Re: TWO RIGHTS MAKE A WRONG (Ted Rall, 3/1/05) http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&u=/ucru/20050302/cm_ucru/tworightsmakeawrong It's the first time I've agreed with the majority of one of Ted Rall's pieces. My only complaint is that Ted didn't come out more strongly in favor of the homeowners. We're in the situation we're in because of a bad court decision in 1981 (called Poletown) which was just overturned in 2004. Eminent Domain confiscations of land are supposed to be for public use, not "public benefit" which an mean anything one wants it to mean. There is nothing more fundamental to our Republic and our economy than property rights. It is truly frightening to hear even one Supreme Court justice hint that they are sympathetic to the government of New London, CT. New London wants to take people's homes to feather their own bureaucratic nests. [Note: The Colorado legislature has just thought of another creative way to abuse eminent domain. They want to take part of a person's land through which they will run train tracks. They claim that the rest of the land will increase in value because of the train tracks (and stations) and use that future increase to decrease the amount they claim they should pay now as fair compensation to the land owner. I was pleased to have a letter to the Editor of the Denver Post printed on this issue.]
Re: "Juveniles will evade death penalty, not harsh justice" (USA Today, Editorial, 3/2/05) http://www.usatoday.com/news/opinion/editorials/2005-03-01-edit_x.htm Whether or not one agrees with the effect of the Supreme Court verdict eliminating the death penalty for minors, the logic they used to reach their verdict was a example of just the sort of judicial activism and abuse of power which infuriates many Americans. In his majority opinion, Justice Kennedy wrote about a consensus among states but fewer than half of states with the death penalty ban it for all criminals below the age of 18. Even worse, the majority were swayed by “international opinion” including a United Nations document. Neither factor should be relevant to the Supreme Court. This is legislation, plain and simple, and not the proper function of judges in a Federal Republic. One might approve or disapprove of a 17-year old mass-murdering sniper being executed versus imprisoned, but we should all be afraid when unelected unaccountable judges start making law rather than interpreting law in the context of the Constitution as is their duty.
I'm watching Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), Chairman of the House Commerce Committee, saying that he wants to increase indecency fines for broadcasters up to $500,000 and try to find a way to apply them to cable and satellite broadcasters. These are the guys who make me embarrassed to support Republicans. They're for free markets....except if there are swear words involved. Will I get fined if I say "%&*@ them and their attempts at censorship"? Sorry, lost my temper for a moment....
In his testimony before the House today, Alan Greenspan finally said what seems logical to me: He "suspects" that personal retirement accounts add to overall national savings and boost the national "capital stock". For the record, the logic of this is only enhanced by Paul Krugman's vehement opposition. I was disappointed in Greenspan the last time he spoke. He seems to have realized how pro-big-government he sounded last time. He's being quite aggressive today, in a subtle Greenspan-speak sort of way, about the benefits of personal accounts and the fact that the system as it is now is unsustainable. He finally made the argument I've been making for a long time but which people in Washington have been afraid of: That the Social Security surplus masks true government spending and that if there were really a Trust Fund which held Social Security funds the deficit would be more like $550B instead of $400B. THIS IS HUGE: Now, as I type, he's making the critical point that in personal accounts, unlike Social Security, "that wealth is yours" which has several important implications including that you have control over your own future and that you can bequeath your savings. "Private accounts will build up individual wealth which is a value in itself." More Greenspan quotes from today: (Note, I might miss a word or two trying to keep up with him while he's speaking but I'll quote as accurately as I can.) "Going to private accounts is a way to create the whole funding which is essential, and is a way to guarantee the retirement benefits of future retirees." "The current system is completely inappropriate for the demographics we have now....We have to find a better model than exists today." On another issue, the trade deficit: "Analysis shows little relationship between the trade deficit and jobs." "We open our economy to goods from abroad which we obviously purchase because they are cheaper or better than what we could buy at home." "The interest of Americans combined with the willingness of foreigners to finance us is the cause of the trade deficit numbers you bring up. It's an issue of choice on the part of the American people." "Because the financing accumulates over the years and we have to pay interest on that debt, we have to make sure things are in balance...we should constrain our appetite our imported goods. However what works well for us is exchange rates, differential wage rates...the market and globalization generally deals with these issues and have improved quality of life for people around the world." "As difficult as competition is for a lot of us...we have to acknowledge the fact that competition adds to standards of living and makes us all work better and harder, and makes for a better society." Greenspan agreed with a liberal democrat that he's concerned with a widening disparity in national income between rich and poor. But, he then turned the issue well saying that "it's fundamentally an issue of education" (as opposed to taxation.) "We have to find out why other countries education their children better than we do."
here's an interesting piece by Rich Lowry of National Review which follows nicely on my prior comments regarding the AARP's hypocrisy. http://www.townhall.com/columnists/richlowry/rl20050228.shtml
Re: Southern Strategies (The Nation, Chris Kromm, March 1, 2005) http://www.thenation.com/doc.mhtml?i=20050314&s=kromm "Progressivism" is a one-word oxymoron. The problem with the Progressive movement is that it is one of our major obstacles to economic progress and to freedom. Beginning with the movement's best-known founder, John Dewey, Progressivism was an elitist movement which argued that most important decisions should be made by a class of "disinterested bureaucrats" who would be "experts" in a given field. It's the ultimate, at least in a democracy, in "I know better than you do what's good for you." It's a perspective that does not sell well to most Americans outside a few big cities on the coasts. Luckily for the country Progressivism will likely never sell well in the South.
