Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Tom DeLay and James Madison

No, I do not mean to put DeLay on a par with Madison. Not by a very long shot. But I needed a catchy title. This is about DeLay's current legal troubles, and why DeLay's real "crime" isn't what a Texas prosecutor claims it is.

Sure, Tom DeLay is a tough political cookie. Sure, he plays hardball, like everyone else in Washington -- and elsewhere -- who seeks to control the levers of power. Sure, in his zeal to wield power he might have broken some Texas law about political contributions (from CNN):

The indictment [handed down today] accused DeLay of a conspiracy to "knowingly make a political contribution" in violation of Texas law outlawing corporate contributions. It alleged that DeLay's Texans for a Republican Majority political action committee accepted $155,000 from companies, including Sears Roebuck, and placed the money in an account.

The PAC then wrote a $190,000 check to an arm of the Republican National Committee and provided the committee a document with the names of Texas State House candidates and the amounts they were supposed to receive in donations.

Yes, a law is a law, and if DeLay broke it, he should be punished for breaking it. But campaign-finance laws are inherently repressive of free speech, so part of me wants DeLay to get off. And I'm hoping that McCain-Feingold and all of its ilk at the State level will be eviscerated in the 2005-6 term of the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court has granted certiorari in Vermont Republican State Committee v. Sorrell, described by SCOTUSblog as a "challenge[] to expenditure limits imposed by Vermont campaign finance laws." (For more, go here.)

But I will not be sorry if the campaign-finance scandal ends DeLay's political career. I have no sympathy for a senior Republican (or any other politican) who can say what DeLay said about funding disaster relief. This from The Washington Times:
House Majority Leader Tom DeLay said yesterday that Republicans have done so well in cutting spending that he declared an "ongoing victory," and said there is simply no fat left to cut in the federal budget.
Mr. DeLay was defending Republicans' choice to borrow money and add to this year's expected $331 billion deficit to pay for Hurricane Katrina relief. Some Republicans have said Congress should make cuts in other areas, but Mr. DeLay said that doesn't seem possible.
"My answer to those that want to offset the spending is sure, bring me the offsets, I'll be glad to do it. But nobody has been able to come up with any yet," the Texas Republican told reporters at his weekly briefing.
Asked if that meant the government was running at peak efficiency, Mr. DeLay said, "Yes, after 11 years of Republican majority we've pared it down pretty good."
Balderdash! Hogwash! Bilge!

It's time for Republicans to get back to basics: spending cuts to match tax cuts, then more tax cuts and more spending cuts, for as long as it takes to get Congress back to its enumerated powers under Article I, Section 8, of the Constitution of the United States.

And don't be fooled by the "general welfare clause" in the first sentence of Section 8. Here's why:

In his last act before leaving [the presidency], Madison vetoed a bill for "internal improvements," including roads, bridges, and canals:

"Having considered the bill...I am constrained by the insuperable difficulty I feel in reconciling this bill with the Constitution of the United States...The legislative powers vested in Congress are the...Constitution, and it does not appear that the power proposed to be exercised by the bill is among the enumerated powers..." [1]

Madison rejected the view of Congress that the General Welfare Clause justified the bill, stating:

"Such a view of the Constitution would have the effect of giving to Congress a general power of legislation instead of the defined and limited one hitherto understood to belong to them, the terms 'common defense and general welfare' embracing every object and act within the purview of a legislative trust."
(Source: Wikipedia)
Related posts:

The Erosion of the Constitutional Contract (03/23/04)
Unintended Irony from a Few Framers (06/05/04)
An Agenda for the Supreme Court (06/29/05)
What Is the "Living Constitution"? (08/23/05)

The Legality of Teaching Intelligent Design: Part II

A few days ago I wrote about a debate between Francis Beckwith and Douglas Laycock over at Legal Affairs Debate Club. Their topic: "Is Teaching Intelligent Design Illegal?" I concluded with this:
A fundamental illegality occurs when a public-school teacher is barred by law from teaching about a possible explanation for the existence of life. As it also says in the First Amendment: "Congress [and, by extension, all governmental bodies] . . . shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech. . . ." It seems to me that a general proscription by any legislative body or court of the teaching of intelligent design as a possibility would be in violation of the First Amendment.
Laycock's latest entry in the debate nevertheless includes this observation:
Religious students can believe what they want about God's role in directing or even bypassing natural explanations. The Constitution protects all such beliefs, but they are not scientific beliefs, and they are not beliefs that can be taught—or opposed—in the public schools. The science course can teach only the best available natural explanation; it must leave all questions about supernatural explanations to the private sector.
In sum, freedom of speech on the subject of evolution comes down to this: If it isn't science, it can't be taught. Says who? Several months ago, in "Going Too Far with the First Amendment," I wrote this:
Think of the fine mess we'd be in if the courts were to rule against the teaching of intelligent design not because it amounts to an establishment of religion but because it's unscientific. That would open the door to all sorts of judicial mischief. The precedent could -- and would -- be pulled out of context and used in limitless ways to justify government interference in matters where government has no right to interfere.

It's bad enough that government is in the business of funding science -- though I can accept such funding wheere it actually aids our defense effort. But, aside from that, government has no business deciding for the rest of us what's scientific or unscientific. When it gets into that business, you had better be ready for a rerun of the genetic policies of the Third Reich.
Aside from advancing us down the slippery slope toward absolute statism, the argument that schools should be in the business of teaching only that which courts deem "scientific" is nothing short of fatuous. If schools were in the business of teaching only scientifically valid lessons in government, history, and economics, most of the textbooks that praise government intervention in the economic and social order would have to be burned, for there is abundant evidence of the wrongness of such teachings.

I'll make a deal with Laycock and his band of merry pseudo-scientists: I'll let you ban the teaching of ID in public schools if you'll let me reciprocate by banning the teaching of socialism in public schools.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

A Belated Anniversary

September 16 marked the 60th anniversary of the death of John McCormack:
John McCormack (14 June 1884 - 16 September 1945), was a world-famous Irish tenor in the fields of opera and popular music, and renowned for his flawless diction and superb breath control. . .
. . . and for his silvery, lyrical voice.

Here he is singing, appropriately, "Goodbye" by Francesco Paolo Tosti.

Thoughts That Liberals Should Be Thinking

If women are the same as men, except for certain anatomical features, there's no reason to favor women candidates for office because they might possess more "compassion."

If a woman's place is outside the home, whose place is inside the home, where children need the kind of moral education best given by a parent?

Excluding the inculcation of immoral socialistic ideals, public schools cannot venture very far into moral guidance without offending someone's "sensibilities." Nor can public schools enforce moral guidance with a quick swat.

And what's wrong with a quick swat as a way of imprinting a moral lesson? It's a lot more effective than "Joshua, I'm telling you for the last (100th) time not to do that."

If the black poor are poor because they've been "kept down" by discrimination, then affirmative action isn't of much use to them, except as a way of victimizing whites. (Moral lesson: Two wrongs don't make a right.)

If the black poor are poor in spite of generations of welfare programs aimed at them, perhaps the problem is that such programs have created a form of dependency that destroys initiative.

If, as Thomas Sowell argues, "black" (redneck) culture is largely responsible for both the perpetuation of black poverty and racial prejudice, doesn't that make a strong case for "acting white" instead of clinging to a culture that isn't even authentically "black"?

And where's the "compassion" for poor, inner-city blacks when they cannot obtain a better education through school vouchers because of resistance to vouchers by their own "educators" and white "liberals" in adjacent suburbs?

If it's good to have racial and ethnic diversity in housing and jobs, why isn't it good to have intellectual diversity (a.k.a. free speech) on campuses?

Homosexuality has driven many Catholic priests to molest boys. The Church wants to protect boys by banning the ordination of homosexuals. Liberals must choose between their reflexive defense of homosexuals and their purported desire to protect children.

That purported desire should also cause them to rethink where they want mothers to spend their days and where they want children to go to school.

Monday, September 26, 2005

The Legality of Teaching Intelligent Design

Francis Beckwith of Right Reason has begun a debate with Douglas Laycock over at Legal Affairs Debate Club. Their topic: "Is Teaching Intelligent Design Illegal?" Laycock, in his reply to Beckwith's opening salvo, says
[i]t is entirely lawful for public school teachers to say we know much less about a natural explanation for the origins of life than about a natural explanation for the evolution of different species once life begins. But it would be an important additional step, sounding more in religion than in science, for the teacher to say that therefore, an intelligent designer must have created the first living things.
I understand the First Amendment's proscription of the establishment of religion. But I cannot for the life of me understand why it should be illegal for a public-school teacher to suggest that an intelligent designer might have created the first living things. Neither evolutionary theory nor any other branch of science can disprove the existence of an intelligent designer (or God, for that matter).

