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.

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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?
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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.

California — The True Nanny State

Fellow Californians, say goodbye to trans fats:

California, a national trendsetter in all matters edible, became the first state to ban trans fats in restaurants when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill Friday to phase out their use.

Under the new law, trans fats, long linked to health problems, must be excised from restaurant products beginning in 2010, and from all retail baked goods by 2011. Packaged foods will be exempt.

How does the Governator think of you?

“California is a leader in promoting health and nutrition, and I am pleased to continue that tradition by being the first state in the nation to phase out trans fats,” the governor said in a statement. “Consuming trans fat is linked to coronary heart disease, and today we are taking a strong step toward creating a healthier future for California.”

Gee, I wish my company could “promote” our products by banning our competitors. Sure would make things a lot easier on us.

With now a precedent of electing foreign-born people to the highest office in the state, is this our next Governor?

Gates & Bloomberg Spending $500 Million On Anti-Smoking– Lobbying?

When you read this:

Bill Gates and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg announced on Wednesday that they would spend $500 million to stop people around the world from smoking.

The $500 million would be spent on a multipronged campaign — nicknamed Mpower — that Mr. Bloomberg and Dr. Margaret Chan, director of the health organization, outlined in February. It coordinates efforts by the Bloomberg Initiative to Reduce Tobacco Use, the World Health Organization, the World Lung Foundation, the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, the foundation of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

You’d think that they’re donating $500M of their own money to a number of groups– boots on the ground– who are fighting to educate people around the world about the dangers of smoking. In fact, you’d laud them for getting out there and putting their money behind their beliefs, rather than simply offering mealy-mouthed statements about what other people should or shouldn’t do.

But when you read a little bit farther, you get a different picture:

It will urge governments to sharply raise tobacco taxes, prohibit smoking in public places, outlaw advertising to children and cigarette giveaways, start antismoking advertising campaigns and offer people nicotine patches or other help quitting. Health officials, consumer advocates, journalists, tax officers and others from third world countries will be brought to the United States for workshops on topics like lobbying, public service advertising, catching cigarette smugglers and running telephone help lines for smokers wanting to quit. A list of grants is at tobaccocontrolgrants.org.

It’s clear this has nothing to do with educating the third world. They’ve got a little more bang-for-the-buck in mind. Why try to change attitudes of current and potential smokers, educating them of the dangers of their habits, when you can change the attitudes of their ruling elite and take away their freedom to smoke? They’re using the fruits of their labor– in a country free enough to allow them to accumulate such– to entice local governments to use tax dollars and regulation to fight the scourge of personal choice.

In doing so, I’m reminded of a certain definition provided by our good friend Coyote, the definition of a modern activist:

Activist: A person who believes so strongly that a problem needs to be remedied that she dedicates substantial time to … getting other people to fix the problem. It used to be that activists sought voluntary help for their pet problem, and thus retained some semblance of honor. However, our self-styled elite became frustrated at some point in the past that despite their Ivy League masters degrees in sociology, other people did not seem to respect their ideas nor were they particularly interested in the activist’s pet issues. So activists sought out the double shortcut of spending their time not solving the problem themselves, and not convincing other people to help, but convincing the government it should compel others to fix the supposed problem. This fascism of good intentions usually consists of government taking money from the populace to throw at the activist’s issue, but can also take the form of government-compelled labor and/or government limitations on choice.

Mssrs. Gates & Bloomberg: It would be honorable to use your considerable wealth in an education campaign to persuade people to change their ways. It would even be honorable to use your fame as a “force multiplier”, recruiting other wealthy benefactors to join your quest. To use that wealth in an effort to reduce freedom across the globe, lobbying governments to force or artificially induce others to bend to your will, though, is nothing but a continuation of nanny statism through private means.

Hat Tip: The Agitator

Want to Serve Your Country? Well, What’s Stopping You!

Time has an ongoing series which advocates the need for “voluntary” national service. In the magazine’s latest article by Managing Editor Richard Stengel, the author praises both John McCain and Barack Obama for their urging of Americans to “serve interests greater than self.”

It is a unique moment for the idea of national service. You have two presidential candidates who believe deeply in service and who have made it part of their core message to voters. You have millions of Americans who are yearning to be more involved in the world and in their communities. You have corporations and businesses that are making civic engagement a key part of their mission.

If “millions of Americans” wish to be “more involved” in service to others and “their communities” what’s stopping them? Do we really need a President McCain or President Obama to force “inspire” these Americans to serve their fellow Americans? Is their really a “volunteer” deficit?

In Stengel’s original article on this subject A Time to Serve he seems to suggest the opposite:

Polls show that while confidence in our democracy and our government is near an all-time low, volunteerism and civic participation since the ’70s are near all-time highs. Political scientists are perplexed about this. If confidence is so low, why would people bother volunteering? The explanation is pretty simple. People, especially young people, think the government and the public sphere are broken, but they feel they can personally make a difference through community service.

I fail to see the problem here. If people do not have confidence in the government, this is a very good thing*! Ordinary Americans are helping others on their own volition, not because some politician told them to do so.

