Saturday, September 17, 2005

Randy Balco on "The Truth"

Randy Balco's The Agitator has slowly become the lonely libertarian's favorite blog. Probably because of posts like this: Not "Fair Enough" to Blacks. It just makes me laugh. Of course, most of "The Truth" commercials make me laugh because, well, they're both funny and pointless at the same time.

What's really funny is how the ad described by Balco is supposed provoke some sort of outrage. But if it wasn't for "The Truth" label, I'd have no idea that I was supposed to be so angry over tobacco companies looking to market their product to blacks.

The very simple concept that prices are the most efficient way to allocate resources

Just a follow up from last weeks discussions on economics, Walter Williams on the role of prices.

Friday, September 16, 2005

It wasn't global warming and it wasn't gays: The tax cuts are what really caused Katrina!

This sounds like a good idea: America needs to stop donating so much money to charity! Yeah, that's just brilliant. The point of this short piece is to convince us not to donate to charity as some sort of plan to shame the government into ... well, into doing something, I'm not quite sure what exactly. But I think the point is that tax cuts are to blame for the Gulf Coast disaster. Some choice passages:

Hurricane Katrina has prompted Americans to donate more than $700 million to charity, reports the Chronicle of Philanthropy. So many suckers, so little foresight.

That's right, Americans concerned about their fellow Americans are suckers. We should be forced to pay higher taxes do the government can effect more relief, while we shouldn't voluntarily give money to help those in need.

Disaster relief is too important to be left to private fundraisers, with their self-sustaining fundraising expenses, administrative overhead (nine percent for the Red Cross) and their parochial, often religious, agendas. It's also way too expensive.

Oh that's right. I must have forgotten how efficient the federal government is. And I also must have forgotten how the federal government has been such a success at keeping "administrative overhead" as low as possible. If only the private sector could learn how the government manages to cut the red tape and keep bureaucracy to a bare minimum.

It just makes the lonely libertarian wonder: Is Ted Rall really thinking about what he's writing? The problem with the Katrina response has been the exact opposite of everything Rall has said. The problem to this point hasn't been money, but bureaucracy, and inefficient government at the local, state, and federal levels. Yet somehow, the answer is stop donating to charity and start paying higher taxes.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

The lonely libertarian's never ending war with the New York Times Editorial Page (Economic Idiocy Part III)

From today's New York Times Editorial Page, on Bush's "shameful proclamation." (registration required)

Ignoring the facts of corruption, inefficiency, and the influence of organized crime in the construction industry, there is very good reason to temporarily suspend federal law demanding that construction workers on federally financed projects receive "prevailing local wages." And that's the fact that we want to rebuild the hurricane devastated areas sooner rather than later. And the more employees that construction crews can hire, the better. The more people that can actually find a construction job the better. Yet according to the Times:

By any standard of human decency, condemning many already poor and now bereft people to subpar wages - thus perpetuating their poverty - is unacceptable. It is also bad for the economy. Without the law, called the Davis-Bacon Act, contractors will be able to pay less, but they'll also get less, as lower wages invariably mean lower productivity.

I guess I always tend to forget that subjecting wages to market forces means those wages are going to be "sub par." I think I also tend to forget that subjecting wages to market forces also invariably means lower productivity.

In all seriousness though, the Times needs to think about these editorials before they print them. Even if everything the editorial said somehow made economic sense (which it doesn't), it still doesn't explain how having more workers rebuilding their own homes, towns and cities is a bad idea in any sort of emotional sense.

Economic Idiocy, Part II

Walter Williams has a very good piece over at about economic lunacy.

In the wake of Katrina the lonely libertarian has heard claims that somehow the devastation will produce some sort of economic boom and will somehow improve economic conditions. I've heard this from both the left and right, from otherwise intelligent people. But as Williams points out, think of all the productive things people would be doing with their money if they weren't repairing hurricane damage.

Economic Idiocy, Part I

Media Matters blasts this John Stossel article in praise of "price gouging." ("Courtesy of Professor Bainbridge")

The only problem is, Media Matters doesn't actually say anything. They present this posting as something that ought to horrify us, but then fail to counter any of the points actually made by Stossel. As Stossel himself would say, give me a break.

