Tuesday, July 31, 2007

- The governor's skeletons

My favorite politician was ex governor of Louisiana Edwin Edwards. When asked by a local newsman if he was afraid that the investigation he was the subject of would expose a few of the skeletons in his closet, he allegedly said “Now you listen here boy… I ain’t got no skeletons in my closet… they all out there running around on the front lawn.” Now THAT is style. But the thing that makes him my all time favorite politician wasn’t his way with words, but the fact that he’s currently serving time in a federal prison in Oakdale Louisiana, like most politicians probably should.

They have a saying in Louisiana, “When it comes to political corruption, thank god for New Jersey.” And one of our recent governors has reminded the good people of Avoyelles Parish that their native son has some competition. When it comes to colorful, it’s hard to beat that bastion of good taste and careful judgment, the king of the highway rest stops, Jim McGreevey. His skeletons weren’t in the closet either, but it turned out that he was. In a move that was reminiscent of the scene in Blazing Saddles where the black sheriff, Cleavon Little, saves himself from the townspeople by putting a gun to his own head and taking himself hostage, McGreevey allegedly avoided indictment for corruption by very publicly resigning his office for being “A Gay American”.

Since then though, after a few months where interim governor “what’s his name” held the office, the people of New Jersey elected ex Senator Jon Corzine to the job. Corzine was once head of the Byzantine financial powerhouse Goldman Sachs, and was elected as a Democrat to the US senate after he left the private sector. There were some allegations that his team at Goldman used data stolen from a laptop to worsen the “long Term Capital” financial crisis where the Fed was forced to step in to keep the US monetary system from unraveling, but as CEO he was never directly implicated and nothing was ever proven.

In his two elections, one for the Senate and one for Governor, he is reported to have spent over 100 million dollars of his own money, and has elected to take only a token salary of $1 during his term as Governor. Whatever his current sins, I think we can be confident that he’s not in it for the money. He doesn’t seem to think he should be subject to the same laws as the peasants, but to be fair, I can’t think of a New Jersey politician who does, so he’s hardly exceptional on that front.

In fact, I have no great issues with him at least as far as his character is concerned. Even in 2006 when he had the government of the state shut down (alas only temporarily) he was arguing with the legislature to get an increase in the state sales tax. As wrongheaded as I think any tax increase is, the disagreement with the legislature was because the political machines didn’t like the idea of doing something so transparent to the taxpayers. Instead of a relatively straightforward sales tax increase that could be attached to their names, they were instead proposing a more convoluted and obfuscated set of increases that would be harder to track. Eventually, Corzine got his way.

While I do generally think that Corzine is doing a pretty good job so far by New Jersey standards, he’s hardly sin free. For instance, the Democratic Party in New Jersey has traditionally been the bought property of the labor unions, while the Republican party is owned by the real estate developers association. Corzine took that traditional Democratic relationship to a new level by literally “getting in bed” with CWU local head Carla Katz, whose union represents nearly half of the states employees. They were both unmarried at the time, they are of opposite genders, and there are no videos being shown on the Internet, so the relationship itself was hardly cause for scandal. But there have been some large cash gifts and no interest loans of a “personal nature” which have come under some scrutiny. And in the meantime the seediest Republicans in the legislature have been trying to get their hot little hands on his personal emails with ms Katz, which will no doubt make for entertaining reading.

There was also Corzine’s famous traffic “scoff law” incident where a high-speed traffic accident hospitalized him and put his life in some jeopardy because he wasn’t wearing a seat belt. But overall, I’ve got to admit these issues are small potatoes by New Jersey standards. There are no dead girls under the beds of the governor’s mansion; no suitcases of cash being delivered in the middle of the night, or bags of coke under the seat of the limo. In the state house offices these days, there are no hookers, hustlers or thieves… well none we didn’t vote for anyway, and Paulie Walnuts is nowhere to be found. I’m a little surprised at myself to be saying this, but my biggest issues with Corzine are not personal. My problems with him are more philosophical.

For instance, Corzine claims to be an adamant supporter of gun control, which makes it clear to me how he feels about the peasantry, but at least he has yet to take up the issue legislatively. This could either mean that he’s got other fish to fry, or that he’s simply paying it lip service to the Democratic faithful, who knows. He’s also claims to believe firmly in favor of using racial preferences as a basis for legislation, but the ACLU has only given him a 60% approval rating making him roughly 40% OK by me. On the other hand, he’s also said that he supports performance pay for teachers, and allowing school prayer, even though New Jersey’s most powerful union (and therefore his boss) the NJEA has made it perfectly clear that they will fight to the death (and burn the state capital to the ground) to prevent both.

In short, when it comes to his actual positions, Corzine is really a mixed bag. He knows too much about economics to be a classic big government socialist, but the only way he was going to get elected to anything in New Jersey was if he convinced the political machines that he would not rock their boat too much. That means he needs to at least offer tacit support for some of their plans to be “in charge of everything”. But so far, there is simply no way to separate what he actually believes from what he plans to legislate minimally as a matter of political pragmatism. Some things he wants to do, and some things he has to do… you just can’t tell which is which.

If you look at him fairly, I think he seems to be a Democrat who has abandoned the most suicidal positions of the party’s far left. I disagree with almost everything he says he believes, but he strikes me as the kind of guy I could actually have a discussion with about it. He’s not delusional or too condescending like most Democrats, and I don’t think he’s just trying to be famous. And in that respect, I think he might be a sort of throwback to a more responsible time in our history when politicians worried about being leaders of men and not “getting seated at a table close to Paris Hilton.” I think he’s wrongheaded, but at least he’s seriously wrongheaded. He’s not just looking at his role as governor as a great way to get girls.

I don’t think he’s going to be as colorful and entertaining as McGreevey or Edwards. There won’t be any rhyming invitations for federal prosecutors to kiss his behind, or any boys in high profile state jobs doing the kissing. But I think New Jersey could use a little responsible boredom, even if it’s misguided as to policy. And if we admit to ourselves that all we can manage right now is to elect candidates who are not obvious thieves, philanderers, and liars or worse, then I think it’s a small step in the right direction. Corzine may not be entertaining, and he may yet turn out to be wrong about virtually everything, but at least his skeletons are back in the closet where they belong.

Monday, July 30, 2007

- The real "opiate" of the masses

I’ve been thinking about how we’ve come to the state we’re in and when it comes right down to it, I think it’s all a result of a single pernicious idea. Somewhere along the line, a majority of the people in this country began to believe that our lives would be better if government relieved us of our responsibilities and managed them in our place. It’s not true of course… it only leads to a corruption of the spirit. It’s like an addictive drug, which rapidly spirals downward to a point where we are no longer capable of tending to ourselves and soon require government to handle everything for us. The real opiate of the masses isn’t religion; it’s the belief that somewhere there is a benefit that can be delivered without a corresponding cost.

But for the longest time, this wasn’t true in America at all. For the first 150 years or so, our country was a place that defined itself by its rigid embrace of individual liberty and along with that came the individual responsibility for it. We were constitutionally opposed to the idea that a man can be relieved of his responsibilities. He was free, but that also meant that he was free to perish if he didn’t handle his personal business. And the first and foremost of those was the duties to keep one-self alive. An early American had to find a way to eat, drink, have shelter, and to protect himself from the threats that lurk in every dark corner of the wild country. He was absolute master of his own fate and would prosper or perish by his own acts.

This kind of life suited the early Americans just fine since the common characteristic of many of them was the desire to throw off the yoke of someone else’s tyranny. They came from different places, spoke different languages, and followed different traditions, but they all wanted to be set free from the burdens placed on them by others. And when you build an entire society of these people, what you end up with is what we now call American exceptionalism. As a people, we continued to believe in the importance of “freedom” long after we had civilized the continent, and that idea turned out to have other side benefits. And through all of that, most of us continued to be comfortable with the idea that there was a cost to bear for this freedom and that we must each bear it on our own.

In the mean time while America was taking the cream of the crop from the “old world”, Europe was quickly becoming skim milk. When the most self-reliant people left for America, they seem to have marginally watered down the European gene pool. All that was left behind were those people who had either fashioned the yoke of others to work for them, or those who would prefer the security of those chains to the risk of being their own masters. When the rebellious and independent fled for the “new world” across all of Europe, all that was left was the fat and lazy masters and their docile slaves.

Then, in the first half of the 20th century, “the welfare state” changed the reasons to come to America. Some say that it started with Marx, but I don’t really believe that’s true. I think it’s more that the natural evolution of any society always leads to tyranny. I think if you look back at history, it was the self-reliant who built every society that history remembers, and the people who tagged along after the way was made safe for them, who inevitably choked it to death.

For example, western civilization’s thriving Middle Eastern cradle eventually became an antiseptic desert. For centuries now, it’s been populated by a people who can’t buy into the Augustinian idea that “reason is a source of truth”, because it requires too much self-reliance. This is an old idea in the west, really the oldest, but the easterners will have none of it. They would rather rely on their masters in the mosque to tell them what the truth is. Even Alexander said of Persia that there are no free men there, only “masters and slaves”, so apparently it’s been this way for a while.

