Protests and Such

31 03 2010

Ever wonder why good, hardworking people don’t get together more often to protest—especially now, when good, hardworking people have so much to lose?

We’re seeing a bit of it with the Tea Party/Tax Day/Angry Old White People protests, but with the widespread dissatisfaction with government expansion, you’d expect to see people in the streets everyday.

Well, there’s an obvious reason for it: protests are hard work.

I’ve been busy helping prepare for this Thursday’s “Campus-wide Smoking Ban Awareness Day,” to take place on the University of Michigan Diag.  And there’s a lot to prepare: signs must be made, fliers must be designed and printed, handouts (we’re giving away mini-boxes of candy cigarettes) must be purchased, etc.

Oh, and it takes money.  Fortunately, we received a protest grant from the good people at Students for a Free Economy.

I figured I’d post what I’ve created just to get it out there.  There are three posters that I have made so far:

First, one that clears up some of the “myths” about the ban and the University’s attempts to implement it.

Second, a poster highlighting student opinion as expressed in both major student papers.  Hint: neither support it.

Finally, this is sort of a retro “propaganda” type poster, based on a very similar health care reform-based model.  Unfortunately, I don’t know the original source, hence the lack of credit.  I vectorized all the graphics in order to blow them up to poster size.

If you click on the images, you’ll be able to see them full size.

I’ve been largely neglecting my school work for the sake of this protest and for an upcoming visit by Congressional candidate (and former U of M College Libertarian) Justin Amash.  Turns out that I enjoy this type of work more than I do homework…go figure.

There will be pictures here after Thursday’s protest.  The weather is expected to be pretty close to perfect, and student enthusiasm seems high.

Oh, and here’s the Facebook Page for the “Burn the Ban” movement.  If you’re in Ann Arbor Thursday afternoon, stop by and say hello!


Campaign Contributions Pretty Much Exactly What You’d Expect

30 03 2010

This is kind of a cop-out post since I’ve been real busy with school and upcoming Libertarian stuff.  It’s going to appear in this week’s issue of The Michigan Review.  I looked at campaign finance records available at the Federal Elections Commission website, compiled a list of all donations since January 1, 2008, and analyzed where the money was heading.

Any guess which way my professors lean?  Read on to find out:

The University of Michigan prides itself on its dedication to diversity, a concept embodied in the courses offered to students, the rich range of University-sponsored extracurricular activities and cultural events, and even in the student body itself.  But there remains one place where diversity is almost entirely absent: the campaign contributions of the University’s professors.

Using Federal Election Commission (FEC) data, The Michigan Review has found that, since January 1, 2008, University of Michigan professors have contributed $237,205.00 in donations of $200 or larger to candidates for federal elections and to political causes.  Of that, only $4,001.00, or 1.7% of the total, was given to Republican candidates or conservative causes.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, President Obama was the biggest fundraiser, netting a massive $146,536.00 for his campaign.  Congressman Gary Peters, a Michigan Democrat, was another financial winner.  He received $9,950.00 towards his successful run.

EMILY’s List, a political action committee (PAC) “dedicated to building a progressive America by electing pro-choice Democratic women to office,” was one of the more popular causes, raising $12,000.00.  Additionally, a wide range of Democratic Congressional and Senatorial candidates from across the country were represented in the donation roll, from Alan Khazei and Martha Coakley (both Democrats running against Republican Scott Brown in this year’s Massachusetts special Senatorial election), to New Hampshire’s Jeanne Shaheen.

When compared to faculty members with a liberal-leaning donation history, conservative-leaning professors tended to give to a more narrow range of candidates and causes.  Presidential candidate and Arizona Senator John McCain received the bulk of those contributions, with the Republican National Committee, a few Congressional candidates (typically for races in Michigan), and the “Our Country Deserves Better” PAC accounting for the rest.

