June 30, 2005

30 Days Documentary Slant

I've been seeing a lot of commercials for 30 Days, a "documentary" where the main character lives as an American Muslim for a month. I figured it was supposed to be a learning experience for all involved and in the end the audience was supposed to come away with a greater understanding of how Muslims live and the differences between Muslims and non-Muslims. Apparently the show is actually tailored not only to that end, but to show that there's a great deal Islamophobia in the country and that Muslims are the real victims of 9/11. More than that, the director Morgan Spurlock is the same guy who did Super-Size Me.

Debbie Schlussel was going to be in the documentary. She had this to say in a piece about it:
    I asked the show's executive producers--all of whom worked on "The Awful Truth With Michael Moore," a cable TV show--how this could be a documentary when they had decided the outcome in advance. Wasn't it possible that Mr. Stacy would come out seeing that there isn't Islamophobia to the extent that the Muslim community claims? Might he see that there is disturbingly strong support in the Detroit-area Islamic community for terrorist groups Hamas and Hezbollah--a fact regularly documented even in the normally pliant Detroit media?

    No, the producers told me. "Morgan wants the show to demonstrate to America that we are Islamophobic and that 9/11's biggest victims are Muslims." With this in mind, I agreed to be filmed only with final approval of my appearance, which I never gave. Thus I will not appear in Wednesday's show.

    When I met David Stacy, about halfway through his 30-day experience, I was amazed at how uninformed he was. This new "expert" on Islam never heard of Wahhabism--the extremist Sunni strain of Islam that dominates Saudi Arabia and informs the terrorist-breeding madrassa schools throughout Arab and other Muslim lands. He was unfamiliar with groups like Hamas and Hezbollah. He did not believe me when I told him that Hezbollah had murdered hundreds of U.S. Marines and civilians in Beirut and elsewhere. He seemed mystified to learn that President Bush shut down American Islamic charities, like the Holy Land Foundation and Global Relief Foundation, for funding Hamas and al Qaeda.
Glad to see we're dealing with a thorough, rigorous analysis from an informed, educated investigator.

Now I don't mind the idea of a slant on principle, since people are free to give biased opinions all the time. I do mind that something portrays itself as objective and informative when in fact it's pre-decided to favor one position. I also mind that the slant in question involves an overly narrow view of the information at hand. The fact is that there are Muslims that love America, Muslims that hate America, and Muslims somewhere in between. It doesn't foster long-term understanding or tolerance if we proceed based on lies or misinformation. It serves the goal of anti-bigotry to give an honest assessment, because if in the future we found out something bad about some American Muslims that we were told does not happen, then it could cast doubt on the argument the lies were made to serve.

What the hell is with the left and fake documentaries?

June 29, 2005

Global Warming Sham
#5 Medicine or Trees

Economics is the distribution of scarce resources; opportunity cost is whatever you can't do that mutually exclusive with what you decide to do. The basic lesson of economics is that we have limited time, energy, labor and capital. Given that, priorities for spending our resources are a necessary step.

If resources are spent on global warming, either in limiting our current energy output or in controlling or altering it, then those are resources that can't be spent elsewhere. If we simply cut energy output (as I suspect most environmental religionists would prefer) then we have fewer resources to distribute.

Now let's remember that poverty, disease, illiteracy and malnourishment are still problems around the world, especially in the less developed parts of the world. If we're serious about fighting the problems of want then we're going to need more resources, not fewer. AIDS research, pharmaceutical production, fighting malaria, making and shipping clothes, building sturdier homes, constructing sanitary sewage systems, implementing water drainage and sanitation technology, and improving hospitals are all important for the quality of life around the world, but especially in the poorest parts of it.

Environmental activists would probably like to say that we can do both, or even that a government that was "environmentally responsible" (what a misnomer that is) would be more interested in aiding the poor. The fact is that, despite their attempts to please everybody all at once, it's just not possible. The first rules of economics about scarcity and opportunity cost hold true; we can't spend on everything because time, energy and resources are limited. You simply can't please everyone and you can't do everything. In this case, the goal of less energy and less productive output is directly at odds with the desires of the poorer people in the world that would benefit from medicine, food and shelter.

If we're going to first decrease the amount of resources we have available to spend, then regulate an increase in the cost of energy, and then spend more of the remainder on forests and swamps and tundra, then we're going to find it very difficult to ship needed supplies and aid to Africa, Asia and elsewhere. In fact, we'd be reserving energy to an even wealthier subset of human beings who could afford the premiums that environmental regulations require. Environemntalism could have some very inegalitarian effects in this case.

We need to set priorities. Climate change is hard to understand, highly difficult to predict, unlikely to be affected substantially by human reductions in carbons, and would probably include longer growing seasons and warmer winters. Contrarily, malaria, malnourishment, famine and inadequate shelter are all easy to recognize and easy to solve, while AIDS is an obvious threat to millions upon millions of people. We can prove that an avoidable lack of resources is negatively affecting people's lives right now, but we can't prove that climate change is readily avoidable or that it would be an obvious threat even if it does come true.

Setting priorities, it makes a lot more sense to increase our resources so that we have more to help develop the poorest parts of the world rather than impoverishing the entire world for the sake of an unproven threat.

WEBSITE: This is available on the website under issue articles along with the other Global Warming Sham essays here.
Global Warming Sham
#4 Colder Isn't Always Better

We are constantly inundated by media and pressure groups about the catastrophe that would come with climate change. The world will end, diseases will spread, deserts and swamps everywhere, mass extinctions, political instability, economic depression, and millions dead. In other words, they sound a lot like the Y2K survivalists.

If global warming were to come, what would be affected first? News reports like to talk about the ice caps melting, deserts advancing and floods over much of the Earth. Of course, if global warming is real then there has to be a starting point because all that stuff wouldn't happen overnight. That starting point for warming would actually be where it's most needed: in the coldest parts of the planet and at the coldest times.

Northernmost regions, at night, during winter, are going to see the first effects of warming. This means that these places would be more habitable for humans and more hospitable for plants and crops. It means growing seasons would be longer. It means fewer fatalities due to weather. In short, it means a better planet to live on.

This isn't to say that all warming would be good, but it's important to retain some perspective on the issue. On the whole, it wouldn't be so horrible if more parts of the Earth were easier for animals and humans to live in and produce food from. Lives would be saved and improved from that change.

A good example is the Medieval Warm Period, which lasted roughly from the 900s to the 1300s and saw increased temperatures for Europe and the northern Atlantic. Winters were shorter and warmer. Ice receded around Scandinavia and allowed colonization of Iceland, greenland and newfoundland. It was during the MWP that the Vikings probably sailed to North America. Grapes grew in southern England, which is 300 miles north of their current northern limit (in France).

The Medieval climate optimum ended in the 14th century - just as the Black Death wiped out a third of Europe's population. There's a good chance that fewer warm bodies and decreased agricultural production helped bring about the end of the MWP and replace it with the Little Ice Age (which ended in the 1800s, as Europe's population began to boom). The decrease of heat-generating sunspots and the increase of volcanic ash probably converged with other factors to cause this shift. What was the result when the boom-time ended?

Colonies in Greenland and the northern Atlantic were lost, isolated from food and resources back home. Iceland was often completely surrounded by ice and had no port access, coinciding with the collapse of the government there. Because the LIA concided with the Black Death, it's perhaps misleading to say that crop yields saw major reductions, but it's definitely true that crops did not grow as well or as far north as they had earlier.

A warmer winter is in many respects a very good thing. It allows more crops to be grown, it means fewer deaths to cold, fewer resources spent fighting the weather, and a more hospitable world. Is this what we're going to spend billions and trillions trying to avoid? That's a pretty flimsy rationale.

Certainly global warming can have very dangerous consequences for human beings if it's out of control. But every indication is that the coldest parts of the planet would improve with warming and that they would be the first things affected.

WEBSITE: This is available on the website under issue articles along with the other Global Warming Sham essays here.
Leave Baseball Alone Already

Stupid Congress. It wasn't enough that they had to root around and try to find out if baseball players might be trying to ENHANCE THEIR PERFORMANCE! The horror! Now two Republicans, Sweeney from NY and Davis from VA (formerly a Democrat, then an Independent for one term) are making open grumblings about a financial group headed by George Soros buying the new DC baseball team. Just leave baseball alone.

Baseball should police drug violators itself, like the Olympics. But does it really matter that Soros wants pot legal and opposed the war in Iraq? Not really a baseball issue at all. In fact, it seems to me that it's his right to hold his own political opinions. He's not a criminal and he's not being accused of theft or underhanded tactics, just of being on the wrong side of the political divide. Who cares?

Leave baseball alone. Go fix Social Security. While you're at it, run to Schumer's office and tell him to leave video games alone. Pack of no-goodniks, you all are.
Europeans and The Wall

The Supreme Court's recent Ten Commandments decisions (allowing one on the lawn of public property, disallowing another inside public property) are not particularly well decided. I do think, however, that the standard of allowing the Ten Commandments as a historical piece is a good one - and that it should've been the standard for the whole Moore business in MS a couple years ago. After all, it's no different from having a portrait of Abraham Lincoln - a part of history that doesn't force anybody to believe in anything (pictures and monuments can't coerce you into a point of view).

