Thursday, July 31, 2008

Outrage For The Morning

Courtesy of Radley Balko, comes this latest drug war outrage: Prince George County Police Raid Home of Berwyn Heights Mayor and Kill His 2 Black Labrador Retrievers.

This doesn't seem to be a wrong warrant type of case, but the results have my blood boiling this morning, probably because my two labs, Callahan and Devon, are sitting right at my feet. As Balko has blogged endlessly, this use of such intensely violent tactics by police just makes no sense. This isn't a case where police were going after a dangerous and violent drug dealer, they were only attempting to determine who was the intended recipient of a large package of marijuana. Why the need for the SWAT team and why the need to shoot a dog that was running away? And why the need to interrogate the mayor and his family in front of the dead dogs? It's not just wrong, it's outright brutal, the sort of tactics that should be reserved for real war, not marijuana enforcement.

My outrage has nothing to do with the marijuana and everything to do with the poor dead dogs- even if we were talking about a package of heroin, or child pornography , this sort of violence is just not justified. What we end up with is dead loved ones, dead people and dead pets. It's just not worth it.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

What Me Worry?

The always excellent John Tierney writes in the New York Times on 10 Things to Scratch From Your Worry List. Some of the highlights:

1. Killer hot dogs. What is it about frankfurters? There was the nitrite scare. Then the grilling-creates-carcinogens alarm. And then, when those menaces ebbed, the weenie warriors fell back on that old reliable villain: saturated fat.

But now even saturated fat isn’t looking so bad, thanks to a rigorous experiment in Israel reported this month. The people on a low-carb, unrestricted-calorie diet consumed more saturated fat than another group forced to cut back on both fat and calories, but those fatophiles lost more weight and ended up with a better cholesterol profile. And this was just the latest in a series of studies contradicting the medical establishment’s predictions about saturated fat.

If you must worry, focus on the carbs in the bun. But when it comes to the fatty frank — or the fatty anything else on vacation — I’d relax.

2. Your car’s planet-destroying A/C. No matter how guilty you feel about your carbon footprint, you don’t have to swelter on the highway to the beach. After doing tests at 65 miles per hour, the mileage experts at report that the aerodynamic drag from opening the windows cancels out any fuel savings from turning off the air-conditioner.

5. Evil plastic bags. Take it from the Environmental Protection Agency : paper bags are not better for the environment than plastic bags. If anything, the evidence from life-cycle analyses favors plastic bags. They require much less energy — and greenhouse emissions — to manufacture, ship and recycle. They generate less air and water pollution. And they take up much less space in landfills.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Best Libertarian Movies?

I've been thinking the past few weeks about good libertarian movies and I'm trying to come up with a halfway decent list. What I'm looking for is films that showcase a uniquely libertarian point of view- Not merely films that highlights a position staked out by libertarians (such as the film Traffic, which critiques the war on drugs) and not films that are simply anti-authoritarian (awful V for Vendetta I'm looking your way). I'm looking for movies whose themes stress the moral superiority of individuals over the force of government and maybe more importantly, a movie which tells a libertarian styled story that defies a more traditional storytelling device.
Mostly, I just don't want films that other political ideologues can make a claim for. This is a work in progress, but so far I've got four films, which just so happen to all be recent.

The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)

This underrated Will Smith film gets the nod because I think it's the most positive portrait business and finance have ever been given on the big screen. It's different because it's a hard luck, rise to the top story without the usual nods to victimization and without the typical villains. In fact, there are no villains, other than a faceless IRS which yanks our heroes bank account. In the world of film, leaders of business and finance are never, ever shown in a good light, but here they're shown to be considerate and accommodating.

Thank You For Smoking (2005)
How could I not include the film in which the tobacco lobbyist is cast as the hero? You've got it all from a libertarian perspective- an underlying individualist argument, sanctimonious and self-righteous politicians and activists getting their just desserts, and a lead character who's comfortable with being a "merchant of death."

O Brother Where Art Thou (2000)

This is a different sort of choice, but I can't recall another film that ever took such swipes at the New Deal and the progressive politics of the 30's. The plot of the film follows George Clooney's Ulysses Everett McGill literal odyssey to return home to his wife and family. McGill's home is threatened and eventually washed away when a Tennessee Valley Authority style project floods the valley he had lived in. Not only that, but we see the modern, progressive pol in the film portrayed as a klansman and his opponent, the ever present Pappy O'Daniel wants to win elections by "gettin me some of that reform." Oh, and the sheriff searching out our heroes seems to literally be the devil.

Serenity (2005)

We're all just folk now. Serenity took Firefly's message of live and let live to the big screen, in a film who's plot literally highlighted the notion that the government's good intentions may well kill you. As I mentioned in my intro, we've seen thousands upon thousands of movies with evil, authoritarian governments and people fighting for freedom. In Serenity, the only evil is found in the mindless bureaucrats seeking to protect the monolithic government.

That's all for now, but I'd welcome other recommendations that don't begin with "V for Vendetta."


Ever had one of those days when your brain seemed to be working, but nothing else seemed to be. I think I'm having one of those days. I know what I wanted to say in my head, but I'm not sure it came out as eloquently as it sounded up there. In other words, feel free to ignore the last couple of posts as they're far from my best work. If you didn't quite follow me, it's not you, it's me.

Libertarians and Liberals

I found this genius piece via (insert name of generic left wing website here): The Real Reason That The Government Tortures Innocent People. I was curious because I wanted to know why our government tortures innocent people. Apparently, our government tortures innocent people in order to frighten the people and maintain control over the population. Which is probably why the government has gone to such lengths to deny the use of torture and keep information on the hows and whys of interrogation secret. After all, what's more scary than a secretive government, that, you know, frightens the people through, uhhhh, fear.

Or not. Here's the thing. Unlike some on the right, I think the issue of how far our interrogation techniques are allowed to go is a legitimate question, although not quite as important as who's being interrogated in the first place. But unlike some on the left (and some in libertarian circles) I have no need to get on my anti-torture high horse in some sort of grand political gesture. But we so have documented cases of some nasty interrogation techniques that were used on individuals who were subsequently released, so it's not an issue that should be brushed aside. But the brief little piece linked to above is about as nonsensical as it gets and it just feeds the delusions of the conspiracy minded types who find evil in everything done by the Bush administration.

This is exactly why sane libertarian types are right and loony lefties are wrong. Libertarians who take a strong stand againast government interrogation policy and torture don't see an evil government at work, but an incompetent one that's probably watched a bit too much 24. The loony left sees evil in everything George Bush and the Republicans do, from war on terror policy to the war in Iraq. Again, where libertarians see multiple layers of incompetence, the loony left sees dark conspiracies afoot.

