Monthly Archives: July 2008

Bedbugs?! Call Me When You’ll Fight Mosquitoes

Really?!

No issue is too small for your Congress to handle. But seriously, judging from the comments so far on H.R. 6068, the Don’t Let the Bed Bugs Bite Act of 2008, people think bedbugs are a problem that Congress should address and that the federal government can help solve.

The bill would create a grant program in the Department of Commerce and authorize $50,000,000 in each of fiscal years 2009 through 2012 for giving these grants to states. It may be that taxpayers should worry more about the bite put on their wallets, but if people want Congress to do something about bedbugs, they want Congress to do something about bedbugs.

Any time a bill is co-sponsored by Don “Bridge to Nowhere” Young and William “Cold Cash” Jefferson, it should raise your suspicion. The bill gives funding to states which already have or implement bedbug inspection programs. Anyone want to bet that Alaska (Young) and Louisiana (Jefferson) have these programs or soon will?

Thankfully, this bill appears to have been sent to committee, and I’m going to hope it dies a quiet death in there rather than come back out for a vote.

From everything I’ve [now] read on the subject, bedbugs are a particularly nasty organism to come and visit. But I hardly expect that the feds are going to be able to do a damn thing to put an end to them (as if they were Constitutionally authorized to do so anyway). This is an issue that I definitely may need to now worry about, as well, as I travel often for business and stay in lots of hotels. But I still don’t see why this requires federal tax dollars, when we’ve already got big enough deficits. It seems like a giveaway to states to employ more “inspectors” and regulators; which is much more likely to be the true intent of this legislation.

Quote Of The Day: Putting The Country First

For anyone advocating that a libertarian-leaning person vote for John McCain, ask yourself a question…

Patriotism is deeper than its symbolic expressions, than sentiments about place and kinship that move us to hold our hands over our hearts during the national anthem. It is putting the country first, before party or personal ambition, before anything.

Is this an individualist or a collectivist/nationalist statement?

(From Parade Magazine)

Recycling Bad Ideas: Bringing Back 55

Senator Warner has a brilliant idea how to reduce gas prices; force Americans to consume less at gun point:

Sen. John Warner, R-Va., asked Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman to look into what speed limit would provide optimum gasoline efficiency given current technology. He said he wants to know if the administration might support efforts in Congress to require a lower speed limit.

Warner cited studies that showed the 55 mph speed limit saved 167,000 barrels of oil a day, or 2 percent of the country’s highway fuel consumption, while avoiding up to 4,000 traffic deaths a year.

“Given the significant increase in the number of vehicles on America’s highway system from 1974 to 2008, one could assume that the amount of fuel that could be conserved today is far greater,” Warner wrote Bodman.

Warner asked the department to determine at what speeds vehicles would be most fuel efficient, how much fuel savings would be achieved, and whether it would be reasonable to assume there would be a reduction in prices at the pump if the speed limit were lowered.

The department’s Web site says that fuel efficiency decreases rapidly when traveling faster than 60 mph. Every additional 5 mph over that threshold is estimated to cost motorists “essentially an additional 30 cents per gallon in fuel costs,” Warner said in his letter, citing the DOE data.

This law is patently unconstitutional: nowhere in the United States Constitution is the Federal Government permitted to pass laws governing speed limits. The Congress can get around this limit on their power using the usual dodge of merely passing voluntary regulations and withholding highway funds from states that refuse to go along.

This proposed law is ridiculous on many levels. First, the optimum speed varies from vehicle to vehicle. A one size fits all law would really require some people to drive at suboptimal speeds. The law would have the effect of limiting innovation: why research ways to make fuel efficiency at 70 mph better if nobody is allowed to drive at that speed? Just as when the courts in the 19th century gave polluters carte-blanche to pollute on their neighbors’ properties and killed the nascent emission reduction industry – this law will kill all such groundbreaking research.

Second, contrary to Sen Warner’s assertion, a reduced speed limit does not save lives. In fact, quite the opposite:

Taken as a whole, these different analyses lead to the conclusion that overall statewide fatality rates fell by 3.4 to 5.1 percent in the states that adopted the 65 mph limit.

Why did the new speed limit lower the fatality rate? 1) Drivers may have switched to safer roads; 2) highway patrols may have shifted resources to activities with more safety payoff; and 3) the speed variance among cars may have declined — it might decline on the interstates as law abiding drivers caught up with the speeders, and it might have declined on other highways as their speeders switched to the interstates. The evidence indicates that events 1 and 2 did occur; we have no evidence for event 3. Future research ought to be directed toward disentangling the relative contribution of these factors.

What about its impact on the price of oil?

