Tuesday, August 31, 2004

TODAY'S HEADLINERS (Tues. 8/31)

The state of Michigan is tired of getting cheated out of its rightful share of out-of-state purchases online and through catalogues, according to the Lansing State Journal. New tax codes in the state will be unveiled tomorrow in the hopes that out-of-state businesses will "voluntarily" participate in collecting taxes. Ha ha. "The state loses about $265 million each year in unpaid sales taxes on products purchased by Michigan residents from companies outside the state. Out-of-state firms are not required by law to collect sales taxes for the state of Michigan, and the vast majority of residents don't report the purchases on their tax returns." Gee I wonder why? It's like they think it's their money or something. Despite the optimism of Michigan politicians, they face a small obstacle: "A series of U.S. Supreme Court cases have prevented states from requiring businesses without a presence in their state from collecting and remitting sale taxes." Presence shmesence.

New York Gov. George Pataki has finally repealed a state law banning liquor store employees from working after hours, reports the AP in the Albany Times-Union. The archaic law banned employees from doing ordinary chores like accept shipments or stock shelves after they had closed. I can only imagine why the law was there in the first place. "Maziarz, a Niagara County Republican, said the easing of the work activities rule this year stemmed from complaints of liquor store owners who took advantage of the Sunday sales law of 2003. Those owners expected to use the one day they were closed during the week to meet with salesmen, accept deliveries and perform other chores. But an interpretation of the law by the state Liquor Authority said they were legally prevented from doing so on days their stores were not open, Maziarz said." Well, I guess there is hope yet for some governmental sanity in New York.

Score another point for NAFTA, although for the wrong reasons. CBC Canada reports that the organization has rejected American claims that Canadian lumber imports threaten American producers: "The decision is a victory for Canada in the ongoing dispute over softwood lumber. Canada has maintained that without demonstrating a threat of injury, the U.S. cannot justify the 27.2 per cent countervailing and anti-dumping duties it imposed on softwood lumber imports in May 2002." So the import war wages on, but hopefully Canada will continue to successfully convince NAFTA to snub the U.S.'s efforts to close off its own borders to incoming wealth. "Canadian lumber exporters have paid about $1.5 billion in duties since they were first imposed. The money is being held on deposit while the duties are being challenged." Think of all the jobs that money could have created.

More good news. It appears that the U.S.'s increasingly heavy trade regulations are drawing ire not just from Canada, but also across the pond. The Toronto Star reports that "World Trade Organization arbitrators today authorized the European Union and other leading U.S. trade partners to impose sanctions against the United States in response to antidumping rules." Buuuuttttt: "[T]he complainants may prefer to use the threat of sanctions as a "smoking gun" to force the United States to repeal the legislation more quickly or to obtain concessions in other trade negotiations." Heh. Good luck. The "outsourcing" paranoia that has swept America has only increased their hatred of other nations. No U.S. politician is likely to do anything but impose stricter regulations and expect to win re-election. But, it's a start.

Monday, August 30, 2004

TODAY'S HEADLINERS (Mon. 8/30)

The government is still keeping a sharp eye out for "market manipulators" in the oil market, according to an AP report: "[T]he Commodity Futures Trading Commission said a seven-month investigation into last year's surging natural gas prices yielded no evidence that markets were manipulated." Oh thank goodness. But: "The CFTC will continue to monitor market information and aggressively pursue any individual or entity that intentionally seeks to undermine the integrity of futures markets," the CFTC's acting chair, Sharon Brown-Hruska, said in a statement. Oh I have no doubt.

Neither the Democrat nor the Republican candidate for the Indiana governorship will accomodate individuals ordering drugs from Canada online, the Indianapolis Star reports. Most of the time you'll hear proponents of such a ban suggest that it's for your own good. But, of course, there's always a bigger reason: "[E]ven if state legislators consider such a service, they would face potent opposition from drugmaker Eli Lilly and Co., Central Indiana's largest private employer." Why do people spend so much time complaining about private "monopolies" when the government provides the best monopolies themselves? ... By the way: "While thousands of Americans buy prescription drugs from Canadian pharmacies on their own, or with the help of private programs, state endorsement of the purchases lends legitimacy to purchases that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says are illegal. Despite its position, the FDA has done little to crack down on the widespread buying." Uh-oh. We'll all be dropping like flies any second now.

