Friday, February 26, 2010

Reshaping the GOP

Texas Tea Party activists have been actively engaged in recruiting and training candidates to run for precinct chairs. While they have reached out to members of both major political parties, the focus has been on the Republican Party. The goal of these recruitment efforts is to reshape the GOP, much as social conservatives did in the early 1990s.

According to the Chronicle, the state Tea Party wants to shift the Republican's emphasis from social issues to "fiscal restraint by the federal government and individual freedom." On the surface, this sounds good. But what does it really mean?

The web site for the Houston Tea Party Society (HTPS) has a discussion on proposed resolutions for the state GOP. Some of the suggestions are good--such as abolishing the Departments of Education and Energy. Others--such as term limits--are superficial, and a few--such as closing the borders--are simply bad. But what is particularly noteworthy is what is not suggested--a call for the recognition and protection of individual rights. (That is, until I left a comment.)

As I have written previously, it is the principle of individual rights that underlies every good idea emanating from the Tea Party movement. No matter the issue--federal spending, taxation, the Federal Reserve, health care, immigration, etc.--it is the principle of individual rights that provides us with the proper solution. Without such a principle, and a proper understanding of it, the Tea Party movement finds itself advocating contradictory positions.

In the introduction to this discussion on resolutions, HTPS leader Felicia Cravens writes:
[P]lease remember to keep the resolution topics within our core principles of fiscal responsibility, personal and governmental accountability, limited government, free markets, and sovereignty.
Again, these are certainly sound principles worthy of our support, but what do they mean? What unites them? Let us briefly dissect just one of these principles--sovereignty.

Sovereignty means independence from the control of another, the freedom to act according to one's own judgment (so long as one respects the mutual rights of others). Sovereignty is the recognition of the fact that each individual must take action to sustain and enjoy his life, and morally, others may not interfere with this right.

This has profound implications for every political issue. For example, closing the borders interferes with an individual's right to immigrate--to move to the country he chooses. Taxation--in any form--forces individuals to dispose of their property contrary to their own choices. Similarly, the use of tax incentives to encourage certain activities (as was suggested on HTPS) compels tax payers to subsidize the activities of others. Each of these proposals interferes with an individual's right to act according to his own judgment. Each is an attack on individual sovereignty.

The HTPS is advocating sovereignty in theory and proposing its violation in practice.

If the HTPS (or anyone for that matter) wishes to resolve this contradiction, then it must understand and embrace the principle of individual rights. Until it does so, its efforts to reshape the GOP will have no long-term impact.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

What About the Rabbits?

In their infinite "wisdom" to protect the citizens of Houston, city council has enacted thousands of ordinances over the years. I suspect that current council members are unaware of some of these ordinances, or the fact that many actually contradict other ordinances.

For example, despite numerous ordinances designed to prohibit discrimination, the city engages in blatant discrimination against rabbits and guinea pigs:
Sec. 6-32. Location restrictions for rabbits and guinea pigs.
It shall be unlawful, except as provided in section 6-33, for any person to keep, possess or maintain in the city any rabbits or guinea pigs, or any pens, enclosures, hutches, cages or other structures in which any such rabbits or guinea pigs are kept, possessed or maintained, within 100 feet of any actual residence or habitation of human beings, or within 100 feet of any church, school or hospital, other than the residence of the keeper, possessor, or owner of such rabbits or guinea pigs, such distance of 100 feet to be measured in a straight line from the nearest point of any pen, enclosure, hutch, cage or other such structure in which such rabbits or guinea pigs are kept to the nearest point of such actual residence or place of human habitation, or church, school or hospital.
I am curious what constitutes an "actual residence or habitation". I can only surmise that rabbits can be kept close to imaginary residences, which I am sure comes as a great relief to the Platonists in the city.

Regardless, I find it disturbing that the city would be so discriminatory against rabbits and guinea pigs. How are they to attend church and cleanse their souls? What if they get a boo-boo and need to get medical care? And how are they to become productive members of society if they can't attend school? But more importantly, these animals need a place to live and the city prohibits other forms of housing discrimination:
Sec. 17-12. Discriminatory housing practices.
(a) A person commits an offense if he, because of race, color, sex, religion, familial status, disability or national origin:
(1) Refuses to negotiate with a person for the sale or rental of a housing accommodation or otherwise denies or makes unavailable a housing accommodation to a person;
(2) Refuses to sell or rent, or otherwise makes unavailable, a housing accommodation to another person after the other person makes an offer to buy or rent the accommodation; or
(3) Discriminates against a person in the terms, conditions, or privileges of, or in providing a service or facility in connection with, the sale or rental of a housing accommodation.
While it is almost illegal to refuse to sell someone a house merely because they can't pay for it, it is fine to discriminate on the basis of species. This shouldn't be surprising, given the fact that rabbits--and Barney Frank--don't have much political power in the city.

What is confusing about this is that I found nothing in the code that prohibits rabbits from driving a taxi cab. I would think that the powerful taxi cab lobby would have secured some such prohibition on these potential competitors. Further, it would appear that rabbits are exempt from an ordinance that prohibits cab drivers of the human persuasion from transporting persons who have immoral intents:
Sec. 28-16. Transporting persons for unlawful or immoral purposes.
It shall be unlawful for any person to transport, offer to transport, or aid, or assist in transport; directly or indirectly, any person in, upon, over or through the streets of the city, by means of an automobile or other vehicle, for purposes of lewdness, assignation or prostitution, or for any other unlawful or immoral purpose.
Since the ordinance specifies "person" and not "rabbit", I can only conclude that rabbits are excluded. This would seem to be good news for rabbits. I certainly don't want to imply that rabbits are any more prone to immorality than other species, but there may be some employment opportunities here.

Unfortunately, rabbits are unlikely to find work in dance halls. Because they are cute and fuzzy, patrons might be inclined to pet any bunny rabbits working there, subjecting the long-eared varmints to potential fines:
Sec. 5-55. Employees not to mingle with patrons.
Waiters, waitresses or entertainers shall not be permitted to eat, drink, dance or mingle with patrons in any dance hall.

I will profess ignorance as to what would constitute "mingling". Nor am I certain what great evil this prohibition is intended to prevent. Perhaps there is grave danger in sharing some carrot juice with a rabbit. Regardless, I certainly sleep much better at night knowing that while I lay in my bed, employees of dance halls are not dancing with rabbits. (I wonder if having sex with patrons is considered "mingling".)

As you can see, the Code of Ordinances for Houston is rather confusing. In one ordinance rabbits are singled out for discrimination, but they are not prohibited from driving cabs. Personally, I would much rather have a rabbit for a neighbor than ride in a cab driven by one. But I guess that is why I don't have a seat on city council--I'm not wise enough to recognize the danger posed by having a rabbit hutch in my back yard. Fortunately, I have the good folks at City Hall to make that decision for me.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

No Philosophical Detection Required

When examining the statements of another individual, it is often necessary to engage in "philosophical detection"--the process of identifying the unspoken premises underlying those statements. In some rare situations, those premises are stated openly and unequivocally. Via HBL comes one such example.

The blog Fresh Loaf reports:

Atlanta Progressive News [APN] has parted ways with long-serving senior staff writer Jonathan Springston. Apparently, Springston’s affinity for fact-based reporting clashed with Cardinale’s [APN's editor] vision.

And, no, that’s not sarcasm.

