Tuesday, January 30, 2007

LA Times and I

I nearly agreed with an editorial from the Los Angeles Times (how scary is that?). My excitement over the by-line turned into pitched fever as I kept reading. They actually think that it a bad thing to restrict free speech. Despite their usual disdain for the restrictions of the constitution they had held their ground. My excitement turned into confusion when they began to infuse their brand of logic.

They think that there should be a “bright line” between advocacy of an internal message and others messages. In other words, the government can’t control what I think and want to say but it can control what others ask me to say.

The reason that this doesn’t make sense is grounded in their dream of making politics a clean process (think of children playing in a field with plenty of lollypops and cute puppy dogs frolicking). This is the problem with liberal ideology. It is a belief in the system, not the individual.

Why can’t I air an advertisement that says candidate X is a bad legislator and shouldn’t be reelected? The reasoning goes that I may be influenced by a dubious character to push a message or be a dubious character myself. Why is the wholesomeness of the source important? One must assume that I am influencing people in the “wrong” direction therefore causing an undesirable situation. Why can’t I influence people in the “wrong” direction? Maybe the real question is who decides what is right and wrong? I say people, not some beauraucrat, should decide.

People are free to either disagree or simply not consume my message. The editorial board at the LA Times and their elitist counterparts believe that people are not properly able to digest complex information from varied sources and come to a coherent opinion or decent voting pattern. What else would explain how George W. Bush was reelected in 2004? The only way that people could have come to such an idiotic conclusion was because they were inundated with faulty information from the evil genius and his minions.

Believing that people are too stupid to govern is totalitarian in nature and antithetical to the original concept of government of the people. If there is utility in banning certain ads then why not ban other advertisements? Shouldn’t we ask ourselves what is an advertisement? Aren’t newspaper endorsement, blog postings, and public endorsements forms of advertisements?

The “bright line” that the LA Times should be worried about is between attacking the source of speech and speech itself. There is no way to separate the two without undermining the latter. Perfecting the system clearly entails threatening the freedom of the individual which is not in the best interest of society.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Little late on Health Care...

The state of the union speech is normally useless for political junkies. The speech is released to the press in sections which causes columnists write about it, reporters to report it, and pundits to pontificate on something that hasn’t happened. Axis of Evil proclamations not withstanding, the speech is very anti-climactic.

The predictable nature of the event makes it slightly more important than playing video games but definitely doesn’t rise to the occasion of a football game or The Office if they aired simultaneously. It rises above video games only because there is usually one golden nugget. This year’s golden nugget award goes to…tax deductions for personal health insurance.

While the details will change, the overriding theory is the best practical solution that has seriously been floated in a long time. As I have written about in the past, a major problem with health insurance is the lack of market forces. People do not shop for insurance.

States compel insurers to cover procedures that they deem necessary (in all their wisdom), and do not allow people to shop for policies in other states that may not have the same mandates. The lack of wiggle room creates a deficit of innovation and product diversity which results in higher prices. These higher prices make it unfeasible for either self employed or unemployed people to buy. They are instead encouraged to forgo the immense costs of insurance and use their money on something else. Hospitals are forced to threat the uninsured and recoup the difference by charging higher rates to paying customers. The higher prices cause insurance companies to charge more which causes employers to either charge more or drop coverage. It is a vicious cycle.

Promoters of universal health care recognize this problem also. The difference is that freedom fighters want the government’s hands off the private insurance industry while government lovers want to eradicate the private sector from the equation.

Bush has sided with the freedom fighters but, as the Wall Street Journal states, it is a little late. This would have been an easy win two years ago. The plan favors the poor (they will be able to deduct a set amount regardless of price), and frees employees from being controlled by their employer (or you can insert your favorite Marxist psychobabble here if you prefer) which are easy compromises for many Democrats.

This is the product of poor timing:

“Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel was quick out of the box to call the President's idea "a dangerous policy that ultimately shifts cost and risk from employers to employees."

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Everything you ever wanted to know about Irans nuclear program

Iran's secret nuclear program.

Bring em on al-Qaeda style.

