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:: Friday, February 27, 2004 ::

CAC News: Capitalism and (Microsoft's) freedom  

:: Posted by Nicholas Provenzo at 10:59 AM

A letter I wrote responding to Kenneth W. Starr was published in today's Washington Times.

According to Kenneth W. Starr in his Feb. 19 Op-Ed column, "A stitch in crime," the Microsoft antitrust settlement contains loopholes that allow Microsoft to avoid competing in the marketplace on the merits. Yet rather than attack Microsoft, perhaps Mr. Starr should reorient his gaze to the antitrust laws themselves.

Under the antitrust laws, the government has penalized Microsoft for improving its products, controlling the terms of sale of its own property and earning the loyalty of millions of its customers. In a free market, Microsoft's achievements would be held up as a model of how to create and maintain a highly productive, innovative company. Yet under antitrust laws, these same achievements are criminal.

Never mind that, unlike a government regulator, Microsoft cannot outlaw the competition. Never mind that the only real barriers to competition with Microsoft are technical and business acumen. Under the antitrust laws, Microsoft, by virtue of its success, is a coercive threat to the unsuccessful. The gauge of Microsoft's compliance with the law is how much its competitors are gaining at Microsoft's expense.

It should be obvious that a standard that demands that a company sacrifice itself to its competitors is unjust. Yet, never in the history of the Microsoft antitrust case has there been a loud call for a re-examination of antitrust law itself. Government and industry antitrust attorneys have pored over tens of thousands of documents, looking for instances of Microsoft's transgressions. They have missed the transgressions of a government that criminalizes ordinary business behavior in the name of protecting the marketplace.

NICHOLAS PROVENZO
Chairman
Center for the Advancement of Capitalism
Alexandria, Va.

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:: Wednesday, February 18, 2004 ::

The Culture: Objectivism and the University 

:: Posted by Nicholas Provenzo at 1:52 PM

We all know how much of a trial higher education can be if you are an Objectivist working in the humanities. Leonard Peikoff wrote the following in The Voice of Reason:

If you are a philosophically pro-American student, you have to expect every kind of smear from many of your professors. If you uphold the power of reason, you will be called a fanatic or a dogmatist. If you uphold the right to happiness, you will be called anti-social or even a fascist. If you admire Ayn Rand, you will be called a cultist. You will experience every kind of injustice, and even hatred, and you will be unbelievably bored most of the time, and often you will be alone and lonely.
I’ve experienced all those things and worse as a student myself, but as I return to the university to complete my formal education, I’m seeing that a lot has changed for the better in the past ten years. For example, a little over a year ago, I participated in a debate sponsored by the George Mason University campus Objectivist club on whether the United States should invade Iraq. Almost 100 people attended, including GMU President Alan Merten. After the debate, President Merten wrote the club, saying events like the Iraq debate "are the reason we have universities."

Now that I am a student at George Mason, I happened across President Merten yesterday and approached him to thank him for his complement. He immediately recognized me, repeated his statement about the debate, and went on to say to me how proud he was that George Mason would be host to such a thoughtful and rationally argued event on the eve of such a grave decision on the part of the nation. President Merten said that he has told "a hundred people" about what such an event means to an institution like George Mason.

Consider the facts: An event, hosted by Objectivists and argued by an Objectivist, respectful in tone, yet unrelenting in argument, is held to be the reason we have universities.

Sometimes Objectivism’s advancement in the culture seems slow—sometimes even too slow to bear—but I say this: we are winning.

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:: Wednesday, February 11, 2004 ::

 

:: Posted by Nicholas Provenzo at 10:28 AM

What is one to do? The perennial question we all ask ourselves when we take the dream of a free, capitalist America and compare it to the America we face today.

There is the question of whom we choose as allies.

For example, when I think of the Cato Institute, I think of it as one of a hundred public policy groups in Washington with which I find some degree of disagreement. If I looked at Cato only that way, when they do the occasional good thing, I would be inclined to support it.

The problem with a group like Cato is that they more than just a Washington policy group. They are the standard bearer for the libertarian movement. They have allied with those who directly attack the philosophy I support. It was my attendance at an event featuring David Boaz, a leader at Cato, which cemented my opposition to the toleration-ist break with Objectivism. I was new to Objectivism at the time, and Boaz was making the case that one could form an alliance for political liberty with a committed adherent of Islam. Even as a fresh Objectivist and many years prior to 9-11, I thought that position to be laughable.

Boaz’s view is the fundamental opposite of the Objectivist view, and it speaks to the heart of what animates Cato philosophically. When it comes to the overarching take on the world and how to deal with it, they are not fellow travelers, but opponents.

A friend sent the following to me that amplified this point: “If you have set up an organization that is to be specifically the Objectivist voice for capitalism, keeping the existence of libertarians in mind and how they only stand to gain from Objectivists and we only stand to lose from them, isn't this whole issue amplified a whole lot more than it would be, say for a [college] club?”

I agree.

That might mean CAC looses allies that we would have if we were just a single issue group working on an isolated case. But since we are aiming for not just political change, but philosophic change, the goal demands a comprehensive approach.

CAC is an Objectivist group and it seeks to make the case for capitalism by applying Objectivism to public policy questions. Our standards must be strict. The larger cultural problem is not so much this law or that law; it is the failure of our fellow citizens to understand the truth of Objectivism and apply it to their lives and their social relationships.

In the same breath, I’m not going to reflexively condemn others if, for their own reasons, they decide that they want a relationship with libertarians or conservatives because they believe it serves their interests. Given their agenda, these relationships may make sense, although I am hard-pressed to see it myself. I often see people and groups do things that I myself would not do. That is their choice, and they will have to accept the consequences, good or bad.

But when it comes to the group I lead, my mission is to bring about the the rise of Objectivism. To achieve that goal, one must posses a thoughtful loyalty to certain principles.

Like I said before, I’m rethinking what CAC as a group needs to do. Please consider this one of several public brainstorms I will be having as I re-contemplate CAC’s mission. I welcome your reaction and comments. Please feel fee to use the comments feature on the blog, or contact me privately using our feedback page.

