Monday, December 31, 2007

The Inevitable NJ Black Bear Hunt

That’s right, remember that you heard it here first; the NJ Black Bear hunt is inevitable. But you don’t need to sight in your slug gun just yet. As usual, our state government is still in denial about reality, in this case, the realities of nature. And a few things are going to have to change before a rational policy is adopted with regard to NJ’s second most dangerous predator. Unfortunately, the events that will turn the tide will not be happening to Governor Corzine or any of the other slimy invertebrate office holders in Trenton, but inevitably, to the children of northern New Jersey.

But before I get into that, let me tell you the story of my own experience with Bear hunting in New Jersey. I missed the first bear hunt entirely because I wasn’t a believer… that is to say, I didn’t believe that Trenton would actually allow it, so I didn’t attend the required bear biology classes and couldn’t qualify for a permit. But the second year, I had no intention of missing my chance.

I didn’t know anyone with private land in the bear-hunting zone, so about the end of May I started driving up to Millbrook Village in the Watergap National Recreation Area and started scouting around for bears on public land. I grew up in an area with no bears, but I’d heard that they love solitude, so I started my scouting in the high, difficult to reach places where I’d expect to find big deer. But after spending a full day scouting ridges, it became apparent that there wasn’t nearly enough “calories per acre” up there to support a large omnivore. So my next trip, I shifted my search down to the low dark spots on the valley floor near brooks and gullies.

Sure enough, down there the bear sign was everywhere. There were tracks, scat and all kinds of other signs all over the place, and it was clear that this is where the bears lived. But the problem with that was that it’s also where all the people live. All the good soil for farming and level ground for building is tucked down in the snug little valleys between the hills. And apparently the very thing that makes a spot desirable for people also makes it desirable for bears. Not that I minded that exactly, I bowhunt for deer in suburbia all the time and I wasn’t aiming for a “wilderness experience”. If I were, I wouldn’t be in New Jersey. But I figured that since I was going to be hunting on public land I probably needed to get as far from others as I could or the crowd might ruin my odds. Eventually I settled on a fairly remote valley, north of Millbrook Rd. The spot I liked was nearly a mile hike from the nearest road, and I thought that would be enough to discourage all but the most determined of my brethren come opening day.

Over the following months I was back and forth to that spot a dozen times. I walked nearly every inch of that valley, making patrol maps of everything as I went; taking copious notes on the age and size of all the bear sign. And by the time labor day rolled around I knew there was about 6 bears on the 4 or 5 square miles I mapped, at least 3 of which were adults, and 1 which was truly massive. (I even spotted a sow and her three cubs early one day in July as I was getting out of my car) I knew where they spent their days, what they were eating, where they were eating it, and I even had a trail marked out with illuminated reflectors, and a tree picked out for opening day.

In November when the courts finally got done with their nonsense and it was clear the hunt would be on, I bought an ultra light strap on tree stand and a bunch of strap on steps, and arranged for the time off from work. I filled my daypack with my knife, saw, a compact drag sled, and extra hand warmers. And at 3AM on opening day, my permit in hand, I rolled up to Millbrook village with roughly three hours left to hike in with my gear.

I set out quietly, and when I’d walked about 100 yards into the total blackness of the woods, I could hear several bears grumbling moaning and arguing about 70 yards into the darkness on my left. I was a little nervous about that, but I knew the landscape and wasn’t too concerned. I just kept walking and they thankfully left me alone. By 5:15 I was 22 feet up in my stand, and letting the woods grow quiet around me while I waited for legal light.

Not 2 minutes after legal shooting time, as if on cue, the massive bruiser of a bear whose behavior I’d been mapping all summer began lumbering toward me from the north. I first spotted him about 150 yards out. I was shooting a smoothbore Benelli 12 gauge with a rifled slug, and could be highly confident of my shot out to about 75 yards, but I was prepared to shoot out to about 90 yards if I had to. With all the work I put in, I had no intention of missing my chance because of too long a shot.

Slowly he continued to ramble idly toward me, 150 yards… 140 yards… 130 yards. He’d stop here and there to burrow in the ground or some such, but his irregular progress continued in my direction. At 120 yards, I clicked off my safety… 115 yards, 110 yards… I began to mentally visualize the shot… 105 yards; I put my sight on the bear’s front right shoulder. Then with a sudden start, the bear halted and turned its ears toward me and in a wink it ducked to its left behind some low brush, and was gone. I sat there amazed that it could see me so far away, all but fully obscured by the tree trunk, and that was when I heard it. Below me, and about 30 feet in front of me and 50 feet to my left, was an elderly man dressed in head to tow blaze orange, noisily stomping his way through the layer of ice and snow as he hiked between me and the bear.

