Friday, August 29, 2008

Obama speaks modestly

He took 20 minutes to deliver a very lengthy message. Reason Magazine has a more succinct version of it:

The Shorter Barack Obama

Government cannot solve all our problems. Just the ones involving energy, education, work, the weather, cities, the countryside, sick children, sick mothers, joblessness, hopelessness, and frightening foreigners who do not live in Iraq. Now if you'll all look under your seats, every one of you is going home with a new car!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Book Review: Freedom Under Siege

I've just sped thru this brief 156 page book by Ron Paul, which was written back in 1988. Obviously, it puts forward a libertarian stance on issues, and always holds the U.S Constitution up as being the highest priority and the guiding institution for government and society.

The book is fairly narrow in scope. There are two positions that Ron Paul supports in his book as being the absolutely essential requirements of a free society: No military draft, and sound money. Other political issues are basically skimmed over.

He will only briefly criticise economic interventions, but the bulk of the book is directed at the Washington policy makers who support a tough and expansive foreign policy, as well as the historical and tragic departure from the gold standard towards an inflationary fiat paper money standard.

I wouldn't rate this book too highly, especially after having recently finished Atlas Shrugged. Atlas Shrugged defends freedom, both economic and social, from a moral perspective. And it gives an outline of the material doom brought about by socialism.

As for this book, well, it doesn't acheive much and won't change too many minds. Those who don't understand why sound money is so important, and those who think spreading freedom, democracy and security *in foreign nations* through military force is a proper function of government, won't learn much from this book, other than the fact that Ron Paul disagrees with them and that it violates the original spirit of the Founders of the Constitution.

It is too short to do much more than reiterate libertarian principles, instead of slowly but precisely defending them. Ron Paul's more recent novel, A Foreign Policy of Freedom, would perhaps convince more people to support his stance on foreign policy.

And reading the works of Rothbard, Hazlitt and von Mises is the best way to appreciate the need for a free and sound money.

The book is available online in pdf format here:

Why free market economics is the only rational analysis

Sadly, we live in a time where people turn to the brutal and clumsy fist of government to solve, address, tackle, and alleviate a wide range of problems.

To be rational is to use reason in guiding all human actions and decisions. Economics, by definition, is the science of decision-making, and how to go about it rationally.

All the history books show that unconstrained and free decision making (i.e capitalism and liberty) are the best institutions for individuals to rationally pursue their goals in life.

Free market economics concludes government has no role except to protect your rights and freedoms in any transaction. When this conclusion is given low priority, overlooked, diminished or in any way, ignored, free individuals lose their way and come up with all kinds of government "solutions" to issues. Like the following new tax in Britain:

Before the changes, vacant offices and shops received rate relief of 50% and industrial units gained full relief. Now all unused commercial property has to pay full business rates after a three-month period of grace for commercial premises and six months for industrial property and warehouses, adding about £1.3bn a year to government coffers.

A Treasury spokesman yesterday defended the tax reform and said it had followed the independent recommendations of experts Kate Barker and Sir Michael Lyons to encourage owners to bring empty properties back into productive use and discourage deliberate dereliction

A quick recap - the government, based on its wisdom, and independent recommendations of "experts", decides to levy a tax on landlords who have vacant premises after a few months. The intention is to pressure the landlords to lower their rents so that all properties are occupied.

The result, is predictable, just ask any free market economist what would have happened:
John Nicholls, who chairs a group representing the government-funded urban regeneration companies (URCs), said yesterday that owners are demolishing empty buildings to avoid paying the tax introduced in the most recent budget, leaving parts of the country "resembling bomb sites". Regeneration projects had been rendered unworkable, threatening jobs and new homes, he said. Some developers are simply leaving sites unfinished rather than risk liability for the tax.

"There is a lot of pre-emptive demolition going on. This is already having a visual impact - cities are beginning to look like broken teeth."

