Monthly Archives: August 2009

UAW = Unions Accepting Welfare

Hmm, I guess we can see once again that our Congress is not in any way trying to manage our car companies (and their unions) for political gain:

The latest example is the $10 billion taxpayers will be asked to shell out to prop up the United Auto Workers’ retiree health insurance program.

That provision is tucked deep into the bill passed by the House.

In effect, it would ask every taxpayer, regardless of whether they’ll have health insurance coverage themselves after they retire — and most won’t — to chip in to maintain the UAW’s coverage, which even after the union’s givebacks is still better than what the average American worker receives.

The helping hand is a recognition by Congress that the union’s volunteer employee benefit association, or VEBA, can’t possibly stay solvent if it is asked to cover all of the union workers taking early buyouts from the Detroit automakers.

So the union’s supporters added language to the House’s gargantuan health care bill that requires the federal government to pick up most of the cost of catastrophic claims for union retirees age 55 to 64.

The biggest beneficiary would be the UAW, which got $60 billion from the Big Three in exchange for taking on the obligation for retiree health care.

I don’t suppose I’ll be getting a gift basket from the UAW thanking me for my generosity. I’ll bet quite a few Congressmen will, though.

Hat Tip: John Stossel

Regulation. It’s About Eliminating The Competition

This follows quite a few themes I’ve discussed at length here:

The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) requires third-party testing of nearly every object intended for a child’s use, and was passed in response to several toy recalls in 2007 for lead and other chemicals. Six of those recalls were on toys made by Mattel, or its subsidiary Fisher Price.

Small toymakers were blindsided by the expensive requirement, which made no exception for small domestic companies working with materials that posed no threat.

So while most small toymakers had no idea this law was coming down the pike until it was too late, Mattel spent $1 million lobbying for a little provision to be included in the CPSIA permitting companies to test their own toys in “firewalled” labs that have won Consumer Product Safety Commission approval.

The million bucks was well spent, as Mattel gained approval late last week to test its own toys in the sites listed above—just as the window for delayed enforcement closed.

Instead of winding up hurting, Mattel now has a cost advantage on mandatory testing, and a handy new government-sponsored barrier to entry for its competitors.

I’m of two minds on this. First of all, I find it revolting that, as the headline of the above-quoted post @ Reason points out, it was Mattel’s toys that got everyone riled up and now it’s Mattel getting the exemption. I know exactly how government regulation works, and it’s nearly universal that regulation protects incumbents by increasing the cost of doing business for small competitors.

At the same time, though, I understand a bit about the advantages of economies of scale. There are simply times where it makes more sense for large companies to have this testing in-house. They have enough products to be designed and tested that they’re going to save money by keeping it in-house.

Working in the electronics industry (and having worked for small startups as well as major corporations), I know that in some cases the burden of third-party testing is large enough that you can’t test products iteratively during the design process, when you’d like to. Every time you send the product for testing, you’re talking about thousands of dollars at a start, going up to very high numbers if you want to test to very stringent standards.

Large companies have the resources to test to a wide range of standards, because they sell enough product to amortize that cost. Small companies simply can’t do this, so they opt for the minimum required testing (by law or by their customer, depending on which is applicable), and often turn down business they can profitably produce to spec but can’t afford to profitably test to the requirements.

Mattel has both the economies of scale to afford outside testing, but further the economies of scale to bring that testing job in-house. In fact, they likely are using existing in-house labs for much of the new testing requirements. So yes, this requirement and exemption cost Mattel very little on an incremental basis, and costs their small competitors dearly.

This, however, is not an argument against Mattel — it’s an argument against unnecessary and expensive mandatory testing. It’s an argument against regulatory capture and for individual freedom. It’s an argument towards the inherent goodness of man (i.e. they don’t want to make products that’ll hurt their customers) rather than considering companies by nature wicked and more concerned with profit than customer needs.

Mattel, being the company that produced bad product and who is now benefiting from the regulation makes for a great whipping boy. They certainly deserve some scorn for both supporting this regulation with lobbying dollars and subsequently ensuring that it will affect their competitors more than themselves. But at the end of the day, Mattel has no more desire to poison your kids with lead than mom & pop toymakers — one might remember that THEY discovered their problems in-house and THEY issued the recall of their products rather than wait for someone to be hurt.

