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Saturday, August 06, 2005

Tragedy Shows Government Incompetence

In this twisted world where government is looked to for solutions for personal issues, big and small, we have this tragic situation in NY. 2 toddler boys were recently scalded to death while their drunk mother slept one off and the recent live-in male (husband?-father of one of the boys) had left the apartment with the water running and the bathroom door locked.

Sad, sad, sad.

Today's NYT headline is "Worker's Actions Faulted in Scalding Deaths of Boys". The case worker who had not visited this family monthly as required is somehow at fault here. They are also looking at the potential firing of the supervisor. Of course, the adult parents are being criminally charged but, in some people's minds, fault extends to the government.

This is the insane development of the idea that government can do what personal responsibility cannot. I am not sure if more governmental diligence could have helped here. But when we displace reliance from ourselves or volunteers/charities/churches to the government, negligence is inevitable.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Rafael Palmiero and The Joy Of Sport

Economist Russell Roberts of Cafe Hayek discusses Rafael Palmiero's steroid controversy and asks:

Look at Hollywood. How many actresses and actors use plastic surgery to reverse the natural effects of age? It's interesting to compare the outrage people are directing at Palmeiro to how people feel about Hollywood. Is plastic surgery cheating? If the Actors Guild bans plastic surgery, should we take away the Academy Awards and Emmies from those who used silicon and collagen and botox in the past to get what some might call an unfair advantage?

My e-mail to him was:

We expect movie actors to play the role and look the part in a movie. We expect sports to provide us unrehearsed, unexpected moments of purity. In baseball, while the non-fans are disappointed when they witness no home run in a game they attend, I marvel at the tension created by the 1-0 or 2-1 game. Though obviously an artificial reality, I want the athletes to face crisis, overcome adversity, deal with pressure as extraordinary ordinary men. That is how I can apply it to life. None of this is expected when we see Tom Cruise fighting aliens or Nicole Kidman in a love scene.

The finished work of a writer is the writing. If he takes speed to stay awake and write, it does not take away from the art. Many artists are jerk-offs. I am politically the opposite of John Lennon (though I harbor the delusion that had he not been killed over the past 20 years his intelligence would veer him to his natural libertarian leanings) but love his music. Hell, most rockers are Leftists.

Yes, in sports I want my team to win and will allow some marginal cheating like stealing signs. I want the edge of legal faking. I want my wealthy Bosox to trade for the very best players. But I want my athletes to have made it and remain on the top without the enhancement of steroids. Because, corny as it sounds, it is how you play the game that makes it fulfilling.

The Democrats Need To Become Republicans

As a newcomer to the Republican party, I have to wonder whether all of the suggestions to Democrats about how to begin winning elections is something I support. Since I joined the Republicans about 10 years ago (I never voted for Reagan or Bush the elder), I have made my voting decisions based upon substantive issues that matter to me.

Joan Vennochi provides great advice for the Democrats on how to begin winning elections. She writes:

Democrats should spend more time in places like Ohio, and it should be quality time. They should be listening, for once, to what voters are thinking, not telling voters what is wrong about their thinking and their past choice on election day.

Suppose Democrats hear what the voters want and fashion their campaigns accordingly, isn't this what Clinton the male did and what Clinton the female is trying to do? And weren't they generally insincere in what they said and as likely to follow by action what they said in campaigns as not? So, is the advice to become better liars?

Because, if they hear what the voters want and adjust their politics and philosophy accordingly, then they seem to become Republicans. I am for small government, limited regulation and government intrusion into business, low taxes, school choice, free market, free trade, toughness on crime, curb on litigation, focus on the individual over class, race and ethnicity, personal liberty over communal needs, no affirmative action, a very strong military and aggressive action against our enemies which all seem to be has drawn me to the Republican party. The majority of Americans believe this way except in the big population cities like NYC, Boston, LA, Chicago and SF. However, in the rest of the country there are more "Red State" thinkers.

