August 25, 2003

Bush losing ground in the polls

George W. Bush is apparently losing ground on the polls for the 2004 presidential election:

SIXTY-NINE PERCENT of Americans polled say they are very concerned (40 percent) or somewhat concerned (29 percent) that the United States will be bogged down for many years in Iraq without making much progress in achieving its goals. Just 18 percent say they’re confident that a stable, democratic form of government can take shape in Iraq over the long term; 37 percent are somewhat confident. Just 13 percent say U.S. efforts to establish security and rebuild Iraq have gone very well since May 1, when combat officially ended; 39 percent say somewhat well.
Nearly half of respondents, 47 percent, say they are very concerned that the cost of maintaining troops in Iraq will lead to a large budget deficit and seriously hurt the U.S. economy. And 60 percent of those polled say the estimated $1 billion per week that the United States is spending is too much and the country should scale back its efforts. One-third supports the current spending levels for now, but just 15 percent of those polled say they would support maintaining the current spending levels for three years or more.

Against this backdrop, President George W. Bush’s approval ratings continue to decline. His current approval rating of 53 percent is down 18 percent from April. And for the first time since the question was initially asked last fall, more registered voters say they would not like to see him re-elected to another term as president (49 percent) than re-elected. Forty-four percent would favor giving Bush a second term; in April, 52 percent backed Bush for a second term and 38 percent did not.
US 2002 Crime Rate Lowest Since Records Kept

Crime rates in the US at its lowest since statistics began to be compiled:

The annual survey by the Bureau of Justice Statistics identified about 23 million crime victims last year, down slightly from the year before and far below the 44 million recorded when studies began in 1973.

The rate of violent crimes - rapes, robberies and assaults - was about 23 victims for every 1,000 U.S. residents 12 or older last year. That compares with 25 victims per 1,000 in 2001 and 50 in 1993.

For property crimes such as burglary and car theft, the rate was 159 crimes per 1,000 last year, down from 167 the previous year and 319 in 1993.

August 15, 2003

Bush's Terminator

Robert Novak on Schwarzenegger's decision to run in the California recall election:

Arnold Schwarzenegger's late decision to jump into the California recall election was made after weekend meetings to plan what was supposed to be a campaign for governor by Richard Riordan. The two men, non-conservatives and only nominal Republicans, are friends and political allies. But the multi-millionaire movie actor was disturbed by the demeanor of the multi-millionaire former mayor of Los Angeles.

As Schwarzenegger later related to associates, he was unpleasantly surprised by his old friend. In their private conversation, the 73-year-old Riordan duplicated his shaky performance in losing the 2002 Republican primary for governor. To Schwarzenegger, Riordan seemed so confused and disorganized he could not possibly be elected governor. That was the trigger to create the state's current uproarious scene, casting a long shadow on national politics.

(...)

The Republican establishment in Washington clearly hopes the Terminator can deflect those bullets. Schwarzenegger's posture as a pro-business social liberal is similar to what former Gov. Pete Wilson advocated as the last Republican elected to high office in California (in 1994). No genuine conservative has been elected in California since Ronald Reagan in 1970. Arnold Schwarzenegger may not be much of a Republican and not conservative at all, but George W. Bush welcomes anybody invigorating a comatose California GOP.


August 14, 2003

Russian Mothers Plead for Sons to Stay in Guantanamo

More on the Russians who want to stay in Guantanamo to avoid being extradited to Russia:

The mothers of the eight Russians held with other prisoners from Afghanistan at the US military base at Guantanamo Bay have begged Washington not to extradite their sons to answer terror charges in Russia, fearing that conditions in their jails and judicial system are even worse than those at Camp Delta.
"In Guantanamo they treat him humanely and the conditions are fine," Amina Khasanova, the mother of Andrei Bakhitov, told the newspaper Gazeta. "I am terribly scared for my son in a Russian prison or court system."

She said her son wrote to her that conditions were so good in Camp Delta in Cuba that "there is no health resort in Russia that can compare".

