Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The wrong way to fight AIDS

I sighed deeply when coming across this article that talks about "faith-based groups" getting a fourth of the $15 billion that President Bush wants to spend combatting AIDS. The implication is that Bush is a right-wing religious extremist who's giving money to unqualified "conservative Christian allies." It's a stupid claim, especially when the real issue is that President Bush, Congress and the rest of the federal government have no Constitutional authority to spend that $15 billion that way.

It's not the place of the federal government to combat AIDS or any other disease. Congress, under Article I, Section 9 of the Constitution, doesn't have the authority to suspend the Writ of Habeas Corpus even for quarantining an outbreak -- that power is specifically limited to "Cases of Rebellion and Invasion." State constitutions and laws may have provisions for quarantines, but the point here is that the federal government, like with the vast majority of its spending, has no Constitutional basis for this action.

A few things really stood out:
"You have community organizations, some that have operated for decades, asking for money and you have lots of new organizations popping up," said Sarah Lucas, a development assistance expert who recently toured four countries on the U.S. target list for HIV/AIDS grants.
Naturally! Were you to give out a little money to a few children in Manila slums, you'd quickly see ten times more appear out of nowhere. Similarly, when the government is giving out other people's money, don't be surprised when new "philanthropists" start new groups to get their own piece of the action.
The U.S. government provided more than 560 million condoms abroad last year, compared with some 350 million in 2001.

Condom promotion to anyone must include abstinence and fidelity messages, U.S. guidelines say, but those preaching abstinence do not have to provide condom education.
After over two decades, abstinence and sexual fidelity remain the only guaranteed ways to not get AIDS (speaking strictly of sexual contact, not drug use or contamination). While condoms can greatly reduce the risk, even if they are used properly, there is still some risk.
Six congressional Democrats, in a letter last week to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, accused the conservatives of a distortion campaign that undermines a balanced approach to fighting AIDS.

"Their attack is based on a narrow, ideological viewpoint that condemns condoms and frames any attempt to reach out to high-risk populations as an endorsement of behaviors that these critics oppose," said Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif.
The problem with focusing on HIV/AIDS and condoms is that it ignores other sexually transmitted diseases, especially those that spread regardless of condom use. We might reduce HIV rates, but we could see a huge jump in human papillomavirus (HPV) cases, especially strains that cause cervical cancer.

Monday, January 30, 2006

In Chavez's footsteps

This news article talks about Bolivia's new leader, Evo Morales, the challenges he faces, the promises he's made, and the hope I fear he is certain to squander. He's walking in the footsteps of Hugo Chavez:
[Bolivia] is one of South America's poorest nations. Officials are corrupt, roads are crumbling. Hospitals are decrepit. Racism against the Indian majority is severe.

Still, Bolivians have a big reason for renewed hope: The nation's proven natural gas reserves have increased substantially in recent years, giving it Latin America's second-largest supply after Venezuela.

Morales, the country's first Indian president, promises to harness that wealth to help all Bolivians by asserting more control over the profits and negotiating higher sale prices.

Bolivians also proudly tell visitors that their small, landlocked country is rich in petroleum, tin, tropical lumber and gold.

Yet the country's problems are so profound that Morales may find it hard to decide where to start.

Paving roads that become impassable quagmires each rainy season would help give the rural poor access to markets, education and services.

Or would the meager budget, sustained largely by foreign aid, be better spent fighting the disease and malnutrition that robs each generation of its human potential? What about eradicating the vast trade in contraband goods that leaves the government with pathetically low revenues?

Bolivia's central bank reserves are a paltry $1.6 billion about what the Tommy Hilfiger fashion company sold for last month. Bolivia's annual gross domestic product of $8.8 billion is what Americans spent shopping online two Christmas seasons ago.

Bolivians are so poor that Morales felt he needed to slash his salary this week to stay close to his roots. His new monthly paycheck 15,000 bolivianos, about $1,700 is still an excellent Bolivian wage, but it also is the official poverty level for a U.S. family of four this year.

More than two-thirds of the 8.5 million Bolivians live in extreme poverty. On average, they live until 64[,] 13 years less than people living in America.

At the emergency room of a public hospital in La Paz, the staff is overwhelmed by the crush of patients. Indian women bring blankets and soup to children lying listlessly on old metal beds. A woman shrieks in pain behind a dingy plastic curtain.

"I need medicine but it's too expensive," said Isabel Arce, a 23-year-old maid and Morales supporter who can't afford $5 for a prescription her husband needs for a skin allergy. "I hope he can change things."

In Bolivia's capital, boys as young as 5 roam the streets offering to shine shoes for one boliviano about 13 cents. Most wear ski masks for fear of being stigmatized later. Many end up homeless and sniffing glue....

Lawyer Ana Maria Balderrama lost a day of work waiting for her birth certificate.

"All these certificates are written out by hand, and it should all be computerized," she complained. "This is totally unjust."

Many people blame their poverty on foreign companies and corrupt politicians, accusing them of absconding with the country's riches just as the Spaniards did in colonial times.

Others argue that Bolivia's economy is too dependent on extracting natural resources and needs to diversify by building up other industries such as agriculture and textiles.

Whatever the reason, many Bolivians remain skeptical of politicians, including Morales. They look instead to figures like Ekeko, a chubby, mustachioed Indian figure revered in Bolivia as the god of prosperity.

A few days after his Jan. 22 inauguration, Morales officially opened the Indian festival of Alasitas, ushering in thousands of working-class Bolivians who made offerings to Ekeko in hopes of a lucky break.

People snapped up miniature houses, tractors and sport utility vehicles, wads of tiny fake $100 bills, and miniature bricks, wheelbarrows and power tools to build their homes. Ekeko, they pray, will make the trinkets grow to full-size in the coming year....
Bolivia's natural wealth has such potential to alleviate its poverty, but attempts to capitalize on it will be futile while Morales or any other socialist is in power. Without well-defined property rights, Bolivia will become just like Venezuela: rich mineral wealth, but increasing poverty because of a socialist government.

Morales promised this and that to Bolivia's poor, just like with Mexico's Manuel Obrador. Now that he got elected by essentially bribing enough of the voters, how will he fulfill his promises? Does he think that wasting money on a superstitious festival, which has no chance of hope, will do anything, or is he hoping it and his "anti-imperialism" rhetoric will be enough of a smokescreen? I cannot fathom how the people producing trinkets don't realize they'd have been better off producing things of practical value, because their society just doesn't have the wealth to squander.

By 2000, nearly half of Venezuelans lived in poverty, according to the World Bank. Despite all the oil wealth, poverty during Chavez's six years has increased about ten percent, so over half of Venezuelans now live in poverty. Is this the same fate that awaits Bolivians, over two thirds of whom live in extreme poverty? Are Morales' supporters really so out of their minds that they believe tiny representations will become the real thing? It's a madness far worse than counting on the lotto to solve your financial problems.

If Morales is really as socialist in policy as he appears, no one will want to do business in Bolivia. He must stop alienating wealthy countries, and he must negotiate free-trade agreements so that Bolivia can attract foreign investment. Yes, foreign investment means that foreigners will extract Bolivia's natural resources for other countries, but at least Bolivians will be earning money. Of what use are all those natural gas deposits if Bolivians are too poor to develop them themselves?

Some changes in Venezuelans' beliefs are also necessary. The quoted lawyer thinks it's "unjust" that her country isn't more computerized. Does she not see that a poor country simply won't have the resources to modernize itself? What does she think should be done, and does she buy into the myth of imperalist Westerners stealing Bolivia's wealth? I hope that, if anything, she sees the ineffectiveness and waste of Western countries' foreign aid.

What really got my attention was the mention of shoe-shine boys who wear ski masks. A little search engine query confirmed that they really do wear ski masks so they can't be recognized: it's a permanent stigma that can haunt them later when trying to get a real job. What kind of a society places a stigma on young boys trying to earn a little money? Why should they fear being recognized, when all they're trying to do is perform honest labor?

"I am implementing the law."

Just after the trial resumed after over a month's postponement, Saddam Hussein was escorted out of the courtroom, and his defense team followed in "protest."

The new judge isn't letting Saddam get away with anything. Saddam said, "For 35 years I led you, and you say, 'Eject him?'" The new judge, Abdel-Rahman, told him, "I am a judge and you are a defendant. And you have violated order in the court. I am implementing the law." I'm sure many judges in the U.S. could learn from this. One that comes to mind is a county judge who had unlawfully threatened to jail me for 15 days. He and his clerk lied: at no time did I ever yell at her, let alone speak to either of them disrespectfully. I later learned he had a secret friendship with my opponent, which is why that scumbucket got a postponement for unspecified reasons, and why my legitimate request for a postponement garnered me a threat of summary judgment if I didn't appear.

Saddam is one of the most disrespectful defendants in history, if not the most. Our friend Capital Freedom pointed out the other day that he wants to sue Bush and Tony Blair in the International Criminal Court. Maybe he realized that attempt to appear insane didn't work, so he's trying even harder to disrupt the court proceedings and provoke a mistrial?

And Ramsey Clark needs to get his logic straight. The only reason "the court [was] seated without the defendants' counsel of choice" is because the defense lawyers left voluntarily in protest.

