09 Sep 2009

My Perceptive Son

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My son has lately been in the habit of assigning gender to everything in sight. E.g. “The table, it’s a girl.” (When he’s a bit older I can explain that they do this in France. But we’re Americans!)

He is also at that awkward stage where he can take care of his potty business but needs adult supervision. After relieving himself, he pointed in the potty and said, “The poopy, it’s a boy.”

How astute! I’ve heard many women state this truism (or actually its reverse), but never at such a young age.

08 Sep 2009

That Settles It, Glenn Beck Cannot Be Trusted

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I guess deep down I knew it was all an act, but this clinches it. Watch the first one if you haven’t already (just the first 50 seconds), and then the “explanation.” *sigh* Go ahead and call me a fool in the comments, but I was holding out hope. I can’t make excuses any more.

08 Sep 2009

Potpourri

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* Jeff Tucker says some very politically incorrect things about higher education.

* Rob Bradley discusses the Houston Chronicle science reporter’s public doubts on the “consensus” that he had been confidently told four years ago. (And if you don’t trust anything from Rob Bradley, here is the Chronicle reporter’s post. Nothing “anti-science” in there, it seems to me. Just saying, “Whoa, four years ago I was told this was a slam-dunk, and now even some top IPCC people are saying we might have a decade or two of cooling from this point. Huh?”)

* Scott Sumner doesn’t let Krugman off the hook (in his “What Went Wrong With Economics?” 8-pager) as easily as I did. Scott shows that Krugman’s apparently fair and balanced survey of what happened in the last few years, doesn’t jibe with Krugman’s blog posts. Specifically, in his Solomonic magazine piece, Krugman says that the Fed did what it could but failed, whereas Scott shows that this doesn’t fit in with what Krugman knows about options the Fed could have tried.

* Glenn Greenwald explains the ruling against Ashcroft. This is some scary stuff. For those who think Obama at least spared us “another Bush,” try this:

The real significance of this case is that it highlights the dangers and evils of preventive detention — an issue that will be front and center when Obama shortly presents his proposal for a preventive detention scheme, something he first advocated in May. What Ashcroft is accused of doing illegally is exactly the same thing Obama wants the legal power to do (except that Obama’s powers would presumably apply to foreign nationals, not citizens): namely, order people imprisoned as Terrorist suspects — “preventively detained” — where there is insufficient evidence to prove they committed any crime.

I really urge everyone to read the section of the court’s decision which sets forth in a concise, clear and non-legalistic manner the facts of what was done to al-Kidd by the DOJ: it’s just 3 pages long, beginning on page 12271 [.pdf] (“Facts and Procedural Background”) through 12274 (the three pages after that, also highly recommended, detail Ashcroft’s culpability in creating this nefarious, illegal detention scheme). Please just go read this 3-page section laying out the facts of what was done to al-Kidd’s life and what preventive detention powers allow the Government to do. Anyone who supports Obama’s call for a preventive detention scheme is, by definition, supporting things like this (though, if anything, what happened to al-Kidd — as horrible as it is — is short and innocuous compared to what a “prolonged detention” scheme would permit: years of indefinite, charge-free imprisonment).

(I was going to scan the 3-page description and post the most unsavory things, but I leave it as an exercise for the reader.)

* Dan Kish sends me this link [.pdf] with the note, “I think you might find this book familiar.” Hmm, indeed.

* Mario Rizzo continues to explain how ridiculous the pro-stimulus arguments from the Administration are, but he decides to get a little saucy:

At the outset of the Obama Administration, as Greg Mankiw reminds us, their economists laid out a series of predictions about where the unemployment rate would be with the stimulus package and without it. Currently, the economy is doing worse than their predictions of unemployment without the stimulus and, of course, much worse than the predictions with stimulus.

You wouldn’t know this from the statements being made by Obama, Romer, Summers, et al. All of those statements focus on the second derivative: the unemployment rate is growing less quickly than before.

Now it is a “well-known” constant of economics that, in the absence of fiscal stimulus, the rate of increase in unemployment never falls. The big debate among economists is whether that rate remains constant or increases — in the absence of stimulus.

Now it is quite impossible for the rate of increase itself to increase without limit. So I guess the law must be: In the absence of stimulus the rate of increase will remain constant until no one is employed. Or perhaps until the Great Depression’s famous unemployment rate of 25 percent is reached.

