Free Markets, Free People

Culture

They’ll Be Workin’ On The Railroad

Well here we go – the government apparently plans on getting further into a business in which it has no track record of success. Yes friends, if “Amtrak” doesn’t remind you of why this isn’t a good idea, how about doubling down on it?

You remember Amtrak:

In FY 2007, Amtrak earned approximately $2.15 billion in total revenue and incurred about $3.18 billion in expenses. Amtrak relies on an annual federal appropriation, which in FY 2007 totaled $1.294 billion, including $521 million in operating funds, $495 million in capital and $277 million for debt service. While Amtrak relies on federal appropriations to support its operating and capital needs, the federal government’s investment in Amtrak was less than 2 percent of the entire federal transportation budget for FY 2007.

Only 2%? Well, we’ll take care of that:

The president’s plan identifies 10 potential high-speed intercity corridors for federal funding, including California, the Pacific Northwest, the Midwest, the Southeast, the Gulf Coast, Pennsylvania, Florida, New York and New England.

It also highlights potential improvements in the heavily traveled Northeast Corridor running from Washington to Boston, Massachusetts.

Of course Amtrak runs service in all of those places.

The president cited the success of high-speed rail in European countries such as France and Spain as a positive example for the United States.

And, of course, Spain and France are physically so much like the US it is frighting:

US –  9,161,923 sq km

Spain – 499,542 sq km

France – 545,630 sq km

For comparison:

Texas – 691,030 sq km

Travel by train has been a part of the culture of both France and Spain for literally centuries. Not so in the US. This is not an “if you build it they will come” moment.

“My high-speed rail proposal will lead to innovations that change the way we travel in America. We must start developing clean, energy-efficient transportation that will define our regions for centuries to come,” Obama said at an event near the White House.

You can read the plan here. It can pretty much can be summed up by Obama’s statement. Not a single bit of analysis about whether there is a demand, whether or not it will be profitable, and, frankly whether it’s economically viable at all.  It’s all about social concerns, not how much it costs.

This is government betting your money that it can change your habits. It isn’t a business plan that’s been produced, it’s a social engineering plan.

Is this the role you’ve imagined for government? As most who understand economics would tell you, if there is a market and it is a profitable market, some entrepreneur or entrepreneurs will enter that market. But you can be assured that won’t enter a market unless there is a profit to be made – which should tell you all you need to know about this boondoggle.

And whether or not you ever board a single one of these trains in your lifetime, you will pay for it.

~McQ

Enabling Theft Should Be Punished, Not Encouraged

This is, at least to me, an example of the entitlement mentality which has been fostered in this country:

When the woman who calls herself Queen Omega moved into a three-bedroom house here last December, she introduced herself to the neighbors, signed contracts for electricity and water and ordered an Internet connection.

What she did not tell anyone was that she had no legal right to be in the home.

Ms. Omega, 48, is one of the beneficiaries of the foreclosure crisis. Through a small advocacy group of local volunteers called Take Back the Land, she moved from a friend’s couch into a newly empty house that sold just a few years ago for more than $400,000.

Michael Stoops, executive director of the National Coalition for the Homeless, said about a dozen advocacy groups around the country were actively moving homeless people into vacant homes — some working in secret, others, like Take Back the Land, operating openly.

The entitlement mentality is further enabled by morally misguided groups that confuse legitimate civil rights concerns with outright theft:

In addition to squatting, some advocacy groups have organized civil disobedience actions in which borrowers or renters refuse to leave homes after foreclosure.

I have some empathy for those who find themselves in a situation where they are forced from their homes because they can’t afford to pay what they agreed to pay (and I’m especially sympathetic to those who have children). But I cannot condone activities which assume a “right” to something they don’t own. And I certainly don’t define actions to secure what isn’t rightfully theirs as “civil disobedience”.

It’s theft. Property rights are a fundamental building block of a free society. Allow the subversion of those rights and the society won’t be free for long.

And groups and “community organizers” that encourage such subversion or enable the thieves are accessories to theft and should be treated as such.

Instead, they’ll most likely receive federal “stimulus” money.

~McQ

Restaurant And Mosque Uneasy Neighbors

While some may want to make this a story about “Islam”, it’s not really. It is a pretty standard story in which some who disagree with what others choose to do, although perfectly legal, attempt to pressure the law to have their belief imposed on others use of their property.

The story:

On one side of the disagreement is a Muslim mosque, and some of its worshippers are unhappy about plans for a new restaurant that will serve alcohol.

On the opposing end of the clash is a business owner who says he’s invested $1 million to upgrade a blighted building and has tried to accommodate Muslim worshippers during spiritual holidays.