If you think that perhaps Fresh Loaf is exaggerating, consider the statement issued by Cardinale:

At a very fundamental, core level, Springston did not share our vision for a news publication with a progressive perspective. He held on to the notion that there was an objective reality that could be reported objectively, despite the fact that that was not our editorial policy at Atlanta Progressive News. It just wasn’t the right fit....

We believe there is no such thing as objective news. Typically, mainstream media presents itself as objective but is actually skewed towards promoting the corporate agenda of the ultra-wealthy.

APN, on the other hand, does not pretend to be objective. We believe that our news coverage is fair and that our progressive principles are fair. We aim when possible to give voice to all sides, but aim to provide something different than what is already provided by corporate sources.

"Objective" identifies a particular kind of relationship between consciousness and reality--specifically, the volitional adherence to reality. But APN explicitly rejects objectivity, claiming that it is impossible to be objective and that it makes no pretense otherwise. What then is the alternative?

If there is no objective reality--that is, a reality independent of consciousness--then the world we observe is an illusion. Historically, philosophers such as Plato and Hegel have held that this world is an imperfect reflection of "true reality", which exists in another dimension inaccessible to us mere mortals. While these philosophers have differed in the details, each has claimed that this world is a creation of consciousness--that God, or society, or each individual "creates" reality. And this is the position taken by APN.

If APN isn't reporting the facts of reality, then what is it reporting? If APN is not referencing an objective reality, then to what does it refer in its stories? How is its news coverage "fair", and by what standard?

Having rejected the premise that there is an immutable world "out there", APN's only alternative is to report on the world "in here", that is, their own consciousness. APN's news coverage is guided by the emotions and whims of its reporters, rather than the actual facts (because, according to APN there are no such things).

In this context, to be "fair" means to be objective. It means to report the essential facts of the story, regardless of one's particular beliefs on the subject or one's political agenda. It means to state "what is" rather than "what I want". However, to APN being "fair" means "giving voice" to differing views "when possible". Which means, when APN feels like it.

In the comments section to Fresh Loaf's post, the APN editor writes:
My point regarding the non-existence of objectivity in news has to do with which facts get included and which don’t– which “sides” get included and which don’t. Every publication has to make choices about this, which are unique to each publication and to each situation being written about.
There is an element of truth in this. Certainly, a writer must be selective in the facts that he presents. He cannot present every fact pertaining to the story, no matter how remotely connected. But his selectivity should not be a matter of whim or caprice--it should be objective and based on what is essential to the story.

To APN objectivity is impossible. One's selectivity is not grounded in reality, but one's wishes and desires. APN has a particular political agenda that it wants to promote--progressivism. It is this agenda that animates its news coverage and guides its selectivity. As the editor writes:
Progressive news is news that brings us closer to universal health care, living wages, affordable housing, peace, a healthy environment, and voting systems we can trust.
To APN, this is what determines what is news and what isn't. That which promotes more government control over our lives is "news". Facts that undermine this cause need not apply. And that dear reader, is not my opinion. That is the objective truth.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Tea Party and the Left

For nearly a year Leftists have been trying to smear the Tea Party movement as an extreme, right-wing rebellion against the nation's first black President. Leftists have looked for the slightest sign that the movement's expressed disgust with Washington is a mere facade for racism. And, in typical Leftist fashion, if such facts are not forthcoming, they simply invent them. Take David Ortez for example.

Writing on his blog, Ortez states:

I was having a discussion with a friend about the TEA Party and what it meant to the political landscape of America. My friend was curious why the TEA Party was doing a bad marketing job of integrating folks other than Anglos to their cause....

Then, it dawned on me … this whole time we have been overanalyzing the TEA Party and assumed that their goal was to integrate Americans of all facets of society. What if their goal was not that but the contrary? They do not want to include other people.

The Tea Party movement, Ortez concludes, wants to return to the principles of the Founding Fathers because some of the Founders were slave owners. The Tea Party movement then, is not a reaction to excessive government spending or Washington's power grab; the movement is about returning to the "good old days" when women and minorities knew their "place" and white males dominated.

While Ortez is clutching at imaginary straws, his argument does illustrate my complaint against the Tea Party movement--its lack of a clearly stated, unifying principle. Without the principle of individual rights animating the movement, it is little more than a coalition of individuals fighting against Washington. Despite the movement's repeated references to the Founding Fathers, it--as well as Ortez--remains blind to the true principles of the Founders.

Ortez writes:
As a student of history I find the romantization of how are founding fathers set up our nation foolish. Our founding fathers were not perfect and they knew this and thus they created a living-breathing document that could change with time.
Ortez doesn't tell us exactly what this romatization is, but it is rather clear in his post that he believes the founding of America was about power and privilege, and specifically that of white males. That the Founders clearly stated their principles in the Declaration of Independence--the inalienable right of each individual to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness--is casually dismissed. That the Founders laid the groundwork for the abolition of slavery is unimportant.

That the Founders did not fully apply the principles they advocated is not an indictment on those principles. Nor, for that matter, is it an indictment of the Founders. Given the historical context, to expect more of them is a gross injustice.

What escapes Ortez, and the Tea Party movement, is that the principle of individual rights applies to all individuals. Ortez sees social interaction as a battle between groups to secure political power. The Tea Party movement increasingly sees it in similar terms, with the battle occuring between state governments and Washington. Where Ortez has no problem violating individual rights in the name of "inclusion", the Tea Party movement has no problem violating individual rights in the name of "state's rights".

The fact is, individual rights apply to all individuals, no matter their race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation. Individual rights are "inclusionary"; the recognition and protection of individual rights limits the powers of Washington (and the states). In other words, the principle of individual rights addresses the stated concerns of Ortez and the Tea Party. It's too bad that neither knows this.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Tiger Woods Scores a Bogey

I have followed the career of Tiger Woods since he was in high school. I regarded him as a refreshing example of talent and character. Revelations of his marital "transgressions" was more than a surprise--it felt like a good friend had lied to me for years.

On Friday Tiger publicly apologized for cheating on his wife. In some ways his apology was completely unremarkable, and in others it was a stark contrast to the mea culpas of other celebrities. I found the latter somewhat heartening, while the former left me disappointed.

I am certain that his words--like the image that he had developed--were well-crafted. So it is difficult to tell how sincere his apology actually is. However, unlike the cynics who are claiming that he is only sorry for getting caught, I know that men can be truly remorseful, that they can recognize their errors and correct them. I would like to believe that Tiger is one such man, but as he remarked, his true apology will come in actions, not words.

Unlike others who have found themselves in similar circumstances, Tiger did not try to make excuses, justify his actions, or mitigate his responsibility. He accepted full responsibility for his actions, and in the process, revealed at least a portion of the psychology that led to his deplorable behavior.

Tiger admitted that he thought he was above the rules, that he deserved to succumb to temptations, which wealth and fame made readily available. While he did not say it, he believed that his accomplishments on the golf course, which resulted from an unparalleled devotion to his values, allowed him to act against his values in his personal life.

This conflict remained hidden from the public until last November, at which time Tiger's carefully honed image disintegrated. Tiger's soul was exposed as that of a second-hander, that of a man who lived one way in public and another in private. In public he was presented as a devoted husband and father; in private he was a philandering scoundrel. The reason, Tiger claimed, was because he thought of nobody but himself. But the truth is, Tiger did not think of himself--in fact he did the exact opposite.
Isn’t that the root of every despicable action? Not selfishness, but precisely the absence of a self. Look at them. The man who cheats and lies, but preserves a respectable front. He knows himself to be dishonest, but others think he’s honest and he derives his self-respect from that, second-hand.
If Tiger had truly thought about himself, he would have realized the destructive consequences of his actions. Destroying one's reputation and threatening one's marriage (if it is a value) is certainly not in one's self-interest.