Camp Delta has been criticised by human rights groups for the "torturous" conditions under which inmates are held awaiting trial by a special military tribunal.

They are held in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day, and occasionally subjected to "sensory deprivation techniques" involving goggles, gloves and mufflers which impede their senses. Lights are left on in cells during the night.

There have been 28 suicide attempts among the 612 prisoners at the facility.

Russian jails, where inmates may be held 20 to a cell, tuberculosis is rampant and hygiene minimal, have been condemned as "deadly".

Although the death penalty has been abolished in Russia, Muslim prisoners held on "terrorism" charges may be persecuted by fellow prisoners and prison staff angered by the terrorist attacks on civilians by Chechen rebels.
Why I'm voting for Arnold Schwarzenegger

Ben Shapiro explains he will be voting for Schwarzenegger because he might be able to change the very negative perception of the Republican Party in California:

Schwarzenegger won't fix the state in the short run. It's too far gone for one man to fix. The California assembly is dominated by socialists, so Arnold will spend much of his time vetoing. The only bills he will be able to jam through are those that funnel cash to his favorite causes, education in particular.

But in the long run, the Schwarzenegger candidacy can help the state far more than just another conservative defeat. The vast majority of voters in California pull the lever for Democrats on a regular basis. In the 2000 presidential elections, George W. Bush campaigned hard in California. Al Gore didn't spend a dime and won the state easily. Why? Not because the positions of Californians are so far to the left but because Californians are accustomed to voting Democrat. Registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans in the state 45 percent to 35 percent. It's inconceivable to many Californians to even consider voting Republican.

That's how Arnold will change things. Independents, who break heavily Democrat in California, will consider Arnold. Democrats who are disillusioned by Davis and attracted by Schwarzenegger's middle-of-the-road stance will consider Arnold. Young voters who have never stepped into a polling booth in their lives will go vote just to punch their cards for Schwarzenegger. The Hispanic populace, which greatly admires Schwarzenegger's masculinity and charisma, will pull the Republican lever.

In California, these groups dominate the voting constituency. And for the first time in a long time, the Republican label won't turn them off. That is Schwarzenegger's big contribution. His candidacy will change minds about voting Republican. Then, in the future, when ideologically sound Republicans run for office, Californians won't dismiss them out of hand.

Arnold won't change the makeup of the Republican Party from the inside -- he'll change the perception of the Republican Party from the outside. California Republicans will be marketable -- and more importantly, electable. That's something even the strongest conservatives should appreciate.

August 13, 2003

Top Danish Social Democrat goes against EU constitution

Torben Lund, the leader of the Danish Social Democrats in the European Parliament, came out against the proposed EU constitution:

"I think it goes too far in giving away influence from the national parliaments to Brussels", Mr Lund said, according to Politiken.

Mr Lund's crusade against the European Union Constitution started already on Tuesday, 12 August, when parts of an article, to be published on the European Parliament website, were leaked to Politiken.

"We are 5 per cent from a real European federal state and claims about the independence of countries will have a more and more hollow ring", Mr Lund wrote in the article.

"I am not sure the citizens are in any way aware of what is going on. All the changes are duly labelled in calming phrases", Mr Lund wrote.

Torben Lund is not known to be eurocritical and his article has caused some raised eyebrows. He now faces a tough battle within his party for going against the party line and not backing the Constitution.


It's good to know that at least some European social-democrats have enough common sense to oppose the EU constitution...
Don't back into an empire

Bruce Barttlet discusses the question of empire:

One reason the Untied States maintains its possessions is because it is a good deal for them. They get far more in aid from Washington than they send the other way. Puerto Ricans, for example, do not pay federal income taxes but are still eligible for federal welfare benefits, such as food stamps.