Todd Zywicki at VC makes a good point though: why didn't the Court look to Canada and Europe for advice on the Establishment Clause? I have to say that the "cruel and unusual" part of the Eighth Amendment makes it more open to opinion polling, but the Court didn't draw such a neat line. It seems to me that they look to Europe when they can find results they already wanted.

If we did model ourselves after Europe, of course, we'd be forced to violate the First Amendment. The British, after all, still have their government officials involved in the appointment and elevation of bishops in the Church of England (also called Anglican or Episcopalian). That is clearly violative of Congress making no law respecting an establishment of religion (or else the establishment clause is almost meaningless). Public religious displays are widespread in Europe and elsewhere. Many countreies run religious schools on the public dime (such as Israel, which has a large system of public orthodox schools, and is a self-titled 'Jewish state'), including Muslim minority schools.

America itself was created in rejection fo Europe. For many years Americans saw Europe as backwards, conservative, violent, imperialistic, feudalistic, unequal, unfree and unfit for our role model. In fact, we saw ourselves as the role model for Europe to follow - and that's actually come to pass, with Europe largely abandoning monarchy, fascism and communism in favor of a grainy facsimile of American capitalism and democracy. The Civil War was popular in North not so much because of slavery, which most Yankees opposed, but because of union; it was argued and believed that breaking the American union would result in endless war, strife, tyranny and the death of representative government from the Earth. Americans favoring the war made very unfavorable comparisons between a divided America and the contemporary European model.

Our history is being better than Europe, and it's a bad sign that we'd try to move ourselves backwards to be more like them rather than moving forward to be objectively better.
The God Metaphor

The idea thet liberty is "God's gift to mankind" is incredibly old and is part of the foundation of this country. It's not supposed to be taken literally, however. It's a metaphor for the universality of the moral imperative that is liberty. In other words, it's everywhere at all times -like God- and it's something that's inherently good and right to do -like God's will- which makes it a great metaphor. Many people believed it literally in the sense that God wanted liberty for us all. But the real message of it is as a metphor, and that's how people like Thomas Jefferson would've meant it. Jefferson, after all, was effectively a Deist (like Franklin and Paine and others) and believed that God didn't intervene in human affairs after creating us. To say that it was God's will that we should be free didn't mean God had told Jefferson anything, it meant that it was morally right and applicable to all.

Perhaps the deiphobia of the nihilist left in Canada and Europe finds even a metaphorical reference to God unhinging, but they should realize the real-world applications and arguments. The point is not religion, it's about freedom.

Had a leftist made an argument about Jesus commanding us to forgive criminals or help the poor then secularists and nihilists would have understood and cheered - anything to stick it to religious conservatives. Unfortunately most modern religious leftist rhetoric is not genuine but reclaimed. It used to be that there were many religious leftists but most of them are weak or gone from political circles. Religiously left rhetoric is often a secularist attempt to reclaim a moral high ground for socialism as God's work.

It's too bad that they can't see the same parallels in the 'God's gift to mankind' metaphor. You don't have to believe in God of any specific type or form and certainly God doesn't have to intervene for you to accept the phrase (if God did intervene to bring it about, we wouldn't need to argue about its possibility because it would've happened). It's just a way to communicate that freedom is inherently right for everyone, and that all ethnicities and religions and countries are irrelevant to the call of freedom. You'd think that sort of hug-the-world rhetoric would have the left come running, but apparently many of them hate a Texan accent more than they hate tyranny.
Gitmo Conditions (tip to LGF)

After all the stupid gulag business from Amnesty and Durbin, I'd say that the case for judicious reform of the war on terror and the Patriot Act has been set way back. My view is that these people are being held for a crime and ought to be put on trial. While it's true that various international conventions allow holding a POW until the end of hostilities, we shouldn't wait until the end of the war on terror, because it's ill-defined. If we only started trying drug dealers at the end of hostilities in the war on drugs then we'd still be holding all of them.

Moreover, the US citizens are entitled to trials whether they were found on the battlefield or not. They still possess all their constitutional rights. Additionally, I think the government must be prevented from using any evidence int rial that the defendant and his lawyer cannot cross-examine. They want to use secret evidence that would preserve the secrecy of a source, but that's not appropriate for a courtroom. I don't really have an opinion on whether Gitmo is still the base, but it seems to me that it's more easily secured there than somewhere in the mainland.

I have to say, though, I find the evidence for 'torture' incredibly thin. Abu Ghraib was clearly torture conditions, but nothing similar has shown up from Gitmo. In fact, here's on observer's take on life at Camp Delta.
    After speaking with soldiers, sailors, and civilians who collectively staff Gitmo, I left convinced that abuse definitely exists at the detention facilities, and it typically fails to receive the press attention it deserves: it's the relentless, merciless attacks on American servicemen and women by these terrorist thugs. Many of the orange jumpsuit-clad detainees fight their captors at every opportunity, openly bragging of their desire to kill Americans. One has promised that, if released, he would find MPs in their homes through the internet, break into their houses at night, and "cut the throats of them and their families like sheep." Others claim authority and vindication to kill women, children, and other innocents who oppose their jihadist mission authorized by the Koran (the same one that hangs in every cell from a specially-designed holder intended to protect it from a touching the cell floor - all provided at U.S. taxpayer expense). One detainee was heard to tell another: "One day I will enjoy sucking American blood, although their blood is bitter, undrinkable…." These recalcitrant detainees are known euphemistically as being "non-compliant." They attack guards whenever the soldiers enter their cells, trying to reach up under protective facemasks to gouge eyes and tear mouths. They make weapons and try to stab the guards or grab and break limbs as the guards pass them food.

    We dined with the soldiers, toured several of the individual holding camps, observed interrogations, and inspected cells. We were impressed by the universally high quality of the cadre and the facilities. While it may not be exactly "Club GITMO," as Rush Limbaugh uses to tweak the hard-Left critics who haven't a clue about reality here, GITMO is a far cry from the harshness experienced even by maximum security prisoners in the U.S.

    Meals for detainees are ample: we lunched on what several thought was an accumulated single day's ration for detainees. "No," the contract food service manager said with a laugh, "what you're looking at there is today's lunch. A single meal. They get three a day like that." The vegetables, pita bread, and other well-prepared food filled two of the large Styrofoam take-home containers we see in restaurants. Several prisoners have special meal orders like "no tomatoes" or "no peanut products" depending on taste or allergies. "One prisoner," General Hood said, "throws back his food tray if it contains things he has specifically said he doesn't want." How is he punished for this outrageous behavior? His tray is numbered, the food he requested is put on it, and the corrected "order" is delivered to his cell.

    The detainees are similarly catered to medically. Almost every one arrived at GITMO with some sort of battlefield trauma. After all, the majority were captured in combat. Today they are healthy, immunized, and well cared for. At a visit to the modern hospital facility - dedicated solely to the detainees and comparable to a well-equipped and staffed small-town hospital with operating, dental, routine facilities - the doctor in charge confirmed that the caloric count for the detainees was so high that while "most detainees arrived undernourished," medics now watch for issues stemming from high cholesterol and being overweight. Each of approximately 520 terrorists currently held in confinement averages about four medical visits monthly, something one would expect from only a dedicated American hypochondriac. Welcome to the rigors of detention under American supervision.
I disagree with the trial considerations currently taking place, especially for US citizens, but if even half this report is correct then it seems highly unlikely that any torture is going on. Would anyone call it torture if some of the detainees were punished for their insults with reduced rations or special confinement? I doubt it. Of course, the detainees probably WANT to be beaten and bruised so they have something to show observers and so forth that might visit.

Insufficient legal remedies? Definitely. Torture? Not at all.
Economic Right and the Supreme Court

The Kelo case emphasizes something long-forgotten: the Supreme Court has as much trouble with economic issues as social ones. While the biggest cases are usually social, like abortion and religion, and most cases are procedural or criminal, a good deal of them have economic impacts. The biggest one is affirmative action, but Kelo is the sort of thing that could make a great deal of homeowners and small business owners uneasy. While many uses of eminent domain are against neighborhoods or homes, it's very common for small businesses to be replaced by bigger and/or more tax-generating businesses.

Of course, the wider fact is that the Supreme Court is so hostile to economic rights and business interests that it's a much more of a long-shot issue than throwing abortion back to the states or allowing more public prayer. Economic libertarians have normally been very marginalized in the legal community and have not mobilized with regard to nomination battles. There are legal scholars who espouse Lochner-style solutions to property and economic rights, but there's almost no real grassroots movement on the issue. Even the Institute For Justice, effectively the only libertarian public interest law firm (the ACLU is NOT libertarian, it's radical) is forced to spend its time on other issues. I'm not even sure if they take a positive view of Lochner or not, which is irrelevant because they'd have a hard time getting it back.

It's clear that the economic libertarians (social conservatives som etimes call them 'business conservatives' but conservative is a misnomer here) are not nearly as interested in the court nomination battles as the social lefties and the social conservatives. Given Kelo, I think it's clear that they should start taking an interest.

