18 November 2008

Obama Isn't a Citizen!

OK, I'm going to try an experiment. I want to see how many wingnuts I can attract by commenting on the claim that Obama is not a natural born citizen, and I'd rather sully my personal blog than the one I share with other (decent) folks. So let me begin by saying, you'd have to be dumber than Paris Hilton's handbag to believe that Barack Obama is not a natural born U.S. citizen.

There are two essential claims:
  • Obama is not a natural born citizen because he was born in Kenya, not Hawaii.

  • If Obama was born in Hawaii, he lost his citizenship when he lived in Indonesia as a child.
Several lawsuits have been filed, none of them succesful so far, but the legal battle is not yet over. One lawsuit was filed by a lawyer named Phillip Berg, a former Pennsylvania Deputy Attorney General and Hillary supporter who hasn't yet recovered from the shock of having his favorite candidate get her ass handed to her by that uppity nigra.

This case was dismissed by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania for lack of standing, not a surprising result. For those who know nothing about law, and that includes the tens of thousands of asshats who signed this petition, you actually have to be an injured party to bring a lawsuit, simply being a concerned citizen isn't enough to give you standing (unless Congress has statutorily authorized citizen suits). A funny thing happened before the dismissal, though. On October 21 Berg put out a press release titled Obama & DNC admit all allegations in Berg v. Obama. His claim is that Obama's failure to respond in a timely manner to Berg's allegations means Obama "admitted" their veracity, and therefore "Obama must immediately withdraw his candidacy for President" (emphasis added). The "facts" that Obama allegedly admitted are too many to enumerate here, but include:
  • I am a Kenya "natural born" citizen.
  • My father, Barrack Hussein Obama, Sr. admitted Paternity of me.
  • I am a citizen of Indonesia.
  • I am proud of my Kenya heritage.
  • I am an attorney who specializes in Constitutional Law.
  • I went by the name Barry Soetero in Indonesia,
  • I went to a Judge in Hawaii to have my name changed.
But Obama did not admit any of this (although I suppose he would agree that his father admitted paternity, that he's proud of his Kenyan heritage--no bar to being president, Reagan was proud of his Irish heritage--and that as a law prof he specialized in Constitutional law, again, no bar to being president). Instead, on September 24, Obama filed a motion to dismiss this frivolous case--almost a full month before Berg made his claim of Obama's failure to respond. And Obama won his motion to dismiss, meaning he did not have to answer Berg's claims, and consequently--as a legal fact--admitted nothing. (Nevertheless, Berg keeps that fraudulent page up on his website.)

Berg followed up with an emergency appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court in which he asked for an injunction to stay the presidential election. This is a bit hard to believe, but Berg trumpets it himself, right here. At this point it is hard to avoid suspecting Berg is either just an inveterate attention-seeker or someone who truly has developed a mental problem, as surely nobody in their right mind could actually believe the Supreme Court would seriously consider enjoining the presidential election. And indeed Berg's motion was denied. Because this was an emergency appeal, similar in form to the emergency appeal of a convict about to be executed, for whom there is literally no tomorrow, Berg did not appeal to the full Supreme Court, which generally moves very slowly on appeals, but to a single justice, in this case Justice Souter.

Oddly, however, Souter's order also states that "The defendants are required to respond to the Writ of Certiorari by December first." I am unclear if that is simply pro forma--petitioner filed, so defendant automatically gets to do so to, if they so choose (and the "required" merely means, "must do so by December 1, if they bother") or if it means the case is still tentatively alive. It also says Berg may respond after Obama files his response, so the case doesn't quite sound dead to me, but while I've studied Constitutional Law, I've never dealt much with legal procedure. Assuming it is still open, Berg needs 4 justices to agree to hear the case, and so far he has "perhaps 1," a far cry from 4. Given that Obama has already met the basic legal requirement for demonstrating citizenship, presenting a certificate of live birth, it's likely the course will reject Berg's challenge is unlikely to succeed, unless Berg can produce evidence of Obama's birth certificate being faked, rather than just an allegation. In sum, the odds of Berg's case being heard by the Court is exceptionally slim.

If Berg's appeal of the case's dismissal is dealt with by the Court, and he wins, the Court could simply remand the case to the District Court for an expedited hearing, so a ruling in Berg's favor would not mean he won on the merits. However it would mean the Court thought both that he had standing and that the case had enough merit to proceed, neither of which is likely. My prediction is that Berg is dead in the water, and his case goes exactly nowhere from here.

The other case has more promise, because the plaintiff would, it appears, have standing. This is the case filed by perennial Christo-fascist Alan Keyes. Keyes was the candidate of the American Independent Party on the California ballot, and is asking that the California Secretary of State be enjoined from certifying the electoral results from the state until the factual dispute is resolved. Unlike Berg's suit, this one was filed in a state court, so it will be interesting to see how the Court rules on the issue of standing.

But ultimately it doesn't matter, except for determining how long this idiotic debate gets dragged out. The facts are clearly on Obama's side, and the most amazing thing is that those on the other side (a) actually believe the bullshit they're peddling, and (b) continue to believe it after the truth is pointed out to them. But they are true believers, convinced we're all the victims of a massive conspiracy, ernestly demonstrating the accuracy of Richard Hofstadter's claim that there is a distinct Paranoid Style" in American politics.

So if any of those asshats has made it this far, here's the facts. Here's why you're not just wrong, but why you're sad, deluded, imbecilic cretins.

  • Obama was not born in Hawaii.
Barack Obama has produced evidence that he was born in Hawaii. you can see a photocopy of his birth certificatehere. Opponents make two claims about this. One is that the document is faked. But FactCheck.org had a representative personally handle and review the document. Their statement is:
...we can attest to the fact that it is real and three-dimensional and resides at the Obama headquarters in Chicago. We can assure readers that the certificate does bear a raised seal, and that it's stamped on the back by the Hawaii state registrar Alvin T. Onakes.
Of course the conspiracy theorists can continue to claim it's faked, but what can't you claim is faked? The point is that they have no evidence of fakery, just allegations, and allegations without evidence don't add up to shit. And when the defense actually does have evidence, then the conspiracy theorists are challening evidence by presenting no evidence--everyone who thinks that's a formula for winning a legal battle, please raise your tinfoil hat.

