Monthly Archives: February 2010

Quote Of The Day

From The Politics of Obedience: The Discourse of Voluntary Servitude by Étienne de La Boétie:

Resolve to serve no more, and you are at once freed. I do not ask that you place hands upon the tyrant to topple him over, but simply that you support him no longer; then you will behold him, like a great Colossus whose pedestal has been pulled away, fall of his own weight and break into pieces.

Hat Tip: Mises.org

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Porkulus III Passes Senate With Republican Help

The Senate passed Porkulus III by a vote of 70-28 with 13 Republicans demonstrating their party’s new found fiscal conservatism by crossing over to vote with every Democrat present for the bill. Like the first Porkulus signed by George W. Bush in 2008 and the Porkulus II passed last year, Porkulus III forks over billions of borrowed dollars to fund various special interest projects and tax gimmicks in the name of “creating jobs”.

The gimmicks funded in this lastest round of Porkulus include a tax holiday for the remainder of the year on Social Security payroll taxes, but only if the company hires someone out of work for more than 60 days. In addition, Porkulus commits to billions in in more mass transit spending and more highway projects (ie. more pork barrel spending).

The Senate’s version of Porkulus must be sent over to the House where it must be reconciled with the House’s much more expansive $154 billion Porkulus bill. However, the Senate plans to pass more items in the House’s bill one at a time so that Senate Majority Harry Reid and other Democrat leaders can find out how much the prices of the votes of “fiscally conservative” Republicans are.

Included are proposed Senate bills giving away corporate welfare to ethanol producers, which is expected to be supported by farm state Republicans. In addition, there is another planned Senate bill to keep Americans out of work longer by extending unemployment benefits and COBRA.

The RINOs who supported Porkulus III today are:

Alexander (TN)

Bond (MO)

Brown (MA)

Burr (NC)

Cochran (MS)

Collins (ME)

Hatch (UT)

Inhofe (OK)

LeMieux (FL)

Murkowski (AK)

Snowe (ME)

Voinovich (OH)

Wicker (MS)

Kay Bailey Hutchinson (TX) deserves special recognition for not even bothering to show up to do her job and vote either way. While the other choices in the upcoming GOP primary for governor are not that great either with ex-Democrat and Bush acolyte Rick Perry and birther/truther Debra Medina, Hutchinson deserves some um…recognition for not doing her job today.

In addition, Richard Burr and Lisa Murkowski are also up for reelection this year and both of those politicians deserve recognition for their vote to add to our national debt and for more wasteful spending. Finally George LeMieux was recently appointed by Florida Governor Charlie Crist to the Senate seat. Crist is looking to join the Senate himself. Florida voters should keep this in mind when they vote on Crist’s promotion.

I’m one of the original co-founders of The Liberty Papers all the way back in 2005. Since then, I wound up doing this blogging thing professionally. Now I’m running the site now. You can find my other work at IJ Review.com and Rare. You can also find me over at the R Street Institute.

The Lean Years?

It seems that a town in Northern California, Tracy, is having some budget problems. So what do they suggest? Charge for 911* calls! And it has aroused the ire of Thomas Friedman:

A small news item from Tracy, Calif., caught my eye last week. Local station CBS 13 reported: “Tracy residents will now have to pay every time they call 911 for a medical emergency. But there are a couple of options. Residents can pay a $48 voluntary fee for the year, which allows them to call 911 as many times as necessary. Or there’s the option of not signing up for the annual fee. Instead they will be charged $300 if they make a call for help.”

Welcome to the lean years.

Indeed, to lead now is to trim, to fire or to downsize services, programs or personnel. We’ve gone from the age of government handouts to the age of citizen givebacks, from the age of companions fly free to the age of paying for each bag.

Did I hear that right? Do we have a return to the Clintonian pronouncement that “The era of big government is over”, where Thomas Friedman has just suggested that we’ve seen the end of the “age of government handouts”? I suppose we’ll see a quick retraction from $3.8T federal budgets down to less exospheric levels.

Wait, let’s step back a bit. I’ve heard nobody else suggest that we’re going to see major cuts in budgets. So what exactly is the issue here? Why would a local government cut funding for something that is so highly visible, so near and dear to city residents’ hearts, and such a vital service? Particularly when I’m sure that the revenue raised by this move will not be exactly world-changing (I’m hearing numbers of between $400K and $800K, when the city is facing a $9M shortfall).