There are certainly crazies on the libertarian side too (Re: Some of Ron Paul's supporters), but at least such crazies believe that government can do no good. I think pretty much the same way, although I tend to chalk it up more to incompetence and simple economics more than anything else. Perhaps my biggest problem with the left is the strength of their belief that the government can fix all of our problems if we just get the right people in there. What's fascinating about that is that the left tends to apply the exact opposite argument when it comes to corporations- corporations do bad thing because they're a model driven by greed, not because some individuals in corporations make bad or wrong decisions.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Hey Kids, Reading Can Be Fun

Never got around to posting this yesterday- Ann Althouse links to this New York Times story on the debate over the relative merits of "internet reading."

It's fascinating to me that the real issue is obscured by the debate on the relative merits of the internet. The real reading crisis (if there really is a crisis) is not so much about the internet as it is about literature and the seeming lack of time spent with novels and the long form written word. One need only look as far as the young woman, Nadia, featured in the Times story to see what I mean.

Nadia said she wanted to major in English at college and someday hopes to be published. She does not see a problem with reading few books. “No one’s ever said you should read more books to get into college,” she said.

I hope I'm not the only one a bit disturbed by that comment- Shouldn't wanting to major in English and wanting to be a writer mean you spend some time, you know, like actually reading books. Shouldn't you be familiar with some of the classics? As a matter of comparison, how many computer science majors can you think of that don't spend some of their free time fiddling around with computers.

Framing this as being about the internet is a bit absurd. There's a hell of a lot of good non-fiction reading one can do on the internet, particularly when one learns basic research techniques and how to weigh the relative merits of sources. There's nothing inherently superior about a textbook. Nor does a political treatise need to be read in book form to fully appreciate it. As Ann Althouse points out, the skipping and browsing one can do on the internet also has it's place on the printed page.

Even in terms of fiction, poems and short stories can be fully appreciated when read on the computer. Again, there's nothing inherently superior about the printed word. Technically, this same logic applies to long fiction, however, I'm not sure how much is available online, nor do I think many people avail themselves of such opportunities. To come full circle here, the real issue isn't how people read, but what people spend their time doing. Maybe Kid A spends a lot of time reading the Wall Street Journal online, while Kid B spends all his time reading the MySpace pages of his peers. To discuss internet reading as if it were one phenomenon is to treat reading Teen People as no different than reading Oliver Twist.

As I mentioned before, the biggest reasons for changes in reading practices are the technological changes which have drastically changed how we spend our free time. Just go back to the 70's when there was no cable, no video, and no internet to take up our time. TV options were limited so people of all ages certainly had more time to spend reading. From personal experience I can say with some regret that I read far less fiction than I used too. I would guess that some of those hours previously spent reading fiction are spent on the internet, while other countless hours are spent on long form HBO dramas or shows like Lost, which bring a different sense of storytelling to the small screen.

To blame the internet alone for our apparent national decline in reading ability is just ignorant. Back when I was growing up, we had no internet, but most kids I know spent a hell of a lot of time playing Nintendo. Technology matters, but where it really matters is in the macro sense of how we spend our free time. As regular readers know very well, I'm never one to buy into panic or hype- but I said it earlier and I'll say it again. The little budding English major who doesn't read books is a scary proposition.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

What are these statistics of which you speak? takes note of this interview with new Dallas Cowboy cornerback Adam (don't call me Pacman) Jones. In discussing his potential role on the offensive side of the ball, Jones recalls his days on Tennessee, where, according to him, he participated in three offensive plays, all of which went for touchdowns. Unfortunately for Jones, those three offensive touchdowns never seemed to make it on the statistical record. Maybe it's just an oversight, or maybe he was just confusing the punt return unit with the offense, but it still makes for a nice chuckle. Good luck this year Cowboys.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Markets and Whatnot

Will Wilkinson posts on the folly of blaming the free market for government mismanagement and the overall poor state of the media and the publics understanding of basic economic issues.

The American economy is in fact a byzantine amalgam of market and state institutions enmeshed in a thicket of regulation. Gosselin [who wrote the LA Times piece Wilkinson is critical of] maintains that “most people” in the U.S. think there is something out there called “the free market” that operates without “government meddling.” I’m not really sure that most people think that, but it seems Gosselin does, because he goes on to structure his “news analysis” as if the story is that dissatisfaction with a kind of laissez faire we do not have may be generating demand for basically the kind of dirigisme we’ve already got. But since economic systems we haven’t got can’t cause our economic problems, the result is confusion.

The comment thread contains some interesting back and forth, well worth a glance, but I think Wilkinson is spot on in pointing out that most people don't seem to realize that we already have a highly regulated economy. Some of the blame for that, lies, I think, with the popular free market thinkers and pundits (and although I'm not very popular, even this blog shares some of the blame). Discussion about economic matters tend to occur in very much the same bi-polar manner as our political discussions- either your for free markets or your againast them, but as Wilkinson points out, the truth is a bit more subtle. There are very few libertarians who actually favor abolishing literally every government regulation in the economic arena. The point is usually that when it comes to regulation, less is better. But even in certain sectors- financial regulation and monetray policy come to mind- there seems to be a great deal of disagreement even amongst libertarians.

So then what the hell do us common folk actually know about the economy- or what should we know? Well, first off, markets are far better at distributing goods and services than are command and control economies. We know this from our most basic history and economic lessons- it's literally why the Soviet Union failed, as it struggled to provide food to it's population and was not able to provide any communist alternatives to blue jeans and rock and roll. Except for the most ardent leftists, most of us understand that markets work.

The devil as they say, is in the details. More intellectually honest and thoughtful liberals argue for more regulation to soften the blows of the market. And the rest of us attempt to make the argument for less regulation, not because we don't appreciate that markets can have ups and downs, but because we realize that regulations are always inefficient, often ineffective, and typically end up favoring the large corporate interests liberals seem to loathe while distorting the basic economic forces that make markets efficient in the first place.

One commenter of Wilkinson questions whether the libertarian response of pointing the finger at government is any different than the typical leftist response of blaming the market. There's a good answer to that question and Wilkinson's use of food prices is illustrative.

Food is expensive these days, which hits poorer Americans especially hard. Part of the price hike is due to normal market forces; supply has yet to catch up with the increased demand from the rising middle class in China and India and elsewhere. But a large part of it comes from our own government’s frankly idiotic policy of subsidizing corn ethanol, which pushes up the price of all sorts of foods, from wheat to milk to meat.

Food's a great example because it's difficult to quantify how much the rise in food prices stems from government policy and how much the rise stems from traditional market forces. But here's the thing- government policy is relatively easy to manage, particularly in this regard. We can point to government subsidies for biofuels as a reason food prices are rising and in a democratic society we have the ability to eliminate those subsidies. When the market deals us an undesirable outcome like higher food prices, there are no such simple solutions. Prices literally are the markets way of dealing with changing conditions- in a macro sense, higher prices serve the purpose of eliminating shortages when demand outpaces supply.

