Free trade is the only fair trade.

For once I agree with Robert Samuelson in conclusion. Today, he discusses free trade and looming efforts to fight against it. It’s not a clear article, but I think I get the gist. Free trade is good. Efforts to inhibit free trade are bad. Yep. I’m not sure he’s as close to absolutism on that as he (and everyone) should be, but some is better than none.

This passage is off, though.

We are dealing with something new here. It transcends traditional protectionism, which tries to shield specific industries and workers from imports. It’s trade obstructionism: a reflexive reaction against almost any trade agreement.

All protectionism is trade obstructionism. Always has been, always will be. We can argue whether or not there are scenarios where retaliatory of defensive protectionism is warranted, but that’s not what he’s saying. There’s protectionism, which can be justified, although he doesn’t offer scenarios. And then there’s obstructionism. I guess the difference is intent, but results speak a lot louder than intent. Sober drivers don’t mean to kill other, innocent motorists, but they can do so just as easily as drunks.

“Good” intentions within government don’t guarantee good results. As such, government shouldn’t interfere.

The Partisanship of Omitting Damaging Facts

Wow, what happened to the George Will I enjoyed during the buildup to the election? Instead of that almost libertarian version, today we get a curmudgeonly piece of partisan nonsense related to yesterday’s story about Senator-elect Webb. Consider:

That was certainly swift. Washington has a way of quickly acculturating people, especially those who are most susceptible to derangement by the derivative dignity of office. But Jim Webb, Democratic senator-elect from Virginia, has become a pompous poseur and an abuser of the English language before actually becoming a senator.

Wednesday’s Post reported that at a White House reception for newly elected members of Congress, Webb “tried to avoid President Bush,” refusing to pass through the reception line or have his picture taken with the president. When Bush asked Webb, whose son is a Marine in Iraq, “How’s your boy?” Webb replied, “I’d like to get them [sic] out of Iraq.” When the president again asked “How’s your boy?” Webb replied, “That’s between me and my boy.”

Will uses this to lead into his depiction of Senator-elect Webb as a boor. Possibly. We’re relying on second-hand reports. He also uses a piece of economic gobbledygook that Webb wrote after being elected as proof that Webb is out of control. To that charge, of course, the simple observation that every politician falls prey to hyperbole. They wouldn’t get elected if they didn’t. Asking for everything is the first step in negotiating for something. Webb is not the first to know this. I suspect Mr. Will knows this.

But more to the point, this is the full exchange between Webb and President Bush:

“How’s your boy?” Bush asked, referring to Webb’s son, a Marine serving in Iraq.

“I’d like to get them out of Iraq, Mr. President,” Webb responded, echoing a campaign theme.

“That’s not what I asked you,” Bush said. “How’s your boy?”

“That’s between me and my boy, Mr. President,” Webb said coldly, ending the conversation on the State Floor of the East Wing of the White House.

We have no idea how President Bush said that line, but the reasonable reading of it is certainly not innocent. Webb may be a boor, but President Bush comes off looking little better. Yet, Mr. Will left this out of his retelling. Why? The facts, although interesting, are irrelevant, I guess. I’d come to expect better from George Will.

Well said, Senator.

Senator-elect James Webb refused to make small talk with President Bush, which is an amusing anecdote. However, it’s not what I enjoyed most in the article. Instead, I offer this:

“He’s not a typical politician. He really has deep convictions,” said [Sen. Chuck] Schumer, who headed the Senate Democrats’ campaign arm. “We saw this in the campaign. We would have disagreements. But when you made a persuasive argument, he would say, ‘You’re right.’ I am truly not worried about it. He understands the need to be part of a team.”

The irony is almost too much to handle.

Back to Senator-elect Webb, I love this anecdote because Washington needs unpolished hacks as much as it has polished hacks. I suspect Webb won’t be overly effective if we get six years of gruff, but that’s for the best if he can change the discussion on Iraq and can’t get his intellectual slop economic policies passed. It’s like Christmas in November.

Are we getting funny money?

Consequences be damned, I suppose:

A federal judge said yesterday that by keeping all U.S. currency the same size and texture, the government has denied blind people meaningful access to money.

U.S. District Judge James Robertson said the Treasury Department has violated the law, and he ordered the government to develop ways for the blind to tell bills apart.

“Of the more than 180 countries that issue paper currency, only the United States prints bills that are identical in size and color in all their denominations,” Robertson wrote. “More than 100 of the other issuers vary their bills in size according to denomination, and every other issuer includes at least some features that help the visually impaired.”