The CPSIA is bad law. Mattel, like most major corporations, uses the government to try to influence bad laws for their own benefit. For that, do we have Mattel to blame, or do we point the finger at Washington?

Another False Green Shoot Exposed

Here in California, our state decided to offer a tax credit to buyers of new housing construction. Unsurprisingly, $10K in free money gave the housing market a bit of a kick in the pants, particularly new construction.

Now they’ve run out of money. And in a complete and utter coincidence, which nobody could possibly have predicted, new housing starts are drying up!

California Building Industry Association says the state’s homebuilders hit the brakes on starting new housing after the state’s $10,000 tax credit for buyers of new homes ended in early July. The state incentive had ignited a modest building and buying burst when it started in March.

According to July stats from the Construction Industry Research Board:

  1. Builders pulled permits for 3,011 total California housing units in July, down 14 percent from June.
  2. 2,045 California single-family permits, down 29% from June — that was the busiest month since July 2008.
  3. In Orange County, 62 homes were permitted in July — down 43% from June and off 69% from a year ago.

Says CBIA’s president, Robert Rivinius: “Our homebuilders reported a significant drop in traffic last month, largely due to the state closing the window on the homebuyer tax credit. Activity stopped as quickly as it started, which is bad news for housing and the broader economy.”

The recovery will be solid when economic gains are due to real fundamental improvement in the economy. Relying on the effects of government largesse as a sign of rebound, though, is not especially trustworthy.

All I Have to Say About Ted Kennedy

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

Democrats Already Using Ted Kennedy’s Death To Push ObamaCare

Well, that didn’t take long at all:

US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi vowed Wednesday to push through embattled health reform legislation this year following the death of Senator Ted Kennedy, who called the effort “the cause of my life”.

“Ted Kennedy?s dream of quality health care for all Americans will be made real this year because of his leadership and his inspiration,” Pelosi said in a statement.

President Barack Obama’s sweeping plan to provide health insurance to all Americans, the top domestic priority of his administration, has met with stiff public and political opposition amid concerns over the costs of the plan and the role of government in providing medical care.

Pelosi, one of Obama’s top Democratic allies, was reminding Americans that reforming the health care system was a cause dear to the heart of Kennedy, who died late Tuesday after losing a long battle with brain cancer.

“Sadly, Senator Kennedy left us exactly one year after he inspired the nation with his speech of optimism, vitality, and courage at the Convention in Denver,” she said.

And Robert Byrd, the remaining geriatric Senate basket case, has this to say:

Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), the only senator to have served longer than the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), mourned his friend Wednesday, saying his “heart and soul weeps.”

Byrd said he hoped healthcare reform legislation in the Senate would be renamed in memoriam of Kennedy.

“I had hoped and prayed that this day would never come,” Byrd said in a statement. “My heart and soul weeps at the lost of my best friend in the Senate, my beloved friend, Ted Kennedy.”

Byrd’s wistful statement focused on the work accomplished with Kennedy during decades together in the Senate, and called on the healthcare bill before Congress to be renamed in honor of Kennedy.

“In his honor and as a tribute to his commitment to his ideals, let us stop the shouting and name calling and have a civilized debate on health care reform which I hope, when legislation has been signed into law, will bear his name for his commitment to insuring the health of every American,” Byrd said.

Dear lord, people, at least let the body cool down.

Inflation Causes Misallocation of Production

The spike in car buying has caused automakers to ramp up production (via John Stossel):

Many auto industry analysts and dealers expect sales volumes to fall now that the program is over. They worry that many people who took advantage of the program were merely accelerating purchases they would have made later in the year.

If that’s true, the premature sales could hurt automakers, which increased production in the third quarter to replenish clunker-depleted inventories that had already grown low because of factory shutdowns over the summer.

Cash for Clunkers is essentially an inflationary policy. This is a policy well described by Adam Smith Milton Friedman, with the exact same consequence:

In a dynamic world demands are always shifting, some prices going up, some going down. The general signal of increasing demand will be confused with the specific signals reflecting changes in relative demands. That is why the initial side of faster monetary growth is an appearance of prosperity and greater employment. But sooner or later the signal will get through.

