Saturday, September 30, 2006

More High Costs Of A Low Price

From the Nation online, Ten Reasons Why the Wal-Mart Pundits are wrong.

I meant to do a point-by-point rebuttal, but I just ran out of time. Regardless, this is nothing new from the Wal-Mart critics that we haven't heard before. And as usual, there are the same problems that always exist with Wal-Mart critiques. There is no evidence that Wal-Mart treats it employees any differently than a vast majority of other large corporate employers of unskilled workers and the critiques present a view of a failing market system that does not fit with known history or economics.

If any of the Wal-Mart critics can tell me about a time where capitalism or a free market led to lower standards of living, I would be glad to hear about it. Local, individual studies, regardless of what they show, are not evidence of a national trend of Wal-Mart sending us all into poverty.

Wal-Mart critics need to ask themselves, is their problem really Wal-Mart, or do they just have a problem with the free market?

Gas Prices

As has been well reported, gas prices are quickly dropping with no apparent explanation. By my own eye, gas prices have dropped nearly $1.00 a gallon in my area.

Unless you're a conspiracy theorist who believes that gas prices are being lowered to help Republicans in the November election- in which case there's probably no hope for you- the recent price drops tend to poke holes in the "price gouging" argument. If gas had risen to over $3.00 a gallon because oil companies were just taking an extra $1.00 a gallon in profits, why on earth would they chose to eliminate all that extra money they were "stealing" from the consumers.

No oil prices don't make any sense, but that further supports the argument that oil prices are far beyond any one group’s control. Greedy executives or corrupt politicians? I don't think so.

Bush Bites Back

President Bush spoke the other day, bashing war critics and Democrats for embracing the enemies propaganda. I believe President Bush also criticized Democrats for obstructionist tactics. It's about time.

I tend not to weigh in on these highly politicized debates, but when it comes to the war on terror I find it hard not to take sides. I have numerous problems with both Democrats and Republicans, but at least Republicans have ideas when it comes to defending the nation from terrorism. I've heard plenty of criticism from Democrats, but no coherent plan. There are plenty of things to criticize Bush and the Republicans about and debates over foreign policy and national defense are healthy for democracy, but the fact of the matter is that the opposition to Bush has offered no new ideas, and no realistic changes in policy.

Friday, September 29, 2006

More from the Times on "science"

From the New York Times this morning, Scientists Form Group to Support Science-Friendly Candidates.

Actually, this isn't about science at all, it's about policy:

Organizers of the group, Scientists and Engineers for America, said it would be nonpartisan, but in interviews several said Bush administration science policies had led them to act. The issues they cited included the administration’s position on climate change, its restrictions on stem cell research and delays in authorizing the over-the-counter sale of emergency contraception.

Of course scientists know best when it comes to the issues of carbon emission restrictions which could harm the economy (global warming), federal funding of certain types of research (stem cells), and deciding how drugs should be sold (the morning after pill).

In what it described as a Bill of Rights for scientists and engineers, the group said that researchers who receive federal funds should be free to discuss their work publicly ...

And of course, scientists should be free to discuss their work for the government public ally. They shouldn't be constrained, like, say, everyone else who works for the government can be constrained.

Is it just me, or does everything hear ring of dishonesty. The term "science" is just thrown out into the public arena, seemingly indicating a nonpartisan, non-ideologically driven agenda. But as I've blogged about time and time again, there is a tremendous difference between science and policy. Sometimes science can support certain policy decisions more than others, but scientific data is not the only data to be considered when making public policy- and it's dishonest for groups like these to suggest otherwise.

Back when I was a liberal ...

More good stuff via Hit and Run: This TCS Daily piece on the trip from Far Left To Libertarian.

I'd ask the same sort of question posed in the TCS piece- Conservatives and liberals "convert" all the time. The political ranks is full of disillusioned members from either side of the traditional political dichotomy. But I can't think of any former libertarians ... can you?

Thursday, September 28, 2006

C is for cookie ... Is good enough for me?

And in New York, city helth department asks restaurants to ban trans fats.

In related news, public health groups have urged the children's program Sesame Street to show the consequences of a diet high in trans fats. "At this point, after eating so many cookies for over 30 years, the cookie monster would likely be suffering from diabetes, high blood pressure, and may have allready suffered several heart attacks."

Okay, so I made up that last part. But why does it sound so real?

Stupid Is As Stupid Does

Happend to catch this article on AOL news: Study says food labels puzzle Americans.

The article starts off with a genius who didn't realize that the 170 calories listed on her box of spaghetti was per serving, not for the entire box. It then goes on to explain how people just don't understand these oh-so-confusing food labels. If this study has any truth to it, what it tells us is that people are either lazy, or don't know basic math. Either way, the issue is dumb people, not confusing food labels.

Let's just look at the brilliant spghetti lady. If you really think that whole box of spaghetti you just ate is only 170 calories, that would mean you could have nearly 12 boxes of spaghetti in a day as part of your 2,000 calorie diet (170 x 12 = 2040). For most people common sense would tell them that that sounds completley insane.

Understanding nutrition labels is probably the equivalant of understanding 4th or 5th grade math. It's not rocket science.

Finally, here's the money quote:

Vanderbilt's study was conducted between June 2004 and April 2005 when the low-carb craze was at its height, so many of the questions involving serving size focused on carbohydrate counts. Researchers found only about a third of the volunteers correctly estimated how many carbs were in a 20-ounce bottle of soda.

"Most people don't realize those have 2.5 servings," said Dr. Russell Rothman, lead author of the study.

Most people don't realize? Gee, it only says it right on the bottle.

Fry That Chicken

Via Hit and Run,we have this take on "Minstrel Show Rap."

It's a question worth asking- Is this an insidious, racist trend, or is it something far less concerning? Far more interesting than the intentions of the artists and the intentions of record company executives would be the way this is received by the young America who is actually listening to the music. My real question would be do young white and black kids enjoy some of this music without regards to race?

And what do people think about race generally when they see some of these videos? Sometimes it's all about context- if the "Fry My Chicken" video was a Dave Chapelle sketch, would it be less awkward?