He had no equipment other than a scoped shotgun, and was obviously in no condition to drag an animal back to the road over anything like the distance he would have had to from there. My guess was that he was just out for a stroll. As far as his stealthiness goes, the bear had heard his racket over the sounds of the nearby rushing stream, through 100 plus yards of dense forest and magnolia scrub. And the “hunter” (I know I stretch the use of the word) was so crisply aware of his surroundings that he never saw me, 22 feet up in a tree stand, wearing a blaze orange vest and hat, less than 10 yards from where he was marching. I didn’t want to get in a heavily armed shouting match with the guy, so I kept my mouth shut and let him walk right by me to go ruin someone else’s chances that day. He never knew that I or the bear, was ever there.

I had done everything right. I’d done all my prep work, and all my scouting, I even went so far as to stay out of the valley for two months before hunting season started so the bears could go “back to normal” without smelling me everywhere they went. But the one thing, which turned out to be my downfall, was that I had underestimated the size and relative obliviousness of the NJ opening day crowd. So much for hunting public land bears in the most densely populated state in the country. (Reader please take note, I’m already working on a piece for next September titled: “Experienced hunter seeks private land for NJ Bear hunt”… I promise I’ll say very nice things about you.)

Anyway, I didn’t know that much about bear behavior when I got started, but after that ordeal, I know a lot about them now. And that’s how I know that another bear hunt is inevitable. It’s going to happen because of the events in the wilderness over the next few years without a bear hunt. For instance, did you know that the DEP biologists have lots of evidence that the bears in our area don’t even hibernate? It seems that there is enough food out there all year long to make it worth their while not to. And that high availability of food means that the population will continue to grow like gangbusters.

In the meantime, the animal rights nut jobs will probably continue to hold substantial sway in Trenton. All of their ideas for controlling the bear population sound like a very expensive case of clinical insanity. The best of them are charitably described as “unproven”, but the truth is that most are so preposterous that the biologists for the state DEP make jokes about them. “Birth control for bears will work fine” they say, “It’s just a bitch teaching the bears how to put the condoms on”. (Yes, that’s really what the animal rights people mean when they say “non lethal bear management”.)

So with basically no effective check on their population, the bears will quickly take up all of the wilderness available to them, and then some. And once that occurs, disaster will certainly follow. All it’s going to take, is for the climate of New Jersey to offer a few good years in a row where the bear population swells, followed by one harder year of drought where food is scarce, and the bears of New Jersey will start eating the dogs out of our yards, and taking babies out of their carriages.

And that is when the politicians will have no choice but to start listening to reason. They will either allow licensed hunting as a way to bring the bear population in line with the available habitat, or the New Jersey black bear will become the most aggressively poached animal in American history. On the day after a bear kills that first child, every farmer and homeowner in northern New Jersey will start shooting bears on sight and quietly disposing of the evidence. And the sooner the government comes to grip with that reality, the better for the people of New Jersey and the bears. They need to understand that no-one is going to stand by while their children are put at risk from a large and dangerous animal, while government policy is set by a bunch of wack-jobs who think squirrels should have the vote. No one, not even New Jersey Democrats, are that dense.

And unfortunately given the current policy in Trenton, the death of that child is as certain as the sunrise. It’s not a question of “if” it’s going to happen; it’s only a question of “when”. The government is determined to allow the animal rights nuts to set policy long enough to ensure it. I’m so confident of its inevitability that at this point I’m hoping that it only takes one incident for the government to get its head straight.

Thankfully, we now have people out there like Anthony Mauro, and the NJOA who will do all they can to make sure it doesn’t have to happen to a second child before the policy is changed, and with a little luck, they won’t be too late. And you never know, the NJOA is a persuasive bunch so they may even talk some sense into the rabble in Trenton before that first child ends up dead. Given the lack of rationality in the state house I’m not going to bet on it, but I admit that it’s possible. The NJOA has surprised people before, so let’s hope they manage to do it again.

But if they don’t, then thanks to a ridiculous black bear policy, you can be sure that “NJ Animal Rights” will inevitably mean “NJ Dead Children”. That’s right, I’m going to actually say it, … we’ll eventually have a bear hunt in New Jersey because: “It’s For The Children”.

Monday, December 24, 2007

- On The Presidential Hopefuls:

Have we lost our frickin minds or what?!

Hillary Clinton, Barak Obama, and John Edwards are the only three serious contenders for the Democratic nomination this year, and they are all running far to the left of Bill Clinton, and Jimmy Carter, the only two Democrats to be elected to the job in 40 years. One could argue that it’s hard to name a worse president than Jimmy Carter, and personally I’d concede the point. But in fact it wasn’t because he was so far to the left, but rather it was because he was a weak, short sighted and generally inept leader. The truth is, there are lots of ways to be a bad President without actually being a socialist.