This just in, women's rights will lessen jihadist violence

The following was from a NOW (National Organization of Women) Petition to bring the troops home from Iraq, sent to the lonely libertarian by his anti-war mother. The best advice is point number five, but I've included the entire petition below.

We propose the following principles as essential to ending the war in Iraq:

First, as a confidence-building measure, the U.S. government must declare that it has no interest in permanent military bases or the control of Iraqi oil or other resources.

Second, as a further confidence-building measure, the U.S. government must set goals for ending the occupation and bringing all our troops home - in months, not years, beginning with an initial withdrawal of troops by the end of this year.

Third, the U.S. government must request that the United Nations monitor the process of military disengagement and de-escalation, and organize a peaceful reconstruction effort. The U.S. must accept its obligation to fairly compensate Iraqis for damages, assist Iraqi reconstruction, cease the imposition of privatization schemes, and end the dominance of U.S. contractors in the bidding process.

Fourth, the U.S. government should appoint a peace envoy independent of the occupation authorities to underscore its commitment to an entirely different mission, that of a peace process ending the occupation and returning our soldiers home.

Fifth, the peace envoy should encourage and cooperate in talks with Iraqi groups opposed to the occupation, including insurgents, to explore a political settlement. The settlement must include representation of opposition forces and parties, and power-sharing and the protection of women's rights as core principles of governance and economic and energy development. We believe such an initiative will reduce, though not eliminate, violence by lessening any rationale for Jihadist or sectarian conflict.

We send this message to all Americans in civil society, to our elected officials, and to the global peace movement. We demand that Congressional hearings begin to define an exit strategy now. We demand that members of Congress, reflecting the will of the people, adopt policy and budget initiatives that call for an exit strategy based on the above principles. We demand a peace envoy, peace talks with the opposition, reconstruction, the closure of U.S. bases, and the safe return home of all U.S. troops.

Let's look at point number five again.

"The settlement must include representation of opposition forces and parties, and power-sharing and the protection of women's rights as core principles of governance and economic and energy development. We believe such an initiative will reduce, though not eliminate, violence by lessening any rationale for Jihadist or sectarian conflict."

It's good to know that the protection of women's rights lessen the rationale for jihadist violence. I mean if only the United States had the same attitude about women's rights as that fundamentalist Islamic paradise that was the Taliban run Afghanistan, then maybe that whole 9-11 thing could have been avoided.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

All The News Thats Fit To Print

Yesterday I wondered how the New York Times Editorial Page would react to the nomination of John Roberts to the position of Chief Justice. Now I know. Now it’s even more vital to know his opinion on "controversial issues."

The résumé attests to his [John Roberts] right to be considered, and the lack of a real judicial record makes it hard for potential critics to guess how he might rule on controversial issues.

Like the president, this page worries about activist judges who might use the Constitution as a cloak for their desires to remake society in the mold of their own political preferences. Unlike Mr. Bush, we believe the record now shows that most of those jurists are conservatives, who strike down laws that do not fit their political philosophies or their extremely narrow view of governmental power.

Pffffewwwwwww, where to start?

First, there’s the liberal verbal acrobatics that have turned the meaning of the term “judicial activist” upside down. Conservatives originally coined the term to denote judges that found rights in the Constitution that were not at all obvious from any reading of the actual words in the Constitution. The idea was that in looking outside the Constitution, judges would really just be looking to their own political preferences. Of course, both liberals and conservatives can be judicial activists. The problem for conservatives is that any so-called conservative activism, say for instance the finding of a Constitutional “freedom of contract,” has been disdained by the vast majority of Constitutional scholars for the past 70 years.

But liberals have changed the meaning of “judicial activist” to mean a judge that strikes down laws enacted by Congress. By that logic, a judge that strikes down a law enacted by Congress that violates the First Amendment is an “activist judge.” The issue is the meaning of the Constitution, not how many Congressional laws a judge may vote to strike down. With their verbal acrobatics, liberals have turned conservatives who believe in following the Constitution as written into “activists.”