Friday, September 22, 2006

America, F*ck Yeah!

I meant to post on this the other day and never got around to it: Conservative Dennis Prager at Townhall, on his interview with leftist historian Howard Zinn, part 1 and part 2.

As someone who's studied history, both in school, and on my own, this is the sort of debate that just really gets me, mainly because it serves no real point. History does not need to be part of someone's modern day moralizing. Yes we know Mr. Liberal wants to feel badly about the mistreatment of Native Americans. And yes we know Mr. Conservative wants to celebrate America. But none of that really has anything to do with actually studying history. It's just plain silly to spend time criticizing people hundreds of years ago for, well, doing what people hundreds of years ago did. Conquest and war was just the way the world worked when the Europeans first colonized America, and it makes no sense to judge past civilizations on modern standards. Virtually every single society the world has ever known would fail by modern standards. Europeans killed Europeans, Africans killed Africans, Native Americans killed Native Americans, and sometimes they all killed each other. Yes, human history is quite brutal.

In a way, conservatives who celebrate America have the right idea. Of course, one can celebrate this country without glossing over previous sins. What makes America great is the fact that we've always been forward-looking, and yes, progressive. We've become more inclusive over time, and if you want to put it this way, yes we've become "less evil." The thing is, we need to appreciate both the good and the bad of where we've come from, and the problem with debates like these it that it always comes out as all good versus all bad. This ignores historical context and provides no real insight as to what "the American experience" really is.

Finally, to comment a bit more on the second piece, I tend to come down on Prager's side when it comes to Hitler, North Korea, and the cost of war. Once again though, this is just about moral judgments and not about history. Technically, "history" never decides whether a war was good or bad, right or wrong. We all just have our own moral opinions. And Howard Zinn's may be more than a little insane. I'll take a world not ruled by Hitler thank you very much, and I'm not going to question the costs that got us here.

... And Then We Have The Liberal Response

And then we have the liberal response to the earlier Wal-Mart story over at Democratic Underground.

The evil part of me really enjoys all the confusion.

Well, we do need cheap drugs ... But this could also but smaller chains and mom and pop stores out of business ... And their low prices might hurt the drug companies ... Oh wait, we hate the drug companies ... But we need the drug companies ... And we hate Wal-Mart ... But low cost prescription drugs would be great for the poor ...

And on and on. The great thing is, I believe that the Wal-Mart "documentary" I hated was called, "The High Cost Of A Low Price," and when you start talking about things like prescription drugs- which people really need- then actually managing to provide low costs seems like an incredibly good idea.

For those who argue for government run healthcare, government run healthcare would not lower costs, that would merely shift those costs to other taxpayers- either that or government price controls would effectively destroy the market. Markets on the other hand, can reduce prices while making life better for all Americans- that is the essence of our history- increased standards of living that correspond with growing markets and lower prices.

The argument made by Wal-Mart's opponents- that some how Wal-Mart's low prices are somehow making us worse off- has no basis in economics, and no basis in history. Once again, I'd love to know, how could $4 prescriptions for the uninsured be a bad thing?

David Letterman's Top Ten List Of Way's To Destroy The Economy ...

We Preach Politics, Not Truth

Here in Connecticut, the latest Nancy Johnson (R) campaign ad is the perfect example of politics gone wrong. (You can watch the ad here.) Johnson is running for re-election in Connecticut's 5th District against Democrat Chris Murphy.

The problem here? Well, to start with, the ad is the worse sort of fear based politics. It calls to mind LBJ's anti-Goldwater ads in 1964, with the little girl in the field and the atomic bomb. "My opponent is going to get you killed" just isn't honest politics in my book.

Of course, the reasons for this ad are really Chris Murphy and the Democrats own fault. After all, the point of the add focuses on Johnson's support, and Murphy's opposition to Bush's warrantless wiretapping program. The truth of the matter is neither Johnson nor Murphy want anything different in the practical sense. Johnson as a Republican supports the Bush program, which apparently has allowed for wiretapping of calls of supposed terrorists from overseas without a warrant- which technically, probably does violate the law. Murphy as a Democrat opposes the Bush plan. I'm assuming that he wants the law followed, and a warrant obtained- of course, current law already allows for the government to apply for after-the-fact warrants in cases such as these. In other words, the whole business over warrants when it comes to "imminent terrorist attacks" is just a bunch of procedural garbage.

But of course, Democrats have to criticize the Bush administration. And Republicans respond in kind. And the political wheels keep turning, the public continues to be kept in the dark, and substantive issues are avoided. Ain't the two-party system grand?

We Can't Possibly Give Wal-Mart Any Credit, Can We?

From the New York Times- Relief for Some but Maybe Not Many in Wal-Mart Plan for $4 Generic Drugs.

The point of this article seems to be to criticize Wal-Mart. My response ... Are the people at the Times crazy? Just read any other piece in the Times about healthcare, or anywhere in the mainstream media for that matter and you're bound to read about 1) the plight of the uninsured, and 2) the expensive cost of prescription drugs. Wal-Mart is using the free market to help with both of these problems by providing inexpensive prescription drugs for uninsured people. And what's the Times criticizing Wal-Mart for? The fact that $4 generic drugs don't help people who have insurance or people on Medicare, who are having their prescription drugs paid for them!

I think this a sign as to the state of the world today. Something is done that is going to help people, and the complaints start to fly that what's being done isn't enough.

Here you have a wonderful example of the market working to help people- the market actually offering solutions to a social problem. And rather than looking at the positives, all the New York Times can say is, "it's not enough."

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Not Enough Information

Really, really, really good post from Jane Galt at Asymmetrical Information on George Bush, terrorism, and civil liberties. If only the rest of the world could be so ... reasonable.

Her comment about not posting on torture and wiretapping, ect. rings true here, mainly in regards to the war in Iraq, of which I have been a reluctant supporter. The truth of the matter is, I don't quite know what's going on there, and depending on who you listen to, we're either making steady progress or we're inches away from an all out civil war. When people ask me when I'm going to change my opinion on the war, the truth is, I really have nothing on which to change my opinion- Just a lot of propaganda and slogans from both sides.

