Sunday, July 31, 2005

Africans vs. the U.N.

The Inter Region Economic Network (whose Youth Affairs director, June Arunga, was a guest of the Columbia Libertarians in March '04) made the Associated Press wire today with a story that highlights the gap in thinking between free marketeers and the do-gooders who just can't get thinking outside the poverty/subsidy box.

The director of IREN, James Shikwati, argues that,
"When aid money keeps coming, all our policy-makers do is strategize on how to get more...They forget about getting their own people working to solve these very basic problems. In Africa, we look to outsiders to solve our problems, making the victim not take responsibility to change."
On the other side, a spokeswoman for the U.N. World Food Program interviewed for the article argues for constant subsidization of African poverty from now until forever:
"Prevention doesn't sell that much. The world has to wait for images of dying children to react. The question is, how to mobilize the international community when it's still preventable?"
A third man, an African born and raised, appreciated the international help (and in the short term, who can blame him?), says,
"We need to find other long-term solutions. We can't just address emergencies."
Long-term subsidies discourage creativity, productivity, engagement with the markets, and long-term growth and competitiveness. The same is as true for America's subsidy check-cashing farmers as it is for the down-and-out in Africa. Sometimes the best thing we can do for people is to let them fall on their own faces - tough love, so to speak - and stand back as they learn and grow from their own mistakes. That sounds like the correct approach for our relationship with Africa right about now - perhaps set a definitive end date for U.S. aid to the continent?

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Boys will be boys

Loud music, drunk driving, petty theft . . . . Yeah, all signs point to an Amish teenager on the loose.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

The Fundamental Constitutional Right to Privacy

Things that the fundamental constitutional right to privacy (first discussed, at length, in Griswold v. Connecticut), as described through the "emanations" and "penumbras" of the Bill of Rights protect against: (1) Birth Control, (2) Abortion

Things that somehow fail to (so far) meet the constitutional standard: (1) Unwarranted personal searchs during a time of 'war,' (2) The right to smoke a cigarette in a bar, (3) ad infinitum.

I, personally, am not a huge fan of the ACLU or NYCLU. However, I would like Norman Siegel to get off his ass and do something about the constitutional deprivations that are occuring in New York City and New York state. I heard a challenge was set up for the subway searches, which is good, but I don't think the smoking ban is going anywhere soon (and let's not forget about the medical marijuana fiasco that has been going on for months). Our country, and the citizens throughout, cannot pick and choose amongst constitutional rights. You set a line, and you cannot cross it. If a judge decides that no right to privacy exists (because, quite simply, it doesn't exist anywhere in the text), then that's fine, and the legislature will have to act responsibly. If, however, judges establish a "right to privacy" for more acceptable and populist ideals, simple teleological consistency requires the extension of that right to less eagerly accepted (but just as deserving) rights.
I love my freedom, although I might be willing to submit to a slight slackening of it under extreme and bizarre circumstances (which, thankfully, do not yet exist). But beyond freedom, I love consistency and predictability. How about the legislatures and courts stop picking and choosing amongst the "rights" protected, and either give us all of them, or take them all away.

Do yourself a favor...

Read this guide to not getting searched on the subway. Avoid getting arrested. It's a hassle.

UPDATE (marco): But remember,
If you refuse to be searched and run into the station, you could be shot to death!

We really need to do flyers this fall :)

"The Founding Fathers saw the federalist system as constructed something like a masonry wall. The States are the bricks, the national government is the mortar...Unfortunately, over the years, many people have increasingly come to believe that Washington is the whole wall."

--Ronald Reagan

Monday, July 25, 2005

It never ends...

Two New Jersey law makers are submitting a bill that would make smoking in your own car worthy of a $250 fine, and this all in the name of safety. For anyone interested in a thoroughly researched book about the anti-smoking lobby, Jacob Sollum's For Your Own Good: The Anti Smoking Crusade and the Tyranny of Public Health is excellent (and available for 2.50)

Another flyer

“Taxes should be continued by annual or biennial reenactments, because a constant hold, by the nation, of the strings of the public purse, is a salutary restraint from which an honest government ought not to wish, nor a corrupt one to be permitted to be free.”

-- Thomas Jefferson, 1813.

"Globotaxes"

This is from the online newsletter The Liberator:

by James W. Harris
Americans Forced to Pay U.N. “Globotaxes”?

