Monthly Archives: February 2007

Zoning Out Freedom

Unhappy with legislative failure in Richmond, the leaders of the City of Alexandria, Virginia have turned to a new, rather unique, tool in their effort to force local businesses to ban smoking:

Frustrated that the state legislature failed to ban smoking in bars and restaurants, Alexandria officials have come up with a maverick plan of their own that would prohibit smoking in all new eateries and make it more difficult for existing establishments to allow people to light up.

The unusual proposal would use the city’s zoning authority to mandate smoke-free restaurants.

If successful, Alexandria would become the first jurisdiction to bar restaurant smoking in Virginia, where the state legislature severely limits local authority. That means individual governments do not have the power to institute outright smoking bans in restaurants and bars, such as those adopted in the District and several Maryland jurisdictions.

So Alexandria has decided to use its limited powers to achieve the same result.

(…)

Alexandria would seize control of the smoking issue with such mundane tools as use permits. When a bar or restaurant came to the city to request a permit, the city would require it to be smoke-free before granting the permit.

And if you own a restaurant that already has a use permit, don’t think that you’re safe:

Restaurants that have permits must agree to go smoke-free in three months or risk future restrictions or even closure.

So much, it seems, for the right of a private business owner to decide how he or she wishes to cater to potential customers. So much for the idea of sitting outside on a summer evening at a restraurant on King Street and smoking a cigar just because you want to. So much for property rights and freedom in the city that George Washington called home.

Cross-Posted At Below The Beltway

It’s All About The Money

The other day, in the comments on Doug’s post about Ron Paul, Kevin and tarran got into it a bit over money. Specifically, they got into the nature of a gold standard, as to why a gold standard makes sense (or doesn’t).

tarran gave a pretty good synopsis of money, and got this response from Kevin:

Gold, like Federal Reserve Notes, or hell anything else for that matter, only has value in the eye of the beholder. We use paper money because we believe it is valueable because it is backed up the force of government. If you and I got together and started using printing our own currency or agreed on another medium of trade for doing business with each other, we would consider it valuable to us; however, if we went to the neighbor’s house to buy his car with our currency or a bunch of gold coins, he would laugh at us because gold or the homemade money is not as valuable to him as the Federal Reserve Notes.

One statement here is true. Gold is valuable because we give it value. After that, things get murky pretty quickly, so I felt it might take a full post to explain this. And to do so, we need to start at the beginning.

At the beginning, anything can be money. Money is an abstract term used to describe a fungible asset that is used between people to ease the process of exchanging goods or services. All that is required for something to be money is that it is used by people to settle their debts.

So what could be money? Well, it could be gold. Or it could be specially-printed paper. Or it could be rubber chickens. Or it could be cow feces. It really doesn’t matter what it is, for it to have value. The key to value is that it is agreed by both parties to a transaction that whatever is being used to barter has value.

Likewise, that value can come from many places. You can rely on a scarce quantity of a “precious” metal to as denoting a value. You can rely on the promises and force of government to give it its value. But where Kevin says that I couldn’t go to my neighbor and offer him gold coins or our currency in exchange for his vehicle, he is wrong. After all, it is nearly universally accepted that gold, as a metal, has a value on the market: i.e. it can be exchanged for other goods. If we could convince him of the value of our currency– for example, by certifying that it can be exchanged for US dollars, or for a fixed quantity of rubber chickens– he would accept it as currency.

So anything can be money. Everything can be money. But that doesn’t make all money equal. Some money is better than others.

For example, let’s say we decided to back our currency with diamonds. Diamonds are expensive and relatively scarce, right? So why wouldn’t they make just as good of a backing for currency as gold, or other metals? Well, it’s simple. Diamonds— unlike gold— are not uniformly valued by weight, they’re valued based upon the quality of each particular stone. This if I say that my 5,000 dollar note can be redeemed for a 1 carat diamond, that doesn’t mean anything to a holder of that note, because a 1 carat diamond can have a widely variable worth.