Why should you need the government's permission?

When government kills people

The FDA has now approved inhalable insulin. It sounds really cool -- I'm talking about the new form of insulin, not the government's approval. There's a great potential to save many lives, because so many patients (I was shocked) didn't want to inject themselves. If anything, I'm sure inhalable insulin will be of great comfort to children who, as I can attest from personal experience (running in terror out of a doctor's office at 5 years old), are often afraid of needles.

Why should any government agency have the power to forbid people to take medicine that could save their lives? Don Ho had to travel to Thailand to undergo a "risky" procedure that strengthened his heart muscle with his own stem cells. The FDA has yet to approve it, and Ho could have well died before government bureaucrats did. As I said before, the state essentiall tells people, "You'll just have to die. We won't let you take this stuff, because it could kill you."

Update: conversely, as I wrote last Tuesday, eleven federal bureaucrats at the FDA are using their power to effectively ban propellant-based inhalers, like Primatene Mist. This affects millions of asthma patients, who must now pay more money (and go through greater inconvenience) to get prescription inhalers. Doctors, of course, love the extra business.

The people who oppose the personal choice to accept risk are the state-worshippers who fallaciously believe government can (not just should) eliminate risk from our lives, like Paul Krugman, who recently said:
...it's neither fair not realistic to expect ordinary citizens to have enough medical expertise to make life-or-death decisions about their own treatment. A well-known experiment with alternative health schemes, carried out by the RAND Corporation, found that when individuals pay a higher share of medical costs out of pocket, they cut back on necessary as well as unnecessary health spending.
(Quote courtesy of Don Luskin.)

The underlying issue isn't whether people have medical expertise: it's whether they have the right to choose. People do tend to make rational decisions. Not always correctly, granted, but that is not mutually exclusive with rational decision-making. If it weren't for the nanny state's bureaucratic mazes to "protect" us, people would revert back to their natural tendency of being careful about a new product. As a medicine's potential health hazards increase, people will more closely scrutinize whether it's worthwhile. The proper role of government is not to approve or ban these substances, but to provide remedies for families who were defrauded or injured. The latter includes criminal negligence.

Isn't government's approval better, though, so that one person doesn't die from dangerous medicine or a risky procedure? Hardly, because more people might suffer and die because their access to the medicine was delayed, not even denied. As I recounted in my entry about Ho, my father chose to use some possibly deadly "clot-buster" drugs after his stroke. They saved his life, but how many more lives could have been saved if previous patients had had my father's choice? Furthermore, the free market provides incentives and remedies. People will tend to avoid risky new medicines that were not carefully tested, and they will judge the risk based on their personal perception of how much they have to lose. On the other hand, it's in companies' interest to test medicines thoroughly, and not just because of product liability suits, but because testing makes the product more attractive.

And by the way, Paul, do you think that "when individuals pay a higher share...they cut back" is a novel economic principle? Perhaps that's something that originated only after the mean Republicans supposedly started trying to take away health care from people. I thought it was elementary microeconomics, and of course Milton Friedman's great principle, that when people can no longer spend other people's money on themselves, they'll naturally spend less. And as a matter of consumer preference, "necessary" is purely a matter of personal choice. By definition, the people made the decision that the treatment is less necessary than the money they could have spent on it.

I really can't bring myself to believe Krugman ignores such basic micro, so we can only presume it's part of his old game: tax "the rich" to give social services to everyone else. He forgets that the wealth of "rich people" does spread throughout the economy. I cannot say often enough that Bastiat was so right, that government spending means depriving the private sector of that same spending, so there is no net economic benefit. If government spends $100 so someone has health care, that's $100 less that would have been spent on landscapers' salaries, waiters' tips, etc. -- now that is a zero-sum game, unlike Krugman's myth that people get rich at the expense of others. Worse, higher taxes (like the 1990 luxury tax) tend to backfire and discourage the wealthy from earning and spending as much, so there is less revenue for the welfare state, encouraging it to raise taxes even more.


More infringement of property rights

Washington state lawmakers approved "civil rights legislation" that forces private property owners to allow others to use the property in ways against the owners' wishes. As this AP article notes, "First introduced in the 1970s, the measure adds 'sexual orientation' to a state law that bans discrimination in housing, employment and insurance, making Washington the 17th state passing a law covering gays and lesbians. It is the seventh to protect transgender people."

I wrote last March in "The non-issue of gay marriage" that I see it in terms of private property rights. If a landlord doesn't want to rent to a certain couple, and if an employer doesn't want to extend "spousal benefits" to an unmarried partner (gay or straight), then as the property owners, it is their right to refuse.
When gays and lesbians get civil marriages, they can use that government sanction to force a private company to give them the same benefits as heterosexual married couples. When government uses its power of law to compel a private company to give spousal benefits to someone it had heretofore deemed unqualified, that's an infringement on the company owner's/owners' property rights. The right to private property must necessarily include the right to prevent anyone you want, for any reason or even no reason at all, from not using it. (Even if I'm not an owner or part-owner of any affected company, it can affect me as a customer of that company.) Some say it's morally wrong for a company to deny such benefits based on a "lifestyle choice." No, I say the moral wrong is when government forces the company to dispose of its private property as the government dictates, when the company is not violating the rights of others. It is not your "right" to be employed anywhere by anyone, nor to demand a certain level of compensation for your work that exceeds what the company deems you are worth.
If we're talking about property issues like common ownership (from real estate to bank accounts) and inheritance, a formal contract should more than suffice. It should be irrelevant whether people are heterosexual couples (married or unmarried), homosexual couples (married or unmarried), or unmarried platonic friends living together for life. However, "gay marriage" activists seek the passage of new laws not for "civil rights" or "equality," but so they can force conditions upon unwilling property owners.

I like a certain suggestion I recently read, via Maggie Gallagher's e-mail newsletter: privatize marriage. I'm a Christian and considered very conservative, but I say it's time for the state to get out of the marriage business. If anything, why should people apply for a marriage license? Yes, it's a source of tax revenue, but a "license" is fundamentally asking the state for permission to engage in a purely private endeavors. I wrote last June on how municipalities require licenses not just to build or expand homes, but to demolish them, and the lengths to which government thugs and neighborhood busybodies go to harass homeowners.

We would have far fewer headaches, and far more real social justice, if only the state stopped defining marriage, if it stopped requiring licenses for when someone wanted to open a business or when two people wanted to enter into their own marriage contract, and if it let property owners actually retain the right to use their property as they see fit (without harming others, and that does not include refusing to let others use the property).

Sunday, January 29, 2006

The right to refuse to work means you should be fired

(Actually I should rephrase the title. Exercising the right to refuse to work means you should be fired.)

Here's another example of where well-defined property rights would save everyone a lot of headaches.
Pharmacists Sue Over Birth Control Policy

EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. Jan 28, 2006 — Four pharmacists who refused to sign a pledge promising to dispense the morning-after birth-control pill sued Walgreen drug stores Friday, alleging they were illegally fired.

The lawsuits accuse Walgreen Co. of violating the Illinois Health Care Right of Conscience Act. The pharmacists were being represented by the American Center for Law and Justice, a public-interest group founded by evangelist Pat Robertson.

A new state rule requires pharmacies that sell federally approved contraceptives to fill prescriptions for emergency birth control "without delay" if they have the medication in stock. The rule is being challenged in federal court.

In response to the rule, Deerfield-based Walgreen asked pharmacists to pledge in writing that they would fill prescriptions for contraceptives such as the morning-after pill. The plaintiffs were suspended indefinitely without pay when they refused to sign the pledge in November.

"It couldn't be any clearer," said ACLJ senior counsel Francis J. Manion. "In punishing these pharmacists for asserting a right protected by the Conscience Act, Walgreens broke the law."

Walgreen spokesman Michael Polzin said the company needed to ensure that its stores would comply with the new regulations regarding the dispensing of emergency contraceptives.

"We are required to follow the law. We don't have a choice in the matter," he said.
It couldn't be any clearer that if the state of Illinois didn't force companies to employ people who won't do the job (whose performance does not violate anyone's life, liberty or property), we wouldn't have this mess.

The simple solution: let a pharmacy establish and follow its own policy on selling contraceptives. If it wants to fill such prescriptions, then it should have the right to refuse to hire pharmacists who won't fill them (and fire any existing employees who refuse). The pharmacists are always free to work somewhere else that won't fill those prescriptions, or establish their own drugstore and make their own policies. There is no reason whatsoever for any level of government to get involved.

The product in question is completely irrelevant. The real issue is the employer's rights as a property owner -- more fundamentally, the principle of whether someone can force a private property owner to use the property in ways the owner does not want. Instead of fulfilling the qualities their employer desires, these pharmacists are trying to use government's power to maintain their employment, though in fact they are refusing to do part of their job. I've discussed this before in relation to "smoker's rights."

Such refusal is called "insubordination" at many companies and often leads to termination. Would it go over well with my boss if I began refusing to make photocopies, because our paper's recycled content being below 100% violates my "environmental sensibilities"?