An article today in the Times Online makes me want to change my position on the troop surge. In a newly released video Ayman al-Zawahiri is seen mocking the presidents plan to send more troops to Iraq. He likes the idea because he thinks that it is an opportunity to bring the entire evil army into Iraq so it can be destroyed.

“I ask him: why send only 20,000 of his soldiers to Iraq. I ask him: why send only 20,000 soldiers? Why don’t you send 50,000 or 100,000…Don’t you know the dogs of Iraq are impatient to devour the carcasses of your soldiers? On the contrary, you must send your entire army to be annihilated at the hands of the mujahedeen so that the whole world will be rid of your wickedness”

It is probably best described as al-Qaeda’s version of “bring it on”. If I was president it would make me want to bring it on. The more rational step would be to unleash the Shia’s on them. The entire military and diplomatic mission in Iraq for some time now has been to stop the Iraqi army (which is almost entirely a Shia institution) and the various militias (headlined my Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mehdi Army) from turning al-Qaeda into a distant memory.

Why? Because US foreign policy is largely driven by humanitarian considerations (all Sunni’s would be targets) and the encroachment of Iranian power. Both are important but the latter should be stressed when creating foreign policy and devising geopolitical strategies.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Thank You George Will

George Will's article in Newsweek makes an argument that I have been making for a long time. Babies with Down syndrome have the same right to life as healthy babies. The difference between how liberals and conservatives view life explains differing views on this issue.

A liberal thinks that a pregnant woman that knows her baby will have Down syndrome should have access to an abortion. They bemoan a life that is characterized by health problems and constant observation. The parents will never be able to brag to their suburban neighbors about the elite schools that their child has been accepted. The child will never compete in beauty pageants, win the prom crown, or appear on American Idol. What a ghastly life! It is a life that should not be allowed.

George Will's column about a boy named Jon (luckily born before Roe v Wade) captures conservatives view of life.

"Jon experiences life's three elemental enjoyments—loving, being loved and ESPN. For Jon, as for most normal American males, the rest of life is details."

Stories like this provide for an opportunity to sit and think about the purpose of life. Will's argument is strong because it appeals to an individuals reasoning faculty. People must either accept or refute his appeal to their reason as opposed to a much easier reflexive recoil to the fire and brimstone arguments postulated by the religious right. If all Americans could read Will's column, and others like it, then I think many of us would view the world differently.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Truth on Iraq

An article by Robert Baer in Time magazine is probably the best I have read in a long time. Being a fan of Robert Baer for some time I was excited to read the article when I saw his name. The brevity, honesty, and clarity of the article met my every expectation.
In case you have a fire to put out or a bus to catch and don't have enough time to read the article, I will summarize it for you.
He is in support of the troop surge. Not because it will bring a peaceful democracy that will be the bedrock of future progress in the Middle East, but because it will allow for a peaceful partition of Iraq.
The reason I like his assessment is not only because i think it is true, but also because he shows a simple understanding about human nature.
People agree to be governed by a powerful central entity because of a desire for security. Without such an entity mans existence is difficult at best, horrific at worst, and hellish, brutish, and short for sure. To elude such an existence man allows a slice of their sovereignty to be invaded. I allow the government to take a portion my private property in return for a system that protects my remaining private property from other citizens (my government has gone far beyond their edict, but thats another story).
This quid-pro-quo system does not exist in Iraq. Iraqi's have no reason to surrender sovereignty to an entity that cannot provide them with security. Therefore they have sought security through tribal association. Baer's assessment of the situation couldn't be better. I have thought that a partition would be the best situation since the start of the war, and having the American military in place will allow for a semi-peaceful partition unlike what happened in Yugoslavia.
The real problem with all of this is that Sunnis in Iraq are the clear losers because their portion of the country lacks large known oil reserves. This would lead me to believe that, at some point, there will be renewed fighting to "reclaim their rightful lands" (their rightful lands will coincidently be rich in oil) and they will enlist the help of friendly Sunni states.
We shall see.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

