Friday, August 31, 2007

- The Charles E. Schumer Memorial Rifle Range: Part 2

When I wrote a piece last week about how PAC’s are becoming to voters what labor unions used to be to workers, I didn’t think I was saying anything too controversial. It seemed a pretty straightforward comparison to me. The union came about as a reaction to management taking labor for granted, and the PAC is arising now as a result of our politicians doing the same. And just like management had to rethink its relationship to labor after the rise of unions, PACs are making politicians rethink their relationships with the voters as well.

As an example in my last piece, I used my local State Assemblyman, Mike Panter. For those of you who don’t live in New Jersey, Mike Panter is my local Assemblyman, a machine politician for the Democrat party. He's also the guy that proposed the law in New Jersey that would make it illegal to own a rifle larger than .50-caliber because he’s afraid it will be used to shoot jet airliners. He has also proposed a law to ban Foie Gras, because he said that it's a "barbaric practice that has no place in any civilized society." (That’s Goose liver he’s talking about; not eating puppies, or voting Republican or something truly evil like that) And most recently, he’s proposed a crafty backdoor bureaucratic change to a NJ government department which will give his loopy animal rights supporters the means to ban all hunting in New Jersey. This is in a state where the Bear population is soaring, and where every year Deer cause $38,000,000 in traffic damage alone.

I’m sure you get the idea. He’s hardly the picture of a responsible and considered government statesman, interested only in effecting those changes that will improve the lives of his constituents. Frivolity is more the order of the day. I like to think of him like a vegetarian version of Fredo from the godfather movies. He may not be as bright as everyone else, but for the most part he does what he’s told, and tries to keep from embarrassing anyone. But unfortunately for him, he’s signed on with a group called the HSUS, which is a PAC made up of uber-radical animal rights extremists, who are using him to advance their laughable agenda, and they don’t care how silly it makes him look in the process. Throughout his term he’s toed their line pretty effectively regardless of how foolish it makes him seem to the broader electorate, and in return they’ve generously helped him raise money.

Well in reaction to his work as well as the general hostility shown in the assembly to hunting and fishing, a new PAC has formed called the “New Jersey Outdoor Alliance”. The fact that they’ve sprung up like this at just this moment supports my broader thesis about the relationship between PACs and politicians. I plainly said that I thought it was a non-partisan issue, and that some of them were the good guys. Well in my opinion these would be them.

And even though someone close to Panter (or maybe Panter himself) sent me a little nasty-gram for my comments section, his reaction to this new PAC seems to support my position pretty well. For instance, wrote an article about the new PAC where Panter was interviewed for comment. In a moment of stupefying clarity, he all but came right out and said that while he didn’t give a hoot about their positions before, now that they’ve formed a PAC he’s more than happy to kiss whatever anatomy part is necessary to curry their favor. I think his words speak volumes about the relationship as he sees it.

You can read the whole article here, but to be frank, it’s mostly backroom political tedium if you ask me. It would be “inside the beltway” stuff, if Trenton had a beltway. The only part that’s really entertaining is how quickly Panter tries to suck up to the new PAC as a source of political influence. For instance, after several years of Panter’s close association to a radical animal rights group that he has obeyed so dutifully as to all but totally burn his reputation, he comes out and says:

"The original intent was to make [the Fish and Game Council], which was created decades ago and is always marred in controversy, more representative," Assemblyman Panter said. "This is by no means an anti-hunting bill."

Nonsense. It’s true that to the people who are diametrically opposed to hunting for any reason, the council has always been controversial, but they’re the only ones. Not even Fredo could be so stupid to think that anyone is going to believe that. But he is a politician and therefore telling lies is sort of his stock and trade, so to be fair I think on this stetement he should probably get a pass. But when the new PAC (which started its life with several thousand members and will probably include nearly all of the roughly 200,000 hunters in New Jersey eventually) said that they wouldn’t meet with him because of his stated antipathy to their views, he said this:

If I were to give them some political advice at this point, it would be that they have a sponsor of this bill who respects hunting and wants to work with them on this.”

He’s trying to ban Foie gras as barbaric, and prevent people from shooting down 747’s with their .78 caliber civil war muzzleloaders, but all of a sudden he "respects hunting". How could this have happened I wonder? I don’t know about you, but I can almost hear him discreetly sticking his hand out for a tip. I wonder what the tofu eaters over at the HSUS will say when they find out that their favorite son is making a deal with their version of the devil. Maybe the next time they get together to nurse an injured squirrel back to health someone should ask them.

And then this guy who suddenly “respects hunting” issued the all time capper, a threat of other more punitive legislation if the new PAC doesn’t play ball:

"Also, they should keep in mind that there are around 25 members of the legislature [whose names] are on at least one bear hunt ban bill...We haven't moved any of those bills yet."

Anyway, I think "Fredo" Panter has effectively made my point. When I said that the PAC was a way that the voters now use to control the legislators instead of being controlled by them, someone close to Panter got all indignant, but put another PAC out there that is diametrically opposed to everything he's ever legislated, and he suddenly “respects hunting” and is “willing to make a deal”. Personally, I’m not surprised. He won his district last time by fewer than 100 votes; less than the contents of a single Democratic cemetery. You would think that a guy who won his district by so little would feel less secure about putting forth such frivolous legislation, and looking like such a fool. But the HSUS spoke, and he parroted their view. His loss.

In the meantime, the Bear population of New Jersey is soaring, and eventually one of these bears is going to walk away with someone’s child in their mouth. When that happens, the radical anti-hunting forces like the HSUS will demand that we spend a billion dollars a year on Ursine Birth control, but they will still object to all hunting on principle, while more serious environmental groups like the World Wildlife Fund will continue to embrace it more and more, as the best way to protect endangered species and ensure healthy animal populations. It’s the difference between really caring about the animals, and only caring about themselves. And we know which one of those applies to the HSUS, especially after they treated their pet politician's reputation as badly as they have.

And I think my point is well made in microcosm. This little man with his little issues is ready to do double back flips on everything he’s sponsored up to now, so long as the PAC will make it worth his while. He’s not a powerful guy or a principled guy, but he is a typical politician. And in the way that he relates to the PAC’s, I think he’s an excellent example of what the future holds. So the title of that last essay might not be too far off after all. The Charles E. Schumer memorial rifle range might be a doable thing if the price is right. It’s government policy for sale, one vote at a time to the highest bidder. That’s not what I meant when said that government should be more like a free market, but I’ll take it. At least it doesn't leave we peasants totally out in the cold.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

- Did Someone Mention Jim McGreevey?

I don’t care about the Craig scandal. In fact, I so “don’t care” that the only reason I know about it is because I took 5 minutes to read National Review Online last night before I collapsed from exhaustion. There are a lot of comparisons being thrown up between him and Jim McGreevey, but I don’t think they’re fair. Sure, they both like rest-stop bathroom sex with anonymous men, but who doesn’t? (Just kidding mom) After that though the similarity is over.

So for those of you who don’t know the details of the “real” McGreevey scandal, let me give you a little run down. In New Jersey, we have the highest property taxes in the country, and that makes it tough on anyone who hold acreage because it’s taxed at it’s development value. The only exception to this is farmers, who get a whopping tax break. It’s so big in fact that no food producer in the state would be able to operate without it. As an example, on a 40-acre farm in Monmouth County, with the tax rebate, the taxes might be roughly $9,000 per year, but without it, they could be as high as $50,000 to $60,000 per year or more if you have good road access. (These estimates are very, very rough, but I think the scale is about right)

Anyway, our politicians know this, so during the McGreevey administration, his confidant and Democratic fundraiser, David D’Amiano was indicted for extortion of a farmer. He was alleged to have asked for $40,000 to keep him zoned as a farm, making him eligible for the tax credit. But the farmer, a man named Mark Halper wanted some assurance that things would go his way, so D’Amiano told him that an important state official would use the word Machiavelli in a conversation as a sort of verbal secret handshake. When he heard it, it would be the signal that he was in on the deal. Well sure enough, McGreevey was alleged to have said that very thing and eventually, hilarity ensued. Halper was wearing a wire for the federal investigators, who were all over the state at the time, and the next thing you know Jim McGreevey is “coming out“. It was later alleged that he had promoted a man to be head of Homeland Security in the state, on the basis of his sexual prowess, and there were sexual harassment charges filed as well. It got pretty sordid.

You can read about it here and here, but the truth is, I think it’s mostly its old news. Jim McGreevey wasn’t contemptible because he was gay or because he liked anonymous sex, or because of any of the other nonsense in his personal life. If it’s outside my immediate family, I really don’t care who someone sleeps with. The thing that made him contemptible, was the fact that he was a thoroughly corrupt and irresponsible public official, who treated the responsibility of his office about as lightly as anyone ever has. So when they discover that Larry Craig was soliciting bribes from honest citizens to keep their taxes where they should be by law, promoting his boy-toys to important national offices, and sexually harassing every congressional page in Washington, then I’ll be prepared to view them as the same. Until then, to me he’s just some guy who’s trying to squirm out of an embarrassing position. Hardly a rarity in government, and not really worth any more of my time.