Perhaps I’m missing the importance of this issue, but it seems to border on folly. How pervasive is this problem, really? But I’ll assume that the court’s ruling is not only correct, but reasonable. What are the impacts, economically?

For example, how much effort and expense will be involved so that I can use one of the soon-to-be-redesigned bills to add fare to my Metro card? It took months for WMATA to reconfigure the machines to work with the most recent redesign. I can’t wait to see the fare hikes that will come out of this.

What about cash registers? Wallets? The ramifications are numerous. Of course, much of that has to do with size changes, which the Treasury is apparently not obligated to undertake. Okay, but there will be impacts.

Of course, it’s also useful to remember that cash use is becoming less common over time. That’s not a license to discriminate, if one-size-fits-all money is discrimination, but is the court merely remedying yesterday’s problem? I think it is.

I need to go to law school.

Being a non-lawyer, I’m sure I’m missing something fundamental in law with this story. But I don’t know what it is.

A Virginia appellate court sidestepped the issue of civil unions Tuesday in ruling that, because two former lesbian partners filed for their union in Vermont, that state’s courts have jurisdiction in a custody battle.

The women were Virginia residents in 2000 when they traveled to Vermont to join in a civil union. Lisa Miller-Jenkins conceived a child through artificial insemination in 2001 while the couple were together, and a child, Isabella, was born the following April. They eventually moved to Vermont in August 2002.

In the fall of 2003, the women separated. After moving back to Virginia, Lisa Miller-Jenkins filed for a dissolution of their civil union, an action akin to a divorce, and sought custody of Isabella.

In June 2004, a Vermont family court granted Janet Miller-Jenkins visitation rights; that October, a Frederick County court issued a contradicting decision.

I’m stumped. In my only experience dealing with child custody and family law, my brother’s hearings concerning his son took place in the state’s courts where my nephew lives with his mother, not where he was born. Is Vermont law really that different, considering that Virginia is involved in both this case and my brother’s situation? Is there something different about sole versus joint custody that may be in play in this case, even if the child lives in Virginia? Did Virginia courts rule in order to punt the civil union question?

Again, I’m sure I’m missing something. I don’t need to assign animosity to gays, or at least avoidance, as a cause since Vermont also ruled that it should have jurisdiction. But it seems as likely as any other explanation. I can’t figure out what the answer might be given the facts I know. That’s probably the largest factor, but I’m baffled.

Behold the Power of the Scalpel

I’m very rarely surprised by bias when reading about circumcision, but this example from the Jerusalem Post is the worst I’ve seen to date.

Israeli experts are urging a visiting World Health Organization (WHO) team to promote circumcisions of both adults and of newborns in the Third World to help reduce HIV transmission.

Current research shows that six in 10 circumcised men are immune to HIV infection, but only about a fifth of men around the world have been circumcised for religious, medical or cultural reasons.

Wrong. Please show me one study, no matter how absurd its foundation, in which the results shows that 60% of circumcised men are immune to HIV infection. So 60% of circumcised men no longer need to wear a condom if they have sex with an HIV-positive partner? One study (yes, just one) suggested that it reduced infection risk by 60%, but that remaining 40% applies to every male. This is irresponsible journalism.

This also raises the larger issue of bias, namely, the assumed bias to promote circumcision on flimsy evidence by anyone who practices ritual circumcision. I ignore these because the pro-circumcision arguments offered are usually the same whether the justification is ritual or cultural. Also, I don’t believe there is anything nefarious in these efforts. Misguided, but not intentionally. Logic is absent, so rarely do the arguments reach beyond trying to make the person feel better about what he wants to do anyway. That’s par. Countering such rigidity from one angle isn’t worth my time. But sometimes, as here, the argument falls into the ridiculous. Passing such nonsense off as science is dangerous.

What’s the downside of such misguided logic?

[Director of the Jerusalem AIDS Project Dr. Inon] Schenker said, however, that “as a public health person, I am very worried from the message to Israeli teenage boys and men who may think that since they’re circumcised, they can go from bed to bed and will be immune to HIV infection. This is not true, as four in 10 will still get infected.”

Regarding the lack of a foreskin as an “invisible condom” could, he said, offer the same sense of false security that comes from sunscreen that can help protect against skin cancer but not completely prevent it; people who use sunscreen may stay out in the sun longer as a result.

Dr. Schenker’s concern highlights one useful facet of human psychology. Promoting circumcision as an immunity, or even as a way to reduce risk, is a sure-fire way to encourage people to engage in risky behavior. Who is surprised by this, other than people who believe, without reservation, that circumcision is always Good&#153 if it’s performed with the silly notion that it’s in his best interest?


