Posts tagged ‘Washington Post’

Irony Alert

Over at Climate Skeptic, I take a quick look at the most recent Gavin Schmidt PR piece in the Washington Post, claiming that 2007 was, you know, really hot.

But I wanted to share two funny bits with you.  First, from the climate crowd who claims to have their science so buttoned down that we skeptics should not even be allowed to talk about it any more, comes this:

Taking into account the new data, they said, seven of the eight
warmest years on record have occurred since 2001

What new data?  That another YEAR had been discovered?  Because when
I count on my own fingers, I only can come up with 6 years since 2001.

Second, comes this bit of irony:  There are many reasons why satellites gives us a potentially better measure for world temperatures than surface temperature instruments.  They give us full global coverage (except the poles) and are free of urban and other biases.  So I have always wondered if the only reason that climate scientists defend the surface temperature record over satellites is merely because they don't like the answer satellites are giving (they show less warming than do surface temperature records).

But here is the irony:  The person who is arguably the strongest defender of land-based measurement over satellites, and who maintains what neutral observers feel is the most upwardly-biased surface temperature record, is Gavin Schmidt, who is ... wait for it ... head of the Goddard Institute of Space Studies at NASA.

Congress: We Can't Stop Ourselves From Doing Harm

From the Washington Post, via Tom Nelson, comes a nice summary of the consequences of Congress's addiction to ethanol mandates and subsidies.  The last sentence in particular is one I have warned about for a while on this issue.

To be sure, some farmers in these countries benefit from higher prices.
But many poor countries -- including most in sub-Saharan Africa -- are
net grain importers, says the International Food Policy Research
Institute, a Washington-based think tank. In some of these countries, the poorest of the poor spend 70 percent or more of their budgets on food.
About a third of the population of sub-Saharan Africa is
undernourished, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of
the United Nations. That proportion has barely changed since the early
1990s. High food prices make gains harder.
the extra demand for grains to make biofuels, spurred heavily in the
United States by government tax subsidies and fuel mandates, that has
pushed prices dramatically higher
. The Economist rightly calls
these U.S. government subsidies "reckless." Since 2000, the share of
the U.S. corn crop devoted to ethanol production has increased from
about 6 percent to about 25 percent -- and is still headed up.
is not a case of unintended consequences. A new generation of
"cellulosic" fuels (made from grasses, crop residue or wood chips)
might deliver benefits, but the adverse effects of corn-based ethanol
were widely anticipated. Government subsidies reflect the careless and
cynical manipulation of worthy public goals for selfish ends. That the
new farm bill may expand the ethanol mandates confirms an old lesson:
Having embraced a giveaway, politicians cannot stop it, no matter how

Why Campaign Spending Will Continue to Rise

Because the government has put itself in the job of redistributor-in-chief, and there is just too high of a financial return from influencing who are to be the beneficiaries, and who are to be the sacrificial lambs.  This is particularly the case when Congress can aim dollars at a small group who will give back generously in return, and where the costs are dispersed across large numbers of people, generally consumers or taxpayers or both:

Dan Morgan has another excellent Washington Post report
on our tangled web of farm subsidies, tariffs, government purchases,
and so on. This time he examines the sugar industry's political
contributions"“"more than 900 separate contributions totaling nearly
$1.5 million to candidates, parties and political funds" in 2007 alone.
Most of the money went to Democrats, apparently, which might explain
why Democrats opposed more strongly than Republicans an amendment
to strike the sugar subsidy provisions from the bill. Morgan delights
in pointing out members of Congress such as Rep. Carolyn Maloney of
Queens and Manhattan and Rep. Steven Rothman of bucolic Hackensack and
Fort Lee, New Jersey, who received funds from the sugar magnates and
voted to protect their subsidies despite the fact that they would seem
to have more sugar consumers than sugar growers in their districts....

So $1.5 million is a lot of money, and it seems to have done the trick.
But . . . is it really so much money? According to Morgan, the sugar
provisions in the farm bill are worth $1 billion over 10 years. That's
a huge return on investment. In what other way could a business invest
$1.5 million to reap $1 billion?

The real campaign finance reform that is needed is to get the government out of the business of naming winners and losers.

Update:  More on the sugar fiasco here.

Under the current system, the government guarantees a price floor for
sugar and limits the sugar supply "” placing quotas on domestic
production and quotas and tariffs to limit imports. According to the
Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, sugar supports
cost American consumers "” who pay double the average world price "” more
than $1.5 billion a year. The system also bars farmers in some of the
poorest countries of the world from selling their sugar here.

