Thursday, December 29, 2005

Separation of Church and State

I usually avoid school prayer and ten commandment posting debates, because I consider them much ado about nothing, but regardless I am continually annoyed by this fictitious creation of the "separation of church and state" as a constitutional concept. Thus I was amused to read this smackdown by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals on whether a public building in Kentucky could display the ten commandments along with other historical documents.

The ACLU’s argument contains three fundamental flaws. First, the ACLU makes repeated reference to “the separation of church and state.” This extra-constitutional construct has grown tiresome. The First Amendment does not demand a wall of separation between church and state. See Lynch, 465 U.S. at 673; Lemon, 403 U.S. at 614; Zorach v. Clauson, 343 U.S. 306, 312 (1952); Brown v. Gilmore, 258 F.3d 265, 274 (4th Cir. 2001); Stark v. Indep. Sch. Dist., No. 640., 123 F.3d 1068, 1076 (8th Cir. 1997); see also Capitol Square, 243 F.3d at 300 (dismissing strict separatism as “a notion that simply perverts our history”). Our Nation’s history is replete with governmental acknowledgment and in some cases, accommodation of religion. See, e.g., Marsh v. Chambers, 463 U.S. 783 (1983) (upholding legislative prayer); McGowan v. Maryland, 366 U.S. 420 (1961) (upholding Sunday closing laws); see also Lynch, 465 U.S. at 674 (“There is an unbroken history of official acknowledgment by all three branches of government of the role of religion in American life from at least 1789.”); Capitol Square, 243 F.3d at 293-99 (describing historical examples of governmental involvement with religion). After all, “[w]e are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being.” Zorach, 343 U.S. at 313. Thus, state recognition of religion that falls short of endorsement is constitutionally permissible.

Dark Matter

I mentioned this briefly before, but couldn't link to it properly. Now economist Michael Mandel at Businessweek has a more in depth look at the role of "dark matter" and trade deficits, including a link to the paper by Ricardo Hausmann and Federico Sturzenegger. I guess it is current account deficit day here at the Chief Brief.

A little teaser:

In a nut shell our story is very simple. The income generated by a country’s financial position is a good measure of the true value of its assets. Once assets are valued accordingly, the US appears to be a net creditor, not a net debtor and its net foreign asset position appears to have been fairly stable over the last 20 years. The bulk of the difference with the official story comes from the unaccounted export of knowhow carried out by US corporations through their investments abroad, explaining why the US appears to be a consistently smarter investor, making more money on its assets than it pays on its liabilities and why the rest of the world cannot wise up. In addition, the value of this dark matter seems to be rather stable, indicating that they are likely to continue to compensate for the measured trade deficit.

Globalization has made the flows of dark matter a very significant part of the story and the traditional measures of current account balances paint a very distorted picture of reality. In particular, it points towards imbalances that are not really there, making analysts predict crises that, for good reason, remain elusive.

Dumping US Securities?

More from Alex P. Keaton's favorite economist... I have always maintained that the threat from foreigners buying our securities was overstated. They would have no incentive to dump them and cause a crisis, because they would be the one losing money on the deal. In an interview with Milton Friedman posted on Cafe Hayek, the Nobel laureate agrees with me.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Kruggy on Health Care

Actually of all the topics Krugman posts on, he is probably the least clueless on healthcare, but his case would be better supported if he wouldn't make exaggerated comments like this.

...[D]rug companies in particular spend more marketing their products to doctors than they do developing those products ... They wouldn't do that if doctors were immune to persuasion.

Now drug companies do spend a considerable amount on marketing to doctors, by one report an estimated $5.7 billion a year, promoting your products is a cost of doing business after all, but but by no means is this more than they spend on development. Just one company, Pfizer, spent more than that, $7.7 billion on R & D last year. You would think an award winning economist would know how to read a corporate earnings report.

But even this overstates it, about half of the money spent on marketing drugs to doctors is giving them free samples to give to patients! So I guess if the government gives drugs to patients for free that is good, but if the companies do that, it is bad.

