Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Delusional legislation

"One of the greatest delusions in the world is the hope that the evils in this world are to be cured by legislation" -- Thomas Bracket Reed

Monday, February 23, 2009

Stale blog

Where have I been? Why no recent blog posts? It's all facebook's fault. I started posting a lot of little things over there last fall, and it ended up replacing my activity here. I'm not completely happy with that. This blog feels a lot more like "mine" compared to facebook. But, I actually get interaction over at fb, whereas here at the blog I think it is often just me (and maybe my mom) who sees this stuff!

Hmmm. Not sure what I'm gonna do. One of the things I like about keeping this blog is that it is a place for me to put items of interest to me, so they are all in one place. I've got to keep that in mind.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Chaos vs. Linear Thinking

Interesting article by Butler Shaffer. Here's the first bit:

My last words on the gallows will be to praise the study of chaos. For the sake of our very survival as a species, the destructive and dysfunctional nature of our highly-structured world may soon force humanity into an outburst of intelligence. Should that occur, an understanding of the creative and orderly processes of chaos may save us from the consequences of our collective hubris.

What can be more insane than mankind’s continuing insistence upon playing out the simple-minded notion that the intricacies and variability of our complex world can be fully comprehended and rendered manageable by wise leaders? In a world caught up in the madness of wars, genocidal campaigns, economic depressions, and the resort – by some – to the despair implicit in suicide bombings, there is no better occasion for us to consider a major paradigm shift in our thinking.

"Desperation" may well be the best word to describe our current responses to the ubiquitous malfunctioning of social systems premised on the necessity for vertically-structured, top-down, command-and-control organizational forms. Western civilization collapses all around us, and yet most of us continue to insist upon a renewed commitment to variations of the Platonic vision of a world made orderly by philosopher-kings.


Here's the whole thing.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Gluttonous debt

From Dr. Mercola's website:

...from the moment of the U.S. constitutional birth in 1789, the debt accumulated by the federal government did not hit $1 trillion until 1981.

It took 183 years to incur the first trillion dollars.

It only took 20 years to grow that debt to $5.7 trillion, and a mere seven years to reach $9 trillion.

How on earth will increased government spending, more corporate bailouts, and stimulus packages aimed at getting American’s to open up their pocketbooks like we used to, actually make matters better?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

It's all pretend

The notion that this is a government "of the people" etc., should be dead by now, but many people still believe it. It's hard for me to keep pretending, though, when you see that the powers-that-be blithely take things into their own hands, even if they have no explicit authority to do so.

Buried in a Bloomberg article was this quote:
The Treasury Department changed the tax code on Sept. 30 to allow banks to expand the deductions on the losses banks they were buying, according to Robert Willens, a former Lehman Brothers tax and accounting analyst who teaches at Columbia University Business School in New York.

From the Wall Street Journal:
Some experts argue that the Treasury has effectively shifted from administering parts of the tax code to changing tax laws on its own. "It doesn't seem possible that they have this authority," said Robert Willens, an independent corporate tax analyst.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Freedom

"We Christians acknowledge man to be morally free and the guide of his own personal will and actions and responsible for them before God's truth. Such freedom is a most great gift to man from God, Who seeks from man not a mechanical submission, but a freely given filial obedience of love."
- St. Philaret of New York

Monday, November 17, 2008

The ship is already sunk - stop bailing!

Some interesting thoughts on the potential bailout of GM:
Many of the Big Three's problems are self-made. The contraction of demand is just the latest dark cloud, and a problem that affects all industries, not just autos. Thus, if Detroit should get a bailout, why not help America's home builders, coal miners and masseuses, too?

Detroit's problems predate the financial meltdown. Management and labor consigned the Big Three to a future of troubles when they agreed to preposterous work rules, requiring management to pay workers at 90% of their salaries when they were laid off. Those rules compelled General Motors in particular to keep pumping out vehicles in the face of shrinking demand earlier in the decade, ushering in the period of "0% financing" for five, six and seven years. Because labor costs were locked in, it made more sense to keep producing and selling at below the full cost of production.