Updated 9/22/06 @ 10:40 AM : Just to comment more briefly on the war- my major assertion has been that history will validate the war in Iraq. And I can't be proven right or wrong on that claim for ... well ... at least 10 or 20 years. Of course I think I'm right, but I don't purport to be the final judge on history while the war is still occuring.

Drugs and Students

Why does everyone get so worked up over warrantless wiretapping when bills which are completley invasive of or rights, such as the Student and Teacher Safety Act of 2006, are passed right under our noses.

The act would not just allow, but require schools receiving certain federal funding to have teachers and other school officials perform searches on students based on a reasonable suspicion that the student may be carrying illegal drugs. No warrants, just a teacher's suspicions that a student might have some marijuana is enough to call for a search.

Is this the sort of police state we want to live in? I've said it before, but what the government does in the name of the war on drugs scares me a lot more than what's done in the name of the war on terrorism.

Liberals and Conservatives

John Stossel on how It's hard to tell a conservative from a liberal.

Take away the currently polarized foreign policy debate, and he has a point. When it comes to domestic policy, there certainly are more similarities than differnces here.

Monday, September 18, 2006

More On Drugs

Final Drug War Thoughts, in response to A Fan For All Seasons.

"I support drug legalization because I do care about people, I care about people’s freedom to make choices for themselves"

That means you support murder, theft, rape, and basically any sort of deviant behavior, just so you know.

I care about people's freedom to make choices for themselves that don't infringe on the life, liberty, or property of others. In criminal law there is a distinction made between crimes that are malum in se and malum prohibita. Malum in se crimes are crimes that are bad in and of themselves, crimes that all societies punish- crimes such as rape, murder, and theft. Crimes that are malum prohibita are bad because we make laws that say they are bad- drug crimes today would be an example- or adultery, dancing, and failing to go to Church along with anything else that could be punished by law in the Puritan America of the 17th century.

The point is, some things are just bad, whereas other things- like drugs- are bad because our society says they are bad.

Black markets aren't just for illegal materials; they are for hard to acquire materials. Guns are legal, but there are black markets for guns. Prescription drugs are legal, but they have a black market as well. Organized crime will not die out with legalization of drugs. Do you honestly think giant drug cartels will just say "well, the jig is up, let's go get real jobs". No way.

Eventually, drug cartels will have to say the jig is up because they will not be able to charge competitive prices for the drugs they are selling. The market will dictate that they stop selling drugs. Additionally, you mention prescription drugs and guns- there is a black market for these products because they are highly regulated. People turn to the black market when they can't get the items they want legally (or perhaps because going the legal route involves more hurdles than they are willing to put up with). Again, black markets are caused by laws that restrict the market- the freer the market is, the less of a need there is for a black market, and the influence of organized crime is lessened.

Also, for the 100th time, alcohol is nothing like cocaine, crack, crystal meth or any other hard line drug. Those drugs are highly addictive. There are much easier to binge on and their effects are much, much worse. Alcohol is not addictive. If your body can't handle alcohol, you merely throw it up and that should be warning enough to stop. If your body can't handle a line of coke or a dose of heroin, you could die.

I think the hundreds of thousands (millions?) of Americans who are currently in, or who have ever participated in Alcoholics Anonymous would tend to disagree with your statement that alcohol is not addictive. As a college student you should know how easy alcohol is to binge on, and the numerous problems that can result from alcohol abuse. Many of the problems you refer to with coke and heroin I believe generally result from "impure" versions of the drugs sold on the streets- a problem that would be far less common if there was a legal market. For the exceedingly small number of people who might die from using a drug, keep in mind that we approve pharmaceuticals all the time that could potentially cause death. Again, the point is the individual's freedom of choice.

This isn't merely about making "bad choices". A bad choice is watching a basketball game instead of hanging out with your girlfriend. If you truly care about someone, about people, you wouldn't want them to do drugs like cocaine in the first place. Stop comparing alcohol to cocaine. THEY ARE NOT THE SAME THING. You can die from driving, I'm not saying ban driving. You can die from alcohol use, although it's very difficult, but I'm not saying ban alcohol. These drugs are illegal for a reason. Don't believe me? Go spend a night in a crack den.

I don't want people to abuse any drugs, be it alcohol, cocaine, or whatever. There's not a drug on the planet that is addictive from one use. Nicotine is supposed to be one of the most addictive drugs there is, perhaps the most addictive drug, yet I know from personal experience that you can smoke countless cigarettes without becoming addicted. Yes, most people who start smoking to become smokers, but you can find plenty of people who have smoked before who are not nicotine addicts. What does this all mean? Drug use, and addiction itself is a very personal sort of issue.

Whereas Person A may smoke 500 cigarettes and never become addicted, Person B may smoke 100 cigarettes and be hooked for life. There is no magic number. Additionally, lets say Person A and Person B each smoke 500 cigarettes, but person A smokes those cigarettes over a couple months and person B smokes those cigarettes over a couple of years. Their personal choices as to how often to smoke may play a role in whether they become addicted. Apply the same logic to cocaine, marijuana, or any illegal drug.

You say spend a night in a crack den, but I say spend a night at a New York City party where high priced attorneys and Wall Street types are doing lines of coke. If you didn't see them do it, you'd probably be hard pressed to point them out as drug users.

I'm not arguing that all drugs pose the same risks- quite the contrary. I recognize that all drugs have risks, and that those risks are different to different people. Additionally, I would argue that people don't develop drug problems because of drugs- people develop drug problems because of other problems in their life or other issues they may have. I think blaming drugs is a crutch for ignoring real problems. Yes there is such a thing as physical addiction (particularly when it comes to heroin), but I would argue that people don't get that far without any number of other problems in their lives. And finally I would make the points that 1- not all drug use is abuse, and 2- depending on the person, drug abuse can range from completely destructive to a minor personal problem. It is well researched that there are plenty of functional addicts in the world, people completely addicted to drugs, but able to function in their everyday lives. This is drug abuse for some people, and maybe for others it means living on the streets.