A worldwide tax -- including American citizens -- to support the United Nations? Taxation without representation for the citizens of a nation founded in revolt against that very concept?

It’s being seriously discussed -- and the supposedly anti-tax Bush administration hasn’t raised a peep. Indeed, the Bush administration is participating in the discussion.

The U.S. government, at the G8 nations meeting earlier this month, agreed to create a working group proposed by France, Germany, Italy and Great Britain to consider carrying out "innovative financing mechanisms" to "help deliver and bring forward the financing needed to achieve the [U.N.’s anti-poverty] Millennium Development Goals.

"Among the "financing mechanisms" to be considered is a "solidarity contribution on [international] plane tickets." This tax would bring an estimated $3 billion or more annually to the U.N.And that’s just the beginning, of course. Notes columnist Frank Gaffney Jr. in The Washington Times:“If the United States goes along with this arrangement in September, it will allow a precedent to be set for taxation without representation that would send America's Founders spinning in their graves. It can forget about the modest constraint its ability to withhold "dues" has exercised on U.N. behavior. It can be sure real U.N. reform will not be in the cards. And it can expect other globotaxes will soon be proposed.”

Like what? Gaffney continues:”The mother of all globotaxes is an idea that has been kicking around the East River for some time and named after the Yale Nobel Laureate who first proposed it, Dr. James Tobin. The "Tobin tax" would theoretically raise an estimated $13 trillion -- yes, trillion -- from a small levy on international currency transactions. Imagine what the One Worlders and U.N. bureaucrats could do to our sovereignty and interests with that kind of wherewithal.”

Concludes Gaffney:“If the Bush administration is unable or unwilling to resist such globotaxes, it will fall to the Congress to do so. With the August recess looming and the U.N. fund-raiser coming right after Labor Day, there is no time to waste.”

Now more than ever, it’s time to get the U.S. out of the U.N.!

Now combine this with MSAs, and we're good to go...

An interesting idea on the op-ed page of the Wall Street Journal about how to lower health insurance costs....In fact, it's on the table in Congress right now.

The best part: it relies on exploiting the PRIVATE market.

As the article points out:

A 2004 study by eHealthInsurance.com found that a typical insurance policy ($2,000 deductible, 20% co-insurance) for a family of four could be had for as little in as $172 per month in a reasonably regulated locality like Kansas City, Missouri. But in New York that family's only option--managed care--would run $840 per month, and in New Jersey family policies run a whopping $1,200-plus.
The reason?
New York requires every insurance policy sold there to cover podiatry. Acupuncture coverage is mandated in 11 states, massage therapy in four, osteopathy in 24, and chiropractors in 47. There are an estimated 1,800 or so such insurance "mandates" across the country, and the costs add up. "It is always the providers asking for the mandate; it is never the consumer," says health policy guru John Goodman, who has testified before legislatures considering such rules.

What's more, states like New Jersey and New York add two more ultra-expensive requirements: "Guaranteed issue" allows people to wait till they are sick and then buy insurance; "community rating" prevents insurers from charging different prices to people of different ages and health status. These may sound like compassionate ideas, until you realize they make insurance so expensive that millions of people are exposed to financial ruin because they aren't allowed to buy basic policies focused on catastrophic costs.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Foreign policy in perspective

Though something some of us may disagree with, Charles Krauthammer's proclamation of the vindication of the neocons is a great essay none the less.

[Hat tip: Instapundit]

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

The Left's Influence on President Bush

No matter where I look, the comments I have seen regarding Judge Roberts have fallen into three categories. The first is personified by the charming and friendly Ann Coulter, whose ray-of-sunshine writing style allowed her to charmingly say that Judge Roberts, with his incredible credentials, is an unacceptable appointee. The second is brought out by the commentators whom I have more respect for, when they write that Judge Roberts seems to be a solid choice, with unimpeachable legal and scholarly credentials and a strong conservative background, while remaining far from the ideologue some feared President Bush would appoint. The third are the ridiculous statements being flung out by leftwing activist groups, stating that President Bush lost the chance to bring the country together with his nominee, and has picked a pro-business, ultra conservative nut job.