Management also gave labor the "Cadillac platter" of health and retirement benefits, all of which substantially increased the cost of producing vehicles at unionized plants in America. Management and labor always assumed that the U.S. government would come to the rescue when the chickens came home to roost over this inefficient, uncompetitive cost structure.

Those were only the beginning of the industry's economic sins. On the demand side, Big Three management demonstrated an egregious failure of imagination, if not downright dereliction of duty, in assuming that large pickup trucks and SUVs would never fall out of favor. When SUVs and trucks are excluded, Big Three offerings barely make the list of the country's top 10 selling cars of the decade. None has been a top five seller. Shouldn't producers try to make things that people want to consume before scapegoating their failures and seeking bailouts?


Whole article here.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Obama's pen - "kinda cool"?

Glenn Greenwald, a big critic of the GOP (and the "establishment" in general) is concerned about Obama's plans:

What fueled the abuses of the last eight years as much as anything else was the ongoing (and severely accelerated) abdication of power by Congress to a bordering-on-omnipotent presidency. It's critically important that an Obama administration reverse the substantive transgressions of the Bush era -- closing Guantanamo, ending torture and rendition, restoring habeas corpus, rejuvenating surveillance oversight, withdrawing from Iraq, applying the rule of law to political leaders past and present -- but it's at least as important that this be accomplished in the right way, that our constitutional framework be restored. That means restricting the President's role to what the Constitution prescribes and having Congress fulfill its assigned duties and perform its core functions.

This is anything but an abstract concern. Central to the design of the republic is the power of the citizenry to remove all members of the House and 1/3 of the Senate every two years. That's the central mechanism by which the people, through their representatives in Congress, keep the Government responsive. But none of that matters -- it's all just illusory -- if Congress has no real power and exists as little more than a passive and obedient vassal of the President. We shouldn't want that arrangement even if, at a given moment, we are lucky enough to have a magnanimous President who makes good decisions and wants to do good things with his centralized, unchecked and imbalanced power.

The Lieberman controversy merely symbolizes how entrenched this problem has become. Just consider reports this week that Obama intends to use unilaterally issued, unchecked Executive Orders, rather than acts of Congress, to dictate outcomes on a whole range of politically controversial policy debates that are so plainly the province of the Congress to legislate -- from restrictions on stem-cell research funding to regulations governing aid to foreign family planning groups to oil drilling. Here's what Obama's transition chief, John Podesta, said about that:
"There's a lot that the president can do using his executive authority without waiting for congressional action, and I think we'll see the president do that. I think that he feels like he has a real mandate for change. We need to get off the course that the Bush administration has set."

Podesta's infatuation with the power of executive orders recalls the infamous comment made by Clinton aide Paul Begala regarding the robust use of executive orders by the Clinton administration to make policy: "Stroke of the pen. Law of the land. Kinda cool."

That isn't actually how things are supposed to work. The Constitution doesn't vest the President with the power to make laws with the "stroke of the pen," and it's not "kinda cool" that we've allowed it to happen. It's actually quite dangerous and anti-democratic, as James Madison warned in Federalist No. 47:
"The accumulation of all powers legislative, executive and judiciary in the same hands, whether of one, a few or many, and whether hereditary, self appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny."

As Madison explained in that paper, it was only because the Constitution separated those powers among the branches -- with the legislative power (the power to make laws) assigned exclusively to Congress and the executive power (the power to execute those laws) assigned to the President -- was Madison convinced that the presidency created by the Constitution, deprived of lawmaking power, would pose no threat to republican liberty.

Let's be clear: Obama didn't create these erosions and he hasn't even been inaugurated yet, so it's irrational to begin blaming him for this state of affairs. Many of the policies he is contemplating changing via Executive Order were ones that were improperly implemented by Executive Order in the first place. And, principally, it's the responsibility of Congress to defend its constitutionally assigned powers, not of Obama to refrain from encroaching on them.

Nonetheless, we have strayed indescribably far from the system of Government we were supposed to have. That we trust a particular President and believe he'll do good things, achieve good outcomes, with excessive power is no reason to be happy with that state of affairs. As is often the case, Democratic Congressional leaders seem far more content to submit to power than to exercise it. But we shouldn't treat the framework created by the Constitution as optional or waivable when it seems there are good things to be gained by doing so. Podesta is right that "we need to get off the course that the Bush administration has set." That should include, first and foremost, respect for the roles assigned to the various branches by the Constitution.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Let's hear it for regulation!