And as if they set out to prove that point even more assertively, none of the Republicans currently running are a what anyone would call a perfect fit for the job either. Rudy Giuliani was the early leader, but his liberal social positions (including a rabid anti-gun stance) and his very sloppy personal life seem to have caught up with him. Mike Huckabee is all the rage now with the major media, but I think it's because they believe he's likely to burst into flames when exposed to sunlight. And while he’s reliably right wing on the social issues, he seems to have no intention of letting the Democrats run to his left on the idea of punishing the rich for their success and rewarding the poor for their lack of it. Huey Long may not be spinning in his grave, but you can hear him giggling every time Reverend Mike says something cute.

Then we have Mitt Romney, the Mormon ex-governor of Massachusetts, who is a recent convert to “conservative” positions, but really seems to be cut from the same “tell them what they want to hear” political cloth as Bill Clinton. To paraphrase Jonah Goldberg, the governor has the look and manner of a Hyannis port yacht salesman. And he’s apparently willing to firmly and deeply believe anything we want him to, if it will get him the nod. “Tell me what I have to do to get you to sign right now”, you can almost hear him say. He's a handsome face with elegant speech, but he seems to utterly lack a firm belief on anything. He too has promised to deliver a government run healthcare program who's centerpiece is that it requires young people to pay for insurance that they're unlikely to get any benefit from, so that their money can be used to lower other people's costs.

Then there is the small government outsider, Fred Thompson, who has apparently decided not to run for the presidency at all, but is perfectly willing to walk for it if that will be enough to get him there. He has many of the right ideas and has backed them up with firm statements about policy, and that has in turn gotten him a number of coveted endorsements. But he entered the race late; he’s struggling for funding, and his decision to run without the cooperation of the inside the beltway media has hurt him in the polls. (They want to be the ones to pick our president remember, we are just the tools they use to do it.)

By far though, the most disconcerting thing about this election cycle is not the candidates themselves. After all, they are all professional politicians and are therefore not the kind of people I would trust around my daughter or my bank account without an armed guard. The real problem with this election cycle is how the political dialog has turned away from the idea of small government, and toward the idea of the government making more of our decisions for us.

Presidential candidates are not usually particularly smart people, and even when they are, they aren’t usually the kind of visionaries we would wish for. But if they are successful, then they are good at handling the media and reacting to the crowd. That’s certainly what did it for Bubba. And for all the verbal mis-steps of his west-Texas twang, even our current president didn’t get elected without everyone in the press talking about his ex-frat boy charm and schmoozing. In effect, presidential candidates are a reflection of the thinking of the day; a mirror into the souls of America.

And right now, it looks to me like America is very much ready for another “vacation from reality”. The median voter for this year was born in 1964, and has therefore never seen the kind of wholesale devastation that invariably occurs when government appoints itself the “solver of social ills”, and tries to negate the effects of a free market by making them less free. The gas lines of the 70’s, and the paycheck eroding inflation of the Carter Era are a distant memory for most of them. And with a generation of ex-love children of the 60’s dominating higher education, socialist wage and price controls, and other government giveaways now seem like fashionable ideas again.

It doesn’t matter to them that it’s all been tried and failed before, or that the harder they try the more catastrophic the consequences. They don’t care about the 100 million graves scattered across Europe and Asia; all of them civilian victims of their government’s attempts to “fix” things. They’ve fallen victim to the same old self-congratulatory ideology that lets them reward themselves for their noble intent, and forgive themselves for their negative consequences. “What happens” for them isn’t nearly as important as “what they want to have happen”. And when it fails this time, it will once again be blamed on a lack of funding, or some other externality.

If the candidates are any indication, then America has lost it’s way again. We’re facing down our domestic problems, and doing the one thing that is certain not to make things better; we’re putting the government in charge of the solution. It looks like we’re going to get a new batch of government control of our lives no matter who it is that wins.

We can all but count on government run healthcare that will make medical care both more expensive, and harder to get. The most productive members of our society can count on that productivity being made harder by new taxes. The least productive members of our society can count on their lack of productivity being made easier by more “free” government stuff. And our porous southern border will guarantee us all far more of the latter and less of the former. In effect, Americans are going to work less, spend more, and imagine that this will make life better for all of us.

We’ve slipped a cog if you ask me; we’ve gone fully round the bend. In the vernacular of the lefties, we’re dreaming a big dream, but we should have been watching the road instead and now we’re going off the cliff. We’ll probably wake up again in another 20 years or so, when this generation sees that you can’t get something for nothing just because the government says so. But by then America might be nothing but a smoldering heap of twisted metal. But I hope I wrong. I hope there are still enough people out there who value “freedom” instead of “free stuff”. But all the same, this year I'm hedging.

Friday, December 21, 2007

- A New Years Resolution: Drinking (slightly) More

A new year is upon us, and I’d like to say that I’m planning on turning over a new leaf and being more respectful of those that disagree with me. In the 2008 I’d like to be more interested in an open dialog and less critical of the behavior of those in government. I’ll try to be more flexible, more accepting, and a little less “curmudgeon like”.

