Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Government benefit programs in trouble
WASHINGTON - Trustees for the government's two biggest benefit programs warned that Social Security and Medicare are facing "enormous challenges" with the threat to Medicare's solvency far more severe.

The trustees, issuing their once-a-year analysis, said the resources in the Social Security trust fund will be depleted by 2041. The reserves in the Medicare trust fund that pays hospital benefits were projected to be wiped out by 2019.

Both those dates were the same as in last year's report. But the trustees warned that financial pressures will begin much sooner when the programs begin paying out more in benefits each year than they collect in payroll taxes. For Medicare, that threshold is projected to be reached this year and for Social Security it is projected to occur in 2017.

Both programs are expected to come under increasing pressure as 78 million baby boomers start retiring and drawing benefits.

"The financial difficulties facing Social Security and Medicare pose enormous challenges," the trustees said in their report. "The sooner these challenges are addressed, the more varied and less disruptive their solutions can be."

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, one of the trustees, warned of a fiscal train wreck unless something is done....

Friday, March 21, 2008

FBI posts fake hyperlinks to snare child porn suspects
The FBI has recently adopted a novel investigative technique: posting hyperlinks that purport to be illegal videos of minors having sex, and then raiding the homes of anyone willing to click on them.

Undercover FBI agents used this hyperlink-enticement technique, which directed Internet users to a clandestine government server, to stage armed raids of homes in Pennsylvania, New York, and Nevada last year. The supposed video files actually were gibberish and contained no illegal images.

A CNET News.com review of legal documents shows that courts have approved of this technique, even though it raises questions about entrapment, the problems of identifying who's using an open wireless connection--and whether anyone who clicks on a FBI link that contains no child pornography should be automatically subject to a dawn raid by federal police.

Roderick Vosburgh, a doctoral student at Temple University who also taught history at La Salle University, was raided at home in February 2007 after he allegedly clicked on the FBI's hyperlink. Federal agents knocked on the door around 7 a.m., falsely claiming they wanted to talk to Vosburgh about his car. Once he opened the door, they threw him to the ground outside his house and handcuffed him. ...

...When anyone visited the upload.sytes.net site, the FBI recorded the Internet Protocol address of the remote computer. There's no evidence the referring site was recorded as well, meaning the FBI couldn't tell if the visitor found the links through Ranchi or another source such as an e-mail message....

...But the magistrate judge ruled that even the possibilities of spoofing or other users of an open Wi-Fi connection "would not have negated a substantial basis for concluding that there was probable cause to believe that evidence of child pornography would be found on the premises to be searched." Translated, that means the search warrant was valid....

Government Equals Force
Occasionally throughout the 20th century, commentators have clearly recognized the coercive nature of government. British political scientist Harold Laski wrote in 1935:

"At any critical moment in the history of a State the fact that its authority depends upon the power to coerce the opponents of the government, to break their wills, to compel them to submission, emerges as the central fact of its nature. "

Political scientist Theodore Lowi, author of the 1969 book The End of Liberalism, observed:

"Government is obviously the most efficacious way of achieving good purposes in our age. But alas, it is efficacious because it is involuntary. Modern policymakers ... pretend ... that the unsentimental business of coercion need not be involved and that the unsentimental decisions about how to employ coercion need not really be made at all."

As a 1940 federal court decision noted, "The 'State,' as used in political science, means the coercive force of government."

What matters is not the rhetoric in the speeches of politicians but rather the power in the hands of prosecutors and law-enforcement agents. Governments rest upon the statute book. The essence of a law is the threat of government force to compel obedience to a legislative or regulatory edict. The Supreme Court observed in a 1909 decision, "'Law' is a statement of circumstances in which public force will be brought to bear on men through the courts." A 1996 Justice Department report observed, "The feature distinguishing police from all other groups in society is their authority to apply coercive force...."

The first question is not whether government is good or evil, but whether government is coercive - whether government relies on force to fill its coffers, enforce its commands, and impose its will. To get a clear understanding of the pervasive use and threat of force in daily government actions is the first step towards political realism. ...

...Taxation is not a mere technicality to be relegated to the footnotes of political science and public administration. Taxation goes to the heart of the relation of the citizen to the state: the higher the taxation, the greater the subjugation - and the more politicians are preempting individuals from building their own lives. Every increase in taxation is a proclamation that government knows best and thus that politicians are entitled to commandeer more of the individual's paycheck and to save him from himself.