This illustrates an important point about colonialism that France and Britain also discovered -- it just doesn't pay. Even admirers of the British Empire, such as economic historian Niall Ferguson, admit this fact. In his recent book, "Empire" (Basic Books), he notes that Britain put far more into India in the form of public works and military expenses than it ever took out. In "Mammon and the Pursuit of Empire" (Cambridge University Press), economic historians Lance Davis and Robert Huttenback concluded that Britain lost money on all its colonies. That's why they were ultimately given their independence.

Iraq is further evidence that colonies are a losing proposition. Even though that nation sits on the second largest proven oil reserves on earth, production is coming back on line very slowly. This is forcing U.S. taxpayers to pay for the reconstruction of Iraq on top of the large and growing costs of occupation. And, of course, the biggest cost is unquantifiable -- the 261 American military personnel who have lost their lives in the Iraq conflict.

When asked, President Bush and his advisers disavow any imperial ambitions. "We have no territorial ambitions, we don't seek an empire," President Bush has said. But as journalist Robert Merry writes in the latest issue of International Economy Magazine, "History tells us that empires of the past seldom set out to become empires."

I don't believe that anyone in the Bush administration consciously desires an American empire, although they are being urged to pursue one by pundits like William Kristol. But I do think there is a danger that the United States will back into imperialism if we aren't careful. All the old reasons against it are still valid and should be respected.

August 12, 2003

The Roots of the Housing Shortage

Gene Callahan explains how government intervention makes houses more expensive:

There are few things that reduce the price of a good like an increase in its supply. But the very people who decry the lack of "affordable" housing in New York and other places are often the ones who are most agitated about "overdevelopment." While the idea of "a lack of affordable housing" is itself suspicious, as pointed out elsewhere, it is clear that one effect of many government programs is to make housing less affordable than it otherwise might be.

Besides laws designed to halt "overdevelopment," the government reduces the supply of housing and drives up its cost in a number of other ways. Wetlands regulations often require extensive environmental studies before building is allowed to begin, and they completely prevent building on many otherwise viable sites. Licensing requirements restrict the supply of contractors, raising the cost of hiring them. Rent control laws reduce the attractiveness of investing in residential property. Government agencies that insure mortgages, such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, reduce the cost of housing for those who qualify for their programs, since qualifiers can borrow at a lower interest rate with the government insurance than they could without it. But such programs drive up housing costs for everyone else, as those who do not qualify are faced with increased competition in bidding for houses.
Second Thoughts on Drug Legalization

Walter Block discusses the "increased tax revenues" argument, that is frequently used by non-libertarians in defense of the legalization of drugs:

Don’t get me wrong. I am entirely and totally committed to the legalization of drugs. This includes all addictive substances, not just marijuana.

There are many good and sufficient reasons for this stance, none of which concern us today, since I wish, now, to discuss, not justifications for legalization, but, rather, one argument for prohibition, and one against legalization.

What then is the argument against legalization? Paradoxically, it is one often made by non-libertarians in favor of decriminalization. The argument goes as follows: right now, addictive drugs can only be bought and sold on the black market. As such, the government obtains no tax revenues thereby, since all these transactions are entirely off the books. However, if this industry were but recognized as a legitimate one, then its products could be taxed, just as in the case of all legal goods and services. Thus, the government could obtain more revenues than at present. And this in turn would mean either a reduction in other taxes, a lower deficit, more government services, or some combination of all three.

Any argument the conclusion of which is that the government will have more revenues at its disposal is highly problematic. For the libertarian, this is pretty much a refutation. For the state already has too much of our money, far too much. The last thing it needs is more encouragement, in the form of greater income. Yes, drugs should still be legalized, since their use and sale does not violate the libertarian non aggression axiom, but this should occur in spite of the fact that the tax take will rise, not because of it.

August 10, 2003

Junk economics
(via Mises Economics Blog)

Excellent article by Pierre Lemieux on Keynesianism and other sorts of junk economics:

'U.S. economy soars on war spending," ran a newspaper headline on Saturday. This suggests a little economic puzzle: Why can't we have the economic boost without the dead soldiers? Suppose the state called a war on, say, the ocean, took $80-billion worth of real resources -- steel, aluminum, trucks, airplanes and computers -- and sank them off the continental shelf. Why wouldn't this stimulate the economy?