The other claim is that this certificate of live birth is not enough to prove Obama's citizenship because it's just the "short form," and the "long form," which includes additional information such as length and weight, is necessary. Again, this is a bullshit claim with no legal validity. As FactCheck.org correclty notes
The certificate has all the elements the State Department requires for proving citizenship to obtain a U.S. passport: "your full name, the full name of your parent(s), date and place of birth, sex, date the birth record was filed, and the seal or other certification of the official custodian of records.
Yes, the short form is satisfactory for convincing the U.S. State Department that you are a citizen. The last time I went to Canada, the U.S. border guard complained that I only had a driver's license, so how could he know I was really a U.S. citizen? He made it clear that I should get a passport so I could prove I was a citizen. Because I traveled to the Middle East this year, I finally got around to renewing my long-lapsed passport. What did the State Department ask me to provide? Just a certificate of live birth--the so-called "short form." I did, and they agreed that I had proved my citizenship by issuing my passport. So the claim that Obama somehow has to do more than is legally required, in order to meet the legal requirement, is a perverse non sequitur.

Of course it doesn't matter where on earth Obama was born. He could have been born in a Tijuana whorehouse or Moscow's Lubyanka prison and still have been a natural born citizen because his mother was a U.S. citizen. The basic rule is that if your parent (just one of them) was a U.S. citizen, you are probably a U.S. citizen. If you were born abroad, your parents could simply register you at the local U.S. embassy or consulate, not to gain you citizenship, but to ensure that the U.S. government is aware of it, so it's easier later on for you to demonstrate it. But even if your parent failed to register you, you can still apply to have your citizenship recognized. Not granted, mind you, but recognized, meaning it technically exists prior to the request for recognition, the government just may not be aware of it yet. (See U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.)

  • Obama lost his citizenship when he lived in Indonesia/his step dad adopted him/his step dad registered him in an Indonesian school/his parents divorced/because he changed his name.
These claims are so spurious and confused that they make the prior claim look almost compelling. But this smacks of throwing in the kitchen sink, just to make sure no remotely conceivable allegation has been left out. Of course conceivable is not a synoym for plausible. The fact is, if Obama was born as a citizen--and the preponderance of the evidence (the legal standard he must meet if any of these cases are ever heard on the merits) says he was--he could not lose his citzenship before age 18. Very bluntly,
Parents cannot renounce U.S. citizenship on behalf of their minor children.
Don't believe it? That's what our government says. (See here.) So whether Obama's stepfather adopted him, took him to Indonesia, changed his name to Barry Soetoro, and gained Indonesian citizenship for him does not matter. It is common for children to hold dual citizenship. But obviously, by applying for a U.S. passport, Obama accepted his U.S. citizenship, and whether Indonesia recognizes his citizenship is moot--the U.S. doesn't really give a shit whether another country chooses to grant one of our citizens citizenship, we only care which citizenship that individual chooses.

But what is this business about divorce? Here's a snip from Berg's website.
The Docket shows when Stanley Ann Soetoro filed for divorce against Lolo Soetoro. The marriage is important because bases (sic) on the laws at the time, it affects Obama's citizenship and likely caused him to be an Indonesian citizen and no longer an American citizen. The divorce decree proves that the marriage existed.
Apparently Berg is asking the U.S. courts to rule on a matter of Indonesian law. But even assuming, as Berg seems to claim, that Obama's mother's divorce from Soetoro automatically caused the Indonesian government to grant young Barack Indonesian citizenship, the fact remains that the U.S. does not revoke citizenship of a minor just because another country grants that minor citizenship! Berg seems to claim that Obama's mother's divorce stripped her of parental rights by Indonesian law, and so he apparently wants the U.S. courts to enforce Indonesian law and rule that the birth mother, through divorce, lost parental rights over her son to his stepfather, and that the U.S. courts are bound by that Indonesian law.

As imbecilic as this is, the real problem isn't the legal cases. Obama will win those, because the case against him is utter bullshit, and is believe only by people with nothing but bullshit between their ears. The real problem is those demanding that Obama prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that he's an American citizen. They keep asking why he doesn't release a "real" copy of his birth certificate: OK, where is he supposed to release it to? You can't put a piece of paper on the web, you can only put up a scan, as he has done. And he has let real live people handle the real paper document. The truth, recognized by everyone with more than half a wit, is that not matter what documentatation Obama releases, they will still call it a forgery. Obama cannot win by acceding to their demands, because they will keep moving the goal post, as pathetic losers always do in their desperate attempt to keep the game going.

And Obama should not release any more documentation unless the courts require him to because these are just nuisance lawsuits, designed to intimidate and harass, and by giving his harassers even one bit of evidence without a court order he hands them victory. "We forced him to produce document X," they'll crow. And they'll follow that with endless claims for more documentation. It may seem reasonable to say, "If he has nothing to hide, why doesn't he produce them," but that's not a good response to frivolous claims. What if your neighbors came over and demanded to search your house for child porn? You'd be pissed off and tell them to go find a way to fuck themselves. And then they respond, "Well if you don't have anything to hide, why won't you let us in?" Isn't it clear where that kind of thinking leads? It is the end of liberty and the end of due process. The only proper response to such nuisance suits is to fight them with all one's vigor and to achieve an undisputed victory over the bastards filing them. The only victory is total victory.

So here's the deal, you pus-brained paranoiacs: You are the true enemies of America. This country is founded on democracy and the rule of law. You are undermining both of those right now, and that makes you an enemy of my country. That makes you my sworn enemy as well, because I have in fact taken an oath to defend my country and its Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. I for one am sick of your bullshit, and especially your pretense at being "real America" while you relentlessly attack our Constitution's guarantees of freedom, equality, democracy, and the rule of law. So please shut the fuck up right now. About 7 years ago I demanded my money back from a benefit concert I went to because the person in charge felt the need to announce that "George Bush is not my president." I hated it when liberals did it, and I hate it just as much when you conservatives do it. Whether that person liked it or not, Bush was her president. And whether you like it or not, Obama is going to be your president. So shut up, grow up, and deal with it like adults, not like the whiny little bitches we all know you conservatives really are.

21 August 2008

Update on the Mortgate Crisis

I have stated my tentative belief that the mortgage "crisis" isn't likely to have severe repercussions for the economy. The Independent Institute's Robert Higgs supports that argument with some real data (which my argument noticeably lacked), pointing out that there is plenty of credit still available in the U.S.
For example, commercial and industrial loans at all commercial banks were $1,503.6 billion as of June 1, 2008. This loan volume is almost 19 percent greater than it had been a year earlier, 34 percent greater than two years earlier, and 53 percent greater than three years earlier.
Or consider real estate loans at all commercial banks, which were $3,644.9 billion as of June 1, 2008. This loan volume is 5.5 percent greater than it had been a year earlier, 17 percent greater than two years ago, and 33 percent greater than three years ago.
Or consider total consumer credit outstanding, which was $2,586.3 billion as of June 30, 2008. This loan volume is 5.6 percent greater than it had been a year earlier, 10.9 percent greater than two years earlier, and 15.2 percent greater than three years earlier.
He also points out that interest rates are still low. Granted the Fed is trying to keep them that way, but I think if there had been a massive dryup of credit caused by failed banks, the Fed would have had to take much more drastic steps to keep loan rates low.