Maybe some right of center voters can lean towards handling problems with communal interests more heavily weighted in the decision. That is the traditional Democrat way. My personal preference is to see these as the kind of half measures that pollute the issue and fail the project. They also tend to create special interest politics. While the Republicans and Bush in particluar have done some significant government-growing on their part, it is minor compared to the growth of government if Democrats had greater power. Ironically, while they pursue greater government power over day-to-day matters, they go to the cheap militarily and seek to avoid conflict in ways that make the issue worse later on.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Teenage Wasteland- Public Schools

Economist John Wenders’ paper for the Cato Journal on waste in public education was far from “tedious” as he described it in an email. Wenders shows that in comparison to private schools, public schools waste is at least 25% to perhaps over 35% in costs while providing lower quality education in the bargain.

Wenders begins by simply summarizing the inevitable failure of monopolies in open markets. In the private world, where there is competition, newcomers find ways to make products cheaper. Eventually, all producers seek to make qualitatively better products because the consumers rule.

All of this changes where there is government involvement. Wenders writes:

Then, the competitive process turns from serving the consumer (by providing attractive, low-cost, alternatives) to serving the constituencies who benefit from the government regulation and control. Greed does not disappear under government control, it is simply directed away from serving the consumer toward supporting, entrenching, and enhancing the government power that controls the market and determines who benefits from that control.

Wenders describes the inability of the government controlled and regulated airline industry to reduce costs. The deregulation changed everything. The public school system remains unchanged and “operates in exactly the same way as any other regulated market and results in classic waste, rent dissipation, entrenched parasitic constituencies, and sclerosis”.

His analysis crushes the excuses expressed by the public education industry that the reasons for their costs exceeding private schools cannot be helped. Many of the costs for public schools are equally borne by private schools. The private schools do not “cream” away the better students “off the top”. Such government mandates that do burden the public schools such as special ed, education degree requirements, pupil to teacher ratios are all the result of successful lobbying by the educational establishment. Writes Wenders:

At the bottom of the education pyramid, the schools love these mandates because they can be used to justify increased funding and staffing. They become a convenient excuse: “The mandates made me do it.” For this reason, when mandates are under consideration, the schools, school boards, and teachers unions, if not active proponents, often simply sit on their hands. The mandates are brought up and disavowed only when the inflated cost of public education is pointed out. As mentioned earlier, charter schools often operate without many of these mandates and, as shown earlier, do so at about 60–65 percent of the cost of public schools. Why not dump the mandates by converting all the public schools to mandate-free charter schools?

We see that open admissions have no effect because so many poor performers drop out imposing no increased costs on the public schools.

The most waste is in the cost of teachers. Ironically tenure ensures the continued employment of low quality teachers and the lack of a meritocracy disheartens achievers. Meanwhile, the ed degree requirement pulls in lower achieving students. And the pay scale rewards phys ed teachers similar to high school science teachers. Longevity is secured within 2 years of employment. Incentives to produce do not exist.

But why does public education cost so much? Because they will spend as much as is given.

Writes Wenders:

Public school expenditure is not driven by opportunity costs—that is, the value of resources elsewhere—but by the ability of the public education industry to extract revenues from the taxpayers via the public choice mechanism. Expenditures are built from the top down, not the bottom up. Public school expenditures now average about $9,500 per student. If the various public treasuries were to give this industry $12,000 per student, it would spend $12,000 per student. If the industry were given $6,000 per student, despite the howls of pain from the various constituencies whose rents disappeared, expenditure would be reduced to $6,000 per student. And since there is no connection between public school spending and student achievement, in neither case would student achievement change.

That final line is the clincher. We taxpayers spend and spend and our students continue to drop in rankings on international student tests. It is time to place decisions into the hands of private education entrepreneurs who can offer various levels of quality and focus at various levels of cost.

We decide how and what to eat, how and what kind of house we live in and how and what to wear as clothing. Given the incredible need our children have to become educated for a very complex future, denying parents choice in education is like throwing money down the proverbial toilet. Wenders’ essay gives us data to back up this sad conclusion.