South American Slide to The Left

The war in Iraq has had caused many foreign policy problems. Most of which are very well documented. What is not being discussed is our lack of attention in any country or region outside of the Middle East.
While most foreign policy energies are directed towards fighting terrorism, states in many parts of the world have been adopting vitriol anti-Americanism. Anti-Americanism is nothing new. There were many nations allied with the Soviet Union with their proverbial guns pointed towards our shores, but geopolitics has morphed. It is no longer us versus them, it is now them versus us.
The left would love for us to think that this movement has been a product of President Bush but that is pure folly. Instead, the movement is a product of the United States position as the sole superpower in the world. In this context leaders have only two choices; they can obey the master nation and appear as a weak lapdog, or turn to a nationalistic form of politics that naturally evokes other populist policies. They have chosen the later.
Singularly, these nations do not pose a threat. Coalescing domestic power, choking free markets, and curbing foreign direct investment are all direct paths to economic hardship not a place at the geopolitical table. The problem begins when these states begin to form a bloc in opposition to the United States and are in geographic proximity, attempt to expand their brand of politics to neighbors, and seek other like minded states for partnerships.
All of these characteristics of a brewing problem are present in South America. Hugo Chavez, a competitor for the anti-American movement crown, has begun to create a situation that can only get worse. This is not news. What is news is that he is no longer alone. Bolivia and Equador have now joined the party. The recent elections of Evo Morales in Bolivia and Rafael Correa in Equador have created a solid and distinguishable bloc of anti-American states.
Their geographic proximity to each other makes for a much stronger bloc. Being in close proximity creates for a stronger bond because of a (somewhat) shared history, and a cultural familiarity that is not present between states which ally simply because of a shared ideology.
Spreading anti-Americanism is not confined to these states in the region. The United States has regularly been the target of campaign speeches and the media in the region. Chavez was previously isolated in his belief that he could turn his rhetoric into substance but is now a force because of the elections in Equador and Bolivia (and almost Mexico). Political entrepreneurs have heeded the message that Chavez is a potential partner to be worked with and not a poison pill to avoid.
Chavez has also reached out to Iran and other potential American rivals. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was even a guest of honor at Rafael Correa’s inauguration, showing his commitment to Chavez’s bloc.
This is a dangerous trend and there is no reason to believe (outside of Columbia) that it will not continue. When the continent integrates into the South American Community of Nations the situation may debilitate further. The Community will be similar to the European Union and will no doubt attempt to counter US power. US policy should be to strengthen trade deals and work to create new bilateral deals to create relationships before the continent becomes a somewhat homogeneous entity.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Story of the day

Male panda said too fat to have sex

"Chuang Chuang is gaining weight too fast and we found Lin Hui is no longer comfortable with having sex with him," said the zoo's chief veterinarian.

Associated Press

Quote of the Day

To mainstream Protestants and Mass-attending Catholics, the virtual mob against Romney because of his LDS faith may seem like someone else’s problem, but it is really another step down the road toward the naked public square. Legitimizing bigotry by refusing to condemn it invites not only its repetition, but its spread to new targets.

Hugh Hewitt

Monday, January 15, 2007

Radical Islam

This is an amazing story of a young man from California who converts to Islam and finds his way into the heart of Al-Qaeda. Adam Gadahn transformation, and others like him, is a story that I find fascinating. Adam's parents were activist hippies who eschewed modern convinces for a sedate life in the hills. They did not have running water and their television was battery powered. Adam's isolation led him to seek association of which he found in the underground death metal scene in the 1980's but had faded for him when Metallica and similar groups began going mainstream.
He later found the comfort of association from a local mosque. The mosque, coincidentally, was led by Dr. Siddiq who later would meet president Bush. Adam would eventually live with several extremists that led him to Jihad in Pakistan and later with Bin Laden in Afghanistan.
Mark Sageman, a former forensic psychiatrist for the CIA, attempted to find an empirical basis for why people like Adam join groups like Al-Qaeda. His research found that people who felt "isolated, lonely, and emotionally alienated" constituted a majority of extremists. These people are middle class kids from caring families and not ideologically spurned youths from oppressed societies. This runs counter to the lefts claim that somehow the United States is to blame, which is a ludicrous idea.
The story is well written and very interesting and should be read if you have a second to spare.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Reich on Pills

The current Democratic bill [that allows the federal government to negotiate pill prices] is calculated to make everyone happy. It allows Democrats to tell seniors and the all-important AARP that they're forcing Medicare to negotiate with drug companies. And it also allows Democrats to turn around and tell Big Pharma not to worry because the negotiations won't have any real teeth in them. Their drugs will still be approved, regardless of price.