A fundamental illegality occurs when a public-school teacher is barred by law from teaching about a possible explanation for the existence of life. As it also says in the First Amendment: "Congress [and, by extension, all governmental bodies] . . . shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech. . . ." It seems to me that a general proscription by any legislative body or court of the teaching of intelligent design as a possibility would be in violation of the First Amendment.

Like a Fish in Water

A.O. Scott of The New York Times wants to prove that the myth of a liberal movie industry is dead. How? By citing two current box-office hits, Just Like Heaven and The Exorcism of Emily Rose, and a few other recent films that are putatively conservative or libertarian in outlook. In "Reading Hollywood, from Left to Right" (Sept. 25, 2005), Scott asserts that
the studios themselves, especially after the stunning success of Mel Gibson's independently financed "The Passion of the Christ," have tried to strengthen their connection with religious and social conservatives, who represent not only a political constituency but a large and powerful segment of the market.
All this tells me is that Hollywood is interested in making money, which is fair enough. (Unlike Hollywood hypocrites who make big money with movies that criticize making big money, I don't begrudge the money Hollywood makes.) But Scott's assertion says nothing about the determinedly Leftish politics of most Hollywood stars and big-wigs.

Scott's evidence for the demise of Leftism in Hollywood is the supposed pro-life stance of Just Like Heaven, which apparently has a slapstick finale; an appeal to open-mindedness about religion, which is evidently the message to be taken from The Exorcism. . . ; Mel Gibson's surprisingly successful The Passion of the Christ, which I recall being anathema to Hollywood before it became a hit; and a rather dumb action-hero animation known as The Incredibles, which I found to be an inferior version of Superman, Captain Marvel, and Batman comic books. And that's about it, out of the hundreds of movies churned out by Hollywood and the so-called independent studios in the past few years.

Scott's problem is that, like most liberals, he can't see the liberalism that surrounds him because it's his natural milieu. He's like a fish in water who has been shocked by a small infusion of additional oxygen. It's not enough to affect his environment significantly, but it causes a brief spasm of alarm.

The Pro-Peace Faction Answers Back

Christopher Hitchens unmasks phony peaceniks in an eloquent piece at Slate: "Anti-War, My Foot." A widow of the war gets to to the heart of the matter:
"I would like to say to Cindy Sheehan and her supporters: Don't be a group of unthinking lemmings," said Mitzy Kenny of Ridgeley, W.Va., whose husband died in Iraq last year. She said the anti-war demonstrations "can affect the war in a really negative way. It gives the enemy hope."
The road to peace, regrettably, is sometimes through war.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Hurricanes and Global Warming

Two charts to reckon with, from BBC News online:

Friday, September 23, 2005

The FEC and Bloggers: Stay Tuned

McQ of QandO says: "In between the bookend hurricanes, the FEC still has bloggers in its focus." In the linked story, Federal Election Commission vice-chairman Michael Toner
argued that political activity on the Internet fails to meet the campaign finance law's threshold to stop corruption or the appearance of corruption. Toner urged Congress to pass a law that pre-empts the court's action and ensures that the Internet remains exempt from campaign finance rules.
Scott E. Thomas, the FEC [chairman], said his agency's original exemption for the Internet was a mistake and the FEC should come up with rules for Internet campaign ads in light of the $14 million spent on Internet ads in the 2004 campaign.

Thomas said Congress should hold off on any legislation until the FEC acts.

Another commissioner, Ellen Weintraub, said the agency preferred a "less is more" approach.

"This is appropriate because the focus of the FEC is campaign finance," she said. "We are not the speech police."

Glad to hear it, but the FEC is currently acting under an order from U.S. District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, which struck down the FEC regulations that had allowed those advertising on the Internet to avoid many of the requirements of McCain-Feingold. And so, if the judge has her way and you say anything positive about a candidate, or negative about the candidate's opponent, you might be found to have given a campaign contribution in kind to the candidate. Then the FEC could have its way with you.

Thanks a bunch, judge. Also thanks a bunch to U.S. Reps. Christopher Shays and Marty Meehan, who brought the suit against the FEC, and to those great defenders of freedom of speech, Sens. John McCain and Russ Feingold, who filed an amicus brief in support of Shays and Meehan. What those paragons of liberty and their brethren in Congress want is for all of us to shut up, because silence favors incumbents.

What should happen is this: When the U.S. Supreme Court has its full complement of justices, some persons with standing (bloggers among them) would file a challenge McCain-Feingold. The challenge by Senator Mitch McConnell failed in part because he was deemed to lack standing, but it failed mainly because of the Court's balance. Chief Justice Rehnquist wasn't a wholly reliable support of free speech; Justice O'Connor is even less so. Two new justices, Roberts and ?, could swing the balance back toward freedom of speech.

But no matter how it comes out, they'll have to pry this blog from my cold, dead hands.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

A Concession, of Sorts

I voted for George W. Bush in 2000 and again in 2004. I now conclude that my preference for Bush is vindicated by perhaps as few as five things, the first four of which haven't panned out as well as expected:
  • the vigorous military response to 9/11, including the strategically wise if tactically flawed invasion of Iraq
  • the effort to reduce taxes, in the vain hope of choking off non-defense spending -- a hope that he, himself, has helped to shatter
  • the effort to begin privatizing Social Security, which was strategically wise and tactically botched
  • some reduction in the rate of expansion of the Code of Federal Regulations.
The fifth thing is Bush's nomination of John Roberts to be Chief Justice, because Roberts seems to be dedicated to the primacy of the Constitution, though he says bothersome things about the "respect" owed precedent.

I am hopeful about the choice of Roberts, but I had high hopes about Bush's ability to prosecute the war in Iraq, his resolve to cut spending, his ability to sell some form of Social Security privatization, and his willingness to roll back the regulatory state.

I will therefore reserve judgment about the appointment of Roberts until it is certain that Roberts is dedicated to the Constitution and -- in spite of his declarations to the Senate Judiciary Committee -- can find ways to work around precedents that have undermined the Constitution.

That's all I can find to say in Bush's favor at this stage of his presidency. The man is smarter than his enemies like to portray him, but he is far more "political" and far less principled about the proper role of government than I had expected him to be. He is turning out to be his father's son.

The Supreme Court: Our Last, Best Hope for a Semblance of Liberty

In the second postscript to this post I reaffirm my conviction that government "could not have done as well as private citizens and business owners, had they been allowed to keep their tax dollars and use them to prepare for and recover from Katrina." I then list several related posts. All of which, if read by anyone from Center to Left, would draw a retort along these lines: "How is a bunch of individuals going to deal with something as massive as a natural disaster. Only government can do things like that, and do them efficiently." Or "There are just some things that people can't be trusted to do for themselves."

It's precisely that kind of thinking which has brought us to where we are today: in the grip of the regulatory-welfare state, which has made us immensely less prosperous than we could be. Free-market capitalism, which is how individuals cooperatively make wise and fruitful decisions -- when they are allowed to do so -- has been brought to heel by legislators, executives, judges, and regulators.

A central rationale for the regulatory-welfare state, of course, is the notion that government should do things people can't be "trusted" to do for themselves. There is the paternalistic assumption that someone else knows better than you how you should run your life. Paternalists are blind to the opportunity cost of paternalism, which is that when someone else makes your decisions for you, you are less able and less likely to make good decisions for yourself.

The paternalistic assumption, in other words, becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. When government makes certain decisions for you (e.g., by providing "free" education and a sort of retirement program) and then charges you for the privilege, you are in a double bind. You are herded toward or forced into certain government programs, which may fall far short of meeting your needs. But because of the taxes and fees you pay to support those government programs, you are left with less money. Thus you may be unable to afford the better alternatives provided by markets -- where markets are allowed to provide alternatives, at all.

Paternalism on the part of the central government supposedly is curbed by the enumeration of Congress's powers in the U.S. Constitution, which enumeration has long since become an irrelevancy. In any event, when it comes to paternalism, State and local governments are always ready to pick up any slack left by the central government. The end of Lochner-era substantive due process (defended quite nicely, here) effectively unshackled State and local governments, which can now justify almost anything as a "compelling governmental interest." And, if they can't, the U.S. Supreme Court can continue to manufacture other excuses for paternalism, as majorities of its members did this year in Raich and Kelo.