What lesson, then, can we draw from this? Money, to be a good type of money, must have relatively predictable value. Note that I didn’t say “fixed” value, by the way. Even gold doesn’t have a fixed value, because they’re still mining for it all over the world, and producing more of it as we speak.

No, for a money to be good, we need for it to have predictable value. Gold works well for this, of course, because it’s relatively scarce and difficult to pull out of the ground, so the quantity of it doesn’t change regularly. When refined, it’s of consistent quality, and thus if I back a note by 1/20 ounce of pure gold, it’s value is predictable for anyone who takes that note. Of course, if we, as a world, suddenly decided that gold was worthless (or, as tarran points out, find the secret of alchemy), it would cease to be a good money. But unless we have a better alternative, that’s incredibly unlikely to happen. So backing our currency with gold helps us to retain the predictability of its value.

But currency doesn’t have to be backed to be stable and predictable. For example, if you have a country with very low (1-2%) inflation of their fiat paper currency, it’s value is predictable and there is really no danger in the currency not being backed. Heck, as long as the currency value tracks that of the size of the economy, purchasing power will hold firm. But there’s an implicit assumption here: the government must be trustworthy to retain the value of the currency. When have you ever known government to be trustworthy?

America’s currency has lost 96% of it’s purchasing power since 1913, when the Federal Reserve was created. It’s largely thought that the government’s decision last year to stop reporting the M3 was a sign that they intend to open the floodgates and start printing money like we’ve never seen in this country. And I don’t really need to explain why that’s a bad thing, but I’ll give it a shot.

When we look, as libertarians, at the tax structure, we talk about how the incredible complexity and high tax rates for companies to waste money worrying about how to manage their taxes, rather than how to grow their business. When we look, as libertarians, at the size of government, we talk about how government directing huge federal contracts and creating onerous regulations cause companies to spend time and money trying to meet the requirements of those federal contracts or lobbying to have regulations that favor their own business written into the CFR, at the expense of their own growth.

So what happens when our government inflates our currency at unpredictable and high levels? Well, it forces companies, investors, and individuals to focus on how to beat inflation rather than how to produce more goods and services. They start investing in gold rather than in biomed and nanotechnology. They start putting their money into foreign-denominated markets and assets as a hedge against the falling dollar. And if inflation gets bad enough, we’ll see a point at which other governments no longer use the dollar as their reserve currency, and we’ll finally have to start paying for the cost of our own government. None of us want to do that. Look around at the countries facing high inflation. They’re consistently the worst economic performers. This isn’t an accident, and we need to control inflation to keep it from happening here.

So what does that mean for the gold standard? Nothing really— we don’t necessarily need to be on a gold standard. But being on some sort of standard would force our government to stop inflating the currency and causing problems for us down the road. Of course, if we could trust our government to retain the value of our fiat currency, we wouldn’t have a problem either, but that’s highly unlikely these days, and the government here is getting more and more untrustworthy as it grows.

He’s a rebel…

Let’s say you are a candidate for President in 2008 and you’ve been criticized by a leading pro-growth organization. I would think that you’d attempt to make some in-roads with a very disenfranchised group of voters.

But not Mike Huckabee, who is looking to Congressman Don Young to rally support in Congress:

At a time when congressional support is hard to come by, including support for candidates like John McCain, Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney, Huckabee is surely eager to count on any support he can get within the halls of Congress. Is Young’s support worth it?

While Young praised Huckabee as a “hell of a speaker” and one who could lead a “reawakening of the conservative values that make our country a land of opportunity,” the House’s resident Alaskan has had trouble keeping his own conservative credentials intact.

Young, known for his handiwork as the former House Transportation Committee chairman, tried to stick U.S. taxpayers with a bill of almost $500 million back in 2005 to fund bridge projects in Alaska.

The project, known as the “bridge to nowhere,” would have connected Ketchikan, a town of 8,000, to the airport at Gravina Island, which had a population of 50. The other project was to link Point MacKenzie, which at the time had a population just over 100, with Anchorage.

