Monthly Archives: April 2007

A Gun Owner Defends Himself

On the streets of Cleveland Ohio, a gun owner stops a crime:

Damon Wells is the man gun supporters imagined when they fought for the right to carry concealed weapons.

He had a permit to carry his gun, and he had the gun on him when a pair of teenage thieves approached him Saturday night on his front porch.

When one of the youths pulled a gun, Wells whipped out his and shot one of the boys multiple times in the chest, police said.

Arthur Buford, 15, died after stumbling away and collapsing on a sidewalk near East 134th Street and Kinsman Road.

City prosecutors decided Monday that Wells, 25, was justified and would not be charged for what appears to be the first time a concealed-carry permit holder has shot and killed an attacker.

Is it tragic that a 15 year old died ? Yes, it is, but what might have happened if Wells hadn’t had a gun ? At the very least he would have been robbed and perhaps beaten, at worst he would have been shot and killed himself. In that split second when Buford and his accomplice pulled the gun on him, Wells had no way of knowing and he reacted the way anyone should’ve reacted in that situation…….he defended himself.

Of course, that hasn’t stopped a debate from being ignited:

Gun supporters said the weapon saved Wells’ life. Opponents said it took Buford’s – that the 15-year-old might be alive if a citizen had not been armed.

(…)
His cousin, Tameka Foster, 21, questioned why police refused to punish Buford’s shooter. “They let that man run out freely,” Foster said. “My cousin is dead.”

(…)

Toby Hoover, of the Ohio Coalition Against Gun Violence, said she had not heard of any other fatal shooting involving a concealed-carry permit holder.

“This is one of the few where they actually used it to stop a crime,” Hoover said.

But, she said, “there’s still a dead kid here.”

I’m sorry, but if he hadn’t been out on the streets of Cleveland robbing people at gunpoint, then he’d still be alive today. Mr. Wells is not getting charged because he didn’t do anything wrong.

The Pentagon’s Public Relations Disaster

Every war has it’s heroes, and in the case of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the two heroes that received the most accolades from the Pentagon were Pat Tillman and Jessica Lynch. Tillman, you will recall was the NFL star who left his football career behind to join the NBA where he died a hero under fire from the Taliban. Lynch, of course, was a supply clerk with a Maintenance Company who was captured in an ambush after her convoy made a wrong turn. Lynch was held prisoner for a week before being released in a raid by American forces.

In the official stories released by the Pentagon, they were lauded as heroes. Now, it turns out the Pentagon was lying through its teeth:

Military and other administration officials created a heroic story about the death of Cpl. Pat Tillman to distract attention from setbacks in Iraq and the mistreatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, the slain man’s younger brother, Kevin Tillman, said today.

Testifying before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Mr. Tillman said the military knew almost immediately that Corporal Tillman, an Army Ranger who left a career as a pro football player to enlist, had been killed accidentally in Afghanistan in April 2004 by fire from his own unit. But officials chose to put a “patriotic glow” on his death, he said.

Mr. Tillman said the decision to award his brother a Silver Star and to say that he died heroically fighting the enemy was “utter fiction” that was intended to “exploit Pat’s death.”

In addition to exploiting Tillman’s death, it’s pretty clear that Pentagon officials were lying about it as well. For more than a year after the incident, they stuck to the story that Tillman was killed by the Taliban when it was known fairly quickly that it was in fact friendly fire that resulted in his death. The fact that they withheld the truth from the American public and, more importantly, Tillman’s family in order to preserve the elaborate tale of heroism woven by some PR Officer somewhere is, quite frankly both cynical and deceitful.

And Lynch’s story similarly turned out to be much less than initially thought:

Former Pvt. Jessica Lynch leveled similar criticism today at the hearing about the initial accounts given by the Army of her capture in Iraq. Ms. Lynch was rescued from an Iraqi hospital in dramatic fashion by American troops after she suffered serious injuries and was captured in an ambush of her truck convoy in March 2003.

In her testimony this morning, she said she did not understand why the Army put out a story that she went down firing at the enemy.

“I’m confused why they lied,” she said.

(…)

Ms. Lynch said she could not know why she was depicted as a “Rambo from West Virginia,” when in fact she was riding in a truck, not fighting, when she was injured.

(…)

For her part, Ms. Lynch said in her testimony that other members of her unit had acted with genuine heroism that deserved the attention she received. “The bottom line is the American people are capable of determining their own ideas of heroes, and they don’t need to be told elaborate tales,” she said.

Yes, but when you are fighting a war that seems to depend more on public relations than on strategy, creating a fake hero every now and then makes perfect sense.

Defending Yourself

In the post I wrote last week, In Defense of Self-Defense, I lamented how our culture is changing from one which once saw moral justification in self-defense to one which values self-sacrifice. I also shared some of my in-expert opinions on how the students and faculty at Virginia Tech might have protected themselves from becoming victims of a crazed gunman.

I have since found a Slate article, Fight or Flight at Virginia Tech: What Should You Do When Confronted with a Gun-wielding Madman? The article’s author consulted with self-defense experts Richard Kobetz of Executive Protection Institute and John Whitman of Krav Maga Worldwide. The most obvious thing you should do, as the article points out, is to run (ideally in a zigzag pattern) or find an escape. Short of escaping, you might have to fight back. As a public service to the readers of The Liberty Papers, here are a few excerpts on how you can fight back if you find yourself in this type of situation.

To disarm a gunman, you’ll need to take his focus off his weapon and his plan of attack. To do this, you might throw chairs, laptops, or fire extinguishers at him, or set off the sprinkler system or fire alarm. Then, you’d want to pick up a desk or some other shield and charge right at the killer. There’s a chance you’ll be killed in the process, but if two or three people rush at once, there’s also a chance that somebody will take him down. (Unarmed civilians who band together have a much better chance of surviving an attack.)