Of course the new tax would backfire ! When you impose a tax to discourage a certain kind of behaviour (owning commercial property but not renting it out immediately), individual people respond with all kinds of creative ways to avoid that tax (demolishing the building to avoid the tax).

As I said before, government solutions to an ever increasing range of "problems" are always clumsy and brutal.

These problems range from alcoholism, drugs, sickness and poor education to housing; from security at airports to online content and speech; from riding bicycles to smoking cigarettes. Why the very fact of people enjoying themselves is easily classified as a social problem.

The government solution is brutal because it is forced upon society. Often it is backed up by threats of fines, loss of property, even imprisonment.

The government solution is always clumsy because it is implemented through either;

a/ A heavily bureaucratic system, which takes a one size fits all approach, or in the case of our messy burdensome tax system, it implements a 1000 sizes built to fit 1 million confused people approach.

b/ Public servants are given tremendous new powers to make decisions, imprison, fine or punish people. i.e Security agents at airports can use their new powers to harass 80 year old travellers. Ticket inspectors can gang-bash travellers. Police can gang-bash drunk teenagers and pepper-spray crowds at the tennis.

The solution to this is very simple.

Be VERY careful what you call a "problem for government".

Problems should never be mapped across a society or enlarged. The use of aggregates, statistics is just as dangerous and foolish as taking a snap-poll of a small sample.

The bar should be set so high that the following are the only things that qualify as problems for government to deal with:
  • Theft
  • Murder
  • Assault
  • Destruction of other people's property
  • Invading armies
  • Violating agreements and contracts
  • Fraud
Alcohol fueled violence is not a definable problem for society. But acts of violence against any individual ARE MOST CERTAINLY A PROBLEM. They are a crime, to be precise. Violence against women is not a problem for society. But violence against any individual is, has been, and should always be, a crime. Hooligans hanging around the city and forming gangs is not a problem. But defacing private property with graffiti, and attacking individuals violently is a problem.

You see, society, and its associated rights cannot be reasonably defined, but the individual and their rights most certainly can.

Teenage suicide is not a problem for society or government. Drugs and substance abuse is not a problem for society or government. The cost of health care, education, fuel and groceries is not a problem for government to deal with.

These are all grave issues and problems, but they are personal. Each individual has to deal with their own issues, within their own support groups, and form their own voluntary relationships with friends and family, workers and colleagues.

Lets address the individual violation of rights and deal with crimes against a person and their property. No less and no more.

Rudd delivers nothing, pats himself on the back

We've had 7 months of new taxes (alcopops, luxury cars, light petrol), new government price monitoring (fuelwatch, foodwatch) and symbolism galore from Rudd (using the navy to protect whales, saying sorry, attending olympics, travelling around the world, talking about carbon "pollution").

We've also had promises to absolute screw up the economy with a carbon tax.

What does Rudd say ?


What a load of self serving nonsense this will turn out to be:

After a turbulent resumption of Parliament, Mr Rudd is expected to say that Labor's election promises have either been implemented or delivered in full.

He will then set out an agenda for the remaining 2½ years of his term, starting with another plank of his education revolution.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Coalition threatens to oppose gov't spending

Let's hope this is not empty talk, but the start of a commitment amongst the Liberals to return to their principles and oppose new taxes and new spending programs.

Rudd is not happy, so that alone makes it a good piece of news.

The Coalition's shadow cabinet is also meeting today to consider their final position on a raft of controversial legislation including the $2.5 billion new tax on condensate, a form of light crude oil.

The Opposition remains divided over Senate tactics on the new tax with some West Australian MPs determined to block the revenue raiser amid fears it could increase gas prices.

Mr Rudd warned today the Coalition must accept the responsibility for backing key budget measures.

``The Liberals control the ultimate passage of so much of this through the Senate, so the question of economic responsibility goes fair and squarely back to them,'' Mr Rudd told ABC Radio today.

``Are they going to puncture a $3.7 (billion) or $6.1 billion immediate black hole into the budget at a time of global economic uncertainty?

