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Bloomberg Not So Salty

January 29, 2009 Leave a comment


I really wonder sometimes how the people of New York can love Michael Bloomberg so much. I mention this after reading a recent article regarding the mayor’s desire to force food manufacturers to cut back salt content to 1970s levels. According to local politicians, people do not realize just how heavy the salt content is in certain of the foods they eat frequently, such as chicken noodle soup. “Salt, when its high in the diet, increases the blood pressure and high blood pressure is a major factor for heart disease and stroke,” Dr. Sonia Angell of NYC’s Cardiovascular Disease Prevention Program proclaims.

Also, drinking Jack Daniels is bad for your liver. Eating copious amounts of chocolate cake can make you fat. Oh, and the sky is blue. What world are these people living in!? New York has already put up a smoking ban and barred trans fats. What comes next? Mandatory weekly exercise? Limits on tv-watching time? Restrictions on angry blog posts (after all, you can get carpal tunnel syndrome)?

I don’t see how any of these bans are Constitutional, or moral for that matter. They merely represent blatant social engineering, and more government intervention in our daily lives. Not to mention that all of these bans inevitably will have unintended consequences. For example, given the cost of replacing salt with something salt-like, businesses will have to use replacements that might be more costly, or present alternative health risks. Also, some companies might stop selling their foods in New York. With less competition for food sales, this will allow existing food suppliers to raise their prices. When you try to tamper with the choices of free people, there are always going to be unforeseen costs, inevitably borne by the consuming public.

There is one other price for all of these ridiculous decrees – given how expensive New York already is, the major job losses from the financial sector (the lifeblood of the states’ finances) and the increasingly interventionist city government, people are going to leave en masse at some point. After all, business can be done almost anywhere today, and with the collapse of Wall Street, I tend to think that over the next twenty years, other cities with lesser tax burdens and restrictions on individual freedoms will attract an increasing number of firms. I’m not saying New York or Wall Street is necessarily dead, but rather that as I can attest to, coming from New Jersey, wealthier individuals are moving out of these areas due to bad government already, and the economic collapse will only speed this exodus. Socialism has been the death knell of many a civilization, let alone a city.

Quick Hits

January 26, 2009 Leave a comment

So just a couple things to vent about today:

1. Obama gives first tv interview as President with Al-Arabiya…I understand what he is doing here by reaching out to the Muslims first, blah blah blah, but this is total BS. His first call was to Abbas, and his first interview is with Al-Arabiya. Where do you think his sympathies lie? The US continues to try to appease and grant support and legitimacy to enemies of freedom. Disgusting.

2. I got an email today for an event at Barnard called “Idealist.org Global Volunteering Fair.” Apparently there will be “Workshops on topics like “International Volunteerism 101” and “The Cost of Doing Good: Affordable Options for Volunteering
Abroad.” Now I have no problem with helping others out, but come on. These people do not even live in the real world. Why are there no greedy capitalist career fairs out there? How about an event “The Cost of Doing Good: Creating Jobs as an Entrepreneuer in the US”? Not at Columbia.

3. Lastly, from today’s Daily Reckoning:

All over the world, capitalism is out…politics is in. Obama is a hero…Fuld is a schmuck. Politicians are taking control of banks. They – not investors – are deciding which firms survive and which perish.

For example, this morning brings news that the auto parts sector needs a bailout too. If it doesn’t get $10 billion of somebody else’s money, it will be in big trouble, it says. And there’s Larry Flynt, over in the porno business. He says the bump and grind industry has fallen on soft times too. Will the feds rise to the occasion and pump in a little cash, he wants to know? We will see.

The problem is, practically every industry needs cash.

Leverage is a two-way street. When the going was good, a small addition to the financial sector’s capital would be multiplied many times. The limit for Wall Street’s investment firms was 12 to 1…until it was increased to 33 to 1 in 2004. Thereafter, if you put $100 into an investment bank…counterparties would soon have about $3,300 worth of credits.

Easy come…easy go! When the financial system rolled over last year, the banks lost money. Suddenly, $100 less in bank capital forced the banks to reduce outstanding credit by as much as $3,300. Cash disappears and everyone is forced to cut back.

The guy who was going to buy a new car decides he should wait a year or two…and then Detroit is hurting. And then, the assembly-line worker is laid off…so he cuts back on his porno purchases… Pretty soon, no one has any money.

Couldn’t have put it better myself.

Cheers,

Ben

Categories: Uncategorized

On the Notion of Sacrifice

January 23, 2009 2 comments


One of the central messages of President Obama’s inaugural speech was that Americans now must sacrifice in a time of great hardship. This sounds noble, but also is rather vague. What kind of sacrifice is Obama talking about?