I don't engage in this debate to moralize on drugs. I think people's moral decisions, along with their decisions about risk should not be made by the government. I don't think we should legislate against a certain item because some people may have a problem with that item. And finally, I don't believe it's the place of government to draw lines as to what risks are appropriate- like alcohol, and what risks are not appropriate- like marijuana or cocaine.

You continually avoid my points about risk and personal responsibility and decision making to point out that "these drugs are dangerous!" I'm not disagreeing with you there. My point is, we shouldn't cede to government the responsibility to make these choices for us. It's that sort of attitude that leads to other laws passed to protect people that violate the individual right to make choices. It seems as though you don't want alcohol banned, but imagine we lived back in the 20's during prohibition. Your argument would be that alcohol prohibition is a bad policy choice, but so long as a majority of people disagreed with you, there would be nothing you could do. My argument would be that the government should have no right to ban alcohol in the first place, because the majority should not be able to impose its views on what's safe, and what's a good idea on the rest of the population. Think about it.

Eat Your Spinach

Now that Spinach-Gate has intensified, it appears that The FDA is still powerless to issue a recall because it doesn't know where the tainted spinach came from.

Some very brief background for those unfamiliar with the story- Basically, over 100 people have gotten sick, and at least one person has died after eating uncooked spinach contaminated with e.coli 0157h7. The problem is, even though the spinach has been traced back to several California growers through epidemiological studies, no samples tested have yet come back positive, and the exact source of the contamination has not been pinpointed.

Of course, the real shame is that any illness can be avoided by doing that thing that turned Cave Man into Civilized Man- cooking.

Obviously, we all enjoy raw food at times- fresh fruits and vegetables, sushi, and perhaps undercooked meat, but the fact of that matter is we should recognize such foods as potentially dangerous. No matter how hard you try, you can't make fresh food as safe as a deep fried Twinkie.

I just can't help but smile a bit, as you know this is such a blow to groups like The Center For Science In The Authoritarian Interest, who wants nothing more than to have us give up Twinkies for raw spinach. Their press release reminds us of the important responsibility the federal government plays in food safety, and they go on to lament the fact that responsibility for food safety is divided amongst several federal agencies.

This is one case where I think the federal government actually does play an important role- not in exorbitant preventative measures, but in quickly discovering the contamination and informing the public. Even this libertarian doesn't believe that the private sector is more efficient at limiting such outbreaks than the government. Of course, this should not be a call for more regulation, as I'm sure plenty of people will call for more regulation.

When the produce grower that is found to be the cause of the outbreak is litigated into bankruptcy, watch how quickly other produce growers adopt more stringent quality control measures on their own initiative.

So for now, boil your spinach, if you want to risk eating it at all. Yes, God is dead; he died from eating the contaminated spinach of his creation. I'll stick with that delectable creation of man, the deep fried Twinkie. No e.coli in there, no sir.

Very Brief Commerce Clause Thought

Still working on the paper, which should be published sometime this winter, and I just can't get the commerce clause off my mind-

I thought of an originalist argument today that throws the whole notion of activities with a substantial affect on interstate commerce as being a permissible subject of commerce clause regulation into question- The Bankruptcy Clause, Article 1, Sec. 8, Clause 4. Bankruptcy is clearly an activity with a substantial affect on interstate commerce, yet the framers specifically made a separate bankruptcy clause. If bankruptcy would be covered under the commerce clause, why make a separate clause? I suppose this argument could be made in regards to any number of Sec. 8 enumerated powers, but this only strengthens the position that the commerce clause today has been stretched ridiculously far beyond its original meaning.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Yay DDT!

But Don't Blame Me When Little Eric Jumps Off The Terrace- You Should Have Been Watching Him- Apparently You Ain't Parents

I caught the beginning of this last night on the Discovery Channel before having to tune out: Death Metal Music.

I just thought we were past this, especially from, well, the Discovery Channel. The program is an investigation of links between death metal music and satanic ritual killings, one of those "this music is killing our kids!" pieces you would have expected 20 or 30 years ago, but not in the 21st century. The show even starts off with some old guy lamenting, "When we were kids, we used to listen to the Beach Boys."

Just sort of sad, really, that even the Discovery Channel still wastes their time blaming music for people doing evil and nutty things.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Regulation Without Context

From the New York Times: Water Monitor Falsified Reports.

What’s missing here is context. The guy could serve up to 5 years in prison for falsifying results, and I for one would like to know why he did it. From the story it’s obvious he falsified the results to cover his mistake of failing to take the appropriate turbidity readings in the first place.

My question is, why are these missing readings worth spending up to 5 years in prison for? Could it be that our drinking water laws- like many of the health and safety laws in this country are more concerned paperwork and deadlines than with public health?

As someone who has dealt with the Safe Drinking Water Act since 1998, I know from personal experience that monitoring and reporting violations can lead to significant fines for public water systems, whereas actual health violations do not incur any fines. What we have is a perverse system that encourages dishonesty by making paperwork more important than public health.

A Brief Lesson On The War On Drugs

A response to A Fan For All Seasons over the War On Drugs:

The response to the lonely libertarian post on ending prohibition, circa 1926- 80 years ago:

Everytime you post on [prohibition], I just get angrier and angrier. You just don't get. First of all, these drugs "which makes criminals out of people who choose to ingest certain non-socially acceptable substances in the privacy of their own homes" are also illegal. It is illegal to buy, sell, or distribute [alcohol]. Also, [alcohol isn’t always used] in the privacy of homes. [Alcohol] is a party drug, [alcohol] can be used and is used in public places, like bars or restaurants. When that's the case, people who are now under the influence of [alcohol] that are a danger to others.

One other thing you don't get is the danger [alcohol] has on the users. So many of us non-users think that we'd have the will power to resist another [bottle of beer], or another [shot of whiskey], but the bottom line is you have no idea. I know someone who is trying to quit [alcohol] use. He lied to me for several months about already quitting and now he has finally decided to stop because of backlash from friends and family, and who knows if he can remain sober without real help. Does that sound like a harmless drug that is just not accepted by society?

