Sunday, April 30, 2006

The best politician that voters deserve

With my time growing more and more limited, I've been falling behind on news stories. Many I elect to pass up, but others I want to bring up, even after a few days, because of their valuable lessons. New Jersey voters are starting to regret voting former Sen. Jon Corzine into the governor's office, now that this quintessential Democrat broke a campaign promise and in fact will do a good job in the opposite direction. Corzine has broken his promise to cut property taxes by $550 million, instead cutting it down to $100 million, and he wants to raise the state sales tax. All in all, he wants nearly $2 billion in tax increases.

New Jersey's sales tax increase comes not long after New York state eliminated our state sales tax on clothes under $110. Albany finally realized that New York was losing so much business to people who'd shop in New Jersey as well as Connecticut. I don't think one percentage point by itself will make people cross the George Washington Bridge from New Jersey, but New Jerseyans who work in New York City can be expected to do more clothes shopping before returning home.

There's an old Cherokee story about a young man who was walking through the snow and encountered a half-frozen rattlesnake. The snake begged for help, but the youth refused, saying, "I know you'll bite me." The snake replied, "No, no, I promise I won't." After several pleas, the young man eventually agreed out of pity. He put the snake inside his clothes, carried him home and set him by the fire. Once the snake had warmed, he suddenly struck out and bit the boy. "Why did you do that?!" exclaimed the young man, "when you had promised me!" The snake replied, "You knew what I was when you picked me up."

Well, New Jersey voters got what they deserve, just like Vermont voters who keep electing a socialist to the House (and might to the Senate). Those who cast ballots for Corzine and feel betrayed today have a right to be angry, but nonetheless, they knew what he was when they voted for him. I'm no Republican shill, but let's be realistic here: who actually dares to trust a Democrat who's trying to sound conservative on fiscal policy? Well, enough American voters believed Bill Clinton in 1992, not just his "Big Lie" that the economy was so bad, but his promise of "a middle-class tax cut." We knew what he was when we voted for him, and our reward was a tax hike not even six months after Bubba's inauguration.

The euphemistically named "Revenue Reconciliation Act of 1993" demonstrated that, like all Democrats, Clinton wants to balance budgets not by prudent cuts in spending, but by irresponsible tax hikes (especially on the rich whose wealth creates jobs for everyone else). We can expect the same from his wife, if God forbid she ever wins the presidency. She'll insist on raising taxes, parroting her husband's ludicrous claim that "it's time for the rich to pay their fair share." But, via our friends at Three Sources, commentator Steve Moore notes that Bush's "tax cuts for the rich" have shifted more of the tax burden to the rich. And I'll add that it's win-win for everyone. The rich don't mind, having grown wealthier, and all because they have the incentive to produce and/or invest more. Everyone else shouldn't mind, because they're paying a lesser burden of total taxes, and especially because the rich have more money to spend on goods and services that lower-income people produce (meaning more jobs than any government "create work" program could ever hope for).

Corzine would have done far better to cut the wasteful (and stereotypically corrupt) state spending, instead of the knee-jerk reaction to raise taxes. He could have learned from NYC Mayor Bloomberg, who tried tax hikes to close the budget deficit after 9/11 -- they only made NYC's economy worse. However, we all knew, even those who wanted to believe he was different, that no matter what he promised during the campaign, Corzine is a Democrat's Democrat.

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Thursday, April 27, 2006

The intellectual bankruptcy of the left, part I

(Updated: I forgot to include a link to Hertz's homepage.)

This will be the first of at least a few, possibly several entries about how the left (whether they call themselves socialists, liberals, "social democrats" or progressives) has lost -- or did it ever have? -- the capacity for intelligent, logical and honest thought.

Tonight I came across more typical socialist tripe in the Washington Post:
America's rags-to-riches dream an illusion: study

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - America may still think of itself as the land of opportunity, but the chances of living a rags-to-riches life are a lot lower than elsewhere in the world, according to a new study published on Wednesday.

The likelihood that a child born into a poor family will make it into the top five percent is just one percent, according to "Understanding Mobility in America," a study by economist Tom Hertz from American University.

By contrast, a child born rich had a 22 percent chance of being rich as an adult, he said.

"In other words, the chances of getting rich are about 20 times higher if you are born rich than if you are born in a low-income family," he told an audience at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think-tank sponsoring the work.
So there you have it. A socialist organization sponsored the study, not for any objective analysis, but to advance its agenda. And if you check out Hertz's "Politics and Current Events" page at his site, you'll see that not only has he filled it with links to avowed socialist organizations, the flag shows that he's another Kerry supporter who just can't get over 2004. So let's be clear that the guy has an agenda, and that his study was hardly to determine actual truth.

Still, let's assume Hertz's numbers are true and turn his assertions around. A child born into a "poor" family has a 99% chance of not becoming "rich" as an adult. But a child born into a "rich" family has a very high 78% chance of not being rich when grown up. Putting it another way, let's say I have a 1% chance of driving a golf ball 350 yards, but Tiger Woods has a 22% chance. So he is 22 times more likely to succeed, yet he himself will fail four out of five times.

Gary Becker wrote in 1986, "Almost all the earnings advantages or disadvantages of ancestors are wiped out in three generations." Raising Hertz's 22% figure to the third power, we see that parents might be rich, but there's only a 1% chance that the wealth will continue uninterrupted through their great-grandchildren. The effect on each generation is cumulative, not additive, because we're assuming, in accordance with Hertz's calculations, that all generations stay "rich" (and not just that one generation falls from "rich" and then the next regains "rich" status). That's actually frightening, for it shows the U.S. has plenty of economic mobility in both directions. In other words, being born into a rich family is hardly the guarantee that Hertz and other "Rich is evil!" types insinuate.
He also found the United States had one of the lowest levels of inter-generational mobility in the wealthy world, on a par with Britain but way behind most of Europe.

"Consider a rich and poor family in the United States and a similar pair of families in Denmark, and ask how much of the difference in the parents' incomes would be transmitted, on average, to their grandchildren," Hertz said.

"In the United States this would be 22 percent; in Denmark it would be two percent," he said.
One of Hertz's fallacies is comparing apples and oranges. For one, the United States is the world's single economic superpower, with an extremely diverse population, and it cannot be properly compared with a relatively concentrated section of Europe. Why not compare the U.S. with Bosnia and Herzegovina, or perhaps a single Swiss canton? How about Manhattan with Denmark? It's absurd to compare the average of a large group with some of the hand-picked best of another.

Second, comparing quintiles or percentage-based population segments is meaningless when the scales are different. The United States has a far higher income and wealth ceiling than any other nation in the world. Combined with its large population, that makes it hard to qualify as "rich" in relative terms, though in absolute terms you can still be better off than elsewhere. The Wall Street Journal noted in 2004 that the United States' standard of living is so far ahead of Europe that most of Europe is below the American average. And if you want to talk about per capita GDP, the EU as a whole is barely ahead of...Arkansas. If the EU's average is 100, then Italy and Germany are just average, France is 105, and the U.S. average is 139!

I don't know the exact income level to be in the U.S. top 5%, but for the last few years, the top 1% income bracket has started at about $300K per year. I seem to recall that as of a couple of years ago, the top 10% started at $75K. Now, the wealthier European nations are more homogenous in income than the U.S., but there are fewer "rich" Europeans as a percentage of the population. Since most Europeans are about equal to American middle class at best, it's easier in Europe to be in the top 10%, 5% or even 1%. That's like improving my chances of winning a footrace by getting rid of the top few competitors, or shortening the distance yet measuring by the original length. It doesn't make me any better.

And even when you look at Europe's rich, it's disappointing. Europe's population exceeds that of the United States, yet the former doesn't have many more millionaires than the United States (and the gap is closing because of good growth in the U.S. and slow growth in Europe), even after adjusting for the Euro's strength. Also, European millionaires' total asset wealth isn't much greater than American millionaires'. Europe does have greater income equality, but that's only to its detriment. Never in history has reducing the number of "rich people" helped the lower classes become truly wealthier. If anything, the poor and middle class are left worse off, because there is less wealth for the rich to spread around the economy -- on goods and services that lower-income people provide.
The research was based on a panel of over 4,000 children, whose parents' income were observed in 1968, and whose income as adults was reviewed again in 1995, 1996, 1997 and 1999.
Hertz's next fallacy is one of timing. Income can vary from year to year, and not just with the children, but the parents too. What if the parents' incomes increased since 1968 (and they likely would)? Then again, considering Hertz's biases, why should we expect him to acknowledge a great deal of mobility within a generation?
The survey did not include immigrants, who were not captured in the original data pool. Millions of immigrants work in the U.S, many illegally, earnings much higher salaries than they could get back home.
And the only proper way to compare them would be against their earnings "back home." Also, as has been pointed out many times, why do so many want to come to the United States instead of Europe? Doesn't that tell us which is the real land of opportunity?
Several other experts invited to review his work endorsed the general findings, although they were reticent about accompanying policy recommendations.
They "endorsed the general findings," meaning they agreed with the facts according to the methodology. That's like agreeing with Hertz that two plus two equals four, but disagreeing with his belief that two plus two "ought" to equal five, and that government should enact legislation making it so. Going by strict logic, I'll agree with someone with a flawed ruler that "Yes, that reads 5 mm by your measurement," with the implied caveat that we're not addressing the problems with his standard of measurement.
"This debunks the myth of America as the land of opportunity, but it doesn't tell us what to do to fix it," said Bhashkar Mazumder, a senior economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland who has researched this field.
For some reason, I don't think Mazumder's forefathers came over on the Mayflower. I'd guess his family has been in the U.S. for a few generations at most. Take a look at his bio, and tell me that he isn't living the American dream himself, in contradiction to his claim?
Recent studies have highlighted growing income inequality in the United States, but Americans remain highly optimistic about the odds for economic improvement in their own lifetime.

