Friday, October 31, 2008

She Is Who We Thought She Was

More Sarah Palin bashing. Via ABC News, reportedly, in an interview with a conservative DC-area radio program, Palin sees the treatment she's received from the mainstream media as a First Amendment Assault.

"If [the media] convince enough voters that that is negative campaigning, for me to call Barack Obama out on his associations," Palin told host Chris Plante, "then I don't know what the future of our country would be in terms of First Amendment rights and our ability to ask questions without fear of attacks by the mainstream media."

However she feels about the way her story has been told in the press, Palin told WMAL she is not discouraged.

"It's sort of perplexing to me, because I'm a practical person and plainspoken also, but just cutting to the chase and calling things like I see them, just like most Americans. But this has not left a bitter taste in my mouth, the bitter shots taken by the mainstream media and by some of the elitism there in Washington," Palin said.

"What this has left me with is a very energized and positive feeling about America, because there are enough Americans who are desiring the positive change that John McCain's gonna usher in."

This is not a slip up like when Joe Biden said FDR went on television and talked to the American people during the Great Depression or like when I heard Ralph Nader on the radio the other day say that FDR's economic policies helped us win the Civil War. I'll avoid the d-word and say that this is just plain uninformed. The press can't violate First Amendment rights. Only those in government, like you Mrs. Palin, actually have that power.

Palin defenders- and Palin herself- continue to raise the specter of elitism, but that's not what this is all about. I dread the world where understanding the First Amendment is a sign of elitism rather than a requirement for holding political office.

Something Different For The Weekend, Part II

Just a brief experiment:

1. Do you support the system of social security as it currently functions?

2. Do you support the food stamp program as it currently functions?

If you answered yes to both questions, then you hate freedom and liberty, or at least, you hate freedom and liberty for poor people. What do I mean? Allow me to explain and in doing so, demonstrate the pernicious effects of the interaction of well-intentioned government programs.

As many leftists have often pointed out, payroll taxes (social security and medicare) tend to be regressive because their burden falls hardest on the poor and on minorities. For one, minorities and the poor are less likely to live to an age where they can collect benefits. And perhaps more importantly, the 6.2% of income that is taxed for social security is much more needed by those living on the margins. Someone working full time, making minimum wage in Connecticut ($7.65 an hour), will pay nearly $1,000 in social security taxes over the course of the year, money I'm assuming everyone in that situation could use.

Where do food stamps fit in? Well, if my hypothetical worker is single, he probably won't meet the food stamp eligibility requirements. But if my hypothetical worker has children, then they'd likely be eligible for food stamps. And here's my big problem. Taxes are taxes and social welfare is social welfare, whatever the names the government wants to use. How much sense does it make to tax the poor with hand, taking away their hard earned money, while giving them vouchers good only for food with the other hand. It's literally taking the subsistence income they need to live and doling it back to them with preconditions.

This isn't just about being a libertarian, it's about understanding the real world effect of government policies and understanding that those policies are not implemented in a vacuum. Personally, this is the sort of result that troubles me. That's not to say there should be no roll for the government in helping the poor and no roll for the government in retirement savings. I'm just saying this isn't the best way.

Something Different For The Weekend, Part I

Some random postings that have been kicking around for awhile now:

First, I found this site a few weeks ago, the AFL-CIO's Paywatch, which tracks CEO pay. According to the site, the average CEO compensation for an S&P 500 company in 2007 was 14.7 million dollars. It sounds like a lot, but it also makes you realize that the hundreds of millions of dollars in executive compensation that makes the news are outliers, even among large companies.

I decided to break the numbers down even further. Just for fun, let's say these companies employ, on average, 10,000 employees. And just for fun, let's say that the average employee makes 50,000 per year. Well, with those just for fun numbers, we come up with an annual payroll of 500 million, a number that dwarfs the average CEO compensation. And with those fun numbers, divide the average CEO compensation by the number of employees. You wind up with $14,700, not exactly a small chunk of change, but not exactly the sort of money that would be making the vast working class wealthy.

For all the complaints about excessive CEO compensation, the numbers don't seem all that troubling to me. And for those who would say, "geee, can't we just give a little of that CEO money to the working folks," let's just remember for a moment how this all works. The CEO is ultimately in charge of employee compensation, but the compensation of the CEO is ultimately the responsibility of the Board of Directors. There are different considerations in each regard, most notably the fact that other companies are much more likely to try and poach your CEO than they are to try and poach your 50,000 a year workforce. To be perfectly honest, I often scratch my head when failing companies give bonuses and compensation packages to failure CEO's, but again, it's a different issue from employee compensation. If I worked for a company with a moron CEO I'd be more worried about the company getting run into the ground and losing my job than I would be about the money the guy was getting.

Just a few more percentage points and we'll officially be socialist

Don't agree with it all, but Christopher Hayes has a neat little piece up at the Nation on how stupid it's been for the Republicans to make this election about socialism.

I think this is exactly right, and not just because I think it's transparently moronic to argue that the difference between Capitalism and Socialism is the difference between a 35 percent top marginal tax rate and a 39.5 percent one. Obama himself, while he does weave in an ideological story into his main narrative, he tends, instead to offer himself as post-ideological and pragmatic. The Right, meanwhile, has turned this election into a referendum on Socialism.

That first bit is right on the money and is the real issue- arguing over a few percentage points in the top marginal income tax rate is in no way, shape, or form an argument about capitalism and socialism.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Death of the Simpsons

As regular readers are well aware, the utter collapse in the quality of the Simpsons is a favorite topic of mine, probably because after 9-11, it is the greatest tragedy of my lifetime. The classic Simpsons were good, so good that they still entertain and amuse over 10 years and over 10 viewings later.

I've had this post kicking around for some time now and rather than spending hours gushing about the good old days of Simpson superiority, I figured I'd point out several key episodes in the Simpsons demise. I don't mean for this list to be exhaustive, nor do I mean for it to indicate a precise date after which the show sucked and will suck for all eternity. The show's death was an ongoing process, probably taking at least five years or more before we were left with the lifeless corpse that is Season 20 of what used to be the best show on television. So in no particular order ...

Season 10, Episode 5: When You Dish Upon A Star
Sign of Impending Demise: Lifeless plots built around guest stars

Way back in season 3, the Simpsons used a guest appearance by Michael Jackson to great comedic effect. Homer meets a fake Michael Jackson sound-a-like in a mental institution and brings the man home, much to the disappointment of everyone expecting the real Michael Jackson. It's a neat tale about celebrity that's not really at all about celebrity. Contrast that with this outing, where a windsurfing Homer crashes into the secluded lake cottage of Alec Baldwin and Kim Bassinger and proceeds to become the literal assistant to the stars.

It's not a terrible episode (there are some great moments in Homer's numerous pitches to Ron Howard for his screenplay about "killer robot driving instructor that travels back in time for some reason"), but the overall plot about Homer's revelation of celebrity secrets and the desire of celebrities to be left alone is jut plain uninteresting. Using the fake Michael Jackson was a great way to advance our characters, but this particular episode basically becomes about celebrities. It's a fine line to draw, but the results are fairly obvious. Good celebrity appearances on the Simpsons are either cameos or help to drive the plot- the bad celebrity appearances focus too much on celebrities at the expense of our characters.

Season 9, Episode 1: The City of New York vs. Homer Simpson
Sign of Impending Demise: The Simpsons go to ....

This was actually the 3rd time the Simpsons took a real trip, the second as a family. Bart visited stereotypical France way back in season one and the family traveled to stereotypical Australia in season six. It's a fairly clever idea, but the show had done it before and from this point on would continue to recycle the idea- Japan, Africa, ect. It's not that you can't bring the Simpsons anywhere else, it's just that from this point forward these stories lack creative spark.

Some of the jokes in Nw York are funny (Bart's visit to Mad Magazine) but the overall plot is bland. A third of the episode involves Homer drinking too much crab juice and having to run from World Trade Center tower to World Trade Center tower in an attempt to use the bathroom. It's a long 8 minutes for a joke about how difficult it is to find a bathroom in the city. Finally, the episode ends with a Simpson family chase scene, one of those overtly cartoonish events that became all too common as the series progressed.

Season 9, Episode 5: The Cartridge Family
Sign of Impending Demise: Unsubtle politics

This is the episode where the Simpson family gets a gun. I actually enjoyed the start of this episode, where a dull soccer match causes rioting that spreads all over Springfield. It's a not-so-subtle jab at soccer and could have been an interesting segway- instead it's a lame take on guns that highlights Homer's irresponsibility and fails to score any brave political points.

In a world where kids shoot themselves with their parents guns, Homer's irresponsibility here is nothing short of criminal- it's not funny and it completely de-legitimizes him as a character. Forgetting Bart at a soccer game is a far cry from being irresponsible with a dangerous weapon. And when it comes to the politics, there's just nothing interesting here. Traditionally, the Simpsons takes on controversial issues were notoriously subtle. Here, we have an entire lame episode.

Season 9, Episode 12: Bart Carny
Sign of Impending Demise: Cartoonish Plot

This was probably the first Simpsons episode I ever saw that was stupid, start to finish. The Simpsons always did a wonderful job of skirting the line between reality and fantasy. Despite some of the more outlandish plots, the Simpsons still seemed more realistic than many of the other tv families of the early 90's. Part of this realism lay with the characters and the rest lay with plots that while possibly improbable, were never impossible.