What I find interesting about these comments is that nearly everything I have seen or read can fall into one of those categories. No one is "in love" with Judge Roberts, not even the right wing base. The fact that President Bush did not pick an ultra conservative ideologue should be enough evidence that he did, in fact, think about what the left would want. I firmly believe that unless President Bush had appointed a nominee named specifically by Howard Dean, leftwing activist groups would have slammed his choice. After only two years on the bench, I find myself agreeing (for the first time) with Senator Schumer when he says that we need to learn more about Judge Roberts before making a decision. Indeed - let's all reserve judgment until we get a little bit more information on the man who is no doubt qualified for the post. What do some other people think? And I don't want to hear tape recorded responses from pundits and demagogues - I would like some honest criticism or commentary on Judge Roberts' decisions and career moves.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Shitstorm T-5:45

President Bush will announce his nominee for the Supreme Court tonight at nine. With political action committees poised to spend 100 million dollars, let's just say things are probably going to get pretty messy.

UPDATE: Everybody keeps talking about how Edith Clement will be Bush's nominee, citing TradeSports.com. But a SCOTUS nomination is not a decision that is made by aggregating the preferences of many people, it is made by one person or a small group of people in secret. This is why TradeSports wrongly predicted that Rehnquist would be the first to retire. The reason that TradeSports predicted the 2004 presidential election and how all 50 states would fall was that it was mimicking the underlying decision making process.

UPDATE2: Regardless, Clement is now trading lower than where she opened the day. See here.

UPDATE3: Everyone is saying it's John Roberts, we'll know for sure pretty soon.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

For another flyer, perhaps?

QUOTING THE PRESIDENT

On Illegal Drugs

"When I was in England I experimented with marijuana a time or two, and I didn't like it, and I didn't inhale, and I never tried it again."--President William Jefferson Clinton, 1992, New York Democratic televised debate

"Put another brick in my hookah, Chow Ming, and fetch me fresh silks, I've soiled myself again."--Franklin Pierce, April 6, 1856

Friday, July 15, 2005

Cheers to the sweet taste of freedom

In a bipartisan effort, the New York State legislature and Governor George Pataki have passed and signed legislation repealing New York's unconstitutional ban on direct shipments of wine to We the People of New York. In another win on the same point, New York's thriving wine industry is expected to expand as other states replace their unconstitutional bans with regulatory regimes along the lines of New York's.

For some reason - habitual exercise of power is my guess - Governor Pataki insisted on a limit of 36 cases (432 bottles) from any single winery to any individual in any given year.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Muslim countries' attitudes changing (for the better)

This seems like a good trend:

Osama bin Laden's standing has dropped significantly in some key Muslim countries, while support for suicide bombings and other acts of violence has "declined dramatically," according to a new survey released today.

In a striking finding, predominantly Muslim populations in a sampling of six North African, Middle East and Asian countries are also as alarmed as Western nations about Islamic extremism, which is now seen as a threat in their own nations too, the poll found. . . .

Compared with previous surveys, the new poll also found growing majorities or pluralities of Muslims surveyed now say democracy can work in their countries and is not just a political system for the West. Support for democracy was in the 80 percent range in Indonesia, Jordan, Lebanon and Morocco and the highest score at 43 percent in Pakistan and 48 percent in Turkey, where significant numbers were unsure.

"They are not just paying lip service. They are saying they specifically want a fair judiciary, freedom of expression and more than one party to participate in elections. It wasn't just a vague concept," said Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center and director of the project. "U.S. and Western ideas about democracy have been globalized and are in the Muslim world."
Whole thing here.

[Hat tip: Instapundit]

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Another one for the aggregator

"Does the world need another libertarian blog?" Yes, says Nick Gillepsie, who points to To The People:

Our goal is to knock down the normal level of discourse found at most libertarian blogs by at least a few notches. Lowbrow, if you will. Yes, you'll find an intellectual argument made here from time to time. (Bone to the nerds: as I type this, one of our writers is working on a sexy gold-standard piece.) But we hope that's not all you look for here, lest you find crushing disappointment. Sure, I'm very happy to share important ideological and philosophical beliefs with many really brilliant people doing wonderful things. But that's not me; that's not To the People. While I like libertarianism because it's the only path to a society of meaningful freedoms, I like it even more because it defends my right to drink a lot of booze, smoke some weed, eat still-living animals, kill myself, prolong my life indefinitely, masturbate in the HOV lane, etc. etc.
See example here.

