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Archive for December, 2010

The good news is that I just finished up a couple of days skiing at Okemo and Killington with the kids.

The bad news is that the Georgia Bulldogs ended a miserable season with a pathetic loss to a mediocre University of Central Florida Team. We got home in time to watch the 4th quarter, which was a rather unfortunate 15 minutes.

A few other year-end observations.

I’m hopeful that my efforts to spread the message of freedom and prosperity are having at least some positive impact. My videos were watched about 420,000 times this year. Almost 900 people are now following my efforts on twitter, and this blog as been far more successful than I had hoped (Glenn Reynolds deserves a lot of the credit since his Instapundit links drive an amazing share of the traffic to International Liberty).

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The invaluable Tim Carney of the Washington Examiner is an expert at exposing the corruption of big government, and his article about for-profit colleges and government-subsidized tuition shows that everybody involved in this fight is sleazy. Unfortunately, no matter who wins, the taxpayers lose. It’s also worth pointing out that the main effect of government-financed tuition payments and loans is to drive up the cost of college – another example of the third-party payer phenomenon.

Here are key passages from Tim’s column.

For a case study in the tawdry and twisted world of Washington policymaking and lobbying, you can’t do much better than the current fight over the subsidies and regulations for for-profit colleges. Behind every argument is an ulterior motive, around every corner is a conflict of interest, and in every pocket there is cash procured through government policy supposed to serve the public good. …don’t confuse “for-profit” with “capitalist.” Without federal subsidies in the form of Pell grants and federal loan guarantees, the for-profits might not exist. At the very least, they would be much smaller. About 87 percent of the revenue at the biggest for-profits comes from federal taxpayers, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education. They belong to a class of company that I call Subsidy Sucklers. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, earlier this year declared war on the for-profits, ordering the Government Accountability Office to investigate these schools’ marketing techniques. The GAO produced a scathing condemnation. …But a closer look revealed a murkier picture. The GAO last month corrected the paper, modifying 16 of the report’s 28 findings. At Education Week, Rick Hess wrote, “all 16 of the errors run in the same direction — casting for-profits in the worst possible light.” The credibility of Harkin’s star witness in his August hearing, Steven Eisman, was also called into question. Eisman is a short-seller who reportedly stands to make big money if the stocks of for-profit colleges collapse. He also is a vocal lobbyist for new regulations that would cripple these colleges. The term for Eisman is Regulatory Robber Baron. … Bill Clinton’s former special counsel Lanny Davis first flagged Eisman’s role in a Politico op-ed, and liberal ethics “watchdog” Melanie Sloan followed up, criticizing Harkin for allowing Eisman to testify, sparking the liberal American Prospect to ask in a headline, “Why Are Progressives Fighting Student Loan Reform?” The answer: money. On September 17 — about three months after Davis’s op-ed — Davis registered as a lobbyist for the Coalition for Educational Success, a trade group of for-profit colleges. Then in November, Sloan announced she was joining Davis’s lobbying firm. Also lobbying for the for-profit colleges are six former Democratic congressmen and three former Republican lawmakers. This tale has no good guys, but it does have a moral: When you inject government into an industry, you get some pretty unsavory results.

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Courtesy of Powerline Blog, we have a story about how Sweden’s bureaucratic health system made a mistake and…well, I’m not sure how to delicately phrase this…so let’s just give you the headline of the story: “Man’s penis amputated following misdiagnosis.”

Here are some of the details from a news report about the incident.

The man, who is in his sixties, first visited a local clinic in Blekinge in southern Sweden in September 2009 for treatment of a urinary tract infection, the local Blekinge Läns Tidning (BLT) reported. When he returned in March 2010 complaining of foreskin irritation, the doctor on duty at the time diagnosed the problem as a simple case of inflammation. After three weeks passed without the prescribed treatment alleviating the man’s condition, he was instructed to seek further treatment at Blekinge Hospital. But it took five months before he was able to schedule an appointment at the hospital. When he finally met with doctors at the hospital, the man was informed he had cancer and his penis would have to be removed.

The fact that doctors amputated the man’s penis is not the point of this post. Bad things happen in any country, including medical mistakes by well-meaning people. But a five-month wait for an appointment is an indictment of Sweden’s government-run system. We don’t know if the man’s equipment could have been saved if he got a timely appointment, but a less-drastic approach surely would have been more likely.

But I doubt Sweden’s political elite are too concerned about this story, just like America’s beltway insiders probably don’t worry about the consequences of Obamacare. Waiting lines, after all, are for mere taxpayers. Folks such as Harry Reid, Joe Biden, and Nancy Pelosi will always rig things so they get to jump to the front of the line.

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The Incest Edition of “You Be the Judge”

We have a heavy “ick” factor today.