If you’re already within a step or two of the gunman, you might be able to grab his weapon. If he’s facing you, quickly reach up and take hold of the barrel, and then aim it away from your body. The move should be as clean and economical as possible. The gunman will reflexively pull the gun back away from you. Go with him: Keep gripping the gun and push your weight forward. Then, punch him in the face or the throat as hard as you can. Hit him on the nose, jab your fingers into his eyes, or strike him with the heel of your open palm. Then use your free hand to grab the nonbusiness end of the gun. With two hands on the gun, you can knee the killer in the groin or head-butt him. A better idea might be to twist your hands like they are revving a motorcycle engine. The weapon will pivot and break the gunman’s finger inside the trigger guard.

The article points out that the above strategy would have had to been modified in the case of the Virginia Tech massacre since the gunman had a gun in each hand. If this is the case, you should grab both hands while kicking until others can help you. I urge everyone to read the whole thing; taking this advice could possibly save your life.

Hat tip: Boortz

The Maddening Trust Fund Lie

It’s sad to see very smart people get fooled into playing the government’s games. I hate to call him out on this one, because he’s a blogger that I respect, but Kip is using their terms when he’s smart enough to know how fraudulent they are.

To review: An IOU from myself to myself is worthless. An IOU from the federal government to the federal government is worthless. Calling that IOU a “Treasury security backed by the full faith and credit of the United States Government” does not change its worthlessness — any more than would calling it “zoop.”

When Social Security runs into deficit starting around 2017, those IOUs will be “cashed in,” which simply means that the federal government, which has already spent the money, will have to raise either taxes or the budget deficit (I’m guessing the latter).

We all can agree that the “trust fund” is a bunch of BS. The trust fund has no assets in it, as Kip points out quite correctly, and which I explain through the use of analogy here.

Some will tell you Social Security fails in 2041, because that will be the time that the fictional “trust fund” is empty. The people who tell you that are trying to deceive you. But it’s equally deceptive to claim that we’re doing just fine until 2017, because that’s when Social Security goes into deficit. Kip, throughout his post, references that 2017 date, but that obscures the problem. The problem won’t magically hide until 2017, and then appear. THE PROBLEM STARTS TODAY!

It’s very simple. Right now the government is spending every dollar that we provide in Social Security taxes, every dollar we spend in income taxes, and then borrowing money on top of it. Every year between now and 2017, the amount of money the government has to pay in Social Security benefits will rise, and will rise faster than tax receipts from the payroll tax. So unless they reduce spending elsewhere, every year total government spending will rise, and because each year the social security “surplus” gets smaller, they have to make up that money elsewhere, either with other taxation or more debt.

The 2017 date is a convenient fiction, much like the 2041 date. It’s used by people to make us think that we still have time to fix the programs in the future, but the problems exist today. The problem is that government spending is rising faster than government revenue. Unless we cut spending or raise revenue, we’re in a lot of trouble. Which pocket they take that revenue out of doesn’t matter.

China Set To Become World’s Biggest Polluter

In a few months, the People’s Republic of China will surpass the United States as the world’s biggest producer of greenhouse gases:

China could overtake the US as the globe’s biggest producer of greenhouse gases later this year, far earlier than expected, one of the world’s leading energy bodies warned today.

If left unchecked, within 25 years emissions from China will be double those of the combined output of the US, EU, Japan and all other industrialised nations, said Fatih Birol, chief economist of the International Energy Agency (IEA).

The Paris-based organisation, which advises wealthy countries on energy policy, had previously said China was on course to become the world’s biggest such polluter no earlier than 2009.

But such is the country’s untrammelled economic growth, much of it driven by coal-fired power stations, this could potentially happen within months, Mr Birol told Guardian Unlimited.

“If Chinese economic growth, and therefore coal consumption, continues to surprise us, this may well be this year or next year,” he said.

And China isn’t the only developing country set to become a huge polluter:

“Within the next 25 years, CO2 emissions which come from China alone will be double the CO2 emissions which will come from all the OECD countries put together – the whole US, plus Canada, plus all the European countries, Japan, Australia, New Zealand etc,” he said.

Over the same time period, India’s emissions were forecast to grow such that they were half the OECD total, Mr Birol added, calling this “very, very significant”.

This development is interesting on several levels. First, it will be interesting to see if the environmentalist lobby starts putting as much pressure on the PRC  as they do on the Western world to restrain economic growth and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Second, even if they do, the reaction of the Chinese government is likely to be less than sympathetic:

Those comments follow the weekend release of a Chinese government report detailing the costs of climate change but asserting that the country should focus on development before cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

Higher than average temperatures meant spreading deserts, worsening droughts, shrinking glaciers and increased spread of diseases, said the report, compiled by more than a dozen government bodies. It said emission limits were unfair and would constrain China’s current energy and manufacturing industries.

China is a signatory to the Kyoto Protocol on reducing greenhouse gasses, but is exempt from its restrictions because it is a developing country.

The Chinese seem unlikely to agree to anything that would restrain economic growth anytime soon. Meaning that any effort to confront China on this issue could end up having foreign policy implications.

Housing Slide Not Over Yet

Remember in March and early April, when everyone was cheering the strong sales of existing homes during the month of February? Perhaps we were finally turning the corner, right?

The National Association of Realtors’ index for pending sales of existing homes rose in February at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 0.7 percent. The index is well below where it was a year ago but stronger than investors expected, reassuring them that the housing sector, while weak, is not being pummeled by the struggling subprime mortgage sector.

Some folks thought the market had done a 180. But it now appears to be little more than a stutter-step. The market juked the perma-bulls right out of their cleats on this one!

Sales of existing homes plunged in March by the largest amount in nearly two decades, reflecting bad weather and increasing problems in the subprime mortgage market, a real estate trade group reported Tuesday.

