Monthly Archives: April 2008

Airlines And Outsourcing

Airlines, a business regulated to death, when they’re not self-immolating due to mismanagement, face a lot of pressures and not a lot of answers. Like other businesses which are procured as a commodity (i.e. most travelers fly whatever airline is cheapest on Orbitz, Travelocity, etc), there is constant pricing pressure and cutthroat competition, and always a search for lower, lower costs.

The airlines have taken advantage of some liberal FAA practices, where the FAA certifies offshore repair/maintenance/service firms to perform work on airplanes. And they’ve been saving lots of money:

Southwest Airlines planned to begin flying planes to this small Central American nation this year — but not with passengers aboard. The carrier wanted to outsource some of its maintenance to a Salvadoran repair shop called Aeroman.

Aeroman already services jetliners operated by U.S. carriers JetBlue and America West. The airlines fly empty planes hundreds of miles from the United States to have them refurbished, repaired and inspected. It’s like driving across town for a cheaper mechanic — except that airlines can save millions of dollars over the life of their rides.

[Aeroman] Chief Executive Ernesto Ruiz said two U.S. carriers had contacted him about grabbing Southwest’s spot in El Salvador, where they can cut their maintenance bills by 30% or more.

In the process, they’re actually getting a hell of a product. Much of the article goes on to applaud these service firms, who are providing quite excellent outcomes at a very decent price. The article also points out that the recent lapses in Southwest & American Airlines’ maintenance are not in any way related to these outsourced operations. In fact, the purchasers of the service are quite happy:

He described the Salvadoran operation as “an absolutely first-class facility.” Customers agree. Mitch Sine, a maintenance representative for JetBlue, was in El Salvador recently checking one of his company’s planes. He said Aeroman beats U.S.-based maintenance contractors, not just on price but on performance and on-time delivery.

“I can’t buy this kind of quality in the United States,” he said. “These people really have pride in their work.”

But, predictably, some people aren’t happy. And I think it’s no surprise that one of those unhappy people just happens to have the last name Hoffa:

“We’ve been trying for years to get the FAA to pay attention to how dangerous it is to outsource maintenance overseas,” Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa said. Unionized mechanics at United Airlines voted this month to leave the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Organization and join the Teamsters, largely on promises by Hoffa to try to stem outsourcing.

I’m sure Hoffa is an objective, disinterested party, right? He’s not beholden in any way to the behavior that Milton Friedman described a long time ago?

The justification offered is always the same: to protect the consumer. However, the reason is demonstrated by observing who lobbies at the state legislature for the imposition or strengthening of licensure. The lobbyists are invariably representatives of the occupation in question rather than of the customers. True enough, plumbers presumably know better than anyone else what their customers need to be protected against. However, it is hard to regard altruistic concern for their customers as the primary motive behind their determined efforts to get legal power to decide who may be a plumber.

There is no reason to believe that we are less safe than we were before. In fact, we appear to be getting a safer total product at a lower cost. Anyone who argues against things being safer and better usually has their own interest, not that of the consumer, at heart.

It’s the dollar, stupid

So, GWB and San Fran Nancy have been sniping at each other over the nation’s economic malaise. Who’s to blame? He says inaction by a Democratic congress is to blame, while she says his administration’s incompetence is to blame. Well, as entertaining as this tussle is, they’re both wrong.

Fabius Maximus has a good post about rising commodity prices, in which he reminds me about this truism from Milton Friedman:

Inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon.

Combine this thought with the following observation from Larry Kudlow:

Whether it’s energy, wheat, grain, corn, or whatever, since these raw materials are priced in dollars on global markets, a strong greenback will reduce commodity prices. And that, in turn, will lower both consumer and producer inflation. This would help corporate profits and would boost the purchasing power of wages.

In other words, a strong dollar would relieve gas prices and boost the economy. But so far as I know, the president never mentioned the dollar. And I don’t think any of the media people asked him about it.

The media has this recession exactly backwards. Every day, I hear the talking heads say that oil prices and food prices are driving inflation. They’re being driven by inflation, meaning they’re being driven by the likes of Bush, Pelosi, and every other big-government politician on Capitol Hill (a.k.a., the porkers).

The federal government has the absolute power to stop this recession. Do they have the discipline or will to do so?

Tuesday Open Thread: Rating The Presidents

The Debatable Land has an interesting post asking readers and other bloggers to name the most overrated and under-rated Presidents in history:

1. You may nominate up to three Presidents in each category.

2. Three points will be awarded to your first selection, two to your second and one to your third. If you do not state an order of preference, each nominee will receive two points.

3. Nominations should be emailed to me by clicking here .Or you can leave them in the comments section below.

4. If you indicated whether you are an American citizen or not, that would be helpful. Equally, if you felt like including your own political leaning (conservative, liberal, libertarian, socialist etc) then that could also be useful. It’s far from required however. You may also, of course, give your reasons and I’ll endeavour to publish a representative sample of those too. All personal information will, obviously, also be kept confidential… (So, yeah, US government employees can vote too!)

5. The closing date for submissions is on or around Sunday May 11th.

6. Remember: you are not choosing the best or worst Presidents, but those whom you think history and pundits have over-rated and under-rated respectively.

7. If you have a blog yourself, let me know the URL and I’ll include a link to your site when the results are published.

8. That is all. Again, email me! (debatableland-AT-googlemail.com)

Here are my picks:

Over-rated:

  1. Franklin D. Roosevelt
  2. Woodrow Wilson
  3. John F. Kennedy

Under-rated:

  1. Calvin Coolidge
  2. James Monroe
  3. Grover Cleveland

If you participate, be sure to leave your picks in the comment section as well.

