Friday, February 29, 2008

Last year's reality: global cooling.

In September of last year I wrote that 2007, by all indications, was going to be a very cold year, much colder than one would expect with all the global warming hype we were reading. In spite of some press reports that Berlin was in the midst of heat wave I was living in Berlin and it was a very cool summer by all indications. I said so in this blog. I also spent a lot of time in England last year and I reported that it was experiencing the “same cool summer”.

This blog reported the coldest August day in New York City since 1911 and how a summer bike ride in New Hampshire was cancelled due to cold weather. I reported similar unusual cold spells in Australia, Peru, Canada and California

I also reported that a global warming awareness concert in South Africa had to be cancelled due to unusual snow for the area. I’ve spent ten winters in that region of South Africa and it never snowed once in my time there. A friend of mine who grew up there said he only saw a brief amount of snow in the area once in his entire life -- he is now 30 years old.

In another story I reported on claims by the Democrats that New Hampshire was being threatened by global warming. I showed that the weather data for New Hampshire showed no such thing. In fact the last half of the century experienced a clearly defined cooling trend.

Just a few days ago the National Post in Canada warned: “Forget Global warming: Welcome to the new Ice Age.” They reported:
The U.S. National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) reported that many American cities and towns suffered record cold temperatures in January and early February. According to the NCDC, the average temperature in January "was -0.3 F cooler than the 1901-2000 (20th century) average."

China is surviving its most brutal winter in a century. Temperatures in the normally balmy south were so low for so long that some middle-sized cities went days and even weeks without electricity because once power lines had toppled it was too cold or too icy to repair them.
I have been aware that the global warming trend lines have been flat for almost a decade now -- showing no sign of warming in spite of the models predicting such increases. And this last year I was highly suspicious that the trend line would be heading in a cooler direction. So I’ve been waiting for the 2007 data rather impatiently. Now it is available and it confirms my suspicions.
First, here are the trend lines on global temperatures for the last twenty years according to the Hadley Center for Climate Prediction in the UK. Daily Tech reports:
Over the past year, anecdotal evidence for a cooling planet has exploded. China has its coldest winter in 100 years. Baghdad sees its first snow in all recorded history. North America has the most snowcover in 50 years, with places like Wisconsin the highest since record-keeping began. Record levels of Antarctic sea ice, record cold in Minnesota, Texas, Florida, Mexico, Australia, Iran, Greece, South Africa, Greenland, Argentina, Chile -- the list goes on and on. No more than anecdotal evidence, to be sure. But now, that evidence has been supplanted by hard scientific fact. All four major global temperature tracking outlets (Hadley, NASA's GISS, UAH, RSS) have released updated data. All show that over the past year, global temperatures have dropped precipitously.
The National Post article notes that some scientists have been arguing that a cooling was in the works due to changes in solar activity. They reported:
Last month, Oleg Sorokhtin, a fellow of the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences, shrugged off manmade climate change as "a drop in the bucket." Showing that solar activity has entered an inactive phase, Prof. Sorokhtin advised people to "stock up on fur coats." He is not alone. Kenneth Tapping of our own National Research Council, who oversees a giant radio telescope focused on the sun, is convinced we are in for a long period of severely cold weather if sunspot activity does not pick up soon. The last time the sun was this inactive, Earth suffered the Little Ice Age that lasted about five centuries and ended in 1850. Crops failed through killer frosts and drought. Famine, plague and war were widespread. Harbours froze, so did rivers, and trade ceased.

Just in case you think that these scientists are way off, Anthony Watts has this graph regarding the levels of solar activity. Not how it has dropped to relatively low levels in 2005 and remained there since. Some scientists contend the increase in solar activity is overdue and expect it to start up any day now. But a panel of experts are now split on the level of activity. Half say they expect solar activity to be more mild than usual.

Of course all this merely reflects what has actually happened. And it doesn’t fit the models that climatologists have used to predict global warming. One can still argue that the models are correct in the long term and that the recent years are anomalies. Or one can argue that models are inherently flawed and that no scientist is yet able to take into account all the factors which determine climate. What we do know is that the last year was much cooler than average and I, for one, don’t like it. I prefer warm to cold any day of the week. But to each his own.

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Thursday, February 28, 2008

When You're Good to Mama

Earlier today I wrote about how stupid ideas, which make no economic sense, can make political sense due to the warped incentives of bureaucratic or political management. One example which I mentioned was the disastrous use of ethanol as a means of combating global warming. Ethanol is one of those solutions that is wrong at so many levels one doesn’t know where to begin. In a nutshell it is a lousy alternative to petrol. It is worse for the environment, requires subsidies to be produced, is driving up the price of food and is increasing world hunger because of its impact on food prices.

But it makes political sense. The New York Times has just written a piece on ethanol and the Hillary connection. They told of a “Global Initiative” run by her husband, the ex-president and how the stage was filled with three of the richest men in the world and the audience packed with “businessmen hoping for a profit.”

How do you make a profit producing ethanol? You don’t. But you make a profit when you get political hacks to push through legislation to pay you to produce ethanol. Make no mistake about it, ethanol is not a phenomenon of the free market. It is the Frankenstein monster of politicians like Hillary. Anyone who thinks Big Business tends to favor free markets knows nothing about history. Big Business has repeatedly been behind political campaigns to use the State to limit competition and to reward corporations with profits that they couldn’t earn honestly in a free, competitive market.

In reality it is easier to make money through political favors than through the market. By “make money” I don’t mean these people create wealth. They do not! They destroy wealth through a process of political redistribution. But since the wealth tends to get redistributed into their pockets, and the wealth that is destroyed belongs to others, they don’t mind.

The Times told of how Hillary, as the Senator from New York, “had sponsored legislation to provide billions in new federal incentives for ethanol, and, especially in her home state of New York, she had worked to foster a business climate that favors the sort of ethanol investments pursued by her husband’s friends and her political supporters.”

The paper notes the shady connections between the Clintons and this wealth elite of business parasites. Bill Clinton is a paid “adviser” to Yucaipa Companies. The owner of the company, Ronald Burkle, has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Hillary’s political career. Yucaipa has invested millions in Cilion, Inc., a company created to reap profits by being paid to produce ethanol. They are building seven ethanol plants, two of them in New York so Hillary can show how she brought home the bacon. The New York Times writes:
Certainly Mrs. Clinton is doing what would be expected of a senator trying to stimulate a sagging rural economy in her home state, not to mention a presidential candidate mindful of the importance of ethanol in corn-producing places like Iowa. But her actions take on an added dimension when they intersect with Mr. Clinton’s philanthropic and profit-making endeavors, which have periodically raised questions as Mrs. Clinton seeks the Democratic nomination for president.
In fact this is not true at all. They seem to think government can “stimulate a sagging rural economy”. This is the old “broken window fallacy” all over again. What is seen here is the money that Hillary throws into rural New York and no doubt jobs are created. What is ignored by the Times is that the money was taken from the productive sector of the economy and poured into loss-making ventures. Hillary’s intervention created two net losses. It destroyed part of the productive sector while wasting money to produce something that isn’t worth producing -- something which actually has a negative value because it is harming the economy.

Profits can be secured in the political sector through the use of State power to redistribute wealth. The Left seems oblivious to the reality of wealth redistribution in practice. They talk about helping the poor and ignore the fact that political power almost always favors the rich. To redistribute wealth through political power only creates a situation where the poor are fleeced to benefit wealthy elites who have access to cheap politicians like Hillary and her husband.

These corporations scratch Hillary’s back with donations to her campaign and paid positions for her husband. She in turns promotes legislation that robs the taxpayers of America to fund projects which directly benefit the corporate leeches who are in bed with her and Bill. The Times writes:
Under an agreement with Mr. Burkle in 2002, Mr. Clinton was to provide advice and find investment opportunities for several domestic and foreign funds in Yucaipa’s portfolio, and would receive a share of the profits from those funds.
Ask yourself how it is that Bill Clinton has become a financial adviser? Is Mr. Clinton now some sort of investment guru hitherto undiscovered by most people? I sincerely doubt he has sufficient knowledge to direct the investments of billionaires. But he has political connections. Pay off Bill for his “expertise” and Hillary directly benefits -- she had to get the millions she loaned her campaign from somewhere. What Bill Clinton offers these “businessmen” (and I use the term lightly) was access to political power so that they could redistribute money to themselves through the raw use of political power.

