Tuesday, October 13, 2009

"Rights Talk" Incites, But Doesn't Solve

One of my favorite political columnists, George Will, in his Sunday Oct 11 2009 column "Anger Management Hits a Hump," raises a good point, one you've no doubt run into when you get in an ideological argument with someone.
"If our vocabulary is composed exclusively of references to rights, aka entitlements, we are condemned to endless jostling among elbow-throwing individuals irritably determined to protect, or enlarge, the boundaries of their rights. Among such people, all political discourse tends to be distilled into what Mary Ann Glendon of Harvard Law School calls 'rights talk.'

"Witness the inability of people nowadays to recommend this or that health-care policy as merely wise or just. Each proposal must be invested with the dignity of a right. And since not all proposals are compatible, you have not merely differences of opinion, but apocalyptic clashes of rights.

"Rights talk is inherently aggressive, even imperial; it tends towards moral inflation and militates against accommodation. Rights talkers, with their inner monologues of pre-emptive resentments, work themselves into a simmering state of annoyed vigilance against any limits on their willfuness. To rights talkers, life -- always and everywhere -- is unbearably congested with insufferable people impertinently rights talking, and behaving, the way you and I of course have a real right to....

"Can't liberals play nicely together? Not, evidently, when they are bristling, like furious porcupines, with spiky rights that demand respect because the right-bearers' dignity is implicated in them."

The example Will gives involves his observation of liberals, especially in federal government, but experience tells us that rights talk (sometimes in the form of self-righteousness) infects most of the rest of us too, conservative, libertarian, and decline-to-state alike.

Libertarians suggest Nobel announcements should be moved to April Fool's Day

The Libertarian Party makes some good points in a recent press release about Obama's Nobel:

"President Obama has utterly failed to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He has increased American military involvement in Afghanistan, and appears ready to escalate that war even further.

"...Perhaps President Obama would earn a peace prize if he were to change course, go against most Republican and Democratic party leaders, and support a Libertarian non-interventionist foreign policy instead."

On a subsequent page, read Libertarians suggest Nobel announcements should be moved to April Fool's Day . Between recent Nobels to Paul Krugman and Al Gore, and past peace prizes to war Presidents Woodrow Wilson and Teddy Roosevelt, maybe an April Fools' Day timing would clarify the true meaning of this award.

Why Democrats' Health Care Overhaul May Still Die

Essay at Cato gives an interesting inside-baseball view of the political forces whipsawing our D.C. solons as they consider the health-care bill -- It seems there's a lot of "Who's paying for this? Not *me*!" back and forth going on in Congressional halls.

Ah, the eternal dream: To get Someone Else Not Me to pay for the stuff I want but *I* don't want to pay for myself. Defining that Someone Else is always tricky, especially when that Someone Else has Congressional representatives too....

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Obama's Peace Prize--What Happened to Our Peace President?

Ron Paul On Obama Winning The Nobel Peace Prize


Ron makes many good points about the irony that this president, who ran against the war president, is getting in deeper despite his peace prize.

(Ron suggests that it's Obama's pledge to be internationalist rather than to make peace that won him the prize.)

Makes more interesting viewing that almost any other commentary on this event that I've read so far...

Saturday, October 10, 2009

NBA or NFL Criminal Class? (Amusing)

Subject: NBA or NFL??

? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?

36 have been accused of spousal abuse

7 have been arrested for fraud

19 have been accused of writing bad checks

117 have directly or indirectly bankrupted at least 2 businesses

3 have done time for assault

71, repeat 71
cannot get a credit card due to bad credit

14 have been arrested on drug-related charges

8 have been arrested for shoplifting

21 currently are defendants in lawsuits,

84 have been arrested for drunk driving

in the last year

you guess which organization this is?



Give up yet?

Scroll down,

it's the 435 members of the
United States Congress

The same group of Idiots that crank out
hundreds of new laws each year
designed to keep the rest of us in line.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Oakland Airport BART Rail Extension--We're Doomed!

Headlines today (Oct 7, 2009):

Oakland Council Now Supports BART Extension Plan

Two quotes from the CBS 5 story will suffice for the moment:

"The 3.2-mile extension to the airport has been a point of contention for a while. The voter-approved project has grown from $130 million to over $522 million."