However, that doesn't necessarily mean they'll be aligned with the social conservatives. It's clear that the Democrats are incredibly hostile to economic and property rights, as some of Bush's nominees have been chastised for allegedly opposing zoning laws and eminent domain (which isn't necessarily true). Janice Rogers Brown, moreover, called the New Deal America's own socialist revolution, which received ire from the left.

But it's not immediately clear that the social conservatives are the right way to go here. They attack Roe and Casey not because they attack the foundation of legal personhood, but because they infringe on ... states' rights? They don't want to declare fetuses have a right to live, only that the federal government has no business on the issue (which could very well see abortion largely legalized in 30-odd states). They want to strip away unenumerated rights like privacy. Rather than using a framework of liberty to protect the unborn, they are attacking the structure that allows legalized abortion instead of the creators. The effect on strengthening economic rights like property is that they are

The political left espouses a very inconsistent and lopsided view of constitutional liberties that gives strong protections to unenumerated social rights but a great degree of latitude to the government on economic issues. The political right largely espouses an intellectually consistent view of strictly interpreting the laws - which means finding pretty weak rights all around, whether social or economic. This lets the social conservatives pass whatever interventionist laws they want at the state level, but it doesn't help small business owners when their state comes knocking on their door.

On the recent issue of eminent domain, it's true that social conservatives are angry about it and wnat it overturned. Their idea hgere is informed largely by the strict interpretation of "public use," but it does create a clear, particularist nexus between social conservative and business libertarians. The fact that it exists on one high-profile case doesn't mean it extends elsewhere, or that economic libertarians can expect much from nominees tailored to social conservative demands.

The compromise, then, is to pick nominees that can bridge the gap between the social and economic spheres of the GOP base. For a Supreme Court Justice, this might mean someone who strongly endorses Lochnerian unenumerated rights but uses them against abortion, and someone who takes a laissez-faire attitude to religious statues but a more hostile one to private-benefit eminent domain. Compromise is less likely, though, while the capitalists in the GOP stay either on the sidelines or in generic pro-nominee groups. Those advocating more rulings for economic freedom from the Supreme Court need to form an independent pressure group to make sure that our views are reflected in the nominees.

The culture war gets a lot of play in the media reports on judiciary battles, and it's time for the long-lost economic freedoms to truly re-enter the debate on nominations.
Pelosi: Raiding SS is Great

Several days ago Nancy Pelosi said that Congress re-appropriating Social Security funds from the SS trust to other organs of government is a good thing because the interest will be paid back to the trust - and the interest will keep it solvent longer. Apparently nobody explained two things to Pelosi: 1) the money the government owes itself is going to have to be generated from somewhere, meaning that the interest isn't going to change any need for tax hikes or spending cuts, and 2) the government is obligated to meet Social Security payments whether or not it has interest obligations. The only thing loaning SS trust money back to itself does is hide the actual size of the budget deficit.

Of course, considering the Democrats are currently trying to play on fears and ignorance to block Social Security reform, it was not bright at all for Pelosi to make an argument that's both against conventional wisdom and somewhat involved. If she wanted to engage the Republicans in a forthright discussion about the fiscal aspects of retirement policy then she and Reid should come up with a PLAN beyond negation.

Given the polling data, Americans are in favor of personal accounts by a margin better than ten points. Those numbers widen when you exclude the over 55 groups - which would not be affected by any of the Republican proposals (it's funny that old people are so stubbornly conservative about Social Security that they won't even let it be changed for other people). When you narrow it down to the under 40 or even 25 and under crowds you get pretty lopsided results. These people are the energy of both parties and they are the future of political trends. By setting themselves against this groundswell, the Democrats are positioning themselves to be of greater and greater irrelevance as time goes on. It would be less of a factor if they'd even offer a plan, since the young people who are so bent on reform would do well to have a Democratic proposal to analyze and maybe support. In the absence of a plan, they could at least be less overtly hostile to pro-reform elements of their party, but Pelosi and Reid have been clamping down hard on their side to even offer proposals.

If the Republicans don't win even their latest plan, which is quite limited in scope, then at least expect reform to come soon. They've proven that Social Security isn't a third rail and polls show that majorities consistently favor various reform proposals. Social Security will be changed, whether or not the Democrats boo from the sidelines or try and offer some measures of their own.

June 28, 2005

Unocal Mercantilism

The argument about the Chinese trying to buy Unocal provokes hesitance and opposition over the deal from many different people. The argument from people otherwise disposed to free trade and open markets is that oil is a strategic asset and China is untrustworthy or hostile.

Last things first, China isn't a good country, nor is it a particularly friendly country. But it's not a major threat. We still possess the nuclear deterrent and we're working on methods to shoot down missiles fired our way. Taiwan alone could probably beat the Chinese in a shooting war, so long as the US was there to keep nukes off the table. Add Japan, Australia and Great Britain to the mess (maybe Canada and New Zealand and a slew of Latin American countries and Asians fearful of attack, and maybe even Russian assistance) and you have one seriously lost war for China. While 1.2 billion people sounds impressive, you still have to arm them, train them, move them and command them. The fact is that China's army isn't as good as ours and it's not going to be for a while. They're not a major military threat to us and that means we have the ability to keep them from being major military threats to other countries.

While it's definitely true that the Chinese Communists are both evil and pugnacious in many of their activities, is that any less true of the Saudis or others? Are they not also pretty despicable in their behavior? The fact is that the Chinese are invested in us and we're invested in them. Our companies and factories are in their borders and our two countries are enriching each other as we speak. We're intertwined. If our economy started to slow, so too would theirs. Moreover if they started behaving belligerently or depriving us of oil then we'd have time to make a response. The fact is that they have little interest in screwing us over and they'd have limited ability to do so even if we let them buy Unocal.

Second, if oil is a strategic asset that we shouldn't be letting other countries control, then why do we buy over half of ours from other countries? More to the point, why should those other countries sell to us? If we try to hoard all the "strategic assets" to ourselves then so will other countries. If we don't trust the international market that we've tried to spread around the world, then why should other countries? We're not perfect in free trade by any means, but other countries have needed prodding to get as far as they have.

We'd see a partial reverse in globalization. Demand could rise in response to a new emphasis on obtaning "strategic assets" and supply could be restricted as it became more difficult to obtain across borders. Efficiency could also drop as more "strategic assets" were stockpiled in preparation for shortages and thus various resources like oil, steel and coal would go underutilized.

The fact is that necessary goods and services will exist and that we can't do it all ourselves - and we certainly can't do it by ourselves as effectively as we could in an open global trade regime. Just what is a strategic asset, anyway? Oil, coal, steel, wheat, grain, dairy, butter, salt, rubber, what? Our military needs a lot of stuff to go, as does our economy. In fact, a large portion of our economy is necessary to keep other parts of it going, everything from gas to paper and pens is critical to our economy's current operations. The bureaucracy alone involved in monitoring and controlling "strategic asset" industries is scarcely worth any risks avoided.

Moreover, it really weakens our arguments for free trade agreements when we partake in it so inconsistently. People will accept an inconsistent trade policy as long as our movement is in a pretty consistent direction. Taking such a self-interested view of the policy destroys a good chunk of US credibility on the issue.

Maybe blocking this one purchase won't counteract all the free trade initiatives of the last sixty years. After all, we still have plenty of tariffs, NTBs and subsidies, not to mention a wealth of strategic exemptions. But I do know that moving in that direction is the wrong way to go. We shouldn't try to do everything ourselves because it's difficult and inefficient at best and impoverishing and doomed to failure at worst.
God Bless This Smartass

A real estate developer in New Hampshire wants to use eminent domain to condemn Justice Souter's house in Weare and replace it with a hotel. It would be called Lost Liberty Hotel and every room would come with a copy of Rand's Atlas Shrugged. Apparently he's actually serious about this project (which would raise a couple questions about hypocrisy) and says he needs Souter's house because Souter is so relevant to the loss of liberty.

Still it's nice to hit Souter where he lives. Sorry, that was too obvious to avoid.
Fleet Review for Trafalgar 200

The Queen of England, in a fit of attempted relevance, overlooked the British fleet in an International Fleet Review yesterday - the first since her 1977 silver jubilee. The preparations are for the 200th anniversay of Trafalgar this October. The Battle of Trafalgar was set in southwestern Spain near Gibraltar in 1805 during the Napoleonic Wars. Britain was threatened with invasion and had formed a naval blockade of France.

Admiral Lord Nelson commanded a British fleet of 27 ships against 33 French and Spanish ships. Though Nelson died in the battle, he was widely regarded as a larger than life hero for his command of the engagement, during with the French lost 22 ships (two out of every three) and the British lost none. A sniper on the French ship Redoubtable shot Nelson in the shoulder, piercing his lung. Nelson did not die until four hours later, shortly after the battle was completed, and was conscious during the engagement. As the two fleets sailed toward each other, Nelson strung up a 31-flag message (each flag representing a number 0-9) that said, "England expects that every man will do his duty." The message is still repeated and paraphrased in Britain today. The HMS Victory, Nelson's flag ship, is still commissioned as a museum ship and sits in dry dock in Portsmouth; it flies the 31-flag message every October 21st.

