Thursday, February 23, 2006

More on Dubai Ports World

KipEsquire doesn’t think that the Dubai Ports World deal is such a good idea.  His opposition appears to be on two grounds.  First, a company owned by the UAE is inherently risky and second the UAE doesn’t have a good human rights record.

On security grounds it is certainly understandable that the public should be concerned and the Bush administration has failed miserably in recognizing that there would be an outcry – they should have come to the table with facts and arguments to defend their position.  However I think that some of the facts that Kip presents are a bit less than meaningful.

Kip rightly points out that inside information of the ports and port operations would be a boon to a terrorist plot and that only 20% of people living in the UAE are citizens.  I don’t see how this is relevant since the ports are located in the US and will be operated by Americans or people that are legally permitted to work in the US.   All any terrorist group would have to do in order to achieve this insider information would be to get a mole employed at any of the companies operating a pier at a major port – “friendly government” cooperation isn’t even necessary.

He then tosses out a couple facts about 9/11:

two of the 9/11 hijackers were from the UAE.


the UAE was the clearinghouse for laundering funds used to finance 9/11.

Does this paint all citizens and businesses located in the UAE as terrorists fronts?  Unless there is a tie between these individuals and business and the government I fail to see the importance.  Richard Reid (the shoe-bomber) is a British citizen and Zacharias Mousawi is a French citizen.  Should we be similarly wary of business deals with our European allies?

The argument is then transitioned into human rights concerns with two non-sequitors

--There is no clear border between the UAE and Saudi Arabia -- only a treaty that both countries refuse to make public.--There are no elections of any kind in the UAE.

When deciding whether or not the port deal should go through I can’t think of any reason these items should come into the decision making process.

On the human rights front one needs to consider if marginalizing a country with a poor human rights records is a net positive or a net negative for the citizens of the country and the long term interests of the US.

I am of the opinion that when you marginalize a country you get one of two outcomes more often than not.  First, the economic sanctions will not have a significant impact on the ruling party – they are essentially stealing wealth from their citizens anyway so if the net wealth of the country declines then the percentage of theft simply increases.  And if the wealth and comfort or the ruling class stays static then they have no incentive to change their behavior but the livelihood of their citizen declines.  So in essence we have harmed the people that we are ostensibly trying to help.

The second outcome is that we are successful in destabilizing the ruling class but the likelihood that a pro-Western ideal emerges is essentially zero resulting in a result that is probably not in our long-term interests.

So Kip is right in pointing out the weakness in human rights in UAE, but I’m not sure that punishing them economically is the right course of action.  I would also like to point out that if all Middle East countries raised their standards to those of the UAE it would be a vast improvement; so holding them up as an example for their neighbors is not necessarily a bad thing.

Reasonable people can disagree whether or not the lease of several piers at US ports is in the national security interests or not but I think it is a mistake to overlook the incentives that such a deal would create.  I don’t believe that having an Arab country with a financial stake in US security is a terrible thing to encourage.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Anti-Arab Rhetoric

InstaPundit has a pretty good thread of responses to the uproar over a deal that would give a UAE company control over some US ports.  Most of the points I would make are covered but I think Congressmen (and women) should ease the rhetoric more than a little bit.

If I was an Arab watching the interplay it would just confirm my suspicions that America hates Muslims  This particular company operates ports around the world and UAE has been a willing ally to our endeavors in the Middle East so there is no plausible reason to deny them the lease beyond their ethnicity and religion.

Our politicians should be ashamed of themselves for kowtowing to such a blatantly racist point of view.

Price At the Pump

Eric, over at GrimReader has a fantastic narrative on how market pressures such as supply and demand can influence gasoline prices. I’ll quote a small excerpt here, but read the whole thing.

One morning, the station operator gets a call from his supplier, telling him that they lost power to the refinery and won't be able to make his delivery this week. That's a problem, because at the rate he is selling, the tank will be empty by the Tuesday and most of his business comes on Friday and Saturday.

He has a couple of options: shorten his hours, shut a few pumps down, or raise prices. You can see three other stations from his property, so shortening the hours and shutting pumps down to create an artificial shortage is only going to lose market share and do nothing to address his fixed costs, so he thinks about raising prices.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Blogger Book Exchange

Introducing the Great Blogger Book Exchange!

Inspired partly by December’s Great Blogger Christmas Card Exchange - though mostly by lamenting that no one clicks through my ads, so I don’t have any disposable income to purchase any of the books on my Wish List – I thought it might be a novel [pun intended] idea to great a sort of interweb book swap going.  Lord knows that I have books lying around that could find good homes and I assume others may be in the same boat.

My basic concept is that I would:
  1. Maintain a list of all the bloggers that wished to participate

  2. Link to each bloggers list of books available – books wanted

  3. Each participating blogger would maintain said list including an optional review/rating for the books

  4. Someone wishing to initiate a swap (though reciprocal sharing wouldn’t necessarily be required) would contact the current “owner” of the book and they would arrange transportation for the book.

  5. The “owner” would ship the book to the “buyer” with a list of previous “owners” including their blog site and city of origin.  

The “buyer” would thus become the “owner” of the book and the cycle would continue.  If this idea sounds intriguing to anyone, drop a comment letting me know you are interested and I will start the process.  And if you think it is colossally dumb – let me know that too so that I know someone is out there and reading!