The Treasury Department defines a tax as "a compulsory payment for which no specific benefit is received in return." No matter how much in taxes a person pays or what politicians promise, the taxpayer is not irrevocably entitled to a single benefit from government. The fact that some people benefit from how their tax dollars are spent does not make the process of taxation any less coercive.

Laws are structured so that government agents rarely need to soil their hands with citizens' blood. For instance, IRS rules and regulations allow IRS agents to confiscate a citizen's bank account without a court order and without any proof of the citizen's wrongdoing, merely on the basis of the IRS agent's unsubstantiated allegation that the citizen owes taxes. This power is exercised more than three million times a year (six times more often than in 1979); and the IRS wrongfully seizes tens of thousands of bank accounts and paychecks each year, according to the General Accounting Office. Such seizures are often accomplished by an IRS agent's sending an official notice to a bank and some timid bank clerk's kowtowing to the government's demand. The IRS routinely does not even officially notify citizens when it confiscates their savings and checking accounts; the only "notice" a person deserves, according to the IRS, is a notation on his monthly bank records informing him of his loss. ...

Monday, March 17, 2008

Put young children on DNA list, urge police
Primary school children should be eligible for the DNA database if they exhibit behaviour indicating they may become criminals in later life, according to Britain's most senior police forensics expert.

Gary Pugh, director of forensic sciences at Scotland Yard and the new DNA spokesman for the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo), said a debate was needed on how far Britain should go in identifying potential offenders, given that some experts believe it is possible to identify future offending traits in children as young as five. ...

The Government’s Chickens Are Back
When a private company screws up, there is no shortage of people demanding more government intrusion in the marketplace. But when the government screws up, they don’t call for less government. They call for more.

The economy is slowing down, and the government is at fault. But, if anything, the policymakers and pundits want the government to do more of what got us into trouble in the first place. If a lot of poison is bad, a lot more is somehow good. That’s the logic of statism.

Make no mistake: the government is the cause of the slowdown. The trigger was the housing problem — the surge in mortgage defaults and foreclosures, and the fall in home values. The government has been all over the housing industry for decades. Through various devices the politicians have made it easy for people to buy homes, even those who had poor credit and zero savings. There was a time when a young couple just starting out would work hard for several years to save up a down payment for a house. But thanks to the policies of Congress and agencies such as FHA, people could realize the “American dream” with almost no effort. One could buy a house with virtually nothing down. Government guarantees kept mortgage rates lower than they would have been. This was considered good social policy, but we should be suspicious when government claims to be helping people. It has no resources that it hasn’t first taken from someone else. Any pledge it makes is a pledge of the taxpayers’ money.

Next, in the name of social justice, the government pressured lenders through the Community Reinvestment Act to write mortgages for low-income people with bad credit. This is a source of the subprime mess. The loosening of lending standards was also encouraged by the government-created agencies Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, which buy mortgages from the original lenders, bundle them, and sell securities based on the resulting income stream. The Federal Reserve’s long-standing readiness to bail out banks and other lenders that get into trouble was another step toward the government-caused crisis.

The result of this intervention is known as moral hazard. If government places a safety net under lenders and borrowers, it encourages bad loans. Imagine that the losses of a gambler in Las Vegas were underwritten by the government. Would he be as careful as he is when he has to cover his losses himself? If any of this is reminiscent of the savings-and-loan fiasco of the 1980s, it should be. The government’s guarantee of deposits freed the S&Ls to make imprudent investments. The consequence of that policy cost the taxpayers a pretty sum. ...

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Prosecutorial and business misconduct
Jeff Skilling has already spend jail time for lying to Enron shareholders. Now it seems he might be there in part because of government misconduct, as discussed in my last post. Which raises the question: what should be the penalty for the sort of prosecutorial misconduct indicated by the Skilling brief?

My sources tell me that the prosecutors probably have immunity. The argument for strong government immunity is that government agents, who don't reap economic gains from their conduct, will be excessively risk averse. But what if there are great potential political and economic rewards from successful white collar crime prosecutions? ...