Ahh the greedy collectivists in Canberra need their loot to go on a spending spree. Forget our "time of global economic uncertainty", did we ever see the government give up revenue in the last decade ?

Oh, and a note of idiocy from Rudd:

``We, as a government, are committed to taking tough decisions and tough action for the economy's long-term interest and also for the environment's long-term interest,'' he said.

``Part of that is acting responsibly on climate change and part of that, in turn, means acting through a pollution reduction scheme.

``This will not come cost-free.''

No.. but it certainly will come benefit free !

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Only an academic could believe in central planning

Today's Age has an article quoting a "transport planning" expert from Melbourne Uni, Nick Low, who suggests the Victorian State Government not renew its rail contract with Connex, a private operator. Instead Nick Low suggest that the government should operate the trains.

The Government would be wise to not reappoint Connex to run the suburban railways, and wiser still to bring the whole operation back into public hands," he says.

Let's find out more about who this Nick Low character is from his website:

Professor Nicholas Low received his Master of Science in Urban and Regional Planning from the University of Strathclyde, Scotland, in 1971, where he won the year prize of the Royal Town Planning Institute. He has taught planning theory, urban studies and environmental ethics in the Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning since 1974. He has published many international journal articles and books including Planning, Politics and the State (Unwin-Hyman, 1991). In 1997 he organised the University of Melbourne Conference on Environmental Justice. His book (with Dr Brendan Gleeson) Justice, Society and Nature (Routledge, 1998) won the Harold and Margaret Sprout Award of the International Studies Association of the USA for the year's best book on ecological politics. His book (also with Gleeson) Australian Urban Planning (Allen and Unwin, 2000) was launched by the Victorian Minister for Planning in 2000.

Current Teaching Responsibilities

702-330 Housing Sustainability

705-828 Australian Urban Planning

705-644 Planning Urban Sustainability

This guy has a great pedigree in socialist central planning and environmental fascism.

So on one hand, we have an academic advocating full central planning and state ownership of the entire rail industry. The past decade has not been satisfactory for this socialist, where:
  • having a private operator who bids every few years for a government contract
  • is only responsible for operating and maintenance.
  • operates in a heavily heavily regulated industry, where government specifies how many services are allowed to run, what the timetable must be, the ticketing system and pricing, the ticket inspectors, the development and replacement of trains and platforms etc etc.
  • does not have property rights and ownership over any stations, trains, ticket machines and the rail network
  • does not receive any revenue from patrons through ticket sales
Is not controlled by the "public" (the state) enough ?!

Somehow the problems with the train system, as numerous as they are, are supposed to be due to the evil process of "privatisation", when no such process ever existed and the rail industry was always regulated and owned by the "public" (gov't bureuacrats).

Look at the cost blowouts for refurbishing Spencer Street Station. Look at the cost blowout and 3 year delay for the new Myki ticketing system. Look at the brutal violence inflicted by ticketing inspectors who are given police powers. And we are supposed to give the government MORE control over the industry ?!??!?!

When a private enterprise bids for a government contract granting it monopoly powers, that is not in any way, shape or form, the free market at work. It is nothing less than crony capitalism, where privileges and powers are granted as government favor, and market share and profits are not earnt by a business.

The Age report this guy's opinion as if it were sane. But of course, to give the appearance of "balance", the Age have to interview at least one other person, the corporate affairs manager for Connex:
"The facts are well known that franchised public transport has delivered good value for money and will continue to do so," he said.

Err.. there are a lot of people who would beg to differ with that. But I do like the use of the words "franchised public transport". They reveal the fact that the transport is already in public hands, with a whole lot of strings ( regulations ) attached. And the fact that Connex is granted a short term monopoly over the industry and it doesn't have any incentive to provide customer satisfaction because it doesn't receive any of the ticketing revenue.