The right kind of regulation, that is. From DownsizeDC:

Often, the repeal of a government regulation will result in the restoration of free market regulations that are far stronger.

Free market regulation comes in several forms. One involves customers taking their business elsewhere when a company fails to provide a good product at a good price. Businesses are regulated by their customers.

Please notice that the government operates under different rules . . .

If the government charges you too much to do too little, then too bad. The government continues to extract money from you, even when it performs poorly.

* You can't fire the government!
* You can't take your business elsewhere.

In this sense government is almost completely DE-regulated.

But the free market also regulates businesses in other ways. Indeed, the free market imposes the strongest possible form of regulation . . . bankruptcy.

We must recognize that the politicians are in the process of repealing bankruptcy. Companies are being rescued from bankruptcy by the Big Bailout.

This is the correct way to think about things . . .

* The current economic downturn is a free market attempt to regulate bad business practices (many of which were fostered by government banking and housing policies)
* Bankruptcy equals the strongest possible form of regulation.
* Bailout equals the strongest possible form of DE-regulation.
* The Big Bailout equals Big DE-regulation.


See the whole article here.

Yet another example...

of how the gubmint is NOT looking out for the individual's best interest.
That the $100-billion fast food industry rests on a foundation of corn has been known more through inference and observation than hard scientific fact — until now.
Chemical analysis from restaurants across the United States shows that nearly every cow or chicken used in fast food is raised on a diet of corn, prompting fresh criticism of the government's role in subsidizing poor eating habits.
"People had talked about what they observed or found out about, as individual journalists or individual consumers," said University of Hawaii geobiologist and study co-author A. Hope Jahren. But anecdotes do not add up to scientific proof, she said. "We got national data on how this food is being produced. It's very objective."
Corn is central to agriculture in the United States, where it is grown in greater volumes and receives more government subsidies than any other crop. Between 1995 and 2006 corn growers received $56 billion in federal subsidies, and the annual figure may soon hit $10 billion.
But in recent years, environmentalists have branded corn as an icon of unsustainable agriculture. It requires large amounts of fertilizer and pesticides, both of which require large amounts of fossil fuel to manufacture.
Most of the resulting corn is fed to livestock who didn't evolve to subsist entirely on corn. In cattle, eating corn increases flatulence emissions of methane — a potent greenhouse gas — and creates an intestinal environment rich in e. coli, a common cause of food poisoning. That necessitates mixing cow feed with antibiotics, in turn producing antibiotic-resistant disease strains.
Many of those livestock end up in high-calorie, low-nutrition franchised fast foods, which have been repeatedly linked to obesity, diabetes and heart disease. Fast food's biggest selling point is its low price — and that, say industry critics, is largely possible because of corn's ubiquitous cheapness.


The whole article is here.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Democrats make some sense!

... in their 1932 party platform, which helped FDR get elected. Of course, he turned around and did many things completely opposed to what he campaigned on. (Sound familiar? "Humble foreign policy"?)

It's not all libertarian principles or anything, but there are a few good tidbits-
The Democratic Party solemnly promises by appropriate action to put into effect the principles, policies, and reforms herein advocated, and to eradicate the policies, methods, and practices herein condemned. We advocate an immediate and drastic reduction of governmental expenditures by abolishing useless commissions and offices, consolidating departments and bureaus, and eliminating extravagance to accomplish a saving of not less than twenty-five per cent in the cost of the Federal Government. And we call upon the Democratic Party in the states to make a zealous effort to achieve a proportionate result.

We advocate a sound currency to be preserved at all hazards and an international monetary conference called on the invitation of our government to consider the rehabilitation of silver and related questions.

The removal of government from all fields of private enterprise except where necessary to develop public works and natural resources in the common interest.


For another shocker of a Democratic platform statement (vowing not to interfere with education), see this post.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Real Election Results...

NOTA by a landslide!

