Monthly Archives: December 2006

Is The Enlightenment Alive?

I recently became acquainted with The Philosophy Podcast, and was going through their older stuff. One selection was Immanuel Kant’s What Is Enlightenment. I was reminded by Mike’s “Exhibit B” of just how damaging this is to humanity.

We have created an entire class of people who live in perpetual childhood. These are people who don’t understand freedom, have never felt freedom, and are frankly scared of freedom. We have another class of people who desire little more than to be the “guardians” of these dependent people, normally known simply as “Congress”. When you realize just how many people live in self-imposed shackles, it becomes depressing. Kant said it best (emphasis added):

Laziness and cowardice are the reasons why so great a proportion of men, long after nature has released them from alien guidance (natura-liter maiorennes), nonetheless gladly remain in lifelong immaturity, and why it is so easy for others to establish themselves as their guardians. It is so easy to be immature. If I have a book to serve as my understanding, a pastor to serve as my conscience, a physician to determine my diet for me, and so on, I need not exert myself at all. I need not think, if only I can pay: others will readily undertake the irksome work for me. The guardians who have so benevolently taken over the supervision of men have carefully seen to it that the far greatest part of them (including the entire fair sex) regard taking the step to maturity as very dangerous, not to mention difficult. Having first made their domestic livestock dumb, and having carefully made sure that these docile creatures will not take a single step without the go-cart to which they are harnessed, these guardians then show them the danger that threatens them, should they attempt to walk alone. Now this danger is not actually so great, for after falling a few times they would in the end certainly learn to walk; but an example of this kind makes men timid and usually frightens them out of all further attempts.

Thus, it is difficult for any individual man to work himself out of the immaturity that has all but become his nature. He has even become fond of this state and for the time being is actually incapable of using his own understanding, for no one has ever allowed him to attempt it. Rules and formulas, those mechanical aids to the rational use, or rather misuse, of his natural gifts, are the shackles of a permanent immaturity. Whoever threw them off would still make only an uncertain leap over the smallest ditch, since he is unaccustomed to this kind of free movement. Consequently, only a few have succeeded, by cultivating their own minds, in freeing themselves from immaturity and pursuing a secure course.

But that the public should enlighten itself is more likely; indeed, if it is only allowed freedom, enlightenment is almost inevitable. For even among the entrenched guardians of the great masses a few will always think for themselves, a few who, after having themselves thrown off the yoke of immaturity, will spread the spirit of a rational appreciation for both their own worth and for each person’s calling to think for himself. But it should be particularly noted that if a public that was first placed in this yoke by the guardians is suitably aroused by some of those who are altogether incapable of enlightenment, it may force the guardians themselves to remain under the yoke–so pernicious is it to instill prejudices, for they finally take revenge upon their originators, or on their descendants. Thus a public can only attain enlightenment slowly. Perhaps a revolution can overthrow autocratic despotism and profiteering or power-grabbing oppression, but it can never truly reform a manner of thinking; instead, new prejudices, just like the old ones they replace, will serve as a leash for the great unthinking mass.

We have built a society based upon subservience and obedience to government. Very few people even question the situation. When government decrees we change our behavior, how many people ask “by what right?” If anything we are worse off than in the days of Kant, and it has grown so bad that most Americans, when it is suggested that the government stop providing a service, assume that the service cannot and will not be provided without government’s help.

As an advocate of freedom, the hardest thing is to make people begin to see their shackles and desire freedom. Too many choose to remain “good citizens”, stuck in blindness to their situation. Freedom, though, is addicting, if you can convince someone to take their first hit.

The Power of the Minority

I know it is common, in this country, to believe that our government acts based upon the so-called will of the majority. This leads to another idea we refer to as the “tyranny of the majority”. Unfortunately this set of ideas is completely false in a representative government that is based on the idea of 50%+1. Our government is based on just such an idea, both in the way we elect our representatives and in the way that our representatives pass laws.