Got that? Fourfold increase. And it hasn't been started yet. Any bets on how soon it will pass one billion?


"Project opponents, who include many public transit advocates who favor bus service over rail service, claim BART could save hundreds of millions of dollars by using a rapid bus service instead. They estimated that such a service would only cost between $45 million and $60 million. "

And that? Given a choice between $500 million and growing, or $60 million (a tenth that amount) -- our solons leap for the big-bucks project! No hesitation! It's all about "keeping the Oakland Airport competitive" (Why?)

Two more justifications, equally idiotic: First, jobs will be generated - during construction and to run the thing. That's our new golden calf now -- if it generates jobs, even if they cost taxpayers millions per head, we have to do it. Second, the construction industry (source of electoral funding) and construction unions (source of electoral funding and endorsements) will be delighted.

Oh, and the money is already at hand -- part federal tax moneys (that the feds obviously can't afford, but no matter) and part a chunk from a bond measure the voters were dumb enough or deluded enough to approve a few years ago -- for "transportation projects." If it had been phrased, "So we can turn $60 million projects into $600 million boondoggles," who would have voted for it?

Judging from recent elections, maybe that's not such a good question.

But the real issue - not mentioned, of course, by our solons approving the project (of course) and also not mentioned by the reporters or editors (or apparently thought of, since it hasn't been mentioned in any of the recent coverage) -- What will it cost us to *run* this thing once it's built?

None of these rail projects pay for themselves. Even if $6-each-way tolls don't discourage traffic, chances are this project like all others will prove a permanent drain on the budget of whatever agency gets stuck with it -- BART, apparently, which is already deep in the hole despite tolls and a big chunk of everyone's real-estate taxes each year. Nobody thinks of this; nobody mentions getting stuck with the eternal tab; nobody mentions it, not even the press that's supposed to be paying attention; certainly not any of our political class.

So they've just voted for another appallingly expensive (and growing) rail project, for a trivial task that could have been taken care of less glamorous but much cheaper bus, and brushed aside all considerations of sticking future generations with the bill.

Your local politicians at work. Thanks, kids! (And the feds, too, who encourage such nonsense with their "mass-transit" funding out of their budgets we can't afford either.

We're doomed.

FTC Controls the Blogosphere

The FTC, an agency of the US federal government in charge of asserting power over business and media, in October 2009 extended its rules about product endorsements in advertising into the blog world. If you write a product in your blog, you must--not as a moral or business obligation, but by government rule--mention if you received any compensation from the product maker, including receiving the product for free (as is common in product reviews in many markets).

Note that these rules do not apply to anything appearing in a conventional print newspaper or other print periodical.

As you would expect, the blogosphere--you should forgive the expression--is abuzz, and part of that buzz is coming up with examples of ridiculous corner cases.

And also ridiculous examples of noncorner cases, such as the argument that software sent to a tech reviewer is worthless after the package is opened; or that hardware the vendor refuses to accept back (a common type of bribe-like object) should not be included; or when vendors who offer to sell the product to the reviewer after the review is published, for a special low price, that shouldn't be considered compensation; or galley proofs of books sent for review, which proofs are not really marketable, should not be considered compensation. Well, no: If you accept the FTC's right to rule in this environment, then the above examples are exactly what the FTC means.

The whole problem is easily resolved for most bloggers, on the face of it, by simple boilerplate, as one writer has already done, along the lines of "Software/hardware/books reviewed in this space are in most cases sent to the reviewer free in hopes of being reviewed. When the review is finished, some materials are returned, some donated, some retained by the reviewer. The reviewer makes no representation to the vendors that products will be reviewed, or reviewed favorably."

IN specific cases, one can say, "The latest model of the iPhone, sent to us by Apple for review..." And then at the end of the review, "The device will be returned to Apple in six weeks (to allow for the possibility of corrections)." If you are reluctant to explain to the reader that you are keeping the product, free, or buying it at a "reviewer's discount," then you are obviously engaging in a conflict of interest.

And so on. But that's not the core issue here, not at all.