So, where does it all end? Unless the U.S. Supreme Court is turned around fairly quickly, I think it ends in the continued expansion of state control of what should be private conduct; for example:
  • Laws against certain "hateful" forms of expression.
  • Detailed regulation of Internet content, under the rubric of McCain-Feingold and the Commerce Clause.
  • More and more bans on the use of tobacco in so-called public places, and even in private clubs and homes.
  • Further reliance on regulation rather than property rights and free markets to control products and activities that might affect the environment.
  • Further interference with the actions of institutions that are private and voluntary (e.g., a holding that the Catholic Church's impending ban on the ordination of gay priests violates "equal protection").
  • More government interventions that undermine the shreds of our barely civil and self-regulating society (e.g., approval of involuntary euthanasia, requiring employers to put "partners" on a par with heterosexual spouses).
  • The creation of ever more massive bureaucracies to deal with "problems" that the central government (at least) shouldn't be involved in (e.g., the creation of a "disaster czar").
I could pile it on, as could many of you. But the drift is obvious. God save the U.S. Supreme Court, for it may be our last line of defense against total statism.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

A Challenge to My Senators

I'm about to send the following message to Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn of Texas:

The Honorable Kay Bailey Hutchison/John Cornyn
United States Senate
Congress of the United States
Washington, D.C.

Dear Senator Hutchison/Cornyn:

I'm writing to you about Hurricane Rita, which may soon strike a devastating blow to Texas. As you know, President Bush has said that the federal government will pick up the tab for rebuilding in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. That tab is estimated to be about $200 billion, or around $700 per American. I hope that the $700 will be funded by cutting "pork" and other unnecessary government spending, as President Bush has suggested.

So, in spite of the prospect of grievous damage to homes and businesses in Texas -- and in the expectation that persons who live near the Texas Gulf Coast will evacuate inland -- I hope that Hurricane Rita leads to the following results:

1. The President should call for the uninsured damage to be defrayed by taxpayers, as before.

2. The cost of Rita will lead to additional cuts in unnecessary federal spending.

3. This will continue as additional hurricanes and other unavoidable natural disasters occur, depleting all unnecessary federal spending for FY2006, and perhaps beyond.

4. Congress, then facing the prospect of evolving into a sort of disaster-relief agency with the power to appropriate funds, will resist any further spending on disaster relief, by issuing the following joint resolution:

WHEREAS, the legislative power of the Congress of the United States is limited by Article I, Section 8, of the Constitution of the United States, and

WHEREAS, said Section does not contemplate the provision of disaster preparedness or relief, notwithstanding previous and erroneous interpretations of the Commerce, General Welfare, and Necessary and Proper Clauses of the Constitution, and

WHEREAS, Congress shall therefore no longer be a party to disaster-preparedness and disaster-relief programs that have the effect of encouraging and subsidizing the maintenance of residences and businesses in high-risk areas, and

WHEREAS, such encouragement imposes undue burdens on those persons who sensibly choose not to live in high-risk areas, and

WHEREAS, persons and businesses who choose to live and operate in high-risk areas should be responsible for protecting and insuring themselves and their property, and

WHEREAS, when persons and businesses do not take responsibility for themselves they make economically inefficient decisions that have ramifications for the well-being of all Americans, in addition to the direct costs of disaster preparedness and disaster relief, and

WHEREAS, the functions of disaster preparedness and relief can be provided more effectively and at lower cost through private insurance (if properly deregulated); other cooperative, market-based measures; and private charity, and

WHEREAS, government programs absorb funds that individuals and business could put to better use in such private endeavors, and

WHEREAS, the defense of Americans and their property from armed attacks is a legitimate function of the United States government, therefore

BE IT RESOLVED that from this day forward Congress shall not appropriate or make any other provision for disaster preparedness or disaster relief, except as necessary in the event of attacks upon the persons and/or property of American citizens by enemies of the United States, foreign or domestic.

Liberty Corner

Enough of Altruism

These are excerpts of a very long post at Liberty Corner II, where my longest posts reside.

A while back I posted "Redefining Altruism," in which I said:
Altruism is defined as "the quality of unselfish concern for the welfare of others." . . . A better definition of altruism would go like this:
Altruism is the quality of concern for the welfare of others, as evidenced by action. An altruistic act is intended, necessarily, to satisfy the moral imperatives of the person performing the act, otherwise it would not be performed. The self-interestedness of an act altruism does not, however, detract in the least from the value of such an act to its beneficiary or beneficiaries. By the same token, an act that may not seem to arise from a concern for the welfare of others may nevertheless have as much beneficial effect as a purposely altruistic act.
There is no essential difference between altruism, defined properly, and the pursuit of self-interest, even if that pursuit does not "seem" altruistic. In fact, the common belief that there is a difference between altruism and the pursuit of self-interest is one cause of (excuse for) purportedly compassionate but actually destructive government intervention in human affairs.
Don Watkins III of Anger Management had much to say about my post, including this:
Thomas is defending psychological egoism: the view that all actions are selfish, because the fact that a person chooses to do something shows that he valued it more than the other options available to him. He then uses this premise to try to reconcile altruism and self-interest. . . .
I am not defending psychological egoism, nor am I trying to reconcile psychological egoism and altruism. I reject the concept of psychological egoism because it's just a label for behavior that seems to involve a "gain," as Don would have it. I similarly reject the concept of altruism because it's just a label for behavior that seems to involve a "loss," as Don puts it. The problem with trying to separate egoism and altruism is that a person's behavior arises from a single human mind. One cannot accept a "loss" without considering (even for a subconscious instant) the potential "gain," and vice versa. . . .

Let me make it clear that Don's post isn't a defense of altruism but of the concept of altruism against my denial that there is such a thing as altruism. In the essay linked to by Don, Rand makes it clear that she has no use for altruism. . . .

Rand gives altruism a life of its own -- makes an evil totem of it -- in order to oppose it. And that is where Don goes wrong: He insists that there is a separately identifiable thing called altruism. I am surprised that an Objectivist adheres to the notion that there is such a thing, for, as Rand says, "Reality exists as an objective absolute -- facts are facts, independent of man's feelings, wishes, hopes or fears." . . .

The implication of calling another person's act a "sacrifice" is that someone can get into that person's mind and determine whether the act was a gain or a loss for the person. I say that someone must be able to get into the person's mind because I don't know how else you one determines whether or not an act is altruistic unless (a) one takes the person's word for it or (b) one assembles a panel of judges, each of whom holds up a card that says "altruistic" or "selfish" upon the completion of an a particular act. . . .

My argument rests on the proposition that human actions are, by definition, driven by the service of personal values, which come to us in many and mysterious (but not supernatural) ways. As a consequentialist, I prefer to look at results, not motivations. ("The road to hell," and all that.) I eschew terms like altruism and egoism because they imply that a given result is somehow better if it's "properly" motivated. A result is a result. What matters, to me, is whether the result advances liberty or infringes on it. What matters to others may be something else entirely. . . .


Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Economics for Real People

From Arnold Kling:
[I]n the case of economics, the academy has been more or less hijacked by mathematicians who want economics to masquerade as engineering.
Mathematical economics overlays a false precision on an unconcern for flesh-and-blood reality.

A Challenge to My U.S. Representative

The text of the following message is exactly as I sent it to my U.S. Representative. I was inspired to write this by N.Z. Bear's porkbusting project. (I've since updated this post, and my message to Rep. McCaul, to get my arithmetic right. I guess I was stunned by the size of the "pork" bill.)

The Honorable Michael T. McCaul
Representative for the 10th District of Texas
United States Congress

Dear Mr. McCaul:

President Bush said in his nationally televised speech last Thursday night that the federal government will pick up most of the cost of rebuilding in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Then, speaking at the White House on Friday afternoon, President Bush said that although rebuilding the Gulf Coast would be expensive, he was "confident we can handle it and our other priorities." He said the government will "have to cut unnecessary spending" and should not raise taxes.

That leads me to three observations and a request. First, if the federal government is going to pick up the tab for Katrina (presumably the uninsured damage), that's likely to set a bad precedent for the owners of homes and businesses in other high-risk areas, who will be tempted to skimp on insurance and let the rest of the nation insure them, through taxation. Second, if the federal budget includes $200 billion in unnecessary spending (a mighty low estimate, in my opinion), that $200 billion shouldn't be in the budget in the first place. Third, neverthless, if the federal government is to provide something like $200 billion in aid to the victims of Hurricane Katrina, without raising taxes, members of Congress from all states must be willing to give up some of the "pork" that's scheduled for their districts.