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:: Tuesday, February 10, 2004 ::

 

:: Posted by Nicholas Provenzo at 12:41 PM

When I first envisioned this blog, I envisioned a team blog of 5 or 6 Objectivist intellectual activists and the content to match. That has not happened. I envisioned that our general commitment to Objectivism would make it clear what animated us, so if the public saw intellectual differences, it would understand that our pursuit of the truth and respect for reason would always lead us back home, even if we needed some 'prodding.' That has not happened. I envisioned that as a growing force in the advancement of capitalism, we would enjoy acclaim and appreciation commensurate with our efforts. That has not happened.

Instead, what I've seen is a lot of work for a marginal return at best, both financial and spiritual. I've seen us attacked by those who purport to be our friends and yet in their disagreements with us, would publicly brand this organization and its leaders as immoral; not as a last step, but as the first.

That's not to say that I don't value the relationships that have been established with the friends I've made over the Internet. I do. But given the amount of work we put in here, it takes more than a few friends to sustain us.

I think bloging is a powerful and compelling tool for commenting on the questions of the day. It is a real-time medium that provides instant analyses from those who would otherwise be left voiceless. But absent my ability to consider every opinion and edit every word so I can protect Rule of Reason's authors (and fairly, myself) from charges made by others that would damage the organization as a whole, it just does not work.

No one should take any part of this statement as meaning anything negative regarding Skip Oliva's decision to stop blogging for Rule of Reason. On, the contrary, I completely sympathize with Skip's decision. Not that I always agree with every thing he says or every parse of his phrasing, but that I consider him, after knowing him for many years, to be intellectually honest and personally committed to the protection of individual rights in a way that leaves me in awe of his effort and determination. If only the people who criticized and attacked Skip with effortless ease worked as hard as Skip, well, we would be living in a different world.

There will be a short break in public commentary at CAC, so I can reflect upon ways for us to be effective (and profitable) intellectual activists and a useful force in the advance of Objectivism. The old formula is not working. It is time to rethink the brand, its purpose, and the means of achieving that purpose.

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The Last Word: Happy Trails... 

:: Posted by Skip at 12:23 AM

This will be my last post on this blog. I've decided to stop blogging here for personal reasons. To be frank, I doubt I will surface again on the blogsphere. The sum of my blogging experience has, regretably, been negative. I hope to still contribute to CAC in the future in other capacities, and of course I can still be found at Citizens for Voluntary Trade, where I will continue to fight the good fight. But for now, goodbye, farewell, and Amen.

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:: Monday, February 09, 2004 ::

Sports: The Kicker Didn't Shrug 

:: Posted by Skip at 10:41 AM

Many stories on the Super Bowl-champion New England Patriots focus on the allegedly altruist commitment to "team" promoted by the organization. A lot of this is just semantic confusion. Successful sports teams do not reward self-sacrifice, but players who act in their rational self-interest. Exhibit A: The Patriots' kicker, Adam Vinatieri, who found inspiration in a very non-altruist source:
His favorite book is Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand. It is an epic novel about a society in mysterious decline, and about the death and rebirth of the human spirit. The book profoundly influenced Vinatieri's feelings about the importance of pride in the work place.

"The book's about commitment," he says. "Whatever you do and whatever you're going to put your name on, whatever you're going to sign as your work, do it to be proud of what you're doing. Do it the best you can and you'll never be disappointed. You'll never have to say, 'What if I had tried a little harder?'"

Such passion for perfection helps explain Mr. Ice-in-His-Veins' occasional meltdowns. You don't want to be near him on the day that a product he just purchased fails to operate. Or worse, a do-it-yourself assembly project with parts missing.

"Or when you're at the airport and your flight is delayed with no explanation," he says. "Or when your flight's been canceled. Or when they lose your luggage."

Some people can roll with these everyday annoyances. Vinatieri cannot. To him, they are an indication that someone didn't put enough pride in his work.

"With our job, everything is done professionally," he says. "Our organization and our coaches expect us to do everything to the best of our ability. And I'm a little bit of a perfectionist in most everything that I do. So when other people don't use the same effort, it makes me angry. I want other people to take just as much pride in what they do, no matter what that is."

Valerie has lost count of the number of times she has seen her husband shake his head and declare, with absolute indignation, "I would never run my business this way!" He knows there are no shortcuts to success, a lesson he learned when he spent summers working on a South Dakota farm owned by his grandfather and uncle.

"I'd be there for three or four weeks, helping them plant and plow and vaccinate cattle," Vinatieri recalls. "It was the hardest month of the year I would spend anywhere. Up at 5 a.m., go to bed at midnight. My uncle would even work later than that and still get up earlier. Even if it rained, you couldn't get out of work because that was a time to fix a fence. There was always something to do."

That hasn't changed. Most kickers spend practice sessions watching and waiting for the special-teams period.

"I go in there and lift weights and run with everybody," Vinatieri says. "Sure, making big kicks to help the team win definitely helps your status on the team. But I want everybody to know that I care about the team as much as anybody."

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:: Sunday, February 08, 2004 ::

The War: How to Win the Battle and Lose the War 

:: Posted by Nicholas Provenzo at 10:44 PM

The President appeared on NBC’s Meet the Press this morning, where he defended the decision to go to war with Iraq.

I went to Congress with the same intelligence Congress saw the same intelligence I had, and they looked at exactly what I looked at, and they made an informed judgment based upon the information that I had. The same information, by the way, that my predecessor had. And all of us, you know, made this judgment that Saddam Hussein needed to be removed.

You mentioned "preemption." If I might, I went to the United Nations and said, Here is what we know, you know, at this moment, and you need to act. After all, you are the body that issued resolution after resolution after resolution, and he ignored those resolutions.

So, in other words, when you say "preemption," it almost sounds like, Well, Mr. President, you decided to move. What I decided to do was to go to the international community and see if we could not disarm Saddam Hussein peacefully through international pressure.

