Category Archives: Current Affairs

Imagine my surprise

The local fishwrap says:

WASHINGTON (AP) — Despite prodding from President Barack Obama, members of Congress’ supercommittee concede no deal is in sight to meet their goal of $1.2 trillion or more in deficit savings over the next decade.

As predicted.

Churchill, Iraq, etc.

The President announced recently that all[*] US military personnel will leave Iraq by year’s end. That’s good news, but – as so many have pointed out – we never should have been there in the first place.

Reading the (grandiosely-titled) White House blog post, President Obama Has Ended the War in Iraq, I thought of something Winston Churchill said after Dunkirk:

We must be very careful not to assign to this deliverance the attributes of a victory.

The analogy isn’t perfect – analogies never are – but leaving Iraq definitely feels more like a deliverance than a victory.

(If we’d stayed out of Iraq, would Saddam Hussein still be in power? Or would the so-called Arab Spring have toppled him as well?)

[*] Except for the ones who are staying.

The Wisconsin raw-milk kerfuffle

There’s been chatter about Dane County (Wisconsin) Judge Patrick J. Fiedler’s recent decision in cases 09-CV-6313 and 10-CV-3884. Details are sadly lacking, but it appears that the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (http://datcp.wi.gov/) went after dairy Nourished By Nature LLC for selling unpasteurized milk; Nourished By Nature offered the defense that it isn’t a dairy, it’s a herdshare, so it doesn’t have to pasteurize its milk.

Um. Herdshare?

It’s a legal dodge whereby a dairy sells shares in its herd of cows, then contracts with shareholders to board the cows & deliver their milk (unpasteurized) to the shareholders. Since it’s not a dairy, it doesn’t have to obey the laws & regulations that apply to dairies.

The DATCP didn’t buy it, and – apparently – neither did Judge Fiedler:

Finally, it is clear from their motion to clarify that the Plaintiffs still fail to recognize that they are not merely attempting to enforce their “right” to own a cow and board it at a farm. Instead, Plaintiffs operate a dairy farm. (Emphasis added.) As this court already said in its decision and order, if Plaintiffs want to continue to operate their dairy farm then they must do so in a way that complies with the laws of Wisconsin.

The articles I’ve read are full of sound & fury about the government’s infringement of citizens’ fundamental property rights, which completely misses the point. Calling it a herdshare doesn’t make it any less a dairy, and doesn’t grant exemption from the law.

(Reading court decisions has been a hobby of mine for the last few years. One thing I’ve learned is that a judge’s opinion is very carefully & precisely written. It’s unfortunate that journalists so often mangle the opinion’s meticulous reasoning and narrow conclusions when writing about it; but outrage sells more newspapers than understanding.)

Disbelief

The President gave a speech tonight. I didn’t watch.

CNN tells me it was about some exciting! new! legislation, the American Jobs Act of 2011. The article was short on details, but I was left with the impression that the Act’s chief purpose is to get Mr. Obama re-elected.

One quote from the speech made me laugh:

And everything in this bill will be paid for. Everything.

Really? In an era of trillion-dollar deficits, where does the President expect to find the $450 billion that his legislation will cost? Simple: by asking the deficit-reduction supercommittee to reduce the deficit a little bit more.

Never mind that the deficit-reduction supercommittee hasn’t met yet, and is unlikely to accomplish anything significant when it does. Reducing the deficit by $500 billion does not mean the nation suddenly has an extra $500 billion to spend.

I begin to suspect that Mr. Obama will be a one-term wonder, like Jimmy Carter and Herbert Hoover – and for much the same reasons.

This week’s fool

Over on time.com, Zachary Karabell says the U.S. is not drowning in debt:

…what matters about the debt isn’t the dollar amount per se, but how much it costs us to service it. And by that measure, the debt isn’t nearly as big a problem as it’s being made out to be.

That’s like saying it’s not the credit-card balance that matters, it’s the size of the payments. People tell themselves that so as not to face the unpleasant truth that carrying a huge credit-card balance is stupid, and that paying interest on a debt is – with very few exceptions – just pissing away money.

Mr. Karabell admits that the federal government is paying a quarter-trillion dollars in interest – excuse me, in debt servicing – every year. What a waste.

Unintended consequences

Let’s see now…

  1. Demand for oil is up, but production is down;
  2. So oil prices go up;
  3. So gas prices go up;
  4. So people look for alternative fuels, like ethanol (made from corn);
  5. So demand for corn goes up;
  6. So corn prices go up;
  7. So farmers reduce their herds of corn-eating livestock, e.g., hogs;
  8. So the price of bacon goes up.

Alleged

CNN said:

One of the FBI’s Top 10 most wanted fugitives and the inspiration for the 2006 Martin Scorsese film, “The Departed,” [name redacted] – once head of Boston’s Winter Hill Gang – was sought in connection with 19 slayings and a slew of other alleged crimes.

…and I wondered: the crimes are alleged, but the slayings are not. Why?

I hate seeing the word ‘alleged’ in crime reporting. It’s a weasel word, by which journalists pretend to honor the principle of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ (and defend themselves against libel suits).

Meanwhile, in Tenerife…

…we have a new addition to the list of phrases you don’t want in news items written about you. CNN says:

A knife-wielding man attacked a woman in a supermarket, eventually cutting off her head and running away with it, government officials in Spain’s Tenerife Island said Friday.

All together, now: Euww.

Meanwhile, in Texas

Much chatter recently on the subject of high-school cheerleader H.S., in Silsbee, Texas.

Bad things happened to H.S.; those accused – members of the basketball team for which H.S. was a cheerleader – were not charged with rape, but instead plead guilty to misdemeanor assault.

Later, H.S. refused to cheer for them, and was dropped from the cheerleading squad. H.S. & her parents sued the school, with various First and Fourteenth Amendment claims. The judge dismissed all claims, and ordered H.S. to pay the defendants’ court costs: $45,000, more or less.

The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals recently affirmed the dismissal, which means H.S. is on the hook for $45,000.

Amid all the long-on-emotion, short-on-reason outrage – She was raped! Why is she being punished like this? – it seems no one is bothering to read the court’s opinion. It’s not hard to find (it’s here), and it’s only six pages long. I read it just now, and there’s nothing to disagree with.

The lesson here: be careful in pressing First (and/or Fourteenth) Amendment claims. Courts take that kind of thing very seriously. As they should.

(I’ve seen nothing to suggest H.S. has pursued civil claims against her attackers. I am not a lawyer, but I imagine she’d be on much safer ground there.)

Deficits, etc.

Politicians lately have been floating plans to balance the budget and save the nation from bankruptcy.

I’ve looked at a few of them. They have something in common: the cash handouts that voters love, and the huge deficits to which they contribute, are never scheduled to change until after the next election.

The press releases, blog posts, etc., offer as justification a single, misleading statistic, e.g., “My plan will reduce the deficit by $4 trillion over the next ten years.”  It would be more honest to report how much the plan would increase the national debt, since reducing the debt is the whole point of the exercise, but that wouldn’t play nearly so well with the voters: “My plan will add $10 trillion to the national debt over the next ten years.”

Robert A. Heinlein said:

…when the plebs discover that they can vote themselves bread and circuses without limit and that the productive members of the body politic cannot stop them, they will do so, until the state bleeds to death….

I have a few ideas for balancing the budget and paying off the national debt; they all seem to involve public humiliation of Congresscritters. Alas, while that may provide a certain emotional satisfaction, it isn’t very practical. (I’d pay cash money to see the Speaker of the House wearing an I Voted for Deficits dunce cap. Wouldn’t you?)