The National Association of Realtors reported that sales of existing homes fell by 8.4 percent in March, compared to February. It was the biggest one-month decline since a 12.6 percent drop in January 1989, another period of recession conditions in housing. The drop left sales in March at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 6.12 million units, the slowest pace since June 2003.

The steep sales decline was accompanied by an eighth straight fall in median home prices, the longest such period of falling prices on record. The median price fell to $217,000, a drop of 0.3 percent from the price a year ago.

The fall in sales in March was bigger than had been expected and it dashed hopes that housing was beginning to mount a recovery after last year’s big slump. That slowdown occurred after five years in which sales of both existing and new homes had set records.

Everyone said, as they always do in a major asset bubble market, that “this one is different”. And it some senses, they’re right, real estate is different. But different doesn’t preclude a crash. If you hold $500K in a technology stock, and you need to liquidate as it’s dropping like a rock, you might sell for $300K in a day just to get rid of it, because you know it will be worthless tomorrow. If you own a $500K home, though, you can’t get rid of it in a day, you’re in debt to pay for it, and unlike the technology stock, it will never be completely worthless. But that doesn’t mean that the market can’t reprice it at $300K and screw you.

Oh, and despite what they said last month, it now appears that they see the error of their ways:

Lereah said that the troubles in mortgage lending were also playing a significant part in depressing sales. Lenders have tightened standards with the rising delinquencies in mortgages especially in the subprime market, where borrowers with weak credit histories obtained their loans.

This has been brewing for a long time, and it doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to have seen it coming. You flood the market with liquidity, loosen interest rates and lending standards, and you create an asset bubble. It had to burst or deflate. With housing, it’s tough to burst, because there is inherent value, but it’s starting to deflate quite rapidly now.

Hat Tip: Doug

The FCC Wants To Declare War On Television Violence

This morning’s Washington Post is reporting that the Federal Communications Commission is days away from proposing an unprecedented expansion of government regulation of entertainment broadcasting:

Federal regulators, concerned about the effect of television violence on children, will recommend that Congress enact legislation to give the government unprecedented powers to curb violence in entertainment programming, according to government and TV industry sources.

The Federal Communications Commission has concluded that regulating TV violence is in the public interest, particularly during times when children are likely to be viewers — typically between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., FCC sources say.

The agency’s recommendations — which will be released in a report to Congress within the next week, agency officials say — could set up a legal battle between Washington and the television industry.

For decades, the FCC has penalized over-the-air broadcasters for airing sexually suggestive, or “indecent,” speech and images, but it has never had the authority to fine TV stations and networks for violent programming.

The report — commissioned by members of Congress in 2004 and based on hundreds of comments from parents, industry officials, academic experts and others — concludes that Congress has the authority to regulate “excessive violence” and to extend its reach for the first time into basic-cable TV channels that consumers pay to receive.

As the article goes on to point out there are several problems with what the FCC is proposing that should concern anyone who believes in freedom of speech and property rights.

First of all, just how do you define “excessive violence” ? Are we talking about Jack Bauer’s torture scenes on 24 ? What about the very life-like dead bodies we see on a regular basis on Law & Order and CSI ? For that matter, what about the autopsy scenes on shows like CSI ? Yes, these shows are excessive, but in each one of them, the violence isn’t gratuitous, it’s a part of the plot and often — as in the case of torture scenes on 24 that seldom yield useful information — make a point completely opposite from what you might initially think.

And even if you can come up with a constitutionally acceptable definition of violence, how do you objectively determine what’s excessive ? You can’t, of course, because the question of what is and isn’t excessive is entirely subjective. What I think is excessive will be different from what you think is excessive. In a way, it’s even worse than trying to define what is and isn’t obscene, which has led to an entire generation of Supreme Court litigation. » Read more

Book Review: The Multiplex Man, James P. Hogan

I teased this one in my bookaholic post, so I figured I might as well get around to reviewing it. The book is The Multiplex Man, by James P. Hogan. I’m not even sure where I first heard about this one (a libertarian blog somewhere, probably), but I picked it up used from Amazon for a very nice price, so there wasn’t a lot of risk in trying it.

The book describes a time in the not-so-distant future. The Western powers (US and Europe), driven by the environmentalists, have begun to clamp down on capitalism as a waste of resources, while the remnants of the old Soviet Union have embraced unbridled capitalism and are rapidly expanding (even into space). The governments of the West have built up enormous propaganda about the dangers of those capitalist nations to control their own citizens, and the people fear that capitalism in the East will collapse, leading to an attack by the East on the West. Thus, they rule their people through fear of an unlikely enemy.

In this world you find Richard Jarrow, a government history teacher who’s bought the lie— hook, line, and sinker. But one day something strange happens. He goes to the doctor, is put to sleep for some routine tests, and then suddenly wakes up 6 months later, 1000 miles away from his home, in a strange hotel room. And in a different body. Furthermore, he tries to head back to his home, only to find out that Richard Jarrow died a mere month after his last memory. Confused and disoriented, particularly by the fact that he has gained incredible fighting ability, he goes on a search to find out exactly what’s going on. He soon determines exactly whose body he’s inhabiting, and starts to see that there are forces of the Eastern capitalist countries who want to use him to further their own ends. Not to mention that the former fiancee’ of the body he’s inhabiting wants the original inhabitant’s personality back. As he starts down the eventual road to the climax of the story, you see how various personalities inside him all start to meld together and fall apart, and you watch as his own psyche starts shorting out.

To go any farther would give too much of the plot away, so I’m not going to do that. The book itself reminded me of a suspense-thriller much like Robert Ludlum’s Jason Bourne series. You have a man who isn’t quite sure who he is or why he’s capable of doing what he can do, unsure who to trust and how to survive his situation. It’s a bit more sci-fi than the Bourne series, though, and again to get into the details would give away too much of the plot. Last, for the libertarians in the bunch, it’s certainly got a dystopian vision that is distrustful of state control, sees the government as the enemy, and views unbridled free-market anarchist capitalism as the driving force of prosperity.