One governor decided he'd take on the feds in the prescription drugs arena, however. Gov. Brad Henry of Oklahoma said that "I believe Oklahomans, particularly senior citizens, should have access to affordable prescription drugs, and I will do everything I can to make that happen, whether it involves some form of a reimportation program or another initiative," according to the Daily Ardmoreite. Henry hopes to loosen regulations on drug imports from countries like Canada. Not surprisingly, this will be met with much opposition from the feds: Sund said Henry realizes taking on the prescription drug issue means taking on the federal government. "He knows it won't be an easy proposition, but he thinks it's such an important issue that we have to be willing to make that challenge," Sund said. The prescription drug issue is one of those funny little issues that tie the government in knots. Politicians don't seem to know what to do with it. On the one hand you have irate consumers complaining about being gouged, and on the other hand you have private businesses complaining about their business being "outsourced" to Canada. It's basically a lose-lose situation if you're an elected official. How beautiful is that.

A man in Opelousas, Louisianna wants to force all private commercial businesses to have restrooms available to the general public. The Daily Star reports that James Delion is lobbying for a city ordinance requiring restrooms to be at all publicly-used facilities because he stopped at a grocery store one day and couldn't find a public restroom. But, well, apparently there's already a law like this on the books. Continued the article: "Delion wants to make it a law in Opelousas for all commercial establishments to follow state law..." That's some in-depth reporting for you. "If it is not on the books, I hope to get one. It is inconvenient to go to a place of business and have to leave because they don't have public facilities," he said. That's a great idea. I think next we should have a law that requires businesses to provide goods and services that consumers want.

A "no-cupcake" policy at Chandler School in Duxbury, Massachusetts is facing some resistance for its ban on sweets at birthday parties to curb child obesity, according to the Boston Globe. One mother, Betsy Hunter, has collected about 200 signatures to defeat the policy that was enacted back in June. The Boston Herald's editorial staff had an apt response when the policy was adopted: "It's a tie. Score one for parents in Brookline where a proposal to ban spanking or other physical punishments as a means of disciplining children was soundly defeated. But score one for the parenting police who have set a new policy in a Duxbury school to ban cupcakes at classroom birthday parties. ... In Massachusetts' fine tradition of "more government is better government," we probably won't have to wait long for a tie-breaker in favor of the parenting police."

Saturday, August 28, 2004

TODAY'S HEADLINERS (Sat. 8/28)

A full 61% of 10th-graders in Arizona flunked the math portion of their AIMS test, says the Arizona Republic. Gov Napolitano says this should be a "call to action for state educators," according to USA Today.

Academic standards is not the only thing government-funded schools have to deal with, of course. My old paper, the Baltimore Sun, reports that 16 of their schools are on probation for too much violence: "Schools on the probation list have had rates of lengthy suspensions and expulsions that are at least 2.5 percent of the total student population for two years."

But enough about education. In Concord, N.H., the state realtors association is suing ISoldMyHouse.com for operating as an agent without a license, according to the Concord Monitor. The crime? Providing a web database allowing homeowners to list their properties online, similar to newspaper classifieds, without having to go through a state-licensed agent. An excerpt: ISoldMyHouse.com manager John Gallagher said the site, which allows sellers to list their homes for $95, is "the most pro-consumer Web site on the Internet as far as I can see. We're allowing people to sell a house without paying real estate fees." That was your first mistake, John.

Microsoft is in some legal trouble...again. I like how the Los Angeles Times puts it: "After watching computer users wring as much as $1.8 billion out of Microsoft Corp., local governments want their piece." The article continues with: "Six California counties and cities, including Los Angeles and San Francisco, sued the world's biggest software company Friday for allegedly using its monopoly in personal computer software to overcharge them." What the hell does "overcharge" mean anyway? Who defines that? Overcharged is a mythical term in this kind of context. If it cost more than it was worth to you, you wouldn't have shelled out money for it in the first place. Clearly you felt you benefitted from this transaction. You can be overcharged if it means "I spent more money on this product than I would've preffered to." But come on, what business does the government have legislating companies because of that?

Yet more upsetting news for those who think that company executives are still being paid too much. Ananova.com reports from across the pond that UK execs are still seeing pay increases of nearly 13%. "Despite growing shareholder concern at the large amounts bosses of public companies are paying themselves, company directors seem resistant to change." Imagine that.

Now for a couple non-political pieces. This one is too funny to pass up. USA Today reports that a high schooler in Atlanta was targeted for wearing a drug-related shirt by Gwinnett County school administrators. The shirt has "Hempstead, N.Y." printed on it. To administrators' embarassment, they found out later that it's an actual Long Island town, and happens to be the kid's hometown. Apparently these school officials didn't major in geography -- Hempstead is no ordinary small town: "Hempstead is the nation's largest township, with 759,000 residents spread across 22 villages and more than 142 square miles..."