In Europe, the people left behind when the self-reliant went off to the new world immediately began to “up their dosage” of societal morphine by embracing intrusive socialism in every corner of their lives. National health care, cradle to grave pensions, and state mandated employment are all either common place or being vehemently argued for. The people that are left continue to demand that someone somewhere step in and take their responsibilities before they ever consider doing them for themselves. They have even largely abandoned their own national defense, and demand that America protect them with one hand while complaining of American “arrogance” with the other.

And even in modern America, where the oldest cities have begun to look more like Europe than the wilds of North America, the people continue to show the least degree of self reliance for Americans, and are most prone to the intoxication of communal thought. These days it’s a rare thing indeed to hear someone demand more freedom from Boston, New York, or Philadelphia, unless the word freedom is totally misused. They talk about freedom from high health care costs, or freedom from unemployment, or freedom from the other risks of being master of your own fate. But the solutions they now suggest all involve giving the benefits to the people but handing the responsibility for them off to someone else. And because that’s so, whatever they promise, they only deliver chains.

I think it’s probably avoided much violence to always have a wilderness to run to. In the past when this “corruption of the spirit” began to take hold, the self-reliant would simply uproot and move on to build a new society in some other far off place, away from those who would make them slaves. But on that score we really have come to the end of the road. One downside of the global village is that the people are literally everywhere and there is nowhere left to go. So the question then becomes: Is America exceptional enough to reverse the tide? Is our social experiment, a society based on the idea of individual freedom, powerful enough to overturn the very nature of an evolving society? Can we still throw off the yoke without simply walking away from it like we have always done in the past?

It’s a good question… I wish I had a good answer. My first impression is that the people who have fashioned the yoke have never taken kindly to the idea of the peasants taking it off in the first place, and whatever their specific reaction to the idea, I can guess that it will almost certainly involve force. On the other hand, we’ve never had a peasantry so well armed as we Americans. And the 90 million gun owners in this country don’t generally take to the idea of being forced to do anything. I’m hoping that if we can credibly convince our rulers that we will respond to any force with force in kind, then we may indeed get away with not having to actually use any at all. These people who call themselves our masters are not fools. And it’s my hope that in the end they will act in their own interest.

Like I said, that’s what I hope. Then again, I’ve never seen socialism turned back any other way. One way or the other, it looks like we’re going to find out, because there is nowhere left for us to run.

Friday, July 27, 2007

- So easy, even the DMV can do it!

In a move typical of the kind of responsible government we’ve come to expect in New Jersey, Governor Jon Corzine yesterday signed a bill to pile an additional 450 million in debt onto the already desperately overburdened taxpayers to get the state government involved in stem cell research. As it stood last week, New Jersey was the 4th most indebted state in the country; so taking on an additional 450 million can’t help our fiscal situation.

Besides, up to now I thought stem cell research was the domain of scientists, doctors, researchers, and drug companies. But apparently it’s become so easy, even the same people that brought you the department of motor vehicles are getting into the act. What’s that you say? … It IS the exclusive domain of medical professionals? Then what in the world is Corzine thinking when he reaches into the taxpayer’s pockets to pay for it?

The way that most medical research is funded is a company with medical expertise calculates the possible benefit of a new drug or procedure, develops a plan, and then raises the money to fund the research. They calculate the probability of success, they take the chances, and they reap the benefits. This bill that his majesty just signed will change none of that. The companies will still do the research, and they will still benefit solely from whatever profit can be made by it, but the taxpayers of New Jersey will provide the funding instead of the open market. The only thing that will buy for us in return is the right to tell the company where the research will be done. But there are a few problems with spending taxpayer money to support this thinking.

For starters, when it comes to stem cells research, much of it is already being done in New Jersey, which has long been a popular center for the medical industry. Johnson and Johnson, Pfizer, Merck, and dozens of others including many smaller “biotech” firms are all either based in the state or have research facilities here. The medical industry is already one of the state’s largest employers, so why exactly do the taxpayers of New Jersey need to take on additional debt to bring into the state, people that are mostly already here?

The truth is, they don’t. This bill probably won’t benefit the state in any measurable way on that front, but when it comes to improving the political fortunes of his majesty the governor, it will be money well spent.

Because much of the raw material for stem cell research is provided from abortions, it’s become a fashionable topic of the political far left. And since it involves lots of photo ops with angelic and brave young people in wheelchairs, it’s emotionally difficult to oppose for the political right. It’s a 450 million dollar photo op to make his majesty look more admirable and less like a “scoff law”.

Personally, I have no dog in the fight about the research itself. I’m an expert in quantitative finance not medicine and don’t consider myself qualified to discuss the merits of it. But for me the issue has never been about whether to be for or against any kind of medical research, only about whether or not government should be involved in it in some way. For me that’s a much easier question.

When it’s the open markets providing the funding, the people coming up with the cash will typically have some stake in the success of the strategies they fund, so they will provide more money for the teams most likely to produce a successful result. Got that? “High chance of success” = “more money”, “Less chance of success” = “less money”. It’s a pretty straightforward and consistent rule, but it only applies if the free and open financial markets provide the money.

But when it’s the government lending the taxpayers money, those rules go out window. The funding then goes to whoever meets the politically established criteria of the people in power. That almost always turns out to be people who wouldn’t be able to get funding in other ways because they lack the credibility of others in the field. One can make the argument that sometimes the big find comes from the lesser team, and I suppose that’s true as far as it goes. But the statistics of medical research tell us that the odds favor the leaders. So the net effect of allowing government to fund the research instead of the open market will be to provide more money for people less likely to achieve success, all on the taxpayer dime. We’ll be betting on the dark horse, the outsider, the long shot, and it’s a bet that is unlikely to pay dividends, let alone pay back the state’s initial investment.

After years at Goldman Sachs, you would expect Jon Corzine to know this, but since he’s left the financial industry and entered government his personal goals have changed. Back in the day, his job depended on providing a return to his investors, and now his goal is to provide moving if expensive photo ops with brave and angelic young people in wheelchairs. This 450 million that he wants to take from the taxpayers will no doubt turn out to be a nice investment for his personal political fortunes, even if it is unlikely to help the people who are actually ponying up the dough.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

- An Economic "Murder - Suicide"

As I write this on my afternoon train, I’m sitting across from a thuggish looking man who has a T-shirt which reads “UNION!” on the front, and if my ham fisted translation can be trusted, “No human being is illegal” in Spanish across the back. To someone with even a little knowledge, this looks like an economic version of a murder-suicide note, but it’s worse than that. The only way that that particular garment could manage to get more firmly cemented on the wrong side of history would be if it advocated slavery, or said something about phrenology.

Once, the chief concern of unions was the safety and well being of the worker. But the government has long since taken on that role in their place. For all of my lifetime, the last 40 years or so, unions have had the singular economic effect of decimating the various industries of America in which they were involved, by killing company after company. Forced to pay more for the labor to produce a product than they were able to make selling it, one after another they either declared bankruptcy, or moved offshore. These days, when you “look for the union label” it usually reads “Made in China”.

But unions have been more insidious that just destroying a few companies. The stated goals of a labor union are to both raise the cost of labor for companies, and to lower the productivity of the company as well. The way they do this is by developing a compensation plan that rewards the least productive 25% by paying them the same as everyone who produces more than them, and punishing the most productive 25% by paying them the same as those producing less. The effect of this is obvious and immediate… no one will produce more than anyone else, and the entire labor pool will settle into a “lowest common denominator” approach.

(If you combine that lack of incentives for productivity with the unlimited funding of government, and the reduced accountability of a bureaucracy and you’re really getting down to the bottom of the barrel…. I’m working on a longer piece about why I think civil service unions should be illegal)

So knowing that, the fact that this man is so proudly advocating the support of his union must mean that he’s one of those people who gets something out of it, in other words, he’s more than likely among that 25% who typically under-produce his peers. That’s fine with me, like T.E. Lawrence said when they called him a clown “we can’t all be lion tamers”. But what about the “no human being is illegal” bit on the back?

The pro illegal alien movement is really organized labor’s worst nightmare. Rather than exporting jobs to Mexico, it’s allowing US industries to import the Mexicans instead. And along with them, they are importing Mexican labor laws, Mexican pay levels and Mexican health and safety standards. A company that hires illegal aliens will not pay for health insurance or pensions, will not pay social security, and will not pay a mandated union wage. Since they are here illegally and distrustful of the legal authorities, the illegal alien will not have any branch of government they can complain to if they are asked to work 15 hours a day, or in unsanitary conditions, or go a full day without a break.

To management in some ways, that looks like the perfect employee. It dramatically lowers their costs, increases their productivity, and removes the accountability for even basic safety and health standards. Not only does it eliminate the tyranny of the union, but the intrusive government as well. Even better, since the illegal alien cannot sell their labor to just anyone, management doesn’t even have to worry about the free market and competition. So long as there are enough illegal aliens, they can be as unfair as they like and no one will complain.

