Can I steal a MINI if I spend $25,000 on football cards?

I don’t have much to say on Hollywood’s economic assertions about intellectual property piracy, other than to say that I’m sure it’s overstated, it will result in destructive legislation, and it will delay the industry’s entrance into the 21st Century of electronic distribution. In other words, it’s the typical nonsense from a dinosaur. However, this quote countering Hollywood’s nonsense is bogus:

It’s important to remember, however, that even though piracy prevents money from reaching the movie industry, those dollars probably stay in the economy, one intellectual property expert said.

“In other words, let’s say people are forgoing paying for $6 billion in movies by downloading or consuming illegal goods but end up spending that $6 billion on iPods, computers and HDTV sets on which to watch the movies, which leads to $25 billion in job creation in the computer/software/consumer electronics field,” Jason Shultz, staff lawyer at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, wrote in an e-mail.

The net economic effect of piracy is irrelevant to the intellectual property discussion. It does not matter that consumers spend their $350 on an iPod instead of movies. What matters is that $350 is not going to the company that created something of value to the consumer. There are many theories on how best to protect intellectual property and guarantee payment, most of them interesting. But the basic formulation of the problem does not include a community approach to evaluating economic spending. He who takes the risk should reap the reward.

House Majority Leader John Boehner is a badass

The formulation of this story’s opening paragraph implies that something unconstitutional can be made constitutional by wishing it so, but I’ll present it for context:

The House approved a bill Thursday that would grant legal status to President Bush’s warrantless wiretapping program with new restrictions. Republicans called it a test before the election of whether Democrats want to fight or coddle terrorists.

“The Democrats’ irrational opposition to strong national security policies that help keep our nation secure should be of great concern to the American people,” Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, said in a statement after the bill passed 232-191.

“To always have reasons why you just can’t vote ‘yes,’ I think speaks volumes when it comes to which party is better able and more willing to take on the terrorists and defeat them,” Boehner said.

How many different ways is Rep. Boehner mistaken?

  • Upholding the Constitution is not irrational. It’s what Representatives (and Senators and Presidents) are sworn to do.
  • Violating the Fourth Amendment is not a “strong national security policy.”
  • Our nation is secure because Republicans are on the job. Our nation is not secure, which is why we still need Republicans in charge. Make up your mind.
  • Better able to take on terrorists? Worthy of debate. More willing? Conceded. But I’m stuck on the defeat part. It’s been five years and they’re still around. The desired permanence of warrantless wiretapping suggests that defeating terrorists isn’t the sole objective. Might there be better tools designed specifically to the task?

But Rep. Boehner knows how to disregard the Constitution for election year politics. Like I said, he’s a badass. God help us all.

For no other reason than piling on

Now that Sen. George Allen voted for the decidedly not libertarian terror bill, can we kill the notion that he has a “libertarian streak?” This bill is so draconian and anti-liberty, if Sen. Allen had such a streak, no matter how miniscule, it would’ve stopped him from voting yes. But he voted yes. From this point forward, all writers should please replace “libertarian streak” with “pro-torture.” Of course, if Virginia’s voters have any values, Sen. Allen will be former Senator Allen in January.

In other pro-torture, election year cowardice, consider Sen. Gordon Smith:

Even some Republicans who voted for the bill said they expected the Supreme Court to strike down the legislation because of the provision barring court detainees’ challenges, an outcome that would send the legislation right back to Congress.

“We should have done it right, because we’re going to have to do it again,” said Senator Gordon H. Smith, Republican of Oregon, who voted to strike the provision and yet supported the bill.

That quote should be posted in every voting booth in America on November 7th.

More thoughts at Cato @ Liberty

I saw Rep. Frank by the Capitol today

Michael Kinsley’s opening paragraphs from today’s column made me laugh:

It was, I believe, Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) who first made the excellent, bitter and terribly unfair joke about conservatives who believe in a right to life that begins at conception and ends at birth.

This joke has been adapted for use against various Republican politicians ever since. In the case of President Bush, though, it appears to be literally true.

After laughing, I read the article to understand Mr. Kinsley’s point.

But it is hard — indeed, I would say it is impossible — to reconcile Bush’s absolutism over allegedly human life when it is a clump of unknowing, unfeeling cells with his sophisticated, if not cavalier, attitude toward the loss of innocent human life when it is children and adults in Iraq.

While I agree with the basic idea, I think he could’ve used a better example for comparison: President Bush’s unabashed desire for America to torture anyone he deems our enemy. The underlying “principle” of the President’s stance is that torturing a few individuals has the potential to save the lives of many Americans. If that is acceptable for torture, why is it not acceptable for stem cell research?