I was struck by something I’ve read over and over at Coyote’s place:

The second thing that governments do is cut their MOST important, MOST valuable operations. In Seattle, it was always fire and ambulance services that would be cut. Because the whole game was to find the cuts that would most upset the public to try to avoid the necessity of having to make cuts at all. Its an incredibly disingenuous process. Any staffer of a private company that made cost savings prioritization decisions like government officials would be fired in about 2 minutes.

It becomes immediately clear that the city of Tracy isn’t doing this to raise revenue — they’re doing this to piss off residents. An easier way to cut the budget would be to scour the books for non-essential services, or bloated departments, or redundancies and inefficiencies in their system. I would find it hard to believe that there’s no padding in the city government. I’ve worked in the corporate world, and I know that during times of heavy growth and good days for the balance sheet, departments sometimes grow fat and happy. But something happens differently in the corporate world when the balance sheets start bleeding red — the departments shrink.

Tracy does not want to cut their budget, and they don’t want to make hard choices. If they really wanted to raise $400-800K, I’ll bet they could find all sorts of hidden fees, taxes, regulatory compliance nightmares, etc to put together that money. But they want to bluff the residents into the false choice of paying more in taxes or seeing vital services taken away. They want local residents to make the tough choices — or maybe just scream to Sacramento or Washington for relief — so they can remain fat and happy.

Thomas Friedman suggests the lean years are upon us. Somehow I have a feeling that my tax bill and our federal debt won’t reflect this.

* Note — the charges don’t apply to every 911 call, they are targeted at calls where medical response is necessary but provided by city personnel rather than an EMT. This does not change the fundamental analysis of the situation, but I want to be clear lest someone suggest I’m not providing a clear picture.

Also Blogging: Bruce at QandO. He went a different route with his response, so I had no need to quote him, but his take is valuable as well, so I suggest you head over and give it a read. And of course there’s Russ Roberts at Cafe Hayek, who is much closer to my line of argument.

Ron Paul Wins CPAC 2012 GOP Straw Poll

It doesn’t necessarily mean much of anything, but I’ve got to admit that this libertarian was quite pleased to hear that Ron Paul won the straw poll at this year’s CPAC gathering in Washington, D.C.:

Ron Paul won the CPAC straw poll today, ending Mitt Romney’s streak and serving notice that about a third of the attendees at the gathering — and a good chunk of those driving the conservative revival — stand pretty well outside the Republican Party mainstream.

Still, Romney scored second at 22%, the only other candidate in double digits, and the results are a reminder of his pre-eminence as the establishment GOP and conservative frontrunner.

What there wasn’t: A groundswell for Palin, who didn’t show. She came in third at 7%, in a pack with Tim Pawlenty, Mike Pence, Newt Gingrich, and Mike Huckabee, in that order.

Full results:

Screen shot 2010-02-20 at 5.48.10 PM

If nothing else this does seem to show that libertarians aren’t sitting back and letting the conservatives run things.

LP’s Wes Benedict on ‘Limited Government’ Conservatives

Those of us who truly believe in limited government* tend to be simultaneously amused and irritated hearing the folks at CPAC speak of limited government as though it’s a principle they truly support. Yesterday, the Libertarian Party’s Executive Director Wes Benedict, monitoring the CPAC festivities from afar, said some of the things that many of us have been thinking:

Unlike libertarians, most conservatives simply don’t want small government. They want their own version of big government. Of course, they have done a pretty good job of fooling American voters for decades by repeating the phrases “limited government” and “small government” like a hypnotic chant.

It’s interesting that conservatives only notice “big government” when it’s something their political enemies want. When conservatives want it, apparently it doesn’t count.

– If a conservative wants a trillion-dollar foreign war, that doesn’t count.

– If a conservative wants a 700-billion-dollar bank bailout, that doesn’t count.

– If a conservative wants to spend billions fighting a needless and destructive War on Drugs, that doesn’t count.

– If a conservative wants to spend billions building border fences, that doesn’t count.

– If a conservative wants to “protect” the huge, unjust, and terribly inefficient Social Security and Medicare programs, that doesn’t count.

– If a conservative wants billions in farm subsidies, that doesn’t count.

It’s truly amazing how many things “don’t count.”

Benedict went on to point out the lack of concern these same people had with the government expansion of President Bush and the health care mandates of another CPAC favorite – Mitt Romney.

While I’m by no means a supporter of the Obama Administration, the idea that many Conservatives seem to have that all the problems we are faced with started on January 20, 2009 is completely ludicrous**.

These are the same people who would gladly support Sarah ‘the Quitter’ Palin, ‘Mandate’ Mitt Romney, or ‘Tax Hike Mike’ Huckabee – none are what I would call ‘limited government’ by any stretch of the imagination.