The cloud over the Enron prosecution
I noted a couple of days ago that there was a big problem brewing in the Enron trial, with the specter of possible prosecutorial misconduct regarding the prosecution's destruction of exculpatory evidence in Andy Fastow's government interviews. Today, Tom Kirkendall drops the other shoe, discussing the now unsealed defense supplemental brief: As Tom says:

The brief reveals suppression of exculpatory evidence by the Enron Task Force of a massive scale. The entire brief is devastating to the Task Force's prosecution of Skilling and the late Enron chairman, Ken Lay. * * *

The implications of this brief reach far beyond the Skilling appeal. For example, the already-reeling prosecution of the four Merrill Lynch bankers in the Enron-related Nigerian Barge case would appear to be over -- the prosecution in that case not only withheld exculpatory evidence, but put on incriminating testimony from former Enron treasurer Ben Glisan that directly contradicted the exculpatory evidence that Fastow provided to Task Force prosecutors during his interviews. Other Enron-related criminal cases -- as well as plea bargains -- could well be affected.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Obama’s Reckless Tax Increase to “Save” Social Security
A column in the Wall Street Journal discusses Senator Obama’s plan to boost the top tax rate on entrepreneurs and investors from less than 38 percent to more than 50 percent. This huge tax increase will significantly undermine incentives to both earn and report income. As a result, the author, formerly with the Social Security Administration, explains that behavioral responses will result in far less money than projected by “static” revenue estimates:...

Reverse Discrimination
Left-wing paternalists regard themselves as architects of racial progress, guarding and guiding blacks along the path of success -- a role in which they assume to stand forever at the head of the march. But what happens when blacks overtake their enlightened white helpers? All hell breaks loose and the mask of progress drops to reveal the stricken faces of the white avant-garde .

Geraldine Ferraro's remarks confirm that beneath left-wing paternalism lurks considerable racism. "If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position," she said to the Daily Breeze. "He happens to be very lucky to be who he is. And the country is caught up in the concept."

Since liberalism is not based upon natural justice but willfulness, it never fails to devour its supposed beneficiaries. Ferraro's condescension captures the tone of paternalistic liberalism perfectly. Its "victims" should know their place and plot their ascent according to the progressive charts set up by the white liberal establishment....

The Monster: A Loyal Clinton Soldier Turns in His Badge
...She's proven that she cares more about "Hillary" than "unity." More about defeating Obama than defeating the Republicans. She's become a political suicide-bomber, happy to blow herself to bits -- as long as she takes everyone else with her.

On Friday, one of Barack Obama's foreign policy advisors, Samantha Power, resigned after calling Senator Clinton "a monster" during an off-the-record exchange. It was an unfortunate slip, but one that echoed the sentiments of many Clinton apologists like me -- who've watched Hillary's descent into pettiness and fear-mongering with the heartbreak of a child who grows up to realize that his beloved mother has been a terrible person all along.

Are the conservatives right about the Clintons? Will they do and say anything to get elected? ...

David Mamet: Why I Am No Longer a 'Brain-Dead Liberal'
...And, I wondered, how could I have spent decades thinking that I thought everything was always wrong at the same time that I thought I thought that people were basically good at heart? Which was it? I began to question what I actually thought and found that I do not think that people are basically good at heart; indeed, that view of human nature has both prompted and informed my writing for the last 40 years. I think that people, in circumstances of stress, can behave like swine, and that this, indeed, is not only a fit subject, but the only subject, of drama.

I'd observed that lust, greed, envy, sloth, and their pals are giving the world a good run for its money, but that nonetheless, people in general seem to get from day to day; and that we in the United States get from day to day under rather wonderful and privileged circumstances—that we are not and never have been the villains that some of the world and some of our citizens make us out to be, but that we are a confection of normal (greedy, lustful, duplicitous, corrupt, inspired—in short, human) individuals living under a spectacularly effective compact called the Constitution, and lucky to get it.

For the Constitution, rather than suggesting that all behave in a godlike manner, recognizes that, to the contrary, people are swine and will take any opportunity to subvert any agreement in order to pursue what they consider to be their proper interests.

To that end, the Constitution separates the power of the state into those three branches which are for most of us (I include myself) the only thing we remember from 12 years of schooling.