Well kumba–f’ing-ya, what fun would that be?

The truth is, I’m not going to any such thing, and neither are you if I have my way. I plan on spending a good chunk of my new year ridiculing the worst ways that virtually all the people in government lie, cheat, steal, misrepresent, exaggerate, distort, and otherwise generally stack the deck to their own benefit at the expense of the citizens of New Jersey and the rest of the country. I won’t be able to call attention to all of them you understand; no one has that kind of time (unless of course if they work in government). But I should be able to make a comment or two about some of the worst cases. I want to fill your head with clever little nastiness that you can then repeat at the water-cooler, and make your liberal friends very, very angry. Cause when all the liberals are angry, we then know that god is in his heaven and all is right with the world.

And toward that end, there are two classic misuses of English that I’d like to call specific attention to for the New Year.

Back a few months ago, when I was still using animal rights nut-job and ex-state assemblyman Mike Panter as my verbal piƱata, I got a bunch of comments back from someone trying very hard to defend his actions in the state assembly. They were posted anonymously so I don’t know for certain, but I think they were from his mother. Anyway, the comments defended him by saying that he had done a lot of great things for the people he represents, and offered the fact that he’s worked on “perhaps 1000 bills” as evidence. Actual comments can be found here:

The Chuck Schumer Memorial rifle Range

I thought about that for a bit, and it seemed to me that the fact that he found 1,000 ways to write new law was hardly evidence that he’s done good things. He could have been sponsoring 1000 different bills to re-establish slavery, institute martial law, deny women the vote, make income taxes 120%, and burn homosexuals at the stake. Now I don’t want to be too hard on the guy (especially now that he’s unemployed), he almost certainly did none of those things, but how do we know the things he did were actually good.

The fact is, the common phrase “He did good things for the people he represents” is intentionally misleading. What people mean when they say that is “He got more money from other people in the government than other people got from him”. And in government, that’s supposed to be “good”. Well since when do we consider it a good thing to have someone out there picking pockets for us faster than other people are picking ours? If that’s all we expect of our representatives, it’s no wonder we end up electing nothing but crooks, liars and grifters.

Just remember that the next time someone says, “she worked really hard for the people of her district”, what that person means is, she was stealing from others with both hands, while the people from other areas were stealing with only one. Hardly my idea of a day well spent.

One other phrase that just gets under my skin, is the “perfect worlder” phrase “working for peace”. Now to be fair, I’ve never heard anyone outside an academic institution who was stupid enough to try and say that with a straight face. But since it’s a phrase that seems to continue to bubble up out of the morass we call higher education every few years, I think it deserves a comment.

Most of the people who treat the word “peace” as a noun want the government to establish rules more to their liking that “promote peace” or some such, but again, that’s misrepresented. The government has only one tool to motivate people and that is force. If the government makes a rule, any rule, it isn’t peacefulness that inspires someone to follow it, it’s the potential lack of it that does.

Don’t think so? The threat of force isn’t the same as “actual force”? OK, let me ask you this… when that cop rolls up behind you with his lights on, do you pull over right away or do you wait for him to shoot out your tires and run you off the road? Most people pull right over, but the do so because of what they reasonably believe will happen to them if they don’t, not because of some nonsense about their responsibility in a civil society.

In other words, the whole idea of treating “peace” as a constant state is misleading.

Let me put it another way. Lets talk about game theory a moment, so we don’t have to get all cluttered up thinking about right and wrong or good and bad and can focus on what is possible and not possible. In any disagreement between people, they only way that people can use non-violent means to settle their dispute, is if they agree, in advance, not to use force. Without that prior consent, it is simply impossible because violence and the credible threat of violence remain a highly effective means of persuasion.

So what we have then is the classic prisoner’s dilemma. The best thing might be for both parties to agree not to use force, but individually, the best thing for them to do is not to do so. In effect that means that neither of them can give it up force as a persuasive tool. So how do the “perfect worlders” react to this? They argue for some over-arching institution where all authority for violence is vested. In effect they want a super united nations that gets to be the only ones capable of using force, that then compels people to use non-violent means to resolve disputes. How will they do this…naturally, by the use of force. But they ignore the fact that without consent you simply cannot have the requirements for non-violence, and at the end of the day you cannot use force to obtain consent.

Our civil society in the western world isn’t non-violent because our governments force us to be. If it’s peaceful at all, it’s because we’ve all consented to the basic rules. And as soon as a substantial minority of us no longer consents, so goes the peaceful society. That’s what happened with the RUF in West Africa, and with the Serbs and Bosnians in the Balkans, and both the American Revolution and civil war for that matter. So long as the threat of killing someone remains a reliable means of persuasion, then violence will be the constant state of man, and “peace” will only be those moments when everyone involved agrees to work things out differently.