A Must-Read

Here is an essay written by (CATO) economist Hernando de Soto about property rights and the third-world. None of us need to be reminded about the importance of property rights, but he also branches out into how he is working to establish these rights in the third world. It is an amazing essay.

For example:

In Haiti, for instance, no one believed we would find documents fixing representations of property rights. Haiti is one of the world's poorest countries; 55 per cent of the population is illiterate. Nevertheless, after an intensive survey of Haiti's urban areas, we did not find a single extralegal plot of land, shack, or building whose owner did not have at least one document to defend his right - even his 'squatting rights'. Everywhere we have been in the world, most poor people living on the margins of the law have some locally crafted or adapted physical artifact to represent and substantiate their claim to property. And it is on the basis of these extralegal representations, as well as records and interviews, that we are everywhere able to build a concept of the social contract undergirding property.

He concludes the article in a brilliant way:

If all this sounds more like an anthropological adventure than the basis for legal reform and economic development, it is because knowledge about the poor has been monopolized by academics, journalists, and activists moved by compassion or intellectual curiosity rather than by what it takes to create a suitable legal framework for economic reform.

If we push for reform, not in the name of an ideology, Western values, or the agendas of multinational firms and international financial institutions, but rather, with the interests of the poor in mind, the transition to a market economy - in whatever shape you want ('Third Way', 'social market economics' or just plain 'capitalist') - will become what it should always be, a truly humanistic cause and an important contribution to the war on poverty.


Marco--his last statement reminds me of what you said at a meeting once: Capitalism is a moral good.

Firepoles unsafe; fires safe enough, though

So let me get this straight: firefighters are allowed to go into burning houses, but they are not allowed to slide down poles anymore because it isn't safe?

NYTimes has an article about how cities across the country want to get rid of firehouse poles because of safety issues despite that 1) firefighters mostly prefer the pole, 2) there ARE stairs available if a firefighter doesn't want to take that risk (they can also sleep downstairs), and 3) it takes 10-seconds (literally) for the entire firesquad to make it down 2 or 3 flights of stairs if they all use the pole.

Don't worry though. I'm sure that those extra minutes it will now take them to leave the firehouse won't have TOO much of an effect on your flame-consumed house; I mean, what's the rush?

Screw the "jihad on drugs" - let 'em grow their opium

The NYTimes has an op-ed today about Afghanistan and allowing the trade of opium for two reasons: allow the Afghans to boost their economy and provide other countries with much-needed pain relievers. It's a good article. I've put the whole thing below.


Let a Thousand Licensed Poppies Bloom

By MAIA SZALAVITZ

EVEN as Afghanistan's immense opium harvest feeds lawlessness and instability, finances terrorism and fuels heroin addiction, the developing world is experiencing a severe shortage of opium-derived pain medications, according to the World Health Organization. Developing countries are home to 80 percent of the world's population, but they consume just 6 percent of the medical opioids. In those countries, most people with cancer, AIDS and other painful conditions live and die in agony.

The United States wants Afghanistan to destroy its potentially merciful crop, which has increased sevenfold since 2002 and now constitutes 60 percent of the country's gross domestic product. But why not bolster the country's stability and end both the pain and the trafficking problems by licensing Afghanistan with the International Narcotics Control Board to sell its opium legally?


The Senlis Council, a European drug-policy research institution, has proposed this truly winning solution. Adopting it would improve the Afghan economy, deprive terrorists of income and keep heroin away from dealers and addicts, all while offering pain relief to the third world.

The United Nations estimated that Afghanistan produced more than 4,200 tons of opium last year; cultivation jumped to 323,701 acres from 197,680 acres in 2003. Ten percent of the Afghan population is believed to be involved in the trade, which supplies nearly 90 percent of the world's illegal heroin. Clearly, this drug war is not being won.


The global pain crisis is just as daunting. The World Health Organization has said that opioids are "absolutely necessary" for treating severe pain. But half the world's countries use them only rarely if at all even for the dying, and even though research shows that addiction is exceedingly uncommon among pain patients without a history of it.

Here in the United States, only half of all dying patients receive adequate relief, and those suffering from chronic non-cancer pain are even more likely to be undermedicated. Senlis estimates that meeting the global need for pain medications would require 10,000 tons of opium a year - more than twice Afghanistan's current production.