Our previous thorny legal posts have involved vigilante justice and a rather gruesome application of (what I assume to be) Sharia law.

Our question today is whether government should have laws against incest for people over age 18, and we’re discussing this because Switzerland is considering a law to legalize sexual relations between adult family members. Here’s a blurb from the U.K.-based Telegraph.

The upper house of the Swiss parliament has drafted a law decriminalising sex between consenting family members which must now be considered by the government. There have been only three cases of incest since 1984. Switzerland, which recently held a referendum passing a draconian law that will boot out foreigners convicted of committing the smallest of crimes, insists that children within families will continue to be protected by laws governing abuse and paedophilia. Daniel Vischer, a Green party MP, said he saw nothing wrong with two consenting adults having sex, even if they were related. “Incest is a difficult moral question, but not one that is answered by penal law,” he said. Barbara Schmid Federer of The Christian People’s Party of Switzerland said the proposal from the upper house was “completely repugnant.” …The Protestant People’s Party is also opposed to decriminalising the offence which at present carries a maximum three year jail term.

This issue also has been in the news because a Columbia University Professor recently was arrested for having sex with his 24-year old daughter, though the relationship apparently began after the woman turned 18.

If I was the the mother, sibling, or other relative of this woman, I would break Professor Epstein’s kneecaps (or perhaps aim a little higher), but I suppose there’s no reason why government should be involved in sexual matters between consenting adults.

That having been said, I certainly think it is appropriate and legitimate for the government to closely investigate, in instances such as the Epstein case, to see if any incest occurred before age 18. And if it did, break out the pruning shears.

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Previous posts on this blog have featured charts showing that Obama’s policies are not working (see here and here). I even showed a cartoon making the same point.And I cited a column with data comparing Reagan and Obama.

The Heritage Foundation has a very powerful addition to this genre, a chart comparing job performance during the Reagan and Obama Administrations.

This is a remarkable image, but let’s start with some disclaimers. There are lots of factors that impact economic performance, and many of them are outside the control of politicians. Moreover, it is impossible to know what would have happened in the past two years or in the early 1980s if Obama or Reagan had chosen different policies.

But even with these caveats, it is difficult to look at this chart and not conclude that Obama’s big government policies are much less successful than Reagan’s small government policies.

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I was thinking of doing a serious post about the TSA, especially after reading about the government’s petty and reprehensible attack on the pilot who exposed the bureaucracy’s absurdly inconsistent security rules. I also noticed a story about a 56-year old former rape victim who was arrested because she refused to let TSA bureaucrats grope her.

But then I saw these videos and they appealed to my juvenile sense of humor. Since most of my TSA posts poke fun at the bureaucracy in some form or fashion, I decided that they deserve to be my final (hopefully!) TSA post of 2010.

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Like most federal agencies, the Federal Aviation Administration is a costly bureaucracy. Its $16.4 billion budget is enormous, but that is just the direct cost borne by taxpayers. The indirect costs, such as inefficiencies imposed on the air transportation system, also are significant. This has nothing to do with the TSA, by the way. The FAA is responsible for the air traffic control system, things like airport towers and radar systems that tell planes where to fly and when to land.

The Canadians have a much better approach. They privatized their air traffic control system back in the 1990s. So instead of having to rely on a clunky and incompetent government bureaucracy, our neighbors to the north have a private company that is generating very impressive results.

Not that this should be a surprise. Other nations have made remarkable gains through privatization, including Social Security personal accounts in Chile and 30 other nations, education choice in places such as Sweden and the Netherlands, and privatized postal service in Germany.

Reforming government monopolies should be a priority in the United States. Robust economic growth requires more than just low tax rates. It means getting rid of policies that cause resources to be misallocated. Privatization is an unsettling concept for some people, in part because they’ve always assumed certain things should be run by the government. This is why international examples are so important. Canada’s 14 years of experience with a private air traffic control system clearly shows that there are very successful alternatives to inefficient and costly bureaucracies.

Here are some excerpts from a story in Canada’s Financial Post about Canada’s remarkable reform.

A once troubled government asset, the country’s civil air traffic controller was privatized 14 years ago and is now a shining example of how to create a global technology leader out of a hulking government bureaucracy. Nav Canada’s efforts have flights moving more efficiently than ever through the skies above the country. Many of the changes implemented by Nav Canada in recent years have gone unnoticed by the flying public. Certain flights are now shorter than they once were; aircraft no longer circle airports awaiting a runway; descents start further out and planes reach cruising altitudes more quickly; and flights to Asia now spend less time by jaunting over the Arctic than endlessly cruising the Atlantic or Pacific Oceans. …Nav Canada estimates its efforts to modernize the aircraft navigation system in the country since it was privatized in 1996 have cut the fuel bill of airlines flying into Canada and above it by an estimated $1.4-billion collectively… Meantime, Nav Canada has won the respect of airlines for keeping its fees steady, and in some cases, like in 2006, even reducing them when it can. …John Crichton, Nav Canada chief executive, makes no bones about why he thinks his organization has been able to make these improvements and emerge as a global leader. I don’t think there’s any question that the privatization was the best thing that ever happened,” he said. “That really unleashed all the innovation.” …Calin Rovinescu, Air Canada’s chief executive, commended Nav Canada for its efforts to modernize the country’s navigation systems during a speech in Montreal earlier this year, while condemning the United States and the European Union, which still operates as a patchwork of nationalized systems, for their lack of leadership on the issue. Nav Canada also won the International Air Transport Association’s Eagle Award earlier this year for its efforts, in particular its constant consultation with the industry.