The Right seems to think of Big Business as giants of industry. And certainly some corporate leaders have been such, but far fewer than the Right thinks. Far too often they are political parasites who use the State to enrich themselves. This is not the free market but the political process at work.

The Left still entertains the notion that statism, as a process, works. It doesn’t. This naive view regarding political power turns the Left into pawns in the game of corporate leaders who use them to push for legislation that reduces competition and entrenches Big Business into position.

I can’t help but remember how antitrust legislation was pushed through by Big Business who feared upcoming competitors. The Left played along thinking they were reigning in the “excess of greedy capitalism”. In reality the Left were toadies to the very forces they opposed.

When the telephone industry was deregulated a campaign against deregulation was led by two groups: the political Left and the telephone companies. The Left seemed to never pick up on this. The same thing happened with deregulation of trucking and air travel. In both cases the Left and the major corporations in those respective fields opposed deregulation. You’d think that when the Left kept waking up in bed with Big Business they’d eventually cotton on to how politics works. Apparently they haven’t. Of course the Right is equally stupid since many of them haven’t yet seen that their much praised corporate leaders are in bed with the political Left as well.

Classical liberalism promoted free markets. That was truly revolutionary and it had a major impact freeing up those oppressed by the organized forces of conservatism: the state, the feudal lords, and the church. Socialists embraced liberal goals of equality of rights, economic prosperity for all, and individual emancipation. But they found freedom too unsettling. So they concluded that the way to achieve these liberal ends was through conservative means -- the use of state power.

Thus the socialists and progressive broke away from the foundational values of liberalism -- though they continued to call themselves liberals based on their desire for liberal results. But the means and the ends must be consistent with one another. When they are not the result is contrary to the goals being sought.

By embracing statism the socialists have basically betrayed the goals of liberalism. By using state power these socialists have propped up the power elite that liberalism has historically opposed. The feudal lords have been merely replaced by corporate leaders. Liberal ends can not be achieved through the use of conservative means. If socialists and progressives wish to establish a just world they have to reject the use of state power. Until they do they will repeatedly see their icons, like Hillary Clinton, jumping into bed with corporate giants in order to plunder the hard-earned savings of working people. By the way -- if you think Obama would be better think again. He’s even more in favor of this sort of corporatism. I should also note that historically this sort of alliance of Big Business with the State was called fascism. It’s major proponent was a former editor of a Socialist newspaper named Benito Mussolini.

Note: the video above is Queen Latifah's wonderful rendition of When You're Good to Mama from the musical Chicago. I post it in honor of Hillary Clinton.

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The death of a conservative prophet: William F. Buckley

Right-wing pundit William F. Buckley was found sitting at his desk, dead. Compared to today’s conservatives Buckley was a pillar of virtue. But I find it hard to lament the loss of this man.

I still remember the vile and vicious obituary he published when Ayn Rand died. Now in his death I hope he is spared the sort of treatment he dished out to her.

Let us be clear as to Buckley’s impact. First, it was he who gave voice to a bevy of “ex-communists” through his publication National Review. Many of them swapped communism for Catholicism but never really converted to supporting classical liberalism. They often remained statists to the end simply preferring the pabulum of Jesus to the Marxist snake oil.

Buckley was also a key figure in destroying the Old Right. The Old Right had long embraced America’s traditional foreign policy of non-interventionism. The Democrats and the Progressives were the parties of empire building and war making. Republicans tended to find such things distasteful and destructive of traditional freedoms. But come the Cold War the Buckley crowd came to dominate the conservative movement and opponents of their incipient statism were thrown onto the trash heap of the conservative movement.

This is not to say that Buckley’s excommunications weren’t always a bad thing. National Review also drummed the lunatic Birchers, with their banking conspiracies, out of the movement. And eventually they also gave similar treatment to the anti-Semites like Joseph Sobran and others.

But Buckley’s leanings toward a Wilsonian foreign policy helped push the bipartisan policy that exists today. Both major parties are still the war parties. And WFB is largely responsible for the Republican’s abandoning the policies of men like Robert Taft. In this sense Buckley is partially responsible for the Bush debacle.

Nor should we forget that Buckley tried to justify a free society on the basis of religion. Everything he did was driven by his Catholicism. By justifying capitalism on the basis of religion Buckley was a recruiter for the Religious Right. I have little doubt that Mr. Buckley found much of the fundamentalist Christianity to border on the absurd and he would shy away from the kind of Jesus-campaigners one finds among the born again. But Mr. Buckley help hang out the welcome sign for these people.

In the end Buckley did much to encourage the two most destructive forces within the Republican Party and the conservative movement. Each force went much further than Mr. Buckley himself would have felt comfortable in doing. But that is the nature of the doctor’s monster -- it does things of which the creator never conceived.

So, yes, compared to the monster he helped create Mr. Buckley appeared erudite, witty and moderate. But we can’t forget the forces he helped unleash because he failed to see the threat they posed.

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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

When nonsense makes sense.

Sometimes insanity makes sense. At least it does in the Bizarro world of politics. Let me tell you a story.

A few years back I was renting some commercial street on the main street in one of our major cities. The space I was renting was about one third of the ground floor. Above me were two floors of tenants.

One day one of the tenants from above came down rather irate. He was planning to file complaints with the city against the building owner, who was a small businessman who had offices next door to my own. This tenant wanted me to add my name to the complaint that would be filed. I was curious as to what it was that had this guy so upset. The conversation went like this.

Me: “So what’s the problem?”

Him: “We have 32 cracked windows in our flat.”

Me: “Thirty-two windows! Exactly how many rooms does your flat have?”

Him: “It’s an eight bedroom.”

Me: “But how much rent do you pay for that?”

Him: “Five hundred a month.”

Me: “Maybe that’s the reason he doesn’t have much money for maintenance.”

What was going on was that you witnessing the effects of rent control. The local city government had said that landlords couldn’t raise rents and thus it froze rents at levels that were years out of date. Of course property taxes and expenses didn’t freeze just the rental income. In the case of this tenant the travesty was that he was allowed to get away with his game. To cut to the chase I threw the guy out and told him I had no intention of signing his complaint.

What I didn’t realize is that while the ground floor had three businesses on it the same space on the third floor was occupied by one massive apartment. Rent control meant that this tenant was allowed to keep this huge apartment at a fraction of the market rate. But it get worse. While the landlord couldn’t make money on the apartment the tenant was.

With eight bedrooms this tenant was bringing in “roommates” who shared his flat. He, however, was able to rent out each room for what he paying for the entire flat. He didn’t have to work since he was able to reap profits from the landlord’s property in ways which the landlord couldn’t. As the tenant saw things it was fine that he profited from the roommates but the landlord, who was receiving only a tiny fraction of the actual rental income had to pay for the new windows.

Having lived under rent control for sometime I quickly realized that this was a con game played by tenants. Even small apartments could be sublet at a profit by the tenant. One tenant in the city once bragged to me how he had a two bedroom apartment. Because rent control reduces the supply of apartments while pushing up demand there is a massive shortage of housing. That means even single rooms in the city could be let out at premium if you were allowed to do so. And he, as the tenant, was allowed to do so. So his entire rent was paid by the roommate’s rental of one room in the flat.

There is very little support for rent control among economists. Most agree that rent control destroys the housing market. It prevents maintenance and by reducing the return on housing it discourages expanding the housing market to meet demand. At the same time the lower rents mean more tenants are attracted to the dwindling supply of housing.

One “beneficiary” of rent control was Cathy Kim of Berkeley, California. Berkeley is a university town and the far Left city council pushed through strict controls on landlords. Kim says that as result when she heard of a studio apartment available she had to take it sight unseen. In addition she started paying rent four months before she needed it otherwise she’d miss out and wouldn’t find a place to live. She notes that while housing supplies in most cities were expanding in Berkeley they contracted under these controls. “Between 1980 and 1990, Berkeley lost 4,613 of the 27,821 rental units tallied by the 1980 US Census (source: Berkeley's current Draft General Plan).”

