James Madison must sacrifice for the War

In response to a challenge at an open-forum in Charlotte yesterday, President Bush defended the terrorist surveillance program warrantless wiretapping undertaken by his administration with the following:

“I’m not going to apologize for what I did on the terrorist surveillance program, and I’ll tell you why,” Bush said, launching into his explanation of how he approved the program to avoid another Sept. 11. “If we’re at war,” he said, “we ought to be using tools necessary within the Constitution on a very limited basis, a program that’s reviewed constantly, to protect us.”

Someone should tell him that constant review to assess constitutionality should come from outside his inner circle, not within it. When we have nothing more than a lying sycophant as attorney general, I’m not going to readily accept the empty promise that the president cares about liberty. As it is, I only accept the clear possibility that the administration is constantly reviewing its actions to figure out how to continue transitioning the United States into a police state.

I Can’t Wait to Read the Hate Mail – Part 2

I addressed the religious aspect of circumcision in February, so I’m not going to retread on that here. That post stands on its own and applies to any religion that would circumcise for religious reasons. But this ignorant quote from a worthless article needs its own response to address the question of faith and how it relates to circumcision. My response isn’t meant to specifically apply to Judaism because the question is more universal than any one religion.

The procedure is a “cornerstone” of the Jewish faith, said Dr. Samuel Kunin, a retired urologist who said he has performed more than 9,000 circumcisions.

“I can’t think of any greater act of faith than to circumcise your son,” said Kunin, of Los Angeles. The act symbolizes a thread of Jewish continuity over thousands of years, linking back to Abraham, he said.

Sacrificing the flesh of a newborn child male is not an act of faith because the child has not agreed to the sacrifice. Even a coward can have his child son cut. Circumcising a child boy is an act of obedience by the parents. Circumcision as an act of faith would require a male choosing to have himself circumcised.

Just as Judaism reformed to no longer adhere to biblical laws requiring animal sacrifice and the stoning of adulterous women, a Jew NOT circumcising a child son implies a belief that, although sacred religious text commands it, God is compatible with modern civilization. Essentially, the parents rely on a belief that God will understand. That is an act of faith. It is that faith that allows the rate of circumcisions within religious communities to decline around the world. It is that faith which can lead to ending religious infant circumcision.

I’ll take “Totalitarianism” for $200, Alex

Can we get some paramedics for the Fourth Amendment:

Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales today left open the possibility that President Bush could order warrantless wiretaps on telephone calls occurring solely within the United States, dramatically expanding the potential reach of the National Security Agency’s controversial surveillance program.

In response to a question from Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) during an appearance before the House Judiciary Committee, Gonzales said the government would have to determine if a conversation was related to al-Qaeda and crucial to fighting terrorism before deciding whether to listen in without court supervision.

“I’m not going to rule it out,” Gonzales said, referring to the possibility of monitoring purely domestic communications.

I don’t really have much to add to that, as this administration’s flagrant disregard for the Constitution speaks for itself. History is not going to be kind to President Bush, which is the least of what he deserves for this kind of behavior. I’m more concerned for the consequences we’ll have to undo as a citizenry once we’ve finally stumbled to January 2009. The magnitude overwhelms. That it’s unnecessary makes it worse.

Your neighbor has to pay for your broccoli

More information on the Massachusetts bill requiring universal health care coverage.

“We insist that everybody who drives a car has insurance,” [Gov. Mitt] Romney said in an interview. “And cars are a lot less expensive than people.”

I’m dismayed to see that a likely presidential candidate’s thinking is so evolved that he compares people to cars. It would be an effective analogy if he hadn’t forgotten that a car is a choice that poses a known hazard to other people, which in turn imparts legal liability on the owner. If I choose to carry no health insurance and I get sick, I face the financial burden of that choice. Big difference. Naturally, Gov. Romney hoped to imply that the financial burden placed on society from uninsured individuals requiring medical attention. That’s a reasonable debate, but instead of going for the reasonable, he aimed low to appeal to the simple-minded who want government to manage everyone’s life. Or at least everyone else’s life.

This is, I suspect, the target for this new legislation:

But no state, experts say, has taken the step of making health insurance coverage a legal requirement. The idea was applauded by Uwe E. Reinhardt, a professor of economics and public affairs at Princeton University, who said that he has long believed that the American system of allowing uninsured patients to receive care at the government’s expense was nothing more than “freedom to mooch.”