Government involvement in the market always creates inefficiency, if for no other reason that your adding extra considerations into the mix. Government can't magically lower the prices of goods and services any more than the market can, nor can the government intervene in one sector of the economy without having an effect in another. In the end, when a government policy is bad, it's easy to point a finger- but when the market doesn't meet expectations, pointing the finger at the market means little if you have no specific solutions in mind.

Regulation is a complex beast and the left loves to make calls for regulation without ever delving into the specifics of what regulation actually means. The bursting of the housing bubble has sparked calls for more regulation, which completely miss the point that the housing bubble was due in part to regulation in the first place. Given that we have a mixed economy and we're basically stuck with it, all libertarians ask is that government action is explained and justified. Or in other words, the burden of proof should be on those claiming that regulation X really is a good idea.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The French Fry Police Think We're All Stupid

The Wall Street Journal reports on the ever escalating war againast obesity or as I like to call it, the war on personal freedom. (Kudos to McBlog! for the e-mail heads up.)

In Los Angeles, they've moved beyond mandatory nutritional disclosures and trans fats bans into outright bans of new fast food restaurants. The article is illustrative of the real issue- that people like to go to fast food restaurants. Los Angeles's Figueroa Boulevard is discussed, bringing to mind any number of other fast food alleys throughout the country. And if you asked, why do these fast food strips exist in the first place, the answer, the only answer would have to be because they meet consumer demand. We get more and more fast food because consumers demand more and more variety and because consumers are willing to frequent new fast food establishments. If people were packing their lunches and not heading out to eat, very few of these places would exist in the first place because very few people would be buying fast food.

What Los Angeles is trying to do is not as much about public health as it is social control. The real problem for the obesity warriors is simply that people chose to eat fast food. Now obviously, people don't chose fast food for their health, they chose it because it's quick, it's cheap, and it's familiar. Literally, the point of all these sorts of fast food regulations is for the government to force people into thinking more about their health and making the "right" decision.

In the end, these sorts of nanny state laws wind up being more of inconvenience than a literal totalitarian restriction on our rights. It just always galls me that politicians really think they know how to run our lives better than we do ourselves. It's just so unbelievably arrogant, yet that's what we get from our politics time and time again.

The Obama New Yorker Cover

Sure, I'm very, very late to the party, but I just wanted to get my two cents in. For those of you who may not know, the New Yorker magazine has been under fire for publishing a cover depicting a Muslim looking Barack Obama giving a fist bump to a black militant looking Michelle Obama, while an American flag burns in the Oval Office fire place. When the outrage meter reached red hot proportions, the New Yorker cried, "satire, satire!" claiming that they created caricatures based on certain public perceptions and stories that have certainly made the e-mail rounds.

As I always like to point out, discussion and debate are good things- and the magazine cover has certainly generated a great deal of discussion and debate. What I'm sick of is the oh-so-predictable outrage, the worst of which is the outrage from those offended who refuse to accept the explanation that the cover was satire. If it's really not satire, then what is it exactly? Just a campaign by the nasty, radical right wing New Yorker magazine to smear the Obamas? That would make sense, except, well, the New Yorker is an incredably liberal magazine and they're not about to do what even most mainstream right wing personalities have refused to do in smearing Obama as a Muslim.

Of course the cover was meant to be satiric and of course it was meant to be controversial. But to see the talking heads and op eds discuss the relative merits of the piece as satire, as if they were in some high school English class, is a bit much for me. Maybe it was an attempt at satire which was done incredably poorly, but what difference should that make in the level of people's offense? Why should we be more upset about a lame piece of satire than we would be about a piece of satire that's actually effective? It just doesn't make any sense to me, but then again, most of this righteous indignation never really does compute.

Updated 7/22/08 @ 11:10 PM : One other thought just occurred to me and that was the editorial in this weekend's Hartford Courant that compared the Obama cover to a picture of a penis drawn on a desk. Maybe it's an apt comparison, maybe not, but if it is, then why is everyone getting so worked up over something stupid and juvenile>

Monday, July 21, 2008

My last word on spying

My research has confirmed my instincts. The surveillance debate really is more about politics than it is about the state of the law and the Constitution. From everything I've read, here are some of the key points on how the FISA law seems to work in regards to surveillance.

1- The government may target any foreign individual located outside the United States for surveillance purposes.

2- The mechanisms for such surveillance can be broad and may encompass any number of communications to foreign soil.

3- The new law does not require a warrant for communications occurring outside the United States that just happen to be routed through an American network. Similarly, no warrant is required for the foreign surveillance mentioned above.

4- The intelligence community may keep databases of this entire broad range of foreign surveillance. There is no mechanism to ensure that records of communications potentially protected by the 4th Amendment will be deleted.

Critics of the government spy program seem to forget how and why our government spies in the first place. The whole point of a spying program is to obtain foreign secrets in order to better protect our own country and that is best done in secret. No one really thinks that our military intelligence community needs to go and get a warrant from a judge before they bug Osama bin Laden's new cave. It's just a preposterous notion. We give our intelligence community a free reign because we're talking about foreigners in foreign countries, not individuals protected by the U.S. Constitution.

Those joining the ACLU's brief fear that this spying program will discourage foreign sources from coming forward and telling their American media sounding boards about our government's activities outside our borders. To them I say, "well duhh." Osama bin Laden could be your foreign source, but we don't require a warrant for the government to listen in on his conversation with you.

To those wondering, I use bin Laden not to feed people's fears, but to make a point. Either the government has the power to conduct foreign surveillance without oversight or all foreign surveillance requires oversight. Making the point that your foreign political dissident friends are not terrorists doesn't relieve you of actually needing a specific plan for a system that treats different foreign citizen differently in the eyes of our own courts.

Does the law permit any number of non-dangerous individuals to be spied upon? Certainly. As we've discussed, any foreigner is a legitimate target of surveillance. So, your communications with foreigners in foreign countries may well be intercepted by the government. Additionally, it's also possible that communications with Americans overseas may fall under the large permissible surveillance umbrella.

But there is after-the-fact oversight. The government must show it's target is a foreign individual believed to be in a foreign country. And more importantly, there's my years old point that the real issue of government spying is what the government does with the information they obtain. Forgetting about the spooks in the CIA and NSA, I'm fairly confident that thousands (maybe more?) of Americans are being monitored in violation of the 4th Amendment. We literally spy on each other, so it'd be foolish to think the government doesn't do the same. The real test of freedom comes not from the watchful eye of big brother but from his long arm- what is done with illegally and unconstitutionally obtained information?

From the facts I've laid clear above, it seems fairly clear that the nature of our spying is limited. My concern with surveillance is much more with the multiple layers of incompetence that led to 9-11 and Iraq, not with the government's listening in on my phone calls. There's not a shred of evidence that the government has used potentially unconstitutional evidence obtained from spying againast an American citizen. And the thing is, there would be if it existed- when the government prosecutes anyone, they have to authenticate their evidence and explain where it came from- they can't just say, "this is true and we did this legally, take our word for it." So as I said, if someone was prosecuted using evidence obtained from potentially unconstitutional surveillance, we'd know about it. Until that day ladies and gentlemen ... case closed.