The Wal-Mart Effect

Still catching up... Jim Glass has a rather good post on two of my favorite subjects (for different reasons) Wal-Mart and Paul Krugman. Don Luskin has some similar accolades on the post here. While you are at it catch Luskin's latest Krugman Truth Squad post.

Idiocy in Education

I have been on vacation so I am a bit behind in my blogging, but I came across this idiotic article by former Washington governor Booth Gardner on eliminating the WASL, the state education exam.

There are also causes for the achievement gap inside the walls of many schools. Our public-education system is based on a single dominant European culture. As a result, many students of color feel they are studying in a foreign land. They don't see teachers who look like them. They are not likely to read much about people from their culture or background. If they are Native American, they will probably study civics without ever hearing a word about their own sovereign tribal governments.

Oh really, so which ethnic group has the highest acheivement standards in Washington State, is it those "dominant European culture" whites? No, it is Asians. Somehow I don't see them whining about how they can't learn because the teachers don't look like them or because they don't learn Chinese or Vietnamese culture in the classroom. They just do their homework and work their butts off.

That would be too much to ask of other "underrepresented minorities" though, so the left just continues to practise the bigotry of low expectations. H/T Soundpolitics.

Fake But Accurate

Well Ted "Jabba the Senator" Kennedy admitted that the Mao's Communist Manifesto story was fake, but in the liberals newest standard for truth, "accurate". Lame but expected.

Laura Capps, a Kennedy spokeswoman, said last night that the senator cited ''public reports" in his opinion piece. Even if the assertion was a hoax, she said, it did not detract from Kennedy's broader point that the Bush administration has gone too far in engaging in surveillance.

Later in the same article Taranto states that UMass is going to hold a conference on "Rethinking Marxism". What a brilliant idea, I want to sponsor a conference on "Rethinking the Black Plague" or how about "Rethinking the Spanish Inquisition"!

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

You are a Kennedy, not a Macy's Parade Float!

OK, I plagiarized the title from a Robin Williams routine. Ted Kennedy once again proves what a moron he is. In a paranoid editorial lamenting the end of human rights in America, not only does he pass on a fake story, but he can't even get the name of Mao's Little Red Book right.

Just this past week there were public reports that a college student in Massachusetts had two government agents show up at his house because he had gone to the library and asked for the official Chinese version of Mao Tse-tung's Communist Manifesto.

Being a Russian Studies major, I had to read this crap in college. I guess this is what happens to your education when you get kicked out of Harvard for cheating.

H/T Opinionjournal and Brainster.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Morgan Freeman: Great American Actor

Morgan Freeman has always been one of my favorite actors. You notice I didn't say one of my favorite "black" actors, he is an American, not black. H/T Opinionjournal.

Morgan Freeman says the concept of a month dedicated to black history is "ridiculous."

"You're going to relegate my history to a month?" the 68-year-old actor says in an interview on CBS' "60 Minutes" to air Sunday (7 p.m. EST). "I don't want a black history month. Black history is American history."

Black History Month has roots in historian Carter G. Woodson's Negro History Week, which he designated in 1926 as the second week in February to mark the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln.

Woodson said he hoped the week could one day be eliminated — when black history would become fundamental to American history.

Freeman notes there is no "white history month," and says the only way to get rid of racism is to "stop talking about it."

The actor says he believes the labels "black" and "white" are an obstacle to beating racism.

"I am going to stop calling you a white man and I'm going to ask you to stop calling me a black man," Freeman says.

Iraq's Future, Our Past

A great editorial in the WSJ from several East European ambassadors. These are people who know the power of freedom.

When it comes to tyranny, we believe we can offer some personal experience. After all, it was only a short while ago that our countries emerged from Soviet oppression. During the decades of dictatorship, our peoples' attempts to restore freedom and democracy were crushed. Who would have thought in 1956 in Hungary, in 1968 in Czechoslovakia, or in 1980 in Poland, that we could get rid of the dictatorial regimes in our lifetimes and shape our own future?

