“The effects were temporary and the students recovered…”

The negative symptoms of those affected aren’t enough incentive, so those who aren’t affected must be denied:

A high school banned a caffeine-packed energy drink after students complained that it made them sick and shaky and caused their hearts to race.

About a half-dozen students reported symptoms including shortness of breath, heart palpitations and nausea, school officials said.

The energy drink is SPIKE Shooter. Based on my personal preference, I’d never drink the stuff, but I don’t drink coffee or soda, either. My reason? Caffeine makes me sick and shaky and causes my heart to race. Beets do the same thing to me. Should we ban beets? Perhaps some other standard makes sense.

In the CNN article, this:

The drink Web site says an 8.4-ounce can has 300 milligrams of caffeine. By comparison, the average 5-ounce cup of coffee has 80 to 115 milligrams of caffeine, according to the London-based International Coffee Organization.

Ounce for ounce would be a better comparison. In that scenario, the average cup of coffee contains 134.4 to 193.2 milligrams of caffeine. That’s a slightly different story. To its credit, the drink’s maker, Biotest Laboratories, puts a warning on the can to “begin use with one-half can to determine tolerance.” If that warning is insufficient, then what’s the point of mandatory labels?

For what it’s worth, it would take 31.85 cans of SPIKE Shooter to kill me.

Like a Dog Chasing Its Tail

Do we get these comments because we’ve been busy looking where he isn’t or because it’s true?

The Army’s highest-ranking officer said Friday that he was unsure whether the U.S. military would capture or kill Osama bin Laden, adding, “I don’t know that it’s all that important, frankly.”

“So we get him, and then what?” asked Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker, the outgoing Army chief of staff, at a Rotary Club of Fort Worth luncheon. “There’s a temporary feeling of goodness, but in the long run, we may make him bigger than he is today.

“He’s hiding, and he knows we’re looking for him. We know he’s not particularly effective. I’m not sure there’s that great of a return” on capturing or killing bin Laden.

Does basic justice mean nothing? We don’t stop looking for one murderer because there will still be murders today. This speaks more to the lack of resources, which, given the Bush administration’s actions, implies a lack of will and/or interest. For example:

Schoomaker pointed to the capture of Saddam Hussein, the killings of his sons, Uday and Qusay, and the killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi as evidence that the capture or death of al-Qaeda’s leader would have little effect on threats to the United States.

Hmm, ignore those involved in the attacks of September 11, 2001, so that we can attack, capture, and kill people who had no involvement in those attacks. The result is little effect on threats to the United States. Shocking.

The general is probably correct that capturing bin Laden would do little to stop the threat, as we’ve seen since the death of al-Zarqawi. But he’s still part of the problem. He’s also directly responsible for the deaths of almost 3,000 human beings. That’s not enough?

I know how to read Google Finance.

I’ve said enough for the week on the Sirius-XM merger, but a comment left at this opposing view in the USA Today editorial page highlights a flaw in investor thinking that is dangerous.

XM, you have higher valued stock as of this writing, get rid of the guy with the potty mouth and get on with your life. Why do you feel that you have to bale the other company out because of their poor management.

Sirius’ share price is $3.74, while XM’s share price is $15.10. Wow, XM is valued so much higher than Sirius. Except, Sirius’ market capitalization is $5.26 billion, while XM’s market capitalization is $4.05 billion. Sirius has the higher valued stock, by more than 25%. This is basic analysis.

The commenter should probably stay away from picking individual stocks and stick with mutual funds.

It’s the 48th inning. Everyone’s exhausted. Keep playing!

Steven Pearlstein offers a few reasons why the government should block the proposed merger between Sirius and XM. Mostly, it’s boilerplate fear of big business and its assumed power to dominate people’s lives. I think I yawned once or twice while reading it. He wrote the perfect summation against his argument in his conclusion. It only takes a moment of looking beyond the words.

What we have here, folks, is a case of two money-losing companies locked in what has become ruinous competition, from which they hope to escape by merging. It may be that, given the economics of the business, there is room for only one to survive and prosper. But if satellite radio is such a “natural monopoly,” consumers will be better off if the companies are forced to duke it out until one prevails and the other dies. The antitrust laws were designed to foster competition, not to foreclose it by bailing out competitors that overpaid for talent, over-invested in plant and equipment or over-promised results to their investors.