Only A Fool Can Favor France Over USA

Having ignored the French for a while, Don Luskin's website has rekindled my spirit. There are many excellent comments and analyses to show the French are falling so far behind the US that nothing NYT's Krugman says positive about France is close to supportable. If the French are so happy as compared to Americans, then why are the suicide rates (per 100,000 population) for men and women, according to the WHO:

France: 26.1 and 9.4
USA: 17.6 and 4.1

Out of the 100 countries in the survey, France ranked 19th in percentage of suicides. The USA ranked 67th. Some countries had stale numbers (like Jordan and Egypt which showed no suicides in 1985. Methinks there may have been a few since then).

(And Evo, the rates for Italy are men 11.1 and women are 3.4. which tracks Israel's 10.5 and 2.6 closely. I aks for readers to comment on what those stats mean. I have a few un-PC ideas).

I particularly liked this part of a letter to Luskin's Conspiracy to Keep You Poor and Stupid by Kenneth Krantz:

When the comparatively few French nationals who are employed deign to go to work they kick our butts on a per hour worked basis. This methodology applies equally well to other French accomplishments.

While Soviet, British, and U.S. troops foolishly bled and died in tiresome places like Stalingrad, El Alamein, and Guadalcanal the clever French were exercising the much smarter lifestyle choice of waiting to be liberated. With a few weeks of fighting followed by four years of occupation France was the military superpower of World War II on a per day fought basis. This may be the secret to national greatness in the Krugman parallel universe -- work as little as possible in peacetime and surrender as soon as possible in wartime, so that your per hour worked and per day fought numbers will look good.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Save Judith Miller!

Are the people who are seeking Judge Roberts legal memos when he was practicing law or when he was a law clerk the same people complaining about the jailing of Judith Miller? Which privilege is of greater value to society. The legal privilege is a long-recognized one that allows clients to openly discuss matters with their lawyers to assist in trials that expose them to loss of their assets or freedom. The reporter privilege is less legally recognized. While the public is served by a similar access and openness with reporters, many "sources" face no penalty should they talk to a reporter with no protection by a privilege.

I support a limited privilege for reporters. But I seek some consistency from the Democrats who claim some form of "cover-up" takes place when an attorney refuses to provide legal memos, notes and sealed briefs to satisfy a Congressional inquiry that offers no privacy protection.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Only Israel Deserves Condemnation Again

How does the Vatican explain their insensitive and illogical omission of Israel as victims of terrorism? It singled out Israel for criticism, saying that that beleaguered nation’s responses to attacks against its civilians was “not always compatible with the rules of international law.”

Who flawlessly follows international law? asks Alan Dershowitz.

Writes Dershowitz:

This seems to justify the killing of civilians as a protest against violation of international law. If that “moral” position is not bizarre enough, let us turn to the actual facts. Egypt’s response to terrorism is far, far more violative of international law than Israel’s. Egypt routinely tortures – I mean really tortures to death – suspected terrorists, to say nothing of mere dissidents. Turkey’s record is not all that much better. The U.S. and Great Britain have killed many more civilians in responding to terrorism in Iraq than Israel has done. So even if the Vatican’s statement of principle were morally acceptable – which it surely is not – that principle would in no way justify leaving Israel off a list that includes many worse violators of international law.

Stick to theology and leave international law to Amnesty International and other fools, thank you.

Cnooc Pulls Away

Speaking of economic idiots, Congress' threats to interfere with the Cnooc purchase of Unocal has led the Chinese company to pull its bid. While some members of Congress seemed understand the value of free trade in approving CAFTA, the fools pressured the Chinese to back off. I feel bad for the Unocal stockholders and bad for America that allowed its press-hungry politicians to basically kill the deal. How does this help anyone? Can we send these Congressmen to college or on permanent vacation?

The Goodness of Profit

In going through old papers, I found this gem from a speech by Walter Williams at Hillsdale College. He was discussing the social benefits of "windfall profits" and "price gouging" that is so hated by socialists. He provides this recent example of the public good that profit-seeking has for people:

In the wake of Florida’s Hurricane Andrew, windfall profits played a vital though unappreciated role. Plywood destined to be shipped to the Midwest, West and Northeast suddenly was rerouted to South Florida. Lumber mills increased production. Truckers and other workers worked overtime in order to increase the availability of plywood and other construction materials to Floridians. Rising plywood prices meant something else as well. All that plywood heading south meant plywood prices rose in other locations, discouraging “lower valued” uses of plywood such as home improvement projects. After all, rebuilding and repairing destroyed homes is a “higher valued” use of plywood.