You remember U.N. Security Council Resolution 1441 clearly stated show us your arms and destroy them, or your programs and destroy them. And we said, there are serious consequences if you don't. That was a unanimous verdict. In other words, the worlds of the U.N. Security Council said we're unanimous and you're a danger. So, it wasn't just me and the United States. The world thought he was dangerous and needed to be disarmed.

And, of course, he defied the world once again.

In my judgment, when the United States says there will be serious consequences, and if there isn't serious consequences, it creates adverse consequences. People look at us and say, they don't mean what they say, they are not willing to follow through.

And by the way, by clearly stating policy, whether it be in Afghanistan or stating the policy that we expect you, Mr. Saddam Hussein, to disarm, your choice to disarm, but if you don't, there will be serious consequences in following through, it has had positive effects in the world. Libya, for example, there was an positive effect in Libya where Moammar Khaddafy voluntarily disclosed his weapons programs and agreed to dismantle dismantle them, and the world is a better place as a result of that. And the world is a safer and better place as a result of Saddam Hussein not being in power.
Forget the UN. Forget world opinion. The case for the invasion of Iraq is and remains simple. President Bush should simply argue that no nation has a right to a dictatorship, and that even the slim chance that a dictator with Saddam’s history had weapons that could be used against the United Sates made him a worthwhile target for removal. Let the Democrats say that we have to wait until an American city is irradiated before we will stand up to a brutal dictatorship.

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:: Saturday, February 07, 2004 ::

The War: Democracy in the Middle East 

:: Posted by Nicholas Provenzo at 11:17 AM

I’ve been reviewing President Bush’s Wednesday speech on democracy in the Middle East. This paragraph stuck out:
The tradition of liberty has advocates in every culture and in every religion. Our great challenges support the momentum of freedom in the greater Middle East. The stakes could not be higher. As long as that region is a place of tyranny and despair and anger, it will produce men and movements that threaten the safety of Americans and our friends. We seek the advance of democracy for the most practical of reasons: because democracies do not support terrorists or threaten the world with weapons of mass murder.
Yes, but the tradition of despotism has its advocates in every culture and particularly in every religion. The Middle East is a place of tyranny, despair and anger particularly because of militant Islam—a force President Bush does not seek to challenge. And even if the Arab states held democratic elections, those elections would still lead to Islamic rule—and ultimately, Islamic dictatorships.

The President then offered the following:

America is also taking the side of reformers who have begun to change the Middle East. We're providing loans and business advice to encourage a culture of entrepreneurship in the Middle East. We've established business internships for women, to teach them the skills of enterprise, and to help them achieve social and economic equality. We're supporting the work of judicial reformers who demand independent courts and the rule of law. At the request of countries in the region, we're providing Arabic language textbooks to boys and girls. We're helping education reformers improve their school systems.
Loans to businesses? School books? Considering the administration refuses to offer even moral support to the reformers in Iran, business loans to Qatar are an absolute triviality.

But in a larger sense, the hope of making the Middle East free is not practical, not as long as militant Islam dominates as a cultural force. The practical strategy is simple— the United States should crush any nation that threatens its security. It would be far better for the US to shock the Islamic world into realizing the impotency of its institutions than to perpetually pander to it.

President Bush’s speech was intended as a tribute to Sir Winston Churchill. I say in this regard the President would be wise to reflect that not once did Churchill refer to Nazism as a philosophy of peace.

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:: Friday, February 06, 2004 ::

CAC News: More Clarett 

:: Posted by Skip at 9:00 AM

I'll be on the "Steve Czaban Show" on Fox Sports Radio tonight around 9:30 p.m. to discuss the Maurice Clarett case.

For a list of Fox Sports Radio affiliates, visit the Fox News website here.

UPDATE: New time: 9:00 PM EST.

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:: Thursday, February 05, 2004 ::

Antitrust: Clarett, Cont'd 

:: Posted by Skip at 1:04 PM

Judge Shira Scheindlin may have decided she knows better than the NFL about what players should be allowed in the draft, but two ESPN analysts stubbornly maintain their actual experience trumps Judge Scheindlin's antitrust omniscience. Mel Kiper, Jr., ESPN's chief draft analyst, said Clarett "looks like no more than a second-round pick," a claim that contradicts Clarett's federal complaint, which brazenly asserted he would've been a high first-round pick but for the NFL's "anticompetitive" behavior. Kiper goes on to say that even if Scheindlin's ruling is upheld, "it will not open the floodgates to an influx of freshman and sophomores entering the draft" because many juniors, who are eligible under the NFL rule, choose to stay in college an extra year even though they are projected first-round picks.

ESPN's Merril Hoge, who unlike Her Honor actually played in the NFL for eight seasons, said Clarett is insane for entering the draft after only playing one year in college:
If and when [Clarett] steps on the field to play in the NFL, he'll realize quickly that he's a boy up against men. Clarett couldn't stay healthy in college -- that's a walk through the park compared to what he'll be facing.

I was only 20 my rookie year, and I could tell everyone was much stronger me. My "welcome to the NFL" hit came in practice courtesy of five-time Pro Bowl defensive back Donnie Shell. He hit me so hard, it split my shoulder pads down the middle and knocked my helmet off my head. It was the hardest hit I ever sustained. I couldn't feel my legs; it was all I could do to walk back to the huddle.
Judge Sheindlin says it's wrong for the NFL to make a blanket assumption that all players below a certain age are incapable of playing in the league. She suggested there were "less restrictive" alternatives for individually assessing players. But that's not the point. The issue is whether the NFL can decide for itself what employment policies to maintain, or whether the league's business judgment can be arbitrarily second-guessed by a federal judge. And frankly, it's hypocritical for the courts to be demanding individualized attention for aspiring NFL athletes when affirmative action—the collective prejudgment of students based on parentage—is upheld as a "compelling" state interest.

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Antitrust: Another Bad Day for the NFL 

:: Posted by Skip at 10:24 AM

Maurice Clarett is eligible for the NFL Draft, according to a federal judge in Manhattan, who held today that the NFL’s requirement that a player must be out of high school for three years to be draft-eligible violated the antitrust laws.