How do we know consumers will be better off if the two companies continue to bloody each other? We can assume it, but it’s just an assumption. Sort of like the assumption that the FCC made that the public interest would be best served by allowing two, and only two, competitors to purchase a satellite radio license. How do we know what will be best in the future?

The explanation generally revolves around some imagined significant harm that will result from a monopoly. Only history doesn’t always show such harm. Would we have a viable, efficient economy with the same power if regulators had stopped steel or oil consolidation? Evidence suggests that those industries continually improved their manufacturing methods, increasing efficiency and lowering prices. We should not act in response to potential harm. If the merged company actually exhibits monopoly behavior, then intervention may be warranted. Until then, it’s wise to realize that the threat of intervention acts as an incentive against monopoly behavior.

More to the case at hand, perhaps it’s better to let one of the two surrender and preserve assets for productive use than to make them fight each other until one company is toast.

Bill Clinton caused the Plague, too.

Once again, the editors at Opinion Journal are spinning a crisis to pretend that Republicans haven’t been complicit.

In reality, the AMT is one more liberal monster that was created in the name of soaking the rich but has now come back to swallow the middle class. Democrats created the AMT in 1969, amid a political frenzy to capture a mere 21 millionaires who had paid nothing. And the politician most responsible for the AMT’s relentless expansion in recent years is none other than William Jefferson Clinton.

Remember the 1993 tax hike that was supposed to fall only on the rich? In addition to raising gas taxes and Medicare payroll taxes and income tax rates, the Democratic Congress that year also raised the AMT: from a 24% flat rate to a dual tax rate of 26% on AMT income up to $175,000 and 28% on AMT income above that amount.

It’s true that the 1993 bill slightly increased the AMT’s family income exemption, but Democrats refused to index those exemptions for inflation. So the combination of the higher rates and the failure to index for inflation has caught more and more middle-class taxpayers in the AMT’s maw. From 1992 to 2002, this Clinton stealth tax hike increased sixfold the number of filers paying the AMT, to nearly two million from 300,000.

That’s fascinating, but it’s also irrelevant. Rather than waste brainpower on new words, I’ll quote myself from December, when this ploy last appeared:

I don’t seek to absolve the Democrats of any guilt, for they surely must share. Still, I have to come back to the reality that the allegedly fiscally conservative Republicans had six years of complete control over the two branches of government necessary to implement reform on these issues. They did nothing. When the weeds got thick, the party punted in favor of attacking gays and Janet Jackson’s breast.

That’s still the proper analysis. Politicians, no matter what letter follows their names, don’t care about leading, which is what solving this before it became a problem required. None of the blame matters. It would be just as easy for the Journal’s editors to start here rather than end up here:

All of which means that if Democrats really want to spare Joe Lunchbucket from the AMT, the cleanest solution is to repeal the Clinton AMT rate hikes. The nearby chart, prepared by the American Shareholders Association based on Joint Tax data, compares the number of filers who will be hit by the AMT under current law and what would happen if the AMT rate was moved back to the pre-Clinton 24% and the exemption was indexed for inflation at the 2005 level of $40,250 ($58,000 for a joint return). Going back to the pre-Clinton rates would leave only about 2.6 million tax filers subject to an AMT penalty next year instead of 23 million under current law.

The estimated “cost” of this fix to the Treasury over 10 years would be some $632 billion, which is money Democrats in Congress would prefer to spend. But as Senator Grassley notes: “This tax was never meant to tax the middle class, so why should we count it as a revenue loss when we make sure they don’t have to pay it?”

The AMT is a travesty, which is where I’d take the discussion. It should go. (I’d end with sweeping simplification to a flat tax.) But aside from including Clinton in that paragraph for historical fact and reference, there is no reason to sling blame. The debate isn’t lifted. Let’s try solutions and how to get them implemented so that we can begin the return to fiscal restraint and limited government.

P.S. I’m going to assume that the excerpt I quoted from myself will stand in as sufficient commentary to mock the nonsense that Democrats, and not politicians in general, would prefer to spend that estimated $632 billion.

The FCC whiffs.

Even though any such action could benefit me, I’m against this out of principle:

The government is investigating a proposed deal between Major League Baseball and DirecTV Inc. that has had fans in a tizzy.

Remember that Senator John Kerry sent a complaint letter to FCC Chairman Kevin Martin.

Martin, in reply, wrote Kerry: “I share your concerns regarding this proposed deal.”

“I am concerned whenever consumers cannot purchase the programming they want or are forced to purchase programming they don’t want,” Martin wrote.

