Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Maher Arar received an apology from Canada, but not from the USA

Maher Arar is a Canadian software engineer. In 2002, during a stop in New York, he was detained by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service. He was questioned, then he was shipped to Syria where he was tortured for about a year, until his eventual release and return to Canada. All of this for nothing.

After seeing what had happened, Prime Minister of Canada Stephen Harper gave Arar a formal apology. The Prime Minister even gave Arar $10.5 million for his ordeal plus $1 million for his legal cost. However, the American government said nothing. It even keeps his name on a terror watch list.

Our government has nothing to charge Arar with. But our government is too proud to apologize. Senator Patrick Leahy called the torture of Arar a "black mark" on the United States, and I couldn't agree with the Senator more.

The senator spoke at length about the matter: "We knew damn well, if he went to Canada, he wouldn't be tortured. He'd be held. He'd be investigated. We also knew damn well, if he went to Syria, he'd be tortured. And it's beneath the dignity of this country, a country that has always been a beacon of human rights, to send somebody to another country to be tortured."

So, which it, President Bush? Do you take it like a man, admit you are wrong, and apologize? Or you let America be its arrogant self and just say quiet? The government has been silent on keeping Arar on that list. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales assured that Arar will not be tortured again. But it was dismissed by Leahy. "Assurances from a country that we also say, now, we can't talk to them because we can't take their word for anything?" I'm afraid that our country is headed down a dark, dark course, and there is nothing we can do to stop it.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Maine says "no" to the REAL ID

The vast majority of what I write is depressing. But every so often, a kernel of liberty shined through which gives people like me some hope. This story is one example. The State of Maine rejected a federally mandated REAL ID Act. The REAL ID will take effect next year. A joint resolution rejecting REAL ID earned passage through the Maine House and Senate last week by an overall vote of 171 to 4. It asks the US Congress to repeal the law.

According to CNET

The vote represents a setback for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Republicans in Washington, D.C., which have argued that nationalized ID cards for all Americans would help in the fight against terrorists.

"I have faith that the Democrats in Congress will hear this from many states and will find a way to repeal or amend this in the coming months," House Majority Leader Hannah Pingree, a Democrat, said in a telephone interview after the vote. "It's not only a huge federal mandate, but it's a huge mandate from the federal government asking us to do something we don't have any interest in doing."

But she repeats herself.... Anyway, amending--no; repealing--yes. There are already similar bills pending in Georgia, Massachusetts, Montana, Washington; 8 other states total. Montana, in particular, is the strongest. The legislature held a meeting on a measure that says, "The state of Montana will not participate in the implementation of the REAL ID Act of 2005." The state instructs its motor vehicle department "not to implement the provisions."

The federal government has shown itself completely incompetent to manage and properly use the powers and tools it already has. Amending itself into another variety is a disaster. Perhaps if Congress spent more time having the federal government do less, it would stand a better chance of doing a few things reasonably well. Besides, the bill will cost Maine $185 million to implement, $185 million to invade privacy, and not doing a thing positive. Anyway, the federal officials slid this bill into a spending bill, because by itself, the bill had no chance of passing. And because the bill links driver's licenses to a national database, it could provide a windfall of information for identity thieves.

Maine already has refused to participate in the REAL ID. Soon, many more states will follow. It is just a matter of time before the bill is finished. According to Barry Steinhardt, Director of the ACLU's Technology and Liberty Product, "This is the beginning of the end of REAL ID."

Monday, January 22, 2007

I favor free-market "monopolies"

What are monopolies that formed in a free market? Are they really "monopolies" in the true sense of the word? Gregory Bresiger tells us no (Part 1 and Part 2). Monopolies formed during in that system are not really monopolies.

Major businesses, like Microsoft or Wal-Mart, without government control will have to continue to be friendly to their customers in order for businesses to repeat their loyalty. If the major business wants to raise their prices too much for the same products, then other businesses will sprout up all around them and steal business with competitive prices, no matter how long or how settled the major business is. If a new business has a new, favorable product, or a new, favorable service, again they draw customers from the major business, and that business has to better itself in order to retain the market base. This concept is called free-enterprise.

However, state-controlled monopolies (the true monopolies) have the power of the state to make it illegal for other businesses which offer the same product or service for their customers to exist. Those customers have no choice but to accept what the monopoly gives to them. Unlike major businesses, monopolies don't have to compete with anybody. You tell me: what business offers better products and better services for lower prices?