Moonbats in love

Cindy Sheehan, who's crazy (or stupid?) enough to think she has a snowball's chance against Dianne Feinstein, is now pretty close to Hugo Chavez (photo from the AP/ABC News):
Chavez Backs Sheehan Plan for Bush Protest

CARACAS, Venezuela - Cindy Sheehan, the peace activist who just announced that she is weighing a run for Senate, plans to protest again outside President Bush's Texas ranch, Venezuela's president said Sunday with Sheehan by his side.

Hugo Chavez, his arm around Sheehan's shoulders, told a group of activists that Sheehan had told him that during Holy Week, in April, "she is going to put up her tent again in front of Mr. Danger's ranch."

"She invited me to put up a tent. Maybe I'll put up my tent also," Chavez said, to applause from an audience invited to his weekly broadcast on the final day of the World Social Forum, an annual gathering of anti-war and anti-globalization activists.

Sheehan, whose 24-year-old soldier son, Casey, was killed in Iraq in 2004, thanked Chavez for "supporting life and peace" and she was impressed by his sincerity.

"He said, 'Why don't I run for president?'" she said. "I just laughed." ...

On Sunday, when Chavez passed the microphone to Sheehan on his show, she blamed Bush for the killings of innocents in Iraq.

Noting that the singer and activist Harry Belafonte recently called Bush "the greatest terrorist in the world" on Chavez's show, Sheehan said: "I agree with him."

Chavez said his government would help protest the war in Iraq by supporting a drive to gather petitions and delivering them to the U.S. Embassy in Caracas. Chavez, who before the war in Iraq had friendly relations with Saddam Hussein, has been a frequent and strident critic of the war.
Sheehan didn't even have 15 minutes last year, because very few people outside the mainstream media actually gave a damn. Now the woman is trying to get her name back in the spotlight by announcing a candidacy for the U.S. Senate, whose staffers will be calling nightly upon St. Jude (the patron saint of lost causes). And if that weren't enough, she's now getting cozy with the Venezuelan leader whose economic policies have only exacerbated the country's poverty.

Ward Churchill and Bill Maher seemed perfect for each other, and similarly, Cindy Sheehan and Hugo Chavez appear to make a fine couple. For a couple of socialists, what could be a more romantic setting than the World Social Forum, also known as "a gathering of moonbats"?

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Hardly something France should be proud of

Few things make me laugh in scorn as this article did:
Amour Rules in France but Weddings Don't

PARIS - France may still be the land of love. But the country's traditional tableau of marriage and the baby carriage has changed dramatically in three decades, according to a parliamentary report released Friday.

Nearly half of children are now born out of wedlock, and the marriage rate is down 27 percent compared to 1970 prompting calls for reform of France's widely used civil unions.

And yet, there's a baby boom. With 1.94 children born to the average woman, France has the highest birth rate in the European Union after Ireland's 1.99, according to 2005 demographic figures released last week. The European average is 1.5 babies per woman.

The glossy French magazine Paris Match devoted its cover this week to the high birth rate, with a photo of French actress Judith Godreche ("The Spanish Apartment") holding her diaper-clad baby under the headline "France, champion of births."
So France is actually second, but it still calls itself the "champion." Maybe that's a mindset left over from surrendering to Nazi Germany.

The article supplies no previous data, so how can it claim a "baby boom"? According to World Bank statistics, France's per-woman childbirth has been 1.9 since the year 2000. Is the French parliament really claiming an increase of 0.04 births (meaning one in every 25 French women has one more baby during her lifetime) as a "baby boom"?

What is far more significant is this report from INED, which states, "Chaque année, la France compte 200 000 naissances de plus que de décès, alors que le solde migratoire (la différence entre les entrées et les sorties de migrants) est estimé aux alentours de 65 000 personnes." Translated, if you can depend on my poor French and well-worn Putnam's dictionary: "Each year, France counts 200,000 more births than deaths, and in that time the balance of migration (the difference between the entries and the exits of migrants) is estimated at around 65,000 people."

A mere 200,000 births per year, compared to a population of over 60 million, is a meager 0.3% increase in the population. Compare that to the United States' 0.6% rate of natural population growth, and it's easy to see why France (and indeed much of Europe that also has low birthrates) has become so dependent on immigrants to supplement the ageing labor pool. It's expected that France, Germany, Russia (especially Russia) will have outright population declines by the first half of this century, so someone will have to do the work that there aren't enough French to do.

Ireland's fertility rate is only 1.94, not enough to replace the parents, but at least it has a far friendlier tax climate that's luring major multi-national corporations, like Intel. The jobs being created are top ones by the like of Intel and Dell, high-paying jobs in the manufacture of things like the latest CPUs and full, finished computers -- not the low-grade mass-production jobs that go to China and India.

As for the United States' fertility rate of 2.1, that's nothing to be proud of; it's just barely above population replacement. This country has a long way to go insofar as Social Security reform (preferably elimination) and tax reform, but when you look at French policies that stagnate its economy, like the 35-hour work week and subsidizing unprofitable winemakers, it's clearly in far deeper merde than the United States.

The rest of the article attempts to answer why France's marriage rate is declining, and I presume it's correct to point toward the ease of obtaining civil unions. However, the real issue is low birthrates, and not just in France. The average age of getting married is rising in many Western countries, even when counting only first trips down the aisle (so that multiple marriages don't skew things). More young people are choosing to postpone walking down the aisle in favor of more education, perhaps more freedom. Also, more women are choosing to work, rather than in antecedent decades when they would have exited the workforce (often permanently) to have children.

Note that I'm not advocating that women leave the workforce to bear children, or that younger people forsake other things to have children earlier. It's their freedom to do what they would like. I'm merely observing their preference and its effects on demographics and economy. Similarly, an economy in which people do not save "enough" will grow at a slower rate than one where people save an optimal amount for business investment -- but what is "enough" is something beyond the ability of government to calculate.

Ultimately, any government policies (like cash subsidies in Australia and parts of Italy) will fail, whether they attempt to encourage more births, higher savings, higher agricultural output, higher anything. Such policies are doomed because they skew what are fundamentally consumer preferences. As Friedrich Hayek pointed out in his essay "The Use of Knowledge in Society," bureaucrats do not have perfect information. They therefore cannot judge if (let alone the optimal levels) a population is saving "enough" for optimal growth, if people are having enough children, or if the economy is producing enough of a particular commodity. Only the free market can determine such things.

It is true that demographic shifts are hard for most people to perceive, because they're spread out over decades, rather than months or a couple of years (like the lag time of interest rates rising and falling naturally). Nonetheless, what can government do to alleviate population decline? With the vast amount of information available today, if people are not intelligent enough to listen to warnings, they will be encouraged by politicians but for all the wrong reasons. Bastiat would remind us that government spending necessarily deprives the private sector of that spending, so there is no increase. Thus when government pushes, it necessarily pulls something else at the same time. At best, an Italian town giving money for a woman to give birth means taxing -- depriving -- someone else of that money, which would have been spent in other ways (which also produces a disincentive for the taxed to earn as much money). At worst, it means inflation, if the central bank simply prints more money.

Something to consider is that many Western governments actually discourage childbirth by guaranteeing old age pensions. Before the paternalist state that blossomed in the early 20th century, a big reason for people to have more children was so they could depend on them in retirement. My father once questioned why children should feel at all obligated to support their aged parents. After he died, I learned he came to that because of his own father.

Well, children shouldn't feel like they have that responsibility, no matter what their parents do. My father, who was certainly not Judeo-Christian, nonetheless loved to tell me, "Honor thy father and thy mother." Yet, as St. Paul clarified in Ephesians 6:1-4, there is a mirror obligation:
Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right.

Honour thy father and mother; which is the first commandment with promise;

That it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth.

And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
I personally find it's a marvelous incentive to be good to your children, so that they won't become so embittered and abandon you in your old age. But today, children abandon even the best of parents -- abandon them to the state, which has promised the unsustainable Ponzi scheme of Social Security.


Friday, January 27, 2006

Voting for terrorists

I was premature last night. Hamas didn't just win a large number of seats in the Palestinian election: they won a majority. Election results so far are that Hamas candidates won 72 out of 136 seats.

Israel will rightfully refuse to work with a Hamas-led government, and the United States will not recognize a Palestinian government led by terrorists. So is the Mideast peace process dead? I never though it was ever alive. Whether dominated by Arafat (may he roast in hell), Abbas or Hamas, the Palestinian leadership has yet to make the single gesture that will start real peace: sincere recognition of Israel's right to exist. Arafat, ridiculously awarded the Nobel Prize for talking peace in English, still called for Israel's destruction in Arabic. Abbas never addressed that issue, instead secretly depending on suicide bombers continuing to murder innocent Israelis, and Sharon's foolish belief that withdrawing from "occupied territories" would do anything.

Anwar Sadat wanted sincere peace with Israel, and look at the gratitude that some his fellow Muslims showed.

Like I've said before, people fully deserve the candidates they elect. The Palestinian people are worthy of murderous thugs who will promise everything, yet prove to be as corrupt, as tyrannical as anyone else. The only difference is that Hamas admits it's a gang of terrorists and Holocaust deniers. Arafat, Abbas and others lied through their teeth.