Monday, August 27, 2007

- The Charles E. Schumer Memorial Rifle Range

I’m going to come right out and say it, I’m no big fan of labor unions. By raising the cost of labor through thuggery and intimidation, they hurt both the companies they’re contracted to and the workers they claim to be trying to help in the first place. Don’t believe me? Try asking the employees of American Motors or Pan-Am Airlines. What?! Those companies went out of business over 20 years ago? Gee, I wonder how something like that could have happened.

But even with my lack of reverence for the current state of the labor movement, I will still admit that the rise of labor union as an institution was a natural reaction to what employees saw as abuse by management. The workers of the early industrial era felt that their bosses were mistreating them, so they banded together in order to use the force of numbers to try and push back. Where it ended up is an issue we can debate another time, but that was certainly the road they set out upon. And I think we’re seeing the same thing now with regard to the abuse of the people by our government, and the rise of the PAC.

PAC’s (which stands for Political Action Committee) are everywhere these days. In truth they are nothing more than an organized group of people who are pulling together to accomplish a political goal. They perform all the functions that you would normally attribute to an election campaign but are focused on an issue rather than a candidate. They arrange letter-writing campaigns, hold rallies, call potential voters etc. But most of what they do is they raise money, and then use that money to wine dine and otherwise “persuade” legislators toward their goals, or hire a lobbyist to do it for them. They aren’t lobbyists themselves exactly. But the only real difference between a PAC and a lobbyist is that the PAC is like the townspeople forming a posse, and the lobbyist is like the hired gun they bring in from out of town. The lobbyist is Clint Eastwood, while the PAC is an angry mob.

PAC’s make up the bulk of what is usually referred to as “the special interests” and much of the money that’s thrown around our centers of government comes from them. But what is and what isn’t a PAC can be confusing. As an example, I’m a member of the NRA, but that isn’t a PAC because it does things other than politics. They are engaged in promoting the shooting sports and are also involved in something called the “Civilian Marksmanship Program” which was designed to help the country keep up its rifle shooting skills during peacetime, like the Welsh bowmen of Henry V. And since these acts are not specifically directed at politics, the NRA itself doesn’t actually qualify as a PAC.

But while they themselves are not a PAC, they do have a PAC with which they’re “affiliated”. (In case you don’t work for the government, what “affiliated” means is that they pay for it.) The NRA-ILA stands for the “National Rifle Associate – Institute for Legislative Action” and it does qualify as a PAC because its goals are only political. And in a typically conservative tradition of nomenclature it is named for exactly what it sounds like. It’s an organization which is engaged in persuading legislators to vote in the interest of the National rifle Association. The NRA itself is a pro-gun organization which I’m proud to be affiliated. And since I’m an NRA member, by proxy then, I’m also a part of their PAC. And although there are lots of PAC’s on both sides of the aisle, if you looked at just their names would probably think otherwise.

Conservative PACs almost always name themselves in predictable fashion, choosing names that indicate exactly what they stand for. But for some reason that’s beyond my ken, liberal PAC’s typically choose names are in direct contradiction to their actual goals. “Planned Parenthood” isn’t about planning parenthood it’s about preventing it through widespread abortion. The “American Civil Liberties Union” spends much of its time attacking the freedom of religious expression, a constitutionally protected, civil liberty. The “American Hunters and Shooters Association” is actually an anti-gun group that promotes rigid government controls on firearms ownership, and a liberal group called “FAIR” (“Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting”) is dedicated to preserving exclusive liberal hegemony over the mainstream news media.

And then there’s my all time personal favorite along this delusional vein, the “People For the American Way”. PFAW is an extremely liberal organization, which is just fine with me as far as it goes. I disagree with them about most things but they’re still entitled to speak their piece, same as the rest of us. But the only way a reasonable person could describe their focus as “The American Way” would be if it turned out that “The American Way” was actually surprisingly similar to the “Soviet Russian Way” circa 1936. Likewise if you took what most people would traditionally view as “The American Way”, and scribbled it down as a manifesto, then the PFAW would fight tooth and nail against almost every bit of it.

I guess the people who run those liberal PAC’s think we’ll be dumb enough to support them just because of their name; As if we’d all support an organization called the “Organization for Responsible Government” even if their ideas amounted to nothing more than basing all our currency on arboreal lichen, giving the right to vote to monkey’s, and changing the official language of the US to Esperanto. But the “Style vs. Substance” debate between liberals and conservatives is good for at least one more essay so I won’t go into it further here.

I don’t know if there is a running count anyplace, but given the split on the last two presidential elections, I’m willing to bet that nationwide, the number of PAC’s is about evenly split on both sides of the aisle. And the same can probably be said of their relative budgets and spending. These days the idea of an elected representative being directly accountable to the actual citizens they represent is totally out of the question. I couldn’t find the direct quote to attribute to anyone, but all the same I can almost hear some elected official somewhere saying: “Well if they thought it was so important then they would have formed a PAC”.

But don’t our legislators still right wrongs and fight injustice? Aren’t they still even a little interested in what the people who vote for them actually want? In his movie about a grifter turned congressman, even Eddie Murphy helped the little girl who went bald from the power lines behind her house. Isn’t that the way that government still works? In a word, no, and it hasn’t been that way for a very long time (and it might never have been that way in New Jersey). The days when government officials worked to make citizens lives easier went out of style before WWII, and now it’s all about the expansion of their power in ways that offend the least number of people.

For instance, let’s have a look at the legislative agenda of my favorite Democratic Party drone, ex-ambulance chaser turned State Assemblyman Mike Panter of New Jersey. Mr. Panter has been a fairly busy boy, but the work he’s been doing isn’t exactly described as heroic. The website of the NJ State legislature shows him as being the sponsor of 20 bills currently before the assembly and co sponsor of another 20. But of the 40 pieces of legislation he’s involved in, the vast majority is being offered in response to the efforts to one of the several PACs, which help Panter raise funds to get re-elected. It may be the local teachers union PAC that works hand in glove with the Democratic Party, or the HSUS, a radical animal rights PAC, but someone somewhere is paying him to do their bidding, or the bidding just doesn’t get done. And the honest truth is that the remaining percentage of his legislative calendar may be in response to a PAC as well, but the actual legislation is such cryptically worded minutiae that I lack the patience and legal deciphering skill to be able to figure it out for sure.

In other words, he’s long ago stopped caring about “what the people want” unless the people are willing to pony up a little dough for the sake of gaining access to the discussion. And since this is the “way things get” done for Panter’s esteemed colleagues as well, this process has created a sort of “government of the highest bidder”, where the PACs that have lots of members and foster lots of deep commitment get lots of authority over the legislative agenda. And to be fair (but not too much… after all Election Day approach-eth) it’s not just the slip and fall Democrats like Panter who are getting into the game. In fact, I think one would be very hard pressed to find even a single elected official on either side of the aisle who isn’t in the pocket of one PAC or another. It’s just the way things work these days.

But politicians have always been crooked, so that’s hardly news. The real issue is that PAC’s and “special interest” are a de-facto part of the legislative process now. And since they represent someone’s actual interests, they are still a part of “the people”, but they’re the part that’s willing to legally bribe politicians to do what they want. And personally I think it’s a shame that it has finally come to that.

We’ve entered a phase of our grand experiment in self-rule where we no longer get to rule ourselves. We’ve handed so much control of our lives over to the government, and it has become so completely unresponsive to our will, that we can only make it work now by throwing money at it. And the way we’ve come up with to throw money at it without joining our politicians in federal prison is to form a PAC. The PAC’s allow us to use our numbers to directly push back against the people, who look at us more like a resource to be used up than an interested party in their actions. And it’s all because the people who run our government no longer see us as their partners; they see us as their property. The PAC’s have arisen, like the unions, as a desperate attempt to make them pay attention.

So if I try to peer into the future just a little, I can see how this whole PAC and 527-committee thing could end up just like the unions did as well. Rival PAC’s will be bumping off each other’s lobbyists, and dynamiting each other’s cars. They’ll be self appointed “commissions” of approved PAC’s and the FBI will be spying on them. Your local gun club PAC will have to pay a percentage of funds raised to “the higher ups” at the national in Washington. They’ll be lending big money to Casino’s, fixing elections instead of sporting events and being accused of sneaking bombs into Hugo Chavez’s cigar box. And eventually, they’ll be stuffing bodies into trash compactors and hiding others under the “assault weapons only” bullet trap at Manhattan’s new “Charles E. Schumer” memorial rifle range.