A survey for the New York Times last year found that 80 percent of those polled believed that it was possible to start out poor, work hard and become rich, compared with less than 60 percent back in 1983.
The reason people believe that is because they see it all the time. They know that they might not reach the top 5%, let alone 1%, but they can still earn a good living. The truth is that the poor are not getting poorer, and though the rich are getting richer, the middle class are becoming richer themselves. Look at all the technology today which still isn't cheap, like iPods and the latest cell phones, and how many middle- and working-class youth have them. Poor families today can afford basic cable TV and DVD players, and they now worry more about obesity and its health risks than having enough to eat.
This contradiction, implying that while people think they are going to make it, the reality is very different, has been seized by critics of President Bush to pound the White House over tax cuts they say favor the rich.
Just what is this supposed to mean? Because some people cannot live up to their unreachable dreams, others who are successful should be brought down to everyone else's level?
Hertz examined channels transmitting income across generations and identified education as the single largest factor, explaining 30 percent of the income-correlation, in an argument to boost public access to universities.
I wonder where Hertz has been for the last few decades. It's easier than ever to be accepted by most colleges, because many are admitting just about anyone, particularly the poor. Why not, when they can get government grants, meaning more money for the school? Even higher-quality schools are dumbing down their entrance requirements for some applicants, all in the name of a "diverse" campus.

For example, one of my economics classmates at SUNY Purchase was annoying to the point of infamy. At best he was a dunce; some of us even wondered if he was mildly retarded. He always asked unintelligent questions: invariably rambling, often about something 20 minutes earlier, sometimes irrelevant. He never did well on exams, yet professors apparently passed him with low Cs, enough so he could get the credit. To what end? So he could get a degree to give him some sense of self-esteem, though that cheapens the value of a degree for the rest of us?

But even he got into college, admittedly just a state school, but he still got accepted. So what's the excuse for everyone else who can't get accepted somewhere? Why does Hertz think we need to "boost public access to universities"?
Breaking the survey down by race spotlighted this as the next most powerful force to explain why the poor stay poor.

On average, 47 percent of poor families remain poor. But within this, 32 percent of whites stay poor while the figure for blacks is 63 percent.

It works the other way as well, with only 3 percent of blacks making it from the bottom quarter of the income ladder to the top quarter, versus 14 percent of whites.

"Part of the reason mobility is so low in America is that race still makes a difference in economic life," he said.
Race does matter, but not because of any alleged racism. The "war on poverty" only created a new plantation and a new type of slavery for black Americans. Only after we completely destroy the welfare state will blacks no longer be enticed by the ease of depending on government handouts. Then they can see and seize the opportunities around them. The "War on Drugs" also does not help, luring young black men into crime-filled, often short-lived lives that government has made profitable.

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Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Blogosphere quote of the month

Josh Hendrickson: "Apparently Jefferson said the statement right before he didn't."

Read his post, and you'll understand why it's so funny, and so pathetically true about Kerry.


What to do about the price of gasoline?

Leave it to one of the greats to tell us like it is. Larry Kudlow wrote on Tuesday that President Bush undid a few things by which government is making oil and gasoline more expensive. He added:
One action President Bush should have taken (and could still take) is to end the 54-cent-a-gallon tariff on imported ethanol (which basically means Brazilian ethanol.) Why the U.S. government should protect the already heavily subsidized ethanol industry at the expense of American consumers is hard to fathom.

Energy Secretary Sam Bodman actually defended the tariff earlier this month saying it was necessary so that foreign producers "can have no advantage over American companies." Holy smokes, this is the energy version of steel tariffs and it's just as bad an idea.

But all this talk of price gouging is nothing more than the usual political pabulum.
Update: one thing Larry didn't mention is that President Bush directed the EPA to wave "clean air" rules, by which the EPA requires certain states to use only specific blends of gasoline. Believe it or not, there are 42 different blends (maybe even more now!), so if gasoline supplies run low in a state that is heavily restricted by the EPA, it often can't just buy gasoline from an adjacent state. Sometimes it must come from two or more states away, which makes the gasoline unnecessarily expensive. Bush said "Every little bit helps" regarding the effect on gasoline prices, and even this good start had a little downward pressure.

However, Bush called for increasing tax breaks for hybrids cars, which I have exposed as "The bad way to cut taxes." As I explained, cutting taxes must be uniform, not just for specific industries or products. Otherwise, like in the case of hybrids or anything else we can get "tax credits" for, it's merely favoritism -- a subsidy. By nature, a subsidy is how the government skews the market in favor of special interests.

Larry had previously assailed the ridiculous ethanol subsidies here, concluding, "The administration is being hoisted on its own ethanol petard." And he is correct. The blame for gasoline prices is not just from the price of oil, but the pile of crap known as the 2005 energy bill. In a couple of decades, economists might just look back on the energy bill and its effects like we today look back on the 1970s wage and price controls: "Who were the schmucks that didn't think about ethanol's scarcity, or even that its price would go up from demand, yet mandated a sudden spike in its use?"

But in our midst are interventionists in the guise of free-marketers, who have a form of laissez-faire but deny the power thereof. As I explained several ways in that link, there is no, NO justification whatsoever for ethanol subsidies. Any subsidy takes money from some to give to others, and though the latter can then sell their goods for less, at best it's all the same for the consumer. If an item would normally sell for $2, but a $1 subsidy allows it to sell for $1, then the taxpayer still pays $2 total, for who else pays the subsidy? Then it gets worse, because an equivalent item that might sell for $1.50 will never come to market. The uncompetitive sellers stay in business, at the expense of the consumer and his lost 50 cents.

Now, I also oppose subsidies for oil companies. I'm the first to support the elimination of all subsidies for everyone, believing that that is the level playing field on which they compete for the consumer's business. But to be fair, "Big Oil" hardly receives the boost that ethanol producers and corn growers are. The energy bill boosted their subsidies, and the mandate to phase out MTBE was the hidden windfall for them. When I tried to tell rufus a dozen times that ethanol will rise in price as it becomes more popular, he didn't believe me, but I turned out to be right.

Sadly, President Bush, though I believe he knows better, has bowed to politics and has come out against price gouging, though such a thing is completely mythical. If he didn't, Democrats would score too many points with voters. Republicans have to display some populism, lest anger over gas prices (fueled by mainstream media) give them the same fate as George H.W. Bush. As this Detroit News op-ed says so well, "One thing you can always count on, as soon as the price of a gallon of gasoline nears $3, Democrats will start demagoguing." Link courtesy of our friend Josh Hendrickson. Josh has also noted the interesting correlation between gas prices and Bush's approval ratings, and that if the Republicans finally get smart, they'll bring up ANWR. Drilling in ANWR would immediately cause crude oil prices to drop (because current prices also reflect future supply), but Democrats consistently block all legislation. Especially now, I cannot fathom why Republicans don't drive this point home.

At the present time, our only option is for the lesser of two evils. I, for one, would rather have Republicans half-heartedly screwing up the economy than Democrats completely wrecking things with "windfall profits" taxes. That reminds me: when will Democrats start calling for "windfall profits" taxes on ethanol producers, who are now earning larger and larger margins? Or do they not want to risk that the American people will finally realize that it's absurd for government to support business, and that it's this absurdity that makes things more expensive than they ought to be? Unlike liberals' use of "ought," my use there means "if the blasted government didn't stick its nose in, whether it's trying to 'help' or simply redistribute money to supporters."

People want government to "do something" about gasoline prices, when in fact the federal government shoulders a good part of the blame. People also wanted government to "do something" about the Great Depression, too, though the Federal Reserve triggered it, and the federal government prolonged it. Why look for solutions from the people who created the problem in the first place?

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Tuesday, April 25, 2006

A tale of two martyrs

Zacarias Moussaoui's lawyers, desperate for the tiniest reason that the jury might spare their client's life, have resorted to asking for mercy. However, I think all chances for it dissipated once prosecutors showed gruesome photos of 9/11 victims. The psychiatric testimony about Moussaoui's childhood and supposed mental illness didn't appear that effective, so now the defense team is saying that executing Moussaoui would make him the martyr he always wanted to be. Well, which one is it? Were I an impartial juror, different appeals would make me conclude what we all know the defense is doing: they're fishing for anything.