Just wanted to let you know that an excerpt from a long opinion piece which I wrote for the Rocky Mountain News (published 12/31/04) was just published in the March 14, 2005 issue of Forbes. (Free) membership is required to view it in the "Other Comments" section of the web site, or you can just check page 28 of the magazine. http://www.forbes.com/business/forbes/2005/0314/028.html And in case you don't want to do either thing, here's the text: Reason for Optimism For those of us who believe in personal responsibility and limited government, our courts have given us reason for optimism for the first time in years. The government's case against "big tobacco" is the ultimate example of using the courts to extort revenue from private industry. The 1998 tobacco settlement showed lawyers that there is big money in going after unpopular habits and ignoring personal responsibility. This trend is even more frightening when the case is joined by the government with its unlimited litigation budget. I do not argue that tobacco companies have been excellent corporate citizens or that there is nothing for which they could be held responsible. [But] we should cheer each time a court slaps down a case of aggressive attorneys seeking out deep pockets regardless of responsibility. --Ross Kaminsky, Rocky Mountain News
A lot of people have lost a lot of money betting on rising interest rates in the past couple years. Similarly some people have missed making a lot of money by avoiding real estate over the same time period. Although it's often atrributed to J.P. Morgan, it seems it was actually Bernard Baruch who said "I made all my money by selling too soon." I think this will be what many people who have recently sold residential real estate will be saying. Residential real estate markets are very local in nature with very different price trends and very different reasons behind demographic and price changes. But overall I believe too many people are chasing housing much as they chased internet stocks in 2000. My bet is that interest rates, both short and long term, will continue to rise for the next year or two and that housing prices will be flat to lower to much lower in different parts of the country. Of course, this is "my position speaking" to a degree: I used to own property in Chicago and sold it a year ago at what I thought was a good price, and I consider myself very happy to be renting right now. (And I'm short 10-year note futures.) Housing is a bit different from stocks because everyone needs a place to live and our tax code subsidizes housing purchases. But just like every other market the price is determined at the margin, i.e. by how many people want to buy or sell at that time. It does not take a large imbalance of more sellers than buyers or vice-versa to have a substantial short- or medium-term impact on almost any market. Housing is no exception though the price effects take somewhat longer to be seen due to the lack of liquidity in the market and the relatively poor information flow within the market. People are much less likely to believe a decrease in housing prices whereas they can clearly see the decrease in a stock price. Also, people are rarely in the kind of rush to sell a house that they might be to sell a stock Therefore, it takes a longer time and relatively more information for a seller to come down in price to meet the current market. All in all, I think the housing market is in for a very rough stretch which could possibly put a damper on the stock market as well. This does not mean I'm bearish on the economy...I'm not. But if I owned real estate now I would pay close attention to Bernard Baruch. [Here's an interesting article on the same subject including some more specific data: http://cbs.marketwatch.com/news/story.asp?guid=%7BBFC12252%2D81EE%2D426D%2D9815%2DFCD6033BD228%7D&siteid=mktw&dist=
As a brief follow-up to my recent piece on the war, I’d like to point out a couple more very interesting news stories. First, getting a lot of press is Syria’s announcement that they will leave Lebanon. In an interview with Time Magazine, Syrian President Assad said they will likely be out in three to six months. This is a huge positive for democracy in the Middle East and for the security of Israel. http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1032860,00.html Second, and possibly more interesting though less publicized are the statements by leading Sunnis in Iraq that it was a mistake to boycott the elections and that they are working hard to get involved in the political process. I strongly recommend you read this article in USA Today: http://www.usatoday.com/news/world/iraq/2005-02-27-sunnis_x.htm As Larry Kudlow said on his web site (http://lkmp.blogspot.com), the dominos are falling.