My Cato colleague Chris Edwards has more analysis, including a call to private the Federal Aviation Administration as well as some useful links.

Greetings to Instapundit readers. International Liberty is dedicated to the global fight for economic freedom. Peruse this site to your heart’s content. Feedback is always appreciated and come back often.

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Too bad the gift-giving season is already over. Thanks to this story about three men who were arrested by Japanese police for providing coffee enemas without regulatory approval, I now know that I could have purchased a “rectal infusion kit” for only $110. But since Senator Reid will still be around next Christmas, let’s focus on the public policy angle and ask ourselves why Japan’s government has licensing rules for coffee enemas?

In almost all cases, licensing rules are imposed by governments to protect politically powerful providers in a certain industry. The Institute for Justice has done heroic work on this issue, and they are always fighting to break up government-sanctioned cartels that limit competition, lead to higher prices, and make it hard for new providers to enter the market.

I’m sure these Japanese rules exist to unfairly enrich that nation’s medical profession. I can’t help but wonder, though, whether Japan’s bureaucrats have covered all the bases. Are tea enemas also covered by the regulations? What about if you use “fair trade certified” coffee from Starbucks? Are people allowed to buy toilets with built-in enemas? And what about bidets? Surely regular people can’t be trusted to operate such equipments without some sort of government involvement!

So many…um…fascinating questions to ponder. Anyhow, here’s a blurb from the story.

Police in Chiba Prefecture arrested three men this month on suspicion of violating Japan’s Medical Practitioners Law by providing coffee enemas without the proper medical qualifications, according to local media reports. Chikayoshi Hishiki (55) and two associates offered coffee-based enemas as a beauty treatment at their now-defunct alternative medicine clinics, according to leading daily Sankei Shimbun. The three suspects denied any wrongdoing, claiming they only provided the equipment and cleaned up afterwards, while the clients themselves administered the procedure, the report said. Some Japanese have become interested in filling their bums with java, believing they have discovered a secret dieting technique used by celebrities in the US and Europe.

CYA Disclaimer: Just because the Internet is a handy way of accessing information, that doesn’t mean that everything you read is true. So I make no claims that this story is 100 percent true, though governments are so stupid that I’m guessing it is accurate.

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A picture says a thousand words, and this Gary Varvel cartoon definitely exposes the government’s Ponzi system.

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You wouldn’t expect any positive developments from California when it comes to schooling, but this video shows that parents now have the ability, for all intents and purposes, to fire the incumbent management of a government school.

I don’t think this is nearly as good as what’s being proposed in Douglas County, Colorado, but it’s a big step for a union-controlled state such as California.

And the parents of one failing school have pulled the trigger and are forcing good reforms.

2011 could be a very good year for school reform and improvement. That’s bad news for politicians and teacher unions, but great news for parents and kids.

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The world is a laboratory and different nations are public policy experiments. Not surprisingly, the evidence from these experiments is that nations with more freedom tend to grow faster and enjoy more prosperity. Nations with big governments, by contrast, are more likely to suffer from stagnation.

The same thing happens inside the United States. The 50 states are experiments, and they generate considerable data showing that small government states enjoy better economic performance. But because migration between states is so easy (whereas migration between nations is more complicated), we also get very good evidence based on people “voting with their feet.” Taxation and jobs are two big factors that drive this process.

Looking at the census data and matching migration data with state tax systems, here’s what Michael Barone wrote. He finds (not that anyone should be surprised) that the absence of a state income tax is correlated with faster growth, which attracts people from high-tax states.

…growth tends to be stronger where taxes are lower. Seven of the nine states that do not levy an income tax grew faster than the national average. The other two, South Dakota and New Hampshire, had the fastest growth in their regions, the Midwest and New England. Altogether, 35 percent of the nation’s total population growth occurred in these nine non-taxing states, which accounted for just 19 percent of total population at the beginning of the decade.