Life, Liberty, And The Pursuit Of Bacon Dogs

Drew Carey is back with his latest Reason.tv installment, this time he takes on the food police in Los Angeles:

Amid the hustle and bustle of downtown Los Angeles, there exists another world, an underground world of illicit trade in—not drugs or sex—but bacon-wrapped hot dogs. Street vendors may sell you an illegal bacon dog, but hardly anyone will talk about it, for fear of being hassled, shut down or worse. Our camera caught it on tape. One minute bacon dogs are sold in plain view, the next minute cops have confiscated carts, and ordered the dogs dumped into the trash.

Elizabeth Palacios is one of the few vendors willing to speak publicly. “Doing bacon is illegal,” she explains. Problem is customers love bacon, and Palacios says she loses business if she doesn’t give them the bacon they demand. “Bacon is a potentially hazardous food,” says Terrence Powell of the LA County Health Department. Continue selling bacon dogs without county-approved equipment and you risk fines and jail time.

Palacios knows all about that. She spent 45 days in the slammer for selling bacon dogs, and with the lost time from work, fines, and attorney’s fees, she fears she might lose the house that bacon dogs helped buy. She must provide for her family, but remains trapped between government regulations and consumer demand. Customers don’t care about safety codes, says Palacios. “They just want the bacon.”

Where are the modern-day Sam Adams’ ? It’s time for a Bacon Party !

Wesley Snipes Gets 3 Years For Not Filing Taxes, But Don’t Tell Harry Reid

Actor Wesley Snipes, previously convicted on three misdemeanor charges of failing to file income taxes, has been sentenced to three years by a Federal Judge:

OCALA, Fla. — A federal judge on Thursday sentenced the actor Wesley Snipes to three years in prison for willfully failing to file tax returns.

Mr. Snipes, who was convicted in February, received one year for each count, to be served consecutively, and an additional year of probation. The sentence was handed down by Judge William Terrell Hodges of Federal District Court.

Mr. Snipes, who apologized for his actions before the sentence was announced, showed no immediate reaction to the verdict.

Judge Hodges allowed Mr. Snipes and a co-defendant, Douglas Rosile, to remain free on bond until they were summoned by either the United States Marshals Service or the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

The sentencing came at the end of a daylong hearing in which lawyers for Mr. Snipes argued for leniency while federal prosecutors sought the maximum penalty possible.

The case was the most prominent tax prosecution since the billionaire hotelier Leona Helmsley was convicted of tax fraud in 1989. Mr. Snipes, who has built a worldwide following acting in films like the “Blade” vampire trilogy, must pay up to $17 million in back taxes plus penalties and interest.

Like Helmsley, Snipes’ celebrity and refusal to admit his obvious wrong-doing hurt him significantly when it came to sentencing.

Of course, if he’d had Senate Majority Leader as his attorney, he might have fared better:

The said thing is, I think Senator Reid actually believes what he’s saying.

H/T: Freedom Democrats

Why Not Just Get Rid Of The Sixth Amendment While You’re At It ?

A state legislator in Tennessee opens a new front in the drunk driving wars:

Defense attorneys would be banned from advertising their expertise with drunken driving cases under a bill advancing in the Senate.

Sen. Rosalind Kurita, a Clarksville Democrat, successfully added the provision to a bill that would create an online registry of repeat DUI offenders in Tennessee.

Kurita says officials have a hard enough time convicting drunken drivers without lawyers advertising their expertise in the field and offering discounts to DUI defendants.

Hey, Senator Kurita, why not just go all the way and get right of those pesky trials altogether ?

Three NYC Police Officers Acquitted In Death Of Sean Bell

Back in November 2006, a man named Sean Bell was killed on the evening of his bachelor party in some kind of confrontation with the NYPD:

 Officers shot three men who had just left a bachelor party held at a Queens strip club early Saturday morning, leaving the groom dead on the day of his wedding, said police, witnesses and relatives.

The shooting happened just after 4 a.m. around 143-39 95th Ave. in the Jamaica section of Queens, near Club Kalua, said Officer Kathleen Price, a police department spokeswoman.

It was not immediately clear what provoked the shooting, but the incident drew outcry from community leaders and family who demanded answers about how it happened. Paul Browne, chief spokesman for the New York Police Department, declined comment Saturday morning.

(…)

Mr. Bell’s car then backed up onto a sidewalk, hit a storefront’s rolled-down protective gate and nearly struck an undercover officer before shooting forward and slamming into the police van again, the police said.

In response, five police officers fired at least 50 rounds at the men’s car, a silver Nissan Altima; the bullets ripped into other cars and slammed through an apartment window near the shooting scene on Liverpool Street near 94th Avenue.

Today, the three detectives who had been indicted in his death were acquitted of the charges against them:

Three detectives were found not guilty Friday morning on all charges in the shooting death of Sean Bell, who died in a hail of 50 police bullets outside a club in Jamaica, Queens.

Justice Arthur J. Cooperman, who delivered the verdict, said many of the prosecution’s witnesses, including Mr. Bell’s friends and the two wounded victims, were simply not believable. “At times, the testimony of those witnesses just didn’t make sense,” he said.

His verdict prompted several supporters of Mr. Bell to storm out of the courtroom, and screams could be heard in the hallway moments later. The three detectives — Gescard F. Isnora, Michael Oliver and Marc Cooper — were escorted out of a side doorway. Outside, a crowd gathered behind police barricades, occasionally shouting, amid a veritable sea of police officers.

The verdict comes 17 months to the day since the Nov. 25, 2006, shooting of Mr. Bell, 23, and his friends, Joseph Guzman and Trent Benefield, outside the Club Kalua in Jamaica, Queens, hours before Mr. Bell was to be married.

It was delivered in a packed courtroom and was heard by, among others, the slain man’s parents and his fiancée. The seven-week trial, which ended April 14, was heard by Justice Cooperman in State Supreme Court in Queens after the defendants waived their right to a jury, a strategy some lawyers called risky at the time. But it clearly paid off with Friday’s verdict.

Before rendering his verdict, Justice Cooperman ran through a narrative of the evening, and concluded “the police response with respect to each defendant was not found to be criminal.”

