Friday, December 28, 2007

Pakistan Convulsion

Pakastani dictator General Pervez Musharraf's leading political opponent, Benazir Bhutto, was assassinated yesterday. The potential consequences of this event are chilling as Pakastan possesses as many as 100 nuclear warheads that, if the turmoil there leads to civil war and the toppling of the Musharraf regime, could fall into the hands of Islamic Fundamentalists.

Bhutto was being praised by most of the press as of this writing, while Musharraf was being criticized for not providing enough security for her. Some go so far as to suggest that he may have had a hand in the assassination, as Bhutto and her opposition party looked to do quite well in the elections that are scheduled for January 8 (I doubt that this is true). Meanwhile, Bhutto is being hailed as a potential leader who could have lead Pakastan away from extreme Islam and toward "democracy." Maybe.

But who is Benazir Bhutto? As it turns out, not everyone is singing her praises today. Writing in the New York Post today, Ralph Peters, an intelligent reporter and an expert on the Middle East, writes...

"Her country's better off without her... We need have no sympathy with her Islamist assassin and the extremists behind him to recognize that Bhutto was corrupt, divisive, dishonest and utterly devoid of genuine concern for her country.

She was a splendid con, persuading otherwise cynical Western politicians and "hardheaded" journalists that she was not only a brave woman crusading in the Islamic wilderness, but also a thoroughbred democrat.

In fact, Bhutto was a frivolously wealthy feudal landlord amid bleak poverty. The scion of a thieving political dynasty, she was always more concerned with power than with the wellbeing of the average Pakistani. Her program remained one of old-school patronage, not increased productivity or social decency.

Educated in expensive Western schools, she permitted Pakistan's feeble education system to rot - opening the door to Islamists and their religious schools."

Context and perspective are crucial when viewing a part of the world where concepts such as individual rights or religion-state separation are not rooted in the culture. It was President Carter's undermining of the Shah of Iran, a dictator friendly to U.S. interests, that lead to his downfall and the rise of an infinitely
more oppressive Islamic theocracy in 1979.

In any event, the situation in Pakastan and the region in general is ominous. Stay tuned.

Post Reference 19

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Excerpts 6- On Democracy

"The central error in the neocon...fallacy is a naive belief that democracy necessarily leads to good government." (Blame Canada - for David Frum by Paul Mulshine)

This is a keen observation by Paul Mulshine. I would add ..."nor does it lead to individual liberty." The error many people make is to equate "democracy " with freedom. They are not the same thing. "Democracy" that "works" pre-supposes strict limits on the power of government. Which means, to limit the ability of the majority (no matter how large) to impose its will on the minority (no matter how small, including the world's smallest minority, the individual) through governmental coercion.

In the Revolutionary War movie The Patriot, Benjamin Martin (played by Mel Gibson) captures the spirit of what our founders were, and were not, fighting for when he tells a town gathering;

"Why should I trade one tyrant 3000 miles away for 3000 tyrants one mile away? An elected legislature can trample a man's rights as easily as a king can."

John Adams said; "It is ... as necessary to defend an individual against the majority in a democracy as against the king in a monarchy."

The right to vote is not a basic or primary right. The rights of the individual, every individual, to his life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of his own welfare and happiness are the primary ones. The right to vote is derived from these fundamental rights. Representative self-government starts not with "the democratic process" but with a constitution strictly defining the limits of the power of government, which starts with an understanding and acceptance of the principle of individual liberty.

What has gone terribly wrong in our mis-named "War on Terror" is that our leadership had reversed cause and effect. Our attempt to graft "democracy" onto a middle-eastern culture that either doesn't understand or is openly hostile to the principles of individual freedom has reached the opposite result of our aims.

By equating the "right to vote" with freedom, we have unleashed voters across the region (who have no belief in the doctrine of the separation of religion and state) to gleefully install into power or strengthen
Islamic forces hostile to true freedom. In Iraq, a constitution based on Islamic Law was enacted by vote. Subsequently, a Shiite-dominated government with strong ties to the Iranians was elected leading to the possibility that we may have created a second Iran.