I completely disagree with Jonah Goldberg, who said: "These were free elections and Fatah appears to be honoring their result. That is a huge victory for democracy and shouldn't be downplayed.... The silver lining (see point 1) is that there is now democratic accountability or, more accurately, a precedent for accountability." Really? Just like when German voters gave the Nazis a plurality in the Reichstag in July 1932? Weren't those free elections too, and thus a "huge victory for democracy"?

Good elections are always free, but that does not mean free elections are always good. Results do matter.

Goldberg is mostly correct further on: "Cut off from foreign aid -- hopefully -- Hamas may prove themselves incapable of governing. Meanwhile, Fatah can use some time in the wilderness, away from the purse strings, in order to separate out the purely corrupt from the incidentally corrupt, the kleptocrats from the democrats." The true silver lining of Hamas winning the elections is that the U.S. now has an excuse to stop giving "aid" to the Palestinian government, though we shouldn't give any regardless of who's leading (in their country or ours). President Bush had no Constitutional authority to give the $50 million that only served to fund thugs and promote the Palestinian leaders' tyranny.

Remember this picture I posted last night of these Hamas supporters?

Well, I thought they could use a little change from the leather, so how about some appropriately fashionable T-shirts?

Maybe certain Palestinians can get these as bumper stickers for those fire-an-assault-rifle-out-your-car-window celebrations.

Note: those T-shirt images (the original blank image was borrowed from www.spreadshirt.de) are satire. As you should be able to tell, in no way do I condone voting for such terrorist thugs, let alone supporting them (monetarily, intellectually or otherwise).

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Smallville episode 100 (spoilers)

I've seen the show now and then but never regularly. The stories are quite compelling, especially because they're in a big arc instead of just episodes with minor links (one of the reasons I like Star Trek DS9 over TNG). The acting is a little weak at times, but generally good for a syndicated show.

Today's New York Post had a small blurb about it, and I was quite interested to see what happened. Something between Clark and Lana? And Clark loses someone close?

After the first part, and those of you who saw the episode know what I mean, I thought, "WOW!" It was my first guess as to what would happen, but it also seemed so obvious that, nah, the writers couldn't possibly do that. Yet that's precisely what they did...and yet not what they did. "Smallville" meets "Groundhog Day," in a way.

I was shocked when Clark used his powers to run there. He knew Lex saw him, but Clark no longer cared. It no longer mattered that anyone knew his secret.

Small update: guessing that that person dying would be almost a cliche, my guess all along as to who would die turned out to be correct. But the first part fooled me.

It dragged a bit at the end and certainly heaped on the schmaltz, but overall it was very enjoyable. The acting wasn't as overdone as it could have been, which is a credit to them all.

One question, though. Never having thrown liquor into a fire, would throwing a glass of whiskey into a fireplace really make a bit of a flame for a second?

Blogosphere quote of the day

Michelle Malkin:

"...potty-training my son is like dealing with post-9/11 liberals. No matter how much patient educating and explaining you do to convince them to take responsibility for their actions and prevent future disasters, the end result is always the same: soiled pants."

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

"What kind of sports car are you?"

[Update, Feb. 10: oh sheesh, I really mistyped it as "care" and left it like that for over two weeks?]

Our friend Josh Hendrickson is a Corvette. Professor Bainbridge is a Porsche 911.

I'm a Lamborghini Murcielago:

You're not subtle, but you don't want to be. Fast, loud, and dramatic, you want people to notice you, and then get out of the way. In a world full of sheep, you're a raging bull.

It fits perhaps too well. If anything, I'm known to enjoy attention, though I answered "no" to whether I am "loud."

Even the supposed "non-militants" fire rifles in celebration

The latest news is that Hamas won an unexpectedly high percentage of votes in the first "free" Palestinian elections (maybe as high as 39% to Fatah's 46%). Fatah will likely have to form a coalition government with the official party of the terrorists. Look how the former are celebrating, and remember, they're not terrorists (at least not officially):
In Gaza City, Fatah loyalists fired rifles out of car windows, sounded their horns and waved the yellow flag of their movement as they drove around the streets after getting word of the exit polls.

"Even though this is not the official result we have to celebrate," said 22-year-old Omar Abdel Al Raouf, waving an assault rifle from his car window. "The winner is the Palestinian people."
Wonderful. Now look at this picture of Hamas supporters, and you might conclude like I have that "there's not a dime's worth of difference" between the two parties (as George Wallace said in 1968).

Mahmoud Abbas dared to claim that last week's suicide bombing at an Israeli store, owned by an Israeli and frequented by Israelis, was meant to disrupt the Palestinian elections. The last time I looked, Tel Aviv was not a Palestinian city, the restaurant is not Palestinian-owned (or Fatah-owned), and the victims were not Palestinians. So how could that homicide bombing have had any more impact on the elections than the other attacks, including Palestinian gunmen who regularly break into West Bank homes to shoot Israeli settlers? How could the attack have been meant for anything but to kill innocent Jews?

Of course, leave it to the New York Times (through its International Herald Tribune) to turn it into a sob story about the terrorist who couldn't blow anyone up by himself and left behind a weeping family. Only 17 words are devoted to the victims, and those only to state the fact. The rest of the loathsome article describes the family's "shock," which is only because he's dead, not because that bastard tried to murder a lot of people.

French "racisme"?

As if we needed more proof that no good deed ever goes unpunished, France tries to outdo everyone else in political correctness. Such absurdity could only happen when government wants to monopolize charity.
Pork Soup Becomes Political in France

PARIS - Pig's tail, pig's feet and other pig parts, all tossed into a pot with turnips, carrots and onions. Perfumed with smoked bacon and served steaming hot. Delicious!

But there's trouble brewing in this broth.

Small groups linked to the extreme right are ladling pork soup to France's homeless. Critics and some officials denounce the charity as discriminatory: because it contains pork, the soup is off-limits for Muslims.

Critics view the stew dubbed "identity soup" by its cooks as a cynical far-right ploy to penetrate the most vulnerable level of society while masking their intentions as humanitarian.

The associations offering the soup are satellites of Bloc Identitaire, a small, extreme-right movement that defends the European identity and, as its leader Fabrice Robert said, "the rights of the little whites." ...

The associations deny any ties to the far-right National Front party, which opposes Muslim immigration and built its reputation around the theme of "French first." ...

Still, the National Front salutes the pork soup project.

"One has the right to be charitable toward whom one wants," said Bruno Gollnisch, the party's No. 2. Moves to forbid soup kitchens offering pork reveal authorities' "alienation" from the French people, he said....

Pork soup is an age-old staple of the rural heartland from which all the French, at least in the national imagination, are said to spring.

The groups dishing up the soup say their victuals are no more than traditional French cuisine and deny they are serving up a message of racial hatred a crime in France or that they would refuse soup to a hungry Muslim or Jew.

In Strasbourg, pork soup was banned this month after officials deemed it could disrupt public order.

"Schemes with racial subtexts must be denounced," said a statement by Strasbourg Mayor Fabienne Keller.

More than a dozen police surrounded volunteers at a recent soup distribution at Paris' Montparnasse train station. Once police determined there was pork in the broth, they ordered the 10-gallon container sealed because the group had no permit.

There has been no outright ban on pork soup giveaways in Paris, but police have been using the permit issue as a way to shut down the kitchens and avert racial tensions....

A leading anti-racism group has urged Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy to ban pork soup giveaways throughout France.

For Bernadette Hatier, vice president of the Movement Against Racism and for Friendship Between Peoples, the real motive of the soup servers is to drum up far-right votes ahead of 2007 presidential elections....
I wonder if Ms. Hatier ever deigned to dirty her hands by feeding the homeless, or if she calls upon the state to take from people and give to others.

What has a society come to when a not insignificant number of its people, and the government too, question feeding traditional food to the hungry? What does it say about the society's stability when it's afraid that charities' food selection might be enough to offend and incite a minority population to violence?

Notice that the Paris police used the "You don't have a permit" excuse only after they found the volunteers were serving pork soup. Apparently they would not have stopped them from serving, for example, chicken soup. So much for the rule of law.


Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The latest people the feds want to suffer: asthma patients

An FDA advisory panel decided, by majority vote, to recommend the FDA effectively ban nonprescription inhalers, including Primatene Mist, because they contain CFCs. And as public schools, big media and international scientists have brainwashed us into believing, chlorofluorocarbons destroy the ozone layer.

You can't make this stuff up. It only takes eleven government bureaucrats to decide that millions of Americans need to pay more money, and go through greater inconvenience, because of propellants' unproven effects. Since there's a strong possibility the "ozone hole" could be cyclical atmospheric conditions going back thousands of years, I find it criminal that a government agency can deny people ready relief of a possibly fatal affliction, and dictate to asthma suffers how and from whom they can obtain medicine.

Doctors have a selfish reason to prefer prescription inhalers over nonprescription substitutes. It means more patients must come to them for prescriptions. If they cannot afford it, chances are that Medicaid or a state program (like MediCal or New York's Medicaid) will cover it. The doctors don't really care, of course, that taxpayers will shoulder the burden. Fitting with my theme of the last several days, it's another example of people having the immorality, not just selfishness, to use the law to take the property of other people.