That a union could support something like that seems to defy all logic. They want higher pay with less work… I get that. They want reduced accountability to management, and more governmental authority to force people to join them… I get that. They want additional laws that will allow them act with impunity in the political sphere… I even get that. I disagree with everything they represent because I believe they make things less fair to those who want to do for themselves, but I understand their motivation for it all, and see how it is connected to their political self-interest. But they want to allow increased illegal immigration?

I guess there is simply no teaching some people. And if this guy’s shirt really says anything at all, that would probably be it.

(For the record, I’m firmly against illegal immigration because it contravenes the rule of law. I have no problem with large-scale “legal” immigration from Mexico or anywhere else, but the people coming here must be doing so from a desire to become American. My personal 3 point plan is: eliminate the minimum wage, give no social services of any kind under any circumstances to anyone who isn’t a citizen, and reinforce and defend the borders with mine fields, concertina wire and .50 caliber machine guns if necessary…. But that’s also the topic of another longer piece, which is currently under construction)

Monday, July 23, 2007

- Pushing back on gun control

For some time now I’ve been saying that NJ politics is little more than political theatre. Like two wolves and sheep voting on what to have for dinner, the Democrats and the Republicans in the legislature argue back and forth with great energy over who will get to eat the taxpayers, but in the end the differences between them are all for show. That seems especially true if you're one of the taxpayers, who all know precisely what our future is going to hold. And we therefore find it hard to get too worked up about the specifics of the debate. The politicians all write pretend legislation about phony issues, and solve made up problems, with fake sincerity, all with the taxpayer’s money.

For instance, in the debate about gun control, our legislature has proven a long time ago that they are not only are unwilling to allow the peasants their legal right to defend themselves, but that they are prepared to make themselves a national laughingstock to prevent it. And that self-sacrificing level of determination is clearly still in place today. A new Senate Bill is current under review in the legislature which would make it illegal in NJ for “anything that can be reasonably mistaken for a gun” to be sold to a minor. I want to make this perfectly clear, the NJ State legislature, in the alleged claim that it is a public safety issue, is about to vote on a bill that will make toy guns illegal for kids.

I think I’m pretty good at making fun of political stupidity, and lord knows there is enough of it hereabouts, but with this one I honestly don’t know where to start. When I hear it my brain just goes into a sort of comedy overload. Let me try saying it again…Our politicians in NJ are so terrified of an armed populace that they are going to take away our children’s plastic toy guns. … Nope …I just can’t top that. They are seriously going to make it illegal to sell every 5 for a dollar Chinese water pistol to high school kids, and call it a matter of public safety. What a proud moment for the people of New Jersey.

That one may even top their 1999 effort to legislate science fiction into the self-defense debate. That’s when the state senate approved a bill that would require that all new guns sold in the state include computer chips that make them inoperable by anyone other than the authorized user, as soon as someone invents a technology that works that way. It’s my understanding that they are also considering a bill to require a safety class and a state permit for the purchase of a time machine, and are considering a change to the state constitution to allow for the implementation of a “Department of Perpetual Motion.”

The degree of silliness in this battle makes me throw up my hands a little, but there is another issue operating here regarding the way you win a broader debate. The national lobby for second amendment rights tends to concentrate its efforts where they think they can win, and that keeps them in places other than New Jersey. It makes sense to fight that way because it allows you to build broad based momentum, and to demoralize your opponents through victory after small victory. It also lets the NRA and it’s allies make the best and most effective use of their staffing and capital resources. Those are all good things, and I support them heartily.

I’m a firm believer in hitting them where they are weakest, and where you are strongest, but that doesn’t mean you can ignore your own weak spots forever. For decades, NJ has been the ground that the national gun-rights lobby has been willing to write off as a loss in the broader fight to re-establish and secure American’s second amendment rights. They seem to feel that the people here have some sort of impairment, which puts them at odds with the idea of individual liberty. Given some of the arguments I’ve heard, they may have a point.

But that doesn’t change the fact that NJ is the state, which has become the proving ground for the legislative idiocy so proudly offered by the enemies of freedom that the NRA argues against. As examples, the federal “Clinton Assault weapons ban” was modeled after still in effect bans in NJ and California. New Jersey was also the proving ground for the limits on high capacity magazines, not to mention the two monumentally ridiculous legislative efforts I mentioned above. It’s the state where those who would deny us our rights push forward their hopes and dreams, and we are suffering accordingly.

I’m not saying that the NRA – ILA should drop what they’re doing and run to Trenton, but those of us who are behind the lines trying to fight the good fight could use a little help now and then. The local defenses could use a little shoring up, just to prevent the worst kind of legislative abuse. Relying on the people of New Jersey to reject such legislation is largely ineffective because our legislators care so little what we think about the issues. And it just seems to me that in an environment where the sale and purchase of votes is such an open secret, the NRA should be able to do pretty well when it comes to getting their money’s worth.

In the meantime however, we last few who are here and remember what freedom was will keep doing what we can to make it a little harder for the opposition. For instance, I’ve been talking to Oleg Volk about getting some of his work put onto a billboard. I’ve got someone working on the details and getting full accounting of the costs to put a slightly modified version of this on a billboard near the high traffic area around Newark airport.

Because of our proximity to New York, that’s the kind of thing that will most certainly attract national news, and would begin to reshape the debate around gun rights. I think it will make it clearer that the lines here are not between Democrat and Republican, but between law abiding responsible citizens, and the government staffers who believe that individual Americans are too stupid to manage their own affairs. It will be hitting them at their strong point geographically, but at their weakest point morally. And I think it would be worth the time, effort, and money.

Naturally I’d be very interested in hearing what others think about this. If you would rather not comment on something like this publicly (believe me… I know how you feel…) feel free to email your comments to radiofreenj at yahoo.com. The costs look to be pretty substantial, so there will likely come a day when I’m looking to solicit donations as well, but since we haven’t cleared the legal hurdles, that time has certainly not arrived yet.

Friday, July 20, 2007

- Elevating the dialog a little

Here are a few words from a person who I believe to be the smartest man in America, Dr. Thomas Sowell. He's not actually much of a speaker in my opinion. Personally I liked him better when he was a little younger and more confrontational. (I remember a scene from the "Free to Choose" debates where he was basically calling some socialist woman a dumbass... now THAT's entertainment) But watch both clips and decide for yourself. As he's grown a little older he's toned it down a bit for the camera, but if you read his books, his real academic work, he's brilliant beyond debate.

I have a little blurb about one of his books on my bio called "Knowledge and Decisions". It's been the basis for much of my work over the last 10 years so I think I have a pretty good knowledge of what it's about. It's my opinion, that over the next century it will come to be known as the single most under-appreciated economic text of all time. It's a book which is going to change everything eventually, and will not only become a significant part of the blueprint for the prevention of tyranny, but will provide many of the definitions for a "just" society. It will be the last nail in the coffin of collectivism. I only wish it were written in a slightly more accessible style so that more people could read it. As it stands, it's a serious and fairly demanding economic work restricted to those with the background to appreciate it. It's not for everyone, although I wish it were.

These days academics are concentrating more on justifying the idea of a "political economy", and I think his work is being overlooked in many places mainly because people haven't realized that the ideas contained in it can lead to a great deal of money if you are ahead of the curve. That's the part I'm hoping to change.

Anyway, here is Dr. Thomas Sowell.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

- The politics of my freezer

Yesterday I was complaining to my wife that we don’t have room in the freezer, and she was telling me that we would have plenty of room if it wasn’t all taken up by venison. This defines the typical scope of our arguments concerning hunting. She’s a hell of a rifle shot my wife, (better than me really) and has done more than her share of vermin extermination in the past, but since we live in New Jersey where rifles are illegal for hunting, if she wanted to go with me she would really have to learn to use a bow, like I did last year. Of course all that might change soon if our rulers in Trenton have their way.

In New Jersey, everything is about politics. The assembly would be happy to “reform” Newton’s third law of motion if they could get some minority group to support with their PAC. And in truth, hunting can be a controversial topic everywhere that people don’t mind ignoring a little science. So in keeping with our state’s glorious traditions, they have once again proven that there is nowhere that they can ignore facts quite as well as in Trenton NJ.

The regulations for hunting in NJ are decided each year by a group called the “NJ State Fish and Game Council” which is part of the “Department of Conservation”. The council is made up of commercial fisherman, hunters, farmers, and a public member “knowledgeable in land use management and soil conservation practices”, all chosen from around the state, and who are all guided in their decisions by the wildlife population studies from the biologists at the conservation department. In other words, it’s a group made up of the various interested parties, who are guided each year by the actual data concerning the wildlife numbers and fishery statistics gathered throughout the year and from around the state.

But since there isn’t a single professional politician involved in the decision making process, for New Jersey, that just won’t do.

Mike Panter, one of the Democratic Party drones from sector 7G, has proposed that we do away with the current council and replace it with a new council made up predominantly of appointees from the governor. You see, much to the dismay of animal rights groups, the council which decides hunting regulations doesn’t have a single member who is politically pre-disposed to a statewide ban on hunting, regardless of the consequences. Mr. Panter’s proposal would change that by making the members of the council subject to “political reality” rather than “actual reality”. And to any NJ politician, this seems a much better solution because it allows the politicians to be more directly involved in the decisions whether they know something about what’s being decided or not. And what could be better than that?