The Battle of Trafalgar meant that Napoleon's plans to invade England, which Napoleon himself seemed to have been doubting or delaying before the battle, were well out of reach. His naval ability to protect landing craft was already doubted by Napoleon, but this battle drove the point home. It allowed the British to focus on fighting Napoleon on the constinent instead of playing defense.

More than that, it cemented the position of the British as the ultimate naval power of Europe and the world. That position would never even be challenged until the 20th century and German failed attempts to beat Britain in a naval arms race. The French never again attempted a major naval engagement against the British.

The re-enactment of trafalgar, for political and diplomatic reasons, will pit the Red and Blue Fleets against each other. This way the ceremony seems less about defeating the French and Spanish.

June 27, 2005

SPD-PDS Berlin Gov't Tearing Down Wall Memorial (tip to Medienkritik)

The Berlin Wall memorial stands as a monument to the many who died attempting to cross the wall and flee the tyranny of the Stasi and East german communism. Unfortunately, the current Berlin government is composed of a coalition between the Social Democratic Party and the Party of Democratic Socialism that together seek to tear down the monument.

They argue that the memorial is too much like Disneyland, though that's an absurd argument given the rows of over 1,000 crosses. It's more like a graveyard than an amusement park. They also argue that the Berlin Wall memorial is too similar to the Holocaust Memorial at Brandenburg Gate (also in Berlin) that the berlin Wall should not be equated with the Holocaust and the Third Reich.

No doubt one of the main motivations here is that the PDS was the ruling East german Communist Party during the Soviet era and institutionally they were the ones who pushed for creating and maintaining the wall. No wonder they don't want to be reminded about those killed attempting escape.

In pricniple moving or demolishing a memorial isn't attacking it so long as respect for the intent of the memorial is clear. If they wanted to move it somewhere else or change it then they would say so. As it is they seem to be acting like the Japanese right-wing acts toward the Rape of nanking - forgive, forget, move on, play dumb.

The Berlin Wall was a symbolic and imposing evil that was a wonderful metaphor for the entire Cold War. It's not something that should be forgotten or downplayed. Whatever happened to the Germans feeling collective guilt for past wrongs? Seems like the left-wing needs to be reminded of it more than the right-wing (for now).

June 26, 2005

Kelo Disaster

A lot of people online are angry about the Kelo decision handed by the Supreme Court that entrenched the right of states to use eminent domain against non-blighted neighborhoods if the state believed it would increase tax revenues. Many instances of eminent domain involve replacing a perfectly safe and clean homeowner or businessowner with a denser residential area or a bigger business - both intended to market to more upscale consumers - thus bumping up revenue for the city.

Of course, condemning a used-car dealership to replace it with a new BMW dealership (it happened in a town in Kansas recently) isn't exactly "public use" as the Fifth Amendment states. That's a private use, even if some locals benefit directly and many benefit indirectly from the tax revenue. What's funny is that the lefties on the Court along with kennedy found for the city of New London, even though private usage of eminent domain is overwhelmingly done for corporations, real estate developers and wealthy businesses at the expense of homeowners, small businesses and others like local churches. It's a distinctly un-left result, at least compared to how they see themselves, to legitimize a practice that explicitly empowers wealthier and larger groups against less-wealthy and smaller groups. But that's how it works - after all, how would tax revenue be improved if it were the other way around.

This is a blanket negation of property. You no longer own your home, you merely paid to live there and at any moment the state or county can come in and uproot you if they want to use THEIR land differently. That's the essence of the decision; states and cities can decide when people ought to move, rather than the property owners in question.

Most people opposed to the decision don't come up with an exact view of what the Fifth Amendment really requires with regard to eminent domain. I've been searching since the decision came down yesterday and I've found lots of information but very little in the way of a comprehensive alternative. I believe I've formulated one, however.

1) Right off the bat, let's reaffirm one principle. Property is a constitutional right. That's important to remember and explicitly acknowledge.

2) Since property is a right, any eminent domain taking - assuming it's just - would have to be done through due process. The Fifth Amendment and the Fourteenth Amendment make this explicit.
The Fifth says: "No person shall... be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law..."
The Fourteenth says: "...nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law..."
Given these two passages (and the Ninth Amendment, which I apparently cite in almost every single hypothetical court opinion) the right to property exists, and it's given ironclad protections through due process. Any eminent domain taking, even if it's valid, must go through the courts for due process. In other words, you have to sue somebody to get their property, and they get all the regular Fifth and Sixth Amendment protections. This protects property owners from the horror stories about people who had seven days to contest takings attempts or who bought property without being told that it had already semi-secretly been condemned via eminent domain.

3) "Public use" means that the government cannot simply fork it over to somebody willing to pay more taxes. Eugene Volokh brought up a good point that it's often better to have private entities contracting public services rather than have the government do the job itself, and that a definition of public use forcing the government to take over the high-end restaurants, car dealerships and housing complexes would perversely create a larger government despite such a check on government. That concern aside, public use must mean something. It really doesn't make sense that the only limit from those two words is that any property taken must result in something better than that which came before it - better, after all, is defined by the legislatures and not the courts. Public use means some government operation like for example roads; it doesn't just mean something that some of the public would like (especially since the legislature would be the barometer of whether the public likes it). In Kelo, the developers do not meet this requirement; if they want to develop the area, let them offer as much money to the holdouts as it takes.

4) "Just compensation" means repayment that is fair, right, appropriate or based on sound reason. Usually the courts say this means the market value. It's important for the government in question to consider the costs of replacement; the example that comes to mind is US v. Cors (1950), a WWII incident where government demand had dramatically increased the cost of tugboats but the Supreme Court let the government get away with paying a pre-war price for a legally stolen tug. That was a flawed finding, because "just comepnsation" must include the cost of replacement, and the tug owner could not have purchased a new tug solely with the compensation he received because no tug seller would accept the argument that prices USED to be lower.

However the replacement costs are not the sole indicator either. In US v. Felin (1948) the government, as part of FDR's statist-syndicalist war government, seized a large amount of pork products after the producer refused to sell them at the government's price ceiling (which was below the cost of making the products). Similarly, SCOTUS heard in US v. Commodities Corp. (1950) a case where pepper had been seized and compensated at the artificial price ceiling. This is incredibly wrong, both legally and morally. First of all, the cost of initial investment must act as a minimum standard, by simple logic. If person paid $100 for supplies he then turns into processed pepper then the government owes him $100 in compensation - including any associated costs of labor and capital (like machinery maintenance). But beyond that, it's flat out morally wrong to let the government announce a price ceiling and then, when producers refuse to be forced out of business by the government, to seize their stuff at the price they themselves set.

Compensation is holistic and isn't limited to the monetary value of the thing that was legally stolen by the government; just compensation must be at least enough to cover all costs of relocation and replacement, and to make sure that the lives or businesses of those expelled are disrupted as little as possible If this sounds like a high hurdle then that's only because it is. "Just" means morally right as well as legally valid and reasonable. The most appropriate way, of course, is to secure the consent of the homeowners by increasing the offer until they agree and sign over their property.

But the minimum for just compensation should follow all the steps on this check list: a) start the compensation from the market value as determined by comparable properties; b) the compensation must be high enough to meet all replacement costs, including any costs of relacation or acquiring new permits, or of advertising the new location for a serized business, or of increased transportation costs for a sized home; c) the compensation must be at least the production costs, even if such value is not represented in the market value of the home, and production costs include improvements, labor, capital and other significant factors; and d) government price ceilings on the seized property cannot lower the compensation and must be disregarded as much as is reasonably possible (this does not apply to price controls on goods and services related to improving or producing the property, which are not a factor here).

Those are the fourt things I would hope to find in an eminent domain case that would lay out the board principles that restrict this governmental power. Of course, beyond that I'd hope to see something else: a constitutional amendment banning eminent domain. Unfortunately, the Fifth Amendment seems to be fairly clear that takings are allowed, as the Founders set to restricting its abuse, and not to prohibiting it outright. I think we need to clear that up. Here's a proposed amendment I found that I scribbled in the back of Judge Andrew Napolitano's book Constitutional Chaos (I highly recommend it to all).
    The right of the people to be secure in their property and assets from eminent domain and takings for public use or public benefit, shall not be infringed, nor shall property or assets be seized except in punishment of a crime and through due process, nor shall the Congress or the several states take any action that substantively depreciates the value of private property without paying full compensation.
Of course, if we really did this then the Sixteenth Amendment would have just been repealed. What else is a tax but taking assets for public use? Obviously this wouldn't pass without some new wording to allow the hated income tax - and all taxes, except for user fees - to continue. Something like "This amendment shall not be so construed as to affect the power of the Congress or the states to lay and collect taxes" would do the trick.

On a related takings issue that wasn't part of Kelo, the government also ought to be forced to pay proportional compensation for partial takings, like when they decrease the value of property by some regulations or law limiting the use of that property. A partial limit on the whole of a property is equivalent to a whole taking of a portion of a property. If the government regulates away half the value of a piece of property then it owes just compensation, the same as if it had taken half the property outright. Either way, the government took half the value and you deserve to be compensated for the infringement of your property rights.

