January 28, 2004

Clint Eastwood interview in USA Weekend
(via Tom Palmer)


Do filmmakers have a responsibility when it comes to violence? Doesn't endless, gratuitous blood and guts contribute to actual violence?
I grew up watching Bogart and Cagney. Did their violence make me want to shoot somebody? No. To the healthy mind, it doesn't do anything. Those Columbine guys? They were sickos to begin with. You could make a case, anyway, that children get introduced to violence when they read the Old Testament. There's some heavy mayhem in there! [Laughs.] You get all the dismemberment and everything else. Then you go and see the tragic plays, with Shakespeare and the depiction of violence and incest and all kinds of things.

(...)

So, socially, you're live-and-let-live. How about politically?
I suppose. I don't see myself as conservative, but I'm not ultra-leftist. You build a philosophy of your own. I like the libertarian view, which is to leave everyone alone. Even as a kid, I was annoyed by people who wanted to tell everyone how to live.
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How the Hulk exploded in Iowa

Mark Steyn on Howard Deans's performance in Iowa:

A little over a month ago, in the Wall Street Journal, I wrote that Governor Howard Dean looked ‘like Bruce Banner just before he turns into the Incredible Hulk, as if his head’s about to explode out of his shirt collar’. On Monday night, Dean, a front-runner in the polls only a week ago, placed a very poor third in the Iowa caucuses - the first time, since he began his political career running for the state legislature in 1982, that the Vermonter has lost an election. He didn’t take it well. He came out on stage, took his jacket off and handed it to Tom Harkin, the wily Democratic senator who fancies himself as Iowa’s kingmaker and had made the mistake of jumping on the Dean bandwagon just as the wheels began to fall off. Howlin’ Howard rolled up his sleeves, and you vaguely noticed from the popping veins on his forehead and so forth that he seemed a little further along in the old Hulk transformation than usual. As the Hulk says, ‘You don’t want to make me angry’ - and Dean had plenty of reason to be angry. He started loud and got louder, and after a minute his face was twisted and contorted and he was yelling at the top of his lungs:

‘WE WILL NOT GIVE UP IN NEW HAMPSHIRE! WE WILL NOT GIVE UP IN SOUTH DAKOTA!! WE WILL NOT GIVE UP IN ARIZONA!!! WE WILL NOT GIVE UP IN...’ South Dakota, Oklahoma, Connecticut, Michigan.... You name it, he’s not giving up there. He pretty much listed all 49 remaining states, and may well have gone on to Puerto Rico and Guam. My TV was beginning to smoke by then. ‘WE WILL NOT QUIT NOW OR EVER!!!!’ he screamed.
The Case for Dictatorship

David Gordon reviews The Modern Prince: What Leaders Need to Know Now, by Carnes Lord:

Lord wastes no time in letting us know where he stands. Machiavelli must be our guide. In particular, we must learn from him that the supreme form of political leadership consists of founding "new orders." The founding prince molds his society according to his ideas: "Listen to Machiavelli: ‘It should be considered that nothing is more difficult to handle, more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to manage, than to put oneself at the head of introducing new orders. For the introducer has all those who benefit from the old order as enemies, and he has lukewarm defenders in all who might benefit from the new orders’" (p. 8, quoting Machiavelli).

The leader must innovate; but what sort of innovation earns Lord’s praise in the American context? It transpires that Lord’s Machiavellian new orders do not amount to very much: he has merely dressed up in fancy language Alexander Hamilton’s familiar program of a strong executive who follows a mercantilist economic policy.

Here Lord stands on familiar Straussian ground. Straussians revere the Federalist; and whenever you find someone yammering about the wisdom of "Publius," it is a good bet that you have found one of Strauss’s acolytes.

(...)

When Lord discusses how the leader is to use force in foreign affairs, the restraints of justice never cross his mind. Instead, the leader, in correct Machiavellian fashion, must follow an energetic, impetuous course of conduct. He must avoid a danger: he must not pay too much attention to advice from the military. Not, of course, because the generals are apt too readily to counsel military intervention; quite the contrary, they tend to be altogether too cautious.