To start with, you are 100% wrong in your characterization of the black market. Black markets don’t exist to provide goods or services that are somehow bad- black markets exist to provide goods and services that are illegal. This is the definition of a black market. There are no black markets for legal goods or services, because if you are providing goods or services within the confines of the law, you are part of an ordinary market. Just as there is no black market for alcohol or cigarettes, there would be no black market for other drugs should they be legalized. Black markets lead to higher prices for goods and services because 1) there are costs associated with avoiding the law and more importantly, 2) there is no legal system for enforcing contracts and settling disputes, so these problems must be settled through violent and expensive means.

If drugs were legalized, organized gangs would have to stop selling drugs because big business would undercut them (not to mention the fact that big business would provide better service.) Organized crime thrives on black markets- in reality, organized crime is not profitable without black markets. Legalize drugs, prostitution, and gambling and you would see organized crime start to whither away- there would be no money in it anymore. And no organized crime means no gang violence, no innocent kids killed in shootouts over turf wars, and no sense among urban youth that selling drugs is the only way to make money. Additionally, as you mentioned, lower prices might make it easier for poor people to buy drugs. If poor people can better afford drugs, there are less likely to commit assaults or property crimes in search of money to buy drugs.

I give my example above to show you how the argument you make for cocaine or ecstacy can also be made for alcohol, a legal drug. Unless you support alcohol prohibition, your arguments fail any sort of logical scrutiny.

I’m a bit insulted when you say I don’t care about individuals and I don’t understand the effects drug have on users. My position- the libertarian position- is not that drugs are harmless and should therefore be legal. All drugs are potentially harmful. (Have you ever listened to the side effects of legal prescription drugs?) My point is that the government should not set arbitrary lines as to what is safe enough for us to put into our bodies, and what is not safe enough to put into our bodies. Cocaine is a dangerous drug, but so is alcohol, and so is marijuana.

The libertarian point of view is that individuals- with their friends, and their families, should make these sorts of decisions for themselves as to what sort of drug use is acceptable, and what sort of drug use is not acceptable. Different individuals have different levels of risk, and of course, different individuals have different moral views about drug use. It should not be the government’s role to push the majority’s view on personal choices on the entire population, nor should it be the government’s role to push the majority’s view of risk assessment in personal choices on the rest of the population.

I do recognize that individual choices can impact on other people in that individual’s life. But this is not a reason to make that individual choice illegal. For instance, I would agree with conservatives who say it is vital that children are raised in a two parent household. Statistics show us time and time again the numerous problems children of single or divorced parents are more likely to face. Yet most people- even conservatives- would be offended if we made the two parent household the law. No divorce if you have kids, and no keeping your kid without two parents. Obviously it’s crazy, but the point is, there are plenty of legal activities that can wreak havoc on families and relationships. Lying and infidelity are bad too, but do we need laws about them as well? Drug legalization is not about moralizing that drugs are good- it’s not about moralizing at all, it’s about taking moral judgments out of the law, and recognizing that legal sanctions are not the most effective way at dealing with social problems.

Libertarians care about drug legalization, because symbolically it represents opposition to conservatives who would impart their moral views on the nation, and liberals who would impart their views of personal risk on the nation. Drug legalization is about letting individuals make choices for themselves, and not having government sanction “bad choices” with the force of the law.

I support drug legalization because I do care about people- I care about people’s freedom to make choices for themselves, both good and bad. I care about the numerous innocent lives that have been lost as part of the war on drugs. And while I am concerned about the plight of drug addicts, I am less concerned with their plight than with the plight of innocent parents and children in inner cities who suffer on a daily basis because of the war on drugs.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The War On Salt

Once again, I'm not crazy. The New York Times actually refers to this as The War Over Salt.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Libertarians, Power, And Liberal Misunderstandings

I found this comment while looking around on Daily Kos the other day: The problem with "Libertarians". (I actually found this on a discussion thread about Radley Balco's SWAT team abuse paper.)

.. is that they apparently believe that all dangers to liberty come from the government. Thus, an orgnaization like the CATO Institute is on target with it's drug policy, criminal justice policy, and civil liberty policy stuff, but they are totally clueless about the threat of corporate power to personal liberty, thus, they oppose anyhting that curbs the power of the private sector.

This is philosophically foolish, becuase there's no reason why private power can't be as much a threat to personal liberty as government power. Thus, a thoughtful libertarian would undertstand the need for a balance of powers, with the private sector having enough power to protect individuals from government tyraanny and government sectors powerful enough to protect individuals from private tyraany. And becuase private power is derived from excessive concentration of wealth in private hands, a real libertarian would have to think about ways to ensure resdistribution of wealth and the prevention of excessive contribution of wealth in a few hands.

This commenter asks why libertarians can't see the need for protection from private tyranny. My response would be to ask just what use of private power has you so concerned? And how exactly can private power threaten personal liberty?

If you are concerned with the influence corporations hold over the government, then you have to ask yourself, what is it that you're really concerned with. When a corporation- or any organization- influences the government to take action, than it's still government power acting upon the people, regardless of who is influencing the government to make decisions. Only the government can force you to do anything. Only government can take your liberty and take your money without your consent. Period.

More Concerning Than Library Record Privacy

Via Radley Balco, SWAT team used in fraud investigation.

SWAT teams and tear gas for an economic investigation?

Trading Liberty For Security?

From Prof. Long's original e-mail:

I see you are going to be on a panel discussing how the world has changed since 9/11. Queries: Are you going to explain to everyone how the American people were manipulated into an un-winnable war (or two)? How the American people are foolishly trading in liberties for mere promises of security?

The first question is so loaded that I just won't get into it- whether or not a war is winnable depends on how you define your goals. It was the second question that piqued my interest. Are we foolishly trading in liberties for security? Yes, without a doubt. Does this have to do with 9-11? Ehhhhhh ....