June 23, 2005

American vs. European Openness

A common stereotype in transatlantic relations is that the US is more staunchly conservative where Europe is more tolerant of change. This grossly oversimplified dichotomy is wrong, even backwards. America has always been the more radically individualist place since at least the mid-18th century. That radicalism helped prompt the American Revolution. For the centuries following the revolution, Americans have always looked at Europe as strange, immoral, hypocritical, state-worshipping, violent, imperialistic, hopelessly pessimistic people. I'm exaggerating of course, but only to show the distinction. The distinction grew greater as the 20th century progressed, as wars, genocide, romanticism, fascism and communism sapped Europe's interest in life and ideals and as emigration from Europe sent more and more of the most optimistic to America's shores.

The economy is the prime example. Europe is incredibly fearful of change to culture, jobs and politics brought on by economics. They have stringent labor laws to protect jobs from changing. They have lavish welfare to allay fears of poverty. They often have rules and quotas (as do the Canadians) intended to protect native film, music and television from American entertainment exports. All their efforts are focused primarily on avoiding negative changes - rather than embracing positive changes.

But I have a better example, one with more resonance to the US left. In Europe, immigration is a hot-button issue. Economic and cultural concerns have pushed many anti-immigration and slow-immigration parties further up at the polls. This is happening in all European countries to some degree, especially France andf the Netherlands. The US, meanwhile, is moving on repeated efforts to liberalize immigration and allow in more migrants as workers.

The fact is that having a lot of sex with strangers doesn't make you socially tolerant. The French may not care about mistresses or group sex but they live in a country where a neo-fascist like Le Pen got almost 20% of the second-round presidential vote and where majorities have polled affirmative to questions of whether there are "too many" Africans in France. They're not evangelical Baptists, but that sure doesn't have to mean they're open and liberal.

June 22, 2005

Rethinking Bad Ideas In New Zealand
ACT Challenging Kyoto, Ship Ban

Recent developments in New Zealand are starting to move public and parliamentary opinion on a couple big issues. The first is the Kyoto Protocol. The only party to consistently oppose Kyoto (as attested by the Labor PM Helen Clark) is ACT NewZealand, but others have flirted with it. The protocol was signed in 1997 by the National government and ratified by Labor a few years ago. One major reason that National backed it so strongly, aside from the fact that they're relatively moderate, old-style, big-government conservatives, is that New Zealand stood to gain from Kyoto's carbon credit scheme.

The carbon credit scheme is supposed to encourage countries to plant forests and so forth that act as 'carbon sinks,' natural and man-made objects that subtract carbon dioxide from the air instead of add to it. The scientific problem is that nobody knows just how to value carbon sinks, and of course that extra carbon dioxide might actually make MORE plants grow since they breathe it. Additionally, even if all carbon dioxide were removed from the atmosphere - the vast majority of which comes from nature and not industry - the planet would not be significantly cooled. Methane lasts far longer and does much more to keep the planet warm than carbon dioxide, but industrial methane is already largely blocked by clean air laws, so the Kyoto protocol focuses on carbons because it hobbles industry.

The major motivating factor behind carbon credits is that less developed countries, with fewer industries and more forests, swamps, peat moss or other natural carbon sinks, would be able to sell credits to rich, developed countries. This means two things - poor countries get money from rich ones, and undeveloped wilderness starts to become profitable compared to actual productive industrial or agricultural uses.

New Zealand was expected in 1997 to fall on the credit-seller side. This meant that if they didn't ratify they'd "be setting fire to a rather large cheque (sic)," as the PM at the time said. Of course, now they're looking at a credit deficit - meaning that check's gone and been replaced with a debt. Since they went from getting a check to sending a check, people in new Zealand are starting to re-tink this Kyoto thing. After all, Australia (under Howard) signed but has not ratified the Kyoto accord. New Zealand would be the only country in the southern hemispohere with Kyoto obligations.

ACT has been pushing the issue and is trying to get National to back them. National, the main opposition on the right to Labor's government of the left, is stalling and trying to figure out what to do. It has some members that are rather more inclined to government action and others that take a line closer to the libertarian ACT. Here's hoping New Zealand doesn't hobble itself for the sake of a treaty that wouldn't solve a problem that hasn't been proven to be a threat.

The other issue is the ship ban. In 1985 the Labor government, which included as ministers the free marketeers that would later defect to start ACT, banned nuclear-armed or nuclear-powered vessels from Kiwi ports. Since the US refused to divulge which vessels had nuclear material onboard, the ban effectively kept out almost the entire US fleet. Though safety is usually cited as the main concern, it was also in opposition to nuclear testing in the Pacific (especially by France) and the main reason was the PM's opposition to Reagan's confrontational stance toward the Soviets. The ban caused an uproar with the US and France, but the National government elected in 1990 didn't overturn it; the current National leadership is committed to not overturning it without public approval like a referendum.

The ship ban is a big problem for the Kiwis for two reasons.

One, the ANZUS treaty from 1951 was signed between Australia, New Zealand and the US (hence A-NZ-US) in order to secure those two Pacific countries from future aggression from Japan. When the Kiwis blocked all the best US ships from their ports, the US suspended the alliance with New Zealand. The alliance is now two bilateral agreements, one is Australia-US, the other is Australia-New Zealand. Although ANZUS has no dedicated forces like NATO, it does conduct joint missions, training and of course shared intelligence. Australia is also an important satellite relay point for the US. New Zealand is losing out on the technology, intelligence and tactics that could be gained from the alliance, as well as the diplomatic benefits.

Two, and more concretely, the US refuses to consider a free trade agreement with New Zealand until it lifts the ship ban. New Zealand is losing out on gobs of money that would come from trade with the US if only they would agree to re-establish normal allied relations with us. In the face of that, it'd better be a pretty strong reasoning for the ship ban, right?

Well, no. Actually, research shows Auckland Hospital puts out more radiation in a day than the entire US fleet puts out in a year. Not exactly a big hazard. A poll conducted using that research got a majority of the public to support lifting the ship ban against the US. The people who commissioned the poll offered the results to Nationals, who declined, and then turned to an MP for ACT, who has submitted a private members bill that he hopes will lead a referendum lifting the ban. This would free the way for the US-NZ free trade agreement and for a resumption of the ANZUS alliance.

Hopefully these two bad ideas will be removed from their entrenched positions. They don't have good scientific groundings and they're putting needless limits on the Kiwi economy.

June 21, 2005

How To Help Africa: Free Agro Trade

Currently the Western countries have strong protections built up around domestic agricultural sectors. In the US, the sugar industry is notorious for its protections - which end up costing little kids every time they buy candy or chocolate in the stores. In Europe, the CAP or Common Agricultural Policy is a heavily losing venture that strives to maintain the cultural lifestyle of many continental Europeans at the expense of the economic growth for the EU and the world.

This is especially maddening because economists explain to us that agriculture is one industry that acts most like the idealized version of the world used in traditional economics. Perfect competition, perfect substitution of goods, etc. It doesn't have these things, and not just because of government interference, but agriculture is closer to perfect competition than most any other sector. That's because corn is corn, beet sugar is beet sugar and even though it will taste different depending on many different factors, most of those don't factor greatly into specific markets.

The fact that agriculture is closer to perfect competition is probably a big reason it's regulated. Perfect competition in traditional economics, after all, entails very thin profit margins. Thin profit margins are a great pretense to ask for government help.

Of course, when the government is making food more expensive, it hurts people who need to buy food. It hurts most the people who can least afford it, because an apple, a block of cheese or an artichoke ends up costing more than they would otherwise. But one large group of people are hurt most of all - the poor agricultural producers in other countries that cannot compete with Western subsidies and tariff walls.

Decades after the West pioneered industrial free trade, agricultural free trade is the half-black bastard baby nobody wants to mention. It making food more expensive, it's kept poor farmers in latin America, Asia and Africa poor and it's keeping the underdeveloped world underdeveloped. The developing countries are clamoring for agricultural free trade because they have low costs and we have high demand. It would be cheaper for consumers to buy from theme and it would benefit those countries to sell to us. Pork barrel politics continue the cycle of protecting these pseudo-monopolistic agribusinesses from more efficient alternatives.

So while everyone in Europe is talking about how the US has a moral duty to pay more and about an ethical imperative to assist the world's poorest continent, they're not even mentioning the damage done by the trade walls against the poorest farmers. Sure, the EU loves free trade when it comes to a US steel tariff, but if somebody suggests opening up their laughingly inefficient agriulcutral sector to competition from the developing world and suddenly free trade takes a back seat to cultural sensitivity - and to votes.

As Reason points out, the barriers the West puts up against agricultural trade causes more economic harm than the aid we send them. Our anti-trade policies are actually a bigger problem than any reticence to 'give.' More importantly, we could actually be helping Africa at a profit to both us and them. We would get lower prices by buying from Asia, Africa and Latin America; developing countries would see an influx of cash greater than current aid packages; we could afford to cut most foreign aid to Africa and elsewhere, lowering our taxes, and be safe in the knowledge that there was a net-positive balance going there anyway; and most importantly the money would go to the producers instead of the governments.