Although to be completely fair, Panter’s not exactly a visionary. He’s just a lowly democratic machine “party hack” that makes his way in the world by trying to avoid controversy while still keeping his name in the paper. One look at his blog will tell you that he’s little more than a stuffed suit with a D next to his name, who has a penchant for moving his mouth without saying anything. And like most of the people in Trenton, he’s figured out that one of the most reliable routes to success in NJ is to make a career out of carefully saying as little as possible.

The truth is, I’m confident that he doesn’t really care about this issue or believe that it’s really going to solve anything, but probably thinks that’s no reason to not legislate it. In fact, he strikes me as one of those guys who doesn’t really care about much of anything at all other than the advancement of his own political career. And I think he’s only put this idea forward because it was his name that came up when the party bosses were discussing it. You see he lives in an area that doesn’t have a lot of hunting or fishing (at least compared to other areas), so he’s not on anyone’s hit list. And this idea has been rattling around the legislature in one form or another ever since the Democrats retook the majority, so I’m pretty confident that he’s just the latest part of the machine to push it forward.

There are a few other facts being ignored in this process as well. The anti-hunting lobby in NJ goes to some effort to portray all hunters as working toward the extinction of our natural resources everywhere, but nothing could be further from the truth. For example, without hunters and the money that the industry generates, the Alaskan Brown Bear would have certainly been wiped out by now by ranchers who would quickly grow tired of losing their stock to them. In NJ as well as Alaska, it’s the hunting lobby and the hunting industry that are the most effective advocates for the protection of our natural resources.

Even internationally, in those areas of Africa which allow hunting of leopards, when one is found the locals are careful to protect it, especially if it has young. The reason is that they know that eventually a rich man will be along who will pay major dollars to hunt it, so if it costs them a few goats to keep it protected and allow it to breed, that’s all worth it to them. The wildlife becomes an asset for them, an investment, and they do what they can to ensure its survival and propagation. But in areas where there is no hunting allowed, the leopard only represents a cost to the locals, so it’s quietly and quickly exterminated. This is a common theme anywhere where hunting has been banned.

And in New Jersey, if the “bloodsport trophy hunters” on the “Fish and Game council” are trying to manage NJ deer to extinction, as anti-hunting advocate would have us believe, then they are certainly making a hash of it. Because of the demographic reduction in the number of hunters in the state, even highly urbanized areas like Union county have an average of 180 deer per square mile. This is staggering when compared to the 35 deer per square mile in neighboring Pennsylvania, where there is a longer hunting season and fewer restrictions and regulations. And according to a NJ department of Transportation study done in 1995, those massive deer populations do an estimated $38,000,000 dollars in damage every year across the state. Those costs are largely paid by all of us in the form of higher insurance rates.

Also on a more personal note, the single largest buck I’ve ever seen was spotted on an October morning three years ago in my suburban back yard under a tree. (I still have a shed from it, which my wife found next to our pool, a few weeks later)

So the world will spin on it’s axis, the birds will sing, the bees will buzz, and the politicians in Trenton, will find another tiny way to take greater control of our lives. Since the anti-hunting PAC has spoken, they’re prepared to ignore anything they have to because it serves their broader goals. In New Jersey the politicians think we’re all too stupid to make our own decisions anyway and those slack jawed, gap toothed hunters are just the worst (and most heavily armed) of a bad lot. They’d rather let future decisions be made by someone who knows where their political bread is buttered, and that will put them firmly in control.

This will cause other problems of course as the deer population skyrockets out of control, but that will be an excellent excuse to empower more control by the legislature. It’s clear that they’ve long believed that there is no problem that can’t be solved by throwing a bunch of taxpayer money at it, and rather than allowing hunting which actually raises money for the state, their likely solution would be to hire a company (preferably one owned by a large political contributor) to come and shoot the deer instead. It will be expensive for the taxpayers, but hey… it’s not like it’s their money so why not spend it?

But on the bright side, it looks like we’ll finally have a little space in my freezer.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

- Maybe it's not so funny after all

Skeet shooters aren't particularly known for their sense of humor, but when a guy is standing there with a 12 gauge shotgun and 25 rounds of live ammunition, you tend to laugh at pretty much anything he wants you to. I guess an armed society is not only a polite society, but it's also a damned funny society as well. When you're packing, hecklers tend to run for the hills.

Their tactical advantage not withstanding, to my knowledge skeet shooters have only contributed one joke that anyone would laugh at off the field. At my gun club in Jackson NJ, if someone calls for two birds to be launched from the high house while he’s standing mid-field, and facing the low house, it’s one of those rare moments. That particular shot, where “a man takes two high ones from behind”, is known as “a McGreevey”. And now you know why Skeet shooters aren’t particularly known for their sense of humor.

The ex-governor on the other hand has given us a great deal to laugh at over the years. Not the least of which was the way he “outed” himself as a “Gay American” to avoid criminal charges. A few weeks before his big news, David M. D’Amiano one of his closest supporters and key fundraisers was indicted on influence peddling and racketeering charges. In the indictment McGreevey was prominently mentioned, and a Byzantine conversation with the governor and a potential “contributor” was recorded on tape during a sting operation. It seemed pretty clear at the time that the noose was tightening rapidly around the governor’s neck, but just when you thought it was all over for him, presto, he resigns from office for being “gay”.

There are a few powerful political groups in New Jersey who lobby for legal privileges for homosexuals, and New Jersey recognizes “civil unions” for single sex couples. There are also several openly gay politicians at the state level so why McGreevey felt that being gay was justification for resignation is still a bit of a mystery. But the truth is, when the wolf is at the door you might make decisions differently than other times, and McGreevey has made several high profile decisions, which have all confused me. Besides, during the McGreevey administration, the wolves (prosecutors) seemed to be everywhere. Here are just a few local examples from that glorious period of New Jersey history:

JAMES W. TREFFINGER, Essex county executive, arrested and charged with extortion, fraud, and obstruction of justice.

ROBERT C. JANISZEWSKI, Hudson County executive. Pleaded guilty to extortion and tax evasion.

TERRANCE D. WELDON, Mayor of Ocean Township. Pleaded guilty to extorting $70,000 in bribes from developers.

MARTIN G. BARNES, Mayor of Paterson. Pleaded guilty to accepting $200,000 in cash, designer suits, paid vacations and other gifts. There were over 40 counts in total, involving dozens of co-conspirators.

SARA B. BOST, Mayor of Irvington in Essex County. Charged with accepting $8,500 and encouraging a city employee to lie about a payment

GERALD J. LUONGO, Mayor of Washington Township. Sentenced in April to 13 months in prison for using $35,990 in campaign donations and community funds to make mortgage payments and cover other personal expenses

MILTON MILAN, Mayor of the city of Camden. Sentenced to seven years in prison for 14 counts of bribery, racketeering and money laundering.

KENNETH A. GIBSON, Mayor of the city of Newark. Indicted on federal bribery and fraud charges concerning his management of a $50 million school construction and renovation contract.

This is actually only a partial and truncated list. For each of these indictments there were dozens of other co-conspirators, henchmen, and disreputable union bosses and private businessmen who were also charged. 20 minutes on google will find you another two dozen or so public officials from both parties, who were already doing time when McGreevey got elected.

And not looking to be outdone at the national level, New Jersey also saw the indictment of Bob “the Torch” Toricelli, our then senior Senator, on corruption charges related to the UN oil for food scandal. This last indictment was perhaps the most relevant because it provided McGreevey a chance to play his own joke on New Jersey just before his resignation.

A little quick wrangling and a few twisted judicial arms in the final moments on the part of the governor’s office, and we were given a new Senator, which has turned out to be the cruelest joke of all. When “the Torch’s” career was in flames, the Democratic machine dispatched a few excavators over to the cemetery. But instead of just digging up a few dozen Democratic voters, they dug up now octogenarian Frank R. Lautenberg.

Lautenberg hails from the days when economic troubles were the fault of “malaise” and the government believed that the value of a commodity was whatever they told us it was. He’s an old fashioned New Jersey Democrat, who apparently thinks that if the people didn’t want him making all of our decisions for us, then “we wouldn’t have arranged for him to get a backroom last minute appointment of dubious legality, by three, soon to be indicted Trenton power brokers, to run unopposed for a seat being vacated by a guy being led away in handcuffs.”

Obviously it was kismet.

And although Frank may feel that it’s his destiny to aid all we poor dumb civilians by telling us what to do, he’s managed for the last 5 years to mostly keep to him self and not offend New Jersey’s voters. But those days are over.

Frank has long been opposed to allowing civilians the right to defend themselves, and his legislative record reflects that. He’s done at least as much to deny Americans their rights as the higher profile politicians but hasn’t gotten the same recognition. And his best efforts have always been circumvented by that pesky US constitution. Try as he might, he’s been unable to get rid of all civilian guns because of those silly concepts of “due process” and the second amendment. But now, with the war on terror, Frank has finally seen his chance to cement his legacy in American history.