All in all, I'm not too worried about the future. Now if the housing market in my town would just warm up, so I could sell my other house...

Republicans Should Take Note

Not that I've been following the news closely, but I don't think this story from the Center for Responsive Politics is getting as much play as it should.
Democrat Barack Obama has received nearly six times as much money from troops deployed overseas at the time of their contributions than has Republican John McCain, and the fiercely anti-war Ron Paul, though he suspended his campaign for the Republican nomination months ago, has received more than four times McCain's haul.
Looks like it's not just liberals who support an early exit from Iraq.

The Democrats’ Worst Nightmare

A great irony may be unfolding before our eyes. In July, Democratic nominee Barack Obama raised $51 million dollars, while Republican nominee John McCain struggled to raise just over half that ($27 million). Obama’s total of $390 million is more than twice McCain’s $153 million. And yet Obama’s lead over McCain has narrowed.

Democrats have long complained about the power of money in campaigns, and bitterly resented that the Republicans could nearly always outspend them by tapping the wealthy business class. So now they face the stunning possibility that they could outspend the Republicans by a wide margin, yet still lose the election.

That would be ironic indeed, and just how devastating would it be to the Democratic Party?

19 August 2008

Cafferty Pistol-whips McCain

For those who don't read CNN.com., I'll point out this vicious--but wholly fair-->critique of John McCain by Jack Cafferty. Here's a sample:
John McCain graduated 894th in a class of 899 at the Naval Academy at Annapolis. His father and grandfather were four star admirals in the Navy. Some have suggested that might have played a role in McCain being admitted. His academic record was awful. And it shows over and over again whenever McCain is called upon to think on his feet.
Ouch, that's gonna leave a mark.

18 August 2008

Hiding Out

I'm at an undisclosed location for a few days, trying to prepare my classes for the fall term. God willing and the creeks don't rise, I'll return soon.

14 August 2008

Everyone's an Economist, Externalities Version

Standard economic theory predicts goods with positive externalities will be underproduced because the producer cannot capture the full value of what is produced (some people can enjoy it for free, without compensating the producer). From a biography of Al Wight, who, writing as James Herriot, became the world's most famous veterinarian and made the Yorkshire dales world famous, is this lovely example, which occured one day when Wight went shopping for fireworks.
[H]e made a visit to a shop [and] asked for rockets.
Another customer overheard his request and leaned towards him. "Don't buy rockets, Mr. Wight," he whispered, "they 'ave a good selection o' Roman candles an' some right good Catherine wheels, at good prices an' all!"
Alf was mystified. "My kids love to see rockets soaring to the sky. Anyway, what's wrong with rockets?
the man eased in closer. "Why, everyone else can see 'em!"

13 August 2008

What if the Mortgage Companies Failed?

Would there really be a problem if these entities just failed? Are they like banks in that they would start contagion
This is the question asked by James K in a comment on a previous post.

The answer is, I'm not sure. I'm not an expert in the mortgage industry by any means. But what happens is that the mortgages get packed and sold to investment firms. As the high-risk packages, made up of the sub-prime mortgages, are not being repaid, nobody wants to buy those right now, and so the investment banks that sell them are currently refusing to make funds available to the subprime mortgage firms. That is, the investment banks are the secondary lenders that make money available to the primary lenders (who make the money available to the home buyer), which, if I understand correctly, they do by purchasing the loans from those primary lenders (that purchase refills the coffers of the primary lender, so they can make more loans).

If I have that wrong, I hope someone corrects it.

So I suppose the danger is that large losses accrue to the investment banks themselves, reducing the supply of credit available in general, perhaps wiping out mom and pop's lifesavings, and in general creating the "contagion."

But I have doubts the contagion would create a long-term depression, as opposed to a short-term slump--a "correction: if you will. Keep in mind that it's primarily the sub-prime loans that aren't being repaid. Those are buyers who over-extended themselves. Most of them aren't impoverished, and haven't gone to living on the street, but have had an income decline they couldn't afford because they were living on the edge. Foreclosures are at about 1 in every 200 homes, and housing prices have declined--in some areas--by 10-20%. That sounds horrible, but it's only .5% of homes, and the values haven't been totally lost. That is, the lenders can regain some of the money that the defaulters can't repay by selling the house at a lower price.

So the lenders will lose money. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac--government created, but publicly traded, lenders--have lost, respectively, $1.3 billion in the last quarter and $5 billion in the last year. That's big amounts for those firms, but they're also the biggest mortgage backers in the country, so they're taking the lion's share of the losses. Quadruple that amount and it's still not that big a chunk of the U.S.'s $13 trillion economy.

And of course saving the mortgage firms doesn't come free. There's not some great untapped reserve of money that can be used painlessly to save them; the money will be diverted from other uses. Or more likely, we'll try to borrow more by selling more federal securities, thus continuing upward pressure on interest rates, with the attendant economic effects. Notably, what I've noticed in the arguments for rescuing the mortgage industry is a focus only on the primary effects on the industry itself--I haven't seen much on the secondary effects of industry failure or secondary effects of industry rescue. I rather suspect Bastiat's ghost might be muttering something about the seen and the unseen. I think the real question is which course of action has the greatest benefit/cost ratio.

If there is some reason to mitigate the losses, I think it would be wise to do the minimum--do what it takes to keep the effects from snowballing and wreaking great harm to the economy (and let's face it, at 5.7% unemployment, our economy is a long way from being wrecked), but not enough to let the lenders off the hook for their bad decisions.

Sarkozy, New Leader of the Free World?

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has brokered a truce between Russia and Georgia. Granted, the timing was right for Russia to make an agreement, as they'd achieved their goals, and granted the truce is fragile and both sides are claiming the other is violating it.

None of that detracts from the fact that Sarkozy did what Bush should have done. Yes, the French have at least temporarily taken away the U.S.'s role as leader of he free world. And if you don't think that's a kick in crotch to U.S. conservatives, you've already forgotten about freedom fries.

12 August 2008

In Which I Join Positive Liberty

Jason Kuznicki has invited me to join the Positive Liberty blog. As I have liked that blog since I began reading blogs (not more than two years ago--I'm always a bit slow on the tech stuff), I'm honored to join.

That doesn't mean I'm discontinuing this blog. I just have to figure out how to split myself between the two without enervating myself. Off the top of my head, I'm guessing it will make sense to direct my longer, more thoughtful and analytical posts, to Positive Liberty, and keep shorter, more visceral ones for this blog. But we'll see how it works out in practice.