» Read more

Crystal Mangum Strikes Again

From The Associated Press:

Crystal Mangum, 31, was arrested late Wednesday on charges including assaulting her boyfriend, Durham police said in a press release.

Durham County jail records indicate she also was charged with identity theft, communicating threats, damage to property, resisting an officer and misdemeanor child abuse. A judge ordered that she remain in jail on a $1 million bond. Mangum had no attorney listed Thursday.

Authorities released the audio of a 911 call in which a girl who said she was Mangum’s 9-year-old daughter called for help.

Police said they found Mangum and Milton Walker fighting when they arrived at the home just before midnight. Mangum then went into a bathroom and set some clothes on fire in a bathtub, police said.

For most readers who have busy lives but still try to follow the news of the day, the name Crystal Mangum probably doesn’t ring a bell.

Why should it?

For those who didn’t know or need reminded, Mangum was only the lying skank who falsely accused several members of the Duke Lacrosse team of raping her in 2006. The general public did not know her name, at least in the beginning, due to the MSM’s ridiculous* ‘rape shield’ policy which kept the media to keep from revealing Mangum’s identity. By the time Mangum was exposed as a liar, the media’s ‘rich white male jocks rape poor, defenseless, black woman’ template no longer worked and the media lost interest in the story (though some gave at least some passing mention of her past before moving on to the next story). Curiously, Al Sharpton was also nowhere to be found.**

Though I knew the media was done with Crystal Mangum, somehow I knew that one day I would see her name in the paper again. She was never subject to the kind of scrutiny the Duke Lacrosse players received by the media (and certainly not the courts).

Now Mangum is the one in the hot seat with her credibility all shot to hell. The burden of proof will be on her accusers and the prosecution that she is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law. But as the Duke Lacrosse players know all to well, the court of public opinion requires quite a lot less proof.

As tempting as it may be to smear Mangum by posting every rumor, conjecture, and tabloid story, I for one will do my best to separate the garbage from the truth (admittedly, not an easy task). While the truth may set most individuals free, I tend to believe that in this case at least, Mangum will finally receive the poetic justice she richly deserves.

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Quote Of The Day

Seems many Republicans are looking to change their narrative. Just in case there is an actual economic recovery (I’m personally still betting double-dip), they want to start blaming Obama for the deficits and spending rather than the pathetic jobs numbers. To this, Kevin Drum asks:

Well, at least we’ve been prepared. If the economy sucks, it’s Obama’s fault. If the economy prospers, it’s a dangerous mirage brought about by Obama’s failed policies. What do you think are the odds that the media will buy this?

Oh, I’d say those odds are about zero. They’ve already swallowed the “things are shitty but the Obama administration saved them from being a depression” line.

How can I be so sure? Because about 7 hours prior to Drum’s post, Ezra Klein said this:

You have to sympathize with the Obama administration: It has done more to save and create jobs than any White House in recent memory. It stabilized a financial system that was teetering on the edge of collapse, and that would have sent unemployment skyrocketing if it had fallen. The administration passed an $800 billion stimulus bill that has already created more than 1.6 million jobs and is likely to create 2.5 million by the time it ends. And still it’s hammered, on the one hand, for not doing enough to create jobs, and on the other hand, for high deficits, which are a direct product of how much the administration’s doing to create jobs.

To that, I’ve got a question. What are the odds that the media will understand that the true problem is not that Obama is to blame or that Obama is our savior, but that this economy is the reckoning of 30+ years of bad government policy by both parties, and is not some transient moment?

Yep, just about zero.

Innocence Commission Exonerates Greg Taylor After Serving 16 Years of Life Sentence

North Carolina has at least one criminal justice reform that all states ought to adopt: an innocence commission (particularly for states which currently have a death penalty). So far, North Carolina is the only state which has such a commission.

Greg Taylor, convicted of 1st degree murder of prostitute Jacquetta Thomas in 1993, was the first to be exonerated by the commission after serving 16 years of a life sentence. One who isn’t familiar with the details of the case may assume that Taylor’s conviction was an honest mistake since DNA testing was in it’s infancy in 1993. According to this Associated Press article, however; the commission found a very disturbing omission by the prosecution which could have cast reasonable doubt (if not excluded altogether) on Taylor’s guilt.

Defense attorneys worked to cast doubt about the initial case built against Taylor, and a State Bureau of Investigation agent testified that complete blood test results were excluded from lab reports presented at trial.