Martin wrote that the agency has “contacted the parties and requested additional information about their proposed arrangement. Once we have this information, we will report to you on the deal’s implications for consumers and any recommended changes to the law to ameliorate any harms to consumers.”

As I stated before, the FCC shouldn’t involve itself in this. As stupid as I think it is, Major League Baseball should be free to be stupid. If they’re prevented from being stupid, the market won’t get the chance to teach them how to take care of customers. In the end, we’ll just have more madness from Bud Selig and Co. because there is no legitimate pressure put on them to signal what is and isn’t wise. I’d rather rip this band-aid off now and let the backlash finish it.

Or not, of course. I could be in the minority of fans negatively affected by this who cares enough to complain and not switch to DirecTV. Whatever the truth, let’s find out the right way.

What about music? Talking? Stray thoughts?

Virginia legislators want to implement a new public safety policy:

The Virginia House of Delegates approved a bill Wednesday that would prohibit teenagers from using their cellphones while driving, which safety advocates say would reduce accidents.

Under the bill, drivers ages 15, 16 and 17 would not be able to talk, send text messages or snap photos with a phone while on Virginia roads. The ban would also apply to hands-free devices but would allow teens to use a phone during an emergency.

If signed into law, the ban will be a secondary offense. That doesn’t make the logic more palatable. If the teen driver commits a primary offense, then he or she is driving badly. Isn’t that the proof that something is distracting? Where’s the study that demonstrates how often we can expect teen drivers committing the now-secondary offense commit a primary offense at the same time? I don’t see it mentioned here.

Beyond that, the obvious question is, if teens are distracted, wouldn’t adults also be distracted? Does experience somehow change the ability to multi-task? I suspect so, to a limited extent, but I’m guessing. I see no indication that the General Assembly is doing any more investigation than I’m not.

For example:

The proposal, sponsored by Sen. James K. “Jay” O’Brien Jr. (R-Fairfax), gained momentum after a spate of fatal accidents involving teenagers on Washington area highways.

Though the accidents were not necessarily caused by teens talking on cellphones, they spurred a regionwide debate about teen driving safety. Maryland passed a series of teen driving bills two years ago. The District requires all drivers to use hands-free devices to talk on the phone. O’Brien resisted efforts in Virginia to make exceptions for teenagers using hands-free devices.

“It doesn’t matter if the phone is in their hands or hands-free,” O’Brien said. “The distraction for the teen is the same. They’re taking their concentration off the road and giving it to a conversation during a period when they have zero driving experience.

So we’re taking a action to resolve a potentially unrelated problem, and applying untested assumptions to that solution. It’s hard to say this will cause specific harm, but will it help? It doesn’t matter. As long as we assume parents won’t have to bury their child, then it’s good policy. We’re doing something “for the children.” But, again, are adults with experience any better at driving while on the phone?

Really, though, this is just a good way to raise teens who a complacent while legislatures restrict liberty further.

“I think it’s pretty reasonable, because we do have a tendency to talk on our phones a lot, and a lot of accidents happen,” [17-year-old Pape] Diop said. “Even if I’m in the car with an adult, I see it distracts them.”

Teens have a “tendency”. That’s enough. Notice, of course, the anecdotal evidence that it also distracts adults. If this law is justified, wouldn’t it be as wise to ban adults from using cell phones? Then we could prevent a distracted adult from killing a now-undistracted, non-cell phone using teen driver.

This is not an endorsement for the opposite opinion. I’m only suggesting that, if the General Assembly is warranted in taking action, there should be some common sense behind it. Instead, we get a feel-good proposal to take action against a group who can’t vote. We’re supposed to accept it because it’s for their own good. Nope. Good, reasonable public policy requires more than that.

There is no such thing as a little bit free.

Comprehending the full range of anti-trade absurdity in Harold Meyerson’s preposterous column in today’s Washington Post would probably be impossible. It would definitely require a point-by-point analysis to grasp the scope, but it’s not worth that much effort. Instead, this key excerpt explains the problem.

These domestic policy proposals all have merit; the question is whether they’re remotely sufficient to the challenge of a globalized economy. In fact, there are nations with advanced economies that trade even more than we do and have still managed, chiefly through domestic policies, to retain high levels of economic equality and vitality: the nations of northern Europe. Trade constitutes a higher percentage of Scandinavian nations’ gross domestic product than it does ours, with little of the downward-leveling and, accordingly, anti-trade backlash that we experience. Their secret is a series of job-training and placement policies, a bigger and better-paying public sector than ours, and the fact that their leading trade partners are other high-wage European nations.