Well OK that’ last bit might be a little wishful thinking on my part. But just because I’ve become my government’s servant instead of the other way around, doesn’t mean I can’t imagine the good guys winning one or two somewhere along the line. You see now that it’s fully out in the open that government can be bought; it conjures up a whole new set of variables. Issues that used to be about principle (however misguided) will now be open for purchase. Eventually we’ll all be in a PAC, maybe several, and it will be the only way we communicate our will to our government. The elected officials will all be the same breed of crafty ex-attorney and the political parties will be exactly the same, but the people who buy them off will be as diverse as America. And when it gets to that point, those who will pay the most will get the most. And when we get to that day, I’m sure the NRA would be willing to pay far more to get Chuck Schumer’s name on a rifle range, than “Planned Parenthood” would be willing to spend to get Sam Brownback’s name on an abortion clinic.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Roughly 150 reasons to rob someone else...

My mother in law is in town so my wife and I used the time to run out to the firing range so she could get in some practice with her new Springfield XD9 (It's really a beautiful gun BTW). I loaded magazines for her while she shot at three different Shoot-N-See targets positioned at various points around one of our "pits". When we were finished, this is what was left of "Target No 1".

With my commute I work pretty long hours and she's home alone a lot with our seven year old daughter. If you are casing my neighborhood, here is roughly 150 reasons to rob someone else.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

- We Actually Need The "Invisible Foot"

I’ve said before that I don’t mind ignorance at all. I know lots of people whom I admire greatly, who don’t know the first thing about making Yak butter. On that topic they are all profoundly ignorant. Even stupidity doesn’t leave me put off when it’s presented in a courteous fashion. I know a man who works at my local Agway who reminds me greatly of Forest Gump, but I like him just fine. He’s a simple guy with few illusions about it, and in the meantime is awfully pleasant and friendly. What’s not to like?

But the thing that reduces me to a mind numbing, spittle-flecked rage is arrogance. When someone makes it clear that they believe they’re an expert on something, when it can be objectively demonstrated that they are not, I slip off the edge and become a blue faced, kilt clad barbarian, bent upon the destruction of their argument and the spectacular, dramatic, and public humiliation of it’s purveyor. Age and maturity have tempered my outward displays so all that people see is me encouraging them to follow their mangled logic further and further out onto a precarious limb, and then cutting it off. But inside I’m still leaping up onto the table with a shrill battle cry, and swinging my axe over my head.

I know it’s a character flaw on my part, but I can’t help myself.

And it’s this intolerance of arrogance that is at the heart of my trouble with government making all of our decisions for us. Most of what government does these days is based upon the idea, that we are too stupid, childish or irresponsible to manage our own affairs. But the basic problem with this logic is that while that may or may not be true of us, it is certainly as true of them as well. In fact if Martians landed on the earth tomorrow and wanted to see examples of hubris, stupidity, childishness, and irresponsibility, the best place you could send them would be to the US congress.

Time and time again, our governing bodies have acted in ways that astound me. They take the most complex, elegant and beautiful decision making structures that have taken western civilization millennia to establish, and with a single stroke of a pen reduce them to patent idiocy. Over the eons we’ve created these fantastic mechanisms of decision making in our society where everything is balanced against an opposing incentive. The desire for adventure is measured against loyalty, ambition is softened by prudence, passion is restrained by discretion, and aggressiveness is mitigated by fear.

These elegant structures of cause and effect, where every party has the means to acquire the information they need and all complexity is considered, became the “fabric of western society”. And then along comes congress and reduces it all to a linear bit of law so vague and preposterous that it can seem to be understood by everyone, but in fact can’t actually be understood by anyone. And the effect of this law is to shatter the institution and leave the ruin of society in its wake.

Examples of this are everywhere but in order to cite one effectively I need to also be able to describe the institutions it replaces, and that can be difficult for anyone. So if readers will grant me just a little latitude, I’m going to cite a theoretical example of a law to explain the concept, and if anyone takes specific exception, I’ll be happy to address any offered examples after the fact.

So for the purposes of argument, let us say that some academic somewhere produces a study that shows that teen age boys no longer listen to their mothers, and that “boys who don’t listen” are more likely to commit a crime. “This is a travesty!” Says the Democratic representative from sector 7G, “We need to do something about this!!! We need a law requiring all boys under the age of 18 to listen to their mothers, in order to fight the root causes of crime!!!”

With little debate, and even less actual thought, the bill is passed, and it is now a law. So what has changed in our society? How does that 18 year old make his decisions now?

Well before the law, if a boy were to listen to his mother, he would have two incentives in opposition to one another. His peers would almost certainly ridicule him for being a “momma’s boy” or whatever, and that would make him want to disobey. But at the same time, the elders of his community would praise him for respecting his mother and for his prudent behavior. One incentive pushes him in one direction, and another incentive in the other, and every time he was ordered to do something by his mother, he would have to weigh these two incentives and make a determination about which one to follow.

But after the law is passed, things are different. The incentive to disobey will still be there because his friends will still ridicule him, but if he decides to obey, the elders of the community will no longer praise him. After all, he’s no longer showing maturity because it’s no longer a prudent choice on his part; it’s just him doing what he absolutely must by obeying the law. So the incentive to disobey remains while the incentive to obey is diminished in some small way. And net on net, with all incentives considered, the odds of him obeying his mother have actually been reduced by implementing a law that mandates it. This is what Frederich Hayek called, intrinsic information.

In a real example, there are a million other tiny incentives as well, and they will all have a small effect on each of his decisions. But it’s still a fitting example of how government replaces elegant institutions with simple ones, and hurts society in the process.

One of the best “real life” examples of this can be found in the modern welfare system. By implanting simplistic policies of providing money to anyone who “needs” it, they in effect, replaced the husband in the effected communities, with a team of state bureaucrats, without any consideration of the long-term effects of that policy. The results were widespread, devastating and disastrous. And every bit of it was caused by the hubris of some government “know it all”. Somewhere someone in government believed that they knew how to solve those people’s problems better than they knew themselves.

So this is why I spend so much time, and have gone to so much trouble just to complain about the government. As a group, government workers aren’t particularly intelligent people; they are certainly no smarter than average, but that offends me not at all. What pushes me to the edge is their absolutely consistent belief that they know better than us even though it can be demonstrated time and time again that virtually everything they have ever tried has failed to meet it’s stated goals.

And the solution is not to get better people in government because the decision-making institution itself is the cause of the problem. No one in government no matter how smart will ever be able to look into my heart and understand the things I think are most important. And even if they could, what I want is so different from what everyone else wants, that someone somewhere will certainly be getting the short end of the stick.

We’ve all heard about Adam Smith’s invisible hand, which builds wealth for everyone by letting them do what they like. But what we need now is an invisible foot, which we use to kick government out of our day-to-day lives.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

- Ruining The Sport of Killing Black People

Today Walter Williams has published a piece on Townhall where he says that the black community is going to have to take responsibility for providing it’s own safety if the police can’t (or won’t) do it for them. I strongly suggest you all read it. And as usual, I go a little further than that in claiming that the entire “Gun Control Movement” is really about racism, and always has been. It's proponents are really about controlling (or eliminating) guns for black people, while they think that guns for a suburban middle aged white guy like me are perfectly OK.

The entire gun control movement through it's whole history, has really been about nothing other than ensuring that law abiding black people are never treated as true equals in this society. It's my opinion, that black men and women have been systematically denied their rights, and prevented from taking on their responsibilities, by a racist system which would rather see them as serfs of an all powerful state, than true citizens of a free country.

This goes against absolutely everything I believe.

Walter Williams is a lot smarter than I am, so I’m particularly pleased to discover that he and I agree on such a pressing issue. But even more pressing today is my schedule, so although I will be writing more on this in the very near future, I’d like to remind you all of what I wrote about it here:

The Newark Shooting

and here:

Pushing back on Gun Control

and here:

An Argument for more gun laws

and here:

Our rights are Limited by the Imagination of our Legislators

and here:

Keeping New Jersey Safe for Politicians

and here:

The front lines of Gun Control

and here:

My Favorite Gun Statistics

and finally here:

The Newark riots, 40 Years Later

And I’d still appreciate any suggestions anyone can offer on how to get the word out to the law abiding black community of Newark, that there are people out here who are on their side and willing to help.


All links have been fixed. Sorry for the confusion.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

- Legislative Reading List

If hubris could be sold “by the bottle”, there aren’t enough people in China to match even a fraction of the production of the New Jersey legislature, and local government officials. Never before in human history has there been such a collection of scoundrels, liars, cheats, thieves, grifters, scam artists and would be felons, who have felt so entitled to take what they like from the state and local governments, and make no apologies for it. And even on the rare occasion that someone acts so brazenly that we manage to convict them of something, they even find a way to turn a profit on that.