When money goes to corrupt, often unelected governments, they dole it out to friends and family, they spend it on police forces, they spend it on palaces, they turn it into execution prison camps, and they otherwise consolidate their power. We do a disservice to democratization and liberalization efforts when we reinforce undemocratic, corrupt regimes. We make things worse when we empower governments that are untested. We should be trying to get the money directly to Africans and others. That way they have the power, they have the wealth and they have more control over where that money goes. To advance a thought from Jefferson: when governments control the money individuals can receive, you have tyranny; when individuals control the money government can receive, you have freedom. By empowering the private sector, growing the free market economies and creating jobs and economic opportunity for average Africans, Asians and Latin Americans we can advance the goal of spreading democracy.

And as an aside, it's funny that Tony Blair is trying to pressure Bush into coughing up some dough for Africa and Kyoto while Blair just turned down pressure from Solana (EU) and Chirac to give more money to the EU by lowering their rebate. I don't think they should have to pay back more, but it's not a coincidence that both the Uk and US are hesitant to pony up dough to poorly thought out but tearful pleas to give out money.

It's hard to correct the people who want more money for African governments. They have a compelling case: these people are gut-wrenchingly poor of a sort not even most Great Depression survivors would understand. They battle genocide, democide, violence, religious strife, famine, a continent awash in malaria and an entire generation threated by AIDS. It's very difficult to correct someone's method, but it's an important distinction. There's no such thing as "doing something" without specifics. You can't "give help" without a target and a process. Empowering governments, even elected governments, is the wrong way to go. We need to give Africa the same medicine we had: economic growth fueled by open markets that reward work instead of ethnicity and creativity instead of fearful silence. It's tempting to just send cash and hope that everything works out, but it would actually help if we further lowered trade barriers to help these countries develop their own method of sustaining themselves.

There is the African Growth and Opportunity Act, which gives preferential trade deals to African countries that meet certain standards for freedom and democracy. Currently 37 countries meet the requirements and they've been improving under its provisions and making more exports and imports with the US. So US business actually benefits from this arrangement because they're buying our stuff and we're buying theirs, so we get two-way trade that benefits producers and consumers on all sides. It's a good deal, but it's not enough. Africa has a limited industrial sector and agricultural is where they could really pull in some profits quickly. We need to cut our subsidies and NTBs targeted at agricultural and cut the tariffs that are holding down poor people around the world.

Let's see, we could help poor people, help US consumers, foster further liberalization, stop being trade-policy hypocrites and do it at a net profit for those involved. Or we could make direct cash transfers this year that will need to be further augmented over and over again every year as cronies return the money to their European bank accounts. Not a tough choice.

June 20, 2005

2008 Hopefuls

Joe Biden admitted he wants to try for the nomination and that he's been operating since last year as though he's running for President. Pretty frank admissions, since people are supposed to play hard to get. Kerry basically admitted he was running for President in like February of 2000, as well. Most people wait a while, form an exploratory committee, get a faux Draft Me campaign going, whatever.

So Biden's running. Aside from the 1988 plagiarism thing, which nearly every cursory report on him will mention, he has a good reputation going for foreign affairs. He's been dealing with foreign relations in the Senate for many years and so he has a natural credibility when he speaks on the issues. What it really means is that unlike Kerry he would have a far better grasp on how to craft - and present - a fairly consistent foreign policy. That doesn't mean it's good, but at least it'll be honest and something people can believe in.

It seems to me like Biden is shooting for the honest-man campaign, trying to do it without spin. His speaking style is sort of like McCain's in that they both (on the Sunday shows) just talk in a fairly candid way about their own opinions rather than simply falling back on rhetoric or talking points. That doesn't mean they don't have rhetoric or talking points, or that they're totally honest, but it definitely comes off in a much more credible, personal manner than other politicians.

Mitt Romney is also running, though he hasn't admitted it yet. There's a good chance he won't run for Governor of Massachusetts in 2006 because besides needing time to campaign it might force him into a more lefty corner and screw him in the primaries. If he ended up losing the race, his chances in the primaries would be significantly hurt - which is strange, because I would expect Romney to be a perfectly reasonable candidate even if he had no chance of winning Massachusetts (be cause he doesn't). He does, however, have Michigan lining uo closer to him, and I'd suspect Utah as well but Utah's always Republican so who cares.

He'd be the first Mormon President (and Biden would be the second Roman Catholic President) and he would probably be able to run with the support of a number of conservatives, including religious conservatives. He's worked with many evangelicals and he's got many supporting him or at least willing to support him if no better candidate comes along.

Ultimately Biden is unlikely to win the nomination because he won't grab hold of the base and foreign policy is too hard to motivate more than a small portion of the electorate - and those who do rate it highly are more Republican than Democratic. Romney might be in a very good position given his record, his propensity to win Michigan (which went to Kerry) and his ability to play up conservative credentials.

June 19, 2005

PM de Villepin Making the Hard Choices

The new French PM, renowned America-hating diplomat Dominique de Villepin, gave his first policy speech in his new job. He starts out giving the basic situation report that the French are unhappy with unemployment, even those with jobs feel insecure, and in the background is the strong French rejection of the EU constitution treaty (and the rejection of his predecessor's market reforms) that propelled him into office. Given these momentous changes, he does the honorable thing and levels with the French people by telling them that dramatic reforms - though painful in the short run - will dramatically improve over their worsening situation. He bravely rallies them around reform to renovate a dying and disproven social model.

Just kidding. Actually he said this, inter alia:
    In any case, we are not going to tack a model which is not ours onto French reality.

    Of course we may be inspired, in a pragmatic way, by successful experiences in Europe or elsewhere, but we certainly won't call the basis of our social model into question.
Courageous words from a true man of action. No doubt Doctor de Villepin's prescription for reform is a patented dose of More Of The Same.

Basically, he's canceled all the modest market reforms still on the table, he's indefinitely suspended the tax cut plans, and he's arguing for a greater social emphasis in EU policy, to the detriment of the market.

Fear4s and hopes of a French renaissance are greatly exaggerated. Guys like de Villepin reassure that I'm right in my take of the EU vote: while the treaty itself was an absurd construction that deserved to be defeated and replaced by a more restrained document, it was the socialists and the xenophobes who won. The treaty supporters are the right side, but the vehicle they were advancing was inadequate for the task it faced. The parties of the center-right, the remaining people in Europe with even a passing respect for liberalism and markets, were overwhelmingly the strongest supporters of the treaty. It was the anti-change left and the anti-change right that propelled the defeat of the treaty for their own -stunningly bad- reasons.

Maybe another decade or two of socialist mismanagement will convince Europe to truly embrace the post-Soviet era.

June 18, 2005

Philosophical Inconsistency

It also amazes me how a person of one political persuasion can interpret one sitution one way and a similar situation in a wholly separate way. My contention is that the lack of philosophical grounding in most political ideologies results in these confusions.

For example, if I were talking to a lefty Democrat and asked what they thought about abstinence in sex education, they'd say that it doesn't work. Our subject would argue that sex is going to happen and it's best to not be scared of it, to deal with it rationally and to make sure everyone knows how it works and what to do. If I asked about gun control - which is really just firearm abstinence - the Democrat would say that guns are dangerous and bad and perhaps even immoral and we should be confining them to only a few aspects like the army and hunting. If I juxtaposed these two responses for our subject Democrar, I would probably hear something to the effect of "but it's different; guns kill people." Yes, it is different; if it weren't different then I'd have no point.

Because they're superficially different but founded on similar situations, it shows that there's a philosophical gap between the two. The first response is libertarian (though hardly all Democrats have a libertarian-esque view of sex; many of them just don't like religious people) in saying that honesty, knowledge and individual responsibility is the ideal response to difficult questions. The second response is conservative in saying that behavior should be controlled and limited without regard to positive or negative applications and it's authoritarian-esque in the application of centralized power and even police coercion to achieve the goal (many social conservatives traditionally emphasized a personal-responsibility style for controlling behavior).

It happens again with health care and education. If I were to ask our subject to discuss education funding, he would almost certainly argue that more money in the system would make it better. If I asked him to compare and contrast the health care spending in Europe and Canada with the health care spending in the US, he'd probably say that they spend less of their economies on medical care and that must mean we're less efficient. Why would he come to these different conclusions? In the first one, more is better to him because it buys more education; in the second one, less is better because he doesn't think it buys more health care. Now, I believe that this is mostly a product of the left-right dispute over whether we should be American or whether we should be European, but that only further displays the philosophical dearth going on in politics. But this is a really simple question: does more money buy more product? Does it buy a better product? That should be a pretty simple question to answer (even if you don't give a yes/no answer).

I'm not saying this is hypocrisy, although certainly one could try to formulate the argument that it's philosophically hypocritical, but I think it's compelling evidence that many people subscribe to particularist politics rather than fundamental philosophies.