As a suspense-thriller novel, it is a bit formulaic at times. You have the protagonist, trying to figure out exactly what is going on in a world that seems to threaten him from every direction. You have the supportive female, who distrusts him at first but grows to push him to his destiny. You’ve got shadowy government figures all around, and you’re never sure which of them is working to help the protagonist and which is not. However, to call it formulaic doesn’t make it a bad book. Hogan throws in twists and turns in places that I hadn’t seen coming, and in general it’s an engaging read.

I’d say that if you’re looking for a new author to check out, and you’re into the suspense-thriller genre, it’s certainly worth a look. If you like the Bourne series from Ludlum, and you’re a libertarian, I think you’ll like this quite a bit. This is a decent novel with libertarian themes, but not to the extent that it beats you over the head with it. As I’ve said with a few other books, this one won’t win any awards, but it’s definitely a nice book to while a few hours away.

D.C. Area Government Workers Steal $ 17 Million Per Year

This morning’s Washington Post is reporting that government workers in the Washington, D.C. area have defrauded the American taxpayer out of $ 17 million dollars per year:

It’s a perk of federal employment: a free monthly subsidy that pays for commutes on public transportation. But scores of workers have been taking the government for a ride, selling their benefits on the Internet and pocketing millions in cash each year.

The program, which covers 300,000 federal employees nationwide, has been abused by workers across a variety of agencies, the Government Accountability Office will report to Congress today. Workers in the Washington region alone have defrauded the government of at least $17 million a year, with the actual figure probably several million dollars higher, according to the GAO.

Employees have taken the benefit vouchers, known locally as Metrocheks, and turned them into a kind of black-market currency, selling them — often at a discount off the face value — to buyers who can use them to ride Metro, regional buses or commuter railroads.

Workers have been accepting the transit subsidies but driving to work, or claiming a subsidy far greater than their commuting costs and selling the excess, GAO investigators found. For example, one employee at the Department of Transportation claimed the maximum benefit of $105 per month, but his commute cost $54.

Meanwhile, agencies have been handing out transit subsidies to employees who also receive free parking spaces, to employees who no longer work for the government and, in some cases, to people who apparently were never employed by the agencies.

To anyone who understands rent-seeking and public choice economics, none of this should be a surprise. The government hands out cash subsidies rather than actually confirming that workers are incurring the transportation expenses they claim — and apparently without even demanding receipts — and the workers, responding accordingly, inflate those expenses and take as much money as they can get.

Hearings will be held and reforms will be proposed, but the incentive to lie, cheat, and steal away the taxpayer’s money will remain.

Fred Thompson On Federalism

First, let me make it clear. Fred Thompson is not a libertarian, he’s a conservative. Nonetheless, he does have interesting things to say.

Today, he has a column up at NRO that addresses criticism about his votes on tort reform while in the Senate, but has this interesting quote about federalism:

As I understood it, states were supposed to be laboratories that would compete with each other, conducting civic experiments according to the wishes of their citizens. The model for federal welfare reform was the result of that process. States also allow for of diverse viewpoints that exist across the country. There is no reason that Tennesseans and New Yorkers should have to agree on everything (and they don’t).

Those who are in charge of applying the conservative litmus test should wonder why some of their brethren continue to try to federalize more things — especially at a time of embarrassing federal mismanagement and a growing federal bureaucracy. I am afraid that such a test is often based more upon who is favored between two self-serving litigants than upon legal and constitutional principles. Isn’t that what we make all the Supreme Court nominees promise not to do?

Adhering to the principles of federalism is not easy. As one who was on the short end of a couple of 99-1 votes, I can personally attest to it. Federalism sometimes restrains you from doing things you want to do. You have to leave the job to someone else — who may even choose not to do it at all. However, if conservatives abandon this valued principle that limits the federal government, or if we selectively use it as a tool with which to reward our friends and strike our enemies, then we will be doing a disservice to our country as well as the cause of conservatism.

There are many things about the Constitution that can be considered the work of genius, but perhaps the most important among them was the idea of Federalism. As originally intended, the Federal Government was supposed to have only limited jurisdiction over matters that truly impacted the nation as a whole. The vast majority of the rules that impacted every day life were supposed to have been made at the state and local levels, where people would have more control over their legislators.

As with most everything else that the Founders believed, that idea has faded into history. Today, the Federal Government inserts itself into virtually every aspect of our lives and the states have become more and more irrelevant. Over the past 30 years, the Federal Government has used the power of the purse to force the states to change policy on everything from the drinking age to seatbelt laws. And when the voters of California decide that people who are dying of cancer should have the right to utilize marijuana to alleviate their pain and suffering, the DEA steps in and shuts down the clinics……and the Supreme Court says it’s okay.

With the exception of Ron Paul, nearly every Presidential candidate is talking about what the Federal Government can do for you. Almost nobody is talking about the idea that maybe there are some things that it shouldn’t be doing at all.

If Fred Thompson becomes the exception to that rule, then he may be a welcome addition to the race.

Carrying A Few Extra Around The Gut Area? Blame Congress!

Adam Drewnowski, a researcher at the University of Washington, had a question. Why is it that America works opposite of the rest of the world, where the rich are generally thin, and the poor are generally not so. So he decided to take a look:

Drewnowski gave himself a hypothetical dollar to spend, using it to purchase as many calories as he possibly could. He discovered that he could buy the most calories per dollar in the middle aisles of the supermarket, among the towering canyons of processed food and soft drink. (In the typical American supermarket, the fresh foods — dairy, meat, fish and produce — line the perimeter walls, while the imperishable packaged goods dominate the center.) Drewnowski found that a dollar could buy 1,200 calories of cookies or potato chips but only 250 calories of carrots. Looking for something to wash down those chips, he discovered that his dollar bought 875 calories of soda but only 170 calories of orange juice.