The new “must read” book of the New Jersey Legislature is this staggeringly arrogant tome by ex New Jersey politician Gerald Luongo, “Surviving Federal Prison Camp: An informative and helpful guide for prospective assemblymen inmates.” Luongo was among the batch of dimmer bulbs who failed to slip past the federal prosecutors during the illustrious McGreevey administration which I wrote about here. He was convicted of mail fraud, tax fraud, and corruption in 2002, and was sentenced to 13 months in federal prison as part of a plea bargain which got him off on another 4 or 5 counts of something or other.

Prior to his entry into the highly respected world of New Jersey politics, Luongo scammed people on a much smaller scale as a member of the NJEA, the New Jersey teachers union that works hand in glove to control the Democratic party. And since his conviction an action has been brought to take away his teaching certificate, and thus limit his pension. In the action Luongo and his attorney’s repeatedly argued that he felt he was an excellent role model for children. Some world huh?

Personally I think it would serve the people of New Jersey well to give a copy of a Luongo’s book to every incoming freshmen member of the State assembly, so they can prepare now for their future. Then again, since they are in the New Jersey state assembly, maybe they can just go steal one.

Monday, August 20, 2007

- The Newark Shooting: "Everything is just fine" according to the government

There has been much uproar recently about an execution style shooting which took place in Newark. Three young black college students, all unarmed, were lined up against a schoolyard wall, forced to kneel down, and killed execution style in what appears to be a robbery gone bad. All of the alleged assailants had been charged with crimes in the past, and at least one was an illegal alien with ties to the gang MS-13. It’s also currently alleged that at the time of the shooting, one of them was out on bail awaiting prosecution, after being charged with the unrelated rape of a 5 year old.

In reaction to this tragedy, both Governor Corzine and Mayor Booker, both immediately responded by making it clear that they neither understood the causes of the issue, nor planned to do anything effective about it. Mayor Booker went on record immediately as stating that the immigration status of the alleged murderers was “irrelevant” as far as he was concerned, even though it was clear to everyone that the enforcement of our immigration laws would have prevented this tragedy.

Meanwhile governor Corzine, in a town meeting in South Orange, uttered the factually incorrect statement that “New Jersey has some of the weakest gun laws in the country”, when in fact the exact opposite is true. In fact it’s quite likely that the state’s draconian gun laws probably contributed, albeit indirectly, to the deaths of these three young men. And as a note of support for the accused assailants rather than the victims, he also promised to enact even more laws to guarantee that future victims of all criminals will be just as likely to be as helpless as these were.

Then in a final bit of political bait and switch, Corzine announced that New Jersey had made a ”new” deal with the BATF to use their database for analyzing the source of guns used in crimes, and to begin tracing them all the way back to the law abiding businessmen who originally sold them. But in spite Corzine’s assertions, the very reason the BATF keeps the database in the first place is to allow this kind of search, and it has been available for local police department use since it’s inception. There was nothing at all new here, but I suppose he wanted to sound like he was trying.

There are so many ways in which our government failed in this scenario that it’s difficult to know where to begin to criticize them. Had the immigration laws been enforced at the outset, or had they been enforced when the assailants committed their first set of crimes, three lives would have been saved. And for the national news media, and the national politicians, this story seems to be about our open doors immigration policy, and I suppose that to some extent they’re right.

But to me, just a few miles from Newark, it’s not really about immigration. It’s about how our politicians always seem to force New Jersey’s black community to bear the worst brunt of those politicians’ mistakes. It’s about how time and time again they implement policies, which have negative and sometimes disastrous effects, and without fail the worst of those effects are felt, not by white people from the prosperous suburbs, but by the inner city black community. And this horrific story is no different. Had the state and local government not systematically denied the constitutional rights of the victims of the shooting, then the chances are much higher that three lives would have been saved. Had they not gone to such great lengths to make sure that no black man in New Jersey understands that it is his constitutional right to ensure his personal self-defense, these three young men might have been able to defend themselves.

By implementing draconian gun control laws, the State of New Jersey has assured all future felons of a ready community of potential victims, and for the most part, the faces of those victims will be black. Rich suburbanites can find ways to circumvent New Jersey’s stringent gun control laws, and can therefore find a way to defend themselves. Criminals are aware of this so they leave them alone and stick to those people who they believe are least likely to put up a fight. The rich folks from the suburbs typically have the resources to find one of the increasingly rare shooting ranges, and to get the training necessary in how to use a firearm. But for the inner city black community, all they get is a lecture on anti-gun propaganda, some empty promises, and a politician’s visit to the memorial service for the children they bury.

Widespread gun ownership has long been documented as a deterrent to criminal activity. But in spite of this widely recognized fact, the gun control movement has always been most active in areas with high crime rates. Advocates of the gun control movement argue that the crime is the cause of their efforts, when in fact it’s become increasingly clear that the high crime rate is more likely to be an effect of it. Successful implementation of gun control disarms only the members of a community who are willing to abide by its laws, leaving those who have chosen a life of crime with a substantial advantage in firepower. That criminal element can proceed with confidence knowing that the government has made it very rare that their victims will be able to fight back.

The racist origins of the gun control movement are no secret. The gun control movement has always been only about ensuring that minorities stay unarmed, and although it’s advocates are unlikely to admit it, that continues to be the case. New Jersey’s gun laws are not aimed at disarming rich suburbanites, but young black men. And in the case of this recent shooting, those laws have famously succeeded. None of the victims was armed, and therefore none of them was able to defend themselves.

With regard to this tragedy, all went the way they were supposed to as far as the government was concerned. The construction companies had their cheap illegal labor, the black community was disarmed and had no way to defend themselves, and the rich suburbanites have all been protected. Corzine and Booker still have their campaign funds rolling in, and are still able to get out there and find new ways to but into the lives of law abiding people. As far as the government is concerned, everything is exactly as it should be. But three young people are still dead, and an entire community is being systematically denied their rights.

In the hands of a law-abiding citizen, a firearm is a force used for ensuring order, protecting the innocent and promoting justice. It makes the criminal’s job a much more dangerous one, and forces him to choose a different, less dangerous line of work. It’s my belief that we need to do all we can to try to arm every law-abiding man and woman in the city of Newark, regardless of their race. We should do all we can to ensure that they can find a way to legally purchase a firearm, and that they get the training necessary to be able to use it safely for their own defense. The law abiding black community of Newark has always known that it can’t rely on the police to protect them. And I think it’s time we do what we can to help them protect themselves.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

You would not believe....

How many hits I've gotten from Morocco, Bahrain, and the UAE in the last 72 hours. I'm just guessing, but I'll bet it isn't because they love my sense of humor. I doubt that there are large groups of closet libertarian gun nuts, or people with an interest in program trading in those locations.

No... it seems pretty clear to me that they are interested in the way I have "offended Islam" with my characterizations. I think I'm too small time for a fatwa. And although a lawsuit from CAIR probably isn't totally out of the question, I think the most I'll get is an intimidation attempt. Someone at one of the pro-arab PAC's will send me a "do what we tell you or we're going to bad things to you with our lawyers" note, which I'll forward to my lawyer, and a few hundred of my closest friends in the media, and then ignore.

I'm sure Mark Levin is going to have a field day with it.

As I'm sure you can guess, I've offended plenty of people in person before so that's no big deal to me, but I think this will be the first time I've ever offended someone via the web. And to tell the truth, I was a little worried initially about potentially offending Catholics with my portrayal of the Pope, but I got over it quickly. I realized that so long as I showed the Pope in a manner consistent with the image he projects to the world, the chances of offending someone were pretty small.

But because the image they project is much more violent and angry, Muslims were much more likely to be offended if I stuck to that same standard with them. But since they've made it so clear to everyone how sensitive they are about it, I find that I care much less.

So far, there has been no death threats or legal nastiness, but I look forward to anything the advocates of the religion of peace may have up their sleeves. Nothing makes people see how reasonable you are like sicking your lawyers on every two bit, pro gun blogger who says something you don't like.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Islam vs. The West: The Final Conflict

Here, presented in serialized format so you can see them in the proper order, is the entire drama, of Islam vs. The West.

Islam vs. The West Part 1: "The Challenge"

Islam vs. The West Part 2: "The Sequel"

and Now....

Islam vs. The West Part 3: The Final Battle







No I didn't cheat. I'm the Pope. Pope's don't cheat. It's kind of a thing with us.


OK fine if you insist. Are you ready right now?


OK Fine.... ...Paper.



No I didn't cheat. I don't have to cheat, you always choose rock.


No, that's not the truth. The truth is, you are too angry so you always choose rock, but you don't seem to realize that not every problem can be solved with a clenched fist. You are so worried about loss of face, and so angry at the world, that you can't manage anything but to blame others for all your problems.