The North American Free Trade Agreement is about to topple this
cozy arrangement. Next year, Mexican sugar will be allowed to enter the
United States free of any quotas or duties, threatening a flood of
imports. Rather than taking the opportunity to untangle the sugar
program in this year's farm bill, Congress has decided to bolster the
old system.

Both the House bill, which was passed in July, and the Senate
version, which could be voted on as early as this week, guarantee that
the government will buy from American farmers an amount of sugar
equivalent to 85 percent of domestic consumption "” regardless of how
much comes in from abroad. To add insult to injury, both also increase
the longstanding price guarantee for sugar.

The bills encourage the government to operate the program at no cost
to the budget, by selling the surplus sugar to the ethanol industry.
That's not likely. Ethanol makers will never accept paying anywhere
near sugar's guaranteed price. According to rough estimates from the
Congressional Budget Office, supports for sugar in the House bill could
cost taxpayers from $750 million to $850 million over the next five

Definition of an Activist

Activist:  A person who believes so strongly that a problem needs to be remedied that she dedicates substantial time to ... getting other people to fix the problem.   It used to be that activists sought voluntary help for their pet problem, and thus retained some semblance of honor.  However, our self-styled elite became frustrated at some point in the past that despite their Ivy League masters degrees in sociology, other people did not seem to respect their ideas nor were they particularly interested in the activist's pet issues.  So activists sought out the double shortcut of spending their time not solving the problem themselves, and not convincing other people to help, but convincing the government it should compel others to fix the supposed problem.  This fascism of good intentions usually consists of government taking money from the populace to throw at the activist's issue, but can also take the form of government-compelled labor and/or government limitations on choice.

I began this post yesterday, with the introduction above, ready to take on this barf-inducing article in the Washington Post titled " Fulfillment Elusive for Young Altruists In the Crowded Field of Public Interest."  Gee, who would have thought it difficult for a twenty-something with no real job experience to get someone like me to pay you to lobby the government to force me to pay for your personal goals for the world?

Fortunately, since it is a drop-dead gorgeous day outside, TJIC has already done the detail work of ripping this article apart.  Here is one snippet, you should read the whole thing:

So the best they can imagine doing is "advocating".

Here's a hint: maybe the reason that your "sense of adulthood"
is "sapped" is because you haven't been doing anything at all adult.

Adults accomplish things.

They do not bounce around a meaningless series of do-nothing graduate programs, NGOs, and the sophisticated social scene in DC.

If you want to help the poor in Africa, go over there, find
some product they make that could sell here, and start importing it.
Create a market. Drive up the demand for their output.

Or find a bank that's doing micro-finance.

Or become a travel writer, to increase the demand for photography safaris, which would pump more dollars into the region.

Or design a better propane refrigerator, to make the lives of the African poor better....

One thing that disgusts me about "wannabe world changers" is that
mortaring together a few bricks almost always is beneath them - they're
more interested in writing a document about how to lobby the government
to fund a new appropriate-technology brick factory.

Special mutual admiration bonus-points are herein scored by my quoting TJIC's article that quotes me quoting TJIC.

I will add one thing:  I have to lay a lot of this failure on universities like my own.  Having made students jump through unbelievable hoops just to get admitted, and then having charged them $60,000 a year for tuition, universities feel like they need to make students feel better about this investment.   Universities have convinced their graduates that public pursuits are morally superior to grubby old corporate jobs (that actually require, you know, real work), and then have further convinced them that they are ready to change to world and be leaders at 22.  Each and every one of them graduate convinced they have something important to say and that the world is kneeling at their feet to hear it.  But who the f*ck cares what a 22-year-old with an Ivy League politics degree has to say?  Who in heavens name listened to Lincoln or Churchill in their early twenties?  It's a false expectation.  The Ivy League is training young people for, and in fact encouraging them to pursue, a job (ie 22-year-old to whom we all happily defer to tell us what to do) that simply does not exist.  A few NGO's and similar organizations offer a few positions that pretend to be this job, but these are more in the nature of charitable make-work positions to help Harvard Kennedy School graduates with their self-esteem, kind of like basket-weaving for mental patients.

So what is being done to provide more pretend-you-are-making-an-impact-while-drawing-a-salary-and-not-doing-any-real-work jobs for over-educated twenty-something Ivy League international affairs majors?  Not enough:

Chief executives for NGOs, Wallace said, have told her: "Well, yeah, if
we had the money, we'd be doing more. We can never hire as many as we
want to hire." Wallace said her organization drew more than 100
applicants for a policy associate position. "The industry really needs
to look at how to provide more avenues for young, educated people," she

Excuses, excuses.  We are not doing enough for these young adults.  I think the government should do something about it!

Update:  Oh my God, a fabulous example illustrating exactly what universities are doing to promote this mindset is being provided by the University of Delaware.  See the details here.