And here’s Diana Furtchtgott-Roth, writing for Realclearmarkets.com. She uses the presence of right-to-work laws (which prohibit union membership as a condition of employment) as a proxy for the degree to which big government and big labor are imposing restrictions on efficient employment markets. Not surprisingly, the states that have a market-friendly approach create more jobs and therefore attract more workers.

The American people have been voting with their feet, the Census Bureau announced on Tuesday, leaving states with heavy union influence and choosing to live in “right-to-work” states with higher job growth where they cannot be forced to join a union as a condition of employment. …As a result of geographic shifts in population uncovered by the 2010 Census, nine congressional seats will move to right-to-work states from forced unionization states. Some winners are Texas, Florida, Arizona, Georgia, and South Carolina, while losers include New York, Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, and New Jersey. Over the past 25 years job growth in right-to-work states has been over twice as high as in unionized states.

This leaves us with one perplexing question. If we know that pro-market policies work for states, why does the crowd in Washington push for more statism?

Welcome, Instapundit readers. Since many of you might not be regular readers of International Liberty, the important lesson to learn from the Census data is that federalism is good because state governments have to compete against each other, and this helps restrain the greed of politicians. The same principle operates at the international level, which is why tax competition is such a powerful force for liberty.

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The contest between the United States and Europe for dumb public policy is always hard to judge. The Europeans tend to make more policy mistakes, though Obama certainly is giving them some stiff competition. America, by contrast, is prone to really inane bouts of political correctness. But perhaps the Europeans are catching up in that area.

Here’s something, for example, that sounds like it could have happened in San Francisco. The European Commission (the über bureaucracy of the European Union) sent out 3 million calendars to kids that mentioned significant holidays for the Muslim, Sikh, and Hindu religions, but omitted Christmas. Here’s an excerpt from the U.K.-based Guardian.

Italy has demanded that the European Commission recall millions of diaries that are being distributed to schoolchildren throughout the EU because they do not mention Christmas but they do give the dates of other religions’ festivals, such as Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting, and Sikh, Hindu and Chinese feast days. …A Commission spokeswoman said it had “realised the absence of some important European religious holidays, in particular Christmas”. …But she gave no indication that Brussels would accede to Frattini’s demand to recall the diaries, which, according to the Italian daily Corriere della Sera, was contained in a letter to the commission’s president, Jose Manuel Barroso. …Some 3 million copies of the latest edition of the Europe Diary have been sent to schools. The commission’s spokeswoman said its main purpose was “inform young Europeans as consumers and citizens on issues like rights, choices as consumers [and] climate change”. …The commission…spokeswoman said it had cost €5.5m (£4.6m).

Being a fiscal policy wonk, I don’t worry too much about the War on Christmas. Yes, political correctness is nauseating, but it’s not as if the government is actually using coercion to stamp out Christmas. When I read stories like this, what catches my attention instead are disturbing details such as the hefty price tag of $7.2 million. Why is the European Commission squandering so much money on calendars? And once a decision has been made to waste money, why leave out Christmas? And why did they include extraneous material such as global warming propaganda?

Perhaps the moral of this story is that governments – and international bureaucracies such as the EC – have an amazing ability to squander money. Sometimes they waste money for PC reasons, sometimes for vote-buying reasons, and sometimes for corruption. All we know for sure is that taxpayers get lumps of coal in their stockings.

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The Chairman of the Federal Reserve is such a swell guy, but you already would know that if you saw his Facebook page. Well, thanks to his “QE2 plan,” he’s giving the rest of us a very thoughtful Christmas present.

To be fair, I suppose it should be noted that Bernanke’s policy isn’t necessarily a bad idea – but only if you think that there will be future deflation and “quantitative easing” is the way of preventing that from happening. I’m quite skeptical, as explained here, but freely admit that I’m not a monetary policy expert (thanks for catching my mistake, Charlie). But Christmas isn’t the right time for serious discussion, so let’s just enjoy a laugh and keep our fingers crossed that we’re not heading into Jimmy Carter Inflation-land.

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Merry Christmas to all. Let’s hope Santa returns next year, notwithstanding all the hassle of dealing with government.

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This post could be entitled, “So many dumb bureaucrats, so little time,” but let’s have some fun and turn it into a contest. Which bone-headed decision by a local government best exemplifies mindless bureaucracy, politically correct nonsense, and government waste?

Contestant Number One is Sgt Brian Albert of the Baltimore County Natural Resources Police, who fined two men $90 each for the vicious, horrible, nasty crime of …(please don’t faint)… rescuing a deer. Yes, your eyes do not deceive you. Two hardened criminals used an inflatable raft to free a helpless animal, but they flouted the law by not wearing life jackets. Since I already did a blog post about a man being fined for rescuing a wounded deer, I guess the moral of the story is that bureaucrats don’t like Bambi.