Because only donations of $200 or greater appear in the FEC records, they form an imperfect representation of actual contribution habits.  Kim Cameron, Professor of Management and Organizations at the Ross School of Business, donated to the previously mentioned “Our Country Deserves Better” PAC, but he says he also gave to “some local, some state, and some national” candidates during the last election cycle, including “a Democratic candidate in a local election.”  None of those smaller donations appear in the public record, forming a potentially significant gap in data that cannot be easily accounted for.

When asked for his thoughts about working in an institution that has proved, through its financial support of causes and candidates, to be overwhelmingly liberal, Cameron explained that it was “not disconcerting at all” to be in a political minority on campus, but added that “it seems a bit frightening that, essentially, only one political point of view is represented in the best public university in the world.”

On the other hand, law professor Douglas Kahn, who donated to McCain in 2008, was not surprised by the disparity in contributions.  “My impression is, as far as political perspective is concerned, [campaign contributions] are representative of the general attitude” found among professors on campus, Kahn said.  But he was careful to note his limited exposure to faculty members outside of the law school, and was therefore hesitant to make any broad generalizations.

Cameron and Kahn felt that political contributions, and politics in general, played a relatively small role in the workplace.  Cameron explained that he and his colleagues “are much more likely to discuss our research” than engage in political debate.  Kahn mirrored that sentiment, adding that though he has contributed money and time to controversial causes like the 2006 Michigan Civil Rights Initiative (which struck down affirmative action programs employed by the University of Michigan and other state institutions), “I don’t tend to argue with people” about political beliefs.

As politicians gear up for midterm elections this November, it will be interesting to monitor the extent to which faculty members involve themselves in various Congressional and Senatorial races via their monetary contributions.  Though FEC records indicate that no University professors have donated more than $200 to conservative-leaning candidates since the beginning of the 2009, we know that there will be at least two professors who buck the liberal trend in the coming months: both Cameron and Kahn said they will contribute again later this year.

What’s in a Name?

27 03 2010

The title of F.A. Hayek’s 1944 book, The Road to Serfdom, says everything you need to know about the surrender of individual liberty for the sake of the “common good” (which is invariably the justification for totalitarian rule).  I know I’ve recommended the text before, and if you haven’t read it, do so.

There has never been a better time to read this book.

It’s an easy read and you won’t regret it; in fact, you’ll probably find yourself agreeing that much of what Hayek says just seems like common sense.  That’s just confirmation bias at work—you’re not as smart as Hayek, after all—but says a lot about the clarity of his arguments.

So even though the whole work is great, the title, as I stated, really says it all.  By surrendering freedoms of any kind, you are unwittingly embarking down the path to complete domination, for your own good, of course.

This is probably crazy talk to half of you, so I’ll try to illustrate using an example that isn’t health care.  Which is a perfect example of this in action, by the way.

Take cars.

I love cars.  This is apparent.  But I also love what cars represent—mobility, freedom, technology applied for our benefit, and occasionally, the union of brilliant design and great engineering that has an almost spiritual quality to it.

Fans of big government tend to hate cars, often for the same reasons I love them.  Sure, they hate them because they pollute, or something, but I really think that’s secondary.  When everyone has to ride trains/light rail/buses, somebody is needed to make the trains/light rail/buses run on time.  Let everyone have a car and decided where they want to go, and suddenly, some poor bureaucrat is out of a job!  Tragedy!

And do you know how dangerous it is for society to let people drive cars whenever they want to, wherever they want to?  They might decide to live somewhere other than where they work!  And it’s a lot harder to control people with laws and regulations when they are spread out over hundreds of miles of suburbia than when they are clustered in a city!

This is all crazy talk.  Except, not really.  Let me try to prove me case.

Exhibit One:  Transportation Department Embraces Bikes, Business Groups Cry Foul

Now, I actually ride my bike more than most college students.  It’s a Trek 7.3, and I keep it in great working order.  I can get to class much faster than I ever could on the bus.  Still, it’s pretty clear to me that giving “bicycling and walking the same policy and economic consideration as driving” is insanity” when planning and funding transportation projects would be insane if we had enough money to blow on inane transportation projects, let alone now.