Here, then, is my request. Please identify -- and volunteer for elimination from the FY2006 federal budget -- enough "pork" from the 10th Congressional District of Texas to eliminate our district's "fair share" of unnecessary spending. If you can't find all of it in "pork," find it in the federal government's non-defense operations. If each district were to offer up $500 million in "pork" and other cuts, that would amount to $200 billion, plus some spare change. The pork shouldn't be too hard to find. I went to the website for Citizens Against Government Waste (, scrolled to "Reports" in the navigation bar, clicked on "Pig Book," then clicked on "2005," and came to a page where I selected "Texas" and "all appropriations," and entered "Austin" as my keyword. That produced a list of projects (for Austin alone) which garnered $13.252 million of federal funding in FY2005. The "pork" bill for the entire 10th District for FY2006 must be much larger than that. Surely the residents of the 10th District -- most of whom are like me and do not benefit from "pork" -- should be willing to surrender their "pork" and any other unnecessary government spending for the sake of hurricane victims.

Be a leader. Be a fiscally responsible Republican. Show your colleagues in Congress that your constituents are willing to cough up their "pork" -- and more besides -- to set an example for the rest of the country to follow.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Why Government Spending Is Inherently Inflationary

Note that the title of this post doesn't say "only deficit spending is inherently inflationary," which is the prevalent conception among laypersons, commentators, and even many economists. In the interest of keeping the preceding post from being any longer that it is, I glossed over the relationship between government spending, deficits, and inflation. This post fills the gap.

That government spending is inherently inflationary can be shown by the following first-order approximation of its effects, in the case where government spending is "financed" by taxes:
  • Suppose the GDP of the United States would be, as it is today, about $12 trillion in the absence of all government. (Actually, as I show here, GDP would be a lot more than today's $12 trillion in the absence of government -- defense and justice, excepted -- but I'm giving government some benefit of the doubt in this example.)
  • Suppose government arrives on the scene one fine day and says: "You Americans need our services, so we're going to tax you $2 trillion in order to provide things that we want you to have." A few of those things -- such as defense and justice -- will be worth something to almost everyone. Some of those things will be valued only by persons who want someone else to pay for them. Most of those things will be heavily regulatory and thus will detract from GDP. To assume, as I do in this example, that the $2 trillion is effectively thrown away is to be generous to government.
  • Government's edict has the same effect as if the producers of $2 trillion worth of valuable goods and services walk off the job. (More accurately, it's as if they walk off the job and begin to vandalize homes and businesses.) Only, in this case, government entices them off the job with $2 trillion in "tax dollars." But the the taxes are an illusion.
  • When the producers of $2 trillion worth of real output walk off the job, at the behest of government, it is as if government were destroying real output. But government pretends that it's producing $2 trillion worth of real output, so (1) it levies taxes for government services, most of which taxes fall on the productive sector, and (2) it pays producers of government services from those taxes.
  • But the producers of real output know what's happening, so they raise prices by enough to compensate for the taxes they're paying. And government collects those "empty dollars" in the form of taxes. Why are those tax dollars "empty"? Because they don't represent real output, government having destroyed the same by enticing producers out of the real economy.
  • In sum, government pays the producers of government services in "empty dollars," which those producers then try to spend on real output.And so we have $12 trillion chasing $10 trillion worth of real goods and services.
That's real inflation. No deficit spending necessary. And it happens every time government finds a way to widen the gap between what the productive sector could produce and what it actually produces, after government has worked its will.

What if government were to borrow the $2 trillion instead of raising taxes by $2 trillion? Borrowing doesn't change the outcome, just the way we get there. It's still as if the producers of $2 trillion worth of valuable goods and services walk off the job. Only, in this case, government entices them off the job with $2 trillion that it calls "borrowing" instead of "taxes." Again, if the producers of $2 trillion simply walk off the job, that leaves a real GDP worth $10 trillion. This time, however, the producers of that output don't raise prices to compensate for taxes; they raise prices to capture the $2 trillion that government puts in the hands of producers of government services. The result is as before.

Here's another way to look at it: Taxation results in supply-side inflation, as producers of real output raise prices to compensate for taxes; borrowing results in demand-side inflation, as producers of real output raise prices as government injects new money into the system.

What about the "crowding out" effect of government borrowing on private, growth-inducing investment? Here's the real story:
  • When government enters financial markets for additional funds, that raises the demand for money. The usual result would be higher interest rates, which would tend to dampen private investment and consumption to some degree.
  • However, when government borrows instead of raising taxes it leaves nominal dollars in the hands of the private sector. Some of those dollars flow into financial markets, thus increasing the supply of money.
The precise net effect depends on the marginal propensity to save, and on the elasticity of investment and consumption with respect to interest rates. But it seems likely that the net effect of government borrowing is close to zero. As I wrote here:

The actual effect of government borrowing on interest rates -- and thus on the cost of private capital formation -- is minuscule, and perhaps nonexistent, as Brian S. Westbury explains:

The theory [that deficits drive up interest rates] suggests that deficits "crowd out" private investment, putting upward pressure on interest rates. In other words, government borrowing eats up the available pool of capital. But today's forecasted deficits of $300 to $500 billion are just a small drop in the pool of global capital markets. In the U.S. alone, capital markets are $30 trillion dollars deep, for the world as a whole they approach $100 trillion. Deficits of the size projected in the years ahead cannot possibly have the impact on interest rates that many fear....

The next time someone tells your that taxes should be raised in order to be "fiscally responsible" and to stem the tide of inflation, tell him this: Government spending is inherently irresponsible because it reduces real output. And government spending is inherently inflationary, not matter how it's financed.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Debt Hysteria, Revisited

Recently I had a long and unproductive exchange with a blogger, an evident "gold bug," who insisted on making a big deal of these factoids:
Dallas Morning News columnist Scott Burns wrote June 1 that the government's debt is actually "a mind-numbing $43 trillion. . . ."

Burns said the Federal Reserve has put the net worth of all U.S. households at just $40.6 trillion. . . .

Dr. Kent Smetters [an economist on a Treasury Department project], testified before a subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee, Burns wrote.

Smetters told the subcommittee: "The government reports that the national debt in 2003 was about $3.6 trillion in the form of government 'debt held by the public.' But that number ignores massive imbalances in Medicare and Social Security programs and the government's other programs.

"When the liabilities associated with those programs are taken into account, the nation's fiscal policy is currently off-balance by over $43.4 trillion in present value, a number that is not reported in standard budget documents," he told the subcommittee. . . .
The hysterical blogger thereupon concluded that "we" are bankrupt because "our" debt outstrips "our" net worth. As I tried to explain to the hysterical blogger, the $43 trillion is not debt "we" (householders) owe today, it's an estimate of the present (discounted) value of future, unfunded obligations of the U.S government. Only about 1/6 of that amount is now on the government's books (the current, gross federal debt). The rest won't become a legal obligation unless and until the government is required to borrow money because future outlays exceed future revenues.

Let me elaborate: $43 trillion is an estimate of the present (discounted) value of debt the U.S. government might eventually owe, given certain projections about revenues and spending (including spending on entitlement programs such as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid). Those projections might prove to be wrong, either because of (1) cuts from projected entitlement benefits (which wouldn't mean cuts in actual benefits, as benefits are scheduled to become more generous), (2) increases in the taxes that partially underwrite those benefits, or (3) some combination of the two. The same is true for government's general accounts (the ones that fund actual government operations as opposed to transfer payments), which also are subject to future changes in spending and taxes.

But let's assume that all of the projections will come to pass, so that the discounted value of future government spending less future taxes is in fact $43 trillion. Does that somehow mean we are bankrupt or on the verge of bankruptcy? No it does not. Consider this example: Mr. & Mrs. X apply for a mortgage loan. Based on their current family income of $100,000, the lender gives them a $250,000 loan to buy a house. Now, I know that the loan becomes a real, current obligation (unlike the $43 trillion), but bear with me. The loan doesn't bankrupt Mr. & Mrs. X; otherwise, the bank wouldn't give them the loan. The loan doesn't bankrupt Mr. & Mrs. X because the lender is pretty certain, based on the couple's employment history and prospects, that the couple is going to keep making $100,000 a year, and more.