(The Ketchikan/Gravina Island route has ferry service and Alaskan officials announced two weeks ago that within two years ferry service between Point MacKenzie and Anchorage will begin.)

Conservatives in Congress removed the earmarks for these tax-wasting projects, but they weren’t the only pork projects Young tried to steer to his state.

Stephen Spruiell, writing for the National Review, pointed out that Young, with help from other Alaskans in Congress, has “steered” numerous special projects to the northernmost state, which include: “$1.8 million for berry research; $1.8 million for sea-otter recovery; $10 million for a psychiatric-treatment facility; $48 million in subsidies for the timber industry; and $500,000 to paint a giant salmon on an Alaska Airlines jetliner.”

Young does not try to hide his love for pork; in fact, he openly brags about directing millions of taxpayers’ dollars to his state. He is neither the poster boy for fiscal restraint nor conservatism, yet Huckabee doesn’t appear to be worried about his newly established link to one of Congress’ big spenders.

Is Islamofascism a Legitimate Threat to Liberty?

In my recent post about Michael Charles Smith, I received a response from a reader by the name of Carl Deen regarding my support for the war against terror Islamofascism (Not the war on terror. Terrorism is the method the Islamofascist uses to accomplish his political-religious goals). I think his challenge is worth a post of its own so rather than responding in the original post, I have decided to answer him here.

Deen writes:

Let’s see if I understand the author. Without provocation, much like Germany did to Poland, the USA invaded Iraq, a country that was no threat to us; however, because, we did, we cannot admit our mistakes and withdraw. I suppose, by that reasoning, we must stay there forever at a cost of $500 billion and the lives of several hundred solders a year.

According to the author, Islam is a threat to us; therefore, we must attack and meddle in their affairs. It doesn’t occur to the author that if you attack and meddle in their affairs, you make more enemies than if you leave them alone.

Oh, I forgot; they hate us for our freedoms. Therefore, by using the war as reasons to turn the USA into a police state, they will stop hating us because we will have lost our remaining freedoms.

Was Iraq a threat to the United States?

First of all, the comparisons of the U.S. to Nazi Germany are getting very tiresome. Whatever ‘atrocities’ the U.S. has committed pale in comparison to the Holocaust. I also reject the premise that Iraq was no threat to the U.S. Regardless of whether or not Saddam had WMD, he was a threat to the U.S. Saddam did in fact invade Kuwait in the early 1990’s to steal the Kuwait’s oil. Had Saddam been allowed to proceed, there would have been national security threats as well as economic threats to the U.S. and the world.

When Saddam surrendered to the international coalition, there were certain conditions that he agreed to so that he could continue to be in power. Among those conditions were that he was not to reconstitute his WMD program and was restricted from flying in the ‘no fly zones.’ To enforce the agreement, coalition fighters patrolled the no fly zones from the time of the surrender to the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Saddam routinely fired with anti-aircraft weapons on the coalition fighters patrolling the no fly zones, directly putting the lives of U.S. and coalition pilots at risk. These attacks were provocative acts of war.

Let’s also not forget that Saddam attempted to assassinate former President Bush. Regardless of how you feel about President Bush, he was a president of the United States. An attack on the president—any American president is a provocative act of war against the United States.

And then there were the families of the suicide bombers who Saddam paid to spread terrorism throughout Israel. Sure, he was not paying suicide bombers to make attacks in American cities (as far as we know anyway), but this still proved that he was not above such tactics. Though the 9/11 commission found no links between Saddam Hussein and the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, the commission did find that attempts were made between Saddam and Bin Laden to form an alliance. Their ties however, were non-operational. Had Saddam been as far along in his WMD program as most of the world’s intelligence agencies and world leaders had thought, it is not out of the realm of possibility to believe that those ties could have eventually become operational making it possible for Islamofascits to gain access to this material and carry out an attack on the U.S. Based on Saddam’s track record (his use of chemical and biological weapons on his own people, for example), there was no reason to believe that he did not have WMD. U.S. intelligence had underestimated Saddam’s progress in his WMD programs in the past. If left unchecked, he would have.