Taking a cue from those other great leaders, Mao, Stalin, and Pol Pot, Frank has introduced legislation, which will grant the attorney general the right to deny firearms ownership to anyone who is “suspected of being a terrorist”. In a move that some consider highly unusual for both an ex US Marine, and a Jew, he wants to grant the same power to the US attorney general that Hitler granted to the SS under Heinrich Himmler. If anyone were suspected of basically anything at all, his legislation would grant the government the power to suspend due process, impound their private property without compensation, and deny them their rights under the second amendment.

Now there is a man who looks like he understands a good joke. And he’s trying to pull a McGreevey on the entire country.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

- An argument for more gun laws

Every once in a while, someone (usually a self described “progressive”) comes right out and asks me “What’s the big friggin deal anyway? You have a whole house full of guns… you even have an AK47. Your wife has guns, and one day soon, your daughter will have guns, so why make such a fuss?” Well the short answer is that I do it because “it’s in all our best interest”, but a response like that deserves a little background.

Where politicians are concerned, the gun issue more than any other, is an excellent litmus test about how they feel about the people they represent. Abortion is more controversial, but if you can agree at the outset that no one wants to kill children, then you can see that there are well-intentioned people on both sides of that debate. They both have arguments that sound pretty reasonable on the face of it, and they both feel really strongly about their view. That’s what makes abortion such a tough issue. But guns are not a tough issue… they are easy, or should be.

As I’ve said before, no one wants to get rid of “our guns” they only want to get rid of “their guns”. So when a politician comes out and says we need to get rid of “illegal guns” by enacting a law to make more guns owned by civilians illegal, it’s pretty clear whom he thinks of as “us” and “them”. The politician and the people like him (or her) are the “us” meaning, all politicians, all police, and all of their private security guards, etcetera. They view the “us” as the “ruling class”, the enlightened leaders and anointed masters of this great nation… you know… important people. And the “them” in politicians world would be the slack jawed, mullet headed, unwashed peasants who elected them. What they mean when they try to get rid of more guns is that they don’t think we can manage that sort of responsibility on our own.

Personally I find it really insulting.

But the ironic thing is, I see the gun debate as an “us” and “them” sort of argument as well. I want to get rid of “their guns” too. In fact I think if we’re really honest about it, we all do. But more to the point, I also want to get as many of “us” to be as heavily and visibly armed as possible. And the reason for that is that I think that alone will begin to drive the guns from “their” hands. For me, the “us” in the gun debate is the law-abiding citizen of the United States, and the “them” is anyone willing to use a firearm to engage in criminal activity.

Modern Economics is all about incentives. If you make something appealing, then people will engage in it, and if you make it unappealing, they will leave it alone. Criminals are the same as any other people, and numerous studies have shown that the thing a criminal fears most is a potentially armed victim. Arming their victims makes violent crime a bad bet for them, and makes the idea of getting an honest job more appealing. The fact of the matter is, a 5-foot tall, 100-pound woman is more than a match for any 250-pound bruiser so long as she has a .380 in her purse. And all the data points to an armed population as a means of reducing crime.

Well I’ve come up with what I think is the perfect solution for a politician who is interested in actually doing something about this issue, but doesn’t want it to cost them votes. It’s a means of enacting a broad set of new gun laws, that will not only have my support, but will in all likelihood, receive public support from the NRA (and their PAC … wink, wink) and probably be supported by the other pro-gun groups as well. And the best part is, it cannot be attacked by the Brady campaign.

All we need is a politician whose obvious main goal in life is his ambition for higher office (are you listening Mike Panter) to enact new “anti-crime” laws. Craft the specific language any way you like, but in essence it should say that if you are found guilty of committing a felony, the penalty on the books will stand. But if that felony is committed with a firearm, then there is an automatic penalty of 25 years to life, regardless of the nature of the crime.

A law like that addresses the problem directly, not in a roundabout way. It doesn’t make cars illegal because some people drive drunk, and it punishes the guilty instead of the innocent. If you politicians really want to get rid of “illegal guns” then this will have the same effect, without the unconstitutional “prior restraint” issues. And what’s more, it will actually get you MORE votes from both sides of the issue.

Of course, if you really do think we unwashed masses are too stupid to act in our own defense, then it will hurt you long term. But by the time it starts to have any effect that might threaten the “ruling classes”, you’ll be elected to some national office and will only have to come back here during the holidays and for elections, so what do you care. And once you’re off to your new position in Washington, we can get about the business of trying to find a way for the law abiding citizens of New Jersey to regain their rights.

Monday, July 16, 2007

- More poor judgement from the New York Times

This was originally posted by Kathryn Jean Lopez over at NRO. I've reproduced it here in full because it seemed clear from the content that the author wouldn't mind whatever additional attention I can draw to their cause. It's important for us all to remember that politics is not without it's consequences, and everyone that dies because of some poorly thought out idea or cause, is a child of someone who feels that loss very personally.

On behalf of the parents, I'd like to humbly ask whoever reads this to reproduce it as well, along with the links.

Kathryn Jean Lopez:
A friend at the Israel Project forwarded this from the Malki Foundation:

Today’s New York Times carries a review of a film called "Hot House" that goes inside Israeli prisons and examines the lives of Palestinian prisoners. We’re not recommending the film or the review. But we do want to share our feelings with you about the beaming female face that adorns the article. You can see it here < link deleted >.

The film is produced by HBO. So it’s presumably HBO’s publicity department that was responsible for creating and distributing a glamor-style photograph of a smiling, contented-looking young woman in her twenties to promote the movie.

That female is our child’s murderer. She was sentenced to sixteen life sentences or 320 years which she is serving in an Israeli jail. Fifteen people were killed and more than a hundred maimed and injured by the actions of this attractive person and her associates. The background is here.

Neither the New York Times nor HBO are likely to give even a moment’s attention to the victims of the barbarians who destroyed the Sbarro restaurant in Jerusalem and the lives of so many victims. So we would be grateful if you would pass along this link to some pictures of our daughter whose name was Malki. She was unable to reach her twenties - Hamas saw to that.

Though she was only fifteen years old when her life was stolen from her and from us, we think Malki was a beautiful young woman, living a beautiful life. We ask your help so that other people - far fewer than the number who will see the New York Times, of course - can know about her. Please ask your friends to look at the pictures - some of the very few we have - of our murdered daughter. They are here.

And remind them of what the woman in the Israeli prison - the woman smiling so happily in the New York Times - said last year. "I’m not sorry for what I did. We’ll become free from the occupation and then I will be free from prison."

With so many voices demanding that Israel release its terrorist prisoners, small wonder she’s smiling.

With greetings from Jerusalem ,
Frimet and Arnold Roth

On behalf of Keren Malki

- And there was much rejoicing

This week, that most prolific of firearms the AK-47 turns 60 years old. It's a big event in all places that used to be havens for communism, and there are celebrations going on worldwide wherever the "people’s revolution" was a cherished idea. "The New York Times" is no different, and they’ve done a big article on the subject for this past Sunday’s publication, which speaks in glowing terms of both the rifle and it’s creator.

Normally you would think this must be a tough place for "the peoples newspaper" to be in. Their bias against guns of any kind and "assault weapons" (whatever the hell that means) in particular, is well known. But true to form, they managed to find a way to spin the article so that the noble "peoples revolution" continues. And there is still room for a negative blurb about America, claiming that the US is responsible for Russia's economic demise because it buys "knock-offs" for distribution among it's client nations in the third world.

There is no doubt about it the AK is everywhere. Many reliable estimates say that there have been over 100 million rifles produced in that form. You can buy them on the street in Karachi for about $50, in Baghdad for $100, and in most of Africa for the local price of a goat. Here in the US, the fully automatic version is illegal unless you happen to have the highly restricted license for it, but the semi-automatic knock-offs can be bought in the states for about $300 in both pre and post ban configurations, and with an assortment of options.

As the proud owner of one of the afore mentioned knock-offs, I'm here to tell you that everything you have heard about it's reliability is absolutely true. In fact, if anything it may be a little understated. This clip shows someone proving the point in unbelievably graphic terms. Firearms fans can’t help their reaction when they see this. Personally I find the gasping and cringing it causes almost as entertaining as the video itself.

Afghan soldiers clean them with their boot laces dipped in motor oil, the central American contras cleaned them with old rags and their fingers, and the child soldiers of west Africa don't clean them at all. With the AK, it doesn't matter. I've seen them thrown in the mud. I've seen them with a fist full of sand dropped into their works. I've seen them stood on, dropped, run over by cars and abused in a dozen other ways. So long as there is ammo in it, it will go bang. "And when you run out of ammo" a former Russian paratrooper once told me "you can still beat a man to death with it."

