bush administration and Congress have made a push to approve the remaining applications approximately 200 that were unresolved when President Bush took office. Under the Bush administration, 139 were approved and 50 remain to be considered.

The BLM's deputy director, Jim Hughes, said the patents convey property rights, but not a free pass to disregard environmental laws. He said private investment, mostly in the rural West, provides good jobs, but acknowledged that some oppose mining because of legitimate aesthetic values.

"As always, the BLM is sort of caught between the two and we have to make decisions on those competing interests," he said. "At the end of the day, we are told to follow the law. It's not an easy choice."

Getting a patent is not easy. Slightly more than one-third of the 405 applications were withdrawn or rejected by the Bush and Clinton administrations, often for lack of supporting paperwork.

Companies have to convince the Interior Department that the land has a valuable mineral deposit and it can be mined at a profit. Department officials say companies typically spend about $10,000 to $15,000 per acre trying to document that it is economically viable to mine there.

Once a patent is granted, officials say, the law does not let them challenge a company if it drops its plan to mine at a site that could be resold as valuable real estate.

The department acknowledges cases in which lands that companies had patented for mining were used for private, commercial development, such as at the ski resorts of Aspen, Breckendridge, Keystone and Telluride in Colorado and Park City in Utah.

At Keystone, developers fetched $11,000 an acre in 1989 selling off more than one-quarter of the 160 acres the government had sold. The land was never mined.

In Arizona, a Phoenix luxury hotel sits on 61 acres, part of an area that a businessman patented in 1970 for $153. He sold it to a developer for $400,000, plus a 1 percent share in future profits.

Congress has made numerous efforts to change the law, and not even the National Mining Association is a vigorous defender. Spokeswoman Carol Raulston said the trade group would support updating the law so companies pay "fair market value" for patents....

The remaining applications, mostly in Nevada, Arizona, California and Montana, involve selling 71 square miles of federal land in 11 states for just $130,000, according to Westerners for Responsible Mining, a coalition of 12 state and national conservation groups.

The lands' real value is $178 million, the coalition has estimated, based on figures from local assessors and real estate agents. Some $85 million of that total is in just one parcel 3,000 acres near Arizona's popular Roosevelt Lake that could be sold for $8,500, the coalition said.

Other patents, the coalition said, would allow the sale of 995 acres of California's Inyo National Forest, worth $7.5 million, for $3,100; 673 acres of California's Mojave National Preserve, worth up to $1 million, for $2,300; and 100 acres of Washington state's Mount Baker National Forest, worth up to $937,000, for $470....
It naturally seems like a great deal for me if you will sell me something for $5 that I value at $10,000. But what if you require that I spend $9996 to prove that it suits my needs? Then it's obviously not that good a deal. The official purchase price on accounting ledgers may be $5, but the actual, true cost to me, the buyer, is $10,001. [Corrected - you may have noticed my numbers were off. I changed the actual buying price but forgot to adjust the others accordingly.]

This is a form of what public choice economics calls rent-seeking, which is usually to lobby for special government favors. In this case, companies have no choice, because lobbying groups (like environmentalists) have successfully raised the cost of doing business with the government. Their goal is a selfish one: they want to abuse the power of government to deny jobs and resources to other people. They want their vistas for free, when others are willing to invest money in operations that will create jobs and extract valuable minerals.

If environmentalists want to preserve a piece of land, then let them offer a fair market price themselves. As the direct owners, they wouldn't have to let anyone come on the land, let alone use it. But environmentalists don't want to do this, because they'd actually have to put up their own money. Ted Turner has the wealth to buy a lot of these lands, but like all environmentalists, he prefers lobbying government because that's spending just pennies on the dollar.

What I found particularly hypocritical is that the person giving the first soundbite complained about the effects of mining, but the rest of the article claims that companies buy the land to develop commercially, not to mine. So which is it? It's either, because the environmentalists will use any excuse to block people from offering government a fair market price for unused land that isn't doing anyone any good.

In the middle of its environmentalist rhetoric, the article admits how "companies typically spend about $10,000 to $15,000 per acre" basically to prove how much they can use the land. So the first example of 155 acres for under $900 is not costing the buyer about $5.80 per acre, but more like (using the lower figure) $10,005.80 per acre -- more than $1.55 million total. If the geologists, geophysicists and other experts are very expensive to hire, and the company spends $15,000 per acre, then the total cost is over $2.3 million.