The age of Aquarius isn’t coming anytime soon, no matter how many “peace studies” programs are made mandatory for graduation. And to believe differently is really stupidity at its lowest level. We should all go laugh in the face of anyone who vocally supports it. After all, what are they going to do, hit us?

Anyway my New Years resolution isn’t about dropping a few pounds or working harder or drinking less. In fact, if anything I think I might try to drink a little more in the coming year. It lightens me up and helps me take my self a little less seriously. And I do think I’ll try to be a little more joyful. I’m lately reminded that a life without joy isn’t much of a life no matter what you accomplish. So I’ll try to practice what I preach and spend more time laughing out loud at the nonsense that people try to pass off as critical thinking. And maybe I can help all y’all all do the same.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

- A Christmas Gift for Any Soldier

Last year in place of Christmas gifts, my wife and I sent packages to soldiers serving in Iraq using the AnySoldier program. We sent a package to one man and one woman stationed in the sandbox, who were requesting things that we could easily get our hands on. In response we got a very nice card from one of the recipients telling us how excited she was to see that she got a package, and how much she and her unit appreciated all the things we sent.

Go to

Guys, this is the one place that you can send a girl a T-Shirt, socks and a DVD for Xmas and she'll think it's the greatest thing she's ever seen. It's also a great way to provide gifts for kids on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan which the troops can then deliver, and will help win the PR battle on the ground to boot.

The Any soldier site goes to some lengths to make sure you know what's needed and requested, and they make it very hard for you to not get it right. It's a small thing for us, but it can mean a great deal to them. Take a look at the link and you'll see what I mean. They will also help you search by requester name, unit location, military branch and current deployment (within limits) if you wanted to be more specific about how your effort is spent.

I guess it's probably true that if you put it together right now, it might not be there in time for Christmas, but believe me, the folks on the ground will not mind one bit.

Also, for those of you who can provide greater hit rate (especially if you name sort of rhymes with "old egg"), I'd appreciate it if you could build a link back to the Any Soldier Site. They can use all the promotion they can get.

Thanks, and Merry Christmas

Monday, December 17, 2007

- Another Small Tyranny for New Jersey Gun Owners

I’m a little unusual for a blogger in that I don’t write about my personal life too much; mainly because I don’t think people would find it all that interesting. I may tell the occasional hunting story in the first person, or use an episode from my past as an analogy, but for the most part I don’t talk about my boring self. All in all, I’m really just a married suburban white guy, dull as a pile of bricks, who is far more worried about clean socks, and a warm meal than about saving the world. There is no “S” on my chest, except in the imagination of my seven-year-old daughter, and even that one will fade dramatically right about the time she hits puberty. And that’s OK with me; it’s the way the world is supposed to work.

And while my story today isn’t terribly personal, it is told in the first person again because it’s something that actually happened to me just yesterday. It's a story about how in New Jersey, the free world simply doesn't work the way it's supposed to. It's about how the bloated state bureaucracy no longer needs legislation to intrude on it's citizens, they can now perform the same thing through judicial fiat.

If you shoot clay targets like I do, then you go through ammunition fairly quickly. In my case, I use a 12-gauge shotgun to shoot somewhere between 12 and 15 cases of ammunition per year. That’s somewhere between 3,000 and 4,000 pulls of the trigger per year, not counting the rounds I use for actual hunting, or the time I spend at the rifle and pistol ranges. For a guy with an 80-hour a week full time job, that’s a fair amount of shooting I think.

So yesterday, I went to my local Dick’s sporting goods store to replenish my currently depleted supply of 12-gauge ammo, only to walk away disappointed. It seems that even though they have been approved and licensed by the BATF to sell firearms and ammo, (not a bunch of guys known for their easy going ways with regard to firearms licensing documentation) the State of New Jersey has refused to renew their state license. They’ve met all the requirements, and submitted all the paperwork, all on time and in the proper form, with the appropriate stamps, approvals, and associated records, but apparently the judge who is required to sign their license application when it’s ready for approval, is refusing to do so for “personal” reasons.

There has been no legislation, and no court ruling. There has been no mob of animal rights activists rhyming things with “hey hey, Ho ho”. There hasn’t been any public discussion at all, just a judge who is in charge of a bureaucratic process, who has made personal decision that guns and ammo shouldn’t be sold in New Jersey, to anyone at any time be they criminal or model citizen, and the US constitution be damned. Now maybe I shouldn’t be making too big a thing of this. I think a lawsuit would be fairly quick to get the judge to reverse their view and sign the damned form, but it sets an ugly precedent. On top of all the other requirements to obtain a license to sell firearms and ammo in New Jersey, an applicant must now also have a lawyer willing to file suit to compel the judge to sign the application. And as time goes on, those applicants who can’t afford the new legal fees to keep their license will simply go out of business. This is probably what the judge actually wants, but silly me, I thought we had laws about this sort of thing and judges had to follow them.

