College Libertarians & YAF newsletter

29 09 2009

Sorry for the lack of a post—I’ve been writing the inaugural issue of the College Libertarians and YAF Bulleting, our soon-to-be weekly newsletter.  In doing so, I’ve had to teach myself InDesign, which has taken a bit longer to do than I expected.  I think I’m doing things the clunky way; InDesign is, I’m sure, a lot more sophisticated that it seems, and there’s probably a much more elegant way to do most of the formatting.  But I’m learning, which is the significant part.

And I’ve also been going to my classes.  Which takes up a decent chunk of my time, unfortunately.

I’ll post the newsletter tomorrow so you can see what exactly I’ve been up to.  Until then, you can always read my other Michigan Review story from the last issue.  This one is about tire tariffs.  How exciting:

Unless you’ve recently driven over a nail, the tariff on the import of Chinese-made tires that President Obama just enacted likely means very little to you. Indeed, with financial giant Morgan Stanley reporting that tire exports constitute just 0.4 percent of China’s annual trade with the United States, such a piece of legislation would seem to have little absolute impact on Sino-American relations, let alone the global economy. Yet even though the chances of this new tariff triggering a devastating trade war are slim, its passage may be indicative of deeply rooted protectionist views held by the current administration.

Passed under the authority of Section 421 of the Trade Act of 1974, this new tire tariff takes advantage of a so-called “China-Specific Safeguard” written into the act to protect American manufacturers from “import surges” of cheap Chinese goods. Because of the targeted nature of tariffs enacted under Section 421, any such tariffs require little more than the President’s signature to approve. However, they have a limited scope and timeframe; the tire tariff, for example, will sunset in four years. And while the initial rate is steep-35% on top of the extant four percent tariff-it is not as high as industry lobbies (who were pushing for a 55% rate) recommended, and it will drop by five percent each year until its expiration.

But while the tariff is limited in its scope and duration, the impact on consumers already suffering from a recession may be sharp. According to the “Wall Street Journal,” nearly 17 percent of all tires sold in the United States are imported from China, and most of those are low-cost, non-premium tires popular precisely because of their budget-friendly price tags. Since the tariff is directed solely at Chinese-made tires, other countries may seize the opportunity to provide cheaper tires to American consumers. Unil then, however, those looking to replace their tires will be stuck paying more for the same non-premium tires or, if those become temporarily unavailable, will be forced to purchase more expensive premium tires.

Far from being a random act of economic malice directed at the Chinese, this tire tariff is designed to help American tire manufacturers cope with overseas competitors, who, the domestic manufacturers claim, are “dumping” their product on the market at a price that they simply cannot compete with in the short run. But the Chinese government has already accused the current administration of “rampant protectionism” in response to the tariff, and their Ministry of Commerce has vowed to investigate allegations of product dumping by US manufactures-perhaps laying the groundwork for retaliatory tariffs.

China’s accusations of protectionism are perhaps less unfounded than they seem. The Senate’s version of this year’s American Recovery and Investment Act originally included a “Buy American” provision, which mandated that all materials used in stimulus-funded projects had to be made in the United States. Only an outcry (and the threat of retaliatory tariffs) from some of our closest trading partners, including Canada, Mexico and the European Union, resulted in the provision’s removal.

Though a tariff on Chinese tires is undoubtedly good news for American tire manufacturers, it benefits that industry at the expense of potentially millions of already hard-hit consumers looking for a deal. Further, with the global economy already suffering from a deep recession, such action does little to bolster our standing among our trading partners. MR

I don’t really have time to formulate a high-caliber comment about this whole tariff-trade war thing, and it obviously wasn’t admissible in the article since it wasn’t an editorial.  But perhaps rattling sabers with the country that is keeping us afloat by purchasing our debt is not such a good idea in the middle of a steep recession that may or may not be abating any time soon.

Oh, and tariffs are a poor life decision anyway since they benefit a small number of vested interests (tire makers) at the expense of a large portion of the population (people buying tires).  And for such a tariff to be fair (if that’s even possible), it would have to apply to every product imported into this country so as not to benefit tire makers more than, say, lightbulb makers (if any are left in the country).

Even if there were tariffs on every imported product, theoretically giving no domestic industry an unfair advantage over any other, capital and resources would be being used far more inefficiently than if there were no trade barriers in place.  It’s just bad news all around.