True, such a law would result in lower consumption of gasoline on the roads, both because of lower fuel consumption and because people would curtail long road trips (because they would take too long). But the reduction in demand for driving would have no impact on the other manifold uses of petroleum. People living in the United States consume upwards of 9 billion barrels a day. If we are charitable, and assume that this time around the savings in consumption will be 100 times larger – that would still amount to 16 million barrels a day, or less than 1% of the oil consumed in the United States each day. Obviously this move would have a barely perceptible effect on the price of unrefined oil.

What about the impact on the price of gasoline?

Well, the price of gasoline is set almost entirely by the supply available. The run up in price could be due not only to to a shortage of available oil, but also due to the availability of refining capacity. And indeed, the oil industry has been expanding its refining capacity at a much lower rate than the rate at which gasoline consumption is growing. Last year, refineries supplying the U.S. market were pumping out 98% of the maximum amount of gasoline that they can theoretically produce.

In such a circumstance, a small drop in the consumption of gasoline could have a major impact on the price. So Senator Warner could be right, forcing everyone to drive more slowly could result in a 10% reduction in the price of gasoline… in the short term. Of course, 5 – 10 years from now, demand would have risen to current levels, and we would be right back where we are today.

The obvious question is why aren’t refiners expanding capacity? After all, gasoline is liquid gold. If they make it, they will be able to sell it at a profit. We should be seeing refiners adding capacity to their operations. Are these refiners idiots? Are they walking away from money? Apparently not! Two years ago, they were trying to avoid wasting money because they didn’t want to invest in major expansions until they figured out what regulations the government is going to impose upon them.

In hearings before Congress [in 2006], oil executives outlined plans to increase fuel production by expanding their existing refineries. Those plans would add capacity of 1.6 million to 1.8 million barrels a day over the next five years, for an increase of 10 percent, according to the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association.

But those plans have since been winnowed to no more than 1 million barrels a day, according to the Energy Information Administration, an arm of the federal government.

“If the national policy of the country is to push for dramatic increases in the biofuels industry, this is a disincentive for those making investment decisions on expanding capacity in oil products and refining,” said John Hofmeister, the president of Shell Oil. “Industrywide, this will have an impact.”

So, because refiners are afraid that their investment in additional capacity can be rendered worthless at the stroke of a presidential pen, they are holding off making any such investment. And I can hardly blame them.

The 55 mph speed limit was one of many dumb ideas that came out of the Federal Government in the early 1970’s. Thankfully, it was abandoned in the 1990’s for reasons that are still operative today. It is a shame that an economic ignoramus who manages to win an election could have he power to reinstitute such a dumb law. Senator Warner would be making a better use of his time and political capital if he worked towards ending the disastrous “Energy Independence/Sustainability” initiatives that are wreaking such havoc with the production of energy world wide. Let’s leave the disastrous ideas of the 1970’s in the dustbin, where they belong.

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.

But I thought Medical Marijuana Was a Hoax?

The left hand says

Existing Legal Drugs Provide Superior Treatment for Serious Medical Conditions
The FDA has approved safe and effective medication for the treatment of glaucoma, nausea, wasting syndrome, cancer, and multiple sclerosis.
Marinol, the synthetic form of THC (the psychoactive ingredient contained in marijuana), is already legally available for prescription by physicians whose patients suffer from pain and chronic illness.

The right hand said (in a 2003 Patent application!):

Cannabinoids have been found to have antioxidant properties, unrelated to NMDA receptor antagonism. This new found property makes cannabinoids useful in the treatment and prophylaxis of wide variety of oxidation
associated diseases, such as ischemic, age-related, inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. The cannabinoids are found to have particular application as neuroprotectants, for example in limiting neurological damage following ischemic insults, such as stroke and trauma, or in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease,

Setting aside the immorality of the United States government granting itself a patent on something – I find myself reminded of something asked of Senator McCarthy:

“You’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”

I think even Kafka would consider the U.S. government’s behavior with respect to marijuana too outlandish to write a story about.

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.

Above The Law

As many of you (especially those here in California) are aware, there is a new law, effective yesterday (July 1) requiring handsfree devices for anyone using a cellphone while driving. I could offer plenty of libertarian arguments against this regulation, and I’m sure we could all have a long debate about ownership of the roads and whether it makes sense.

But I saw something today that just made the point moot. Driving around in traffic heavy San Diego, I saw a cop rolling down the street with a cell phone up to his ear, yapping away. Had I had a cellphone camera, I would have snapped a shot of this, but unfortunately it happened too quickly for a reaction from me.

Apparently, what’s good for the gander is not good for some specific geese. Or, put more succinctly, some geese are more equal than others.

Somehow, I just feel like this is appropriate right now

“Comrade Members, like fire and fusion, government is a dangerous servant and a terrible master.

You now have freedom—if you can keep it. But do remember that you can lose this freedom more quickly to yourselves than to any other tyrant.