In other elections, the terrorist group Hezbollah made strong gains in Lebanon, and the Palestinian Territories (West Bank and Gaza) saw the rise to power of Hamas. In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood (an early precurser to the modern Islamic Totalitarian movement) is winning elections and gaining influence there.

In Pakistan, the dictator Musharaf is resisting democratic elections in part because Islamic Fundamentalist forces are likely to win substantial power there. Nowhere in the region has the "democracy" crusade given rise to a meaningful movement for freedom, as true secular liberalization forces, such as they exist, are demoralized and in retreat around the region. On the contrary, Islamic Totalitarian forces have made gains under democracy that they couldn't have dreamed of prior to 9/11, all with the blessing of our democratization strategy.

The clear lesson to be learned here is that democracy unconstrained by the moral concept of individual rights enshrined in law is just another form of tyranny.

Post Reference 18

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Devaluation of Life in New Jersey

New Jersey today outlawed the death penalty, thus declaring that the life of a cold-blooded murderer has value. Declared Governor Jon Corzine, "Society must determine if its endorsement of violence begets violence and undermines the sanctity of life..." Sister Helen Prejean, death penalty opponent and author of Dead Man Walking, said "There's no place on Earth I would rather be. The word will travel around the globe that there is a state in the United States of America that was the first to show that life is stronger than death, love is greater than hatred and that compassion is stronger than the need for revenge." (New Jersey Star Ledger 12/18/07)

But one must question the fundamental premises of the death penalty's opponents.

The death penalty issue is primarily a moral one, and it boils down to one question... does human life have value, or doesn't it? If it does, then that which destroys it is evil and thus has no value. The act of committing cold-blooded murder (the taking of another's life in the absence of extenuating circumstances) is the ultimate violation of one's most fundamental right...the right to life. By taking the life of another human being, the cold-blooded killer thus forfeits the right to his own life.

Remember that we are speaking here of the most heinous type of crime...the rape-murder of a child, the gunning down of a store clerk during a robbery, the assassination of a police officer. To speak of "the sanctity of life", or of "love" or "compassion" for life's destroyers is to make a mockery of those terms and to devalue the lives of all of us.

One can not value man's life and the destroyer of man's life at the same time. To the extent that one assigns value to the destroyer of man's life, then to the same extent he is devaluing it. There is no way out of this lethal contradiction. Not if one's standard of value is man's life.

The death penalty is justified, morally justified, not because of hatred or revenge. Nor is it justified on the grounds of deterence. The ruling principle in favor of the death penalty is justice. The ultimate crime must be met by the ultimate punishment. Death to cold-blooded murderers, the destroyers of life, is the ultimate affirmation of "the sanctity (and value) of life."

Sadly, by abolishing the death penalty, our great state of New Jersey has chosen to devalue life.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Way to REALLY Compound a Problem

The Bush Administration's subprime mortgage bailout plan, bad as it is, is looking rather benign compared to a truly dangerous bill that is making its way through the Democratic-controlled congress. Whereas the Bush plan uses the money of the taxpayers to "send a message" that borrowers and lenders can engage in bad credit practices without having to accept the full consequences of their risky behavior, the Mortgage Reform and Anti-Predatory Lending Act of 2007, which has already passed the House of Representatives, will put crippling and costly new conditions on mortgage lenders while virtually alleviating borrowers of the responsibility of exercizing due diligence when taking out loans.

Worse still, this bill would accrue to the government and the courts more of the kind of arbitrary powers vested in regulatory authorities like the FDA, FCC, and the Anti-trust laws. This is accomplished through the use of vague and undefinable terms that make it impossible for lenders to know whether they are breaking the law until some government bureaucrat or jury makes a (subjective) interpretation after the fact.