I have promised to save the best for last; and, with Lord’s help, the promise is easily fulfilled. Many people, according to our cheerleader for "energy," entertain an erroneous assumption. They have the strange idea that, faced with a crisis, one should endeavor to reduce tensions and settle the issues in dispute peacefully. What nonsense! "Particularly troublesome is the idea that visible preparations for war should be avoided in a crisis for fear such actions will lead to unwanted escalation. . . . There is a tendency today in some quarters to understand crisis management as a form of ‘conflict resolution’ in which third parties set out to prevent or end violent conflict between other states. . . . Some conflicts are stubbornly resistant to mediation by outsiders, and there may well be cases . . . where military action is the only realistic option for advancing the prospects for a political settlement and eventual lasting peace" (p. 204).

We must not let the nasty mediators get in the way of Impetuous Leader, as he blasts and bombs to insure eventual peace. And it gets even better. A crisis atmosphere is in many cases desirable. Otherwise, the leader cannot get what he wants: "In a larger perspective, one should bear in mind that crises can have their positive side. They present opportunities not always available to policy makers to mobilize the country behind certain policies and to overcome bureaucratic obstacles to firm action. . . . [Crises] may also open avenues for skilled leaders to strengthen alliances, bolster the legitimacy of their regimes, and enhance their international prestige" (pp. 204-05). Carnes Lord, whatever his virtues, has not given much help to those who endeavor to acquit Straussians of bellicose tendencies.

January 27, 2004

The trial-lawyer populist

Rich Lowry on John Edwards:

The wunderkind former trial lawyer with the gorgeously hair-sprayed bangs and soft, winning Southern accent combines the synthetic sincerity of Bill Clinton and the condescension of Al Gore. He is the most insulting of all the Democratic presidential candidates, both as a matter of presentation and of substance.

He believes that voters are too thick to realize the affectation behind his lavishly open and caring stump style. "Now, I'm just asking," he tells his listeners here. "Does it make any sense to you -- I'm just asking now, I don't know what you think about this -- does it make any sense to you for us to be spending Social Security money on tax cuts?" Of course, he wouldn't be asking if he didn't know exactly the answer that his stilted question -- one of his favorite stump tactics -- will elicit.

Howard Dean believes that voters are angry enough to revolt. John Kerry believes that voters are sophisticated enough to pick the most-experienced candidate. Edwards believes voters are helpless victims, beset by "special interests" that have stolen their democracy and evil corporations that are making their lives miserable through high drug prices and insurance premiums.

This is a populism with a distinct trial-lawyer cast. Anything that companies do to make a profit is basically a crime, and Edwards is going to go after them, just as he did as a trial lawyer in the medical malpractice cases that made his $12 million to $60 million fortune. Edwards makes no notable call for self-reliance or individual responsibility, since in his worldview people basically aren't up to it.

January 26, 2004

What Wasn't Said

James Pinkerton analyses president Bush's state of the union address:

Of all the speeches a president delivers, his state of the union address is the speech that is subject to the most behind-the-scenes wrangling. Because nothing gets in to that oration by accident, one can learn a lot about a president's priorities by what's said -- and not said.

Inaugural addresses might be more important, but those speeches tend to be relatively personal -- not so many cooks in the broth. By contrast, every word of the 20 or 30 drafts of an "SOU" is "staffed" across the whole of the executive branch. Every federal powercrat knows that a mention, on national television, of his or her project translates into a whole fiscal year's worth of power, prestige, and pork.

Having worked on four SOU's for President George H.W. Bush, I can well remember the thrill of victory -- and the agony of defeat -- that comes when a precious sentence is included or excluded. And nothing has changed in the last dozen years.