Besides, I find there's a peculiar characteristic to Islamofascists' martyrdom versus that of other faiths. For example, Christian martyrs for two millenia have accepted their deaths -- any deaths -- as God's will. Islamofascists, however, don't just seek any death, but suicides on their own terms. If Moussaoui is executed, it would be at the hand of "infidels," not his own, nor would he have killed anyone else with his death. It would be futile, and perhaps even ignominious that he was caught so stupidly.

We also don't need other terrorists threatening suicide bombings (and doing them anyway), or kidnapping and murdering Americans, until we meet their demand and release Moussaoui from prison. On the other hand, if we send him to hell where he belongs, there might be retribution, but all the retaliation in the world still won't bring him back. As the great "Princess Bride" line goes, "There's not a lot of money in revenge." Or other forms of profit, for that matter. It's one thing to blow yourself up to get a fellow jihadist freed, but another thing to blow yourself up because, well, the other guy was executed.

Moussaou wants to die. Most of the families of the 9/11 victims apparently want him to die too. So in my mind, there's only question:

Regular or extra crispy?

There's another martyr-wannabe who was recently found guilty, except his sentence was far too light: Roger Toussaint, president of the New York Transit Workers Union. For ordering the strike despite a court injunction, a Brooklyn judge found him in contempt, then sentenced him to a $1000 and 10 days in jail. On Monday, he turned his trip to jail into a farce, marching across the Brooklyn Bridge with supporters in the same way the illegal union strike forced commuters to walk across the bridge to work. He was flanked by Rev. Al "Race-Baiter Numero Uno" Sharpton and teachers union leader Randy Weingarten. Sharpton promised he'd sit outside the jail on the first night, no doubt thankful that Wendy's is open late.

"The truth of the matter is that I have nothing but contempt for a system that gives employers free rein to abuse workers." How are the transit union workers "abused" when the pay and benefits are almost astounding? With overtime, some bus drivers can earn over $60K annually. And I believe it was just after the strike, though maybe before, that someone used a cell phone camera to take a picture of a soundly sleeping subway booth clerk. Apparently he was pulling double shifts and earning massive overtime (well over $70K a year), and now we know how he did it. Buying metro cards is fully automated, so the booth clerks basically do...nothing.

Union members' medical insurance benefits are similarly generous. In fact, negotiations last December kept breaking down because the city, faced with exponentially increasing deficits in the coming years as it pays for all workers' insurance costs, wanted newer workers to pay a mere 1.5% of their wages for health insurance. It was quite a reasonable offer, but Toussaint pushed his members to reject it.

How can any intelligent person see this putz as a "working class hero"? He pulls a generous salary (he cut it to "only" $94K annually back in 2002), is chauffered around at union expense, and runs around pretending that he cares about his union members. If he really cared about them, he wouldn't have started the strike, which garnered workers a penalty of two days' pay for each day on strike. The union was also fined $2.5 million, which will go straight to the city treasury. Though that comes to only under $76 per union member, that's still lost money.

Toussaint knew precisely what would happen, especially the public backlash. It still didn't matter that most New Yorkers developed a bad opinion of the union, or at least its tactics -- Toussaint had to feed his ego. I wonder how hard it was for his henchmen to get together a "crowd of dozens" to cheer him on? Compare them to at least a few million who'd lynch him in a New York minute.

Toussaint reportedly said he'd "do 30 years before transit workers surrender." I say we give him just that, since it seems to be what he wants, just like death is what Moussaoui supposedly wants.

The looming New York City transit strike
Bloomberg and the transit union: playing chicken
The New York City transit union strike

Monday, April 24, 2006

A Zionist war on Islam?

Bin Laden Accuses U.S. of 'War on Islam'

CAIRO, Egypt Apr 23, 2006 (AP)— Osama bin Laden issued new threats in an audiotape broadcast on Arab television Sunday and accused the United States and Europe of supporting a "Zionist" war on Islam by cutting off funds to the Hamas-led Palestinian government.

He also urged followers to go to Sudan, his former base, to fight a proposed U.N. peacekeeping force.

His words, the first new message by the al-Qaida leader in three months, seemed designed to justify potential attacks on civilians something al-Qaida has been criticized for even by its Arab supporters.

He also appeared to be trying to drum up support among Arabs by accusing the West of targeting Hamas, a militant group that fights against Israel and now heads the Palestinian government.

Citing the West's decision to cut off aid to the Hamas-led government because it refuses to renounce violence or recognize Israel, bin Laden said Washington and Europe were waging war on Islam.

"The blockade which the West is imposing on the government of Hamas proves that there is a Zionist, crusaders' war on Islam," bin Laden said....

Israeli government spokesman Raanan Gissin said it appeared bin Laden decided to issue the verbal assault to deflect growing Arab animosity toward al-Qaida....

Bob Ayers, a security expert with the Chatham House think tank in London, said the tape may be bin Laden's way of playing cat-and-mouse with those hunting him.

"It's when people have kind of forgotten about him, when he's not been on the news, that the tapes emerge," Ayers said. "It's kind of his way of thumbing his nose at the U.S. and saying, 'Hey, I'm still out here, and you haven't caught me and you can't.' That's what he's saying."
Osama's latest message is like a criminal blaming policemen for being in prison; apparently it didn't matter that the criminal is incarcerated because he committed a crime, not merely because law enforcement caught him. Osama's excuse is like when Japan accused the U.S. of provocation when, in fact, the U.S. oil embargo was a response to purely unprovoked Japanese aggression in Asia. Forgive me for appealing to a little logic here, but is there the tiniest possibility that Israel cut off funds to the Palestinian government because the latter happens to be comprised of thugs? And as I pointed out at the end of my satire, there's no difference between Fatah and Hamas, even after Arafat (may he be roasting in hell with Khomeini) died a pitifully easy death.

Now let's look at how Salah Nasrawi, the reporter, phrased something so curiously: "seemed designed to justify potential attacks on civilians..." I guess Nasrawi (whose name is as Arab as you can get) doesn't count the mass murder of 9/11 as "potential attacks on civilians." Perhaps "civilian" to him doesn't include non-Muslims? Besides, since when did Osama or his butchers ever care about who they killed? It's not even a matter of killing Christians and Jews: they will even murder fellow Muslims. These are the real cowards, no matter what Bill Maher likes to think.

Israel's government spokesman is likely correct. It's a classic ploy of tyrants, or wannabe tyrants, to distract the people by channelling their anger toward fictitious enemies. "We have always been at war with Eurasia." If Osama didn't energize so many Islamofascists into fighting the mythical monster of "the West," then enough reasonable people across the Middle East might wake up someday and realize the religious dictatorships that enslave them. Similarly, if Americans had any concept of the ticking time bomb of Social Security and Medicare, they'd be protesting in far greater numbers than those taking to the streets about illegal immigration. Illegal immigration, though, is almost a red herring in that politicians can seize on it, spend weeks in deadlock, and divert our attention from more important issues.

And Ayers is correct: Osama is old news, but his ego won't allow him to stay silent. What Ayers doesn't understand is that the U.S. doesn't care anymore about capturing Osama. The putz has long since been neutralized, running from cave to cave just like Saddam ran from house to house. As I wrote last month, the Democrats are fools to think we should send in so many men and so much equipment for just one man. We need only apply a little pressure to keep Osama checked, and right now it's not important to capture him. He's in no position to plan, command and coordinate, not like before he went on the run. It's the fact that he wields such little power now that, for the sake of his ego, he must release messages every so often in the hope that Western countries, and his own followers too, still consider him a threat.


Sunday, April 23, 2006

How many lies can Ted Rall make in one cartoon?

Or is he really that much of an idiot to believe his own tripe? Here's his "cartoon" from Saturday. And I use "cartoon" loosely, because as many before me have observed, his drawings have all the sophistication of an elementary school student's scribbles. (Remember, Rall is the one who accused Art Spiegelman of lacking talent.)

Let's deal with it one frame at a time. Here's the truth about tax cuts. As Jack Kemp pointed out in 2003, Kennedy cut taxes. (I'm not the first to note that today he'd be shunned by his own party.) The result: economic boom and increased tax revenues. Reagan massively cut tax rates, especially on the very top incomes upon which most people's jobs depend. The result: the end of stagflation, increased federal tax revenues, and the prosperity of the 1980s (often wrongfully maligned as an era of "greed"). And before them, Calvin Coolidge and Congress in 1925 lowered the top tax rate to 25%. The result: continued economic prosperity through the rest of the 1920s, until the Federal Reserve pulled the carpet out from under Americans (cutting the money supply by a third, triggering the Great Depression).