What was impossible here? What's impossible is the idea that after having two carnies trick the Simpsons out of their house, the only way to get the house back would be to trick them right back. It's a cartoonish plot far divorced from the reality we know as Springfield. The show does portray institutions as incompetent, but for the police to ignore a crime of this magnitude committed by outsiders seems more than a bit ridiculous. Springfield prior to this was always portrayed as a close-knit small town where most people know each other- the thought that the Simpsons would be on their own here is just too far removed from reality.

Season 11, Episode 5: E-I-E-I (Annoyed Grunt)
Sign of Impending Demise: Stupid politics and the use of long openings unrelated to the ultimate plot

I've written about this episode before, so I'll be brief. The plot is a beyond lame indictment of tobacco companies, as Homer's tobacco-tomato hybrid is disgusting, yet addictive. There's absolutely zero subtlety and the message plays directly into the pc notions of the moment.

Besides all that, the episodes opens with Homer's attempts at emulating the dueling challenges he sees in a Zorro movie, an idea that works fine until he challenges the wrong Texan. That's what send him out of town and leads him to a life of farming. It's otherwise unconnected with the rest of the plot and not very funny.

A brief note on The Principle and the Pauper, Season 9, Episode 2

Some critics mark this episode, where Principle Skinner is revealed to be an impostor, as the point at which the Simpsons jumped the shark. I disagree strongly, primarily because the episode serves to reinforce the character we know, whatever the truth may be. In the end, it doesn't matter the truth of someone's past, what matters is what we actually see. I enjoyed this one, right down to the ending- the townspeople of Springfield banishing the real Skinner is classic Simpsons- small town people liking things just the way they are.

As I mentioned before, this list is not exhaustive and there are probably some episodes I'm leaving out. And not all of the mentioned episodes are terrible- rather, they're markers indicative of the shows downward spiral. Any and all comments would be greatly appreciated.

Is Conservatism Dying?

I've been asking myself the question for several weeks now. And this isn't about John McCain, who despite being a life-long Republican, has never really been a conservative. I think the question has been, at least in part, inspired by Rush Limbaugh, who I've listened to on and off for over a decade now. For me, Limbaugh was always the quintessential conservative, capturing both the limited government aspects of the ideology I could relate to and the populist issues (immigration, the culture wars, ect.) I so strongly disagreed on.

Limabugh has spent much of the past ten years bashing John McCain and bashing moderates and I haven't forgotten his words this election cycle. He can try and paint the election as a referendum on the "inexperienced socialist" candidate, but it just doesn't ring true to me. I'm more than a bit disheartened because the the words I hear coming from the mouths of a vast majority of the alternative conservative media doesn't ring true. It's not the support for McCain, which, truthfully, has been about as lukewarm as it probably should be. What troubles me is the dissent of previously respectable conservative media into the partisan gutter in such a way that has me thinking ideas and facts are being left behind.

The Obama is a socialist canard is just a version of the Obama-as-terrorist story for polite company. It's certainly not based on anything in the Democratic platform or on any of Obama's articulated proposals. Back in 2000, Al Gore wasn't called a socialist. In 2004, John Kerry was referred to derogatorily as a liberal, but not a socialist. So why is Obama any different? I haven't seen a huge lurch to the left in the Democratic Party. It's disappointing that the conservative media have become so complicit in partisan electioneering that real discussion about real policies is just off the table.

My other concern is with Sarah Palin and the Obama-like cult of personality that has grown around her. I really can't say how intelligent the woman actually is, but the folksy persona the woman has embraced is anti-intellectual to the extreme. It's as if she passed the litmus test for conservatism by keeping her Down's Syndrome baby, because other her position on abortion and the fact that she "loves America," I have trouble seeing anything conservative about Sarah Palin. She ultimately could be a better candidate for the Republican Party than John McCain, but a McCain loss, followed by a Palin run in 2012 would be highly discouraging. It would mean that the Republicans would attribute their '08 loss not to their abandonment of principles of limited government, but to .. I don't know, not enough anti-intellectualism.

Maybe I'm wrong, but I am worried. George W. Bush was a borderline figure, not really conservative, but also not an embodiment of the abandonment of conservatism. I'm worried now that my conservative friends are being pushed over a cliff from which there is no return.

Not As Bad We've Been Told

Reason's Steve Chapman on Obama's Economic Mythology:

He [Obama] makes a habit of claiming that "wages are shrinking," working families have lost ground, and the country desperately needs his "Rescue Plan for the Middle Class." His economic program rests on the unshakable conviction that everyone except the wealthy is doing worse and worse all the time. If elected, he will find sympathetic ears among Democrats in Congress, where never is heard an encouraging word.

In the midst of alarming headlines, it's easy to persuade people that things are worse than they used to be. The only problem is that aside from the transitory effects of the current turmoil, they aren't.


All sorts of products that didn't exist a generation ago are now commonplace even in humble neighborhoods—personal computers, cell phones, high-definition TVs, Polartec jackets, digital cameras, Starbucks coffee, and more. If their incomes are steadily falling, how do Americans cart home so much stuff?

Terry Fitzgerald, a senior economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, says the answer is simple. Far from declining, he writes, "the economic compensation for work for middle Americans has risen significantly over the past 30 years."

The mistake made by the School of Gloom is looking only at wages, narrowly defined. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, average hourly earnings of production and nonsupervisory workers, adjusted for inflation, fell by 4 percent between 1975 and 2005. But those figures deceive because they omit fringe benefits like health insurance, pensions and paid leave, which make up a bigger share of total compensation than before. The numbers also rely on a mismeasure of inflation.

When those flaws are corrected, a very different trend leaps off the page. Median wages, says Fitzgerald, rose 28 percent between 1975 and 2005. Nor were the gains restricted to Bill Gates and Hannah Montana: Significant gains occurred in the middle as well.

The same pattern holds for households. The figures that suggest families are struggling to stay even overlook some types of income, and they don't account for the fact that households have gotten smaller on average. After accounting for such things, Fitzgerald found that "inflation-adjusted median household income for most household types increased by roughly 44 percent to 62 percent from 1976 to 2006."

John the Careless

Yet another George Will take on John McCain: John the Careless.

From the invasion of Iraq to the selection of Sarah Palin, carelessness has characterized recent episodes of faux conservatism. Tuesday's probable repudiation of the Republican Party will punish characteristics displayed in the campaign's closing days.

Some polls show that Palin has become an even heavier weight in John McCain's saddle than his association with George W. Bush. Did McCain, who seems to think that Palin's never having attended a "Georgetown cocktail party" is sufficient qualification for the vice presidency, lift an eyebrow when she said that vice presidents "are in charge of the United States Senate"?


Palin may be an inveterate simplifier; McCain has a history of reducing controversies to cartoons. A Republican financial expert recalls attending a dinner with McCain for the purpose of discussing with him domestic and international financial complexities that clearly did not fascinate the senator. As the dinner ended, McCain's question for his briefer was: "So, who is the villain?"

McCain revived a familiar villain -- "huge amounts" of political money -- when Barack Obama announced that he had received contributions of $150 million in September. "The dam is broken," said McCain, whose constitutional carelessness involves wanting to multiply impediments to people who want to participate in politics by contributing to candidates -- people such as the 632,000 first-time givers to Obama in September.

Why is it virtuous to erect a dam of laws to impede the flow of contributions by which citizens exercise their First Amendment right to political expression? "We're now going to see," McCain warned, "huge amounts of money coming into political campaigns, and we know history tells us that always leads to scandal." The supposedly inevitable scandal, which supposedly justifies preemptive government restrictions on Americans' freedom to fund the dissemination of political ideas they favor, presumably is that Obama will be pressured to give favors to his September givers. The contributions by the new givers that month averaged $86.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Andrew Sullivan, Conservative?

Over on his blog, "conservative" Andrew Sullivan writes a brief pragmatic defense of putative taxation. In response to a reader who remarks that "progressive taxation is required to maintain the political viability of the free market," Sullivan responds,

This is also how a pragmatic conservative can still live with an Obama presidency.

We have seen a massive shift in income inequality in the last couple of decades. Over time, that inequality can destabilize a democracy. It removes many from income tax altogether, it concentrates wealth in too few hands who can use it to corrupt the political system, and it leads to an oligarchy susceptible to populist onslaught (hello, Mr Dobbs). Aristotle's advice that polities should be concerned about the strength of the middle class, and that no democracy can long endure without one, is well worth absorbing.

Conservatism is not an ideology. It's a disposition. And sometimes it takes what Oakeshott called "trimming" to keep the ship afloat. Moderation matters. In some ways, I see Obama as a return to moderation in American politics. And it's conservatives who have become ideologues who cannot accept it.

I'd like to think that one could justify progressive (or punitive if you prefer) taxation without having to resort to defending naked income redistribution. To take the pragmatic view, most of what the government spends money on is supposedly for the benefit of us all- it's a very small percentage of government spending that goes to means-tested welfare programs. And if the government "needs" X amount of tax revenue every year in order to continue spending money for the benefit of us all, than it should do so in a way that 1- results in as many people as possible actually paying taxes and 2- actually provides that "needed" revenue. (We're being pragmatic here.)

You can't tax the poor because they have nothing to pay and you can't overtax the middle class because that would literally make them poor. So you tax at different rates. My own pragmatic solution would be a two-tired flat tax with rates of 25% and 10%, but that's a story for another time. Andrew Sullivan is dead wrong that inequality removes individuals from the tax rolls. Poverty excuses folks from paying taxes and the wealth of others has nothing to do with it. The pragmatic view should be about efficiency within the current system- Justifying the progressive income tax as necessary to combat the political and social evils of excessive wealth isn't pragmatic, it's just plain old liberalism.