It's OK to be Scared. Just Tell Us.

I agree with Eugene Volokh when he observes that the Opus comic rejected by the Washington Post is pretty dang tame.  I found the cartoon to be poking fun more at men and male attitudes than at Islam.  I don't think there is any way the Post can argue now that their editorial policy is symmetric across all religions.  They are tiptoeing around Islam in a way they never would with Judaism or Christianity.  If they are scared of violent reprisals, they should just say so. 

Stop Right There or I Will Shoot Myself!

Via the Washington Post:

It has become a Capitol Hill ritual: A few senators, always including the New York Democrat Charles E. Schumer, introduce a bill to punish China
if its leaders do not raise the value of the nation's currency. Photos
are taken, news releases are issued, but nothing really happens.

year, the atmosphere on the Hill is markedly different. Powerful
senators from both sides of the aisle, Schumer among them, are pushing
two bills that threaten retaliatory action if China does not budge. For
the first time, the idea is gaining broad support. The bills are moving
swiftly through the Senate, and many analysts expect one will pass.

If the bill's authors are successful, the effect at a minimum will be to raise consumer prices in the United States and lower them for Chinese citizens.  So we are going to "punish" China by making our own citizens pay higher prices.  How does this make any sense?  Also, in the process, let's make sure we reduce the capacity of China to buy US government debt, which to this point has been reducing the cost of the Federal budget deficit.

Tyler Cowen argues this is the best we can expect -- the worst is a substantial debalization in the Chinese economy... and ours.  I wrote much more on continuing to allow the Chinese government to subsidize American consumers here.

National Security Letters

From the beginning, national security letters had to end badly.  One only has to understand incentives to know that things were going to go off the rails.  Specifically, national security letters are an easy way to for investigators to short-circuit a lot of procedural steps, including review and approval of warrants by judges, steps that have been put in place for a real Constitutional purpose.  Anyone who is at all familiar with the operation of any government bureaucracy had to know that their use would steadily grow well outside the narrow bounds of urgent national security issues.  Anytime government employees can grow their power without supervision or accountability, they will tend to do so.  What absolutely guaranteed that this would happen, and sooner rather than later, was the legal non-disclosure requirements around these letters that prevents anyone from discussing, investigation, or discovering their abuse and misuse.

The Washington Post carries a great anonymous editorial from one person served with such a letter:

Three years ago, I received a national security letter (NSL) in my
capacity as the president of a small Internet access and consulting
business. The letter ordered me to provide sensitive information about
one of my clients. There was no indication that a judge had reviewed or
approved the letter, and it turned out that none had. The letter came
with a gag provision that prohibited me from telling anyone, including
my client, that the FBI was seeking this information. Based on the
context of the demand -- a context that the FBI still won't let me
discuss publicly -- I suspected that the FBI was abusing its power and
that the letter sought information to which the FBI was not entitled....

Without the gag orders issued on recipients of the letters, it is
doubtful that the FBI would have been able to abuse the NSL power the
way that it did. Some recipients would have spoken out about perceived
abuses, and the FBI's actions would have been subject to some degree of
public scrutiny. To be sure, not all recipients would have spoken out;
the inspector general's report suggests that large telecom companies
have been all too willing to share sensitive data with the agency -- in
at least one case, a telecom company gave the FBI even more information
than it asked for. But some recipients would have called attention to
abuses, and some abuse would have been deterred.

I found it
particularly difficult to be silent about my concerns while Congress
was debating the reauthorization of the Patriot Act in 2005 and early
2006. If I hadn't been under a gag order, I would have contacted
members of Congress to discuss my experiences and to advocate changes
in the law.

Tim Lynch makes a point about the national security letters I found intriguing and that has not been discussed very often, that the letters represent effect conscription of ordinary citizens into an intelligence or even big brother role.  The author of the WaPo editorial makes the same point:

I resent being conscripted as a secret informer for the government and
being made to mislead those who are close to me, especially because I
have doubts about the legitimacy of the underlying investigation.

More of Wal-Mart as Satan

I guess Exxon must be happy that after a really long run, they may finally be handing off the title of the left's great Satan to Wal-Mart.  Ezra Klein thinks government intervention to change the practices of Wal-Mart's managers, consumers, and employees is one of "the two or three most important issues facing the country" (hat tip: Instapundit).

Eegad!  My response in his comments:  "My guess is what is really worrying to you is that there is a large
group of people voluntarily and by individual choice making decisions
you don't agree with (e.g. to shop at Wal-Mart or to work at Wal-Mart)
and you are frustrated that no one has yet allowed you to become
economic fuehrer so that you can override by government coersion the
actions of individuals so you can force them to make decisions the way
that you think they should."