As a percentage of the eligible-to-vote U.S. citizens:
NOTA - 42.35%
Obama - 27.46%
McCain - 24.13%
Other - 6.05%

NOTA stands for None of the Above. In other words, many of us refused to give our vote to any of the candidates listed on the ballot.

Friday, October 17, 2008

On the other hand...

Here's an interesting take on the current recession and why we shouldn't be so afraid of it.

Excerpt:

Most people will profit from the current slow-down, and also from any recession that may follow.

How can this possible? It is possible because most of the pain felt in economic corrections happens at the margin, hurting some people badly, but making things better for most people, overall. Think about it . . .

Businesses will suffer lower profits, but most of them will re-think and re-engineer their operations, emerging better and stronger than they were before, while those businesses that fail will see their assets moved to more productive firms, paving the way for greater societal wealth in the future.

Those who are close to retirement, and stayed in the stock market too long, may have to delay their retirement for a year or two. But if they refuse to panic by selling out now, they too will likely emerge better than before.

The greatest pain will be felt by those who lose their jobs. This pain will only impact, even if we have a severe recession, about one out of ten Americans. This is too much pain suffered by too many people, but the fact remains that . . .

Roughly 70% to 90% of all Americans will suffer NO economic pain at all. Instead, they will actually BENEFIT from the correction, because the cost of living will drop, and new investment opportunities will be available at bargain prices.


Hmm, what to think?

My town in the NYT

Does this mean a lot of New Yorkers will be coming here soon?
Here's the article.

I like this article

This website is pretty weird looking, but I really enjoyed this article about the current economic crisis. It blended a very easy-to-follow explanation of our ponzi-scheme economy with a meditation of what it means for our civilization and human relationships in general. Pretty cool. He's writing from a new-agey point of view, but I didn't find that incompatible with my Christian way of thinking, such as it is.

Here's the first part:

Suppose you give me a million dollars with the instructions, "Invest this profitably, and I'll pay you well." I'm a sharp dresser -- why not? So I go out onto the street and hand out stacks of bills to random passers-by. Ten thousand dollars each. In return, each scribbles out an IOU for $20,000, payable in five years. I come back to you and say, "Look at these IOUs! I have generated a 20% annual return on your investment." You are very pleased, and pay me an enormous commission.

Now I've got a big stack of IOUs, so I use these "assets" as collateral to borrow even more money, which I lend out to even more people, or sell them to others like myself who do the same. I also buy insurance to cover me in case the borrowers default -- and I pay for it with those self-same IOUs! Round and round it goes, each new loan becoming somebody's asset on which to borrow yet more money. We all rake in huge commissions and bonuses, as the total face value of all the assets we've created from that initial million dollars is now fifty times that.

Then one day, the first batch of IOUs comes due. But guess what? The person who scribbled his name on the IOU can't pay me back right now. In fact, lots of the borrowers can't. I try to hush this embarrassing fact up as long as possible, but pretty soon you get suspicious. You want your million dollars back -- in cash. I try to sell the IOUs and their derivatives that I hold, but everyone else is suspicious too, and no one buys them. The insurance company tries to cover my losses, but it can only do so by selling the IOUs I gave it!

So finally, the government steps in and buys the IOUs, bails out the insurance company and everyone else holding the IOUs and the derivatives stacked on them. Their total value is way more than a million dollars now. I and my fellow entrepreneurs retire with our lucre. Everyone else pays for it.

This is the first level of what has happened in the financial industry over the past decade. It is a huge transfer of wealth to the financial elite, to be funded by US taxpayers, foreign corporations and governments, and ultimately the foreign workers who subsidize US debt indirectly via the lower purchasing power of their wages. However, to see the current crisis as merely the result of a big con is to miss its true significance.



Here's the whole essay.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Thank goodness Congress is protecting the children

from DownsizeDC:

On September 17, the House passed the "School Safety Enhancements Act of 2008."

My first thought was, "The DC Upsizers are at it again!"

My second thought was that the Constitution gives Congress no authority over public safety, except on federal property. This power is left to the states.

But even aside from this, the bill implies something distressing -- that state and local governments are incapable of preserving public safety without Congressional help. But if the states really lack the will and competence to keep schoolchildren safe then they must also be incapable of governing at all. This would imply that, but for Congress, our country would be a nation of 50 Somalias.