» Read more

Why John McCain Will Lose

Don Surber explains why he thinks John McCain’s candidacy is doomed:

McCain-Feingold.

The fundamental difference between McCain 2000 and McCain 2008 is that he put his name on a law that forbids people from speaking out against their congressman within 60 days of an election.

(…)

That is a show-stopper. Ever step in fresh dog-doo? The smell sticks to the shoe all day. That is what McCain-Feingold is to the senator from Arizona.

He is no longer John McCain. He is McCain-Feingold.

(…)

Americans do not like to be told to shut up.

McCain-Feingold told Americans to shut up.

Even Feingold could not run with it. He should be Obama. Instead, he is stuck on the sidelines because of McCain-Feingold.

There is a certain satisfaction in knowing that.

I hope Don is right. I hope people are rejecting John McCain for the one reason he deserves to be rejected; because he was one of the chief sponsors of one of the greatest violations of the First Amendment since the Alien and Sedition Acts. And I hope that it becomes publicly known that this is the reason he lost. If nothing else, it would reinforce my faith in the idea that, at their core, the American people want to be free.

A Victim Of The Welfare State

There is much discussion in the local media here in Washington D.C. about this tragic story:

Twelve-year-old Deamonte Driver died of a toothache Sunday.

A routine, $80 tooth extraction might have saved him.

If his mother had been insured.

If his family had not lost its Medicaid.

If Medicaid dentists weren’t so hard to find.

If his mother hadn’t been focused on getting a dentist for his brother, who had six rotted teeth.

By the time Deamonte’s own aching tooth got any attention, the bacteria from the abscess had spread to his brain, doctors said. After two operations and more than six weeks of hospital care, the Prince George’s County boy died.

The article itself focuses on the alleged lack of dental care coverage for the poor and apporvingly quotes those who argue for the expansion of Medcaid benefits in this area.

But that’s not the only lesson you can draw from this tragic event. Consider, for example, what this boys mother did in response to an obviously serious dental problem:

When Deamonte got sick, his mother had not realized that his tooth had been bothering him. Instead, she was focusing on his younger brother, 10-year-old DaShawn, who “complains about his teeth all the time,” she said.

DaShawn saw a dentist a couple of years ago, but the dentist discontinued the treatments, she said, after the boy squirmed too much in the chair. Then the family went through a crisis and spent some time in an Adelphi homeless shelter. From there, three of Driver’s sons went to stay with their grandparents in a two-bedroom mobile home in Clinton.

By September, several of DaShawn’s teeth had become abscessed. Driver began making calls about the boy’s coverage but grew frustrated. She turned to Norris, who was working with homeless families in Prince George’s.

Norris and her staff also ran into barriers: They said they made more than two dozen calls before reaching an official at the Driver family’s Medicaid provider and a state supervising nurse who helped them find a dentist.

On Oct. 5, DaShawn saw Arthur Fridley, who cleaned the boy’s teeth, took an X-ray and referred him to an oral surgeon. But the surgeon could not see him until Nov. 21, and that would be only for a consultation. Driver said she learned that DaShawn would need six teeth extracted and made an appointment for the earliest date available: Jan. 16.

But she had to cancel after learning Jan. 8 that the children had lost their Medicaid coverage a month earlier. She suspects that the paperwork to confirm their eligibility was mailed to the shelter in Adelphi, where they no longer live.

The natural instinct for any parent faced with this situation would be, I think, to do whatever it took to make sure that your child received proper medical, or in this case dental, care. Remember we’re not talking about a cavity here, or teeth that are misaligned and need braces, we are talking about an infection that ultimately killed her son.

With all due respect to a mother who has lost her son, it seems that the only thing she did was rely on Medicaid (i.e., the state) to take care of this. From the article, there appears to have been no consideration of looking to a church or charity for help, for example, or, quite honestly, doing whatever it took to make sure your child received the care they needed.