Developers at Keystone sold "more than one-quarter of the 160 acres" that they bought from the government. But at $11,000 per acre, after factoring in what they would have paid before they could buy the land, they could have easily sold it at a loss. In fact, if selling the land was such a quick and large profit, why did they sell only a fourth, and not all?

The businessman who sold his 61 acres in Phoenix for $400,000 made only $6557 per acre. The article doesn't say when he sold it, but it doesn't sound like it was immediate. So besides the fact that he would have spent a lot of money, even in 1970, to demonstrate how well he could use the land, he would have spent additional money maintaining the land over the years.

The article mentions "71 square miles of federal land in 11 states for just $130,000"; 71 square miles is a hair under 45440 acres. If someone spends $10,000 per acre, then the total cost to buy it is $454 million. So the "coalition" is grossly underestimating things when reckoning the land's value at $178 million. The same goes for Inyo National Forest: 995 acres worth $7.5 million, but possibly costing the buyer $9.95 million in proving mining potential. Mojave National Preserve: 673 acres worth $1 million, but possibly costing the buyer $6.73 million. Mount Baker National Forest: 100 acres worth $937,000, but possibly costing the buyer $1 million.

Like the environmentalist extremists I discussed last night, these other preservationists fail to calculate the full cost. They probably think that it benefits society to require teams of experts to study and evaluate the land, because it will create jobs. This is the biggest Keynesian fallacy: creating jobs for the sake of having jobs. If the experts were necessary, and certainly some are, the companies would have hired them regardless of government regulations stipulated.

Forcing companies to hire people they don't need to hire, before the companies can buy the land, is nothing more than wasting money that could have gone to other endeavors. We might as well require people to hire an attorney at least twice a year for some litigation. That will at least provide good-paying jobs for attorneys, right? Wrong, Bastiat would tell us. His famous "Candlemakers' Petition" was all about the fallacy of domestic protectionism, and requiring certain actions to create or preserve certain jobs. It's not just a transfer of spending, but a diversion from what the free market would have deemed efficient spending to unnecessary, wasteful expenditures.

But we're really dancing around the issue: government shouldn't be bothering with these lands at all. Government should absolutely sell them off, if anything so that taxpayers' money isn't continually feeding the bureaucracy that monitors the lands. This is one thing Doug Bandow advocated last August at the Foundation for Economic Education. Untold sums have been wasted building roads on public lands, because the fees collected aren't enough. A private company, on the other hand, wouldn't have spent the money unless it calculated it would be worthwhile. So it's clearly better that government wash our hands of most public lands and sell them to those who bid the most (i.e. value them the most). Or as Andrew Jackson wrote in his letter to Congress explaining why he vetoed the bill to renew the Bank of the United States' charter:
It is not conceivable how the present stockholders can have any claim to the special favor of the Government. The present corporation has enjoyed its monopoly during the period stipulated in the original contract. If we must have such a corporation, why should not the Government sell out the whole stock and thus secure to the people the full market value of the privileges granted?
I told Dr. David Gilmartin, a regular at FEE with whom I talk at length, that for an uneducated, self-taught lawyer from the backwoods, Jackson knew his economics. Dr. Gilmartin hypothesized that Jackson learned from Jefferson's writings, and Jefferson in turn learned from Jean-Baptiste Say.

Until Jackson stopped it, investors (both foreign and domestic) made fortunes through the Bank of the United States. It is no different today when ranchers, loggers, etc., earn money by harvesting resources on public lands. Both are at the taxpayers' expense, so it's best to sell the land (letting companies bid against each other, which will eventually demonstrate the land's truth value) and let private companies truly earn their money.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Photo hunting

Yesterday I went to lunch with a couple of friends, to a little Cuban restaurant on 47th Street. Not that great: for $9 I expect more meat and not 90% rice. I think I'll stick to Yips on 52nd Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. Very good Chinese food, and good-sized portions for $6 or so.

So today was my first opportunity since last week's heavy rains to walk around Central Park during lunchtime. Armed with my new camera, I scouted for some good shots. (Caution: fairly large images which may take a bit to load, depending on your connection.)

This is the pond at the southeast corner.

The local ducks were very happy. A nice lady was feeding them a type of seed meant for wild birds.

"Let's make waves!"

I was able to get a fairly close shot of a sparrow.

For a while I was trying to get a front shot of this squirrel. Finally he turned tail and ran (pun intended) into this flower bush.

His friend was just as elusive, but I got a slightly blurry one of him in action.