Move slowly, be hesitant, puzzle out the consequences of every word. I would not be unhappy if this convention sat for ten years before reporting—but I would be frightened if you took less than a year.

Distrust the obvious, suspect the traditional . . . for in the past mankind has not done well when saddling itself with governments.

For example, I note in one draft report a proposal for setting up a commission to divide Luna into congressional districts and to reapportion them from time to time according to population.

This is the traditional way; therefore it should be suspect, considered guilty until proved innocent.

Perhaps you feel that this is the only way. May I suggest others?

Surely where a man lives is the least important thing about him. Constituencies might be formed by dividing people by occupation . . . or by age . . . or even alphabetically. Or they might not be divided, every member elected at large—and do not object that this would make it impossible for any man not widely known throughout Luna to be elected; that might be the best possible thing for Luna.

You might even consider installing the candidates who receive the least number of votes; unpopular men may be just the sort to save you from a new tyranny. Don’t reject the idea merely because it seems preposterous—think about it! In past history popularly elected governments have been no better and sometimes far worse than overt tyrannies.

But if representative government turns out to be your intention there still may be ways to achieve it better than the territorial district. For example you each represent about ten thousand human beings, perhaps seven thousand of voting age—and some of you were elected by slim majorities. Suppose instead of election a man were qualified for office by petition signed by four thousand citizens. He would then represent those four thousand affirmatively, with no disgruntled minority, for what would have been a minority in a territorial constituency would all be free to start other petitions or join in them. All would then be represented by men of their choice. Or a man with eight thousand supporters might have two votes in this body.

Difficulties, objections, practical points to be worked out—many of them! But you could work them out . . . and thereby avoid the chronic sickness of representative government, the disgruntled minority which feels—correctly!—that it has been disenfranchised.

But, whatever you do, do not let the past be a straitjacket!

I note one proposal to make this Congress a two-house body. Excellent—the more impediments to legislation the better. But, instead of following tradition, I suggest one house legislators, another whose single duty is to repeal laws. Let legislators pass laws only with a two-thirds majority . . . while the repealers are able to cancel any law through a mere one-third minority. Preposterous? Think about it. If a bill is so poor that it cannot command two-thirds of your consents, is it not likely that it would make a poor law? And if a law is disliked by as many as one-third is it not likely that you would be better off without it?

But in writing your constitution let me invite attention the wonderful virtues of the negative! Accentuate the negative! Let your document be studded with things the government is forever forbidden to do. No conscript armies . . . no interference however slight with freedom of press, or speech, or travel, or assembly, or of religion, or of instruction, or communication, or occupation . . . no involuntary taxation.

Comrades, if you were to spend five years in a study of history while thinking of more and more things that your governinen should promise never to do and then let your constitution be nothing but those negatives, I would not fear the outcome.

What I fear most are affirmative actions of sober and well-intentioned men, granting to government powers to do something that appears to need doing. Please remember always that the Lunar Authority was created for the noblest of purposes by just such sober and well-intentioned men, all popularly elected. And with that thought I leave you to your labors. Thank you.”

— Robert Heinlein, “The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress”

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

Do we really need a leader?

The always thought provoking J.D. Tucille of ‘The Disloyal Opposition’ answers this question with an emphatic , No!

Both major presidential candidates have made it quite clear that — policy differences aside — they’re running to be national leader and they want to be assessed on their readiness to take the nation’s helm.

That’s a shame, because if there’s anything this country does not need, it’s a leader.

In fact, the whole idea of national leadership in a republic of free, self-governing people was intensely distasteful to the founders. In his book, The Cult of the Presidency, Gene Healy points out:

Indeed, the term “leader,” which appears repeatedly in Madison, Hamilton, and Jay’s essays in defense of the Constitution, is nearly always used negatively, save for one positive reference to the leaders of the American Revolution. The Federalist is bookended by warnings about the perils of popular leadership: the first essay warns that “of those men who have overturned the liberties of republics, the greatest number have begun their career by paying obsequious court to the people, commencing demagogues and ending tyrants.” The last essay raises the specter of disunion and civil war, ending with the “military despotism of a victorious demagogue.” For the Framers, the ability to “move the masses” wasn’t a desirable quality in a president — it was a threat.

Free countries don’t need leaders because their citizens lead themselves. The inhabitants of free countries are disparate individuals with varying values and preferences, all wanting to go in a multitude of different directions. The role of the government in a free country is to protect the borders and prevent the citizens from getting too rough with one another, and otherwise let people find their own way as best they can.

Many of our problems are caused by leaders who insert themselves in the voluntary interactions between consenting adults. We would be far better off if they limited themselves or playing Simcity or Civilization and left us alone.

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.
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