I confess that as an avid reader I used to scour the bookstores in Berkeley for my library. I would make frequent trips there and spend the day going from shop to shop to buy these books. Recently I decided to relive these memories and found the city to be a dump. I spent an hour on the main street, which was dirty and run down, and found one book worth purchasing before deciding I wasted my time. The city was removed from list of places to shop.

If economists know that rent control is disastrous, and if the impact of rent control is to reduce the supply of housing and lead to a decay in housing stock, then why in the world does it exist?

Because it makes sense! True it doesn’t make economic sense. It doesn’t make sense even in accomplishing it’s purported goal of expanding the supply of “affordable housing”. But it makes political sense. In the past I’ve often discussed the perverse incentives of politics. And if you think about it you will see that the political process can only make bad economic choices.

Politicians as politicians can only do two things. They can restrict projects through regulations, taxes and red tape. Or they can promote a venture through subsidies, contracts, or the like.

The regulations, red tape and taxes reduce the supply of needed services that are actually being provided. After all you can’t tax a business that doesn’t exist. So when a business does exist government makes that business less efficient and more costly. In addition these regulations, rules and taxes reduce the supply of new businesses coming into existence. Often they die before they start because of them.

To counteract this destructive tendency these selfsame politicians then try to encourage businesses. If this is done by reducing the regulatory and taxation burdens it will help. That is the only way government can really help stimulate business -- get out of the way. But politicians frown on anything that reduces their power or influence. So they prefer the use of subsidies, grants, or government contracts.

But what sort of business exists solely because of these subsidies or contracts? A business has to take a string of resources; such as the resources put into the product or service, labor, land, etc., and combine them together. If the product or service that results has more value than the cost of the input they profit because they are creating wealth. If the business consumes more than it produces then it is destroying wealth and thus losing money.

Political intervention in the marketplace means that government reduces the wealth of the society. It makes us worse off by making profitable entities less profitable. And it makes us worse off by propping up entities that consumer wealth instead of producing it.

But couldn’t government actually subsidize enterprises that make economic sense? They could but why? Such enterprises would exist without the subsidies. And susidizing them only takes wealth from poorer consumers and gives the wealth to producers who are likely to be wealthier. Similarly government could speed up the decline of unprofitable enterprises but such businesses would go under without the state’s help. Instead the state has a tendency to push marginal business, that have a chance of surviving, under when unnecessary.

Government intervention doesn’t make sense. Political control tends to destroy enterprises that make economic sense while pushing programs and businesses that don’t make sense. So why do they do it?

Because it sometimes make political sense to do that which doesn’t make economic sense. Let’s go back to our example of rent control. The simple reason it exists is that the number of voters who are tenants exceeds the number of voters who are landlords. These sorts of measures are particular likely to pass by the vote the public. When the masses can decide the tendency is to redistribute rights and wealth from minorities to majorities.

Of course the political system also does the opposite. It redistributes rights and wealth from majorities to minorities. This tends to take place under the legislative system. So we witness Big Energy and Agribusiness pushing for subsidies for disasters like ethanol. In the legislative process it is the minorities that tend to get the support.

So doesn’t it all wash out in the end? Not at all. Let me illustrate it with a domestic quarrel between a husband and a wife. She is angry and breaks his fishing rod. He retaliates by destroying her vase. She gets more angry and slashes the tires on his car. He responds by cutting up the new couch she bought. By making things more even all they managed to do was make themselves worse off.

Since the political process can basically only destroy efficiency where it exists and prop up inefficiency where it exists these measures don’t balance out. They accumulate.

The whole process is like a group of ten people sitting in a circle with the local political walking from participant to participant. From each individual he collects one dollar. When he gets to the last person he hands them five dollars and then starts the process over again. He does this ten times until each person has received one five dollar bonus. This sort of redistribution makes everyone poorer. But they are so happy when they receive their bonus that the tend to see the politician as their friend.

The reality is that government can’t make business more efficient. It can only increase inefficiency and destroy wealth. Only by acting within the proper confines of government: that of protecting life, liberty and property, does it help anyone. Beyond that the State manages to increase the number of losers while making everyone believe they better off. Such are the perverse incentives of politics.

Note on reading: I highly recommend a short book that discusses the role of incentives under both profit management and bureaucratic management. That must-read book is Bureaucracy by Ludwig von Mises. Copies can he purchased from Laissez Faire Books, 1-800-326-0996.

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Monday, February 25, 2008

Sorry state of the Libertarian Party.

It really is a sad election year considering the choices. The Republicans are going to nominate McCain, the man who sees America’s empire in Iraq going on for generations. The Democrats, I suspect, will nominate Obama, an ideologue with some far Left tendencies.

And what about the Libertarians?

For the first time I saw some of the candidates seeking the LP nomination. If this is as good as they can do they ought to pack up the tent and go home.

The immediate problem is that Libertarians seems to be losing their uniqueness. They are turning in Republicans before our very eyes. Businessman Michael Jingozian went so far as to say that while he believes in free trade he also believes in “fair trade”. His main thrust in the campaign seems to be relatively cheesy staged photos of himself.

Wayne Allen Root kept talking about how he went to school with Obama, as if that would rub off somehow. Where Obama is eloquent (albeit wrong) Root was just loud -- very loud. He too came across as another Republican especially on the immigration issue. He describes himself as a “life-long Conservative and Libertarian Republican.” If he thinks one can be conservative and libertarian at the same time it shows he’s not clear on the concept. Libertarianism is as far from conservatism as it is from socialism. But the sad truth was that the LP candidates seem to be Republicans in Libertarian drag -- and the make up isn’t that good.

Root says he got the endorsement of the first LP presidential candidate, John Hospers. Hospers last endorsement was of the Iraq war and George Bush so that ought to say something. I’m just not sure whether that says more about Root’s positions or about Hosper’s lurch to the far Right at his advanced age. Perhaps it’s Alzheimer’s and he forgot he was supposed to be a libertarian.

George Phillies has all the charisma of noodles but without the sparkle. It doesn’t help that he sounds whiny when he speaks and his position on immigration is atrocious. He was also the one candidate who tried the hardest to speak in general boilerplate rhetoric without saying much of substance. He did attack Kubby for support tax cuts which seemed odd. He said tax cuts were irresponsible. At the same time he kept harping about his favorite entitlement which would be a $5,000 tax credit to every poor kid in America. Twice he clarified that the credit was for the “kids not the parents since the parents wouldn’t earn enough to qualify.” $5,000 for every poor kid and he called tax breaks irresponsible.

Steve Kubby was a relatively consistent libertarian in the pack but just doesn’t seem like candidate material to this observer. But given the tendency of the other candidates to pander to the Right-wing and dump on immigrants he is the best candidate I can see at this time.

Mary Ruwart, however, shouldn’t be counted out. The current batch of front runners in the LP race just don’t come up to snuff. And at least three of them sounded like Republican immigrant-bashers more than like libertarians.


Friday, February 22, 2008

The logic of faith.

You couldn’t make this stuff up if you tried. In Israel a member of the Knesset, Shlomo Benizri of the Jewish Shas Party, noted that the Attorney General ruled that same-sex couples could adopt. He also noted that two days later there were a couple of small earthquakes. Of course, you know where this logic is going.

“Why do earthquakes happen?” said Benizri. “One of the reasons is the things to which the Knesset give legitimacy, to sodomy.” He also said “passing legislation on how to encourage homosexual activity is the state of Israel which anyway brings about earthquakes.” Not eloquent, just barely coherent, but you get his point.

And there was a time when I was obviously deceived by the forces of Satan into thinking that tectonic plates had something to do with it.

This sort of bizarre logic is found across the religious spectrum -- there is a tendency that when someone believes one impossible thing that they easily fall for lots more. Some years ago I was writing a story about the Moral Majority for a publication where I was employed. I traveled to Indianapolis where Jerry Falwell was holding a rally with his local lackey, the Rev. Greg Dixon of the Indianapolis Baptist Temple. Dixon and his crew were pushing for legislation to make it a felony for someone to be gay in the state of Indiana. As. Rev. Dixon put it in one of his sermons, he wanted gays either executed or imprisoned if they couldn’t get the former legislation through.