How does that relate to the $43 trillion? The $43 trillion includes today's federal debt (which already is being serviced) plus a stream of projected future deficits of, let's say, $1 trillion a year. Now, I don't like that extra $1 trillion a year any more than anyone else (except liberals, to whom I'll come). My reason for not liking it is this: It is part (and only a small part) of a massive redistribution of resources by government; taking from those who are productive and either pouring the resources down ratholes or giving the resources to people who haven't earned them. Regardless of that, Americans can "afford" the extra $1 trillion a year because they're now making about $12 trillion a year (GDP), less federal, state, and local taxes (excluding transfer payments) of $2+ trillion a year. So, like Mr. & Mrs. X, we taxpayers can afford the annual "mortgage" payment (the additional $1 trillion a year) from future income (GDP), so we're a good credit risk. Or, rather, the U.S. government is a good credit risk because it can always tap into our pockets by raising taxes.

That brings me to the question whether the U.S. government's debt can continue to grow, and at what rate. I addressed that question at length in an earlier post on "debt hysteria"; for example:
Because individuals and institutions are quite willing to lend money to the federal government, it can keep piling up debt indefinitely. In fact the federal government has been able to increase its debt almost continuously since opening for business. From January 1, 1791, to April, 19, 2004, the federal debt rose at an average annual rate of 5.5%. During that period, the debt reached a low of $33,733.05 on January 1, 1835. From then until April 19, 2004, the debt rose at an average annual rate of 11.3%. That's a much greater rate of increase than we've experienced recently or expect to experience in the next several years.

What about those future generations? Well, future generations not only "inherit" the debt, they also inherit an offsetting asset. If you lend the government $10,000 by buying a 10-year Treasury note, and you keep rolling the note over (that is, buying a new 10-year note when the old one matures), the note eventually will pass to your heirs.

Future generations of taxpayers also inherit an obligation to pay interest on the federal debt. But those same future generations receive the interest that is being paid.
What about debt service? It comes down to the same thing. One person's interest payment is another person's income. The interest rate on the government's debt does fluctuate, but that's due less to the size of the debt than to conditions in credit markets. U.S government debt, as large as it is, is a small component of global capital markets -- currently less than 10 percent. (There's a relevant chart about interest on the debt in this post by The Skeptical Optimist.)

What about those "foreigners" who hold U.S. government debt? There is the notion that, by holding our debt, foreigners have a "hold" over us. How so? It hurts them if U.S. debt loses value. Foreigners have absolutely no incentive to "dump" U.S. debt unless financial markets already have signaled that it's losing value, or unless they get wind of a sudden, unanticipated change in America's economic picture. The $43 trillion isn't such a change; it's long been anticipated by financial markets. In any event, given the liquidity of U.S. government securities, there is scant room for speculative attacks on those securities. If any large investor were "dumping" U.S. debt, in the absence of new information, that would be the investor's loss because the investor would be driving down the value of its own holdings. The value of those holdings would return to something like their former levels once the investor had finished its "dumping," thus rewarding the buyers with windfall profits.

Variations in the price of U.S. government debt depend mainly on inflationary expectations for the U.S. vis-a-vis other countries. Inflationary expectations and trade deficits also influence exchange rates, and exchange rates play back into the price of debt. We've been through periods of high inflation, high interest rates, large trade deficits, and low exchange rates at varying times, and we'll go through them again. Today we have relatively low (but rising) inflation, and relatively low (but rising) interest rates, a persistently large trade deficit (willingly financed by foreigners), and therefore a falling exchange rate. But all of that can and will change as higher interest rates and lower exchange rates work their way through the economy, dampening investment and consumption spending and, therefore, imports.

Today is not forever. Doomsaying is an ancient and long-discredited profession. Remember the ten years between the "oil shocks" of the early 1970s and the end of double-digit inflation in the early 1980s? Remember the next 20 years of almost unmitigated economic growth with low inflation? Extrapolating from current economic conditions is a sucker's game, unless you bet on the underlying trend in the U.S., which is long-term economic growth.

Yes, we could go through a prolonged period of higher inflation and higher interest rates, but that doesn't mean the U.S. government won't be able to fund its debt. Someone always steps up to buy U.S. government debt, because it's so secure. And given the underlying strength of America's economy, which is the source of the U.S. government's good credit, someone always will buy U.S. government debt.

And now we come to the real problem: government spending. Whether government spending is financed by debt or taxes, it is a generally destructive force. Government spending (with some exceptions for defense and justice) results in the gross misuse of resources. And the ways in which Americans are taxed to fund government spending (which is still how most of it is funded) tends to penalize, and thus discourage, growth-inducing initiatives.

Let me say it again: The real problem isn't government debt, it's government spending. Government debt is the effect, not the cause; the symptom, not the disease. Our "leaders" in Washington obviously don't want to do anything to fight the disease; they're like terminal alcoholics who keep ordering triple shots.

It's up to libertarians and legitimate conservatives to make some real noise about government spending. Focusing on debt plays into liberals' hands because they've come around to "fiscal responsibility" -- their kind of fiscal responsibility: higher taxes to support higher spending.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Liberals and the Rule of Law

Liberals never quit. They defended Clinton because his "heart was in the right place" when it came to women, even though he was blatantly guilty of the anti-feminist sin of sexual predation. Republicans cried "rule of law," but Democrats weren't buying it, because Clinton -- the sexual predator -- was their man. In other words, liberals believe in neither the rule of law nor in any principle that can't be sacrificed to their agenda of the moment, whether it's keeping a law-breaking president in the White House or stealing an election by interpreting hanging chads.

Now comes Dahlia Lithwick of Slate to tell us why Judge John Roberts isn't fit to be Chief Justice:

All afternoon, witnesses have been testifying back and forth about John Roberts. His supporters call him brilliant and kind and diligent and principled. His detractors mostly say he doesn't get it. . . .

Back and forth the witnesses go—Roberts is great/Roberts doesn't get it—never really acknowledging that they are not disagreeing; that it's possible to be kind and smart and to believe in the rule of law and also not to get it.

Because the "it" in question has nothing to do with the rule of law. It's about something I might call "law-plus"—the idea that the rule of law, in and of itself, has not always made this country fair. . . .

John Roberts isn't a fan of law-plus. In fact, the unbounded nature of judicial power under law-plus is probably what drove him into the boiler room of the Reagan administration in the first place. Time and again he scolds the senators: If you want your statute to provide money damages, write it that way; if you want your legislation to implicate interstate commerce, write it that way. For Roberts, it is not the courts' responsibility to make statutes effective. It is not even the courts' responsibility to make the world fair. . . .

The problem isn't whether John Roberts can be principled and fair on a thoroughly passive court. I'm sold on that. It's whether a thoroughly passive court can ever truly be principled and fair.

In sum, the law be damned, just give us what we want and call it "fair."

Rejection of the rule of law, which is what Lithwick and her ilk openly propound, means that no one knows what the rules are and that government can do anything it wants. If a judge says it's right to take property away from homeowners and give it to developers, that's "fair." If a judge says that it's right to discriminate against white persons because they aren't black, that's "fair." Fair to whom? Fair to whomever liberals want to favor on any given day: Bill Clinton, developers, blacks upon whose votes they count, and on and on.

In the end, the liberal schema leaves all of us adrift, except for those in the inner circle, who are clued in from day to day as to what's considered fair. The rest of us -- black and white, rich and poor, rural and urban, religious and irreligious -- must muddle along wondering what twist the law is going to take today. Will it follow the Constitution and laws made pursuant to the Constitution, or will it veer off in a new direction, favoring the liberal community's cause du jour and leaving the rest of us in the lurch -- without the education for which we are qualified, without the job for which we are qualified, and without the home in which we had hoped to spend our remaining years.

If you don't like the law, get the legislature to change it, or get the legislature and the people to amend the constitutional meta-law. That's too hard for liberals, who prefer a "fair" judge who will simply change the law without the bother of legislating and amending. And why is that? Because liberals know that in many instances they wouldn't get what they want. And, guess what, that wouldn't be "fair."

You see, "fairness" is a shell game. And the owner of the game always wins. That's the liberal agenda. To win, and screw anyone who gets in the way. "Fairness" is fair only to liberals, and that's the way they want it.

So the next time a liberal tells you "it's only fair," ask "fair to whom?"