“The people have not proved beyond a reasonable doubt” that each defendant was not justified in shooting, he said, before quickly saying the men were not guilty of all of the eight counts, five felonies and three misdemeanors, against them.

Without having heard having heard the evidence, it’s impossible to say whether the judge was right in his interpretation of the credibility of the witnesses, but I find it interesting that the Times would say that the detectives waiver of a jury would have been considered risky. Under the circumstances, I think it’s clear that they’d have less risk of a guilty verdict from a judge than from a jury.

BATF Doesn’t Like Beer Made In Weed

In the rural areas of Northern California, in the shadow of beautiful Mt. Shasta, lies a sleepy small town. In that town, however, lurks a menace. The town itself elicits laughs from degenerate drug users all over the nation. In fact, the town itself is a literal advertisement for drug use.

At least that’s what the BATF would have you believe:
weed.jpg

The federal government has said no to Weed.

Or at least to the bottle caps of beer brewed at a popular local brewery in this small Siskiyou County town, which has a name that no doubt would have kept 1970s pot-smoking duo Cheech and Chong giggling.

Weed brewer Vaune Dillmann faces possible sanctions or fines from the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau if he continues to brew and sell beer with bottle caps printed with the label “Try Legal Weed.”

You see, in the world of the government, there is no room for humor. After all, in a country of 300 million people, a few of those people are going to get the wrong idea. Might they believe that a beer company is suggesting that they stop drinking beer and start smoking pot? Maybe so.

And the BATF (actually, the TTB) believes it’s their place to save those people from their own idiocy, and at the same time ruin it for the rest of us.

Now, it’s clear to me that this is nothing more than a clever marketing tactic. As a homebrewer and beer connoisseur, I often see store shelves lined with a dizzying array of six-packs, and outside of word of mouth and places like beeradvocate.com, I have very little way to tell one brewery from another. What might convince me to try something new? Perhaps if it catches my eye for some reason, I might buy it.

The use of the town’s name may elicit a chuckle from a few potheads, but it’s hardly an advertisement by a brewery for a competing (and illegal) product. It’s made even more ridiculous by the fact that a competing (and well-known) brewery has a similar double-entendre in their name and advertising, but is allowed to proceed with their own labeling and advertising.

Oh, the humanity!

Dillmann, who says his bottle caps both promote his beers and the community in which he brews them, has appealed the decision.

After all, he said, the labels on his beers have a picture of the Weed arch and the city’s founding father, Abner Weed, on the label. Dillmann’s bottle caps also say a “A Friend in Weed is a Friend Indeed.”

“We’re dealing with a surname that’s been used for hundreds of years,” Dillmann said Monday.

The owner of the Mount Shasta Brewing Co. said he’s also outraged that his beer is being singled out for using a possible pot play on words when Anheuser-Busch has used “Bud” — another name for marijuana — to promote their Budweiser line of beers.

“What’s the difference here?” Dillmann said. “They sell Bud — we sell Weed.”

There is no difference, Mr. Dillman. Some bureaucrat has a stick up his butt and the power of the federal government behind him. You’re bearing the brunt of it. This is the way government works.

In a letter to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau’s administrator, Siskiyou County Supervisor Michael Kobseff said California tourism officials have identified Weed as the single most recognized name along I-5.

“Surely, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau is not in the business of suppressing the ingenuity of a small business owner, (and) the community of Weed . . .,” Kobseff wrote.

Of course that’s not what they’re trying to do. They’re trying to find some way to apply their one-size-fits-all rules, which don’t allow any room for variation or common-sense, to a situation that requires variation and common sense. It’s not that they’ve got a problem with the town of Weed. It’s much simpler than that. Rules are rules, and you’re not following them.

This is government, folks. Petty, with no sense of humor and a complete inability to understand why we find them ridiculous. You either conform or you get pounded down, in a high-stakes game of bureaucratic whack-a-mole. As Washington called them “a fearful servant and a terrible master”, they’ve been spending a lot more time being the latter.

The Right to Discriminate Based on Genetics

Very quietly, a bill has been working its way through Congress that bans Genetic Discrimination. The bill, the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, has been passed by the House of Representatives with overwhelming support and will probably pass the Senate in the next few weeks.

While this bill has some powerful arguments behind it, it is a bad law and should not be passed. The freedom of association, the right to chose with whom you transact business or spend time with, is a basic human right – much like the freedom of speech and the right to your life. Respecting the freedom of association alone is a sufficient reason to oppose this bill.

The bill mandates that no medical insurer or employer may discriminate between employees based on their genetic predispostion towards disease. Dr Francis Collins explained the rationale behind the law thus:

We stand at a critical time in the development of medicine: the mapping of the human genome has provided powerful new tools to understand the genetic basis of disease, but our ability to fully realize the promise of personalized medicine is limited by legitimate fear of how this powerful information could be abused. Many people are afraid that their genetic information will be used against them and are unwilling to participate in medical research or be tested clinically, even when they are at substantial risk for serious disease. More than ten years ago, expert advisors to the genome project concluded that federal legislation is needed to provide all Americans with protection against genetic discrimination in health insurance and employment. Without it, we may never realize the full potential of genomic research, and, more importantly, of individualized approaches to health care.

Already, healthcare providers can test whether some of us carry DNA variants that pre-dispose us to certain diseases, and new research efforts could help to expand this capability and possibly offer better opportunities for preventive measures. If illness does occur, doctors will have more powerful tools to identify the molecular causes, and to prescribe medicines based on
individualized genetic information. This is our chance to transform medicine from “one-size-fits-all” to a potentially personalized approach.

[The] science of genomic medicine is rocketing forward. But fear of genetic discrimination threatens to slow both the advance of such groundbreaking biomedical research and the integration of the fruits of that research into our nation’s health care. If individuals continue to worry that they will be denied health insurance or refused employment because they have a predisposition to a particular disease, they may forego genetic testing that could help guide medical professionals to lessen their risk, simply because the test identifies them as having such a predisposition. This is about all of us, as there are no perfect specimens at the DNA level; each one of us carries numerous gene variants that increase our risk of developing one disease or another. Therefore, each one of us is at risk for genetic discrimination.