And finally, the Times has made it clear that they are opposed to judges who hold an “extremely narrow view of governmental power.” Which as a general proposition is just fine. After all, plenty of conservatives are opposed to activist judges who hold too broad a view of federal power. The problem is, just what is the Times suggesting? Are they suggesting that Robert’s shouldn’t even be approved if he holds these views? As I mentioned earlier, it would be a sad day when judges with fairly mainstream views were denied a position on the court by those who held another set of mainstream views in opposition to those of the nominee.

The lonely libertarian finds it almost evil of the Times to beat around the bush so much. If John Roberts is a conservative originalist, they don’t want him on the Court. But rather then come right out and say that, they play around with language and skirt the issue as much as they possibly can.

FEMA, down with with disasters

No blame yet, honestly! But it's hard not to take a long hard look at FEMA, an agency that's sole reason for existance is emergency management. Apparently FEMA for "kidz" has a rap about disaster perperation. (This comes via Hit and Run and Nobody's Business.)

Disaster . . . it can happen anywhere,
But we've got a few tips, so you can be prepared
For floods, tornadoes, or even a 'quake,
You've got to be ready - so your heart don't break.

Disaster prep is your responsibility
And mitigation is important to our agency.

People helping people is what we do
And FEMA is there to help see you through
When disaster strikes, we are at our best
But we're ready all the time, 'cause disasters don't rest.

Written and performed by Scott J. Wolfson

For those of us with a dark sense of humor, this is hilarious. And as Hit and Run's Nick Gillespie point out, "this is one more reason to fire FEMA head Mike Brown.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Final Labor Day thoughts on Katrina

Just to clarify, after all my Katrina posts this weekend, I don't want to excuse anyone from blame. Clearly, local, state, and federal authorities all deserve some share of responsibility for the disaster in New Orleans. I'm just still unconvinced that there was all that much that could have been done to prevent the tragedy. Maybe I'm wrong. But all of this media criticism of the government response after the fact is just completely disingenuous. If the potential for such a disaster was so obvious, then why didn't anyone in the media, not one person put these pieces together before the storm actually struck? The answer is, of course, that the ramifications of this disaster were not only not obvious, they were unimaginable.

Maybe the lonely libertarian just has no faith in government, and is unsurprised that the government was not prepared to resolve this situation immediately. And given what's happened this past week, is such a belief unreasonable?

Why bother nominating judges when the New York Times knows the decisions that judges should be making in the first place?

From yesterday's New York Times, (registration required)here are the "important questions" that John Roberts needs to answer. Keep in mind, this is from Sunday's Times, before the announcement was made that Roberts was up for Chief Justice. The Times explains their concern about Roberts in the very first paragraph of the editorial.

Consider Sandra Day O'Connor, who in a series of 5-to-4 decisions cast the deciding vote holding: (1) that the federal government has broad power under the Clean Air Act to fight air pollution; (2) that states cannot impose new restrictions on abortion rights; (3) that courthouses cannot post the Ten Commandments; and (4) that the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law is constitutional. John Roberts, the appeals court judge who is President Bush's nominee to replace Justice O'Connor, could have an equally powerful influence. As far as we know right now, he could wipe away all of these rulings and many more.

At least the Times is honest. Given the fact that these are all 5-4 rulings, we can probably assume that both sides of the opinion are Constitutionally defensible in some regard. So the Times's concern is that Roberts may sway the Court in the opposite direction, reaching results the paper's editorial staff is not happy with. Luckily we don't reject judges just because we disagree with the results they've reached. If that is what we did, no judge would ever be approved.

It will be interesting to see the Times's response to Roberts being nominated for the job of Chief Justice. I suppose a knee-jerk opposition wouldn't be out of the question, but is there really any point to such a reaction?

After all, who else would you rather have named Chief Justice? Of the sitting justices, the only two whom Bush would probably seriously consider are Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, neither of whom are inspiring choices. Both are highly opinionated, with a tendency to write solo dissents, while Scalia in paticular is somewhat antagonistic to the moderates and liberals on the Court. The eminently likeable Roberts seems like an obvious choice, unless someone has the name of another potential Bush nominee with better credentials. In fact, I'd like to see any opposition to the Roberts nomination contain an explanation of just who Bush should appoint to Chief Justice.