As an added note, Sullivan's comments about conservatives are a bit perplexing, even coming from someone who's tried to make the conservative case for Obama. If Sullivan is convinced Obama is a "return to moderation" than so be it, but I'm just not sure what he's seen to convince him of this. And I can't for the life of me understand the "ideologue" comment. I'd say the problem with the Republican party is a lack of ideologues, particularly when it comes to limited government. It's not ideology that's driving opposition to Obama and support for McCain, but partisanship.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Just A Bit Irritated

I know I hit on this exact point a few weeks ago, but I'm going to do it again in regards to this editorial in today's New York Times about the candidates health care plans. Yet again, the Times misses several of the real problems with health care in this country when discussing McCain's plan.

The great danger is that Mr. McCain’s plan will fragment the sharing of risks and costs — the bedrock of any good insurance plan — by enticing young, healthy workers to bail out of their employers’ group policies to seek cheaper insurance on their own. Their older or less healthy colleagues would be left behind, which would drive up premiums at work. The rising costs could lead many companies to drop their health coverage entirely. The proposal also offers little protection for older and sicker people forced to buy policies in the open market

The pooling of risk is for the benefit of the insurer, not the insured. As the Times points out, younger, healthier workers could get cheaper plans on their own ... which means, in other words, that the current group plans offered by many employers literally rely on the money of the young to offset the costs of older, sicker workers. Which begs the question, why should the young, who as a whole make less than their older peers, have to subsidize the health care of these same older peers? Even if you're an equality-minded liberal, how on earth is this fair?

One other comment on the notion that older and sicker people will have trouble buying policies in the open market .... As I've said a million times before, no duh. To the extent this is an issue, it is not an issue that we should attempt to solve through the manipulation of markets. Sick people with preexisting conditions can't get health insurance because they don't need insurance, they have immediate health care needs.

I know I'm probably beating a dead horse here, but the health care debate always seems miles and miles away from where it should be.

Bailout Blues

Reason's Matt Welch, who doesn't want any part of a GM bailout, hits on the oh-so-scary truth.

If everything in this country that's "too big to fail" is bailed out by the federal government, with cash injections equivalent to the market value of the crappy company, what will be left?

Monday, October 27, 2008

The War On The American People

Radley Balko blogs on the response of some in law enforcement to the Cheye Calvo raid. (Past posts about the Calvo raid here, here, and here.)

Balko's latest post details a letter to the editors of National Review (who have also spoken out againast the raid and the overuse of SWAT teams) from a police detective in Milwaukee. I usually don't cut-and-paste entire blog posts, but you need to read the letter and Radley is so much better at expressing the real outrage here than I am:

Last month, National Review ran a short blurb that was critical of the July raid on Berwyn Heights, Maryland Mayor Cheye Calvo by a Prince George’s County, Maryland SWAT team (article is subscription-only).

To refresh your memory, the police raided Calvo after intercepting a package en route to Calvo’s home that contained marijuana. They blew open Calvo’s door, shot and killed both of of Calvo’s black labs (one as it was running away), then handcuffed and interrogated Calvo and his mother-in-law at gunpoint for hours.

Calvo was innocent. The package was never intended for him. It was part of a drug smuggling scheme, and was meant to be intercepted by a dealer working at the delivery company. The Prince George’s County police made no effort to determine who lived in Calvo’s home, did no surveillance, and didn’t bother to notify the Berwyn Heights police chief before conducting the raid. They have since apologized to Calvo for wrongly raiding his home, but have defended the investigation and the aggressive tactics, including the slaughter of his dogs.

After National Review’s short blurb denouncing the raid and the overuse of SWAT tactics in general, Milwaukee police detective and former SWAT officer Kent Corbett wrote a jaw-dropping letter to the editor, in which he not only defends what happened to Calvo, he mocks Calvo and his family with scare quotes. The letter is also subscription-only, so there’s no link. But here’s the copy:

As a former S.W.A.T. team member and a current homicide detective with the Milwaukee police department, I must take issue with the tone of a paragraph in “The Week” (September 1). The piece addresses the Cheye Calvo incident, in which police raided a Maryland mayor’s home looking for drugs, killed his dogs, and restrained him and his mother-in-law. It turned out the man was innocent.

I have personally been involved in the execution of no-knock search warrants, the killing of dogs during those executions, and the investigations of numerous drug-related homicides and officer-involved shootings. Yes, no-knock warrants are issued to avoid the destruction of evidence such as drugs, but they are also issued to protect the officers executing those warrants. In addition, each warrant requires a judge’s authorization, and obviously the available evidence satisfied the judge in this case.

Sorry if Calvo and his mother-in-law were “restrained” for “almost two hours.” Would you rather have them be comfortable for those two hours, and risk officers’ lives and safety? Calvo should be able to understand what the officers did and why they did it.

Municipal police departments do fight a war on the streets of this country daily. This incident should not be considered overkill (to take a word from Reason’s Radley Balko), but sound police tactics. As soon as some police administrator starts to second-guess the training and experience of the officers charged with doing these types of investigations, someone will get hurt or killed. Drug investigations are inherently dangerous, and so is the Monday-morning quarterbacking you are doing.

Kent Corbett
Milwaukee, Wis.

National Review’s editors wrote a polite, well-argued response to Corbett.

I’m going to be less polite, because to use Corbett’s own language, I take strong issue with his tone. His attitude is appalling, and unfortunately, not uncommon. The bumbling, violent raid on Calvo’s home is inexcusable. I know nothing about Corbett, but his public defense of the raid on Calvo’s home ought to call into serious question his judgment as a police officer. If Cheye Calvo had exercised his Second Amendment right to have a gun in his home for self-defense last July, for example, he’d almost certainly be dead today. A cop or two might be dead, too. That simply isn’t an acceptable outcome—not for a nonviolent crime like marijuana distribution, and certainly not when the suspect turns out to be innocent.

Prince George’s PD’s lack of investigation into who lived at Calvo’s home, their rush to use the maximum amount of force possible, one officer’s inexplicable decision to use her cell phone to make a veterinary appointment for her own dogs while Calvo and his mother-in-law sat handcuffed, staring at the carcasses of his two labs—for Corbett, these are all "sound police tactics." How dare we Monday-morning quarterback. In Corbett’s mind, Calvo ought to "understand," and I guess we all ought to understand, even when these incidents happen again, and again, and again.

To people like Corbett and the politicians whose policies he enforces, drug prohibition is war. We ought to expect, tolerate, and even defend the occasional collateral damage—be it what happened to Calvo, or what happened to, say, Katherine Johnston or Isaac Singletary. I mean, if we start getting all upset about what happened to a white, upper-middle class family with some political heft like the Calvos, we might soon have to actually start caring when this kind of thing happens low-income black people, too. And we certainly can’t have that. Because, as I’m sure Corbett knows, it happens far more often to them.

So let’s all take Corbett’s advice. Should the police mistakenly blow open your door, kill your pets, and detain you for hours at gunpoint, just deal with it. In fact, be grateful. We’re in a war, after all. It’s all about preventing people from getting high, at any cost. If you lose a couple of pets, or possibly a friend or relative, buck up. Sure, Calvo and his family were subjected to needless terror and violence. Sure, they could easily have been killed. But remember: Because of the Prince George’s County Police Department’s "sound police tactics," when all was said and done, there was 30 pounds less marijuana in southern Maryland than there would have been otherwise. And no cops were injured. So it’s a net win.

I don’t expect many police officers to agree with me on the appropriateness of SWAT tactics in general (though many do). But this is a bit much. Det. Corbett can look at the Calvo raid and not only conclude that the end result was acceptable, but also that Calvo has no legitimate complaint about what happened to him. The implication is that we shouldn’t bother to worry about this kind of thing. That we should all just accept the possibility that what happened to Calvo could happen to any of us. Because what’s most important is officer safety, and winning the war on drugs.

Corbett’s letter isn’t just wrong, it’s chilling.

I'll only add this- If ever there was a good argument for ending the war on drugs, it's the thoughts and views of this police officer. The War on Drugs, as viewed through his eyes, literally is a war, a war where collateral damage is not just acceptable, but expected.

More McCain

John McCain promises to cut the budget, still can't tell voters exactly what he's going to be cutting. Evidently, after 30 years in the Senate, McCain doesn't yet know what government programs are expendable. (Hint- it rhymes with the Department of Meducation.)

I can accept that a liberal Democrat will campaign on false promises of hope and equality and rainbows and sunshines. What I have more trouble stomaching is a Republican who claims to want to tell the cold hard truth, but isn't really brave enough to actually do it. And then there are McCain's three areas of immediate action if elected:

He offered incentives to encourage and protect savings and retirement accounts, promised again to buy up bad mortgages to safeguard homeowners, and advocated incentives for small businesses that he said would create millions of new jobs.

Election Prediction, No Personal Pick

I meant to get to this last week so here it is- To get it down in writing, I think Obama will win the election. I've been wrong before, notably when I predicted Hillary Clinton would be our next president, but that's only because I didn't imagine the Obama phenomenon reaching the heights it did. That same phenomenon is not going to get Obama elected and has probably cost him slightly in the general election. The groundswell of popular support certainly propelled the candidate of change above and beyond Hillary Clinton, but the same cult-like adoration has been off putting to some middle of the road voters. If Clinton had managed to win the Democratic nod, I think she would be even better positioned than Obama to win in November, but past is past.