As a libertarian, I take the First Amendment more seriously than the FTC does, and so find no authorization in the Constitution for an exception to that amendment that grants a government agency authority to control the press, not even if it would be a really, really good idea and the poor dumb populace isn't capable of noticing whether an endorser is paid, and not even if it really is a good idea for the writers to acknowledge conflicts of interest.

The government and the courts have for a long time taken the basic position that the 1st Amendment's highlighting of the limits of government power apply only to daily and weekly and monthly newspapers; not to radio or TV and not to any less formal publications, and certainly not to anything in the advertising field. If it's not a newspaper, it's up for grabs. The Constitution doesn't say anything about this, of course, but when has that ever stopped anybody?

I think that's idiotic. No, I think it's abuse of government power, and this instinct to assert power in the teeth of Constitutional restrictions isn't just applied to the press and speech; Bush II should have been an object lesson in why we must stop government assumption of nonconstitutional power in every area. Because abuse of power knows no limits.

The government has no authority under the Constitution to make laws or rules or regulations about what people write or say, regardless of the venue, the medium, or the purpose. If you, as a public-spirited citizen, want to protect the public from bad words, bad opinions, misleading assertions and offers, you will have to find another method. Force, the threat of the use of force, fraud, and breaking of contract are all appropriate areas for laws; beyond this, no.

Insurance Company Contract Abuse

Which, as an aside, is something that puzzles me about the current healthcare debate. One obvious-seeming abuse of contract cited regularly is insurance companies that cancel policies when the insured becomes ill with a covered illness -- this seems like a straightforward violation of the contract. All we would need would be the government to assert that it will treat such violations of contract seriously, maybe setting up an agency to focus on this abuse.

Another example is the insurance company waiting until you have an expensive covered illness, then going back over your original application (filled out decades ago, perhaps) looking for technical inaccuracies that are not material to the insurance underwriting or to the present case.

A law could simply clarify that in this area, as in many others, minor, nonmaterial, and honest errors on applications cannot be used to deny later fulfillment of the insurance contract; and that after a given period of time has passed, the application shall be considered good on its face, thus forcing the insurance companies to check the applications for errors at the time they are submitted. The companies currently don't bother checking for errors or clarifications, knowing that if an expensive procedure arises, they can go back over the original app with a fine-toothed comb and any errors they find - no matter how innocent - can be used to deny payment.

This is a simple clarification of a contract law, one that would clear up a lot of things without requiring the government to engage in idiocies (such as requiring coverage at favorable rates regardless of preexisting conditions, which is crazy). Note that this kind of "after x period, everything here is accepted as true" provision is commonly written into contracts by businesses; of course, since we sign their contracts, and they are nonnegotiable, we don't get commonsense provisions like that.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

"Is Capitalism Bad for Art?" - Stephen Hicks lecture

If you are in the San Francisco Bay Area, you might be interested in an upcoming lecture by Prof. Stephen Hicks of the Center for Ethics and Entrepreneurship at Rockford College (Illinois). Here is his description:

Is capitalism bad for art?

palette1-70x50I will be giving a talk with that title at California State University, East Bay, on October 14. Thanks to Professor Stephen Schmanske and the Smith Center for inviting me.

My theme will be the relationship between art and liberal cultures, focusing on economically free cultures especially.

dollar-sign-50x74One part of my talk will discuss how economic liberalism is empowering for artists both materially and psychologically, and part of my evidence for that will be historical: Why were the greatest of the great eras in art history classical Athens, Renaissance Florence and Venice, the Dutch Golden Age, Paris in the late nineteenth century. Why not, say, Sparta in the 5th century BCE? Or Milan in the 15th century? Or Denmark in the 17th? Or Portugal in the 19th?

picasso-photo-50x52Another part of my talk will take up the perplexing question of why, since the late 19th century, so many artists have taken anti-business and anti-capitalist stances. Pablo Picasso is representative here, having said, famously, “The merchant — there’s the enemy.” A fascinating set of adversarial (and self-destructive) issues there.

The lecture is based on my current book project, The Fate of Art under Capitalism, which I discussed in an earlier post.

Sound interesting? It does to me! --mac