So I'm feeling good about myself today, thanks to Jason, and I hope to see you at PL soon.

Color Coded Nannies

Here's a neat little rendering of the nanny-state propensities of major U.S. cities, along 8 issue areas (sex, alcohol, tobacco, guns, etc.). Mouse over the city and each issue is highlighted red, orange, yellow, or green. Most repressive city, Chicago. Least repressive, Las Vegas. Oddly, that reverses my order of preference for those cities. Thanks to theagitator.com for the link.

Date-Stamp Posting on College Hockey

This post is wholly to date-stamp a particular issue, without yet revealing it to the niche market that cares.

Adrian College's men's hockey team went 26-3 in its inaugural season last year, closing the year with 20 straight victories (and one of those losses came when the coach sat the starting goalie for skipping class--a big thumbs up to both the coach and the prof who reported the class skipping). Along the way they won games by scores such as 9-1, 14-2, 18-1, 16-2 and 20-2. In the process they quickly became the most hated team in NCAA Division III hockey, based not only on the traumatic losses bestowed upon their opponents, but also on the claimed ignorance and arrogance of their fans, who--it was alleged--thought they ought to be crowned NCAA D-III champs without further ado.

Ignorance did play some role, as the D-III playoff selection process is a bit odd (due to historical factors of where the most, and the best teams are located), and hard for first-timers to D-III to parse. The consequence was not so much arrogance, as frustration, as fans who believed their team could compete with the best realized that even if the team had gone undefeated, they would still have been denied a spot in the playoffs.

Without going into details, the fundamental problem was the dreaded SoS, Strength of Schedule. Because of its geographic location, the only league into which Adrian properly fit happened to be one that is--as attested to by the scores Adrian posted--quite weak. Strength of schedule is a useful measure; it ensures teams don't post good records just by playing patsies. The downside is a team, no matter how good, can be kept out of playoffs by the refusal of teams from good conferences to schedule them. And it's not all pure selfishness on the part of those teams--if they win, because their opponents' overal SoS is weak, it doesn't help the winning team's SoS, whereas if they lose their ranking will be killed by the other team's Sos.

So the Adrian College coach has reportedly sent out a message to all the good D-III conferences (nearly all on the East Coast, the one place outside Minnesota that is a real hotbed of college hockey), announcing that for the 2009-2010 season we will play anyone, anyplace, anytime (the '08'09 schedule is already set). And reportedly, so far there are no offers by any of those good programs. If they all refuse to play, they can continue to say Adrian really is weak, based on its SoS, despite its record and its scoring. But, although it grieves me as an Adrian fan to admit this, they have nothing to gain by scheduling Adrian, win or lose.

But the stakes are about to get higher. While running up those scores last year, Adrian's coach often sat his first line, or first two lines, for most of the third period. While I couldn't blame an outsider for disbelieving it, Adrian was consciously trying to not run up the score. In the final regular season home game, there was only one player on the team who had not scored, and the coach forbade everyone else from taking a shot on goal--if we were going to score any more against a badly beaten opponent, it was only going to be by that one guy (who did, finally, score his single goal for the season).

But reportedly another coach in our conference voted Adrian lower in the polls just out of spite, and Adrian's coach has, again reportedly, said that his team will try to run up the score against opponents this year. In part it's aimed at that particular other coach, whose unfortunate players are going to be the ones who suffer, and in part it's to make a statement that if a score of 20-2 isn't sufficient to be recognized as a playoff worthy program, perhaps a score of 30-2 will be.

If this comes true, Adrian will be hated more passionately than it was last season. And I can't say that I would blame anyone for that hatred. And I'm not going to whine that the current playoff selection system is unfair--the system was in place long before Adrian started a hockey team. But if the only way for Adrian to get consideration in the current system is to thrash its opponents far more than they deserve (they're just college kids not good enough for D-I or the minor leagues, after all), that's what's going to happen. And despite having a powerhouse of a team in his first season, the coach has recruited players expected to deprive current players of ice time.

So, come January, February, and March of 2009, if the Adrian Bulldogs win some games by more than 20 goals, remember that the reasons were posted here first, long before the games began. (And if they're not, if they're struggling to win, well, commenting is always open here, and you can mock me as viciously as you are able.)

11 August 2008

An Immodest Proposal

Following a link from Marginal Revolution, I stumbled across a reference to an appallingly stupid proposal floated in the pages of the Wall Street Journal: the federal government should resolve the housing mortgage crisis by buying, and blowing up, forclosed houses.

The essential argument here is that these things don't have enough value as it is, so let's completly destroy their value. Of course the purpose is to increase the value of the remaining homes in a straightforward application of supply and demand; if demand remains constant, while supply diminishes, prices will increase.

There are numerous problems with this proposal, all of them ignored in the article. First, low prices are not inherently bad. In fact low prices are very very good for people with low incomes. That's why Wal-Mart is good, not bad. The current mortgage crisis is only a crisis for those who loaned the money. It's not even a crisis for people who can't pay their mortgage--loss of income is their crisis, and they are the cause of the lenders' problems. A lender's pinch is not the debtor's problem. Of course if all credit disappeared, it would be the (prospective) debtor's problem, but that's not the case here; mortgages are still available. Which is why this is also not a crisis for potential home-buyers--in fact the decline in housing prices is the greatest thing possible for them. The solution, apparently, is to f*** over the less well-to-do in order to protect a particular set of businesses. I'm not sure how many of the classical economists would have approved, but I think the one finger I would raise for this proposal would be generous.

And then there's the bigger question of the collective value of housing. Granted that the price of many houses has already fallen by a third or more, would the elmination of the remainder of their value enhance the value of the remaining stock enough to offset that loss? That is, would the wealth of America actually be enhanced by this proposal, or would it be diminished? Although tighter supply would definitely increase the value of the remaining houses, the destruction of nearby properties would have a negative effect that would offset at least some of the increase. Neighborhoods where homes have been destroyed by fire and not rebuilt, for example, rarely exhibit substantial increases in home price. Now if the government wants to undertake the expense of removing all rubble, filling in the basement if there is one, sodding the area, and then giving it to the next door neighbor to double his/her lot size, we might be on to something.

But even in the best case scenario, this proposal ignores the root of the problem. Mortgage firms gave increasingly risky loans, that now they can't recover. The reduction in home prices doesn't mean they can't resell the homes--it means they can't resell them at a high enough price to recoup their losses. (And of course those higher prices were in part a product of their incautious lending.) That's what makes markets preferable to governments, people who make bad financial decisions reap the consequences. The pain of the resultant loss is the only thing that constrains people from repeatedly engaging in foolhardy business transactions. Any government bailout, regardless of how it's structured, lessens that pain, and reduces the incentive to not be foolish in the future, thus increasing the chance of "needing" to bail them out again. It's an exceptionally simple case of moral hazard, and the long range outlook is that the future foolishness, and its attendant bailouts will cost us more than will letting the current losses stand.