The agent’s notes indicated that samples from Taylor’s SUV tested positive for blood in preliminary tests but were negative in follow-up testing, which wasn’t disclosed during the prosecution.

But rather than drop the charges against Taylor, prosecutors went forward with the case anyway and successfully convicted him. The jury was denied access to this critical evidence and Taylor’s liberties were taken from him as a result.

Hopefully, those who failed to disclose the results of the blood test will pay some sort of price but I have serious doubts. Until Taylor is compensated one way or another, this injustice is far from being set right.

Kathleen Sebellius Blames Insurance Companies For The Effects of Obama’s Stimulus Program

Like her ideological forebears from the last century, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is angry that businessmen who are eager to avoid a loss are raising prices.

From the LA Times, Anthem Blue Cross asked to justify controversial rate hikes :

The Obama administration called on Anthem Blue Cross on Monday to justify its controversial new rate hikes of as much as 39% for individual policyholders, saying the increases were alarming at a time when subscribers are facing skyrocketing healthcare costs.

In a letter to the company’s president, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius voiced serious concern over the rates, which go into effect March 1 for many of the insurer’s estimated 800,000 individual policyholders.

The increases have triggered widespread criticism from Anthem members and brokers, who say the premium hikes will put health coverage out of reach for some and very costly for others.

“With so many families already affected by rising costs, I was very disturbed to learn through media accounts that Anthem Blue Cross plans to raise premiums for its California customers by as much as 39%,” Sebelius wrote to company President Leslie Margolin.

“These extraordinary increases are up to 15 times faster than inflation and threaten to make healthcare unaffordable for hundreds of thousands of Californians, many of whom are already struggling to make ends meet in a difficult economy.”

Let’s get one thing straight;  these increases are entirely due to inflation, and they are likely largely caused by the Obama administration’s stimulus plan. Anthem executives didn’t wake up one morning and say “Hey! Let’s jack up prices so that our customers can no longer afford our product!”  Rather they are increasing prices to deal with the increased costs they anticipate for the coverage they provide.  Now why would they do that?

It turns out that while California has been receiving large amounts of bailout and stimulus funds, the supply of medical service providers has stayed steady.  That new money has largely gone to the California State government’s payroll and to cover their administrative overhead costs.  One of the largest discretionary expense most government employees have is the cost of medical insurance, and the demand for the insurance is relatively inelastic.  This insurance is used to pay for a multitude of doctor’s visits etc.  Thus you have a large pool of people with freshly printed money in their pockets engaged in a bidding war trying to consume an essentially static supply.The winners pay higher prices for the scarce goods, and the losers are left out in the cold.

This phenomenon is precisely how prices increase when whoever controls the money supply engages in inflation.  It’s not mysterious.  It’s not greed.  It is merely a predictable outcome counterfeiting.

This is one favorite method used by totalitarians to justify their seizures of power.  They engage in reckless government spending financed using the printing press.  Then, when these newly printed funds lead to a bidding war between buyers that drives prices up, they use the price increases as a justification for even greater usurpations of power.

If Kathleen Sebelius is serious about reducing prices for health care in California, she should be penning angry letters to the head of the California Medical Licensing Board.  This bullying of a company trying to stay solvent despite an economic storm created by government intervention – while making for very nice populist theater – will contributed nothing positive to the problem.

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 Moderately On-Topic Super Bowl Post

In my attempts to bring Purdue into every conversation — BTW did you know that Drew Brees is a Boilermaker? — I often stretch things a bit to include sports discussions here at The Liberty Papers.

But here’s a good example of someone who dragged politics into a sports discussion, and one VERY perceptive Indianapolis Colt:

“He’s just got that look about him, like, I’m gonna take everything you own.”

Yes, yes he will.

Hat Tip: Liberty Maven

Quote Of The Day

Early this week, I asked whether the free market is democratic, based on commenter CJS who asserted “your small sum may be as ineffective at changing the actions of a business as it is at changing the actions of a government”.

Jim Fedako of the Mises blog proves my point:

As I see it, the fact that you can still buy wooden wagon wheels and almanacs proves that the market serves the consumer.

In a democracy >90% of the electorate would suggest that continuing to build and supply wooden wagon wheels was an economic distraction from improving the lives of the voting public. The democratic result, though, doesn’t meet the needs of members of the voting public who believe their lives would be improved by buying wooden wagon wheels.
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Is The Free Market Democratic?