I take major issue with self-avowed civil libertarians who protest every Bush administration action in the war on terror, yet remain silent as government on all levels encroaches on our individual rights in the name of "public health" or just plain protecting us from our own bad decisions. The war on terror has given us government intrusion on phone company records, warrantless wiretapping of phone calls from outside the country, and librarians boldly protecting their patrons reading records. Forgive me if I'm not so concerned.

* The War On Drugs, which makes criminals out of people who choose to ingest certain non-socially acceptable substances in the privacy of their own homes. The war on drugs frequently violates the rights of people not guilty of any crime through botched paramilitary drug raids and asset forfeiture laws that allow police to keep cars, cash and other assets seized in drug arrests even if no charges are ever filed.

* Laws passed in the name of public health, like smoking bans and junk food bans. There is an ever growing war on food which threatens our freedom to make choices about the food we eat.

* And while we're at it, what about social security, a forced government retirement program? What if I don't want to save for retirement- or what if I want to save myself? Too bad- the government is going to make me do it, and take money out of every paycheck for it.

If we wanted to we could go find regulation after regulation, law after law, which in some way infringes on our liberties. To me, the chance that my phone calls might be overheard- or a two hour wait at the airport- is not quite the same as innocent people killed in a botched paramilitary drug raid. I'd rather have my social security money back than have privacy for my library records.

Yes there are legitimate civil liberty concerns in regards to the war on terror- but so far, most of what I've heard pales in comparison to the other abuses we face from government on a regular basis.

Monday, September 11, 2006

And 9-11 Thoughts From The Lonely libertarian

I meant to respond to Prof. Long last week, but was a little late to the party. Nonetheless, there were several points I wanted to weigh in on.

1- For our generation, the question of whether 9-11 was a "stubbed toe" or "hacked off foot" is not as important as the personal nature of the attacks. Countless numbers of us were worried that day for friends or family in New York, and regardless of who we knew, we all sat glued to the news for several days. It was a shared national experience, a shared national trauma. The numbers aren't important because at the time it happened, we were all scared and we all feared the worst. Analyzing our national response to 9-11 with numbers, or even through a political lens ignores the importance of the emotional impact.

2- Regardless of one's political persuasions, one cannot argue the fact the 9-11 altered political debate in this country, and drastically altered the course of American foreign policy. For better or for worse, and regardless of the numbers of 9-11, these are changes we will deal with for decades to come.

3- Both of the above discussions are reasons why 9-11 will remain all-important, while events like the Oklahoma City bombing fade into the dust bin of history.

4- Personally, I do get a bit tired of all the hero talk, not because the heroes of 9-11 don't deserve praise, but because I think that when we (as a society) focus so much on one instance, we lose sight of countless other equally worthy incidents of heroism. Yes the firefighters and first responders of 9-11 are heroes, but so are those who risked their lives as first responders in far less newsworthy tragedies.

5- As to the Hiroshima and Nagasaki comparisons, 9-11 has had a far greater impact on the United States than either of those two bombings. To the Japanese, Nagasaki and Hiroshima represented a failure of war and marked their transformation into a pacifist nation. In the United States, the bombings ushered in the Cold War, but the emotional impact was far less drastic. To go back to my earlier point, we are selective about our tragedies, and it's not always numbers that make the most difference in determining just what we care about. Truth be told, we didn't know about the devastating effects of the atomic bomb when we dropped it on Japan, and I'm not sure if a war-torn America really would have cared if they knew the whole story at the time.

Additionally, 9-11 was of course an unprovoked attack, while Hiroshima and Nagasaki occurred in the theater of war. Some historians have estimated that the lives lost to the A- bombs were less than the lives that would have been lost if the United States had continued with conventional warfare. While this is debatable, the point is, every notion of tragedy is itself up for debate. Tragedy is written by those who experience it, and once again, it all goes back to emotion, and you can't fake a collective emotional experience.

6- In the larger historical sense, 9-11 tends to stand on its own, whereas any World War II era tragedy tends to be lost within the larger context of the war. I've read that as many as 60 million people lost their lives in World War II, which is a number so big that it begins to lose context- After all, we recognize the Holocaust as one of the great tragedies of history, yet the estimated 6 million Jews who were killed is only 1/10 of the estimated 60 million who lost their lives in the rest of the war. Once again, numbers begin to fail us.

7- Prof. Long is right to raise the questions he raises- Just because we're at the 5 year anniversary does not mean we should silence our discussion and debate. I've made the point, time and time again, that when it comes to "the war on terrorism" (which regardless of your political views seems to be the overarching theme of the response to 9-11), we have not had the national debate we need to have. What we've had is the Bush response, and criticism to that response. The problem with this is that intellectually, we haven't had a real discussion about fighting terrorism- And this is something to talk about 5 years after 9-11.

9-11 Thoughts From Prof. Long

9-11 Thoughts From Prof. Long. This was a sort of an e-mail back and forth by QUSL's favorite free thinking teacher, Prof. Long. Some of his responses to comments, here:

The commentator writes, "While I agree with many of your comments, to voice those strong opinions in connection with the 9/11 anniversary observance is totally out of place. You have taken one of the saddest days in American history and turned it into an opportunity to get on your political soapbox. There are more appropriate times and places." Considering the fact that my emial is dated 9/7, four days before the 9/11 anniversay, how I improperly "taken" the day? Moreover, when would have been a proper time to comment? A week before or after 9/11/07? A month before or after 9/11/06? Isn't the proper time to comment when people are beginning to think about what 9/11 meant or means?

The commentator continues, "Furthermore, your characterization of 9/11 as a "relatively small" tragedy is a distortion of the truth. Simply comparing the number of dead resulting from 9/11 to other horrific events in world history does not make the attacks on New York and Washington any less grotesque." Any less grotesque than it is? Certainly not. But just as I do not mean to suggest that it does not hurt when someone steps on your toes, I know that having someone step on ones toes is a relatively minor hurt compared to someone hacking off one's foot. And I do mean to suggest that, relatively speaking, 9/11 is more like having one's toes stepped on, while the other events I mentioned are more like having one's foot hacked off.