In an excellent commentary on titled Predatory Legislating, Yaron Brook explains what mortgage lenders would be up against if this bill becomes law:

"The bill tells lenders they may not engage in the undefined practice of 'predatory lending'--examples of which include vague offenses such as offering loans that are not 'solely in the best interest of the consumer' or offering loans that a borrower does not have a 'reasonable ability to repay.'

"Since the bill offers no clear standard of a 'reasonable ability to repay' or the 'best interest of the consumer,' if it is passed, lenders could be held liable for any loan a borrower fails to pay off. All an irresponsible borrower or unscrupulous lawyer needs to do is convince a jury in hindsight that the lender should have known better--and he can cash in at the lender's expense. To compound the injustice, the new law would apply, not only to those who initiate loans that fail, but to any financial institution that buys and pools loans made by others (a practice that makes possible better risk management and lower mortgage rates).

"If you were a mortgage lender facing this sword of Damocles for any loan that goes bad, what would you do? Exactly what mortgage lenders will do if this legislation passes: jack up rates to account for the high risk of lawsuits--and likely avoid lending to higher-risk candidates altogether."

What must be understood is that this bill will do nothing about the current "crisis". Indeed, the market is already doing a splendid job of punishing the irresponsible participants, with large lenders and investors losing billions of dollars and borrowers who cannot meet the higher mortgage payments they should have foreseen coming (assuming no fraud by the lender, which should result in prosecution) facing foreclosure. No, this bill is about shackling lenders. The result will be a much more restrictive mortgage market squeezing out many borrowers, which will serve as a rationalization for further government intrusions into the housing market.

The road to statism in America is being paved bit by bit by a process that is virtually imperceptable. Problems real or imagined are used as a cover for the steady expansion of the government's power over all aspects of our economic and personal affairs. The sympathy one can feel for those losing their homes or saddled with soaring mortgage payments should not blind us to the dangers of government "doing something" about this or that "problem" or protecting us from the consequences of our own freely taken actions.

Ronald Reagan once said "The ten most dangerous words in the English language are 'I'm from the government, and I'm here to help you'". We should really think about that, and consider where ignoring that advice is leading us.

Post Reference 17

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Way to Compound a Problem

President Bush and Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson announced recently a plan to “freeze” interest rates on so-called “sub-prime” mortgages, at taxpayer expense (of course), so that rates won’t reset higher on these debt instruments as provided for in the respective mortgage agreements. In other words, contracts freely entered into by mortgage borrowers and their lenders are now to be broken by government fiat so as to prevent them from facing the consequences of their own bad judgements. This is not only bad economics (it amounts to throwing good money after bad), it is also immoral, forcing responsible borrowers and lenders to foot the bill, i.e., rewarding bad behavior and punishing the good. Said Peter Cohan of A. Peter Cohan & Associates, “This has the perverse effect of punishing those with good credit who follow the rules, and rewarding those who don’t.”

The push for a bailout is being led by big mortgage lenders looking to the government to save them from their own mistakes. Henry Killinger (CEO of Washington Mutual) and Angelo Mozilo (CEO of Countrywide Financial) both called for greater government intervention into the housing market through increased taxpayer funding of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government-backed mortgage finance companies, which purchases mortgages from private lenders. Mozilo, reports the New York Post on 12/04/07, “wants the government-backed agencies to increase the number of troubled loans they hold”… loans originated by irresponsible private lending practices, thus foisting the risks and costs onto the taxpayers. And you thought big business is pro-capitalism! (To be fair, many mortgage lenders were pressured into unsound lending practices by liberal politicians who wanted to increase homeownership among low-income [i.e., high risk] borrowers. Nevertheless, it is wrong to force others to pay for any bailout.)