Tiger's response to this selflessness is to return to his Buddhist faith. In other words, to overcome his selflessness Tiger will embrace more of the same. This is, to use golf lingo, par for the course. It is certainly common for those who engage in self-destructive behavior to blame selfishness, and then proclaim that they will think of themselves less.

Tiger's success on the golf course has been a purely selfish pursuit. His endless hours of practice and training have been aimed at benefiting one person--Tiger Woods. He could not, and indeed no man could, maintain passion and focus if the intended beneficiary was anyone but himself. (Certainly others--his family, his foundation, and fans to name a few--have benefited, but they are incidental.)

Tiger has declared that for the moment, his focus is on saving his marriage. If he truly wishes to do so, then he must be selfish in that pursuit. The same selfish passion and dedication that has made him a champion golfer is necessary if he is to be a champion husband and father.

Friday, February 19, 2010

If At First You Don't Succeed...

For nearly as long as I can remember, parents and concerned citizens have complained about the quality of public education. And for just as long, educators have put forth a stream of ideas for improving public schools. The fact that these proposals are an almost universal failure hasn't stopped the educational elite from devising new schemes.

The latest brainstorm from the Houston Independent School District is to extend the school year at some poor-performing schools. The motivation is to reduce the information loss that many students experience during the long summer vacation. On the surface, this might make sense--if students forget what they have "learned" then shorten the vacation.

But such thinking is rationalistic. It results from taking two premises and making logical deductions, while simultaneously failing to check the validity of those premises. For example, is the length of the summer vacation the real cause of the student's failure to retain, or is there another cause? On this issue, the so-called experts don't seem to be clear. According to the Chronicle:

Research is clear that students, particularly those from low-income families, lose significant ground during the traditional summer break, said Ron Fairchild, chief executive officer of the National Summer Learning Association in Baltimore. Studies are less conclusive about the best way to keep students from regressing, though some data show that a quality six-week program can counteract summer learning loss, he said.

“We definitely need more studies on the issue, but I think it's encouraging to see more districts like Houston that are willing to experiment,” Fairchild said.

In other words, let's try something and see if it works. Then we will study the results and concoct another idea. We can't say for sure what the results will be because, quite frankly, we aren't sure about the cause. This approach actually illustrates why students regress.

One of the primary purposes of education is to teach critical thinking skills--how to think logically. Which means, how to use one's mind properly. Logic--non-contradictory identification--is the method of proper thinking.

To grasp this fact, one must first understand that proper thinking requires a method, that proper thinking is not random association. One must first understand that the proper means of using one's mind is not arbitrary or a matter of personal choice, that there are specific principles that must be identified, accepted, and then acted upon if one's conclusions are to adhere to reality.

And this is precisely what modern educators, thanks to modern philosophers, have rejected. Seizing upon random facts--the length of the summer vacation, student regression, longer school years in other nations, etc.--educators conclude that the problem is not what is taught, but how long it is taught.

Logic involves more than simply deducing from one's premises. It requires one to validate those premises. Deductions from arbitrary premises does not lead one to truth and understanding, but to arbitrary conclusions. If one starts with the premises that "pigs can fly" and "Arnold is a pig", one would "logically" conclude that "Arnold can fly". But the fact is, pigs can't fly.

Having rejected the entire idea that proper thinking requires specific principles, educators are unable to effectively educate. They spew out an assortment of facts which students must retain in order to pass a standardized test, and then promptly forget. They overwhelm students with concrete facts, but fail to teach the methods required to understand, analyze, and integrate those facts. And so educators blindly experiment, hoping to somehow stumble across something that works. They are teaching their students--in word and in action--that thinking is ineffectual.

The fundamental problem is not the length of the school year. The problem is the rejection of the fact that thinking requires a specific method. Until educators grasp that fact, and everything it implies, they might as well believe that pigs can fly.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Chronicle's Gubernatorial Endorsements

The Chronicle has come out with its endorsements for the gubernatorial primaries and they provide an interesting look at what the paper's editorial board considers important.

In endorsing Kay "Bailout" Hutchison, the paper lauds her for launching "well-documented charges of cronyism and politicization of appointments by the incumbent." Considering the fact that "Bailout" pledged to oppose the bailout plan proposed by her buddy George Bush, and then bailed out and then supported that plan, she doesn't have a lot of room to talk about cronyism.

Apparently, the paper thinks that "well-documented charges" against the incumbent is sufficient reason to support a particular candidate. Personally, I am more interested in what a candidate is for than what she is against. Fortunately, the paper provides some information in that regard:

Houstonians have special reason to support Hutchison, who has fought hard to bring us our fair share of federal mass transit dollars at a time when some area legislators attempted to block them.

While the current governor has refused federal stimulus dollars to fund unemployment benefits and public education, Hutchison says she would bring those dollars to the state while negotiating to make sure they arrive without strings.

The paper supports Hutchison because she is willing to rob the citizens of other states to pay for our transportation projects and education. And she is willing to negotiate to remove any strings. I hate to be the one to inform Hutchison and the paper, but negotiations usually involve compromise. Which means, there will be strings attached. They might be a little longer than what was originally proposed, but that just provides more rope for us to hang ourselves.

The Chronicle's endorsement of Bill Green White isn't any better. The paper writes:

In a meeting with the Chronicle editorial board, White warned that Texas is at an educational crossroads and must do a better job of preparing young people to meet the challenges of national and international competition.

He noted the ominous fact that a smaller percentage of Texans between the ages of 25 and 35 have two- and four-year college degrees than in the past.

“Education, public and higher, is the principal business of state government,” he said. White pledged as governor to work to lower dropout rates and increase the productivity and affordability of Lone Star education.

Ignoring the fact that government control of education has been an absolute failure, White and the paper want more of it. Ignoring the fact that the only proper business of state government is protecting our rights, White and the paper want to give government greater control over education.

I continue to find it interesting that so much emphasis is placed on a college education. Given that functional illiterates can graduate high school, a piece of paper stating that you have completed certain classes is pretty meaningless. The implication is that holding a degree somehow confers knowledge, which is at best naive.

If White is truly concerned about education in Texas, he would be advocating removing government controls on education. He would be calling for greater freedom in education, for both educators and the consumers of education--parents and students. Instead, he declares that education is "the principle business of state government".

Government is an agent of force. Everything it does involves the use of force, sometimes properly so, but most often not. This does not change when government is involved in education--the ideas of those with political connections are imposed upon the entire student population. For evidence, witness the ongoing textbook disputes in Texas and other states.

Education is an immensely important subject. The education of one's children is the primary responsibility of parenthood, and parents have a moral right to be free of the interference of others, Bill White included.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Myth of Deregulation

It is not uncommon for the enemies of capitalism to throw out a flurry of "facts" that demonstrate the alleged shortcomings of the free market. Taken out of context, these claims might appear to be true. For example, it has become a mantra of the Left to claim that the Bush Administration engaged in reckless deregulation, which ultimately caused a whole host of problems, from destruction of the environment to the financial collapse.