“Driving Like Crazy” Review

28 09 2009

This book review appeared in the latest issue of the Michigan Review. Since many of you don’t read the Review regularly or at all, I figured I’d post it here, too:

Even if you’re not aware of the existence of P.J. O’Rourke, you’ve probably heard some politician or pundit parroting one of his numerous witticisms-like the HillaryCare-era quip, “if you think health care is expensive now, wait until you see what it costs when it’s free,” which remains as pertinent now as it was under the Clinton administration. Or the eternally true one-liner, “giving money and power to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys.”

Driving Like Crazy gives us the opportunity to explore O’Rourke’s take on car keys, whiskey, and, at times, car keys and whiskey concurrently-and if he is to be believed, you can never have enough of either. This collection of essays, released earlier this year, constitutes O’Rourke’s fifteenth publication. Containing eighteen mostly stand-alone pieces, the book spans his entire career-from no-holds-barred gonzo journalist (How to Drive Fast on Drugs While Getting Your Wing-Wang Squeezed and Not Spill Your Drink, an apt title) to a married-with-children man resisting, for his sanity’s sake, the urge to succumb to practicality and buy a minivan (Taking My Baby for a Ride). Being a compilation of essays and short articles, the vast majority of Driving Like Crazy has appeared previously in print. Fortunately, however, O’Rourke’s writing has been featured in such a varied range of publications-National Lampoon, Esquire, Car and Driver, and Rolling Stone, to name a few-that few readers will have seen all of the works contained within.

The book spans the globe just as it spans the author’s career, with nearly every chapter set in a different locale. Thanks to his deadpan humor, dry wit, and na’veté (whether feigned or genuine), O’Rourke’s tale of a spontaneous and ill-planned trip through the rural American South in a faltering 1956 Buick Special reads much like his account of a carefully planned voyage across India in a caravan of brand-new Land Rovers. Deep, insightful cultural examination has never taken itself less seriously.


Then there are the cars. A title like Driving Like Crazy implies no small amount of reckless vehicular abandon, and thankfully, the text delivers. O’Rourke gets behind the wheel of everything from the aforementioned ’56 Buick to a rented ’67 Mustang to a variety of Jeeps to a new Ford Flex. Most of the cars, being either rentals or loaned to O’Rourke for testing, are, predictably, driven like crazy. Some actually survive; others, like the Jeeps, are shaken apart on the brutal trails of Baja California.

Despite the pages of tortured sheet metal, ruptured gas tanks, and shot shock absorbers, this book is fundamentally an ode to the American automobile at a time when, sarcastically or not, O’Rourke suggests that a dirge might be more appropriate. In the age of stifling safety regulations, ever-higher fuel-economy standards, and the government bailout of two of the country’s most distinguished automakers, he laments the death of the American car as it was-big, unapologetic, gas-guzzling, easy to fix, and, above all, fun.

One doesn’t have to be a dedicated auto nut like myself to (kindly brace yourself for this review’s requisite automotive pun) get a lot of mileage out of Driving Like Crazy. In fact, I’d recommend it to anyone unacquainted with the mystique of the internal combustion engine and the wonderful, bizarre culture that revolves around it just as soon as I’d suggest it to someone with gasoline already in their blood. You don’t have to be a gear head to enjoy this book, but it might be hard to resist rebuilding your car’s engine-or at least revving it up at a stoplight-after you’ve put it down. MR

Why I haven’t been posting much…

27 09 2009

This weekend has been hectic to say the least. I just now finally got the time to sit down and do a bit of reading (though it was required reading for Russian Lit—the first few chapters of Lermontov’s A Hero of Our Time).  I’ve been left with an appreciation for the Byronic hero and a strong desire to visit Russia, for some reason.

But the past two or three days were as fun as they were exhausting. Yesterday, I planned and threw a homecoming dinner for about twenty Triangle alumni who came in to town for the game, plus their guests and a bunch of the active brothers. All in all, we served nearly sixty steaks (I didn’t trust myself to grill, so that was delegated) plus salad, etc. I hope that the dinner will have served its intended purpose: getting alumni engaged in our chapter’s affairs again. It’s tough when your fraternity is off campus for ten years, since a lot of the old connections break down and interest fades. Last year, for example, only a handful of alums turned up for homecoming.

It’s good to know that the interest is out there. Like in anything else, it’s easier to work hard towards a goal when the results are plainly visible.

Further, I had no idea that I enjoyed hosting events like that. It was genuinely enjoyable. Granted, I don’t think I’d want to do it for a living, but in the future, I’m going to throw some awesome parties.