Counting Justices

Legal academics studying the Supreme Court often talk of counting heads or counting justices (to figure out just what the law actually is an a divided opinion). But somehow I don't think this is what most academics have in mind. Nonetheless, it's a great little post from Ann Althouse, counting heads on who said what on former Chief Justice William Rehnquist.

The Corporate Response to Katrina

Roberts to be nominated Chief Justice

This is breaking news early Labor Day morning, but the cable news shows are reporting that John Roberts is going to be nominated Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. And who was it that made the following observation the other day?

I would not be at all surprised if it was John Roberts, who in his personality and opinions seems to have "Chief Justice material" written all over him.

Oh that's right, it was me.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Some Katrina Answers

Here's a bit of information, from the Washington Post, on who is to blame for the Katrina response. As the lonely libertarian suspected, the local authorities and federal authorities were in conflict as to the handling of the situation. And as I suspected, the federal response was such a long time in coming because the local authorities took such a long time to ask for it.

Behind the scenes, a power struggle emerged, as federal officials tried to wrest authority from Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco (D). Shortly before midnight Friday, the Bush administration sent her a proposed legal memorandum asking her to request a federal takeover of the evacuation of New Orleans, a source within the state's emergency operations center said Saturday.

The administration sought unified control over all local police and state National Guard units reporting to the governor. Louisiana officials rejected the request after talks throughout the night, concerned that such a move would be comparable to a federal declaration of martial law.

Louisiana did not reach out to a multi-state mutual aid compact for assistance until Wednesday, three state and federal officials said. As of Saturday, Blanco still had not declared a state of emergency, the senior Bush official said.

Later in the piece, Michael Chertoff Homeland Security Chief enlightened everyone with the observation that:

"[B]ecause our constitutional system really places the primary authority in each state with the governor."

Rather than conspiracy theories, this sounds like the real story. Remember 9-11? Bureaucratic squabbles and bureaucratic incompetence seem to be the perfect recipe for disaster.

Conspiracy Theories Abound!

I tend to regard Democratic Underground as a far left website, but I think most people wouldn't place them any further on the left than Rush Limbaugh would be on the right. But why is it that liberals are so loath to disavow nutcases? Think of any wacky thing the religious right has ever said about blaming a debase American culture for some tragedy that has befallen us, and you'll find a strongly conservative commentator who has taken them to task. So why don't liberals do the same thing?

Just take a look at some of the posts from the past weekend at Democratic Underground.

Anyone who thinks the delay in aid WASN'T prompted by views on poverty... BushCo is a fool.

Grounds to impeach based on New Orleans

Is * just doing "Ethnic cleansing" in NOLA

The reason was simple: a Democratic governor and a Democratic city

Rice "just doesn't believe" Katrina aid came in "a color-affected way"

Bush issued a Federal Disaster proclamation BEFORE

Let me see if I can get this straight. Bush knew Katrina was going to be as bad as it was, yet did nothing. Federal rescue efforts took several days to get underway because most of the victims in New Orleans were black and poor. What happened in New Orleans was tantamount to genocide, and George Bush should be impeached. When you think about it, it really makes sense. Seriously.

Pushing aside the questions of why people who pride themselves of their rationality would believe such nonsense, the larger question is why no one tells these people that they need to think seriously about whether or not they really believe everything they're saying.

To be fair though, some people do question whether the other posters are being unreasonable. Here's a brief example.

Q: Do the Gov and Mayor deserve any blame? The feds, Brown and Bush, fairly deserve some blame, but I think the Gov and Mayor do also from what I've learned so far. Am I wrong about this?

A: The lack of federal response for this is within the realm of genocide. I do not tolerate the blame shift to the tireless efforts local and state workers.

Remember, this is not to disparage liberals at all. This is just to disparage liberals who believe such insanity, and question why everyone else on the left remains silent while the lunatics shoot their mouths off. I suppose I can understand that environmentalists and the religious right look to their faith for an explanation, and that's what leads them to say such crazy things. Maybe this is the exact same scenario for the Bush haters.