The power of peaceful protest

NBC has decided to cancel "The Book of Daniel" after only four shows. From what I've read, every main character was deliberately controversial. I am a Christian, and since such a show would certainly offend me, I had no intention of ever watching it. Most TV viewers in the United States also chose not to watch it, for whatever personal reasons they had. They may have skipped it out of disinterest, not because it really offended them. Others may have been radically ignorant (completely unaware) of the show.

The various Christian groups who protested the show achieved their desired results. I won't say they "won," because I suspect more people decided the show sounded more stupid than offensive. Regardless, the show's cancellation neither pleases me nor dismays me. Since I had no intention of ever watching it, it does not affect me whether it is broadcasted or whether it is not. I don't watch that much TV, anyway. Other than Trek reruns and the occasional worthwhile movie on cable channels, the only show I watch regularly is "Prison Break" (and I can't wait for it to resume in March).

What does please me is that the protestors did not abuse the power of government to achieve their goal. Too often we call upon the state to ban or censor that which offends us. Unfortunately, a lot of my fellow "right-wing Christians" feel there should be such censorship. Conversely, many ACLU members probably (and erroneously) consider the protests "an attack on free speech."

How long, I wonder, would a show last if it were about a Muslim imam who secretly ate pork and had frank discussions with Mohammed?

A small victory for freedom

Remember Orhan Pamuk, the Turkish novelist on trial for insulting "Turkishness"?

Via the Foundation for Economic Education's daily newsletter, I learned that the charges have been dropped. Sometimes things do go right.

Forgetting the most important people: the owners

This news article tries to tug at readers' heartstrings but forgets certain truths about business:
Ford Workers Upset About Plant Closures

HAPEVILLE, Ga. - Mark Gilmore moved with his teenage son from Ohio to Georgia 18 months ago in a quest for more stable work at the Ford Motor Co. assembly plant outside Atlanta. Now, he's regretting the decision after the automaker announced Monday it is shuttering the plant along with 13 other facilities in a major cost-cutting move.

"It's a shame when you can give your whole life to something and then it crumbles right in front of you," said Gilmore, 34.

Other employees at Ford plants in North America slated for closure reacted with emotions ranging from anger to disappointment to surprise. The company said 25,000 to 30,000 jobs will be lost.

"Their hopes and dreams and aspirations and secure future are gone for now," said Ken Dearing, president of the local union that represents Ford workers at the Hazlewood, Mo., plant outside St. Louis, which also will be idled....

In Michigan, James Crawford said he is too young to retire and might not have enough seniority to get hired at another plant, even though he has worked at Ford for 18 years.

"This really hits me hard," said the 39-year-old car painter, who listened to the announcement on the radio in a white Ford Probe parked across the street from the Wixom plant. "It looks like I'm starting over."

Crawford's sentiment echoes the uncertainty that is just beginning for most of the workers.

Those old enough will retire, but are worried about the security of their pensions.

Younger workers are hoping to land jobs at other plants, but they're not optimistic. Ford said it will make efforts to place some workers at other facilities....

Hapeville Mayor Alan Hallman called the news "a setback for the state" and the community of 6,200 just south of Atlanta. Tax revenue from the plant accounts for 9 percent of the small city's budget.

"We've got hundreds of man-hours and thousands of dollars invested in various plans to keep them here. The fact that they've elected to idle the plant is very disappointing," Hallman said....

Georgia officials had worked with Ford for four years to study ways to keep the historic Hapeville plant in production, but "market forces beyond the control of government have caused it to succumb," Gov. Sonny Perdue said Monday.

Perdue said Ford had considered retooling the plant for assembly of a new model of vehicles. "Unfortunately, global market conditions have forced Ford not to pursue that option," he said.
I've been laid off before, so I know what it's like to scramble for a new job, but never with 25,000 or 30,000 others. However, there's so much emphasis on workers, and no one remembers the owners -- in this case, company shareholders. Are Ford's owners in the business to lose money? No rational person would argue that they are, but people think that if they believe it's "unfair" for Ford to lay off employees.

A company loses money by keeping more employees than it needs, especially when business is poor and mandates layoffs. So when the workers criticize a company for layoffs, they're effectively asking owners to be philanthropists, not businessmen. When municipalities ask companies to keep unprofitable plants and factories open, they're asking the owners to throw away money. It really does not matter how much the company has poured in; if it can't salvage its investment, it has no choice but to shut it down. Local governments frequently offer tax incentives and the like to lure businesses, which are simply the use of taxpayers' money to encourage businesses by making their operations artificially cheaper. What if the business still cannot remain solvent? Well, that's a good incentive to let the free market work the next time around, and let a business come because it sees a genuinely profitable opportunity.

Am I the only one who questions how a 34-year-old man can say he gave his "whole life" to a company? If he started working at 18, then he hasn't even worked there for half of his years. Even if we consider strictly his adult life, 14 or 15 years is not long compared to a normal American life span. He's still quite young, and if he has any reasonable skills and good references, he should be able to find another job. Even the 39-year-old painter is still young. Perhaps they can move to Indiana, where Toyota is hiring. It's not the easiest thing to move across the country, but as I've said before, "Okies" did so during the Great Depression. I myself moved 2000 miles (from Utah to New York) for a better college and better employment opportunities.

Life does not always turn out the way we plan, and in our modern economy, one shouldn't expect to stay within the same career, let alone the same company. One of my friends was 42 when he entered the retail brokerage side of the industry. He had his own light construction company, and when it didn't survive, he found a job as a financial advisor. But turnover happens even at the upper echelons. Top investment bankers switch firms often enough, lured by better packages, that Citigroup now requires its investment bankers to give 50 days' notice or else forfeit their bonuses.

It's a great risk for a municipality to depend so much on one company for employment and tax revenue, just like an investor risks a great deal by focusing on one specific venture. I wrote a bit on Sunday about Flint, Michigan, which is being hit hard by GM's disappearing act, and also Schenectady, my father's hometown. Like many others, my father found a good job at the GE plant, but when GE's presence declined, so did the city. When trying to lure a business that will be an important part of the local economy, a government must ask itself, "Will this company always be here?" If not, then it's perhaps not so wise to hand out tax incentives (and occasionally use eminent domain) and act as if the sun will always be shining.

If you want to eliminate the possibility of an employer laying you off, there's no substitute for working for yourself. Similarly, there's no substitute for saving for your retirement yourself, instead of relying on a company's continued good revenue. By not trading with others, you limit your maximum earnings potential -- the price of reducing risk.

The finest city other people's money will buy

The finest government other people's money will buy
The finest government other people's money will buy, part II

This AP article "On Gulf Coast, Dreams of New Kind of City" illustrates the sole problem of government funding to rebuild New Orleans: that it's at all funded by government, meaning tax dollars coerced from everyone else. A few weeks ago, I read an article about plans to expand certain parts of the city once it's rebuilt, with new buildings and the like. Is that why we're giving so many billions, so that New Orleans can become what it always wished it could be, at everyone else's expense?

While my heart goes out to people who have lost their homes, the lofty plans for the money negates any "charitable" intentions in the federal government taking from most people and giving to a relative few. Need we remember how the federal government gave millions to each of the 9/11 victims' families, which the family members then used for luxury item shopping sprees? And, of course, the $2000 debit cards to Katrina victims, some of which were used on designer handbags and at strip clubs.

Let's figure U.S. GDP in 2006 at a conservative $13 trillion, and the population at 300 million. Let's also say that the initial $62 billion from the federal government (courtesy of the rest of us) in post-Katrina "relief" is spent just on New Orleans. The city's pre-Katrina population was about 1.3 million, so 0.433% of the population will get 0.477% of a year's GDP. I doubt that New Orleans contributes to the American economy to such an extent, but even if it does have that kind of wealth, it should then use its own resources. If it cannot, then like individuals, it should rely on the true charity of others.

Worse, New Orleans has perhaps 200,000 people (maybe less). Even if the population returned to half a million, we're now talking 0.167% of the total U.S. population that uses government to coerce 0.477% of a year's GDP from everyone else (all 99.83% of us). Furthermore, the $62 billion is likely to be just a down payment. Indeed, $250 million was one figure thrown around early on, which would be 1.92% of U.S. GDP in 2006.

Charity is one thing, but it's flatly immoral to rebuild your city at everyone else's expense, just because you feel "entitled" after a natural disaster. Sympathy, and the freedom to judge whether the intended recipient really is worthy and needs how much, are key to effective charitable acts. It is lost, however, on politicians and bureaucrats whose very game is to play with other people's money.

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Monday, January 23, 2006

Something I ate

Yesterday was quite fun. I took a close friend out for a belated birthday lunch (more like an early dinner as it was rather late). She was in the mood for seafood, and after a tasty shrimp appetizer, we each had a nice platter of crab legs, lobster tails and more shrimp. Afterward, we went to the empty half of a mall's parking lot, where I gave her a lesson in driving a manual transmission. It must have amused any onlookers as she stalled and lurched forward my car about two dozen times.

Today, perhaps we paid the price for a great afternoon and evening. I was slightly nauseated on the morning train into the city, which I dismissed as hunger. Breakfast helped, but I was also feeling unusually tired. I had slept five hours last night, which is more than sufficient for me during the week, but I wasn't sleepy, just fatigued and ineffably uncomfortable. After lunch, my stomach started acting up, which I thought might be the sauerkraut from the Reuben sandwich I had.