It would be fair to venture to guess that sacrifice for Barack Obama means a number of things that our forefathers would have shunned. Sacrifice means higher subsidization of the masses by those at the top of the economic scale through increased taxation. Sacrifice means imposing the will of the government on the people in the name of “fairness,” “equality” and “justice.” Sacrifice means that everyone must be required to bail out the few who are reckless and irresponsible. Sacrifice means coercive taking of our life, liberty and property for the “greater good.”

At root of all of this is collectivism. How did we end up here? We had an economy that was mixed as opposed to a true, free-market one. We had a small republican government that grew to be a massive democratic one. We had a society built on success and failure, that gave way to one of success and protection against failure. We took the middling path, which inevitably led us to this socialistic mentality. I posit that democracy mainly paved the way for this collapse, but that will be addressed in a post in the near future.

Prior to the Great Depression, we lacked a government-imposed social safety net because of the sacrifice of individuals. Some voluntarily chose to provide for those who were less fortunate, not always with just a handout, but for some like Rockefeller by providing an education for those who showed aptitude in the hopes that they could better themselves. Our forefathers fought for our country, sacrificing their lives so that they could build a society where they would not need to sacrifice their liberty and their property. They sacrificed so they could establish a country built on the natural rights granted to them by G-d, not the rights so determined by the new Messiah, Mr. Obama.

People labored in steel mills and coal mines not out of the goodness of their hearts, but out of self-interest, and this work helped pave the way for unprecedented economic growth. It all brings to mind Adam Smith’s line in the Wealth of Nations, “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.”

We did not achieve our prosperity from forced sacrifice, but from voluntary trade predicated on the self-interest of individuals seeking to better their lot. People could dispose of their wealth for the most part as they so chose. Universities, libraries and medical institutions were established by wealthy folks, and charitable institutions were able to provide (probably much more efficiently than the public) services for those who were needy. But this charity again was voluntary.

You have to wonder why it was the case that the government stayed out of the business of charity. Was it because individuals knew that politicians would only use these programs out of their own self-interest to gain votes? Was it because of the belief in a government with limited responsibilities? Was it because of the belief that it wasn’t the job of all of society to take care of those who were broke?

I think it was probably a combination of all of these things. Also, I think that while individuals may have acted out of self-interest in giving charity like politicians (be it for PR purposes or for religious reasons), they were still making this decision unto themselves, not forcibly requiring all others to sacrifice as well. There just is not this sense of individualism anymore. It is one for all and all for the banks. We all own a piece of Wall Street, we all own a piece of Fannie and Freddie over on Main Street and we all own a piece of Detroit too. Of all cities, I mean come on…Detroit?!

We did not build the most prosperous nation in the world through sacrifice and collectivism. We built it through the self-interest of the skillful, visionary individuals that immigrated to this land. Our forefathers did not sacrifice themselves during the Revolution for more sacrifice; they sacrificed themselves for freedom. To forget this fact would be to tarnish their efforts.

Apologies on the Slow Down

January 21, 2009 Leave a comment

Spring semester has just begun and a lot of things are in flux right now, so apologies on the lack of posting in recent days. I hope to have some comments on the inauguration posted tomorrow morning.

Cheers!

Categories: Uncategorized

Ten Questions for Paulson, Bernanke & Co.

January 17, 2009 3 comments


1. Can we increase our debt and devalue our currency in order to restore our prosperity?

2. Do you believe it is our right as citizens to know how the TARP money is being spent, and what banks are using as collateral for the cash they are receiving?

3. Why will the economic stimulus package work, and historically has this type of stimulus ever worked?

4. Why does the Federal Reserve still hold gold in its reserves?

5. What is the paper USD intrinsically worth, and can you explain why it is okay for you to have a monopoly on it?

6. Can you name a fiat currency that has not eventually failed? (the answer can be found here)

7. Why has the purchasing power of the dollar decreased 95% since the Federal Reserve was created in 1913?

8. Can you explain why after a bubble bursts, falling prices are bad for consumers?

9. Can you explain why if inflation makes the price of goods higher for the consumer that it is good for the economy?

10. If we saw that pumping in massive amounts of credit to our financial system led to an unsustainable bubble, why is the goal of your policies to create massive amounts of credit?