In case he is too clever by half here, what Rizzo means is that even with no stimulus, obviously at some point the recession would have bottomed out, and the rate of increase of jobless workers would first have dropped, until finally it became negative (i.e. net jobs started to be added to the economy). So for the Administration tools to say, “The stimulus is working! The economy is shedding fewer jobs per month now, than it was before the money kicked in!” is a complete non sequitur.

* Due to my email to Jeff Hummel, Bob Higgs has clarified his assertion about real wages falling in the 1920-1921 depression. See? Who would have thought one email could change the world. (Note that Higgs and I were both unjustifiably confident in our position; Hummel slapped back my email and then I said something like, “Whoa you should send this to Higgs because he made the same mistake.”)

* I have been sitting on the latest Auburn/GMU skirmish (concerning Mises’ views of fractional reserve banking) because obviously, you don’t casually throw down against the combined forces of Horwitz, Rizzo, and O’Driscoll. But I’ve got a bunch of traveling coming up, so I’m not going to get hip-deep into quotations from various editions of The Theory of Money and Credit. Let me just relate this anecdote:

At a party at Tom Woods’ house, I actually managed to get Bob Lawson and Walter Block to call a truce. They were going at it, fueled by righteous indignation and alcohol [UPDATE: Walter emailed me and said he doesn't drink, so I mistook his Diet Coke for alcohol, sorry], and I said something like this: “OK what about this compromise? Bob is telling Walter that there is no way a modern financial economy is going to do business with all current banking operations turning into 100% reserves. Walter keeps insisting that two people can’t have a simultaneous claim to the same piece of property. So, what if Bob’s predictions are right, but what happens is that the volume of checking deposits shrinks considerably, to be replaced by an increase in very short-term loans?” Believe it or not, they both seemed happy with my suggestion.

08 Sep 2009

The Walls Come Tumbling Down in Jericho, Ark.

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In this blog post Karen DeCoster talks about a fire chief who was shot in court by police officers, and then says, “The police department in this town exists to steal from and harass its residents.” I thought, “Ah yes, the LRC hyperbole we’ve all [well some of us] come to love and expect.” So I clicked on the link to see if there were some specific thing that drove Karen to say that, since her beliefs mean that all police departments exist to steal from and harass residents (since taxation = theft in pure libertarian theory).

Well guess what? Karen wasn’t joking. This has to be one of the craziest AP stories I’ve ever read. Did you even think this was possible before reading the story? (Or I should say, did you think it was possible that it would be reported so brazenly?)

I was going to try to edit out the extraneous stuff, but really, you just have to read this whole thing. Otherwise you’ll think I cut out the “explanatory” portions.

JERICHO, Ark. – It was just too much, having to return to court twice on the same day to contest yet another traffic ticket, and Fire Chief Don Payne didn’t hesitate to tell the judge what he thought of the police and their speed traps.

The response from cops? They shot him. Right there in court.

Payne ended up in the hospital, but his shooting last week brought to a boil simmering tensions between residents of this tiny former cotton city and their police force. Drivers quickly learn to slow to a crawl along the gravel roads and the two-lane highway that run through Jericho, but they say sometimes that isn’t enough to fend off the city ticketing machine.

“You can’t even get them to answer a call because normally they’re writing tickets,” said Thomas Martin, chief investigator for the Crittenden County Sheriff’s Department. “They’re not providing a service to the citizens.”

Now the police chief has disbanded his force “until things calm down,” a judge has voided all outstanding police-issued citations and sheriff’s deputies are asking where all the money from the tickets went. With 174 residents, the city can keep seven police officers on its rolls but missed payments on police and fire department vehicles and saw its last business close its doors a few weeks ago.

“You can’t even buy a loaf of bread, but we’ve got seven police officers,” said former resident Larry Harris, who left town because he said the police harassment became unbearable.

Sheriff’s deputies patrolled Jericho until the 1990s, when the city received grant money to start its own police force, Martin said.

Police often camped out in the department’s two cruisers along the highway that runs through town, waiting for drivers who failed to slow down when they reached the 45 mph zone ringing Jericho. Residents say the ticketing got out of hand.

“When I first moved out here, they wrote me a ticket for going 58 mph in my driveway,” 75-year-old retiree Albert Beebe said.

The frequent ticketing apparently led to the vandalization of the cruisers, and the department took to parking the cars overnight at the sheriff’s department eight miles away.