Leftists can certainly point to irresponsible behavior on the part of many executives at financial institutions--behavior that might seem to bolster claims that more regulation is required to prevent another financial meltdown. While we can bring the broader context to bear--the fact that financial institutions are and were among the most heavily regulated in the nation--how do we refute the specific claim that deregulation caused the financial collapse?

Fortunately, Veronique de Rugy, a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University has provided us some specifics that completely destroy such claims. She is cited in an article on Real Clear Politics:

"Between fiscal year 2001 and fiscal year 2009," she writes, "outlays on regulatory activities, adjusted for inflation, increased from $26.4 billion to an estimated $42.7 billion, or 62 percent. By contrast, President Clinton increased real spending on regulatory activities by 31 percent, from $20.1 billion in 1993 to $26.4 billion in 2001."

De Rugy also points out that, adjusted for inflation, regulatory spending under the category of finance and banking were cut by 3 percent during the Bill Clinton years and rose 29 percent under the imagined Bush deregulation binge.

In short, not only was there no massive deregulation under Bush, regulations were expanded dramatically. Allegations of deregulation are a complete myth.

But the actual facts haven't stopped politicians and pundits from demanding more government control. It would be easy to blame incompetence for their misguided demands, for we certainly have abundant evidence--both theoretical and practical--of their incompetence. The truth however, is far more ominous.

The very nature of regulations force individuals to act contrary to their own judgment. Some regulations prohibit actions that regulators deem harmful. Other regulations encourage actions that regulators deem beneficial. Either way, regulators compel individuals to act as they--the regulators--desire.

The results are predictable. Regulations establish a clash of values. The goals of regulators necessarily conflict with those they are regulating, which is precisely why regulations must be enforced at the point of a gun. Certainly there are some in the regulated industry who view regulations as beneficial, but any short-term gains will ultimately be wiped out. Witness the collapse of AIG and other financial giants.

Having abandoned principles, government officials cannot see this connection. They can only look at the moment, and when they do not like what they see, declare that action is necessary. And the action that they invariably propose involves more coercion.

This of course, is their goal. Government officials want more power, and ultimately absolute power. They do not want individuals acting by their own choice in the pursuit of their own values. Today they create myths for the purpose of winning public support for their power grab. And when they are successful, they won't need public support, for they will have the means to demand obedience, or else. Sadly, they are well on their way.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Don't Sweat the Small Stuff 42

Ashby Developers Seek Justice
Last week Buckhead Development (of Ashby High Rise fame) sued the city for $40 million. One of the principals, Kevin Kirton, was quoted in the Chronicle:
The city must learn that it cannot misapply the law to please a select few or to achieve de facto zoning regulations that our community has consistently rejected.
While I agree with his statement, I would have preferred him to say something like:
I have a moral right to use my property as I choose, so long as I respect the mutual rights of others. The purpose of city government is to protect that right, and the city has blatantly and egregiously done the opposite.
Regardless, I applaud Buckhead's lawsuit and efforts to gain justice, even if it will mean an increase in my taxes. The harm done to them was perpetrated in my name, and I want no part of it. And perhaps (though I doubt) the city will learn a lesson.

They're Not Nationwide, They're H-BAD*

The Houston Black American Democrats (H-BAD)--a local Democratic "club"--has apparently been trading endorsements for cash. Of course, such "you scratch my back" deals have been going on for a long time in politics, but the targets of these shake downs are judicial candidates. According to the Chronicle, some have wondered if such "donations" might violate ethics laws:
One candidate asked too many questions. Priscilla Walters, a candidate for Probate Court 3, said when an e-mail she wrote to a friend, asking if the amount was too pricey, got back to H-BAD members, they rescinded her endorsement in a name-calling missive broadcast over Carl Whitmarsh's extensive e-mail list.
While an H-BAD spokesman said that Walters was trying to "sabotage" the "club's" efforts to get out the vote, apparently H-BAD thought so little of her candidacy that they were willing to revoke their endorsement. It makes one wonder which is more important to H-BAD: qualified candidates or raising cash. I think that their actions tell us.

*Apologies to Houston's ZZ Top for paraphrasing the lyrics from their song "I'm Bad, I'm Nationwide".

Humiliating Algore
I don't like the entire premise behind the Nobel Peace Prize. But an effort to strip Algore and the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change of their prize from 2007 is worth supporting. (HT: Barry Klein) I seriously doubt that this petition will have any impact, but the thought of humiliating Algore was too much to resist.

The petition includes a request that the prize be awarded to
Irena Sendler, a woman who risked her life during WWII to ultimately rescue more than 2,500 Jewish children from the Nazis. Sendler was a candidate for the prize in 2007 that Gore and the IPCC won. Other nominations can be made in the comments section. I nominated the Ayn Rand Institute, which, in advocating reason, individual rights, and capitalism, has done more to promote peace in the past 2 decades than any other organization or living individual.

The Texas "Pole Tax"
The Texas Supreme Court will review the constitutionality of the state's "pole tax" which charges patrons of strip clubs $5 to fund a program for victims of sexual offenses. Interestingly, the strip clubs are claiming that their First Amendment rights are being violated by the tax. I am not an expert on the activities that occur in a strip club, but I doubt that a lot of speech is involved.

In an example of non-objectivity in both science and journalism, the Chronicle reports:

To defend the law, the government has been forced to argue that strip clubs lead to greater violence against women, a claim for which there is no evidence, Furlow said. Under such logic, he added, R-rated movies could be taxed because of the violence sometimes depicted in them.

Robert Jensen, a journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin who teaches media law and ethics, acknowledged that it is difficult to prove a link between strip clubs and violence against women.

“But the fact that research doesn't allow for those causal links doesn't mean that the sexual exploitation industry is not part of an environment that supports and undergirds sexual violence,” he said. [emphasis added]

Even though research does not show a causal connection strip clubs and sexual violence, defenders of the law insist that one must exist. Why? Because "justice" demands it, because they want there to be such a connection. And when the facts do not support their desires, the facts are to be discarded.

This is not surprising, given the fact that Jensen has called for a new model for journalists--"journalism for justice":

Mass media have a moral responsibility to produce journalism for justice and storytelling for sustainability...

In a healthy educational institution with real academic freedom, we should encourage a diversity of approaches to complex questions.

According to Jensen, journalists should not simply report the facts. They should also promote a particular agenda, an agenda that Jensen declares should be animated by questioning and opposing the rich and powerful.

Certainly journalists must be selective--they cannot report every fact connected to a particular story. But that selectivity must be guided by reality and and reason--it must be objective--not one's whims or political agenda.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Who Will Protect Us From Our Protectors?

Consider the following: Driving down a road with no posted speed limit, another motorist races past you. A block away you are pulled over and cited for speeding. You ask the speed limit, and the officer says, "Whatever I say it is. Today you were exceeding it."

The next day you drive slower, but are again cited. Day after day, no matter your speed, you are ticketed. Then you are sued by home owners along your route, who cite your accumulating tickets as evidence of a threat to their children. Your insurance company cancels your policy and you are fired from your job as a truck driver.

This may sound arbitrary and absurd, and it is. But this is the nightmare under which many businesses must now operate pursuant to the city's nuisance ordinance and its enforcement by the White administration.

Under the ordinance, city officials are given wide discretion as to what constitutes a nuisance. Odors are one example. The city has established no standards by which to determine if an odor is a nuisance. Consequently, inspectors take no measurements when they receive an odor complaint. The complaint alone is considered sufficient evidence, and the alleged source is cited.