Something else in the article warrants mentioning, although I’m not surprised that someone opposed to infant circumcision has to point it out. Consider:

Dr. Tim Farley of the WHO’s department of reproductive health and research and WHO consultant and University of Edinburg expert Dr. Timothy Hargreaves viewed the ritual circumcision Monday at Jerusalem’s Misgav Ladach surgical clinic of a 21-year-old Jewish immigrant from Russia who had not undergone a brit mila as a baby.

Dr. Inon Schenker, director of the Jerusalem AIDS Project (JAIP) and a senior HIV/AIDS prevention specialist, told The Jerusalem Post that over the years, 20,000 Israeli males – immigrants from Eastern Europe and Ethiopia and converts – have undergone ritual circumcisions as non-infant children, teenagers and adults.

If the male remains intact until an age when he may choose the surgery himself, is he not a full member of the faith until he is circumcised? All evidence points to “No,” so why the rush to circumcise, other than a fear that it might be set aside? I’ve argued in the past that it’s reasonable to assume that a man who chooses circumcision for himself is more likely to consider it an act of faith, with meaning. I do not comprehend how circumcising infants provides this to the same extent.

Okay, one more point:

The WHO officials said they were most interested in adult male circumcision rather than on infants, as it would take 15 to 20 years for babies in sub-Saharan Africa, where AIDS is endemic, to become sexually active.

However, the two dozen Israeli experts who met the WHO officials urged that infant boys be circumcised in large numbers because the operation involves a very low rate of complications if performed in sanitary environments; anesthesia is not necessary [ed. note: Bullshit.]; a trained non-medical practitioner can learn to do it quickly and safely; and early contact between the infant’s family and family health services can promote health promotion and disease prevention.

That last one is a new argument I’ve not yet heard. I’m fascinated that anyone can promote removing healthy tissue from an infant in order to promote health and disease prevention. Again, the logical extreme is such things as excising breast tissue from little girls. It promotes disease prevention, and does not exclude the families of infant girls. But that’s crazy. No crazier than cutting off healthy foreskins to stay healthy, of course.

Cutting infants should be exclusive to making them healthy when disease is present and no less invasive method will suffice.

Kudos for Responsible Journalism

This article from the New York Times offers two key points that recent reports on circumcision and STD infection failed to provide. First, the article mentions that the recent study out of New Zealand relied on self-reporting. Mentioning this is commendable.

More important is this quote, which is unfortunately the last paragraph of the story. I fear people will ignore it because the so-called truth is in the beginning. Instead, it should be plastered over every article.

David M. Fergusson, the lead author of the study and a professor of medical psychology at Christchurch School of Medicine, warned that the results were not conclusive. “We are cautious about the findings,” he said. “They depend on self-reports, and not all studies agree with ours. But our results definitely suggest that circumcision may reduce rates of S.T.D.’s. We think we’re correct, but it’s best not to be dogmatic about it.”

Dr. Fergusson declined to offer advice to parents. “Decisions to circumcise children should not be made on the basis of one study,” he said. “They should be based on all the evidence. There is certainly evidence of benefit, but the complicated decision parents face is weighing the benefits against the risks of a surgical procedure. Even if we assumed all the evidence favored circumcision, most children wouldn’t benefit from it. We estimate that you would have to circumcise 20 boys to prevent one case of sexually transmitted disease.

Safe-sex education and condoms would be wiser actions than cutting off healthy portions of a male child’s genitalia.

Buy me dinner first.

Sometimes, the loss of logic to partisanship is embarrassing, as evidenced by this editorial attempt to justify Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney’s recent lawsuit to force the Massachusetts legislature to vote on a petition:

Mr. Romney’s case isn’t expected go very far. Aside from the obvious separation-of-powers problem, Mr. Romney is asking the same court that imposed same-sex marriage three years ago to parse his constitutional logic. Like a second marriage, expecting the court to allow a rebuke of its earlier decision is a triumph of hope over experience.

But Mr. Romney’s case does have one salutary effect. He filed suit against the Legislature not for failing to endorse a ban on same-sex marriage, but for using a series of procedural moves to avoid voting on the issue and thereby keeping it off the ballot. Mr. Romney’s lawsuit is, therefore, an attempt to use the state’s high court for what it has heretofore resisted being: A bulwark for democracy.

Because Massachusetts’ Constitution requires votes in favor of an amendment from only one-fourth of the Legislature in two successive terms to get it on the ballot, the governor would likely win the fight if only the Democratic leaders of the Legislature would allow a vote. But the real target here isn’t the judiciary or even the Legislature. Mr. Romney filed his case in an attempted to push the debate over marriage back into the court of public opinion. And he’s thinking well beyond the confines of Massachusetts–where voters are eager for an opportunity to weigh in on the issue–and into Republican presidential primaries, where he aspires to be the candidate with the strongest social conservative credentials.