So when President George W. Bush mentioned "taxes" 21 times on Tuesday night, the White House thinks that taxation is not only an important issue, but also a good issue. So, too, with "Iraq," which came up 24 times in the SOU. What else is important to the Bushmen? Well, W. mentioned "jobs" 13 times and "health" -- as in "health care" -- 15 times, underscoring the importance of those twin issues in the '04 scheme of things.

What's another issue to look for in '04? Bush mentioned the word "marriage" on nine different occasions; on seven of those occasions, he was speaking about gay marriage, which he opposes. Is that cheerful news for, say, Pat Robertson? Probably, but on the other hand, the same word-count analysis shows neglect of other "hot button" social issues; Bush didn't mention "abortion" once, nor "life," as in right-to-life.

Indeed, let's take a further look at what was not mentioned -- at the dogs that didn't bark.

For example, although "Saddam" came up five times, and "Al Qaeda" came up three times, "Osama bin Laden" didn't come up once. No point in reminding the voters that he still remains . . . somewhere more than two years after 9-11.

January 14, 2004

We have never been closer to state control of the press

Article by Stephen Glover on how Ofcom may be a threat to freedom in the U.K.:

Ofcom’s draft document shows that it will take a minute interest in the content of newspapers. Where two groups propose to merge, the regulator will require detailed information about ‘column inches dedicated to advertising, regional/local stories, sport, human interest stories, features, etc.’. It will want to know about ‘the current level of contact’ between a proprietor and his editor and other senior members of staff, and ‘the likely level of involvement of proprietors in editorial decisions’. The regulator will also expect to be told whether a buyer of a newspaper intends to retain ‘the existing editor and reporting staff’, and it will want to know ‘what arrangements are envisaged for ensuring accurate presentation of news’.

January 13, 2004

Consumer Freedom
(via Ibergus)

From The Center for Consumer Freedom:

January 12, 2004

A Reply to Schumer and Roberts

Excellent article by George Reisman on the benefits of free trade:

To understand what is present, all one need do is to generalize the situation. Imagine that in case after case Americans are confronted with lower-cost competitors, which causes a decline in their money incomes. But the decline in their money incomes is always less than the reduction in costs achieved by the competitors. Now all one need do is realize that the cost reductions achieved by the competitors show up as price reductions in the things Americans buy. And those price reductions, founded on cost reductions greater than the decline in American incomes, will also be greater than the decline in American incomes. In other words, American real incomes, as opposed to their nominal incomes, rise. Ricardo's principles both of comparative advantage and the distinction between value and riches are at work.

Of course, if one looks only at the situation of an isolated group, such as software engineers or radiologists, the decline in income is far more pronounced than any decline in the prices the members of these groups must pay. But by the same token, in every such isolated case the immense majority of Americans gets the benefit of some reduction in costs and prices with no reduction in income—for example, all the patients who earn their livings other than as software engineers or radiologists and who can now get their MRIs less expensively.

(...)

The economic development of China, India, and all other areas of the present-day third world, their full integration into a system of global division of labor and their attainment of "first-world" status, is earnestly to be desired not only by the populations of those countries, whose standards of living would obviously be enormously increased, but no less by the populations of today's first-world countries, whose standards of living would also be very greatly increased. What would be achieved, along with the benefits of comparative advantage, is the maximum possible economies of scale in every branch of production, given the world's population. Above all, every branch of science, technology, invention, and business innovation would be pursued by a far larger number of highly intelligent and motivated individuals than is now the case. The result must be far more rapid economic progress across the entire globe, raising the living standards of all far above the living standards of today's most advanced countries.

The fear of other people's intelligence and ability applied to the production of goods we consume is not only profoundly wrong but also extremely dangerous. If we follow the line of Schumer and Roberts, and their avowed mentor, Keynes, and instead of allowing ourselves to benefit from the competition of the rest of the world, seek to impede others' progress, we should not be surprised if we end up finding much of that intelligence and ability turned against us, in producing the weapons of future wars rather than the better and more economical consumers' goods it can and wants to produce and which we want to consume.