Let’s ignore, for a moment, the true complexity of Congressional law making, or the fact that Congress has delegated wide swaths of its power to bureaucrats that are not accountable to the voters. Consider this set of facts, instead:

  1. A member of Congress, whether Representative or Senator, is elected by achieving a plurality in their district or state, respectively. We’ll assume, for this argument, that they always receive 50%+1 votes to be elected and that there is 100% voter turn out.
  2. A law is passed in Congress by a vote of 50%+1 of the House and the Senate. Again, we’ll ignore the exceptions since they aren’t particularly important anyhow (impeachment, and such) and we will assume that all members of Congress vote on every law.
  3. Finally, we’ll assume absolutely honest Congressmen who represent as accurately as possible the wishes of the folks that voted for them.

What does that add up to? Well, if you followed along, 50% of Congress, representing only 50% of their districts, pass laws. That means the will of a mere 25% of the voters will decide how much you and I are taxed each and every day, what laws govern us, whether we have a ponzi scheme called Social Security, which judges will become Supreme Court Justices, and so on. In practice it is even worse than that, since legislation has to get through a committee before it can be voted on. That means that less than 10% of the population will indirectly decide whether a piece of legislation becomes law, or not, assuming that we only consider the Senate. In actuality, in the House, a mere 2% of the population is represented in deciding whether a bill leaves committee, or not.

I feel better about pure representative democracy now!

Our “Shadow Government”

I suspect these three items are related; I leave it to you to figure out how.

Exhibit A –

Most Americans Want Public Policies to Prevent Obesity.”

An excerpt: “In addition, 73 percent said they’d support government incentives for companies that reduced the cost of health insurance for employees who had healthy lifestyles and shed extra pounds. Seventy-two percent said they would support government policies requiring insurance companies to cover obesity treatment and prevention programs.”

So, our society’s solution to obesity is to have the government coerce and force companies to help their employees deal with the issue.

Exhibit B –

Scott Ott’s serious letter discussing dependence on the government in response to a misunderstanding about a Katrina satire he wrote. A taste: “Over the decades, we have ceded power, authority and responsibility to the federal government far beyond anything envisioned or desired by our founders. As a result, instead relying on our own intelligence, resources and ability to work with others in our communities to solve problems, we have turned to Washington D.C..

This is not a matter of ‘blaming the victim’, because the victim has become so immersed in this twisted view of human life that he cannot see what has happened. The federal government’s dehumanizing effect has torn up neighborhoods, torn apart families and turned brave, capable people into compliant recipients of redistributed wealth.

The problem is that the morsels of that wealth never provide enough to do anything other than keep folks in a perpetual state of dependence upon the State. Even if those morsels became chunks big enough to choke a horse, the dependency would remain. The federal government has become not only the safety net, it is everything from the crib blanket to the casket lining.”

Read the whole thing, it’s worth it.

Finally, Exhibit C –

“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”

-Lazarus Long, Robert Heinlein, Time Enough For Love.

Why Aren’t They Upset About Hollywood’s Obscene Wealth?

As always, I enjoy reading Thomas Sowell. Many times I don’t agree with him, he is much more socially conservative than I am. But, economically, I rarely disagree. And his most recent piece in the National Review is no exception. It’s on income inequality and he makes some good points in it. But the best one comes before the closer. In fact, I tend to think it should have been his closer.

It is also worth noting that the people who are said to be earning “obscene” amounts of money are usually corporate executives. There is no such outrage whipped up when Hollywood movie stars make some multiple of what most corporate executives make.

How come my progressive, left wing friends aren’t outraged by Oprah’s income? Inquiring minds want to know.

A New Year, A New Front In The War Against Free Speech

In Sunday’s Washington Post, George Will writes about a case that may yet begin to challenge the tangled web that is campaign finance regulation:

A three-judge federal court recently tugged a thread that may begin the unraveling of the fabric of murky laws and regulations that traduce the First Amendment by suppressing political speech. Divided 2 to 1, the court held — unremarkably, you might think — that issue advocacy ads can run during an election campaign, when they matter most. This decision will strike zealous (there is no other kind) advocates of ever-tighter regulation of political speech (campaign finance “reformers”) as ominous. Why? Because it partially emancipates millions of Americans who incorporate thousands of groups to advocate their causes, groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Rifle Association.