This is what happens when people become dependent on the welfare state.

Ron Paul — Polls, Prognostications, ‘pinions & Prediction Markets

A lot of verbal arrows have been loosed around here about the candidacy of Ron Paul. Some people think he’s the greatest thing since sliced bread Patrick Henry. Others worry he’s not “libertarian enough”, or point out his anti-immigration stances as if that may be a reason to disqualify him from receiving our votes.

In fact, Ron Paul has become a bit of an blogosphere superhero, winning straw polls and igniting excitement that far outstrips even what Howard Dean had. While Dean was a firebrand who could change the pulse of a crowd, he didn’t have a quarter of the experience in government or the intellectual and ideological heft that Ron Paul carries.

But the question is, does Ron Paul have a chance of getting the nomination? If he does, does he have a chance of beating the Democrat candidate he’ll be facing? And, as libertarians, what should we do to reconcile his anti-immigration policies with his normally consistent pro-freedom policies?
» Read more

Teaching Children To Be Good Little Socialists

Maureen Martin writes at TCS Daily about a school exercise that sounds like it came right out of The Communist Manifesto:

Some Seattle school children are being told to be skeptical of private property rights. This lesson is being taught by banning Legos.

A ban was initiated at the Hilltop Children’s Center in Seattle. According to an article in the winter 2006-07 issue of “Rethinking Schools” magazine, the teachers at the private school wanted their students to learn that private property ownership is evil.

According to the article, the students had been building an elaborate “Legotown,” but it was accidentally demolished. The teachers decided its destruction was an opportunity to explore “the inequities of private ownership.” According to the teachers, “Our intention was to promote a contrasting set of values: collectivity, collaboration, resource-sharing, and full democratic participation.”

(…)

At the end of that time, Legos returned to the classroom after the children agreed to several guiding principles framed by the teachers, including that “All structures are public structures” and “All structures will be standard sizes.” The teachers quote the children:

“A house is good because it is a community house.”

“We should have equal houses. They should be standard sizes.”

“It’s important to have the same amount of power as other people over your building.”

Sounds like a meeting of the Democratic National Committee.

Of course, not every child reacted well to having their Lego’s taken away:

Not all of the students shared the teachers’ anathema to private property ownership. “If I buy it, I own it,” one child is quoted saying.

No confirmation on whether this budding capitalist was named John Galt.

Amtrak Incompetence

Why is this unwieldy unproductive behemoth still around?

With freight traffic soaring in recent years, Amtrak’s never-stellar on-time performance declined to an average of 68 percent last year, its worst showing since the 1970s. When the routes where Amtrak owns the tracks are excluded, the on-time performance last year fell to 61 percent.

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Amtrak performs far better on the Northeast corridor, where it owns the tracks. Last year, 85 percent of its high-speed Acela Express trains between Boston and Washington arrived within 10 minutes of their scheduled time.

But where Amtrak depends on the freight railroads, the picture is far gloomier, and the Capitol Limited is not even the worst case. The Coast Starlight, which runs between Seattle and Los Angeles, had an on-time performance of 4 percent in the fiscal year ended Sept. 30. For the California Zephyr, connecting Chicago and San Francisco, the figure was 7 percent. In the current fiscal year, the California Zephyr has not once arrived on time.

In the current fiscal year, that particular train has NOT ONCE arrived on time. And we’re funding this with our tax dollars? Time to put Amtrak out to pasture. Privatize the Acela Express and the rest of the Northeast corridor, where it owns the tracks. Give the rest of it the ax.

A Taliban Propaganda Coup

While the world’s attention has been focused on Iraq for the past four years, today the Taliban reminded us that there’s another country in the Middle East that we n eed to worry about:

Vice President Cheney was shuttled into a bomb shelter at a U.S. military base in Afghanistan this morning after a suicide bomber blew himself up outside the main gate in an attack Taliban officials say was aimed at the vice president.