Pursuant to this, I also heard a rumor that Cabelas has changed its plans for its planned store in New Jersey near the meadowlands complex. The talk is that the state has made it so profoundly difficult to work with them, that Cabelas will, at the very least, not be selling ammunition or firearms in New Jersey. This will no doubt change the dynamic of the stores ability to draw customers and may in fact put the entire project at risk. No doubt there is a judge somewhere breathing a sigh of relief that the gang members of Newark won’t have a place to get their "James Purdy Side by Side Shotguns" serviced. (Actually, they can still do like I do and drive the hour and a half to the Cabelas in Hamburg Pennsylvania, I'll even split the gas with them if they give me enough notice.)

If this extra-judiciary trend continues, I hope the firearms and ammunition manufacturers take a page from Mike Barrett’s playbook, and refuse to sell to the police departments of the state. I can drive to a Walmart in Pennsylvania to buy my ammo. Lets see how things go when the entire law enforcement community of New Jersey has to do the same.

If the judges of the State of New Jersey have no problem going around the law to ensure that it’s citizens are disarmed, I don’t see any reason why the firearms manufacturers can’t go around the market to ensure that the State government stays the same way.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Did he Really Say That?!

Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini!

This is a clip from the mind numbingly dull Iowa Republican Debate. In it, Fred Thompson was asked what he thought the biggest impediment to education is right now and he actually came right out and identified the problem. He did what no politician in his right mind would ever do… he told the voters the truth, even though it meant pissing off the single largest lobbying group in the country.

According to Fred, (and me, and Milton Friedman, and Walter Williams, and Thomas Sowell, and everyone else who knows anything about the realities of Economics) the NEA (otherwise known in New Jersey as the NJEA) is the single greatest threat to our children’s education. They prevent good teachers from getting paid more than bad teachers. They prevent administrations and school boards from being able to fire bad teachers. The ensure that poorly performing school systems are rewarded with more money and that better performing school systems are penalized by taking money away. They do all they can to prevent competition in the system. They lobby aggressively for smaller classes (more teachers per student) higher pay per teacher, and lower performance requirements, and will fight to their last breath to make sure that no one implements anything resembling actual accountability. And they have made it abundantly clear that they believe that there is no problem in education that can’t be solved by going back to the taxpayers, and throwing good money after bad.

New Jersey has the highest property taxes in the country, and the reason that’s so, is because the schools are constitutionally prevented from raising money any other way. Naturally, the NJEA has gone to great lengths to try to eliminate that obstacle as well, so that they can get access to the broader tax base and more effectively hide their system wide failure at managing costs. And since they are the single largest and wealthiest lobbying group in the country, (and we know how our NJ legislators feel about lobbyists) they always have someone around to help them navigate the potential pitfalls of the taxpayers catching on to what they’re doing.

Wanna know who to blame for the high property taxes in New Jersey…Blame the NEA.

Monday, December 10, 2007

- Why is Healthcare So Expensive Now?

There is a lot of genuine stupidity out there in the discussion regarding our system of providing healthcare in the US. Many people are looking to a solution, which involves big government mandates and more socialist style controls, but those sorts of things have only lead to disaster in the past and there is no reason to pretend that they would do any differently now. To use a restaurant analogy, there is simply no way to give the meal to one person, and the bill to another, and have everyone still get what they want to eat.

But the problem with trying to shoot down the government run lunacy, and talk some sense into the socialist nincompoops dominating the current debate is that the current system is already pretty screwed up too, and that makes it damned difficult to argue against changing it. And when you talk to the pro-socialism academics currently defining the discussion, they all call those problems a “failure of the free market”. “I’m a libertarian” they disingenuously say “but I support government control when it’s clear that the free market has failed”.

There are lots of problems with that sentence, for instance you would think someone with such a lofty education would have a better understanding of the word “libertarian”. But by far the most pressing logical inconsistency is that in the problems with the US healthcare system are not a product of the free market failing, but are a product of the government intervention that’s already in place. In short, the current system isn’t broken because of the free market; it’s broken because the government has stepped in and broken it.

In fact the government is involved in the distribution of healthcare all over the place; it’s entrenched in the system everywhere from hospitals to insurance companies to the licensing of medical practitioners. For years now, the government has already been in the business of setting prices, and mandating “free” services for a large percentage of the overall market and that is distorting the incentives that would otherwise make the free market work. And it’s the places where it is most involved where the system operates least efficiently, and is most in need of urgent reform.

Suppose you wanted to get into the medical business and you decided to open your own hospital. Well the way it would work in a free market is that you would go out and find a bunch of doctors, who are interested in providing their services, and you lease a building and equipment etc., you apply for the necessary permits and licenses, and make sure you meet all the codes for cleanliness etc, and then you go into business. As an expert in business you know that “profit” is what’s left after you pay everyone else, so you carefully tally all the costs of your new business and estimate how much money you will take in as fees, and the difference is your profit. So do you imagine that’s the way it is under the current system? Well no… it’s not.