Perhaps it's revealing that the author, Holman W. Jenkins, Jr., writes a weekly column titled "Business World," rather than "Economics World." It could almost have been Jenkins himself to whom Smith was referring when he wrote:
People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.

Russia Invades Georgia

Russian troops have now moved through South Ossetia into Georgia proper. That is, they can no longer claim to just be defending a region that has declared independence and that has many Russian citizens; they have moved into territory that is indisputably Georgian, and that has no interest in either independence from Georgia or being a part of Russia. And Russia continues to reject Georgian requests for a ceasefire. Apparently Bush's "firm" talking to Putin didn't take. (Does Bush recognize that Putin was in the KGB, and as such surely considers himself a real badass compared to Vietnam-avoider Bush?)

And while a U.S. ally is invaded and Russia takes the opportunity to reassert its military strength in the world, Bush is sending obvious signals that he doesn't care to much, by continuing to place watching the Olympics above getting personally involved in resolving this crisis. His public statements that "we strongly condemn bombing outside of South Ossetia" implicitly approves bombing inside South Ossetia, and in any case is a very weak response. "Strongly condemn" is strong diplomatic language when applied to weak vassal states, but means "we're going to stand aside and wag our fingers disapprovingly" when applied to more powerful countries.

Bush's performance so far is a disgrace, and it appears he doesn't understand the dangers of a militaristically resurgant Russia. He continues to say that he and Putin "have got a good relationship." Bush is playing the fool while the fires of Cold War II are being lit.

John McCain on the Russia-Georgia Conflict

I used to lean toward voting for McCain because I thought he'd be a better foreign policy president than Obama. I've begun to doubt that, and now there's this:
Russia should immediately and unconditionally cease its military operations, withdraw all forces from the sovereign territory of Georgia," McCain told reporters in Iowa.
Well, yes, we all wish that would happen. But does McCain not realize that Georgia chose to escalate the fighting in South Ossetia? And more importantly, does he not realize that it was Russian citizens in South Ossetia who were being attacked by Georgian forces? Would McCain, as president, unconditionally withdraw if American citizens were being targeted?

Here's Barack Obama's comment on the issue:
Georgia's territorial integrity must be respected. All sides should enter into direct talks on behalf of stability in Georgia, and the United States, the United Nations Security Council, and the international community should fully support a peaceful resolution to this crisis.
I think he misses the point that Georgia's territorial integrity is quite a debatable issue, and like McCain, that it was Georgia that ratcheted up the level of conflict.

The quotes are from Foreign Policy Passport, which argues that the war is Russia's way of keeping Georgia to unstable to join NATO. Given how little enthusiasm Russia has for NATO expanding not just to its doorstep but into former USSR territory-- of which Putin, et. al, probably hope to eventually regain control--I'm inclined to agree. That's why it was particularly stupid move for Georgian president Saakashvili, who seems to have belatedly figured that out.

Bush, fortunately, said he was "firm" with Putin, when they spoke at the Olympics. The crisis hasn't taken up too much of his time, however, and I imagine he was firm in this Olympic encounter as well.Does anyone else get the impression that he's not taking this conflict seriously? Does he not realize the significance, or has he already checked out of the job of America's foreign policy leader?

10 August 2008

God Vandalizes National Park

Wall Arch, in Arches National Park (Utah), has collapsed, in an apparent act of God. Below are before and after pictures.(Source: http://sillyviolet.blogspot.com/2008/03/arches-national-park.html)
(Source: http://www.cnn.com/2008/US/08/10/arch.collapse.ap/index.html0

T-Shirt of the Week

Seen at Splash Universe waterpark, in Dundee, Michigan.

09 August 2008

Bush's Soulmate Attacks U.S. Ally

Vladimir Putin says, "War has started," as he sends troops into a separationist province of U.S. ally Georgia. If Bush really saw into Putin's soul, he should have seen this coming. Granted it doesn't sound like Georgia's just an innocent victim. The fighting is in the province of South Ossetia (which 95% of American adults can find on a map, given Google Maps and about a month) which has been essentially autonomous since the late '90s and wants to unify with North Ossetia, which is part of Russia. but which the new Georgian president, Mikhail Saakashvili (a household name in the U.S. because the U.S. media does such a bangup job of covering world affairs) apparently insists on forcibly reunifying.

I don't know about you, but I find a slight irony in the idea of a breakaway republic objecting to a breakaway province. Apparently Saakashvili (like Abe Lincoln) is irony challenged.

But apparently most South Ossetians have Russian citizenship, so Saakashvili should have known Russia would come to their defense.

So we have one leader who Bush thinks--or did think--was a good buddy, and another leader who's a close ally of the U.S. It seems as though Bush migh have put some effort into averting conflict here, but apparently he was distracted by trying to figure out how he could justify invading Iran (hell, Afghanistan's a mess, Iraq wasn't going so well, third time's the charm, right?).

OK, all a bit snide, but seriously, this is a fairly major foreign policy fuckup by the Bush administration. A resurgent and militarily successful Russia is not in U.S. interests, but by standing by with his dick in his hands, Bush appears to have been caught wholly offguard.

07 August 2008

Agricultural Land Use Tour

My county's Michigan State University Extension office and our local Rural Land Use Committee sponsored an Agriculture and Land Use tour. Cost me all of $15, and was a good show.

First stop was a biodiesel plant. I left as dubious about turning food into fuel as I was when I arrived. There are some subsidies involved, and it was unclear whether it would make a go without government support, and I wonder about the net energy balance in biodiesel (I'll have to look it up). But they run a slick operation, and it was fascinating to learn that when the price of soybean oil skyrocketed they switched to "choice white grease" (pork fat) as their feedstock for making diesel. Now they use corn, which is okay as long as it doesn't affect the price of bourbon.

Next stop was a new subdivision development that is designed as an environmentally friendly one. The city of Tecumseh (population about 10,000) had bought a farm with a sizeable woodlot on the outskirts of town, and then sold it to a developer who would follow their vision for it. The city created a new zoning classification--an environmental residential community--and cut the developer's original plan from 400 homes to just under 200. Instead of bulldozing the land flat they built on the natural contours and left the woods and a wetland pond in their natural condition, creating a conservation easement to be held by a local organization (Raisin Valley Land Trust).