Cheney was uninjured and in no real danger from the blast, which killed at least four people, including a U.S. soldier, at the gate of the Bagram Airfield.

It wasn’t a major attack, but it was enough to remind people that the Afghan War, which was started because the Taliban were harboring, and allied with, the men responsible for September 111th, isn’t really over either and that the Taliban and al Qaeda still haven’t been defeated. It may even be partially responsible for the jitters affecting world financial markets today.

As I argued last week, the real legacy of the Iraq War may be the fact that it diverted the United States from it’s fight against the terrorists who killed 3,000 Americans five years ago and who, as they reminded us today, remain a real threat today.

The American Public Speaks On Iraq

As Congress debates, the latest poll results make it clear; the American public favors a pullout from Iraq:

With Congress preparing for renewed debate over President Bush’s Iraq policies, a majority of Americans now support setting a deadline for withdrawing U.S. forces from the war-torn nation and support putting new conditions on the military that could limit the number of personnel available for duty there, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Opposition to Bush’s plan to send an additional 21,500 troops to Iraq remained strong. Two in three Americans registered their disapproval, with 56 percent saying they strongly object. The House recently passed a nonbinding resolution opposing the new deployments, but Republicans have blocked consideration of such a measure in the Senate.

(….)

The Post-ABC poll found that 53 percent of Americans favored setting a deadline for troop withdrawals. Among those who favored a deadline, 24 percent said they would like to see U.S. forces out within six months and 21 percent called for the withdrawals to be completed within a year. The rest of those who supported a timetable said they do not support withdrawing all troops until at least a year from now.

I’m rarely one to base my political opinions on poll results, but if there was ever a time that a change in America’s strategy in the Iraq War was called for, this it. As I said in January, it’s time for us to go.

Straight out of “Atlas Shrugged”

Hugo Chavez is seizing oil projects run by foreign entities:

President Hugo Chavez ordered by decree on Monday the takeover of oil projects run by foreign oil companies in Venezuela’s Orinoco River region.

Chavez had previously announced the government’s intention to take a majority stake by May 1 in four heavy oil-upgrading projects run by British Petroleum PLC, Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM), Chevron Corp. (CVX), ConocoPhillips (COP) Co., Total SA (TOT) and Statoil ASA. (STO)

He said Monday that has decreed a law to proceed with the nationalizations that will see state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela SA, or PDVSA, taking at least a 60 percent stake in the projects.

“The privatization of oil in Venezuela has come to an end,” he said on his weekday radio show, “Hello, President.””This marks the true nationalization of oil in Venezuela.”

By May 1, “we will occupy these fields” and have the national flag flying on them, he said.

Hypocrisy, Thy Name Is Al Gore

Al Gore, environmentalist.

Or maybe not:

Last night, Al Gore’s global-warming documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, collected an Oscar for best documentary feature, but the Tennessee Center for Policy Research has found that Gore deserves a gold statue for hypocrisy.

Gore’s mansion, located in the posh Belle Meade area of Nashville, consumes more electricity every month than the average American household uses in an entire year, according to the Nashville Electric Service (NES).

In his documentary, the former Vice President calls on Americans to conserve energy by reducing electricity consumption at home.

The average household in America consumes 10,656 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per year, according to the Department of Energy. In 2006, Gore devoured nearly 221,000 kWh-more than 20 times the national average.

Last August alone, Gore burned through 22,619 kWh-guzzling more than twice the electricity in one month than an average American family uses in an entire year. As a result of his energy consumption, Gore’s average monthly electric bill topped $1,359.

Since the release of An Inconvenient Truth, Gore’s energy consumption has increased from an average of 16,200 kWh per month in 2005, to 18,400 kWh per month in 2006.

Gore’s extravagant energy use does not stop at his electric bill. Natural gas bills for Gore’s mansion and guest house averaged $1,080 per month last year.