The Constitution, written by men with some experience of actual government, assumes that the chief executive will work to be king, the Parliament will scheme to sell off the silverware, and the judiciary will consider itself Olympian and do everything it can to much improve (destroy) the work of the other two branches. So the Constitution pits them against each other, in the attempt not to achieve stasis, but rather to allow for the constant corrections necessary to prevent one branch from getting too much power for too long.

Rather brilliant. For, in the abstract, we may envision an Olympian perfection of perfect beings in Washington doing the business of their employers, the people, but any of us who has ever been at a zoning meeting with our property at stake is aware of the urge to cut through all the pernicious bullshit and go straight to firearms.

I found not only that I didn't trust the current government (that, to me, was no surprise), but that an impartial review revealed that the faults of this president—whom I, a good liberal, considered a monster—were little different from those of a president whom I revered.

Bush got us into Iraq, JFK into Vietnam. Bush stole the election in Florida; Kennedy stole his in Chicago. Bush outed a CIA agent; Kennedy left hundreds of them to die in the surf at the Bay of Pigs. Bush lied about his military service; Kennedy accepted a Pulitzer Prize for a book written by Ted Sorenson. Bush was in bed with the Saudis, Kennedy with the Mafia. Oh.

And I began to question my hatred for "the Corporations"—the hatred of which, I found, was but the flip side of my hunger for those goods and services they provide and without which we could not live....

Weather Channel Founder Wants to Sue Al Gore
John Coleman wants to sue Al Gore for fraud. Coleman, who founded the Weather Channel in 1982, thinks taking legal action against Al Gore would be a great "vehicle to finally put some light on the fraud of global warming." Coleman rejects the notion that people must take drastic actions to reduce their energy use....

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Admiral William Fallon quits over Iran policy
The top US military commander for Iraq and Afghanistan resigned last night after weeks of behind-the-scenes disagreements with the White House over the direction of American foreign policy.

Admiral William Fallon, the head of US Central Command, left his post a week after a profile in Esquire magazine portrayed him as a dove opposed to President’s Bush’s Iran policy.

The article, entitled The Man Between War and Peace, described Admiral Fallon as as a lone voice against taking military action to stop the Iranian nuclear programme. ...

Federal vice agents tout successes
Metro Atlanta may get a little bloodier. Call it a sign of success.

Jack Killorin, who heads a federal narcotics task force, said his agents are rolling up drug-trafficking organizations to the point that they have decreased the quality and raised the price of drugs on the street.

He credits last year's spike in area burglaries, robberies and car thefts in part to criminals forced to pay more for their illicit drugs.

If law enforcement someday succeeds in breaking up established drug territories — the real sign of success from a metropolitan perspective — it could mean a similar spike in murders, as drug organizations vie for a larger market share.

"If the market here gets unstable down to the street, then the streets will get bloody," said Killorin, director of Atlanta High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Task Force (HIDTA). "I don't think we're there yet."...

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Exhaustive review finds no link between Saddam and al Qaida
WASHINGTON — An exhaustive review of more than 600,000 Iraqi documents that were captured after the 2003 U.S. invasion has found no evidence that Saddam Hussein's regime had any operational links with Osama bin Laden's al Qaida terrorist network....

John Stossel: How to curb lobbyist influence in Washington
..."Good government" types like Nader love to decry the cozy environment in which members of Congress and corporate lobbyists work closely together and even socialize. They warn that this gives an unfair advantage to special interests.

They have a point.

Major economic interests can afford to pay for lobbying operations that provide congressional staffers reams of information about their industries and their "need" for legislative favors.

Under these circumstances, what chance do masses of unorganized taxpayers have?

The Public Choice school of economics calls this the problem of concentrated benefits and dispersed costs. Individual members of relatively small interest groups stand to gain huge rewards when they lobby for government favors, but each taxpayer will pay only a tiny portion of the cost of any particular program, making opposition pointless.

Sugar consumers, for example, far outnumber sugar producers, but the benefits of a sugar program that keeps out foreign sugar and forces up the price helps each producer far more than it harms individual consumers. Sugar growers have an incentive to hire fulltime lobbyists, while consumers do not. So the minority rules. The disgustingly unfair and expensive sugar support program is renewed year after year.