Obama will win not because of anything he did or didn't do, but because like John Kerry and other losers before him, John McCain has failed to present a coherent campaign message and failed to reassure Americans about what a John McCain presidency would be. It just seems to me that the rhetoric coming from the McCain campaign since the financial crisis has been inconsistent, if not incoherent. All the talk of tax cuts and spending freezes seem hollow coming from a man who told us that we needed the 800 billion dollar bailout and who still tells us we need to bail out individual defaulting homeowners.

I really did want to come out and support Obama, at least in the same way I had leaned Bush in 2000 and 2004, but Obama's talking points the past month drifted far too much to the economic left for my likening, particularly coming from such an unknown quantity. I just can't do it. I just hope, hope, hope that he isn't as bad as his critics make him out to be.

Obama, McCain, and Wealth Redistribution

David Bernstein has an excellent post on the Volokh Conspiracy about Barack Obama's views on Constitutional law. Bernstein, who's a very reliable libertarian-conservative legal scholar, raises a rather interesting point about the political smears Obama is taking for his comments about redistributing wealth.

At least since the passage of the first peacetime federal income tax law about 120 years ago, redistribution of wealth has been a (maybe the) primary item on the left populist/progressive/liberal agenda, and has been implicitly accepted to some extent by all but the most libertarian Republicans as well. Barack Obama is undoubtedly liberal, and his background is in political community organizing in poor communities. Is it supposed to be a great revelation that Obama would like to see wealth more "fairly" distributed than it is currently?

It's true that most Americans, when asked by pollsters, think that it's emphatically not the government's job to redistribute wealth. But are people so stupid as to not recognize that when politicians talk about a "right to health care," or "equalizing educational opportunities," or "making the rich pay a fair share of taxes," or "ensuring that all Americans have the means to go to college," and so forth and so on, that they are advocating the redistribution of wealth? Is it okay for a politician to talk about the redistribution of wealth only so long as you don't actually use phrases such as "redistribution" or "spreading the wealth," in which case he suddenly becomes "socialist"? If so, then American political discourse, which I never thought to be especially elevated, is in even a worse state than I thought.

There are certain connotations that "wealth redistribution" invokes, but as a practical policy matter, Bernstein is right on the money. To get more overtly political, why are the specific policies that literally result in wealth redistribution that John McCain supports any different from Barack Obama's calls for more fairness and equality. In a way, one could argue that the real world impact of support for specific programs has more of a real world effect than any of Obama's broad platitudes.

I don't want to get into the issue of whether Obama or McCain is worse, because I really don't care. But Bernstein's point does highlight yet another uncomfortable feeling I get from the McCain campaign and it's willingness to obfuscate the truth and pander to talking points. If Libertarian party candidate Bob Barr wants to call out Obama for talking about wealth redistribution, than so be it. But to hear the very same coming from a guy who's personal hero is the original progressive Teddy Roosevelt, a guy who's made a career of redistributing wealth in the Senate, it just comes across as disingenuous.

Matt Cassel versus Brad Johnson

Which backup quarterback, called upon by a talented offensive team predicted by many to reach the Super Bowl, would you rather have? Both of these backups recently played the resurgent St. Louis Rams at home, with mixed results.

The veteran backup: 17 of 34 for 234 yards, 1 TD, 3 Int's, and 14 points in a losing effort.

The untested youngling: 21 of 33 for 267 yards, 1 TD, 2 Int's and 23 points in a victory.

Call me crazy, but I'll take Matt Cassel over Brad Johnson. After a frustrating, but ultimately victorious effort againast the Rams, Cassel and the Patriots are now 5-2, tied for the division lead with the Bills, who lost at Miami. Cassel is still working through his growing pains, but yesterday was a huge step for the kid who never really played college ball. He still has the tendency to tuck the ball and run around in an un-athletic manner, but for the first time yesterday I actually saw Cassel feel the pass rush around him, stay focused down field, and deliver the football. Cassel's numbers from yesterday are even a bit negatively skewed by the fact that the usually sure-handed Randy Moss having one ball bounce off of him for an interception and having another touchdown slip right through his hands. But beyond the numbers, what was most impressive was the fact that this team managed to win a close game under a Cassel, a game where they were trailing in the 4th quarter.

As I've said in past weeks, the key to this Patriot team lies with the defense, which, nearly halfway through the season is 5th in the AFC in points allowed, behind only Tennessee, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and Cleveland. The stats againast the Rams don't look great, but the 16 points isn't bad, particularly when you consider that other than the one long touchdown pass to Donnie Avery, the Pats kept the Rams out of the end zone.

With 9 games left, my prediction of 10-12 wins seems well within reach. A few weeks ago, this Colts game coming up seemed like a long shot, but I'm not so hopeless anymore. Of course Peyton is terrifying, but hell, he was terrifying when he was on and we actually had Brady. One things certain and that's that things are starting to get interesting for the 2008 Patriots.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Last Response To Those Who Blame Free Markets

Will Wilkinson puts it rather succinctly in the comments section of his blog:

The worst we have learned in the present case is that sometimes the hesitancy to further regulate markets that have grown out of a set of dangerously ill-conceived policies can make things worse.

The key there would be "markets that have grown out of dangerously ill-conceived policies." Or in other words, the market as it exists today and as it existed 10, 20, 30 years ago and more, bears the mark of all the past policies and regulations that influenced the market, whether by design or not. While financial markets tend to be over most people's heads (mine included), an apt comparison would be health care, where our system of large HMO's and employer provided insurance is quite obviously the result of years of government policy.

Additionally, I'd note that it's intellectually dishonest to look at a complicated market and regulatory structure and say all the blame lies with X regulations that were repealed and no blame lies with Y regulations that were passed in the meantime.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

With Or Without You

Patriots 41 Broncos 7. It was not at all what I expected, except perhaps in the darkest recesses of my mind where that same score had the teams reversed. But Jay Cutler hurt his finger on the first play, the Patriots defense came out like they had something to prove, and the Patriots offensive line pushed around the Denver front 7 to the tune 257 yards rushing. And that was that and I'm not sure it means much of anything, other than that the Patriots are just as competitive as anyone else in the NFL in this impossible-to-figure-out season.

What's tough at this point is that we still don't know if we can really win with Matt Cassel. The losses have been brutal, the sorts of games that were probably losses with whoever was thrown out at quarterback. And the wins have been equally impressive the other way, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. Six games into the season we have yet to see Matt Cassel have to play in a close game, to have to protect the ball and get first downs with a slim lead or actually lead them from behind. I was heartened by Ron Jaworski's comments on Cassel during the broadcast last night, indicating that Cassel could be a decent NFL quarterback. It was also interesting to hear them note that the team was prepping Cassel for December and the post-season, not trying to simplify the offense in an attempt to win now. We'll see what happens, but I'm still not convinced that Matt Cassel can develop anything resembling the pocket presence of a professional quarterback. As I noted two weeks ago, his mistakes are literally worse than rookie mistakes, they're the mistakes of a guy who's never had to face 300 pound monsters in his face.

But we'll see. Ultimately, the fate of the Patriots this season rests of their defense because they simply won't be winning games when they give up 30 points. The defensive has looked alternately great and terrible so far, so, like the rest of the league, I just don't know what to think. However, my thoughts go back to 2005, where a struggling Patriots defense began the year by giving up 20 points or more in each of the team's first 6 games. That team limped to a 4-4 record, but finished the season 10-6 and opened the playoffs with an impressive 28-3 win over the Jaguars. The point is that most of us tend to forget the way defensives develop during the season. As the Giants showed last year, teams that do well tend to be the teams that are playing the best defense in December and January.

But at 4-2 for the Pats thus far, I'll hold to my prediction that they can win 10-12 games. Hold onto your hats though for week 17, when the Pats go to Buffalo, a game that very likely determine who wins the division.

Monday, October 20, 2008

New York City, City Of Freedom

Today's typical "government knows best" editorial in the New York Times lauded the mandatory posting of nutritional information on restaurant menus because apparently most of us need to be smacked in the face with the knowledge of what we're eating. I say smacked in the face because the Times opposes a federal law on the subject which would preempt local and state legislation merely because the federal law would allow nutritional information to be posted on the backs of menus or on separate brochures. Hence my wording "smacked in the face."

Also interesting was the news I was unaware of- that New York City's Health Department has started a campaign posting advertising in subways stating that 2,000 Calories is Enough in an apparent effort to get New Yorkers to eat more responsibly. Personally, I think its an odd budget choice for a health department that only last year made national headlines when a number of restaurants in it's jurisdiction were literally found to be rat infested. But more importantly, I wonder when this nannyism will end.

I do have a question for the big government types who find this to be an appropriate sphere for the government and an appropriate use of taxpayer money. A what point is the government just butting it's nose into the private choices of private individuals? Would posters proclaiming "One Sex Partner is Enough" be appropriate? Just wondering.

Buy Now, Pay Later

Ever so timely, Virginia Postrel writes in the Atlantic, making The Case For Debt. Perhaps most interesting is her focus on the panic factor, noting that the concern over consumer debt has been with us ever since credit markets expanded to include the non-wealthy. Postrel quotes Hillel Black, author of "Buy Now, Pay Later."