The two entities – The Hill restaurant and the Anoor mosque – are a mere 191 feet apart.

According to the local law they should be at least 300 feet apart for the establishment to get a beer and wine license. As it turns out, front door to front door they’re probably pretty close to that distance. But the distance is arbitrary anyway. And really, it’s not about the distance, it is about the desire to control behavior. The distance just gives cause to that desire.

The possibility that the restaurant could serve as a local drinking hangout bothers mosque attendees like board member Nadeem Sidiqqi.

Islam prohibits the consumption of alcohol, but Sidiqqi said the protest isn’t an attack on drinking in general, just a call for buffer zones for religious establishments.

“People may say ‘we may not want to go to this mosque’ if it’s not a good environment,” Sidiqqi said. “You want an area where you can bring your kids or your family.”

Sure are a whole lot of assumptions going on in those three paragraphs, aren’t there? And you’d like to believe this isn’t really about “drinking in general”, but obviously it is. Otherwise, there’d be no call for a buffer zone, would there?

As you’ll see in the story, as you read it, the mosque is in a walled in court yard, and the restaurant has taken a building which was a neighborhood eyesore and rehabilitated it. The restaurant owner seems willing to accommodate the mosque during its holidays.

But the petition signing continues. Because, you see, those on the one side want those on the other side to do what they believe is the right thing, even though there’s nothing wrong with what the other guys want to do nor is there any evidence that what they want to do will have an effect on the others.

As it turns out, it probably won’t matter anyway. Apparently if the state of Tennessee grants the restaurant a liquor license, the 300 foot requirement is waived (again showing you how arbitrary and meaningless the number is).

Of course, my guess is, that won’t sit well with the other bunch, and, unfortunately, this is just the beginning of the attempts to shut the restaurant down.

Oh, the location? Knoxville, TN – trust me the fact it is a mosque and not a church is only a matter of random circumstance. But it does point out that as much the cultural landscape is changes, it really remains pretty much the same.

~McQ

Abortion-rights Groups Are Confused

Pro-choice advocates are up in arms about Gov. Tim Kaine’s decision to sign a Virginia bill into law:

Tim Kaine, the Virginia governor and President Barack Obama’s hand-picked choice as the head of the Democratic National Committee, infuriated abortion-rights groups Monday by signing legislation that gives abortion foes a long-sought victory.

Kaine brushed off intense lobbying by abortion rights supporters in Richmond to sign a bill that allows Virginia motorists to advertise their anti-abortion views by sporting “Choose Life” specialty license plates.

The revenue from the specialty plates would go to crisis-pregnancy centers, which many abortion-rights backers believe proslyetize against abortion and encourage women to keep unwanted children.

Do these people even know what they stand for? Their mantra is that whether or not to have a child is a choice of the mother, not to be intruded upon by the state. But in order for it to be a choice, doesn’t one of the options have to be to have the child? So then, why would they be bothered by anyone encouraging women to pick one of the choices, as long as it is left up to the mother to decide? Are they really just pro-abortion advocates (keep the choice)?

Isn't this one of the choices?

Isn't this one of the choices?


Moreover, why would they care if crisis-pregnancy centers encourage birth over abortion? Again, if the choice is legally left up to the mother, then there shouldn’t be an issue. Advocates for choosing life over abortion have just as much right to say their spiel don’t they?

Apparently, these pro-choice folks are upset not just at the message on the license plate, nor that some of the revenue raised will go to crisis-pregnancy centers, but that Kaine took this action while also serving as head of the DNC, which leads to the second bit of confusion (my emphasis):

“It is surprising that Governor Kaine would do this, but it’s all the more surprising that he would do it as chair of the DNC,” said Paulette McElwain, the president of the Virginia League for Planned Parenthood.

McElwain exchanged numerous calls with the governor’s office over the license plates and organized a grass roots effort that logged more than 2,000 calls to the governor’s staff.

“We provided him with abundant information,” she said. “We’re terribly disappointed that he decided to sign it.”

In Washington, NARAL/Pro-Choice America channeled more than 17,000 emails and 200 calls to the DNC urging Kaine to veto the bill.

“It is unfortunate that, even after receiving thousands of messages from Virginians and pro-choice activists across the country, Gov. Kaine has opted to sign a bill that advances a divisive political ideology at the expense of women’s health,” NARAL/Pro-Choice America president Nancy Keenan said in a statement.

First of all, Kaine didn’t sign the bill “as chair of the DNC” because the chair of the DNC doesn’t have that power, the Governor of Virginia does. It was in that capacity, representing the people of the Commonwealth, that Kaine signed the bill.