And to show how complex and varied all the options available to the state gov't are, The Age mentions:
The Government will soon announce a shortlist of potential bidders for the $600-million-a-year contract to run Melbourne's trains for the next 15 years.

Wow, so The Age is really appearing balanced today, they're presenting 3 totally different opinions and solutions !!
  1. 100% government control of everything as proposed by Nick Low
  2. Keep Connex as a public franchise, the monopoly operator, subject to government control (regulation + ownership)
  3. Offer other operators the chance to take over the public franchise, subject to government control
Does anybody actually suggest real privatisation, the mechanisms of free markets as the solution ? Will somebody tell the state gov't to get out of the rail industry altogether. Not in the pages of The Age.

The different socialists and crony capitalists fight aggressively over the spoils of government power, and the only area they disagree upon is not whether, but only how the government should control society. Occasionally in their disagreements, they accidentally say some things that actually make sense:
In his speech, Professor Low attacks a proposal by Sir Rod Eddington to build a $9 billion road tunnel from Footscray to Clifton Hill.

The road tunnel proposal will only encourage more people to drive into the city instead of taking public transport, he will say today.

If the road tunnel were to be built, it would encourage future freeways through inner parts of Melbourne, to relieve the traffic pressure it would create.

Professor Low also analyses calls from RMIT academic Paul Mees to abandon Sir Rod's proposed $7 billion rail tunnel from Footscray to Caulfield.

The irony is that he opposeses the road tunnel, not because it isn't the role of government to spend billions on fancy vote-buying projects, but because he wants the money for his own projects and his own agenda (public transport).

Another fellow academic central planner gives his opinion:

Dr Mees argues the rail tunnel would be a waste of money because the problem of overcrowding on Melbourne's rail network was due to poor operational practices and too few trains.

Money should instead be spent on suburban rail extensions and doubling the size of Melbourne's train fleet, Dr Mees says, along with several simpler short-term solutions.

These people are all too eager to suggest how money should be spent wisely, but notice how they are talking about how OTHER PEOPLE'S MONEY should be spent, not their own. Should we really believe that these academics who spend their life writing in support of central planning, state ownership and calling for more resources to public transport don't have an agenda.

Central planning is destined to fail repeatedly, will we ever learn ?

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Age: Filling the news pages with the weather

Sometimes even the casual reader can spot how The Age manufacture their own news stories from nothing more than editorials full of fantasy, speculation and wild guesswork: (via Tim Blair)

The Age, Saturday:

Rising temperatures are likely to bring increased levels of violence to Melbourne by 2010 ...

A climate change risk assessment says increased temperatures are expected to exacerbate the relationship between hot weather, violence and anti-social behaviour.

The Age, Sunday:

Freezing conditions are causing havoc on Victoria’s roads today as a spike in the cold spell delivers widespread rain and even snow to some parts of the state.

UPDATE. The Age, Monday:

Melburnians can expect more cold conditions today, and for the rest of the week.

Bureau of Meteorology senior forecaster Ward Rooney said snow was expected above 900 metres in eastern Victoria, but not in areas closer to Melbourne.

Mr Rooney said while Melbourne’s conditions were cold, they were not out of the ordinary.

“It’s more like the sort of winters we used to have,” he said.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Obama double-speak

from One Cosmos:
The other day, I heard a brilliant analysis of Obama by Rush Limbaugh. He was pointing out that the reason he is reduced to such a stuttering prick (to quote Tommy DeVito) when off the teleprompter, is that he is a deeply divided person, either consciously or unconsciously (and undoubtedly both, in my opinion). He is the polar opposite of, say, Ronald Reagan, who always knew what he thought and could answer any question, for it was simply a matter of returning to first principles and applying them to the problem. Very scientific, if you will.