Yet that’s just what Transportation Secretary LaHood has proposed at a National Bike Summit, or something.  As some selfish business owner points out, dumping millions into bike lanes really isn’t going to stimulate the economy.  But it isn’t really about that, is it?  I don’t think LaHood wants people to drive.  I think he played a bit too much Sim City and forgot that roads exist to serve people, not to enable behavioral modification or social engineering.  Hopefully he gets run down by a bicycle courier soon; that should change his mind real quick.

Exhibit Two:  For New CAFE Rules, Automakers Place High-Stakes Bets

The economy is struggling.  It will continue to struggle for a long, long, time.  Automakers are likewise struggling.  As I recall, two needed billions of dollars to keep from folding not so long ago.  Incentive plans like Cash for Clunkers don’t create real demand for cars, just shift existing demand forward, and thus, fail to provide long-term relief for automakers.

The micro-economy cars of the future: just as useless, and even more expensive

In this precarious situation, why not raise the price of a car by a couple grand and see what happens?  Sure, the EPA says the price of a tiny, useless economy car will only increase by $1300 after new, stricter fuel economy standards go into effect.  But it could increase by $9000 for a truck—you know, the kind of vehicle driven by people who actually do stuff like haul tools and lumber.

But this should help the economy I can’t even come up with something sarcastic to say here.  It’s lunacy to expect this to help the economy in any way, but I can’t stress this enough: helping the economy is not the point.  Control is the point.

Finally, Exhibit Three:  The 50 Worst Cars of All Time

There are some obvious clunkers on that list, but amazingly, Time saw fit to choose the Model T as one of the worst of the worst.  Why, you might ask?  After all, didn’t the Model T make motoring affordable for millions of people, giving them mobility and freedom?

Still waiting for every anti-car nut to surrender their automobiles and bicycle everywhere

Well, of course it did.  And that’s why Time hates it.  In their own words:

The Model T — whose mass production technique was the work of engineer William C. Klann, who had visited a slaughterhouse’s “disassembly line” — conferred to Americans the notion of automobility as something akin to natural law, a right endowed by our Creator. A century later, the consequences of putting every living soul on gas-powered wheels are piling up, from the air over our cities to the sand under our soldiers’ boots. And by the way, with its blacksmithed body panels and crude instruments, the Model T was a piece of junk, the Yugo of its day.

Silly me.  I thought I had the right to live a life enhanced by technology like the automobile, but I guess not.  The staff of Time is probably right—we all would have been happier as feudal serfs, with every decision basically made for us by the protective and loving Lord of the Manor.

Oh, and that bit about the quality being bad?  That would be like saying that because a new Chevy Malibu is not a Rolls-Royce, it’s the Yugo of its day.

And before you tell me that Time is non-partisan, how many times did they have Obama on their cover in the past eighteen months.  A bajillion.  Literally.

When someone tells you that they can modify the behavior of the public through regulations, taxes, or incentives, they are telling you they know what is best for each and every member of the public (or for the public “as a whole,” which is a fallacious concept).  Do not trust them; run away from them quickly, or better yet, push them in front of a bicycle courier.  They feel that they have a mandate to control individuals, and once they gain that control, it is very hard to take it back.


25 03 2010

As I was walking to class earlier this week, enjoying the fine spring weather, I stopped and watched some squirrels.  As anyone who has ever been to Ann Arbor knows, the squirrels are freakishly large; they probably have about as much meat on them as a Cornish hen, and I’m sure it’s quite tender.

A photo of a squirrel not yet touched by the Rodentia obesity epidemic

I as I was marveling at the girth and sloth of the campus squirrels, reflecting on how truly blessed we all are to live in a nation where food is so abundant that even the vermin are overweight, I realized that those squirrels reminded me of someone.

Those beady eyes…those chubby cheeks…the shameless begging for food and recognition—so familiar.  But who could I be thinking of?

After following a link to a NYT column, it suddenly became clear.

Too easy? Maybe.

