Virginia is not a state

Great news for the Commonwealth:

Four hundred years after Captain John Smith established the first permanent English colony in Jamestown, the Commonwealth of Virginia is leading the way once again. Virginia grabbed the top spot in’s first ever Top States for Business thanks to its strong economic growth, low business costs and excellent quality of life.

The state called “Earth’s only paradise” by poet Michael Drayton dominated our rankings placing in the top ten in each of the six categories we examined: business costs, economic climate, growth prospects, labor, quality of life and regulatory environment. No other state placed in the top ten in more than three categories.

Ahh, that excellent quality of life. It’s because we’re working hard to drive out gays and lesbians. Can’t have any of them around if we want to be a great place to live. And the regulatory environment will be better, since companies don’t have any of those pesky alternative lifestyle issues, like choosing your own partner for love and living in sin because your relationship isn’t recognized.

Enough sarcasm. Surely the business environment must take into account an expected loss of private contract rights. We may be considered a great place to live, but myopic lenses do not offer the complete picture. As the election cycle begins to heat up, I am not looking forward to the loss of respect I will experience for my fellow Virginians when the bigot amendment inevitably passes.

Today’s pessimism brought to you by George Allen. George Allen: proudly leading Virginia into the 20th Century.

Am I a senior now?

Today is Rolling Doughnut’s 3rd birthday. A lot has changed over the last year. While not prolific by some standards, I wrote more than 450 entries over the last year. That easily doubled my output for the first two years combined. I’m proud of that total, even though sheer numbers aren’t the best evaluation method. Still, each word has taught me. I feel like I’m finally getting a grasp on this hobby.

I’ve expanded my range of subjects, probably to the annoyance of some. I appreciate the readership I have, even when this home feels more like a battlezone for my frustration. I’m working on being more productive, whether it’s simply understanding why some stories make me angry or offering solutions where ranting might’ve sufficed in the past. I don’t write for the gratification of stats, but knowing that people are out there reading keeps me thinking of how I’m communicating. Just by your presence, I’m a better writer than I would be alone. Perhaps I’m a better thinker, too.

Enough rambling. Thanks again for sticking around and reading. I expect year four to be the best yet for my little outpost on the Internets. I hope you’ll agree.

Will a computer guard the prisoners beyond hour 48?

Richard A. Posner may be on to something regarding an American need for an MI5 equivalent, in light of the recent foiled attacks. In his essay, he concludes:

We cannot afford to assume that we are safe. Perhaps we will now abandon that comfortable assumption.

I’m fine with that, and don’t believe I’ve argued for anything to the contrary in my words here. But this is not a strong foundation for convincing me of his specific plan:

But to the extent that our laws do handicap us in fighting terrorism, it is one more sign that we do not take the threat of terrorism seriously enough to be willing to reexamine a commitment to a rather extravagant conception of civil liberties that was formed in a different and safer era.

I read that portion of Judge Posner’s essay as referring specifically to the period in which suspects can be held without a hearing. Let’s debate that, and take appropriate action if 48 hours doesn’t make sense. But the solution does not involve removing an extravagant conception of civil liberties. The government already believes any constraints are extravagant. They do not need fewer constraints. Seek a solution that protects oversight of civil liberties protection, not a solution that tramples our ideals with a guilty until the government decides otherwise conception of national security.

Jesus Saves while Uncle Sam spends

I suspect there’s a better solution to this local religious quandary than having the federal government purchase land it does not need.

A gigantic cross in San Diego that has been the focus of a 17-year court battle became the property of the federal government yesterday with President Bush’s signature.

Supporters hope the legislation enabling the federal government to purchase the Mount Soledad Veterans Memorial — featuring a 29-foot cross — from the city of San Diego will protect it permanently. A series of court decisions have deemed the cross unconstitutional because it stands on public property.

“Just because something may have a religious connotation doesn’t mean you destroy it and tear it down,” said Rep. Brian P. Bilbray (R-Calif.), after an Oval Office signing ceremony attended by other cross supporters and Republican House members who sponsored the bill.