I have pointed out the great irony before that those who call themselves "progressive" are actually inherently conservative, hating capitalism for its chaos and unpredictability.  They hate new business models and often make common cause with incumbent competitors to get the government to halt such new competition (e.g. protection of US auto and steel vs. imports).

Update:  Sabastion Mallaby has an editorial in the Washington Post criticizing moderate Democrats for jumping on the anti-Wal-mart bandwagon

Update#2:  I realized that I forgot my usual caveat in my defense of Wal-Mart:  That is, Wal-Mart totally pisses me off in their rent-seeking from local government, benefiting from tax breaks and even eminent domain actions their competitors do not get the benefit of.  Also, I think their stores are aesthetic hell-holes I enter only under duress.  Wal-Mart has problems, I just don't agree they are the ones their critics harp on.  Tim Worstall's article reminded me I forgot this part.

Martial Law in Washington DC

I thought the city of Washington DC had declared a "Crime emergency" because there was too much crime.  Apparently not, since they have created a whole new class of criminals:  16-year-olds who are ... shudder ... out and about after 10PM.

D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey said yesterday that the city had to
set the new 10 p.m. curfew for youths 16 and younger because of
"irresponsible" parents who don't control their children.

"You shouldn't need a curfew if you've got parents who are
responsible," Ramsey said on Washington Post Radio. "But unfortunately
we've got some parents here that are totally irresponsible. Their idea
of raising a kid is throwing a kid out of the house and letting them
straggle back in at 2 o' clock in the morning."

Hat tip to Reason's Hit and Run, which had this comment:

It's not that city officials want to play parent to every kid in the district. It's just that, gosh, turns out law enforcement professionals are better parents.

I hate to think what ideas this will give our local stormtrooper Joe Arpaio, the Sheriff with the largest PR budget in the nation. 

Props by the way to Phoenix New Times reporter John Dougherty, whose longstanding reporting on Sheriff Joe is reminiscent of the tough, confrontational local reporting of old.  Of course, there's no room for that in the milquetoast pander-to-the-local-pols reality of big-city newspapers today, so Dougherty is relegated to the local alternative paper (which may not be fair -- I don't know Mr. Dougherty -- he may prefer to be where he is).   Sheriff Joe is popular here in Phoenix, so the Arizona Republic (the big paper here) panders to him rather than risk confronting a popular figure.  The fact that one of Sheriff Joe's family helps run the Arizona Republic's editorial page may also have something to do with it.

Are People Rational About Gas Prices?

As a preface, I am not a socialist planner, so I do not presume to make other people's economic trade-offs for them.  If someone out there chooses to collect Pinto station wagons or pay $10 million to go on a Russian space launch, power to them.

That being said, I will observe that gas price concerns seem to drive people to do things that they would not normally do in other contexts.  Market Power quoted this statement from the Washington Post:

"When prices go up, you're going to see some interesting things," said Tom
Kloza, chief analyst for the Oil Price Information Service in New Jersey.
"Saving money on gas is something that's just magical in this country. Rational
thought just doesn't apply to gas."

Market Power was skeptical that such irrationality exists, but I think it may be correct.  Here are a few examples:

1.  Waiting for hours:  A couple of years ago when I lived in Seattle, a local Costco put in a gas station and sold gas for 10-15 cents or so below most of the other local stations.  Every time I went there, there was a huge line -- perhaps half an hour long -- to get gas.  For a fifteen gallon fill-up saving 15 cents and waiting 30 minutes, that equates to $4.50 an hour savings for their efforts, not to mention the extra driving time (and gas!) spent getting to this one spot rather than their local station.  How many people in the line would have driven an extra 10 miles to take a job at $4.50 an hour? 

Lately, I witnessed a free gas promotion where people lined up and waited at least 3 hours for 10 gallons for free gas (people apparently had lined up starting at 4AM for the promotion that began at 8AM.  This is a bit better deal at $10 per hour, but I wonder how many people in the line would have participated in any other endeavor for $10 an hour?  Market Power points to a similar promotion in Sioux Falls, where the value of police time providing security was probably higher than the value of the gas given away.

2.  Save a dollar, pay three extra.  One of the reasons I am unconcerned with gas price gouging is that many gas stations today use gas as a loss leader, hoping to pull motorists into their store or restaurant.  In the language of gouging, what this means is that typically you are getting a great price on gas (given what the dealer's costs are) and are getting gouged on coffee and Twinkies.  Its amazing to me that people who check the Internet to find the place with 5 cents a gallon cheaper gas will then walk into the convenience store and pay whatever for Cokes and water and cigarettes and beer and coffee.  It seems crazy, but the best way to explain it is that for a number of people, a dollar saved on gas gives them far more satisfaction than say a dollar save on soft drinks.