This seems to me to be less widespread in liberalism, especially center-right liberalism, and more evident in positivist-socialism, especially of the left. This is easy to illustrate again. I've been doing research on political parties around the world, and in the process I read an English-language introduction to the Indepencence Party in Iceland. They are a free market liberal party, and the explanation of their politics didn't say what they wanted to do, but rather what they generally believed in - like human freedom, individual rights, international accord, economic freedom, etc. They saved the specifics for further down. I've read similar such introductions for left-wing advocacy groups (in the US) and they all seem to offer a shopping list of the things they want, even if it's not obvious how they overlap - the right to choose, protect the environment, stand up for worker's rights, foster diversity, good jobs at good wages, etc. These things could be philosophically connected to some people but the descriptions I've read don't usually attempt to make them any other way except trying to "fight the right-wing." That's just reactionary.

Naturally this is the reason why we come across hypocrisy in more concrete examples of it - like the many Democrats who voted for previous FTAs over the years but won't vote for DR-CAFTA despite having almost identical labor and environmental provisions. That's real hypocrisy, not just philosophical inconsistency. But it's the lack of a real commitment to any philosophy that causes these situations.

Kerry's lack of even a basic philosophy probably cost him the election, because he couldn't even make up his mind where he was on the war or what he would have done about it. This was a glaring example of lacking any guiding philosophy, and he'll always be remembered for this bungle and his famous 'voted for ti before I voted against' quote, just as Mondale will always be remembered as the idiot who promised to raise taxes and Dukakis as the heartless leftist that wasn't moved by his own wife's murder.

There's the lesson; expounding a basic philosophy, even if it's not a terribly complex one, provides political benefits. People know where you stand and they can respect you. While it's true that sticking to your guns (or sticking to your gun control) can mean political defeat, it's only with vision and philosophical purpose that the best leaders are found.

June 15, 2005

The Myth of Mental Illness

I just watched One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest on DVD (for the first time) and I found it a great movie. Needless to say, I ended up with a negative view of mental institutions, perhaps overstated by the movie, but then I had those opinions basically since I can remember. I've never much liked hospitals (despite working in hospital records for a summer) but I've always hated mental institutions. The loss of control and the total denial of patients being taken rationally or being allowed to leave has always struck me as cruelly evil, wantonly abusive and horribly depraved. Of course, I wouldn't have been able to phrase it like that as a child, but I still had a strong reaction against it.

The views of Dr. Thomas Szasz are particularly interesting on the issue. I can't say I agree with everything he says, but I have to agree with his basic contentions and his conclusion: that psychiatry is often pseudo-science sham that relies on unproven or tyrannical methods.

The whole idea of civil commitment, that people who have been convicted no crime cannot be released until a few doctors say so, is ludricous and unfree. It's unconstitutional, a violation of 5th Amendment rights, not to mention 9th and 14th. Only a trial with all the 5th and 6th Amendment and other protections can deprive someone of his liberty in that manner. The potentially arbitrary and necessarily subjective manner of ending civil commitment doesn't help any, either.

Of course, the real question, independent from our rights, is just what mental illness means (Szasz-ophiles already know where this is headed). An illness or pathology is a medical term referring to an abnormal condition of the body. The mind is not a part of the body, so mental illness is simply a metaphor. Your mind doesn't really have illnesses, that's just using a term that sounds well-defined to describe behavior. Ultimately, mental illnesses are just a way to describe behaviors and actions. Some people behave strangely and mental illness is a way to describe those behaviors and to give some medical legitimacy to psychiatric guesswork.

I have to borrow his argument for the separation of psychiatry and state. We shouldn't be locking people up because they're crazy, which is no crime, especially in the unfree, unconstitutional manner by which psychologists replace the judge, the jury, the appeals process and the defense attorney. People should be free to pursue treatment without coercion.

If you talk to God, you are praying; If God talks to you, you have schizophrenia. - Szasz
The Left Is Left Again (tip to VC)

I seem to recall some people once trying to tell me that MoveOn.Org and Howard Dean were libertarian-leaning Democrats, based largely on the theory that they opposed the war, supported gay marriage and wanted to balance the budget. Of course, the fact that they wanted to balance the federal budget by tax hikes instead of spending cuts and that they wanted their balanced budget to include a $1 trillion-plus guaranteed health insurance scheme didn't really enamor me to the theory. I've already blogged before on Howard Dean's centrist-interventionist record from Vermont, and now here's a MoveOn effort to prove they're just as conservative, pro-status quo and distrustful of private interaction as the next Democrats.

Apparently unwilling to believe that any popular or valuable television has ben produced by private interactions or private means - and despite the fact that MoveOn itself was created by private people without government funding - they're fighting an attempt by Congress to reduce funding for NPR and PBS. Of course, the MoveOn petition lies and says the House is deciding whether to eliminate all the funding and specifically mentions Sesame Street and Reading Rainbow to be targeted. In actuality, as Juan Non-Volokh points out, it's an attempt to reduce funding from $400 million to $300 million. Moreover, the popular shows would certainly continue on with other funding. The popular and well-watched shows won't be canceled.

It's amazing how little trust they have in private or market methods to maintain entertainment. Such fear-mongering is unwarranted.

According to this article from the World Screen News, Sesame Street is seen in 77 countries and is worth $1.5 billion in spin-offs. Blue's Clues generates a billion dollars annually for Nickelodeon. Does anybody really think that the money they get from their share of federal funding is going to make or break Sesame Street when it's half-again as profitable as the privately maintained Blue's Clues? Come on. Just nonsense.

Are we really going to say that this money is more important than other priorities? Is it more important than the deficit, more important than the debt, more important than tax cuts, more important than any other area where we could spend it? Of course not! It's not even necessary spending, because the best programs would all be continued without a doubt.

I think the left feels at rest with this issue, defending the clueless, the irrelevant and the unfairly protected, because they've been awkwardly arguing for 'fiscal responsibility' and 'balancing the budget' for too long. They're happy to get back to defending unnecessary public funding again. They tried to play it moderate and fiscally responsible, but it just wasn't them. To thine own socialist self be true.

June 13, 2005

The Philosophy of Liberty

I really enjoy this flash animation from the International Society for Individual Liberty. The music might throw some people off but I find the arguments very well reasoned, very corrdinated, very well ordered and creatively animated. It's an excellent way to explain the fundamental philosophical precepts of libertarianism.

You might not be able to tell by modern political discourse, but classical political rhetoric hinged on philosophical precepts. Are people good or bad? Is knowledge benign, malignant or neutral? Is there free will, pre-destination or instinct and to what degree are we responsible for our actions? Do groups or objects have real moral value or only individuals? Who is qualified to make what types of decision and why? And so forth.

A lot of people don't really follow the philosophical connections to politics (as observed in journalistic political coverage, which resembles a horse race and a succession of pandering to interest groups, rather than an expression of moral, philosophical or social values). That's too bad, because only when we identify the basic principles we believe in can we set about forming a truly ethical response to a given situation.

I like the flash at ISIL because it does exactly that - set up all the philosophical precepts about life, liberty and property, then explain the necessary ground rules that follow from those beliefs. It's syllogistic; if you accept the precepts then you must accept the ensuing ground rules.

I have only a couple additions I'd mention on top of the video, though for reasons of display it might not be practical to include them. The first is that it's often useful to point out that, while people are not always perfect at managing their own lives, it's insulting to think that other people ought to run their lives for them or that they'd do a better job (in addition to unethical to allow it). I would also say that the problems around the world part of the flash is correct but only in part. It's true that many dictators and world problems start when people encourage or allow the bad actions of their leaders, but many problems come from dictators who were not encouraged by the people. I might add to the animation something about the legitimacy of defending against these aggressors, just as earlier in the video aggressors are defended against mutually. It almost sounds like a "you asked for it; it's your fault" sort of thing, though they didn't actually say that. Some clarification might help show the distinctions.

It's an entertaining little video and a brief but helpful introduction to the principles of liberty.
WV SC and Self-Defense

I wasn't going to blog on the 2001 ruling from the West Virginia Supreme Court in Feliciano v. West Virginia that held that the self-defensive acts of a 7-11 employee against an armed robber (he grabbed the gun from her and held her until police arrived) were a potential exception to his at-will employment status (meaning he couldn't be fired for violating 7-11's policy on robbery) - while still affirming that 7-11 could argue its side on the effects of self-defense versus cooperation - but Professor Bainbridge's post strenuously against and Instapundit's brief post apparently in favor make me want to explain to all what I think.

First of all, I disagree with both ProfBainbridge and the WV Supreme Court. Aside from Bainbridge's strange dislike for firearms (the same tool that freed and protected this country from all manner of ills) and from his assertion on the negative economic effects of this particular at-will exception, I basically agree with him. I don't think that self-defense would act as an at-will exception on more than rare occasions, since it would require a) a robbery, b) an act of self-defense, c) a company policy or action resulting from the act of self-defense, and d) an employee who wants to fight the termination or punishment. I'd imagine the confluence of those things is pretty rare. That said, to my mind the West Virginia decision clearly violates property rights.

Let's identify the principles here. Does an employee have the right to self-defense? Yes, as does any other person. Does an employer have the right to set and enforce policies? Yes, that's part of the property right. Does an employer have the right to fire at-will employees for any reason? Yes, again that's a natural part of property.