Public concerns about the possible misuse of their genetic information by insurers or employers have been documented. A recent NIH study of families at risk for hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC) (a particular form of colon cancer) revealed that the number one concern expressed by participants regarding genetic testing was about losing health insurance,
should the knowledge of their genetic test result be divulged or fall into the “wrong hands.” Nearly half of individuals with a 50% chance of having the HNPCC mutation cited fear of insurance discrimination as their greatest concern surrounding their participation in this study. Similarly, a recent survey of the personal attitudes of cancer genetics specialists showed that
68% of respondents would not bill their own insurance company for HNPCC or breast and ovarian cancer (BRCA) genetic testing due to fear of genetic discrimination, and 26% of respondents said they would use an alias when being tested.

NHGRI remains deeply concerned about the impact of potential genetic discrimination on both research and clinical practice. Unless Americans are convinced that their genetic information will not be used against them, the era of personalized medicine may never come to pass. The result would be a continuation of the current one-size-fits-all medicine, ignoring the abundant
scientific evidence that the genetic differences among people help explain why some of us benefit from a therapy while others do not, and why some of us suffer severe adverse effects from a medication, while others do not.

These certainly are weighty concerns.

However, let us examine the costs such a law would impose on employers. Currently, laws impose penalties on anyone who hires someone else as a full time employee. The laws are structured so that the decision to hire someone brings a significant risk of losses to the person doing the hiring. Furthermore, mandates concerning provision of medical coverage, and government restrictions that dramatically reduce the availability of medical care mean that a person who hires another can find themselves having to pay for medical care to an employee who is not providing them with any work.

Imagine if laws mandated that you select a particular supermarket as your primary supplier of food. Imagine that these laws imposed a penalty if you switched stores, or forced you to pay the store a set amount of money whether or not you actually bought any food there. Wouldn’t you desperately need any information concerning the ability of a store to reliably provision you with your needs? Wouldn’t you be upset if you knew that the supermarket was purchasing its meat from an unhygienic meatpacker but were forbidden from using that information in selecting which supermarket you were going to be locked into? How could this law be enforced? What sort of evidence would the state gather to “prove” that you based your decision on an illegal set of criteria rather than a legal set?

In reality, employers and insurance companies discriminate illegally all the time, but are usually able evade punishment; they merely cloak their illegal decisions using legally permissible criteria as a cover. On occasion people who are not breaking discrimination laws are still found guilty of committing discrimination. This law will be yet another in the long list of anti-discrimination laws that are problematic to enforce. Unenforceable laws are, in my experience, uniformly bad; they inevitably become tools for politically persecuting those who are out of favor with the powers that be.

While it will not have a dramatic effect, I think that it will also tend make employers slightly less willing to take risks in hiring new people.

But what of Dr Collins’ legitimate and evidence-based concerns? How can we solve this problem?

Dr Collins has identified yet another aspect of the complete mess government intervention has made of the medical industry. People cannot afford to pay for their own medical care out of pocket, primarily because state governments unconscionably reduce the number of practicing doctors to a fraction of what would be provided in a free market, and because of federal tax laws encourage people to purchase socialized medical care from their employers, resulting in a form of the tragedy-of-the-commons where people are encouraged to over-consume medical care. We should be condemning the way the U.S. and state governments have cartelized the medical industry; it is this cartelization that causes people fear that without these nondiscrimination policies that they couldn’t afford to have their broken bones treated. Rather than calling for yet another unenforceable law, it would be better for Doctor Collins to lobby for the dismantling of Medicare and Medicaid, the repeal of tax laws that encourage employer funded health coverage, and the numerical caps placed by state licensure boards on the number of students medical schools graduate and the number of doctors who are allowed to practice medicine within each state.

But what of employment?

Dr Walter Block of Loyola University has written an essay on racial discrimination by employers which is very useful for tackling this subject:

Some people might recoil in horror from turning the clock on race relations back to the pre-1964 period. They would object that if a majority were free to discriminate against a minority, the latter would be greatly disadvantaged. That is, if, for example, whites, were to refuse to buy from, sell to, hire, work for, invest with, for example, blacks, the latter would be unemployed, homeless, and starving.

But this position is economically erroneous. All such scenarios fail to take into account the market’s fail-safe mechanism that helps those subjected to discrimination. Consider employment. If white racists rebuffed black workers, the first effect would indeed be unemployment or lower wages for the latter group. But this situation is only temporary, a mere first stage in the mental experiment we are now considering.(10) For with lower wages or greater unemployment, some whites(11) would be sorely tempted to employ these blacks, because they can earn additional profits exploiting workers who are underpaid or idled.

But is this not unfair to blacks? Why should they have to endure the indignity of lower wages and unemployment (or higher prices for food, clothing shelter, loans, etc.), even if it is only temporary? One answer to this very reasonable challenge is to realize that the enemy is not the market, which is riding to the rescue of the downtrodden group (by first allowing it to suffer, and then, in effect, making this suffering the key to their economic salvation). Another perhaps better answer is that this scenario is a hypothetical construct, articulated in terms of two stages, separate in time, and mainly for heuristic purposes. That is, to clarify the process, we purposefully assume that there would be two stages; in the first, the position of blacks is worsened, to show that in the second they would be rescued. In actual point of fact, there are no such two stages. Any time the wages of blacks (or anyone else) dips below their productivity levels, even by a tiny amount, there are immediate profit incentives to hire them, which starts their wages up on an upward spiral back toward equality.(18)

To return to my original objection, a person who has a genetic predisposition to an expensive illness has, statistically speaking, a lower expectation value for productivity. This is due to the fact that an employer has to take into account the risk that he is going to hire someone who then turns out to be a liability. The better path to improve the employability of people who are known to be predisposed towards genetic disease is to make it easier for employers to hire and fire employees, in part by reducing the laws that penalize discrimination rather than adding to them. Then an employer would not care so much about long-term risks. Rather than having to withhold a portion of their costs to hedge against unwanted dead-weight, they could pay wages that better approximate the marginal productivity of employees, resulting in higher take home wages. Those who are aware of their predisposition towards diseases would be then free to divert these higher wages towards preventative care.