The good result/bad law fallacy

The lonely libertarian has been watching a bit of CSPAN’s Washington Journal this morning, and there’s been some debate about the nomination of John Roberts, and the Rehnquist vacancy on the court. As reporters tend to do, the ones on this program told the host that it was very important to know what Roberts’s (or any nominee for that matter) position was on abortion, Civil Rights laws, and Environmental laws.

One of the reporters specifically wanted to know about Roberts’s personal opinion on the Civil Rights laws of the 1960’s. Of course, judge’s personal opinions really don’t matter. The entire purpose of an apolitical judiciary is precisely so the judges can avoid such controversial political questions. For Supreme Court nominees it’s much more important to know candidates views on the interpretation of the Constitution. Provided personal views don’t cloud their views of the law, a judge’s personal views should be of no concern.

Abortion in particular is a tricky case, as there is no explicit right to privacy in the Constitution, and even if there was, it could be argued that such a right has nothing to do with legalized abortion. And even Federal Civil Rights laws could be found Unconstitutional for those who choose to anchor their commerce clause jurisprudence in the pre-New Deal period. (Which, in case you were wondering would be no one on the current Supreme Court.)

The problem is, as the lonely libertarian has stressed time and time again, the mainstream media regards Constitutional law as a result oriented process. Constitutional law is not about results, but about interpreting the Constitution. When looking for laws to achieve specific results, look to Congress. The Constitution provides a framework. It was very specifically not designed to achieve specific results. If you find that framework untenable, it can be changed through the amendment process.

If a judge believes that the Constitution limits the ability of the federal government to pass environmental laws, or pass laws about guns in schools or laws about violence against woman, those views on what the Constitution says should not be a reflection on the judges personal views on the intent of these laws. To make things simple to understand, Congress can not pass a blanket law against murder, because it has no power to do so. As well intentioned as such a law might be, such good intentions do not make a blanket federal murder law Constitutional.

A split on the right?

Jonathan Roach on the possible split of the right. Not much to say, but Rick Santorum scares me. My only question is, in a sociological sense, what's the difference between a family, and a village?

Rehnquist dead at 80

Chief Justice William Rehnquist passed away last night, at the age of 80.

The lonely libertarian has yet read any reaction from the blogosphere, yet the question of who the next Chief Justice is to be looms large. Neither Scalia nor Thomas seem like good bets. Thomas had enough trouble mustering votes to be appointed to the Court in the first place, and Scalia is far too antagonistic for the job of Chief Justice. (As a Scalia admirer, I'd hate to see him as Chief Justice.) The best bet for George Bush would have been the recently retired Sandra Day O'Connor, but that's no longer an option. Look for Bush to appoint a new justice directly to the role of Chief Justice. I would not be at all surprised if it was John Roberts, who in his personality and opinions seems to have "Chief Justice material" written all over him.

As for Rehnquist himself, the lonely libertarian will remember him for helping to steer the Court in a more moderate direction, and for greatly limiting the Court in its decision of extra judicial questions. Most importantly, Rehnquist was a leader on the Court. For as often as Rehnquist sided with Scalia and Thomas, he was also never afraid to side against the conservatives of the Court in the name of stare decisis.

More thoughts on Katrina

As a follow up to everything below, let me just clarify one thing. I'm sure there is blame for the Katrina disaster to be passed out. I just don't think anyone has a good enough handle on everything that actually was done, everything that wasn't done, and everything that could have been done. At least not at this point. And until that whole picture becomes clear, most assignments of blame at this point are just uninformed finger pointing.

There is this mindset today in America that any and all disasters can be avoided, and that's not neccessarily true. Tragedy can happen here. It did in New Orleans and it will somewhere else, at some point in the future. That's life, and sometimes life is tragic. It's silly to think that there's anything we can do to make everyone perfectly safe. Katrina should not be an excuse for a further descent into nanny stateism.