But don't you understand that you've already lost? You say you want peace, but you're only interested in a peace that comes with the death of all who oppose you. We in the west believe that evil is in all men's hearts while you believe it comes from the presence of non-believers. But the truth is, you can never win until you admit your own failings, and so far you're too frightened to even face them.


No, no-one else envies you, why would we? Right now, you're culture is hundreds of years behind the west and falling further behind every day. And the more apparent the failures of your culture become, the more angry you all get. That only makes things worse.

We will always pray for your souls, but you will always pray for our destruction. That's hardly a model for a successful civilization. Until you all confess the sins in your own heart, and learn to love your brothers, you will always lose. I'm afraid there is no way around that.


Yeah OK. Well we'll keep praying for you all the same. Hopefully you'll see the light before you do something too stupid and destroy us all.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

- "I'm not quite dead yet..."

These days I feel like I’m in an old “Buster Keaton” Movie, where the house is about to fall down on our hero, but miraculously, he’s standing in just the right spot to go through the open window so he walks away without a scratch. It’s sort of like that for me right now. Most of the quant trading guys I know are suffering losses so large they are hard to put into perspective, but I’m grinding away, comparatively untouched.

The thing is, sometimes markets go down for rational reasons, and sometimes they go down for irrational reasons. When the reasons are irrational, they will eventually go back up. And when they do, a lot of people are going to make a lot of money. I believe that to be the case this time, but in the meantime, I’ve got a bit more work to do than usual, and I’ve been using my time on the train to catch up on my sleep.

So while I will probably be back to complaining about this or that in a few days, today, all I can do is remember that things aren’t as bad as they could be. And with that thought in mind, I offer you the Brilliant “Buster Keaton” in a film with dozens of parallels to my current situation: “One Week”

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

- The political right "Dies" again...

In 1907, Mark Twain attended the opening of the Jamestown Exposition in Norfolk Virginia aboard the yacht of his friend Henry H. Rogers. When poor weather forced most of the party to return to New York by rail, Twain declined and decided to wait and return by ship in spite of the delay. But because of this, the media lost track of his location and when he failed to return to New York on schedule, they jumped the gun for a second time, and reported him “lost at sea”. Like the time in 1897 when he was reported dead during his trip abroad, he made a joke of it. He wrote an article on the subject, which among other things stated: "I will make an exhaustive investigation of this report that I have been lost at sea. If there is any foundation for the report, I will at once apprise the anxious public."

The press loved Twain, but for reasons which passeth understanding, I guess there are just some deaths that the media can’t wait to report. Eventually of course, he died, proving them right after all. But it took them three tries to get his death correctly reported, and I think the same sort of thing is occurring with the announcement of the death of America’s “political right”. Every few years or so, another weekly magazine publishes a major work entitled roughly “Why the political right no longer matters”. This time, it’s the Economist, which has published a Cover Story titled, “Is America turning Left?”

The Economist is a well-respected magazine that isn’t often accused of a political bias, but it still has British sensibilities that don’t precisely fit the American experience. For instance, they claim to be advocates of freedom, but they’ve also enshrined the antipathy to private firearms ownership that our friends across the pond have so totally embraced. To Americans, this seems counter-intuitive to say the least. Deeply ingrained in the character of Americans is the belief that if all things are left to themselves, someone somewhere will be along to slap chains on us, so we had better be able to do something about it when they show up. So to our eyes it looks like the Economist simultaneously argues in favor of political freedom, and against the means of ensuring it.

Anyway, the point is, that while the Economist is a serious publication, which has a great deal more to it than some other weekly tabloid, there are still many places where it’s simply flat out wrong about America, and I think this latest piece is an excellent example. In it, they take the most detached “inside the beltway” perspective typical of the American media, and couple it to a secular British sense of right and wrong, then drive the whole mess right off the end of the earth. And it leaves me feeling like Mark Twain, wondering why everyone in the media is so anxious to nail my coffin shut.

That isn’t to say it isn’t reporting facts or making things up like The New Republic would. Much of what they talk about in the article is obviously occurring. They detail the typical casting about for a scapegoat for the 2006 election, and the finger pointing between the Whitehouse and the congressional GOP. And they also take the standard media view of blaming everything on the war in Iraq. But in trying to explain what’s gone on with America’s political right, they look to me like yet another liberal media scientist peering into the petri dish, trying to decipher the motives of a people they simply have no frame of reference for.

So although I’m sure that the Economist’s staff would think very little of me and my efforts, I none the less thought I would try to help them clear it all up. And in the process maybe help the folks in the national GOP understand how this happened to them, and what the odds are of it happening again.

The Economist piece identifies a few basic issues it claims are the causes of the fall down on the right. They are in no particular order, Incompetence and cronyism, The War in Iraq, and Conservative over-reach. As to Incompetence and cronyism, it’s not really an issue for the right as much as it is a partisan tool for the leftist media. If the people in government were honest and hard working, then they would have jobs in the private sector like the rest of us. We don’t blame a scorpion for being a scorpion, and we don’t blame a government employee for being incompetent. Of course the secret that the public "gets" but the media doesn't, is that we know it applies to both sides of the aisle, but it’s reported a lot more with Republicans in charge. So in a case of believing their own press, the media think we care about it, but we truly don’t.

As to the war in Iraq, Patton was right about how Americans feel about war, and every reporter to graduate journalism school since 1958 was wrong. Americans don’t mind a war, and we don’t even mind deaths and casualties, but we do mind if the lives are being lost for nothing. We can live with war, so long as the war is fought to win. Some reporters could never be convinced of this, but there are some families who are very proud of the sacrifice in blood that they've made for this country. And if the war were being fought with more brutality on the part of Americans, the New York Times editorial board might be having a case of the vapors, but I’m convinced the American people would support it more aggressively. Avoid the fight if you can, but if you can’t, don’t leave any doubt about who will win. Americans can take war just fine, what we can’t take, is losing.

As to conservative overreach, the Economist is talking up the conventional “inside the beltway” wisdom, but I think it’s dead wrong. They make the claim that the Republicans have lost the center, but given the position of the mainstream American media, I don’t think they ever had it. The people in the center don’t care what happens so they do whatever the New York Times and CBS news tells them to. I think the thing that gave the Republicans the majority was the way they motivated their base, not pulled voters from the other side. While they were paying believable lip service to the idea of small government they maintained control of the Whitehouse and Congress, but eventually they ran out of excuses on why they couldn’t deliver. It’s since become clear that it really was no more than lip service and that they are politicians first, and “on the political right” second.

In the article, Michael Gerson is quoted as saying, “anti-government conservatism has turned out to be a strange kind of idealism”. If Republicans really believe that, then I’m sure there are many of us who are willing to put our money where our mouth is. If they give us federal legislation allowing us to “opt out” of the federal entitlements in exchange for a return of the 58% of our taxes used to fund them, I’m betting it will get OVERWHELMING support of the American people. Members of Congress already opt out of social security, Medicaid-Medicare, and the DC public school system, so I see no reason why they can’t give the option to the rest of us.

With all that said though, there are still some Republicans who obviously get it. When asked what he thought the cause was, Karl Rove said “their was a sense of entitlement and the voters smelled it”. Personally I think he nailed it on the head. The Republican politicians decided that they were more like Democratic politicians than Republican “civilians” and since we couldn’t tell the difference between them anymore, we gave up on them. It wasn't Bush, or the war, or the New York Times editors they struggle so hard to impress. It was that they forgot that we of the “political right” aren’t engaged in politics because we love it, or because it’s our jobs. We’re engaged in politics because they leave us no choice. We’re only doing this out of a sense of frustration and contempt for them and the way they treat us. And if they would just “quit it” and leave us alone, we would all go back to our families and jobs and lead happy normal lives.

Americans on the right don’t really want anything to do with them, and their kind. We only put up with them because they don’t do too much to annoy us. But it’s gotten out of hand. What really motivates the political right is the sense that the people in Washington, or Trenton or wherever, can’t just mind their own business. We want someone in office who will actually allow us to get back to running our own lives, and we’ll support aggressively the people that promise it to us. And we stopped supporting the GOP when it became clear that they weren’t even trying to give it to us anymore.

I’ve said many times that I don’t know how to roll back socialism through the political process, but if I were a person in government I’d be doing everything I could to figure one out. Because I truly believe that the American people will not endure the tyranny of the majority any more from Washington or Trenton, than they would from Moscow or Riyadh. I believe that in the end, the American people will do whatever they must to ensure their freedom and you don’t need to be able to predict the future to see where that idea leads. Some Americans would rather be dead than slaves, and so far, the reports of their death have been greatly exaggerated.