Senator Specter Abuses the Constitution

According to an article at The American Spectator (referring to a post at Mirror of Justice), Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania (chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee) asked this of Judge John Roberts:
When you talk about your personal views and, as they may relate to your own faith, would you say that your views are the same as those expressed by John Kennedy when he was a candidate, when he spoke to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association in September of 1960, quote, do not speak for my church on public matters and the church does not speak for me, close quote?
I believe that Senator Specter violated Article VI, Clause 3, of the U.S. Constitution, which states in part that
no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.
What was the senator's question, if not a religious test?

Dream On!

This is the car for me. It's a Bugatti Veyron 16.4, with a 16-cylinder engine capable of producing 1,001 horsepower. Estimated price tag? $1.24 million. I think I'll order one today.

The only glitch: Bugatti is now a VW marque. And VW has become synonymous with unreliability. So, I'll have to order two: one for the shop and one for the highway.

Will Congress Buy It?

Bush rules out a tax hike to cover the cost of rebuilding after Katrina:
The president said in a nationally televised speech Thursday night that the federal government will pick up most of the tab. Congress has already approved $62 billion in aid, and reconstruction costs are estimated to be at least $200 billion. . . .

Speaking at the White House Friday afternoon, Bush said that although rebuilding the Gulf Coast would be expensive, he was "confident we can handle it and our other priorities." He said the government will "have to cut unnecessary spending" and should not raise taxes.
That raises a few questions:
  • If the feds are going to pick up the tab for Katrina (presumably the uninsured damage), why not pay for everyone's uninsured damage? Why don't we all cancel our auto, homeowners, and umbrella liability policies and let the rest of the nation insure us through taxes? In fact, why not cancel all health insurance and let the federal government run the health-care system. Oops, sorry, I got carried away there.
  • If the federal budget includes $200 billion in unnecessary spending (a mighty low estimate, in my opinion), why is it in the budget in the first place? I know, I know, pork and bureuacratic empire-building. All essential, of course -- until it's unnecessary.
  • And will members of Congress from the States that were largely unaffected by Katrina stand by while Bush moves their pork to Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, and a few others? Do you believe in the tooth fairy?
Stand by for some kind of tax increase. Read my lips.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Enough of Amateur Critics


It's ludicrous that hundreds of pundits, thousands of politicians, and millions of citizens with little or no experience in the planning and direction of complex operations are judging the performance of various governments in the preparation for and aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. All that these uninformed pundits, politicians, and citizens could know for a fact is that a major hurricane hit an area that hadn't been hit by a stronger hurricane in 36 years. They could also know that Louisiana has been struck by lesser hurricanes about once every three years. And, finally, they could know (if they had been paying close attention to federal, state, and local machinations over many decades) that New Orleans was nevertheless ill-prepared for a major hurricane for many reasons that long predate the ascension of the current federal, state, and city administrations. Knowing only those facts (if they indeed know them), these "experts" nevertheless leap to the conclusion that "someone" must be to blame for this, that, and the other aspect of the disaster in New Orleans because, well, "someone" must be to blame.

I daresay that I know a lot more than most of the armchair critics about the planning and direction of complex operations. I have been immersed, at various times, in the planning and construction of a house, the planning and construction of major renovations and additions to a house, and -- of most relevance -- the design of and negotiation of a lease for a 200,000 square-foot office building. The office building was not just a partitioned shell, but one designed to incorporate state-of-the art modular furniture (not in cubicles, but in private offices), a variety of computing and telecommunications facilities, many special security features, conference facilities, food-preparation areas, libraries, and on and on. But that's not all. At the company for which I planned the office building, I also had a broader portfolio of responsibilities, including the provision of physical and information security, financial and contractual management, the operation of central and distributed computing services, and the administration of personnel services in compliance with an array of federal, state, and local laws and regulations.

Now, one of the main lessons that I learned from my years of planning and directing complex operations is the following: Success has many parents; failures and setbacks have but one, the person on the spot. Yet, the person on the spot almost never starts with a clean slate or gets to run in a clear field. The person on the spot always operates within many constraints (e.g., budgets, traditions, and expectations). The person on the spot can never anticipate every contingency (especially the contingency that disrupts a plan). And, no matter the competence of the person on the spot, it takes time, effort, and (often) additional resources to regroup when a plan has been disrupted by reality.

There may be obvious instances of incompetent performance in the aftermath of Katrina; Mayor Nagin, Governor Blanco, and former FEMA director Mike Brown are obvious candidates for Bumbler of the Year. But the armchair critics on the sidelines are looking beyond the obvious bumblers and second-guessing the performance of various government entities from nothing more than pure, unadulterated ignorance: ignorance of the long and complex history of political and budgetary bargains that led to the state of New Orleans's defenses against Katrina; ignorance of the political and budgetary bargains that led to the state of readiness on the part of various responders; ignorance of the difficulty of developing complex plans for events that will never unfold according to plan; ignorance of the hard fact that no plan survives "first contact with the enemy" (Katrina, in this case); ignorance of the amount of time, effort, and resources it takes to recover from the kinds of setbacks that are inevitable in a complex and chaotic operation; and, finally, ignorance of what was possible in the first place, given all of the foregoing complexities. Just to say that the preparations for and response to Katrina were inadequate -- which is about all that most of the second-guessers really have to say -- is, in a word, inadequate.

Well, I've had more than enough of second-guessers in my career. I got the job done in spite of them, but I long ago grew sick and tired of listening to them. So, I'll not waste any more of my time reading what the second-guessers have to say about Katrina. And, as qualified as I might be to second-guess the second-guessers, there'll be no more second-guessing from me, on this subject.

P.S. But, Columbo-like, I must add something on my way out. You've probably noticed that most of the armchair critics are animated by Bush-hate. That's a fact which trumps their laughable "expertise," which is on a par with William Jennings Bryan's expertise in evolution.

As for Bush, he is now apologizing for failures on the part of the feds, which is fair enough to the extent that there were actual failures to do the right thing when confronted with actual events and armed with the proper tools with which to respond to those events. But what's really going on, in my view, is that Bush is throwing his critics a crumb. He has nothing to lose by doing so (the haters will still hate him), and much to gain from those in the middle who will credit him for "taking responsibility" -- whatever that Clintonesque term means when one cannot be fired, fined, or jailed for one's actions.

P.P.S. Let me make it perfectly clear that I am not apologizing for the Bush administration, or any other government entity. I'm just explaining how it is that few -- if any -- of those who are bashing government's response to Katrina have any basis for doing so, other than a desire to seem appropriately wise and/or indignant. Moreover, though it might be possible for government to have done better than it has done, it could not have done as well as private citizens and business owners, had they been allowed to keep their tax dollars and use them to prepare for and recover from Katrina. For more on that score, see these posts:

Katrina's Aftermath: Who's to Blame?
"The Private Sector Isn't Perfect" (09/02/05)
A Modest Proposal for Disaster Preparedness (09/07/05)
No Mention of Opportunity Costs (09/08/05)
Whose Incompetence Do You Trust? (09/10/05)
An Open Letter to Michael Moore (09/13/05)

An Open Letter to Michael Moore

Hey Mikey,

I understand that you've written an open letter to all who voted for George W. Bush in 2004. Something about how Katrina is all Bush's fault -- from start to finish. Well, I guess you'd know about such things, if anyone does. After all, your resume is quite impressive. Among other things,
  • You've told the CEO of General Motors how to run his vast company, which is a tad bit more difficult than making movies.
  • You've revealed the widespread suppression of dissent in the country, which obviously has prevented you from making millions of dollars from your movies.
  • You've explained how America's bad karma -- which is so evident in the outpouring of donations and aid in the aftermath of Katrina -- has driven a few dozen high-school students to kill some of their fellow students.
  • Although you haven't explained how fundamentalist Islam's bad karma drove 19 young men to kill 3,000 Americans on a sunny morning in September, you have found a way to put the blame on the Bush family.
So, it's obvious that you know a lot about how the world works. In fact, you know so much that I've begun to wonder about your involvement in Katrina. Given your wealth, the combined wealth of your Lefty pals in Hollywood, and the immense wealth of Lefty sympathizers like George Soros, I think I know what happened.

You and your buddies didn't cause Hurricane Katrina. I don't think you're up to that task, yet. But you knew it was developing and knew precisely where it was headed, long before the National Weather Service did. So, you got to Mayor Noggin and Governor Blank-o and made it worth their while to screw up the evacuation of New Orleans and surrounding areas. (Governor Barbour of Mississippi couldn't be bought off, for obvious reasons, so you saved some bucks there.)