This shortfall is in part attributable to misguided regulation. Restrictions aimed at preventing diversion to the illegal market are so severe that in some countries, medical use of opioids is practically prohibited. Often, the rich retain access to expensive synthetic opioids like OxyContin, while those who cannot afford brand-name drugs receive no treatment at all. Generic morphine and codeine, made from Afghan opium, could help.

Because farmers aren't the ones who make the big bucks in the illegal drug trade, purchasing their poppies at competitive rates should be possible. But even if we paid exactly what the drug lords do, the entire crop would cost only about $600 million - less than the $780 million the United States planned to spend on eradication in Afghanistan this year.


Besides, eradication efforts have never eliminated a drug crop. Cocaine continues to be widely available, despite the roughly $3 billion that the United States has spent on coca eradication in Colombia over the last five years. And that is only the most recent example.

India's thriving generic drug industry suggests that there is plenty of money to be made in the marketing of generic pain relievers. But even if returns are modest, generating any profit at all is better than stamping out the major driver of an unstable country's economy. Legal products are also safer and easier to regulate than illegal drugs.

Of course, the Senlis plan does present serious logistical problems. Warlords would not relinquish profits without a fight, and their attempts to undermine the proposal could be formidable.

But think of it this way: what's an easier sell with farmers, hard cash now or pesticide spraying and potentially empty promises of economic assistance? Few Afghans begrudge farmers' efforts to feed their families - but many would turn against greedy planters who continued supplying drug lords despite adequate alternatives.

The real barriers here are political, not practical. The Afghan government initially appeared open to the proposal: its counternarcotics minister spoke at a Senlis meeting in Vienna in March. But another minister later dismissed the idea in front of foreign reporters and Hamid Karzai ducked the question in a March meeting with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

The Bush administration has criticized Mr. Karzai's "leadership" on opium (despite his call for "jihad on drugs") but refuses to support measures beyond eradication. Responding to the Senlis proposal, one former State Department official who had been working on narcotics and law enforcement told The Christian Science Monitor: "Anything that went about legalizing an opiate in that market would send exactly the wrong message. It would suggest that there is something legitimate to growing."


But there is: countries like India are licensed by the International Narcotics Control Board to grow opium because modern medicine cannot find anything better than opioids to relieve pain. And think of the goodwill such a gesture could produce, a message that we literally want to assuage the world's suffering - not to mention that of the 30 million to 50 million Americans who endure chronic pain.

The Senlis Council is holding a conference in Kabul this September to secure support from drug policy expertsfor a feasibility study of its proposal. As Afghanistan seems to grow increasingly unstable by the day, let's hope that proposal receives the backing it deserves.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

For a flyer?

"Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue." --Barry Goldwater



We should actually do that flyer thing this fall.

reason #235 to love the internet

For whatever reason, sex makes its way into online conversation long before it would come up in person.
Whole thing here.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

What goes around, comes around...

From "Advocates for Self-Government"

Supreme Court Justice’s Home to Be Seized?
Talk about poetic justice!

On Monday, June 27, real estate developer Logan Darrow Clements contacted the Towne of Weare, New Hampshire and stated he wanted to build a hotel on land located at 34 Cilley Hill Road.

Not at all coincidentally, this is the current location of the home of... Justice David. H. Souter.

Justice Souter was one of five justices who supported the outrageous "Kelo vs. City of New London" decision. That decision allows city governments to use eminent domain to take land from one private owner and give it to another, if the government will generate greater tax revenue or other economic benefits when the land is developed by the new owner.

Following that logic with wonderful precision, Clements says the Towne of Weare will certainly gain greater tax revenue and economic benefits by replacing Mr. Souter’s home with the proposed hotel.

As Clements wrote the town government:“Although this property is owned by an individual, David H. Souter, a recent Supreme Court decision, "Kelo vs. City of New London" clears the way for this land to be taken by the Government of Weare through eminent domain and given to my LLC for the purposes of building a hotel. The justification for such an eminent domain action is that our hotel will better serve the public interest as it will bring in economic development and higher tax revenue to Weare.”

Souter’s home appraises at a bit over $100,000. As the Boston Herald editorial board noted, with more than a touch of glee:“With Souter paying a mere $3,000 a year in property taxes, surely a little development would be good for the town's tax base.”