Of course, this reliability is not without costs. The tolerances of a Russian AK-47 are not what most Americans are trained to expect in a firearm, to say nothing off the fast and loose manufacturing methods used on the knock-offs. Produced in communist run factories where "quality assurance" was considered a foreign and suspiciously capitalist sounding term, many look like they were made in someones garage with hand tools. And because of that, the accuracy suffers greatly against American built weapons. I'm told that there are some AK's out there which are as accurate as an AR15, but if that's so, I've yet to see one. With mine, a semi-automatic Romanian knock-off, the first 10 shots can be put into a pie plate at 100 yards if I shoot slowly and use a scope. But after the barrel heats up, and it heats up quickly, then the accuracy drops off the cliff.

It also fires slowly compared to many automatic weapons. Here is another video of a guy abusing his AK. The smoke you see coming off the barrel is caused by the barrel getting hot enough to burn the wooden front hand guard, turning it’s underside into charcoal.

Naturally the Times has it’s own perspective, but for those of you think the AK is only a gun for bad guys, let me give you some related history. In Rwanda, over 100 days in 1994, they had a civil war where roughly 800,000 people were killed, many of them women and children. But it wasn’t the AK-47 that was used for that slaughter. The weapon of choice in that war was the humble machete. So contrary to what every gun-banning politician in the US would have us believe, when they got rid of virtually all of the guns, the murder still continued and at a terrifyingly rapid pace.

History has a way of making fools of those who ignore it, and the gun ban crowd is no different. For instance, in the 20th century over 100 million people were killed by their own governments. But for the AK-47, it may well have been 200 million. It may look scary to American eyes, and it may be thought of as a weapon of criminals and fiends, but the AK is the weapon of self-defense in the places where the government would be the only one with guns otherwise. And in places like that, the government is usually the last people you would trust with a gun.

It’s an effective, reliable, discount product, made for the man (or woman) who can’t afford anything else. It's the walmart special of combat firearms. And for 60 years in the places where it's needed most, it does just what it's always needed to: it gives the peasants a means with which to push back.

Here is a little more entertaining history on the AK. Presented for your viewing pleasure on a slow Monday.


It's an ironic bit of history that for the 60 years where the AK47 has become such an icon, it was illegal for most civilians in the eastern block to own them.

Also, this other piece of video is too much fun not to post. Remember when I said that the barrel tends to heat up a little?

Friday, July 13, 2007

- Civil "Servants" gone wild

Some economic terms cause spontaneous narcolepsy to the uninitiated, but here is one, which should have the same effect on your psyche as the sound of distant artillery. In the next decade or two the term "Unfunded Pension Liability" is going to become one of the most important phrases in America.

Why? Because it’s our civil (cough) "servants" who are the people decide how taxpayer money is spent. And shockingly, they have been exceedingly generous to themselves. That complex sounding term above refers to just how much more generous they have been with their spending on themselves than we have actually authorized. Think of a teenage girl who went off to college with her daddy's credit card stashed in case of emergencies, and now, she’s calling collect from Cancun with a huge hangover, asking for a wire transfer to pay for a ticket home.

In fact the airport phone booths are mobbed with drunken kids ringing up for daddy from virtually every state in the union. The worst is California who apparently is still so hammered that she's sprawled out barefoot over her luggage with her shirt on backwards, while an angry looking hotel staffer dials for her. But just behind her in terms of self-humiliation is... you guessed it "New Jersey".

According to Wall Street analyst Harry Dent, New Jersey has a mind-blowing 60 Billion dollar total unfunded pension liability. For such a small state that is an unbelievable sum. As an example, Illinois, a state several times larger than New Jersey, has a still impressive 40 Billion dollar outstanding bill. That’s going to hurt plenty when she gets home, but at least she won’t have to live with seeing the pictures all over the Internet like New Jersey and California.

This analogy really has legs, because it extends well into what the taxpayers, (or angry parents if you’ll follow along with me a minute) can actually do about it. We basically have three choices.

Number one: We can bite the bullet and pay the bill for her by allowing our feckless politicians to raise our taxes. Even though it’s quite likely to go that way, (because what they hell do our politicians care what we think about it) I’m sure you can already imagine how I feel about solution number one, so lets move on.

Number two: We can make her pay the bill herself by cutting benefits. Since it’s a benefit I’m unlikely to see any part of, I’m all for solution number 2, but given the decision makers are the same inscrutable weasels we’ve elected to office, who have long been bought and paid for by the little princess currently puking into the Mexican airport trash can, it’s quite unlikely to happen that way.

Number Three: We can roll it into the loan we took out to send her to college in the first place, and put off the pain for another day. This is what is by far the most likely because it let’s our politicians do what they like to do best, pretend the problem isn’t there. In the meantime they can go off promising everyone more cake and circuses, and bragging about the things they did to the hot drunken co-ed they met when they were down in Cancun last year. But solution 3 is also the most expensive option by far, and not without other consequences.

The biggest consequence, and it follows as quickly as that all too early Mexican sunrise, is that we’ll get our credit ratings lowered. Every state in the union starting with California and New Jersey will all be at risk for a reduced credit rating, and that’s when the fun REALLY starts. That will add multiples onto the cost of (still most likely) solution number 3. And it will eventually result in places like China and Holland calling us in the office and demanding to know why we’re late on our payments. It’s not going to be pretty.

So is there anything we can do about it now? Well the first thing we can do is try to find a way to cut the metaphorical credit card before any other little tramp does herself too much damage. By that I mean we can begin to cut the generosity of our commitment to future civil (here’s that word again) “servants”. The oldest girl may be on her way to a future in pole dancing and “modeling” but maybe it’s not too late to save her little sister.

And the next thing we can do is make our current and future state employees earn as much of their own way as possible by introducing market forces into government through privatization. With the exception of law enforcement, government doesn’t do anything so well that there aren’t dozens of companies who could do it better, and we should encourage them to do so. The teenager who spends years asking people if “they want fries with that” is unlikely to throw away all the money that was so hard earned.

But all that speaks to the future. For now, all we have left is to accept the charges, buy her the plane ticket, and pray that none of the guys at the office ever get the urge to rent the “girls gone wild video”.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

- The "Culture" of Academia: Part 2

I recently had an email exchange with one of my shooting buddies, John Derbyshire from National Review. He published a little blurb about the decline of our cultural confidence, which I commented to him on. Both notes can be found here. But what I failed to mention was his response back to me.

It included some unrelated personal stuff, but to paraphrase him on the point, he said that he meant to comment on the arrival of the archetypal “America hating English professor who thinks that the US is responsible for basically all things bad in the world.” It was his thought that people like that didn’t exist in the 50’s and now they seem to be everywhere. I saw his point, but I still disagreed with him.

I think those people were around all along, but they were maybe a little fewer in number. And back in the 50’s ideas like those were considered so far outside the scope of “rational” opinion that no one would give a person who offered them a respectable place from which to preach their view. That would leave them raving at pedestrians from traffic islands and park benches, and trading recipes with the bearded guy in the robes who carries that big “The end is nigh” sign. So I guess I make John’s point after all.

Everyone is entitled to an opinion, and no one believes that more firmly than a guy like me who says so many inflammatory things. Everyone is entitled to think anything they like, but if you think you’ll make your way in the world by feeding off sunshine absorbed through your skin like a green leafy vegetable, you’re going to have consequences to that. (Which will probably involve substantial weight loss). So long as you feel those consequences in real and verifiable ways, they will go a long way toward shaping and improving your decision-making processes. And if others also observe them, then it might help them tune their decision-making processes as well.

Mistakes are important because we learn from them, and hopefully make fewer, or at least different mistakes in the future. But if the consequences to being wrong are eliminated, then that particular learning process stops cold. Rather than being in an ever-tightening orbit around the truth, we shut off the gravity and fly off tangentially into the cold darkness.

For most people, that isn’t much of an issue because the real world doesn’t particularly care if you’re aware of your consequences or not. In the military for instance, if you make a mistake on the battlefield it can cost you your life. In business, if you make a poor decision, it could cost you your livelihood. But for academics and members of the media, our modern society has made things so easy that the consequences to being wrong about something have all but been eliminated.

I recently wrote another essay which was the precursor to this piece. It turns out that it had been linked on an academic website that receives a lot of traffic, and it spawned a very lively discussion over there. When I found out about it I was thrilled. The whole idea of this blog was to put some of my writing in a venue, which might be accessed by people who usually wouldn’t have a chance to see it. But I found it very telling that all but one of the comments about my piece was posted somewhere else where I was unlikely to see it and respond.

Most of the comments were of the “what is this guy smoking” genre of reasonless assertion that can only be voiced in an echo chamber where everyone already agrees. But even the people who tried to make substantive comments on my piece were doing so in the thinnest of ways. Rather than addressing the heart of my argument they would use deconstructive logic to whittle at the edges of it. Typical criticisms were things like “None of the examples he talks about are truly free markets” or “I object to his characterization of southerners”.

The former comment states an obvious fact since the only totally free market is a theoretical one, and I was using real world examples. But my broader point was the same one made countless times by Dr. Freidman, that when like is compared to like, a more free market improves the lives of everyone more effectively than a less free one. There were several criticisms of my style of saying it, but no one even tried to discount the central point. As for the second comment about southerners, I thought it was perfectly clear that I had very carefully qualified my statement in that regard. If you could only find two people in all of the pre-civil was south who felt the way that I speculated they might, then what I said, as stated is certainly true.