One of my co-workers suggested it might have been yesterday's lunch, and coincidentally, my friend called a few minutes later. I asked her if she was also feeling a little sick. "YES!" Her nausea started late last night, and all day she was feeling the same. Fortunately ours was only a mild case of food poisoning, that we both managed to get through the day. I was feeling ineffably "uncomfortable," though. Bleh.

At least this was better than the last time I had food poisoning, six years ago, just after I moved to New York. Before today, I had forgotten all about it. I was staying at my aunt's house and had bad Chinese food one night, which was surprising since it was from a more upscale Oriental restaurant in our area. After waking up at 5 the next morning, feeling nauseated and worse, I passed out until 10 that night.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

The finest government other people's money will buy, part II

Manuel Obrador wants to win Mexico's presidential election by promising everything to the poor. In the latest example of how politicians envision grand "economy-saving" projects, the mayor of Flint, Michigan, wants the city to build and operate a truck accessory manufacturing plant, though General Motors' slow asphyxiation should give them clues.

You would think that Michael Moore's hometown would have finally learned after its disastrous attempts at government stimulation of the economy, especially pouring $100 million into Autoworld (which lasted just six months). As always, where angels fear to tread, politicians have no trepidation in spending other people's money on grand schemes. If the private sector saw the possibility of operating a new auto plant, it would have already done so. Private investors would have already recognized Flint's supply of eager, skilled and unemployed auto workers, and the opportunity that all the major automakers (so the mayor implies) are forsaking.

Appropriately, I was listening to Erasure's "Ship of Fools" when I came across the news story. That song would be great for the introduction (and title too) for a real documentary on Flint's politicians, which we can bet Moore would never do. Never mind Moore's rabidly anti-Bush, anti-gun agenda: he's most dangerous for advancing protectionist economics, especially his lament (ever since "Roger and Me") of Americans losing jobs to outsourcing. As Bastiat explained in The Law, protectionists are those who cannot compete, so they perform "legal plunder":
See if the law takes from some persons what belongs to them, and gives it to other persons to whom it does not belong. See if the law benefits one citizen at the expense of another by doing what the citizen himself cannot do without committing a crime.
I am not unsympathetic toward those who lose their jobs, having been there myself. However, let them find other jobs. Certainly their hands and their brains enable them to perform other livelihoods. And if they cannot improve themselves, if they can find only lesser-paying jobs, then as I've said before, perhaps they are not as competitive as they think. Why should government coerce the many into bearing the burden of "protecting" those uncompetitive few?

The worst is when government touts certain spending projects as good because "they create jobs." Both Republicans and Democrats have perpetuated this myth for decades (following in the footsteps of the Whigs in the early 19th century), erroneously portraying such spending as "good for the economy." Sadly, we need not look beyond recent history for examples: the transportation bill of 2005 (full of pork for both parties, in literally every Congressional district), and government subsidies to various industries (like corn and wheat), and the West Side Stadium proposed for Manhattan. They all defy Bastiat's simple principle that government spending necessarily deprives the private sector of an equal amount. Thus government spending is only a transfer of spending, at best. As we shall see in a little, government spending to substitute for the private sector actually turns out to spend more for less.

Schenectady, my father's hometown, could be considered Flint's twin: both were once major centers of heavy manufacturing, and once the local industry declined, the population decreased dramatically. Like a lot of other Schenectady natives, my father worked at its big General Electric plant. Following Flint's mayor's rationale, shouldn't "The City that Lights and Hauls the World" (its old nickname) spend untold millions to restore GE to its glory days and "revitalize its economy"? Just like in Bastiat's satire The Candlemaker's Petition, wouldn't every last portion of the economy benefit, if government enacted policies to create jobs? To put it in a modern twist, let us ban all foreign-made light bulbs, and their domestic replacements can be made in Schenectady. The population would increase, expanding the tax base. Furthermore, it would expand employment for everyone else, from farmers and grocers to loggers and masons to computer technicians, as the newly employed would spend and save (invest) their money.

It does not take much thought, once we put things in modern terms, to see the absurdity of government forcing job creation. Bastiat would additionally tell us that we see the additional jobs, but not the great expense to all of society in creating them. Protectionism ultimately costs everyone more than the relatively small benefits to those whose jobs are "protected," because if these jobs could have been created for free, the free market would have already done it. But because the cost to each of us is fairly small, we tolerate protectionism, like tariffs for sugar farmers (at the expense of higher candy prices, or candy jobs lost to Canada, which doesn't have sugar tariffs) or direct cash subsidies to corn growers for ethanol.

I initially supported President Bush's tariffs on foreign steel, for I was a protectionist then. W. James Antel pointed out that even Robert Zoellick, then the U.S. Trade Representative and therefore someone who should have known better, supported the tariffs. Like any others who favor protectionism "to save domestic jobs," we argued that a few dollars per refrigerator, or $25 per car, was worth it so we wouldn't lose more jobs. But when we add up the full and true costs, more jobs were lost than were saved. Americans for Tax Reform noted a Consuming Industries Trade Action Coalition study that calculated 200,000 jobs lost because of the higher steel prices (the more expensive something is, the less people tend to buy of it, especially if there are substitutes). Pete du Pont in the Washington Times clarified that these were jobs dependent on less expensive foreign steel, and if they relied on domestic steel, their finished products became too expensive to sell at the previous rates.

Schenectady and Flint had their heyday, but times change, and economies shift. At times I hear the complaint, "I lost my job, which is what my father did all his life, and his father before him." What difference does that make? For too many thousands of years, before humans developed the technology to improve our quality of life, each generation handed down the drudgery of back-breaking farm labor to the next. We should fear neither new technology nor outsourcing, because the resulting destruction of jobs is mythical. As Schumpeter explained, the "creative destruction" of technological advancement will put people out of work, but it simultaneously frees them to find new and better jobs -- if they are competitive enough.

Buggy makers are an example I've used before: weren't their jobs threatened by the automobile? Weren't glassblowers' jobs threatened by the advent of semiconductors? Yet people survived, and the successful ones were so because they improved their skills to take advantage of the economic changes.

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Saturday, January 21, 2006

A different way to spend Friday night

After work, I went with two friends to evening mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral. They are Filipino and very Catholic, and though I'm not, I went out of a sense of pakisama. It's a Tagalog word that doesn't readily translate into English: roughly, it's accompanying a friend or friends, not because you really wanted to go there, but you felt obliged because of friendship. Though my mother is Filipino, I never learned to speak Tagalog. In the last few months one of the aforementioned friends has been teaching me a little here and there, including pakisama.

I've been to mass once before, a few years ago on Christmas Eve. Both times were both interesting, but I prefer the more informal form of Protestant worship. I've mentioned through bits here and there that my parents had me baptized Catholic, but I was never confirmed. My father, whose French mother was Catholic, agreed to my baptism out of tradition, then raised me to be a good atheist like he was. When I became a Christian in my teenage years, I was eventually rebaptized a Baptist.

Afterward we did something more typical of Friday night outings. We went to McCann's, on 46th Street near Fifth Avenue. I'd never been there before and was pleased to find it's a nice little pub. It's wasn't too bustling, which was nice since it wasn't as noisy as other establishments are wont to be, and drinks were reasonably priced.

Friday, January 20, 2006

The finest government other people's money will buy

Remember Manuel Obrador, the Mexican ultra-leftist? I first talked about him here, as part of my exposé of Paul Krugman as an enemy of the free market. I discussed him one other time, detailing his economic policies that, if enacted, would wreck Mexico. Mexico desperately needs the income from foreign trade, and foreign investors' money.

Apparently he was never charged with contempt of court, leaving him clear to run for Mexico's presidency. Obrador is currently the top candidates, which this ABC News article describes as "focused" on the topic of poverty. Obrador is essentially promising the world to the poor, which unfortunately just might get him elected. More unfortunately, the other candidates are following suit. How, though, can they top a candidate who declares, "I'm going to respect everyone. But the poor and forgotten of Mexico will get preferential treatment."

How can they compete with Obrador's reputation? As mayor of Mexico City, he's given cash handouts to the poor -- courtesy of taxpayers, of course. Instead of those at the bottom attempting to work (which means expanding the economy), they rely on government playing Robin Hood. I've explained the dynamics of "trickle-down" economics, specifically how it's impossible, practically speaking, for "the rich" to keep their money to themselves. They must either save or spend it, and because "the rich" work very little for each other, their money goes toward goods and services that everyone else produces. If Mexico weren't rife with corruption, if its tax system weren't so oppressive of "the rich," those with wealth wouldn't try to hide it (which includes sending it out of the country). Mexico's "rich" would have more money to pay home builders, auto workers, jewelers, waiters, landscapers, even maids.

Those are not the most glamorous jobs, of course, but at least they are jobs. When government taxes and spends, as Bastiat reminds us, that is a transfer of spending at best. In this case, it's less money "the rich" can spend that sustains jobs for everyone else. But then we run into the problem of incentive: higher tax rates discourage "the rich" from creating as much new wealth, so the resulting economy is not as large as it could be.