I can hear the chorus of cheers coming from market-driven liberals progressives (it’s a faint cheer), but the overall idea looks a little different when considering the final portion of Prof. Reinhardt’s statement:

“Massachusetts is the first state in America to reach full adulthood,” said Reinhardt, noting that the new measure is a move toward personal responsibility. “The rest of America is still in adolescence.”

Only in modern America, with our full complement of government parentalism, could anyone consider forced action to be personal responsibility and adulthood. I could wear a penguin suit to work tomorrow, but that won’t make me a penguin.

As for the plan itself, if this is what providing a conservative, private sector solution looks like, I’m giving up.

Uninsured people earning less than the federal poverty threshold would be able to purchase subsidized policies that have no premiums, and would be responsible for very small co-payment fees for emergency-room visits and other services. Those earning between that amount and three times the poverty-level amount would be able to buy subsidized policies with premiums based on their ability to pay. Though no maximum premium is set in the bill, legislators’ intent seems to be for it to top out at about $200 to $250 per month.

All residents will have to provide details about their health insurance policy on their state income tax returns in 2008. Those who do not have insurance would first lose their personal state tax exemption, perhaps worth $150, and later face penalties equal to half the cost of the cheapest policy they should have bought. That might work out to $1,200 per year, officials said. Those who cannot find an affordable plan could obtain a waiver.

I might give up anyway. Please, someone in Massachusetts, step back from the nanny-state abyss and think about what this really means. I’d love for it to succeed, but I’m only promising that I won’t say “I told you so” when it fails to deliver the hoped-for outcome. Rather than babble on further, I’ll let yesterday’s hero, Massachusetts House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi, fill you all with his words of inspiration:

“We did something to solve the problem,” he said.

Do you think he’ll stand on “we did something” or “solve the problem” when this blows up?

For a smart take on this: National Review

Going to the free money vending machine

Now, for something close to home for me:

Fairfax County will consider legislation intended to lift thousands of workers out of poverty by requiring the government and companies it does business with to pay far more than the federal minimum wage.

A so-called living wage ordinance, introduced yesterday by Supervisor Catherine M. Hudgins (D-Hunter Mill), would bring Virginia’s largest — and wealthiest — jurisdiction in line with the District and Alexandria and Montgomery, Prince George’s and Arlington counties, which have adopted similar policies.

“Fairfax County . . . has worked to welcome all that [sic] want to live and do business in this county,” said Hudgins, an advocate for those left behind economically in the region’s most affluent suburb. The county has “made a commitment to assist the community by providing affordable housing,” she said, “but for many, the wages they earn require three or four individuals working in a household to meet even the most modest housing cost.” A full-time worker who receives the federal minimum wage has a salary of $10,712 a year.

I had roommates for five of the first seven years I lived in the D.C. area, many of those in Fairfax County. I didn’t do it because I liked people. I wanted to live somewhere more expensive than I was either able or willing to afford on my own. I made sacrifices. Where in any notion of responsible government is the implication that government should prevent citizens from being economically or physically inconvenienced because someone else has more? It’s okay to steal tax from the wealthy so that the poorer citizens don’t get their feelings hurt? Wrong.

“A whole array of wages are under discussion,” Hudgins said, referring to proposals to raise salaries of public safety workers and of the county supervisors. She reminded the board that Fairfax began contracting custodial work to private companies during the recession of the early 1990s, effectively lowering pay to minimum wage. “It’s only fair we look back at what we can do with our own contracts,” she said.

Why is it “only fair”? Are the contracts still valid? Did the contractors get strong-armed into doing the work for minimum wage? Have county residents decided that they’d rather pay a few dollars more an hour for the custodial services in their government buildings? They can get services for $5.15, but they won’t mind paying $9 or $10 an hour. After all, they’re wealthy.

“We continue to provide high-paying jobs through our economic vitality and not by regulatory fiat,” [ed. note: Yay for economic sense!] said William D. Lecos, president of the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce, which represents 1,000 businesses. Clayton Sinyai, chairman of Campaign for a Living Wage and political director of Laborers Local Union 11, representing Northern Virginia construction workers, said most Fairfax workers receive more than minimum wage. But he cited thousands of custodial workers, landscapers and parking attendants earning “poverty wages.”

“As housing prices continue to go up, people can’t afford to live here,” said Sinyai, of Fairfax.

Oh, I don’t know what could possibly be the solution. I’m going to guess, anyway. Here goes. Are you ready for it? Quit. Or move.