But the bill won't make anyone happy.

Robert Reich

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Central Planners Gone Wild

This story is similarly freighting to the Baltimore story I wrote about earlier this week. It brings out a point that I hadn't thought about.

Developers can now extort property owners by using the threat of having the government condemn and seize their home. This is the first story where I have seen it reported but I am willing to bet that it has happened many times.

The sideshow

With all the talk today on a troop surge in Iraq, I thought that I might do something different. I want to look at the bills that congress has proposed while the public is focused on Iraq.

Most of the bills were either stupid (HR 365) or made a statement such as commending James Brown or creating a stamp to raise Down syndrome awareness. Although my original assumption that Congress is busy at work wrecking markets and taking away freedom, there was one shinning star.

Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn has introduced a bill that will reduce federal spending by 2% in all non-defense and homeland security discretionary categories (HR 374). Across the board cuts are prudent because it takes away the political infighting that can occur when some members feel that their districts and issues are treated unfairly.

Here are some of the lowlights.

Title: To provide for a research program for remediation of closed methamphetamine production laboratories, and for other purposes.

Title: Expressing the sense of Congress that it is the goal of the United States that, not later than January 1, 2025, the agricultural, forestry, and working land of the United States should provide from renewable resources not less than 25 percent of the total energy consumed in the United States and continue to produce safe, abundant, and affordable food, feed, and fiber.

Title: To amend the Lower Rio Grande Valley Water Resources Conservation and Improvement Act of 2000 to authorize additional projects and activities under that Act, and for other purposes.

Title: To amend title II of the Social Security Act to allow workers who attain age 65 after 1981 and before 1992 to choose either lump sum payments over four years totaling $5,000 or an improved benefit computation formula under a new 10-year rule governing the transition to the changes in benefit computation rules enacted in the Social Security Amendments of 1977, and for other purposes.

Title: To promote coal-to-liquid fuel activities.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Schwarzenegger's Cuba

California is about to embark on reckless trip down regulation lane. Schwarzenegger thinks that by choking the free market to death he will create a health care utopia. I can see why he thinks this since it has worked so well in Cuba. In honor of his apparent hero he should don military garb and grow a beard, to accentuate his cigar smoking.

Schwarzenegger’s plan is to raise taxes on providers substantially, force consumers to buy an overpriced product that they may not want, and force insurers to sell their products to people who don’t qualify.

Will his plan insure more Californian’s? Yes. But, is insuring people by force a worth goal? I may be confused here but I thought the goal was to make health care more affordable and available. Schwarzenegger’s plan accomplishes neither goal. Californians will now be able to proclaim to their fellow man “I am unemployed, but by god I have insurance”.

Insurance is a product. People sometimes forget that everyone does not desire this product. A young, healthy worker may forgo coverage and instead use his saved earnings for other endeavors. Their savings can be used to provide a better life, and in time possibly become a more productive member of society as an entrepreneur. The minority is loosing their ability to make such choices because they must conform to the life that the majority, through government, thinks that they should live.

Unfortunately I don’t think there is anything that we can do about this in the short term. The people of California do not seem to care that the government is further consolidating their control of the health care market. Conversely it seems to be welcomed by the common man. The only fight now will be with the Democrats over the details. Our fight will be in the long term. In the not too distant future the economy of California will be suffering from an extremely inefficient bloated bureaucracy, over burdensome taxes, and a stagnant economy.

The goal must be to document and identify how Schwarzenegger’s plan goes wrong and be there to pick up the pieces when the people require change.

We must keep offering alternatives. David Henderson's article in the Wall Street Journal recommends opening up the market. He suggests that California drop mandates for insurance to cover many expensive and unnecessary treatments and allow people to shop for coverage in other states so they can find the cheapest policy that fits their needs. These simple common-sense solutions are the kind of incremental changes we must advocate.

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Stalin would be proud.

The Maryland Supreme court is currently hearing a case challenging the eminent domain policies of Baltimore. Baltimore has instituted rules known as quick-take. These rules make it easier for the government to seize land for “economic development”.