And Wisconsin Right to Life. It is another organization by which people assemble (see the First Amendment) to speak (see it again) in order to seek redress of grievances (the amendment, one more time). In 2004 Wisconsin Right to Life was distressed because Wisconsin’s senators, Russ Feingold and Herb Kohl, were helping to block confirmation votes on some of President Bush’s judicial nominees. It wanted to run ads urging people to “contact Senators Feingold and Kohl and tell them to oppose the filibuster.”

How dare these people exercise their First Amendment rights. And it is the McCain-Feingold’s law assault on freedom of speech that becomes apparent in the opinion of the dissent judge in the case that Will writes about:

The dissenting judge wanted to examine the “intent” of the ads by examining their “context,” looking for clues as to whether the group hoped to not only advocate an issue but influence an election. Imagine: Judges scouring the political landscape, searching for evidence (people’s past opinions or associations; e-mails and other communications) that would empower them to rule that grass-roots lobbying about an issue is “really” the functional equivalent of electioneering (express advocacy).

Such a process would necessarily be so protracted that no challenged ad could be authorized in time for an election. Besides, Bob Bauer, a Democratic campaign lawyer, rightly warns that the prospect of such inquiries should “make a sensible citizen’s blood run cold.” An uncircumscribed inquiry into “intent” would become “an intrusive process” in which an organization’s internal communications would be subpoenaed and political operatives and consultants would be “put under oath and questioned about what they meant and intended and thought.”

In other words, a process into which no judge should be involved to begin with. The Supreme Court made it’s first mistake when it upheld McCain-Feingold to begin with. Hopefully, it will use this case, and others like it coming down the pike, to correct such an obvious mistake.

The End Of The Smoke-Filled Room

When the clock strikes midnight on January 1st, the District of Columbia will join many other jurisdictions around the country in banning smoking in virtually all public places:

Smoking in District bars is about to be snuffed out, but not without a last, hazy hurrah.

The Jefferson Hotel plans to pass out cigars and cigarettes and have a hookah handy in its fabled lounge on New Year’s Eve.

McFadden’s Restaurant and Saloon already had its last butt stubbed out Dec. 19 in a cigar-filled night billed as “One Last Smoke.”

Nonsmokers may now breathe a sigh of relief.

Nightclubs and restaurant bars must be smoke-free by Tuesday to comply with a ban that most restaurant, bar and hotel owners opposed but that antismoking advocates pushed through the D.C. Council in January.

“Everybody’s waiting to see what happens,” said Paul J. Cohn, a restaurateur for 25 years and vice chairman of the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington.

The smoking ban began incrementally. In April, smoking became illegal in the dining areas of restaurants. At 12:01 a.m. Tuesday, the prohibition extends to bars.

And a sad end it will be. Gone will be the great opportunities to smoke fine cigars at the Round Robin Bar or Off The Record. But, at least we know Big Brother cares about us.

Right ?

The GOP In Microcosm

The Washington Post writes today about the troubles of the Republican Party in Kansas, which seem to be only a smaller version of the GOP’s problems nationwide:

Republicans lost their U.S. House and Senate majorities and 350 seats in state legislatures across the country. The early post-election Kansas experiences show that a recovery could be difficult because the splits inside the party between social conservatives and moderates will not be easily healed.

Given the defeats in Kansas of religious conservatives such as [former Republican Governor Phill] Kline, U.S. Rep. Jim Ryun (R) and some members of the State Board of Education, one Kansas political analyst expected the GOP “would be ready to mend fences and move forward.”

But that has not yet happened.

“I think the divide between the moderates and conservatives is deepening rather than closing,” said Kansas State University professor Joseph Aistrup. “This type of politics is continuing into our future, at least another four years.”

Kline was the leader of that faction of the Kansas GOP that aligned itself with the evangelical far-right, emphasizing opposition to abortion under nearly all circumstances and attempting to insert religious views about the origin of man in to science classrooms. While this may have made the far-right in the party happy, it alienated Democrats who might have otherwise voted Republican, as well as members of Kline’s own party:

Kansas Democrats and moderate Republicans fought back this year. In the midterm elections, Democrat Nancy Boyda stunned five-term incumbent Ryun, while moderate Republicans Morrison and his friend Mark Parkinson, a former chairman of the Kansas GOP, changed parties and easily won statewide office.