Compare this with what Franklin Delano Roosevelt did to create a new low in the Great Depression. As I wrote in April 2005:
Keynesian-apologist bunk like this blames the Depression's sudden worsening on a cut in federal spending. The claim is that FDR wanted a balanced budget. The raw data shows that FDR's "balanced budget" had an 8% spending drop in 1937 compared to 1936 to 1937, and a 10% drop in 1938 compared to 1937 (17% overall). However, "tax receipts" surged 37% in 1937 compared to 1936, and then 25% in 1938 compared to 1937 -- an overall increase of 72%. Yes, the federal government cut spending, but it was simultaneously raising taxes -- raising taxes a lot. The top tax rate soared to 79% in 1936, after being raised to 63% in 1932. Massive spending cuts by themselves would have sufficed, but not with simultaneous tax hikes. The higher taxes and constrictive regulations simply discouraged businesses and their owners from doing anything profitable with money. Business owners could expand their businesses, but the after-tax income wouldn't be worth the increasing marginal cost. Would-be investors could save money, but who would borrow it? Government making it unprofitable to create wealth is why the Depression worsened, not because FDR wanted a balanced budget.
Supply-siders like me point out that a balanced budget isn't everything. In fact, it's worse than government borrowing when it means tax hikes (which discourage economic activity) to finance continued high levels of spending.

Regarding the second panel, keep in mind that I'm just a regular Joe. I have no access to economic data to which any of you and Ted Rall are restricted. So when I look at BLS employment statistics, available to anyone in the world, and see that non-farm employment now is over 2 million greater than in January 2001, I can only think of one word to describe Rall's willful ignorance of plain facts: bullshit! I seem to be using that word a lot lately. Lately I've been really tired (not really overworked, but I have so much to do), and maybe liberals' idiocy is starting to get me.

By the way, Rall can't do simple mathematics, either. The United States has a surface area of 3,718,711 square miles (both land and water). So even were his stupidity true, it would be one "Bush era jobless person" every 1.86 miles.

At least his math was correct in the subsequent panels, but his perception of reality, as usual, was off. If the U.S. military recruited two million more people at annual pay of $35,000 each, the total cost would far exceed $70 billion. That's because the U.S. military has extremely high equipment costs per person. Compare the Pentagon's request of $440 billion for 2006, and the 1.4 million active duty personnel (with another 1.3 million or so reservists) in the U.S. armed forces. Keep this in mind the next time someone says that military personnel don't get paid enough. Not to denigrate military service, but when operating costs are extremely high, and your customers (American taxpayers in this case) are willing to pay only so much, you therefore cannot pay your employees very much. And it's possible because there is actually quite a labor pool of people who are willing to serve in the armed forces for not a lot of money (i.e. their employment value at the margin, as Don Boudreaux explained).

I suppose, though, that Rall would finance it with more tax cuts on the rich. Perhaps more tax hikes like FDR's, which plunged the U.S. deeper into the Depression? More tax hikes like Clinton's, which did nothing for the American economy, though Paul Krugman claims they "ushered in an economic boom"?

This is the economic argument. I'm not even getting into the moral argument: it's your money, so why should others have the authority (not "right" or "freedom") to take and spend it as they wish? "Theftinomics" is a word Rall made up to describe government economic policies that are based on theft and fraud. That's a perfect term, actually, for Rall's socialism (euphemistically called "progressive liberalism" by mainstream media). If someone makes $1 million without coercing anyone, without committing a crime, then why are any of us entitled to a penny of it? Yet governments at all levels insist on their cut, so they can redistribute it to everyone else.

It's said that a broken clock is still correct twice a day. Does it matter when a broken clock like Rall is correct but only for the wrong reasons?

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Friday, April 21, 2006

Why should anyone be stunned that a disarmed people are easy prey?

The cover story of Thursday's New York Post was about a punk who stabbed a woman and then her boyfriend in a crowded subway car -- all because she supposedly kept staring at him. The attacker got caught, and charged only with assault and weapons possession. How about charging him with some real crimes, so that we can throw him into a cell on Riker's Island and keep him away from civilized society?

This attack would never have happened, though, if New Yorkers were not so disarmed. Even if the guy were a lunatic and didn't consider his victim might shoot him, at the moment he brandished a blade, the boyfriend could have blown him away regardless. The article concluded, "Straphangers were stunned that the attack happened on a crowded train in a safe neighborhood." Stunned? Like sheep, people in a good area are easy prey. They are more likely to assume a high degree of safety because of their better surroundings, and they are more likely to be "good citizens" who obey the unconstitutional gun control laws.

As Capital Freedom explained so well, a criminal's cost of committing crimes goes down a great deal when they know the victim doesn't have a firearm. What, then, if municipalities stop preventing citizens from carrying concealed weaponry as they wish? Should we expect the NYC subway system to turn into a shooting gallery? Far from it, actually. We "gun nuts" are accused of oversimplifying things when we say, "An armed society is a polite society," but the saying is nonetheless true. The "Old West," with all its gunfighters and outlaws, was actually a very respectful place because of all the heat being packed.

Similarly, I'd expect the subway passengers to become extraordinarily polite. No one looking to board would stand right in front of the subway doors, for example, which makes it hard for people who are disembarking. One evening, I had to get off by pushing through a trio of young males. It greatly irritated me, so I intentionally gave one a very hard shoulder as I shoved past them. He shouted back in a heavy Hispanic accent, "Hey, man!" and poked me hard on the shoulder with his finger. That was actually a dangerous thing for me to do, because he could have easily used a knife. He could have concealed the weapon so that none of the other passengers would be the wiser, and in case there were witnesses, he and his friends could have gotten off at the next stop and disappeared into the crowds. But without gun control laws, with a strong possibility that I was as armed at least as well, these eses wouldn't have risked getting shot for poking me. I likewise wouldn't have muscled through and risked an exchange of bullets, but it wouldn't have happened in the first place: they wouldn't have blocked people from exiting and risked that someone was having a bad day.

Now, those of you in the city might think I have no place to talk, since I'm from Westchester, but frankly, I was rather ashamed of the other subway passengers' behavior. With so many of them, and only one man, why didn't they do something? New Yorkers might be the toughest people in the world, a sentiment expressed by many in the aftermath of 9/11, but none of that toughness was evidenced yesterday. Note what the article said:
Panicked straphangers fled to the other end of the car.

The victims chased Murphy out of the train when it pulled into the 14th Street station and tried in vain to catch him. A witness who saw the bloodied couple called 911 and cops quickly arrived.
Not only did everyone else not want to assist, only the victims tried to chase the punk! Where's Crocodile Dundee when you need him? Whatever happened to strength in numbers? No one thought to use a bag or backpack to deflect the blade, while others wrestled him down? On the other hand, the hero award goes to the boyfriend, who did what any other real man would, and defended his lady.

Since New York and many other cities keep the honest citizenry disarmed, one must learn to defend in other ways. Various martial arts, like jujutsu, have relatively simple defenses against knife attacks that do not require great strength or first-rate skill. Especially when most assailants don't know the proper way to hold a knife (though it's effective against someone who doesn't know self-defense), the right hold and throw can disarm your attacker. One of my friends, a black belt in Tae Kwon Do, showed me a move that anyone can use against a stabbing motion coming from above. It doesn't work against the more common "slash" motion, but there are defenses for that too. It's not impossible for an ordinary person to defend against a knife; you don't have to be Jackie Chan and quickly use an article of clothing.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Protectionism by any other name still stinks

The error of protectionist economics
Protectionism is for losers
The free market lets the best come out on top
If only protectionists would put all that effort into improving themselves

Protectionism only hinders an economy, but its proponents insist it's necessary to "save domestic jobs." In fact, as we saw with President Bush's steel tariffs, protectionism destroys more jobs than it saves.

Sometimes protectionism comes disguised as an appeal for economic stability, like right now in Chile. Copper prices have been rising dramatically, especially in the last year, which has greatly benefited Chile, the world's biggest copper exporter. The demand has strengthened its peso against many currencies, including the U.S. dollar, because foreigners must exchange their currencies for pesos with which to buy Chilean copper. Exporters of agriculture are very worried, however, because a stronger domestic currency makes exports more expensive for foreigners. They want Chile's central bank to weaken the peso, which will benefit them but harm everyone who buys imports -- in other words, protectionism. My BS sensor kept going off as I read this:
Chile has an enviable dilemma: too much money

SANTIAGO, Chile (Reuters) - Chile's new President Michelle Bachelet is facing her first big political test, one some might envy: too much money from the country's rich copper exports.

Opposition leaders, wine makers and fruit growers are calling on Bachelet to stem a flood of mining dollars that could spell disaster for many exporters, Chile's economic motor, by strengthening the local currency too much....

"We can't just sit around and wait for a disaster to occur, which is going to happen if our agricultural sector continues to be hit by this," Sen. Juan Antonio Coloma, of the opposition right-wing Independent Democratic Union, told Reuters.

Chile, a country of 16 million people and Latin America's star economy, is the biggest world producer of copper, whose price has shot sky high due to heavy Chinese demand for material for buildings and power plants.

Zooming copper income has inundated Chile with greenbacks, making the local peso currency appreciate and handing the government fat budget surpluses and a chance to pay down debt.

That's great for consumers snatching up cheap imported electronics but the strong local currency spells disaster for exporters of wine, table grapes, berries and salmon whose dollar-denominated revenues are worth less and less in pesos.