Let Schumer, Roberts, and all other advocates of state intervention restrain their desire to unleash the Polizei and the troops to stop people from doing what benefits them. They need to read more of Ricardo, and Mises and Bastiat, before urging such policies.

January 11, 2004

The last refuge of the defeated

Mark Steyn on the Democratic party's primaries:

The trouble is the unDean is different everywhere you look. In the Granite State, Laura and co. reckon the unDean is Kerry. In Iowa, it’s Dick Gephardt, the soporific 1970s union throwback. In Arizona, it’s General Wesley Clark, the pantomime stalking-horse entered by the Clintons. In South Carolina, it seems to be the Revd Al Sharpton, the distinguished race-baiter. And all these states are voting in the next month, which means, no matter how well he does, each unDean could be undone by some other unDean a couple of days later.

(...)

But what both Clark and Kerry are trying to do is tap into the most successful aspect of Dean’s campaign: its tonal quality. Either because he’s a doctor or the son of Park Avenue toffs, Dean was always arrogant as governor of Vermont. But he was never quite so steamed as he is these days. Whether consciously or not, he seemed to figure out that the shrewdest way to tap into the Democrats’ anti-Bush anger was by using anti-war anger as a cover. Let me expand on that: whether or not most Dems are genuinely anti-war is neither here nor there. What matters is that they’re genuinely anti-Bush, and an anti-war position is the least insane garb to dress it up in. It would be hard to do all that ‘Bush is Hitler!!!!’ stuff over his ‘No Child Left Behind’ Education Act or his prescription-drug plan for seniors: the Dems would come over as even loopier than they already do. Thus, an anti-war anger is necessary to license their anti-Bush anger. Dean understood that.

January 08, 2004

The criminal raid on Social Security

Michelle Malkin on the illegal immigration amnesty plan:

According to Rep. Clay Shaw, R-Fla., chairman of the House Ways and Means subcommittee on Social Security, benefits paid to retirees will exceed revenues in just 15 years. The pay-as-you-go system could go belly up as early as 2030. These projections don't take into account the economic impact of the Bush proposal, which would allow untold millions of illegal aliens from Mexico to collect full cash benefits for themselves and their families from their home country -- without having to work the required number of years that law-abiding American citizens must work to be eligible for payouts.

(...)

Unbelievably, the White House is trying to convince us to embrace this global ripoff because it "rewards work." No, it rewards criminal behavior. The plan will siphon off the hard-earned tax dollars of American workers who may never see a dime of their confiscated earnings and fork it over to foreigners guilty of at least four acts of federal law-breaking: crossing the border illegally, working illegally, engaging in tax fraud and using bogus documents.

Giving money to scam artists will simply result in more fraud -- not only by Mexican agricultural workers, but also by Middle Easterners such as Youssef Hmimssa, who provided fake Social Security numbers and fraudulent drivers' licenses to members of an accused terrorist cell in Detroit. "If you have the right connection, you can get anything," he testified before the Senate last fall.

The door is now open for all illegal aliens to collect retirement benefits using bogus Social Security cards. What's next: survivors' benefits for the families of the 19 Sept. 11 hijackers?

January 07, 2004

Lysander Spooner: Libertarian Pietist

Rothbard introduction to "Vices are Not Crimes: A Vindication of Moral Liberty":