A Connecticut Senator in King Arthur's Court

I have found myself reading Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, mostly because it was a free to download it to my SmartPhone which gives me something to read while on the treadmill – though I have hardly regretted my choice.

Anyway, it strikes me how similar Twain’s characterizations of royalty are to our modern politicians.

And the people! They were the quaintest and simplest and trustingest race; why, they were nothing but rabbits. It was pitiful for a person born in a wholesome free atmosphere to listen to their humble and hearty outpourings of loyalty toward their king and Church and nobility; as if they had any more occasion to love and honor king and Church and noble than a slave has to love and honor the lash, or a dog has to love and honor the stranger that kicks him! Why, dear me, ANY kind of royalty, howsoever modified, ANY kind of aristocracy, howsoever pruned, is rightly an insult; but if you are born and brought up under that sort of arrangement you probably never find it out for yourself, and don't believe it when somebody else tells you. It is enough to make a body ashamed of his race to think of the sort of froth that has always occupied its thrones without shadow of right or reason, and the seventh-rate people that have always figured as its aristocracies -- a company of monarchs and nobles who, as a rule, would have achieved only poverty and obscurity if left, like their betters, to their own exertions.

It is almost as if Twain is peering through the mists of time into the Halls of Congress where hack politician after self-important bureaucrat passing judgment on the masses; imposing upon themselves the difficult decisions of health and wealth that we – the unwashed masses – are incapable of making for ourselves.

And for this we thank them and gleefully pay our due, our hard earned wealth and ask for more regulation, more intrusions upon our liberties that were hard won by our forefathers.

They were freemen, but they could not leave the estates of their lord or their bishop without his permission; they could not prepare their own bread, but must have their corn ground and their bread baked at his mill and his bakery, and pay roundly for the same; they could not sell a piece of their own property without paying him a handsome percentage of the proceeds, nor buy a piece of somebody else's without remembering him in cash for the privilege;

These men (and women) glory in spending our money to fund their own pet projects or those of their cronies. They ponder what simple pleasure is destroying our lives so that they can take it away while we nod and thank them for the trespass – long forgotten is their oath to serve and defend the Constitution.

Take a jackass, for instance: a jackass has that kind of strength, and puts it to a useful purpose, and is valuable to this world because he is a jackass; but a nobleman politician is not valuable because he is a jackass. It is a mixture that is always ineffectual, and should never have been attempted in the first place. And yet, once you start a mistake, the trouble is done and you never know what is going to come of it.

Well said Mr. Twain.

Illinois Power Crisis

I had blogged early about Illinois’ collision course with an electicity crisis. Fear of change has caused the legislature to enter deer-in-headlights mode and maintain the status quo.

If passed into law, a proposal calling for an extension on the current electric utility rate freeze would have serious consequences for every resident and business in Illinois, ComEd Chairman and CEO Frank M. Clark said today. "Freezing rates when ComEd's costs to buy power are increasing would be irresponsible public policy and would have a profound impact on our state," said Clark. "Without the ability to recover the increased costs for power, ComEd's financial viability will be immediately threatened, potentially triggering a crisis not seen in this country since the California energy crisis of 2001."

With ComEd's financial condition weakened by an extension of the rate freeze, access to capital would be more expensive and would result in higher overall costs for the company and for consumers. In that event, suppliers in the wholesale electricity market would be reluctant to do business with ComEd since payment from the company would be uncertain. The result would be higher costs for wholesale power that would ultimately be paid for by consumers.

If the proposed legislation is enacted, the situation could also have negative consequences on reliability. With a revenue shortfall in 2007 projected at $3 million per day, ComEd would find it difficult to make the needed investments in the electricity grid that now serves 3.7 million customers across Northern Illinois.

ComEd’s assessment of immediate calamity should come with a grain of salt, they have every incentive to make the picture look worse than it really is. However, ComEd is still charging late 90s pricing for late 2000s power which is a recipe for disaster. Without, at least, a consistent revenue stream infrastructure upgrades and other necessary preventative maintenance will grow increasingly rare as the company struggles.

This means increased electricity outages that will culminate in the brown-outs and rolling black-outs that marred California in 2001. Of course this time evil capitalistic [supposedly] free-markets won’t be the convenient scape-goat.

Who Watches the Watchers?

Chicago residents strongly support the installation of security cameras that monitor streets, sidewalks and other public places, a survey finds.

A Chicago Tribune/WGN-TV poll of 700 Chicago registered voters finds eight out of 10 are in favor of surveillance cameras used as a means of combating crime.

Currently, a few thousand surveillance cameras are used by the city,by the Chicago Transit Authority, Chicago Housing Authority and other local agencies.

However, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley has endorsed a plan that would allow more Chicago businesses to use surveillance cameras in spite of opposition from business groups.

Do you think that the respondents would change their answer if they were asked if they minded people like this watching everything that they do?

A former Indiana police officer linked by the FBI to a string of bank robberies in five states has been indicted in three Illinois holdups

The problem with ubiquitous surveillance isn’t when government and government employees are doing what they are supposed to be doing. The problem is when they abuse their position and power.

Much Ado About Wi-Fi

Chicago wants to create a city-wide wireless Internet signal that would allow residents and visitors to surf the Web from anywhere.