By experimenting with a few stem cells, scientists have the potential to save the lives of many Americans. The only difference I can decipher when the debate is framed that way is that geography matters. Put 1,000 Americans together in the ticking time bomb scenario, and torture might (not really) save them. But if 1,000 Americans die in a day from a disease that stem cell research might help cure, that research remains morally unacceptable. Physical harm to an actual human being by torture is less grave than physical harm to cells that will never be an actual human being.

This isn’t how I’d specifically frame the discussion because the underlying principles possess more complexity. Also, the various scenarios aren’t as clean. However, I believe I’ve captured the gist of our president’s positions. He is wrong on both.

Money over sanctity

The Phillies stumbled into a disaster last night:

Know this: There are no excuses. But also know that the Phillies were on the phone to the people in charge of such things at Major League Baseball in New York last night, expressing their concern about the way this whole thing was going down. From the time that the first raindrops began to fall, at about 4:30 p.m., there was concern within the Phillies’ organization that as each hour passed last night, the team would be put at a greater and greater competitive disadvantage for tonight’s game in Florida.

It was, in some ways, the perfect storm (you should excuse the expression). Nobody has said this out loud, but the problem was that, because of an earlier rainout, St. Louis and San Francisco already might have to make up a game on Monday in an attempt to settle the NL Central race between the Cardinals and Astros. If the two teams were still tied, they would have to stage a play-in game on Tuesday, after which the winner would start playing its Division Series on Wednesday.

However, the National League has to have one playoff series start on Tuesday because of its network television contract. If the Phillies and Nationals had to play on Monday, and then the Phillies and Dodgers had to have a play-in game on Tuesday, there is a chance that the NL would be in total chaos and unable to fulfill the television contract.

Which meant that the Phils had to wait all night.

I agree with the first sentence; the Phillies bungled enough chances in the previous 158 games that last night’s fiasco by Major League Baseball was self-inflicted. However, Major League Baseball should have a little more foresight. It’s absurd to force a team in a playoff race to start a game at 11:32 pm when it must fly to the next city when the game is over. The Phillies now must win at least two more games than the Dodgers this weekend. That would be a challenging task without the added bonus of finishing the previous game seven hours after its scheduled start time. Any other game would’ve been rescheduled, but poor planning caused inflexibility. That’s bad management. Major League Baseball must fix that when it negotiates its next television contract.

This can’t be the level of debate

Am I missing something? At Commonwealth Conservative post about the brouhaha over Sen. Allen’s alleged use of racial slurs in the early 1970s, a commenter named Ben argues that no one should support Sen. Allen because he is a racist. Maybe, though the accusation is hardly iron-clad. Ben states that supporting James Webb is the better character choice. Again, maybe. But in response to that, a commenter named Cato asks Ben:

So how do you like Webb personally profiting from the gratuitous use of the N-word in his novels?

Let’s assume for a moment that Sen. Allen used racial slurs. I’ll also assume Mr. Webb’s novels include gratuitous use of that word, since I have not read them. That said, I’d like to believe that voters are smart enough to decipher between a conversation in a person’s life and made-up conversations in a book. If that distinction isn’t possible, I myself am not suited for any future political office because I have written stories in which (imaginary) people are (pretend) murdered by (fake) characters who temporarily resided in my mind. I should be locked up.

Repeating a talking point lie does not make it true

Witness today’s Opinion Journal piece by Fred Barnes:

[Senator George] Allen’s campaign has seemed unprepared for the way that presidential races, with their high visibility, draw out personal information. His two previous statewide races (for governor in 1993 and the Senate in 2000) were largely uneventful and revealed little besides that he’s a likeable conservative with a libertarian streak and without the slightest hint of racism. The perils, I suppose, of a possibly premature coronation.

I am, of course, referring to his “libertarian” streak, but you could also point to the idea that he is likeable.

On a side note:

Virginia no longer votes like a Southern state, but it’s still more conservative than not.

No one told the General Assembly when it passed the “voter demanded” amendment attacking gays. So maybe we should wait until we have the proposed amendment’s final tally on November 7th to decide whether or not Virginia “no longer votes like a Southern state.” Of course, if Sen. Allen has a libertarian streak, it’s possible that Virginia’s progressive conservatism could include inserting bigotry into the Virginia Bill of Rights.

The Central Planner’s Handbook for Protecting the Ignorant and Ungrateful

Libertarians understand the stupidity of this action by the New York City Board of Health:

The New York City Board of Health voted unanimously yesterday to move forward with plans to prohibit the city’s 20,000 restaurants from serving food that contains more than a minute amount of artificial trans fats, the chemically modified ingredients considered by doctors and nutritionists to increase the risk of heart disease.

This is absurd, because the eventual “logical” step is banning the sale of packaged foods with trans fats within the city limits. At what point do citizens stand up and demand that government not turn a city into an institution where permission for every decision must be granted by some small group of public officials claiming to be experts? This is lunacy, although not a surprise.