It’s been widely remarked that you don’t see a lot of poor people on the Atkins Diet. I had used that for a while, and in the span of a couple of months, dropped from 260 lbs to roughly my ideal weight, the low 220’s. But it’s not cheap. You’re eating decent quantities of fish, meat, fresh vegetables, etc. (Thankfully I’m blessed with genetically low cholesterol, so I never had to worry about that aspect). Think about it… You get a salmon filet and some nice broccoli with cheese sauce, a nice bottle of wine, and you’ll probably spend $5-10 per plate (more, depending on the wine). Feed a couple of people, and you’re out $20 or more. Hell, the last time I bought salmon and asparagus for myself I spent close to $20, because I went to the high-end grocer. You serve tortilla chips and a frozen pizza, with Coke to drink, you can feed the same number of people for $8. And who’s going to get a more healthful meal?

Of course, to some extent these things may never change, as there are certain laws of supply and demand, and corn syrup is cheap. But it’s still quite important to ask why, and whether this is something that’s naturally or artificially occurring. Is corn syrup artificially cheap? They say that high-fructose corn syrup is one of the worst things you can usually put into your body. Sugar is bad, but that corn syrup is horrible. Yet it, and a lot of other nasty multi-syllabic chemicals are found in all those foods in the center aisles of the grocery store. Why is that? Well, look no farther than our imperial federal government, and the corporate welfare state, in the guise of farm bills:

For the answer, you need look no farther than the farm bill. This resolutely unglamorous and head-hurtingly complicated piece of legislation, which comes around roughly every five years and is about to do so again, sets the rules for the American food system — indeed, to a considerable extent, for the world’s food system. Among other things, it determines which crops will be subsidized and which will not, and in the case of the carrot and the Twinkie, the farm bill as currently written offers a lot more support to the cake than to the root. Like most processed foods, the Twinkie is basically a clever arrangement of carbohydrates and fats teased out of corn, soybeans and wheat — three of the five commodity crops that the farm bill supports, to the tune of some $25 billion a year. (Rice and cotton are the others.) For the last several decades — indeed, for about as long as the American waistline has been ballooning — U.S. agricultural policy has been designed in such a way as to promote the overproduction of these five commodities, especially corn and soy.

That’s because the current farm bill helps commodity farmers by cutting them a check based on how many bushels they can grow, rather than, say, by supporting prices and limiting production, as farm bills once did. The result? A food system awash in added sugars (derived from corn) and added fats (derived mainly from soy), as well as dirt-cheap meat and milk (derived from both). By comparison, the farm bill does almost nothing to support farmers growing fresh produce. A result of these policy choices is on stark display in your supermarket, where the real price of fruits and vegetables between 1985 and 2000 increased by nearly 40 percent while the real price of soft drinks (a k a liquid corn) declined by 23 percent. The reason the least healthful calories in the supermarket are the cheapest is that those are the ones the farm bill encourages farmers to grow.

The author, Michael Pollan, goes on to lament some of the other nasty consequences of the farm bill, such as it creating such low corn prices that we’ve destroyed Mexico’s indigenous corn farming industry, which leads to northward immigration. Not to mention that having them rely on us for corn production has caused the tortilla price increases that I’ve mentioned here, because our new government intervention forces us to use our corn for ethanol, again increasing the price. (Note that I’m not missing the blind spot here. Increased corn prices due to the ethanol mandate will increase corn syrup prices, which will then make the food those poor Americans eat, the stuff that’s high in corn syrup, more expensive).

But go back to the original point. Our farm subsidies are designed such that they make unhealthy food options artificially cheap. Then, we tax sugar imports. Now, sugar isn’t the most healthy thing we can ingest, but it’s much better than corn syrup. But our government’s policies are making the incredibly unhealthy option cheap, artificially inflating the cost of the bad-but-not-horrible imported option, and the non-subsidized healthy options are expensive. It’s so far out of whack that to say it’s nonsensical is doing an injustice to good, honest nonsense.

If you think the government really wants you to be healthier, ask them why they don’t repeal farm subsidies? Maybe you’ll realize that they don’t have your best interests at heart, they’re looking to reward the people who get them elected. Farmers have more lobbying money than the health nuts, so they get their goods and— as usual— poor people get screwed.

Hat Tip: Reason

This is supposed to be good news?

Well…Social Security is set to go bankrupt one year later than estimated:

The trust fund for Social Security will be exhausted in 2041 and the Medicare trust fund in 2019, the trustees of the two programs said Monday. Both dates were one year later than previously estimated.

In their annual report on the financial health of the government’s two biggest benefit programs, the trustees said that slight reductions in projected benefits and slightly higher tax collections had extended the dates that the trust funds are projected to be depleted.

However, the trustees said both programs continue to face serious financial problems with the pending retirement of 78 million baby boomers. The report for the first timed triggered a Medicare funding warning that will require
President Bush to submit to Congress next year proposals for trimming Medicare costs.

And what was the title of the AP article? Social Security, Medicare: Good news. I am not joking. Social Security and Medicare are going to last one year longer than previously estimated and that is some how “good news.” Meanwhile, you are throwing your money down the drain. It’s gone…you’ll never see it again.

H/T: National Taxpayers Union

Who Suggested We Arm Everyone?

Well, nobody, really, but that’s the refrain we hear from the left in response to gun advocates who suggest CCW might have helped contain the massacre at Virginia Tech before 32 people were killed. We say “give responsible gun owners the freedom to carry concealed”. They hear “force a gun into every able-bodies citizen’s hand”.