"Good government" types rightly abhor this influence-peddling, but they propose pointless reforms like bans on lobbyist-sponsored gifts, junkets and rides on corporate jets. They also back a vicious assault on free speech: campaign-finance restrictions designed to reduce the influence of lobbyists in political campaigns. Despite all these "reforms," influence-peddling goes on.

For good reason. None of the reforms gets near root of the problem.

The root is government power. When government is free to meddle in every corner of our lives and regulate the economy through taxes, regulation and subsidies, then "special interests" have every incentive to work on the politicians to preserve their turf or gain an advantage....

How government makes things worse
WHAT DO ethanol and the subprime mortgage meltdown have in common? Each is a good reminder of that most powerful of unwritten decrees, the Law of Unintended Consequences - and of the all-too-frequent tendency of solutions imposed by the state to exacerbate the harms they were meant to solve....

...But now comes word that expanding ethanol use is likely to mean not less CO2 in the atmosphere, but more. Instead of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from gasoline by 20 percent - the estimate Congress relied on in requiring the huge increase in production - ethanol use will cause such emissions to nearly double over the next 30 years.

The problem, laid out in two new studies in the journal Science, is that it takes a lot of land to grow biofuel feedstocks such as corn, and as forests or grasslands are cleared for crops, large amounts of CO2 are released....

...The subprime mortgage collapse is another tale of unintended consequences.

The crisis has its roots in the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977, a Carter-era law that purported to prevent "redlining" - denying mortgages to black borrowers - by pressuring banks to make home loans in "low- and moderate-income neighborhoods." Under the act, banks were to be graded on their attentiveness to the "credit needs" of "predominantly minority neighborhoods." The higher a bank's rating, the more likely that regulators would say yes when the bank sought to open a new branch or undertake a merger or acquisition.

But to earn high ratings, banks were forced to make increasingly risky loans to borrowers who wouldn't qualify for a mortgage under normal standards of creditworthiness. The Community Reinvestment Act, made even more stringent during the Clinton administration, trapped lenders in a Catch-22.

"If they comply," wrote Loyola College economist Thomas DiLorenzo, "they know they will have to suffer from more loan defaults. If they don't comply, they face financial penalties . . . which can cost a large corporation like Bank of America billions of dollars."

Banks nationwide thus ended up making more and more subprime loans and agreeing to dangerously lax underwriting standards - no down payment, no verification of income, interest-only payment plans, weak credit history. If they tried to compensate for the higher risks they were taking by charging higher interest rates, they were accused of unfairly steering borrowers into "predatory" loans they couldn't afford.

Trapped in a no-win situation entirely of the government's making, lenders could only hope that home prices would continue to rise, staving off the inevitable collapse. But once the housing bubble burst, there was no escape....

Monday, March 10, 2008

Completely Objective Journalism
...The premise of the story by Juliet Eilperin is well-expressed by its headline: “Carbon Output Must Near Zero To Avert Danger, New Studies Say”. Eilperin prominently quotes Carnegie Institution senior scientist Ken Caldeira, co-author of one of the studies promoted by the article, who says: "The question is, what if we don't want the Earth to warm anymore?" Well, that’s a question, but it’s certainly not the question, and is not even a very good question. I think a much better question might be something like “What are the costs versus benefits of reducing emissions to avoid warming?”

The article never addresses this question, and instead elides between a battery of technical experts asserting that carbon emissions create problems, and interested political actors saying “common sense is that we would not let the planet be destroyed”.

What’s so funny is that Eilperin never seems to be willing do the work to pick up the trail of breadcrumbs that all her interviewees leave behind them. She writes that “Most scientists warn that a temperature rise of 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) could have serious consequences.” Really – how serious? Well, according to the UN IPCC a 4C increase – twice this amount – would reduce global economic output by 1% – 5%. Oh yeah, that’s in the world of the 22nd century which is expected to have per capita consumption of something like $40,000 per year versus our current consumption of about $6,600 per year. So we are condemning future generations to be only 5.7 times richer than us, rather than 6 times richer. She quotes a scientist’s “tremendous” finding that under a business-as-usual scenario Earth will warm by 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100, without mentioning that this is 4C, or well within the forecast range of the current business-as-usual projections for warming by 2100 of the most recent UN IPCC report. Also note that this is the amount of warming that is projected to cost a much richer world about 3% of its consumption....