Yet the commentator suggests that it is not the number of bodies, it is the motivational-context that it important. "Al-qaeda committed an unprecedented act of terror, caused massive loss of human life and in the process destroyed one of the symbols of America." If dropping the A-bombs, first on one city and then another, is not an "unprecedented act of terror, caus[ing] massive loss of human life" than nothing is. One can rationalize it if one wants, and maybe it is in fact justified. But do not engage in the intellectual dishonesty of not labeling the use of the A-bombs as acts of terror, and do not deny that it was primarily civilians (worst yet from our American values, women, children, the elderly) who literally took the hit. Another aspect of my point, the part you completely ignore, is that there is the other side of an event. I am quite certain that the Japanese who lost family and friends viewed the bombings as tragic ends to the war. As to "in the process destroy[ing] one of the symbols of America," you got that right,partly. The WTC were a symbol less of America, and more of Western financial power. That was what was attacked. But guess what, Western finance is still sprinting along, viewing 9/11 as a minor event. Remember at the end of 'All Quiet on the Western Front' the antihero is killed by a bullet in the head, and the days report reads 'all quit on the western front.' In short, a soldier is dead yet nothing important has happenned. Perhaps it is sad to say, though there were personal losses on 9/11, in the grander scheme nothing really important happened.

By the way, why are not more people taking the time to remembere the Oklahome City Bombing? Is it perhaps the bombing was committed by an American, which might force us to think about ourselves in a less than positive light.

Hard questions. Still, they need to be asked . . and answered.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Are You Ready For Some Football?


A fascinating read from Walter Williams at TownHall on the meaning of discrimination.

I think a number of the commentators misunderstand the point of the article- On one hand it's just to examine the notion of discrimination as imply an act of individual choice- And on the other hand it's about how certain choices become larger issues when we attach these moral implications to them. And of course, it's all about freedom of association. Don't read any policy into this, I think Prof. Williams wants to get people thinking above all else.

The Nation = Headquarters Of Food Insanity

More from the Nation on the growing "crisis" of food abundance. Actually, I'll be honest. I stopped reading here:

When we eat fast-food meals alone in our cars, we swallow the values and assumptions of the corporations that manufacture them.

Updated 9/6/06 @ 10:25 AM: One more comment- It's always nice when people with time and money laud the value of "slow food" - Some of us are actually grateful that we have "fast food" options when we get home at 10:00 at night.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Yes, But ...

The lonely libertarian is rarely sympathetic to such sob story law suits: Expelled Law Student Sues School Over Failing Out.

And while I do agree that it's silly to sue over this sort of issue as schools should be within their rights to make their curriculum as rigorous as they'd like, I think this lawsuit highlights the problem of grade inflation- not just in law schools but in all of academia. Remember when a C used to mean average? Now at St. Thomas University School of Law you can apparently fail out for having "above average" grades up to a GPA of 2.5.

This lawsuit probably has little merit- From what I've been told from older lawyers, law schools used to regularly fail out up to as many as a third or a half of the class. But once again, shouldn't failing out at least correspond to below average? I guess that might just do too much damage to the grades of the students who remain.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

More Food Nonsense

More food hysteria from the Nation: Bad Meat.

None of the recently proposed reforms, however, would prove as important and effective as the creation of an independent food safety agency with tough enforcement powers. The USDA has a dual and conflicting mandate. It's supposed to promote the sale of American meat--and protect consumers from unsafe meat. As long as the USDA has that dual role, consumers must be extremely careful about where they purchase beef, how they handle it and how long they cook it. While many Americans fret about the risks of bioterrorism, a much more immediate threat comes from the all-American meal. Until fundamental changes are made in our food safety system, enjoying your hamburgers medium-rare will remain a form of high-risk behavior.

Ground beef is more of a threat than terrorism? Last I recall, a few thousand people died on 9-11. And regardless of whether or not ground beef that's been sold contains e.coli 0157 h7, you can prevent illness through careful preparation, and cooking your ground beef to an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit.

No one wants people to get sick, but do we really want to spend hundreds of millions (if not billions) of tax dollars on preventing illnesses that can be easily prevented through proper food preparation? That's the question, so why isn't this article asking it?

Sex Ed

Interesting take on sex education from Reason. Maybe conservatives and liberals should stop arguing about what forms of sex education work better- maybe sex education (like, say, drug education) has no real impact on what teenagers actually do.

Friday, September 01, 2006

The War On Food

From the latest issue of the Nation, a Forum on Food. Why am I blogging about this? To show all of you that no, I'm not crazy. The forum contains a number of writers and experts, pontificating on the current state of food. We'll just go through, bit by bit.

From Eric Schlosser:

Tyson ads don't show chickens crammed together at the company's factory farms, and Oscar Mayer ads don't reveal what really goes into those wieners.

There's a brilliant statement for you. Come to think of it, that Nike commercial I saw last night didn't show the sweatshop where my sneakers were made. Nor did the Aspirin commercial show just how they actually make aspirin.

And later, Schlosser refers to the Uniformity In Food Safety Warning Notification Requirements Act:

State laws that keep lead out of children's candy and warn pregnant women about dangerous ingredients would be wiped off the books.

As I've blogged about before, this is pure hyperbole, pure politics. The point of the law is to prevent state from enacting pointless, scientifically baseless laws that would impair national food distributors.

What single thing could change the US food system, practically overnight? Widespread public awareness--of how this system operates and whom it benefits, how it harms consumers, how it mistreats animals and pollutes the land, how it corrupts public officials and intimidates the press, and most of all, how its power ultimately depends on a series of cheerful and ingenious lies.

Ummm .... yeah ....

From Marion Nestle:

From a public health perspective, obesity is the most serious nutrition problem among children as well as adults in the United States. The roots of this problem can be traced to farm policies and Wall Street.

Exactly! It's Wall Street's fault our kids our fat- It has nothing to do with say, exercise, or declines in physical activity.