In other words, they have a convenient strawman to argue against. And it’s not just left-wing bloggers, of course, it’s also left-wing Pulitzer Prize-winning pundits:

But it’s more than a little disconcerting to hear that so many adults also believe in superheroes. They must. Why else would they insist that the best way to prevent carnage of the sort that occurred last week at Virginia Tech is to put guns into every available hand? They’re indulging their childhood fantasies, remembering the movies in which the Caped Crusader or John Wayne instantly dispatched the bad guy.

Now, I’ve seen a lot of pro-gun people weigh in on this debate. In fact, I weighed in myself. So far I’ve seen absolutely nobody suggest that “arming everyone” would be a good idea. Nor have most pro-gun people said that it would definitively have improved the situation. In fact, I pointed out that allowing people on campus to carry doesn’t mean that they necessarily would have that day. In fact, I didn’t even claim that it would have stopped Cho, only that it could have.

But all this doesn’t matter. Cynthia Tucker doesn’t want to address the thought that responsible gun owners who went through the trouble of educating themselves about firearms, getting a CCW permit, and take care to leave their house armed might actually have a chance. So she completely dismisses that idea, and jumps into the “well, if everyone was carrying we’d have a firefight and carnage all around!” bandwagon. She’d rather leave everyone defenseless.

Of course, in her own personal life, she knows how to remain safe. As her father taught her:

When I moved to Atlanta just out of college, I told him I was going to buy a handgun. He strongly disapproved, believing I’d be more likely to get injured with my own gun than fend off an attacker with it. “You don’t need a gun,” he said. “You need to stay out of dangerous places.” I took his advice.

I assume by “dangerous places”, she’s talking about college campuses, fast food restaurants, post offices, etc, right? Because every student who woke up to go to class in Norris Hall that day thought they were headed to a safe place. The reason we need CCW is because there are no “safe” places, only those with relatively higher and lower risk. As we can see, even having a place declared a “gun-free zone” doesn’t mean it’s gun-free.

Who’s arguing for CCW? Well, crackpots like the NRA, who have apparently gone beyond the mandate that Tucker believes they should. It’s funny, I thought the NRA was trying to protect Americans’ right to keep and bear arms as described by the second amendment, not just to hunt or sport shoot. Tucker further shows her bias here:

That utterly irrational argument comes straight from the National Rifle Association, which long ago abandoned any pretense of representing the reasonable aims of hunters and sports shooters. The gun lobby now peddles an insane policy of making firearms as ubiquitous as cellphones.

Really? I’ve never seen that NRA poster. Although, a quick Google search showed me that there are about 196 million cellphone users in the USA, and about 200 million guns. Perhaps people carrying the latter would help stop the loud-talkers using the former from interrupting my dinner in a nice restaurant?

The gun control advocates won’t stand up against the argument for freedom. Thus, they argue a different sort of coercion, that we shove a gun into every hand in America. I’m not arguing that we should arm everyone. All I’m arguing is that people should be allowed the freedom to carry, in order to protect themselves. It’s their own choice whether they wish to exercise that freedom. Most of those that I’ve met who exercise their freedom know the level of responsibility they’re taking on, and they don’t need a flippant journalist to treat them like children. Even if that journalist did win a Pulitzer.

Hat Tip: McQ from QandO

Sheryl Crow’s Dumb Idea

The BBC is reporting that singer Sheryl Crow has come up with her own solution to global warming:

Singer Sheryl Crow has said a ban on using too much toilet paper should be introduced to help the environment.

Crow has suggested using “only one square per restroom visit, except, of course, on those pesky occasions where two to three could be required”.\ “I have spent the better part of this tour trying to come up with easy ways for us all to become a part of the solution to global warming,” Crow wrote.

(…)

“Although my ideas are in the earliest stages of development, they are, in my mind, worth investigating.

“I propose a limitation be put on how many squares of toilet paper can be used in any one sitting.”

Aside from the laughably absurd idea of taking scientific advice from someone who sings songs for a living, there is the equally absurd idea that limiting toilet paper use is going to have a significant impact on the environment.

Do you know where most of the greenhouse gases come from these days Sheryl ?

From coal fired power plants. Given that, if you really want to help the environment you should be lobbying to have the restrictions on construction of nuclear power plants lifted so we can generate electricity with almost no carbon footprint.

But, don’t worry, Sheryl’s got another idea if that toilet paper thing doesn’t work out:

Crow has also commented on her website about how she thinks paper napkins “represent the height of wastefulness”.

She has designed a clothing line with what she calls a “dining sleeve”.

The sleeve is detachable and can be replaced with another “dining sleeve” after the diner has used it to wipe his or her mouth.

So instead of throwing out the napkin, we wash the dining sleeve in the washing machine, thus using more power from those coal fired plants. Bright idea Sheryl.

It’s stuff like this that makes it so hard for me to take the current environmentalist fad seriously. They come up with these ridiculous suggestions designed to make people think they are having an impact on the world and ignore the obvious solutions that are staring them in the face.

Update: It’s been suggested in a comment that Crow wasn’t serious. Well, below the fold is a lengthy quote from the blog entry in question: » Read more

Is Google Getting Too Big ?

In the Washington Post, Steven Pearlstein writes about Google’s continued expansion:

Google is the quintessential business success story. Two bright young guys started with an idea, built a company around it and grew it into a $150 billion juggernaut that now dominates the Internet. It nudged aside rival Yahoo, challenged traditional media giants and frustrated the Web strategy of the once-invincible Microsoft. And it did it all fair and square.

First-quarter reports show how much Google has pulled ahead of the pack: a 69 percent increase in profit on a 63 percent increase in sales. The news came just days after Yahoo acknowledged that its profit had fallen 11 percent, sending its already-lagging stock down 12 percent. Reports from big newspaper chains were even more dismal.