Despite this seemingly positive news, this isn’t enough for Stengel:

[T]he way to keep the Republic — is universal national service. No, not mandatory or compulsory service but service that is in our enlightened self-interest as a nation. We are at a historic junction; with the first open presidential election in more than a half-century, it is time for the next President to mine the desire that is out there for serving and create a program for universal national service that will be his — or her — legacy for decades to come. It is the simple but compelling idea that devoting a year or more to national service, whether military or civilian, should become a countrywide rite of passage, the common expectation and widespread experience of virtually every young American.

Am I missing something here? How does a president “persuade” people who otherwise would not be inclined to national service without using some form of coercion? Toward the end of the article, Stengel offers a 10-point plan on how the next president should implement a national service agenda:

1. Create a National-Service Baby Bond (a.k.a. forced wealth distribution)

2. Make National Service a Cabinet-Level Department (a.k.a. taking money from citizens to pay for another Bureaucracy)

3. Expand Existing National-Service Programs Like AmeriCorps and the National Senior Volunteer Corps

4. Create an Education Corps

5. Institute a Summer of Service (a.k.a. teenagers serving the government to learn that all great things come from government)

6. Build a Health Corps (a.k.a. “volunteers” helping low income people access government healthcare programs which they are not already taking advantage of such as SCHIP)

7. Launch a Green Corps (similar to FDR’s Civilian Conservation Corps but would improve infrastructure and combat climate change).

8. Recruit a Rapid-Response Reserve Corps (a.k.a. volunteers doing the job the National Guard traditionally does in the wake of natural disasters).

9. Start a National-Service Academy (a.k.a. a school to train government workers)

10. Create a Baby-Boomer Education Bond (a.k.a. forced wealth distribution).

In one way or another, every one of these proposals requires government to use force**. While this form of coercion is not as visible as directly “drafting” people into government service, make no mistake, coercion is still very much part of the equation.

To Time’s credit, the magazine did offer a counterpoint to Stengel’s article. Michael Kinsley calls B.S. on this whole notion of national service (particularly on the part of young people):

One of the comforts of middle age — a stage that the editor of TIME and I have both reached — is that you can start making demands on young people, safe in the knowledge that they won’t apply to you. Having safely escaped the Vietnam era draft ourselves, we are overcome by the feeling that the next generation should not be so lucky. Many of these young folks are volunteering for socially beneficial work, and that’s good. But it’s not good enough. “Volunteerism” is so wonderful that every young person should have to do it.

[…]

I’m perfectly prepared to believe that today’s young people are deplorable specimens, ignorant and ungrateful and in desperate need of discipline. Or I am also prepared to believe that they are about to burst with idealism like a piñata and only await somebody with a giant pin. But they aren’t the only ones who could use a lesson about social obligation. What about grownups? Grownups, who still have some hope of collecting Social Security and Medicare before they go broke, who have enjoyed the explosion in house prices that make the prospect of home ownership so dim for the next generation; who allowed the government to run up a gargantuan national debt, were miraculously bailed out of that, and immediately allowed it to be run up a second time; who may well have gone to college when tuition was cheap and you didn’t automatically graduate burdened by student loans. We are not in much of a position to start dreaming up lessons in social obligation for the kids.

As I pointed out in my last post, many people are in favor of “service” and “sacrifice” if it is being done by someone else. Kinsley also points out that the answer to serving the needs of others is good old fashioned Capitalism!***

Let’s be honest. If you really want to “serve your country/community/world,” again I ask you: What’s stopping you? Your level of service has not one thing to do with who occupies the White House at any given time.

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Cali Going “Green” — Raising House Prices By Restricting Supply

California, in an attempt to fix the housing mess* by making houses less affordable by making you buy features you wouldn’t otherwise**, has announced new statewide building restrictions to go “green”.

From the Governator on down, nanny statists in California are more than willing to use force to make your life more expensive, and are quite happy to gloat about it the whole while:

Today, the California Building Standards Commission announced the unanimous adoption of the nation’s first statewide “green” building code. The code is a direct result of the Governor’s direction to the Commission and will lead to improved energy efficiency and reduced water consumption in all new construction throughout the state, while also reducing the carbon footprint of every new structure in California.

Unanimous? There’s nobody willing to step up and say “maybe we should let individuals decide how their houses should be built”? You can argue day in and day out whether building codes for safety purposes are a legitimate form of government coercion, but this is just nanny-state do-gooderism. It’s the logical next step to a government that won’t allow any market forces the freedom to develop the energy people want to use, so simply requires that they use less. Allowing market forces to price water, for example, might suggest to people that they should save water for their own sake. But government regulation artificially keeping water prices low means, of course, that they must either ration water, mandate regulation to reduce use through the building code, or both. Throwing bad government after bad? I’d say so.

“Once again California is leading the nation and the world in emissions reductions and finding new ways to expand our climate change efforts,” said Commission Chair Rosario Marin.

Sometimes being first is a good thing. Sometimes it’s not. Something tells me that increasing housing prices in a place like California, already far too expensive with other taxes and regulations (and market forces) for the average person to survive comfortably, will not end up helping the state.