Worse, food marketing subverts parental authority by making children believe they are supposed to be eating such foods and they--not their parents--know what is best for them to eat.

This of course, as opposed to toy advertising, which does not subvert parental authority? Of course, if we banned all advertising geared towards children, then children's television itself might die off- and then maybe kids would go play outside and not be so fat!

When restrictions have been called for, the food industry has resisted, invoking parental responsibility and First Amendment rights, and proposing self-regulation instead. But because companies cannot be expected to act against corporate self-interest, government regulations are essential. Industry pressures killed attempts to regulate television advertising to children in the late 1970s, but obesity is a more serious problem now.

Damn that First Amendment and damn parents ... Wait, isn't that what Marx said?

From Michael Pollan:

The farm bill determines what our kids eat for lunch in school every day. Right now, the school lunch program is designed not around the goal of children's health but to help dispose of surplus agricultural commodities, especially cheap feedlot beef and dairy products, both high in fat.

Ahhhh, a kernel of truth. Farm policies are a problem, and they do dictate what is served to school kids. And agricultural subsidies do play an important role in what foods are cheap, and what foods are extra cheap. We do need a free market. Of course, I'm not sure that's what's being suggested here. But at least we can agree on something.

Most important, the farm bill determines what crops the government will support--and in turn what kinds of foods will be plentiful and cheap. Today that means, by and large, corn and soybeans.

True, true. Except, I thought soybeans were good for us. I thought soy was the wave of the future.

From Wendell Berry:

Alice Waters has asked me if I will propose one thing that could change the way Americans think about food. I will nominate two: hunger and knowledge.

Hunger causes people to think about food, as everybody knows. But in the present world this thinking is shallow. If you wish to solve the problem of hunger, and if you have money, you buy whatever food you like. For many years there has always been an abundance of food to buy and of money to buy it with, and so we have learned to take it for granted.

Is it just me, or does that sound insane? Let's starve people so they can appreciate food more? Is that what he's really saying?

From Troy Duster and Elizabeth Ransom:

Strong preferences for the kinds of food we eat are deeply rooted in the unexamined practices of the families, communities and cultural groups in which we grow up. From more than a half-century of social science research, we know that changing people's habitual behavior--from smoking to alcohol consumption, from drugs to junk food--is a mighty task. Individuals rarely listen to health messages and then change their ways.

If we as a nation are to alter our eating habits so that we make a notable dent in the coming health crisis around the pandemic of childhood obesity and Type II diabetes, it will be the result of long-term planning that will include going into the schools to change the way we learn about food.

Ahhh yes, long-term planning.

From Peter Singer:

Factory farming is not sustainable. It is also the biggest system of cruelty to animals ever devised.

This is not an ethically defensible system of food production. But in the United States--unlike in Europe--the political process seems powerless to constrain it.

I'm not sure I buy the "factory farming is not sustainable" argument. Isn't obesity supposed to be an issue because of our current system? I guess I'm just not smart enough to follow any of this.

From Vandana Shiva:

Humanity has eaten more than 80,000 plant species through its evolution. More than 3,000 have been used consistently. However, we now rely on just eight crops to provide 75 percent of the world's food. With genetic engineering, production has narrowed to three crops: corn, soya, canola. Monocultures are destroying biodiversity, our health and the quality and diversity of food.

I love numbers that don't mean anything. How are we supposed to know that those eight crops didn't provide more than 75% of the world's food in the past? And destroying biodiversity, health and food quality? Ummmm, evidence please.

In 1998 India's indigenous edible oils made from mustard, coconut, sesame, linseed and groundnut processed in artisanal cold-press mills were banned, using "food safety" as an excuse. The restrictions on import of soya oil were simultaneously removed. Ten million farmers' livelihoods were threatened. One million oil mills in villages were closed. And millions of tons of artificially cheap GMO soya oil continue to be dumped on India.

Again we agree. Agricultural polices can hurt people. Now if we could only agree to eliminate subsidies, eliminate pointless bans, and have a true free market in agriculture, maybe we'd be getting somewhere.

A billion people are without food because industrial monocultures robbed them of their livelihoods in agriculture and their food entitlements. Another 1.7 billion are suffering from obesity and food-related diseases. Monocultures lead to malnutrition--for those who are underfed as well as those who are overfed.

Once again, there's some truth here. But bad policy is the fault of government, not business.

From Carlo Petrini:

Gastronomic science tells us that the quality of food results from three fundamental and inseparable elements that I call the good, the clean and the just. This means paying attention to the taste and smell of food, because pleasure and happiness in food are a universal right (the good); making it sustainably, so that it does not consume more resources than it produces (the clean); and making it so that it creates no inequities and respects every person involved in its production (the just). By bringing food back to the center of our lives we commit ourselves to the future of the planet--and to our own happiness.

Yeah, I've got no comment here.

And finally, from Jim Hightower:

In the very short span of about fifty years, we've allowed our politicians to do something remarkably stupid: turn America's food-policy decisions over to corporate lobbyists, lawyers and economists. These are people who could not run a watermelon stand if we gave them the melons and had the Highway Patrol flag down the customers for them--yet, they have taken charge of the decisions that direct everything from how and where food is grown to what our children eat in school.

This is just the perfect place to end because it sums up just how much all of these people don't get it. These people all think the problem isn't the fact that we have all these laws in the first place- the problem is the people making the laws either screwed up, or are just plain corrupt. And of course, if we can just get the right sort of people, making good, healthy decisions, for our bodies and our planet, then everything will be better. It's the, "well, this government is bad, but we'll get it right"- mentality. They completely miss the point that the very nature of public policy is to be stupid, to be pointless, and to be corrupt. The more far-reaching it goes, the stupider and more corrupt the policy gets. Once again, that's the very nature of government.

I don't disagree with everything these people have to say, I just disagree with their subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) solutions. If you're concerned about health, let people know what you think. But don't try to tell me what I can and can't eat. It's creeping up, but the war on food is becoming ever present in 2006. Cherish your choices, and don't let people take them away from you under a cloud of public health do-goodery.