Yet as bad as this sounds, the negative long-term consequences of this preposterous Bush administration scheme could border on the disastrous as government intrusion into the private financial markets advances. In a hard-hitting piece by Nicole Gelinas published in the New York Post, there is a proposal buried in this bailout plan that can lead to “problems [that] are almost too painful to describe”. She writes, “Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson will propose to Congress to let cities and states issue tax-exempt debt to bail out even more borrowers.” Thus, in addition to federal tax dollars, “do-gooders” all the way down to the local level will be able to grab tax money at multiple levels of government to bail out their constituents, ultimately enabling these “homeowners” to “use the [taxpayer] money to pay off the mortgages they can't afford - and take out new, more affordable mortgages with their city or state government.” Taxpayers- the ones who “play by the rules”- will be left holding the bag for a risk burden “no private investor will touch.”

The market, left alone, will sort out the sub-prime mortgage mess, through the free, uncoerced decisions of the lenders, investors, and homeowners. Homes will be re-possessed and resold, money will be lost by banks and investors, home prices will decline to attract new, responsible buyers. Lenders and borrowers, as well as the investors who bought the mortgage securities backed by the bad loans, will face the consequences of their actions. Credit market conditions may temporarily tighten up. There is nothing in the current housing downturn that hasn’t happened before.

But interference by government with the free market will have negative and unforeseen consequences, as it always does. Indeed, the severity of the current downturn as well as the pain of the borrowers and lenders was exascerbated by government policies that artificially encourage homeownership among people who really can’t afford it. President Bush’s plan will only prolong the correction by allowing the irresponsible to evade the consequences of their actions, while saddling the rest of the taxpayers with the bill.

Alex Epstein of the Ayn Rand Institute, in a post on the blog Principles in Practice titled The Injustice of 'Doing Something' about Subprime (11/12/07), offers the only real “solution"… the government should essentially do nothing. “The proper response of the government to subprime problems,” he writes, “is simple; commit to no new interventions in the housing market, and cease all existing intervention designed to influence home ownership—from programs like Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae to artificially low interest rates. Such a move would send a message befitting a free people: a message of responsibility. Individuals would be responsible for the loans they make and for choosing the housing option that is best for them. The government would protect everyone's rights by enforcing laws against theft and fraud, and by protecting the individual's right to make his own decisions and keep his own money—even when others make bad use of theirs.”

Prin-Spec Reference 15

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Clinton's Hostile Healthcare Takeover

"Canadian doctors, once quiet on the issue of private health care, elected Brian Day as president of their national association. Dr. Day is a leading critic of Canadian medicare; he opened a private surgery hospital and then challenged the government to shut it down. 'This is a country,' Dr. Day said by way of explanation, 'in which dogs can get a hip replacement in under a week and in which humans can wait two to three years.' " (David Gratzer, M.D., Manhattan Institute, from forbes of 10/01/07. Dr. Gratzer is the author of THE CURE.)

Despite widespread evidence of socialized medicine's practical failures, this country is slithering toward some sort of state-run medical system. The Democrats across the board, as well as some key Republicans, have jumped on the bandwagon for a state takeover of American medicine.

Senator Hillary Clinton, the all-but-certain Dem presidential nominee, has announced her “universal health care” plan that, she claims, “is not government-run”. Don’t believe it. She claims to have learned from her failed 1993 attempt at socialized medicine. But what did she learn? Of her 1993 plan, writes E.J. Dionne, she says “You can have a great plan…and still fail”. According to an adviser, Clinton vowed to “learn from [her] mistakes and…do it right the next time”. In other words, she will sneak her takeover plan in under the guise of freedom of choice.

So what will her non-government-run plan, called “Healthy Choices” look like? It would:

1. mandate everyone to purchase health insurance

2. mandate business to insure its employees or pay into a pool for worker
coverage (i.e., a fine).

3. mandate premiums do not exceed a certain percentage of income (i.e., price controls on insurance companies).

4. require insurance companies to cover pre-existing conditions for new policies.

5. mandate insurance companies to cover every applicant for a policy.

6. forbid insurance companies from adjusting rates based on age or health status (i.e., more price controls).

7. impose a slew of new insurance policy mandates for “preventive care”, thus compounding the very policies that are driving up the cost of health insurance.