It was anger over traffic tickets that brought Payne to city hall last week, said his lawyer, Randy Fishman. After Payne failed to get a traffic ticket dismissed on Aug. 27, police gave Payne or his son another ticket that day. Payne, 39, returned to court to vent his anger to Judge Tonya Alexander, Fishman said.

It’s unclear exactly what happened next, but Martin said an argument between Payne and the seven police officers who attended the hearing apparently escalated to a scuffle, ending when an officer shot Payne from behind.

Doctors in Memphis, Tenn., removed a .40-caliber bullet from Payne’s hip bone, Martin said. Another officer suffered a grazing wound to his finger from the bullet.

Martin declined to name the officer who shot Payne. It’s unclear if the officer has been disciplined.

Prosecutor Lindsey Fairley said Thursday that he didn’t plan to file any felony charges against the officer or Payne. Fairley, reached at his home, said Payne could face a misdemeanor charge stemming from the scuffle, but that would be up to the city’s judge. He said he didn’t remember the name of the officer who fired the shot.

Payne remains in good condition at the Regional Medical Center at Memphis. He referred questions to his lawyer.

“I know that he was unarmed and I know he was shot,” Fishman said. “None of that sounds too good for the city to me.”

After the shooting, Martin said police chief Willie Frazier told the sheriff’s department he was disbanding the police force “until things calm down.” The sheriff’s department has been patrolling the town in the meantime.

A call to a city hall number listed as Frazier’s went to a fax machine. Frazier did not respond to a written request for comment sent to his office.

Alexander, the judge, has voided all the tickets written by the department both inside the city and others written outside of its jurisdiction — citations that the department apparently had no power to write. Alexander, who works as a lawyer in West Memphis, resigned as Jericho’s judge in the aftermath of the shooting, Fairley said. She did not return calls for comment.

Meanwhile, sheriff’s deputies want to know where the money from the traffic fines went. Martin said that it appeared the $150 tickets weren’t enough to protect the city’s finances. Sheriff’s deputies once had to repossess one of the town’s police cruisers for failure to pay on a lease, and the state Forestry Commission recently repossessed one of the city’s fire trucks because of nonpayment.

City hall has been shuttered since the shooting, and any records of how the money was spent are apparently locked inside. No one answered when a reporter knocked on the door on Tuesday.

Mayor Helen Adams declined to speak about the shooting when approached outside her home, saying she had just returned from a doctor’s appointment and couldn’t talk.

“We’ll get with you after all this comes through,” Adams said Tuesday before shutting the door.

A white Ford Crown Victoria sat in her driveway with “public property” license plates. A sales brochure advertising police equipment sat in the back seat of the car.

Wasn’t there an awful Chevy Chase / Dan Akroyd movie about this town?

08 Sep 2009

Are "They" Suppressing the Gold Price?

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As I’m sure many of you know, there is a whole industry (e.g. here) out there on how The Man is keeping down gold prices in order to keep everybody fat and happy with hanging on to fiat money. This stuff is typical of conspiracy theories; some of it is plain common sense–like quoting Greenspan and Bernanke saying matter-of-factly that they and other central bankers discuss when to sell gold when its price gets too high–whereas other stuff seems to think that there is no true market in gold at all, and that every wiggle in the price reflects Bernanke’s mood.

But today, the conspiracy theorists have a good case. Gold shot up this morning above $1,000, but now has fallen back down to $998.60 (as of this writing), making it up about 0.19% for the session. But here’s the interesting thing: Silver is up 1.57%, oil is up 5.03%, natural gas is up 4.36%, the euro is up 1.36%, the USD buys 1.04% fewer yen, and the British pound is up 1.1%.

Isn’t that a bit odd? Obviously, every market is unique, but in its capacity as an internationally traded and fungible commodity, you’d think gold would perform comparably to those other things mentioned. And yet its initial gains out of the chute have been beaten back by some sellers. I wonder who?

Give me a B…B! Give me an E…E! Give me an N…N!

08 Sep 2009

$1000 Gold: "Was[n't] the Spring, Then Spring Became the Summer / Who’d a Believed You’d Come Aloooong?"