The city this spring will solicit bids from technology companies to build and offer the wireless broadband -- or Wi-Fi -- service.San Francisco, Milwaukee and other cities also are working to build city-wide wireless Internet service.Chicago officials say the project would allow easier Internet access to low-income people and would attract businesses to the city.

City technology guru Chris O'Brien said yesterday that the system would be paid for by whatever private vendor is chosen to build it.

I was all set to blast the city of Chicago for another costly measure that was bound to fail, but this just has me flabbergasted. Chicago wants a vendor to come in, build a network – on their own dime – and offer the server at “low” rates so that the poor can afford it.

Why wouldn’t a company do that of their own volition? Isn’t that basically how markets work? Isn’t this also what is already happening in Chicago? It has one of the densest populations of Wi-Fi of any city in the country. Exactly what incentives are city bureaucrats offering companies to extend the service into underserved neighborhoods?

About the only criticism I have of this press release is the concept that municipal Wi-Fi would somehow attract business. Businesses would never leverage the service so I’m not sure what attraction there would be that someone would choose Chicago over another (presumably non-Wi-Fi) city.

The long and the short is that this is much ado about nothing.

Fungible Commidities

The world is a sad, sad place when a cartoon dog understands economics better than 80% of Americans.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Congress Is Smarter Than You

The New York Times reported this week that Congress has exempted itself from the D.C. smoking ban, which takes effect next month. Although smoking will be prohibited in bars, restaurants, and other indoor workplaces, members of Congress will continue to light up in the Capitol. This special treatment is of a piece with the exemption for cigar bars, the sort of upscale joints that legislators, lobbyists, and other insiders tend to patronize.

Why does Congress feel that they are smart enough to decide for themselves whether or not smoking is harmful while the rest of us are too dumb to make the decision for ourselves? Such blatant disregard for individual preferences is extremely frustrating.

HatTip: Hit & Run

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Mogul Gold Winner Won His Gold With Spam

I was sitting watching the Olympics last night (my wife’s idea) and happened to overhear one of the announcers call Australian Dale Begg-Smith (winner of the mogul event) a millionaire. It struck me a bit odd that an Olympic athlete (with no professional salary or high-end endorsements) could be a millionaire so I googled him to find out how he made his millions.

Turns out he did it by tampering with users PCs.

According to the International Olympic Committee's website, Australia's gold medallist Dale Begg-Smith, runs an internet pop-up advertising company that he describes as the third largest of its type.

Two main companies - called AdsCPM and CPM Media - make money by skimming a small percentage each time an ad scores a hit or is directed to a client's site.

Web searches reveal that AdsCPM Network has been a supplier of pop-under and -up advertising to websites.

Although they are a source of annoyance to web surfers, pop ads are used by many mainstream websites and are perfectly above board.

Numerous computer security companies have warnings about AdsCPM and CPM Media which are held responsible for the search engine directory page and a site called

According to the Spyware Guide website, opens pop ads "every few minutes", hijacks users' home- and search-page settings and can spy on users' web usage.

Another CPM website,, initiates a so-called browser hijacker program that resets the user's home page and often redirect searches to porn sites.

I’m sure that Dale isn’t the only unsavory character at the Olympics, but would have hoped that the media would have at least drawn some attention to this unsavory character.

Blaspheming Blashpemy

I’ve been looking for a good reason to link to my favorite new blog – Security Dilemmas – and this is as good a reason as any.
In the wake of my post on the EU's effort to appease the Mulsims rioting against the Danish cartoons comes this article describing the EU's plans to support a proposal by the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) to get the UN to action against "blasphemy." The OIC is lobbying to get language banning blasphemy or defaming religion included in the tenets of any new UN human rights body.
How exactly does one define blasphemy anyway? I’m quite certain that any attempt to codify such laws would inevitably lead to “censorship envy.” There are some pretty extreme religions out there, even some relatively mainstream religions could potentially cause problems if the margins were drawn wide enough. For instance, would pagans (who presumably worship nature) get to sue anyone that claims global warming doesn’t exist? Or can Hindu’s sue McDonalds for serving Aunt Bettie on a bun?

I guess I’m radically (l)ibertarian enough to despise censorship on the simple grounds that it is censorship – but even those that don’t respect free speech enough to fight against such blatant attacks on civil rights should at least oppose them on practical grounds. You can’t open your mouth to utter a complete sentence without blaspheming some religion – and if you make blasphemy illegal then you are just encouraging small minded people to expand the scope of what is actually blasphemy. Next thing you know DailyKos will register as a religion and Bush himself will be declared blasphemy incarnate and summarily thrown into jail.

Brits Don't Like Encryption

British officials are concerned about encryption in Microsoft's forthcoming Windows Vista release, saying the technology could prevent law enforcement from reading suspects' computer files. They claim certain new features within Vista, while intended to do good, may actually set back terrorism investigations.

He suggested that the British government talk with Microsoft and computer vendors assure that there is some type of "backdoor key" in order to allow law enforcement access.

This is a particularly disturbing development since any type of deliberate backdoor (in addition to any and all unintended exploits) will make encryption all but meaningless.  Individuals that know there is a backdoor will find it – without even necessarily having evil intents.  It will be a puzzle that they want to solve and they will want credit for solving it.