Wine makers have put the brakes on investment and the billion dollar table-grape industry says thousands of jobs are threatened and that growers will lose more than $1,000 per hectare (2.5 acres) of grapes this year as the peso nears six-year highs.

"We're seeing a total lack of sensitivity by the economic authorities... I don't believe they have any interest in taking more drastic measures to correct the problem," Luis Schmidt, president of the Federation of Fruit Producers, told local media.

Sen. Coloma said the government should get the peso under control by holding copper dollars in offshore investments so they don't enter the country, and by letting let Chile's private pension fund system invest more outside the country.

The government and the central bank are being very cautious about intervening in the foreign exchange market. That is typical of austere, fiscally conservative Chile, which has a law that forces the government to spend in bad times to stimulate the economy and save in boom times to control inflation.

Bachelet says she will not yield to the temptation to go on a spending binge, but she has not said what she will do about the strong peso....

Juan Carlos Sepulveda, another fruit grower leader, said the government must look after the country's 13,800 fresh fruit producers, who provide 420,000 direct jobs compared with 50,000 in mining and whose exports were worth $2 billion last year....

Chileans say the government should spend some of the windfall on education or technological development yet are wary wanton spending stimulating inflation....
Talk about junk economics! First, how can a country have too much money? In this case, it's real wealth, not just more paper currency by the central bank. As we'll see, the problem isn't that Chile is earning too much money from exporting copper -- it's that the agricultural sector is jealous, since it's being left behind due to its own uncompetitiveness.

Second, Chile's government has a law requiring it to spend to stimulate the economy? That's not "fiscally conservative" -- that's Keynesian bunk! What is also bunk is the notion of government running surpluses during good times so it doesn't cause inflation, because its spending will increase the demand for (and hence prices of) goods and services. As Don Luskin so well put it:
But more people wanting wood and cement isn't inflation — it's just supply and demand. Inflation is when the Fed prints too much money, and the price of goods denominated in that debased currency rises in response. But that's not the way some of the econometric gurus at the Fed see it. They believe that rising consumer demand causes inflation. That means they believe that prosperity causes inflation. They believe that jobs cause inflation.
The main theme of the news story, however, is that the protectionists don't give a damn about anyone else, only their own jobs. This is true whether they're the heads of agricultural "associations" (i.e. union bosses) or opposition leaders looking for a major issue on which to criticize President Bachelet (like U.S. Democrats who suddenly became fiscal conservatives). When they talk about saving jobs, they never admit the flip side that imports will become more expensive for everyone else.

A strong peso supposedly threatens the jobs of 420,000 Chileans in fresh fruit production, and there are only 50,000 Chileans in mining. Very well, let's make this a matter of pure numbers. Chile's fresh fruit exports may have been $2 billion last year, but its copper exports for just the first 11 months of 2005 were worth $15.55 billion. In fact, its March 2006 copper exports alone were worth over U.S. $2.75 billion. So what will the Chilean government do, save 420,000 jobs at the expense of 50,000 others, though the smaller group produces over eight times the wealth? Actually, Chile's top politicians probably will do just that. After all, better to lose 50,000 votes than 420,000.

Chile's copper exports grow despite the strong peso. If copper sells for $2 per pound on the New York Mercantile Exchange, and the peso strengthens from, say, 515 to 500 vis-à-vis the U.S. dollar, then Chilean exporters earn fewer pesos. But the global demand for copper has more than offset that. The same is not true for Chilean wines or fruit: when those get expensive, people turn to plentiful substitutes like Argentinian or even Australian wines, and fruit from other South American nations. At the present time, Chile's copper industry happens to produce something that's more profitable and in greater demand. So why should the less-competitive agricultural producers be entitled to "relief," given to them by government, and at the expense of everyone else? Because the nature of capitalism rewards and promotes success, and, to paraphrase what Neal Boortz said at last week's FairTax debate (which I haven't blogged about yet), government punishes the successful when it assumes redistributive powers.

A scary thought is that Chile's government might pull a Franklin Delano Roosevelt and start paying subsidies to the agricultural sector. The budget surpluses would make it easy to justify this, or perhaps the government will levy extra taxes on the copper industry (the old cry of "level the playing field"). Judging by American history, the subsidies would probably be impossible to eliminate, even in times of large budget deficits.

Should we have enacted heavy taxes on the first automobiles, to protect buggy manufacturers, horse breeders and whip-makers? Or have we fallen so far into the absurd trap of protectionism that we're ready to believe the lobbyists, who claim they only want to "save hard-working people's jobs"? Had Edison invented his light bulb under today's circumstances, candlemakers would have gotten the EPA to pass restrictions hindering Edison but not themselves, like requiring proof that the emitted radiation would not be harmful. It never takes an outright ban for a protectionism-seeking industry to win, only enough hurdles for everyone else so that everyone else finds it too expensive to do business.

I personally think Chile's government and central bank should take advantage of the strong peso by paying down debt while it can do so cheaply. It could also buy U.S. Treasury securities (also made cheaper by the strong peso) for its pension system. What it shouldn't do is devalue the peso just for the sake of agricultural interests. The strong peso's big benefit that it makes imports cheaper for Chileans, such as consumer goods, and also high-end manufacturing and technology for industry. Chileans can afford more of these goods because of the income from exporting copper, allowing them to enjoy goods from the world's wealthiest nations. Why is this a problem?

Well, it's a problem for 420,000 agricultural workers, who generate less than one-eighth the wealth that a mere 50,000 in the mining industry do. So they call upon government to protect them at everyone else's expense, not realizing that the mountain will fall upon them too. Don Luskin recently cited the Smoot-Hawley Tariff's role in the Great Depression. Though I first blame the Federal Reserve's sudden tightening of monetary policy, I've cited the Hawley-Smoot Tariff as a big factor in worsening things. Domestic producers got their wish for heavy tariffs...and the result was an economic crash that affected them as much as everyone else.

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Monday, April 17, 2006

Victory day

I would have blogged this yesterday morning, but I woke up late and had to rush for the train. I would have blogged this after I came home, but it was so late and I had to sleep.

Christians yesterday celebrated the resurrected of our Lord Jesus Christ, commonly known as Easter. Some of my friends prefer to call it "Resurrection Day" and avoid any pagan associations. I myself consider it a day of victory for Christians:

Why seek ye the living among the dead? (Luke 24:5)

O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?

The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law.

But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.
(1 Corinthians 15:55-58)

I surprised two of my friends yesterday morning by unexpectedly joining them in worship at their home church, St. Thomas Episcopal Church, located at 53rd Street and 5th Avenue in Manhattan. It was a very long service, nearly two hours, far longer than anything I'm used to. Though I'm a Baptist and prefer our informal style of worship, and Anglican services' origins in Catholicism can overwhelm me, it was still a very grand and moving service. The sermon was excellent, too, pointing to the empty grave as evidence of our hope.

Afterward, we had a quick lunch and returned for the musical recital and evensong. The organists were nothing short of excellent. After that, several of us went to Faces & Names, near the corner of 54th and 7th Avenue. It's a nice little bar, even if some of its celebrity caricature paintings are a bit...grotesque. We wound up staying for quite a while, talking about all kinds of things, from theology to illegal immigration. I was especially pleased to renew my acquaintance with Miss Caroline, a good friend of my two friends.

By the time I returned to Grand Central, I had missed my train by literally just a minute or two. So I had to wait until the 11:08, and it was well past midnight by the time I got home. I was the first to board the train and had to change seats twice. The first time, two young girls sat near me and were chattering incessantly. I moved to the other end of the car, where I was later joined by a couple in their 20s. It was bad enough that they were talking so loudly to each other -- in fact, why do people bother to sit across from each other when they intend to talk? Don't they have the common sense, let alone courtesy, to realize they must raise their voices and therefore disturb others? But what made it even worse: they were talking in French. European French accents, not Quebecois. After a few minutes, I'd had enough. I grabbed my things, glared, and said coldly, "Excuse me" before moving to the next car.

We had an interesting encounter outside the bar. As my two friends and I prepared to part ways with Miss Caroline, a 30-something black male approached and asked if we could spare any money so he could buy himself a leg of lamb. "Come on, it's Easter!" He told us that he's originally from Virginia, is currently homeless, but has a job in construction. One of my friends is a very tender-hearted Christian and gave him a few dollars. I, on the other hand, gave him nothing and doubt I ever would have, especially since he said he has a job.

Should I feel any guilt, considering I had just spent $80 at the bar? (Which was not bad, really. I treated everyone to the first round of drinks and two platters of very delicious mini-cheeseburgers.) Though I had the means, I feel no guilt at all, considering that if I worked strictly to keep myself in poverty and give the rest to the poor, I would be far less driven to earn my present income. The economy would therefore be reduced by the amount I no longer produced, prompting others to produce less because I am not buying as much, so now multiply that by tens of millions of Americans. Such is the logic of my Christian capitalism. After all, we must live too, don't we? It all depends on how we use our income.