This just isn't true.

But when you read the bill, you realize it isn't about school "safety" at all.

The bill expands an already-existing (and unnecessary) grant program for local governments to install metal detectors on school grounds. The bill increases the funding from $30 million to $50 million per year. Worse, it specifically expands the program to include funding for "surveillance equipment."

This, on top of Real ID, Animal ID, TWIC, warrantless spying . . . Perhaps if the younger generation are always being watched at school, they'll get used to it and won't mind the same on the streets, at their jobs, or in their homes.

Do you want to know how your Represenatitive voted for this atrocity? Too bad. Congress couldn't be bothered with a roll call vote; it passed under "suspension of the rules" by voice vote. (Somehow, though, they did find time for a roll call vote on whether to name a post office building after Theodore Roosevelt.)

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Ron Paul vs. the Bailout

Here are a couple of brief statements Ron Paul made yesterday to the Financial Services Committee and the Joint Economic Committee. Great explanations of how government intervention was primarily responsible for this mess and why the proposed bailout (i.e., more government intervention) is the wrong thing to do.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Dude, I voted!

A DJ on the radio today was promoting an online movie that is aimed at young adults - specifically "slackers" - to encourage them to vote. Am I the only one who sees something wrong with encouraging "slackers" to vote? Shouldn't we first encourage them to not be slackers - to be mentally active and reasonably informed before nudging them towards the ballot box?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Trusting the government

I think that most people in the US think that health and safety issues like safe drinking water has to be handled by the government, rather than through private means. Here's an article about an EPA decision regarding perchlorate levels in drinking water.

quote: The ingredient, perchlorate, has been found in at least 395 sites in 35 states at levels high enough to interfere with thyroid function and pose developmental health risks, particularly for babies and fetuses, according to some scientists.
The EPA document says that mandating a clean-up level for perchlorate would not result in a "meaningful opportunity for health risk reduction for persons served by public-water systems."

....
Lenny Siegel, director of the Center for Public Environmental Oversight in Mountain View, Calif., added: "This is an unconscionable decision not based upon science or law but on concern that a more stringent standard could cost the government significantly."
The Defense Department used perchlorate for decades in testing missiles and rockets, and most perchlorate contamination is the result of defense and aerospace activities, congressional investigators said last year.
The Pentagon could face liability if EPA set a national drinking water standard that forced water agencies around the country to undertake costly clean-up efforts. Defense officials have spent years questioning EPA's conclusions about the risks posed by perchlorate.


Now I don't know who's right here about the perchlorate levels, but what I do know is that when there is a "public system", there is no one we can "fire" if we don't like what they are doing. If I am unhappy with the quality of bottled water, I can buy another brand. If I don't like what's coming out of my tap, I can't switch to another provider. It's especially aggravating that we are trusting the government to be responsible for the environment, when the government itself is the biggest polluter!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Whoa.

The egg on the right is a pretty good-sized, normal egg. The egg on the left was laid by our hen named "Omelet" this morning and is the biggest chicken egg I've ever seen. And, no, I didn't hear any screaming coming from the coop! We haven't cracked it open yet to see what's inside.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Hard to do...

In these days of vacillation, confusion of thought and corruption, we confess the true teaching of the Church regardless of the opinions held by those who might hear us, and disregarding the skepticism and faithlessness of our environment. If, for the sake of conforming to the errors of the times, we would suppress the truth or yet profess distorted doctrines to please the world, we would in fact be offering stones instead of bread. And the higher the position of one who would act in this way, the more profound the temptation and the more serious the consequences.

- St. Philaret the New Confessor

Saturday, August 23, 2008

We are Chicken Farmers

Because we have so much free time, and we love fresh, organic eggs, we decided to get chickens! Some friends of ours with a large flock graciously gave us a few of their layers and sold us one of their nifty homemade "Arks" - a great summer coop.
Here's the set-up. The red shed in the background will soon be converted into a winter coop.

Sam checks the voltage of the electric netting.

A few of the girls in the ark.

Stephen really wanted an omelet for breakfast.

"I'll lay you an egg when I'm good and ready!"

Peckin' around.