The memories of tyranny are still alive in the minds of many Czechs, Hungarians, Poles and Slovaks. We also remember the challenges we faced early in our democratic transition. It is a testament to the resilience of our peoples that we are where we are now -- members of NATO and the European Union, and strong allies of the U.S. We got here by believing in the transformational power of democracy and a market economy. But we needed others to believe in us, too. We could not have made it alone. We needed the perseverance and support of Western democracies for freedom finally to arrive.

The attainment of our immediate goals of stability and prosperity could have made us complacent. It has not. We feel that as free and democratic nations we have a duty to help others achieve the security and prosperity that we now enjoy. That is why we have been part of the coalition to help democracy emerge in Iraq.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

So Much for Racism

I can't believe Louis Farrakhan would lie to us.

( - Statistics released by the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals suggest that fewer than half of the victims of Hurricane Katrina were black, and that whites died at the highest rate of all races in New Orleans.

Liberals in the aftermath of the storm were quick to allege that the Bush administration delayed its response to the catastrophe because most of the victims were black.

Damu Smith, founder of the National Black Environmental Justice Network, in September said that the federal government "ignored us, they forgot about us ... because we look like we look."

Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan in October said that the Federal Emergency Management Agency wasn't fit to help the storm's victims because "there are not enough blacks high up in FEMA" and added that, "certainly the Red Cross is the same."

Rapper Kanye West used his time on NBC's telethon for the hurricane victims to charge that, "George Bush doesn't care about black people."

But the state's demographic information suggests that whites in New Orleans died at a higher rate than minorities. According to the 2000 census, whites make up 28 percent of the city's population, but the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals indicates that whites constitute 36.6 percent of the storm's fatalities in the city.

So Much for Inflation

Now maybe the Fed will stop jacking up rates before they cause another recession? From the WP.

WASHINGTON -- A record plunge in the cost of gasoline pushed consumer prices down by the largest amount in 56 years in November while industrial production posted a solid gain.

The new government reports Thursday provided further evidence that the economy is shaking off the blows delivered by a string of devastating hurricanes. But analysts cautioned that the huge drop in consumer prices was overstating the improvement in inflation.

The Labor Department report showed the Consumer Price Index fell by 0.6 percent last month, the biggest decline since a 0.9 percent fall in July 1949. It reflected a record fall in gasoline prices, which have been retreating since they surged to above $3 per gallon right after Katrina hit.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

The Economics of Hybrids: Part II

I speculated on this before, but this says it a little more conclusively. If you want to buy a hybrid for social reasons, the environmentalist equivilant of buying a car to pick up chicks, go ahead, but you aren't going to save any money. From the WSJ.

The Prius is a nifty gadget and comes with lots of extras. But Toyota markets the vehicle on its fuel efficiency, and fans tout its fuel efficiency. And our point was to debunk the idea that saving gasoline is a virtue independent of economics, such that it makes sense, say, to spend a buck to reduce gas use by 50 cents., the auto shopper site, guided us to Honda's Civic and Toyota's Corolla as conventional alternatives to the hybrid Prius. This was the source of our claim that the Prius retails for $9,500 more than comparable vehicles. In its own research, Edmunds concluded a Prius owner would have to drive 66,500 miles per year or gasoline would have to jump to $10 for the purchase to pay off.

But don't take our word for it. Kazuo Okamoto, Toyota's research chief, recently told the Financial Times that, in terms of fuel efficiency, "the purchase of a hybrid car is not justified."

Now, as an economic matter, overpaying for the privilege of saving gasoline is simply a subsidy to other gasoline consumers. Also as a regulatory matter: Thanks to the special genius of our corporate fuel economy rules, Prius buyers directly underwrite Toyota's ability to sell more SUVs and pickups in the U.S. market without paying the fines that Mercedes, BMW and Volvo long ago accepted as a cost of doing business in the U.S.