8. set up a subsidized, state-run plan to “compete” with the private insurers, virtually ensuring their demise. This would require a new or expanded federal bureacracy to administer, Clinton's protestations to the contrary notwithstanding.

In short, Clinton’s “non-government-run” scheme is a coercive death nell for the private health insurance market.

In addition, the expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) as well as the expansion of Medicare to cover people aged 55 and up (down from 65), both of which Clinton supports, would be a kind of “pincer movement” against the private market from both ends of the age spectrum.

Make no mistake, Clinton’s “non-government-run” health care scheme is socialized medicine. While attempting to camouflage her plan as one that “allows” individuals to keep their private coverage “if they like it”, her true intentions were exposed in a piece by Paul Howard of the Manhattan Institute;

"In April, Hillary spoke at a small gathering in New York. The Politico reports that she was asked why ‘she continues to see the solution . . . as private insurance, rather than a single-payer national system?’
‘Well, I didn't say that,’ she told the audience. If Democrats pick up several more Senate seats in the next elections, she said, ‘Medicare for All . . . would be something to be considered.’"

There is a weakness in her plan, though. Her use of the term “healthy choice” indicates that she believes that most Americans are still not ready to swallow a government takeover of medicine. This is also why she takes pains to point out, at every opportunity, that her plan does not involve creation of a big, new government bureaucracy (a blatantly false claim; see #8 above). Senator Clinton has apparently concluded that her (and the Democrats’) true statist intentions must be “packaged” as something that they are not.

The Orwellian double-speak that the Clinton campaign believes it must hide behind offers a huge opening to a strong opponent. It remains to be seen whether the GOP will exploit this opening. Early indications are not promising, to say the least. Most of the Republican leadership has accepted the socialist premise that every citizen has a “right” to health insurance and that it is the government’s duty to provide it. The only difference between the two parties at this point is a matter of degree and detail, not principle. Under this scenario, it is the most consistent adversary that will win, which is why America is careening by default toward the Dem’s dream of state control of medicine.

Americans deserve better. It is still early and my hope is that a Republican candidate will pick up the banner of justice and individual rights in medicine and present a true alternative to the Clinton plan. American voters deserve to be offered a clear choice in 2008 and with the Democrats lining up solidly behind the state and against the individual, it is up to the GOP to offer a plan based not on “universal coverage” but on the non-coercive, moral principles of free market capitalism.

Post Reference 14- Clintoncare

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Recommended Reading 1- An Excerpt

"Most people who oppose socialized medicine do so on the grounds that it is moral and well-intentioned, but impractical; i.e., it is a noble idea--which just somehow does not work. I do not agree that socialized medicine is moral and well-intentioned, but impractical. Of course, it is impractical--it does not work--but I hold that it is impractical because it is immoral. This is not a case of noble in theory but a failure in practice; it is a case of vicious in theory and therefore a disaster in practice. I want to focus on the moral issue at stake. So long as people believe that socialized medicine is a noble plan, there is no way to fight it. You cannot stop a noble plan--not if it really is noble. The only way you can defeat it is to unmask it--to show that it is the very opposite of noble. Then at least you have a fighting chance.

"What is morality in this context? The American concept of it is officially stated in the Declaration of Independence. It upholds man's unalienable, individual rights. The term "rights," note, is a moral (not just a political) term; it tells us that a certain course of behavior is right, sanctioned, proper, a prerogative to be respected by others, not interfered with--and that anyone who violates a man's rights is: wrong, morally wrong, unsanctioned, evil."

"Today, however, we are seeing the rise of principled immorality in this country. We are seeing a total abandonment by the intellectuals and the politicians of the moral principles on which the U.S. was founded. We are seeing the complete destruction of the concept of rights. The original American idea has been virtually wiped out, ignored as if it had never existed. The rule now is for politicians to ignore and violate men's actual rights, while arguing about a whole list of rights never dreamed of in this country's founding documents--rights which require no earning, no effort, no action at all on the part of the recipient."

From the essay Health Care is not a Right by Leonard Peikoff