Kline is not alone, of course. Another Kansas politician is running for President on the theory that appealing to the Pat Robertson crowd is the key to success:

More recently, Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), a social conservative thought to be considering running for president, drew notice for holding up a federal judicial nomination when he learned the nominee had attended a commitment ceremony for a lesbian couple. He said he wanted to know whether she had presided.

What that has to do with her being a judge I still haven’t figured out.

The lesson from Kansas isn’t all that much different from the lesson the Republican Party should have learned from across the nation. By abandoning its belief in limited government ideas and aligning itself with forces that want to use the government as a tool for their own agendas, the GOP is sowing the seeds of its own irrelevance.

Is Taxation Really Theft ?

One of the more well-known slogans of hard-core libertarians is “Taxation is Theft.” It’s an easy slogan for those who believe in it, and it’s message is pretty clear — to a true believer, there is no moral distinction to be made between an IRS tax collector and a mugger who demands your wallet at gunpoint.

Libertarian theorist Timothy Virkkala argues, however, things that the slogan, and the message behind it, are a mistake:

Libertarians are too fond of slogans such as Taxation is Theft and Taxation is Robbery. They get quite a charge out of it. And they do manage to get a good idea across to some people, people who see that taxation is, indeed, a form of expropriation, and that it is analogous to forms of theft such as robbery, and that maybe we can do better.

Perhaps we can pay for public goods without engaging in extortion and expropriation.

But to people who really want those public goods, and who are capable of elementary distinctions in language, they are not convinced by these slogans. They are put off by them.

And they have good reason to be. Taxation is not theft. Not really.

The distinction that Virkkala makes, while I don’t think that it’s one that radical libertarians will accept, is important:

Taxation is the expropriation of private property according to an established rate, as put into law by an established state.

Robbery and other forms of theft are illegal kinds of expropriation, and piecemeal at that. Taxation is a legal kind of expropriation.

To many libertarians, this distinction is not much of a distinction at all. They have pretty much thrown out the distinctions between legal and illegal, and are in a continual revolutionary mode of thinking, ready at a moment’s notice to throw out whole chunks of the rule of law and state practice.

So of course they equate all kinds of expropriation.

Virkkala is right, I think, to make the distinction between legal and illegal forms of expropriation, especially in a society where taxation is determined not by the fiat of a dictator but by the decision of democratically elected representatives. In such a society, rhetoric that compares the lady who collects property taxes down at city hall to a mafia thug just isn’t going to fly with most people:

The main reason radical libertarians will not get anywhere is their complete lack of understanding of the normal mindset, which is not constantly in revolutionary mode. Radical libertarians who trot out slogans such as taxation is theft do not address the respect a non-revolutionary has for the rule of law.

Indeed, because of this revolutionary stance — and I’m not talking about physical, bloody revolution so much as a particular stance regarding ideas and consent — these libertarians cannot deal with normal folk.

They offend normal folk; libertarians often (and with good reason) strike normal citizens as lunatics, perhaps dangerous lunatics.

This, I think, is part of the reason that the Libertarian Party has never been able to succeed in any meaningful sense. With the exception of Ron Paul, most of the candidates that it has put forward for prominent public positions have tended to preach the rhetoric of radical libetarianism. More importantly, they have done nothing to address the question of “If not taxes, then what ?”

As Virkkala points out, one of the major issues in the American Revolution was taxation. But the Founders weren’t disputing the fact that a government had the power to levy taxes to fund its proper functions, they were fighting for the right of the colonies to tax themselves rather than pay taxes to a far-away King.

Those who believe in liberty today and who would like to see freedom advance in their lifetime would do well to heed Virkkala’s advice.

I believe we have to approach greater liberty with complete honesty. No rhetorical trickery.

And I regard slogans such as taxation is theft as something close to rhetorical trickery.

It may be that we will someday be able to support all worthy public projects without any taxation.

But however we manage to do this (and I’ve lots of ideas, not limited to simple slogans like the market will take care of it), it will have to be done within the framework of the rule of law.

And people in such a future society will have to regard the means used at that time in something other than constant revolutionary mode. Even if they can think of better ways, they will have to show some respect for the rule of law of the day.