Currently about one hundred million Americans are participating in the buy-now, pay-later binge. Furthermore, they can, if they wish, do anything and everything on credit. Babies are being born on the installment plan, children go through college on time, even funerals are paid for on what the English quaintly call “the never never.” Through debt people are buying hairpins, toothpaste, mink coats, girdles, tickets to baseball games, religious medallions, hi-fi equipment, safaris in Africa … The result has been a consumer credit explosion that makes the population explosion seem small by comparison.

Black's book, an indictment of the expansion of consumer credit, was published in 1961. Apparently consumer debt, like immigration and problems with the younger generation, are the sorts of issues that persist through time, defying rational analysis.

The End of Libertarianism?

Slate published this piece yesterday by Jacob Weisberg on The End of Libertarianism, proclaiming that the financial crises proves libertarianism to be a failed ideology.

The worst thing you can say about libertarians is that they are intellectually immature, frozen in the worldview many of them absorbed from reading Ayn Rand novels in high school. Like other ideologues, libertarians react to the world's failing to conform to their model by asking where the world went wrong. Their heroic view of capitalism makes it difficult for them to accept that markets can be irrational, misunderstand risk, and misallocate resources or that financial systems without vigorous government oversight and the capacity for pragmatic intervention constitute a recipe for disaster. They are bankrupt, and this time, there will be no bailout.

Brink Lindsey of the Cato Institute responds here:

In an article for Slate (another version appears in Newsweek) entitled “The End of Libertarianism,” Jacob Weisberg mocks libertarians and other free-market supporters for arguing that interventionist government policies contributed to the financial crisis. In italicized exasperation he cries, “Haven’t you people done enough harm already?” According to Weisberg, it’s already clear that, when it comes to what caused the meltdown, “any competent forensic work has to put the libertarian theory of self-regulating financial markets at the scene of the crime.” Consequently, he argues, libertarians in general have now been utterly discredited. “They are bankrupt,” he concludes, “and this time, there will be no bailout.”

In firing this broadside, Weisberg poses as the pragmatic, empirically minded anti-ideologue. In fact, he is engaging in the lowest and most intellectually trivial form of ideological hack work.

As every good hack does, he bulls ahead with completely unjustified certainty. We’ve just experienced a global disruption of financial markets on a scale not seen in seven decades. And we’re still in the middle of it: the ultimate extent, severity, and consequences of this crisis remain unknown. Yet Weisberg can already sum up the story in a single sentence: the libertarians did it!

But consider the fact that it wasn’t until Milton Friedman and Anna Schwartz’s Monetary History of the United States – published in 1963, three decades after the event – that our contemporary understanding of the causes of the Great Depression began to take shape. That understanding has been further refined by contributions from, among others, Ben Bernanke and Barry Eichengreen during the 1980s and ’90s.

So serious people will be debating what triggered the current crisis for a long time to come. I’ve been reading voraciously in recent weeks, trying to get some handle on what’s going on, and I can tell you that there is nothing like a consensus among scholars yet – and certainly not a consensus in favor of some simple, monocausal explanation.

With regard to government interventionism as a cause of the crisis, Charles Calomiris and Peter Wallison have marshalled strong evidence that Fannie and Freddie played a major role in inflating the real estate bubble. Despite the fact that these two gentlemen have forgotten more about financial markets than Weisberg will ever know, Weisberg dismisses their analysis as not only wrong, but risible.

Here’s what I think, at least at this point. I think the whole system failed. Without a doubt, private actors succumbed to bubble psychology and perverse incentives, and their risk-taking grew increasingly reckless. Yet Weisberg’s simplistic morality tale that good prudent liberals were foiled by go-go free-marketeers doesn’t come close to mapping reality accurately. When exactly did Democrats try to arrest and reverse the steady relaxation of lending standards? When did they try to rein in the GSEs? Meanwhile, European banks are being battered by this crisis as well. Does anybody really think that European financial regulators are closet libertarians?

Far be it from Weisberg, though, to let such inconvenient questions get in the way of his cheap ideological point-scoring. Indeed, he isn’t content just to blame libertarianism for the financial crisis. He goes so far as to claim that libertarianism as a whole has now been decisively repudiated. Wow, talk about contagion! Because of what some people said about financial regulation, we no longer have to pay any attention to what other people say about trade, health care, energy, taxes, federal spending, etc. Here Weisberg further burnishes his hack credentials by demonstrating his facility with the wild, unsubstantiated smear.

As Lyndsey says, I think the intellectually honest are still trying to come to grasps with what exactly is happening in the financial sector. There's not a libertarian out there who refuses to admit that market actors played a key roll in precipitating this crisis, but the real questions are about what incentives these market actors were responding to. Blaming the entire crisis on free markets and deregulation doesn't reflect the complex realities of the financial world, where the Federal Reserve, a government entity, controls the money supply and manipulates interest rates, where the SEC enacts incredably complicated financial regulations, and where Congress passes law after law after law specifically designed to impact the market. And even for the intellectually honest leftist, the easy out of blaming deregulation doesn't provide the answer of what regulation is good regulation.

Also interesting is Weisberg's attempt- like Naomi Klein in her latest rant- to play the role of moderate, painting libertarian ideologues as equally misty eyed as their Marxist counterparts and equating the academic scholarship of a group like the Cato Institute with the political prose of some college kid wearing a Che Guevara tee-shirt. It is a rather clever political tactic, but it does has the downside of not actually addressing your intellectual opponents arguments.

I would argue once again that at it's most basic, the role of libertarian intellectuals in the field of public policy is that of the skeptic. If party A says we need X regulation, than prove it. If public interest group B says we need Y regulation, than prove it. The Jacob Weisberg's of the world would rather just dispense with that intellectual form of oversight and proceed directly to the oversight that comes from the benevolent hand of government. More regulation is good regulation, regardless of what such regulations actually say.

Isn't it more than just a bit ironic that those who accuse libertarians of living in an idealogical fantasy world are themselves immersed in a world that's just as utopian as the one where libertarians have their heads in the clouds?

Friday, October 17, 2008

How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Just Love The Recession

As the leaves here in Connecticut have begun to turn into brilliant hues of red and gold and gas prices have steadily continued to crawl back down to under $3.00 a gallon, a number of thoughts about the current economic crisis have occurred to me. First, we're a long way away from the Great Depression, or at least from all the stories and everything I ever read about the great depression. I see new businesses opening up and the highways are still jam-packed with rush-traffic. I still see throngs of people in the evenings waiting for hours to get into the Olive Garden and Best Buy seems continuously crowded.

For those of us living paycheck to paycheck, the pratfalls of the stock market are a lot less meaningful and visible than reasonable gas prices. With prices down $1.50 a gallon or more from earlier in the year, that could be an additional $100 back in your wallet every month. Obviously, should the economy severely contract and unemployment continue to rise, the financial problems we face will become more real. But for now, for the working poor and the young middle class, I'd argue that a "What, me worry?" attitude is the best attitude to have thus far. We have no money to lose.

This libertarian ain't for Obama

On the Reason blog, Matt Welch expresses the same growing distaste I have for the idea of libertarians for Obama.

But as McCain has rightly pointed out, Bush ain't running for president. Barack Obama is indeed more lefty than 1990s Democrats on economic issues–especially free trade, which he has never passed up an opportunity to bash–and placing him at the head of unified Democratic government high on re-regulatory rhetoric is likely to have a whole host of lousy consequences, several of which David Weigel wrote about back in June. In my anecdotal experience, libertarians who plan to vote for Obama are either engaging in a whole lot of evidence-lite Hope about how his intelligence and University of Chicago background will somehow translate into semi-prudent economic policy, or have just decided that that matters less than their one or two big issues, usually pertaining to war.

The World's Most Time Consuming Get Rich Quick Scheme

From the liberal website Alternet comes this story about how 401(k)'s are a contemporary get-rich-quick scheme. And to think, all this time I though get-rich-quick schemes were ways to put money in my pocket tomorrow. No wonder I haven't been able to come up with any good ones. I should have been scheming about how to put money in my pocket in 40 years.

All jokes aside, as many commentators have noted, long-term investment strategies are still your best bet with your money. Yes, the market has ups and downs, but the purpose of long-term investment is supposed to be long-term return and I don't believe there's ever been a long term period in the nation's history where you'd have been better off having your money in a savings account, treasury bonds, or under your mattress. Now obviously, it sucks if this is literally the moment you were looking to pull your money out, but thems the breaks. Just be patient.

What's interesting is the author's utter lack of a real alternative. Employer pension plans are obviously a disaster, as anyone familiar with the big American automakers knows. And social security? Please. I'll avoid delving into that pyramid scheme unless anyone really wants to get into it.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Debate

Sure it's late, but I only have a few comments. I didn't make it all the way through this one, as I took a much needed South Park break at 10:00, only to return to find the candidates making their closing statements. Just a few observations.

# If Obama's goal in these debates was to turn my luke-warm feelings about him into outright disgust, he's succeeded.

# McCain sounded good on a number of issues- trade, taxes, even health care where he continues to talk about unleashing markets. It's too bad that he didn't go after Obama's rhetoric as pure, unadulterated class warfare, but maybe that's hard when you're playing the class war card yourself (see Joe the Plumber; see also the race to see who can buy up the most mortgages.)

# I hope people recognize Obama's promises on health care as a load of bs. He promised better coverage for more people and all for less money.

# Speaking of bs, McCain continues to lead in the bs department with his empty promises of the knowledge to solve all of our nation's crises.

# As one of the blogs I was following put it last night, Obama believes in free trade, except in places like Ohio and Indiana, where such a position polls poorly.