The theory is that “economic development” is done for the public good in the same way that seizing a house to build a road or army base. A town makes a plan to have a mall and lines up the developers and then there is one pesky home in the way which they can then seize. Baltimore’s quick-take rule applies this same idea but without the plan. They can circle a portion of the city, seize the property without a hearing, demolish it all, and then market it to developers.

City officials are worried that their plans may fail if they don’t have the ability to seize anyone’s property at any time. I agree. I think that the constitution has got in the way of centrals planers good ideas for way too long. The courts should wake up and see that planners are so smart and that these dirty rotten low lives that will not bend to our power have no business living on property that could possibly used for the greater good of society. One day we will live under a caring righteous government that will clear the dregs of society. Uncle Joe we miss you!

Quote of the Day

feminists should be happy [about Nancy Pelosi becoming speaker]. Who was it who said that “real equality is when a mediocre woman can go as far as a mediocre man”? Looks like we’re there.

Lisa Schiffren

Monday, January 8, 2007

Bush is against the troop surge too.

Click here if you don't believe me.

Courtesy of Reason Magazine.

Public Financing of Campaigns

I found myself conflicted reading Zachary Roth's article in the Washington Monthly. I am happy that Mr. Roth told the truth. Public financing isn’t about a “level playing field” it is about winning seats for Democrats. His honesty is to be applauded. But, to know that the left may move past silly visions of government sponsored “fairness” and “equality” to Stalinist domination is a scary notion. He thinks that the liberal agenda will never be accomplished if liberal Democrats can’t win large majorities and they won’t win as long as they can’t out raise Republicans. By crushing the Republican opposition Democrats will finally be able to create a dominant government that can control people who are obviously not smart enough to make decisions on their own.

In a Democratic society people have power over government because they can change their government. In a market system people control elites because they are beholden to the whims of the consumer. Liberals want to give power to the people by creating a stronger government and controlling the market system. Please someone explain this to me?

Friday, January 5, 2007

Truth on Oil

Recent articles in Newsweek and Reason Magazine are finally bringing some sanity to the oil debate. Many people (most of which don’t know anything about oil or markets) claim that there isn’t enough oil to feed world demand. They think that we should begin greasing our bicycle chains and stocking up on candles because the black gold will no longer be around to fuel our debauchery filled lives. Think again.

The Newsweek article completely blows that theory away. Entrepreneurs have found ways to increase efficiency, decrease waste, and utilize technologies that discover unknown deposits. They have been proving the naysayers wrong for over almost a century. Furthermore, reports show that there are enough known reserves to last the remainder of the century along with unproven reserves bountiful enough to last much longer.

But there is a catch. Ronald Bailey correctly reports that many countries are seizing oil assets which may completely destroy the industry. Mexico, Venezuela, and Iran are killing their industries while Russia is doing their best to catch-up. While these governments rape the industry of profits, they deny foreign capital which is essential to new production and technology.

If I have to ride my bike to work in 20 years it will be because of oppressive governments and not a lack of resources.

Mail Fraud

Now the executive office can open mail in “extreme circumstances”. A new postal reform bill signed into law on December 20th by President Bush has now expanded the governments search powers. The bill allows the executive to open mail domestic mail in “exigent circumstances”.

This is dangerous. An exigent circumstance is a situation where there is no time for a law enforcement official to obtain a warrant before damage is done. This is normally referred to as the “ticking time bomb” scenario. For instance, a policeman chasing an armed suspect into a building can enter without a warrant because of the imminent threat of danger.

How the hell could a private letter rise to that level of danger? If Osama Bin Laden was somehow in California and tried to mail a letter to an associate in New York to blow up a building the post office can delay delivery, giving law enforcement plenty of time to receive a warrant.

This was a very quite law that I can only hope is exposed and rescinded.

Quote of the Day

If the parsons of the Beltway had wanted to avoid this ethics problem, they would have resisted helping the U.S. government become so crucially important--for example, FCC rules--to every nook and cranny of American life. Too late now.