Well said.

H/T: Hit & Run

The Nanny State: Manhattan Edition

The New York Post chronicles the list of things that the City of New York has tried to ban this year, sometimes successfully:

  • Trans-fats.
  • Aluminum baseball bats.
  • The purchase of tobacco by 18- to 20-year-olds.
  • Foie gras.
  • Pedicabs in parks.
  • New fast-food restaurants (but only in poor neighborhoods).
  • Lobbyists from the floor of council chambers.
  • Lobbying city agencies after working at the same agency.
  • Vehicles in Central and Prospect parks.
  • Cell phones in upscale restaurants.
  • The sale of pork products made in a processing plant in Tar Heel, N.C., because of a unionization dispute.
  • Mail-order pharmaceutical plans.
  • Candy-flavored cigarettes.
  • Gas-station operators adjusting prices more than once daily.
  • Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

And. oh yeah, Pit Bulls

The Post puts it best:

[W]hat the council needs is a ban on bills banning things.

Unless it wants to ban . . . itself.

Heh.

H/T: Hit & Run

Death Of A Dictator

Say what you will about the current situation in Iraq and America’s place in it, but there can be no question that the death of Saddam Hussein is good news for anyone who believes in human freedom:

BAGHDAD, Dec. 30 — Former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, who rose from humble beginnings to build the Arab world’s most ruthless dictatorship but whose fall unleashed a turbulent era for his nation and the world, was executed early Saturday morning in Baghdad, according to Iraqi state television.

Hussein, 69, who demanded a cultlike devotion from his people and built monuments to proclaim his own greatness, was hung around 6 a.m. local time (10 p.m. Friday EST) in the American-controlled Green Zone in central Baghdad. Hussein was executed before a small group of observers, including some who had been tortured by his regime.

“Criminal Saddam was hanged to death,” state-run Iraqiya television said in an announcement. The station played patriotic music and showed images of national monuments and other landmarks.

The execution took place three days after Iraq’s highest court upheld Hussein’s death sentence, a decision that meant the execution should take place within 30 days. Last month Hussein was found guilty of crimes against humanity for the killings of 148 Shiite men and boys from the northern town of Dujail after an attempt on his life in 1982.

So, a toast tonight, to the death of a horrible man and to the hope that, just maybe, the mess that is Iraq will straighten itself out.

Another Stupid Law

The New York Times reports today on a Greenwich, Connecticut family-run coffee stand owner being kicked out of its spot thanks to a law that favors the blind:

[A]fter eight years serving the hedge fund traders, chief executives and other New York-bound professionals who stream through the station in the Old Greenwich neighborhood each morning, Mr. Maher was notified this month that he, his wife, Mary, and their 82-year-old helper, John Edward Kennedy, had lost the coffee concession and must leave by Jan. 12.

Greenwich town officials said they had little choice but to displace the Mahers in favor of a blind entrepreneur, a third-generation Greenwich man named Adam Fairbanks, who will take over the concession. They cited little-known but longstanding federal and state laws that give preference to the blind when it comes to operating concessions on government property.

(…)
“I don’t happen to think it’s a very good law,” said James Lash, a Republican who is Greenwich’s first selectman. “But it is the law.”

There is, of course, more to the story. If the Maher’s had a long-term contract, this probably would not have happened. In reality, Greenwich officials consistently refused requests for such a contract after they took over the stand in 2001, hence giving themselves the legal right to do this.

Mr. Lash, the selectman, said such arrangements are preferable because they allow the town to replace vendors who are uncooperative or who invite complaints. As Mr. Maher described the deal: “As long as you do a good job and keep everyone happy you can stay here.”

Unless, apparently, a blind man wants your business.

That doesn’t mean people are happy about it, though:

Some customers said they would treat the new vendor warily. “I’m not looking forward to giving him any of my business,” said Stephen Mesker, a regular. “Preference is one thing when you award a contract” for the first time, Mr. Mesker said, but taking it from an existing operator is “like telling someone who owns a house: ‘Guess what? We have someone better for it.’ ”

Yeah, they had that problem just down the road in New London awhile ago.