According to John Maynard Keynes, it would. In his famous 1936 General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, he wrote: "If the Treasury were to fill old bottles with bank-notes, bury them at suitable depths in disused coal-mines which are then filled up to the surface with town rubbish, and leave it to private enterprise on well-tried principles of laissez-faire to dig the notes up again (the right to do so being obtained, of course, by tendering for leases of the note-bearing territory), there need be no more unemployment and, with the help of repercussions, the real income of the community, and its capital wealth, would probably become a good deal greater than it actually is."

The problem is that there is no such thing as a free lunch. If defence expenditures increased by $80-billion, other expenditures -- consumer expenditures, in this case -- must have decreased by the same amount, because the resources grabbed by the state have been taken from the private economy.

August 09, 2003

Guantanamo inmate 'wants to stay'

Fearing the consequences of a possible extradition back home, a Russian inmate wants to stay in Guantanamo:

A Russian citizen held at the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has said he is afraid to return home because prison conditions there are far worse.

"I don't think there is even a sanatorium in Russia that would compare to this," Ayrat Vakhitov said in a letter to his mother published by Russia's Gazeta newspaper.

"Nobody is being beaten or humiliated," he wrote.

The mothers of Mr Vakhitov from Tatarstan and Rasul Kudayev from Kabarda-Balkaria strongly oppose the extradition of their sons to Russia, reports Itar-Tass news agency.

"I fear the Russian prisons and the Russian courts," Mr Vakhitov's mother Amina said.

August 08, 2003

Judicial Nonsense in Nevada

Michael New comments the Nevada Supreme Court ruling which supported Governor Kenny Guinn's decision to sue the state legislature for failing to approve more spending:

With nearly all of them mired in fiscal crises, most states have balanced their budgets with a mixture of creative accounting, budget cuts and tax hikes. Nevada Governor Kenny Guinn took a highly unusual approach to resolving his state's fiscal shortfall. Faced with an uncooperative legislature, he proceeded to sue state lawmakers legislature for failing to pass a budget that would increase taxes by more than $860 million.

This strategy was a rousing success for Guinn and the legislature's tax hikers. The state's high court gave his approach a stamp of approval. In a 6-1 decision handed down last Thursday [July 10], the Nevada Supreme Court held that the state legislature might disregard a constitutional provision requiring a two-thirds majority to increase taxes. The legislature subsequently enacted over $800 million in tax increases.

Now, standing back a bit, certain aspects of this turn of events seem unsurprising. It is easy to see why those seeking to raise taxes would want to suspend the supermajority limit. Supermajority tax limits have effectively blocked tax increases in many places. During fiscal 2002, the ratio of spending cuts to tax hikes in the six states with comprehensive supermajority limits was approximately 36 to 1. In the rest of the country that ratio was about 1 to 1.

(...)

What makes the Nevada Supreme Court's decision more worthy of attention than these other abuses of judicial power is that both the decision and remedy set troubling precedents. The decision itself is flawed because the court cited the need to underwrite public education as its justification for suspending the limit. However, the Nevada Constitution does not specify a particular level of support for education.

As a result, the decision may give future courts the license to suspend any and all state level fiscal limits if a majority of justices think that even one constitutionally mandated function of government is underfunded. This clearly undermines the constitutionally mandated separation of powers. It effectively gives the judiciary the power to make appropriations decisions that were previously the responsibility of the legislature.

(...)

There might be attempts to impeach judges who demonstrate such callous disregard for the clear language of their state's constitution. However, removing a Supreme Court judge from office in Nevada requires a two-thirds supermajority of both chambers of the state legislature. Unfortunately, this is one supermajority requirement the Nevada Supreme Court would probably uphold.