Chicago is considering a similar prohibition affecting restaurants with less than $20 million in annual sales.

Why only restaurants with less than $20 million in sales? Even if this type of policy made sense, it’s counter-intuitive to impose this regulation on the smallest members of the group while leaving the largest free to attack its customers’ arteries offer any menu item its customers desire. The restaurant industry is a small-margin business, so those with lower sales have less fiscal cushion in their budgets. I’m most amused that Chicago loves big restaurants while it hates big stores. But government knows best.

Lynne D. Richardson, a member of the Board of Health and a professor of emergency medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, said yesterday that restaurant owners might still see an advantage in the long shelf life of trans fat products.

“But human life is much more important than shelf life,” she said. “I would expect to see fewer people showing up in the emergency room with heart attacks if this policy is enacted.”

Expects? Obviously the greedy restaurant owners don’t care about their customers (repeat business is insignificant in restaurants, right? No?), but should she support public policy based on hopes rather than logic? If diners want foods with trans fat, and restaurants can’t serve it, diners will stay home and eat their bad oils and margarines and whatever else will no longer be allowed. If When that happens, I’m fairly certain the same people will show up in the emergency room with heart attacks. That gets back to the likelihood that the planners will admit that the policy isn’t having the intended effect, thus justifying the need to ban trans fat products from grocery stores.

If people wanted strictly healthy diets, everyone would be vegans who eat only raw, organic food and exercise every day. They aren’t those people. We can cry about that, but statist public health policies won’t make it any more our reality than it already isn’t.

Update: Based on information provided in by Chris in the comments, the New York Times report about Chicago considering a trans-fat ban affecting restaurants with less than $20 million in sales is wrong. The ban under consideration involves restaurants with greater than $20 million in sales. My analysis is now worthless for the facts, but that doesn’t make the ban any wiser. Screw the poor, screw the rich. It’s still the same stupidity. Regardless, I should’ve checked those facts first.

Greater risk demands greater reward


Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is scaling back the health-care plans available to new employees, sparking fresh criticism over whether the giant retailer is providing adequate coverage to its workers.

As of Jan. 1, the company will offer new hires only two health benefits packages in which the monthly premium can be as low as $11 but the deductible can reach $6,000, according to documents provided to The Washington Post by Wake-Up Wal-Mart, a union-backed group.

Wal-Mart spokesman Dan Fogleman said yesterday that he expected the change to save most employees money. He said a review of the company’s health-benefits plans showed most had opted for a package with a monthly premiums between $70 and $100, and a $350 deductible, but that more than half never paid that much.

I doubt the Wake-Up Wal-Mart documents would have any bias. Just in case they might, consider Wal-Mart’s decision within the context of this study by the Kaiser Family Foundation that found health insurance premiums increased last year. That makes since because my insurance increased about 7% last year (apparently because I had a birthday). It’s a real scandal, except it isn’t.

For some reason, many people believe that consumers can have complete coverage with low premiums and low deductibles. Insurance doesn’t work that way. The greater the likelihood that an insurer will pay claims, the higher the price it will charge for that coverage. This is not complicated. If an insurer disregards this basic rule of finance, it won’t be an insurer for long. Unfortunately, no amount of government can overcome this, contrary to how many pleasant feelings the idea of government-regulated health insurance may create.

Again, I don’t like Wal-Mart, but this action seems wholly reasonable. If its employees don’t use their health insurance enough to hit a $350 deductible, it’s a reasonable assumption that they’d prefer the lower premiums that coincide with their actual usage. That’s wise, not evil.

Using correct assumptions is crucial

From an editorial in today’s Opinion Journal:

A study released this week by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute––demonstrates that the answers to both questions are no. The study concludes that “America’s colleges and universities fail to increase knowledge about America’s history and institutions.” In a 60-question multiple-choice quiz ,”college seniors failed the civic literacy exam, with an average score of 53.2 percent, or F, on a traditional grading scale.” And at many schools “seniors know less than freshmen about America’s history, government, foreign affairs, and economy.”

Among college seniors, less than half–47.9%–correctly concluded that “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal” was from the Declaration of Independence. More than half did not know that the Bill of Rights prohibits the governmental establishment of an official religion, and “55.4 percent could not recognize Yorktown as the battle that brought the American Revolution to an end” (more than one quarter believing that it was the Civil War battle of Gettysburg that had ended the Revolution).

The blame should not be on colleges and universities. I suspect they’re not increasing knowledge about America’s history and institutions because the assumption is that students should already know those facts. History and civics are taught at the middle and high school levels. If the kids lack the basics, blame the schools tasked with teaching them.