There is yet another point that Dr Collins is bringing up that must be addressed. Even if the U.S. and state governments were to adopt my recommendations, people might still refuse to take the tests because people would probably still be afraid that the tests might be used against them somehow.

Unfortunately, the state can do nothing more than removing the interventions that have caused people to be reluctant to take the tests. I strongly doubt that this law will allay people’s concerns about taking these tests. Until the government stops making medical care unobtainable or prohibitively expensive for most people, people will still be reluctant to be tested, and I fear that Dr Collins’ vision of a medical care tailored to individuals will not be realized.

I am an anarcho-capitalist living just west of Boston Massachussetts. I am married, have two children, and am trying to start my own computer consulting company.

When You Can’t Rig The Election, Ignore It!

There’s been a bit of deriliction of duty going on here at The Liberty Papers. I’ve been trying to keep track of happenings in Zimbabwe, but we’re now 25 days into an electoral nightmare in that nation, and I’ve not had the time to address it.

Zimbabwe has spent most of the last decade as an example of every possible thing that a government can do wrong. It gone from the “breadbasket” of the region to a starving, impoverished nation, with 6-figure inflation and 80%+ unemployment, and refugees streaming south into South Africa to escape the hopelessness. It’s gone from breadbasket to basketcase.

The remaining residents are fed up with their socialist dictator, Robert Mugabe. Mugabe is known for rigging elections, but political unrest is so severe this time around that many believed that he couldn’t win the race even with heavy-handed rigging.

The election was held more than three weeks ago, and most outside of the Mugabe regime believe that– at worst– his challenger has forced a run-off. Many believe that the challenger, Morgan Tsvangirai, has won outright.

So what has Mugabe done? He’s withheld the results and proposed a national unity government with– you guessed it– Robert Mugabe at the helm!

A unity government led by President Robert Mugabe may be the best way to break Zimbabwe’s post-election deadlock, state media said Wednesday, as the first result from a recount of votes was declared.

The state-run Herald newspaper — a government mouthpiece — said it was clear that no side won a majority in the presidential election on March 29 and the best way forward was to form a government of national unity.

The opinion piece in the Herald, a tightly-controlled state newspaper, said the presidential election in which 84-year-old Mugabe faced off against opposition leader Tsvangirai had produced “no outright winner.”

“It is unlikely the ongoing recount will substantively alter that position. Accordingly, it stands to reason that the transitional government of national unity… should be led by the incumbent president,” it said.

The end of the Mugabe regime seemed– only three weeks ago– imminent, and those who have watched this situation from near and afar were ready to breath a sigh of relief. Yet he remains defiant, and it is becoming ever more clear that he won’t leave office voluntarily. It’s far better for Zimbabwe that this ends peacefully than through an uprising, but frankly the latter looks like the only way this may be rectified.

The time has come, Mr. Mugabe. The people have spoken. For the good of the residents you have often professed to champion, it is time to listen and go.

Happy Capitalism Day

Don Boudreaux thinks we should forget about Earth Day and celebrate Capitalism
Day today:

Before refrigeration, people ran enormous risks of ingesting deadly bacteria whenever they ate meat or dairy products. Refrigeration has dramatically reduced the bacteria pollution that constantly haunted our pre-twentieth-century forebears.

We wear clean clothes; our ancestors wore foul clothes. Pre-industrial humans had no washers, dryers, or sanitary laundry detergent. Clothes were worn day after day without being washed. And when they were washed, the detergent was often made of urine.

Our bodies today are much cleaner. Sanitary soap is dirt cheap (so to speak), as is clean water from household taps. The result is that, unlike our ancestors, we moderns bathe frequently. Not only was soap a luxury until just a few generations ago, but because nearly all of our pre-industrial ancestors could afford nothing larger than minuscule cottages, there were no bathrooms (and certainly no running water). Baths, when taken, were taken in nearby streams, rivers, or ponds, often the same bodies of water used by the farm animals. Forget about shampoo, clean towels, toothpaste, mouthwash, and toilet tissue.

The interiors of our homes are immaculate compared to the squalid interiors of almost all pre-industrial dwellings. These dwellings’ floors were typically just dirt, which made the farm animals feel right at home when they wintered in the house with humans. Of course, there was no indoor plumbing. Nor were there household disinfectants, save sunlight. Unfortunately, because pre-industrial window panes were too expensive for ordinary families and because screens are an invention of the industrial age, sunlight and fresh air could be let into these cottages only by letting in insects too.

And all of that exists not because of the state, but because of the creative energies of free individuals.

The Earth is a Harsh Mistress, you might say, but capitalism has tamed it to the point where humanity, and human civilization can survive at something other than a subsistence level. For that, we should all be grateful.

Today In History — The Shot Heard `Round The World

Two Hundred Thirty Eight Years Ago today, the American Revolution began:

The Battles of Lexington and Concord were the first military engagements of the American Revolutionary War.[1] They were fought on April 19, 1775, in Middlesex County, Province of Massachusetts Bay, within the towns of Lexington, Concord, Lincoln, Menotomy (present-day Arlington), and Cambridge, near Boston. The battles marked the outbreak of open armed conflict between the Kingdom of Great Britain and its thirteen colonies in the mainland of British North America.

About 700 British Army regulars, under Lieutenant Colonel Francis Smith, were ordered to capture and destroy military supplies that were reportedly stored by the Massachusetts militia at Concord. Dr. Joseph Warren alerted the colonists of this. The Patriot colonists had received intelligence weeks before the expedition which warned of an impending British search, and had moved much, but not all, of the supplies to safety. They had also received details about British plans on the night before the battle, and information was rapidly supplied to the militia.