Your eyes do not deceive you. The above picture, which comes from Ananova.com, is of a toy distributed with candy around the U.S. Obviously, it depicts September 11th. It was supposedly picked up unknowingly by a Miami wholesaler and distributed throughout the U.S. until someone complained about it. I guess I could see this as being slightly offensive.

Low Prices - Good or Bad? Both apparently...

It never ceases to amaze me how this country can both love and hate low prices in the same breath. You can observe this interesting irony in a recent article in the Honolulu Advertiser in Hawaii, where the writer lauds the omniscient state's oversight of prices on the market as a new insurer comes to town. In order for Tempe, Ariz.-based Summerlin Insurance to move in, they must submit a premium pricing plan to the state for approval.

In doing so, get this: the government will ensure low prices for consumers by making sure that Summerlin does not drop its premium prices too low.

Read on if you don't believe me:

Since the state began regulating health insurance premiums in 2003, insurers must get approval for their rates. They cannot charge low premiums that effectively would keep out competition, he said. Before state oversight, insurers could charge any premiums they wished.

"Today's playing field is much more level with the oversight law," Tom said.

Mona Tracy, a retiree living in Mililani who pays for her own health insurance, is eager to see Summerlin go head-to-head with HMSA and Kaiser.

"We'll have more competition," she said. "That's what we need."


No, what you need is a government that doesn't have a policy of banning low prices in order to have low prices.

I like this paragraph in particular:

In the mid-1990s, Hawai'i had as many as 10 health insurers. But many couldn't compete because nonprofit insurers dropped their prices low enough to make it hard for newcomers to gain market share, Tom said.

Those damn non-profit organizations. Always looking for the quick buck.

By the way, the writer decided to just gloss over this little tidbit:

Travelers and Aetna had a tougher time because they paid the state's 4.265 percent tax levied on for-profit health insurers. Summerlin faces the same problem because a bill to waive the tax didn't make it through the Legislature in April.

Oh yeah. Taxes. I'll be damned.

USA Today has such a way with putting things

Insert punchline here.

Friday, August 27, 2004

A couple of "must-reads" to start you off (trust me this is good stuff)

Although a bit old, this is a great piece lampooning the efforts of government interventionists who, among other things, may attempt to force convenience stores to carry more fruits and vegetables rather than junk food:

When asked if he would stock more fruit and vegetables if there were more demand for it over, say, Fritos and soda, the manager said, "Of course!"

When told about the argument offered by Michel Martin and the proponents of government intervention in diet, he laughed very loudly, leaning back from the counter.

"That's crazy! They don't know who is in charge here!"

No, they don't, and not many people involved in trying to regulate the choices of consumers really do. But that doesn't stop them from trying. The reason they continue in their Quixotic struggle is that they believe, in large or small degree, in the Marxist myth that the owners of the means of production make people buy things. With their Svengali-like powers, these capitalists can mesmerize people, turning them into consuming automatons, exploiting them, and pointing them towards dietary choices like chips and cookies and Big Macs when, under the control of the government, the choices offered would be highly nutritious fruits and fibers.


And while we're on the subject of food, how about this gem from Bill Anderson:

The situation regarding the lack of grocery stores in urban areas is even more ironic. For example, when activists in Inglewood, California, recently prevented a Wal-Mart superstore from opening in that area, the press hailed it as a "great victory" for the little people. To put it another way, American journalists hold that it is both wonderful and terrible that people in the inner cities don’t have a nearby Wal-Mart.

I can't wait to get started on the whole Wal-Mart thing. But that's for another day.

The "Why"

Well, here I am, writing a blog. Something I swore I'd never do, conformists be damned. My only excuse is abject boredom.

But OK, I can see the appeal of blogs. I have to admit it's a great way to vent, and I feel like venting about what I see as a progressively worsening economic situation in America. Don't get me wrong, we are still far better than any other country in the world when it comes to government regulation. But, if you think about it, that's actually pretty depressing. We have a massive social security system that continues to suck taxes from us right until the day it dies a spectacular over-budgeted death, an equally monstrous welfare system, and a federal deficit that is so large one wonders if there are enough natural resources in the world to pay it off.

And now in 2004, we have an election between John Kerry, a man who wants to create a huge government under the power of the Democrats, and George W. Bush, a man who wants to create a huge government under the power of the Republicans. Anyone who likes self-government really doesn't have much of an option. But then again people like us don't get involved in the political process in the first place I guess. God forbid people should run their own lives without someone other than God Himself dictating how they are to spend their money and live their lives.

So there you have it. Prepare to be libertarified.