3.  Wagering with the rental car company.  Every rental car company offers you a wager nowadays.  They give you the chance to buy the whole tank of gas in advance for something like 20 cents less than the local market rate.  Assume the local market rate is $3.20, the rental car advance rate is $3.00, and the tank is 15 gallons.  All you have to do to win this bet as the renter is to return the car with less than 1 gallon left.  If you do, you win, otherwise you lose.  Is this a bet you want to take?

But I left something out - the value of your time.  Let's say you value your marginal time at $30, and it take 15 minutes to fill up the rent car yourself.  By taking the fuel option, you save $7.50 of time.  This means to win the bet, including the value of your time, you have to turn it in with less than 3.5 gallons left, or less than 1/4 full.  The other alternative is to not stop and turn it in at the rent car place and let them fill it up at their $6.00 rate.  But even this ridiculously inflated rate for turning the car in part-full is still a better option than the pre-paid fuel as long as you don't use more than half a tank.   And I bet that the vast, vast majority of people who rent cars, particularly on business trips, don't use a half tank (a half tank at 20mpg is about 150 miles).

One of the best tests of my proposition is to see how many businesses
today act as if this gas-price-overfocus is a real phenomenon:  Car
dealerships give away free gas rather than rebates;  many many
companies are having free gas promotions;  gas stations continue to
sell gas at cost to get you in their store.  Basically, businesses
everywhere are betting that their customers will find $30 of gas more
appealing than any other $30 giveaway. 

None of the above bothers me particularly -- people are different and interesting in how they act.  That's why government planning tends to chafe everyone.  In fact, the only part of this supposed irrationality about gas prices that does bother me is the fact that so many people run to the government for price controls and gouging investigations whenever gas prices go up, and so many Congressmen of both parties see value to pandering to these instincts.  This despite the fact that gas prices are still effectively far lower as a percentage of income than they were 25 years ago.  I wish they would all go back to sipping their $8 Starbucks coffees and just deal with it.

Update:  Was on checking out an email that seemed like an urban legend (it was) and saw a sidebar listing gas wars as the #1 urban legend email of the moment.  ExxonMobil seems to be the bad-guy target-of-choice, I guess just because they are the largest.  The "idea" in the email is that if everyone would boycott ExxonMobil and shop at other gas stations, the price of gas would fall.  LOL.  As Snopes points out:

A boycott of a couple of brands of gasoline won't result in lower
overall prices. Prices at all the non-boycotted outlets would rise due
to the temporarily limited supply and increased demand, making the
original prices look cheap by comparison. The shunned outlets could
then make a killing by offering gasoline at its "normal" (i.e.,
pre-boycott) price or by selling off their output to the non-boycotted
companies, who will need the extra supply to meet demand. The only
person who really gets hurt in this proposed scheme is the service
station operator, who has almost no control over the price of gasoline.

Congress Finally Stirs Itself Over Separation of Powers

A while back, I lamented that all three branches of government seemed to be conspiring to weaken Constitutional limits and separation of powers.

The good news is that Congress has finally gotten worked up about protecting separation of powers.  The bad news is that the issue at hand is the justice department's investigation of Congressional bribery.  Unbelievable.  These guys are totally lost.  More on the Jefferson bribery chargesGlenn Reynolds comments and has a roundup.

Ed Morrissey provides a bit of Constitutional analysis, as well as this excellent point:

This can't be the same Congress that issues subpoenas for all sorts
of probes into the executive branch and the agencies it runs. Does
Congress really want to establish a precedent that neither branch has
to answer subpoenas if issued by the other, even if approved by a judge
-- which this particular subpoena was?

The FBI had a valid subpoena for the information in Jefferson's
office. He refused to provide it. The FBI had little choice but to go
in and take it, and from the description given in the Washington Post,
they took extraordinary care not to confiscate legitimate data relating
to his legislative responsibilities.

Time for Patent Reform

Its clearly time for patent reform as it applied to software.  In the last ten years, software engineers have apparently have been able to convince hardware-centric patent examiners that some pretty basic software concepts are "non-obvious" and patentable.  Guestblogging at Overlawyered last week, I mentioned one such patent, the Amazon "1-click ordering" patent, which to me is clearly copyrightable, but not patentable.