By such arbitrary standards, any Houstonian can launch a complaint against any other citizen, and city officials will issue a citation. By such arbitrary standards, the whim of a disgruntled neighbor or an unhappy employee can result in a violation of the law. By such arbitrary standards, virtually any activity can be declared a nuisance. This is what Bill White--who sought more power under the nuisance ordinance--has unleashed on the city.

Nuisance laws can be valid, but they must be objective. The particular conditions that constitute a nuisance must be defined. The specific methods for measuring or identifying the offending activity must be clearly stated. As an example of a proper ordinance, the city code defines the acceptable decibel level of noise, how it is to be measured, and the times of day those levels apply. Such standards and methods are nowhere to be found in the code addressing odors.

For decades the city has made no secret of its desire to regulate land-use. While voters have rejected zoning three times, city officials have continued to seek other means to control land-use in the city, including restrictions on sexually-oriented businesses, the sign ordinance, the landscaping ordinance, controls on smoking, and now the nuisance ordinance.

The only legitimate purpose of government is the protection of individual rights, including property rights. Government dictates regarding how property owners may use their land is a violation of their rights; doing so by using undefined standards is wielding arbitrary power.

The United States Constitution limits the powers of government. The nuisance ordinance does the exact opposite--it grants to city officials virtually unlimited powers to control the activities of individuals. If someone complains that your property use is a nuisance, city officials regard that complaint alone as sufficient evidence. If they receive "too many" complaints--and they will arbitrarily decide how many is “too many”--they may seek to close your business.

If you think that this is hyperbole, ask the owners of the El Rondo Motor Lodge, The Penthouse Club, or CES Environmental Services. Each of these businesses--as well as many others--were targeted by the White administration and subjected to ongoing harassment with the express purpose of shutting them down. Harassment of businesses will not likely cease merely because White is now trying to spread his tactics throughout the state--his henchmen remain at the helm of many city departments.

Today the city is aiming its guns at "outcast" businesses--hot sheet" hotels, sexually--oriented businesses, and industrial waste processors. Tomorrow it could be your neighborhood pub, or the convenience store down the street, or any number of businesses. Today the city is targeting unpopular businesses; tomorrow it could be you.

Any Houstonian who values his freedom should demand that city officials disclose their methods and procedures for enforcing the nuisance ordinance. Anything less leaves us all under a constant threat.

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Free Market Solution to High Drug Costs: Freedom

On Wednesday the Chronicle's editorial slammed pharmaceutical companies for what it called "the unconscionable gouging of consumers." Citing the industry's efforts to keep drug prices high, the editorial endorsed a demand by several Senators that Congress put an end to “anti-consumer and anti-competitive backroom deals.”

I would completely agree with the sentiment of that statement, and a good place to start would be in the Senate. This is the same distinguished body that secured votes for health care "reform" by making “anti-consumer and anti-competitive backroom deals” with Ben Nelson and others. This fact however, is noticeably absent from the paper's editorial. Nor does the paper note the years of testing and millions of dollars that pharmaceutical companies must spend in order to secure FDA approval for new drugs.

One of the comments to the editorial mockingly asks what the free market solution would be to this issue. My response: actual freedom for pharmaceutical companies, consumers, and doctors.

Freedom means the absence of coercion. It means the ability to act without interference from others, so long as you respect the mutual right of others. It means that you can act according to your own judgment. Such freedom certainly does not exist in regard to medicines.

Pharmaceutical companies cannot offer products without first securing permission from the FDA. Nor can they label their products for uses not approved by the government. Doctors cannot prescribe medicines for unapproved uses. Consumers are prohibited from purchasing medicines without a prescription and are subject to criminal penalties if they attempt to save money by purchasing drugs in Mexico or Canada.

The pharmaceutical companies are not entirely innocent victims in this injustice. With visions of short-term profits dancing in their heads, they threw their support behind health care "reform". Unwilling and unable to identify the long-term implications of more government controls, they abandoned principles and ponied up to the government teet.

Pharmaceutical companies produce immense values--drugs and other medical products that save our lives. They should be rewarded handsomely for the thought and effort they invest in their products. They should be free to develop and market products as they decide, not as government officials dictate. Doctors and patients should be free to select the medicines they choose, free from government controls.

Despite the implications of the paper's editorial, patients do not have a right to medicines, no matter how dire their circumstances. Patients--like all individuals--have a right to act in the pursuit of their values, to trade the products of their thought and effort for the values they want or need. But neither their desires nor their need constitutes a claim on the property--neither medicine nor the money to pay for it--of others.

The free market solution to health care costs is quite simple: freedom. It's our moral right.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The More Things Change...

On Tuesday the Chronicle editorial told us that we are receiving a great bargain for our water and sewer services. In what can only be described as myopic, the paper cites the rates paid in the state's largest cities as evidence.

The fact that we might write smaller checks each month than the residents of Austin and Dallas is only a part of the story. As the editorial notes, the water system is falling apart, and as the city tries to expand its service, extensive work is required to bring the infrastructure up to snuff. Somebody has to pay for this, and whether we do it through rate increases or other taxes doesn't change the fact that that somebody is us.

Though the city's water system has been a source of problems for years, city officials keep trying the same essential remedies. Indeed, as the paper states, Mayor White faced similar issues when he took office. He put a band-aid on the system, served his three terms, and is now trying to skedaddle to Austin where he can "solve" bigger problems with bigger band-aids.

Until city officials propose a solution that addresses the heart of the problem, the next mayor will be faced with the same issues. Until city officials recognize the fact rate increases, or debt restructuring, or any number of other gimmicks won't solve the problem, we will get a reprise. The problem is the public nature of the water and sewer system--water and sewer service is not a proper function of government.

It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to find someone who sings the praises of the service provided by the U.S. Postal System, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS), or virtually any other illegitimate government service. Yet, few question the legitimacy of the city providing our water and sewer service.

The poor quality service delivered by most government agencies is a fact that few would dispute, and perhaps even fewer could explain.

The fundamental explanation is the absence of the profit motive. Government agencies will remain in business no matter how poorly they perform. After all, what options do their "customers" have? There is no alternative to the TSA or the DPS. We are forced to use their service whether we want to or not. We are forced to endure long lines, follow arbitrary rules, and succumb to whatever mandates they wish to impose upon us. Absent the profit motive--the pursuit of their own self-interest--government agencies have no reason to provide quality service.

The same is true of water and sewer services. Certainly, government officials make all kinds of noises about serving the public. They listen to complaints from citizens and vow to correct the problem. But whether they do or not--and they usually don't--the citizens still don't have a choice.

A business that doesn't correct consumer complaints isn't a business for long. It will lose customers. Motivated by the desire for profit they will offer consumers the services that are desired and correct things when they go wrong.

City officials will never correct the problems with Houston's water and sewer system because they have no motivation to do so. White didn't fix the problems that he inherited, nor will Ma Parker. Nor will her successor. They will do as White did, which was exactly what his predecessors did--find temporary fixes and pass the problem on.

We don't have problems getting bread, or milk, or computers, or virtually anything else provided by private businesses. Their desire for profit motivates them to produce the values we need and desire. Their desire for profit motivates them to develop the distribution channels needed to deliver their products and services to consumers. It is time we let them do the same with water and sewer services.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Protecting our Social Environment

I earlier reported that the city is forcing Houstonians to use biodegradable bags for lawn clippings and leaves. Originally, this coercive measure was set to begin on January 1 of this year, but retailers did not have sufficient stock and the city delayed the start of the program to February 1. In mid-January the city pushed the start back once again, to April 5.