Judge Shira A. Scheindlin ordered the NFL to admit Clarett for the 2004 draft in April, saying in part, “The NFL has not justified Clarett's exclusion by demonstrating that the rule enhances competition. Indeed, Clarett has alleged the very type of injury -- a complete bar to entry into the market for this services -- that the antitrust laws are designed to prevent”.

It’s always a sad day when a federal judge decides what “enhances competition” in the private sector. I just heard comments on the Clarett decision on ESPN Radio where Tony Kornheiser and Andy Pollin—two men who have no concept of what this country is about—lauded the ruling as an obvious remedy for Clarett’s injustice. Kornheiser said the judge upheld Clarett’s “civil rights”—as if the men who died at Yorktown, Gettysburg, and Iwo Jima gave their lives so Maurice Clarett could force the NFL to hire him against its will.

And if you think I’m out of line invoking those battles, consider how many lives and businesses have been destroyed by the antitrust laws. The “civil rights” of Americans are violated every day by those who infringe private property rights in the name of “competition” and “fairness”. These laws—and I use that term loosely here—are nothing more than an excuse for handing unchecked, arbitrary power to the government. As I’ve said before and will undoubtedly say again, if you support antitrust in any context, you are an enemy of capitalism, and ultimately the founding principles of this country. There are no exceptions.

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Antitrust: What's the Difference? 

:: Posted by Skip at 9:17 AM

Antitrust supporters need to explain to me why this isn't an example of outright socialism, i.e. the confiscation of private property by the government:
SAO PAULO, Brazil -- The Brazilian Antitrust Agency on Wednesday ruled that Swiss food giant Nestle must sell the Garoto chocolate company it bought in 2002 for $250 million.

The agency cited "a high degree of market concentration" in its 5-1 ruling. Under the ruling, Nestle must divest itself of Garoto, although no specific deadline was set.

Furthermore, Nestle must break up the formerly Brazilian-owned company into separate units and sell them to buyers who do not control more than a 20 percent market share for any given product.

Nestle bought Garoto in February 2002, a move that united two of Brazil's three largest chocolate companies and gave Nestle a market share as high as 90 percent for some products.
Cases like this demonstrate the fundamental difference between antitrust advocates and supporters of capitalism: The antitrust folks say "competition" is the foundation of a market economy; we say it's private property rights. You cannot, however, have it both ways. If you accept any form of antitrust regulation, you are not a capitalist in any meaningful sense of the word.

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The Culture: The NFL & Censorship 

:: Posted by Nicholas Provenzo at 8:36 AM

ROR readers know that only government can censor, that is, only the threat of coercive force can truly prevent ideas from being exchanged. That doesn't stop people from claiming that normal acts of commerce are censorship. Consider this story:

ESPN has canceled its first scripted series, "Playmakers," and the show's creator says it was the NFL's doing.

The cable sports network announced yesterday that the drama series about a pro football team, which the NFL blasted for its sometimes unflattering portrayal of players, will not return for a second season despite record ratings for ESPN.

"Many considerations went into this decision, not the least of which was the reaction from a longtime and valued partner," ESPN executive Mark Shapiro said in a statement. He was referring to the NFL, with which ESPN has a $4.8 billion contract to televise its Sunday night games.

Shapiro told The Post's John Maynard yesterday that the final decision was solely ESPN's. The NFL "did not put a gun to our head," he said.

The NFL in a statement said the cancellation "was an ESPN decision and now we can all move on."

But "Playmakers" creator and executive producer John Eisendrath said: "The NFL canceled the show. Implicitly or explicitly, [the NFL] let it be known that the future of football on ESPN and [corporate parent] ABC hinged on the decision that they made about 'Playmakers,' " he told Maynard.

"This is an example of censorship. There is no way to sugarcoat it." [Washington Post]
No, that's not an example of censorship; that's an example of a hard bargain. ESPN valued its relationship with the NFL more than it did its ability to broadcast "Playmakers." However unlikely, ESPN could have chosen to reject the NFL's demands. A broadcaster does not enjoy that same right with the FCC.



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The Culture: Anger up, Tension down 

:: Posted by Nicholas Provenzo at 8:13 AM

Something struck me as odd when I read these two headlines in the online version of today's Washington Post:

Senate Offices Set to Reopen
No link found to 2003 ricin incident as anger grows over delayed notice.

Tension Eases After Ricin Incident

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:: Wednesday, February 04, 2004 ::

Rights & Reason: Censoring ER 

:: Posted by Skip at 10:08 AM

I don't want to say the FCC's "investigation" into the Super Bowl halftime show will lead to censorship, but this story is not encouraging:
Only days after the firestorm created when Janet Jackson exposed her breast during the Super Bowl, plans to air an episode of "ER" on NBC Thursday evening that includes a view of an elderly female patient's bare breast are raising serious concerns among the network's affiliates.

Some NBC affiliates are so uneasy about the scene planned for the first night of sweeps that at least one station group executive described himself Tuesday as "considering what my options are" should NBC decide to air the hour with the exposed breast. "You're not going to find the stations very willing to take the heat," said the station group executive. "I think people are going to be backing off big-time."
. . .
There is a pending FCC investigation of the Super Bowl incident. Last week some stations were fined for earlier incidents and the White House endorsed a call for a ten-fold increase in fines for indecency on TV. There are already indecency hearings on Capitol Hill scheduled and more being threatened.

In light of the atmosphere of fear which has been created, even a tastefully shot, full-on glimpse of a bare breast in a network primetime show inspires less academic and more fearful discussions and concerns. That context led the group executive to predict that should NBC keep the breast scene in, there could be significant defections by affiliates who won't air the show.
An "atmosphere of fear". That doesn't sound like the "compassionate" America George W. Bush is always talking about.