“The commission should be commended for bringing everyone to the table including representatives of the construction and building trades industry, environmental groups and labor organizations, and achieving something no other state has been able to.”

“We railroaded this through in a bipartisan manner. Therefore it’s obvious that it’s futile to resist.”

The new California Green Building Standards Code goes well beyond the current building standards. These new statewide standards will result in significant improvements in water usage for both commercial and residential plumbing fixtures and target a 50 percent landscape water conservation reduction.

Plumbing fixtures? Better buy a plunger. Maybe even an auger when they get through with your house. Oh, and I hope you like Xeriscapes, because you’re going to see a lot more of them. (Again, this is a result of government artificially pricing water too low, and then enacting use restrictions that natural market forces could already have arranged).

They also push builders to reduce energy use of their structures by 15 percent more than today’s current standards.

Again, in many ways this is a good thing. But it’s not something that most people had deemed necessary to pay for in the past, or it wouldn’t need to be regulated.

They also push builders to reduce energy use of their structures by 15 percent more than today’s current standards.

I guess they thought this was really important to point out, since they repeated the sentence in the press release. Or perhaps they are just experts on “being green”, and not so much into the whole proofreading thing…

The new standards declare the minimum California will accept in environmentally friendly design – local jurisdictions and builders who wish to do more are applauded.

[clap clap clap]Yay, Berkeley! You go girl![/clap clap clap]

In addition to the new codes adopted today, Governor Schwarzenegger’s Green Building Initiative (Executive Order S-20-04) (http://gov.ca.gov/executive-order/3360/) directs state agencies to reduce energy use at state-owned buildings 20 percent by 2015, while also reducing the impact state buildings have on climate change.

Please tell me they’re going to do this by reducing quantity of state buildings and number of state employees by this much!

His executive order directs that new state construction and major renovation projects should meet a minimum of the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Silver certification in order to save energy, conserve water, divert waste from landfills and cut greenhouse gas emissions. To date, 13 state buildings have achieved LEED certification.

I guess that’s the end of major renovation projects to state buildings. Oh, wait, they’re spending our money? Never mind.

And wow, 13 whole buildings so far? What size bucket does that drop fall into?

According to the U.S. Green Building Council, buildings nationwide account for 70 percent of electricity consumption, 39 percent of energy usage, 12 percent of potable water consumption, 40 percent of raw materials usage, 30 percent of waste output (136 million tons annually), and produce 39 percent of associated greenhouse gases (CO2).

I thought I learned from the NRA that buildings don’t waste energy, people do. Up next, Washington DC outlaws private ownership of buildings!

California’s new building standards will result in increased water and energy savings through a combination of more efficient appliances, use of efficient landscapes and more efficient building design and operation.

Again, I’m sure they’re not doing anything to increase the efficiency of government.

The code also encourages the use of recycled materials in carpets and building materials, and identifies various site improvements including parking for hybrid vehicles and better storm water plans.

Hey, so you get primo parking for your 20 mpg Chevy Tahoe Hybrid, while the guy with the much more environmentally-friendly 36 mpg Honda Civic languishes at the back of the lot. I’ll bet he produces a lot less smug, too.

Additionally, the new code contains standards for single-family homes, health facilities and commercial buildings. The code is composed of optional standards that will become mandatory in the 2010 edition of the code. This adjustment period will allow for industry and local enforcement agencies to prepare for, and comply with, the new green building standards.

This is why the construction industry went along… Anyone with half a brain will be pushing for their construction to be complete by 2010! After all, what California really needs is MORE real estate being developed, because we don’t have quite enough of a surplus now!

Moving forward after 2010, the California Green Building Standards Code will be updated on an annual basis to ensure that the latest technology and methods of construction have been incorporated to always maintain a high level of standards.

And here’s the giveaway to lobbyists. Just think how much money is going to be spent at the state capital ensuring that pet technologies get implemented into the code. Oh, and I’m sure regulations that change yearly will require a lot more inspectors and training, another fun way to spend taxpayer money. Sacramento should be a boom town over the next few years.

For more than 20 years, the California Building Standards Commission has established California as an international leader in areas such as energy conservation, water conservation and seismic strengthening—resulting in some of the most efficient and sustainable buildings in the world.

Ahh, the final buzzword. “Sustainable.” As long as they keep taxes and regulation just shy of killing the goose that laid the golden egg, Sacramento’s economy should remain sustainable. But just imagine if the local government was trying to pull this sort of shit in a state without beautiful scenery and picturesque beaches… They’d call it Detroit.
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Analysing John McCain’s Foreign Policy Wish List – No Ponies For Little Girls

Calvin\'s Christmas ListJohn McCain must hate little girls. It is one of many inescapable conclusions that arise from reading his National Security position paper, which promises all things to everyone – well almost everyone. His foreign policy plans promise more submarines, more ships, more aircraft, more divisions, more security, more military assistance for allies, more attacks on enemies, more purchases from the military-industrial complex. About the only thing he does not promise in the document is to give every little girl in America a pony. I presume that this is not an oversight. Sen McCain is very focused on foreign policy and military matters, and I cannot imagine that the omission of free ponies was anything but intentional.