But one of the intrinsic problems in being a liberal is that you can never reveal your first principles, because if you explicitly articulate them, people will be repelled at what a contemptuous and supercilious asshat you are. Therefore, you must always couch them in terms of "compassion," or "helping the little guy," or "healing the planet," or "unity," or some other such blather. So in that regard, Obama is dealing with a more general problem that is intrinsic to liberalism, which is How to Fool the Idiots. One must be very cautious, because even the idiots are only so stupid. Thus Obama's constant verbal ticks: "uh, uh, uh, let me, uh, say this, uh, uh, I've been completely, uh, consistent about this, blah blah blah."

Being that liberalism is the political embodiment of multiplicity (or of an oppressive "bad unity" to try to heal it), it should not be surprising that its adherents are so intrinsically inconsistent. It's not so much that they are dishonest, but that the whole ideology is dishonest -- it is a lie from the ground up. Which is also why, the worse your character (or the less your intelligence), the better you will fare as a liberal politician, because you will be able to lie with great ease and even fool yourself.

Yes, this is unfortunately true, as silly as it sounds. Only somebody with a lack of memory and intelligence can really advocate progressive ideas.

All progressive ideals are based on big powerful central government choking off freedom and telling people how to live. This is the underlying method, goal and history of socialism. People don't like to hear Obama announce he will take more taxes "because I am better than you and because you have no right to your property" although that is the motivation.

People prefer to hear about "social justice", about "vision" and "the future of society".

directorblue has a great list of Obama's "core unshakeable beliefs right here:

The Surge: "It's fascinating to watch Barack Obama change his opinions on the U.S. troop surge in Iraq... Here's a combo -- a Los Angeles Times report on deletions of Obama's previous anti-surge position on his Web site plus a YouTube video showing his flip-flops on the issue."

Gay Marriage: "Obama before the election: States should decide gay marriage. Obama during the election: California’s attempt to decide gay marriage for itself is 'divisive and discriminatory.' "

FISA: "Like everything Barack Obama says, that pledge was operative only as long as it was in Obama's political interest."

NAFTA: "OK, this is pathetic: Obama now says that his anti-NAFTA rhetoric during the campaign was a bit 'overheated.'"

Publicly financed campaigns: "If I am the Democratic nominee, I will aggressively pursue an agreement with the Republican nominee to preserve a publicly financed general election."

DC Handgun Ban: "After a day spent paying lip service to both sides of the debate while studiously avoiding the issue of whether the actual statute at stake in Heller was unconstitutional, he finally bites the bullet (no pun intended) and addresses it.."

School Vouchers: "Barack Obama told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel in February that he was open to voucher programs, but just last week announced his intentions to squash the DC pilot program."

Guantanamo Bay: "I’m curious as to what’s motivating this [new] compromise. Is there any logic behind it or is it a simple something-for-both-sides political solution?"

Illegal Immigration - [In March 2004], Obama was asked if the government should "crack down on businesses that hire illegal immigrants." He replied "Oppose." In a Jan. 31, 2008, televised debate, he said that "we do have to crack down on those employers that are taking advantage of the situation."

Marijuana - "[In] January 2004, Obama [said] he supported eliminating criminal penalties for marijuana use. In the Oct. 30, 2007, presidential debate, he joined other Democratic candidates in opposing the decriminalization of marijuana."

Abortion - "Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama says “mental distress” should not qualify as a health exception for late term-abortions, a key distinction not embraced by many supporters of abortion rights."

Iraq: "At a time when [the Surge appears to be working], is that the right time to try and set time tables for withdrawing all American troops? [Kroft asked. Obama replied,] “Yeah, absolutely. I think now is precisely the time..." [Kroft:] “And you pull out according to that time table, regardless of the situation? Even if there’s serious sectarian violence?” Kroft asked.“No, I always reserve as commander in chief, the right to assess the situation,” Obama replied."

Death Penalty: "Ten years ago, when Obama was running for statewide office in an [exclusive] Chicago district, he opposed the death penalty. He now supports the ultimate penalty."

Faith-based initiatives - "During the recent Obama pander tour... the presumptive Democratic nominee unnecessarily endorsed President Bush's faith-based initiative, a sort of patronage program that rewards religious activists for their political support with public grants."