HERE IS THE BEST PART:

The town government reports that it has received numerous emails from across America enthusiastically supporting the hotel and urging the seizure of Souter’s land. Clements’ hotel is to be called "The Lost Liberty Hotel." It will feature the "Just Desserts CafĂ©" and include a museum, open to the public, featuring a permanent exhibit on the loss of freedom in America. Every guest will receive a free copy of Ayn Rand's novel "Atlas Shrugged."

Clements indicated that the hotel must be built on this particular piece of land, because “it is a unique site, being the home of someone largely responsible for destroying property rights for all Americans.”

"This is not a prank," Clements says. "The Towne of Weare has five people on the Board of Selectmen. If three of them vote to use the power of eminent domain to take this land from Mr. Souter we can begin our hotel development. … We will build a hotel there if investors come forward, definitely.”

Clements plans to raise investment capital from wealthy pro-liberty investors. He is being flooded with supportive emails. And he hopes that regular customers of the hotel might include libertarian organizations, who could hold meetings there.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Spurlock Watch

Radley Balko, the guy who runs The Agitator blog, has just started a blog debunking all of Morgan Spurlock's (the guy who did Supersize Me) lies in his new book, Don't Eat This Book.

For example:

Spurlock writes:

“You ever notice they don’t call them “milkshakes” anymore? Someone once told me they had to stop that long ago, when they stopped making them like real milkshakes and started mass-producing them from chemicals. I guess calling them simply "shakes" sounded better than "chemshakes." That may just be an urban myth, but it's still a great story.” (p. 132)

Sneaky, isn't it? Spurlock words the passage so that he can plant the seed that McDonalds shakes are synthetic chemical goo without actually asserting so. He knows if he'd done the latter, he'd be baldly and provably wrong (though that doesn't seem to stop him elsewhere in the book). The "someone told me" crutch lets him publish a disparaging urban legend without taking any responsibility for its accuracy.

Yes, Spurlock, it is an urban legend. A quick Google search would have revealed as much. The primary ingredient in a McDonalds shake is "whole milk." The milk is powdered to make it longer lasting and easier to store. McDonalds stopped calling them "milkshakes" because it didn't want to mislead people into thinking the shakes were the old-fashioned variety made with ice cream. It's an act of corporate resonpsibility (truth in advertising) that one would think people like Spurlock would applaud. The method McDonalds uses for its shakes makes them cheaper and easier to prepare for busy customers than hand-dipping.

FYI, wanna' know the primary ingredient in McDonalds apple pie filling?
Apples!

Smart Chic

Forget silver spoons. These days, it's good to be born with brains.

In this nation of casually anti-intellectual pragmatists, where Thomas Edison once brushed off the accolades heaped upon him with the observation that “genius is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration,” it has become fashionable to be smart. Our books and movies reveal a fascination with the intellectually gifted: Einstein in Love, A Beautiful Mind, Good Will Hunting. In the highly popular Matrix trilogy, the heroes are hypertalented computer geeks chosen for their extraordinary ability to manipulate technology. The geek and the wonk, once social outcasts, are now cultural heroes. If you can’t be smart, you can at least look the part by donning a pair of thick-rimmed eyeglasses and a shirt with a long, pointy collar, buttoned all the way up. The annual announcement of the MacArthur Foundation’s genius grants (a name the foundation disavows) is greeted as eagerly as the Queen’s Honors List in Britain. We have smart cars, smart mobs, and smart growth. Thanks to Smarty Jones, even horses appear to be getting smart.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

More on Eminent Domain

John Tierney has a piece in the NYTimes today about the devastating effects caused by eminent domain abuse. He says to just look at Pittsburgh.

I've just copied and pasted the whole thing here:

Your Land Is My Land

By JOHN TIERNEY

PITTSBURGH — Two questions I'd like to ask candidates for Sandra Day O'Connor's job.

1. Does the Constitution forbid the government from seizing your home and giving it to someone else?

2. If you're not sure, would you be willing to tour Pittsburgh before taking this job?


Justice O'Connor had no problem with the first question. Noting that the Fifth Amendment allows property to be taken only for a "public use" like a road, she rejected arguments that it could be given to a developer just because the public could benefit from new jobs and tax revenues. By that logic, she argued in one of her last opinions, no one's home or business would be safe from anyone with a better use in mind for it.

But her side was outvoted, 5 to 4, by justices not inclined to be too literal about the Bill of Rights. They were pragmatists, arguing that land grabs like this had previously been allowed, which is quite right. And that's why I recommend a trip to my hometown to see the long-term effects.