Good news for Google, it’s shareholders, and those of us who make daily use of the content that it provides, right ? Not according to Pearlstein:

But now, precisely because of its success, it’s fair to ask if Google should be barred from furthering its dominance through acquisitions or collaborations. At issue are the recent purchases of YouTube, the leader in online video sharing, and DoubleClick, the leading broker of online advertising; in both instances Google used its gusher of profits to outbid rivals. There are also new joint ventures with Clear Channel, the giant radio broadcaster, and EchoStar, the satellite television operator.

There’s no assertion by Pearlstein that Google has obtained any thing approaching monopoly power, and there’s no evidence to support it. So why is it that Pearstein is advocating the idea of putting controls on how big Google can grow ? What is it precisely that Google has done wrong that warrants limiting it’s growth ? And, more importantly, just how does Pearstein aim to fathom the point at which Google, or any company, becomes “too big” ?

As I’ve noted before, the only type of monopoly that is harmful to consumers is a legal monopoly, one that is created by the state and whose position is protected by the state. The best example o this today is the United States Postal Service. If if you wanted to use another provider to deliver regular first-class mail, you can’t do it because the law forbids it. Google, on the other hand, is simply providing a product. You don’t have to use it if you don’t want to, and many people choose not to.

The day that Google becomes a problem isn’t the day it becomes “too big” it’s the day that it uses the power of the state to restrain competition.

British Police Breaking Social Contract

I thought this was simple. You pay taxes, and in return, the government will do what it can to protect you and to investigate crimes. You’d think that in Britain, where taxes are incredibly high, this would mean that the police will respond to your every beck and call, right?

Well, not so. Now they want you to pay extra for them to investigate crimes:

Motorists whose cars are stolen are being told they must pay the police at least £105 if they want them to recover their vehicle when it is found and check it for forensic clues.

The scheme — being implemented by forces across the country — has been attacked by angry motorists.

Only car owners who agree to pay the fee, which in theory is to cover storage, are assured their cars will be “forensicated” — which means dusted down for fingerprints or swabbed for DNA.

A police letter approved by the Home Office warns motorists who recover their own vehicles that the cars will not be checked for clues. It states: “[The police force will accept] no further responsibility and will be unable to take further action to identify the person who took it.”

Okay, this isn’t important, but I’m pretty sure “forensicated” isn’t a word.

Think about this, though. With the exchange rate, this means that you’d be charged about $200 by the police for them to put any effort into catching the criminal who stole your car. What we’re talking about here is a deterrent. If car thieves know that individual citizens aren’t going to pay extra to have the crime investigated, it drastically cuts the chances that they’ll be caught. Now, I know if my car was stolen, unless there were specific damages that I couldn’t recover through insurance, I wouldn’t want to pay an extra $200 to catch the guy who did it. The only thing I’d be gaining is validation of my sense of justice, but I get no other benefit from seeing the perpetrator go to jail.

It’s the job of the police to investigate crimes, and catch the perpetrators. The police are abdicating their responsibility. But alas, this is the problem with government. Sane people, when their government stopped providing the services it was put in place to provide, would stop patronizing that government [i.e. stop paying taxes]. But while the police may not bother to investigate crimes against individuals, you can be darn sure that the government will investigate tax protestors, probably to the ends of the earth and back again.

Both America and Britain are starting to face the same problem: government which does the things we’d rather it not, and giving up their responsibility to do the things they’re supposed to. Remind me again why I should hold up my end of the “social contract” if the government won’t hold up theirs?

Hat Tip: commenter Ted

Chavez To Begin Indoctrination Socialist Formation Classes

You know, ever since I started working from home, I’ve found myself to be much more productive. I think that has a lot to do with the fact that I no longer spend time in meetings. Does Hugo Chavez realize the damage he’ll do to productivity by sending people to socialism classes for four hours a week?

Venezuela’s government will require workers to spend four hours a week in “socialist formation” classes, and is mandating employers form “Bolivarian Work Councils” to run courses on the job, El Universal reported, citing Labor and Social Security Minister Jose Ramon Rivero.

The classes will first be held only in public sector jobs, beginning with a pilot program at the nation’s Labor Ministry, and will later spread to private businesses, after President Hugo Chavez decrees a law outlining re-education guidelines and rules, the newspaper said.

Topics to be addressed in the four-hour classes include Venezuelan history and “basic tools for analyzing reality, the environment, the role of the state and socialist scheme,” to speed the transition from capitalism to socialism, Rivero said, according to the newspaper.

Chavez has asked that socialist education, the so-called “Third Motor” of his Bolivarian revolution, be carried out beyond schools, in factories, workshops, offices and fields, the newspaper reported.

Notably missing from his list of things to teach are logical fallacies and economics, but then, those two things would make his citizens subjects realize that Chavez was trying to dupe them and that socialism won’t work. Incentives matter, Hugo.

But alas, as much as those of us anti-socialists argue, nobody is listening. So we’ll just have to wait for the inevitable Venezuelan collapse to make our point for us. At which time the socialists will just say “Well, Chavez didn’t do it right…” Same story, different day.

Hat Tip: Lance @ A Second Hand Conjecture (also see his interview with Manny Lopez, a reporter who regularly visits Venezuela)

Virginia Tech And The Failure Of Gun Control Laws

As it turns out, under currently existing Federal gun control laws, Cho Sueng-Hui should never have been allowed to buy a gun at all:

WASHINGTON, April 20 – Under federal law, the Virginia Tech gunman Seung-Hui Cho should have been prohibited from buying a gun after a Virginia court declared him to be a danger to himself in late 2005 and sent him for psychiatric treatment, a state official and several legal experts said Friday.

Federal law prohibits anyone who has been “adjudicated as a mental defective,” as well as those who have been involuntarily committed to a mental health facility, from buying a gun.

The special justice’s order in late 2005 that directed Mr. Cho to seek outpatient treatment and declared him to be mentally ill and an imminent danger to himself fits the federal criteria and should have immediately disqualified him, said Richard J. Bonnie, chairman of the Supreme Court of Virginia’s Commission on Mental Health Law Reform.