Both the Old and New Testaments teach that it is wrong to trust in riches, in which I include wealth for its own sake. However, I believe there is nothing wrong with acquiring savings and useful things, and especially nothing wrong with working more so we can invest in new technology, thus improving our standard of living. Remember that it is "the love of money that is the root of all evil," not money itself (a big detail Ayn Rand misunderstood). Now let us consider when Christ told the young man to give away all his riches and follow Him, and the young man's reluctance that prompted Christ to say, "Children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God." Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were very rich men, weren't they, with all their flocks, herds and servants? But Christ clarified who the "rich man" is: he who trusts in his riches, and not in God. The living God was right in his face, yet the young man did not want to give up his other master. Christians can use money so long as they keep it a tool, not elevating it to an object of worship.

Returning to the panhandler, he was not only able-bodied but apparently employed too, so even with Christ's admonitions in Matthew 25, I feel no obligation to help someone who certainly can help himself. My friend who gave him money even suggested buying brass polish, then going to St. Thomas and offering to clean the candlesticks for a little money. The reply, and I kid you not: "Man, that's hard." How could it be any harder than the construction work he claimed to do?

And then there was the fellow sitting on the Fifth Avenue bench. I passed by him in the morning, on my walk from Grand Central to St. Thomas. He was calling out over and over, "Can someone give me ten dollars? I would like to buy a lunch." At his feet were a couple of Duane Reade bags, whose contents I couldn't see, but still, ten dollars! He was Caucasian with an accent I couldn't place.

It's a sad situation that, not just in New York City, you should not give handouts to street beggars. When my friend Jackie was in town, we were waiting for her boyfriend Terrence outside Madison Square Garden. Someone approached us, asking if we could spare any money. Neither of us gave him anything, and we both agreed it's far better to give money to trustworthy organizations that help the poor. I like the Salvation Army best.

Friday, April 14, 2006

It's an annual thing: Good Friday crucifixions in the Philippines

Yahoo! has video (warning: graphic) of Filipinos who voluntarily have themselves nailed to the cross. It's happened every Good Friday for God knows how long. The superficially informed news report initially says that people do it to "reenact the final hours of Jesus Christ," but it properly expands it later on to include those who are repenting of sins, seeking cures for sick relatives, and to fulfill vows.

I've known about it for a long time. It's done in Pampanga, my mother's home province. She's seen them dragging their crosses down the road, and even crucified. I personally wouldn't have the stomach to go anywhere near eyesight.

The soundbite that stuck in my craw came from a Canadian tourist: "Obviously people care very deeply about it, and they're very committed to doing something like this, so, it's fantastic to watch people so committed to, to, uh, to their religion and to their faith."

Yes, well, Michelle Malkin wrote today about a different religion's adherents who are very committed to their religion. And let's also not forget what others did, prompted by their strong devotion to their religion:

So yeah, let's celebrate every instance of how "fantastic" it is when someone's so "committed" to his faith. Good idea.

Luke 23:27-47

(emphases added)

And there followed him a great company of people, and of women, which also bewailed and lamented him.

But Jesus turning unto them said, Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children.

For, behold, the days are coming, in the which they shall say, Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bare, and the paps which never gave suck.

Then shall they begin to say to the mountains, Fall on us; and to the hills, Cover us.

For if they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry?

And there were also two other, malefactors, led with him to be put to death.

And when they were come to the place, which is called Calvary, there they crucified him, and the malefactors, one on the right hand, and the other on the left.

Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And they parted his raiment, and cast lots.

And the people stood beholding. And the rulers also with them derided him, saying, He saved others; let him save himself, if he be Christ, the chosen of God.

And the soldiers also mocked him, coming to him, and offering him vinegar,

And saying, If thou be the king of the Jews, save thyself.

And a superscription also was written over him in letters of Greek, and Latin, and Hebrew, THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.

And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us.

But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation?

And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss.

And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.

And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.

And it was about the sixth hour, and there was a darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour.

And the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was rent in the midst.

And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost.

Now when the centurion saw what was done, he glorified God, saying, Certainly this was a righteous man.

No rescue is too small for government to hinder

The New York Post reported a few days ago on a young cat that had already been trapped for several days inside a deli's walls. Notice what this AP article mentions, which explains why the owners still can't rescue their poor cat after two weeks:
Trapped NYC Cat Enters Day 13 of Captivity

NEW YORK - With Molly the fugitive feline sending out distress calls from a few feet — or maybe just inches — away, animal rescue and city experts tried anew on Thursday to lure the 11-month-old black cat from the innards of a 19th century building where she has been trapped for nearly two weeks.

The low-key drama, with no end in sight, was playing out in the basement wall and ceiling of a Greenwich Village delicatessen, where Molly had been official house mouser until wandering into a narrow space between walls and becoming lost in what rescue supervisor Mike Pastore described as "a maze of beams and pipes, going every which way."

With city building officials on hand to supervise, more bricks were hammered out in the cellar of the 157-year-old, four-story building on Hudson Street. The edifice is part of a landmarked historic district where alterations are prohibited without official permission.

Pastore said he hoped Molly's situation would be seen as enough of an emergency "so that we can knock out a few more bricks."

Pastore, field director for Animal Care & Control, a private organization with a city contract to handle lost, injured and unwanted animals, said the rescue was the most difficult in his experience. "I've done this dozens of times — even in zero neighborhoods where you're lucky to get out alive," he said.
There you have it: just because the government of New York City has proclaimed a "historic district" that includes the building, the owners must have bureaucrats on-hand to approve every brick that's removed. Though he works for a private company, Pastore in this situation has become part of the long arm of big government. It's not surprising that he finds the rescue so "difficult" when it ought not to be, or that he hopes the government to which he's so subservient will give permission for "a few more bricks."

Once they discovered their cat was trapped, the owners could have pulled out the entire wall as they saw fit, balancing their love for their pet with how much damage they were willing to suffer. However, we're again dealing with big government and it's "to hell with you" attitude about people's property rights. The city evidently considers the well-being of a cat a small price to pay for the preservation of a "historic district." It's an easy cost since the government's decision-makers make others bear it.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

John Bolton's speech tonight on the UN and Iran

John Bolton spoke and then entertained questions at the University Club in Manhattan, on Fifth Avenue and not far from where I work. Many thanks to the Federalist Society's New York City Chapter for its wonderful event, and to our friend Karol for listing it on her events calendar.

It was really a pleasure to hear Ambassador Bolton speak on the UN (Little Green Footballs had a great video that moonbats put together to disparage Bolton before his confirmation, which showed me that he's the right man for the job). It was a bonus to hear him about Iran, and an honor to shake his hand afterward. I quipped that he probably likes the scene in one of the "Pink Panther" movies where Herbert Lom's villain character used a ray weapon to wipe out the UN building. In fact, he didn't remember it, but maybe now he'll rent it to see.

However, I'll have to blog about this tomorrow night. Two nights in a row, I've gotten home pretty late. Work in the morning, things to do around the house, clothes to prepare for the morrow, and I'm really tired. I can't express how much I'm looking forward to a three-day weekend.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Mitt Romney, Republican socialist

Via our friend Josh Hendrickson, Gov. Romney of Massachusetts wrote an op-ed in Tuesday's Wall Street Journal that defended his support of Massachusetts' descent into socialized medicine.

I got home a while ago, so I'll more thoroughly criticize it tomorrow (hopefully). Let me say tonight that Romney's article is pure tripe. "Personal responsibility" my eye -- how can he invoke that term when it's all about government coercing people into buying something they otherwise wouldn't? "Personal responsibility" would be letting people decide for themselves.

Also, as I said in a comment on Josh's blog, Romney is making the classic liberal mistake of confusing health insurance and health care. He wrote, "someone has to pay for the health care that must, by law, be provided," which is nothing short of moronic. "Someone has to pay" only because government is now coercing people into a statist plan of universal health insurance. Then he concluded the paragraph, "A free ride on government is not libertarian", as if any real libertarians are calling for that?

And George W. Bush is accused by a lot of conservatives of being a big government Republican. Ha! I really don't understand what Romney is doing, unless he really just wants to out himself as a socialist. Maybe he's trying to get support for a 2008 White House run as Hillary's running mate.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Those who fear Wal-Mart and call for "separation of commerce and bank"

When I first heard that Wal-Mart might go into banking, I was quite intrigued. Imagine the great physical convenience for the millions of Americans who shop at Wal-Mart. Also, with its giant financial infrastructure already established, Wal-Mart could probably offer very competitive rates and services. On top of loans and investments, Wal-Mart could use deposits for its own internal purposes: building new stores, expanding existing ones, and increasing supply lines, things that might yield better returns than investing deposits in more traditional ways. No wonder banks complained from the start that Wal-Mart shouldn't be allowed -- they were, without a doubt, scared!

But, Marshall Manson reminded me earlier in a regular e-mail that Wal-Mart isn't actually going into commercial banking. What it wants to do is establish its own industrial bank to reduce its costs of processing credit and debit card transactions. Since Wal-Mart is almost notorious for aggressive price competitiveness, we can bank (pun intended) on it turning the savings into even lower prices. This is far more beneficial to the poor than forcing Wal-Mart to pay higher wages and offer health care benefits, which only causes Wal-Mart to raise prices, hire fewer people, and not even build a new store somewhere.