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Capitalism & Law: Bush's Real Lie 

:: Posted by Skip at 9:52 AM

While the popular debate centers on whether the White House lied about WMDs in Iraq, less attention has been paid to date over the president's most damaging lie—his decision to intentionally mislead the public on the cost of his "compassionate" Medicare bill. On Monday, the White House's budget revealed that the pact was cost several hundred billion more than the White House originally stated. This was not the product of bad intelligence, like Iraq, but rather a deliberate political decision to mislead the American people for political purposes. This lie alone constitutes grounds for kicking Bush out of office—especially when you consider the abusive tactics Republican congressional leaders employed to coerce members into voting for the Medicare package.

Now that the lie has unraveled, Congress's chief accountant, Comptroller General David Walker, has surveyed the damage and offered this chilling assessment:
The federal government's gross debt — the accumulation of its annual deficits — was about $7 trillion last September, which works out to about $24,000 for every man, woman and child in this country. But that number excludes items like the gap between the government's Social Security and Medicare commitments and the money put aside to pay for them. If these items are factored in, the burden for every American rises to well over $100,000.

The new Medicare prescription drug benefit will add thousands more to that tab. This benefit is unquestionably popular and will make it easier for some older Americans to afford expensive prescription drugs. But it also comes with a steep price tag that few want to talk about. The truth is that the drug benefit as signed into law is one of the largest commitments ever undertaken by the federal government. Preliminary estimates of its long-term cost in current dollars range up to $8 trillion.

To put that number into perspective: it is about four times the entire federal budget. Long-term simulations from the legislative agency I head, the General Accounting Office, paint a chilling picture. Even before the new drug benefit was enacted, these simulations showed that by 2040 current policy could require a 50 percent reduction in federal spending or a doubling of taxes to balance the budget.
We know the existing political climate won't support reducing the federal government by half or eliminating Medicare. I suppose the good news is we still have a couple decades to fix the political culture. But don't expect anything from President Bush. As I said a few weeks ago, Bush is a small man promoting small ideas. He thinks government is a charity, not an agency to protect individual rights.

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:: Tuesday, February 03, 2004 ::

Rights & Reason: Charity vs. Advertising 

:: Posted by Skip at 1:38 PM

John Feinstein is a wonderful sportswriter. His books on college basketball, college football, and golf, demonstrate an unimpeachable commitment to quality research and writing. He is, in my view, the best active sportswriter in the country. That's why I get genuinely angry when he shows himself to be an anti-capitalist shill, as he did in this paragraph from his weekly America Online column:
Once the little Martians have studied up on that, they can turn their attention to the commercials, which, for those of you keeping score at home, cost $2.9 million per 30 seconds this year. Imagine for one second if CBS and each of those corporations had agreed to take just $100,000 from each of those spots and had given that money to the homeless; what a difference it could make in countless lives.

Oh wait, that's one of those silly liberal thoughts. Can't have that while we're celebrating the homespun values of American Excess.
This argument is breathtaking in its intentional stupdity. The corporations that purchased Super Bowl ads already make a difference in countless lives: They employ thousands of workers, often providing them with health and pension benefits; they produce products that improve the quality of life for millions of Americans; they contribute billions in tax dollars to governments that blow the money on the type of faux-charitable endeavors Feinstein longs for; and they enable each and every American to watch the Super Bowl free of charge. Without greedy corporations, the Super Bowl would have gone pay-per-view long ago.

Feinstein also ignores the fact that most major corporations already give millions to charity each year, if for no other reason than the tax code rewards such actions. Corporations set up tax-exempt foundations exclusively to make charitable donations and run community service programs. Should these efforts be ignored simply because these same corporations also pay a premium to advertise on the most-watched television program of the year?

And why does he single out the homeless as particularly worthy of charity? What about Africans dying of AIDS? Or victims of terrorist attacks? Or earthquake survivors? Is a company not sufficiently charitable unless it donates to causes that Feinstein and his leftist buddies decide are worthy?

Feinstein's argument implies the homeless are the moral superior of corporations. I strongly reject that implication. Corporations earn their money through marketplace competition; the homeless are not virtuous simply by the fact of their poverty. Behind almost every American corporation is one or more founders who built their businesses from scratch.

The same can be said of many professional athletes, who often work their way out of poverty to become multi-millionaires. What about the countless opportunities the NFL and its sponsors have given these athletes? Is that less virtuous than handing out money to the homeless? Corporations do not cause homelessness; they help solve it everyday. It is often the politicians that help cause the problem, however, not only by taxing successful businesses, but by imposing regulatory burdens that raise the cost of housing for the less affluent. These regulations are often imposed by liberal political regimes, such as San Francisco, in the name of stopping "urban sprawl" or limiting the growth of evil corporations. It is anti-capitalism, not greed, that cause human misery and suffering.

Feinstein forgets a simple truth: Charity is possible only where there is profit. Without "excess", there would be nothing to give away.

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Capitalism & Law: Dean's Prescription 

:: Posted by Skip at 10:44 AM

It's never a good thing when Howard Dean is the voice of reason:
Howard Dean, a physician and a Democratic presidential candidate, on Monday dismissed as "silly" a government inquiry into whether indecency rules were broken during the broadcast of the Super Bowl halftime show when pop diva Janet Jackson's bodice was ripped to expose her right breast.

"I find that to be a bit of a flap about nothing," the former Vermont governor said. "I'm probably affected in some ways by the fact that I'm a doctor, so it's not exactly an unusual phenomenon for me."

During the break in the National Football League's championship game, singer Justin Timberlake reached for Jackson as they sang a duet and tore off part of her black leather bustier.

Federal Communications Commission chairman Michael Powell promised a "thorough and swift" investigation of the stunt aired during one of the most popular American television broadcasts, which also attracts a major worldwide audience.

"In general, I think the FCC does have a role in promoting some reasonable standard of decency," Dean told reporters aboard his campaign plane. "However, considering what's on television these days, I think the FCC is being pretty silly about investigating this."

Dean, who does not have cable television at his home in Burlington, Vermont, said Americans could inadvertently turn on "far worse things" while "cruising through cable at regular viewing hours."