Poor, poor Milton Friedman

Jonathan Chait, a liberal at the New Republic, has written the picture perfect criticism of Naomi Klein's Shock Doctrine. (This courtesy of the Cato blog.)

My interest has been piqued ever since I first heard news of Klein's book back in April- from the first story on, it seemed to me as though Klein's basic thesis was basically a giant liberal conspiracy gone horribly wrong. Not only were corporations bad, but the entirety of armed conflicts and the brutal excesses of authoritarian governments could be attributed to Milton Friedman and his free market ideology. As a huge fan of Milton Friedman who has been highly influenced by the man's work, this was an almost personal attack. And the worst part was, none of it was true.

As Chait points out, there are enough bad guys in the world without having to make anything up. The thing is, if you want to write at anti-corporate book, you've got plenty of material. As a libertarian, I can see the good in fact-based criticisms of the ties between government and large corporate interests. The problem is, such intertwined links between corporations and government is the antithesis of what Milton Friedman and his free market school of economics has stood for. Friedman steadfastly believed that the government had no business in the economy and that limited government intervention stood to benefit both rich and poor alike. Friedman was also a strong proponent of democracy and believed that free market reforms in authoritarian states such as Chile would eventually lead to political democracy.

Klein's most glaring error, as noted by Chait, is her inability to distinguish neo-conservatism, a conservative political philosophy which accepted the modern liberal welfare state at home and focussed more on an aggressive foreign policy, from Friedman's libertarian, free market beliefs. It's not a stretch to say neo-conservatives supported the war in Iraq- It is a stretch to say Friedman supported the war in Iraq. Like many libertarians, Friedman explicitly rejected the use of force in Iraq before his death.

I could go on, but Chait is a better writer than I and makes a much more convincing case, particularly given that he's coming from a liberal perspective. What's interesting are those who come to Klein's defense in the comment section. Every single one either accuses Chait of being a corporate stooge or brings up yet another historical example of the evil free market at work, or some combination of the two. Not a one actually addresses the arguments made by Chait or the issue that Klein may have gotten a lot of her facts wrong. What's more than a bit disturbing is this devotion to the narrative despite whatever the actual facts may be. It's just plain destructive thinking, if you can actually call it thinking. Debate about ideas is always important, but Klein's book isn't about ideas- it's merely an entertaining narrative for the ignorant or the previously converted.

The Biggest Lie

As much as I hate the partisan politics of candidate bashing, at least such activities tend to spring from some semblance of truth. Much worse in my mind is the pandering of the mainstream media, who would have us believe the best about our Democrat and Republican candidates. Somehow we're supposed to ignore his political record and see Barack Obama as a true apostle of change, a politician representing a new and better politics. And somehow, we're supposed to believe that John McCain's military service 40 years ago makes him a more honest politician today.

Don't believe any of it. This election is more of the same thing, no matter how the media sugarcoats it. Politics is politics and politicians are ultimately concerned with political power and their own personal political legacies. Are we doomed regardless of who is elected? Not really, but that doesn't mean either guy is worth getting excited about. At least the right seems to recognize that a McCain presidency means four years of centrist, moderate rule. I just don't get why the left seems incapable of realizing that an Obama presidency would be mostly the same thing.

Monday, July 14, 2008

More On Spying

Say you were given two choices about the sort of society you could live in. Society number one had a government with numerous personal privacy protections, but an abundance of laws on how to live your day-to-day life. Society number two had no such laws about how to conduct oneself, but did had a government that spied on it's citizens with a free hand. Which one would you chose? I can say, without a doubt that I'd chose number two. While I like the idea of my privacy, I'm a far bigger fan of actually getting to make choices for myself and live my own life as I see fit without any interference from a meddling government.

Now, obviously, that's a false dichotomy and life is never that simple. But I maintain my position that government surveillance, whatever the purpose, is a far lesser evil than the laws that literally infringe on our individual rights to make choices for myself. I refuse to join the libertarian cacophony against government spying because there are literally hundreds of other worries on my list.

The ACLU has brought suit over the new FISA law, but as much as the libertarian inside of me wants to get on board with those who claim to be defending the Constitution, I can't help but get the feeling that the new law actually isn't so bad, and in all likelihood, probably is Constitutional. The explanation for the lawsuit seems big on rhetoric and light and law, which in my mind has always seemed to be a good indication that the emperor isn't wearing any clothes.

Over on the Volokh Conspiracy, Orin Kerr has a post that actually delves into the specifics of the newly passed FISA amendments.

From what I understand, the big civil liberty concern seems to be rather sweeping nature of surveillance permitted. But given that we're talking about foreign targets, I'm not sure what the proposed solution is. Foreign targets of surveillance are not subject to the limitations of U.S. law or to the protections of our Constitution, so the notion of requiring individual warrants for such targets seems unnecessary. And if the CIA is already listening in on some terrorist phone calls in Afghanistan, it just doesn't make any sense that they'd need to hang up if that terrorist called up someone in the United States.

The most pressing concern (in my mind) seems to be rather far fetched- that in casting it's web so wide, the government will acquire a vast database of international communications and nothing will prevent them in the future from using that database to target American citizens. Now the law doesn't authorize this in any way, it's just a possibility, a possibility that could easily be dealt with via a Constitutional challenge in any trial in which the government attempted to use such information. In the end, the worst you can say about the law is not that it violates the Constitution, but that it may make it possible for the government to do so in the future. As I've been saying all along, this is the show me test. Show me the case where this has happened. No one can and as long as no one can, I'll remain confident in the ability of the Constitution to protect us from such actual infringements of our rights.

I don't know what a blog is, but it don't sound good

Just for giggles, via Deadspin, Charles Barkley doesn't know what a blog is.

The next day, Barkley told NBC during a TV interview: "My game is like a blog."

What hell did he mean? The answer remained shrouded in mystery all day Friday and Saturday, as researchers feverishly searched for clues. But on Sunday, after Barkley had concluded his final round (he finished in last place), I was able to ask him.

ME: "What did you mean by 'My game is like a blog?'

BARKLEY: "When I talked with you on Thursday, and you said your were blogging my rounds, I didn't know what that was. What's a 'blog?' It sounds awful."

(Note: Barkley is not kidding here.)

BARKLEY: "So when they asked me on television how to describe my golf game, I told them 'My game is like a blog.' Because I don't know what a blog is, but it don't sound good."