If Microsoft does, indeed, built a backdoor mechanism for the encryption I predict that it will take less than six months before it is widely available on the internet.  The end result is that users will be less secure because they think their data is protected so they will be less attentive to how they handle it.  My hope is that Microsoft resists such calls for precisely this reason.

Kos Shoots Back

I haven’t felt very inspired lately – hence the light blogging, so I thought I’d drop by DailyKos to kick start my creative juices – they are bound to say something stupid that I simply had to respond to.  

Mission Accomplished.

If  there were any lingering doubts about Fox serving as the "Mommy" network for the Bush administration - kissing the group's numerous self-inflicted owies to make them go away - those doubts were laid to rest yesterday with the Brit Hume interview of Dick Cheney.

I honestly can’t imagine why the media has spent hundreds of broadcast hours reporting this non-story.  Yes, Cheney shot someone – by accident, people have all sorts of accidents every day and not everything that happens in a public figures life deserves to be on the news.  Did Clinton hold a press conference after Monica gave him a blowjob?

“Mr President!  Does she swallow?”  

There are much more important things going on in the world that the news media should be spending there time on.  How about the hard evidence that Saddam executed hundreds of people?  Or maybe a public shaming on the despicable practice of pork barrel horse trading?  I can’t even imagine them covering the new talk about WMD in Iraq.

I was listening to NPR this morning during their “letters” segment where they read listener feedback.  Three of the letters they read on the air told them that enough was enough already – yet they followed it up with more news of Cheney shooting his friend!

Back to the Kos blurb.  My question to the Kos crew is how many Democrats go rushing to FoxNews – an admittedly conservative news source – to talk about a topic that is shameful, personal and probably deeply tragic?

I thought so.

Prostitutes Dont' Like GTA Either

The Grand Theft Auto franchise is getting attacked from all angles. Joining the ranks of politicians, policemen, and attorneys in their crusade to see the game lifted from shelves are the nation's sex workers. On its Web site, the Sex Workers Outreach Project USA is asking parents to assist them in calling for a ban of Take-Two Interactive's controversial game.

Though the organization admits to being "adamantly opposed to any and all forms of censorship," as concerned parents themselves, they "wish to inform other parents of the potential danger extremely violent video games pose to children." Likewise, in the interest of promoting the rights of sex workers, the organization is opposed to the depiction of the rape and murder of prostitutes.

I wonder if the SWOP web site has information for parents about the dangers of prostitution or how to help their children avoid such lifestyles?

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Standardized College

Lawmakers in Washington are concerned about the quality of education that college students actually get – even at elite institutions. Now , the Bush administration has appointed a commission that’s considering standardized testing

Do lawmakers even ask themselves if there is a problem before they go out and fix it? American colleges and universities are considered the best in the world. If you are the best why would anyone try to fix it? “If it ain’t broke … “ so the saying goes. So what are they trying to fix?

Colleges and Universities must be held accountable. Parents should know how long it will take the child to graduate, how much it will cost and the chances their son or daughter will drop out.

As any person that has ever gone to college knows, each of those points is controlled by the student, not the parent. Students decide how heavy their course load is. Students decide how long they want to milk their parents attend school. Students decide when they cannot longer handle the rigors of college. A college simply can’t provide this data.

There are two primary concerns that one should have (even if they aren’t libertarian and oppose government meddling in almost anything). First, how do you standardize testing in secondary education? Even for students that are in the same program, the courses that one takes are vastly different. My roommate and I were both engineering majors in college, yet we only had one class in common. Nevermind students that attend different schools, enroll in different curricula or have different career goals. If I, as a student, am forced to take chemistry but know that my career will never involve chemistry of any kind I am not going to spend any effort in learning chemistry – the fault is mine, not my college’s. So how would standardized testing work?

Even if that [consumers of education are not complaining about a lack of information on quality of education] is true, the data available is saying there are problems. Too many college graduates are not ready for the world of work. A literacy study by the Pew charitable trust released last month for example showed that over 50% of students at 4 year institutions cannot understand a newspaper story or editorial and struggled with basic with basic math like figuring out a 15% tip.

First, I am highly skeptical that 50% of college grads are not capable of understanding a newspaper story. But, for the moment, let’s assume its true – it doesn’t mean that colleges aren’t doing their job, it means we are sending too many people to college (or at the very least primary education is lacking). College is advanced education, it assumes that you already have basic reading comprehension and basic math mastered. The very last thing that we want to do is start asking colleges to retrain students on the basics. After all, we have a problem with American competiveness, we don’t want to take a step backwards now.

Everybody’s in the dark and poor graduation and retention rates are only the tip of a much bigger problem. So Spelling has appointed a commission on the future of higher education. It is headed by a businessman from Houston and long time advocate of standardized tests for colleges, Charles Miller.

So they have ensured that the findings of the commission will recommend standardized testing before they have collected a single data point. This should hardly be surprising for anyone that follows governments. Their goal is not to make our lives better; it is to fulfill their own agenda – no more, no less.

Since government is not truly accountable to anyone beware anything that they recommend, dimes to doughnuts it will make things worse than they are now. The US collegiate “industry” is the best in the world, there is no reason to make it any better by government intervention. Even on the off chance that they are right, there is indeed a problem, there is no way to undo their “fix” if it is wrong, there are always vested interests in maintaining the status quo. At least in the market the vested interest is in making more money so they are always trying to out-compete the next guy. If they are wrong then only they lose – when government forces everyone to play by the same rules everyone loses.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Hamas and Peace

Khaled Meshaal told the BBC that Hamas would not renounce violence, saying resisting an occupation was legal.