Washington D.C. Picks Tax Revenue Over Blue Laws

Ordinarily, you can’t buy hard liquor in Washington, D.C. on a Sunday and the bars have to close by 2pm. Conveniently, though, the City Council created an exception this year for two particular Sundays that happen to be very big for the liquor business:

Liquor stores will be open Sunday in the District, and last call won’t roll around until 4 a.m. Monday under a law that the D.C. Council approved nearly three years ago to keep tax dollars in the city on Christmas and New Year’s eves.

Normally, Sundays are days of prohibition for hard liquor in the city, and bars must stop serving alcohol by 2 a.m. weekdays. But the council amended the existing alcoholic beverage law to make exceptions for liquor stores when the two holiday eves fall on Sundays. The council also amended the law to give bars, restaurants, hotels and nightclubs extra time to serve drinks on New Year’s Eve.

(…)

There are 208 licensed, full-service liquor stores in the city, [Jeff] Coudriet [director of operations for the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration] said. Sunday sales are voluntary. “They don’t have to stay open. We’re not forcing them. It’s sort of at their discretion,” he said.

Why it can’t be up to their discretion for the 50 other Sundays that fall during the year ? I’m sure the fact that increased holiday alcohol sales will lead to increased tax revenue has something to do with it.

The Taxman Wants Your Gift Cards

Not content with all of the available avenues of taxation one Wisconsin legislator has his eye on that Best Buy Gift Card you got for Christmas:

Madison – Rep. Fred Kessler (D-Milwaukee) said today that the value of unused gift cards should go to the state treasury – not to the merchant – and that change will be part of a bill he’ll introduce in the legislative session starting in January.

Kessler said millions of dollars a year go unused by gift card recipients, and retailers are allowed to book the unused values after the cards expire. He cited figures from Consumer Reports showing that 19% of all gift cards are not used because they are lost or expired.

Kessler called that a “windfall,” which he said could be used to support schools, health care or roads. Under his bill, after a one-year expiration date on all cards, 80% of the value of unused cards would go to the state treasury. Merchants could keep 20% of the value of an unused card to pay for processing, Kessler said.

“I’d rather have people spend the money and use the gift card, but if they aren’t, I’d rather the state get the money,” Kessler said.

Of course you would. This is the government mindset at work. That money in your pocket, no matter what form it may be in, doesn’t belong to you, it belongs to them, and they are far better at figuring out how to spend it.

H/T: Hit & Run

The Economic Legacy of Gerald Ford

Over at Cato@Liberty, Daniel Griswold notes that the “accidental President” was among those Republicans who led the GOP away from it’s history of economic isolationism:

It is easy to forget today, but before World War II, the Republican Party was the protectionist, isolationist party. Republicans sponsored the 1930 Smoot-Hawley tariff bill that deepened and prolonged the Great Depression, contributing to a downward spiral in global trade and feeding the resentments that set the stage for World War II.

After the war, Republicans such as Sen. Arthur H. Vandenberg of Michigan broke from the party’s past to work with Democrats to forge a bipartisan trade and foreign policy. In the late 1940s, the United States not only joined NATO but also the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. Under this bipartisan consensus, U.S. government barriers to international trade and foreign investment continued to fall from their peaks in the 1930s to their relatively low levels of today.

Gerald Ford’s presidency and career are open for critique, but on the basic question of whether the United States should engage in the global economy or wall itself off in fear, Gerald Ford was on the right side of history.

Unfortunately, political opportunists like Tom Tancredo and populists like Lou Dobbs seem intent on dragging America back in the other direction.

Chinese Rent-Seekers Get Evicted

Much is made of the Chinese “threat” of economic hegemony. Well, I’m not buying it. I personally believe that if America would re-liberalize our economy, we would have no trouble competing with the Chinese. But right now, the Chinese are shooting themselves in the foot. They’re making economic success partially dependent on political pull, which will never result in prosperity.

For Eco-Entrepreneurs in China, No Simple Way to Grow a Business

But the experiences of Shen-Li and other companies with ambitions to market hydrogen power suggest that China’s one-party system and pervasive controls hamper innovation in many fields, from arts to sciences. In a nation where the party retains a monopoly on power — economic and otherwise — bursting from the official mold with a new idea and bringing it to market is never easy.