I'm not saying the poor of Mexico don't want to work. I will say that many of them are misguided in their belief about the proper role of government, but they really cannot be blamed. For decades they've been continually victimized by various levels of corrupt government, and worse than we have in the United States, they've developed a false notion that a new government, someday, will be their "savior" and make society "equal." As I pointed out, it's government policies that serve to keep them poor, instead of allowing them the opportunity to work. Obrador has promised to raise wages, but at what cost? Government-coerced minimum wages benefit some but throw others out of work, besides raising prices for everyone else (which is a true squeeze on the middle class, as it finds its purchasing power reduced).

That people leave Metlatonoc (and other similarly poor areas) to find jobs in El Norte reflects a harsh reality of life: when you cannot earn a living, and you have better opportunities elsewhere, it's time to move. My fear is that if Obrador is elected and redistributes wealth on a nationwide scale, among his attempts will be propping up these poverty-stricken areas, which, I hate to say, should be allowed to die (just like a bad business should be allowed to fail). It's truly sad when people leave their home areas, but if the local economy is not viable (let alone prosperous) somewhere, then government should leave the people alone so they can pursue opportunities elsewhere.

There are two ways that Mexico's levels of government should encourage them. First, the governments must stop trying to alleviate the poverty, because that only perpetuates poor economies that are too costly to improve. It is far better to let the people move, on their own, to superior economies elsewhere. Moreover, these government attempts to alleviate poverty require taking wealth away from other areas, especially those with thriving economies, thus depriving them of their maximum potential. Instead of a dollar in a prospering city attracting a worker from a remote village, government taxes the dollar to give to a villager. Such effort appears noble, but remember to account for incentive: what was a dollar will shrink as the taxed become less willing to work for the state.

Second, Mexico desperately needs reform. Not land reform, not redistribution of wealth, but a true implementation of the rule of law. It is a great pity that none of the top candidates are promising the real rule of law. Instead, they want to gain the people's "confidence," promising to move Mexico "forward," and lots of other empty rhetoric. They're trying to outdo each other by pledging most everything under the sun to the most voters: the finest government other people's money can buy.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Hardball with Perry Eidelbus

After what happened earlier this month, when my landlord's repairman friend caused a small leak in the hot water heater that gave me two days of headaches, and another issue with my landlord, I decided it was time for more "aggressive negotiations" (something for you, my fellow Trekkies). Without going into details, I'll say that the other issue doesn't affect the habitability of my apartment, but it is a repeat issue that inhibits my enjoyment. As of late, it's started to make me quite angry.

Instead of the expected check, earlier this month I sent a letter stating plainly that I was withholding rent, starting with this month, until this condition is rectified. I did this fully aware that my landlord most likely has Christmas bills to pay, so this is a particularly bad time of the year for his income to drop. It was clearly not a letter my landlord expected, and it certainly got his attention. He's now promised to rectify the situation for good by month's end. We'll see. Tomorrow I'll give him this month's rent, but if the situation remains unchanged...

He has said that if I don't pay, he'll have to tell me to leave. Yet he should be as aware as any landlord in the state that, in New York and most other states, landlord-tenant law makes it difficult to evict tenants. A judge may not agree with me that this one condition justifies my withholding rent, but the one thing in my favor is my written willingness to resume rent payments (including any past due amounts) once my landlord satisfies what is a very specific term of the lease. Besides, I could easily drag this out for a few months, during which time my landlord would not receive a penny from me.

Would it really be "fair" for me to do that? Clearly not, but it is not "fair" for my landlord to shirk an obvious responsibility. If necessary, I will not give up my advantage, that the law is slightly biased toward me, because my ultimate aim is to achieve what is right and proper.

I've really liked my apartment for the last four-plus years, and I am more than reluctant just to give serious thought to moving. It's such a pain, and I would lose the convenience of a quiet neighborhood that's within walking distance of the train station.

Eminent domain in New Orleans?

Cynthia, a member of the Life, Liberty, Property community, asked this last night on the LLP mailing list:
I found the decision in Kelo to be a terrible one. And yet, confronted with the situation in New Orleans, with people refusing to allow rebuilding (and I am NOT a fan of rebuilding as it was, but rebuilding in a safer way with less exposure to the ocean and dependence upon the levees), but insisting that their hovels be reconstituted - CAN a case be made for an eminent domain taking with private developers as the beneficiary?
This was my reply.

It would be a far different situation if New Orleans residents were rebuilding with their own money. If they were cognizant that they won't be bailed out in the future, and if they can't stick everyone else with the bill, the residents would most certainly, and most suddenly, be very prudent about how and where they rebuilt. However, they can now rebuild New Orleans however they'd like, to whatever specification, using the finest materials and labor that other people's money will buy.

Eminent domain may not be moot with how the rebuilding will be funded, but it should be. The only reason it even crosses our minds is that the state has chosen to coerce property from some and give it to others, further allowing people to continue their danger-inviting lives at others' expense. It's sad to say it isn't even the latest in a never-ending list of inefficient, outdated and downright bad things (from infrastructure to social services) that big government promotes with the best of intentions. I believe it was Arnold Kling on EconLog who recently wished that liberals considered consequences as much as motive.

A tale of two hypocrites

It was the best of wartimes; it was the worst of wartimes. It was the age of bloggers; it was the age of mainstream media becoming the New Media. It was the epoch of voter gullibility; it was the epoch of voter cynicism. It was the season of economic growth; it was the season of foreboding recession. It was the spring of prosperity; it was the winter of the "unsustainable" and "bubbles." We had continued good fortune before us; we had civilization's collapse before us. Muslim terrorists believed they were going to heaven; Pat Robertson believed a lot of Americans were going to hell.

And to directly quote Charles Dickens, "in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only." Nothing ever changes, in other words, and as politics' biggest loudmouths continually talk about the present relative to the past, they do so only in the most exaggerated manner. When dealing with typical Democratic hypocrisy, however, only mild comparisons to their past actions are needed.

On Monday, Al Gore criticized President Bush's NSA wiretapping policies: "What we do know about this pervasive wiretapping virtually compels the conclusion that the President of the United States has been breaking the law [rising applause] repeatedly and insistently... A president who breaks the law is a threat to the very structure of our government." He also said he wants Congressional members to "start acting like the independent and coequal branch of government you're supposed to be."

Gore's former boss, the one for whom he worked from 1993 through 2001, could have used a dose of that advice. Byron York detailed last month how Bill Clinton did largely the same type of wiretapping, except that he did it without warrants. Initially, Clinton refused to go to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court, eventually acquiescing to Congressional demands. I'm not saying obtaining warrants from the secretive FISA court is any better than none at all, but this is another example of Democrats' double standard. Though I think the wiretapping of American citizens is unconstitutional, I'm glad the White House isn't just taking it. It fired back with quite strong language for the realm of politics. Scott McClellan, the White House press secretary, said, "I think [Gore's] hypocrisy knows no bounds."

Indeed. Gore also stated, "The disrespect embodied in these apparent mass violations of the law is part of a larger pattern of seeming indifference to the Constitution that is deeply troubling to Americans in both political parties." Somehow I don't think he referred to Bill and Hillary's unconstitutional plan for universal "Hillarycare," their support of other unconstitutional federal spending, or the Clinton White House's push for unconstitutional infringements of the Second Amendment. Clearly President Bush himself has pushed for much unconstitutional spending, but how can Democrats pick up stones when they themselves are full of the same sin?

What really irks me is Gore's perenially minimal understanding of the Constitution: it sets up the executive, legislative and judicial branches as checks on each other, but that does not make them equal or coequal. I may not have the Robert Byrd edition of the Constitution that most Democrats (and too many Republicans) seem to use, but reading through mine, I fail to see any "equality" between the branches. This may seem like semantics, but because each branch is given different powers so it may serve different functions, there's no common basis of measurement by which to call them "coequal." The only equality they share is that they're all subject to the limitations of their Constitution authority.

And now Hillary Clinton, queen of state-worshippers and my junior senator, said the House of Representatives "has been run like a plantation," where was the outcry? After all, Mayor Mike Bloomberg was called "racist" simply for calling the 70%-minority NYC transit union "thugs," so Hillary Clinton should be called "racist" for her insult to all black Congressmen. Why doesn't she follow up by applying the same demented phrasing to the White House, so she can become an honorary member of the Ted Rall Club?

Let's never mind that Hillary's "apology" for the federal government's post-Katrina response is a testament to her worship of the nanny state, which takes care of people at everyone else's expense. And as I said Monday, the plantation really didn't go away -- it's transformed into servile dependency on big government. Hillary, though, took it as far as she ever has: she declared that the House of Representatives "has been run in a way so that nobody with a contrary view has had a chance to present legislation, to make an argument, to be heard."

That's a strong accusation she made without citing specific examples. The stifling of presenting legislation isn't altogether a bad thing. Perhaps if we'd had a little, things like the monstrous transportation bill wouldn't have been filled with so much pork. And is Hillary claiming any personal knowledge of how the House is being run? After all, she's a Senator. In fact, if anyone is threatening to block others from being heard on the floor, it's her fellow Democrats in the Senate who mumble threats of filibustering Samuel Alito.