"I don't find it terribly shocking relative to some of the things you can find on standard cable television," he added. "I think the FCC probably has a lot of other things they should be pursuing."
Of course, the "other things" Dean wants the FCC to pursue is breaking up larger broadcasters who hold political views Dean doesn't agree with. But at least Dean's remarks demonstrate that the FCC's response to "Nipplegate" is principally about appeasing President Bush's conservative base, not enforcing objective law.

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Rights & Reason: A Mother's Choice 

:: Posted by Skip at 10:24 AM

I wonder if President Bush will finance a federal breastfeeding initiative after hearing about this study:
CHICAGO (Reuters) - The longer white infants from low-income families are breast-fed, the less likely they will be overweight as young children, researchers said on Monday. The study of more than 177,000 children from low-income families who visited U.S. public health clinics between 1988 and 1992 found that formula-fed infants and babies breast-fed for less than a month were more likely to develop weight problems by age 4 than infants breast-fed for longer periods.

However, the correlation between breast-feeding duration and healthier weight was limited to whites in the study, and did not apply to Hispanics or blacks, who made up nearly one-third of the participants.

U.S. obesity rates among children and adults have been climbing, with Hispanics and blacks the most likely to be overweight.
. . .
Among the possible reasons behind the correlation are that breast-fed children seem to be better able to self-regulate their eating at mealtimes compared to formula-fed children, the report said. Breast-fed babies likely exert more control over when to stop suckling, while babies fed formula might be urged to finish off a bottle or were left wanting more.

Breast-fed children also have been found to make an easier dietary transition to vegetables than formula-fed children, wrote study author Laurence Grummer-Strawn of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

And compared to breast milk, formula provokes a greater insulin response that may lead to early deposits of body fat, he wrote.
This puts an interesting spin on the political “war on obesity”. The philosophy of the politicians holds that individuals are not responsible for their obesity, but rather they are the innocent victims of large food corporations that get people addicted to junk food. The lawyer-terrorists driving litigation against the food companies expressly disavow the concept of “personal responsibility”.

A mother can choose to breastfeed or formula-feed her infant. Many, if not most, American mothers do not breastfeed their infants for the first year of life, as recommended by most infant health organizations. It is more common to see an infant breastfed for no more than three to six months before being transitioned to formula. This is the result of a mix of cultural factors which I won’t go into here. But suffice to say, the ultimate decision on how to feed a child rests with the parents.

Now the World Health Organization and some leftist groups see it differently. They choose to blame the formula manufacturers, notably Nestle, for forcing an unhealthy product upon innocent mothers and babies. To be sure, the formula companies’ aggressive marketing to doctors and hospitals can be quite distasteful. Many hospitals give newborns formula, which can disrupt a mother’s later efforts to establish breastfeeding. Many physicians are surprisingly uninformed about the differences between breastfeeding and formula, and consequently they’ll advise mothers to quit breastfeeding at the first sign of trouble.

But the real philosophical culprit here isn’t rampant commercialism, but radical feminism. The reason many mothers choose not to breastfeed for an extended period is because they’ve convinced themselves that there’s no genuine difference between human milk and formula. The culture reinforces that view, because they don’t want formula-feeding mothers to feel “guilty” about their choice. But the fact is, human milk is better for the average baby than formula. Science has done a good job creating formula that approximates human milk, but the real thing remains the gold standard. Pretending the differences don’t exist to protect a mother’s psyche is not a valid scientific argument.

The same holds true for the larger “war on obesity”. Individuals might be inclined to blame food companies for their inability to control their own weight, and lawyers will argue personal responsibility is a conservative myth, but pretending individuals don’t have free will doesn’t make it true.

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Sports: Media Credibility and the Hall of Fame 

:: Posted by Skip at 10:05 AM

I’ve just listened to an interview with Harry Carson, the former New York Giants linebacker, on ESPN Radio. Carson was passed over for the fifth year by the selectors for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and he made a persuasive argument that he wants his name removed from the “political process” of Hall selection. The Hall has said they won’t honor the request, which to me only demonstrates the contempt the Hall and the selectors have for many players.

Each year, the Hall presents a list of 15 finalists to a committee of 38 selectors, all members of the media: A print or broadcast reporter from each of the 32 NFL cities, six reporters chosen at-large, and a delegate from the Pro Football Writers Association of America. Except for the PFWA delegate, all selectors serve at their own pleasure, much like Vatican cardinals (although cardinals over 80 can’t vote for pope). At least 80% of the selectors must vote for a finalist for him to be inducted into the Hall.

The stupidest part of the Hall selection process is that a player can be rejected multiple times before being inducted. Carl Eller, a former Minnesota Vikings defensive end, was voted down 12 times before being inducted by the media committee this year. What exactly changed on the 13th ballot to make Eller Hall-worthy? Absolutely nothing. Eller should have been in the Hall the first time he was eligible, as every member of the Hall should be. Unfortunately the process creates two distortions: First, the selectors can induct no more than six finalists per year, an unnecessary and arbitrary restriction; and second, a committee composed solely of media members brings certain biases, many of them irrational, that unfairly work against certain candidates.

Here in Washington, we love to talk about Art Monk, the great Redskins receiver. Monk’s been on the final ballot a few times now, yet has failed to get the magic 80%. The argument against Monk—made principally by Sports Illustrated’s Peter King, an at-large Hall selector—is that he did not have enough touchdowns, his yards-per-catch average was insufficient, and opposing coaches considered Gary Clark the Redskins top scoring receiver. None of these arguments have merit. Monk was used as a possession receiver, a short-yard gainer and blocker. He excelled in this role and was an essential part of four Redskins teams that went to the Super Bowl under Joe Gibbs.

If you asked a committee of players and coaches to vote on Hall inductions, Monk would have been easily chosen on the first ballot. But as long as the media controls the process, King’s arrogant emphasis on statistics of secondary importance will rule the day. It’s clear to me that the media should not have a monopoly on Hall selection. Especially given the highly specialized nature of football, the Hall should employ select committees to screen Hall finalists. I would suggest four separate committees: Offensive backs and receivers, offensive linemen, defensive linemen and linebackers, and defensive backs and special teams. This would help correct the media bias against the non-glamour positions, especially linemen and special teams.