And this is what I find it’s generally like to discuss things like this with academics. They will run you around using deconstructive logic to address the minutiae of your commentary until they find a tiny crack. Sometimes it can be as small as a spelling error. If they find one, then they’ll claim that it invalidates your entire argument, and if they don’t, then they call you a nazi, and the discussion is over. Either way it’s usually best not to expect a fair fight, or an open debate in the field of ideas.

Anyway, I think both the issue of the hyperbolic posturing from academia, and the unwillingness to defend their positions in open debate are directly related to the insulated, and literally “inconsequential” environment that has grown up there in the last 40 years. Because we have allowed the academy to become an environment where poor reasoning is without consequence, many people there have lost the skill for it; giving rise to the Ward Churchill’s of the world. And since they know deep in their hearts that they are on thin ice in terms of objective evidence to support their views, they are generally unwilling to state their case in an environment where they might be contradicted.

I don’t mean to say that those are the only people left in academia, or even that the lines are partisan somehow because I don’t believe either of those things. But when we look at much of the thinking that’s coming from our major universities in recent years we see at least as much objectively verifiable nonsense as anything else. The most extreme views have become commonplace, and what before might have been certifiable behavior has now become viewed as just extreme. And since there are no concrete and observable feedback mechanisms to help everyone discern good reasoning from bad, the whole degradation process has been accelerating.

In my last piece I said that “No serious economist thinks that the results of a tax increase will help anyone over the long term”, and I was subsequently dismissed in the academic echo chamber for marginalizing people who disagree with me. Well I suppose on this one issue they have a small point. What I should have said was that “no economist who is taken seriously by people with something to lose on the issue thinks that a tax increase will help anyone in the long term.” The evidence has been in for decades in the “real” world, and the debate is long over among people who have to bet their lives on their decisions. But in the static void that is the academic world, apparently the debate still rages on. Maybe someone can ping me when they get that 2+2 imbroglio resolved once and for all.

I don’t mind at all that the people who read my stuff would rather write to each other and not confront me directly. I did that sort of thing myself for years on Free Republic and it can be a great way to solidify your feelings on an issue especially if you’re in the minority. But I’m still concerned about the societal results of having so many people in positions of authority who have lost the ability to reason. In the near term I think it’s responsible for much of the worst nonsense at the more remote ends of the partisan divide, but in the longer term I’m afraid that my friend “The Derb” might be right about our culture and society.

As Dr. Freidman said, “we are all a product of the thinking of the day”, and much of what’s stewing right now in academia doesn’t smell very good. It won’t stand up well when it’s taken out of the hothouse and people try to apply it to real life. And the consequences of that might be broad enough to affect people other than the true believers.

The best illustration of my fears that I can think of is Timothy Treadwell, the man who went to live with the bears on the Alaskan peninsula to “protect” them. He had nothing but love for those bears, and he believed that his affection would somehow be transmitted to them and they would reciprocate. He embraced all the silliest most esoteric ideas available with regard to the vegan animal rights movement, and believed them so fervently that he was willing to bet his life on them. But those ideas were wrong, and in the end, the bears ate him.

Ideas have consequences in the real world, and should have them in academia as well. Or our entire culture and society may have a big hungry bear in our future.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

- The Newark Riots: 40 years later

I ride a train to work in New York City every day from my home near the Jersey shore. (In fact, it's where I write most of the essays... which my wife then publishes later after a little careful editing and spell checking. Such is the life of a dyslexic.) My wife, daughter and I live in a pastoral suburb about 1/2 hour from the beach, surrounded on all sides by the scenic horse farms of Monmouth county. If you were to look carefully at the map that Don over at The Armed Schoolteacher posted yesterday, you'll see that New Jersey is more or less divided across it's middle, and our town is the northeastern most town in the red southern half of the state.

But like everyone who commutes to New York by train from New Jersey, we make a stop in the once booming metropolis of Newark. Newark is a smallish city of about 300,000 souls, well inside the urban sprawl which would all look like part of New York city if you were to see it from orbit. It's about as far from Mike Bloomberg's Manhattan townhouse as Jamaica Queens or most of Brooklyn. But what makes Newark particularly unique is that virtually everything that a government can do wrong, for whatever reason, was done there. Over the last 50 years every well intentioned socialist dimwit, inscrutable political hack, corrupt local alderman, or mob entangled union thug in this part of the country has taken a whack at trying to empower government to "fix" Newark, but the results have been consistently disastrous. Once known as "the carjacking capital of the world" it's crime rates have consistently dwarfed the surrounding areas for generations.

The reason I bring all this up now, is that to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Newark riots, the Newark Star Ledger has come up with a little study of the demographics of Newark over the last 40 years. The online graphical version can be found here: Newark Demographics. Even a cursory look at the most of the statistics shows a clear cut case of a city continuing in economic and demographic free fall. All the statistics which could point to a stable productive society have fallen precipitously. Home ownership rates and median family Income have basically dropped off the map for most of the city, while the vacancy rates, unemployment rates, and median age have all soared. For an economist, these stats all look pretty disturbing. It's like the back half of an Ayn Rand novel come to life.

For those of you reading this from elsewhere in the country, there is an exception in Newark and it's called "The ironbound". It's the larger rectangle on sort of the center right of the map beside Newark Bay. That neighborhood has been a Portuguese and Brazilian enclave which has continued to buck the demographic tide in Newark. When I was in college a rumor used to be told about the purse snatcher in the ironbound who was caught by the mob and beaten to death on the street. The police could find no witnesses willing to testify, and the ironbound crime rate plummeted. I'm pretty sure it was just a rumor, but even then it was clear that it was a neighborhood which was different.

Apart from that though the city hasn't had a very good run. And even in the face of the fall of communism, the reform of welfare and the triumph of the free market, the cause of Newark's misery seems to elude discovery by the people in charge. So one would have to ask themselves why that could be? Newark is well inside the booming New York city metro area, and even has a neighborhood which has consistently done well by comparison. It's schools and government are largely supported by the tax payers in the more prosperous parts of the state, and there is no real shortage of money per capita, so what could it be?

Well at the risk of putting too fine a point in the issue, I think its pretty clearly racism. I think the government of Newark, Essex county, and the state of New Jersey are keeping the black population of Newark from prospering by implementing racist policies which prohibit their success. For the last 40 years the black residents of Newark have been treated like children by their government, and as a result, they have not had a chance to develop the independence that leads to prosperity. Even across town in the ironbound the strong families and close knit community ties have led to comparative success for Newark residents, but not so in the other neighborhoods where welfare, public housing, and other socialist giveaways have made sure that as many people as possible owe their survival to a benevolent state. The muddle headed socialism of the 60's matured in the last 40 years into the racism of the 21st century.

So why has Newark been so unrepentant in it's embrace of a failed ideology? Well I think it's probably easier for Tony Soprano to take a piece off the top of a billion dollars than a million, so the political machines don't have a lot of interest in keeping government small. And the addict is not usually the one who decides to go to rehab, especially when the product is still flowing, so people who promise cake and circuses for the voters can still get elected easily. I think it therefore falls on us, the people who are paying the bills. I think we have a responsibility to find a way to cut off the flow of cash so that Newark can begin to get it's demographic house in order.

The black men of Newark are not children they are men, and we should start to treat them that way. They need the chance to stand on their own two feet and to feel that sense of pride and accomplishment again. They deserve the chance to make it on their own in a free and open market of skills and ideas. And so long as they are treated like they are incapable of that and are protected by government from the very thing that will strengthen and revitalize their community, Newark will always be in decline.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

- The Front Lines of Gun Control

Don Gwinn and I have been having a discussion about Rudy Giuliani over at thearmedschoolteacher (my comments can be found a little further down). It seems that Don’s feeling a little like Ricky Ricardo who’s come home from the club to find a full grown African elephant in his living room. And it also seems that Rudy has a little “splaining” to do where his view of the second amendment is concerned.

You see when Rudy was Mayor of New York City, he was one of the most fervently antigun politicians in the country. It would be no exaggeration to say that he made Chuck Schumer and Mike Bloomberg look like Ted Nugent fans. Not only did he do his level best to reduce the number of legally owned guns in New York city during his tenure, but he also was a key participant in lawsuits designed to hold gun manufacturers negligently liable when their products were used in crimes.

The theory behind the lawsuit was that since gun manufacturers make more of their perfectly legal product every year than can be used for hunting and law enforcement, they must know that they are selling to an illegal market of criminals, and are therefore negligent. I hate to use an overworked analogy but it would be the same thing as saying that since 1% of all the people behind the wheel drive drunk, and since the car manufacturers know that, they are negligent for not making fewer cars and selling them only to ‘sober’ drivers. This is silly on it’s face…totally utterly ridiculous.

Here is a poor quality video clip of him announcing the lawsuit.

Of course the threadbare reasoning of the lawsuit didn’t really matter because it was nothing more than a diversion. It was a thin veneer of legal logic over the real goals of the lawsuit. The point was never really to enforce the law, or dispense justice, but to get rid of private firearms ownership. It was a quasi-legal back door tactic designed to eliminate guns without having to go about the messy business of dealing with the whole “constitutional amendment” thing. If you can get rid of the gun companies, you get rid of the guns…problem solved.