"We have a culture of corruption, we have cronyism, we have incompetence...I predict to you that this administration will go down in history as one of the worst that has ever governed our country." The latter is a matter of opinion, but regarding the first, let's not forget the Clinton Administrations own "shortcomings." Beyond Bill's escapades and perjury, if you want examples of corruption, cronyism and incompetence, look no further than Ron Brown and Henry Cisneros. Unlike Karl Rove and "Scooter" Libby, Brown and Cisneros were not just advisors, but Cabinet members who wielded direct political authority in the executive branch.

As I said to a friend last night, Gore may have been correct in some things. Hillary can even be correct...once in a very great while. I just pray the American people can see past this Democratic opportunism and not elect them into office just for a bit of appealing rhetoric.

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Monday, January 16, 2006

Some people don't understand the cyclical nature of many businesses

Canadian Beetle Infestation Worries U.S.

GRANGEVILLE, Idaho - Northwest loggers are worried British Columbia may be forced to harvest as much as 21 million acres of forests to stop the mountain pine beetle, flooding the market and driving down timber prices.

The infected forests in British Columbia make up an area roughly 40 percent the size of Idaho. To combat the beetles, the province is increasing allowable timber cuts 78 percent; big trouble for mills throughout the Northwest.

"They're going to bury us in the sand," said Dick Bennett, owner of Bennett Forest Industries in Grangeville.

Bennett said the timber industry won't be as hot as it was in recent years because of an expected decline in the housing and building markets.

"If you're not strong, you're out of business," he said.

The beetles are native to British Columbia and the Inland Northwest, but warm winters and an abundance of lodgepole pine are helping the insects flourish, according to a 2005 report from the University of British Columbia's Forest Resources Management Department.

Officials say the beetle outbreak is the worst natural disaster to ever befall British Columbia and a researcher at the University of British Columbia says the province has little choice but to salvage what it can....
I'm sure they weren't complaining when the housing markets were hotter, garnering lumber companies nice profits. This is just another of life's lessons: don't count on constant income. Something is bound to happen that will confound your best safeguards and contingency plans.

Does my aunt complain that business at her wine store is so seasonal? If it weren't for the last six weeks or so of the year, revenues (at the rate during the rest of the year) wouldn't be sufficient to keep the store open, and she'd have to go into a different business. How about toy stores that see most of their business at year's end, or retail brokerage firms that generally see a dip in summertime? None of them complain. They instead project cyclical monthly revenue, using the excess of good times to make up for leaner times, like Joseph advised Pharaoh.

What I'm afraid of, however, is that the companies involved will seek government subsidies to compensate them for having to sell lumber for less, or that American companies will seek tariffs on "cheaper Canadian lumber." The latter is especially pernicious: when Canadians receive less income from exports, that's less money to circulate through their economy in both spending and saving. That then spills over to the American economy as Canadians cut back on importing American-made goods, which reduces Americans' income from exports, and so on. This is the death spiral of protectionist economics.

Continuing what "legacy" of Martin Luther King?

My day off is meant to commemorate a man who did some good things but is hardly worthy of the only federal holiday to single out an individual. I dislike speaking ill of the dead, but let's follow the slang saying and "get real." (At least the Foundation for Economic Education didn't take the day off, sending out the daily newsletter.)

An article yesterday talked about the "rumors" of King's extramarital affairs. I thought that after all these years we'd have stopped referring to them as "rumors," because they're about as uncertain as JFK's infidelity. Very well, we all know (or should) the man wasn't a saint, but let's stop pretending he was by talking about "promoting his legacy," and let's give up the double standard. Do they want other men to follow the "legacy" by cheating on their wives and plagiarizing?

Let us be fair, shall we? Those are a part of his "legacy" as unavoidable as Jefferson's "legacy" including his supposed relations with Sally Hemmings. I'm in no way trying to mitigate how King promoted non-violent protests, knowing he would be jailed and beaten, to eradicate racism this country. But let's stop treating him like he was perfect. As National Review said in 1990, "We're stuck with our first affirmative-action saint." Had it been a white Republican male whose morals were at times questionable, the phrase "who had been known to have period affairs" would forever be appended to any mainstream media's mention of his name. "Caught and expelled for cheating" would be another unavoidable appelation, unless you happen to be "a certain senator from Massachusetts" (in fact expelled twice from Harvard). Boston University, on the other hand, bowed to political correctness: it admitted that King plagiarized parts of his doctoral dissertation, yet the investigation refused to recommend revoking the Ph.D.

Other "rumors" mentioned in the article are "feuds with Jackson." Again, I'd have thought we'd know them to be fact by this time. The evidence has grown since Ralph Abernathy's 1989 autobiography "And the Walls Came Tumbling Down," which refuted Jackson's claim that he cradled the dying King in his arms. It was actually Abernathy who did, and the widely publicized picture of Jackson standing with King and Abernathy on the hotel balcony was taken hours before the assassination. If you want a good source on Jackson's publicity bid, and how King didn't trust the young opportunistic sycophant, a must-read is "Shakedown: Exposing the Real Jesse Jackson" by Ken Timmerman.

The article went on to detail the fighting among King's four children regarding the King Center for Nonviolent Social Change, which apparently is $11 million in "disrepair." Two of King's children want to sell it to the National Park Service; two oppose it and are threatening "legal action." Beyond the fact that their family squabble could waste taxpayer dollars in years of lawsuits, why should the federal government use tax dollars (meaning taking money from anyone else) to buy a private endeavor? Where is the Constitutional provision for it, and where is the outrage when those who want to sell are merely looking to government (in reality, money coerced from everybody else) as the almighty source of the bail-out?

It doesn't matter if it's Martin Luther King's center, Thomas Jefferson's Monticello or George Washington's Mount Vernon. It's a wholly improper role of government -- at any level -- to purchase private property for the sake of "preservation." It's heartwarming to note that when John Washington, one of George's descendants, put up Mount Vernon for sale in 1848, the Virginia and U.S. governments weren't interested. After all, the governments of the United States and the several States (such phrasing is quite important) tended to obey the Constitution a lot more than they do now (though admittedly canals and railroads had already been clamoring for federal funds under the guise of "internal improvements").

An article today stated that at a church service yesterday, "[Jesse] Jackson says all Americans, regardless of color, creed or age, have an obligation to carry out Martin Luther King Jr.'s legacy." An obligation? I don't recall signing a contract compelling me to any such action, and I don't feel "obliged" out of a sense of "thankfulness." There are two things I support and fight for: Jesus Christ and the U.S. Constitution, and I wish I did as much for the former as I do for the latter.

Mine is not an original thought, that King would be horrified at how his legacy of non-violent protests, of his children someday being judged by their character and not the color of their skin, has been hijacked by race-baiters. Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, Julian Bond and now Kanye West compete with each other for the limelight, but their method is the same: coercive government legislation to take money from some and give to others. And how effective has this social spending been? A couple of trillion dollars to wage a war on "poverty," which has reared two (and by now three, I guess) generations of black Americans as big government's dependents? Federal funds to build "housing for the poor," which combined with "gun control" legislation made the people easy prey for criminals?

How about massive increases in federal funding for schools, which attracts self-serving unions and many more bad teachers more than it brings in good teachers? With compulsory education laws and most state legislatures refusing to issue "vouchers" for private schools, it's no wonder black Americans can't get a good education. It didn't help that the Florida Supreme Court recently declared school vouchers "unconstitutional," or that the news reports the program as funding private school attendance "at taxpayer expense" (vouchers in fact are tax refunds for the school services the parents will no longer use, and they should properly not exceed what the parents paid in school-supporting taxes). Big government always gets in the way.

Some promised land. We might not have institutionalized racism today, but the plantation didn't really go away. It expanded to the entire country, and blacks' previously evident slavery has been replaced by servile dependency on the state. Meanwhile, more sensible men are out-trumpeted. Sensible men like Bill Cosby, who has emphasized illegitimacy as black Americans' self-destruction since at least the early 1990s, when I saw him on Arsenio Hall's show. A welcome newcomer is Morgan Freeman, who recently had this exchange:
Mike Wallace: Black History Month you find...?

Morgan Freeman: Ridiculous.

Wallace: Why?

Freeman: You're going to relegate my history to a month?

Wallace: Oh, come on.

Freeman: What do you do with yours? Which month is white history month?

Wallace: Well...

Freeman: No, c'mon, tell me.

Wallace: Ah, uhm, I'm Jewish.

Freeman: Okay. Which month is Jewish History Month?

Wallace: There isn't one.

Freeman: Oh. Oh. Why not? Do you want one?

Wallace: No, no, I...

Freeman: No, all right, I don't either. I don't want a Black History Month. Black history is American history.

Wallace: How are we going to get rid of racism when...

Freeman: Stop talking about it. I'm going to stop calling you a white man, and I'm going to ask you to stop calling me a black man. I know you as Mike Wallace you know me as Morgan Freeman, you wouldn't say "I know this white guy named Mike Wallace." You know what I'm saying?
What better fulfils Martin Luther King's desire for a truly colorblind society, in which people are judged by character and not skin color?