Don’t believe me? Well, let’s go through the document together and we can look at all the things he does promise, and you will see the glaring omission of ponies for little girls in this fantastic proposal.

In a dangerous world, protecting America’s national security requires a strong military. scratcccccchhhhhh

Wow, one sentence in, and I can already see Sen McCain’s famed courage – I see this was published without being reviewed by an editor who knew how to write English well! This is the public relations equivalent of going commando. Just as charging recklessly at the pillbox can get you shot needlessly, Sen McCain has opened himself up to an attack – Do we really want a president who wishes to defend that national security apparatus of the United States? What happened to defending American’s who are not involved in national Security? Of course, this attack is unfair. Rather, Sen McCain or a staff member merely screwed up the topic sentence of one of his more high profile position papers.

Starting again:

In a dangerous world, protecting America’s national security requires a strong military. Today, America has the most capable, best-trained and best-led military force in the world. scratcccccchhhhhh

Does anybody remember the strategic surprise of the Russians capturing that airport in Kosovo? Osama bin Laden’s escape from Tora Bora? The first attempt to smash Fallujah? The U.S. military gets away with a lot because they have an overwhelming amount of firepower, and have faster communications than the little tin pot dictators or rudimentarily armed militias they’ve been fighting. If the U.S. military has the best officer corps in the world, then we must be entering into a new age of prosperity and peace since all the other militaries must be officered solely by incompetents without a single officer of average intelligence amongst them.

But much needs to be done to maintain our military leadership, retain our technological advantage, and ensure that America has a modern, agile military force able to meet the diverse security challenges of the 21st century.

John McCain is committed to ensuring that the men and women of our military remain the best, most capable fighting force on Earth – and that our nation honors its promises to them for their service.

And here we go!

The global war on terrorism, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, threats from rogue states like Iran and North Korea, and the rise of potential strategic competitors like China and Russia mean that America requires a larger and more capable military to protect our country’s vital interests and deter challenges to our security. America confronts a range of serious security challenges: Protecting our homeland in an age of global terrorism and Islamist extremism; working with friends and partners overseas, from Africa to Southeast Asia, to help them combat terrorism and violent insurgencies in their own countries; defending against missile and nuclear attack; maintaining the credibility of our defense commitments to our allies; and waging difficult counterinsurgency campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Wow! It seems that the United States taxpayer must take part in every fight on Earth! Let’s review the conflicts:

The occupation of Iraq

The occupation of Iraq is a purely discretionary exercise. Iraq does not, nor did it ever pose a threat to U.S. citizens living within the borders of the United States. If the United States were to withdraw all its forces as fast as possible, it would be decades, if ever, before whatever gang took over and proclaimed itself as the government of Iraq had mustered up the firepower to launch a significant attack on the people of the U.S.

It did however threaten the Saudi monarch, and John McCain understands that preserving freedom at home requires sending U.S. soldiers overseas to die to prop an unpopular king on his throne.

The occupation of Afghanistan

Many people consider this to be required to defend the U.S. from attack. Certainly, if you accept the need to fight a global war on terrorism, the occupation of what was Al Queda’s rear areas is a requirement. Of course, this occupation is going badly; Slowly but surely, the United States is controlling less and less territory there. Occupying Afghanistan so weakened the Russian military that it collapsed. the U.S. army’s experience is similar to the Russian one – an seemingly easy early conquest followed by a slow war of attrition that saps men and wrecks equipment. Every month is harder than the previous one.

The Taliban who were bankrolled by the Saudi King (the guy U.S. soldiers are dying in Iraq to protect), the Pakistani government (who were trying to counter Iranian influence in Afghanistan) and increasingly by the lucrative heroin trade (high profits courtesy of the U.S. War on (Some) Drugs. The Taliban were also bankrolled by al Queda which purchased their protection.

The War on Al Queda

Al Queda’s mission is the overthrow of the Saudi king (whom U.S. soldiers are dying in Iraq to defend). They targeted the United States because the United States loans soldiers to defend the Saudi King, builds the bases he uses to secure his territory and supplies him with weapons, ships and aircraft. The leadership of al Queda, many of whom survived the vicious Egyptian security forces (funded and trained by the United States) who viewed the religious conservatives as a threat to their power (the Egyptian rulers being old school pan-arab socialists who were bankrolled by the soviet Union until the U.S. government offered to give them taxes collected from U.S. citizens), have developed a hatred of the United States for bankrolling their attackers.

Iran

The Iranian government is unpopular. It levies heavy taxes on the population, harasses young people looking for love, meddles in school curricula, and has pursued an inflationary monetary policy which is wrecking the economy. And like every powerful government that is screwing up domestically, they try to play up external threats. They make noises about how they are surrounded by enemies and that other governments pose a threat to the Iranian people, in an attempt to awake nationalist feelings. And they can easily make this case; their substantive negotiations with the U.S. state department in 2002 were shut down by the Bush administration. Most of the nations bordering Iran have U.S. bases with combat troops stationed in them. And the U.S. government, which initiated a war against Iran in 1954 has been obligingly threatening to bomb them… with nuclear weapons…

Officially, the purpose of this new proposed war is to keep the Iranian government from using nuclear weapons (which they don’t possess) against Israel.