So many problems, in too few words. Primarily, it’s fascinating that the writer somehow believes Mr. Romney is promoting democracy by being an activist executive. Clearly the so-called activist part of recent judicial decisions isn’t the issue, as much as it’s the outcome. Activist is as activist does. And voters are eager to vote on this. Populism at its best. Very presidential, indeed.

But, just for a moment, let’s consider how democratic it is to require one-fourth of the legislature to vote for an amendment to put it on the ballot. In no political philosophy have I ever seen 25% equated with democracy. Rights should never be up for a popular vote, but if you shoot for it, at least have the decency to pretend like you care about a majority rather than some divinely-inspired “truth”.

For once, I’d want someone to ring the doorbell.

There’s been a great deal of debate floating around the libertarian blogosphere about the elderly woman shot and killed by Atlanta SWAT police while they executed a search warrant. Kip addressed one underlying issue that I agree shouldn’t be lost in the discussion. It’s easy enough to pontificate like a Monday Morning Quarterback, but it’s entirely different to face down the gun of an armed woman. It doesn’t matter that she’s elderly, and likely innocent of any alleged drug-related crimes that brought police to her home. As Kip said, if someone shoots, you shoot back. There may be procedural flaws in the SWAT raid, or even the warrant process, but the default assumption should be that the police did their jobs. With the woman’s death, there should be an investigation, but we must remember that, like the woman, the officers are innocent until proven guilty.

That said, I have the same problem many have with raids like this. I don’t think we’re dealing with an “epidemic” of botched SWAT raids, but even one is too many. And creating a scenario that will result in death and destruction, as SWAT raids are necessarily violent, is stupid beyond belief. The simplified solution is to knock on the door and let the suspect answer.

I know this is a bit too simplistic. Kip’s assertion, and I think I’m summarizing it correctly from his past entries, is that any right to the home’s sanctity does not include the right to flush the evidence when the police arrive. This makes sense. If an activity or item deserves to be illegal, the government has a legitimate interest in eliminating it and prosecuting those who violate the law. Hence, drugs are illegal and if police reasonably suspect drug possession, then serving a warrant is appropriate.

I don’t believe drugs fall into the scope of legitimate, at any quantity, though. I’ve said in the past that I think drugs should be legal. Of course, if they were legal, usage in my household would not change. I’ve never used drugs, and I don’t intend to, legal or not. They’re not right for me, but I don’t pretend to know what recreation (or addiction) is right for anyone else. Legalize and let’s move on.

I like to be realistic, so I know that’s not going to happen soon. In the context of drug raids gone wrong, there can be a middle ground, I think. Rather than pursuing eradication, decriminalize possession. Even if there’s a specific threshold, as exists today, it can only help the situation. If the police find a few seeds in the trash, how likely are they to conduct a SWAT raid to prevent flushing the evidence? If they knock and wait for suspects to answer the door, there is still a point at which the police are entitled to force entry. If a reasonable person could assume someone’s home and being uncooperative, for example. (Assumptions, probably based on too many cop shows. Definitely with risky loopholes. But plausible. Correct me if I’m wrong.)

Of course, there are consequences to any change in policy. Where would the police change tactics? What would politicians want to see, since they have a thriving need to be tough on crime at the expense of justice and common sense? Is there some additional legislative limit that could be placed on prosecuting distribution? I don’t know. I concede that there are flaws in this, both known and unknown. Unlike some demands, I wouldn’t do something just to do something. Appearances don’t help. See: PATRIOT Act. But there has to be a better way than knocking down doors and creating situations in which violence is likely.


I sneeze in your general direction.

I wish to thank every member of Congress who voted to force products like Sudafed behind pharmacy counters. The meth epidemic was out of control before the new rules, as evidenced by the fourteen houses on my block that blew up every week due to busted methodology in cooking meth from cold pills. And holy hell, there is nothing more satisfying than feeling like death and finding out the Advil Cold & Sinus is behind the counter. Admittedly, I love paperwork, and I adore registering with the government the products I buy, but I couldn’t go through with the process. I was too tired. It’s probably for the best, because in my tired state, I might’ve blown up my house from the danger posed in opening the package and placing said tablets in my mouth. Pour water on top of them and explosion is inevitable. Thank you.

I made up the fact about the houses blowing up on my block. But if Congress can use imaginary facts, so can I. Asshats.