Friday, of course, was spent preparing for the events of Saturday. Fortunately, our house modem was replaced, allowing me to reliably type and post this. Thanks, Comcast, for actually doing your job! I still don’t have internet in my room, but progress is progress.

It’s time for me to head off and write my weekly Spanish journal. Tomorrow, with rush and the homecoming dinner behind me, and reliable internet in the house, I hope to have the opportunity to post again.

I could sign off with some Spanish phrase, but I’m not like that.

Internet Issues

25 09 2009

Lost a pretty long post last night while trying to upload it. Comcast is supposed to come by the house later today, I’ll try this again once we have some type of consistent connection.

Eugene Onegin and Me

23 09 2009

So long as the internet back at the house is up later tonight, I’ll be able to write a longer post. I’m in between classes now, having just finished this week’s survey of Russian Lit…

I’m nearly done with Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin (the first work we’re reading), considered by many to be one of, if not the, seminal work of classical Russian literature. It’s written in lyrical, fast-moving verse, and is a lot more approachable than most classics can ever hope to be.  And for a book of poetry, which I generally abhor, it’s eminently bearable.

With about ten pages left to go, I’m happy and a bit surprised to say that I enjoyed it greatly. It really doesn’t take long to read—it’s just that fraternity activities have intruded upon my free time on a nightly basis.

Ach, I’ve got to get to class. I’ll finish this up later…

Separation of Art and State

22 09 2009

“A great nation deserves great art.”

That’s the slogan of the National Endowment for the Arts.  And it’s pretty hard to disagree with.  This nation has had great art since the very beginning; from the Hudson River School, to John Singer Sargent and Mary Cassatt,  to innumerable jazz musicians and composers, to Dickinson, Hemingway, Faulkner and countless other writers and poets, the artistic output of the United States is impossible to ignore.

Miraculously, all those artists managed to create their works before 1965, when Congress established the National Endowment for the Arts.  Yet every year, the NEA gives out thousands of grants worth millions of dollars ($155 million in 2009) to, presumably, allow artists to crank out that “great art” that we’re so deserving of.

But is there any issue with using government money to fund artists?  Besides the fact that history would seem to indicate that such funding is utterly unnecessary?

Yeah, actually.  Some pretty obvious ones.  Namely, if the government is paying artists, artists have an incentive to mirror establishment ideals and, in effect, work to defend that establishment.  It’s not so easy to fight the man if the man is the guy cutting you a nice check every once in a while.  Fighting the man is hard to do on an empty stomach, after all, and the type of person that applies for a grant to the NEA probably has some trouble putting bread on the table due to utter lack of marketable talent anyway.

The result is art that often glorifies the state, or at least works to advance the state’s ideas or agenda while deconstructing opposing views (Crucifixes in bottles of urine, Madonnas painted with dung, etc.)  Here’s a sweet, touching, nauseating example of the former:

Those children were later liquidated and used to fertilize Stalin's rose garden.

These children were later liquidated and used to fertilize Stalin's rose garden

Believe your eyes; an exceptionally heroic-looking Stalin is here depicted graciously accepting flowers from innocent children dressed like Japanese schoolgirls.  Not pictured are the piles of Stalin’s bullet-ridden political opponents or people who just looked at him wrong earlier that morning, or the millions of Russians starved to death or exiled to Siberia.  But I’m sure the artist was more than happy to accept his compensation from the state.  And the state was more than happy to cut him that check for so skillfully painting a squeaky-clean, idyllic representation of one of history’s greatest murderers because after all, a worker’s paradise deserves great art.

Good thing we don’t have to worry about such blatant collusion of artists and government interests here in the good ol’ US of A these days, though.

I don’t think I really need to go through the details of this late breaking NEA scandal, brought to you by the same Andrew Breitbart that helped publicize the recent ACORN videos (he’s been doing some great stuff lately…the kind of stuff conservatives usually seem to lack the balls to do).  It’s all over the internet, talk radio, and certain heretical network news channels.  Maybe a newspaper will pick it up and bury it near the classifieds or something.  In any case, you’ll probably hear about it, but if not, the above link gives a pretty concise explanation of all the delicious, delicious drama.