Take it from my experience. I frequently go to Wal-Mart, and I use Microsoft Windows on my computer. Wal-Mart gives me lower prices than other retail stores, like Ventures, Kmart, or Target. I shop those other three when Wal-Mart doesn't have the product I'm looking for, or the product is better made or is lower in price than Wal-Mart, and I use these on occasion, but on average, I go to Wal-Mart more frequently. If Wal-Mart raises its prices, or lower its products, I, and many people, will switch to a different store. But, in real life, Ventures opened for business, then closed, and Kmart open in the same place, and then closed, while Wal-Mart moved to a bigger, better place in order to have more business.

However, I have one water company, one electric company, and one post office. I don't know if the price of this service is the best price I can get? If the businesses raise the prices, I either pay, or go without water, electricity, and first-class mail. If the bills go up, I pay a higher price, no ifs, ands, or buts. The government has price caps on services, but the best way is different companies to compete for my services. And one company charges lower prices, or better service, or both, than the others, that company will have a "monopoly". The free market is the best system to have.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

The case for abolishing the FCC

It's time to abolish the Federal Communications Commission.

The reason is simple. The venerable FCC, created in 1934, is no longer necessary. In fact, it wasn't even necessary when it was started.

Its justification for existence was weak 70 years ago, but advances in technology since then have eliminated whatever arguments remained. Central planning didn't work for the Soviet Union, and it's not working for us. The FCC is now an agency that does more harm than good.

Consider some examples of bureaucratic malfeasance that the FCC, with the complicity of the U.S. Congress, has committed. The FCC rejected long-distance telephone service competition in 1968, banned Americans from buying their own non-Bell telephones in 1956, dragged its feet in the 1970s when considering whether video telephones would be allowed, and did not grant modern cellular telephone licenses until 1981--about four decades after Bell Labs invented the technology. Along the way, the FCC has preserved monopolistic practices that would have otherwise been illegal under antitrust law.

These technologically backward decisions have cost Americans tens of billions of dollars.

More recently, the FCC has experienced a string of embarrassing losses, when its grand telecommunications plans were repeatedly vetoed by the courts. A majority of the commissioners want to force local phone companies to pay government-mandated rates when long-distance providers like AT&T and MCI use their phone lines. A federal appeals court shot down that scheme and gave the Bush administration until June 15 to appeal to the Supreme Court. There's already talk about higher telephone becoming a campaign issue.

Meanwhile, the FCC is hard at work, trying to figure out how to muzzle Howard Stern and make a national example of Janet Jackson's right breast. The FCC's answer is more control over the airwaves. Commissioners are planning how to order voice-over-Internet Protocol (VolP) companies to comply with arguably unlawful wiretapping request from the FBI. In a sop to Hollywood, the FCC has decided that any device capable of receiving digital television signals must follow a complicated set of "broadcast flag" regulations. After those rules take effect in mid-2005, they put some PC tuner card makers out of business.

These signs warn of an agency overreaching. If the FCC had been in charge of overseeing the Internet, we'd likely be waiting for the Mosaic Web browser to receive preliminary approval from the Wireline Competition Bureau. Instead, the Internet has transformed itself from a research curiosity into a mainstay of the world's economy--in less time than it took the FCC to approve the first cell phone license.

Even ardent supporters of the FCC should admit that there's less justification for its existence after the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which removed some barriers to competition. Local phone customers don't need to worry about the Bell's monopolistic practices, because they effectively aren't monopolies any more. Cable customers don't need to worry much about monopolistic practices because of satellite TV. Eventually, fiber connections will transport every kind of data.

With all that said, it's time for the FCC to go.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Ed and Elaine Brown are going to jail for knowing the truth

Around 1996, Ed and Elaine Brown first realised the truth about the income tax. They know, like me, there is no law requiring them to pay. They questioned the IRS many times about the income tax, but the IRS refused to respond. 11 years later, they are going to prison.

That is, Elaine is. On Friday, neither showed up. But later, Elaine finally showed. As I write this, Ed has barricaded himself inside his home and preparing himself for a fight.

The couple, who were representing themselves, said they did not dispute the prosecutor's contention that they had opted out of paying taxes, but they said they believe they have not broken the law by doing so.

"My husband and I challenged the application of the tax law to us," Elaine Brown said in her opening statement. "We cannot find any statute that requires us to pay."

That is what they believe when they questioned the IRS. In at least one of the letters described in testimony, the Browns acknowledged that they might be inviting criminal prosecution, but in their comments yesterday, they made it clear that they do not believe they have broken the law.

Can you say "good-faith belief" in Cheek v. United States?