And Rudy jumped on the bandwagon of the lawsuit, not because he’s a closet Marxist, but because he’s a New Yorker. (And no … those two aren’t necessarily the same thing) Guns have been highly restricted in New York for nearly a century, so for most New Yorkers, the only people they’ve ever seen with guns are policemen, and criminals.

Other uses for firearms are simply so far outside their experience that they can’t imagine them. To his credit, Rudy had heard of the theoretical concept of hunting before, so he included that as an “approved and legal” use of firearms as well, but he simply couldn’t fathom any other valid legal purpose for them. And in New York City, his is not a unique perspective…. on the contrary, it’s the typical view. In fact it’s been that way there for generations.

Back in 1911, the Sullivan act was made a law in New York, placing rigid restrictions on handgun ownership. It was done for the same reason that most gun control laws are put in place, to find a way to legally keep guns out of the hands of a “bad element”. In this particular case it was the inner city Irish and Italian immigrants, who had the poor taste to think that they too should have a hand in controlling the politics of New York and didn’t enjoy having Tammany hall goons bash in their skulls. And although they may not all have the same long history, there have been gun control laws in lots of other places as well, and they all have had the same sort of beginnings.

To paraphrase another troublemaker Ben Franklin, “Gun control has never really been important in the first person as in “our guns”, it’s only been necessary in the third person as in “their guns.” It’s the foreigner, the stranger, the swarthy newcomer who’s been the target of most gun control in this country. The ugly truth of the gun control debate is, gun control advocates don’t want to get rid of everyone’s guns, just the people they don’t think should have them, and that is almost always “other people”.

I’m a married, upper middle class, 40 something white guy from the suburbs, who lives in a low crime area and likes to shoot skeet on the weekends. The simple fact of the matter is that gun control advocates don’t really mind if I want to have a gun. (I know this is true… I’ve asked them myself). Oh the rules are a big nuisance to me that’s for sure, but an anti gun politician isn’t going to get too worked up if I find a way to jump their hurdles because they don’t see me as the problem.

So let me quit beating around the bush and come right out and say what I mean. The fact is that whether it’s by design or accident, the vast majority of gun control in this country is targeted to keep guns out of the hands of black people. In my view it’s black people that the anti-gun politicians want to keep unarmed. And the strength of the gun control movement in any area is highly correlated to the percentage of the local population, which is black.

Anti-gun politicians will make a million excuses designed to obscure this fact. The inner city is a “different social dynamic”, or “people will be hit with stray bullets”, or whatever. But the fact is, when it comes time to ban firearms ownership, the people who are having their rights denied most directly for sake of public safety all pretty much look the same. And the rest of us are really just being infringed by proximity.

“The Community Service Society” says that roughly 13% of the black male population is ineligible to vote because of their criminal records, and that would also probably prohibit them from owning a firearm. However, That means that 87% of black men are eligible, and a much higher percentage of black women. The overwhelming majority America’s black community, inner city or otherwise, are responsible law abiding citizens who have exactly the same right as you and me, and that includes the same rights of self defense.

Yet they are continually discriminated against with regard to gun ownership ostensibly by virtue of where they live. And not only do the people who are discriminated against all coincidentally look the same, but the most vocal advocates for more gun control all look the same too, and they all look … well like Rudy. They are all rich, white, urban liberals who think that they are the ones who need to be making everyone’s decisions. They think we are all too stupid or irresponsible to make our own choices in our lives, and I guess that goes double if you want a handgun and you’re black.

At the national level gun control is a political loser. The press despised Rudy Giuliani when he was mayor of New York because (to their mind) he was too conservative, but the gun lawsuit was the one thing he did which they approved of. Now that he’s running for national office he’s softened his stance and tried to be more “middle of the road”. I think that’s typical, and even if a real liberal is elected in 2008, I don’t think we’ll be seeing any new gun control legislation from congress anytime soon.

But we still have the local battles to win. In Illinois where Don is, he has to deal with the political distortion of Chicago, and in New Jersey, we have to deal with New York City. Those cities as well as DC, Boston, and LA are the front lines of gun control and I think if we could engage the black community more effectively in the debate, we could settle the issue in two election cycles.

The cities are now the key to re-establishing second amendment rights, and it makes sense to me to start with the people who’s rights have been most actively denied. We need to graphically expose the racist origins of gun control, and find a way to educate the black community. It’s their rights that are being intentionally trampled not ours, and my guess is that they could use a reminder of that.

Monday, July 9, 2007

- The people's History

There was a saying popular in the Soviet Union: "Under communism" they said, "the future is certain, it's the past that's always in doubt."

This was a cute way of saying that under the soviet system, the way the facts of history are reported will reflect only what the current political leaders want it to. In the case of the soviet union, they would extol the virtues of the soviet man, a mythical creature created out of whole cloth by the state, who has been purged of all desire for himself, and only interested in well being of others. The very air he drew into his lungs would not be for himself. His alleged "desire" for air wasn't part of his being alone, but was to keep his body alive as a vessel of the "people's will." No one ever really believed it, but it made for entertaining fiction. In truth, it was a silly idea so fraught with sarcastic opportunity that I could write 5 essays on it.

But my point today is how everything these days seems to be turned upside down, and words don't seem to mean what they ought to. As a specific example, I am about the single most anti-establishment person I know. This entire blog is basically designed to ask the question "Can we find a way to fix our government that doesn't involve the use of force? (and if we can't... can someone make me a good deal on some 7.62x39mm ammo?)" I am constantly chattering on about trying to find a way to take power away from the establishment and give it back to individuals, and yet in our popular culture, I would be described as "a conservative". What, I wonder, do they imagine I'm trying to conserve?

Another example is the word "liberal". Traditionally it has meant someone who believes that each individual gets to decide for themselves how to spend their time, money and energy. But in the US at least, "a liberal" is someone who believes that we should increase taxes on everyone, increase all state regulation, enhance the power of government by taking it away from the people, slash the military budget to send illegal immigrants to college for free, make going to church illegal, and give dogs and cats the right to vote. Obviously I'm exaggerating a little... they don't really want to raise taxes on everyone, just on other people.

Some people, it turns out, have a problem with words always meaning the same thing. They concentrate on "spin" and "color" and will stretch the meaning of fairly rigid terms continually to their breaking point. Marxist becomes "progressive", "liberal" becomes "conservative", "retreat" becomes "redeployment", "illegal alien" becomes "undocumented worker", "Tax Increase" becomes "Tax Reform" etc. It's no wonder we of different political persuasions have so much trouble communication. We're not just talking past each other, we're using the same words to speak two totally different languages. And it isn't that we say "toe may toe" and they say "toe Mah toe", it's more like we say tomato and they say, "organically grown, free range, gluten free, fair trade gathered, non GM, salad enhancer... (that will $1.79 in individual agriculture tax please)". We're on two totally different wavelengths, and recognize two totally different sets of things to be true.

So for those of you on the far side of the partisan gap who probably don't have any idea what I'm talking about (except for the part about raising the tax on tomatoes to $1.79) let me clue you in on some of the things that we (gulp) "conservatives" believe is true.

We believe that if one person works harder than another, it's perfectly fair for the first person to get more for it than the second. We think that there is no such thing as a free lunch, and that if someone has gone to the trouble of making something, anything, they should be allowed to sell it for whatever the market will bear, and no law can make that number higher or lower. We believe that an individual knows more about what they want, and what they are willing to give up to get it, than any government bureaucrat, so you can't make laws that are more "fair" than that no matter what party you say you belong to.

And foremost in my personal agenda, we believe that it's unjust for the government of New Jersey to make 8 million people suffer under the burden of paying for a benefit that goes to only one person in nine. That one person in nine, is the person who worked for the government of New Jersey. They are going to get 100% of their salary, and free medical care for themselves and their families for life, simply for having worked for the government.

This last one is based on the fact that economic growth comes from productivity not consumption. It's building the house that contributes to economic growth, not living in it as a squatter. And since that's so, our government has done nothing to contribute to the growth of the state, other than impose a tax and regulatory burden high enough to make it more difficult. And for the gift of making all of our lives harder, they will be generous enough to present a bill to us every day till they die. They're in bed with the governor, both literally and metaphorically, so he won't be trying to stop it. And our legislators of both political parties are in on the game. They've got us cold, and since they also control the courts, there are few options left for us under the law.

So following the fine example of the socialists who went before us it turns out that, "In New Jersey too, the future has become certain". We'll be paying the bills of the NEA and the CWA members till the last pensioner dies off many ... MANY decades from now. But if I have my way, at least we'll no longer be told a single government approved version of the past. Maybe I can shed enough light on what's happening to cast some doubt on the official version of history: "How the brave civil servants stood up to the massed forces of the free market", to defend the state's taxpayers from freedoms that they lack the wisdom and energy to handle."

I guess I shouldn't be surprised that the official version sounds just as silly to me as the "soviet man."