Monthly Archives: July 2008

Couldn’t Happen To A More Deserving Guy

Ted Stevens indicted for seven felony counts:

Sen. Ted Stevens, the nation’s longest-serving Republican senator and a major figure in Alaska politics since before statehood, was indicted Tuesday on seven felony counts of concealing more than a quarter of a million dollars in house renovations and gifts from a powerful oil contractor that lobbied him for government aid.

Stevens, 84, is the first sitting U.S. senator to face federal indictment since 1993. He declared, “I am innocent of these charges and intend to prove that.”

He is accused of lying on his annual Senate financial disclosure reports between 1999 and 2006 — an indictment that caps a lengthy FBI investigation that has upended Alaska politics and brought unfavorable attention to both Stevens and his congressional colleague, GOP Rep. Don Young. Both are running for re-election this year.

You know, I wouldn’t mind my tax dollars going to build a Bridge To Leavenworth for good ole’ Ted.

Doug Stanhope On Freedom

When I heard that a comedian, Doug Stanhope, had been considering running for President as a Libertarian, I thought it was about time. Who better to highlight just how hopelessly ridiculous the system has become than a comic. Then I heard his material: some of the more depraved comedy I’ve come across– not a criticism, mind you, because he’s funny as hell, but not someone with a realistic chance at being taken seriously. With plenty of material on whores and drugs, I can’t imagine many members of the “greatest generation” would vote for him.

But take a look at the below clip (below the fold, due to rather extreme language) and ask yourself one question: just how much fun would it be to see this guy on stage in a debate with McCain and Obama?
» Read more

Heller v. District Of Columbia, Round Two

Just over a month after the United States Supreme Court struck down the District of Columbia’s handgun ban, the man who brought that case is suing the District again over it’s response to the Supreme Court’s ruling:

The man who successfully challenged the D.C. handgun ban before the U.S. Supreme Court filed a second federal lawsuit yesterday, alleging that the District’s new gun-registration system is burdensome and continues to unlawfully outlaw most semiautomatic pistols.

Dick A. Heller, a 66-year-old security guard who lives on Capitol Hill, and two other plaintiffs allege in the lawsuit that the D.C. government violated the letter and the spirit of the landmark Supreme Court decision, issued June 26, that struck down the District’s decades-old handgun ban.

The 5 to 4 ruling concluded that the Second Amendment grants individuals the right to possess guns for self-defense but said governments may impose reasonable restrictions. The lawsuit filed yesterday in U.S District Court says the District’s restrictions go too far.

The suit urges U.S. District Judge Richard M. Urbina to toss most of the District’s new requirements, which include ballistics tests of registered handguns. It also asks him to eliminate restrictions on semiautomatic handguns and to order D.C. police to approve the handgun applications of the three plaintiffs.

To call the District’s “response” to the Supreme Court ruling cynical would be putting it nicely, so it’s nice to see Heller and the others moving quickly to bring this issue before the Courts. Something tells me, though, that Dick Heller may have another date with the Supremes in two or three years.

Government — Won’t Save You, May Screw You

One of the key ideas that I find myself discussing in any election cycle is the desire of Americans to elect a savior. Not gonna happen. The system is bigger than the players, and the system is flawed.

But that doesn’t stop the average voter from trying to elect someone who will “run the country”, “fix the economy”, and “encourage growth”. Again, not gonna happen. There is very little that a government can do to improve the economy. Government is not an efficient economic actor. Usually, without getting into a debate on anarchism vs. minarchism, the traditional role of government in an economy is to set fair rules protecting individual actors from force or fraud, and enforce those rules in a consistent and predictable manner. Thus, the best thing that a government can do for an economy is not to get involved, but to stay out of the way unless a dispute arises to be settled by a supposedly neutral arbiter.

Of course, the fact that there aren’t many actions a government should take to improve an economy should not suggest that they don’t have power over an economy. They have plenty of power to cause mayhem and destruction with the stroke of a legislative pen, as we have seen in Zimbabwe, with their 2 million percent inflation:

With prices doubling every few days, Zimbabweans now spend huge amounts of time and energy preventing their meagre cash resources from completely evaporating. Trying to catch up with galloping hyperinflation, now officially running at 2.2m per cent a year and at least four times faster in reality, the central bank has been printing ever bigger denominations. But it is outrun by galloping prices: at last count, the most valuable banknote available was for 50 billion Zimbabwean dollars, now worth barely 70 American cents on the black market, and the stock of Zimbabwean dollars is dwindling. Local cash could become scarcer still, now that the German company that was providing Zimbabwe with paper to print its banknotes has cancelled its contract; the Zimbabwean monetary authorities are likely to turn to a less specialised supplier. Meanwhile, people do not even bother to pick up notes of hundreds of thousands on the pavements of Harare, the capital. At independence in 1980, the Zimbabwe dollar was more valuable than the American greenback.