But doesn't saving oil have benefits beyond the dollars saved -- for instance, postponing the doom of civilization?

No: If Prius owners consume less, there's less demand, prices will be lower and somebody else will step up to consume more than they would at the otherwise higher price. That's the price mechanism at work. Oil is a fantastically useful commodity. Humans can be relied upon to consume all the oil they'd be willing to consume at a given price.

Jay Leno Joke O' the Day

"According to a new ABC Poll, in Iraq 71% of Iraqis think life is going well for them in Iraq. They like living in Iraq. So more Iraqis think things are going well in Iraq then Americans do. So you know what that means? I guess they don't get the New York Times over there."

-Jay Leno-

Monday, December 12, 2005

Outsourcing vs Productivity

I have always thought this talk about outsourcing every job in the country to be a bit ridiculous, while at the same time I have also found corporate America to be a bit short-sighted in its rush for cheaper labor. It is not about outsourcing, it is about productivity. The best companies realize that. From that silly pink newspaper.

Recent research from the consultants McKinsey suggests this may be the case. The research points to a shift away from eliminating jobs, through downsizing or outsourcing, to improving employee productivity.

"For many companies today," says James Manyika, senior partner in McKinsey's technology practice in San Francisco, "and for most companies soon, the biggest pay-off in productivity im-provement will come from making their most talented employees even more talented, and not from automating and outsourcing clerical or production jobs."

Could this be the beginning of the end of outsourcing? Mr Manyika feels businesses definitely should be starting to look at life beyond outsourcing. "Some companies are already at the limits of what they can outsource, given current technology and current costs. Manufacturing has been outsourced. Call centres and other transactional work has been outsourced. Most of the employees that remain are now doing complex work in areas such as sales, research and development and de-sign," he says.

The Sky is Falling, and it is All Bush's Fault

William H. Gates, the father of the richest man in the world, and not exactly poor himself, is famous for his left wing activism, but it looks like he now has crossed over into paranoia.

He picked Wall Street big shot Pete Peterson, who, Gates said, has warned against "the pending bankruptcy of the U.S."

His response drew shocked laughter from the crowd. But Gates wasn't kidding, and he would return to that theme later in the luncheon.

Gates said he is worried about a lot of things -- the Bush administration's tax-cutting policies at a time of war, the financial problems forecast for Social Security and Medicare and a national debt that appears to be flying off the chart as it is being underwritten by foreign governments.

Now personally I would like to see the deficit cut even more, but I think it is a bit of an exaggeration to claim, The national debt is "flying off the charts" and we are on the verge on bankruptcy.

Source: OMB

Besides, how can there be any problem with social security? When the president tried to reform it last year Paul Krugman and all the "experts" said there was nothing wrong with it.

Friday, December 09, 2005

And to Think I am Wasting All My Time Studying Business

The Seattle PI reports on some of my fellow grad students at the University of Washington studying, I kid you not, graffiti. They are even cataloging it on-line. Now I am all for furthering your education, but if I saw something like this on Scrappleface, I wouldn't find it believable. I am glad to know our tax dollars are are being spent wisely. H/T Soundpolitics.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Babs v. Jonah

Intellectual giant Barbra Streisand was so upset over Jonah Goldberg nominally replacing Robert Scheer at the LA Times that she cancelled her subscription. Mr. Goldberg takes the chance to respond to her outrage. It is not a fair fight.

As Streisand surely surmises, we in the warmonger and puppy-kicker community take it as a great badge of honor to be singled out for obloquy by the likes of her. Short of convincing Alec Baldwin to actually make good on his promise to flee the country, vexing the Dashboard Saint of Hollywood Liberalism is about as good as it gets. That my name is such wolf's bane (or Yentl's bane) to her that she must cancel her subscription to the Los Angeles Times is just gravy. Feel free to post pictures of me around your homes if you fear she may be coming through your town.