The city's web site says these bags are available at numerous retailers, including Home Depot and Lowe's. Lowe's however, has something entirely different to say about the matter. A search of the Lowe's web site tells me that the bags are not available at any of the stores near me.

Apparently the city anticipated this. The web site advises us that, "In the event that City of Houston approved Compostable Bags cannot be found in the grocery or lawn care sections of retail stores, residents should contact store management." While the city is leading us around by the nose, it isn't telling us exactly what to say to the store management upon making contact. I suppose that the city wants us to harass the store management into carrying city approved bags.

The city has demanded--under the threat of significant fines--that Houstonians use biodegradable bags. While city officials can impose their wishes on the citizenry, they can't make the bags magically appear on store shelves. They can however, do "magic" with the numbers.

When the city announced the biodegradable bag mandate in September, it told us that the program would save the city up to $2 million per year. Yet, in a press release on January 13 the city claims that the savings will be $1.5 million per year. In a matter of 4 months, the city has downgraded the projected savings by 25%. And it is likely that, like most government projections, the reality will be considerably less.

But this isn't about cost savings, no matter what the city says. This is about control. We are simply being prepared for the city to expand its power over our lives. In September, Solid Waste department director Harry Hayes told us how lucky we are:
Twenty-one states have already banned yard trimmings from landfills. Houston’s move is a step in the right direction to preserve valuable landfill airspace.
Hayes implies that we should be happy that we can still put yard trimmings in landfills. But I doubt that this will last for long. At some future time, we will be told that further measures are necessary to save landfill space, and mandatory recycling or similar measures will be jammed down our throats.

In an attempt to hide the coercive nature of this particular mandate, the city's web site tells us that we have options: We can allow our yard clippings to lay on the ground, we can compost the material, or we can use city approved bags for disposal. Superficially, these are options--options imposed upon us by the city. I suppose the city would also tell us that we have options when a robber holds a gun to our head and demands our money. "Your life or your money" is an option to city officials, but to those of us who live in the real world it isn't.

If the city is really concerned about saving money it should simply get out of the trash collection business and return to its sole legitimate function--protecting individual rights. The city should be protecting us from force, rather than using coercion to control and regulate our behavior. Protecting the environment is not a proper function of government; protecting the social environment that individuals to live their lives and pursue their happiness is.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Ma Parker's Metro Plan

Mayor Ma Parker has come up with a "novel" way to increase ridership on Metro--eliminate fares. Generally speaking, when you decrease the price for a product or service for less than its market value, demand will increase. But Metro, like most government services, does not operate according to the laws of economics.

Consider the fact that fare revenue currently generates about 20% of Metro's expenses. This means that the other 80% is subsidized by taxpayers. In other words, if Metro were a private business seeking to make a profit, its prices would have to be substantially higher. Even though it currently offers a service far below its market value, ridership isn't even close to the break even point.

While it may be true that eliminating fares would increase ridership, why is this important? Ma tells us in Monday's Chronicle:
I've been concerned that Metro has been drawing the line in the wrong place. They're too concerned with the bottom line and not concerned enough that their job is to provide transit to people who really don't have any other option.
If we take Ma at her word, then such concerns as revenue should simply be dismissed and Metro should insure that every Houstonian transportation, no matter the cost. Why not just cut to the chase and buy everyone a Prius? If the city bought a Prius for 100,000 citizens, the cost would be about $2 billion, which is considerably less than what will be spent on light rail.

Some might argue that this is an absurd proposal, and it is. But it is no more absurd than Ma's proposal. Ma wants taxpayers footing the transportation bill for those who "don't have any other option" and she is unconcerned with either the practical or the moral aspects of doing so.

For the impracticality of Ma's proposal, consider this little tidbit from the Chronicle article:
Metro spokesman George Smalley said the agency offered free rides on its downtown trolley service from 1998 to 2004, but use of the service never exceeded more than about 11,000 daily boardings. Metro later discontinued the service.
So Metro has tried Ma's idea and it didn't work. We can't draw any conclusions from that previous experiment because that was then and this is now. Besides, that experiment involved trolleys and Ma is talking about buses and light rail. If we want to know how well Ma's plan will work, we have to try it. And when it fails, which it will, Ma will be long gone and one of her successors can clean up the mess.

Morally, Ma believes that if someone has a need then their fellow taxpayers have a moral obligation to fulfill that need. The needs of those taxpayers--such as paying for their own transportation costs--are irrelevant. The rights of those taxpayers--the right to dispose of their own money as they choose--do not matter.

Displaying the arrogance that is typical of politicians, Ma tells us that this is for our own good:
Eliminating fares, of course, would make cost-benefit analysis meaningless, since every route would be fully subsidized. But allowing passengers to ride for free might attract enough riders to reduce congestion for drivers and produce other benefits, Parker said.
Taxpayers are too stupid to know what is really in their best interest, so Ma proposes to force to act as she desires. Ma can see the big picture, while taxpayers are focused on such petty concerns as paying their mortgage, putting gas in their car, and saving for their children's college tuition. Ma wants to do what is best for the "community", while taxpayers are concerned with their own private, selfish interests.

Ma told us that she wanted to be our nanny. She was serious.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Privatization: The Solution to Houston's Water Problems

For some time it has been rumored that the city will need to raise water rates soon. Last week the city admitted that it is considering such a move. The Chronicle reported that rates could increase by as much as 14%. Councilman Ed Gonzalez was quoted:
The ultimate goal is to provide a sustainable water service for the community. It's one of the primary functions of city government. The system has been strained over the years. ... At this point I think we have to be open to everything.
Gonzalez is wrong on two counts. First, providing water service is not a function of government. Government's purpose is to protect individual rights, which means the freedom to take the actions necessary to sustain and enjoy our lives.

Second, the city won't be open to everything. I am very confident that the city will not consider privatizing the water system. And by privatizing I mean getting completely out of the water business--selling the assets and letting private businesses provide water service.

Water--like other utilities--is considered a "natural" monopoly. That is, the infrastructure required to provide water service is such that it makes more economic sense to have a single provider. In short, "natural" monopolies preclude a competitive marketplace.

Such arguments are based on numerous faulty perceptions about capitalism. One of those faulty perceptions is the need for competition in order to have a healthy marketplace. But competition is not an essential characteristic of capitalism--it is a by-product. The essential characteristic of capitalism is the recognition and protection of individual rights.

When men are free--when they are able to act on their own judgment without interference from others, so long as they respect the mutual rights of others--competition often does result. When men are free, they often identify a more efficient way to produce a product or service. When men are free, they often identify a better product or service. When men are free, they can act on that judgment by offering their products and services to others.

The proponents of "natural" monopolies claim that markets should perform a certain way, that there should be abundant competition. When the market fails to provide competition, they proclaim a market "failure" and insist that government must intervene.

That intervention invariably involves prohibitions on competition--if someone wishes to offer a competing service, he is prohibited from doing so. Which means, government prevents the very thing that it claims the market won't provide. Why then, are such prohibitions required?

When men are free, they often find innovative ways to provide the goods and services that consumers want and need. Entrepreneurs are far more creative and resourceful than any government bureaucrat could dream of being. As an example, consider the computer industry. The phenomenal advances made in computer technology have not resulted from government controls and regulations, but from freedom.