The annual induction limit should also be dropped. Personally, I think anyone who can make the final 15 list should be admitted. Each year there are more 1,600 active players in the NFL. Letting 15 retired players in the Hall per year would do nothing to dilute the integrity of the Hall.

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:: Monday, February 02, 2004 ::

Rights & Reason: More on California's Corruption 

:: Posted by Skip at 11:35 PM

Elan Journo and Brian Simpson of the Ayn Rand Institute discuss the root causes of the California grocery strike:
What is at issue in this dispute? Facing intensified competition, the stores wanted to lower costs by having workers share a portion of the expense for their medical benefits. Knowing that it can refuse with near impunity, the union rejected the proposed labor agreement. What is important here is the stores' right to set the terms of employment, which is abrogated. A rational employer expects to pay wages that enable him to earn a profit?not so high that he has to raise prices and lose customers, but not so low that he cannot attract and retain capable workers.

But unions pride themselves in artificially raising wages beyond the market price for such work. When demanding higher wages, unions do not promise employers that union workers will do a better job or be more productive. They don't have to. The union has a coercive power over employers. The California grocery stores will soon have to compete with Wal-Mart, which plans to open grocery stores in the state. They are right to be worried. At unionized stores in California workers get paid $10 per hour more than those at a nonunion store. Those artificially high wages have an impact on prices: a cart of groceries is 17 to 39 percent cheaper at nonunion stores.
The collective stupidity of the American people can be amazing. Bill Lockyer can argue with a straight face that the grocers are acting "anti-competitively", yet the unions are permitted to use as much coercive force as they want to accomplish the very thing the grocers are falsely accused of. The grocers, after all, have an incentive to maximize their customers' benefits. Unions have no such incentives. They are not business owners. Yet inevitably the media portrays labor disputes with a sympathetic eye towards the unions.

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Capitalism & Law: Supporting the Enemy 

:: Posted by Skip at 10:40 PM

This item in today's Washington Times caught my attention:
Some of the biggest donors to New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, widely expected to run for governor, are lawyers working for people he is suing.

A BusinessWeek analysis of New York state election filings found that among contributions being received by his Spitzer 2006 campaign organization are some from attorneys representing clients against whom Mr. Spitzer's office has filed charges.

For example, Mr. Spitzer received $1,000 from defense lawyer Gerald Shargel on the same day Mr. Shargel's client, William Kenyon, ex-president of Security Trust, was arraigned for grand larceny and fraud. Mr. Kenyon purportedly acted as a middleman to facilitate market timing for hedge fund Canary Capital Partners.

"On the same day that I'm having heated discussions with his office, [Mr. Spitzer's fund-raisers are] calling, saying, 'Where's my check?' " Mr. Shargel said.

Kramer, Levin, Naftalis, & Frankel, the law firm for Canary Capital head Edward Stern, has given $12,000 to Spitzer — $2,000 before the Canary case and $10,000 after a $40 million settlement with Mr. Spitzer, United Press International reports.
I'm less concerned about Spitzer's ethics in raising this money than I am with the ethics of the lawyers donating the money. If I were being prosecuted on some malicious false charge—and most everything a state attorney general prosecutes people for falls into that category—I would not want my attorney contributing funds to keep the prosecutor in office, or worse, elevate him to a higher position. A lawyer that does that is saying he believes more in the state's right to exercise coercive power than he does in my innocence.

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Capitalism & Law: Can the FCC Protect us from Janet Jackson? 

:: Posted by Skip at 1:10 PM

Although I enjoyed last night’s Super Bowl, I did not watch any of the halftime show, instead using that time to finish up some work. Only after the game did I learn of the Janet Jackson-Justin Timberlake incident. My first thought was, “Oh, great, now those dopes at the FCC will launch an ‘obscenity’ investigation.” Sadly, my instincts were dead on:
The chief federal regulator of broadcasting said Monday he is "outraged" by the Super Bowl halftime show which wound up with singer Justin Timberlake tearing off part of Janet Jackson's costume, exposing her breast.

Timberlake blamed a "wardrobe malfunction," but Federal Communications Commission chief Michael Powell called it "a classless, crass and deplorable stunt."

MTV, which produced the show, and CBS, which broadcast it, both said they had no idea that their halftime show Sunday night would include such a display.

"CBS deeply regrets the incident," spokeswoman LeslieAnne Wade said.

The two singers were performing a flirtatious duet to end the halftime show, with Timberlake singing, Rock Your Body, and the lines he sang at the moment of truth were: "I'm gonna have you naked by the end of this song."

With that, Timberlake reached across Jackson's leather gladiator outfit and pulled off the covering to her right breast, which was partially obscured by a sun-shaped, metal nipple decoration.

The network quickly cut away from the shot, and did not mention the exposure on the air.

In a statement, Powell said, "I am outraged at what I saw during the halftime show of the Super Bowl. Like millions of Americans, my family and I gathered around the television for a celebration. Instead, that celebration was tainted by a classless, crass and deplorable stunt. Our nation's children, parents and citizens deserve better."

"I have instructed the commission to open an immediate investigation into last night's broadcast," he said, vowing it would be "thorough and swift." Earlier, an FCC spokeswoman, Suzanne Tetreault, said it was launching a routine investigation because it had received complaints.

Messages left with Jackson's record company and her personal publicist were not returned Monday morning.

The FCC has come under fire from lawmakers and outside groups who say the agency hasn't done enough to shield the public from indecent programming on radio and TV.
Last month the FCC fined Clear Channel $755,000 because a radio program contained “obscenity.” Members of Congress have proposed legislation to multiply the maximum obscenity fine tenfold. One FCC commissioner, Michael Copps, wants to revoke the broadcasting license of any television or radio station that broadcasts obscenity. (Of course, Copps also wants to stop media mergers that aren’t racially “diverse” in his opinion, but that’s another issue.)