But, it all boils down the judge doesn't allow the Browns to get a fair trial. Ed himself said the trial was a kangaroo court. The judge was somewhat allowing them to bring up their defense, but he won't allow to attack the law itself. That is exactly what happened to Larken Rose and Irwin Schiff. In Schiff's trial, the judge specifically states, "I will not have the law in my courtroom!" Say what??? A crime is an action which violates the law; if there is now law, there is no crime! What an idiot!! Besides, the jury DOES has the power to try the facts AND the law, in spite of what the judge might tell you otherwise! The Browns made a mistake by trusting the judge. From that mistake, Elaine is going to her age, for life, and Ed puts his life on the line by barricaded himself in his house. All of this because the judge rail-roaded the jury into a guilty verdict.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Major city, no plan

Houston has nearly 2 million people, making it the 4th largest city in America. With all that size, it has to plan the layout for what business goes where, what residence goes where, etc., in order to lay out a structured, perfectly planned city. But not Houston. Houston is the only major American city without a zoning code.

Since Houston has no formal zoning plan, it has an unregulated, unplanned real estate market. In other words, Houston is the epiphany of the free market at work.

And the people of Houston want it that way. The last time a zoning referendum appeared on the local ballot, it went down in flames: 47% for, 53% against.

So, what's the result? Some would say, "If there is no zoning plan, it will be a sporadic lumps of population everywhere, and the land area per population would be astronomical!" But, according to infoplease's profiles of the 50 largest American cities, Houston looks normal. Now, because it's large, there are a multiple of suburbs, but the City of Houston itself, it looks like any other city. In fact, I live in Midwest City, a suburb of Oklahoma City (population a fourth of Houston), and Oklahoma City has a larger area than Houston!

And because of a free-market approach, home-ownership seems the most affordable. Take Houston with its polar-opposite--Portland, OR. According to the Houston Chronicle, Portland is held as the "Mecca of highly prescriptive and restrictive urban planning" in the country.

As such, land prices are more expensive in Portland than in Houston. According to Coldwell Banker, when you buy a 2,200 square foot, four-bedroom home, the price in Portland is $357,000, and the price in Houston is $155,000.

And Houston has a vast diversity in its architecture. A driving tour of Houston is a great to explore the city's colorful history. Look around Houston--really look--and you start to see the picture. You think, "Hmm...why is that gas station next to a turn-of-the-century Italianate mansion?" Then again, perhaps the burning question should be, "What's this turn-of-the-century Italianate mansion doing here in the first place?"

It goes to show you: when you apply the free market to anything (e.g., real estate, in this case), you get the best quality with lower prices than any other system. And Houston is the proof.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Melting pennies and nickels is now illegal

The American currency (US dollars/Federal Reserve notes) is the most sound money in the world! ...Hey, you; quit laughing. But, it's laughable. Since 1971, when Richard Nixon separated the money from gold (or any precious metal), there is no limit on what the Federal Reserve can print. And they print, and print, and print, and the money inflates.

Inflation means there is more money in the market, and thus, the value of the dollar goes down. For example, the only thing you can buy, hypothetically, is bails of hay. There are 1 million bails of hay, and 1 million dollars in circulation. That means, in the free market, a bail of hay is worth $1.

Let's say there is a storm approching, and you have lots of hay with nowhere to store it. You decided to sell 10,000 bails for $10,000. You hunker down with your $10,000 to ride the storm out.

During that night, the Federal Reserve prints a million more dollars. That makes 2 million dollars in circulation. But, there is the same million bails of hay. When you attempted to buy some hay, now a bail of hay cost $2. Twice as much for the same bail of hay--the only difference is now the Federal Reserve inflates the money supply by twice as much.

Now, there is evidence in the real world. The metal value in nickels and pennies exceeds the face value. That means some smart businessman will hoard pennies and nickels, melt them down, and sell the metal for a profit.

To prevent this, the U.S. mint has enacted a ban on melting pennies and nickels. If they don't, there will be a shortage of nickels and pennies from the "greedy capitalists". But, the real reason why the metal value exceeds the face value is the Federal Reserve prints fiat-paper money without end, and the money inflates, and the value of the money (including coins) goes down. It's another classic case where a government-induced "crises" results in more attacks on the economic liberty of the American people. But the average person wants to thank the government for protecting him/her.

In earlier times, people used gold and silver coins as tender. When Nixon closed the gold window, all we have is fiat money, and inflation occurred. When that happens, gold and silver coins were scarce, and none today. And no wonder; I have an American Eagle 1-Troy oz. gold coin, and the face value is $50. But, a 1-Troy oz. of gold is around $625! I would have to be a fool to spend it at its stated amount! And that's what happens (but to a small degree) when metal value exceeds face value. And you can thank Nixon (and presidents and Congress after him) for devaluing our currency. Thanks!