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Candidate Kristin Davis puts the good kind of prostitution in politics

The candidacy of Kristin Davis, the former madam who supplied then-New York Governor Eliot Spitzer with his playmates (and before that she was vice president of a hedge-fund) for Spitzer’s old office is almost enough to make me consider moving back to my old stomping grounds just so I can cast a vote. An outspoken libertarian who cites Hayek, von Mises and Rand, she’s running on a platform of legalizing marijuana, prostitution and gay marriage — the first two, in part, to bring profitable industries into the above-ground economy, the third as a simple matter of equality.

Alas, if I moved back to New York to support Davis, I’d actually have to live there. Been there, done that, ain’t doing it again.

Anyway, enjoy Kristin Davis’s excellent campaign video, below.

Bravo, WikiLeaks

I was traveling and unavailable to comment on the latest WikiLeaks story when it broke. Suffice it to say that the publication of classified U.S. government documents about the floundering imperial effort in Afghanistan illustrates the value of the Website/organization and its editor-in-chief, Julian Assange. Private watchdog efforts like WikiLeaks are absolutely vital, and you better believe I support them in any conflict they may ever have with a government, including the nasty behemoth that presides over the country in which I currently live.

Oh yeah. And Marc Thiessen, the chest-pounding thug who wants the government to use “not only law enforcement but also intelligence and military assets to bring Assange to justice and put [WikiLeaks] out of business” can kiss my ass.

When the regulator is also a competitor

Two weeks ago, the Wall Street Journal reported that U.S. government analysis of black box data from Toyota cars revealed that the “sudden acceleration” problem so widely reported in the media was actually a problem with drivers who couldn’t tell their left from their right and stomped the accelerator instead of the brake. If true, that would support claims made by the demonized auto maker based on its internal investigation.

But there’s no official Department of Transportation report to that effect — the Journal story is based on leaked information which has been denied by some government apparatchiks.

Now a recently retired National Highway Traffic Safety Administration official says that’s no accident — the government is sitting on the inconvenient data.

Senior officials at the U.S. Department of Transportation have at least temporarily blocked the release of findings by auto-safety regulators that could favor Toyota Motor Corp. in some crashes related to unintended acceleration, according to a recently retired agency official.

George Person, who retired July 3 after 27 years at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said in an interview that the decision to not go public with the data for now was made over the objections of some officials at NHTSA.

“The information was compiled. The report was finished and submitted,” Mr. Person said. “When I asked why it hadn’t been published, I was told that the secretary’s office didn’t want to release it,” he added, referring to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

How can I say the data is “inconvenient”? Mr. Person thinks the NHTSA might be concerned about looking too cozy with a car maker — a relationship of which it  has been accused in the past. But there might be another reason. Remember … the federal government is now in the automobile business as a direct competitor with Toyota through General Motors, and heavily invested in the reorganization of Chrysler, another rival to the Japanese car maker. Any data that might exonerate a company of manufacturing defects would obviously be inconvenient for its competitors.

Basically, it’s a lot like letting McDonald’s preside over the regulation of Burger King, including assessments of the safety of the competing brand’s products.

The thing is … No matter how definitive or tentative the DOT data ultimately turns out to be, how is the federal government’s relationship with the auto industry anything other than highly suspicious and open to gaming?

Senior officials at the U.S. Department of Transportation have at least temporarily blocked the release of findings by auto-safety regulators that could favor Toyota Motor Corp. in some crashes related to unintended acceleration, according to a recently retired agency official.

George Person, who retired July 3 after 27 years at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said in an interview that the decision to not go public with the data for now was made over the objections of some officials at NHTSA.

“The information was compiled. The report was finished and submitted,” Mr. Person said. “When I asked why it hadn’t been published, I was told that the secretary’s office didn’t want to release it,” he added, referring to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

I’m going a-roaming

I’ll be on the East Coast until the end of the month, escaping the desert heat by stepping into a swamp. I plan to post while I’m on the road, but I’ll be on a whenever-it-happens schedule.

This also means that I may be a bit slow to approve comments. Be patient. I’ll soon be along with a mojito in my hand.

Journolist leaks: a great reason to drop media neutrality claims

With the exception of Spencer Ackerman’s incredibly stupid and unethical scheme to randomly accuse  conservatives of racism, the latest Journolist revelations from The Daily Caller aren’t all that shocking. Ackerman’s modest proposal was this:

If the right forces us all to either defend Wright or tear him down, no matter what we choose, we lose the game they’ve put upon us. Instead, take one of them — Fred Barnes, Karl Rove, who cares — and call them racists.