Streisand's real complaint is that the Times will no longer carry Robert Scheer's column. She's simply wrong on the facts that my column replaced his. I'm part of a bundle which results, I believe, in a net gain of liberal voices. But that Scheer is out and I'm in is a great injustice in her eyes.

Now, Streisand is notorious for her desire, indeed her yearning, to be taken seriously. During the early days of the Clinton administration, when she was basking in the glow of Bubba's gaze, she ostentatiously drenched herself in substance, watching C-SPAN and reading up on the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, no doubt finding The Federalist Papers — A.K.A. the Founding's liner notes — particularly helpful. But there were still some things she didn't get. When Bill Clinton invited Sharon Stone to the White House for a consultation, instead of her, Streisand reportedly declared, "Why Sharon Stone? She doesn't know anything about policy."

But we shouldn't mock her interest in substance. That's a healthy sign of citizenship. So let us try to take Streisand seriously.

Is the Current Account Deficit as Bad as They Say?

The Financial Times has a rather interesting article on how the current accounts deficit (more commonly and inaccurately referred to as the trade deficit) is not as bad as portrayed. It is a bit complicated but basically they argue that the important thing is that the income earned from investments bought by US citizens from foreign countries is much higher than the income earned by foreign citizens on investments bought from the US. So overall not nearly as much wealth is leaving the country as portrayed. Unfortunately I only have a subscription to the pink paper version of FT, not the on-line version, so I can't post much of the article, but if you get a chance read it.

‘Dark matter’ makes the US deficit disappear
By Ricardo Hausmann and Federico Sturzenegger Published: December 7 2005 20:40 Last updated: December 7 2005 20:40

In 2005 the US current account deficit is expected to top $700bn. It comes after 27 years of unbroken deficits that have totalled more than $5,000bn, leading to concerns of an impending global crisis. Once the massive financing required to keep on paying for such a widening gap dries up, there will be an ugly adjustment in the world economy. The dollar will collapse, triggering a stampede away from US debt, interest rates will shoot up and a sharp global recession will ensue.

But wait a minute. If this is such an open and shut case, why have markets not precipitated the crisis already?

I Guess Our Local Schools Have Too Much Money

They have to waste their extra money on this idiocy.

FEDERAL WAY, Wash., Dec. 7 (UPI) -- The Federal Way, Wash., school district destroyed lunch menus for 23 elementary schools after an employee added the greeting "Merry Christmas," a report said.

The 11,500 copies of the one-page lunch menu were recycled before they reached students, since the greeting "has a religious connotation for some people," a school spokeswoman told the Tacoma (Wash.) News Tribune.

The December lunch menus -- reprinted last month at a cost of $494 -- now carry a "Happy Holidays" greeting that the spokeswoman said conforms to practices of the school district between Seattle and Tacoma, Wash.

Nobody knows what incalculable damage these brave public employees saved our children from in having to see those offensive words "Merry Christmas". Who knows, they may have been inspired to give gifts to each other and sit on the laps of fat men.

The next time, rather than waste taxpayers dollars on such stupid things, why don't they just invite the local head of the ACLU in, give them a magic marker, and tell them to go to town?

Monday, December 05, 2005

School Vouchers

I was rather pleased to see an editorial on school vouchers in New Orleans by Nobel Laureate (and Alex P. Keaton's favorite economist) Milton Friedman in today's WSJ. Unfortunately due to the power of the teacher's unions, especially in liberal strongholds, this will probably never happen, but we can always hope.

Whatever the promise of vouchers for the education of New Orleans children, the reform will be opposed by the teachers unions and the educational administrators. They now control a monopoly school system. They are determined to preserve that control, and will go to almost any lengths to do so.

Unions to the contrary, the reform would achieve the purposes of Louisiana far better than the present system. The state's objective is the education of its children, not the construction of buildings or the running of schools. Those are means not ends. The state's objective would be better served by a competitive educational market than by a government monopoly. Producers of educational services would compete to attract students. Parents, empowered by the voucher, would have a wide range to choose from. As in other industries, such a competitive free market would lead to improvements in quality and reductions in cost.