Yep, it was good old Paul Krugman I was thinking of.  Ripping on Krugman is always fun.  I know, I know, he’s a Nobel Laureate, and I’m an undergrad economics student.  Far from me to criticize his economic prowess; even if I disagree with him on some fundamentals, he did win his Nobel for defending free trade.  In fact, most of what I learned from that wretched man’s textbook (cost: about $140) comes out pretty strongly in favor of capitalism.

All that just makes his progressive hackery, which seems to have a nasty habit of springing forth from his pen every time he sets it to paper, even more jarring.

The column that brought this rather calm and collected tirade on was this one.  In it, Krugman tries to pin opposition to  Obamacare on…wait for it…fear-mongering racists.  Of course!  It has nothing to do with the fact that it accelerates the arrival of a fiscal apocalypse that my generation is going to have to deal with—naturally, it’s just angry white folk angry about providing “free” health care to minorities.

Though his logic is obviously unimpeachable (remember: he’s the one with the Nobel Prize), he felt the need to back up his slander with a quote by Newt Gingrich.  Or rather, a quote from the Washington Post that quoted Gingrich:

And on the other side, here’s what Newt Gingrich, the Republican former speaker of the House — a man celebrated by many in his party as an intellectual leader — had to say: If Democrats pass health reform, “They will have destroyed their party much as Lyndon Johnson shattered the Democratic Party for 40 years” by passing civil rights legislation.

Except that Gingrich was referring to Johnson’s Great Society, not civil rights legislation.  I think we can agree that the Great Society failed to do what it set out to do, and at great expense—both monetary and social—to present and future generations (I don’t want to get into that here, but you can read an excellent critique by Murray Rothbard here).  And I think we can agree that, for all his faults, Gingrich is too wily a politician to ever criticize civil rights legislation.

Yet Krugman didn’t even bother checking the quote for accuracy; why would he?  It advanced his narrative.  True, the Editorial Staff at the NYT added a correction to the column, but Krugman has not yet apologized for his mischaracterization of Gingrich’s words.

Krugman may be an easy target to attack.  He’s famous, he’s got a soapbox to shout from, and he looks like a squirrel.  Unfortunately, he remains respected, and it’s sad that he is still a dominant mind in the field that I may one day enter.

For more Krugman-bashing (of a more academic nature), check out Krugman-in-Wonderland.  Especially cutting is Anderson’s criticism of Krugman’s proposal to impose 25% tariffs surcharges on Chinese-made goods (trade war, anyone?)—an ironic argument coming from a man who, as previously stated, won a Nobel for his work defending international trade.

Some thoughts

23 03 2010

I’m actually kind of glad I didn’t immediately draft some rant about the passage of the so-called health care reform bill Sunday night.  It’s given me some time to think things over.

My first thought would have been to write something along the lines of “Revolution!  Etc.  Etc.”  But I can’t afford to be on any more federal watch lists; it might cost me my health care coverage some day.  Besides, with the cost of ammo these days…

Does this piss you off? Good, it should. Use the energy for something productive.

Seriously, though, violence won’t solve this.  And I have no faith in the Supreme Court somehow deeming Obamacare unconstitutional.  True, an individual mandate means that there effectively no limits to federal power over our lives, but that should have been fairly apparent anyway.

Repeal might be viable…if Republicans can figure out what their message is, keep the populace fired up, and come up with a real alternative.  Paul Ryan has done a pretty good job of creating solutions with his Roadmap; even so, I’m not sure how much damage will be done if it takes a year to push back legislatively.  There are a lot of potentially damaging quirks contained within the text of Obamacare that will go into effect immediately.

So even repeal is a longshot.  But damn it, nothing bothers me more than people who claim that voters are too stupid to change, or that we’re already screwed and we should just lay down in front of the oncoming train.  You all make me sick—that attitude is more disheartening than the fact the bill passed in the first place.

I’ve said this before:  I’m 21.  I’m not stupid enough to believe that the government is here to help.  I’m not the only one who lacks the blissful naiveté of so many of my young, retarded  peers who actually think this is going to save them money in the long run.  I’m not willing to let the federal government crush my Norman Rockwellian American Dream.