Rob Pegoraro makes a similar point in the Washington Post, editorializing on the Blackberry suit:

No, the problem here is simpler. There are too many bogus patents getting handed out.

solution would be to make more things unpatentable. Just as you can't
-- or shouldn't -- be able to patent a mathematical equation, in this
scenario you wouldn't be able to claim ownership of things like the
general workings of software (any individual program is already
protected by copyright) or business methods. The U.S. has been a
pioneer in turning those things into new types of intellectual
property; perhaps it's time to declare this experiment a failure.

somewhat overlapping solution would make it harder to get any patent.
The patent office would apply a higher standard of "non-obviousness" --
the idea that a patent shouldn't reward "inventions" any competent
individual could have thought up. And any outside party could submit
evidence against a patent before it became final.

I am generally sympathetic to Blackberry's plight, in part because I went to school with Jim Balsillie, the CEO of RIM.  One thing Pegoraro missed in his editorial:  The US Patent Office has already said it made a mistake in issuing the original patent that RIM was found to be violating.  The nullification of this patent is working through the system, and RIM is pleading that the injunction against them wait until this process is complete, sort of like a victim on death row begging not to be put to death because the prosecutor has admitted that based on new evidence, he shouldn't have pursued the case in the first place.  RIM has offered to settle with NTP (the patent holder)if there is a give-back if the patent is invalidated in the future, but NTP has refused this.  This all makes for an interesting drama, with a lot of brinksmanship.

By the way, though I am sympathetic to RIM to some extent, that sympathy is diminished by this:

In 2002, RIM sued software developer Good Technology for its wireless
mail-transfer technology and "smart phone" maker Handspring over its
miniaturized keyboard design. Both wound up forking over licensing fees.

As I wrote before, what goes around, comes around when you use the legal system and the long hand of the government to step on competitors.

A Proposal to Improve the Race

Again, via Reason's Hit and Run:

Yesterday an Institute of Medicine committee released a report on food marketing and children that called for
congressional action "if voluntary efforts by industry fail to successfully shift
the emphasis of television advertising during children's programming away from
high-calorie, low-nutrient products to healthier fare." According to The New York Times, the IOM report "links TV ads and
childhood obesity." According to The Washington Post, it says "TV ads entice kids to

It is amazing that the human race has made it this far given that our children are raised by two entities, "TV" and "Congress", who are so often bickering with each other over how to best accomplish the task. 

I have a proposal.  I think we should nominate some smaller group of adults, maybe two on average, to take over the care, feeding, and education of children until they reach adulthood.  Though its probably not an absolute requirement, maybe we could have one of these adults be a female and one a male, to make sure children can draw on the experience and insights of both genders.  These individual child protective guardians could actually live with the children, helping them to avoid making bad decisions about diet, entertainment, and many other life issues.  This would drive accountability for raising children down much closer to the individual level, and relieve from "TV" and "Congress" the need to micromanage decision-making from afar.

The Death of Small-Government Republicans

My liberal in-laws always give me this strange condescending look whenever it comes up that I have voted for a Republican at some point in time, that same look you might give the otherwise beloved family dog that keeps pooping on the front lawn.  As a libertarian, I seldom fully agree with any political candidate of either party.  Every election is a tradeoff:  Do I vote for the unelectable and perhaps truly odd Libertarian candidate?  Or do I vote for a mainstream party with which I disagree with about half of everything they promote?

So here is how I normally make the decision:  On pure self-interest.  Since, as a small business owner, I am much more likely to need strong protection of property rights than I am going to need an abortion, a gay marriage, or legal marijuana, I end up voting Republican more often than I vote Democrat.  For this reason, the Republican party has generally garnered a good many libertarian votes, and the two most identifiable libertarians in Congress (Flake and Paul) have both called themselves Republican, though I am sure with some reservations.

This relationship, however, may be at an end as Republicans are disavowing their libertarian wing, and returning to their large government tendencies of the 1970's.  Bush and his buddy Tom Delay are turning out to be classic Nixon Republicans.  The most recent evidence comes from the fact that the following is not from our Republican President, or our Republican Speaker of the House, but from the for-god-sakes Washington Post:

But this spirit of
forbearance has not touched the Louisiana congressional delegation. The
state's representatives have come up with a request for $250 billion in
federal reconstruction funds for Louisiana alone -- more than $50,000
per person in the state. This money would come on top of payouts from
businesses, national charities and insurers. And it would come on top
of the $62.3 billion that Congress has already appropriated for
emergency relief.

Like looters who seize six
televisions when their homes have room for only two, the Louisiana
legislators are out to grab more federal cash than they could possibly
spend usefully. ...

The Louisiana delegation has apparently devoted little thought
to the root causes of the Hurricane Katrina disaster. New Orleans was
flooded not because the Army Corps of Engineers had insufficient money
to build flood protections, but because its money was allocated by a
system of political patronage. ...