Would-Be Rulers without Clothes
...This is what passes for deep political thought these days. Look closely at what Clinton is saying. She wants something (“universal health care”); therefore people should be forced to give it to her. (No thought is given to how the free market could accomplish the goal peacefully.)

If you and I claimed something like that in private life, we’d be branded as boors. And if we took steps to accomplish it, we’d be arrested for theft or extortion.

Why are presidents and presidential candidates exempt from the normal and reasonable rules of morality? All of us are taught as children not to hit others, not to take their belongings without permission, and not to break our promises. If we need the cooperation of other people, we are expected to rely on persuasion. Force is forbidden. These are sound principles that underpin any decent society, and we are expected to observe them when we become adults. Indeed, the core criminal and civil law embody these principles in their prohibitions against murder, assault, burglary, theft, and breach of contract.

But when a politician advocates forcing the people to go along with her grand plans, the normal rules are suspended and different rules take their place. In the political world, people who have never bothered anyone may be coerced into participating in a politician’s scheme for no reason other than that the scheme allegedly won’t work if there isn’t universal participation.

Well, excuse me, but that’s not a good enough reason.

It’s a measure of how far removed politics is from normal morality that even to raise this issue seems slightly peculiar. Comparing a politician to a common criminal just isn’t done in polite society. But think about it. Imagine that Clinton was your neighbor and that she came up with an plan for a neighborhood association that would provide a variety of services, including medical coverage and pensions. “My plan won’t work unless everyone participates,” she says. She proceeds to threaten anyone who decides not to go along. What would you think of this woman? If she demanded your money at gunpoint, you would call the cops.

So why the moral exemption for presidential candidates? Force is force. Does it matter who wields it? The fact is that someone who refuses to participate in government programs — Social Security, Medicare, universal health care — has not disturbed the peace. He has simply minded his own business. Thus the government should leave him alone. The “live and let live” principle used to be valued by the American people. But it’s been largely forgotten.

No one wants to face this issue. Where do government officials get the authority to compel peaceful people to finance and participate in their social programs? Some might reply that the authority comes from the people. But how can that be? We’ve already seen that you and I have no authority to initiate force against others. If we do it anyway, we are criminals. So how can all of us together have such authority? We can’t. ...

Global Warming and the Local Weather
...What is troubling me today though, and here's the connection with religion, is the change in the rhetoric by those who believe global warming is real, human-caused, and that it requires a major change in the way we live. For fun, start a discussion with such a person about the current snowy, cold winter and do make the joke about how it is evidence against global warming. My bet is that their reaction will be something like this: "Oh no, it's evidence in favor. You see it's not about 'warming' per se; it's about 'global climate change.' Thus the fact that some areas are having cold, snowy winters is something that 'global warming' would predict, just as it predicts more and stronger hurricanes and all other kind of things. We should expect a more varied climate."

One smaller observation about this line of argument is that it seems to fit the more general "fear of change" that we see among many on the left and right about all other kinds of issues, mostly economic. The earth's climate has "changed" for billions of years, long before humans walked it. Why would we expect it to stop changing because we're here (and as if "we" as human animals aren't part of the earth's ecology anyway)? And how much hubris does it take for us to think we can stop such change?

We've also seen the human costs of a similar hubris in 20th century "socialism." Why would we expect this to be any different?

But that's not the big problem here. The big problem with the "climate change" hypothesis is a very simple issue of the philosophy of science: is the hypothesis of global climate change/warming falsifiable? A much better question to ask your environmentalist friends is this one:

"What climatological or meteorological evidence would convince you that your belief in global warming is wrong?" (Of course they have the same right to ask this of skeptics - what evidence would convince you that the world is, in fact, warming?)

I've tried this and the reaction varies from indignation at having to answer it, to lots of hemming and hawing about possible answers, to serious and thoughtful replies. The point, however, is that those who assert the truth of the hypothesis of global warming have a scientific obligation to have a legitimate answer to that question. If they do not, or if they reject the idea that they must, they are ruling themselves out of the science business and into the religion business. Global warming becomes the equivalent of "it was God's will." The hypothesis that event X was "God's will" is unfalsifiable and is thus purely a matter of faith. Of course, in our best Seinfeldian voice, we might say "not that there's anything wrong with that." Indeed, faith and religious belief are fine, but they aren't science. (Note to my philosophically-inclined readers: I'm not advocating a full-bore Popperian philosophy of science here. I do, however, believe that falsifiability is a necessary condition for a statement to be considered a scientific hypothesis.) ...