At the end of the day, we’re making a big deal over a bare breast. Based on the photos I’ve seen of Ms. Jackson, I can honestly say I’ve seen National Geographic spreads that are more erotic. Not that I’m justifying what happened. But rest assured, the NFL is embarrassed enough by what happened to make sure this never happens on one of their broadcasts again. The FCC is not needed to protect us from “obscenity” and indecency.

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:: Sunday, February 01, 2004 ::

Antitrust: Happy Super Bowl Sunday! 

:: Posted by Skip at 12:04 PM

Today is Super Bowl Sunday. As we enjoy tonight's contest between the Patriots and Panthers, keep this in mind: Were it left to the antitrust laws—the "Magna Carta of free enterprise" according to its defenders—there would be no Super Bowl. The NFL and AFL needed a congressional waiver to complete their merger, which included the creation of the Super Bowl, because otherwise the deal would have been an antitrust violation. Under antitrust doctrine, the AFL- NFL merger illegally eliminated competition for "major-league professional football" and presumptively harmed consumers. The fact that 38 years later consumers are doing just fine despite the lack of a second major football league should not be lost on anyone.

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Capitalism & Law: More California Corruption 

:: Posted by Skip at 12:00 PM

On the heels of the California AG's political persecution of grocers, Los Angeles officials are tripping over themselves to deny consumers access to low-cost groceries:
In February, the Los Angeles City Council is expected to vote on an ordinance that would keep Wal-Mart from opening Supercenters within city limits. Labor interests are working hard to ban these nonunion outlets, which compete with traditional grocery stores. Yet unions will come to regret such limits.

A city ordinance can keep Wal-Mart from opening in Los Angeles, but it will not stop residents from shopping at Wal-Mart. If kept from locating in Los Angeles, Wal-Mart will consider locations in neighboring areas on the edges of the city. As Los Angeles residents shift their spending to Wal-Mart, city tax revenues will be reduced.

Oakland has banned the huge stores, and just last week the West Covina City Council rejected a land sale that would have resulted in a Wal-Mart in their city. In the April 6 Inglewood election, voters will decide whether their City Council's ban will stand.

In Los Angeles, existing community plans and the difficulty in finding large lots make it hard for Wal-Mart to find suitable locations for its Supercenters. The Los Angeles proposal introduced by Councilman Eric Garcetti and drawn up with City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo would prohibit the construction of Supercenters in areas designated for redevelopment and revitalization.

There is tremendous irony in this. Los Angeles, which for years has begged regional supermarkets to locate in areas such as South Central, would ban superstores in the very areas that need them the most. According to an aide to Garcetti, the concern is that a superstore would put existing retail economic development investments at risk. So, in a most bizarre turn of events, the economic development bureaucracy opposes economic development.

If the ordinance passes in February, as expected, it will deprive poor neighborhoods of convenient, low-price shopping and entry-level jobs. Poor communities would remain saddled with ineffective revitalization efforts rather than the market-driven redevelopment that would follow the opening of a Wal-Mart.
Where the hell is Bill Lockyer on this issue? If consumers have a "right" to lower prices—as Bill Lockyer claims in his antitrust lawsuit against the strike-affected grocers—than why does Los Angeles have the right to ban Wal-Mart?

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Antitrust: California's Corruption 

:: Posted by Skip at 12:11 AM

America can liberate Iraq from Saddam Hussein, yet as a people we seem powerless to stop the tyranny of our own elected leaders. Case in point:
LOS ANGELES - The California attorney general's office plans to sue supermarket chains involved in a labor dispute with grocery workers, alleging the companies hurt consumers by forming a financial mutual aid pact.

Attorney General Bill Lockyer contends the companies' arrangement, which they made several weeks before entering collective bargaining with some 70,000 Southern California grocery employees, violates federal antitrust laws, particularly the Sherman Act.

"This action is about protecting shoppers against unlawful, anticompetitive conduct that keeps prices artificially high," Lockyer said in a statement Friday in advance of the suit's filing Monday.

"The grocers' agreement to share costs and revenue hurts consumers by discouraging competitive pricing. The antitrust law exists to prevent that, and I intend to enforce the law."

The federal suit is aimed at Albertsons Inc.; Safeway Inc., which owns the Vons and Pavilions chains; and two chains run by Kroger Co. — Ralphs Grocery Co. and Food 4 Less Food Co. All the chains are in the pact, but Food 4 Less workers are not involved in the labor dispute.

The suit seeks an court order barring the companies from profit-sharing and declaring the arrangement illegal.

Kroger, Albertsons and Safeway issued a joint statement late Friday defending their financial pact and saying the lawsuit was without merit.

"Courts have held that similar agreements are proper under federal labor policy and not subject to claims of antitrust violations," the statement said.

The companies have compared the pact to agreements made in the past among airlines and auto manufacturers to fend off individual targeting by workers during a strike.

The grocery clerks went on strike or were locked out on Oct. 11 at Ralphs, Albertsons and Safeway's Vons and Pavilions stores. Food 4 Less is not involved in the current dispute.

The United Food and Commercial Workers union was "gratified that the attorney general agrees with what we believe is clearly an illegal scheme," spokeswoman Ellen Anreder said.

The chains are seeking to reduce health care and other benefits while holding down wages.

The companies have lost millions of dollars in sales because of picketing but have been able to keep stores open with replacement workers.
Let’s make one thing clear: Bill Lockyer is not protecting the public from the illegal acts of grocery store chains. He’s trying to buy the support of labor unions for his expected run for the governorship in 2006. This is political corruption, pure and simple. But because it’s cloaked in the smoke-and-mirrors of antitrust, Lockyer’s nonsensical case will be taken seriously by the courts, the media, and the public. If this were really about protecting consumers from higher prices—something that is not, and never will be, a valid function of government—than why do the unions get a free pass? The objective of their strike, after all, was to raise consumer prices by compelling their employers to raise wages and maintain benefits. But of course, all union activity is exempt from the antitrust laws. That makes the antitrust laws intellectually and morally contradictory, but what else is new?

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