Wearing a U.S. Flag Pin - "You'll notice Barack Obama is now wearing a flag pin. Again. During the primary campaign, he refused to, explaining that he'd worn one after 9/11 but then stopped because it "became a substitute for, I think, true patriotism." So why is he back to sporting pseudo-patriotism on his chest? Need you ask? The primaries are over."

Reverend Jeremiah Wright - "'I can no more disown (Jeremiah Wright) than I can disown my white grandmother' - then wiped away a tear and hailed him as the second coming of Abraham Lincoln. Three months later, with Wright disowned, grandma embraced and the great "race speech" now inoperative, not a word of reconsideration is heard from his media acolytes."

Welfare Reform: "Barack Obama aligned himself with welfare reform on Monday, launching a television ad which touts the way the overhaul "slashed the rolls by 80 percent." Obama leaves out, however, that he was against the 1996 federal legislation which precipitated the caseload reduction."

The Cuba Embargo: "In January 2004, Obama said it was time "to end the embargo with Cuba" because it had "utterly failed..." August 2007, he said he would not "take off the embargo" as president because it is "an important inducement for change.""

Single-payer Healthcare - "Contradicting what Obama said at the debate, the old footage shows the senator saying, “I happen to be a proponent of single-payer universal healthcare coverage. That’s what I’d like to see.”At the debate, Obama stated: “I never said that we should try to go ahead and get single-payer... Single-payer healthcare is an euphemism for socialized medicine."

Special Interest Contributions: "In January, the Obama campaign described union contributions "special interest" money. Obama changed his tune as he began gathering his own union endorsements... [referring] respectfully to unions as the representatives of "working people" and ...he is "thrilled" by their support."

Divided Jerusalem: "Many on the right of the political spectrum... welcomed Obama’s remarks at AIPAC, but the clarification of his position left several cold."

Meeting with Iran's leaders without preconditions - "Barack Obama has returned to the no-preconditions policy for meeting with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, according to Obama foreign-policy adviser Anthony Lake. Financial Times also discovered in its interview with Lake that Obama has reversed himself on Iraq, now saying that the withdrawal is off."

Palestinian elections - "[In 2006,] Obama [said]: “There is no room at the negotiating table for terrorist organizations. That is why I opposed holding elections in 2006 with Hamas on the ballot.... But During His 2006 Trip To The Middle East, Obama Met With Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas And Said The Election Represented An “Opportunity…To Consolidate Behind A Single Government.”

The threat posed by Iran: "Yesterday [in Oregon, Obama said], "I mean think about it. Iran, Cuba, Venezuela, these countries are tiny compared to the Soviet Union. They don't pose a serious threat to us the way the Soviet Union posed a threat to us....You know, Iran, they spend one-one hundredth of what we spend on the military. If Iran ever tried to pose a serious threat to us, they wouldn't stand a chance." Today in Montana, Obama changed his tune: " Iran is a grave threat. It has an illicit nuclear program. It supports terrorism across the region and militias in Iraq. It threatens Israel's existence. It denies the Holocaust..."

The Patriot Act: " In 2003, he said he was against the Patriot Act, but voted for it in 2006."

Gays in the Military: ""In 2003, he said he was against the repeal of DOMA, but now he's for it in 2007. In 2003, he said he'd have to "examine specific legislation" dealing with LGBT discrimination in the military, now he's completely for ending "don't ask/don't tell".""

Coal: "Although summer hasn’t officially begun, flip-flop season is well underway and it appears Senator Obama has joined the club... On Tuesday Obama, whose support for coal-to-liquid has been widely criticized by environmentalists, sent out a press release clarifying his position on liquid coal."

Wiretapping: "Netroots activists who helped Barack Obama to become the Democratic party's presumptive presidential nominee are unmoved by the senator's explanation of his change of heart on a pending bill regarding warrantless wiretapping."