Twenty Greatest Mets Follies

January 16, 2009 4 comments


Given that the world is collapsing politically, socially and economically before my very eyes (and outside of the Bank of America debacle and the Gaza war which I am temporarily holding off on writing about, there isn’t all that much other exciting stuff going on), yesterday I turned my thoughts to the back fields of Port St. Lucie, Florida, where pitchers and catchers are due to report for the New York Metropolitans in less than 30 days. While I assumed this might be a bright spot in an otherwise dark world, upon further review I realized that the Mets’ recent history (and actually their entire history) has been just as depressing as that of modern-day America. Thus, in my venting, without further ado I present to you the twenty greatest follies (from present to past) of the New York Mets; follies that put even the US government to shame:

1. The new Citi Field inaugural season patch getting lambasted by everyone from ESPN to the NYT (Stephen Colbert too!)

2.The fact that Citi Field is already rusting (thank you unions)

3. The fact that the Mets chose Citi as their sponsor in the first place

4. The fact that of all teams, only the Mets lost money to Madoff

5. The handling of the firing of Willie Randolph (they actually made us feel bad for him…sort of)

6. Calling yourselves the “team to beat” (Beltran said this no less), only to lose the division to the Phillies…again…they won the World Series too

7. Blowing leads of 7 and 3.5 games with 17 games to play during the last two Septembers, while being officially eliminated (at home) with losses to the Marlins on the last day of the season both times

8. Our entire bullpen last year (throw in Guillermo Mota there too even though that was 2007)

And this is just IN THE LAST TWO YEARS mind you. Lest we forget about:

9. Trading for Roberto Alomar and Mo Vaughn (note Mo’s Carnegie Deli sandwich)

10. Jeromy Burnitz circa 2002

11. The Arod “24-plus-one” mishap (for better or worse)

12. The whole Mike Piazza gay thing

13. Bobby Bonilla circa 1999 (read the comments); also, note that from 2011-2035 we will be paying him approximately $1.2 million a year; thanks again for that present, Steve

14. Generation K

15. Jeromy Burnitz circa 1993

16. The “Worst Team Money Could Buy” of 1992…oh and Bobby Bonilla circa this same year

17. The incredible waste of talent of the 1980s Mets, in addition to their 1986 “Let’s Go Mets!” music video

18. The entire decade of the 1970s (1973 excluded); this isn’t just about the Mets, I mean everything about the decade in general (especially this)

19. Every single overhyped prospect, including, but not limited to: Billy Beane (he should have been our GM, not our player), Gregg Jefferies, Alex Ochoa, Alex Escobar, Fernando Martinez (rushing to judgment here, but do you really have faith that he is going to be a star) and the aforementioned Generation K (outside of Izzy to an extent), not to mention all of the guys they missed out on

20. Last but not least, trading away: Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, David Cone, Scott Kazmir (for Victor Zambrano…wrong Zambrano guys), Mike Scott (who then almost singlehandedly cost the Mets the ’86 pennant), Lenny Dykstra, Jeff Kent and somewhat less painfully, Melvin Mora

I leave out the 1960s because that wouldn’t be fair, though the ’62 Mets (aka the worst team ever) further add to the franchise’s lore. I also exclude Shea Stadium (may it rest in peace) because I grew up there. Oh yea, and as for Armando Benitez (I’ll give Mel Rojas a break), much as I hate him, he got on my good side last time I saw him pitch.

Now with all that being said, imagine being a die hard Mets fan and a liberty-loving, staunch free-marketeer these days…welcome to my world. Still, I am reminded of the late great Met, Tug McGraw, who said, “I never smoked AstroTurf,” er…rather, “Ya gotta believe.” Hope always springs eternal in the lush, rolling meadows, of a little place I like to call Flushing.

The Significance of 24

January 13, 2009 3 comments


24 has captured the imagination of the American public for the last 8 years, and with good reason. While the plots often border on ridiculous, nevertheless we keep watching, knowing that no matter how death-defying the situation, somehow Jack is going to save (or should I say bail out) the nation. It is refreshing that in this day and age there are still some people that value a good old-fashioned American hero.

In addition to 24‘s always entertaining story lines, the show presents both sides of many political and moral issues. This season of 24 particularly has focused on four themes worthy of examination: protection of our rights from the government, government corruption, intervention in foreign conflicts and political correctness and the issue of torture. While these themes have marked many a 24 season, in particular they pervade the current one, undoubtedly as a reflection of our current political climate. Let us analyze them.

On Protection from the Government

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of this season has been the reemergence of CTU as a four-person team, fighting to protect the US citizens from the government itself. This is something that should convert liberals and libertarians alike into fans of the show. Our political officials and intelligence agencies have become so corrupted that only four people left in the country have the ability to defend the rights of millions. I have often asked myself the question, “If the government is supposed to protect our life, liberty and property, then who is supposed to protect our life, liberty and property from the government?” I’ll tell you who: Jack Bauer, Bill Buchanan, Tony Almedia and Chloe O’Brien. Though I doubt that Joel Surnow (awesome as he may be) et al really thought this point through, they should be lauded for exposing a fundamental problem with our governmental system, and showing that when threatened by enemies both foreign and domestic, citizens must band together to protect their rights.

On Government Corruption
In the current season of 24, government officials in the President’s inner circle and in the FBI privy to classified information are working for the bad guys – a rogue regime in fictional Sengala, Africa committing mass genocide. While the details are lacking, it seems clear that there are certain kickbacks monetary and perhaps political involved. Could our own government officials ever be working to undermine our nation for self-interested reasons?