In my post on whether America is ungovernable, one comment from CJS stuck out. It illustrates what I think is a common misconception of the average consumer, who sees a Starbucks on every corner, chooses between Microsoft and Apple for their operating system, and chooses whether to shop at the Super Wal-Mart or Costco each weekend.

A free market seems to have its own form of democratic majority rule. It may be a majority of money, but your small sum may be as ineffective at changing the actions of a business as it is at changing the actions of a government.

This view looks at the free market as a lowest-common-denominator, winner-take-all system, when it is the exact opposite. When it comes down to it, any need will be met if the conditions are right.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m an engineer, and I work in the electronics industry. I’ve worked at big companies, I’ve worked at small companies, and most recently I worked [and continue to work] for a small company that was acquired by a much larger company. In my role (customer-facing), I’ve seen the ins and outs of business at all levels.

One thing that you see about many small companies is that they work hard to define a niche that they can fill and compete in. At the same time, larger companies tend to use their size, economies of scale, and greater resources to find very large market segments where their advantages allow them to overwhelm their smaller competitors.

I think of that small niche company as a military special forces unit. They’re the SEAL unit. They can deploy quickly, they can accomplish jobs that nobody else can get done, and what they do well, they do better than anyone. But they have very limited capacities. You’re not going to ask them to project force across an entire theatre of battle. The large company, however, is a carrier battle group. When they decide where they’re going, you join them or you get out of the way. They have the power to change the game. But they’re not as nimble. They can’t go in 15 different directions at once. They have enormous power, but they must make strategy in broad strokes, not in fine lines. The SEAL unit won’t defeat a carrier battle group in open combat, yet nobody in their right mind will claim that they’re not a formidable fighting force to accomplish the right-sized objective.

To push it back to the original point, if you have a need and a budget, you have two options. If the big company has something that fits your need, you’re in luck. And as CJS says, if the big company doesn’t have something that fits your need, you’re probably not going to get them to change their mind without a compelling story. But it doesn’t end there. There are entire industries devoted to picking up “the scraps” not serviced by the big companies. They might be a bit more expensive, but they’re there.

Leaving electronics, this is a common refrain all through the business world. If business were democratic, like our government, all restaurants would be McDonald’s, all beer would be Budweiser, all cars would be GM, and all computers would run Windows and use Internet Explorer. In democracy, everyone votes on what everyone else will have access to.

But the free market isn’t democratic. There is no single entity from which you are voting to have your needs met. You have competing entities trying to earn your custom. If I want something cheap, known, and tasty, I’ll stop at McDonald’s. But McDonald’s doesn’t make a burger like St. John’s does. I may drink Miller Lite out of nostalgia for my college days, but The Bruery is a bit more my speed. I love my Ford truck, but I like the fact that I could buy (at varying prices) all sorts of small-production automobiles — and someday hope to buy or build a Shelby Cobra. And while I use Windows for most of my computing, I browse with [free] Firefox and do quite a bit with [also free] ubuntu Linux — not to mention all the options out there that I’ve encountered in business (QNX, VxWorks, Solaris, etc etc).

How powerful is the free market? Well, in a free market, even if what you want is illegal someone will supply it to you. Whether it’s drugs, or sex, or just a bacon-wrapped hot dog, the market will supply what is in demand.

Democracy is a method to work together to make joint decisions. The free market is a place to trade value you’ve created (often money, the proxy for such value) for value others have created. In both, a lot of people choose the same thing. The difference is that in a market, people only choose for themselves. In a democratic government, people choose for themselves, their neighbors, and a whole host of people they’ve never even met. In a market, choosing differently than the majority limits options somewhat, but you can still get your needs met. In a democracy, choosing differently than the majority means that you get what the majority wants you to have.

Optimism

Politicians all try to sell spending by underselling the true cost:

1) They determine a plan to spend money, sell it as low spending.
2) Despite pundits claiming it will be much higher than projected, they claim it’s not true.
3) When the spending is actually measured, it’s often higher than pundits’ estimates.

We’ve all seen the trajectory of the politicization of economic data:

1) Administration makes overly optimistic forecast.
2) Initial numbers (compiled by the government) look good (but below politician’s forecast).
3) Months later, numbers are quietly revised downward even further.

So tell me, if these are the optimistic numbers, just how royally screwed are we?

At the end of 2010, the unemployment rate, according to the administration’s forecast, will be 9.8%. At the end of 2011, the rate will be at 8.9%. And at the end of 2012, after the next presidential election, the unemployment rate will be 7.9%.

I guess rose-colored glasses don’t change the fact that you’re staring into a pile of shit.