Pittsburgh has been the great pioneer in eminent domain ever since its leaders razed 80 buildings in the 1950's near the riverfront park downtown. They replaced a bustling business district with Gateway Center, an array of bland corporate towers surrounded by the sort of empty plazas that are now considered hopelessly retrograde by urban planners trying to create street life.

At the time, though, the towers and plazas seemed wonderfully modern. Viewed from across the river, the new skyline was a panoramic advertisement for the Pittsburgh Renaissance, which became a national model and inspired Pittsburgh's leaders to go on finding better uses for private land, especially land occupied by blacks.

Bulldozers razed the Lower Hill District, the black neighborhood next to downtown that was famous for its jazz scene (and now famous mostly as a memory in August Wilson's plays). The city built a domed arena that was supposed to be part of a cultural "acropolis," but the rest of the project died. Today, having belatedly realized that downtown would benefit from people living nearby, the city is trying to entice them back to the Hill by building homes there.

In the 1960's, the bulldozers moved into East Liberty, until then the busiest shopping district outside downtown. Some of the leading businessmen there wanted to upgrade the neighborhood, so hundreds of small businesses and thousands of people were moved to make room for upscale apartment buildings, parking lots, housing projects, roads and a pedestrian mall.

I was working there in a drugstore whose owners cursed the project, and at first I thought they were just behind the times. But their worst fears were confirmed. The shopping district was destroyed. The drugstore closed, along with the department stores, movie theaters, office buildings and most other businesses.

You'd think a fiasco like that would have humbled Pittsburgh's planners, but they just went on. They kicked out a small company to give H. J. Heinz more room. Mayor Tom Murphy has attracted national attention for his grand designs - and fights - to replace thriving small businesses downtown and on the North Side with more upscale tenants.

The city managed to clear out shops and an office building to make room for a new Lazarus department store, built with $50 million in public funds, but Lazarus did not live up to its name. It has shut down and left a vacant building. Meanwhile, the city's finances are in ruins, and businesses and residents have been fleeing the high taxes required to pay off decades of urban renewal projects and corporate subsidies.

Yet the mayor still yearns for more acquisitions. He welcomed the Supreme Court decision, telling The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that eminent domain "is a great equalizer when you're having a conversation with people." Well, that's one way to describe the power to take people's property.

But I think a future Supreme Court justice would have a different view of eminent domain after touring Pittsburgh's neighborhoods, especially those that escaped urban renewal: the old-fashioned business districts with crowded sidewalks and the newly gentrified neighborhoods with renovated homes and converted warehouses. The future justice would quickly see what sets the success stories apart from Gateway Center and East Liberty. No politicians ever seized those homes and businesses for a "better use."

Monday, July 04, 2005

Let China be China

Larry Kudlow says not to mess with China's currency.

By keeping its yuan pegged to the dollar, China chooses to import our monetary system. Over the past ten years this arrangement has generated 10 percent growth and low inflation in China, while creating more jobs and higher living standards for hundreds of millions of heretofore impoverished Chinese.
As China does not yet have a proper banking system or a reliably independent currency, it has had to pay dearly to import our monetary system and currency: The Chinese have purchased $230 billion of U.S. Treasuries as the price of renting dollarization. In return, we have “outsourced Alan Greenspan” to manage their economy, to paraphrase Laffer.
Many nations in the Pacific Rim, the Caribbean, and South America have dollarized in order to pursue pro-growth and free-trade relations with the U.S. It’s worked in these nations just as it has in China. It’s a win-win. While China gets a growth boost, tens of millions of Americans get to purchase quality goods at low prices. If the yuan were revalued by 27.5 percent, American consumers could face a shocking inflation wave of roughly the same 27.5 percent.


Interesting. And Kudlow uses the United States -- all fifty of 'em -- to illustrate a successful free-trade system with (in a sense) pegged currency.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Followed by quiet reflection and mural-painting

From: Karlyn
To: Interns
Subject: Impromptu gathering at 2:30 in the 10th floor library - A Reading of the Declaration of Independence

Walter [in-house constitutional scholar] and I thought it might be nice to read the Declaration of Independence and talk about it. Hope you can join us. Walter will answer questions after the short reading.

*Sigh* I love my summer internship.