While I do not think (and certainly pray) that any of our leaders would sell us out to the point of encouraging terrorist attacks against our citizens, there are ways that leaders more subtly have cultivated ties with our enemies. For starters, take a look at this recent WSJ editorial on Bill and Hillary’s dubious donors. With links to corrupt officials from Nigeria to the Dnieper, needless to say we may want to reconsider Hillary as our Secretary of State. I presume that the Clintons are just one of many political families with ties to less-than-stellar regimes (think of the Bush’s oil ties in the Middle East for example).

This is not to say that these pols are plants for foreign governments working to undermine our state, but we need to recognize that political influence as always has a price that many are willing to pay. Access is king. If someone can pull off a $50 billion Ponzi scheme, is it really impossible to believe that people in our government could subtly or not-so-subtly abet our enemies? I am no conspiracy theorist, but I do believe it pays to always be cynical of our representatives. Moreover, the general concept here of using political clout to receive favors, monetary or otherwise is timely in the wake of Blagojevich, Stevens and Spitzer…and all of political history for that matter.

On Intervention in Foreign Conflicts
The President in the current season finds herself in a bind largely as the result of engaging in foreign entanglements. Trying to act as a liberator of innocent civilians being murdered in Africa, the President prepares to attack Sengala, only to find that the Sengalese have taken control of America’s infrastructure and have the power to strike the nation’s most vital organs. Stand down she is told, and America will go unharmed; invade, and face the consequence of having American blood on her hands.

This scenario is quite prescient as we try to figure out as a nation what our role should be in the world. The predominant view had been that the US as the most powerful nation economically and militarily should serve as the world police, and that promoting democracy throughout the world, sometimes through outright nation-building, was the way to ensure our safety and the freedom and prosperity of others. Obviously, this philosophy needs to be reworked.

I do not view it as the proper role of our government to intervene throughout the world. When it comes to spreading democracy via nation-building, this has never worked well, with the exception of in Japan (a state with a democratic past). As we have seen in Iraq and Gaza, democracy does not ensure freedom or peace, nor do all peoples have the will for these values. While the American government should vocally support the cause of freedom, and not impede the American citizens from supporting the movement for freedom abroad through whatever means they so choose, it behooves the people of other nations to fight for these freedoms if they so desire them. As Mencken proclaims in his Notes on Democracy, “for the loftiest of all the rights of citizen, by the democratic dogma, is that of the franchise, and whoever is not willing to fight for it, even at the cost of his last drop of gore, is surely not likely to exercise it with a proper sense of consecration after getting it.”

This principle goes for trying to defend people suffering from grave injustices as well. I unequivocally stand in opposition to all tyranny and repression. If a people is being massacred, it is incumbent upon those who feel strongly on the matter to defend those people. This does not mean however that it is the job of our government to do so, unless our citizens explicitly request it. Our government’s number one priority is to protect our “life, liberty and property.” To get involved militarily with extraneous conflicts as we have seen on 24 and through practical experience poses a threat to our essential rights. It is the right of the people to defend others, but there should be no mandate on the government to do so.

On Political Correctness
Last year, a representative from Blackwater came to speak at Columbia University. I had the opportunity to ask him about the biggest ongoing challenges facing the defense community, and without pause, he answered that it was political correctness. Given today’s society, it is amazing that we are even able to fight wars anymore. As we see on 24, almost every intelligence decision is made while walking the fine line between balancing delicate political interests and the innate desire to defend our people. In my opinion, this political correctness not only cripples our education and economic systems, but proves most debilitating when it comes to intelligence. Without being able to obtain necessary information, we can kiss goodbye all of the other aspects of society we so cherish because we will be defeated.

Though I did not intend to go into it, this brings up the moral question of torture. Foreshadowing what I would bet we will see here, the season begins with Jack Bauer testifying in front of the Senate about the interrogation methods he used to help foil terrorist attacks in prior seasons. As one might expect, this testimony is pure political theater. The Senator grilling Bauer wants to hear Jack admit to ruthlessly torturing people. This is what the left has been fighting the Bush administration on throughout his tenure, and the objections they raise to torture should be vigorously debated.

To me it all seems very simple: if you believe that someone knows of an imminent, credible threat, torture, be it waterboarding, sleep deprivation or otherwise can be effective, and should be used. Otherwise, for numerous reasons it is best to avoid it. I understand that underlying the issue of torture are questions like its definition, and the guidelines of international law. I am no expert in these areas, nor have I given them sufficient study for my opinion to bare significant weight. But to a man, my humble opinion is that if you think your citizens are in danger, it is necessary for you to use whatever means possible to protect them. Our elected officials have an obligation to our safety first.

Forgetting about these weighty matters however, most of all 24 is entertaining, and should be appreciated by all. Long live Jack Bauer.