Admittedly, privatizing our water systems would be a complex undertaking. But building computers is also complex, and perhaps more so. We reap the practical benefits of the relative freedom in the computer industry--an abundance of choices and continually declining prices. The same benefits could be ours if we privatized our water systems.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Altruism's False Alternatives

David Brooks, who seems to thrive on routinely demonstrating his lack of original thinking, does so once again in a piece titled "A new selflessness can be the geezers' new crusade". Brooks tells us:
Seniors who perform service for the young have more positive lives and better marriages than those who don't. As [George] Vaillant writes in his book Aging Well, “Biology flows downhill.” We are naturally inclined to serve those who come after and thrive when performing that role.
Brooks laments the fact that seniors are not serving the young in the political sphere:

The odd thing is that when you turn to political life, we are living in an age of reverse generativity. Far from serving the young, the old are now taking from them. First, they are taking money...

Second, they are taking freedom...

Third, they are taking opportunity.
This should not be surprising, for it represents the two false alternatives presented by altruism. According to altruism, our choice is to self-sacrificially serve others, or force others to self-sacrificially serve us. We must eat others, or allow others to eat us. The possibility that life does not require sacrifice escapes Brooks.

The apostles of altruism count on this false alternative. They count on us believing that life is a perpetual conflict between the wealthy and the poor, between whites and blacks, between men and women, between gays and straights. And the only way one individual (or group) can achieve his values is by trampling on others. Left to our own devices, life would be a brutal battle as each of us seeks to fulfill our own selfish desires at the expense of others.

To "solve" this alleged nightmare, altruism posits that peace and harmony can be achieved only if we each put aside our own interests in the name of the "common good". Our well-being as individuals, altruism holds, can only be achieved by renouncing the values that constitute our well-being.

But altruism goes beyond just suggesting that we self-sacrificially serve others. Altruism holds that we must do so, that morality imposes this obligation upon us. Those who refuse may properly be forced to do so in order to fulfill their moral obligations. Consider this quote from Auguste Comte, who coined the term altruism:
[The] social point of view cannot tolerate the notion of rights, for such notion rests on individualism. We are born under a load of obligations of every kind, to our predecessors, to our successors, to our contemporaries. After our birth these obligations increase or accumulate, for it is some time before we can return any service.... 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. [entire quote is from Wikipedia]
The seniors (and indeed anyone) who are taking money, freedom, and opportunity from younger citizens are simply acting as altruism demands. They do not recognize the rights of others. They are imposing altruism's dictates upon younger generations. According to altruism, those who do not want to sacrifice their money, freedom, and opportunity are simply being immorally selfish, for no individual has a moral right to his own life, property, or happiness.

Brooks doesn't like the fact that "geezers" are practicing exactly what he preaches. Perhaps he should try preaching something different, like rational egoism.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Henry Paulson's Evasion

Former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson conducted an interview with CNBC in support of his new book. While the press is using his memoir as ammunition to heap more abuse on Wall Street, Paulson inadvertently provides some illuminating insight into government regulators.

In the interview, Paulson admits that he did not know what to do when Lehman Brothers collapsed:
So I was just saying, `What do we do?' And I didn't have answers... But from that moment there I had no idea what to do, and I knew everyone was going to be looking to me for answers.

So as I say in the book, I stepped out of the room--and I just didn't want to do this in front of other people--took my cell phone out of my pocketbook and called my wife at home and just simply said, `Wendy, this is--this is really tough. I'm scared. People are looking at me. I don't know what to do. Pray for me.'
According to an article in the Washington Post, Paulson's wife told him:
You needn't be afraid. Your job is to reflect God, Infinite Mind, and you can rely on Him.
At this crucial point, Paulson was told to reflect the Infinite Mind. For those who say that philosophy is just pointless babble, this is philosophy in action. This is one of the most powerful men in the world trying to connect with the Absolute. When faced with a crucial decision, Paulson sought to find answers for this world by transcending this world.

At another point in the financial crisis, Paulson and his henchmen locked the leaders of the nation's largest banks in a room and told them that they could not leave until they "agreed" to take government money, even if they didn't want it. When faced with a crisis, Paulson literally resorted to faith and force.

Having abandoned reason--Paulson explicitly sought answers from the Inifinite Mind, rather than his own--Paulson had to resort to force. He could offer facts to convince the bankers to accept government money, for he had no reasons. And when a man abandons reason and this world, his only other means of dealing with others is brute force. He will lock them in a room and demand that they act as he dictates, or else.

Paulson has joined the chorus in calling for more regulations of financial institutions. Even though he, as one of the top regulators of those businesses, had no answers when called upon in a financial crisis, he wants to hand his equally clueless successors even more power. This is evasion on a massive scale.

That Paulson will not and cannot see the implications of his own statements is not surprising. He has abandoned principles, and thus, each event is an isolated occurrence:
I feel so strongly that, looking in hindsight, that the major decisions we made were the right ones. And we made them without a playbook, dealing with very, you know, unprecedented challenges, with imperfect tools to work with and in a really heated political environment. And they worked, because the system didn't collapse.
In the context of human action, "without a playbook" means without principles. Principles are precisely what provide us with a guide to action. Principles are what allow us to analyze specific situations, project the consequences of our actions, and determine the proper course of action. In the absence of principles, all one can do is pray and hope for the best. All one can do is act blindly and look at the consequences to determine if one made the "right" decisions.

To Paulson, his decisions were the right ones because "they worked"--because the system did not collapse. The fact that the federal government seized the opportunity to grab greater control over the economy and our lives means nothing to Paulson. His only concern was averting a complete financial collapse, and anything that would accomplish that ends was justified. Even if it means a greater disaster in the future--a disaster that Paulson cannot see, just as he could not see the disaster he was hired to prevent.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Atlas and the Animals

South Carolina gubernatorial candidate Andre Bauer recently said of those receiving public aid:
My grandmother was not a highly educated woman, but she told me as a small child to quit feeding stray animals. You know why? Because they breed. You're facilitating the problem if you give an animal or a person ample food supply. They will reproduce, especially ones that don't think too much further than that. And so what you've got to do is you've got to curtail that type of behavior. They don't know any better.
Bauer's comments are disgusting. He reduces humans to the level of animals--devoid of volition and moved solely by physical urges. Columnist Leonard Pitts Jr. takes offense and responds in an equally disgusting manner, by urging America's poor to act like animals:

Who, then, speaks for the poor? Who raises a voice when they are scapegoated and marginalized? Who cries out when they are abused by police and failed by schools? Who takes a stand when they are exploited by employers and turned away by hospitals?

As near as I can tell, no one does.

Unfortunately, poor people have never learned to think of and conduct themselves as a voting bloc; historically, they have proved too readily divisible, usually by race.
To Pitts the solution to any alleged problem is collectivism. He does not see individuals, but only groups, and specifically, economic and racial groups. Any alleged wrongs must be addressed through political power, which ultimately means using the coercive power of government to dictate or restrict the actions of others.

There are only two methods for dealing with others: reason or force. One can present the facts that support one's position, or one can resort to wielding a club. One can treat others as human beings by appealing to their rational faculty, or one can treat others as animals by resorting to brute force. One can respect the moral right of each individual to act according to his own judgment, or one can negate that judgment by compelling certain behavior.