As it does, workers, manufacturers, retailers will discover that they have been fooled. They reacted to higher demand for the small number of things they sell in the mistaken belief that the higher demand was special to them and hence would not much affect the prices of the many things they buy.

The government has arbitrarily and falsely increased demand for a specific good (new cars). They’ve done so by throwing money at it (a locally inflationary policy) and the automakers are ramping up production in response to what they THINK is a more stable recovery. But they may soon find, as Adam Smith Friedman predicted, that they have been fooled.

An Aristocracy of Talent, and the Triumph of Markets

This is possibly the single best business document I have ever read; and I mean that with no hyperbole. It is also the single most libertarian document I have ever seen applied to a large corporate environment.

You HAVE TO read this.

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

Obama: You’re doing a heck’uva job, Bernie

Continuing his George Costanzaesque presidency, Obama has decided to reappoint Ben “Helicopter” Bernanke to another term on the Fed.

Here’s what Obama had to say:

Ben approached a financial system on the verge of collapse with calm and wisdom; with bold action and outside-the-box thinking that has helped put the brakes on our economic freefall

I thought it might be useful to take a look at some highlights of this Solon, this central – planner whom George Bush put in charge of the money supply:

Of course, as usual, Obama is dead wrong: the Federal Reserve’s actions have actually prolonged the downturn, made it worse, and have laid the foundations for an even bigger crash down the road.

Monetary Base of U.S. Dollar

In the days before the election, I told many of my fellow Massachusetts residents that Obama was not so much a break from George Bush as a continuation of his worst policies. I am sorry to say that he has been proving me right since. And this is yet another nail in the coffin of an administration that is showing itself to be even more incompetent than the Bush presidency.

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.

The “Logic” Of The Left

Why is Obama having so much trouble getting cap’n’tax, health care reform, and his other policies through? Apparently, it’s because he’s just too good at solving problems (emphasis added):

Rahm Emanuel famously said that you never want a serious crisis to go to waste. But the Obama administration made the mistake of effectively managing the financial emergency when they entered office. They faced a serious threat, but they never let it become a serious crisis. As such, the normal laws of political gravity never lifted, and everything went on pretty much as normal, albeit with the Federal Reserve sitting atop a much-larger balance sheet. The political dynamic right now is a lot closer to the mid-90s than the mid-30s.

If this isn’t tortured logic, it’s certainly been subjected to enhanced interrogation.

In Denmark, The Danes Recycle You

There’s the oft-repeated factoid that the Indians used every part of a buffalo when they killed it. The Danes are learning from their example:

But in one area, greenery might be taken to excess. Denmark’s crematorium association has revealed its profitable sideline in recycling metal parts salvaged from the dead. Burnt bodies leave knee or hip replacements that can be recycled as scrap metal, says Allan Vest, the association’s chairman. Since 2006 the country’s 31 crematoriums have earned DKr 77,762 ($15,000) from 4,810kg of salvaged metal sold to a Dutch recycler.

When the ecclesiastical ministry changed the law to allow such recycling in 2005, it barred the reuse of such spare parts in works of art. But it did not say anything about telling relatives about the fate of a deceased. This is not a problem, says Mr Vest; recycling is good for the environment.

That principle underlies a second practice: recycling crematorium heat. Earlier this year, 15 crematoriums said they favoured sending waste heat into district-heating systems. This is because new regulations, due to come into force in 2011, will require crematoriums to filter out toxic substances such as dioxins and mercury from waste gases. To do this the crematoriums must use water to cool chimney gases from around 800°C to 180°C. It is the excess energy from the cooling process that crematoriums want to capture.

What’s next?

Det er folk! Soylent Grøn er skabt op fra folk!

Europeans Go On Strike; Americans Simply Defy

One of my personal bits of curiousity about the world is related to cultural “ways of thinking”. While I don’t believe that Americans are innately different than Europeans, or Chinese, or Russians, there are certainly differences in average thought borne of the different cultural histories of each place. Dale Franks at QandO recently posted about differences between Germans and Americans when faced with authority, and a new story out of Italy highlights another example of a difference:

Did you know that Italian bloggers are on strike? It’s true! Since July 14, Italy’s bloggers have been under self-imposed silence, in protest of a proposed law (called the Alfano decree) that would grant a right of reply to those who feel their reputations have been besmirched by something posted on the Web, writes the BBC.