Following lunch, with presentations from the Extension service, we visited a 3rd generation family-owned apple orchard, and finished with a stop at a family owned cabbage and tomato farm. The apple growers were among the few people I knew who were kind of pleased with high gas prices, as that has a much greater negative effect on their competitors in Washington State--the U.S.'s most fruitful apple growing region, but a long way from the big eastern markets. Interestingly, their main concern is labor costs. They rely on migrant workers during the picking season, and the family member who gave us the tour shook his head in wonder when he talked about the claim--often made--that if they would just pay more they could find Americans to do the work. The cabbage growers' big cost challenge was in the response to the recent e-coli outbreaks. The wholesaler to whom they sell demands a rigorous inspection system that is costly and time consuming. Given that e-coli, while deadly, kills very few people in the U.S. each year--the response has probably been something of an overreaction. Obviously we want to prevent deaths, but the growers' profits have been pushed so low they can't absorb much more. If they quit growing cabbage, one of two things will happen: large agribusinesses, which everyone hates but me, will take over; or we'll ship it in from Central and South America, where the inspection schemes aren't quite the quality of ours.

All in all, a very informative day about local agriculture and rural land use. I was one of the few city dwellers on the tour, though, so most of it was probably preaching to the converted about the importance of agriculure in our community.

McCain to Add 20,000 Troops to the U.S. Economy

McCain says the U.S. needs "an economic surge." So what's worse, his egregious pandering or his total ignorance of economics?

I Hate the President

The next one, that is.

This is the really bad effect of the long campaign season--candidates have to talk too damn much and they keep having to answer questions. Before a candidate becomes president, the media demand that they have a proposal for dealing with every imaginable political issue. Once the person becomes president, however, they deal with a set of issues that is a combination of those personally selected and those that are simply unavoidable, but they don't have to talk about all the others.

And it's inevitable that all that talking is going to cause them to say things that diminish our confidence in them. Nobody is going to agree with them on all issues, nor does any one person have the best answers to all issues. (As a consequence, I am consciously relying on heuristics to determine my vote this time around, as the more I think about the candidates' positions the more confused I get about my preference.)

And of course it's a real pisser for whomever gets elected, because he'll have no honeymoon in office--none at all. We already know him too well to give him the benefit of the doubt for a while.

If we could compress our campaign season, this problem would largely solved. Unfortunately, the front-loading of the primary system is a classic case of individual rationality resulting in collective irrationality. There's a good solution being floated--rotating regional primaries--but no good mechanism for moving the states toward it.

06 August 2008

Rationally Irrational Voters

It turns out that more knowledgeable voters benefit from the use of heuristics more than less knowledgeable voters do.

Science News has a report on recent studies by Richard Lau and David Redlawsk on the use of heuristics by voters. It affirms what political scientists have been saying for a couple of decades, which is that voters are more likely to rely on heuristics when voting than to actually pay close enough attention to the candidates to make a fully informed decision.

But, following along the lines of research by Gerd Gigerenzer (and in contrast to the arguments of Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky), Lau and Redlawsk find that heuristics, based on emotional reactions to candidates, can lead to better voting (defined as choosing the candidate closest to one's views) than fully informed voting does. The reason essentially is that too much information inevitably leads to points of disagreement between the candidate and the voter, confusing the voter (something I'm certainly experienceing this year). This is nice to see, since I've long thought Gigerenzer got the better of K&T.

But, interestingly, the positive effect is mostly confined to better informed voters. The less informed voters had, predictably, a harder time choosing the best candidate, but less predictably their performance declined when using heuristics.

The moral, I guess, is that if you really care about whom you vote for, you should stay politically informed, then follow your gut.

Those Wacky Economists

Alex Tabarrok at Marginal Revolution has a great post on "How an Economist Thinks."

Over the weekend a crew came round my neighborhood offering to paint house numbers on the curb. Large bold curb numbers, they pointed out, make it easier for emergency service workers to find houses in the dark. Good argument. The price was good too. Then I noticed my neighbors were having their numbers painted. So of course, I declined.
As Homer Simpson would say, "It's funny because it's true."

Zimbabwe Suffering Yet Again

Zimbabwe, where president Robert Mugabe recently resorted (yet again) to violence to thwart a chance at democracy, is now suffering from hyperinflation. The official figure is 2.2 million percent, but others say it is closer to 12.5 million percent.

Here's my favorite line, from a Newsday article.
"The central bank, overwhelmed by stratospheric inflation..."
Hmm, the central bank is "overwhelmed" by inflation. Let's try a simple syllogism.
1. Inflation is caused by too much money chasing too few goods--i.e., a surplus of money in the economy.
2. Central banks determine how much money is in the economy. Therefore,
3. Central banks control inflation (as Paul Volcker demonstrated so painfully, but so necessarily, in the U.S. in the early 1980s).
But the Zimbabwe bank's response? Print more money, in larger denominations. Here's more evidence they didn't take the right economics courses:
The bank attributed black market inflation to shortages of hard currency that pushed the black market exchange rate to at least 90 billion Zimbabwe dollars for a single U.S. dollar, compared to the official bank exchange of 20 billion to dollar.
Since value is based on relative supply and demand, there's no way in hell that a shortage of hard currency could reduce its value so dramatically. USD1=ZD 90,000,000,000?! The quickest way to reverse that imbalance is not to cut zeros off the currency--the classic but useless response of hyperinflating governments--but to dramatically reduce the number of Zimbabwean dollars in circulation.

The real reason goods are flowing to the black market is not because of a shortage of hard currency, but a sufeit of it. By flowing to the black market, sellers can demand payment in U.S. dollars, a far more stable currency more likely to hold its value. It's not rocket science--if you're a seller of goods, would you rather receive payment in a currency that's likely to still be worth as much tomorrow, or in a currency that's likely to be worth half as much--or less--tomorrow?

And of course the people who suffer from their government's ungodly combination of evil and stupidity are the average citizens, who've done nothing to deserve any of this.

But it could be worse, I suppose. Zimbabwean citizens could be at the mercy of a capitalist system in which Wal Mart comes into their communities and relentlessly drives prices down.

04 August 2008

Lying for Jesus Pisses Me Off

The Confraternity of Catholic Clergy is angry at PZ Myers for desecrating a communion wafer. I don't blame them. Not only would you expect them to be angry, they have a right to be angry. And on a personal level I'm not all that impressed with PZ's action.

But having grown up so deeply enmeshed in Christianity that the ideas and beliefs are a permanent part of my identity despite my lack of belief now, I get righteously indignant at people who lie for Jesus. And the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy have done that, saying:
The freedom of religion means that no one has the right to attack, malign or grossly offend a faith tradition they personally do not have membership or ascribe allegiance.
That is a lie. I don't say it's an error, because I find it impossible to believe that they didn't at least have enough doubt about the claim that they should have checked it out.