Ackerman specifically wanted to use charges of racism as a weapon against conservatives who were raising questions about then-presidential candidate Barack Obama’s relationship with the loony Reverend Jeremiah Wright.

[F]ind a rightwinger’s [sic] and smash it through a plate-glass window. Take a snapshot of the bleeding mess and send it out in a Christmas card to let the right know that it needs to live in a state of constant fear. Obviously I mean this rhetorically.

That willingness to level unfounded accusations in service to a political cause really should get Ackerman fired and render him unemployable.

But the other members of the list seemed, according to The Daily Caller’s quotes, to be more interested in burying the story, or protesting its coverage via an open letter. That’s the sort of thing like-minded people do in support of one of their own. As Alex Pareene snarkily puts it in Salon, “This sort of campaign doesn’t work when you’re trying to discredit avowed liberal commentators by proving that they secretly hold liberal beliefs.”

Why should anybody be surprised that liberal pundits discuss strategy for defending their ideas and promoting their pet candidates? Katha Pollitt and Todd Gitlin share ideas on how to sell lefty programs and politicians? What a surprise!

But not everybody on the list is “out” as an opinion journalist or professional applier of spin to news stories. Some of the participants are supposed to be objective/unbiased/establishment journalists. To the extent that they participated in these conversations, they undermine their supposed neutrality.

The solution should be obvious: Drop bullshit claims about the unbiased nature of the news media. If journalists come clean about their affiliations and biases — they don’t have to abandon their professionalism, but just admit to the fact that their opinions do, inevitably, color their work — then there’s little risk of embarrassment from leaked emails and discussions.

After all, nobody actually believes that journalists steadfastly keep their opinions out of their work. A little honesty wouldn’t just insulate them from Journolist-style leaks — it would improve their credibility.

Charges dismissed in Stagliano case

John Stagliano, a libertarian-oriented producer of adult entertainment who sometimes goes by the monicker “Buttman,” has finally won vindication in his long legal ordeal at the hands of federal bluenoses. The Washington Post has the story:

A federal judge dismissed the first obscenity prosecution brought in the nation’s capital in a quarter-century on technical grounds Friday, tossing out charges against John A. Stagliano and two companies associated with the adult video producer based in Van Nuys, Calif.

Acquitting Stagliano, John Stagliano Inc. and Evil Angel Productions Inc. before they began their defense, U.S. District Court Judge Richard J. Leon said evidence presented by the Justice Department’s Obscenity Prosecution Task Force in the four-day trial was “woefully insufficient” to link defendants to the production and distribution of two DVD videos at the heart of the case.

Go out and rent a few videos to celebrate this free speech victory!

Court decisions aside, scofflaws have long made gun control unenforceable

The following was written as a sample chapter for a book on how scofflaws limit state power, curbing the reach of government officials and carving out a modicum of liberty even when and where it’s officially forbidden. The overall book was intended to go much farther than the gun control issue, but it came to an abrupt halt a bit over a year ago. That’s when my agent called me on a Sunday morning to tell me how much he hated what I’m publishing below. Apparently, his loathing of my work couldn’t wait another 24 hours to be expressed.

So … Caveat emptor.

I doubt I ever would have gone to the black market to purchase an illegal assault weapon if it wasn’t for New York’s annoyingly restrictive gun control laws.

Wait. Let me back up a bit.

New York State passed the Sullivan Act back in 1911. The law required people to get a government permit to own or carry any weapon small enough to be concealed – handguns, in particular. Issuing the permit would be a matter of official discretion, which is a policy continued to the present day. Read more [+]

Increasingly unpopular airport body scanners may offer false security

USA Today documents the growing resistance to the use of body scanners at airports — a resistance that’s particularly marked in Europe. Complaints about the devices include the expected concerns about privacy, long lines, expense and potential health concerns from even the relatively low levels of radiation emitted by the machines.

It should be noted in addition, however, that body scanners aren’t some kind of proven, super-secure technology that offers us a choice between guaranteed safety and keeping our naughty bits under cover. In fact, the machines may offer a false sense of security. German television did a very interesting demonstration in which an infrared scanner failed to uncover various objects hidden on and around a subjects body — components for thermite. You don’t need to understand a word of the lingo to see what’s going on or to recognize the embarrassment on the (English-speaking) operator’s face. (But if you do speak German, please feel free to fill in the details).