Monday, August 13, 2007

- The "Free" Healthcare Blowup

It’s a simple mathematical fact that 50% of the people on the planet are below average intelligence, but you just try getting one of them to admit it. If you asked every single person on earth to rank his or her intelligence, the worst assessment you would ever hear is “I guess I’m about average.” The reason that’s so is because the person is looking internally at himself or herself, and is therefore making an endogenous (internal) assessment. But in order to be relevant, comparisons between people must be exogenous (external), otherwise what comes out is nonsense. This difference has been elevated in my mind this past week since the quantitative finance industry has had a bit of a shake up.

On a risk-adjusted basis, “Statistical Arbitrage” is the most wildly successful financial strategy ever devised. The basic idea is that you analyze the relationships between all the stocks in particular universe, and trade them in ways that protect you from all possible exogenous market movements. This description is a huge simplification, but basically what's left over after you do this properly are all the small portions of unique behavior of each stock that isn’t being caused by changes in the broader market. And when you add up all these tiny pieces, what you get is a steady and reliable profit, no matter what the market does.

Billions have been made this way, and many very smart guys have been working on it at a variety of different firms. But what they didn’t realize was that because their training was so similar, and because they are all looking at the same data, they are all seeing the same thing. There was an inherent endogenous risk in their business practice that they didn’t realize. And this past week, when the credit market had its hiccup, at least one large firm doing statistical arbitrage was forced to sell its positions. Most firms have what they call “stop-loss” policies in place where you sell something to limit loss if the price drops suddenly, but when you sell something the price goes down further. So when the big firm sold its positions, it triggered stop-losses at other firms, which then also sold, and so on, and so on, and so on. Before you knew it, trading strategies, which haven’t had more than a 2% or 3% drop from their peak at any time over 15 years, were showing a 20% loss in a week.

And the moral of this story is, if you don’t look at both endogenous and exogenous concerns, it doesn’t matter how smart you are, you’re going to get it wrong.

The talk around the issue of universal health care reminds me of this. It only works if you don’t look at the exogenous issues. For instance, did you know that there are only so many doctors, and nurses, and ambulance drivers in this country? And did you know that there are only so many MRI’s, and Xray machines, and blood test labs? And for all of those doctors and nurses, and technicians, there are only so many hours in a day. All of these things, which amount to what we call “health care”, are finite. When taken on the whole, it’s a finite resource, which cannot be cut into smaller slices without someone somewhere not getting what they wanted. The physical universe limits it, and wishing it were more widely available will not make it so.

So if the government were to make all medical care “free” for everyone by making it illegal to charge anyone for medical services, what do you think would happen? Well obviously, all the doctors, nurses and technicians would all find something else to do with their lives, and the number of medical professionals would drop to zero. It wouldn’t make health care more available, it would make health care much less available, even though the price was now zero by law. But that’s obviously over-stated, lets look at a real example. Hillary Clinton says she doesn’t want socialized medicine, she just wants government to decide what things cost, and to have a say in who gets what services. Fine. For the purposes of this argument lets assume that she’s not being dishonest, she’s just … confused about the definition of words like “socialized”. (Her husband had some trouble with definitions too as I recall, so for now we’ll let it slide) So what does that really mean?

Well when she lets government decide what things will cost, the drugs and procedures, which are most in demand, will become very difficult to get and you will probably need political connections to get them. That’s because there is still a finite supply of these drugs and procedures, but since the price is now artificially low, they will be available to a much larger group of people, and there will be no reason for them not to ask for it. In short, just like every other time the government tried to fix prices, there is never going to be enough. Also, there are some other drugs procedures which are less popular, but since the government is setting the price, the medical companies will be able to go buy themselves a congressman, and get their drug moved to the top of the list. So all the things you don’t need will be available to you at a reasonable price, and the rest of the stuff you do need will be impossible to get without good political connections.

And what about our doctors, nurses and technicians? How will they enjoy working for the department of "homeland health services"? According to the available data, the odds are that they won’t. In countries that already have universal health care, those jobs pay very poorly relative to America. So poorly in fact, that in Britain and Canada they are only able to keep enough doctors and nurses in the system by relaxing the requirements and importing them from over seas. Otherwise, there simply wouldn’t be enough doctors to provide even the meager, minimalist services they are able to provide. (You may recall that the two guys who tried to blow up that Scottish airport a few months back were both medical professionals imported from Arabic speaking countries, and were employees of the British “National Health”. So you can see how that idea is working out for them.)

But don’t get me wrong on this. By criticizing the “free health care” idea, I don’t mean to defend our current system. It’s already chock full of government mandates and enough dim-witted bureaucratic intrusion to completely disrupt the efficient market for medical services. It’s a great mess, but it’s only a great mess because government is already involved. The employer provided medical insurance model only exists as an attempt to get around the bureaucratic intrusion of past administrations. The fact of the matter is, the only thing that will make health care cheaper and more available, is to increase the supply of the finite resource, and that means finding a way to get more doctors, more nurses, and more technicians. This can be handled very effectively by encouraging increased specialization in the industry.

As an example, suppose it were possible for a nurse to take a class to set bones and become a certified “bone setter”. It wouldn’t make her a doctor, or allow her to diagnose and to treat catastrophic car crash victims. She would not be allowed to perform spinal surgery or all the other things that doctors do. In fact most of the time, broken bones will involve many other injuries too, so she probably wouldn’t be able to help. But if a kid slams his finger in the car door, she can set it. Or when some guy slips on the tennis court, and comes away with a fractured tibia, she can probably handle it just fine. The two effects of this would be that it will cost much less to set those bones than it would for a doctor who can handle everything, and it would also free up that doctor to work on all the other serious and complex injuries. If we allow that kind of specialization, we will make health care more available and therefore cheaper. And if we need more “bone-setters” then more nurses will take the class because it will probably pay better. And if we need more of whatever, then we will get that too, so long as we find a way to get the government out of the health care business, and allow the people who are in that business to specialize in the services they offer.

Ms. Clinton and her ilk in the Democratic Party seem to think that the issues with our health care system can be addressed endogenously, but the problems aren’t just internal. They are ignoring the bigger picture including the law of supply and demand, and if they continue down that road it’s going to eventually blow up in their faces; it doesn’t matter how smart they are. There are enough external facts remaining to thwart all their good intentions, and the most prominent among them is that what we call health care is a finite resource. If what they really want is to make health care more available then they should be concentrating on increasing its supply, not artificially fixing its price.

But personally, I’m a little dubious about their goals. Even Ms. Clinton’s worst enemies think she’s a smart cookie so she probably knows better than to think that whatever brand of nationalization she has in mind will actually do what she intends. I think it’s more than likely that she doesn’t care one way or the other about actually delivering health care to anyone, and that she only sees this issue as a way for her to win an election. The only big picture she’s worried about is that she needs 50% plus one to support her stated position, so she says what she thinks people will like. That’s the fact of political life in a Democracy, and I don’t mean to pick on just Ms. Clinton. The fact is, it’s easier for all politicians to just lie to us all than to actually do things that will help. Ms. Clinton knows she only needs 50% plus 1, and I bet I know which 50% she’s picked. I’ll bet that if you ask every supporter of "free health care" where they fall on the intelligence spectrum, almost all of them would say “about average”. And that alone should tell you all you need to know about the future of universal health care.


Friday, August 10, 2007

- Islam vs. The West 2: for the final battle...

Somewhere in the Middle East......


um...lowly scissors Sharif....


praise be to Allah you win again Sharif...that's 8,462 times in a row... surely this is evidence of the greatness of Islam


...Meanwhile, at his secret training facilty deep below Vatican City, Pope Benedict works with his coach from the American Democratic party....

OK Like .... scissors....


heh ....scissors....

Yes I know... you said that, and I said Rock.

So like... what's that mean man?

It means I win again.

Wow man that's like, amazing....but um... shouldn't there be a law or something that we each get to win the same amount of times? That way we're all equal man....

Help me Jesus.

Tune in next week for "Islam vs. The West: The Final Battle".

Thursday, August 9, 2007

- Adolescent Paperboy Leans to the Left

Personally, I listen to about 5 minutes of talk radio per day. Either Sean Hannity or Mark Levin is on when I make my daily drive from the train station to my home, and New York City doesn’t have a country music station, so talk radio it is. And somehow, although I’m only listening for 5 minutes or so, they almost always manage to raise the issue of the media double standard.

It’s a pretty common theme in modern American politics, and it’s a complaint that I find to be not totally without merit, but I think talk radio misreads its causes. I don’t think it’s a question of a political bias per se, but more an issue of someone trying to tell a complicated story in 30 seconds or less. It’s like reading the cliff notes for “war and Peace”… there is a little something lost when you try to reduce it that much. For instance, one of the things that the commentators go on endlessly about is the fact that the reporters ask different questions of Conservative candidates than Liberal candidates. In particular I remember a reference to some reporter asking Mitt Romney about some of the wackier aspects of Mormonism while refusing to ask Barak Obama about the black separatist church he attends. There is no area of life more complicated than an individual person’s faith, but the reporters aren’t interested in that, they’re only interested in the labels and what they seem to mean.