Here's what freedom of religion means in the U.S.
  • Congress shall make no law...prohibiting the free exercise [of religion]. Amendment 1.
  • You can engage in animal sacrifice. Church of the Lukumi Babalue Aye, Inc. v. City of Hialeah.
  • You can refuse to salute the flag in school if it violates your religious beliefs. West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette.
  • You can refuse to work on your holy day, and receive unemployment benefits if such refusal results in getting fired. Sherbert v. Verner.
  • You can refuse to educate your child past age 14. Wisconsin v. Yoder.

There are a few more, but surprisingly few free exercise cases in U.S. Constitutional history (they pale in comparison to the output of establishement cases--apparently state and local governments in the U.S. are far more interested in supporting their favored religion than restricting their less favored ones). But there's nothing in there about restricting the free speech rights of citizens who want to malign or grossly offend you. In short, freedom of religion means the freedom to practice your religion: it doesn't mean, and never has meant, freedom from mockery.

So remember, one of the 10 commandments is:

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.
However despicable the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy think PZ Myers is, they are clearly violating the commandments they have presumably committed to upholding. They can't take responsiblity for PZ's soul, but they can for their own.

02 August 2008

Democratic Gay Marriage in Massachusetts

An itty bitty little news story is going mostly unnoticed, but it is a devestating blow to the arguments of the anti-gay marriage yahoos. The Massachusetts legislature has repealed a state law that prohibited out-of-state couples from getting married in Massachusetts if their marriage would be illegal in their home state. And here's the significance--for the first time a legislature, rather than a court has taken a positive action to allow same-sex marriage, and opponents can no longer truthfully say that it's only elitist unelected courts that are forcing gay marriage upon us. Oh, they'll still say it, but now we defenders of equality can point out that they're lying.

It shouldn't really matter. The criticism of unelected judges overturning the democratic will of the people is bullshit anyway. The primary purpose of supreme courts in constitutional governments is to ensure that the demos lives up to the ideals of its constitution, because unfortunately James Madison was right when he wrote in Federalist 51:
democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property:
When a court reprimands the public for being too miserly with equality, it's the public that's wrong, not the courts.

But what opponents of equality haven't noticed, or haven't wanted to notice, is that the Massachusetts state legislature has studiously refused to act ever since the 2003 state supreme court ruling. Because the court was interpreting the state constitution, the only remedy would be a constitutional amendment. Amending the constitution in Massachusetts requires that the same amendment be passed by two consecutive legislatures, with an intervening election. This sensible provision allows the public to throw the bums out if they don't like the proposed amendment, thus squelching it.

But not one session of the Massachusetts legislature has passed a repealing amendment--it was smashed by a vote of 151-45 in January of '07--despite the fact that they could have done so before the '04 elections, before the '06 elections, or since the '06 elections. While same-sex marriage may not have been legalized on a democratic vote, it proved to be impossible to get even one democratic vote to repeal it, and yet the citizens have never bothered to throw the bums out.

And note that the state legislature has now overwhelmingly voted to extend same sex marriage, a mere 3 months before the next election, which clearly signals their belief that the public is firmly on their side.

Opponents of same-sex marriage have been desperately clinging to the "elitist undemocratic judges" storyline as their last desperate hope for persuading the public. But they have missed the clear evidence that an initially skeptical public is irreverisbly trending toward support for same-sex marriage. The opponents have lost the battle to prevent it from being defined as a civil rights issue (and in this county civil rights issues always win eventually), and they are losing the demographic battle, as younger voters (roughly 40 and under) just don't see same-sex marriage as a threat to civilization.

It's all over but the shoutin', folks.

30 July 2008

Continuing the Argument on Oil Prices: Fisking Public Citizen's Tyson Slocum

I've been meaning to try to keep my posts shorter, but this one isn't going to promote that trend. This post is an outgrowth of a long argument between yours truly and Gingerbaker, another regular at Ed Brayton's Dispatches blog. In a nutshell, Gingerbaker thinks I'm either naive or a "corporofascist" because I think increased demand is the primary cause of the last few year's increase in oil prices, and I think he's a silly conspiracy theorist because he believes its primarily caused by oil companies manipulating the market. It would take far too much space here to recount all the points of disagreement, but Ginger thinks I should read congressional testimony of Public Citizen's Tyson Slocum ( that gives evidence for oil company manipulation. As I noted in our argument, I don't doubt oil companies try to manipulate, so I'm sure it's not hard to find evidence of wrongdoing; I just doubt that the nefarious schemes of oil company execs could double the price of oil in two years. The odds of me being convinced by a report from Public Citizen--an organization that is reflexively anti-free markets because they think markets benefit corporations and harm consumers, exactly the opposite of what Adam Smith believed--is about the same as Richard Dawkin being led to an altar call by a Jack Chick tract. But I demanded that Ginger actually give me a source, rather than continue to make unsupported assertions, so it's only right that I actually look at it, rather than continue to bash it without reading it first.

First eyebrow raising claim:
At least $30 of the current $115 of a barrel of oil (or about 70 cents of a gallon of gasoline) is pure speculation, unrelated to supply and demand fundamentals.
Hooollly Cow! And what's his evidence for this? Well, I struggled to find it it. I did find this:
A recent bipartisan U.S. Senate investigation summed up the negative impacts on oil prices with this shift towards unregulated energy trading speculation:
.Several analysts have estimated that speculative purchases of oil futures have added as much as $20–$25 per barrel to the current price of crude oil...
Sooo....which analysts? Who? I have a deep fear that there is a bit of circularity going on here. Slocum--an analyst--claims speculation is causing the price increases, a Senate comittee mentions that in its report, then Slocum uses their report as evidence of his initial claim. OK, honestly I can't say that's going on, and I'll admit that it's not exactly fair to suggest it. But doesn't Slocum have some reponsiblity to give us real sources? I mean, he is giving congressional testimony and citing congressional testimony--even if he's not citing himself it's circular and doesn't get the reader back to any actual evidence or cite a reliable report.

Maybe it's not appropriate to ask that all this appear in congressional testimony (I think it is appropriate to so ask, but I'll play devil's advocate here); the fact remains that Gingerbaker wanted me to be convinced by this. He cited it as evidence, but it isn't evidence, doesn't have any evidence, so it's at least fair for me to critique it on that level.

Second, there's lots of worry about mergers.
In just the last few years, mergers between giant oil companies—such as Exxon and Mobil, Chevron and Texaco, Conoco and Phillips—have resulted in just a few companies controlling a significant amount of America’s gasoline, squelching competition. And the mergers continue unabated as the big just keep getting bigger.
Slocum appears to have been raised on Galbraith: "Big is bad!" "Firms can get so large they're no longer subject to market forces." Of course no economist I've read or met believes this anymore. If the struggles of GM, Ford, and Chrysler aren't proof that being big doesn't make you bulletproof, then nothing is.