But he said a long-term truce would be possible if Israel accepted conditions including a return to its 1967 borders.

An unreasonable demand?  Possibly, but it is a far cry from wanting to destroy Israel or refusing to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist.   This is very encouraging news and strengthens my optimism about the future of the middle east – even with the overblown hype surrounding the cartoon wars.

As I blogged earlier, I think that there is a very real chance for peace with Hamas at the helm.  After all if the extremists are willing to deal who is there to protest?

HatTip:  Scott Adams of all people.

Justice in Guantanamo

# A high percentage, perhaps the majority, of the 500-odd men now held at Guantanamo were not captured on any battlefield, let alone on "the battlefield in Afghanistan" (as Bush asserted) while "trying to kill American forces" (as McClellan claimed).

# Fewer than 20 percent of the Guantanamo detainees, the best available evidence suggests, have ever been Qaeda members.

# Many scores, and perhaps hundreds, of the detainees were not even Taliban foot soldiers, let alone Qaeda terrorists. They were innocent, wrongly seized noncombatants with no intention of joining the Qaeda campaign to murder Americans.

# The majority were not captured by U.S. forces but rather handed over by reward-seeking Pakistanis and Afghan warlords and by villagers of highly doubtful reliability.

This is what happens when you let governments detain people without any type of due process.  They will arrest anyone without a thought as to their actual guilt.  As a result we now have a significant number of people that have very real reasons to hate America and if/when they go back home all of their loved ones will have legitimate reasons to hate America.  

There is no justified reason, if the detainees are really terrorists, if they were really caught “on the battlefield,”  are really trying to kill Americans that you couldn’t convince a judge of those facts.  If there are no facts then why are we detaining them?

In a just society due process should never be ignored, regardless of the circumstances.

HatTip:  Hit & Run

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Curious Stats

I hesitate to put this up because I have no idea whether or not it's true. If any of my readers (either one of you) happen to know let me know. It certainly wouldn't suprise me, but it would lower my already attrocious opinion of politicians.

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. and

84 have been arrested for drunk driving
in the last year

HatTip: ForceOfWill

Update: I should have stuck with my instincts and left it unpublished. Or at least waited long enough to check the accuracy. Live and learn.

Good Jobs

The nonprofit organization Good Jobs First said 62 percent of the jobs that subsidized companies pledged to keep or create in Illinois are projected to pay less than $38,000 a year. That amount is what a 2001 study by Women Employed and Wider Opportunities for Women calculated as a no-frills amount needed for an urban family of four in Illinois.

Good Jobs First based its findings on a review of progress reports that subsidized companies must file with the state. The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity collected the reports in December 2004 and reported the data on a Web site in July 2005.

I’m no more a fan of subsidizing business than I am of subsidizing individuals, but this report is extremely misleading.  First, businesses shouldn’t be paying people based on how many children they have.  Employers don’t (and shouldn’t) be in the business of subsidizing individual preferences - wages are based on the job, not the person.

Second, I would argue that people with jobs that pay $38,000/year are much better off than people without any jobs at all.  And if you are the sole provider for a family of four and this job is your only income you are a questionable parent at best, but more likely you are just lazy.

Good Jobs First wants companies to report on even more data, including whether the subsidized jobs include healthcare.  While I commend the organization for wanting to find out whether the tax dollars the state spends is getting put to good use, forcing companies to spend money on reporting just means that fewer jobs will be created.

Judges Shouldn't Be Politicians

A coalition of business and good government groups is asking Illinois to investigate state Supreme Court Justice Lloyd Karmeier.

The coalition, made up of Common Cause, Business and Professional People for the Public Interest and Citizen Action/Illinois, Tuesday asked the Illinois Judicial Inquiry Board to investigate Karmeier's acceptance of $2.5 million in donations for his 2004 election campaign, in light of his then castig [sic] the deciding vote for his donors in two pending cases decided in 2005.

This, of course, is the inherent flaw in the system of electing judges.  When a judge has to go back to the ballot box on a regular basis to keep his job he will become enamored by big dollar supporters.  I’m not sure that the Justice intentionally “sold” his vote to his supporters, but when you get to know someone (or something), especially if they have supported you, it is easy to convince yourself to view them in a positive light.

If we want to avoid the continuing corruption our Justice system in Illinois then we need to stop asking our Judges to run for office like politicians.  

Bad News for NY

The Internet is now the most common type of consumer complaint in New York, State Attorney General Elliot Spitzer said Wednesday. The Internet passed banking and automobiles and accounted for 15 percent of all complaints received in 2005. In total, 7,723 complaints were received, up 28 percent from 2004. 6,164 credit and banking complaints were filed, down eight percent, and automobile complaints totaled 5,514, down 12 percent. Altogether, the attorney general's office processed some 51,000 complaints during the year.

The most common complaints related to some aspect of online auctions or e-commerce along with computer spyware and spam.

That just can’t be good news for New Yorkers, when Spitzer hears people complaining (or just imagines it) he is driven to try and do something about it.  As to what that “something” is, that’s anyone’s guess – but I can tell you that it will end up with either a) higher costs for consumers or b) a more cumbersome process for consumers or c) less choice for consumers.