A strike?? Oooh, I’m scared. I think that if American bloggers went on strike, our politicians and our newspapers would be dancing in the streets. The law proposed in Italy is a method for discouraging blogging, and here the Italian bloggers are playing right into their hands!

But when reading this, I was struck by something. Is a strike the only way Europeans know to respond to something like this? (French car-b-ques excepted, of course!)

I remember something similar here in the US. The FEC was considering regulations that would regulate bloggers’ opinions as campaign speech. Immediately thereafter, the response of the American blogosphere was a little different than a strike: we signed on to the Patterico Pledge:

If the FEC makes rules that limit my First Amendment right to express my opinion on core political issues, I will not obey those rules.

The Italians say “we do not like-a this law, please a-change it.” The Americans say “you can take this law and stick it where the sun don’t shine, ‘cuz we’re not gonna obey it.” The Italians would do well to learn that refusal to obey is a little more powerful than a complaint.

Quote Of The Day

Earlier today, I provided one more reason why corn-based ethanol mandates/subsidies might be the dumbest government program ever. Chris Edwards of Cato@Liberty suggests that Cash for Clunkers might win that honor. I have to hand it to him, he provides a few good reasons supporting his case. All good reasons, but I’ll stick with ethanol, because at least Cash for Clunkers is dead.

That being said, I hadn’t thought about this criticism of Cash for Clunkers:

Taxpayers were ripped off $3 billion. The government took my money to give to people who will buy new cars that are much nicer than mine!

I love my truck. It’s a 2000 Ford Ranger XLT, which I bought used six years ago, and it’s been paid off for more than four years. It qualifies for Cash For Clunkers, and it’s certainly worth less than $4500, so I’d have made a net gain by joining the program. I chose not to take part, for a few reasons:

1. I like the truck — it meets every need I have for a vehicle, and it the most comfortable thing I’ve ever driven
2. I don’t want a car payment — despite being able to afford it
3. The vehicle I want next — a Jeep Wrangler — wouldn’t have qualified as a higher-mileage vehicle
4. I refuse to buy new cars. I’ll let some other sucker take the early depreciation hit

But I never thought to what extent my tax dollars actually subsidize the purchase of cars far nicer than what I drive. I’ve criticized the program before, because the only people that were likely be able to afford a brand new car weren’t exactly poor, and were probably getting rid of a spare vehicle cheap enough to qualify. Couple this with the fact that it hurt charities and the poor by artificially draining the used car market, and it’s about as simple of a reverse-Robin-Hood program as you can design.

Coming To A Garage Sale Near You: Big Brother

Proving yet again that there is no limit to the extent to which the Federal Government will intrude upon our lives, the Feds are now turning their attention to that staple of American Suburbia, the garage sale:

WASHINGTON — If you’re planning a garage sale or organizing a church bazaar, you’d best beware: You could be breaking a new federal law. As part of a campaign called Resale Roundup, the federal government is cracking down on the secondhand sales of dangerous and defective products.

The initiative, which targets toys and other products for children, enforces a new provision that makes it a crime to resell anything that’s been recalled by its manufacturer.

“Those who resell recalled children’s products are not only breaking the law, they are putting children’s lives at risk,” said Inez Tenenbaum, the recently confirmed chairwoman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

The crackdown affects sellers ranging from major thrift-store operators such as Goodwill and the Salvation Army to everyday Americans cleaning out their attics for yard sales, church bazaars or — increasingly — digital hawking on eBay, Craigslist and other Web sites.

Secondhand sellers now must keep abreast of recalls for thousands of products, some of them stretching back more than a decade, to stay within the bounds of the law.

Staffers for the federal agency are fanning out across the country to conduct training seminars on the regulations at dozens of thrift shops.

I could come up with a lengthy response about this, but I think Chris’s wife summed up my feelings quite well — Leave Us The Hell Alone.

Leave Us the HELL ALONE

Crossposting something my wife wrote, from here:

I’ve been in an incredibly foul mood the last couple of days, and until this morning I did not understand why.