I’m often asked by friends who know I think about this stuff a lot: “Was the war in Iraq worth it?” Most of them know that I thought at the time of invasion that it was, on balance, the right decision. Most of them know I thought the Bush administration did a terrible job planning for everything after the military engagement, and probably got a bit lucky there too. As demonstrated by how they treated (fired, some say) General Shinseki after he argued that occupying Iraq would take twice as long and twice as many men as President Bush had said, it was clear that the Administration had not learned the key lesson of Vietnam: Don’t let politics interfere with military decision making. I think they did learn the lesson eventually, however, and we hear very little about such problems now. How does one tell the mother of a dead 20-year old soldier that “it’s worth it”? How does one quantify the value of the war versus the tax dollars it’s costing? I don’t have good answers to either of these so it’s with a mixture of confidence and uncertainty that I say “Yes, the war was worth it.” I recently attended the annual retreat of the Leadership Program of the Rockies (http://www.leadershipprogram.org), which I’m privileged to be a part of this year. (I encourage any Colorado residents who believe in liberty and free markets and who are interested in enhancing their leadership skills to apply for next year.) Two of the speakers addressed the current situation in Iraq. First was retired US Army Major General Paul Vallely whom you might recognize from Fox News. (http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,37307,00.html) Second was Zainab Al-Suwaij, an inspiring Iraqi woman who has been living in exile in America for most of the last 15 years and is now a major force in Iraqi education and in encouraging participation of women in Iraqi politics. (http://www.womenforiraq.org/zainabalsuwaij.php) Though the people they know and talk to in Iraq are very different, they both tell the same story: Things are going much better in Iraq and in the region than the media would lead you to believe. When the average Iraqi is asked what complaint they have about the American invasion, a common answer is “The Americans took too long to come here.” Infrastructure repair is going well. The political situation, although very dynamic and under constant attack from non-Iraqi insurgents, does not seem to be tending toward civil war. We may yet end up with a democratic (if not exactly liberal) country in the heart of the Middle East. Although the government is likely to be dominated by Shiites, they are likely to be relatively independent of Iran. Furthermore the Kurds will have major representation in the government. Although the Sunnis didn’t participate in large numbers in the elections nor get any significant number of their own elected, the Shiites and Kurds know that it is not in their interest to risk a civil war by abusing the Sunnis. I hope they keep that big picture in mind despite the years of oppression by some of the Sunnis under Saddam’s Baath party. It appears that with some good planning, some luck, and some strength, Iraq itself will turn out OK. Plenty of things can still go wrong and I fervently hope that those in charge will have the combination of skill and good fortune necessary to forge the best possible outcome. Yet, a good outcome for Iraq itself is not enough to make me say the war was a good idea or has been “worth it”. In fact, for me it’s less than half of the reason. [Let me only give it one sentence because anybody who argues it does not understand much: This war was not about oil.] Although we can argue over whether Iraq was a substantial threat to the US or its interests, there is no doubt that many of its neighbors were, including Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Syria, with Yemen, Egypt and Libya as near-neighbors who also behaved badly. Saudi created and harbored terrorists, as did Iran and Syria. They all funded and supported Palestinian murderers. The Saudis had the temerity to act like our friends while stabbing us in the back. Yemen had its share of terrorists including those who attacked the USS Cole. Egypt fomented Muslim fundamentalism and Lybia...well who knew exactly what they were doing but it wasn’t good. The US had a serious problem: How do we cause changes of behavior in many countries at once, especially after we had been little more than a paper tiger for decades in the region with the exception of the first Gulf War? There was no good answer, but the best of the lot was to invade Iraq. There was a chance that Saddam had “weapons of mass destruction” and he certainly had demonstrated a willingness to use them. But that argument was always a straw man for much larger strategic goals which the Administration probably believed were too complicated and/or too subtle for the American people to support as a reason for war...even if they were much better reasons than the ones given to us. Given the real goals for the war, ones which I believe were massively in our national interest, it is by that standard which I now believe the war has been worth it. Saudi Arabia is curtailing the influence of militant Islam, especially in their education system where it does the most long-term damage. They are implementing local elections. Syria, while far from trustworthy, has just captured Saddam’s half-brother and turned over to the Iraqis. They also seem to be moving towards withdrawal from their long-term occupation of Lebanon and the Syrian-installed Prime Minister and cabinet have announced their resignation to the cheers of the people. Yemen has handed down and upheld in court death sentences for the USS Cole bombers. President Mubarek of Egypt has just said he would allow opposition candidates to run in their upcoming election. And Libya gave up its nuclear weapons program. These countries, while still not behaving well, are far more complaint now that they see our determination to prevent threats emanating from the Middle East. Iran is still a major problem, especially with their nuclear ambitions. But there is no doubt that even the hint of cooperation we or the Europeans get from them is due to their new-found respect for the USA’s resolve in the region. Many people forget that Bush is the most ideological President we’ve had since Reagan. He truly believes it when he says that freedom in the world is in our interest, and I believe it too. Although it’s going to be a long and arduous process, freedom appears to be on the march in the Middle East and militant Islam appears to be under attack...by other Muslims and Arabs, as we need it to be. For these reasons even more than for the liberation of Iraq, I believe the war has been worth it. That said, I offer my deepest sympathy and profound thanks to those who have been killed or injured in the war and to those who continue to serve their country. [Note: For those of you who are interested in an in-depth and apolitical analysis of why we went to war in Afghanistan and Iraq, I highly recommend George Friedman’s “America’s Secret War”. (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0385512457/qid%3D1109565817/sr%3D8-1/002-6601071-6566417)]