Daniel Henninger

Thursday, January 4, 2007

FHA and Frank

In a previous post I explained how Congressman Barney Frank, the ultra-liberal, views free trade and freedom in general: with disdain. Today the Wall Street Journal published a fresh article about Congressman Frank’s “grand bargain”. It contains most of the same fluff but does expose several of its weaknesses (business interests aren’t monolithic).

The most interesting finding in the article is his plan to instill government domination in the housing market. His plan is to introduce separate bills that will tighten the size of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac portfolios and loosening the criteria for loan guarantees issued by the Federal Housing Administration. Think about this for a second…he wants to restrict the number of mortgages given by private companies and increase the number of them that the government can manipulate. This is very bad news.

I’m not sure why he (or anybody else) thinks that government can positively manipulate the housing market. Anyone who knows anything about economics knows the effect of insulating the market from risk. Consumers and lenders become risk averse. Lenders lend more than they should while consumers purchase more than they should.

The net effect is that capital is diverted away from business and innovation.

The Frank’s of the world would say that this diversion does not matter because more people, especially minorities, are able to own homes. The increase in homeownership is only anecdotally true. Harvard economist Albert Monroe’s study on the subject only concluded that the FHA’s program “probably” increases homeownership.

Does it make any sense to over extend consumers and divert capital for a program that only “probably” does what it purports?

Congratulations Jessica

Congratulations to Jessica for getting good grades!

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Massachusetts Power Exibition

As I have cited earlier, opposition to gay marriage is not opposed to a freedom agenda. Gay marriage is simply a contractual agreement between a man and a woman binding them together for the purpose of procreation. There is no reason to issue such licenses to gay couples and more importantly gay marriage is not illegal. Marriage amendments and laws simply define marriage which clarifies who may apply for one and is not hateful, nor discriminatory in any discernible way.

We may disagree on this point but where most Americans should find common ground is the shameful and nearly unconstitutional conduct of the Massachusetts legislature. The Massachusetts constitution is very clear about the constitutional amendment process.

1) Citizens collect the requisite number of signatures to petition the government.

2) The legislature votes up or down in two separate years.

3) After legislative approval the amendment is put to a vote by the public.

The legislature nearly failed to vote on the amendment simply because it did not strike their fancy. This should not be a surprise. The legislature has brazenly ignored citizen petitions regarding English immersion and tax cuts in the past so there was no reason they wouldn’t do it again. But this was different.

The constitution is the only real check on the power of the government. We trust that elected officials will stick to the guidelines that restrict their power through blind faith. After all, the constitution is only a piece of paper. Government has police, and a military while we have this mighty strong piece of paper and maybe a few quill pens in our holster. Pushing the Massachusetts constitution aside leaves us simply with our trusty quills. This no longer has anything to do with relationships; it is about a legislature, with an incoming executive, that things their ideals of “fairness” override any silly restrictions on their power

Lesson in Poverty Reduction

At its current pace, China will become the poster child for economic freedom instead of Democratic designs on making it a political piƱata. China’s continued progress towards open markets will do more to lift people out of poverty than all of the anti-poverty government programs from every country in the world combined.

Pulling rural Chinese out of grinding poverty will also increase worldwide prosperity. Producers in America and around the world will soon reap the benefits of a free Chinese consumer.

"At the moment, China's consumer economy is about the size of Italy's, but in two years' time it is going to start adding an Italy every year” (Peter Ford)

The large numbers of Chinese entering the middle class will be able to buy American made products which will increase our overall prosperity, thereby killing the Lou Dobbs isolationist idiocy that rules demagogic circles.

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

No Support

The voices calling for a surge of troops in Iraq have now become a whisper. Senators McCain, Graham, and Lieberman, and their friends at the Weekly Standard, have become extremely isolated in their support of more troops.

It seems that this cabal has been soundly defeated intellectually (despite the lack of a better plan). More importantly, the political head wind is enormous. The opposition from Democrats will be ferocious, support from moderate Republicans is non-existent (Collins), and ardent supporters are defecting (Coleman, Smith). Republicans cannot continue to support an effort that the American people clearly do not support if they want to hold the seats they currently have. The publics weak support and patience will drop further after Indictment January kicks-off.

The problem is that one man, who isn’t up for reelection, will be making the decision against a congress that does not have the fortitude (at least not yet) to cut off funding.