That isn’t to say there aren’t some actual biases too. Because of his Muslim name, I can say for certain, that Obama isn’t going to be asked about his religion at all unless some CNN hack lobs a softball at him to let him belt it out of the park for the alleged rubes in the rural districts. While Romney is going to be hounded from one state to another by a virtual mob of mainstream reporters who are brandishing microphones and cameras, but would be even happier if they were able to carry torches and pitchforks. And that’s because Mormons don’t shoot at you when you insult them and that’s made them fair game for the media, while Muslims, because they are so violent, not in spite of it, have become a sort of “protected class” and our reporters will bend themselves into pretzels to avoid offending them. Obama isn’t really much of a Muslim, but that doesn’t matter, he’s close enough for the mainstream media. And even if you don’t think that particular label applies, he’s certainly black, and nothing makes the mainstream media more fearful than a charge of racism. This is clearly evidence of a bias, which results in a double standard, but I think the fact that you can’t get anyone in the mainstream media to admit that in spite of the enormous evidence, is a product of a deeper issue with our society.

I know quite a few media people, and while it’s true that I’ve found them to be of generally unremarkable intelligence, I don’t see any great fonts of wisdom springing forth from the pipe fitters or airline pilot’s community either. My point is that reporters are mostly just like the rest of us. A very, very few are brighter and more insightful than the rest, but most are just about average. And since that’s so, they form their views the same way as almost everyone else, that is to say, sloppily, without any underlying logic, and overwhelmingly dominated by fear. They are average people who are being asked to sound intelligent about highly complex issues that can take years to understand, but they don’t have that kind of time. They have a deadline and they need 200 words on the topic du jour… pronto. They are doing their best to sound more informed than average and as intelligent as possible, but the fact is, most of them are not. But the good news for them is, neither is their audience so it’s easier to fake it than it sound.

So long as we view reporters as nothing more than a part of the information delivery system, the fact that they don’t really understand the issues they are reporting on isn’t a problem. The telegraph doesn’t know anything about the messages it transmits either, but it seems to do just fine. The problem comes when we lose track of the role of the reporter, and begin to think of them as actually possessing some knowledge on the things they write about. Since that is clearly an elevation in status, the reporters are all too happy to encourage us to make that mistake. They are endlessly prattling on about how they are just trying to get to “the truth”, but the vast majority of them wouldn’t know the truth if it hit them in the face. Most of the time, the truth can’t be gotten at in 200 words or less no matter who you are, and even if it could, they don’t usually know any more about the topics they write about than you are reading in the articles they write anyway.

The truth is almost always a complicated thing. The truth of any political issue involves both costs and benefits, winners and losers. But for all their whining about it, reporters aren’t really interested in the truth; they are interested in advancing their careers and selling the news, in that order. And even if they were, there probably wouldn’t be a market for it. So rather than thinking deeply about an issue and getting to “the truth”, they treat every issue they write about in snapshot terms. They treat the institutions of our society, which are working well right now as if they have always been that way, and the institutions that aren’t working well as if they never have, and should therefore be changed into something totally new. It’s an adolescent sort of mindset, where they fixate on the moment and don’t consider causes and effect of decisions. But that perspective frees them up to skim across the surface of an issue and find “smart sounding” things to say about it, without having to go through the work of actually understanding it.

The result of this perspective is that when they write about a liberal in government, and see that he or she wants to eliminate the imperfect institutions of our society, that makes perfect sense to them. They don’t think that they are maybe throwing the baby out with the bathwater because that would be complicated. They just think the liberal is “doing something” about the things that need to be changed, and is therefore good. In the meantime when they write about a conservative, they see them as someone who is defending the institutions of our society in spite of their imperfections. That’s certainly keeping the baby, but it’s keeping all that ugly bathwater too, so it’s easy for them to see conservatives as bad. It isn’t some pre-disposed political belief that pushes the reporter that way as much as it’s laziness, but the effect is about the same. Even if they aren’t trying to be biased, the basic premise of their world-view pushes them to view one side as favorably and another as unfavorably.

But if you disregard the causes, the double standard in the news media is so obvious that you’d really have to be an imbecile not to see it. There is Fox News, which has tried to defend saving the baby, and all the other networks on the other side, supporting the elimination of the bathwater. But there isn’t one of them that are actually talking about “the truth” of any issue. (I don’t think talk radio counts as news because it doesn’t pretend to be unbiased like the rest of them do. I also don’t complain when “National Review” fails to promote socialism, or when “The Nation” talks about the evils of the free market.) But I think the primary cause of the biases is that reporters are just as shallow and uninterested in it as everyone else.

And all this nonsense from liberals about the “big corporations owning the news” is all just an adolescent and highly partisan smokescreen; it’s the liberal equivalent of saying “I know you are but what am I”. Business decisions aren’t made that way, and if they knew the very first thing about how the world works, they would know that. People who get rich only do so because they worry more about making money than anything else, including manipulating the public, and only fools and children believe otherwise. Fox News may sound a little different than the rest of the networks, but that’s because they are responding to a market for their product just like the rest of the news media, (although with somewhat less contempt for their viewers in my opinion). And the idea of putting the government back in charge of deciding what we hear with the “fairness doctrine” is just nonsense, and goes against everything this country stands for. I can guarantee you that if all people wanted to hear was the pro-big government view on talk radio, then there would be a thousand stations providing it, and Rush Limbaugh would be selling boats in Miami for a living.

America really is different from most of the western world. We’re more independent than many of our peers in Europe and Canada, and what many of us want from our government more than anything else, is to be left alone. That doesn’t jive with the perspective of news reporters because if the government isn’t doing anything, what is there for them to tell us about? That’s oversimplified I know, but it’s as close to the truth as most of them ever get. The truth is almost never as one sided as the media would have us believe, and we would all be better off if we kept that in mind. They aren’t oracles, or experts; they’re what the paperboy turns into when he grows up. And they don’t know any more about the issues of the day now, then when they were riding their bike around the neighborhood annoying dogs and breaking windows. And if we’re really interested in the truth, we shouldn’t pay any more attention to the view of the reporter who writes the story, than we do to the kid who delivers it to our door.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

- Islam vs. the West



AAAAAHHHHH!!!!!!! Curses be upon you, you lowly infidel dog... you may have won this time, but Allah will surely smite you in our next meeting!!!!

May peace be with you as well...

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

- "Just Compensation" in Eminent Domain

We have a saying in the financial markets, “Nothing is worth any more or less than exactly what someone else is willing to pay you for it.” What this means, is that the price that someone sets for something is totally irrelevant to its value. It’s actual value is not what it’s being sold for, but what someone is willing to buy it for, and that may be more or less than the current “selling price”. And of course, the opposite is true as well; nothing can be bought for any less than someone is willing to sell it for.

When government steps in and uses force to try to change that, the results are usually catastrophic. Either they make the price less than it would be which causes shortages, or they make the price higher than it would be causing a glut. The Carter Era gas lines were caused in this way, and so was the total collapse of the Soviet economic system. So we’ve come quickly to that essential piece of knowledge for understanding how the world works: “Price fixing cannot be done effectively by government under any circumstances.” It’s as simple as that.

So you may be asking yourself “What (apart from the obvious) does this have to do with the price of tea in China?” Well it illustrates my biggest problem with the “Eminent Domain” issue.

“Eminent domain” is a big problem across all of America, and a particularly big problem in places as corrupt as New Jersey. This is because the recent Supreme Court decision “Kelo vs. New London”, has given local governments the authority to evict people from their homes and give the property to private developers for pretty much any reason at all. There is some mumbo jumbo about increasing the tax base etc, but certainly nothing that would restrain a politician in New Jersey, and in point of fact, it can all be faked together quickly by pretty much anyone.

Naturally, since I believe that private property is one of the basic underpinnings required for a free society, I have a problem with that. But my problem isn’t with the Supreme Court decision itself. The SCOTUS took a look, and determined that the constitution doesn’t say anything about the uses that government can put property to, just as it doesn’t say anything about cloning or the Internet. It’s a straightforward question with a straightforward answer and that answer is “It doesn’t say”. But here is what the constitution does say about the issue:

5th amendment of the US constitution

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

That last part seems pretty clear to me, and it gets right to the core of the problem. The problem is not that we’ve allowed government to take our property because we clearly have. And the problem is not that we haven’t limited the uses the government can put that property to once it’s been taken, because we clearly haven’t. The problem is that we’ve allowed government to take our property at the price they see fit, without paying the “just compensation” that can be only be determined by offering to buy it on the open market.