Contestant Number Two is the Metro Police in Washington, DC, which has decided to harass random travelers by searching their bags before they board the subway. This is akin to the TSA’s mindless bureaucracy – but even worse. There surely are nut-jobs who would like to blow up Americans, but they could do that on a bus, on a crowded street during rush hour, or any other place where a large number of people are gathered. Heck, they can drive a car into a crowd. Good intelligence by the CIA and FBI is the way to stop these crackpots, not empty security theater that makes life more difficult for law-abiding people.

Contestant Number Three is the St. Paul School District in Minnesota, which has turned all schools into “sweet-free zones.” This ban also applies to salty foods, however that is defined, and deals “a blow to booster clubs and parent organizations, too, which won’t be able to sell hot chocolate, doughnuts, candy bars and cookies at school events.” I actually agree with Michelle Obama that American kids are overweight, but I also know that government intervention isn’t going to solve the problem unless we want a police state that bans video games, TVs, computers, and the other technological developments that are responsible for sedentary kids.

Contestant Number Four is Battlefield High School, in Haymarket, VA, which disciplined 10 unrepentant gang members. What did these thugs do to warrant detention? Brace yourself and make sure no children are looking over your shoulders, because these hoodlums belong to a particularly nasty group called the Christmas Sweater Club and they got in trouble for handing out miniature candy canes. One school administrator (Mrs. Grinch?)  explained that “not everyone wants Christmas cheer,” thus turning Jay Leno’s parody into reality.

So who wins the prize? I’m not technologically advanced enough to include a poll with this question, so the only thing we can really conclude is that governments do dumb things. That’s true at the national level, the state level, and the local level.

I just wish I could write like Dave Barry. He had a hilarious column many years ago that was based on various examples of government stupidity. This post is more likely to make you cry rather than laugh, which is not good at this time of year. Nonetheless, feel free to comment if you think one of these stories stands out.

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Since I’m involuntarily forced to finance National Public Radio, I guess I should be happy that free-market views occasionally are allowed on air. Click here to listen to a segment where I talk about earmarks, “phonemarks,” and special interest corruption in Washington.

The risky part of a pre-recorded interview is that you never know what the journalist will use. If the person interviewing you is biased, they can use a quote out of context to make you appear stupid, or use an incomplete quote to distort the meaning of your words. That did not happen in this case. The NPR interviewer, at least to my ear, was quite fair.

I wish the segment had been longer, however, so I could have explained why even “honest” earmarks are wrong. Let’s say that Congressman Smith or Senator Jones inserts an earmark, or makes a phonemark, to get funding for a sewer system. It’s quite possible that such a request is completely untainted by corruption (other than the run-of-the-mill practice of trying to buy votes with other people’s money).

But that doesn’t make it right. One of the reasons why federalism is such a good idea is that money is much more likely to be spent wisely is if it is raised at the state and local level and people at those levels decide how it should be allocated.

This doesn’t mean there is no corruption, insider deal-making, or special-interest shenanigans. That’s an inevitable part of government. But federalism at least makes it easier for people to monitor how their money is being spent – and to escape if they think their state or local government is going overboard with bad behavior.

In other words, centralization of government is a bad idea. This is why big government in Washington is worse than big government at the state and local level. And it’s why big government from the European Union in Brussels is worse than big government in Rome, Berlin, or Stockholm.

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I’ve added a “flag counter” to gauge whether this blog is fulfilling, in at least a small way, its original mission of serving as a useful platform in the global fight for liberty.

I try to cover international developments in the battle against statism, but the majority of posts inevitably are about developments in the United States. But I always try to draw out a key economic lesson in my posts rather than just make a snarky point, so hopefully they are useful to everyone.

So we’ll see, starting today, how many flags show up and how many foreign visitors we get. The “widget” is on the right side and you’ll see it relatively quickly if you hit your down arrow a few times.

 

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Nullification occurs when jurors refuse to find a defendant guilty because the underlying law is unjust (visit the Fully Informed Jury Association if you want more details). And if I ever wind up on a jury and the government was trying to throw someone in jail for a victimless crime, I certainly hope I would do the right thing and refuse to declare the person guilty.

The good people of western Montana certainly have the right attitude about victimless crimes. A jury pool in Missoula County basically told a court that they would not be willing to convict a defendant for possessing a tiny amount of marijuana.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if this happened all over the country and politicians were forced to stop the war on drugs? That would be a Christmas present for the entire nation.

While we’re waiting for that to happen, let’s celebrate what happened in Montana. Here’s an excerpt from the Billings Gazette.