Things To Worry About More Than Global Warming : Giant Rats

While chatting with my brother last night, he made the point that there are environmental issues of greater consequence than global warming : Giant rats. As the lonely libertarian's brother put it, "the other night when I was in the city (New York), a rat the size of Splinter came scurrying out from under my friend's car." There's plenty of truth there. Remember just a year or so ago when a number of New York restaurants which had supposedly passed health inspections were found to be rat infested?

I guess the issue is sort of a "first things first" sort of principle. The negative impact of human induced climate change is uncertain and the solutions are even more tenuous. But the giant rats are already among us and we certainly have the means to deal with them.

Disclaimer: Perhaps I'm more than a bit influenced by the fact that what were most likely very small mice invaded my garage and had their way with some food that had been stored there.

Obama hates poor kids

Andrew Coulson on the Cato blog notes that while speaking for a gathering of the American Federation of Teachers this weekend, Barack Obama stated (once again) that he opposes public funding for private school vouchers. Meanwhile, Obama sends his own daughters to a $20,000 a year private school.

I believe I've blogged about it before, but school vouchers are one of those issues where liberals just drive me nuts, taking a position that favors big government and literally disfavors the poor. I could accept, at face value, a position againast vouchers based on limiting costs and literally saving taxpayer dollars, even though I'd personally find such a position to be unpalatable. But when, oh when, has a liberal Democrat ever spoken in favor of spending less money on education?

I'll happily hash out my differences with grassroots liberals on a whole assortment of issues, but this is just one of those issues on the left where the establishment rules supreme. Opposing vouchers is about being buddy buddy with the teachers unions, nothing more, nothing less. And it literally makes me sick to my stomach when pols like Obama tell the poor, "You can't have what my children have, you've got to wait for us to fix the government system which has been broke for decades."

Friday, July 11, 2008

Don't Blame Me, I Voted For Dr. Pepper

Avery's Beverages of New Britain, Connecticut, is offering consumers a choice this fall: Barack Oberry or John McCreamy. Finally, not just one, but two candidates that interest me.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

A libertarian welfare state?

Far from the ignorance of the Naomi Klein's and Barbara Ehrenreich's of the world lie the libertarian thinkers of the world like the Cato Institute's Will Wilkinson, who seek to reconcile libertarian notions of individual freedom and free markets with the modern liberal notion of a social safety net. As Wilkinson makes the case here in his blog, economic policy is really distinct from tax policy, despite the fact that they often seem interconnected.

The structure and regulation of an economy is conceptually separable from tax and transfer policy. Of course, it is really all one system, and taxes and transfers affect economic performance by affecting labor supply, etc., but this is relatively distinct from the body of law that defines the parameters and rules of the economic game. You could in principle have buck-wild laissez faire together with fairly high taxes and lavish social insurance. Nobody does do this, exactly, but it’s possible. Optimize the basic economic structure for maximizing wealth creation, not for creating a pattern of distribution, and then use the political institutions to take care of redistribution after the wealth is created. Because then there will be more wealth.

Here Wilkinson blogs more on his "liberaltarian" notions of a libertarian welfare state. As I've gotten older and perhaps more thoughtful, I've often wondered about the idea of accepting the idea of some form of government welfare back into the libertarian fold. To accept such an idea though, one must reject some of the more radical notions of libertarian thought. Most importantly, the state has to be accepted as legitimate, along with the state's ability to tax it's citizens. If you're a "taxation is theft" type, then you're probably none too happy with where this discussion is going. But if you tend to look at libertarianism as a realistic and not merely idealistically political philosophy, then maybe you can accept the notion of a libertarian welfare state.

It's important to note that a libertarian welfare state isn't about redistribution of wealth, which, if you think about it, is the real road to socialism. Libertarian welfare is merely about providing a minimal level of economic security for the poor. Essentially, it's what Milton Friedman advocated when he proposed a negative income tax that would guarantee every citizen a minimum income. Part of the problem of the current welfare system is the complexity and disincentives which put poor Americans under the care of government. A libertarian system would encourage independence, not foster dependence. Rather than having separate government agencies that handle dispersals for food, housing, and medical care, a libertarian system would help to alleviate the problem of poverty by literally providing cash to the cash poor. Such a system would get rid of the liberal paternalist mindset that requires government to step in and insure that poor people make the right decisions.

The important thing about a libertarian system of welfare is that it ultimately fits into libertarian notions of free markets and individual freedom. As Wilkinson discusses, you don't need a regulated economy or restrictions on trade in order to impose taxes and distribute welfare. In fact, as Wilkinson notes, such a society may be able to provide more for it's poor than it would if the economy were highly regulated.

For my money though, the clincher has to be the freedom of the poor to make their own decisions with the money they receive. Obviously, this is all hypothetical and unlikely to become reality any time soon, but it is a far more convincing argument they any anarcho-libertarian of actually ending the state and changing the world as we know it. This is a template, a workable idea that can maybe- hopefully- be used to sway liberals and conservatives opposed to big government toward a more libertarian way of thinking. Sure, it's a sort of libertarian-lite, without the harsh reality of pure free market economics, but I challenge any libertarian to come out and say such a system- where the size of government is reduced drastically, regulations are repealed, and welfare is possibly increased, but simplified to cash handouts- isn't vastly preferable to the system we have today.

Surveillance Snooze News

Jacob Sullum writes briefly on on FISA and government surveillance. I commented, but I'll repeat my comment here:

For my money everything related to wiretapping news has seemed more political than anything else. Sure, we don't want the government tapping our phones without a warrant, but regardless of what the law actually is, are there any libertarians out there who actually trust the intelligence community to actually follow it. I'm willing to bet that government spying, legal and illegal, has been a fact for a long time, going much further back than the war on terror.

I'll be worried when the 4th amendment is actually gutted and illegal and unconstitutional spying is used to convict Americans of crimes. Until that point, color me unconcerned and uninterested.

For readers who may not remember, I feel that the story of warrantless wiretapping is the biggest farce of an issue to come about over the last several years, for several reasons.

1- The intelligence community spies, regardless of what the law actually says.

2- Hopefully, most of that spying is focussed on important things, like terrorism. Violating ordinary Americans privacy would be a waste of time, resources, and money.

3- To my knowledge, no one has ever been convicted of a crime based on illegally or unconstitutionally obtained evidence via a wiretap.

Are there issues here? Certainly there are plenty of them, but none of them reach the level of national emergency. When I look at the drug war and see the body count of literally innocent victims and the laundry list of Constitutional violations, I see a serious issue. Even the nanny laws like smoking bans and trans fat bans that literally tell us how to live are lives are far more concerning to me. That our spooks are being spooks? Not so concerning. Until someone can put a literal face on the issue and give me a reason to care, the issues of warrantless wiretapping is more hype and paranoia than anything else.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Yes, This Post Is Sort Of About Sex In The City

And no, that doesn't make me gay. I just got married, remember? But having spent enough time around women, I've seen enough of the HBO show turned blockbuster movie to have at least a semi-informed opinion. I haven't seen the movie, but I'm sure I'll see it when it gets back to HBO. I'm just not that interested at this point, and, of course, I'm going to let you know why.