“As the spokesman of choice for the global warming movement, Al Gore has to be willing to walk the walk, not just talk the talk, when it comes to home energy use,” said Tennessee Center for Policy Research President Drew Johnson.

In total, Gore paid nearly $30,000 in combined electricity and natural gas bills for his Nashville estate in 2006.

But don’t you see, energy conservation is for the little people.

H/T: Drudge

California’s Experiment With Cigarette Prohibition

In July 2005, California bannedall tobacco products from it’s state prison system. The results have been about what you’d expect:

There are no ifs, ands or butts about it: California’s ban on tobacco in prisons has produced a burgeoning black market behind bars, where a pack of smokes can fetch up to $125.

Prison officials who already have their hands full keeping drugs and weapons away from inmates now are spending time tracking down tobacco smugglers, some of them guards and other prison employees. Fights over tobacco have broken out — at one Northern California prison, guards had to use pepper spray to break up a brawl among 30 inmates.

The ban was put in place in July 2005 to improve work conditions and cut rising health care costs among inmates, but it also has led to an explosive growth of tobacco trafficking. The combination of potentially big profits and relatively light penalties are driving the surge.

In other words, a black market. And along with the black market, comes the corruption:

At the fortress-like Pelican Bay State Prison near Crescent City, a felon sneaked back onto prison grounds hours after being paroled. He was found with a pillowcase of almost 50 ounces of rolling tobacco — worth thousands of dollars on the black market. The plan was to throw it over the facility’s fence.

“It’s almost becoming a better market than drugs,” said Devan Hawkes, an anti-gang officer at Pelican Bay. “A lot of people are trying to make money.”

And that includes prison workers.

Last year, a corrections officer was put on leave at California State Prison, Solano, for smuggling tobacco. The guard made several hundred dollars a week through tobacco, officials say.

(…)

“There’s quite a bit of money to be made,” said Lt. Tim Wamble, a Solano prison spokesman. “In a department this size, you’re gonna have people who will succumb to the temptation.”

The same thing happened with alcohol during prohibition, and it happens every day with the War On (Some) Drugs. One of these days, people will learn that you can ban products that people want but, in the end, you really can’t prevent them from getting those products if they really want them. Until then, we’ll have more nonsense like this.

H/T: Hit & Run

Further Evidence In Favor Of Postal Privatization

In case you haven’t heard, the Post Office wants to raise rates and make it easier for them to do it in the future:

WASHINGTON — Say goodbye to those pesky 1- and 2-cent stamps that used to clutter up desks and purses every time the price of mailing a letter went up. A new “forever” stamp _ good for mailing a letter no matter how much rates go up _ was recommended Monday by the independent Postal Regulatory Commission. The panel also called for a 2-cent increase in first-class rates to 41 cents, a penny less than the post office had sought.

(…)

Under legislation approved by Congress last year the commission will develop a new, less cumbersome system of raising rates for use in the future, and also has more authority to regulate postal activity.

Of course, if the Post Office were a private business, they wouldn’t need to ask Congress for permission to raise rates and they’d be better able to respond to the market. Instead we’ve got this system. Rates will go up to 41 cents, for now, but you can bet that they’ll keep going up as first-class mail becomes more and more of an anachronism.

So we could continue doing what we know doesn’t work, or we could try something new:

If you really want to fix the Postal Service, Senator, here’s what you need to do:

  • Eliminate the USPS monopoly on first class and all other mail. Allow FedEx, UPS, DHL, and anyone else who wants to get into the game to deliver first class mail, magazines, or anything else to do so. In the long run, it will result in better service, more competitive pricing, and more innovation
  • Eliminate the regulations that require the USPS to deliver first class mail at a uniform rate. It makes no sense that it costs the same to mail a letter from New York to Boston as it does to mail it from New York to Honolulu. Let the market decide how to price these services.
  • Get the government out of the business of providing pensions to Postal Workers. We don’t do it for the guys who work for Ford and General Motors, there’s no reason we should do it for the guys who deliver the mail.