We’re planning on moving to where we actually want to be. We’re constantly being asked why we want to move to the middle of nowhere. I tell everyone, “because I feel hemmed in and trapped.” Almost no one understands what I mean. Until this morning I could not explain the feeling of being a rat in a cage. Now I can.

This morning I woke up on my “don’t remove the tag” mattress, walked through my building code compliant house, used the federally compliant toilet, dressed the kids and drove them to their “state certified” charter school where they’ll eat a state approved lunch.

I got back in my state registered, emissions compliant, insured (by state requirement) car and drove the legal speed limit back to the house. I then walked through my Scottsdale code compliant yard (no weeds in our “desert” landscaping”)into the house, drank pasteurized (USDA required) juice, and ate cereal processed in an inspected facility with milk from an USDA compliant dairy. I then took my FDA approved prescription pills (from a licensed pharmacy of course) and played with the state-licensed dogs.

I took a call on my federally taxed cell phone (instead of the federally taxed land line), stopped by our FDIC insured bank (which received TARP money that it didn’t want and is not allowed to pay back), and drove along city streets (paid for by sales and property taxes) to the closest Costco (which has a business license of course and pays mandated worker’s comp). I bought beef franks made from inspected beef in an inspected facility, buns made in an OSHA compliant factory, and a gallon of Frank’s in an approved plastic bottle.

All of this before 10:15 am.

This is not restricted to me of course. This is normal daily life for the vast majority of Americans. Almost everything we do is touched by one agency or another.

In preparation for moving I’ve been researching what I want to do with the land. We want to build our own house and outbuildings and drink our own water and make our own electricity.

In order for this to work we have to:

* Buy land with the proper zoning.
* Wait for the required escrow to be completed.
* Apply for building permits and well permits.
* Possibly apply for a zoning variance in order to raise a wind turbine.
* Build code-compliant buildings.
* Wire the electricity according to code.
* Pay sales tax on all materials used.

My biggest dream is to grow an orchard, plant some vegetables and grains, and raise our own milk and meat. In order for this to happen we have to

* Buy only trees that can be delivered to the correct state (as decided by each state’s government).
* Use only approved pesticides (like we could buy anything else).
* Buy a tractor (with applicable state tax).

If we find ourselves with an excess of food and would like to sell it we have to

* Apply for a license.
* Obtain a tax i.d. number.
* Collect sales tax.
* Label the goods according to code.
* Submit to random inspections of the dairy operation.
* Submit to random inspections of the meat process.
* In order to sell prepared foods (like jams) submit to inspections of the “commercial” kitchen (which cannot be used to prepare the family’s food).
* Pay sales tax on all goods and materials used.

In order to set up the business properly, we have to

* Apply for a business license.
* Obtain a tax i.d. number.
* Obtain permission from the state to use the name.
* Collect sales tax.

God forbid we deal with the local fauna. We plan on moving in an area thick with moose and wolves, but in order to hunt we have to obtain

* A hunting license.
* A controlled-hunt tag for the moose (if we’re lucky enough to get one).
* Forget about the wolves, they’re “protected”.

Should we need to protect our livestock from the moose or wolves we are allowed to dispose of the threat, but we must

* Inform game and fish.
* Turn the carcass over to the state.

If we use firearms to dispose of the threat, we must

* Use a “legal” firearm (as determined by the NFA and ATF).
* If we choose to use a suppressor (because of dogs, horses, and our own hearing) we must pay the stamp.

This doesn’t even account for all of the hoops the realtor and the vendors have to go through.

All of this instead of

* Pay for property. Make contract with owner.
* Build.
* Dig well.
* Wire.
* Buy tractor.
* Plant.
* Sell food.
* Sell services.
* Protect livestock.

No wonder I feel trapped. I can’t do a single thing with my own property that doesn’t involve one government agency or another (or several). I feel like a rat being funneled through a maze, and I am cognizant of the danger that someone will block off the exit. It’s my claustrophobia writ large.

This is just wrong. I’m a grown woman. Why does the government have to meddle in all of my affairs? Why do I have to jump through hoops just to accomplish the most simple things in life?

It’s all about power and control. Always has been always will be.