August 07, 2003

Schwarzenegger to Run in California Recall Race

In a somewhat surprising move, Arnold Schwarzenegger annouced he will run for Governor in California:

The Austrian-born actor announced his plan Wednesday during a taping of "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno."

"The politicians are fiddling, fumbling and failing ... The man that is failing the people more than anyone is Gray Davis. He is failing them terribly, and this is why he needs to be recalled and this is why I am going to run for governor," he said.

(...)

Fox News has learned that the actor had even composed a press release as late as Tuesday announcing he would not run. Schwarzenegger said he made the decision over the last few days and kept it a secret from everyone - even his own advisers said they didn't expect it. Speculation was so intense that his advisers had to twice squash media reports that the actor was not running.

During the "Tonight Show" taping, Schwarzenegger called his decision the toughest he's made since deciding to get a bikini wax in 1978. In a press conference that followed, he said he and his family deliberated over the decision for weeks, and that Shriver ultimately told him "she would support me no matter what my decision is."

Schwarzenegger also blamed California's fiscal woes directly on Davis, saying, "I will go to Sacramento and clean house."

Later, at the conclusion of the press conference, the action hero looked back on reporters and said, "I'll be back."

While Schwarzenegger has considerable star power, a challenge from a viable Democrat adds pressure on him to prove that his limited political experience won't hurt the state.

The actor, who headed President George H.W. Bush's President's Council on Physical Fitness, added that he knows Davis is a fierce campaigner who will try to use Hollywood rumors to damage Schwarzenegger's reputation.
Democracy in Iraq? It's a Fairy Tale

Edward N. Luttwak argues that implementing democracy in Iraq is a dangerous and costly goal:

It would be an astonishing achievement of cultural transformation if a functioning Iraqi democracy could be established in a mere 30 years, or even 60. The Bush administration cannot, of course, contemplate decades of colonial government. It is therefore pushing for rapid progress toward the formation of an elected government after a constitution, duly publicized across the country and approved by national referendum, is written by the Iraqi governing council. Although the new government is to have a very small army, along with police forces respectful of civil rights, it better be heavily armed all the same, for so are millions of Iraqis fiercely opposed to majority rule.

But even that perilously accelerated timetable is much too slow for many Iraqis and for U.S. forces. It is not that the troops are frightened by the sporadic attacks against them - total casualties remain too small for that - but that most are disgusted by the futility of their duties.

They are repairing schools in the furnace heat of the Mesopotamian summer while able-bodied Iraqis nearby are idly watching, if not jeering. They are clearing playgrounds for children who have been taught to throw stones at them. They are guarding hospitals from looters while being cursed even by the visitors of the patients they are protecting.

The officers who now govern towns, city quarters and entire districts are constantly besieged by local leaders and imams demanding more of everything, from electricity to well-paid jobs, but who resist any suggestion that they themselves could act, for example, by leading their followers in badly needed cleanups of garbage-strewn streets. They prefer to keep them listening to their speeches and sermons for hours.

It is therefore not just the successive delays in rotating forces home that are ruining morale but the mission impossible of turning Iraqis into democrats in short order.

Now that hopes of recruiting large numbers of peacekeepers from other countries have faded, the time has come to prepare the next-best exit strategy.

August 05, 2003

The Keynesian Myth of Consumer Confidence

Gary North on consumer confidence:

What this country needs is a huge reduction in consumer confidence. This might lead to repairmen who show up on time, trade unions that consent to lower wages, colleges that reduce their tuition, government clerks who work faster, and professional basketball stars who play for a mere three million dollars a year.

I'm dreaming, of course. A drastic fall in consumer confidence would lead to more money being issued by the Federal Reserve System, more cries for make-work government boondoggles, higher government deficits "to get America moving again," longer periods for state unemployment insurance benefits, and Hillary Clinton.