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Freedom Means Responsibility
Nearly 16 years ago in these very pages, I wrote that "'one-size-fits all' rules for business ignore the reality of the market place." Today I'm watching some broad rules evolve on individual decisions that are even worse.

Under the guise of protecting us from ourselves, the right and the left are becoming ever more aggressive in regulating behavior. Much paternalist scrutiny has recently centered on personal economics, including calls to regulate subprime mortgages....

...Health-care paternalism creates another problem that's rarely mentioned: Many people can't afford the gold-plated health plans that are the only options available in their states.

Buying health insurance on the Internet and across state lines, where less expensive plans may be available, is prohibited by many state insurance commissions. Despite being able to buy car or home insurance with a mouse click, some state governments require their approved plans for purchase or none at all. It's as if states dictated that you had to buy a Mercedes or no car at all.

Economic paternalism takes its newest form with the campaign against short-term small loans, commonly known as "payday lending."

With payday lending, people in need of immediate money can borrow against their future paychecks, allowing emergency purchases or bill payments they could not otherwise make. The service comes at the cost of a significant fee -- usually $15 for every $100 borrowed for two weeks. But the cost seems reasonable when all your other options, such as bounced checks or skipped credit-card payments, are obviously more expensive and play havoc with your credit rating.

Anguished at the fact that payday lending isn't perfect, some people would outlaw the service entirely, or cap fees at such low levels that no lender will provide the service. Anyone who's familiar with the law of unintended consequences should be able to guess what happens next.

Researchers from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York went one step further and laid the data out: Payday lending bans simply push low-income borrowers into less pleasant options, including increased rates of bankruptcy. Net result: After a lending ban, the consumer has the same amount of debt but fewer ways to manage it....

Thursday, March 06, 2008

‘Great Satan’ Gets Struck Out
Are the media dumb or just out to lunch? Sorry to be intemperate, but how else can one explain the meager attention paid to the truly historic visit of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Iraq? Not only is he the first Mideast head of state to visit the country since its alleged liberation, but the very warm official welcome offered by the Iraqi government to the most vociferous critic of the United States speaks volumes to the abject failure of the Bush doctrine....

...How interesting that Ahmadinejad, unlike a U.S. president who has to be airlifted unannounced into ultra-secure bases, was able to convoy in from the airport in broad daylight on a road that U.S. dignitaries fear to travel. His love fest with Iraq President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd who fought on Iran’s side against Iraq and who speaks Farsi, even took place outside of the safety of the Green Zone, adding emphasis to Ahmadinejad’s claim that while he is welcome in Iraq, the Americans are not....

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

The Missing Apology
While making a campaign stop in Waco, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton praised the U.S. military for "defending and protecting our country."

I couldn't help but wonder whether she was talking about the military's role in Iraq or Waco.

You'll recall that under her husband's regime, U.S. officials from the ATF and FBI, supported by the U.S. military, massacred 74 men, women, and children at the Branch Davidian compound at Waco. The massacre was accomplished through the intentional injection of flammable gas from U.S. military tanks into the compound and then, as the Emmy Award winning documentary "Waco: The Rules of Engagement" showed, the intentional firing of incendiary devices into to the compound that ignited the flammable gas. Shortly after the massacre, U.S. officials quickly bulldozed the entire site so that a proper investigation into how the incineration got started could not be conducted.

One of the rationales employed by President Clinton and his attorney general, Janet Reno, for the raid was to protect the Branch Davidian people, including the children, from their leader David Koresch. Of course, never mind that the raid succeeded in killing most of the people, including the children, that the raid was supposed to save.

Who could guess that the same rationale would be employed several years later by President Bush in regard to the massacre of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi people?...

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Eco-terror suspected in Seattle blazes
WOODINVILLE, Wash. — Investigators planned to sift through the rubble today of three luxury show homes in a Seattle suburb that may have been torched by eco-terrorists who mocked developer claims that the houses were environmentally "built green."