If, by a political miracle, Louisiana could overcome the opposition of the unions and enact universal vouchers, it would not only serve itself, it would also render a service to the rest of the country by providing a large scale example of what the market can do for education when permitted to operate.

Friday, December 02, 2005

France: The New Enron

Don't tell Paul Krugman about this.

Just two days ago France discovered that its national debt was €2,000bn - almost twice the figure normally found on the state balance sheet.

The difference derives from some €900bn ($1,080bn, £630bn) of off-balance sheet public sector pension liabilities that Thierry Breton, finance minister, now points to when warning citizens about the scale of the country's debt problems.

"What is shocking is the bill we are leaving for the next generation," he said this week. The minister is a former chief of France Telecom who was brought in nine months ago to correct France's accounts.

Mr Breton is seeking to challenge not only opponents of economic reform but the 25 per cent of the French workforce in the public sector who benefit from numerous special privileges, notably more favourable pensions than their private sector counterparts.

Well at least they aren't running into each other

You really got to hand it to the people who run our local transit systems.

Expensive new hybrid diesel-electric buses that were portrayed by King County Metro as "green" heroes that would use up to 40 percent less fuel than existing buses have fallen far short of that promise.

In fact, at times, the New Flyer hybrid articulated buses have gotten worse mileage than the often-maligned 1989 dual-mode Breda buses they are replacing. Yet the hybrid buses cost $200,000 more each than a conventional articulated diesel bus.

The disappointing results are a far cry from the rosy predictions made by officials.
In May of this year, when Metro held a public event to herald the arrival of the first of the new hybrid buses, County Executive Ron Sims said they would save 750,000 gallons of fuel a year over the Bredas.

Metro was the first agency in the country to buy a 60-foot articulated bus with a hybrid diesel-electric technology. It ordered 235 of them, 213 for itself for $152 million and 22 for Sound Transit. Metro now has the largest fleet of hybrid buses in the world.

Whatever the news is, it's bad

A bit of wisdom from the WSJ editorial page.

During a quarter century of analyzing and forecasting the economy, I have never seen anything like this. No matter what happens, no matter what data are released, no matter which way markets move, a pall of pessimism hangs over the economy.

It is amazing. Everything is negative. When bond yields rise, it is considered bad for the housing market and the consumer. But if bond yields fall and the yield curve narrows toward inversion, that is bad too, because an inverted yield curve could signal a recession.

If housing data weaken, as they did on Monday when existing home sales fell, well that is a sign of a bursting housing bubble. If housing data strengthen, as they did on Tuesday when new home sales rose, that is negative because the Fed may raise rates further. If foreigners buy our bonds, we are not saving for ourselves. If foreigners do not buy our bonds, interest rates could rise. If wages go up, inflation is coming. If wages go down, the economy is in trouble.

This onslaught of negative thinking is clearly having an impact. During the 2004 presidential campaign, when attacks on the economy were in full force, 36% of Americans thought we were in recession. One year later, even though unemployment has fallen from 5.5% to 5%, and real GDP has expanded by 3.7%, the number who think a recession is underway has climbed to 43%.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

The Benefits of Incompetence

I was walking to class this morning and I noticed a flier promoting an appearance by former Seattle Police Chief Norm "They won't riot at the WTO" Stamper at an event against the Patriot Act. This flier also promoted his book Breaking Rank. I just continue to find it amazing the number of people who get fired for being incompetent and/or blatantly dishonest, and then manage to get major book deals out of it, Mary Mapes, Jayson Blair, BG Karpinski (of Abu Ghraib fame), the list goes on... People have always screwed up, but at least in the past they had the dignity to be ashamed and hide, now they brag about it! It almost makes you think the easiest way to succeed nowadays is to be an idiot.