Secondly, what difference does it make to the Governor of Virginia what people from outside the state think about what’s on our license plates? Especially when it’s something as innocuous as “Choose Life” (would they rather it said “Choose Death”?). Seriously, why do any of their opinions matter here?

The sad truth is that it seems these protesters really are just pro-abortion. Otherwise, I just can’t understand why they’re so exercised over what should be a non-issue.

The Danger Of Trying To Be Funny

Barack Obama accepted an invitation to be on the Jay Leno show for a number of reasons. One was to show he was hip, cool and could be funny. He apparently felt the timing was right for another charm offensive. Secondly, he wanted to go where no sitting president had ever gone – a late night comedy show. Three is related to two – he hoped to reach an audience that he may have otherwise been unable to reach with his budget message. And four, the media coup that would result would hopefully reverse his seeming slide in popularity.

Of course the risk was that he wouldn’t be funny and thus bomb or that he’d say something he shouldn’t have and everything else would be forgotten while the gaffe dominated the coverage. Looking at the risk vs. the reward and completely involved in the hubris surrounding Obama, his handlers obviously thought the risk was minimal. Sure enough the gaffe scenario materialized and completely overshadowed the hopes he had about his appearance.

Sometimes, it seems, you can be too clever for your own good. And Obama’s “Special Olympics” remark, meant to be self-deprecating, was instead taken as an insult to Special Olympians. The irony, of course, is the petard upon which he was hoisted is one of the left’s own making.

Humor has become a “no tolerance” zone when it comes to some subjects. Offending an underprivileged, “special”, racial, ethnic, or in a few cases, religious(you have to be of a “protected” religion to qualify) group has become a mortal sin.

Everyone knew what Obama meant when he used the term “Special Olympics” concerning his attempts to bowl. It wasn’t mean, it certainly wasn’t meant to denigrate the effort of Special Olympians nor was he attempting to purposely offend them. Instead he was taking a shot at himself and his inability to do better than he has in that particular game. And he did so with a poor choice of words, the result of an unthinking attempt to be humorous on a humor show.

Had he instead compared his effort to a white guy trying to play basketball or a Christian trying to win converts in Saudi Arabia, approved hilarity would have ensued and his all of his hopes for his appearance might have born fruit.

You’d think, as a child of the left, he’d know that, wouldn’t you?

~McQ

Years of Math

From an email.

Why? Because I think it is funny. And yes, I understand that we are still capable of and do teach math well.

But as I chuckled about it, this bit of humor is more about our priorities and some cultural issues than math.

1959-2009 (in the USA )

Last week I purchased a burger at Burger King for $1.58. The counter girl took my $ 2 and I was digging for my change when I pulled 8 cents from my pocket and gave it to her. She stood there, holding the nickel and 3 pennies, while looking at the screen on her register. I sensed her discomfort and tried to tell her to just give me two quarters , but she hailed the manager for help. While he tried to explain the transaction to her, she stood there and cried. Why do I tell you this? Because of the evolution in teaching math since the 1950s:

1. Teaching Math In 1950s

A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is 4/5 of the price. What is his profit ?

2. Teaching Math In 1960s

A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is 4/5 of the price, or $80. What is his profit?

3. Teaching Math In 1970s

A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is $80. Did he make a profit? 

4. Teaching Math In 1980s

A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is $80 and his profit is $20. Your assignment: Underline the number 20.

5. Teaching Math In 1990s

A logger cuts down a beautiful forest because he is selfish and inconsiderate and cares nothing for the habitat of animals or the preservation of our woodlands. He does this so he can make a profit of $20.  What do you think of this way of making a living? Topic for class participation after answering the question: How did the birds and squirrels feel as the logger cut down their homes? (There are no wrong answers, and if you feel like crying, it’s ok.)

6. Teaching Math In 2009

Un hachero vende una carretada de maderapara $100. El costo de la producciones es $80. Cuanto dinero ha hecho?

~McQ

Successful NYC Trip …

I just barely beat the global warming home. Otherwise, I had a great trip up to New York City. Here’s some of the highlights:

The Empire State building as seen from the roof of my sister's apartment building.

The Empire State building as seen from the roof of my sister's apartment building.

Looking across the East River into Queens

Looking across the East River into Queens

I made it a point to go take pictures in Central Park. These are from the Bethesda Terrace which is Mid-Park around 72nd Street.

Angel of the Waters at Bethesda Terrace, Central Park

Angel of the Waters at Bethesda Terrace, Central Park


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Podcast for 03 Mar 09

In this podcast, Bruce, Bryan, and Dale talk about the president’s new budget, and the end of the Post-WWII global financial system.

The direct link to the podcast can be found here.

Observations

The intro and outro music is Vena Cava by 50 Foot Wave, and is available for free download here.