The first shots were fired just as the sun was rising at Lexington. The militia were outnumbered and fell back. Other British colonists, hours later at the North Bridge in Concord, fought and defeated three companies of the king’s troops. The outnumbered soldiers of the British Army fell back from the Minutemen after a pitched battle in open territory.

More Minutemen arrived soon thereafter and inflicted heavy damage on the British regulars as they marched back towards Boston. Upon returning to Lexington, Smith’s expedition was rescued by reinforcements under Hugh, Earl Percy. A combined force of fewer than 1,700 men marched back to Boston under heavy fire in a tactical withdrawal and eventually reached the safety of Charlestown.

The British failed to maintain the secrecy and speed required to conduct a successful strike into hostile territory, yet they did destroy some weapons and supplies. Most British regulars returned to Boston. The occupation of surrounding areas by the Massachusetts Militia that evening marked the beginning of the Siege of Boston.

Sixty-three years later, the great Ralph Waldo Emerson memorialized the day in his poem, Concord Hymn:

By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled;
Here once the embattled farmers stood;
And fired the shot heard round the world.

The foe long since in silence slept;
Alike the conqueror silent sleeps,
And Time the ruined bridge has swept
Down the dark stream that seaward creeps.

On this green bank, by this soft stream,
We set to-day a votive stone,
That memory may their deeds redeem,
When, like our sires, our sons are gone.

O Thou who made those heroes dare
To die, and leave their children free, —
Bid Time and Nature gently spare
The shaft we raised to them and Thee.

And, if you grew up in the 1970’s you’ll remember this:

Menino’s Homeopathic Solution to Gun Violence

This week Boston’s Mayor Menino testified before the Congressional Task Force on Illegal Guns. He had this to say:

We share a common disdain for what we have seen happen in our cities, to our residents and to our police officers as a result of illegal guns. So, we signed a statement of principles and agreed to work together to take illegal guns out of our cities.

….

Fighting crime is a top priority for all mayors – and fighting crime means fighting illegal guns. The stakes could not be higher. Fatal shootings of police officers increased 33 percent last year. I know that every mayor in this country will do whatever it takes to protect the men and women who put their lives on the line to keep our cities safe.

So now, the voices of mayors are echoed by elected leaders and law enforcement officials from every part of America – and we’re making progress. Our numbers are growing, our mission could not be more timely and our message couldn’t be more clear: We need to stem the flow of illegal guns in our cities now.
Together, we will continue to work for common sense measures to fight illegal gun trafficking

His testimony was awfully short on the specifics on what problems “illegal guns” pose, other than claiming that they are behind an increase in shootings of police officers. Instead he lovingly details the growing number of government officials who are in favor of making the population increasingly dependent on them for protection.

In fact, the main complaint contained within his testimony seems to be that the work of the police is made more difficult by the prevalence of black marketeers importing guns illegally from areas where they can be legally manufactured and sold to ones where they cannot be legally imported and sold. But, his conclusions, that a Fugitive-Slave-Law style crackdown by the federal Government would somehow make the city of Boston safer is unbelievably wrong headed.

Assumption 1: A police monopoly on guns will make people safer:

This is, of course ridiculous. The police can take minutes or hours to respond to an attack in progress. The police are also under no legal obligation to respond at all. Restricting the supply of firearms makes defense of property increasingly expensive. While the wealthy can afford to hire security guards licensed by the state, or can convince political leaders to assign them special police details, those who are too poor, or lack political connections are left increasingly vulnerable.

Assumption 2: A reduction in the availability of guns will make criminals significantly less dangerous:

This is, again, ridiculous. The bank robbers who unsuccessfully attempted to rob a bank in California using AK-47’s are very rare exceptions to the rule that most crimes can be as easily committed with a knife as with a gun. A criminal carrying out an attack has the initiative; he chooses when and where he attacks and who his victim is. He is quite capable of altering his plans should the tools he has to work with be limited only to knives or base-ball bats. The ban makes the criminal more dangerous; firearms historically have favored defenders over attackers. There is a great deal of truth behind the saying God may have created men equal, but it was Samuel Colt who made ‘em equal.

Assumption 3: A meaningful reduction in the availability of guns is even possible:

Total bans on any good in wide demand, such as alcohol or cocaine or salt will result in smuggling. Nothing save setting up checkpoints on every road into Massachusetts and searching every car carefully will keep guns from flowing into the state. Unlike cocaine or whiskey, a gun gives off no chemical traces of its presence. Tape it to the underside of a car, and you can get it through any checkpoint.

Furthermore, any clever person can build simple yet effective weapons given a rudimentary machine shop. Even if a total ban on imports was possible, the measures required to prevent machine shops from producing firearms in quantities sufficient for a crime wave would be unenforceable.

Mayor Menino cited a figure of ~<500 illegal guns being associated by police with various crimes. 7 smuggling rings, smuggling in 15 guns a month each could easily supply this sort of demand. Hell 20 machine shops could easily make 10 guns a month to produce over 2000 guns a year if need be.

Nor will Mayor Menino ever be able to get rid of gun manufacture all-together. The demand for legal guns for his police force is sufficient to ensure that factories will be churning out a large quantity of fire-arms. Some of these will be diverted into the black market as surely as nuclear missile guidance systems ending up in Taiwan.

“What is not seen”

Mayor Menino does not want to outlaw guns. Rather what he wants to do is outlaw anyone but the police from having them. He views the guns as making violence in the city worse and as a hazard to the police. But by focusing on the firearms he is avoiding the questions he really should be asking:

Why are people resolving disputes by shooting at each other? Why are the police being threatened?

The answer to these questions is not a pleasant one to the politicians of Boston or Massachusetts, so they avoid asking them.