Did I mention that Iran has a population that is much larger than that of Iraq? And that the terrain is pretty mountainous. And that they have the capability to cut the southern supply lines of the U.S. army occupying Iraq (in order to help prop up the Saudi King on his throne?

North Korea

North Korea tried to build a nuclear bomb. It didn’t work. They flooded most of their farm land and now have a permanent famine going. They pose a threat to … South Korea. Except that South Korean soldiers are better fed and have more modern weapons and have prepared defenses, and have a larger population to draw upon. If the United States Government would quit subsidizing the government with food aid, it would probably have collapsed already.

China

Having largely abandoned central planning, the Chinese economy is booming, allowing the government to levy the taxes to build ships, submarines and aircraft that would have been modern in the late 1970’s. the Chinese people do allot of business with people living in the United States. They have territorial ambitions over a few sections of Central Asia and over Taiwan, and have absolutely no interest in attacking the United States.

Russia

The Russians have loads of natural resources and little else. While their government is moving in a fascist direction, their territorial ambitions are focused on “defending” slavic peoples’ hegemony in the Balkans and Eastern Europe.

The Equipment Needed When Seeking Out New Enemies

To take on all these enemies, which do not directly threaten the citizenry, McCain proposes a massive arms build up to “modernize ” the U.S. military. he proposes increasing the size of the U.S. military dramatically. He proposes expanding benefits offered to veterans. He promises that the U.S. will prop up more governments that face popular rebellions, thus increasing the number of people who view the U.S. people as enemies fighting against them. He promises to increase intelligence gathering world-wide – more spies, more expensive spy satellites, more payoffs to local insurgents to provide the U.S. with intelligence (payoffs which all too often fund terrorist attacks against U.S. enemies).

Who Pays?

John McCain famously commented that he didn’t know much about economics, and this paper proves it. These new divisions, their equipment, the aircraft, ships, submarines and satellites, the bombs and ammunition required for this adventure in world domination will not be produced by elves working at Santa’s workshop on the north Pole. They will be paid for either by taxes on the U.S. citizenry, or by debasing the U.S. dollar. Unless John McCain is going to eliminate medicare, the U.S. citizenry will be paying for these things at a time when they have little wealth to spare. rather than producing consumer goods or other forms of wealth, the labor of people making or shooting the weapons will be wasted economically speaking.

Fantasy

There is one word to describe this proposal: fantasy. this plan will never happen. The United States economy will implode well before McCain has raised half of the divisions he needs to put his plan of world domination into action. and since John McCain is throwing unrealizable wishes left and right in this paper, it’s a shame he decided not to throw in a pony for every little girl in the U.S. Who knows, that is one wish that Santa might have granted…

The rest of the paper.

The rest of the paper continues banging the drums of war in much the same vein as what has already been commented on.I am therefore going to leave reading the rest as an exercise to the reader.

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.

Worth 1000 Words — Or 381 Words After Inflation

A credit-default swap is best described as insurance against a debtor defaulting on their debt. If you’re holding someone’s paper, and you are concerned of a risk of default, you hedge that risk using a CDS with someone to ensure that you don’t encounter overwhelming losses.

So what does it mean when the chart of CDS contracts on US Treasury bonds, the worlds main “risk-free” debt, looks like this?

Worth a thousand words

Hat Tip: Marginal Revolution

What is Your Life Worth?

No, I didn’t ask you about your net worth but what dollar value would you say that your life is worth to you. Most of us would not be able to come up with a figure or might say that putting an exact dollar amount on one individual’s life (especially one’s own) is impossible to quantify.

If you cannot come up with a figure no need to fear, the federal government has come up with a dollar value for your life on your behalf (isn’t that nice of our government?). Actually, the worth of an individual’s life varies from one government department to the next. The Associated Press reports that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the government agency which has the highest dollar figure for a human life, has dropped the value by $1 million to its current appraisal of $6.9 million* (in today’s dollars).

Why is this important, aside from the immoral, collectivist, big government, notion that it is morally justified to sacrifice the few or the one for the good of the many? Well…nothing! As the AP article points out, government agencies make decisions based on this arbitrary figure:

Consider, for example, a hypothetical regulation that costs $18 billion to enforce but will prevent 2,500 deaths. At $7.8 million per person (the old figure), the lifesaving benefits outweigh the costs. But at $6.9 million per person, the rule costs more than the lives it saves, so it may not be adopted.

Putting aside the fact that many of the departments, programs, and regulations are completely unconstitutional to begin with, I find it very disturbing (but not at all surprising) that my life could be shrugged off if I find myself in too small of a class to “matter” to government bureaucrats. This is the ugly reality that altruist/collectivists such as Barack Obama and John McCain speak of idealistically when they call for Americans to “sacrifice for the good of the community” and “serve a cause higher than self.”