I’m not about to go into a lengthy explanation here, but basically, a certain taped NEA conference call reveals blatant attempts to coordinate the efforts of passionate Obama-supporting artists to advance the four rather political causes of health care reform, energy and environment, education, and “community renewal.”  While it’s disappointing enough to hear lefty artists pledging to be shills for a political agenda in their own words on tape, several individuals who participated in the conference call have direct ties to the White House.  Which means this is almost certainly a top-down coordinated effort, or at least one with the approval of people in very high positions in this administration.  Like the President.  Or the First Lady.

So potentially tens of millions of tax dollars will be spent to establish the fine arts division of the eternal Obama campaign.  Would-be Shepard Faireys will be painting new, more obnoxious HOPE posters, but with your money.  Pretty disturbing.

We need to establish a well-defined separation of art and state, and cutting off public funding of the arts is an essential first step in this direction.  Some of history’s most compelling art is political, but this attempted politicization of art is downright dangerous and must be stopped.

So, uh, about that “Freedom of the Press” thing

21 09 2009

Americans of all political persuasions cherish and exploit our basic human right to freedom of speech in all forms, established pretty explicitly in the First Amendment, at any available opportunity.  There are innumerable ways of doing this—you can stand on a soapbox in the U of M Diag whining about the evils of capitalism, you could start a blog, you could make a movie about a presidential assassination (so long as it’s the right president getting assassinated), or you might found a magazine or a newspaper.  If, in the process of speaking your mind freely, you add nothing to the national debate, people will stop listening to you.  If you’re the guy in the Diag, you’ll look like a moron.  If you’re a newspaper, you’ll go out of business.

Or at least you used to.  The New York Times isn’t exactly riding high these days; increasing numbers of the American public have apparently decided that they will not support a publication in which a prominent columnist recently praised the right kind of authoritarianism. The Detroit papers have cut back on their print editions, and many newspapers have simply stopped publishing.  It’s definitely sad to see formerly great print institutions reduced to shadows of their previous glory or forced to shut down entirely, but if they aren’t providing a service that people can’t get elsewhere at a competitive rate, too bad—the right to a free press does not imply the right to keep your presses running even when no-one buys your paper.

Until, perhaps, now: Obama is reportedly “happy to look at” proposals to effectively bail out newspapers.  One form this bailout might take is in allowing newspapers to restructure as non-profits.  Unless this non-profit restructuring effort is extended to all news sources—radio stations, network news, for-profit blogs and web news agencies, etc.—I’m not sure how this can be justified on the grounds of “fairness.”  It seems more likely that the current administration is looking to extend the helping hand of government to yet another interest group that helped ensure the ascendancy, however short-lived it might ultimately be, of the left in this country.

Whatever the motive behind any newspaper bailout may be, it creates (at least) a couple of major problems.

First, it gives a papers a majorly unfair advantage over all other forms of media; everyone else still has to pay taxes and produce a product that people actually want to spend money or time on, while papers will exist in a kind of pathetic, NPR-like state of irrelevance thanks to the kindness of the IRS.  Further, it works to stifle the development of new forms of media that we can’t even imagine at this point.  Blogs would have probably seemed ridiculous when the internet was first developed, let alone fifty years ago—who really cares to read what some non-credentialed blithering moron on the web has to say about anything?  We have no idea what blogs will look like in the future, as the influence of the blogosphere (God, I hate that term) grows.  With a dinosaur-media bailout, we may never get the opportunity to find out.

Second, it is naive beyond belief to think that papers surviving at the whim of the state won’t act as to defend the interest of the state, even if only out of some sense of self-preservation.  After all, it’s hard to openly criticize the institutions that are keeping you afloat.  And no politician ever proposes something that doesn’t have, to some degree, his or her best interest at heart.  We have plenty of examples of what “independent” papers that are official state mouthpieces look like, but few from this country:

Hey, Pravda was a non-profit paper too, so I don't think this if off-limits.

Hey, Pravda was a non-profit paper too, so I don't think this if off-limits.

And before you get caught up in the romantic vision of a staff writer spending late nights, sleeves rolled up, pursuing the truth for some hallowed print institution with a blackletter masthead, remember that such  old-fashioned journalistic integrity remains alive and well today; you just have to step outside of the New York Times building to find it.  The two kids who singlehandedly (doublehandedly?) blew the lid off ACORN were independent investigative journalists in a grand tradition—a tradition that seems to have been handed off to new media.  Few if any major papers saw fit to give the ACORN story the attention it deserved until after it had been thoroughly covered on the web.  And none saw fit to investigate ACORN on their own.

That should tell you more or less all you need to know about why so many papers are where they are, and why they deserve no special dispensation to aid their survival.