If the cross is so important to religious Americans, those individuals and/or groups are free to band together to purchase the property themselves. With private ownership, the establishment clause impact would be gone. That should be obvious. Instead, we’re left with Rep. Bilbray’s strange notion that the property’s religious connotation only offered two choices, government protection or destruction. How strong is faith in this country that its symbols must be protected by government, lest it perish from the Earth? To Rep. Bilbray I say this: just because something may have a religious connotation to a few (or even many) doesn’t mean we all must pay for its protection. If you like the cross so much, use your own money.

Price gouging is a political invention

I carry 5 bottles of water to work every day. I buy them in cases, where the unit price is 25¢ instead of the $1 I’d pay in my building’s convenience store. Five bottles is just right. It’s perfect planning every day.

I commute to into DC with my brother because we live close together. Some days he forgets to bring his yogurt-drink thingy or juice or whatever it is he brings in those strange bottles. On those days, he asks to borrow a bottle of water. I instead sell him one because I’ll drink 5 bottles during the day. If I let him buy one, I have to replace it at some point during the day. My cost to replace it is not the 25¢ I paid at Target, but the $1 I must pay at work. I charge him $1.

Am I gouging him, as he’s jokingly contended in the past? What happens to that answer if I add this new condition I learned yesterday: I sold him a bottle of water for $1, when my original cost for that bottle was 25¢. Having only four bottles during the day, I purchased a new bottle late yesterday afternoon. The price is now $1.15. I lost 15¢ in the deal. How long would I go on with that deal before I must stop selling to him altogether? Am I guilty of price gouging if I now charge him $1.15 when he forgets to bring a beverage to work? How is this scenario different from our most recent alleged example of price-gouging, gasoline?

I must charge my replacement cost, not what my current inventory cost me. That is economics, not price-gouging.

Active skepticism is not defeatism

I don’t understand how today’s conservatives can complain about judicial reliance on foreign law while using successful policies (i.e., conform to preferred neocon outcomes) as a rationale for changing U.S. policy. It’s hypocritical, at best, but it’s also flawed. Consider this from today’s Opinion Journal:

Britain’s successful pre-emption of an Islamicist plot to destroy up to 10 civilian airliners over the Atlantic Ocean proves that surveillance and other forms of information-gathering remain an essential weapon in prosecuting the war on terror. There was never any real doubt of this, of course. Al Qaeda’s preferred targets are civilians, and civilians have a right to be protected from such deliberate and calculated attacks. Denying the terrorists funding, striking at their bases and training camps, holding accountable governments that promote terror and harbor terrorists, and building democracy around the world are all necessary measures in winning the war. None of these, however, can substitute for anticipating and thwarting terror operations as the British have done. This requires the development and exploitation of intelligence.

In addition, the British police have certain extraordinary tools designed specifically to fight terrorism. …

  • Secrecy. Similarly, there is a substantial body of opinion in the U.S. that seems to consider any governmental effort to act secretly, or to punish the disclosure of sensitive information, to be illegitimate. Thus, for example, Bush critics persistently attacked the president’s decision to intercept al Qaeda’s international electronic communications without a warrant in part because of its secrecy, even though the relevant members of Congress had been informed of the NSA’s program from the start. By contrast, there appears to be much less hostility in Britain toward government secrecy in general, and little or no tradition of “leaking” highly sensitive information as a regular part of bureaucratic infighting–perhaps because the perpetrators could far more easily be punished with criminal sanctions under the Official Secrets Act in the U.K. than under current U.S. law.

Anyone who believes that we can bury our head and pretend like no threat of terrorism exists does not deserve to be included in the debate. So, why are op-eds such as this arguing only against those people? It would be wiser, and more effective, to debate the merits of how best to achieve our safety within the context of our Constitution. Instead, the conservative discussion is “with us or against us”, where believing in checks on the abuse of power amounts to “against us”. This is stupid.

Consider the notion of secrecy, as presented in the excerpt. The primary objection of libertarians is not that the government must engage in intelligence gathering. As far as it is necessary to protect national security, it is a legitimate function of the government. However, the degree to which it is carried out, and under what exposure to public scrutiny, cannot be ignored. Intercepting electronic communications is an important, and potentially fruitful, endeavor. Assuming that without a warrant is fine since relevant members of Congress were informed is erroneous and anti-Constitution. We grant the power of warrants to the judiciary, not the legislature. Critics of the administration do not quibble for an elimination of power. Critics understand that unchecked power will result in abuse, assurances to the contrary notwithstanding.