Many people find sacrifice is a wonderful and noble thing, particularly if someone else is offering the sacrifice. If Obama or McCain needs to sacrifice the life, liberty, or property of an individual to serve his political/policy desires, each is quite willing to make that sacrifice (what’s $6.9 million in the federal budget anyway?).

Unfortunately, the age of reason, self reliance, and individual liberty did not survive much longer than Paine, Jefferson, and Madison. Our anti-Western, Judeo-Christian, “mob rule,” culture has conditioned generation after generation of Americans to think this way. Children are taught in government schools and their churches that America is a democracy rather than a constitutional republic, the rule of men rather than the rule of law, and to put “God, family, and country” before self. Obama and McCain are only reflecting this sentiment.

Not that these same politicians are not willing to pander to vocal minorities for votes. Obama and McCain will consider every minority group but one: the smallest minority.

The smallest minority on earth is the individual. Those who deny individual rights cannot claim to be defenders of minorities.
-Ayn Rand

So what is my life worth to me? To quote John Galt (the protagonist of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged) “I am the man who loves his life.” My life is not for sale because to me my life is priceless. There is no need for me to set a price for something for which no one has the ability to pay me.

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Quote Of The Day

DC City Council Chairman Vincent Gray, on the District’s new gun legislation:

We’re trying to figure out how close we can get to where we were before.

Judging from the “emergency” law, which continues to ban semiautomatic weapons and requires trigger locks or the firearm to be disassembled at all times (except when used against an intruder), I’d say they’ve gotten pretty close.

This story is just too good, though, and offers a second gem:

Nickles said residents could neither keep their guns loaded in anticipation of a problem nor search for an intruder on their property. The porch is off-limits, he said, as well as the yard and any outbuildings.

Yes. You see, you have to wait until an intruder is next to your bed with his gun drawn on you before you’re allowed to assemble your weapon, load ammunition, and defend yourself. This is how DC is keeping you safe!

Hat Tip: Billy Beck

American Idol — Why Democracy Doesn’t Work

American Presidential politics has long been derided as little more than a popularity contest. It’s said that it fails because the person Americans would “most like to have a beer with” is not necessarily the person who should be sitting in the most powerful political office in the world. But President Bush’s approval numbers [and those of several predecessors] make me wonder one thing: are Americans even good at choosing a president based on popularity?

So I decided to look at another popularity contest: American Idol. Sure, like the presidency, this is held under the veneer of being a “talent” competition, but the reality is that it’s run by a record company who desires to find an artist with built-in popular appeal. It legitimately should be the ideal method for finding a pop star, because the audience of voters self-selects as the logical group of people most likely to buy the album. In the last season, the finale saw over 97 million votes cast (to be fair, with multiple voting that doesn’t mean 97 million people voted).

If the most democratic method of American pop music talent searching ever created is successful, one would certainly expect that winning American Idol should be an immediate path to superstardom. You have a built in audience, built in name recognition, and don’t have anywhere near the hurdles most new artists have in getting to market. Instead of hurdles, they’re immediately offered a record deal with a major label. If American Idol is worth its salt, there simply shouldn’t be failure.

How have the results turned out? Well, not so stellar. Of all the American Idol alumni who are releasing records, the top two sellers are Idol winners, Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood. The next two highest on the list, Clay Aiken and Chris Daughtry, are non-winners. Being from different seasons than the above two, one can’t claim that they were “overshadowed” by the winner’s success. Following these two, in 5th and 6th place, are season 2 and 3 winners, Ruben Studdard and Fantasia. Given the length of time between their seasons and now, one can be sure that their album sales won’t climb much in the future– unlike Daughtry above them, who is still on an upward path in his career. In the case of Clay Aiken and Ruben Studdard, Aiken– who finished runner-up to Studdard– has sold over 2 million more albums and his follow-up albums have peaked far higher on the charts than Studdard’s non-debut albums.

Looking specifically at Season 5, won by Taylor Hicks*, the “undercards” of that season have far outshone Taylor Hicks and the runner-up, Kat McPhee. The 4th place finisher, Chris Daughtry, has become a legitimate star. 6th place (Kellie Pickler) and 3rd place (Elliott Yamin) have sold roughly similar numbers of albums as Taylor Hicks, and Yamin receives regular airplay. The second-place finisher, Katherine McPhee, sits well below the above, in the same rank as the 8th-place finisher from that year. Season 2’s 4th place finisher, Josh Gracin, even tops Taylor Hicks and is likely (with a new album coming out soon) to increase his lead in the future.

How can this be? If you’re trying to run a competition that is a glorified popularity contest, how can you account for the fact that those who win often end up far less popular than those who were eliminated? If democracy SHOULD produce the correct results, why doesn’t it? Or, more importantly than why, if you realize that democracy doesn’t produce the expected results, should democracy then be viewed with suspicion when it comes to making more important decisions than the award of a record contract?

A democratic system (to be fair, a flawed system multiple voting allowed) is at least reasonably successful at choosing who will be the most popular person in American Idol. In many ways, a democratic system (to be fair, a non-democratic system due to the electoral college) can also choose from a limited field who will be the most popular person to become President. It does little to select the best person for the job. In fact, the self-selection of politicos (media, lobbyists, donors) who tend to influence the process ensure that those who are best for the job are unelectable.