Note that the types of scanners favored by the TSA have their own flaws. Ben Wallace, a British member of Parliament who used to advise a company that studied millimeter-wave scanners, says the devices are fine for picking up knives and guns, but can’t detect powder, liquid or thin plastic.

Obamacare looks unhealthy for businesses

People tend to either love or hate White Castle — there’s no in-between when it comes to those greasy little sliders. Me, I love ’em, especially late at night after a round of social throat-wetting. But the Obama administration … Maybe not so much. From the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

The White Castle hamburger chain fears that a health insurance reform law adopted earlier this year will put its profits on a downward slide.

The Columbus-based family owned restaurant chain — known for serving small square hamburgers called “sliders” — says a single provision in the bill will eat up roughly 55 percent of its yearly net income after 2014.

Starting that year, the bill levies a $3,000-per-employee penalty on companies whose workers pay more than 9.5 percent of household income in premiums for company-provided insurance.

White Castle, which has offered health insurance to its employees since 1924, is considering dropping coverage entirely as one possible way of off-setting the expected financial hit. That would leave the company’s 10,000 formerly covered workers to seek health insurance on their own — most likely from the federal exchange. The feds will impose $2,000-per-person fines on companies that don’t offer coverage, and whose employees turn to federally subsidized insurance instead, but the article cites an IHOP franchise owner who expects the fines to cost roughly half what coverage costs under the new federal scheme.

This squares with what the Heartland Institute’s Health Care News is reporting, with some small businesses panicking about the looming 2014  date. HCN quotes the owner of a small pizza chain saying that if his company is hit with onerous costs under the health care law, “we’ll probably sell all the stores and be done.”

Since the health care law imposes its toughest requirements and penalties on businesses with more than 50 employees, the National Federation of Independent Businesses asks, “what incentive is there for a firm to grow any bigger than 50 employees when it means employers may face such stiff fines?”

What incentive for small businesses to grow — or for larger firms to stay in business, if costs rise and eat up profits?

And all this at the price, as the Cato Institute’s Michael Tanner points out, of $2.7 trillion over ten years, a higher national debt, soaring taxes, and health care costs that continue to increase.

Looks like I better stock up on those sliders.

Big surprise: Parents like being subsidized

Jennifer Senior’s very interesting piece for New York on parenting — on how having children tends to make people less happy — is getting lots of attention. Some of that attention, coming from the usual suspects, is for all of the wrong reasons. The key paragraph setting astir the hearts of those who see us all as milking cows for the sustenance of their favorite social policies is below:

One hates to invoke Scandinavia in stories about child-rearing, but it can’t be an accident that the one superbly designed study that said, unambiguously, that having kids makes you happier was done with Danish subjects. The researcher, Hans-Peter Kohler, a sociology professor at the University of Pennsylvania, says he originally studied this question because he was intrigued by the declining fertility rates in Europe. One of the things he noticed is that countries with stronger welfare systems produce more children–and happier parents.

This isn’t that surprising a finding, of course, for anybody who has ever been stuck with the check for dinner. More than a few of our friends and neighbors take great pleasure in ducking the tab for their indulgences (and yes, children are an indulgence — “economically worthless but emotionally priceless” as a sociologist pithily describes them in the article). Along those lines, were I of a more-parasitic mindset, I’m sure I would take much greater joy in a new truck if I could send you the tab instead of shouldering monthly payments.

But sending somebody else the bill doesn’t change the fact that there’s a bill. And the bill for subsidizing basic activities like child-rearing might well prove pretty hefty — especially if times turn tough and belts need tightening.

As it turns out, Denmark, the land of those happy, subsidized parents, is broke. Well, broke-ish, in European terms, since the continent is a financial mess (like the dear old U.S.A., but with fewer credit cards hidden in the desk drawer). In fact, Denmark has instituted fairly serious budget cuts in an effort to reduce the government’s growing deficit. And yes, those parenting subsidies are included — with cuts amounting to 5% across the board. (Ireland is among the countries making similar cuts.)

And if Danish parents have been pleased to have somebody else foot the bill, the subsidies haven’t necessarily made them more fecund, even though in-vitro treatments have also been subsidized (and, now, cut). The fertility rate hovers somewhere between 1.8 and 1.9, raising questions about the article’s claim that “countries with stronger welfare systems produce more children.” With the replacement rate at 2.1, Danish parents are happier, but fewer with every passing year. (Americans are breeding at just about exactly the replacement rate, mournful though they may be over the burdens of parenthood.)

Basically, the payoff to subsidizing parents doesn’t seem to extend beyond the fact that many parents like being subsidized.