Although the need for pollution-free vehicles and renewable energy is clear in China’s increasingly choked cities, the future of hydrogen power has remained in the grasp of a powerful officialdom that decides on budget allocations. The government’s senior levels repeatedly have endorsed alternative forms of energy but have yet to take decisive steps toward getting hydrogen-powered vehicles onto the streets.

The Shanghai municipal government and party apparatus, proud of a can-do attitude that helped make their city China’s most prosperous, promised big-time investment in a hydrogen-powered bus and taxi fleet. But the local leadership went down in a corruption scandal in September, raising doubts about their plans.

“In China, it all depends on the government,” said Mao Zongqiang, one of the country’s leading experts on hydrogen and other alternative fuels at Tsinghua University’s Nuclear and New Energy Institute.

When entrepreneurs kneel before political whim, they know that their success is dependent on the winds continuing to blow their way. In China, as with anywhere else, the gusts can change quickly and without warning. So Shen-Li, a company depending on the Shanghai government’s promise to roll out a certain number of hydrogen vehicles, is left high and dry.

Normally I’d feel sorry for an entrepreneur who is down on his luck due to circumstances he couldn’t foresee. But when you rely on government promises, you should expect to get burned the moment you’re no longer “politically useful”. Had they made sure they had a viable business plan that the free market would support, they’d be doing just fine right now, but instead they’re scrambling for answers. That’s too bad, but they had no reason to expect any different.

Gerald Ford’s Parting Shot

With the death of former President Ford comes the release of a 2004 interview in which he harshly criticized the Bush Administration’s decision to go to war in Iraq:

Former president Gerald R. Ford said in an embargoed interview in July 2004 that the Iraq war was not justified. “I don’t think I would have gone to war,” he said a little more than a year after President Bush launched the invasion advocated and carried out by prominent veterans of Ford’s own administration.

In a four-hour conversation at his house in Beaver Creek, Colo., Ford “very strongly” disagreed with the current president’s justifications for invading Iraq and said he would have pushed alternatives, such as sanctions, much more vigorously. In the tape-recorded interview, Ford was critical not only of Bush but also of Vice President Cheney — Ford’s White House chief of staff — and then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who served as Ford’s chief of staff and then his Pentagon chief.

“Rumsfeld and Cheney and the president made a big mistake in justifying going into the war in Iraq. They put the emphasis on weapons of mass destruction,” Ford said. “And now, I’ve never publicly said I thought they made a mistake, but I felt very strongly it was an error in how they should justify what they were going to do.”

Ford, of course,, was absolutely correct for several reasons. The intelligence on weapons of mass destruction was, as the years have shown, incredibly faulty to begin with. More importantly, though, it became clear within months of the downfall of Saddam’s regime that the United States had absolutely no plan on how to handle the post-war situation. Hence the world we live in today.

And, at one point, Ford shows that, in the not-too-distant past there was some sanity in Republican foreign policy:

“Well, I can understand the theory of wanting to free people,” Ford said, referring to Bush’s assertion that the United States has a “duty to free people.” But the former president said he was skeptical “whether you can detach that from the obligation number one, of what’s in our national interest.” He added: “And I just don’t think we should go hellfire damnation around the globe freeing people, unless it is directly related to our own national security.”

This, I am beginning to thing, is where Bush went wrong on Iraq. The idea of making the Middle East safe for democracy is as foolhardy as was Woodrow Wilson’s idea of fighting World War I to make the world safe for democracy.

And, in case you forgot, World War I accomplished little more than setting the stage for World War II.

If I had $2,500…

…Would I spend it on this?

“This historical project will consist of forty-six titles spanning the entire writing career of Robert A. Heinlein. The Virginia Edition will contain all of Heinlein’s novels and short stories. It will also include all of his non-fiction titles along with the vast majority of his interviews, social commentaries, speeches and articles. Finally the Robert A. and Virginia Heinlein Prize Trust has agreed to allow us to include several volumes of Heinlein’s letters and personal correspondence.”

Ah, if only I wasn’t a poor college student.