Dixon had a Theopublican member of the state assembly, who was also a minister in Dixon’s church, introduce this legislation which they called “the Right to Decency Bill”. And they sponsored a “March for Decency” in downtown Indianapolis where all the good Christian folk were to come out demanding that the heretics be burned at the stake or some other similar loving deed.

I went around interviewing the legions of God who were marching. One little girl was carrying a sign daddy or mommy gave her demanding that all gay people be killed. How sweet and all-American! The love of Jesus was just everywhere that day.

One woman I meet explained to me that the drought which California was experiencing that summer was, of course, the result of California being tolerant of homosexuals. Apparently homosexuals cause droughts (not just earthquakes).

I couldn’t help myself and asked a few follow up question with as serious an expression as I could force myself to muster.

“Oh,” I said. “So the congregation of homosexuals in one area results in a drought?”

“Yes,” she said.

“Well, would this mean that if an area was being flooded because of heavy rains that we could bus in homosexuals and stop the rains?”

She thought about it for a second. Considered the logic based on her own premise and said: “Yes, absolutely. That would work.”

The mind of the believer never ceases to amaze and amuse me.

Photo: The photo is from Priscilla, Queen of the Desert which features a bus load of drag queens in the middle of the Australian outback. Please note there is NO rain! What more proof do you need?

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Thursday, February 21, 2008

NHS reveals real motive for nationalized care.

There is an article in the New York Times which gives away the entire philosophy behind nationalized health care. And it isn’t pretty.

Let me recap the story that they tell before getting to the key part.

Debbie Hirst has breast cancer and it has metastasized. Her oncologist wants to treat her with Avastin, a drug which is used widely in the United States. But the National Health Service has said that they won’t provide it. Please remember that. That proves that one of the selling points of socialized health care is a lie: that everyone should have the health care they need and they will get it with socialized service.

That isn’t how it goes with socialist health care at all. Never has been that way and never will be that way. The reality is that people are routinely denied treatment under socialized health systems.

Hirst talked with her physician and said that she and her husband will do what they can to private raise the funds to pay for the drugs that she needs. It’s a lot of money and family taxes to pay for “free” health care are already taking a big chunk of their income. But when your life is on the line you will do what it takes. So problem solved? Not really.

The National Health Service told Hirst and her physician that she will not be allowed to purchase the drugs privately unless she also pays for all her health care privately -- something that is not possible. Remember Hirst has already been paying the NHS for her entire life for “free” care. Yet the care she needs they refuse to supply and they forbid her to buy it privately unless she dumps all the care she is getting, and which she paid for already in taxes.

Imagine a car insurer doing the same thing. You have an accident and the car is dented badly and the window cracked. You bought a policy that covers the dent but doesn’t cover the window repair. They tell you that window repairs are not covered. You accept that and say you will have the window repaired elsewhere. Now they threaten to withdraw the insurance which you have paid for in response. They say that if you have the window fixed privately they will no long cover the dent either. That would be consider fraud.

Of course government “insurance” is never held to the same standards of honesty that apply to the private sector. The reality is that if private insurers acted the way governments routinely act they would be arrested and imprisoned for fraud. But with political services the rule of “do as I say and not as I do” dominates.

The New York Times explained the British government’s reasoning for condemning Hirst to die by refusing her the drugs she needs and forbidding her from purchasing them herself without given up all her health care in the process.

Officials said that allowing Mrs. Hirst and others like her to pay for extra drugs to supplement government care would violate the philosophy of the health service by giving richer patients an unfair advantage over poorer ones.
Patients “cannot, in one episode of treatment, be treated on the N.H.S. and then allowed, as part of the same episode and the same treatment, to pay money for more drugs,” the health secretary, Alan Johnson, told Parliament.
“That way lies the end of the founding principles of the N.H.S.,” Mr. Johnson said.

Consider the reality of what is being said here. The purpose of nationalized health care is not to give everyone the treatment they need at all. It is to make sure that no one has better treatment than anyone else!

The motivation for socialized care is not compassion for the sick at all. It is envy directed against those who can afford their own care.

In Hirst’s case she can’t afford the care but what choice does she have. She was putting her home up for sale to pay for the drugs which “free health care” won’t provide her.

One of the most powerful motivations for socialism has been equality. But what sort of equality. It is not the upliftment of the needy, which is a very hard thing to do. It is the destruction of the well-off. They don’t level up but level down. They aren’t promising prosperity for all just equal misery.

There was lots of publicity over Hirst’s case and the government found a loophole -- sort of. Further examinations found that the delays in receiving the treatment means that the cancer has spread throughout her body. Now they say they will provide the Avastin even though it is now too late to be of much use. As Hirst said: “It may be too bloody late.”

She was denied the drug when it could have done the most use. And only given it when it wasn’t likely to be effective. What Hirst doesn’t understand is why she was denied the drug due to costs. ““I’m a person who left school at 15 and I’ve worked all my life and I’ve paid into the system, and I’m not going to live long enough to get my old-age pension from this government,” she said.

Reasonable if you look at this as a form of insurance. But then it isn’t really insurance. As we’ve already noted: the main purpose of nationalized health care in England wasn’t to provide health care to all but to make limit the ability of some to get better care than others. The goal wasn’t provision but equalization. And that is a very different thing.

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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Tolerance and state education.

State education, as it exists, is a nightmare of contradictions and conflicts. One can’t have a coercive educational system without putting individuals and groups into conflict with one another. It is unavoidable. The ultimate solution is always a voluntary system of education. But that leaves unanswered the question of how to deal with real problems today.

Should we simply ignore those problems and let the state sort them out? Or should we pick the least bad of the alternatives? Sometimes we even get to pick from competing goods, though not often.

To me the great problem is that America’s young are forced into these educational camps. The use of taxation to fund such centers removes from most parents the ability to seek out alternative schools for their children. So parents are forced to send their children in and forced to pay for the experience. Then they are forced to hear one side or another on any issue.

For instance a California legislator wants to mandate that all children be indoctrinated into the global warming doomsday theory, much the way Sunday School was used to indoctrinate children about theology -- and for much the same reason, I think.

When politicians aren’t forcing specific ideas from being taught they are working to forcibly prevent other ideas from being taught.

Thepublican state senator, Stacey Campfield, has introduced legislation in Tennessee that would ban the discussion of any “sexual orientation other than heterosexuality” in the schools. Campfield is a brain-dead conservative, but I repeat myself. He (you’d think he’d change his name to something more butch than Stacey) says unless such discussions are forbidden then Tennessee will become like California where he falsely claims “they’ve banned using ‘mom’ and ‘dad’ in books. He says he is particularly opposed to the schools promoting understanding or acceptance toward groups like gays, lesbians, bisexuals or the transgendered. Certainly no one in their right mind would want a good Christian state like Tennessee associated with subversive notions like tolerance of others.

The reality is that the schools have students who are gay or transgendered, or perceived to be so by their peers. These students are forced to attend these states centers or face incarceration or fines for failing to do so. And this means they can face daily torture and torment by the sort of students who, no doubt, would side with Stacey the Heterosexualist.

It doesn’t really matter if the student in question is actually gay or transgendered or whatever. The mere perception that he, or she, is so is sufficient to bring down the bullying of the intolerant. I suggest such bullies have a career ahead of them in the state legislature as Republicans.

But the students being victimized can’t escape without violating the law. At the same time the school would be prevented from discussing the issue that is actually the inspiration for the bullying. Under Stacey’s little bill it would illegal for the school to encourage the bully from understanding the issues that is causing him, or her, to harass another student. Instead the school is forced to allow this intolerance to fester.

While Stacey the Heterosexualist is trying to ban the teaching of tolerance about gay students another drama was unfurling in the town of Oxnard, California.

Lawrence King was 15 years of age and attending E.O. Green Junior High. While reports claimed that King was gay the descriptions I’ve read are more indicative of a gender identity issue. And certainly many teens who are transgendered first make the assumption that they are gay. Either way King was perceived as “gay” by fellow students. Many of them were okay with that but others were not.

One of the students who wasn’t tolerant of King was 14-year-old Brandon McInerney. Brandon regularly harassed and bullied King because of his perceived sexual orientation. Students report that this bullying went on all the time and that Brandon was just one of a pack of thugs who harassed King. McInerney didn’t believe in tolerating sexual orientations other than heterosexual. If he weren’t in jail he’d have a budding career in the Tennessee legislature.