Tell me the truth, if I show up at your door tomorrow, and tell you that the hedge fund I work for wants to buy your house for 25 million dollars, will you sell it to me? No? How about if the price is 250 million? Even if you’re still saying no, there most certainly is a price at which almost everything you own is for sale. That price may be because of the object’s inherent value as a commodity or it may be because you have some emotional attachment, but the truth is, that’s irrelevant. It’s private property, and you have the right to exclude others from using it, for any reason you see fit, emotional or otherwise.

And the value that you place on it will certainly rise and fall over time, depending on your priorities. When your daughter is trying to put together the money to pay for college, you suddenly aren’t as attached to that 67 teardrop corvette you’ve kept on blocks in your garage since the Stone Age. Even something like the jewelry passed down through your family that you swore they would have to cut your hand off to get from you, can be had at a much more reasonable price when you have to pay for your wife’s chemotherapy.

The point is, we call it “private” because it’s the private citizen that gets to set the price for sale based upon their individual priorities. If the buyer can’t meet the seller’s price, they have few ways to compel them to lower it, and they certainly are not allowed to use force like the government does.

When the government uses eminent domain to dispossess a person, they look at the value of other similar pieces of property in the area and determine their “buying price” from that, but that isn’t “just compensation” that’s price fixing. That process ignores the seller’s right to limit use based on his or her own priorities. In effect, it sets the non-intrinsic value of the property to zero, and that is profoundly unjust.

A better solution is to require all property holders to list as a public record, a selling price for every piece of real estate they own. It can be determined entirely by them, and can be as unreasonable a price as they see fit. The government can then buy at those prices or not, just like any other purchaser. If they are trying to come by a contiguous piece of property for a new school or something and can’t get it in the place they would like right away, they can either raise the price they are willing to pay, or they can try something more creative. Some sellers might be persuaded by an offer of a similar home on the next block (which can be had at a more reasonable price) plus a cash premium for the inconvenience. Others might be persuaded by a tax exemption, or other deferred compensation. Or the government might be forced to wait to implement their plans or find a way to solve their problem without dispossessing private citizens.

No matter how, forcing government to use the open market for determining price will address the issue without violating the law of the land.

If you are among the liberals reading this, (or if you are in government and don’t like the idea of being treated like everyone else) you are probably saying “WE CAN’T DO THAT!!!!! THEN GOVERNMENT WILL NEVER BE ABLE TO DO ANYTHING!!!”

And to that I say … “Exactly.”

Monday, August 6, 2007

- Now everyone can have the safety provided by a "Gun Free Zone"

- The Wisdom of Trenton:

- New political ideas

Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity…
What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done
there is nothing new under the sun.


Part of my job is to come up with new ideas to address issues that everyone else in my industry is also trying to address. And having spent some time in that space I’ve got to tell you, I don’t think I’ve ever come up with a completely original idea that wasn’t followed quickly by dozens of other people arriving at the same conclusion. Oh I’ve thought of lots of things that were pretty unique, and they certainly seemed original to me at the time, in fact thinking outside the box is one of my really great strengths. But even when I’m at my best, I’m usually conceiving of something just minutes ahead of a huge mob of other people, who arrive at the same conclusions as me, albeit taking a slightly longer route to get there. The simple fact is that logical steps lead to logical steps, and when you start in the same place as someone else, there are only so many possible next steps that are reasonable so many people make them pretty close to simultaneously.

But that isn’t just true of the reasonable and logical conclusions. It’s always seemed ironic to me that many illogical and ridiculous conclusions are simultaneously reached as well. Its so prevalent in fact, that I’m quite certain that the guy out there who believes the best route to world peace is for us all to abandon our homes and go live in holes in the ground, covering our bodies only with caked on mud, has probably already gotten a small group of followers. It’s my experience that no idea is so ridiculous or insipid that you can’t find at least a few people who are willing to believe it’s the truth.

But for the most part, it’s the logical paths through the field of ideas that receive the most traffic. In fact, that’s sort of how we define “reasonable and logical”. The most reliable thought process will continue to accumulate supporting evidence. That’s why the works of Socrates, Augustine, Adams, Jefferson, and Hamilton (along with uncountable others) have all been so heavily referenced by thinkers across the centuries. More recently its people like Hayek, Friedman and Sowell whose ideas are laying the basis for future consideration, while the thoughts of others are along paths, which get quickly overgrown.

The poorly reasoned ideas turn out to be dead ends. Communism for instance, is probably the ultimate bad idea of politics so far, but it still drew quite a substantial crowd in the front half of the 20th century. And although its popularity has recently waned, it still continues to attract a “dim bulb” follower or two who are attracted to it’s Utopian promise and are un-persuaded by the 100 million or so dead civilians it’s left in its wake. Like I said, there is no idea so foolish that someone won’t follow it, and communism is no exception.

There are some bad ideas on the political right too. And while they don’t compare with communism in terms of the scale of human misery they create, they are just as easily identifiable as ideological dead ends. For instance, I got into a little disagreement with some college kid from Czechoslovakia over on Oleg Volk’s website about my essay: The real opiate of the masses. It seems this kid, (I call him a kid but the truth is I only assume he’s a kid because his ideas seem so adolescent) has gotten it in his head that we would all be better off if “just the people who know something about politics were allowed to vote.” He looked at modern politics and decided that Democracy was the most important component of a free society, (rather than say… the checks and balances of the American system) and he figured it could be improved if we could just find a way to ditch the “stupid people”, otherwise known as “the people who don’t agree with him”.

To be fair, you can’t really blame an eastern block undergraduate for not knowing much about American history. I guess he’s never been taught about those stories from the post civil war era where they would manage the voting “literacy test” by having white men read a memorized page from the bible, while black men would have to read a newspaper published in Cantonese. But if the kid is clever enough, we can assume that he would eventually get to some of the important questions about his “new idea”; like “If there is a test for political entitlement, who is it that gets to decide what’s on the test?” or “If it’s the government deciding, then how is it that you can manage to keep it from is becoming a political issue?” or “If you can’t keep it from being politicized, then how can you at least keep it from becoming partisan?” Any of those questions will eventually reveal the ideological dead end that he’s running down.

And while his specific point was sophomoric, the fact that he’s able to raise it at all bodes really well for western society. Technology has now made learning about other peoples mistakes into a much more egalitarian endeavor. These days it’s down right easy for this kid to learn that he isn’t actually thinking of something new at all, but instead, he’s just making the same old mistakes that were made in America 150 years ago. And that’s a good thing because he’s going to learn it without accidentally empowering some European green party thug to demand that he quote the inanities of the eco-movement in Farsi, in order to determine if he should be allowed to vote or not.

It’s become so easy to learn which ideas continue to show promise and which ideas are demonstrated foolishness, that for much of the classic silliness, the smartest people have already moved on. In the 60’s the most respected intellectuals in the world all thought that communism was inevitable and that we would all be better off if we just sped the process along. But today, the only people who still believe that believe that are much further to the left on the intellectual bell curve. To fully embrace communism these days, you have to be willing to admit in polite society that you are either very young and naive, or that you aren’t very smart. We’ve moved beyond that now because technology has allowed us to “grow up” as a culture. And it’s my thinking that it will eventually end the “permanent adolescence” that the west has experience as a holdover from the 60’s and 70’s.

But even with that said, it can be pretty frustrating to see these new kids making the very same set of mistakes that everyone has made before them, but it’s important to keep it in perspective. Years ago, it would have taken them decades to learn how “full of it” their university English department was, if they learned about it at all. There are still plenty of geriatric “left side of the bell curve” hippies out there who believe that no political philosophy is worth a damn unless it can be made to rhyme with “hey hey, ho ho”. But with today’s students, the Internet will let them learn things so quickly that it will probably only take them a few years to get over that phase. Everyone starts life naive and innocent and can be easily misled, but these days they gain wisdom so quickly, that they will almost certainly live long enough to get much further down the path to truth that we will.

I have a friend who was riding the subway to work a while back, and looked across the car at a ragged “hippie looking” kid who was sitting there reading a book. His hair was long, his beard unkempt and his Birkenstocks atypical for the winter NYC weather. He was obviously a college kid who was in the process of “finding himself” by rebelling against the established order, and you could tell because he looked exactly like every other kid who was rebelling. (The irony of that would have been wasted on him) His type has been a fixture on the urban scene for 4 decades but there was something about this kid that was different. He wasn’t reading “Das Kapital”, or some pretend history by Howard Zinn. He was reading “"The Road To Serfdom”. If this were the 60’s, he’d have been laughed out of the “peoples revolutionary committee” meeting for reading that book. But these days, it just means he’s going to get hired before everyone else.

That’s my kind of revolution.