Incidentally, I have a rich uncle in Somalia who has millions of dollars but he has been displaced by the recent war. He needs about $2,500 to get the money out of the country. Please leave a comment with your bank account number if you wish to be rich beyond your wildest dreams.

h/t: John Scalzi via Chap.

Saddam Death Sentence Upheld

Today, Saddam Hussein’s death sentence has been upheld and he will be executed in 30 days. It’s important to take a look at how he was sentenced and how his trial was conducted. Human Rights Watch released a disturbing report in November that detailed possible fundamental flaws in Saddam’s trial.

Some of the flaws identified were in the areas of court documentation, security for defense lawyers, weaknesses in defense representation, concerns about the presumption of innocence and the impartiality of the trial itself, problems with the defense’s ability to prepare for trial, the inability of the defense to question witnesses, and finally the disruptions of the defense counsel especially the international lawyers like Ramsey Clark who’s sole strategy was to disrupt the trial, among other flaws. Suffice to say, the Iraqi High Tribunal was nothing more than a kangaroo court. Saddam’s trial was unfair and he deserves a new trial at the very least.

This farcial trial and the execution will hurt American credibility in the world even more than its already hurt because this will tell the world we are not serious about civil liberties. It will tell the world that we are willing to have a kangaroo court conduct a farcical trial in order to give “legitmacy” to basically murdering Saddam. If the United States and the Iraqi government is serious about freedom and justice in Iraq, they admit the originial trial was a farce, rewrite the laws authorizing the Iraqi High Tribunal to better protect defendants’ rights and maintain order in the trial, protect witnesses’ security, bring in international experts to monitor the retrial, and retry Saddam for his crimes this time following accepted international rules of jurisprudence.

Finally, to all those soon to be commenters and bloggers who will accuse me of implying that Saddam is innocent or somehow a nice guy, I’m not saying that at all. I’m simply making the arguement that we do not suspend the rules for fair trials just because the defendant ran a state that was in the business of mass murder. It does everyone involved from the American soldiers who will be the targets of the rage that will result from the execution, to the victims of Saddam’s government who will be dishonored by the farcical trial, to the Iraqi and American governments who will bear the international criticism, rightly in this case, for the proceedings, to the Iraqi people who will face an even more dangerous security situation, if that’s possible, to finally the American people who will be an even more tempting target to Islamic terrorists seeking revenge for Saddam’s death; more harm than good to have the kangaroo court than a fair trial.

I’m one of the original co-founders of The Liberty Papers all the way back in 2005. Since then, I wound up doing this blogging thing professionally. Now I’m running the site now. You can find my other work at IJ Review.com and Rare. You can also find me over at the R Street Institute.

For Discussion: Property Rights in Virtual Markets

I’m no expert on this, so I’m offering it for your consumption. How do you define property rights for a virtual store, selling virtual wedding gowns, to virtual people, in exchange for virtual money?

Veronica Brown is a hot fashion designer, making a living off the virtual lingerie and formalwear she sells inside the online fantasy world Second Life. She expects to have earned about $60,000 this year from people who buy her digital garments to outfit their animated self-images in this fast-growing virtual community.

But Brown got an unnerving reminder last month of how tenuous her livelihood is when a rogue software program that copies animated objects appeared in Second Life. Scared that their handiwork could be cloned and sold by others, Brown and her fellow shopkeepers launched a general strike and briefly closed the electronic storefronts where they peddle digital furniture, automobiles, hairdos and other virtual wares.

“It was fear, fear of your effort being stolen,” said Brown, 44, whose online alter ego, Simone Stern, trades under the name Simone! Design.

Brown has reopened her boutique but remains uncomfortably aware that the issue of whether she owns what she makes — a fundamental right underpinning nearly all businesses — is unresolved.

My knee-jerk reaction would be that these virtual markets are the “property” of the software designers who create the software, and they can define their own property rights for their users based upon their license agreement. The cost of entry and exit from a virtual marketplace is a lot different than, say, a physical one, so the idea of competing governments and property rights structures seems to me to be ideal.

As a whole I don’t know that I support government getting involved in regulating virtual property rights. But given that I’m wholly unfamiliar with these sorts of games, never having played any of them, I’m not sure that I’m qualified to offer an opinion.

What are your thoughts?

(random snark below the fold)
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