While Bauer argues that those on public assistance are no different from stray animals, Pitts argues that they should act like wild animals and force other individuals to alleviate their suffering:
It takes some helluva psychology to get two men stuck in the same leaking boat to fight each other. You'd think their priority would be to come together, if only long enough to bail water. But the moneyed interests in this country have somehow been able to con the poor into doing just that, fighting tooth and nail when they ought to be standing shoulder to shoulder.
Embracing the Marxist theory of class struggle, Pitts urges the poor to rise up against the "moneyed interests". If the poor want better schools and free health care, then they should seize the reins of power and vote themselves such values. Pitts counts on the productive to tolerate such injustice; he expects that the the productive will be willing to be enslaved.

Pitts concludes by warning that "[s]ometimes stray animals bite." What he and his ilk don't realize is that sometimes Atlas shrugs.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

My Photo

A few years ago, as my fiftieth birthday approached, my wife informed me that she had a surprise for me. The week before my birthday she began giving me clues. I could not guess the nature of the surprise, other than the fact that we were going somewhere for my birthday weekend.

We left work early on Friday (my birthday) but until a few hours prior to our departure, I did not know where we were going. Even though our destination was only 5 miles from our home, my wife could not have made a better choice. We went to downtown Houston, the city that I love. We stayed in a boutique hotel in the heart of downtown.

We spent Friday afternoon wandering the tunnel system, which I have written about here and elsewhere. It brought back memories of when I lived downtown and used the tunnels to walk to the library in inclement weather. On Friday night we had a fabulous dinner at Sambuca, and then listened to jazz music on their patio, sipped after dinner drinks, and I enjoyed a cigar. That day alone would have been a spectacular birthday, but there was more.

On Saturday we took a tour of Minute Maid Park, the home of my beloved Astros. We were taken to the press box, the dugout, the bullpen, and other areas of the park that a fan generally does not see. After a nice lunch we visited the Downtown Aquarium, Sam Houston Park, and just wandered around downtown.

As we headed back to the hotel, my wife informed me that we were going to have dinner at Brennan's. I anticipated a meal that would surpass the evening before, and even that expectation was soon surpassed.

As my wife informed the hostess of our reservation, I heard the hostess say something about the "kitchen table". My heart sank a little, thinking that our romantic dinner would take place at a table close to the kitchen and the noise would disrupt our dinner. As we were led through the restaurant, my suspicion grew stronger as we seemed to be heading in the direction of the kitchen.

And then suddenly we were walking into the kitchen. Overwhelmed with perceptions, I thought, "that looks like Dwyane" and turning to my right "that looks like Alice". We were not going to have dinner by the kitchen, we were going to have dinner in the kitchen with 6 of my best friends.

For the next 3 hours we were treated to a 7 course meal prepared by the executive chef. Men were served one dish and women a different dish for each course, so we were able to sample 2 different dishes for each course. In between, the chef visited our table to discuss the dishes, show us various operations of the kitchen, and talk about food.

For dessert we were served every item on their dessert menu. Ignoring any health concerns, we eagerly passed the plates to one another, sampling all of the decadent and delicious food. It was one of the most, if not the most, memorable nights of my life.

The photo I use on this blog was taken that night in the kitchen of Brennan's. It was a very special evening, arranged by a very special woman.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Nullification: The Practical vs. the Moral

Last Friday's post on Glenn Beck drew some defense of his position on the grounds of nullification. I didn't specifically address nullification in that post, but my comments certainly had implications on the issue. Since the individual defending nullification cited the Tenth Amendment Center, I will quote from their web site:

Nullification begins with a decision made in your state legislature to resist a federal law deemed to be unconstitutional. It usually involves a bill, which is passed by both houses and is signed by your governor. In some cases, it might be approved by the voters of your state directly, in a referendum. It may change your state’s statutory law or it might even amend your state constitution. It is a refusal on the part of your state government to cooperate with, or enforce any federal law it deems to be unconstitutional.

Nullification carries with it the force of state law. It cannot be legally repealed by Congress without amending the US Constitution. It cannot be lawfully abolished by an executive order. It cannot be overruled by the Supreme Court. It is the people of a state asserting their constitutional rights by acting as a political society in their highest sovereign capacity. It is the moderate, middle way that wisely avoids harsh remedies like secession on the one hand and slavish, unlimited submission on the other. It is the constitutional remedy for unconstitutional federal laws.

I can certainly understand how this might appeal to individuals who believe that the federal government is out of control. Nullification seems to be a way for citizens to reign in Congress. But is it?

Consider the first sentence in the quote above: "Nullification begins with a decision made in your state legislature to resist a federal law deemed to be unconstitutional." "Deemed to be unconstitutional" by what standard? No answer is offered.

In recent years, much has been made of the difference between red states and blue states, between die-hard conservative states and die-hard Leftist states. These differences make it pretty clear that what is considered constitutional in some states is "deemed to be unconstitutional" in other states. Some states may nullify a particular federal law while other states don't. Which means, there really isn't any federal law.

The individual who defended nullification argued that the marketplace would ultimately motivate states to nullify unconstitutional laws and compete to attract businesses and residents with pro-freedom policies. Again, I can understand why this might seem appealing.

But the fact is, states (and cities) compete today to attract business. And they certainly don't do it by moving in a pro-freedom direction.

Both Houston and Texas serve as excellent examples. Both are relatively pro-business and there is no state or city income tax. The economy of both the state and the city has fared well during the recession. To any honest observer, the economic success of the city and the state is a consequence of the greater freedom enjoyed. Yet, both continually act to restrict that freedom and enact more controls and regulations.

If it were true that the marketplace would motivate cities and states to adopt more pro-freedom policies, then why are two of the freest political entities in the nation moving in the opposite direction? Both Houston and Texas have been clearly winning the economic battle, yet they are abandoning the policies that made that victory possible. And why haven't "losing" states like Michigan and California abandoned their destructive policies?

My commenter argued that the "losers" are subsidized by the federal government, and thus have no motivation to change their ways. But this flies in the face of his own argument. The citizens of Michigan and California are burdened with outrageous taxation, decreasing services, and stagnant economies. Even if the federal government is subsidizing some of this outrage, it is not, and cannot, alleviate all of the self-imposed misery. The fact is, the citizens of those states wanted all of the entitlements, controls on business, and other "perks" of big government.

Further, if competition between states will lead to greater freedom, then why has every state enacted more controls and regulations? The states have been competing since their inception, and yet that hasn't stopped them from becoming increasingly tyrannical.

Further still, the practical benefits of freedom are abundantly clear, yet most of the world has moved away from freedom. Why? And why should we believe that the demonstration of a few states will be any more convincing that the demonstration of the United States during the 19th century? The fact is, it won't convince anyone, because practical arguments are seldom convincing. The reason is because the issue isn't practicality; the issue is morality.

In Friday's post I pointed out that Glenn Beck was supportive of the right of citizens of a state to vote themselves universal health care, or free cars, or anything else "the people" wanted. In principle, he isn't opposed to government force compelling some individuals to sacrifice for the alleged benefit of others.

Similarly, my commenter stated "that people in certain states have the right to tax themselves into oblivion if that's what they want." In principle, he isn't opposed to government force compelling some individuals to sacrifice for the alleged benefit of others.

Forcing some individuals to sacrifice for the alleged benefit of others is precisely what the federal government has been doing. Glenn Beck and advocates of nullification are not opposed to forced sacrifice, they just want the states dictating the nature of the sacrifice. They just want the citizens of a state to determine the victims and the victimizers, rather than the federal government.

Life does not require sacrifice--neither forced nor voluntary. Until that is understood, individual rights cannot be protected. Until the morality of rational egoism is embraced, the only debate will be the name of our masters.