Prices are information. That information is corrupted when government steps in to direct scarce resources away from their best use. The first in line certainly do well in that they purchase below the market rate. However, the result is misallocation of goods and the needy doing without too often.

Now socialism is fair because...?

Monday, August 01, 2005

Dick Cheney Will Kill A Reporter

Drudge reports that famous White House correspondent Helen Thomas, the "oldish" reporter who, for some reason, gets to ask a question at every presidential press conference, was quoted by another journalist and is pissed off. Apparently, she said that if Dick Cheney ran for president (not even gets elected): "I'll kill myself. All we need is one more liar."

After learning her comment was printed in The Hill, Thomas said: "We were just talking -- I was ranting -- and he wrote about it. That isn't right. We all say stuff we don't want printed."

A few things:

1. Why should she get treatment any different from what she would do for others?
2. Do "rants" get special exceptions from the press? Go ask John Rocker or Barry Bonds.
3. The White House press corp is not made of of liberals, is it?
3. Can Dick Cheney announce his intention to run today?

We Defend What Is Ours

One of my thoughtful liberal co-worker friends opined that Iraqis just want the Americans to leave and for the war to end. Such is a sentiment of everyone. I think even the terrorists would agree.

However, the type of Iraq that would result would be a Sharia law similar to that as practiced by the Taliban in Afghanistan. It is quite clear to me given the massive turn-out for the Iraqi election and their continual recruitment of police and other government personnel, the Iraqis want their new country to be success that can defend themselves. I am confident that will happen in due time.

The opposition to this war in the West, largely made up of Leftists, fails to recognize that these insurgents are either Baathists formerly in favor under Saddam or are from outside of Iraq (like Zarqawi). The grand design to defeat terrorism is to develop investment by the Iraqi people into their security. Like our Founding Fathers, the fight for security is greatest when one is defending ones own property. Thus, the phrase “the ownership society” goes well beyond the field of economics. As Iraqis complete their draft of a constitution and ratify it, they will have invested enough time and blood to see it succeed.

An absence of ownership creates things like Islamism, racism, xenophobism or its economic idiot brother mercantilism. As Victor Davis Hanson wrote:

In the 1940s the raging -ism in the Middle East was anti-Semitic secular fascism, copycatting Hitler and Mussolini — who seemed by 1942 ascendant and victorious. Between the 1950s and 1970s Soviet-style atheistic Baathism and tribal Pan-Arabism were deemed the waves of the future and unstoppable. By the 1980s Islamism was the new antidote for the old bacillus of failure and inadequacy. Each time an -ism was defeated, it was only to be followed by another — as it always is in the absence of free markets and constitutional government.

It is not the locals that are the problem. Hanson notes further:

Iraqi guardsmen are fighting al Qaedists as Afghans die in firefights with Taliban remnants. Note well that at the loci of American democratizing presence in Afghanistan and Iraq, there are few local Iraqis and Afghans — as there are few Turkish or Indian Muslims — who are eager for global jihad against the West. The killers instead flock from elsewhere to those new nations to stop the experiment before it spreads. Give dictatorial Pakistan or Egypt billions, and we get ever more terrorists; give the Iraqis and Afghans their freedom and their citizens are unlikely to show up in London and Madrid blowing up civilians, but rather busy at home killing jihadists.

A man will defend what he owns. Our stake in our family, our community, our country and our life is what forces us to go beyond what is our normal capacity for achievement. Hanson mentions how Muslims who are citizens in Israel are not the ones involved in suicide bombing. We have mentioned here in this blog before how few of these Israeli Muslims would ever agree to move from Israel to Palestine (or to any other Arab country). In Israel they have jobs, homes, education, the vote, free speech and a future. We all strive for happiness. It is not something that comes easy.