A funny thing happened on the way to a trial in Missoula County District Court last week. Jurors – well, potential jurors – staged a revolt. They took the law into their own hands, as it were, and made it clear they weren’t about to convict anybody for having a couple of buds of marijuana. Never mind that the defendant in question also faced a felony charge of criminal distribution of dangerous drugs. The tiny amount of marijuana police found while searching Touray Cornell’s home on April 23 became a huge issue for some members of the jury panel. No, they said, one after the other. No way would they convict somebody for having a 16th of an ounce. In fact, one juror wondered why the county was wasting time and money prosecuting the case at all, said a flummoxed Deputy Missoula County Attorney Andrew Paul. …“Public opinion, as revealed by the reaction of a substantial portion of the members of the jury called to try the charges on Dec. 16, 2010, is not supportive of the state’s marijuana law and appeared to prevent any conviction from being obtained simply because an unbiased jury did not appear available under any circumstances,” according to the plea memorandum filed by his attorney.

(h/t Jason Kuznicki)

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There’s an unconfirmed rumor that Wiki-Leaks got hold of a romance novel being written by the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. I don’t want to get the folks at Harlequin upset with me, so I can only share a small excerpt from one of the chapters.

He grasped me firmly but gently just above my elbow and guided me into a room, his room. Then he quietly shut the door and we were alone.

He approached me soundlessly, from behind, and spoke in a low, reassuring voice close to my ear.

“Just relax.”

Without warning, he reached down and I felt his strong, calloused hands start at my ankles, gently probing, and moving upward along my calves slowly but steadily. My breath caught in my throat. I knew I should be afraid, but somehow I didn’t care. His touch was so experienced, so sure.

When his hands moved up onto my thighs, I gave a slight shudder, and partly closed my eyes. My pulse was pounding. I felt his knowing fingers caress my abdomen, my ribcage. And then, as he cupped my firm, full breasts in his hands, I inhaled sharply.

Probing, searching, knowing what he wanted, he brought his hands to my shoulders, slid them down my tingling spine and into my panties.

Although I knew nothing about this man, I felt oddly trusting and expectant. This is a man, I thought. A man used to taking charge.

A man not used to taking `no’ for an answer. A man who would tell me what he wanted. A man who would look into my soul and say …

“Okay, ma’am,” said a voice. “All done.”

My eyes snapped open and he was standing in front of me, smiling, holding out my purse. “You can board your flight now.”

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Okay, perhaps the title of this post is a slight exaggeration, but I make my debut on the silver screen early next year. One of my softball buddies asked me to play a small role in an independent film called “Adams Morgan.”

I wondered whether I would wind up on the editing room floor, but I’m in the trailer (around the 1:00 mark), so I think it’s safe to say that a star is born (hey, there’s nothing wrong with a bit of healthy self-delusion).

The film opens on Valentine’s Day. Any suggestions who I should take to the premiere party, Julia Roberts? Angelina Jolie? Jennifer Anniston? Since discrimination is bad, maybe I should take all three.

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Here are a few predictions for next year. It will be hot in Dallas in July, it will be cold in Stockholm in February, and Governor Jerry Brown of California will ask Uncle Sam for some sort of bailout.

I’m actually not sure about the first two predictions, but I think the last one is as close to a sure thing as you can get. Sven Larson is one of America’s top experts on state fiscal issues (his blog is an excellent resource for people who want to keep informed about the shenanigans of governors and state legislatures), and here’s his assessment of the mess in California.

California state spending has outgrown the state’s tax base by 1.3 percentage points annually for 25 years. Simple arithmetic dictates that in lieu of constant tax increases, this perpetuates a deficit. From 1985 to 2009 state GDP in California grew by 5.5 percent per year, on average (not adjusted for inflation). Annual growth in state spending was 6.8 percent, on average. Three spending categories have dominated this spending spree: public schools, cash assistance and Medicaid. Making up half of state spending, they are outlets for traditional redistributive welfare state policy. …Of the three aforementioned spending categories, two have grown faster than state GDP, i.e., the tax base, throughout the past quarter-century: • Public school spending grew at 6.5 percent per year on average, one full percent faster than state GDP • Medicaid grew at 10.7 percent per year on average, approximately twice the rate of state GDP.

In other words, California is in a fiscal mess because spending has grown too rapidly. It’s unclear why taxpayers in other states should be ripped off so that Golden State politicians can maintain an unsustainable vote-buying racket – particularly when the state goes out of its way to punish economic growth and discourage job creation.

To make matters worse, bailouts (or even the expectation of bailouts) send a terrible signal. Matt Mitchell (no relation) of the Mercatus Center looked at precisely this issue and concluded that state politicians would be even more profligate if they got any indication that they could shift the tax burden to people in other states. He even found an interesting study showing how sub-national governments in Germany responded to this kind of perverse incentive structure. Here’s an excerpt from that research.

States with a softer budget constraint [i.e., greater expectation that the German national government will bail them out], have higher deficits and debts and receive more bailout funds. …The larger the expectation of a bailout, the higher the amount spent in a number of spending categories, and special interests are most likely to benefit from this additional spending. We also find that bailout expectations lead to less efficient state government service provision.