# Yet again, neither candidate had the balls to talk about budget cuts. McCain's budget freeze is an interesting idea, but hardly productive, given the drastic number of spending increases that are built into budgets. Ultimately, I don't trust either of them to go through the budget and cut very much of anything.

# With the economic issues so pressing, the foreign policy issues that McCain looked to use to his advantage have been noticeably limited during all of these debates. McCain has the experience of course, but I'm not scared of an Obama administration conducting foreign affairs. Truthfully, in terms of actual policy, the candidates don't seem very far apart and they seem to come from the very same idealogical position that the United States needs to use it's military for good overseas. The biggest difference seems to be the D and the R in front of their names and the way those letters get people so worked up.

# I'm beyond all the attack nonsense, given my feelings about both of these guys. I liked Bob Schieffer's man up challenge to say all those nasty things to each other's faces, but both guys pussied out. McCain talked about his feelings getting hurt while being called a racist and Obama avoided the question altogether.

# Less than a month until the election, with all these debates wrapped up, my thoughts are these. Obama is far scarier than I initially had thought/hoped for. Given the opportunity to be Bill Clinton he's decided to be Walter Mondale, coming across as not just liberal, but ready and willing to literally redistribute wealth. To paraphrase Denny Green, McCain is who we thought he was. He's not a conservative or an ideologue of any sort, meaning he has no problem reaching into the big government playbook when it suits him. And perhaps that's what scariest about McCain, his unpredictability outside of his few big issues (earmarks, corruption, military, ect.). For all his talk about taxes and trade, his behavior during this economic crisis hardly indicates a reliable supporter of limited government.

Either way, our planet is doomed.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Big Bottled Water Scare

If this blog has no other redeeming value, I'd like to think that at the very least it serves the role of media watchdog for the legal and scientific issues where my expertise is more than that of a layperson. In that tradition, I'd urge all my readers to pay no mind to the latest pseudo-scientific scare about bottled water, which is seemingly "as polluted" as tap water.

Having been in the business of water testing for most of the last decade, I'm more than a little familiar with what's what. And what's so disturbing about these sorts of stories isn't just the scientific misinformation, but the way that misinformation is repeated verbatim by the media. I've made this point before, that when George Bush (or Barack Obama or John McCain at this point) make any sort of claim, you better believe that the media will thoroughly examine what's been said. Yet when a public interest group or environmental organization releases the results of a study, their press releases are taken as the gospel truth. There's no investigation, not a moment spent to question whether the organization in question is shaping their data in such a way that, you know, fits neatly with their politics.

In this case, this bottled water survey was done by the Environmental Working Group, an organization that advocates for stricter regulation. To be fair to the Fox News story I linked to, they do point out this fact and they also even manage to get in a statement from the bottled water industry.

An industry group branded the findings "alarmist." Joe Doss, president of the International Bottled Water Association, said the study is based on the faulty premise that a contaminant is a health concern "even if it does not exceed the established regulatory limit or no standard has been set."

The problem is, without context, all you have is an industry rep saying bottled water is fine and an environmental organization with their big study about how scary bottled water is. So what I offer today is context, for those of you who care about such things.

# The headline of the story "bottled water as polluted as tap water" is essentially correct, but misleading. The drinking water supply in this country is cleaner and safer than just about any drinking water supply anywhere, anytime, in the history of the world. Unless "polluted" somehow means "okay to drink," than I have trouble seeing how it is an apt description for bottled or tap water.

# Bottled water is less regulated than tap water as it is not subject to the Safe Drinking Water Act, which only regulates actual water systems. However, all bottled water is tested annually and many companies perform additional testing throughout the year. And perhaps more importantly, a majority of bottled water actually comes from municipal supplies that are already tested under the Safe Drinking Water Act. Dasani (bottled by Coke) and Aquafina (bottled by Pepsi) are nothing more than tap water that's been additionally filtered and bottled for resale.

# The major "contaminants" cited in the study are disinfection byproducts. To understand what a disinfection byproduct is, just deconstruct the word. A disinfection byproduct is literally a byproduct of the disinfection process, or in other words, the chemicals that are produced in low levels when a water system treats it's drinking water supply in order to prevent, say, a cholera outbreak of the sort that killed thousands in Peru in the early 90's. Disinfection byproducts are a tricky issues for regulators, scientists, and water system experts alike, given the need to balance potential outbreaks of waterborne illness with the possibility of future incidents of cancer. As the story notes, federal limits- the limits that your tap water supplier is probably following is 80 parts per billion. California, as is their norm, has adopted a 10 parts per billion rule that's of questionable public health benefit.

# Wal-Mart's claims that their own tests did not show any high levels of disinfection byproducts are not BS. Disinfection byproduct levels vary, depending upon the time of the year and the specifics of the treatment being utilized by the water system. More importantly, as anyone who's ever worked in a lab will tell you, different tests can simply give you different results.

Also noted in the Environmental Working Group's report:

Altogether, the analyses conducted by the University of Iowa Hygienic Laboratory of these 10 brands of bottled water revealed a wide range of pollutants, including not only disinfection byproducts, but also common urban wastewater pollutants like caffeine and pharmaceuticals (Tylenol); heavy metals and minerals including arsenic and radioactive isotopes; fertilizer residue (nitrate and ammonia); and a broad range of other, tentatively identified industrial chemicals used as solvents, plasticizers, viscosity decreasing agents, and propellants.

Again, this is nothing more than a scare tactic, worrying those who don't have any context. First, many of these scary pollutants occur naturally in the environment at low levels, including many metals, minerals, and even radioactive isotopes. To call water polluted because, say, it comes from a watershed that's naturally high in manganese seems to defy any meaningful notion of what pollution actually is. And more importantly, we're exposed to low levels of hundreds of chemicals every day in going about our day-to-day life. The real question isn't what chemicals you can find, but whether or not we're exposed to chemicals at a level that could have an impact upon our health. The fact that they don't give us any results here indicates to me that we're talking about extremely low levels of everything mentioned above.

Sarah Palin's Muderous Web Of Death

I meant to link to this last week- Red Eye's mini-documentary on Sarah Palin's murderous web of death. It's worth five minutes of viewing time for anyone who finds humor in inane, conspiracy-minded discourse. Very, very funny.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Fraud, Greed, and Markets

I'm more than a little sick and tired of earing about the greed on Wall Street, as if this current financial crisis was somehow caused by a significant number of extra greedy individuals who were oh-so much more greedy than their Wall Street predecessors. It's not just that it's the sort of thing that can never really be proven or disproven, it's that invoking greed is an all to easy way of scoring cheap political points while avoiding any discussion of the real complicated issues of financial markets and their relationships to the political world.

Greed shouldn't be turned into a political issue, because greed isn't something that can be regulated away. Sure, the government can step in to limit risk-taking in certain fields, but the dirty little secret is that those who want to make money will find ways to make money. If you regulate X to limit risk, people will try Y. If you then regulate Y, people will try Z. And on and on. The point is- and this is a legal point- that people looking to make money will always be more creative than those looking to make laws to limit the so-called greedy types. It's a simple matter of incentives and human nature.

I've avoided any sweeping moral pronouncements about greed because to be honest, I'm not quite sure what people mean by greed. At what point does wanting to make a lot of money become greed of the inappropriate sort? Is greed defined by dollar amounts, by the actions you take to get more money, or is greed really more about what's in your heart? I'd have a problem looking at specific dollar amounts, mostly because I'm not very convinced that the super rich like Bill Gates or Warren Buffet are primarily motivated by the thought of becoming even richer. A theory of greed that said X amount of money is too much would basically be asking the super rich to remove themselves and their money from the economy, hardly the sort of thing anyone thinks is a good idea. So, on a personal level, I would say greed is about what's in your heart and on a societal level, greed is about how you act and what you do to acquire money.

To return to Wall Street, there seems to be two separate sorts of individuals at issue. First are those who purposely broke to law to make more money and second are those who looked to make more money within the confines of the law. The first group is guilty of fraud and should be punished, but that's a small group that's not really the cause of today's crisis. So if most individuals accused of behaving greedily acted within the confines of the law, beyond the question of whether they were actually greedy in the first place, you're back full circle to the issue of money-making individuals being a step ahead of those who would regulate them. Or in other words, this is the way the market works, short of the government stepping in and doing what they look to be doing now in taking over large sectors of the economy.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Regulators Cannot Avert Next Crisis

Johan Norberg of the Cato Institute makes the point that Regulators Cannot Avert Next Crisis.

But since every crisis has led to thousands of new pages of regulation, why is it that regulation doesn't stop crises from happening again? No matter what pundits say, we are nowhere near a laissez-faire situation. Look no further than the US federal institutions in Washington, DC, and we find 12,113 individuals working full time to regulate the financial markets. What did they do with the powers they had?

Made mistakes. American politicians, central banks and regulators were just as eager as speculators to expand the housing bubble. They just had a bigger pump.

The US Federal Reserve lowered interest rates from 6.5 percent to 1 percent between 2001 and 2003, and housing prices soared. Starting in 1995, the government threatened banks and thrifts with regulations and legal challenges if they did not extend more loans to poor neighbourhoods and a government-sponsored company such as Fannie Mae used its state guarantees to purchase more risky loans and expand the sub-prime market.

Is the solution to the crisis really to give more power to people and institutions that contributed to bringing it about?

Big Gay Marriage News

And in other important local news this morning, the Connecticut Supreme Court announced the right of gay couples to marry.