This isn't to politicize the situation. I do beleive the government at all levels is performing its proper rule in conducting these releif efforts. But as far as preventing such disasters from occuring in the first place, the government can only go so far. The private sector bears an equal if not greater share of responsibility for measures to prevent such disasters in the first place. The point is that Katrina should be a wakup call to all of us, to take greater control and greater responsibility of our own lives. And just to be clear, this is not a class thing. Think of the poor that lost everything they had in New Orleans because they didn't get out of the city. And think of the rich who may have physically gotten out, but didn't do more to protect their resources and investments. Before pointing fingers and naming names, maybe we should realize that if there is blame to be assigned, we all share in that blame.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

9 thoughts on Katrina

The lonely libertarian has been a bit preoccupied this week with the aftermath of hurricane Katrina. Rather than wasting time linking here, there and everywhere, I just figured I'd comment on a few aspects of Katrina and the Katrina reaction.

1) The mainstream media did the job it's supposed to do. The major news networks were all over the most important story, and that was the human tragedy in New Orleans. The media made the nation aware of the situation, and no doubt saved countless lives.

2) I heard Trent Lott this morning lamenting the lack of media attention that Mississippi, Alabama, and the rest of the affected areas are receiving. Actually, back on Monday, there actually was some media coverage of the other impacted areas. But when it became clear that New Orleans was the epicenter of a human tragedy that was growing steadily worse, New Orleans became the center of media focus. In the long run, rebuilding Biloxi Mississippi and some of the other impacted areas may be just as arduous a process, but for the past week, the media has quite rightly been focused on averting what could have been the death of tens of thousands in New Orleans.

3) Why is it that disasters tend to make all the nut cases come out of the woodwork? I'm not sure what's worse, blaming the disaster on the gay community and casting New Orleans as a modern day Sodom or Gomorrah, or blaming the disaster on global warming and the nation's failure to sign the Kyoto Accords.

4) I'm a bit tired of the blame game, especially at this early stage. At this point, does anyone really have any information as to what any government agency actually did wrong, or what mistakes were made? It's easy to play Monday morning quarterback, but no one has any clue what was really going on earlier this week, when the first decisions of this crisis were being made.

5) If anyone deserves any blame, it's the leadership in Louisiana and New Orleans that never had a handle on the situation. But to be fair, perhaps expecting that much is just unrealistic. I can't imagine any state really being prepared for such a disaster, nor able to fully handle the aftermath on its own. What I don't understand is why it was never made clear that federal help was needed immediately, and why this was not made a military operation much sooner than it actually was. As soon as the levies broke, and the realization was made that the city would need to be completely evacuated, the federal government, with all its military resources should have been called in. But once again, to be fair, this is not the sort of situation anyone was prepared for.

6) And as to those who would politicize the tragedy, shame on you. I was amazed at the number of postings blaming everything on George Bush over at Democratic Underground. And I'm surprised any libertarian or small government type would make this tragedy an indictment of government in general. I can't imagine tens (possibly hundreds?) of thousands of people being evacuated in a matter of days by anyone other than the U.S. military. Everyone in this country has become so comfortable that when we come across adversity of this magnitude, when a city is literally destroyed by the forces of nature, we are baffled as to why everything is not handled "better." Evacuating a devastated major city in a matter of days is nothing to sneer at.

7) I've noticed a number of commentators pointing to newspaper articles and government reports about the dangers of hurricanes and flooding in New Orleans. Thanks for pointing this out now, but it would have been a little more helpful say last weekend. For all the "obvious" dangers, I don't seem to recall anyone warning of the impending disaster last weekend. See my previous remarks about Monday morning quarterbacks.

8) There are already commentators on the news shows debating what should be done about the future of New Orleans. I'm sorry, but there is no debate. Regardless of the economic or practical arguments against it, New Orleans will be rebuilt into the same sort of city as it was before. That's just what we do as a civilized society. And I may cringe at the dollar cost, but as I just said, there is no debate. New Orleans will be rebuilt, with far greater care given to protection from Mother Nature. If you think anything different is really going to happen, you're living on another planet.

9) And finally, thank God gas prices are going up. And no, I'm not crazy. But given what Katrina has done to our refining capacity, the only way prices wouldn't rise would be if they were being artificially limited. And price controls and rationing would mean gas lines, gas lines, and more gas lines. Just remember that prices are the markets way of allocating scarce resources. When a resource highly in demand becomes more scarce, the price rises. Gas prices will come down eventually, relievednow, just be releived in the fact that higher gas prices now show us that the market is in fact working.