American Idol shows us that democracy is moderately successful– but still with significant misses– in choosing the winner of the popularity contest of pop music. The history of the United States has shown us that democracy is largely unsuccessful– with an occasional hit– at producing a President who does anything more than pander and reward his own pet interests.

A very smart man once said that Democracy is the worst form of government– except for all the others. He was incorrect. The best form of government is a severely limited government, with the method to choose ones “leaders” largely immaterial. Expecting to elect “the best” candidate to rule over you is less likely to result in positive outcomes than expecting the most salable pop star to be produced in American Idol voting. The best option, then, is to ensure that the office of President [and the rest of the government], by severely restricting the scope of their power, is about as important to the daily administration of your life as the decision of who wins American Idol.
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Government Funded Science Inherently Politicized: Chinese Herbal Remedy Edition

Over in the Science Based Medicine blog, Wallace Sampson is expresses outrage that the National Institutes of Health has announced an initiative to fund “research” into Traditional Chinese Medicine:

I have pointed out that scientific characteristics were never a part of TCM. It lacked objective observation, consistency of observation, classification of observed phenomena, information storage, rationality and logic, consistent written transmission, objectively descriptive language, and a method for analysis or for interpretation. The system of elements , q’i, and yin/yang did not include a method for developing theories or independent natural conepts. TCM depended on empiricism, unreliable observation, was plagued by post hoc reasoning and causality error. It lacked a concept of error and a system for self-analysis to correct error. In fact, the culture discouraged analysis and criticism, considered to be bad form and disrespectful. TCM depended on individuals who rarely communicated in a formal, direct, manner. Add to that a system that accepted manipulation to suit the mood and concept of the observer or authority. I conclude that there is nothing in TCM to study scientifically. So now they want to develop scientific criteria to apply to their observations? Proteomics? On what? Actions of herbs? Words again fail me at the glaring presumptuousness and ignorance required to conceive such a project.

nothing but a jangling confusion of borderline and conflicting findings will result from further study. Unless they appoint people with critical analysis experience, a wide reading knowledge of the history and use of TCM, and a scientific view, their research conclusions will be indeterminate over the next 10 years or more. They will continue to rely on ideologues, advocates, self-deluded practitioners, and politically correct academics for advice and pronouncements.
They will probably exclude scientific or skeptical analysts, so there is no way they will develop a credible commentary on how best to integrate TCM and improve the health of the American and Chinese people. Well, they got it backwards again. It’s China that has to integrate scientific medicine over there. Their scientists and physicians clamor for it. The Chinese can begin with public health principles like inhibiting spitting in the streets, cleaning up their air (finally but it took the Olympics) personal hygiene, cleaning their toilets, improving their food handling methods, and other systematic changes.

What is HHS doing, using a cover of medical science and for what? The government doesn’t do such things without pressure from some group or perceived self-interest in negotiation. In this case, what are the respective interests? There could be several.
For China, the most apparent is awakening the American population to the hidden miracles of TCM – and the marketing of supplements. Ka Kit Hui, a practitioner in Santa Monica, Calif., been promoting TCM herbs for several decades. I debated him on the subject at Stanford in 1995 or so at which time he extolled the undiscovered miracles in TC herbal medicine. Again in a letter to the editor to JAMA in 1997 he predicted that TCM herbals would be the prime economic product of the 21st century. I dismissed the statement in a response, but here we are, nearly 1/10th the way through the century, and here is TCM herbalism making inroads. China must see a large market, a population at least a third of their’s, and in view of the differences in income, living standard, and disposable income, a market that is at least as large in dollars/yuens as China has at home – probably greater.

What motivates the US? For one, TCMers may be behind the effort. They are on a path toward legitimizing the OMD degree and licensing of TCM practice. They already have acupuncture licensure in a plurality of states. They have a dozen or more schools of TCM. The California state legislature several years ago dropped an attempt to standardize teaching in the California schools – a first step to a standard exam and thus an academic standard for licensure. But they will be back. It took naturopaths over 15 years to get their licensure and degree recognition – another history familiar to Kim Atwood and others. The rest of the ulicensed hordes are following through an accompanying though crippled series of Access to Medical Treatment Acts. They persist – getting bits here and there and then, in an alignment of the planets minute, achieving passage of licensure legislation that imprints their initials in gold.
The formation of the NCCAM was a major step for TCMers. Now an HHS officially- sanctioned 2 day conference opens the plausibility of studying more TCM just as acupuncture systematic reviews are showing indeterminacy to ineffectiveness, herbs are being found more dangerous than helpful, and products from the PRC being found adulterated with metals and with standard pharmaceuticals. A fly on the wall of certain congressmen and senators and of HHS director Leavitt could tell us a lot. (Here we go again with a FOI request.)
As for government sourced motives, as Ms. Woeckner suggested, we probably had to pay a price for the stationing of FDA offices in Chinese cities. I still fail to see what they can do about adulteration of products, much of which could be shifted to way stations in Taiwan or in the US.