I’m sure in the beginning the encroachment began with simple things. After all, isn’t the government supposed to protect our rights? Isn’t having a dedicated police force, justice system, military, etc. worth a little in taxes?

Then a little more encroachment. Who can disagree with a little tax to pay for state roads? That’s entirely reasonable, right?

Then enforcement of standards. Who can disagree with licensing teachers? Making sure underage kids can’t marry?

Then the panics set in. Contaminated meat? The government should “do something” so it won’t happen again! E coli? Pasteurize EVERYTHING!

Of course, the NIMBY’S added their own input. Nuclear power plant? Not in my backyard! Enforce zoning so I won’t have to worry about it! Require my neighbor to clean up their yard so my house values don’t go down!

Then the lobbyists. Require farm inspections and multiple hoops so small farmers give up and “our big backers don’t have competition”. Give into the “green” lobby so they don’t pull their campaign contributions.

Of course there’s always the pure tax whores. “It’s just a little reasonable fee. On everything. You want to pay your share, right?”

Of course all of this gets codified into law, and the ultimate persuasive tactic is put into play.

“You don’t want to be a criminal, do you? You don’t want to go to prison, do you?”

This is exactly how we went from a system in which the government’s job of protecting our rights to a system where government determines WHO is ALLOWED to trample on our rights.

Well I have a message for all you busybodies, bureaucrats, rent-seekers, and whored-out legislators.

LEAVE US THE HELL ALONE.

Get out of my contracts.

Get off of my land.

Leave my property alone.

Stay the hell out of my bedroom.

Most of all, KEEP YOUR NOSES OUT OF MY BUSINESS.

And everyone else’s for that matter.

Mel

I haven’t mentioned my wife here very much, because she generally doesn’t write about libertarian issues; but I have to say, for this (and so many other reasons. For one thing, she’d rather buy guns, boats, motorcycles, and airplanes than shoes or jewelery), I am the luckiest man in the world. I happen to think this piece is the best thing she’s ever written.

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

Yet Another Unintended Consequence Of Ethanol Mandates/Subsidies

I’ve not been kind to the forces for ethanol. I’ve pointed out that demand for ethanol raises the price of food for poor people, how I’ve felt the pinch personally in increased prices for homebrew supplies, how the use of ethanol is wasting scarce water resources. Finally, I pointed out that ethanol actually increases pollution, not decreases it!

You’d think that’d be enough… But the hits just keep on a’comin… Researchers at my alma mater, Purdue, suggest that the increased land usage necessary to meet the demand for ethanol might disrupt migration patterns for dozens of species of migratory bird:

A new Purdue study suggests the demand for ethanol could fuel the decline of migratory birds by driving the elimination of small woodlots on farms, which many birds use for protection during migration.

Over two years, researchers found 76 species of migratory birds using those small wooded landing zones during their flights between Canada and South or Central America.

Dunning and Packett’s study suggests that the woodlots are as important to protect as larger forests.

Those trees are among the limited stopover areas birds have as they migrate over land. Open fields or cities could leave the birds susceptible to predators. The wooded areas also provide food, not just shelter.

But Dunning said there is concern that with the increased demand for ethanol, farmers and others may not see the value of the wooded areas and may cut down the trees to make more room to plant corn there.

“There are strategies for conserving forest for migratory birds, but those strategies emphasize the largest patches of forest,” Dunning said in a news release. “We found that even very small woodlots were filled with migratory birds at times. It makes us believe we also need to conserve the little patches of forest, not just the big ones.”

Sometimes I think it’d be hard to come up with a worse policy than ethanol.

But rest assured, as long as we have a Congress, I’m sure we’ll have plenty of contenders.

Disturbing Quote of the Day

“This court has never held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who has had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a habeas court that he is ‘actually’ innocent. Quite to the contrary, we have repeatedly left that question unresolved, while expressing considerable doubt that any claim based on alleged ‘actual innocence’ is constitutionally cognizable.” – From the dissenting opinion by Justices Scalia and Thomas on the question of whether death row inmate Troy Davis should receive a new trial after 7 eye witnesses against him recanted their testimonies against Davis.