Podcasting Oral Arguments

This is so cool!  And something will not be utilized by the vast majority of Americans – which, I guess, is a good thing since most Americans don’t understand law anyway (myself included).

The Supreme Court has a profound impact on our lives and I think that it is cool that we can go download the oral arguments onto the MP3 device of our liking and listen to them at our leisure – while working out, driving in the car or performing housework.

I love technology.

Hat Tip: Althouse

German Medicine

German doctors are packing their scalpels and seeking their fortunes abroad, lured by the prospect of far higher pay and driven away by stifling bureaucracy in their country's health service.

Once they were the world leader in pharmaceuticals, now they can't even get the doctors to practice medicine. What changed? The government took over. Can anyone tell me why we want the government running healthcare again?

HatTip: EU Rota

Election Years Suck

I have no illusions that (l)ibertarians will ever gain major political influence in the US.  The goals of a libertarian are contrary to the goals of the populous – the population of the US generally wants the government to “do stuff” for them while libertarians would prefer if the government would refrain from “doing stuff.”

So the question from this point who do I think will serve my purposes the best.  My major priority is [reduction of] spending, I don’t think that government can achieve long term reduction of civil liberties, so any short term loss can be reversed.  The economy, however, is much more fragile, in my view, so deserves extra care.  Politicians are loathe to cut spending and programs once they have been enacted.

Politicians these days don’t really seem to buy into the whole “fiscal responsibility” thing anymore, so gridlock is probably the best that I can hope for – Congress controlled by one party, with the President hailing from an opposing party.  Unfortunately, 2006 isn’t a good time to be testing such a theory since this President has forgotten he has the power to veto legislation – perhaps his red pen doesn’t work?

So I’m resigned to hoping Republicans retain control of Congress this year (perhaps with some more men like Coburn and McCain that seem to be jumping on the PorkBusters wagon) and praying for some honest to goodness deadlock for the 2008 election.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Do Bloggers Matter?

There has been some [well deserved] self-righteous back slapping over the embarrassing display by Senators Durbin and Kennedy.  A blogger from Pajamas Media started asking some hard questions and (gasp) expected honest answers – needless to say Senators don’t like answering hard questions they prefer the softballs that they get from the rest of the media.

The real question is does any of it really matter?  In the short term the answer is clearly no.  Partisans don’t really care what critiques of their candidates make the light of day, they really only care about defeating the “other side.”  They are particularly adept at cherry picking news stories that match their world view and ignoring the rest.  Even exposes by allegedly non-partisan bloggers will go largely ignored.

For the rest of the populous, the voting citizen that is “independent” – the population where elections are won and lost – they aren’t paying attention anyway.  They don’t really care about politics and only pay attention to what is going on close to election time.  They also typically vote their pocket books – if times are good they reward the incumbent if not then they punish him, regardless of merit.  So in other words, unless the MSM decides to spend a lot more time covering what bloggers are saying – not likely – the average voter will never hear the “hard hitting questions.”

In the longer term expect Congressmen to change the rules – their success in getting re-elected is dependent, in large part, to their constituents being ignorant about what happens in Washington.  If Joe American really knew what their representatives of government did with their money they would rightly be outraged.  So the powerful will work to keep “friendly” journalists close at hand while keeping unknown entities at arms length.  It’s hard to say what the justification will be, but rest assured that if bloggers insist on being “difficult” they will stop getting access.

I know bloggers (myself included) really need to feel as if they are doing something good, but we are largely irrelevant because we don’t impact elections so politicians just don’t care about us.

Quote of the Day

The great thing about being a libertarian is you can sneer at both sides of most debates.

That is a great thing about being libertarian – you can contend that all politicians are crooked without having to apologize for your own party!

Losing Our Edge

The Bush administration is concerned that America is falling behind, our education system is universally sneered at for making our kids dumber and nearly the whole world sneers at the capitalist system that drives our economy.

Color my confused upon reading this news.

In a year that saw a record number of international patent filings, the Republic of Korea overtook the Netherlands as the 6th biggest user of the World Intellectual Property Organization’s (WIPO) Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) and China dislodged Canada, Italy and Australia to take the position of 10th largest PCT user. In 2005, over 134,000 PCT applications were filed, representing a 9.4% increase over the previous year. The five top users of the international patent system remained unchanged, namely: United States of America, Japan, Germany, France and the United Kingdom. And, for the second year running, the most impressive rates of growth came from north east Asia – namely, Japan, the Republic of Korea and China, which between them accounted for 24.1% of all international applications, compared to 34.6% from the countries party to the European Patent Convention and 33.6% from the United States of America. The PCT is the cornerstone of the international patent system and offers a rapid, flexible and cost-effective way to obtain patent protection in the 128 countries that have signed up to the system.

So who are we losing our competitive edge to?  And how is it that we continue to churn out dummies from school that innovate once they reach the workforce?  Perhaps the US is gaming the system because surely we can’t compete against the enlightened Europeans.

The answer is simple – competition drives innovation and as the most competitive economy in the world we naturally are the most innovative as well.  So when the haters of success want to punish business for succeeding keep in mind the consequences of those actions.  Less drugs to take care of the sick, less technologies to give you more leisure time, less gadgets to make that leisure time more enjoyable and pretty much less of everything.