In fact one major cost you probably forgot to consider is that if you have an emergency room, then under a 1986 law you cannot turn anyone away for treatment for any reason, including their inability to pay. That means that so long as they show up at the emergency room door you are required to provide them service, whether you are getting paid or not. Can you imagine a restaurant where you had to feed anyone who shows up at the back door whether they’re able to pay or not? Can you imagine that same restaurant trying to remain profitable? And when your potential profit shrinks, how many people will be interested in going into that business with you? Will you be able to borrow the money you need for leasing equiptment, or buying office furniture, or hiring the squads of accountants and clerks necessary to keep up with the government mandated paperwork? In a word, no, you won’t. No one wants to be involved in a losing business, why would they?

In fact, under that 1986 law, so long as someone comes to you through the emergency room doors, you and your staff are in effect, their medical slaves. You must provide your service to them because the government orders you to, even though you will not be compensated for your work. The government bureaucrat may not have a bullwhip and fedora, but just see what happens to you if you turn someone away. In truth, according to that law, you are only required to treat them if it is an emergency, but you’d be amazed how many emergencies there are when the treatment for them is free. Of course, you can treat them all and then simply pass those costs onto the other consumer who can pay, but that’s going to make the service you are selling awfully pricey for the people with cash, and since you’re supposed to compete with other hospitals in a free market, the guys who pass the least of those costs on will get the most business. Of course, they will also have the lowest profit and be the first to go out of business when the business climate changes, so you are caught between the rock of being VERY expensive for your paying customers, and hard place of taking a chance on going out of business

That single 1986 law alone is responsible for many, many hospital closures. And since we understand that the law of supply and demand is immutable, we know that when something becomes more rare it becomes more expensive whether we like it or not. But there is also another cost you probably haven’t thought of. Medicine gone bad is an emotional topic, and since that’s so, the American Bar Association has decided to get into the medical business too. The one area of the medical industry that shows higher profits every year is the medical malpractice lawsuit. And since that’s so, all the doctors in your hospital will have to carry medical malpractice insurance. But in the case of obstetricians/gynecologists, that cost can be as much as $75,000 per year, and is increasing at roughly 15% per year. Those costs will also have to be passed on to the consumer, so the overall cost of care is going to be even higher, and you will therefore have fewer paying customers than you thought.

But don’t worry; the government has already got a solution for you. You see, all those people in your emergency room will be able to pay you after all, because they will be getting medical insurance provided to them by the US government. The US taxpayer will pick up their tab, not just your other customers. Of course, that comes with a few little catches. For instance, if the government is going to pay, then they think the government should also get to set the price you charge for specific services. That’s the way it is with most customers isn’t it? When you go to McDonalds you don’t’ just pay the price they want for a hamburger do you? You do? …Oh … well, the government doesn’t. It sets process for specific procedures, and that becomes what those things cost.

But wait a minute; didn’t we say just a few seconds ago that malpractice insurance costs are rising on average roughly 15% per year? Well how do the doctors, nurses and hospitals manage to stay in business when the price for their services is set by the government, but the costs for them to provide those service keep rising? The obvious answer is, they don’t. They get out of the business of medical care and go into the business of stock trading, or real-estate speculation, or Starbucks franchises or anywhere else without all the government intrusion. In those areas, a smart man or woman can make ten times the money of a doctor and not have all the hassle, headache, and lost sleep. That’s what’s happened in the UK where generations of government mandated low pay has reduced applications to medical schools by so much, that they are only able to meet the need for doctors by allowing wholesale immigration from third world nations. Do you remember the failed bombing attempt in Scotland last autumn? Both of the people involved were recent immigrants to the UK, allowed entry to meet the need for more medical professionals.

So new business of opening a hospital has probably failed before it’s even gotten started, all thanks to the government getting involved in the otherwise free market. And while you are being kept out by low potential for success, many people already in the business are getting out for the same reason. The more the government tries to control it, the worse it gets. It’s always that way with government controls. So in the medical industry, it isn’t the free market that’s failing; it’s the lack of a free market. And if we ever want the system to work rationally again, then we need to dismantle the government intervention currently in the system, and give up the ridiculous idea that getting someone else to perform a service for you is somehow a right. Universal healthcare sounds great on a campaign poster, but the medical care is a scarce resource that can’t be given to everyone without the quality falling off tremendously.