While insightful, Dr Sampson fails to dig down to the real sources of the problem:

If the NIH wastes money on quackery, its officers do not suffer a loss. They don’t have to justify their spending to donors or shareholders. The money extracted at gunpoint from the citizenry will continue to flow in regardless of the junk science the NIH produces. In fact, inconclusive junk science can benefit NIH officials – larger staff and larger budgets will lead inevitably to higher salaries for managers – with no end in sight to the enterprise.

Furthermore, by having the government license medical treatments and practitioners, the medical industry has fatally undermined the ability of people to have reliable mechanisms to root out quackery. Again, publicly funded licensure boards will continue to be funded regardless of how bad a job they do. Their presence will inhibit the formation of private enterprises that are dependent on donor perceptions of effectiveness to continue operations – just as the creation of the FDA ended the drug testing research of Consumer Union. The public looks at a government license as a mark of quality – and there is no one to tell them otherwise. Suspicions allayed, most people in the market for medical care will accept advertising at face value.

The sad fact is that when the AMA was founded in the late 19th century, most doctors made a deal with the devil. The state licensure boards – which were successful in their mission to keep competition low and prices high – not only created a pool of underserved consumers for quacks to prey upon, it also created traditions and political framework that quacks and junk scientists can use to provide cover for their fraudulent activities.

So long as proponents of quality in medical care continue to pin their hopes on an organization that can extract money by force regardless of how crummy a job it does, they are doomed to failure.

My earlier post on the huge incentive for government to do junk science may be found here.

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.

A Hell of a Way to Describe the Dilemma

“When it comes to picking our next president, I can’t decide if I prefer the smooth-talking, inspirational candidate who promises to give my money to people who don’t work as hard as I do, or the old, short, ugly, angry guy with one good arm who graduated at the bottom of his class and somehow managed to shag a hot heiress and become a contender for president. It seems dangerous to underestimate that guy.”

Scott Adams

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

Universal Coverage Will Reduce Costs?

From Ezra Klein, regarding reducing costs in the Massachusetts health care system:

The mandate presumes residents can afford coverage, and it’ll spark a political revolt if voters find themselves penalized for not buying a product they can’t afford. In other words, one of two things can happen: Either Massachusetts can figure out how to control costs, or it can let the program become unaffordable and repeal the legislation.

This is, at least in the abstract, the political logic of focusing on access first: Expanding access creates pressures that force the system to figure out how to control costs. (emphasis added)

Really? Conservatives have tried this approach many times, with what they call the “starve the beast” mentality. Reduce taxes, reduce revenues, and eventually the government will restrain spending just out of necessity.

The truth is, though, I’ve never seen it happen. When they can’t raise tax revenue, government goes into deficit-spending mode. If that doesn’t work, they find a way to inflate their way into paying it. We’re in deficit mode now, and they’re trying to spend $50M a year on bedbugs.

You simply can’t assume that buy burdening the system, they’ll find a way to magically reduce costs. You can force cost reductions (as Medicare tries to do), or you can ration care (as Britain tries to do). But you can’t pile demand onto the system and simply assume that it’ll have economies of scale or other efficiency improvements that will reduce costs in any meaningful way.

Hat Tip: Cato@Liberty, who has some added snark on this topic.

The Emporer’s New Clothes

Looks like the “reveal” may be a few short years away. Maybe it will finally be understood just how deeply the rottenness and fraud has gone:

to imagine the IMF investigating the US financial system is unthinkable, or was. But, at the weekend, Der Spiegel reported that the IMF would conduct a full investigation into virtually every aspect of it.

Der Spiegel wrote that the IMF had “informed” Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke of plans that would have been unheard of in the past: a general examination of the US financial system. The IMF’s board of directors has ruled that a so-called Financial Sector Assessment Program is to be carried out in the US.

This, Der Spiegel wrote, “is nothing less than an X-ray of the entire US financial system”, adding that “no Fed chief in US history has been forced to submit to the kind of humiliation that Ben Bernanke is facing”.

The fact that the IMF is knocking on the very doors of its parents and waving legal papers about who lost the house, the car and the kids will, if the past is anything to go by, be buried in the US by pom-pom waving on CNBC telling all what a great time it is to buy.

A little over a year ago– in one of my pessimistic phases– as the subprime mess was just starting to become apparent to the masses, I penned a post about the potential end of the American financial empire. I pointed out that the dollar as the world’s reserve currency and the petrodollar allows the US to inflate without experiencing the pain that should follow. I said that as alternative currencies gain momentum, there was the chance that other nations might ditch the dollar, and send them all back here for that visible inflation to occur in rapid form.

This action by the IMF may be the catalyst. There’s already a lack of faith in the American financial position. Nobody has been willing to publicly acknowledge, though, that the emporer is naked. Once that happens, it makes it much more likely that other nations will act to protect their interests from being hurt by our economic collapse.

In the long run, fixing our economic system will be a positive event. But in the long run, we’ll all be dead. There may be a lot of pain in the interim.

Hat Tip: Billy Beck

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