Mr. McInerney went to the junior high the other day intent on settling his hatred for King, once and for all. He settled it by shooting the other boy in head several times and then fleeing the school. He was apprehended, is now in jail, and will be facing first-degree murder charges as an adult.

The killing sent shock waves through the city of Oxnard and through the students themselves. Two local high school students decided to hold a “peace” march promoting the idea of tolerance. They hoped for a hundred or two hundred students to be there. The Los Angeles Times reports:

The Goths in their black T-shirts were there. So were the punks with fluorescent hair and multiple piercings.

There were even a few adolescent boys carrying skateboards among the nearly 1,000 Oxnard youth and other supporters who turned out Saturday for a hastily organized peace march to pay tribute to Lawrence King, 15, the Oxnard student shot to death in a classroom last week.

Courtney LaForest, 16, was one of the organizers of the event. She said that like many students there she didn’t know King but that didn’t matter. “We are saying you don’t need to accept people who are gay, but you should tolerate them.”

Thirteen-year-old Connor Spies attends another junior high. But when he heard about the march he and two of his buddies joined in. He put it well when he said: “It will be a better future if we are more tolerant.”

Absent from the march, for the most part, were the adults. It was by students for students not for politicians looking to score points over someone’s tragedy. The local superintendent of the school district did join his students that day. But his official involvement was limited. When he learned of the students planning this march he sent words to the schools that were to support the idea.

How would this situation be handled by schools if the law proposed by Stacey were in effect? Ask yourself what it mean?

It would mean that the schools couldn’t make any moral distinction between the harasser and the victim. Whether or not the killer should have been tolerant or not would be entirely outside the realm of the school. It would require a moral neutrality as to whether or not students should tolerate others. Odd that the conservatives whine so much about morality and then dish the concept when it comes to hating people.

Stacey the Heterosexualist doesn’t seem to comprehend something so simple that even a 16-year-old high school student grasped it. That is the point made by Courtney LaForest. Tolerance merely means that you agree to leave other people alone, in other words you afford them their basic rights as a human being. Acceptance means you put your stamp of approval on them.

In a free society tolerance is absolutely necessary while acceptance is not. And to foster tolerance one must, paradoxically not tolerate intolerance. The great classical liberal Ludwig von Mises wrote:

Liberalism, however, must be intolerant of every kind of intolerance. If one considers the peaceful cooperation of all men as the goal of social evolution, one cannot permit the peace to be disturbed by priests and fanatics. Liberalism proclaims tolerance for every religious faith and every metaphysical belief, not out of indifference for these "higher" things, but from the conviction that the assurance of peace within society must take precedence over everything and everyone. And because it demands toleration of all opinions and all churches and sects, it must recall them all to their proper bounds whenever they venture intolerantly beyond them.

Liberalism demands tolerance as a matter of principle, not from opportunism. It demands toleration even of obviously nonsensical teachings, absurd forms of heterodoxy, and childishly silly superstitions. It demands toleration for doctrines and opinions that it deems detrimental and ruinous to society and even for movements that it indefatigably combats. For what impels liberalism to demand and accord toleration is not consideration for the content of the doctrine to be tolerated, but the knowledge that only tolerance can create and preserve the condition of social peace without which humanity must relapse into the barbarism and penury of centuries long past.

Against what is stupid, nonsensical, erroneous, and evil, liberalism fights with the weapons of the mind, and not with brute force and repression. The conservative wishes to have the option to use state force in order to prevent discussion, to shackle ideas. Libertarianism, in the quest, for freedom must demand the right to speak and discuss and therefore must oppose the sorts of laws this Theopublican is pushing.

Photo: The photo is of Lawrence King .

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Is Antarctica's sea ice shrinking?

The Times of London is supposed to be one of the most prestigious newspapers in the world -- and one of the most reliable. But when it comes to global warming hysterical even reliable papers fall in line publishing various versions of “the sky is falling” stories. Here is what the Times reported just a couple of weeks ago:

The rate of annual ice loss in the Antarctic has increased by almost 80 billion tonnes in a decade, a study has found.

On the other hand we have this data from the National Snow and Ice Data Center regarding ice around the Antarctic. This is based on the satellite data of the region. Here is the concentration levels of sea ice around the continent in December, 1979.

As you can see, sea ice concentration in 2007 was higher.

Next we look at sea ice extent. Here is the map for December, 1979.

And here is the same map for last December.

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Old dictator steps down.

Fidel Castro, the dictator who has ruled Cuba with a iron fist, has stepped down from office. The old bastard is basically dying. An indication of how unfree his country remains is that he hands power over to his brother. Castro is one of those politicians that makes Hillary look nice. He is one of those people who deserved to be swinging from a lamp post -- of course in his Cuba the lamp post is probably too derelict to hold the weight and no one would be able to find rope. 

Brother Raul will now be the dictator. He has implied that he would consider some reforms previously rejected by his brother. The one good thing is that Raul is old an old man and can't last long. 

My prediction is that the moment the communists are out of power, which will happen, I believe, within the next 10 years, that Cuba will see an economic miracle. Millions of Cubans have fled the country. And they have built thriving communities with large amounts of capital to invest. The end of communism would mean an influx of successful Cubans to their homeland and a bigger flow of cash into the country. I believe Cuba will see rapid economic growth when this happens.

If the United States government wants to sped up the process they should abandon the short-sighted and counter-productive embargo of Cuba. They should open free trade with Cuba and remove all travel restrictions. The embargo actual inhibits reforms and the death of Cuban socialism. 

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Slaves, shopkeepers and markets.

Here is a riddle for you. Imagine the world where slavery was commonplace. Why did the slaves work to benefit the slave owner? Was it because slaves, on a whole, loved laboring for the benefit of others? Was it a sense of a duty on their part? Was it because the slave master provided them with some water, some food, some shelter and protected them from others the way a farmer protects his herd from the wolf?

I sincerely doubt that most slaves were motivated by a sense of of obligation or gratitude. What they faced was a regime that was cruel but which promised more cruelity, of a more severe kind, if they didn’t comply with the wishes of the slave master.

Today most of us get up in the morning andlabor in one form or another. Much of what we do also benefits others. In a market economy it is difficult, if not impossible, to labor in a manner that only benefits one’s self. What gives labor value is that others value it, not that you enjoy it. If others want the value which your labor creates they have to enter into free exchange with you. If you didn’t gain value from this exchange you wouldn’t agree to it. If they didn’t gain value from this exchange they wouldn’t enter into it either.

The litmus test for the amount of slavery within a political or economic system is the amount of force required to inspire individuals to work for the benefit of others. What the slavers didn’t understand was that the amount of benefit derived from such an arrangment is smaller than it would be in a system of free exchange. The slave may be “inspired” to work in order to escape the lash but his inspiration is limited. He will work as hard as necessary to avoid punishment but is rarely willing to go beyond that.

In a system of free exchange the worker finds that his ability to satisfy his own wants and desires increases as he becomes more productive. He is inspired, by the added wealth that accrues to himself, to shower more benefits on others through his efforts. The entire sytem becomes more productive and what we call “society” tends to benefit.

One shouldn’t pretend that there were no benefits from slavery. The slave master benefited by the coerced labor of his slaves. But the society was poorer than it otherwise would have been if free exchange dominated. Chances are that slavery didn’t just distribute wealth from the slave to the slaver, but also redistributed wealth from the society in general to the slaver. Society was poorer by the absence of free exchange in order to endow the slaver with a small benefit.

The same thing is happening today in our mixed economy. Our society is a mixture of slavery and free exchange. Most of us work voluntarily, directly or indirectly, to produce goods and services that benefit the society at large. We do so voluntarily because such labor makes us better off. But about half the time to one third of the time we also work involuntarily in order to pay taxes.

The excuse for taxation is that it is necessary to benefit the society as a whole. In reality it benefits the class of individuals who decide how the fruits of your labor will be spent -- the political classes. And just as slavery provided the wrong incentives to slaves, and limited their economic output, taxation provides the wrong incentives to workers, and limits their economic output. The society, as a whole, is actually made poorer that it otherwise would have been in a system of pure free exchange.