The Louisiana bill is so preposterous
that its authors can't possibly expect it to pass; it's just the first
round in a process of negotiation. But the risk is that the
administration and congressional leaders will accept the $250 billion
as a starting point, then declare a victory for fiscal sanity when they
bring the number down to, say, $150 billion. Instead, Congress should
ignore the Louisiana bill and force itself to think seriously about the
sort of reconstruction that makes sense.

The Republicans are lost.  Combine this kind of spending with their Patriot Act and Sarbabes-Oxley driven Big-Borther-Is-Watching intrusiveness, luke-warm committment to free-trade, and bizarre , and I find nothing at all attractive about the party.  Only the economic insanity of the opposition party continues to keep Republicans in power. 

More on the Louisiana money grab here.

What is "Extreme"?

Per the Washington Post:

But Democrats recited a litany of Brown's controversial statements, including
several from a 2000 speech titled "Fifty Ways to Lose Your Freedom." She said
senior citizens "blithely cannibalize their grandchildren because they have a
right to get as much 'free' stuff as the political system will permit them to
extract." Elsewhere, Brown has said: "Where government moves in, community
retreats, civil society disintegrates. . . . When government advances . . .
freedom is imperiled, civilization itself [is] jeopardized."

Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) told reporters that Brown is "one of
the most extreme nominees that has ever come before the United States Senate in
the 32 years I've been a senator."

OK, so I am an extremist.  Take in particular the last quote from Brown - I bet I could find about 20 similar quotes in the Federalist Papers or from other contributors to the US Constitution.  That quote should be over the front door of the ACLU.  This is the second time I have read statements about her that were intended to scare me off but in fact endeared me to her. The first example was here.

Update:  People for the American Way have other JRB comments that are supposed to scare me, but don't.  Here is an example of what scares PFTAW:

In the New Deal/Great Society era, a rule that was the polar opposite of the
classical era of American law reigned...Protection of property was a major
casualty of the Revolution of 1937"¦Rights were reordered and property acquired a
second class status...It thus became government's job not to protect property
but, rather, to regulate and redistribute it. And, the epic proportions of the
disaster which has befallen millions of people during the ensuing decades has
not altered our fervent commitment to statism.

I am starting to wish she was running for office, so I could vote for her.  Reason has similar thoughts here.

Update #2:  Reason has a profile of her here.  Many more great quotes from her, including this gem:

In a dissent in San Remo Hotel v. City and County of San Francisco
(2002), which upheld the city's sweeping property restrictions, Justice Brown
expanded on that theme. "Theft is still theft even when the government approves
of the thievery," she declared. "The right to express one's individuality and
essential human dignity through the free use of property is just as important as
the right to do so through speech, the press, or the free exercise of religion."

Go Janice, go.

I Would Be Thrilled to Admit I'm Wrong

From David Ignatius in the Washington Post (via Captains Quarters):

The leader of this Lebanese intifada is Walid Jumblatt, the patriarch of the Druze Muslim community and, until recently, a man who accommodated Syria's occupation. But something snapped for Jumblatt last year, when the Syrians overruled the Lebanese constitution and forced the reelection of their front man in Lebanon, President Emile Lahoud. The old slogans about Arab nationalism turned to ashes in Jumblatt's mouth, and he and Hariri openly began to defy Damascus....

"It's strange for me to say it, but this process of change has started because of the American invasion of Iraq," explains Jumblatt. "I was cynical about Iraq. But when I saw the Iraqi people voting three weeks ago, 8 million of them, it was the start of a new Arab world." Jumblatt says this spark of democratic revolt is spreading. "The Syrian people, the Egyptian people, all say that something is changing. The Berlin Wall has fallen. We can see it."

I opposed the war in Iraq not because I thought there was any ethical problem in throwing out Saddam, but because it seemed to require an awful lot of time and energy and lives to overhaul one country.  I support a strong US role in the promotion of democracy, but given the long list of totalitarian states in the world, the approach in Iraq seemed inefficient.

However, my argument loses power if our efforts in Iraq start to cause spontaneous changes in other countries in the region.  To be fair, many made this very argument for the war, but I have been skeptical.  I would love to be proved wrong.

Its Kyoto Day

Today (OK, its the 16th now, so yesterday) is apparently the start date for the Kyoto Treaty.  You can find examples of my skepticism about the costs and benefits of the Kyoto treaty here.  I won't go back over all that stuff here.