I remember when Sex and the City was first on the air, I caught a few episodes here and there - I also heard about the show through the grapevine, courtesy of various female acquaintances. Initially, I thought the show seemed like a gay man's imagination of the life of single women in New York City. Later on, I learned a bit about the show and discovered it was a gay man's imagination of the life of single women in New York City. It really is kind of funny that the show, for better or for worse, has defined female empowerment was actually written by a man. Sure gay, but still, an M-A-N, man.

I'm not a nutty religious type or a prude who wants to criticize the shows values, nor am I a macho-type who's too manly for a female-centered show. My biggest problem with Sex in the City is that it has become a cultural marker of sorts and as a cultural marker it falls fall short of delivering as promised. For all the talk of female empowerment, the women of Sex in the City, in my view, are conspicuously uninteresting. Yes, these are single women who have sex and yes these are women with their own careers, but beyond the sex and their careers, our heroines seem to fall comfortably into traditional stereotypes.

First, there's Carrie, our heroine of heroines, who narrates the show with all the sophistication of a 14 year old-girl writing in her diary. I didn't realize it when I saw the show when I was in college, but as a 27 year-old married man I can't avoid the obvious- Carrie is hopelessly immature. She's supposed to be a 30-something woman, but she can have the peppiness of a cheerleader and her conversations with men bring to mind teenage girls who are a just a bit too happy that a cute guy is actually talking to them. Oh, and she's also obsessed with shoes and shopping, and, she's a commitment-phobe. No, she's not the most horrible female character ever brought to the screen, but as the leading lady of the show about the modern women, it's a bit disappointing that we've been given a women stuck in a perpetual adolescence.

Next is Samantha, who is the one Sex and the City character who really makes the morally righteous uptight types nervous. Samantha's the one who really sleeps around, the one for whom sex really is just sex. And that's all good and fine, but her character never develops very much emotional depth. If she was a man, her story would be typical- the guy who sleeps around without a care, is discovered, over time, to actually have a heart. What's great about Samantha is her no regrets attitude, but the problem is, her flings with actual emotional attachment show us that ultimately there is something missing in her life. Like all of the sex and the City women, in the end, it seems Samantha also needs a man to settle down with.

Then, there's Charlotte, who really seems to hit on on just what you think the modern woman shouldn't be. Charlotte seems to obsessed with marriage and obsessed with pleasing the man in her life. The one image that stands out in my mind is her attempt to do a ridiculous amount of Jewish cooking for her new Jewish man. Sure it's nice of her to do, but it certainly seems to fit into a traditionalist notion that women exist to literally serve men- not just that, but being subservient is what makes her happy. The individual acts don't make her a bad person (Charlotte is certainly the sweetest of the bunch), but over the course of the series we seem to learn more about Charlotte's men and their interests and backgrounds than we do anything about her. She literally becomes subsumed by the men in her life.

Finally, there's Miranda, the one Sex in the City character for whom I have some sympathy's for. For one, she's a lawyer, and for another thing, she's the only one who ever seems to have a strong personality independent of the men in her life. Samantha is all about sex, while Charlotte and Carrie both tend to lose themselves in the men they're with. Miranda is also the only one to approach a relationship realistically and not as some fantasy princess or sex goddess. Miranda however, is probably the most underutilized character and much of her uniqueness is lost in the fact that show is about men and sex.

And when the women get together, of course, they end up talking mostly about men and sex. And yeah, yeah, I know that's what the show is about, but at the same time, it all just fits far too neatly in any number of stereotypes men have about women. Women shop a lot, women only talk about men, and women have few interests outside of men and shopping. Even though the character's sexual freedom is showcased, ultimately the show seems to be focused on the fact that all the women need men in their lives and that they're really not complete until they find those men. And sure, the search for love is universal, but the show fails because it focuses so much on the external while ignoring the internal. The character sleep around, look for men, but never really take the time to discover themselves. Maybe Carrie does a bit, but as I said earlier, her revelations are what a 14 year-old might make in their diary, not what an adult women should be learning.

To jump to another television series for a moment, there's an episode of the Office in which Jan (at that time still working for corporate) hosts a women's only meeting to discuss women's issues in the workplace and the potential for advancement within the corporation. When Jan wonders why none of the women in the Scranton branch don't take climbing the corporate ladder more seriously, Phyllis responds, "I think most of us have found a good balance between family and work." While Sex and the City isn't about family and work, that little exchange from the Office still highlights my biggest problem with Sex and the City- rather than allowing the women to find themselves, the show remains focussed on the women finding other people. Compare this to the Office, where Jim and Pam's relationship wasn't allowed to flourish until both characters took steps on their own to learn about themselves as individuals.

For my money, the female characters of Sex in the City just don't cut it, not as the characters of the show that's a cultural marker for female empowerment. The strongest female characters on tv? In an odd way, I'd point in the direction of another HBO show, the polygamist drama Big Love, which showcases a wide array of strong female characters in the unusual setting of polygamy. (But that's a blog post for another time.) Strength is about sense of self, the fierceness of one's beliefs and the ability to stand up for those beliefs. It's not about sex, the men in your life, or the job you have.

(PS- Sex and the City isn't a bad show, along the lines of say, any of the CBS sitcoms. But it has the potential to be a great show and almost succeeds in spite of itself, but ultimately, it fails to move beyond it's limitations of men and shoes.)

Very Brief Health Care Thought

For the life of me I can't remember where I read it, but I did read someone's fascinating thoughts on the notion of encouraging health care markets while having the government cover the health care expenses of those with large medical bills. The idea was that individuals would be responsible for a certain percentage of their health care costs, but beyond a certain point- say 15% of your annual income- the government would step in and cover the remainder of your health care costs.

It's an interesting idea and combined with a few more measures- like changing the treatment of employer provided health insurance in the tax code- it actually sounds like a workable compromise between free marketers and those concerned with universal coverage.

Conspiracy Stuff

Over on Spiked, Frank Furedi has a nice little piece on the ever increasing presence of conspiracy theories.

Interestingly enough, Furedi lumps skepticism over the official explanations of the Iraq war with the 9-11 truthers, a point I hadn't really considered before. What's interesting about Iraq is the willingness of people to believe dark, evil, secret plots, despite the mountains of evidence of fuck ups on every level. The problem is, government incompetence isn't sexy and tends to only reaffirm the world view of us libertarians. And as Furedi points out, maybe it's just easier to believe in evil at work.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Simpsons Did It

One of the books I enjoyed while vacationing was Chris Turner's Planet Simpson: How A Cartoon Masterpiece Defined a Generation. As it's both about the Simpsons and as a serious social critique, the book deserves a response here. While I did enjoy it, it was not what I had expected. Turner is a bit of a hipster intellectual who seems to have spent his 20's just loving the first decade or so of the Simpsons. (For a point of reference, I literally grew up with the Simpsons, starting when I was 10 and enjoying them all the way through high school, until at some point after the millennium the show's new episodes lost much of their appeal to me.) Some of the amazon reviewers are more than a bit unfair, complaining that the book doesn't tell the behind-the-scenes story of the Simpsons or has too many pages about Radiohead and Nirvana. But personally, I enjoyed the attempt to connect the Simpsons to other aspects of youth and alternative culture because it was in that frame of reference that the Simpsons thrived. We knew the show was great when we were 14- the media didn't think so until the show had been on for 10 years, at which point, it wasn't really as sharp as it had used to be.