But like the slave system there is a class of people who accrue small benefits to themselves through the forced labor of others. The political classes, those elected officials and their unelected bureaucratic lackeys directly benefit from the coerced labor imposed by taxation.

You pay your taxes for the same reason the slave gave the slaver as much labor as necessary to avoid the whip. If you don’t comply the state promises to use force against you. If you pay late they are very quick to send you a letter telling you how they will impose this force upon you and immediately penalize you for your failure to comply in a timely manner.

The idea that this arrangement benefits the society as a whole is an illusion. It is a classic example of Bastiat’s “broken window” fallacy where people see the benefits but not the costs. In Bastiat’s example a shopkeeper has a window broken and is forced to replace it. Those who replace the window benefit. They spend the money in various ways benefiting others as well. The conclusion drawn by the fallacious logic is that the broken window was a net benefit. That is what is seen.

But the shopkeeper lost money that he would have spent in other ways. That is not seen. The tailor who lost the sale of a suit is not counted in the equation because he is not seen. All the broken window did was transfer wealth from the tailor to the glazier. And society was the poorer because of it. The total wealth was down by one suit. The new window only replaced the old window adding no net benefit. Certainly the shopkeeper was worse off. He was out the money and never got the suit he wanted. Now imagine how bad this would be if the glaziers were free to go around breaking windows!

The glazier may try to convince us that society has net gains due to the value “created” by breaking windows. And as long as we only look at the one side of the equation this is true. Only when we take into account the lost benefits, and the lower wealth of the shopkeeper, do we see that these benefits turn in net losses.

Government is like the glazier and the slaver. It benefits from the forced labor of the populace. Just as both those special interests would argue that they were creating net benefits, the political classes do the same. And this remains true --- provided you only look at one side of the equation.

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Monday, February 18, 2008

The UK cops aren't a lot better.

I was a bit perturbed to receive some bad news from one of our regular readers, Bexie, in the UK. Miss Rebecca has been having renovation work done. The builder stupidly gave keys to her home to the low lifes he hired from the local unemployment office.

Early last week Bexie returned to her home only to find herself locked out from the inside. She got home early that day. Her return spooked the builder's employees who were inside the house redistributing the wealth. Of course they were the prime beneficiaries. Using another door, that couldn't be double locked from the inside she discovered a car had just fled the back of her home and it contained all her computer equipment. This includes all her data and business records.

Putting together the make of care and that the criminals gained access with a key it was easy to narrow down the culprits. The police were called and yawned totally uninterested. They didn't want to investigate or press the matter. She was told that if she wanted to get her goods returned she should offer a reward. In other words they were suggesting she pay off the thieves to return her stolen property.

Now precisely what purpose do these cops serve? It is a question that comes up more and more as the police refuse to protect people from crime yet use their power against non-criminals on a regular basis. (The latter is not quite as violent in the UK as it is in the US but this is because most British cops are unarmed.)

My theory is that in the modern police states that are arising in the UK and the US the police have stopped being peace officers who see their duty as protecting the people from criminals. They now see their job as one of protecting the State from the people. Their job is to force you to comply with State regulations and rules in regards to your relationship with government more than protect you in regards to your relationship with other people. This is born out by the zeal they exhibit in prosecuting people for going a couple of miles an hour too fast on government roads while being disinterested in burglaries such as this one.

The duty of the police officer has evolved as government has expanded its powers. Today the police officer is the thin blue line protecting statism from liberty. Only secondly, and a distant second I think, does he see his job as protecting people from criminals. Under the first theory of police functions the officer sees the public as the enemy while under the second he sees them as the client. The driving force behind the multiple incidents of "out of control" cops is because cops increasing see you as the enemy and the government as their client.

Bexie (if you can read this): Sorry again to hear about this. You know I'll do what I can to help.

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Is breast-feeding pornographic?

This is one of those cases that must makes me so angry, even if it is now a little out of date. I remember, as a kid, watching bullies pick on other kids in the playground. I hated them with a passion. I still do. I just get the impression that those bullies grew up to be politicians, bureaucrats and power-hungry bastards in general who like to use the power of government to push other people around. As far as I’m concerned the government is almost exclusively made up of bullies on the grand scale.

Add to the natural bullying tactics of government its tendency to go into irrational panics where they exaggerate fears or problems and them apply the most extreme “solutions” they can think of -- and you have a combination that destroys lives and harms people. In this case the people harmed was Jacqueline Mercado, her boyfriend and her children.

Jacqueline is an immigrant from Peru where she worked as a nurse. Of course the US wouldn’t let her work in that profession when she arrived so she got a job in the middle of the night cleaning the local Wal-Mart. She and her kids lived with her parents. After a year her boyfriend was able to join her. Their son had just turned one and the family spent their reunion taking photos to remember the happy occasion. Unfortunately those photos would lead to great emotional distress.

One photo showed Jacqueline breast-feeding the baby. In Peru such photos are common and the family keeps them to remember this special mother-child bond. In a few other photos Jacqueline was taking a bath and washing the baby along with her 4-year-old. Jacqueline was no exhibitionist and made sure she used her arm to cover her breasts when the photo was taken. At this point her fate was sealed. She didn’t know how sex panics are the American past time -- a hobby of monumental proportion engaged in by both the Religious Right and the Feminist Left.

All four rolls of film were dropped off at the local Eckerd Drugs in Richardson, Texas (alas the Theocratic Republic of Texas strikes once again). A dirty minded clerk who processed the film called the police who were not just dirty minded but filthy minded. They immediately turned relatively innocent photos into the most horrendous case of child exploitation they have ever seen - -- much the way they turn 1 lb of cocaine in the biggest drug haul in “years” or they think that something the size of cocktail weenie is nine inches. If you think I’m kidding let me describe how the police twisted these photos in their report on the matter.

Sergeant Danny Martin of the Richardson police claimed “We thought they contained sexuality. If you saw the photos, you’d know what I mean.” People who have seen these alleged pornographic photos have trouble agreeing with Martin. He seems to be sexually obsessed and finds obscenity where there is none. Eventually after some publicity the District Attorney, who saw the photos, said that nothing in them “rise to the level of a crime.” So apparently this was all in Sergeant Martin’s warped imagination.

Consider how the original indictment for child pornography charges described the photos of a mother breast-feeding her child: “actual lewd exhibition of.. a portion of the female breast below the top of the areola, and the said defendant did and then employ, authorize and induce Rodrigo Fernandez, a child younger than 18 years of age, to engage in said sexual conduct and sexual performance.” Apparently breast feeding in Texas is “sexual conduct” -- but this is the state that made masturbation with a vibrator a crime, even if done in the privacy of one’s own home!

Police Detective John Wakefield was another one of the sex-obsessed, filthy-minded investigators in the case. You remember the photo where she was bathing her children and carefully used her arm to cover her breasts when the photo was taken. Mr. Potty-Mind Wakefield described this covering act as being “topless and touching her breast”.

When Jacqueline went to pick up the family photos she was made to wait so that the police could come and interrogate her. She was shocked at the accusations and couldn’t see how something as innocent as breast-feeding and bathing her children had become a perversion in the mind of these zealous cops. She tried to explain but they knew what they knew and damn the facts.

The police and prosecutors went to a grand jury and Jacqueline’s attorneys offered to wave her Fifth Amendment right so she could testify before the Grand Jury. This offer was refused. Based on police reports the jury brought charges against Jacqueline and her boyfriend as child pornographers. The police also ransacked their home looking for more evidence of child pornography but they found nothing. Jacqueline was shocked. She couldn’t understand how a “free” country was treating her this way. She said: “We fought so hard to come to this country. For this to happen is unbelievable.”

Now you already know that the prosecutor would back down pronto fast when word got out that his police agents thought breast-feeding a child is a sexual act. So all’s well that ends well! Right? Not at all. It isn’t over.

All charges were dropped. But the state of Texas sent their agents to the Mercado home and kidnapped Jacqueline’s two children. These busybodies went to a judge and had the children forcibly removed and placed into foster care -- where their chance of actually being sexual molested is much higher. So far the Texas bureaucrats are refusing to return the children even though an attorney appointed on behalf of the children has recommended they be sent home.