Marshall wrote:
Wal-Mart is not interested in opening bank branches now or in the future. You will not see a Wal-Mart Bank in a Wal-Mart Store.

What you will see is more than 1,150 independent community bank branches in Wal-Mart stores. And we have agreements for another 250 branches....

Wal-Mart's largest competitor, Target, operates its own industrial bank, as do General Motors, GE, Toyota and many others. Indeed, more than 60 industrial banks, owned by diversified firms and commercial entities like Wal-Mart, are operating today in the United States.
So we won't see Wal-Banks (yet), but bank branches opening in Wal-Marts is still a terrific thing. Wal-Mart always seems to be a step ahead in redefining the phrase "one-stop shopping." Many people already need drive to just one place for hardware, shampoo, DVDs, music, electronics, one-hour film developing and even a Subway lunch. Now they can do their banking without having to drive elsewhere and search for a parking spot. Who doesn't like the extra free time because one no longer has to make several stops? And if it's not that great an idea, and/or if the banks have poor service, people won't go for it.

The FDIC hearings began today on whether Wal-Mart should be permitted to open its own Industrial Loan Corporation. The question isn't why, but why should it prevented? Is Wal-Mart harming anyone through force or fraud? I really can't see how. If people do not like Wal-Mart's business practices, whether the wages it pays or that it might have its own bank, they are free to take their business elsewhere. Conversely, if Wal-Mart can improve its own business model and get more of my business, so long as I harm no one else, what concern is it to anyone else?

Marshall pointed me to a Seattle Times article that I found ridiculously one-sided. At the very start, it accused Wal-Mart of "ever looking for ways to expand its already huge empire," and that "such a step could hurt local banks much like the mom-and-pop stores were during Wal-Mart's rapid expansion." There's a superficial explanation of what Wal-Mart wants to do, but lengthy details of the various complaints against Wal-Mart (which turn out to be banks' protectionism). Yet nowhere in the article, that I can see, does it mention that Wal-Mart having its own industrial bank would save its customers money.

"Concerns are twofold. One is the mixing of banking and commerce — parts of the economy that have traditionally been separate." Since when was there an economic maxim or absolute principle dictating that "banking" and "commerce" must be separate? What property of a retail company makes it inherently untrustworthy as a bank? "Traditionally" has long since gone past the wayside, anyway, and let's be mindful that "tradition" can be a stupid excuse when we're clinging to an erroneous idea. Similar to the anti-Wal-Marters' irrational call for "separation of commerce and bank," the Glass-Steagall Act in 1933 forbade a firm from doing both commercial and investment banking. Such banks were an easy scapegoat for the Great Depression, but the myth of mutual exclusivity was destroyed in 1999 when Bill Clinton signed the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act. Firms like JP Morgan Chase have been doing just fine engaging in both investment and commercial banking, yet for several decades, banks "traditionally" didn't do both.

Side note: the banking problem of the Depression wasn't that banks accepted deposits while also underwriting securities. The main problem wasn't what banks were doing, but that the Fed inflated the money supply during the 1920s, creating an artificial boom, then suddenly pulled the rug from under the banks with a massive tightening at decade's end (cutting the money supply by a third!). The resulting artificial depression forced people to withdraw their savings, and these "runs" on the banks forced many into bankruptcy. For my other entries on the Great Depression and why government made it last longer than it should have, see here, here and here. Just don't be like the ignoramus I refuted here, a leftist who thinks the free market caused the Depression.

The Seattle Times article stated, "The other is concern that a Wal-Mart bank could swallow local banks with its national presence and deep pockets, outcompeting even large institutions such as Bank of America, Chase and Wachovia." So are other banks, even the giants, so uncompetitive that they'd be like the old, inefficient "mom & pop" stores that Wal-Mart drove out of business? I can't say that I'll shed a tear for them. If Wal-Mart can provide the same service or better service with greater efficiency, why is that a bad thing? Why is government so insistent on propping up the uncompetitive dinosaur businesses, which merely makes goods and services more expensive than they should be for consumers?

"Federal Reserve officials also have weighed in to urge Congress to close a legal loophole that allows nonfinancial companies such as Wal-Mart to open industrial loan corporations." Even if Wal-Mart wanted to go into commercial banking, why should it not be allowed? Are consumers not free to choose to bank at a Wal-Bank or not to bank there? But the central planners, in their eternal arrogance, think they know better than we do how to run our own lives. Why should the Federal Reserve, FDIC or Congress have any powers over the peaceful, voluntary commerce that I choose to do with Wal-Mart?

Worse than the do-gooder central planners are the anti-Wal-Mart crowd. Their position is so weak that, as always, they can't compete, and their protests are so ineffective (100 million Americans each week still think Wal-Mart is good enough to shop at), so they abuse the power of government. This time they're allied with major banks who oppose Wal-Mart having its own industrial bank. Naturally, because the banks like that current government regulations force Wal-Mart to give them business. Otherwise, the banks would lose not just Wal-Mart's business, but business from other major companies that would follow Wal-Mart's example and set up their own ILCs. In other words, Wal-Mart's freedom to improve its business model is a threat to banks' monopoly -- and remember that true monopolies originate and are sustained only through government. In this case, through the Federal Reserve and FDIC.

I've blogged before on how the Fed's monetary powers are an invisible way to confiscate ordinary people's wealth. The FDIC sounds like a good idea, but let's not hold our breath waiting for a free lunch. In fact, the FDIC does nothing but promote a moral hazard: banks can make riskier loans and investments because they know that deposits are insured. Though banks pay "premiums" to the FDIC, like with any business, all costs are ultimately borne by the customer. Shouldn't it tell us something that even Franklin Delano Roosevelt initially opposed deposit insurance?

Monday, April 10, 2006

"We are used to these kind of problems in France"

Hardly something France should be proud of
Nice unemployment if you can get it
French winemaker terrorists

I couldn't help but arch my eyebrows at that phrase in this Reuters article:
Crisis? What crisis? April in Paris okay for most

PARIS (Reuters) - France's prime minister is fighting for his political survival, Paris streets are full of students screaming "Resistance!" and television flashes images of youths looting.

But with its booming stock market, packed restaurants and efficient public services, France is far from burning. And April in Paris is everything the jazz standard claims it is.

"Everything's pretty cool here," said Pierrot, owner of the small l'Autobus cafe just off boulevard Beaumarchais, one of the students' favorite marching routes through eastern Paris....

"We are used to these kind of problems in France," said Andre Jakol, a souvenir-seller underneath the Eiffel Tower.

"There are strikes and demos all the time. It's normal."

Jacques Capdevielle, a sociologist and director of political research at the Sciences Po institute, argued that many others were putting on a brave face and that Chirac's increasingly accident-prone presidency was souring the national mood.

"Life appears to be continuing as normal, but there is a deep malaise," Capdevielle said. "People are extremely worried."
What a society where protests, demonstrations and riots are considered "normal"! Perhaps Andre, insulated by all the tourists, doesn't realize the severity of the situation, that hundreds of thousands are taking to the street -- all because they're afraid to be fired for not working hard. Or is the country falling apart worse than we thought, that the French accept torched shops and cars, and gendarmes responding with water cannons and tear gas, as "normal"?

A stock market can be booming, but if it's not coupled with economic growth, then it's meaningless. It is not the economy, and hoping its boom means economic growth is like hoping the tail will wag the dog. The reality is that French economic growth has been flat for ages, and only recently did unemployment finally dip below 10%. Between 9% and 10% unemployment, also considered "normal"! Even during our brief 2001 recession, the United States peaked at just 5.7% unemployment, and 6.2% in 2003. Many countries (industrialized and developing) would love to have that kind of unemployment as the norm, such as Germany with its "normal" 11%-12% unemployment.

France's restaurants may be packed, but national economic performance being what it is, perhaps the French would do better to start working, rather than observing the riots from sidewalk cafes.

Finally, famed "efficient public services." Are those the same that didn't save 15,000 French (mainly elderly) from dying in the August 2003 heatwave?


Common sense and illegal immigration

More on the true economics of illegal immigration
When conservatives don't get it about illegal immigration
Price-setting and illegal immigration
The politics and economics of illegal immigration

Alan Reynold's new column on illegal immigration is a real gem. Not only does he exhibit amazing clarity of thought, he demonstrates that he knows the real deal with immigration laws. Some highlights:
I never said we should not secure our borders. But border guards and immigration officers get no respect. The United States convicted 21,821 of immigration violations in 2003, and formally deported 202,842 in 2004. If anyone really hopes to deport 12 million, there aren't enough buses....

What I most object to is self-righteous pontificating by people who have no idea how our immigration laws work, or why they don't. I keep hearing radio talksters and cable newsters being outraged about how unfair it is for illegal aliens to "jump to the head of the line." They should wait their turn, too, just as legal immigrants do. But there is no such line. Waiting lines are for relatives, not workers....