The book is sprawling, really a long read, and at times tedious if you don't want to read about any other aspects of 90's popular culture. But for those willing to take the dive, it's a mostly fascinating account ... except for the part where Turner over reads the Simpsons politics as a mirror of 90's leftist activism, which unfortunately is most of the book. And because that's the sort of blogger I am, that's where I'm going to focus most of this critique.

Here's the not-so-big secret, right off the bat. Yes, the Simpsons politics always tended to lean left- however, the Simpsons was always first and foremost about satire, not about any grand political statements. If anything, the Simpsons has always combined a distrust of large institutions (be it business or government) with a belief that most of us can be hoodwinked quite easily. While politics can play a role in the Simpsons, the show has always been first and foremost about telling stories and making people laugh. Therefore, Turner's attempts to connect the show to everything from the WTO riots in Seattle to supposedly growing anti-consumer sentiment seems to be more than a bit of a stretch.

On one hand, Turner seems to get too caught up in the 80's style cultural criticism coming from the first Bush administration. Yeah the Simpsons was designed to be edgy, but it wasn't specifically a reaction to Regan-era family values. Barbara and George Sr. did criticize the show (or more precisely the Simpson family itself), but as was addressed in the George Bush episode later on, the show tackled this in the realm of the personal, not the political. Same goes for Bill Cosby, whose family friendly show aired opposite the Simpsons on Thursday nights for several years. To TV watchers today, the Simpsons seems almost quaint precisely because it's premise is rather conservative. For all their flaws, the Simpsons are a small town family that goes to church on Sundays and actually loves each other. There's no evil baby and there's no sadistic 9 year-old fat kid.

And on the other hand, Turner seems a bit too concerned with his preconceived notions of the socio-political nature of each individual character. According to Turner, Bart represents a sort of punk ethos, Lisa represents the 90's leftist activist spirit, Homer is the American everyman, Marge represents a sort of moral and family center, and an entire chapter is devoted to how Mr. Burns represents the evil of capitalism. (Or some such thing.) The problem is, the tags don't exactly work, and more importantly, they certainly don't fit with how most fans saw the show. In particular, Turner refers to Lisa as "noble Lisa" ignoring the fact that the show often mocked her over-the-top political beliefs. Additionally, Lisa was routinely found to be the least liked of all the main characters, with one-note Ralph Wiggum coming in ahead of her in several polls (as reported by Turner in the book). Why did Simpsons fans feel this way about Lisa? Precisely because she was this sort of over-the-top do-gooder who tended to ruin everyone's good time.

And then there's Mr. Burns. To read Turner's book, you would think that the writers of the show were dyed in the wool Marxists, protesting elite control of the means of production while the proletariat toiled in poverty. But that's not really the case. Personally, I always saw Burns as one side of the coin of power, where you had business on one hand, government on the other. (And to see government skewered, only look at the Simpsons movie in which the villan turns out to be the EPA.) Burns was pure evil because he could be. (And actually, in the case of a highly regulated industry like power generation, Burns literally could hold the people of Springfield hostage.) Just compare Burns to the every slippery Diamond Joe Quimby, Springfield's ever present corrupt mayor, who, despite being just as evil and power hungry as Burns, could never say the things Burns said because he had to actually worry about getting reelected. Ultimately, Burns is a caricature of power, who earned the screen time he did not because of any political message but because he was a ridiculously funny character for the writers to work with.

Personally, some of the politics of the Simpsons tend to fall flat to me, particularly while watching them 10 to 15 years later. For example, the dangers of nuclear power is often skewered, but time has tended to show us that nuclear power is much safer and cleaner than other options. But mostly, the politics of the early season are kept subtle so that they and the show remain enjoyable. (Just two character points for examples sake- Smithers's long standing closeted nature and Barney's in-your-face satire of alcoholism.)

The Simpsons started losing me when it became too much the show that Turner sort of wished it was. The episode that stands out for me is the tomacco episode, in which Homer grows a highly addictive tomato-tobacco hybrid. It sucked because of the ridiculous plotting it took for Homer to become a farmer (I believe he was escaping from a Texan he had slapped and challenged to a duel) and because the entire episode was a boring, over-the-top anti-tobacco message. Even at 18 I felt like my intelligence was insulted. We'd spent our lives learning that tobacco was bad and tobacco companies were selling an evil product that killed people, so seeing a satire on the subject was the basic equivalent of going to a punk show and hearing the band urge you to vote for John Kerry (which is another story in and of itself, but the same basic idea.) The point is, it wasn't edgy or risque, it was just boring and uninspiring.

If you can deal with the politics, the book is still worth a read, as it does rehash some great Simpsons moments and attempt to place them culturally. And culturally, I really think the book does make a lot of sense as far as what the Simpsons meant to the younger generations. But the politics just kill it, and be prepared to deal with that. Like any great work of art, the Simpsons at it's best can't be politically pigeon-holed, which is exactly why everyone can enjoy it. To try and fit the show in some 90's leftist framework? Just a waste of space.

More on Barbados

Back to Barbados. Spending time there was a truly fascinating experience because unlike some islands, the resorts are basically interspersed throughout the local communities. To not interact with the people there you'd have to stay locked away in your hotel. (Plus, you'd miss a delicious night of eating and dancing when the locals and tourists mingle for a Fish Fry and all night entertainment at the fish market in Oistins.) To the untrained eye, some of Barbados may look incredably poor- the houses are very small and very ramshackle, and, my God, some of the people have animals! But I was interested so I peaked and peaked and peaked some more the entire time we were there and came away with the impression that the small houses have much more to do with the culture and the price of property on a small island than they have to do with poverty.

From what I saw of the south, the interior of the island, the west coast, and the east coast, there aren't any poor neighborhoods - the super rich live on the west coast and the east coast is home to some nice properties, but mostly, the island is very similar. The small what-are-called chattel houses are intermixed with larger properties whose walls and fences reminded me a bit of a middle class southwestern home. (The name chattel house is a bit misleading as it has nothing to do with slavery. In fact, it's what the house is called because dating back to the post-slavery era, renters rented the land they lived in, but built their own homes. These homes could be easily assembled and disassembled, in case there was a need to move.)