The employee has the right to self-defense because he's a living person. The employer has the right to set and enforce policies and to fire at-will employees at will because without these rights it could not be said to truly own its property (the maintenance of property is an inseparable part of owning property).

The result should be obvious, given these principles: the employee had a right to exercise self-defense and the employer had a right to punish him for it. He had the right to protect himself in the manner he did (grabbing the gun while the robber was distracted) because he could reasonably believe it saved lives and property. The employer had the right to fire him for disobeying their wishes about how robberies of their property should be handled, because they are not obligated to retain his services.

Therefore, the employee should not be prosecuted by the authorities, as are some people who defend themselves, and the employer should not be forced to retain the employee's services. But I must strenuously disagree with Professor Bainbridge's tone. Aside from an unwarranted hostility toward gun owners, who he seems to blame for the connection even though (as he notes) the employee in connection merely wrested the gun away from the robber, he links self-defense to the Second Amendment. The Second Amendment is the teeth of the right to self-defense and the right to life, but it doesn't actually secure that right.

It's the difference between having a right to own a car and having the right to travel. The Second Amendment lets you keep and bear the arms that are so necessary to protecting your life, but the actual right to life and thus to self-defense stem from Amendment V, Amendment IX and Amendment XIV. Five and Fourteen guarantee the right to life explicitly (which necessarily includes self-defense) and Nine protects it as one of the unenumerated but still perfectly legitimate rights.

Aside from that, I have to emphasize that Professor Bainbridge's tone seems totally hostile to the idea of self-defense. I don't object to his legal reasoning, just to his strangely impassioned view that somehow one must be crazy to defend himself. I would be surprised if he took the same view of our soldiers fighting the Japanese or the British, but the right of countries to self-defense is based entirely on the right of individuals to defend themselves. If people can't defend themselves, then nations oughtn't - and we would be better left to letting Japan take what it would of our Pacific islands or letting the British do as they would with our merchant fleets and colonial governments.

The right to self-defense is the single most important right any human can have. If you cannot morally or practically defend yourself then your rights are at beast endangered and at worst horribly abused. But the right to self-defense isn't a trump card over the liberty of others. Thus, the employee had a right to protect himself, but 7-11 had the right to fire him at any time for any reason regardless of his self-defensiveness.

The unimpeachable right of the employee to defend himself doesn't relate to or override the liberty of the employer to fire him.

Of course, Orin Kerr ably points out that the ruling merely created a balanced framework for the issue, and that they allowed the employers to argue, against the employee, that they have a sufficient interest in prohibiting the act for which the employee was terminated. So ultimately most of the controversy over this is overblown. Of course, I still maintain that it infringes on the legitimate property rights of the employer (particularly to setting its own rules for the defense of its own property) to prevent them from firing an at-will employee.
Kerr's 4th Amendment Puzzle

At Volokh Conspiracy Orin Kerr has a 4th Amendment issue that apparently hasn't been fully settled yet by courts. Simply put, when police search a suspect's hard drive, they make an exact copy of all the data and do their searching on the copy, not the original. The act of searching may alter the original, thus the need for a copy. It also makes sure they have a backup if anything goes wrong, no doubt. What if a suspect consents to a search but then (perhaps after speaking to an attorney) withdraws the consent after the copy has been made? Can the police search the copy?

I'd lean very heavily to privacy in this case. The guy withdrew consent and the fact that the hard drive was copied but not searched means nothing except that the copy has to be destroyed or turned over. They were preparing to search and undergoing preliminary steps to search but it hadn't even begun yet. If it had begun, they would have to stop mid-search.

Here's another question: what if the guy and his lawyer withdraw consent at 4:35 pm, but word doesn't get to the lab until 4:39 pm and at 4:37 pm th lab techie found something incriminating? As far as he knew, he had consent. Seems pretty clear to me that he didn't, in fact, have consent and that the withdrawal ought to apply immediately - leaving the evidence out. The difficulty, of course, is whether anyone could prove just when consent was revoked in relation to the discovery.

June 12, 2005

New Communist Alliance For German Elections

The communist PDS in Germany, formerly the Soviet-era tyrants of Eastern Germany, is teaming up with Western German trade unionist group WASG to present a far-left ticket for the German elections this fall. Naturally they're challenging the red-green alliance of the Social Democrats and the Greens. The left is not very happy with the market-oriented Hartz Commission reforms undertaken .

Oskar Lafontaine, who left the Social Democrats near the end of May, is looking to run as a main candidate for the new alliance. Gregor Gysi, who led the PDS during the transition from GDR to unified FRG, is also coming back. Together they represent major icons of the left for East and West. Gysi has had some scandals, including his disputed (by both the communist PDS and the liberal-capitalist FDP) conviction of being an informant for the Stasi (East German secret police) and another scandal involving misuse of airline bonus miles as a member of the Bundestag. He's generally considered charismatic and a positive addition to the PDS' list.

The Party for Democratic Socialism and the Election Alternative for Social Justice would have to achieve 5% in the list vote to win seats in the Bundestag. The PDS failed to achieve the hurdle in the 2002 election by 0.7% but elected two members through SMD constituencies.

It's possible that the SPD will see a drop-off to this left challenge and to the CDU on the right, while the Greens are faltering under a passport scandal incurred by Joschka Fischer, formerly Germany's most popular politician. It's very possible that the emergence of a potential left wing threat could put further tension on the Greens (already split between the pro-government faction and the radical faction).

Either way, this doesn't seem to change the likely outcome that that the Christian Democrats (& CSU) and the Free Dmeocrats will be in a Merkel-Westerwelle government by October. The disaffection from the Social Democrats in Nordrhein-Westfalen was not that they weren't left enough, because the clearest winner in the election was the Christian Democrats. The conservatives and liberals are very likely to be the winners this autumn in Germany, and a far-left alliance is likely to help undergird that impending victory.

June 11, 2005

Khodorkovsky Sentenced

On May 31st Mikhail Khodorkovsky was sentenced to nine years in prison for criticizing President Putin and Russia's course. Well, officially it's tax evasion stemming from the acquisition of former Soviet oil concern-turned privatized energy company Yukos. More to the point, it's a punishment of Khodorkovsky for being pro-democracy, pro-US, pro-invasion of Iraq, pro-free press and pro-capitalism. He didn't keep his big democracy-supporting Jewish mouth shut so Putin shut it for him - to the point of arresting him at gunpoint with more than a dozen armed FSB agents who stormed his jet on a runway in Novosibirsk. Khodorkovsky is also guilty of being fabulously wealthy in Russia - he's been the richest man in Russia for several years. The Russian people aren't very taken with rich people and so it's a nice little populist boost to take down Khodorkovsky, in addition to eliminating an animated, resource-laden, international opponent.

Assuming K actually did what he was convicted of, it's still prejudicial. Aside from the manner in which he was arrested, he is being targeted for crimes that many other rich Russian businessmen have not been investigated or indicted for. That's arbitrary and capricious, and shows that he's being targeted for his outspoken views and not some shady deals.

Khodorkovsky's arrest, trial and sentence should merit serious rebukes against Russia, and should be couched directly next to Putin's heavily illegal clampdown on all non-state media. He used FSB teams and legal pretenses to take out the last independent media networks, and he used the same combination to take out a major political opponent (it's worth pointing out that K supported groups that promoted democracy and media openness, as well as funding the pink-liberal pro-Western party Yabloko and links with the SPS Union of Right Forces).

This is another one of those dead-canary things we should be worried about seeing in Russia - not to mention the whole "rigged election" business.

UPDATE: Tom Lantos agrees with me. Richard Perle came to the same conclusion; there's no place for Russia in the G-8 after the Khodorkovsky nonsense on top of the flawed election and elimination of independent media.

June 10, 2005

Barnett on Raich (tip to VC)

Randy Barnett, a co-blogger at the Volokh Conspiracy and counsel for Raich and Monson in Gonzales v. Raich, has a piece up on NRO that gives a post-game analysis from his perspective. As always, he manages to point out libertarian-ish nuances that mainstream legal opinion overlooks. In this case, he points this out:
    I note something overlooked by all coverage of the case I have seen. Justices Rehnquist and Thomas both declined to join the paragraph in Justice O'Connor's dissent in which she expresses her disagreement with the state medical-cannabis laws. This does not necessarily mean that these two justices agree with the Compassionate Use Act, but it does mean that they explicitly refused to go on record against it. Contrast this with Justice Thomas's condemnation of the Texas anti-sodomy law in his dissent in Lawrence v. Texas.
To join only in part takes more work than to join in entirety; that means both Rehnquist and Thomas explicitly did not want to be associated with the paragraph where O'Connor says she disagrees with the medical marijuana statute in California and would not have voted for it.

He ends on an incredibly topical note:
    But Gonzales v. Raich has placed the future of the New Federalism in doubt, which makes future appointments to the Supreme Court all the more important. Will the president name someone who, like Justice Thomas, is truly committed to federalism? Or will his nominee be a fair-weather federalist, as Justice Scalia has turned out to be when the chips were down?