We are all indebted to Carl Watner for uncovering an unknown work by the great Lysander Spooner, one that managed to escape the editor of Spooner's Collected Works. Both the title and the substance of "Vices are not Crimes" highlight the unique role that morality and moral principle had for Spooner among the anarchists and libertarians of his day. For Spooner was the last of the great natural rights theorists among anarchists, classical liberals, or moral theorists generally; the doughty old heir of the natural law-natural rights tradition of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was fighting a rear-guard battle against the collapse of the idea of a scientific or rational morality, or of the science of justice or of individual right. Not only had natural law and natural rights given way throughout society to the arbitrary rule of utilitarian calculation or nihilistic whim; but the same degenerative process had occurred among libertarians and anarchists as well. Spooner knew that the foundation for individual rights and liberty was tinsel if all values and ethics were arbitrary and subjective. Yet, even in his own anarchist movement Spooner was the last of the Old Guard believers in natural rights; his successors in the individualist-anarchist movement, led by Benjamin R. Tucker, all proclaimed arbitrary whim and might-makes-right as the foundation of libertarian moral theory. And yet, Spooner knew that this was no foundation at all; for the State is far mightier than any individual, and if the individual cannot use a theory of justice as his armor against State oppression, then he has no solid base from which to roll back and defeat it.

(...)

Spooner's anarchism was, like his abolitionism, another valuable part of his pietist legacy. For, here again, his pietistic concern for universal principles - in this case, as in the case of slavery, for the complete triumph of justice and the elimination of injustice - brought him to a consistent and courageous application of libertarian principles where it was not socially convenient (to put it mildly) to have the question raised. While the liturgicals proved to be far more libertarian that the pietists during the second half of the nineteenth century, a pietistic spirit is always important in libertarianism to emphasize a tireless determination to eradicate crime and injustice. Surely it is no accident that Spooner's greatest and most fervent anarchistic tracts were directed in dialogue against the Democrats Cleveland and Bayard; he did not bother with the openly statist Republicans. A pietistic leaven in the quasi-libertarian liturgical lump?

But it takes firmness in libertarian principle to make sure to confine one's pietistic moral crusade to crime (e.g. slavery, statism), and not have it spill over to what anyone might designate as "vice." Fortunately, we have the immortal Lysander Spooner, in his life and in his works, to guide us along the correct path.

January 05, 2004

Paul Krugman's Credibility Recession
(Thanks to JPS for pointing out this article to me)

In short, Krugman’s claim that an unusually large number of people have given up looking for work, and the current unemployment figures are therefore "funny," is false, and would be known to be false by any competent economist.

What about Krugman’s second claim, that "many of those who say they have jobs seem to be only marginally employed?" This claim is less transparently a lie, simply because the term "marginally employed" has no technical definition. (I think Luskin goes astray here; he tries to check the accuracy of Krugman’s claim by referring to the BLS data on "Marginally attached workers," which is a defined term. But "marginally attached workers" are, by BLS definition, not working, and Krugman is clearly talking about people who have jobs, but "seem" to him to be working "marginally.")

(...)

Once again, there is simply no truth to Krugman’s claim. As measured by the number of people who would like to be working full-time, but in fact are working part-time, "marginal" employment is at an average level.

Paul Krugman is a sad case: a once-respected economist who has become a shrill, hyper-partisan pundit. He cares nothing about truth, and everything about promoting the interests of the Democratic Party. He uses his columns not to inform his readers, but to mislead them. It is hard to think of a worse indictment of a columnist.

January 04, 2004

Top 10 Lowlights of The New York Times in 2003

My "favorites" from the list:

2) The Jayson Blair Affair

"Times Reporter Who Resigned Leaves Long Trail of Deception" blared the front page of the May 11 New York Times, introducing a 14,000-word mea maxima culpa of the paper’s chain of failures in the well-known case of fabricator Jayson Blair. Unearthed remarks by then-Executive Editor Howell Raines didn't exactly inspire confidence in his leadership: "This campaign has made our staff better and, more importantly, more diverse," Raines told the National Association of Black Journalists in 2001 about the hiring of the young black reporter Blair.

(...)

4) Maureen Dowd's Dishonest Deletion

Columnist Maureen Dowd purposely mangled a quote from President Bush to make him look naive about the dangers posed by Al Qaeda. In her May 14 "Osama’s Offspring," Dowd writes: "Busy chasing off Saddam, the president and vice president had told us that Al Qaeda was spent. ‘Al Qaeda is on the run,’ President Bush said last week. ‘That group of terrorists who attacked our country is slowly but surely being decimated...They're not a problem anymore.’"