According to one of our tour guides, the ramshackle nature of some of the houses were efforts on the part of home owners to avoid taxes, as taxes did not have to be paid on homes under construction- apparently, construction included the paint job on the house. And this explanation made sense, as the number of partial constructions and unpainted houses seemed to follow no pattern throughout the island. Some big homes were unfinished and rather ugly looking while some small homes were brightly painted and visa versa.

But most revealing were the glances at the houses as we drove by. The furniture in many of them was nice- I dunno how nice, but nicer than what I have given that I don't really have and can't afford any furniture. I saw couches and nicely set up tables, and perhaps the greatest sign of modest wealth, RCA dish network and Direct TV satellite dishes.

For myself, the lesson was that for an island of 280,000, the benefits of tourism are vast. According to Wikipedia, 10 % of the population is employed in the tourism industry, but even this figure neglects the number of people working in a retail industry that benefits greatly from the influx of tourists. As I noted in my last post, the more wealthy people that spend money on the island, the greater the benefits for all the people in those industries that cater to the wealthy tourists.

Even as a libertarian, I've always had this notion in the back of my head that there was a real problem with turning someone's beautiful island home into an expensive resort. What really changed my mind was the people we met on our trip- Stephen and Kim, the bellmen, Wayne, Chris, and Livingston the taxi drivers, and the numerous waiters and waitresses. The faces we saw weren't those of resentment, but those who appreciated our being there precisely because our being there enabled them to make a decent living. It was a confirmation of what's been in my head since I was in college. Capitalism works, markets work, and trade works. Openness between cultures works and we are better off because of our interactions. Discussions of issues like poverty and trade policy can be so sterile and impersonal, but actually getting a chance to meet people as individuals and see how other people live ... it's just priceless, and maybe it's the best indicator of just how the world should be.

Monday, July 07, 2008

This Land Is Our Land

With more than just a smidgen of populist flair, Barbara Ehrenreich of Nickel and Dimed fame decrys the usurpation by the wealthy of America's scenic tourist destinations. Or at least, the scenic tourist spots Ehrenreich is partial to.

As someone who just returned from one of the more well off Caribbean islands (Barbados), I just feel compelled to chime in and point out that for the most part, rich people and the luxuries they enjoy are good things- good for the locals, good for jobs, and good for the economy as a whole. Sure, pity the poor locals who find themselves suddenly priced out of their family home, but only pity them so much. Sure it sucks to have to leave, but most people tend to jump when soaring real estate prices offer them a chance to turn their small rural property into a monster profit.

Really though, this whole piece (which seems to be part of her new book?) is nothing more than out and out class warfare. Blah, blah, blah, it's unfair that some vacation spots are too expensive for the working class. Let me chime in again with a "duhhhh." Of course it's unfair! It's also unfair I couldn't afford to fly to Barbados on my own private jet. But that doesn't mean that this is some sort of problem with the world. Quite the contrary. For one thing, the problem of the super rich taking over more and more nice vacation spots, would, to me, indicate that the rich were growing more and more numerous. And that's a good thing, because more rich people means more good paying jobs for working class folk in sectors like service, construction, and even certain types of manufacturing.

While on my honeymoon (and more about Barbados soon) it occurred to me that the difference between an expensive resort and a cheaper working class vacation spot could well be the difference between a service worker who does well for themselves and a service worker who struggles to get by. We ate at some expensive restaurants while in Barbados, many of which had entrees at $30, $40, even over $50. And as I was leaving the tip after our first such meal it occurred to me that the service staff at these restaurants were really making out quite well for themselves. One could make over $100 in tips in an evening just by literally serving 2 or 3 tables. But I certainly don't begrudge that staff, nor do I ever fail to tip accordingly, because, see, that's what you make as a waiter or waitress in an expensive restaurant. The point is that luxury and extravagant spending is good for the economy and good for people. Would that service staff had been better off if their restaurant was a Bennigans and the rich folk of the world had just gone to Bennigans and kept their extra money to themselves? Of course not.

Now, of course, we don't need to get into a discussion of what sort of investments are best. My point here is simply that there are two sides to the luxury coin and while I may have benefited from several delicious meals, I'd wager to be that the service staff at those meals benefited a great deal more.

Now, Ehrenreich mentions the problem of service workers being priced out of certain locations, Key West in particular. For hard-to-get-to regions, this is an issue, and Ehrenreich seems to indicate that the tourism-based economy of Key West is suffering because of it. But for most of the rest of the country ... ehhhh. Ehrenreich pities the service workers who have to drive hours to work, but that's the sort of choice everyone, rich and poor alike have to make. No one's forcing anyone to work hours from home and lots of factors play into such a decision, including finances, family, and one's own relative happiness.

As I said, this is really about class warfare and painting the rich as this uber-enemy intent on co-opting all the scenic spots in the nation for themselves. I for one, am happy for the rich. Not just for everything I've said so far, but because the rich go off in search of these scenic hot spots. That means I can get to the beach in 40 minutes and that means there are still gorgeous locations (like the Pavilion at Rocky Neck State Park) for me to have had my wedding right here in the state.

Back In Red, White, and Blue

Or some such thing.

It's been nearly a month and now that I'm finally married, back home, and settled, I'm having trouble getting going on the blog. Not that there's not a lot to talk about- It's just hard to get the ball rolling.

I suppose I'll start with some personal comments- The wedding was wonderful and we were seemingly blessed with the only nice weekend of the past month, so basically, I have no complaints. My bride was lovely, the location- overlooking the ocean on the Connecticut shore- was tremendous, the food was delicious, and a good time was had by all. For our honeymoon, the new Mrs. Lonely libertarian and myself spent a week in Barbados, which was relaxing as expected, but also proved to be much more intellectually stimulating then I had expected. (Look for more on Barbados at some point later on.)

Our return flight was a bit of a disaster as our Air Jamaica plane somehow managed to find itself over 5 hours beyond schedule. This resulted in a horrid evening spent in Barbados' Grantley Adams International Airport terminal, with nothing to watch on the overhead televisions but tennis and CNN's repeats of Larry King and Anderson Cooper 360. Anderson Cooper 360 literally replayed the moment the initial hour had ended. I generally like news discussion programs, but it wasn't a pretty moment. The worst was all the Obama-McCain nonsense, which at this point mostly amounts to a not of nothing. My interest in what the talking heads have to say about "how the campaign is going?" Zilch to zero. Being stuck in the airport made me realize how I can despise all the election nonsense. So for the purposes of this blog, I'm declaring a moratorium on the political campaigns. Policy, as always, is fair game, but I don't want to hear anything more about speeches or who said what or what celebrities are saying about which candidate.

The biggest news while I was away seems to have been some of the Supreme Court decisions, which I'll hopefully have time to read and discuss here. Thoughts on those decisions are welcome, as are any thoughts on other important news that may have arisen during my absence.