The cost of creating this economic security while remaining globally competitive isn’t cheap. In the March issue of the American Prospect (which I edit), my colleague Robert Kuttner calculates that these nations devote roughly 15 percent more of their GDP to governmental outlays than the United States does. That pencils out to roughly $2 trillion a year that we’d have to shift to the public sector to build an economy in which globalization wouldn’t be viewed as so dire a threat. Neither Rubin, a true believer in balanced budgets, nor anybody functioning in the real world of American politics is calling for anything this far-reaching to reshape the U.S. economy.

There is a complete mish-mash of concepts here. Free trade must somehow be fair to be deemed acceptable. My Meyerson uses the term decent capitalism to explain his idea of what trade should be. He’s entitled to that idea, but he seeks to impose his idea of decent onto everyone. This is classic central planning, which is not capitalism. People can choose “decent” in their trade, but Mr. Meyerson is merely proposing socialism.

Specifically, we should push another $2 trillion per year into the public sector to promote capitalism? That makes no sense. It would be better if Mr. Meyerson admitted that he hates capitalism becomes some people don’t win equally. That would be honest. Instead we get babbling about how we should increase public spending to redistribute into equality. We should buy off the disgruntled so they’ll abandon some of their antagonism. Please. Grow up.

There’s no free pass for noble intentions.

Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley penned an essay in today’s Washington Post on his opposition to the death penalty. I like and agree with much of it. The state should not be in the business of killing people when a less troublesome solution is available. I see no reason that life without parole can’t guarantee the same benefit to society. That, and I don’t want people killing in my name any more than necessary.

However, his essay is not perfect.

And what of the tremendous cost of pursuing capital punishment? In 2002, Judge Dale Cathell of the Maryland Court of Appeals wrote that, according to his research, processing and imprisoning a death penalty defendant “costs $400,000 over and above . . . a prisoner serving a life sentence.” Given that 56 people have been sentenced to death in Maryland since 1978, our state has spent about $22.4 million more than the cost of life imprisonment. That’s nearly $4.5 million “extra” for each of the five executions carried out. And so long as every American is presumed innocent until proven guilty, the cost of due process will not go down.

If, however, we were to replace the death penalty with life without parole, that $22.4 million could pay for 500 additional police officers or provide drug treatment for 10,000 of our addicted neighbors. Unlike the death penalty, these are investments that save lives and prevent violent crime. If we knew we could spare a member of our family from becoming a victim of violent crime by making this policy change, would we do it?

Why not stop at stating that Maryland has spent an estimated $22.4 million more than necessary to achieve the same result? That’s money that Marylanders do not need to pay to the state to receive effective government. But I get his point. He’s advocating an argument that Maryland can be even safer if the money is better spent. It’s a pleasant argument without guaranteed results. It’ll market his solution to a few more people. Still, it’s extraneous fluff not central to the topic of what government should do to convicted murderers.

Gov. O’Malley’s second suggestion irks me more. Of course we should save those millions, because then we can fight the War on Drugs treat drug addicts. Drugs are bad, mmmkay. This isn’t even a pleasant argument. It’s marketing to the basest understanding of where morality and public policy should meet. I can think of only one way for Gov. O’Malley to make his suggestions worse: propose using that $22.4 million for 500 additional police officers to arrest 10,000 drug addicted Marylanders. I’m actually surprised he didn’t.

For what it’s worth, note that Gov. O’Malley suggests using money saved over 28 years to pay for 500 officers for 1 year. Talked about an unfunded mandate based on feel-good marketing.

Caution before action is good.

From Uganda, this news:

The Ministry of Health has started talking to stakeholders as one of the procedures for drafting a policy on circumcision.

There is nothing explicitly in the article that indicates whether or not the proposed policy will apply to infants. As such, I am only speculating that it does when I ask the obvious: will the Ministry of Health consider infants as stakeholders? Where the Ministry’s policy involves infants, those boys are the key stakeholders. Without their input, or a “reasonable person” proxy standard for them, any policy that permits circumcision would treat them as little more than property. That would be wrong.

If the policy discussion is strictly to figure out how to economically offer circumcision to adult men in a clean, safe environment with qualified surgeons, then the Ministry should be commended.