Dowd used ellipse...to hide the truth. Here's what Bush actually said in Arkansas May 5: "Al Qaeda is on the run. That group of terrorists who attacked our country is slowly, but surely being decimated. Right now, about half of all the top Al Qaeda operatives are either jailed or dead. In either case, they're not a problem anymore. And we'll stay on the hunt. To make sure America is a secure country, the Al Qaeda terrorists have got to understand it doesn't matter how long it's going to take, they will be brought to justice."

Notice the third sentence of Bush’s speech: It’s clear Bush was only talking about the top Al Qaeda operatives that "are either jailed or dead" as being "not a problem anymore"--not the group itself. Dowd dishonestly deleted that sentence and the first three words of the next in order to make Bush "say" Al Qaeda was no longer a threat.

January 03, 2004

Death by Taxes
(via ibergus)

Israel's economy suffers from an excessive level of government spending and a heavy tax burden:

Last year, government spending in Israel constituted 55 percent of the country's economic activity. This puts Israel three percentage points ahead of Sweden for the dubious distinction of having the largest public sector in the industrial world. And tempting as it is to blame excessive spending on the threats Israel faces, defense expenditures account for only one-fifth of its annual budget of $56 billion. The real problem lies with social benefits, transfer payments, and the bloated government payroll, which together comprise more than half the budget. In other words, even if it were possible to lower Israel's defense spending to the level of a typical European country (3 percent of GDP, instead of 10 percent), the Jewish state would still rank with Sweden, Denmark, and France as a world leader in budgetary profligacy.

(...)

The devastation caused by Israel's tax burden plays itself out in a long string of disincentives that quash economic activity at every turn. High taxes on labor undermine the individual's incentive to work harder, while discouraging employers - who typically must give the government one dollar for every dollar they add to the net income of an employee - from promoting workers or hiring new ones. These same taxes also stifle capital development, since they leave Israelis with little disposable income to save or invest. And, by raising the expenses of companies both for labor and for the procurement of goods and services, high taxes are a formidable obstacle to Israel's competitiveness internationally.

All this is bad enough, but it may not be the worst of it. High taxes dramatically increase the incentive to cheat, as anyone who has ridden in Israeli taxis quickly discovers. The reason the meter is typically "broken" is that cab drivers prefer not to run it, as it produces an official record that will be used for calculating income tax and VAT payments. In the same way, Israeli teachers often supplement their income by teaching private lessons after school hours, for which parents pay with personal checks on which the payee line is left blank. Virtually the entire industry of home additions and repairs likewise operates on a cash basis, which entails the creation of "unofficial" receipts given to the customer, but not to tax authorities. The prevalence of illegal economic activity, driven in large part by exorbitant tax rates, turns hundreds of thousands of otherwise law-abiding citizens - most of whom unhesitatingly leave their families to serve their country in army reserve duty - into tax cheats, accustomed to duplicity in their economic transactions.

January 02, 2004

Libertarian Heroes of 2003

Radley Balko names a few politicians who, to a greater or lesser degree, stood up for the principles of limited government in 2003. Inevitably, the most consistent in the list is Texas Rep. Ron Paul:

Rep. Paul not only makes this list, he is this list. He’s the most consistent defender of freedom elected to federal office in about 200 years. For Rep. Paul, such devotion to principle is easy. When a bill comes up for a vote, he merely asks himself whether or not the U.S. Constitution authorizes Congress to do what the bill asks. If the answer is "no" -- and it almost always is -- he votes no. He is reliably the "1" when the House passes a bill 434-1. The Washington Post once dubbed him "Congressman ‘No.’"

Sad -- isn’t it? -- that the simple act of upholding the Constitution occurs so rarely in Washington that when it does, it merits a nickname for the politician who does it?