Forget the silly idea that there are only so many jobs to go around. We are aging fast, and the country will soon run short of younger workers who can take a load off our creaking backs....

Those who talk tough about enforcing our immigration laws need to first understand just how ridiculous those laws really are. Then they need to explain just how they would go about enforcing those ridiculous laws and why tough enforcement would not simply increase the incentive to hide.

The House wants to declare illegal immigration a felony. Did the House actually expect law enforcement to attempt arresting an estimated 5.4 million men and 3.9 million women and sending them to federal prisons? What would we do with their 1.8 million kids?

Many illegal immigrants can hardly imagine a more luxurious life than a federal prison. If Congress invited Central America's poorest young men to a prepaid vacation at Club Fed, they'd gladly volunteer by the millions.

Should we slap big fines on businesses caught hiring illegal immigrants? Do we really want a lot of young Latinos wandering the street without work? Many work in the cash economy as migrant workers at small farms, casual day laborers for marginal construction companies, maids, nannies, lawn maintenance workers and the like. They are employed by households or very small businesses, making the cost of enforcement much higher than any likely benefit.

I am not offering easy solutions -- at least not before someone explains just what the problems are and which ones need to be solved first, second and third. Those who offer easy solutions are fooling you, fooling themselves or both. Whenever Congress is so obviously befuddled as it is on this issue, the safest thing for it to do is absolutely nothing.
I do disagree with something he wrote, mostly because of his particular choice of phrasing:
President Bush insults our intelligence when he says illegal immigrants are needed to fill jobs that legal residents won't do. There is no job that can't be filled at a price. If that price is too high, consumers will simply take on more do-it-yourself projects -- mowing their own lawns, cleaning their own homes, growing their own vegetables, cooking their own meals and taking care of their own children or elderly parents. We would not pay any more for fruit and vegetables because the price is set on world markets -- we'd just import more fruit and vegetables from Mexico.
There are jobs Americans won't do, not at the maximum wages that other Americans would be willing to pay. Thus, as I pointed out before, the jobs would not exist for legal domestic labor. Some jobs would still exist, but I would pay for it by having less money to spend on other things, or less free time. Whether I pay more for fruit or I mow the lawn myself, my standard of living goes down. Similarly, we hire illegal immigrants to pick our domestic produce, because it's cheaper than importing equivalents, which improves our standard of living. On the other hand, the only people who would benefit from restricting illegal immigrant labor are union members and their fellow protectionists whose jobs are threatened by cheap, willing immigrant labor.

A lot of conservative commentators push a panacea that Reynolds warned about. I once heard one erroneously (and foolishly) ask, "Isn't it worth paying $1 more for a pound of strawberries to have less violent crime?" -- as if the two were linked! Fixing the problems with illegal immigration is not just a matter of accepting a higher price for produce, or tightening borders. Crime is a lot more profitable than picking fruit for $2 per hour, so when you see an illegal immigrant in the field doing back-breaking work that even Americans won't do for $8.50 per hour, he's not the criminal type you should worry about. And as Reynolds pointed out, how will you have such security that you can deport all "illegals"?

Ah, but what if that illegal immigrant is receiving more in social services than he benefits Americans? I've pointed out many times that abolishing the welfare state for everybody, citizens and non-citizens alike, will take care of conservatives' complaint that illegal immigrants use so many social services. Once that happens, the government-created distinction between legal and illegal immigrants will disappear. Maybe that's a too-easy solution, but should we be surprised that big government is the cause of the principal problem with illegal immigrants?

Someone recently commented on my blog,
illegal aliens almost by definition can not pay taxes. in order to work they use false document under false names and often documents of other people. They also use our public health care system to have babies. Then they lend their babies to legal hispanics who file taxes and get thousands in earned income credit. I suppose that is also a job Americans won't do.
I have asked before, is that why we should welcome immigrants, so we can tax them to hell and back? The comment is fair to point out the abuses of the welfare state, but it doesn't go far enough and call for the abolishment of all government social programs. Besides, and I'll have to look for the statistics later when I have time, while illegal immigrants consume a lot each year in per capita government spending, American citizens in fact consume more. And no offense to the reader, but only a naïve person would believe that only illegal immigrants cheat on taxes. Besides, if it deprives big government of money that it tries to coerce from anyone, then good!

I recently asked in a comment on Difster's blog, "Ultimately, though, what's the difference between a legal immigrant and and an illegal one?" To my pocketbook, there is none. Several years ago, I was moving and needed help with my furniture. I didn't want to impose on my friends, who'd feel obligated to help for no pay (it was a Monday, anyway, when they'd be working). Professional movers would have charged a mint, however, I knew that many Central Americans congregated in the heart of Brewster. There are various spots in Westchester and Putnam Counties where "day laborers" wait to be hired off the street, usually for odd jobs, and they'll work hard for less than Americans will pay.

There were two that morning, and though neither spoke any English, I remembered enough Spanish (and could effect enough of a South American accent so I didn't sound too gringo). "Necesito un hombre para trabajar, mover muebles. Diez dólares por cada hora." ("I need a man to work, move furniture. Ten dollars for each hour.") The elder, a thin 40-ish man whose hair had a little gray, accepted. And during several hours of lifting and driving, the fellow worked incredibly hard, never complained and never asked for so much as a coffee break. We didn't learn so much as each other's name, let alone where we were born, but it didn't matter. The only important thing to him was earning money when he'd otherwise earn none, and the only important thing to me was hiring a hard worker for the least possible cost.

Did I deprive an American of an employment opportunity? You betcha...and so what? Did he commit a crime? Not that I am aware of. Therefore, what business is it of anyone's that I hired him instead of a professional mover or even Big Bird?

There you have my confession; I guess I can say goodbye to any hope of holding a Cabinet position. Right, Linda Chavez? I'll never get over the bruhaha regarding her hired "domestic help." For heaven's sake, what kind of a society crucifies a woman whose employee voluntarily accepted the work? By looking out for her own self interest (hiring someone for the least possible cost), Chavez nonetheless provided a better living to a woman who would do far, far worse in her native country.


Friday, April 07, 2006

A very bad joke

So a bunch of French high school students were disrupting traffic by "picknicking on a busy boulevard," someone got fed up, and he drove his car into them, injuring several.

My first thought: "He must be German."

Do Democrats have no shame?

Note what's said in this article about President Bush:
"They had a candidate who dodged the draft, dodged the ...National Guard... And they made that candidate look strong against a guy who was shot three times and won the Bronze Star and the Silver Star for valor. That is incredible."
What's incredible is that the Democrats just can't get over the fact that their candidates in 2000 and 2004 should have been unbeatable, but they beat themselves with their own liberalism, vagueness and inconsistencies. Until Democrats learn to field a real candidate, someone who won't concern enough people to vote against him, they'll have to keep deluding themselves: "Oh, that election was stolen from us at the Supreme Court...the next one was because all the right-wing Christians came out and voted."

If the quote were truthful, the first candidate mentioned would be Bill Clinton, not George W. Bush. President Bush went into the Texas Air National Guard and trained as a fighter pilot. This was hardly dodging the draft, especially with the hazards of flying the dangerous F-102s (several pilots were killed in training accidents during Bush's TexANG service). Regarding the main controversy about the quality of his service, I'm sure we all remember the "fake, but accurate" memos that the blogosphere proved to be forgeries. Does anyone know if Mary Mapes still insists today that they're genuine?

Yes, many young men's families pulled strings, like Clinton's so that he could keep postponing induction. Others got their sons into the National Guard to hopefully avoid active combat in Vietnam (it was no guarantee, because Johnson decided not to use the Guard but could have reversed that decision). There were other options, however, even to young men without means or influence. I knew a putz who liked to remind people how he "served his country," as if somehow that always made him right or wise, but all he did was enlist in the Air Force and hang around a stateside base. I think he was just a technician, an occupation far safer than flying a jet, and he had no one to pull strings for him.

On the other hand, John Kerry's Vietnam duty, as many conservative blogs pointed out during the election, involved things like ordering his Swift Boat to shore (placing it and the crew at grave risk) so he could hunt down a wounded VC and kill him in cold blood, and Purple Hearts for wounds so severe that he didn't miss any significant duty. I'm still trying to figure out his claim of hearing South Vietnamese firing their guns to celebrate Christmas, and that it happened in 1968 while Nixon was president. Then Kerry claimed he threw his "medals" over the White House fence as a protest, but they turned out to be someone else's; his explanation was that he threw away his ribbons, which are technically medals, but that's some rationalization. Can we say that he threw his medals away before he kept them?

But what I always found most hypocritical is his immediately post-Vietnam testimony before Congress. He accused his fellow servicemen of committing atrocities (when the VC were doing far, far worse to our POWs -- ask John McCain), and his use of "we" effectively made it his own confession. Yet years later, he continually harped on his Vietnam service to give himself an aura of honor, when by his own admission he himself had acted brutally. The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth exposed this and much more, and they're still the best resource for what Kerry really did.

Heaven knows I disagree with more than one thing Bush has done, but he wasn't the candidate who looked like a slimy opportunist.

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