HatTip: EU Rota

Monday, February 06, 2006

McCain Thinks Obama Is a Hack

In a letter to Senator Obama, John McCain writes:

I would like to apologize to you for assuming that your private assurances to me regarding your desire to cooperate in our efforts to negotiate bipartisan lobbying reform legislation were sincere. When you approached me and insisted that despite your leadership's preference to use the issue to gain a political advantage in the 2006 elections, you were personally committed to achieving a result that would reflect credit on the entire Senate and offer the country a better example of political leadership, I concluded your professed concern for the institution and the public interest was genuine and admirable. Thank you for disabusing me of such notions with your letter to me dated February 2, 2006, which explained your decision to withdraw from our bipartisan discussions. I'm embarrassed to admit that after all these years in politics I failed to interpret your previous assurances as typical rhetorical gloss routinely used in politics to make self-interested partisan posturing appear more noble. Again, sorry for the confusion, but please be assured I won't make the same mistake again.

I’m not the biggest McCain fan in the world, but if he routinely writes letters like this to other Senators he just stepped up a couple notches.  I’m glad that I am not the only person that thinks Obama is an opportunist.

The Problem is Not Freedom of Speech

Over at Coyote Blog, the poster is sick of the pretzels that the left has contorted themselves into to apologize for Muslim behavior. I certainly agree – but I don’t think the true issue is actually freedom of speech – at least not in the way that everyone is discussing it.

One thing that is completely missing from the dialogue is how the Muslim world has gotten to this point. Arabs are not inherently violent nor is Islam a particularly violent religion. However, the state of affairs in the middle east are desperate with the citizens desperately searching for reasons why their lives suck so bad. Those in power are manipulating them by pointing to outside factors as the root of their pain. Americans, Jews and the west in general - they say - are succeeding at your expense. It is the classic progressive zero-sum game mentality coupled with the classic despotism antics of pointing to strawmen as the root of all ills.

While discussions of Freedom of Speech are certainly important, the arguments will have little to no impact in the Muslim community. They will care little about freedom of speech for the west while they are unable to exert that freedom at home. Such conflicts will continue and likely grow more violent as the elite come to realize the mob power that they have available to them - remember that when the masses are burning down western consulates they are not rioting about their own conditions. If the west wants, or needs, to ease the unrest then serious dialogues need to occur on how to liberate the middle east from the despotism that current rules there.

My Right To Offend You

The ruckus over [really bad] political cartoons that depict the prophet Mohammed remind me why regulation of hate speech is such a bad idea.

When omnipotent legislatures get into the business of deciding what people can and cannot say it will always appear to favor some groups over others.  Muslims, on the whole, have a very defensible complaint that speech that Jews find offensive (Nazi imagery, holocaust denial) is against the law while speech that Muslims find offensive (portrayals of Mohammed) are not.

Such a discrepancy leaves one group with no option but to feel marginalized.  The answer is to make all speech legal – not to outlaw blasphemous speech – so that we can all feel offended together.

Sunday, February 05, 2006


There will likely be light blogging over the next several days as I have been suckered into traveling to tropical Vermont.  If all goes well I should be back to my typically random ramblings by the end of the week.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Exile Island

I’ve had the unfortunate luck to become addicted to the reality TV series Survivor.  I don’t’ really like the other reality offerings but watching the political aspect of Survivor has captured my attention.

In recent years the show had become somewhat predictable as the contestants have learned how to game the system.  If you can avoid confrontational relationships with your clan mates, contribute to the chores of the tribe and avoid looking like you have taken charge you can typically guarantee yourself a spot in the final eight.  Once you are have made it to the “merge” your only task is to put finger to the wind and align yourself with the majority while avoiding pissing everyone off.

It’s not a perfect system and certainly not a guarantee of success but it’s a formula that has typically been deployed by the winners.  This year they split everyone into four groups of four avoiding natural alliances by splitting the teams into similar demographics – young and old, men and women.

This structure has completely changed the dynamics of the game – there can be no “flying under the radar” you only have four others to align yourself with and being a loner – something that typically has worked in the early stages of the game – is a certain death warrant.  So the strategy of recognizing power structures and manipulating them for your benefit – a late game strategy of years past – is now the early game strategy.

Kudos to the producers of Survivor in recognizing that the show has become stale and changing the game, I am excited about this season more than any time in the last several years.  

VMWare Brilliant or Desperate?

VMware, a company that specializes in products that allow users to run more than one operating system on their machines, is expected to announce next week that it will give away its GSX Server software for free. The company also offers ESX Server, however that will remain a for-pay product.

This is a model that internet based software companies have been using for quite a while (Internet Browsers, Multimedia Players, etc) though it is usually for software that reads or plays content that is created by the for-fee product.  I’m curious to see how this model works for VMWare.

Of course, VMWare is being pushed into this corner by RedHat, Sun and Microsoft who have all stated that they plan on including virtualization capabilities into their core OS products so this may be a desperate parting shot to stay in business as opposed to a brilliant marketing plan.  Their true hope may be to get purchased by one of the majors (likely Sun or one of the linux players).

The result of this ploy is going to be an accusation of anti-competitive practices by Microsoft of course.  Regulators simply do not understand that customers are demanding all-in-one services.  Microsoft and others are left almost no option but to provide the features that their customers are asking for or risk losing them to someone else.