We have tools in place already. If they’re insufficient, the administration should make that case to the Congress. It has not done that, ignoring existing rules out of convenience. Given its inability to follow existing requirements, the administration should not be granted the freedom to enact its policies without oversight. That is the chewy center of opposition to the administration’s (indefinite, undefined) war prosecution.

More thoughts on this at A Stitch in Haste, where Kip batted down last week’s silliness from the Wall Street Journal.

I lost the government’s birth lottery

From Cato @ Liberty:

Social Security turns 71 today. One can argue about whether or not the program was a good idea in 1935, but there should be no question about its inadequacies today. And its flaws just get worse with each passing year.

Social Security will begin running a deficit in just 11 years. Of course, in theory, the Social Security Trust Fund will pay benefits until 2040. That’s not much comfort to today’s 33-year-olds, who will face an automatic 26 percent cut in benefits unless the program is reformed before they retire. …

Let me ponder for a moment that I’m 33, and will reach my (government-accepted) retirement age of 67 in July 2040. Yay, me. Is this the part where I state that leadership is preparing today for what tomorrow will bring, while politics is preparing tomorrow for what yesterday brought? I thought so.

Beets make me jittery

Reprinted with one comment:

Just hours before the official opening of the 16th International AIDS Conference last night, [South Africa’s] Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang whipped up controversy over the best way to treat HIV patients, extolling the benefits of garlic, beetroot, lemons and the African potato.

“We have a constitution which says people have choices to make. If people choose to use traditional medicine … why not give them those choices?” said the minister as she opened the Khomanani exhibition stand at the conference. Khomanani is government’s primary HIV/AIDS awareness campaign. Its future is uncertain after the health department failed to issue a new tender for its management.

The flaw in proposing one solution across disparate societies should be obvious.

Sunday Redskins Blogging – Game ⅕

Tonight the Washington Redskins host the Cincinnati Bengals in the first preseason game leading to the 2006 kickoff next month. Preseason games don’t mean much in the course of the season, as they’re a chance for teams to find their rhythm more than anything. The first preseason game means the least. Starters will play one series, just to get the feel of the game again. I’m still excited.

I’m looking forward to seeing the Redskins juggernaut begin the campaign. I want to see how Antwaan Randle El and Brandon Lloyd fit into Al Saunders’ new offense. I want to see if Mark Brunnell’s resurgence was a one-year contract with the devil or a harbinger of the good times still to come in his career. I want to see Clinton Portis pound the ball up the middle. I want to see Sean Taylor and Adam Archuletta compete to see who can hit Rudi Johnson the hardest. I want Redskins football.

Just as interesting to me, I’ll scout my fantasy team. I have to decide if I want to keep Chad Johnson over Domanick Davis, and this will be a brief first look at Carson Palmer’s reconstructed knee. Johnson says he wants to break Jerry Rice’s single season record of 22 receiving touchdowns; I don’t want to miss that if he might. So I’ll pretend I’m a GM tonight.

To get you into the mood, enjoy the magnetic pull of Captain Chaos, as well as a few pictures I took last weekend at the Redskins-Ravens scrimmage.






Hail to the Redskins!

Economics is not a four letter word

This article is old, but it contains a helpful segment in what is a good overall argument in favor of the flat tax. Consider:

Once tax codes have degenerated to the extent they have in most rich countries, laden with so many breaks and exceptions that they retain nothing of their original shape, even the pretence of any interior logic can be dispensed with. No tax break is too narrow, too squalid, too funny, to be excluded on those grounds: everybody is at it, so why not join in? At the other extreme, the simpler the system, the more such manoeuvres offend, and the easier it is to retain the simplicity.

Believing that it will be easier to retain simplicity might be a smidge optimistic, at least for the United States, but the idea is defensible. What’s important is that we achieve intelligent tax reform. The tax code needs to be simple. The quickest way to understand the correct path is to realize that the tax code cannot be used to create growth without picking winners and losers. Reform should seek to destroy as little economic incentive as possible. It should let merit and effort create favorable outcomes.