Consumer confidence is meaningful only with respect to whatever it is that the consumer has confidence in. If he has confidence in the State as the supplier of safety nets, then falling consumer confidence in the economy implies rising consumer confidence in the State. This has been the situation all over the West since 1932. Only in places like China and Singapore and Taiwan has consumer confidence begun to mean confidence in personal responsibility and increased entrepreneurship. This is why Asia is now replacing the West in its ability to produce.

August 03, 2003

Reimportation of drugs

An excellent post by Jonathan Wilde on the issue of reimportation of drugs:

It is likely that the patent privilege is necessary in order to overcome the burden imposed by the FDA. In other words, the US government creates its own problem and requires itself as a solution. One monopoly, the FDA, gives rise to another monopoly, the patent privilege.

In a truely free market of regulation and production, would reimportation be as big an issue? Nobody is asking that question. The initial fixed costs that in part give rise to the immense pressure for the drug companies to generate revuenes prior to generics entering the market would likely be much lower.


Interventionism creates problems, therefore leading to more interventionism in a process that feeds itself...

Controlling the Court

Joseph Sobran thinks the Supreme Court should be impeached:

Public servants, of all people, should never enjoy job security in a republic. Both elections and impeachments are supposed to be guarantees against the virtual ownership of power. Impeachment should therefore never be regarded as a drastic emergency measure; it should be as normal as any power to hire and fire.

Unfortunately, it is so rarely invoked that it has come to seem an extraordinary last resort. It has seldom been used against presidents, and never against justices of the Supreme Court. Is this because it is seldom or never warranted? Hardly. As a result, we have been defenseless against the judiciary, which doesn’t even have to worry about elections. It has enjoyed virtually perfect job security, and it has behaved accordingly. The neglect of the impeachment power has only strengthened the courts’ natural temptation to use their power irresponsibly.

So once again we have been shocked, but not surprised, by the Court’s bold affront to the rule of law. To read Kennedy’s opinion in the sodomy case is to hear the confident voice of sheer power, assured that it will face no consequences for whatever it may choose to say, knowing that even its whims have weight. But precisely because the High Court doesn’t have to face elections, it should have to think about impeachment.

At this point it’s unlikely that an attempt to impeach justices of the Court could succeed. But unless the subject is at least raised, it will be even harder to impeach in the future. And even a reminder of the possibility might deter the justices from taking their constitutional duties as lightly as they are in the habit of doing.

August 01, 2003

Islamic Libertarianism?

Tim Cavanaugh interviews Imad A. Ahmad, the president and director of Minaret of Freedom, an institute that tries to promote free market ideas within the context of Islam:

What's the mission of the Minaret of Freedom Institute?

We have a fourfold mission: to counter the common distortions about Islam; to show the origin of certain modern values that came out of Islamic civilization; to educate both Muslims and non-Muslims about the value of freedom and free markets; and to try to advance the status of Muslims, whether they live in the oppressive east or the hostile west.

How difficult is it selling a Muslim audience on libertarian and free-market ideas?

It depends on the particular idea. Most free market ideas are easy to persuade Muslim audiences on. They're very much promoted by Islamic teachings and history. An example: The value of trade and traders is easy because the Prophet Muhammed was himself a merchant. On the other hand there is one free market idea that is very hard and almost impossible to sell to Muslims. That's the permissibility of charging interest on a loan.

On other libertarian ideas beyond market ideas, it depends really on what the issue is and to whom you're speaking. For example, most Muslim immigrants to the United States are social conservatives. Most African American converts have had family members who have had such bad experiences with drugs that that's very difficult to talk about.

On the other hand, when you talk about civil liberties, it's not as hard as you might think given the bad civil liberties records of most of the Muslim world. On the contrary, one can point to the practices in those Muslim countries and contrast them with certain Islamic teachings in order to make the point.
House Lawmakers Limit Scope of Patriot Act Powers

Report from Fox News:

The strongest attack yet on the Patriot Act is coming from the American Civil Liberties Union, but 309 House members have now joined the ACLU in opposing part of the terror-fighting powers granted to law enforcement by Congress shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.