I'm happy with the result, but it seems to me to be a questionable legal decision that's bound to invoke an unneeded backlash. Connecticut was the first state in the nation to pass civil unions through the political process and proponents of gay marriage should have followed the same route in taking the next step. What we'll see is what we're seeing now in California, where opponents of gay marriage have proposed a Constitutional Amendment that would strictly define marriage as being between a man and a woman. It's basically the Roe effect, where those on the losing side feel extra slighted in having the final decision on a controversial social issue handed down by an unelected judiciary.

What's disturbing about the decision from a legal perspective is that it does grant "special rights," in this case to gay and straight people alike. What's unclear to me is what legal principles elevate the recognition of traditional heterosexual relationships and typical homosexual relationships above individuals who may chose to take part in a non-traditional relationship such as polygamy.

As I said, the end result here is great news for gay couples who have been waiting to marry. But, if the goal in seeking to use the terminology of marriage has to do with respect and acceptance, it seems to me as though the judicial route, with all the backlash that's bound to come out, may not have been the best choice.

The Death of American Capitalism?

David Boaz, executive vice president of the Cato Institute, evidently saw the same story questioning American capitalism that I did this morning. His response?

Of course, if this crisis leads us to question “American-style capitalism” — the kind in which a central monetary authority manipulates money and credit, the central government taxes and redistributes $3 trillion a year, huge government-sponsored enterprises create a taxpayer-backed duopoly in the mortgage business, tax laws encourage excessive use of debt financing, and government pressures banks to make bad loans — well, it might be a good thing to reconsider that “American-style capitalism”

The Sky Is Falling

The headline of the Washington Post blared "The End of Capitalism?" in a story that was pasted on the front page of the local Hartford Courant, along, no doubt, with numerous other local papers around the country. It's not 1932, but 2008, where fear and irrationality seems to have swept the nation.

What's so disheartening isn't just the blame placed on free markets and deregulation, but the complete and utter lack of understanding of financial markets and financial regulation. I'll admit, I know very, very little and the past month has been a bit of a crash course for me. But what I do know is that the rhetoric is far removed from reality. The name of the game is to blame deregulation and label this entire crisis a market failure. Which would be fine, except for the obvious fact that government has a culpable role here. To say that the government didn't have policies encouraging home ownership and easy credit would be just plain false and to say that such policies had no impact on the housing bubble would be just plain stupid. This isn't to say the market didn't fail. Markets rise and fall all the time and companies that make poor decisions go under. That's the nature of markets. But what happened here was made all the worse not by greed, which is ever present in a free market system, but by the specific policies that helped to push or nudge the market to where we are today.

Yet from politicians and the media alike we're being fed lines that the problem here was deregulation and if you're a Democrat partisan, the problem was the Bush administration's "wild west" approach to stripping away any oversight of the financial community. What's maddening is the lack of any real detailed explanation- what regulations that were cut actually helped to cause this crisis? What regulations would have helped avoid it? As I've pointed out time and time again, regulation is not a magic wand and unless your of the opinion that the government can do no wrong, than what regulations actually say and what effects regulations have, actually matter.

The constant barrage that "deregulation precipitated this crisis" along with the language of "the wild west" leaves many Americans thinking that there literally was no regulation and no oversight of financial institutions, which is just facially absurd. Just go to the CFR and look at Title 12 on Banking or Title 17 on Commodity and Securities Exchanges. There are literally thousands upon thousands of pages of regulation. If someone wants to make the argument that X regulation was taken off the books or that Y regulation wasn't in place, then so be it, but running around like a chicken without it's head, blaming deregulation, amounts to nothing more than spouting a talking point.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Naomi Klein Speaks Out Again

Ever the reliable enemy of free markets, Naomi Klein speaks out on how the financial crisis has discredited neoliberalism.

Now, I admit to being a journalist. I admit to being an investigative journalist, a researcher, and I’m not here to argue theory. I’m here to discuss what happens in the messy real world when Milton Friedman’s ideas are put into practice, what happens to freedom, what happens to democracy, what happens to the size of government, what happens to the social structure, what happens to the relationship between politicians and big corporate players, because I think we do see patterns.

Now, the Friedmanites in this room will object to my methodology, I assure you, and I look forward to that. They will tell you, when I speak of Chile under Pinochet, Russia under Yeltsin and the Chicago Boys, China under Deng Xiaoping, or America under George W. Bush, or Iraq under Paul Bremer, that these were all distortions of Milton Friedman’s theories, that none of these actually count, when you talk about the repression and the surveillance and the expanding size of government and the intervention in the system, which is really much more like crony capitalism or corporatism than the elegant, perfectly balanced free market that came to life in those basement workshops. We’ll hear that Milton Friedman hated government interventions, that he stood up for human rights, that he was against all wars. And some of these claims, though not all of them, will be true.

But here’s the thing. Ideas have consequences. And when you leave the safety of academia and start actually issuing policy prescriptions, which was Milton Friedman’s other life—he wasn’t just an academic. He was a popular writer. He met with world leaders around the world—China, Chile, everywhere, the United States. His memoirs are a “who’s who.” So, when you leave that safety and you start issuing policy prescriptions, when you start advising heads of state, you no longer have the luxury of only being judged on how you think your ideas will affect the world. You begin having to contend with how they actually affect the world, even when that reality contradicts all of your utopian theories. So, to quote Friedman’s great intellectual nemesis, John Kenneth Galbraith, “Milton Friedman’s misfortune is that his policies have been tried.”

Will Wilkinson responds here.

Wow. Here is Klein’s method. Take a famous thinker you really don’t like. See if they’ve ever had a meeting with anyone who is responsible for anything bad. Blame it on the thinker. Seriously. That seems to be about the extent of her investigative journalist rigor. You never saw Paul Bremer as a Friedman type? I guess you’re no investigative journalist.

Remember when Hugo Chavez was spotted at the UN thumbing through a copy of Noam Chomsky’s Hegemony or Survival? We can only assume that Chavez has been busy implementing Chomsky’s ideas. Sure, it might not be what Chomsky had in mind, but when you leave the safety of academia and start issuing policy prescriptions, and heads of state read your books in public, you no longer have the luxury of only being judged on how you think your ideas will effect the world. Sure, you can say that Noam Chomsky is one of the world’s foremost defenders of a critical free press. But then why did Chomsky disciple Hugo Chavez seize control of Venezuela’s mass media? Ideas have consequences, Noam.

Wilkinson effectively dismantles the ridiculous notion that thinkers are somehow responsible for all the misuse of their ideas. Thinking about it now, this is exactly the same sort of arguments some radical creationists use to discredit Darwin- Hitler was a Darwinist, so evolution must be wrong. That ideology is used in the pursuit of less than noble goals is hardly news. It's basically the story of human history.

In her speech, Klein makes the point of holding ideology responsible for real world consequences, be it holding Friedman responsible for Chile and Iraq, or holding all Marxists accountable for the crimes of Soviet Russia. It's a neat little trick, but the real problem here is how Klein attempts to portray economic policies and human rights issues are viewed hand-in-hand, in such a way that radical socialists and radical free marketers can be dismissed on the same basis. So never mind the evidence that nationalized economies don't work, Stalin killed a lot of people, so he's a bad guy, just like those radical free market types.

What Klein misses completely is that socialism in practice did not work as an economic theory, never mind the human rights abuses. And the fact is that there is no similar record when it comes to free markets. What we have around the world today are market-based economic systems, regulated in different manners and to varying degrees. Klein is perfectly free to join the debate over the relative merits of various forms of regulation, but that's not what she's been writing or speaking about.

To return ever briefly to my favorite topic of regulation, allow me to point out that most free marketers are dismissive of regulation not because of blind ideology, but because of the visible record of inefficiency and outright failures. And on a purely general level, free marketers can rest on that position. But for those like Klein, who are constantly arguing for regulation, there really is no flip side, unless one really wishes to make the point that all regulation, no matter what it is, is good regulation. No, the fact is that if you're arguing for the government to do something (like regulate), you bear the burden of laying out just what that regulation is. All the free marketers can do is respond.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The one where I write a lot about health care

This New York Times piece on McCain's health care plan inadvertently delves into the real problem of health care coverage in America. For those who may not remember, McCain's plan involves eliminating the exclusion of health benefits from income taxes, as part of an effort to unleash the health care markets and provide equal footing for those Americans who do not receive employer provided health coverage.

The income-tax exclusion benefits 162.5 million Americans but costs the federal government $145.3 billion in foregone revenue, second only to the tax break for retirement account contributions, according to the Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation.

Still, the exclusion has encouraged the pooling of workers into large purchasing groups that tend to lower costs. And with group coverage, no one can be denied coverage, everyone pays the same rates and the healthy and wealthy essentially subsidize the sick and the poor. Consequently, it is often more expensive to buy equivalent coverage as an individual, partly because insurers pass along the administrative costs of weeding out unacceptable risks.

The exclusion has long been criticized as unfair because the 18 million people who buy health insurance on their own are not entitled to it. Critics also say that it is most valuable to those in high tax brackets with the costliest health plans, that it contributes to job-lock, and that the subsidization of group insurance encourages people to buy more coverage and consume more health care than they need, driving up health spending.


A number of business officials are worried that Mr. McCain’s tax credits would lure young and healthy workers into the individual market to take advantage of cheaper, less-generous policies. That, they say, would leave employers to cover an older and sicker pool of workers, forcing up premiums.

Workers who found that they had less buying power with the tax credits than with the tax exclusion could be expected to pressure employers to raise salaries or benefit subsidies, the business officials said.