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Gold broke $1000 this morning. I had previously confidently predicted (in the comments here) it would happen “by summer.” OK I was wrong about that, and the reason is that I foolishly thought the politicians would pressure the banks to lend out all those new reserves. (That was the whole justification for the bailouts, you may remember. It wasn’t about shoring up insolvent banks, it was about keeping credit flowing so businesses could make their payrolls–you know, the businesses that borrow money every month to pay their employees.)

Anyway I was off on my prediction, but I also want to remind everyone that my main antagonists in this keep talking of a giant deflationary credit collapse. I don’t have any specific predictions handy that I can point to, but these people would not have said back in January that gold would break $1000 again in 2009.

07 Sep 2009

Van Jones Must Be Fuming

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He was brought down by this guy?! (Just watch the first 50 seconds; you’ll see.)

07 Sep 2009

Van Jones Had to Resign Because He Was Black

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I can’t believe I am so naive that I didn’t see this coming. I guess that shows how deep-seated my bigotry is. Anyway Carl Pope, Executive Director of the Sierra Club, has now explained:

Thursday evening I got worried. Friday I put in a call to ask Van Jones how to help. Saturday I started writing a blog post, which would have appeared this morning…But on Saturday night, Van resigned, and this morning I was sick at heart. Collectively we — the environmental community, progressives, and the Obama administration — blew this, and we let our cause, our president, and Van Jones down.

This was a lynch mob and, when it started forming a month ago, we didn’t take it seriously enough. When I saw the first Glenn Beck piece on Van Jones and the Apollo Alliance as the new vast left-wing conspiracy, I could not take it seriously…I assumed it would blow over.

Well, that was a mistake. So was the decision by the White House to treat the initial attacks not as part of an assault on the president but, instead, to allow them to be viewed as being about Van Jones. What we underestimated was the power of the fact that both Jones and the Barack Obama are black. Yes, the hysteria was about politics — I don’t think Fox News really cares about Jones’s ethnicity — but it was enabled by race. Calling Bush a “crack-head” is seen by a large part of America as worse than calling him “addict-in-chief” because crack is not just a drug — it is a drug used largely by black people. It reminds those Americans who are still uncomfortable with Barack Obama that we have a black president.

This is really annoying. The same people who supposedly hate Obama (and Van Jones) because of their skin color, also adored Colin Powell (before he turned on the war) and Clarence Thomas. The same supposed bigots who blindly listen to Rush Limbaugh, also tuned in with great joy last Friday when the guest host was Walter Williams and he (as usual) had Thomas Sowell call in for an interview. And I think they like Condoleeza Rice a whole lot more than Joe Biden.

Oh, I know, that stuff doesn’t count because those people aren’t really black, since they are Republicans and/or libertarians. And come to think of it, it doesn’t count either if a corporate boss promotes somebody who was literally born in Africa and speaks with a British accent, and thinks Mozart is devil music.

Let’s make sure you understand, this isn’t about objective behavior (like cursing) this is about cultural imperialism:

What was the reactionary right up to on Friday? They sent operatives out to San Quentin prison to obtain videotapes of workshops that Van Jones conducted there while he was working to help prisoners transition back to society. (The inmates wouldn’t let them get their hands on them — they knew, before I did, how serious this was.) They were cuing up video clips from teenagers that Jones taught in the Oakland ghetto in 2000. If you watch the infamous “a**holes” video carefully, it’s clear that what Jones was saying was that Republicans play hardball better than Democrats, and that we need to start playing by their rules. He said it, though, in the language of his own community — and that, at the end of the day, was his crime. He spoke to and was of a part of an America that Fox and the reactionary right would like to put back on the plantation or pretend is not part of our nation.

Last point: I fully admit that if a white Democrat were in power and doing the exact same things as Obama, that many of Obama’s harshest critics would not be quite as scandalized. But that admission is a far cry from saying, “Van Jones had to resign because he and Obama are black.” Give me a break.

Middle-class white people like me obviously don’t really know what it’s like to have shopkeepers assume you’re a criminal, and to have to worry that a cop will shoot you for no reason. I grant that, and man that must suck. So when some loud mouth white guys say that black people should quit belly-aching all the time, those guys are idiots and don’t know what they’re talking about.

But it can swing the other way too. The furor over Van Jones was because he claimed he had become a communist. The mainstream media and politicians channeled the outrage into irrelevant a-hole remarks because that’s what they do, they make sure the American people don’t think too hard about what’s going on with the federal government. This has very very little to do with Van Jones’ skin color.