The short answer is that by writing and enforcing draconian economic and moral laws such as onerous labor laws, blue laws and drug laws, the politicians of Massachusetts are making it difficult for people to live their lives legally. The police are not seen as benefactors but as yet another street gang preying on the weak. The lack of legal business opportunities drive people to seek illegal occupations. While some of these illegal occupations are honorable (drug dealing, prostitution), many are dishonorable (burglary, mugging).

When people view the police as an enemy, and the courts as a predatory system, they naturally ignore them for resolving disputes. When business ventures are illegal, the participants are much more likely to settle disputes violently than via a system of arbitration.

What Mayor Menino seeks to do is to isolate the people of Boston from alternatives to dealing with the police. In effect he is behaving like an abusive boy-friend who tries to isolate his girlfriend from other people. Rather than improving the relationship between the citizenry and the government, these attempts will only increase the gulf between them. Any crackdown on the illegal gun trade will inevitably harm innocent people who are either in the wrong place at the wrong time, or who are deprived of a means to defend themselves. It will empower criminals to more brazen acts of thievery and mayhem. It will, in effect worsen most of the engines that drive criminality.

Until he recognizes that the political policies he and his circle support which are the root cause of the violence directed by the people subject to his rule towards each other and towards the police, nothing good will come of his advocacy and his actions.

It is time for the political classes of Massachusetts to stop treating the citizenry as children at best and as beasts to be exploited at worst. If they were serious about reducing the level of violence and the misery in Boston they would stop wasting time on trying to shore up a monopoly on defensive services on behalf of the police, give up their expensive hoplohobia-mongering propaganda campaigns, and would instead focus their attention to eliminating the laws purposed for economic and social engineering.

I am an anarcho-capitalist living just west of Boston Massachussetts. I am married, have two children, and am trying to start my own computer consulting company.

War Is Peace, Freedom Is Slavery, And We All Love Big Brother

George W. Bush rewrites the Declaration of Independence:

“We need your message to reject this dictatorship of relativism and embrace a culture of justice and truth,” Bush said in brief remarks welcoming Benedict to the White House. “In a world where some see freedom as simply the right to do as they wish, we need your message that true liberty requires us to live our freedom not just for ourselves, but in a spirit of mutual support.”

Sorry, Mr. President, you don’t get to define how I use my freedom, and neither does a foreign religious leader.

Belated H/T: Publius Endures

A Lesson In Unintended Consequences

Normally, we libertarians know enough about government to predict many unintended consequences of government regulation… But this one took me by surprise:

Although many countries have introduced national bans, America has taken a piecemeal approach. A number of states, counties and municipalities have introduced various types of bans, and have enforced them with varying degrees of rigour.

The problem with this, say Scott Adams and Chad Cotti, economists at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, is that smoking bans seem to have been followed by an increase in drunk-driving and in fatal accidents involving alcohol. In research published in the Journal of Public Economics, the authors find evidence that smokers are driving farther to places where smoking in bars is allowed.

The researchers analysed data from 120 American counties, 20 of which had banned smoking. They found a smoking ban increased fatal alcohol-related car accidents by 13% in a typical county containing 680,000 people. This is the equivalent of 2.5 fatal accidents (equivalent to approximately six deaths). Furthermore, drunk-driving smokers have not changed their ways over time. In areas where the ban has been in place for longer than 18 months, the increased accident rate is 19%.

Good thing we saved everyone from that secondhand smoke!

Now, I’m not going to defend the drunk drivers who are causing these accidents. The drunk drivers are the primary cause of these accidents; the smoking bans are only a contributing factor. But it’s a good lesson about how well-meaning regulations can quite often have disastrous unintended consequences. When politicians tell you about all the beneficial (and largely falsely-promised) effects of a proposed regulation, perhaps the negative effects– that which is unseen– should be anticipated as well.

Should Libertarian Republicans Just Swallow Their Pride And Vote McCain ?

That’s the argument that Steven Maloney makes at the Libertarian Republican blog:

If you listen to Barack Obama (and Hillary Clinton) on the campaign trail, you hear some scary things. They portray “too many Americans’ as one step away from economic and social disaster. They see as people badly in need of major assistance – their assistance.

John McCain, imperfect as he may be, sees a very different America. It’s the same country whose liberties he was willing to give his life for in Viet Nam. We may not agree with him on every issue, but we can’t disagree that a love for liberty is at the central core of this man’s being.

Even Bill Clinton has said of McCain: “He’s given everything he has to his country – except his life.” President Clinton has never spoken truer words.

In contrast to McCain, Obama essentially portrays America as something resembling Matthew Arnold’s “Dover Beach,” where “ignorant armies clash by night.” As “Lexington describes Obama’s world-view, America is “a coalition of groups that define themselves as victims of social and economic forces, and . . . [where] its leaders encourage people to feel helpless and aggrieved . . .”

If Obama becomes President, we would become a society of “victims,” all of us clamoring for the government to bail us out of our misery. That would be a disaster not only for libertarians, but for all Americans.

I hope all libertarians do the right thing: voting for John McCain. Also, ask your friends and family members to do the same thing. The future of liberty in this society depends on free people standing up and supporting a man who has devoted his entire life to defending American values and liberties. John McCain is the right man for our cause.

But there’s another side of the story.

The election of John McCain as President would effectively destroy the Republican Party as an avenue to achieve any reduction in the size, scope, or power of the state.

Whatever he might be, it is fairly clear that John McCain is no libertarian. He was the chief sponsor of a law that eviscerated the First Amendment in a political campaign contest. He supported the Patriot Act. His one saving grave is that, unlike George W. Bush, he recognizes that torture is not a legitimate tool in the War on Terror.

Beyond that, though, there’s no reason to believe that a McCain Presidency would be any better than a George W. Bush Presidency. And no reason to believe that John McCain has any greater respect for civil liberties.

No, I’m not going to vote for John McCain. And I’m not going to urge anyone else to vote for him.

And I’m not going to vote for Barack Obama either.