First, a couple of points to the critics of the McCain plan, which happens to include my wife. The point is to treat income as income, whether you're someone who's forced to buy your own health plan or someone who takes part in an employer provided plan. I haven't thought too hard about the immediate impact of such a plan, but I think the overarching point is fairness. Personally, I'd prefer to completely dismantle the employer provided health care system, and while this may not go all the way, keeping health benefits as a deductible business expense, at least this is a step in the right direction.

The real problem with health care continues to be not greedy insurance companies, but this insistence on public policy to encourage the pooling of individuals into group plans. This is a problem because it slyly funnels the money of the young and healthy to pay for the health costs of the older and more needy. It's a far cry from any traditional definition of insurance, but this is essentially what health insurance has become. This is exactly why there are worries that under the McCain plan, young workers would refuse to pay for the sorts of health care plans that are currently provided as a tax free benefit. If you're young and you're concerned about the cost of health care, why would you want to pay for a comprehensive plan that covers the sorts of health issues you're 20 years away from worrying about?

Traditional notions of insurance involve insuring one's self againast some future risk, be it a car wreak, a flood, or a fire. Young men who are at a statistically greater risk for accidents pay more for their insurance coverage then older, safer drivers. Yet when it comes to health insurance, employee group plans charge all participants the same rates. Add in the fact that we have a system where government regulations mandate the extent of policy coverage and like I said before, you're a long way from traditional insurance.

One of the complaints I've heard all too often is that someone suffering from cancer can't go out in the market and get coverage and my response is "well duhhhh." A cancer patient in need of health coverage isn't looking for insurance, they're looking for straight up help with their medical expenses. Just as auto insurance companies don't want to start a new policy when your car is on fire, health insurance companies don't want to start a new policy after you've been diagnosed with cancer. This isn't a failure of the market, just common sense.

People should keep in mind their are two separate issues when it comes to health care- one is the question of what makes for the most efficient system for distribution of health care services and the other is what to do about the people who really can't afford to pay their medical bills, keeping in mind that whatever you do has to jive with whatever system you decide to set up. I think there should also be more of a recognition of where health care costs actually lie. And that's the biggest problem with our current system, that the costs are so obscured and hidden, to the extent that we don't have any understanding of what the health care costs of individuals actually are.

The Debate

I'm not sure debate is the right word. Debate after all implies a real difference of opinion, a divergence of intellectual perspectives. I didn't see much debate last night. I saw a great deal of pandering, made all the worse by McCain's insistence on turning the Republican party into Democrat Lite. I saw slightly different versions of the same political program- that the government needs to act to save the economy and we need to punish the greed on Wall Street and the corruption in Washington. The only real debate was about which candidate could make the greater populist appeal.

The worst moments of the evening? One was John McCain echoing what Joe Biden had said last week, that the government should step in and change the terms of people's bad mortgages. But worse still was Obama's discussion of his health care plan, in which he basically promised better health care for more people for less money.

My already palpable dislike for John McCain only grew last night. The man has no philosophical soul, made all the more obvious throughout the evening. Even on foreign policy, where McCain clearly has the edge in expertise, he reduced himself to the talking points of Obama's willingness to invade Pakistan and Obama's willingness to sit down with foreign leaders without preconditions. Rather than making the concise point that statements like these reflect Obama's inexperience, McCain plowed ahead as though they were cornerstones of Obama's foreign policy.

And on the domestic issues, he was just plain bad. When asked about his priorities if elected, McCain wouldn't answer the question, saying that America could focus on all priorities at once. When asked about the budget, McCain continued to stick with safe answers, combining a promise to freeze spending across the board, with promises to trim the defense budget. It's a cowardly answer because it avoids pointing out any cuts which might be politically unpopular. Of course McCain can promise to trim the fat in the military, because he's Mr. Military. Even on health care, where McCain does tend to think in a more market-based direction, his answers were a mixed bag.

McCain mentioned the need for entitlement reform, even telling the audience he knows how to get it done- of course, he never expanded upon just what that would mean, but he did promise to sit around a table, with Democrats and Republicans, and fix social security and medicare. And unless I'm remembering incorrectly, he promised to return to that big bi-partisan table to fix any other number of big issues he has the hidden answers for. And finally, as if to make the night complete, when asked at the end of the debate what he didn't know, John McCain's answer was that he doesn't know the future.

Obama impressed me slightly more than McCain last night, if only because he actually answered more of the questions. In particular, when it comes to priorities, Obama actually said 1- Energy, 2- Health care. I'm not sure it means anything, but I just can't get over the fact that McCain wouldn't even answer the question. I already mentioned Obama's plan for health care, which is a disaster in the making. (It's based on the California and Massachusetts models, which, several years in, are both already horribly over budget.)

On the current economic crisis, Obama sunk back into the usual liberal talking talking points, blaming deregulation (what deregulation?), and the last 8 years of the Bush administration. Little a mention was given to the federal policies of easy money and home ownership for all that quite clearly has played some roll in this crisis.

On foreign policy, Obama was a disaster, unable to articulate just what an Obama foreign policy would be and just when the U.S. should use the military to resolve humanitarian crises around the world. I don't think McCain actually came across as much better, but in the very least, his experience did manage to get through.

Obviously, I haven't hit on everything here, but suffice it to say, my general reaction is disgusted all the way around.

Monday, October 06, 2008

The Cassel Factor

If the season ended right now, the New England Patriots would be in the playoffs and that alone should be enough to make any Patriots fan happy at this point. The bad taste of the Dolphins was washed away with a thorough whooping of the 49ers and now it's on to 2-3 San Diego.

Two weeks ago, the beating at the hands of the Dolphins was so bad that it made real analysis essentially useless. As I pointed out, if the Pats continued to play the way they had against the Dolphins, we'd be talking about record breaking losing streaks before long. Yesterday was insightful in showing exactly what the strengths and weaknesses of this Brady-less team are. But before looking to the rest of the team, let's start with Matt Cassel, who yesterday laid out in front of us exactly the kind of quarterback he is. Three games into the Cassel era and I'm convinced he's an NFL caliber backup quarterback, but he's not real starter material. He does a decent job of reading defenses and as he showed on the beautiful touchdown to Moss, he can throw a nice deep ball. I even saw him make a couple of nice audibles. Most importantly, he looks comfortable, not confused when he lines up behind the center. Despite that horrible loss to the Dolphins, this team could still win 10-12 games with Matt Cassel.

But Cassel's weaknesses are major weaknesses and are the sort of problems that I'm not sure more expierience or preparation can fix. Biggest of all problems is Cassel's utter lack of pocket presence, which has become glaringly evident after 7 years of Tom Brady. Cassel not only has no feel for the rush, he literally looks panicked every time he's hurried, a bit like Drew Bledsoe, only 100 times more timid. He was sacked 5 times yesterday and each one was bad- as soon as he feels the rush, it's as if he losses sight of what's going on downfield. To make matters worse, he has a tendency to tuck the ball, even though he lacks the athletic ability to do anything with it. And given Cassel's unique circumstances, I'm not sure there's anything he can do about these shortcomings.

Pocket presence is something a quarterback develops from experience, from literally sitting in the pocket and learning to feel the rush around him. And Matt Cassel simply doesn't have that experience. Before the Chiefs game, Cassel hadn't spent any significant time throwing the ball in a real game situation since he was in high school, playing againast guys like me- hardly the sort of preparation that gets one ready for the speed of the NFL. Cassel is clearly a good study, or he wouldn't have stuck around this long, but dealing with a live pass rush is not something you can study for, and this is precisely where Cassel's lack of college experience plays out. He looks terrible in the pocket because he's never actually had to throw the ball in a game situation againast actual athletes. And several games aren't going to make up for the years of experience he lacks.

What this means for the Patriots is that they absolutely must protect him for the rest of the season. This mean using max protect schemes, particularly given the receivers they have. They're better off protecting Cassel to give him a chance to get the ball to Moss in double coverage than they are trying to have him get the ball to Moss in single coverage under a heavy pass rush.

Other thoughts on the game and the rest of the team:

# I don't think Lawrence Maroney will ever be an elite running back. This is a team that really could have used the emergence of a superstar runner who could carry the team on his shoulders, and if Maroney isn't that guy now, in his 3rd year, then he'll never be that guy.

# The offensive line looked much better this week and I'm wondering how much of my criticism of them this season should fall equally on Cassel - Or alternatively, was this a mediocre bunch for years, made all the better by Tom Brady's pocket presence and decision making?

# I wonder if any Patriot fan would trade Stephen Gostkowski straight up for Adam Vinatieri. After going 20 of 26 his rookie year, Gostkowski is now 31 of 34 on field goals since the start of last season, including 10 of 10 this year. Plus, he kills the ball on kickoffs.

# I don't put too much credence in Cassel's two picks from yesterday. The first one sailed on him when he got hit and the second one came on a long bomb to Moss that every single Pats fan out there wanted him to throw. Even if some of those get picked, we want the ball going downfield to Moss.

# The defense was much improved from the Dolphin game, holding the Niners to under 200 yards on the day, but I'm just not sure how much to read into the performance. We'll learn a lot more againast the Chargers next week.

# Adalius Thomas looked like a monster and had me wondering where he was two weeks ago. He's the X-factor this year.

# I love Kevin Faulk, who's trying his darndest to work his way up the list of players most disliked by the Patriot haters. He's still got a bit more work to do if he wants to pass Troy Brown though.