After the hurricane struck, and before everyone realized the full extent of the death and destruction it had caused, you got to CNN, NBC, ABC, CBS, and MSNBC and fed them the lie that Bush was responsible for the destruction of New Orleans because he piddled the money away in Iraq. (FoxNews couldn't be bought off, either, but five out of six ain't bad.) You also concocted the fable that poor blacks were disproportionately affected by Katrina because Bush doesn't care about blacks. That's all it took. Those stories had legs, man; now they're gospel in most quarters. And your pet pollsters are having a field day spinning the results.

So, Mikey, I have to hand it to you. Your deeply felt empathy for the "common man" has served him well. I mean, what's a few thousand deaths if that's what it takes to help open Americans' eyes to the evil that is Bush.

Of course, I'm sure you'll be well served, too. I can envision the title of your next hit movie: Farhrenheit 212: Bush in Hot (Flood) Water.

Yours in paranoia forever,

P.S. Are you still at the fat farm? It's a shame you got so grossly overweight. But I know it wasn't your fault, because you're not one of the stupid white guys. I remember when a younger George Bush forced those Big Macs down your throat. You were hooked for life, and it's all Bush's fault.

P.P.S. I see that CNN has a story in which every level of government is taking heat for what happened in New Orleans. You know what that means, of course. The big government that you love so much -- not the one that fights to defend your right to make a rather nice living, but the other one that thinks more money is always the answer, regardless of the question -- that big government is going to get bigger.

That's the American way, isn't it Mikey? Put all responsibility on government, praise it when it's in Democrat hands, blame it when it's in Republican hands, and keep on spending, no matter how much it screws up. It sure beats giving individuals back their tax money, along with the responsibility for choosing safe places to live or protecting themselves when they decide to live in unsafe places. (Oh, I almost forgot about the poor, untaxed people who are poor mostly because they've never been weaned from the government tit or who can't find jobs because taxation and regulation destroy jobs.)

Anyway, if you make people responsible for themselves they might do something stupid like getting grossly fat, as you did. But it wouldn't be their fault, of course. So, as long as we're going to have a federal czar for disaster-prevention-against-all-odds, instant-response-at-all-costs, and rebuilding-bigger-and-better-in-dangerous-places, we might as well have a federal czar for forcing-fat-boys-to-run-two-miles-a-day. How's that strike you?

Monday, September 12, 2005

September 11: A Postscript for "Peace Lovers"

Americans are targets simply because we're Americans. Our main enemy -- Osama bin Laden and his ilk -- chose to be our enemy long before 9/11, and long before you began marching for "peace in our time."

It doesn't matter to our main enemy whether you're an anarchist, crypto-anarchist, libertarian, fascist, Democrat, or Republican. Which "side" you choose doesn't matter to our main enemy -- unless you choose to be on his side as an active member of his terrorist team, or unless you elect a president who is likely to walk away from the fight. That's the choice he wants from you: to walk away from the fight.

The only ideology our main enemy values is fundamentalist Islam, and he would impose a fundamentalist Islamic state upon you if he could. But he may settle for the retreat of the United States from the Middle East. In that event, he would be in a position to disrupt that region's oil production, and you would become progressively poorer and ever more vulnerable to his threats of death and destruction.

If you think fighting for oil is "evil," try living with a lot less oil for the many years it would take to exploit domestic oil sources (if environmentalists will let us) and to develop substitutes for it. If you think that leaving the Middle East to its own devices would buy "peace in our time," put the face of Adolf Hitler on Osama bin Laden. It's not hard to do, is it?

Perhaps this is all too much for you. Perhaps you would simply like to declare your independence from the policies of the United States and declare to the world that your person and possessions are off-limits to attack. Do you think al Qaida will go to the trouble of putting a tracking device on you and exempting you from harm when it blows up the building or airplane you happen to be in?

Oh, but you just want peace. Well, I want peace, too, but a peace that's on my terms, not the enemy's. Tell me your plan for achieving a peace that isn't the peace of the grave. Tell me how you would deal with the reality that we have a vicious enemy who would impoverish us if he cannot enslave us. Tell me how marching for peace, instead of killing the enemy, advances the cause of a peace that's worth having.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Some Stats to Ponder

From TTLB's ecosystem report (number of inbound links in parentheses): (4200) details
2.Michelle Malkin (3308) details
3.Captain's Quarters (2488) details
4.Power Line (2437) details
5.Daily Kos: State of the Nation (2435) details
6.lgf: active anguish in a context of flux (2270) details
7.Boing Boing: A Directory of Wonderful Things (2245) details
8.Hugh Hewitt (1800) details
9.DRUDGE REPORT 2005® (1778) details
10.Wizbang (1722) details

Putting aside Boing Boing, which isn't a political blog, and Drudge, which is sort of a news site, seven of the eight most-linked blogs can be claimed by the conservative-libertarian camp. But Daily Kos, the only Leftist blog among the eight most-linked political blogs ranks first in traffic, whereas Wizbang (eighth of eight) ranks only 38th in traffic (from TTLB's ecotraffic report, link ranking in parentheses):

1) Daily Kos: State of the Nation 580069 visits/day (5)
2) Gizmodo: The Gadgets Weblog 230286 visits/day (89)
3) 138604 visits/day (1)
4) Gawker 136833 visits/day (162)
5) Eschaton 126234 visits/day (12)
6) Defamer, the L.A. Gossip Rag 117552 visits/day (317)
7) lgf: active anguish in a context of flux 97539 visits/day (6)
8) Go Fug Yourself 95870 visits/day (240)
9) Michelle Malkin 88491 visits/day (2)
10) Wonkette, Politics for People with Dirty Minds 68667 visits/day (45)
11) Power Line 66210 visits/day (4)
12) Crooks and Liars 61848 visits/day (75)
13) A Socialite's Life 52320 visits/day (2245)
14) 48976 visits/day (54)
15) The Washington Monthly 48151 visits/day (17)
16) Scared Monkeys 47599 visits/day (256)
17) Pink Is The New Blog | Fingers Firmly On The Pulse 43402 visits/day (1948)
18) The Smirking Chimp 43042 visits/day (616)
19) Riehl World View 38904 visits/day (424)
20) Hugh Hewitt 36317 visits/day (8)
21) Blog for America 33746 visits/day (1288)
22) - Daily Dish 33164 visits/day (24)
23) Captain's Quarters 26798 visits/day (3)
24) Lifehacker 25173 visits/day (420)
25) Drunken Stepfather :.:.:Vida Guerra Amateur Pictures:.:.:Vida Guerra Naked Pics:.:.: Cellphone Hack: 20679 visits/day (7851)
26) 18265 visits/day (64)
27) The Irish Trojan's blog - Brendan Loy's homepage 17765 visits/day (711)
28) BTF's Baseball Primer Blog 17681 visits/day (4619)
29) Jesus' General 17611 visits/day (129)
30) The Volokh Conspiracy - - 17582 visits/day (11)
31) Famous Recipes on World Famous Recipes - If you are looking for famous recipes then you came to the 17414 visits/day (9133)
32) Recipes - World Famous Recipes 17364 visits/day (615)
33) Confirm Them 17174 visits/day (1942)
34) 17174 visits/day (9929)
35) MyDD :: Due Diligence of Politics, Election Forecast & the World Today 16117 visits/day (130)
36) Drudge Retort: Red Meat for Yellow Dogs 16041 visits/day (4977)
37) Taegan Goddard's Political Wire 15909 visits/day (174)
38) Wizbang 15873 visits/day (10)

Other Leftist blogs also garner more traffic than several of the most-linked conservative-libertarian blogs. (You'll have to find the Lefties for yourself; I'm not going to mention any more of them by name.)

Why the discrepancy between the link rankings and the traffic rankings? Here's my hypothesis: Conservative-libertarian blogs get more links because they're considered more authoritative. Leftist blogs get more traffic because Lefties flock there, in search of reassurance for their views.

That hypothesis is consistent with the prevalance of vitriol-saturated posts and comments at Leftist blogs. Buzzards of a feather do flock together.

September 11: A Remembrance

When my wife and I turned on our TV set that morning, the first plane had just struck the World Trade Center. A few minutes later we saw the second plane strike. In that instant what had seemed like a horrible accident became an obvious act of terror.

Then, in the awful silence that had fallen over Arlington, Virginia, we could hear the "whump" as the third plane hit the Pentagon.