By the way, I don’t want to imply that this is solely a California issue. There are several states that have taxed and spent themselves into fiscal ditches. Indeed, it’s quite likely that Illinois may be the first state to experience a fiscal collapse.

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One of the few success stories in American education is the home-schooling movement. About two million kids are being taught by their parents and the evidence is overwhelming that these students get a far better education than children in government schools. And since my youngest kid was home schooled for a couple of years, I can personally testify that it often is the right approach.

But the real reason for this post is to share this very clever and funny video from Tim Hawkins (creator of the tremendously successful song parody, “The Government Can”).

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The Oregon Ducks will compete for the national championship early next month, so they’ve had a good season. Unfortunately, Oregon’s government isn’t doing nearly so well. Politicians approved a big tax hike on those bad, evil rich people in 2009, and Oregon’s spite-filled voters approved that measure earlier this year.

So how’s is Oregon’s class-warfare approach working? Not surprisingly, the politics of hate and envy is generating poor results. Revenues are much lower than forecast, as anyone with a rudimentary understanding of the Laffer Curve could have explained. The most noteworthy result is that about one-fourth of rich taxpayers have disappeared. Does the name John Galt ring a bell?

None of this should be a surprise. Maryland politicians tried to rape rich taxpayers a couple of years ago and they also crashed on the Laffer Curve.

As the Wall Street Journal opines, Oregon politicians are getting just what they deserve.

In 2009 the state legislature raised the tax rate to 10.8% on joint-filer income of between $250,000 and $500,000, and to 11% on income above $500,000. Only New York City’s rate is higher. Oregon’s liberal voters ratified the tax increase on individuals and another on businesses in January of this year, no doubt feeling good about their “shared sacrifice.” Congratulations. Instead of $180 million collected last year from the new tax, the state received $130 million. The Eugene Register-Guard newspaper reports that after the tax was raised “income tax and other revenue collections began plunging so steeply that any gains from the two measures seemed trivial.” One reason revenues are so low is that about one-quarter of the rich tax filers seem to have gone missing. The state expected 38,000 Oregonians to pay the higher tax, but only 28,000 did. Funny how that always happens. …The tax wasn’t enacted into law until June 2009 but was retroactively applied to January 1, 2009. So for the first half of the year wealthy Oregon residents weren’t able to take steps to avoid the tax ambush because they didn’t see it coming. This suggests that a bigger revenue loss from tax mitigation strategies will show up on tax return data in 2010 and 2011. …All of this is an instant replay of what happened in Maryland in 2008 when the legislature in Annapolis instituted a millionaire tax. There roughly one-third of the state’s millionaire households vanished from the tax rolls after rates went up. If Salem officials want to find where the millionaires went, they might start the search in Texas, the state that leads the nation in job creation—and has a top income and capital gains tax rate 11 percentage points lower than Oregon’s.

Welcome Instapundit readers. Your comments are greatly appreciated, particularly your real-world stories from your respective states.

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While I think of myself as being in favor of harsh punishment for criminals, I try to restrain this bloodthirsty impulse by remembering that many laws are unjust, all governments are incompetent, and prosecutors often place personal ambition above justice.

And the last point is why I worry about electing people like Rudy Giuliani to high office. There were several reasons why I wasn’t a big fan of the former New York City Mayor, but high on the list was his apparent disregard for the rights of the individual. And I suspect most people who served as prosecutors/district attorneys/U.S. attorneys/etc have a what-could-possibly-go-wrong attitude about proposals to expand the power of government.

With this in mind, I was happy to read that Governor Christie of New Jersey (a former U.S. attorney) has freed a man who was unjustly convicted and imprisoned for a gun offense. My happiness is tempered by the fact that he commuted the sentence of Brian Aitken rather than pardoning him, which is why the governor gets two cheers rather than three.

The important news, though, is that an injustice has been addressed and Aitken is now a free man. Here’s a blurb from a Fox News report.

A man given seven years in prison after being found with two guns he purchased legally in Colorado has had his sentence commuted, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie announced Monday. The case of Brian Aitken, 27, had become a cause célèbre among gun-rights advocates. …Aitken had purchased the guns legally in Colorado, and he passed an FBI background check when he bought them, according to his father, Larry Aitken. Brian also contacted New Jersey State Police before moving back back to the Garden State to discuss how to properly transport his weapons. But despite those good-faith efforts, Larry Aitken said, Brian was convicted on weapons charges and sent to prison in August. Judge James Morley would not allow the argument in trial earlier this year and Christie later declined to reappoint the judge due to an unrelated case.

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Appearing on Bloomberg TV, I pontificate about the good, the bad, and the ugly in the recent tax deal. I also make what I hope are good points about the Laffer Curve and the meaning of deficits.