My vote won’t change the election, but, unlike 2000 and 2004, at least I won’t have to spend four years rationalizing to myself why I voted for someone who stands for everything I disagree with.

Quote Of The Day: Tax Day Edition

From the always entertaining Dave Barry:

Taxpayers: It’s almost April 15, and you know what that means. It means the Miami Dolphins already have been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs.

But it’s also time to file your federal tax return. Yes, this is a pesky chore, but remember that paying taxes is not a ”one-way street.” When you send your money to the government, the government, in return, provides you with vital services, such as not putting you in prison. The government also uses your money to pay for programs that benefit all Americans, such as the Catfish Genome Project.

See it’s not all bad. You’re not in prison and the government is making hybrid catfish.

Bob Barr’s Missed Opportunity

When I learned that Bob Barr was going to be a guest on Hannity and Comes, I was excited to see a rare opportunity for a Libertarian candidate to explain the Libertarian philosophy to an audience which is largely unfamiliar with what the Libertarian Party is all about: personal liberty. To my dismay, Barr instead promoted federalism rather than individual liberty (federalism is important but is not the same thing as individual liberty). Both Sean Hannity and Alan Colmes raised some very good questions which Bob Barr failed to answer (it seemed to me that Alan Colmes, a loyal Democrat, had a better understanding of the Libertarian Party’s positions than Bob Barr did).

The area where Barr disappointed me more than anywhere else was his response to Hannity’s questions regarding the war on (some) drugs. Rather than answer the question directly, Barr chose to dance around the issue and ultimately answered that the drug issue should be left to the states. While surrendering the war on (some) drugs at the federal level would be a vast improvement over the current failed policy, simply surrendering on the federal level does not go nearly far enough (a great first step would be to release the P.O.W.’s – the non-violent drug offenders).

The following is the response I would have liked to hear from Congressman Barr to Hannity’s question: “What would your vote be? Would you vote to legalize heroin and crack?”

Sean, I think you misunderstand the Libertarian position on the war on drugs just as I did for most of my life. The underlying principle of the Libertarian Party is that the government, whether local, state, or federal, has no right to tell a person what to do with his life, liberty, or property provided that he does not violate the rights of life, liberty, or property of a non-consenting other person. It’s none of my business if my neighbor uses heroin or crack in the privacy of his own home so long as he does so without violating my rights or anyone else’s.

Furthermore, Sean, I would like to point out the three most important reasons why Libertarians are opposed to drug prohibition: it’s ineffective, it puts an unnecessary strain on the criminal justice system, and is dangerous because it breeds violent crime. It’s for these reasons that I would declare an end to the war on drugs as my first act as president by pardoning all non-violent drug offenders; all prisons would be free of non-violent drug offenders for the duration of my presidency.

I know that this format will not allow me to go into any detail on any of these reasons why the war on drugs is harmful to society at large, but I would encourage you and your viewers to visit the Libertarian Party website, the Law Enforcement Against Prohibition website, and Cato.org to get a more comprehensive understanding of these arguments [Liberty Papers readers can follow this link for a comprehensive explanation of these arguments].

This is the kind of answer I would expect from any person seeking the Libertarian Party nomination (up to and including the faux Libertarian Mike Gravel). Rather than clarifying the Libertarian position on the war on (some) drugs, Bob Barr unnecessarily made the issue more confusing to potential Libertarians and others unfamiliar with the Libertarian philosophy. Libertarians (both “small l” and “large L”) are also left to wonder: Where does Bob Barr really stand on the war on drugs?

Happy Birthday, Mr. Jefferson

America’s Third President was born 265 years ago today.

Since there isn’t anything to write about Jefferson that hasn’t already been said, it seems appropriate to let his words speak for themselves from the text of the two written documents that he was most proud of throughout his life.

First, from the Virginia Statute For Religious Freedom:

[Sec. 1] Whereas Almighty God hath created the mind free; that all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burthens, or by civil incapacitations, tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and are a departure from the plan of the Holy author of our religion, who being Lord both of body and mind, yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as it was in his Almighty power to do; that the impious presumption of legislators and rulers, civil as well as ecclesiastical, who being themselves but fallible and uninspired men, have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavouring to impose them on others, hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world, and through all time; that to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves, is sinful and tyrannical; that even the forcing him to support this or that teacher of his own religious persuasion, is depriving him of the comfortable liberty of giving his contributions to the particular pastor, whose morals he would make his pattern, and whose powers he feels most persuasive to righteousness, and is withdrawing from the ministry those temporary rewards, which proceeding from an approbation of their personal conduct, are an additional incitement to earnest and unremitting labours for the instruction of mankind; that our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics or geometry; that therefore the proscribing any citizen as unworthy the public confidence by laying upon him an incapacity of being called to offices of trust and emolument, unless he profess or renounce this or that religious opinion, is depriving him injuriously of those privileges and advantages to which in common with his fellow-citizens he has a natural right; that it tends only to corrupt the principles of that religion it is meant to encourage, by bribing with a monopoly of worldly honours and emoluments, those who will externally profess and conform to it; that though indeed these are criminal who do not withstand such temptation, yet neither are those innocent who lay the bait in their way; that to suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion, and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles on supposition of their ill tendency, is a dangerous fallacy, which at once destroys all religious liberty, because he being of course judge of that tendency will make his opinions the rule of judgment, and approve or condemn the sentiments of others only as they shall square with or differ from his own; that it is time enough for the rightful purposes of civil government, for its officers to interfere when principles break out into overt acts against peace and good order; and finally, that truth is great and will prevail if left to herself, that she is the proper and sufficient antagonist to error, and has nothing to fear from the conflict, unless by human interposition disarmed of her natural weapons, free argument and debate, errors ceasing to be dangerous when it is permitted freely to contradict them:

[Sec. 2] Be it enacted by the General Assembly, That no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.

And secondly, of course, from the Declaration of Independence:

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new guards for their future security

1 2 3