Microsoft has to be one of the most responsive “monopolies” I have ever come across.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

IE7 Isn't Ready Yet

Newsflash – Beta software is buggy.

According to ZDNet, bug reports are already flooding in for Microsoft's new Internet Explorer 7 Beta 2 Preview. Specific issues include the possibility of arbitrary code execution as well as incompatibilities with McAfee Security Center, anti-spyware programs, and online banking sites.

Software companies go through a public beta process because actively using software will discover more bugs than a development staff alone.  They use the software realistically, they use it in more scenarios and they use it with more variables (software installed, sites visited, etc)

In its effort to make Microsoft look inept Slashdot and ZDNet are completely missing the point of going to beta in the first place – to find bugs.  If the software was ready for prime time it would have been released already.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Alito Votes - Bill of Rights Still Intact

Alito has cast his first vote and – gasp – the nation is still standing.

Supreme Court Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr., one day after joining the Court, cast his first significant vote on Wednesday evening, and in the process split with the Court's other conservatives: Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., and Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.

Those other tthree [sic] wanted to nullify an Eighth Circuit Court order delaying the execution of a Missouri death row inmate. The state's request to lift that stay order went initially to Alito, who is assigned to handle such emergency matters from the Eighth Circuit. He passed the matter on to his eight colleagues, resulting in the vote to leave the lower court stay in place.

Wait a minute!  He didn’t vote the party line!  Oh My God!  He has a brain of his own!   I would have bet life on the Democrats being right – that Alito is no more than a political hack that is out to destroy the American way of life.  I thought that Civil Rights for the nation had finally met their match.

Sorry – you can resume your regularly scheduled partisan hyperbolic hysteria already in progress.

For the Kids

I think that most libertarians have come to recognize “children” or “kids” as a marker for “Bullshit Alert Ahead”.   Take this example from President Bush’s State of the Union Address.

[Many Americans, especially parents] are concerned about unethical conduct by public officials and discouraged by activist courts that try to redefine marriage. They worry about children in our society who need direction and love, and about fellow citizens still displaced by natural disaster, and about suffering caused by treatable diseases.

We, as a society, MUST discriminate against homosexuals – it’s for the kids!

We, as a nation, should love our children because Katrina was a terrible calamity!

We must guide our children to a better tomorrow through government intervention because people die of diseases everyday!

Wow, be careful of the word child it’s a powerful word and should only be used for good not evil – I almost talked myself into giving to the Red Cross and there hasn’t even been a natural disaster for months now!  

HatTip to RollingDoughnut for highlighting that section of the SOTUA

Investing In Tomorrow

In the State of the Union Address Bush emphasized a need to reduce American reliance on foreign oil. He rightly pointed out that such a reduction should emphasize new technology, but the problem is that special interests and the politically powerful capture government interest in ways that are inefficient.

So how does government increase innovation in what is arguably a legitimate national interest without subsidizing ineffective solutions?

What the X-Prize has done for space travel, its founder, Peter Diamandis, wants it to do for automobiles. Diamandis asks why we still drive cars that can only do 30 miles per gallon and why we are clinging to the internal combustion engine. High-profile contests like the X-Prize not only draw attention to the issues at hand, but also show the private sector that there is a strong desire—essentially around the world—to accomplish these goals.

If government truly needs to invest in technology – whether it is environment, energy, medicine, whatever – this is how it should be done.

Define a goal – say a device that can “scrub” CO2 from the atmosphere that costs $X to clean X tons of CO2 and then put a purse up for the person or entity that can demonstrate the means first. If you put a prize out there of $1 billion dollars every person in the world with an ounce of scientific knowledge would be wetting themselves to solve the problem.

The beauty of such a solution is that government can’t use political power to favor the powerful over those without access, government can’t use ulterior motives to buy off their electorate at election time (like funding ethanol to keep farmers happy).

The current shortfall of the X-Prize is that a million dollars is serious money for amateur scientists and academics, it simply isn’t enough for corporations to weigh in. Leaving all of that intellectual capital out of the game means that some serious gains are being left on the table.

Honest people can disagree with what government’s role in technology should be, but if we are to try to push technological solutions for society’s ills then it should be done in a way to keep politicians’ greedy hands off the money.

Update: Professor Bainbridge provides more anecdotal evidence on how special interests hold Congress captive in the search for alternative fuels.

Only People That Pay Taxes Can Get a Tax Cut

Kerry made the comments after host Katie Couric asked the former presidential candidate about Bush's State of the Union call to train 70,000 additional teachers in math and science.

COURIC: He wanted to train 70,000 additional teachers in math and science.

KERRY: That's terrific. But 53 percent of our children don't graduate from high school. Kids don't have after-school programs... He didn't ask America to sacrifice anything to achieve great goals and the biggest example is making the tax cut permanent for the wealthiest people in America. The average American struggles to find time to take carry of families, working two or three jobs... It's a disgrace. He did not tell the real state of the union.

One thing that consistently bugs me about the insistence by Democrats to point out that the tax cuts are for “the wealthiest people in America.”  Of course they are, only the wealthiest people in America pay any taxes at all!

How is it possible to cut taxes for the “poorest people in America” when they pay no taxes at all?

Firefly Season 2

There is a group trying to put together a DVD and/or internet only Season 2 of Firefly.  For those of you Firefly fans out there, stop by and show your support.