Explosive devices were found Monday in five model homes in Woodinville, Wash., said Rick Eastman, a district fire chief in Snohomish County. He said 70 firefighters answering a pre-dawn call were able to save two homes but three others were destroyed. There were no injuries.

A white sheet spray-painted in red was found on a nearby fence. It said, "Built Green? Nope black!" and "McMansions in RCDs r not green," a reference to rural cluster developments. The sheet was signed ELF, the initials of the radical Earth Liberation Front....

Monday, March 03, 2008

Federal Spending By the Numbers 2008
...Before the nation can come together on federal budget solutions, it has to agree on the basic budget facts. This paper provides 12 pages of tables, charts, graphs, and bullet-point explanations of recent trends in federal spending. Updated with the most recent 2008 budget estimates, most of the underlying data come directly from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Congressional Budget Office (CBO)....

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Gun Control Claims More Victims
Last year, Virginia Tech University successfully lobbied the state legislature to prohibit concealed-permit holders from carrying a sidearm on campus. At the time, university spokesman Larry Hincker commented,

I’m sure the university community is appreciative of the General Assembly’s actions because this will help parents, students, faculty, and visitors feel safe on our campus.

In June of last year, the university reemphasized its ban on carrying guns on campus by students, employees, and visitors. Last spring, it disciplined a student with a concealed-carry permit who brought his handgun to class. On April 16, 2007, 43 students and faculty members paid the price for such shortsightedness when a deranged student killed 33 and wounded the remainder with handguns....

Individualism, the Collectivists’ Nemesis
t is individualism that the American Founders elevated into political prominence and it is individualism that most politicians and governments, including America’s, find most annoying because it is the bulwark against arbitrary power.

If, as the Declaration of Independence states, individual human beings have unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, no one may violate these rights. Every adult individual is sovereign, a self-ruler and not subject to the rule of others. (This is why Americans are referred to as citizens, not as subjects, like so many around the globe.)

Karl Marx was among the many political theorists — like Hegel and Comte — who realized that if individualism becomes prominent, their dream of ruling others in the name of whatever “higher goal or power” is over and done with.

So they worked tirelessly to discredit individualism, to establish that no one is sovereign and we all belong to some group — the nation, the tribe, the race, the class, the ethnic group, whatever.

Today some of America’s most powerful mainstream politicians have gone on record denouncing individualism and they are joined by a great many academicians, even some scientists in trying to besmirch the idea. Instead of each person having the free will to guide him or herself in life, each of us is said to be but a cell in the larger organism that is humanity.

There have been many who laid out this idea in forceful ways — just read what the French “father of sociology” said about this: “All human rights then are as absurd as they are immoral. This [“to live for others”], the definitive formula of human morality, gives a direct sanction exclusively to our instincts of benevolence, the common source of happiness and duty. [Man must serve] Humanity, whose we are entirely.” Marx put it even more succinctly: “The Human essence is the true collectivity of Man,” and referred to human beings as “specie beings,” meaning they are part of the larger organism or body of humanity. The book, by Lewis Thomas, Lives of a Cell, defended the idea in the mid-20th century! ...

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Pew Report Finds More than One in 100 Adults are Behind Bars
...For the first time in history more than one in every 100 adults in America are in jail or prison—a fact that significantly impacts state budgets without delivering a clear return on public safety. According to a new report released today by the Pew Center on the States’ Public Safety Performance Project, at the start of 2008, 2,319,258 adults were held in American prisons or jails, or one in every 99.1 men and women, according to the study. During 2007, the prison population rose by more than 25,000 inmates. In addition to detailing state and regional prison growth rates, Pew’s report, One in 100: Behind Bars in America 2008, identifies how corrections spending compares to other state investments, why it has increased, and what some states are doing to limit growth in both prison populations and costs while maintaining public safety....

...A close examination of the most recent U.S. Department of Justice data (2006) found that while one in 30 men between the ages of 20 and 34 is behind bars, the figure is one in nine for black males in that age group. Men are still roughly 13 times more likely to be incarcerated, but the female population is expanding at a far brisker pace. For black women in their mid- to late-30s, the incarceration rate also has hit the one-in-100 mark. In addition, one in every 53 adults in their 20s is behind bars; the rate for those over 55 is one in 837....