I don't deserve a big house in the country, but I deserve the right to earn it.

It may be harder to succeed in this country after this “reform” goes into effect—I think that’s a feature, not a bug.  Notice that Madame Pelosi was quick and eager to point out that free!  free!  free! heath care would enable individuals to pursue their creative dreams, shunning productive jobs and becoming artists or writers instead.

That statement was laughable on the surface, but troubling if you think about it: why didn’t she suggest that universal health care would enable people to start businesses and become self-sufficient?  Because there are very few starving successful business owners, and self-sufficient, individuals don’t need the pitiful table scraps that Pelosi is gracious enough to toss their way.

This is kind of cool, actually, because being successful at whatever I end up doing won’t just be nice because I’ll be able to track down that Maserati 3500 GT—it’s also an act of defiance against the fun-hating, success-hating husks of human beings in Washington.

This is not the time for defeatism.  For God’s sake, don’t accept anything in this country as an inevitability.  That false sense of inevitability is exactly what the left counts on to advance their agenda.  Use the progressives’ idiotic mantra against them: yes, the Constitution is a living, changing document, and it can be changed to affirm liberty instead of encroaching on it.

Oh, and if all else fails?  We’re out of money.  It’s kind of hard to expand a welfare state when your credit card has been revoked (or will be revoked shortly).  Sure, they can raise taxes, for a while—but we’re in so deep, that ain’t gonna help much.

So think happy thoughts!

Edit:  I’m not for giving “our” representatives carte blanche to modify the Constitution—they don’t exactly have the best track record of keeping government small.  But I do think that we can use Constitutional process to shift the powers of government back towards where they were intended to be.


19 03 2010

Weather’s nice, I’m going to enjoy it this evening. It’ll distract me from this health care reform travesty for a while at least.

Also, I’m breaking in my new cowboy boots. Just call me Hoss from now on.

The End is Near

18 03 2010

Well, for the school year anyway.  At least sort of.  My last day of class is April 20; my last final takes place April 29.  This means that I’m (more or less) exam free until then!  And it means that I’ll soon be able to get out of Ann Arbor for a few precious months and do something productive for a while.  It might be more than a month away, but I can almost taste it.

Though I didn’t do as well on the Econ 401 exam (the main reason I haven’t been online) as I would have hoped, I’m still in fair shape for that class.  And, since I’ve decided to drop one of my other challenging classes, I can focus on the econ exam.  Apparently, Econ 401 is the most challenging class in the entire major.  Considering that I only need to score a 30% or so on the final exam to pass, I’m actually feeling pretty good about my academic future for once.

Oh, since I’ve got to head to class, I don’t have time to rant about the health care travesty.  That’s probably not such a bad thing, since I’m not sure I can add all that much to the debate that wouldn’t get me placed on some federal watch list (though I’m probably already on a number of those as it is).

Instead, check out this link.  I put it in the last College Libertarians newsletter.  Here’s the blurb I wrote up:

It’s a terrible shame that conservation-minded individuals so often turn to the government in order to advance environmental causes.  As Ronald Bailey points out in a recent Reason magazine article entitled Sea Turtle Tastes Like Veal, free markets offer an efficient and effective alternative to conventional environmental regulation.
Many students are aware of the plight of sea turtles; they are susceptible to extensive hunting by both predators and humans, and beachfront development further threatens their numbers.  So eating turtles in order to save them might not spring to mind as the most ecologically sound response to their endangered status.

Yum (?)

Yet raising sea turtles for human consumption is exactly what several private companies have attempted to do—only to face ever-more-restrictive environmental regulations for their efforts.  What unimaginative environmentalists fail to note is that the sole remaining green turtle farm in the Cayman Islands has released tens of thousands of excess turtles into the wild, a voluntary action that can only help increase the endangered species’ odds of survival.
The apparent (if unfortunately hobbled) success of turtle farming in the Cayman Islands provides a great example of how property rights and market forces can create a true sense of environmental stewardship far more effective than any further laws or regulations.