So as long as the defendant has received a ‘fair trial’ and found guilty, actual innocence does not matter and the state can kill an innocent person according to Scalia and Thomas?

And these are who conservatives and some libertarians consider the ‘good guys’ on the Supreme Court? They certainly aren’t on this issue.

Hat Tip: The Daily Beast

US Life Expectancy Hits Record. Something Must Be Done!

This must be why we need reform:

Americans are living about two months longer, with the U.S. life expectancy reaching a record 77.9 years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports. During the past decade, life expectancy has increased 1½ years.

Death rates are down for major killers, including heart disease, cancer and HIV.

Heart disease? Apparently that obesity epidemic isn’t as bad as we thought? I guess we’ll have to have a major ebola SARS mad cow West Nile bird flu e. coli swine flu panic to get us over the hump.

But, of course, not all is well:

The bad news: American still die sooner than counterparts in 30 other countries. Japan tops the longevity list — 83 years for children born in 2007, according to the World Health Organization.

At least, that is, unless you control for traffic accidents and homicides. If you control for those, we jump to the top of the list. I know Obama’s all about Hope’n’Change, but I doubt his health care plans will fix those two.

Are Libertarian Values The Key To Bridging The Political Divide ?

Michael Shermer had an interesting piece over at The Huffington Post last week in which he posits that libertarian ideas can be the basis on which conservatives and liberals find common political ground:

Libertarianism is grounded in the Principle of Freedom: All people are free to think, believe, and act as they choose, as long as they do not infringe on the equal freedom of others. Of course, the devil is in the details of what constitutes “infringement,” but there are at least a dozen essentials to protecting from infringements our basic freedoms:

1. The rule of law.
2. Property rights.
3. Economic stability through a secure and trustworthy banking and monetary system.
4. A reliable infrastructure and the freedom to move about the country.
5. Freedom of speech and the press.
6. Freedom of association.
7. Mass education.
8. Protection of civil liberties.
9. A robust military for protection of our liberties from attacks by other states.
10. A potent police force for protection of our freedoms from attacks by other people within the state.
11. A viable legislative system for establishing fair and just laws.
12. An effective judicial system for the equitable enforcement of those fair and just laws.

These essentials incorporate the moral values embraced by both liberals and conservatives, and as such form the foundation for a bridge between left and right.

Of course, as Bruce McQuain points out in his own post about Shermer’s article, there’s at least one item in the list above — “mass education” — that may not exactly be a libertarian value, at least not if we’re talking about education under the exclusive monopolistic auspices of the state. At the same time, though, I think that most libertarians will agree with a sentiment that Thomas Jefferson expressed two centuries ago:

If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.

So, on some level, an educated citizenry is essential for the existence of a free state. How that is accomplished is another question.

On Shermer’s broader point, though, I’m not as sanguine about the ability of libertarian ideas to unite liberals and conservatives. Both sides use rhetoric that appeals to liberty and America’s founding principles, but when they actually get into power, it’s a much different story. I’m no longer sure that the values Shermer talks about are anything more than talking points to them anymore.

Chew A Rolaids, Go To Jail

The War On (Some) Drugs has reached the ridiculous stage:

KISSIMMEE, Fla. — A man is suing the Kissimmee Police Department for an arrest over mints. When officers pulled Donald May over for an expired tag, they thought the mints he was chewing were crack and arrested him.

May told Eyewitness News they wouldn’t let him out of jail for three months until tests proved the so-called drugs were candy.

May said he was just minding his business, driving home from work, when a Kissimmee police officer pulled him over near 192.

“I don’t know how it occurred,” he said.

May was pulled over for an expired tag on his car. When the officer walked up to him, he noticed something white in May’s mouth. May said it was breath mints, but the officer thought it was crack cocaine.

“He took them out of my mouth and put them in a baggy and locked me up [for] possession of cocaine and tampering with evidence,” May explained.

The officer claimed he field-tested the evidence and it tested positive for drugs. The officer said he saw May buying drugs while he was stopped at an intersection. He also stated in his report May waived his Miranda rights and voluntarily admitted to buying drugs.

May said that never happened.

“My client never admitted he purchased crack cocaine. Why would he say that?” attorney Adam Sudbury said.

Obviously, he was high on antacid.

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