Security Precautions Include Confusing the Police?

The judicious John Leo (meaning I believe it is true) wrote in "It's all our fault" that in response to heightened security precuations being employed in NYC subways:

Someone on Air America, the liberal talk radio network, suggested that riders carry many bags to confuse and irritate the cops.

Is that their way of "supporting" the police?

Enough With The Labels!

Blogger Rita J. King at ruminationsonamerica writes a thoughtful piece on the failure of labels in political discussion. She finds Michelle Malkin and others, conservative and liberal, too quick to label that then distorts their messages.

1st Amendment Originally Designed For Political Speech

I was criticized by a reader who felt that I was somehow incorrect in stating that the First Amendment was intended to cover solely political speech. My response:

Our Bill of Rights was adopted from the English version that guaranteed some individual rights of petition, assembly and speech. But do not ignore the severe penalties for slander and libel. Do not ignore the very limited right from prepublication censorship that the First Amendment originally covered. It did not provide the unfettered right to speak without repercussions that we have today.

Blackstone felt that criminal libels did not have truth as a defense because "if he publishes what is improper, mischievous or illegal, he must take the consequences." Chief Justice Holt said: "if people should not be called to account for possessing the people with an ill opinion of the government, no government shall subsist." No public official in the 1780's voiced an understanding of the freedom of the press and speech that differed from Holt or Blackstone.

We are applying modern standards that have strayed from the limited rights that led John Adams to enforce a Sedition Act, for instance. Of course, the Founders saw through that legislation and it was abandoned forever afterwards. I am for an open approach to free speech as it is near impossible at times to differentiate between political and non-political speech. I am against the college campus laws that inhibit speech merely because it offends someone.

I had thought that the Supreme Court could not blunder in its Constitutional analysis on such a key facet of our freedoms. But then it supported the McCain-Feingold Act. That was a blatant infringement of political expression. However, I am not surprised by this group anymore as the Court has gone beyond that fiasco since then.

Picking Up Women Without A Baby Or A Puppy

The How To Get A Date books say the best conversation starters are to either a push a baby in a stroller or have a puppy on a leash. I found another one last week. Given the number of conversations started by women of all ages that it sparked, I had to share it with the unmarried and/or available men out there.

I took my young children to 6 Flags- Great Adventure last Friday. I picked out a tie-dyed Grateful Dead t-shirt to wear. This was the second time I wore it since I purchased it 5 years ago to wear to a 60's theme party. It is colorful with the skull, planets and stars surrounded by roses and the statement "Space Your Face?" on the bottom. From waiting in line for tickets, through eating and going on rides, females would look at the shirt and then tell me about when they last saw Jerry and the boys. Younger women and even teenagers loved the colors and the artwork.

The father from the other family that we went with was amazed.

As far as the older mothers were concerned, the shirt brought them back to the period before they were either married or had children. Additionally, the affinity of Deadheads for the band and each other is something unique in the rock world. Yes, I am sure there are Iron Maiden or Eagles fans who love the bands and each other. But the Deadheads know that we all travelled from concert to concert on a given tour. There are probably bootleg tapes available for every concert as these memories have been documented forever.

I took my wife to 2 Dead shows. The first was at MSG and she loved it. the final one was at Giants Stadium. It was horrible. The sound system was terrible and what could be heard found Jerry in very poor voice. That was in the 90's and close to his death.

The band and its music conjures up a time in our lives where friends and time freedom were bountiful. I know that whenever I play their music, rare at home or in the car what with the Sesame Street or Hillary Duff Cds I must play to placate the kids, I drift back to the irresponsible heydey of my college years.

I may not have that 4.0 GPA in economics from Harvard but I can sing most of the lyrics to about 200 songs written by Garcia, Lesh, Weir and Robert Hunter. The songs all spoke about individual freedom and liberty, caution about government intrusion in our lives and creativity. That is the essence of rock and roll and that is the essence of America.

My wife asked me to never wear the shirt again. It is now up on E-Bay. Any offers?

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