The Washington Post article linked above includes the usual misstatements about global warming, and is fisked here.  I particularly liked this line (emphasis mine): uniting the vast majority of the world's nations, Kyoto could equally be the harbinger of an international model that rewards pollution-cutting innovation and pushes countries and companies to pursue cleaner forms of growth

The implication being that the US is the odd man out of a global consensus.  But then read further:

The pact, ratified by 141 nations, limits emissions from 35 industrialized countries

See the consensus problem?  Yes 141 nations ratified it, but only because 106 of them didn't have to do anything and were exempt.  In fact, they were exempted because the framers of the treaty knew that these countries would not ratify the treaty unless they were exempt. 

I also enjoyed the implication in the article that America's withdrawal from the treaty is solely based on the stand of President Bush.  You very seldom see any mention that the Senate voted 95-0 NOT to sign Kyoto until it was substantially amended, changes that have never been made to the treaty and never will be.  This occurred years before GWB became president.

Roads and Peak Pricing

Todd Zywicki at Volokh has an interesting post on what is driving hybrid car purchases in certain cities.  While certain segments are driven by environmentalism and fuel economy, the real boom in certain cities has come with the legal change in some cities allowing single persons in hybrid cars to use the carpool lanes.

"'I'd say 95 percent of the people who buy a Prius say it's to get into HOV,'" said Jay Taye, sales manager at Ourisman Fairfax Toyota. "'They talk about the tax break and the HOV, and once in a while they say they prefer it for the gas mileage as well.'"

By the way, he links an absolutely dead-on article about public transit in the Onion here called --"Report: 98 Percent of Commuters Favor Public Transportation For Others"

The link between the Onion article and the Washington Post story referred to by Zywicki is that what people really want is a fast commute in their car, and they are willing to pay for it.

Several years ago, I sent in a proposal to the Arizona Dept. of Transportation for their new HOV lanes in the Phoenix area, though I never got a response back.  I suggested that HOV lanes probably did not really increase carpooling, since they probably just shifted vehicles that would have already been carrying 2+ people into the faster lane.  Why should I get this artificial subsidy of a dedicated lane when I am driving my kid to a soccer game but not when I am driving myself to do productive work?  Either way, the lane is not changing my behavior.

Anyway, I suggested that instead, AZ DOT should create a number of special passes for exclusive use of the HOV lane.  The number of passes should be set as the largest number that could be issued while keeping the HOV lane moving at the speed limit at rush hour.  Maybe 5000?  Anyway, they would have the stats to set the number, and it could be adjusted over time.  I proposed that they then auction off these passes in a dutch auction once a year.  I posited that the clearing price might be as high as $1000, thus raising $5,000,000 a year that could be used for other transportation projects.

I have friends that said I was crazy, that no one would spend $1000.  Back then, I argued it in two ways.  First, thousands of people in town spend not $1000 but tens of thousands of dollars, in the form of purchasing a nicer-than-basic-car, to make their driving experience better.  In those terms, to the Mercedes or Lexus owner, $1000 was nothing and in fact the price might go higher.  Second, if each pass holder saved 15 minutes per commute, or 30 minutes per day over 250 work days, they would save 125 hours of their time each year.  Bidding just $1000 for this would mean that people would have to value their free time (since commuting generally comes out of free and family time) at $8 an hour.  I certainly value my free time at a MUCH higher rate than this.

This article cited above effectively adds another data point to what people might pay.  To buy a Prius, they are spending at least $5000-$10,000 more than a similar car that can't go into the HOV lane, and probably even more when you consider features they may be giving up to have the car.   

Today, I would bet that the clearing price for 5000 such passes may be $3000-$5000, thus increasing the annual revenue to the city/state as high as $25,000,000.

By the way, though it is a bit different than what I am suggesting, the best related plan that I know of that has actually been executed succesfully is congestion pricing in central London.

UPDATE:  Dang, reading up further in Volokh, Zywicki anticipated my post with a similar one here.

Be Careful Forwarding those Emails!: II

OK, today I got an email from yet another associate that claims that the US Government is making up the story that the Pentagon was attacked on 9/11. Again, please Google these things and check Snopes or urban legends or before you send them to me. The Snopes article on this one is here.

Presumably, since it is ludicrous to think that the feds could gen this event up within minutes of the WTC attacks, the proponents of this theory must also believe the WTC attack was faked or staged or created by the US Government. Beyond fever-swamp conspiracy theory lovers and rabid America-haters, I guess this also appeals to the reality avoiders who would like to believe that there are not islamo-fascists out there trying to kill us.


The Washington Post had an article on Internet conspiracy theories, including the Pentagon one mentioned above. The article also mentions this conspiracy was spread in part by a guy on his "libertarian web site". I have got to find some other name to call myself. Ayn Rand, who many libertarians (including myself) admire, always hated being called a libertarian. I start to understand why. There is a difference between wanting smaller government and living in constant X-files type paranoia about what vile plots the government is hatching.