The state is forcing Jacqueline and her boyfriend to attend therapy groups for sex offenders! They have also told her that they must, at their own expense, take lie detector tests. Remember that all charges were withdrawn. In the eyes of they law they are not guilty of any crime. Yet they have their children stolen from them and are being forced to attend therapy sessions that they don’t need. Eventually, after months of forced separation the couple did regain custody of their children.

The rakish columnist “Buzz” in the Dallas Observer noted:

You might wonder what sort of twisted upbringings Texas bureaucrats must have had to see breast-feeding as a sexual act. Our readers certainly did. We received upward of 50 letters from people in the States and Canada, all sharing one thought, summed up by this writer: "That parents could have their children taken away from them because of photos of a 1-year-old breast-feeding is horrible beyond words." (One writer from Alabama described it as "jack-booted thuggery." It's a proud moment in Texas history when residents of Alabama are appalled by our heavy-handed government.)

This column noted that no one bothered to apologize to the family for what they were put through:

Now that's indecent. Damned jack-booted thugs. Why can't someone with CPS send a letter, a note, a friggin' Hallmark card saying, "We made a mistake. We apologize." Just try it, CPS. Really, it's not hard to say "We're sorry." A child could do it.

Eventually the case was resolved in favor of the family but it cost them lots of money to defend themselves from overzealous bureaucrats and dirty-minded cops. I swear that police have an attitude that there are just two kinds of people living in America. One kind is criminals who they got the goods on and the rest of us are criminals who still need to be caught. And since they perceive all of us as criminally inclined they are just waiting for their chance to arrest and convict us no matter what is required along the way.

Photo: the illustration is of a famous painting of the Madonna breastfeeding the infant Jesus. I can only presume in Texas she would have been arrested for child molestation.

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Sunday, February 17, 2008

Nationalized medicine and the incentives they face.

The role of incentives are too easily ignored by individuals who have the idea that the State is somehow, magically, the solution to whatever problem we face. And government-run health care is supposed to be the solution to the scarcity problem in health care.

Economists argue that incentives matter and that political-provision of services creates distorted and perverse incentives. And here is a perfect example.

The British National Health Service is notoriously slow in treating patients. Some people deny this is the case and point to various numbers released by the NHS itself to show how efficient it is. And one number the NHS takes seriously is that they require patients admitted to the emergency ward to be seen within 4 hours of admission. Doesn’t that sound peachy?

Don’t get too excited. Let me point out how well-intentioned interventions can create unintended incentives. A town in a poor country is faced with too many rats. They offer a bounty for each rat that is killed. Proof of a kill required the bounty hunters to hand in a rat’s tail. Alas, a bevy of tailess rats were soon seen running about town. To solve that problem the city required the entire carcass of the rat be handed in. And they were inundated with dead rats. But it seemed to have no impact on the number of rats running about. Apparently individuals took to breeding rats.

There was a time when the South African government decided that they would offer an award for every AK-47 that was turned into the police. These weapons were frequently used in major crimes and it was a bit embarrassing to the ANC government that they had been the importers of the weapons in question when they were trying to overthrow the previous government. So they offered a nice hefty bounty on each AK-47 that was turned in. The only problem was that AK-47s could be purchased in neighboring countries for a lower price. One could buy it in Zimbabwe and legally sell it to the South African government at a premium. AK-47s were duly imported in record numbers in order to collect the awards the government was handing out. To say the least they merely increased the number of such weapons in the country.

Governments are very good at establishing perverse incentives without realizing it. And so it was with the NHS. The 4-hour rule is simple. A patient must be seen within 4 fours of admission. If too many patients are not seen in that time the health service could lose funding. Of course the ability to see patients that quickly is not increased by the rule. Instead the local hospitals have incentives to act in very strange ways.

If you know you can’t see a patient in emergency care for at least six hours, but you are required to see them within four hours of admission, then the easiest way to solve the problem is to delay admission for an additional two hours. And that is what is happening according to the Left-of-center Guardian. The paper reports, “thousands of seriously ill patients in ambulance ‘holding patters’” were being kept outside in the ambulances “to meet a government pledge that all patients are treated within four hours of admission.”

The story was originally broken by The Observer. The Guardian notes:

Those affected by 'patient stacking' include people with broken limbs or those suffering fits or breathing problems. An Observer investigation has also found that some wait for up to five hours in ambulances because A&E units have refused to admit them until they can guarantee to treat them within the time limit. Apart from the danger posed to patients, the detaining of ambulances means vehicles and trained crew are not available to answer new 999 calls because they are being kept on hospital sites.

Notice the knock-on effect of this incentive. The hospital can’t see the patients within the required 4 hour period. So it refuses to admit the patient until it can see them and meet government edicts. That means the patients is left in the ambulance. That means the ambulance can’t treat other patients.

Under normal conditions the government says that it ought to take 15 minutes from the time an ambulance arrives with a patient until they prepared to depart. Ambulance crews say it is usually 5 to 10 minutes. But reports now show that on 14,700 occasions at 35 hospitals in London alone, in the last year, an ambulance mysteriously took over one hour before they could turn around. And on 332 occasions they took more than two hours. The total for the entire country is probably three times that.

For a moment I want you to think about a fast food restaurant -- say McDonalds. Let us say that the manager notices that they aren’t serving customers as quickly as they should. So he sets a 4 minutes rule. From the time a customer enters the line, he should not wait more than four minutes to be served his meal. Do you really think that the way they would meet this target is to lock the doors so customers can’t get in?

Why is it that clerks at the local grocery store can process your purchase within a few minutes while government departments around the world can keep you waiting for hours at a time? Are clerks at the local Safeway just that much more efficient than those at the DMV? Or do they face entirely different incentives?

Does the DMV fear losing customers? Does Safeway? Does the salary of the checkout clerk at Safeway depend on keeping customers happy? How about the DMV clerks? I don’t think the people differ that much. The problem isn’t the personnel -- as some Republicans tends to think -- the problem is systemic. Government just hasn’t found a way to create the right set of incentives. And people who work for government are responding to the incentives they do face.

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Credit where credit is due.

These days too many Left-wing parties have refused to stand up to the lunacy of Islamic fundamentalists -- just as, I should note, too many conservatives have refused to stand up to the insanity of Christian fundamentalists. So when a Left-wing leader stands up to these morons they deserve applause.

A group of Danish members of parliament were to travel to Iran. The Iranian dictatorship demanded that they apolgize because of Danish newspapers printing cartoons that Islamic fundamentalists say are disrespectful. The Danes canceled their trip and Villy Soevndal, the head of the Socialist People's Party, had this to say: "We are not the ones to apologize. If anyone needs to apologize for freedom of speech, human rights, imprisonments, executions and lack of democracy, it is the Iranians."



A lighter look at life.

I found this rather clever. It reminds me of the saying: Just because I'm paranoid it doesn't mean they aren't out to get me.

In The Know: Is The Government Spying On Paranoid Schizophrenics Enough?


Saturday, February 16, 2008

British report on the upside of warming.

Maybe I missed this in the U.S. media but I’ve only seen this story on the BBC site. A recent study by the Department of Health and the Health Protection Agency investigated the impact on death rates from a warming climate. What they found sounds much like the first chapter of Bjorn Lomborg’s new book Cool It. The BBC says the study found that “overall global warming may mean fewer deaths due to temperature.”

The say that while a bad hot spell in the Summer could kill thousands that even the worst heat wave is nothing compared to the 20,000 deaths each related to cold weather. They also looked at actual weather related deaths in England from 1971 to 2003. There were no increases in Summer deaths but cold-related deaths declined by 3%.

I’ve not read the report and I’m relying on the BBC to have done an accurate job portraying it’s contents. Basically it is saying that the number of people who will die due to bad weather will decrease under warming. Whether one disputes that or not what I don’t get is some bureaucrat from the National Health Service Federation, then using the report to make this statement: “As the report highlights, rising temperatures will put significant pressure on the NHS, and may increase the amount of heat-related deaths and skin cancers, as well as respiratory and insect-borne diseases.”

You can’t dispute that warmer temperatures will cause more heat-related deaths but the BBC says the report shows total deaths will decline. So while heat-related problems may increase cold-related problems will decrease. And most importantly, in terms of deaths, the downside of warmer is less than the upside of warmer. I must admit, that outside the so-called “skeptics” this is the first mainstream report I’ve seen that acknowledged that there could be some benefits to warmer weather.