Holy Batman, it’s that simple. If the people earning those wages leave, and no one is willing to fill the positions for the offered wage, the wage associated will increase. The market will recreate an equilibrium in toilet cleaning wages. Everyone will be just a smidge happier. Allegedly happier, of course, because Fairfax County officials are assuming that those affected just want more money. Maybe they want better jobs. I suppose that’s the next right they’ll have guaranteed by central planners.

Instead, the cost of government is going up. Taxes and fees are going up. Services are going down. Employment is going down. Overall, living in too-expensive Fairfax is about to get more expensive. And just a little bit sucky. Good plan, guys.

Tales of the Weird, with a bit of insight

This story about three men arrested for allegedly performing castrations without a medical license is disturbing enough, needing no extra analysis. However, this quote from Charlotte, N.C. District Attorney Michael Bonfoey jumped out at me. Consider:

“Assuming that the victims consented to this _ and we don’t know that for sure yet _ that doesn’t make it a defense,” Bonfoey said. “We can’t have people who are not medical doctors lopping off limbs and other body parts.”

Mr. Bonfoey is so close to the correct answer on the concept of consent and the removal of “other body parts”. Yet, somehow, I suspect he’s so far away from the truth in understanding how people can (legally) run afoul of medical ethics.

Newsflash: Central planning creates inefficiency

Let me tell you why New Jersey sucks as a state. Driving through the state, as Danielle and I did yesterday, often requires refueling the car. It’s not a particularly strange concept, as mankind hasn’t yet figured out perpetual motion or cheap hydrogen fuel. It’s inevitable, really, so our stop on the New Jersey Turnpike yesterday was unsurprising. However, I’d forgotten that New Jersey is simple-minded.

Yesterday, we waited in line for full-service gas because full-service is the law. I haven’t used a full-service gas station since the last time I purchased gas in New Jersey. I won’t use a full-service gas station again until I’m in New Jersey again ever. If there’s a stupider law that affects everyday life, I’m not sure I can imagine what it might be.

Danielle and I discussed it as we waited in the twenty-plus minute line to have someone perform a menial task that I’m perfectly willing to perform on my own. I could only come up with two reasons why this would still be New Jersey law. Either politicians believe self-service pumps are too dangerous for untrained citizens to operate or they believe full-service will somehow lead to greater employment within the state. Considering I’ve been refueling my cars safely since 1989, I’m almost certain that safety can’t be the reason this law still exists. After a little research, safety was the reason legislators originally passed the full-service requirement. Gas is still a flammable liquid, of course, but technology has improved considerably from standards that existed early in the development of the car and refueling stations. Our friends and neighbors aren’t regularly setting themselves on fire or blowing up while pumping gas. The average Joe can handle it. Factor in the clearly untrained nature of New Jersey gas station attendants, as evidenced by the fine individual who pumped our gas shortly after taking a walk two car lengths away to smoke a cigarette, this reason is no longer valid.

So it must be socialism economics that perpetuates the practice. Sure, more attendants are needed to pump gas, but that cost gets passed to the customer. In my research I noticed a few links suggesting that full-service gas is still cheaper than it is in states that don’t prohibit self-service. That’s fine, but I don’t doubt that gas is more expensive than it needs to be. Regardless, I’ll discard the notion that it costs more. It’s a big item to dismiss, of course, but even if it made sense to do so, the environmental and productivity impact can’t be dismissed.

During our wait, we left our car running. So did every other driver in line. Every one of us wasted gas. We polluted the air for more than twenty minutes for no reason. Surely the danger from the cumulative toxins we all released yesterday is greater than the risk that one of us would set the place ablaze. Having seen the smog hanging over much of the Turnpike, who would deny this?

Of course, the economic impact of that wasted gas must surely be figured into the absolute cost of gasoline in New Jersey.

As for productivity, what else could every motorist in New Jersey have accomplished in the time wasted while waiting for full-service? Danielle and I wasted more than forty minutes combined. Multiply that by every family. On a Sunday afternoon, maybe that amounts to lost beer-drinking soymilk-drinking time. What about Monday thru Friday? What about commercial vehicle drivers? Surely this loss of efficiency should matter. It did to us.

I could almost think it was just a quirky feature of New Jersey and it added flavor to our culture. A few minutes after we left the gas station, we crossed the state line. The first service area off I-95 had a gas station. It had a few customers, each scattered among the various self-service pumps. No one was on fire. No one was spilling gas on the ground. Everything was fine, operating as smoothly as New Jersey. The only difference? The gas station had no lines. I don’t wonder why.

Other thoughts: Marginal Revolution from Nov. ’03, and NRO, from Sept. ’03