All of this, and more, has been proposed before but Congress continues to try the same old solutions that never seem to work.

Yep, the same old story.

Virginia General Assembly Strikes A Blow For Property Rights

While all of the attention during the final hours of the Virginia General Assembly session was focused on the transportation bill, the Senate and House of Delegates passed a bill aimed at restricting local government’s authorty to use the power of eminent domain:

RICHMOND — After more than a year of work on the issue, the General Assembly on Saturday passed legislation that restricts government’s power to seize private property by invoking eminent domain.

The Senate and House of Delegates agreed on bills that define “public uses” under which government can take private property, stripping out a Senate provision that would give housing and redevelopment authorities greater ability to condemn property in blighted areas.

The passage of House Bill 2954 and Senate Bill 1296 nearly completes lawmakers’ efforts to strengthen eminent domain restrictions in the wake of a 2005 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in Kelo v. New London. In that case, the court upheld a Connecticut city’s condemnation of a homeowner’s property for a private development project.

The bills define five “public uses” for which private property can be taken. The legislation allows eminent domain for eliminating blight, but only if the property itself is blighted.

The bills would not affect current plans of redevelopment and housing authorities if they file petitions for condemnation by July 1, 2009.

The text of the relevant bill can be found here and it limits the power of eminent domain to the following situations:

(i) the property is taken for the possession, ownership, occupation, and enjoyment of property by the public or a public corporation;

(ii) the property is taken for construction, maintenance, or operation of public facilities by public corporations or by private entities provided that there is a written agreement with a public corporation providing for use of the facility by the public;

(iii) the property is taken for the creation or functioning of any public service corporation, public service company, or railroad;

(iv) the property is taken for the provision of any authorized utility service by a government utility corporation;

(v) the property is taken for the elimination of blight provided that the property itself is a blighted property; or

(vi) the property taken is in a redevelopment or conservation area and is abandoned or the acquisition is needed to clear title where one of the owners agrees to such acquisition.

Not perfect, but still a fairly good start and even the definition of “blight”, which is an area where local governments have frequently gotten away with murder, is fairly restrictive:

“Blighted property” means any property that endangers the public health and safety in its condition at the time of the filing of the petition for condemnation and is (i) vacant and constitutes a public nuisance or (ii) an individual commercial, industrial, or residential structure or improvement that is beyond repair or unfit for human habitation or use.

Like I said, a good start. Hopefully, Governor Kaine will do the right thing on this one.

More coverage over at Bearing Drift

Originally posted at Below The Beltway

Ron Paul In New Hampshire

The Manchester Union-Leader has an article today about Ron Paul’s visit to the home of the nation’s first primary:

Paul – who had been in New Hampshire since Thursday – found himself treated like a rock star at yesterday’s event, and a couple of hundred people were on hand to hear him speak at the Free State Project’s New Hampshire Liberty Forum. About half the 350 people who attended the days-long conference, at the Holiday Inn on North Main Street, were from New Hampshire, organizers said.

Paul, who received a standing ovation before and after his remarks, touched on many points during his address. For instance, he noted his long-standing opposition to the war in Iraq, which he said stemmed from his belief there was no security threat to America and the vote authorizing the war represented an illegal transfer of power to the president. He also called for the United States to withdraw from Iraq.

“The worst thing that could happen to al-Qaeda is for that war to end,” Paul said.

Among other issues, Paul also voiced support for abandoning the war on drugs, allowing gold and silver to serve as legal tender, repealing the Seventeenth Amendment  ” which lets voters directly elect U.S. Senators ” and ending the practice of withholding taxes from one’s pay. Instead, taxpayers would have to actually write checks to pay their taxes, a move Paul figured would soon end what he called the present tax-and-spend philosophy of government.

If there is one state where Paul’s message could resonate it’s New Hampshire. The question is whether he’d be able to get himself heard above the media blitz sure to be unleashed by the likes of McCain, Giuliani, and Romney.

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