The video won’t embed, but just click below and you can watch it on youtube. As always, feedback is welcome.

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This doesn’t have the production quality of the Hayek-Keynes rap video, and it presumably won’t get as many views, but this young lady has a very clever love song for Friedrich Hayek.

(h/t Instapundit)

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Since not everyone appreciates naughty humor, you’ll have to click on thumbnail to read this joke. But be forewarned that it is R-rated.

Some of you may recognize this as a modified version of an old HMO joke, but it definitely makes sense in this context. Here’s somethings similar from an earlier post, for those that appreciate…um…painful humor.

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I don’t now why I bothered spending all that time perusing the writings of Paul Krugman and Larry Summers in order to produce my previous blog post when this Michael Ramirez cartoon makes the same point in a much simpler way.

Michael Ramirez

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The two main political parties are sniping at each other about the just-concluded tax deal, largely because Republicans are happy and Democrats are displeased that all of the 2001/2003 tax cuts are being extended for all taxpayers.

Almost nobody is paying attention to the new spending that is in the agreement, however, most notably the 13-month extension of unemployment benefits. And to the extent anybody is paying attention, a small handful of fiscal conservatives wanted to offset that new spending by reducing spending someplace else.

That sentiment is laudable, but somebody should be pointing out that this policy actually is bad news for workers. Here are some excerpts from a Wall Street Journal story, which reports on a study from the San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank.

A recent study by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco found the unemployment rate at the end of 2009 would have been nearly half a percentage point lower—9.6%, instead of 10%—if jobless benefits hadn’t been extended beyond their usual 26 weeks to as much as 99 weeks. …The extension of jobless benefits is likely to worsen that trend for at least several months. For one, individuals not actively searching for work or willing to take available jobs may claim they are unemployed in order to receive benefits. That could artificially boost the size of the labor force, which is used to determine the unemployment rate. Another concern, as the San Francisco Fed notes, is that the extension of jobless benefits may “reduce the intensity” with which the unemployed search for work. Longer term, this could lead to a higher level of structural unemployment in the economy as workers’ skills erode.

Some leftists may think this is propaganda from free-market purists, yet the San Francisco Fed certainly does not have a reputation for libertarian views. Nonetheless, perhaps it would be a good idea to see what some other people have to say. Here’s what one well-known economist wrote in a textbook.

Public policy designed to help workers who lose their jobs can lead to structural unemployment as an unintended side effect. . . . In other countries, particularly in Europe, benefits are more generous and last longer. The drawback to this generosity is that it reduces a worker’s incentive to quickly find a new job. Generous unemployment benefits in some European countries are widely believed to be one of the main causes of “Eurosclerosis,” the persistent high unemployment that affects a number of European countries.

Was this Milton Friedman? Ludwig von Mises? Nope, the author of this mean-spirited right-wing bile is Paul Krugman. And here’s something else written by an economist about the impact of unemployment benefits.

Empirical evidence shows that two causes are welfare payments and unemployment insurance. …unemployment insurance increases the measure of unemployment by inducing people to say that they are job hunting in order to collect benefits. The second way government assistance programs contribute to long-term unemployment is by providing an incentive, and the means, not to work. Each unemployed person has a “reservation wage”—the minimum wage he or she insists on getting before accepting a job. Unemployment insurance and other social assistance programs increase that reservation wage, causing an unemployed person to remain unemployed longer. …Unemployment insurance also extends the time a person stays off the job. Clark and I estimated that the existence of unemployment insurance almost doubles the number of unemployment spells lasting more than three months. If unemployment insurance were eliminated, the unemployment rate would drop by more than half a percentage point, which means that the number of unemployed people would fall by about 750,000. This is all the more significant in light of the fact that less than half of the unemployed receive insurance benefits, largely because many have not worked enough to qualify.

Who wrote this? A Tea Party fanatic? A knuckle-dragging GOP Congressman? Hardly, this passage was penned by Larry Summers, the outgoing Chairman of Barack Obama’s National Economic Council.

Given their partisan leanings, you won’t be surprised that Krugman and Summers now semi-disavow their academic writings on this issue, claiming that somehow their analysis does not apply in the current situation. But the bottom line is that incentives matter. If you pay people to remain unemployed, they will have less reason to find a job. The only real issue is the degree to which unemployment benefits increase joblessness.

This doesn’t imply that lawmakers should do nothing about unemployment, but it does suggest that their focus should be on pro-growth policies that will facilitate job creation. Permanently lower tax rates would help, as would reduction in government spending so that more resources would be available for the economy’s productive sector. Trade liberalization and deregulation also would be a good idea.

Unfortunately, all these ideas reduce the power of the political elite, so they are not nearly as popular in Washington as unemployment benefits.

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