A spokesman for the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives also said that if Mr. Cho had been found mentally defective by a court, he should have been denied the right to purchase a gun.

The federal law defines adjudication as a mental defective to include “determination by a court, board, commission or other lawful authority” that as a result of mental illness, the person is a “danger to himself or others.”

So, instead of this being a debate over America’s allegedly lax gun control laws, what it really turns out to be is an example of a premise that is made clear on the streets of America every day. Gun control laws do nothing to disarm criminals or people, such as Cho, intent on committing criminal acts. All they do is disarm innocent civilians who are denied the means to protect themselves.

Assessing The Surge Three Months Later

It’s been three months since President Bush announced the so-called “surge” plan to increase American troops in Iraq temporarily, with the idea being that they would bring increased stability to the country.

So where do things stand now ? Well, at best, the results are mixed:

BAGHDAD, April 21 — Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, said the ongoing increase of nearly 30,000 U.S. troops in the country has achieved “modest progress” but has also met with setbacks such as a rise in devastating suicide bombings and other problems that leave uncertain whether his counterinsurgency strategy will ultimately succeed.

Assessing the first two months of the U.S. and Iraqi plan to pacify the capital, senior American commanders — including Petraeus; Adm. William J. Fallon, head of U.S. forces in the Middle East; Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, commander of military operations in Iraq; and top regional commanders — see mixed results. They said that while an increase in U.S. and Iraqi troops has improved security in Baghdad and Anbar province, attacks have risen sharply elsewhere. Critical now, they said in interviews this week, is for Iraqi leaders to forge the political compromises needed for long-term stability.

The commanders search for signs of success. On Friday night at dusk, Petraeus boarded a helicopter to look for scenes of normalcy and progress from above the maelstrom of the capital.

“On a bad day, I actually fly Baghdad just to reassure myself that life still goes on,” he said, leaning back and propping his legs on the seat in front of him.

Not exactly a reassuring sign of success, especially when car bomb attacks seem to once again be on the rise. The more important question, though, and the true unknown is whether the Iraqi government is truly capable of doing what needs to be done on its end:

Another major concern shared by U.S. military leaders is whether the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is capable of solidifying gains in security as well as making the crucial political compromises needed to achieve peace. “Will the Iraqis generate the capacity in their security forces and in their government to sustain this over time? That’s what keeps me up at night,” Odierno said.

Iraqi leaders “come from narrow political backgrounds . . . but now there is an expectation they will be able to make decisions well beyond the group they represent. This is struggle for them,” Fallon said.

As the Maliki government moves slowly, and patience in the United States wears thin, commanders worry that their window for action is rapidly closing. “We’re trying to somehow speed up the Baghdad clock and put time on the Washington clock. That’s all we can do at the end of the day,” Petraeus said.

Well, politically, I think it’s pretty clear that they have at least until Election Day 2008. The Democrats have demonstrated that they don’t have the political courage to even attempt to cut off funding for the troops. And President Bush — whether you call him courageous, stubborn, or just stupid — is not oging to deviate from his present policy. Whether a year and a half is enough time to fix the mess that is Iraq is, of course, an entirely different question.

The Shackles Tighten In Russia

In another sign that the regime of Vladimir Putin continues to advance it’s plans to stifle freedom in Russia, the state is continuing to consolidate control over what’s left of the independent media:

MOSCOW, April 21 – At their first meeting with journalists since taking over Russia’s largest independent radio news network, the managers had startling news of their own: from now on, they said, at least 50 percent of the reports about Russia must be “positive.”

In addition, opposition leaders could not be mentioned on the air and the United States was to be portrayed as an enemy, journalists employed by the network, Russian News Service, say they were told by the new managers, who are allies of the Kremlin.

How would they know what constituted positive news?

“When we talk of death, violence or poverty, for example, this is not positive,” said one editor at the station who did not want to be identified for fear of retribution. “If the stock market is up, that is positive. The weather can also be positive.”

In a darkening media landscape, radio news had been a rare bright spot. Now, the implementation of the “50 percent positive” rule at the Russian News Service leaves an increasingly small number of news outlets that are not managed by the Kremlin, directly or through the state national gas company, Gazprom, a major owner of media assets.

This isn’t exactly like the old days of the Soviet Union, where all the media was state-owned and state-controlled. Instead, Putin appears to be engaging in something that more closely resembles fascism than communism:

“This is not the U.S.S.R., when every print or broadcasting outlet was preliminarily censored,” Masha Lipman, a researcher at the Carnegie Moscow Center, said in a telephone interview.

Instead, the tactic has been to impose state ownership on media companies and replace editors with those who are supporters of Mr. Putin — or offer a generally more upbeat report on developments in Russia these days.

The new censorship rules are often passed in vaguely worded measures and decrees that are ostensibly intended to protect the public.

Protect the public, of course, means protecting from bad news about the economy, or the truth about the autocratic tactics of the Putin regime.

Interestingly, though, the people are not necessarily going along this time:

“I want fresh morning broadcasts and not to fall asleep,” one listener, who signed a posting on the station’s Web site as Sergei from Vladivostok, complained. “Maybe you’ve tortured RNS’s audience enough? There are just a few of us left. Down with the boring nonintellectual broadcasts!”

The change leaves Echo of Moscow, an irreverent and edgy news station that often provides a forum for opposition voices, as the only independent radio news outlet in Russia with a national reach.

And what does Aleksei Venediktov, the editor in chief of Echo of Moscow, think of the latest news from Russia?

“For Echo of Moscow, this is positive news,” Mr. Venediktov said. “We are a monopoly now. From the point of view of the country, it is negative news.”

One wonders how long it will be before Mr. Venediktov gets a knock on the door.

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