As a reminder, if you are an iTunes user, don’t forget to subscribe to the QandO podcast, Observations, through iTunes. For those of you who don’t have iTunes, you can subscribe at Podcast Alley. And, of course, for you newsreader subscriber types, our podcast RSS Feed is here. For podcasts from 2005 to 2007, they can be accessed through the RSS Archive Feed.

Be A Pro, Or Go

Police pick up a 15 year old girl. 15 year old girl gets lippy and calls them “fat pigs”. Police put 15 year old girl in holding cell and tell her to take off her “basketball shoes”. 15 year old girl slips off left one and kicks it toward the officer and it strikes him in the shin.

Watch how “professionally” the officer handles the situation:

 

 

Yeah, I know – nobody likes lippy 15 year olds who petulantly kick basketball shoes at them, but then nobody likes policemen who act like this dolt either.

~McQ

King Eddie’s Funeral (Updated)

Let me clarify something in the previous post.  Some commenters are saying that they don’t understand how government will allow private money to be created, and relinquish the death hold they want to keep on the economy.  The short answer is, I don’t think they’ll have a choice.  We’ll concentrate  on the US here, but keep in mind that the rest of the developed nations are in even worse shape than we are.

What allows the government–any government, but democratic ones in particular–to operate as they do is the consent of the people.  Even totalitarian governments have to worry about that, ultimately, although they can keep the lid on for a time, even for a couple of generations. But even totalitarian regimes often run into explosions which topple them, eventually.

But the loss of faith in a liberal, democratic government is the kiss of death for that government.  It doesn’t take a full scale revolution.  it just takes people to stop cooperating.  India was liberated through non-violent action.  So was South Africa.  nce the people say, “You’re done.” the government is done.

Right now our economic system is built on nothing more than the “full faith and credit” of the US Government.  And that will last only as long as we, the people, have faith in it.

Now this particular recession may not be the one that kills that faith.  It may be just one of the warning signs of a coming collapse.  But a crash is coming, and, I think sooner, rather than later.  We cannot continue indefinitely to fund the spending of the richest country on earth with the savings of one of the poorest.

Consider:

The total debt and future obligation of the US government now exceeds, by a substantial percentage, the total with of the country’s assets.  We have a mountain of debt and payment obligations that exceeds our ability to  meet, even if we were able to liquidate the entire country.

If we wish to retire those obligations we have essentially two alternatives:  We can repudiate them, or we can pay them off through hyperinflation, which, as a practical matter, amounts to the same thing.

For instance, let’s take social security and medicare.  We simply don’t have enough money to pay those obligations.  We can slash benefits, or eliminate cost of living increases, which is nothing more than  repudiating the debt.  We can raise the payroll tax to 30% or more, but that will slow economic growth so much that the increase in revenue will be more than offset by the increased unemployment  and slower GDP growth that would result, which would make it even more difficult to pay off other obligations, such as Treasury Bonds.  Or we can simply print the money, and pay off the paper obligation with money that has signifigantly less purchasing power than the face value of the obligation.

However we go about it, it amounts to a repudiation of all or part of our obliations, and reveals that the government is both faithless and, as investors take note of the repudiation and decide not to buy government paper any more, creditless as well.  What paper they have, they will attempt to unload on any idiot stupid enough to take them.

The dollar will collapse to the point that imported goods, even cheap, shoddily made Chinese ones, might as well be made of unobtainium.

The life savings of million upon millions of Americans will evaporate overnight.

There will be serious hardship, and massive unemployment.

That’s the kind of hardship I’m talking about.

So, how much trust will there be in a government who, after all that, comes back and says, “We’ve learned our lesson.  Trust us now.  It’ll all be different this time.” among a people who’ve watched the government repudiate all of the promises made over the last 70 years?

And how much more will this be true if there is a feasible, private alternative, consisting of hundreds, perhaps thousands of independent sources of money, and credit?  One whose reliability can be publicly judged every minute of every day, and which has no coercive power?

It wouldn’t take a revolution to force the government out of the money and economics business.  Or the retirement or health care business.  All it will take is a lack of trust. Who will want to do business with an entity that has utterly failed to deserve any trust?

The collapse itself will be the revolution.

UPDATE:  By the way, the government’s repudiation of its obligations has already begun, in regards to Social Security.  If you are in my age cohort or younger, you are not allowed to retire at age 65.  Your retirement age is now 72.  The government changed the deal.  For us, we have to wait an additional 7 years to begin collecting our benefits.  Those of us who do not die before age 72, that is.

That wasn’t the deal we had when we started our working lives.  The government unilaterally changed the terms of our Social Security compact.  They didn’t call it “repudiation” but, that’s certainly what it was.