It may seem odd that the local currency is still used at all. From Z$25 billion to the American dollar at the beginning of this month, the cash exchange rate had jumped threefold within a fortnight. In restaurants or shops, prices are still quoted in local currency but revised several times a day. Salaries are paid in Zimbabwean dollars, still the only legal tender. A minibus driver taking commuters into Harare every day still charges his clients in Zimbabwe dollars—but at a higher price on the evening trip home—and changes his local notes into hard currency three times a day. The local money is losing its relevance.

Zimbabwe’s currency is now so worthless that their German supplier won’t even sell them the paper to print it on. You can look at all the problems of Zimbabwe’s history, through colonialism, foreign rule, etc. But nothing about the current situation can be described as anything but massive failure at the governmental level. No private actor has the power to cause this much misery.

Libertarians generally believe that government is inherently evil, and should be minimized. But (with the exception of anarchists) they believe that the government is a necessary evil. Governments are like parasites: the good ones actually form symbiotic relationships with their hosts and rely on their hosts continued survival and success. Others, like that of Zimbabwe, continue eating until their hosts are consumed, leaving nothing but a carcass of a society behind that must be built anew.

Mississippi Queen Scrapped By Minnesota Douche

I’m not overly sentimental for relics from the past. When it comes to the history of a place, my view is less sentimental and more “what have you done for me lately?”

But the last thing I want to do is use the force of government to stop other people from enjoying such experiences. Which makes this just seem ridiculous:

Barring a last minute reprieve, America’s last proper paddle-wheeled steamboat may disappear by the end of the year. For decades the Delta Queen has been one of the most magnificent sights on the Mississippi and Ohio rivers, forging through the water as her calliope steam organ blasts merrily away.

But it looks as though the federal Coast Guard, applying the same regulations to riverboats as to ocean-going ships, will no longer allow the Delta Queen to carry passengers on overnight excursions. The problem is the wooden superstructure, the white wedding-cake of decks above the boat’s mighty hull. In 1966 federal regulations banned any vessel with wooden superstructures from carrying more than 50 passengers on anything longer than day-trips. Congress granted the Delta Queen an exemption because she is never more than a few hundred yards from the safety of the river bank should a fire occur. Since then, the exemption has been extended nine times. But probably not for a tenth.

The Delta Queen, based in Ohio, may not be the safest boat on the sea. But given some of the safety features incorporated (advanced sprinkler system, etc), and rigorous regular Coast Guard inspections, I see no reason why a National Historic Landmark such as this should be barred from operation in this manner. So who’s standing in its way? Minnesota Congressman Jim Oberstar, whose Wikipedia page describes him as something of a safety czar and nanny extraordinaire:

An avid cyclist, Oberstar has been a champion of creating trails for cycling and hiking to promote healthy living and more active lifestyles. In 2005 he authored and had passed the Safe Routes to Schools act, a $200 million program that helps school districts address the growing problem of childhood obesity by building biking and walking paths to schools, hiring crossing guards and promoting safety programs.

Yep, it’s all about safety. After all, 104 years ago, a wooden boat caught fire in a tragic accident.

In opposing any exemption Mr Oberstar cites the example of the General Slocum, which caught fire in New York harbour in 1904. More than 1,000 people were killed, making it the worst man-made tragedy in the city until September 11th 2001.

1904?! Saying that we shouldn’t allow boats with wooden structures today, based on an accident from 104 years ago, is like saying we should tear down the Golden Gate bridge as a result of the Tacoma Narrows failure.

Of course, there are more nefarious explanations, such as the fact that a Congressman from Minnesota’s “Democratic-Farmer-Labor” party just happens to be blocking the exemption of a boat that recently ceased it’s contract with the Seafarers International Union, a group which has donated to “Friends of Jim Oberstar”. But hey, I’m sure it’s all about safety.

1 2 3 6