And don’t talk to me about Canada, England or Sweden (and forget about Cuba). None of those systems is working the way they want it to, and they are all hemorrhaging cash and will bankrupt their nations if they allow it to. Deconstructionist logic is the only thing that makes them seem like a good idea, but if you look at the whole picture, the failure is obvious. The typical wait times have gotten so severe in their national health systems that businesses have opened in Canada and the UK to help people waiting for essential care to find a doctor in the US where they can still get rapid, high quality treatment. A free angioplasty would be just great, but it doesn’t do you a lot of good if you’re dead three months before it becomes available.

We all need to get a grip on reality and realize that this is a problem that more government involvement won’t fix. It’s government that’s caused the high costs of the current system, not the free market. And letting people stand by and say otherwise is like believing the mouse when he blames the cat for the missing cheese.

Friday, December 7, 2007

- Looks Like Fun

But I swear that my very first thought was "Oh My God, they're letting Nixon play without rolling his shirt sleeves up? (and I hope they don't let him deal)

Monday, December 3, 2007

- Healthcare is not a right

Sometimes people say things that are so far outside the scope of rational discourse that it’s difficult to respond to them in any way. This past week, I had a friend try to explain to me that the central thesis of Milton Friedman’s political philosophy was that “government should step up to do those things, that people wouldn’t chip in for themselves.” This is a very nice and well-intentioned guy who a few months back, notoriously tried to explain to a bunch of us professional money managers and traders, that there was no such thing as a bid and offer for US stocks, only a “price”.

Anyway, in response to his delving into the Chicago school of economics, I looked at him with incredulity for a moment, shook my head, and then pointed him at the online version of Free to Choose. He’s not a stupid guy, and he’s genuinely trying to get it right I think. So I’m hoping that exposing him to a few facts of the debate will open his eyes a little. To tell the truth though, his insistence in his ideas, and the way he spent 10 minutes or so energetically trying to convince me that he was right, reminded me very much of this famous scene from A Fish Called Wanda.

Bumper sticker wisdom usually has that effect on me too. For instance, I recently saw a bumper sticker that said, “Healthcare is a right!”. I particularly enjoyed the fact that it included an exclamation point, because as we all know, it’s not a right unless you shout it at someone. As to the substance of that, I don’t really know where to begin when trying to get through to someone who believes such nonsense, but I’m going to give it a shot.

No, healthcare is not a right. It’s a service, offered by people for a fee. You may like the fee or you may not. But like every other service that’s in demand, there are only 2 ways to make it cheaper, increase the supply of people providing it, or reduce the amount that people demand it… that’s it. And here is the REALLY important part, having the government step in and assign specific prices to specific services will not make them cheaper, it will only make those services impossible to find.

Of course, I’ve tried that line of reasoning before and it rarely gets through. So lets try something else. Lets suppose instead, that a Ferrari is a right instead of healthcare. Ferrari’s are highly in demand and quite expensive, just like premium healthcare. How then would this same “A Ferrari is a Right!” sort of thinking go?

Well some people wouldn’t be able to afford a Ferrari, so the government would step in and make the price lower. So instead of costing $100,000 (I know it’s not their actual price but cut me some slack, I’m just making a point), they would assign a price of $20,000. Great! Now lots of people can afford them right? Well, yeah, but just lowering the price doesn’t actually let everyone get one because there are other issues here. For instance, the company only produces about 4,300 or so cars a year and each of them costs the company $75,000 to make. If the government makes a law that says they can only sell them for $20,000, then who can guess what the company is going to do? The answer of course, is to stop making them… it’s no longer worth it to them because they would lose $55,000 on every car, so why bother?

Well, lets suppose that instead of just making a law, the government came up with a tax on “the rich” to pay the first $55,000 of every Ferrari. Then the company would still be making them, and the price would still be low, problem solved right? Well, there would still be a problem because there is only 4,300 of them produced a year, so how do we decide who actually gets them? Well, if the government is paying most of the fee for them then the government will probably be the ones who decide. My bet is that there will 4,000 of them parked in the congressional parking lot, and the other 300, will go to a few key contributors.

Of course you’ll still be able to buy one on the black market, but now, you’ll have to find one first. And when it comes time to buy it, you’re going to have to pay $200,000 for it because they are so rare, and you’re going to have to do it illegally. So where does this all leave us in the healthcare debate? It would leave us with the politicians and people with good political connections getting all the quality healthcare service, and the rest of us getting none, or at the very least paying ridiculous prices to get it from people willing top break the law to give it to us. That sounds “Fair” doesn’t it?

At this point in the essay, I could define a “right” again for the people on the left, or I could whip out that very famous PJ O’Rourke quote about how expensive free healthcare is, but I won’t because I don’t see the point. There are some people out there who simply insist in believing things which are untrue as a matter of fact, and you can tell them that “Aristotle wasn’t Belgian” all you like and it just won’t get through. If there is someone out there who knows how to talk sense to someone like that I’d appreciate the tip. Until then I’m going to focus on ridiculing them in public. If I can’t them to see reason then maybe I can at least get them to shut up and let the grownups talk.