Actually the travel sections say that all the time which why hundreds of millions of us flock to the warm climates every year to relax. But to have the the British government admit that warmer might save lives, and to have the BBC report that they admitted it, is news.

Photo: It appears this kitten has embraced the idea that warmer is better.


British Police State is alive and well.

The police state that Tony Blair gave England is alive and well. Just ask Darren Nixon of Stoke-on-Trent. Mr. Nixon works as a mechanic. And he appears to be a rather law abiding gentleman who never had a run in with the police until recently. But recently when he got off the bus he took home he found himself surrounded by armed officers barking orders at him.

Mr. Nixon had trouble hearing them because he was listening to his MP3 player at the time so he had to take the earphones out. Nixon was quickly apprehended. He had his mug shot taken and the police added his DNA to the national data base along with taking his fingerprints.

What crime did Mr. Nixon commit? None. Nothing. He did absolutely nothing wrong. Not even the police say he is guilty of a crime. Some half-blind, deluded woman convinced herself that the MP3 might be a handgun and called the police. In England it is entirely illegal to own firearms by the way. In fact, recently a drama group was even told they had to register plastic swords with the police as well as keep them under lock and key when not being used in a stage production. It should be duly noted that the gun ban in England was immediately followed by a massive crime wave as criminals realized they were still armed and that only their victims had been disarmed by the law.

Now consider those DNA samples that were extracted from Mr. Nixon. Under the policies of the English state those samples stay in the files permanently -- even though Mr. Nixon had done nothing wrong and was apprehended by the police on bogus charges. Mr. Nixon shouldn’t feel too bad, some 100,000 children, including a seven-month-old child have been added to the criminal data base because found ways to take their DNA samples as well.

People can have their DNA taken merely because they witnessed a crime and then the government creates a file on them, with that DNA and place it in the criminal data file. The British government says individuals can ask the police to remove the files. And that is true, but the police routinely refuse to do it. But a spokesman for the Home Office claims that there is “clear evidence showing the substantial public benefit in relation to the detection of serious crime” by keeping the DNA of innocent people. From just 2006 to 2007 the number of children, innocent of any crime, who have their DNA kept by the government shot up from 24,000 to 105,000.

It is estimated that over 1 million Britons, never charged with any crime, are on the system and that innocent people comprise one out of four samples. The government pooh-poohs concerns saying: “Those who are innocent have nothing to fear from providing a sample and retaining this evidence is no different to recording other forms of information such as photographs and witness statements.” Do note that while the people are called innocent this Home Office spokesman called the DNA samples “evidence”.

And if you want some idea of how twisted British thinking can be Lord Justice Sedley recently called for mandatory filing of DNA samples of all residents and anyone visiting the country. He said that the police currently take samples from blacks more than from whites. To combat this “discrimination” this “Justice” wants to force everyone to supply their DNA in the name of fairness. Apparently the fact that black women are more likely to be raped is a good reason for the government to rape all women in the name of fairness.

Currently the British police are adding about 1,000 people per day to the DNA data base. Under Blair, and in the U.S. under Bush, western concepts of freedom and human rights were severely damaged. So far in England the opposition Conservative Party is promising to undo many of the worst aspect of the police state. In the United States the Democrats have made no such pledge.

Photo: Mr. Nixon with his deadly MP3 player. No doubt the police feel justified as someone claims he was playing Guns and Roses.

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Friday, February 15, 2008

Update on Officer Dude.

Here’s a update regarding Officer "Dude". The incident which we recounted here took place in Baltimore. Officer “Oink” is a Baltimore police officer and has been for 17-years. He is named Salvatore Rivieri. The kid he assaulted is Eric Bush, a freshman at Northeast High School. Office Oink looks well over 200 pounds. I would guess it is more like 250 pounds. His victim weighs about 125 pounds.

Eric’s mother, Peggy Miller, has said that she couldn’t believe the way that this police officer acted. “To be honest, if that officer did that to me, I would have punched him” she told WJZ news. Miller said: “I started watching the video and couldn’t continue. I flipped out.”

She wasn’t the only one. Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon said: “I saw the tape. The officer handled the situation so poorly. It is very clear this is unacceptable.” That is called an understatement. What the office did was assault.

Apparently Office Oink has a problem. He likes to intimidate people and allegedly has done it before. One woman from the Baltimore area recounted that her husband faced threats by the same officer in the same area. Her husband was riding his bike and Office Rivieri had his little security car blocking the road. To get around it the man was forced to ride on the sidewalk for the length of the vehicle. Apparently this is another offense that the Office takes very serious. She recounted that she got a frantic call from her husband fearing this officer was going to assault him. She said “Rivieri was out of control” and “this guy takes everything as an assault on his authority, no matter how trivial.”

Eric’s own words describe the story this way: “He was just like up in my face, yelling at me...then he tackled me. It was like scary because I have diabetes and my blood sugar went crazy ‘cause he scared me.” I thought the kid looked like he was in shock and he seemed genuinely bewildered as to why this large man was going ballistic. For the record the alleged worst thing the kid said was to use the term "dude" in reference to Rivieri. Rivieri lectured the boy loudly claiming "dudes" work on ranches. Apparently the officer's knowledge isn't as wide as his waist.

The city has put the officer on suspension. But so far this means a paid vacation. He doesn’t have to work but he still receives his salary. No doubt he’ll spend the day on the couch munching donuts by the dozens -- no man in his condition should never wear the uniform he had on. That alone ought to constitute assault to good taste.

The out-of-control officer has hired an attorney to defend him. The best the attorney can offer is to say “you don’t see what happened before the officer took the boy down to the ground.” Actually that is a lie. You do see the situation from the moment Office Out-of-Control started approaching the boy. You witness him put his arm around the boy’s throat and neck as if he were going to choke him or snap his neck. And you witness him throw the boy to the ground. The boy seems terrified. His alleged crime was that he didn’t hear the officer tell him to stop skateboarding. And he used the word “dude” which set the Officer into an irrational frenzy.

What we do see is damning enough. No video can show what happened before the video started. And the fact is that few people will start taping an “incident” before it is apparent that something wrong is happening. The justification used by Rivieri’s attorneys, if accepted, would basically give emotionally unstable officers carte blanch to do as they please. Even if caught on tape they can contend the tape doesn’t show what happened before the tape started.

Rivieri shouldn’t be on paid leave. He should be facing charges of assault and dereliction of duty. And please get him out of that uniform. Surely having Officer Oink in his tight shorts, running around the Waterfront area, has to put thousands of people off their lunch. He must really discourage tourists from eating at the local restaurants -- though I suspect he more than makes up for the meals they don’t buy by himself.

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Once again gun free zones lead to killings.

Sadly I must report that the gun-free zone initiatives have once again taken their toll with a mass shooting at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Illinois. As a native of the state this is a bit disturbing. It has been confirmed that an armed man entered a lecture hall and started shooting. As of the last reports five students were killed and the gunman then inflicted justice on himself by taking his own life. Pity he didn’t start there.

Northern Illinois University is basically a gun-free zone. The policy on campus states: “Students who wish to bring firearms to the campus must obtain written permission from the chief security officer of the university. Firearms must be stored at the University Security Office except with written permission of the chief security officers of the university. At no time will any of the above dangerous weapons be allowed in the university residence halls.”

I guess this means the killer must have had written permission! Otherwise he was breaking the code of conduct for the university. Apparently that didn’t worry him. He could count on most students obeying the conduct code and thus was assured that the chances of any of his victims being able to resist was minimal. Once again the gun-free zone mentality painted targets on the backs of students.

This blog has documented how gun-free zones are magnets for deranged lunatics who realize that these zones allow them to find unarmed victims, in large quantities, in a confined location. It is perfect hunting territory for some loser intent on killing lots of people.

We have also documented numerous cases where gunmen unexpectedly faced armed resistance at schools or other areas. In these cases the shootings ended quickly with no, or few, casualties. When gunmen meet armed resistance their ability to slaughter people drops dramatically.

If you wish to see an index of many of our articles on gun control and gun free zones go here.

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