Our thoughts for the next several hours were with our daughter, whom we knew was at work in the adjacent World Financial Center when the planes struck the World Trade Center. Was her office struck by debris? Did she flee her building only to be struck by or trapped in debris? Had she smothered in the huge cloud of dust that enveloped lower Manhattan as the Twin Towers collapsed? Because telephone communications were badly disrupted, we didn't learn for several hours that she had made it home safely.

Our good fortune was not shared by tens of thousands of other persons: the grandparents, parents, brothers, sisters, husbands, wives, children, grandchildren, lovers, and good friends of the 3,000 who died that day in Manhattan, the Pentagon, and western Pennsylvania.

Never forgive, never forget, never relent.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Whose Incompetence Do You Trust?

So you think government is to be trusted to "get the job done"? Are you less certain, in the aftermath of Katrina? Well, even if you're not certain, you can bet that many other remain certain that government is still to be trusted, if it's given more money or put it in the hands of the right party. I think not.

FDR's administration might have foreseen the vastly expensive and intrusive central government that grew out of its anti-Depression efforts. But whether or not FDR's administration foresaw the regulatory-welfare state, its "experiments" on the American people shouldn't have been trusted.

FDR's administration wasn't to be trusted to foresee and prevent the attack on Pearl Harbor, when a successful defense of Pearl Harbor might have deterred the Japanese and hastened victory in Europe. (The U.S., rightly, would have at some point come to the aid of Great Britain.)

Truman's administration wasn't to be trusted to foresee and prevent the invasion of South Korea, which led to a costly and inconclusive war and demonstrated, for the first time, a lack of military resolve (Truman's willingness to accept the status quo ante). Thus it should have come as no surprise that the USSR was emboldened to tighten its grip on Eastern Europe and to squash the 1956 uprising in Hungary.

Eisenhower's administration wasn't to be trusted to foresee that the Bay of Pigs invasion, which the Kennedy administration botched, would make Castro more popular in Cuba. The botched invasion pushed Castro closer to the USSR, which led to the Cuban missile crisis.

JFK's inner circle was unwilling to believe that Soviet missile facilities were enroute to Cuba, and therefore unable to act before the facilities were installed. JFK's subsequent unwillingness to attack the missile facilities made it plain to Kruschev that the the Berlin Wall (erected in 1961) would not fall and that the U.S. would not risk armed confrontation with the USSR (conventional or nuclear) for the sake of the peoples behind the Iron Curtain. Thus the costly and tension-ridden Cold War persisted for almost another three decades.

LBJ's administration wasn't to be trusted to foresee the consequences of the incremental application of military power in Vietnam, which led to the enemy's eventual victory. Worse for the U.S., the Vietnam experience became a rallying point for the anti-war Left, which continues to undermine the defense of American interests.

Nixon's administration wasn't to be trusted, period.

Carter's administration wasn't to be trusted to foresee how its feeble, futile, and belated effort to rescure the Americans held hostage in Iran would encourage Islamic terrorists. Ditto for the Reagan administration's willingness to cut and run after the bombing of the Marine Corps barracks in Lebanon, for the Clinton Administration's similar bug-out after the massacre of U.S. troops in Somalia, and for the Clinton administration's feeble, legalistic responses to the bombing of the World Trade Center and the bombings U.S. embassies in Africa.

Bush I's administration wasn't to be trusted to foresee that the failure to remove Saddam and install a friendly Iraqi government in 1991 would eventually require us to start from scratch, after Saddam and his party had had time to plan for a post-invasion insurrection.

Bush II's adminstration wasn't to be trusted to go where the Clinton administration had failed to go, that is, to anticipate and prevent the long-planned attacks of September 11, 2001.

Government incompetence is nothing new under the sun. It just seems new to hundreds of millions of naïve Americans, who want to believe that government, which usually fails to anticipate rather predictable and often manipulable human enemies (and fails to defeat them except when it wages all-out war), will magically become competent when it comes to dealing with implacable nature, in all its variety -- the usual log-rolling, pork-barreling, and graft notwithstanding.

But of course, the sudden emergence of governmental competence is precisely what most Americans want to believe in. (It's the main theme of every presidential election.) And so we will end up throwing more money at the problem, to little avail and without regard for the viable alternative. That alternative is to let people decide for themselves what risks are important to them, and to let them decide how to spend their money (cooperatively, as they wish) in preparation for those risks.

We should trust the collective wisdom of people acting cooperatively in their own interest, through markets, to protect and preserve their lives and property. We should not trust the amply demonstrated incompetence of government, which suppresses the collective wisdom of markets and replaces it with the collective misjudgments of politicians and bureaucrats, whose main interest is to protect and preserve their power and perquisites.

(For more, see this post at ParaPundit, and this one. Then there's this one, and several others, at Capital Freedom. And don't forget Catallarchy, which has plenty, just scroll down.)

Friday, September 09, 2005

Know Thine Enemy

Today the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals issued this spot-on opinion in the case of José Padilla. Briefly, Padilla is the wannabe dirty bomber who was captured in Chicago three years ago after having fought against U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

Lyle Benniston, writing at SCOTUSblog, says:

The ruling . . . did not go as far as the Administration had asked. The Court did not rely upon the President's claim that he has "inherent authority" as Commander in Chief to order the designation and detention of terrorist suspects. Rather, it relied only on the resolution Congress passed in the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, authorizing the President to respond. The Supreme Court similarly avoided the "inherent authority" claim when it upheld detention of citizens captured in foreign battle zones in its decision in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld -- so far, the only other case of detention of a citizen named as an "enemy combatant."

The Circuit Court commented: "Like Hamdi, Padilla associated with forces hostile to the United States in Afghanistan....And, like Hamdi, Padilla took up arms against United States forces in that country in the same way and to the same extent as did Hamdi....Because, like Hamdi, Padilla is an enemy combatant, and because his detention is no less necessary than was Hamdi's in order to prevent his return to the battlefield, the President is authorized by the AUMF [Authorization for Use of Military Force Joint Resolution] to detain Padilla as a fundamental incident to the conduct of war."

That the ruling did not go as far as the administration asked doesn't alter the fact that the ruling was a victory for the administration, and for Americans. After all, Padilla's counsel raised four arguments for Padilla's release, all of which failed. Lawyers don't lose when they lose some of their arguments, they lose only when they lose all of their arguments.

Judge J. Michael Lutting wrote for the three-judge panel. I applaud his ability (and that of his confreres) to see through the legal cant and get it right: An enemy of the United States is an enemy of the United States, even if he happens to be a U.S. citizen. To put it another way, not all non-citizens are enemies of the United States, but some citizens -- not just Hamdi and Padilla -- are enemies of the United States.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

No Mention of Opportunity Costs

The Marxist take on New Orleans is here (h/t Marginal Revolution):
How the Free Market Killed New Orleans


The free market played a crucial role in the destruction of New Orleans and the death of thousands of its residents. Forewarned that a momentous (force 5) hurricane was going to hit that city and surrounding areas, what did officials do? They played the free market.

They announced that everyone should evacuate. Everyone was expected to devise their own way out of the disaster area by private means, just like people do when disaster hits free-market Third World countries.

It is a beautiful thing this free market in which every individual pursues his or her own personal interests and thereby effects an optimal outcome for the entire society. Thus does the invisible hand work its wonders in mysterious ways.

In New Orleans there would be none of the collectivistic regimented evacuation as occurred in Cuba. When an especially powerful hurricane hit that island in 2004, the Castro government, abetted by neighborhood citizen committees and local Communist party cadres, evacuated 1.5 million people, more than 10 percent of the country’s population. The Cubans lost 20,000 homes to that hurricane---but not a single life was lost, a heartening feat that went largely unmentioned in the U.S. press.
And blah, blah, blah, blah.

Actually, the disaster in New Orleans was set up by government, as I explain here. And the failure to evacuate people was surely a government failure. Remember all those school buses and other municipal vehicles that went unused by the unesteemed mayor of NO? What happened in NO was by no means a test of free markets; it was proof that government isn't the answer.

Moreover, total preparedness for every conceivable disaster is a prescription for impoverishment. But that thought would never cross the mind of a Marxist apologist for Castro's regime. Cubans have little say in how they live their lives. Sometimes (rarely) that works to the advantage of Cubans; most of the time it works to their detriment. But that concept -- namely, opportunity cost -- is too subtle for your average Marxist propagandist to comprehend.