But now I'm puzzled. Is the problem of high prices caused by mergers or by speculation? There's a Carnival Cruise Lines boat full of people doing "speculation" (what the less ideologically inclined call the futures market) who don't work for any of the oil firms. In fact one of the complaints in here is that investment firms are getting in on the act. I'll just leave aside the fact that Slocum obviously doesn't understand the purpose and value of futures markets, and leave it at the complaint that at the very beginning he's made two different claims. While they're not mutually exclusive, he doesn't tie them together for his audience.

Then there's:
five oil companies are reaping the largest profits in history.
Record profits, record profits, record profit. The mere fact of making record profits when prices are high is proof beyond a reasonable doubt of guilt, right? But Slocum completely misses the obvious--if you merge two profitable firms, they ought to make record profits! If they don't the merger was probably a damn mistake. Sure, higher prices played a big role in the record profits, but assuming the merger doesn't increase costs, they would have had record profits even if the price of gas had stayed the same. That's real simple math, but Slocum misses it.

And the charging of higher prices is not in itself evidence of wrongdoing. If demand for oil increases, what should an oil company do, raise prices or pump more oil? In fact they will raise prices first, an appropriate response because it signals to what would otherwise be oblivious oil consumers that demand has risen, so they can decide how to respond. This is a key point made by Hayek in his classic, "The Use of Knowledge in Society," but the role of prices as signals to consumers is still little understood. As prices rise, the return to oil companies increases, so more is pumped. I went to school in Bakersfield, California, and folks there were happy when the price of gas went up because people got called back to work to turn the pumps on. Often that brings the price back down, but lately it hasn't. Why not? Some people accuse the oil firms of hoarding the oil in the ground, as though they have a responsibility to pump it out as fast as possible. But in contrast to the popular belief that American businesses can't see beyond the next quarterly statement, oil firms are trying to maximize the long-term return on the oil in the ground. Pumping it out as quickly as possible now would be financially irresponsible, and from the social standpoint wouldn't do us any long-term good.

And when demand does increase, it would be socially irresponsible not to raise prices, because prices help ration the oil by intensity of demand. If I see the price go up by 25 cents a gallon, it tells me that some people want that gas enough to pay more for it than we did yesterday, and then I have to decide whether I want it as bad or not. If the price increase causes me to not drive to the city for Thai food this weekend, it's evidence that prices served their role of directing resources to their highest valued use. Slocum trots out the old trope that:
most [Ameriicans] lack the financial resources to make such investments [like insulating their homes] or lack access to alternatives to driving in their car.
This is simply false. Take me, for example: It's not uncommon for us to take two or three trips a day to the store, we drive our daughter the 5 blocks to swim practice, my wife drives the 1/2 mile to her work, and I drive the 1 1/2 miles to my work. We could easily change--and to some extent have--and we live in one of the classic no-public-transportation towns. Consumers are actually much more clever at figuring out ways to adapt than Slocum gives them credit for, but this is classic Ralph Nader/Public Citizen type stuff, 'standing up" for consumers while actually holding a vicious disdain for the intelligence of consumers.

The next puzzler:
oil companies are spending more money buying back their own stock then they are on investing in their ageing infrastructure
Slocum doesn't bother to explain why this matters. Perhaps he thinks it's self-evident, but I don't. If a company thought it could maximize it's profits by investing in infrastructure, they would do so, right? If they don't, then obviously they don't think their firm needs that investment. Now, who would I trust to make a better decision on that, the company's CEO or someone working for a public interest group? The CEO has a better incentive to use the business's funds wisely. They don't always, obviously, but what are the odds that outsiders with an ax to grind will, on average, do better? At any rate, Slocum comes dangerously close to suggesting the government ought to regulate such internal business decisions, a recipe for hamstringing the economy without benefiting anyone.

Now, get this one, which shows that Slocum should never--NEVER!--be your company's CEO.
The industry has plenty of incentive to intentionally keep refining markets tight. ExxonMobil’s new CEO told The Wall Street Journal that even though American fuel consumption will continue growing for the next decade, his company has no plans to build new refineries:
Exxon Mobil Corp. says it believes that, by 2030, hybrid gasoline-and-electric cars and light trucks will account for nearly 30% of new-vehicle sales in the U.S. and Canada. That surge is part of a broader shift toward fuel efficiency that Exxon thinks will cause fuel consumption by North American cars and light trucks to peak around 2020—and then start to fall. “For that reason, we wouldn’t build a grassroots refinery” in the U.S., Rex Tillerson, Exxon’s chairman and chief executive, said in a recent interview. Exxon has continued to expand the capacity of its existing refineries. But building a new refinery from scratch, Exxon believes, would be bad for long-term business.
Two points. First, there's the oft-repeated concern that "no new refineries are being built," often trotted out by asshat right-wingers who think high fuel prices are caused by environmentalists. Nice to see left and right come together on something /sarcasm]. But the companies are expanding their current refineries' capacity, because that's a whole hell of a lot more cost effective than building a new one.

Second, Slocum totally glosses over Exxon Mobile's reason for not building a new refinery; they expect fuel efficient cars to negate the need by 2020. Slocum wants Exxon Mobile to invest billions in a refinery that, by the time it could be up and running, would be useful for less than a decade! What kind of fucking moron would suggest that? One who's gone to Vegas to play roulette with other people's money and has his head so far up his ass he can't see where the ball is landing. And consider the effect if Slocum got a magic wish and each of these firms had a new refinery up and running tomorrow: if it brought gas prices back down to under $2, who would buy a more fuel-efficient car? Exxon-Mobile's refusal to expand refinery production too much is not only a good business decision, it's one that should have environmentalists jumping for joy. (And what are the odds someone working for Public Citizen isn't an environmentalist?)

Next is this, which may have a logic I'm too simple to grasp:
As a result of this strategy of keeping refining capacity tight, energy traders in New York are pushing the price of gasoline higher, and then trading the price of crude oil up to follow gasoline:
Well, I really don't know. But I wonder who's storing all that crude that's not being refined? I'd like to see the storage costs on billions of barrels of crude.

It gets weirder, really:
The U.S. Federal Trade Commission found evidence of anti-competitive practices in the physical refined product market in its March 2001 Midwest Gasoline Price Investigation:
An executive of [one] company made clear that he would rather sell less gasoline and earn a higher margin on each gallon sold than sell more gasoline and earn a lower margin. Another employee of this firm raised concerns about oversupplying the market and thereby reducing the high market prices.
OK, first, one firm's decision to try to keep prices high is not an anti-competitive practice; it's an anti-profit practice. And Slocum only cites one company here. Second, the preference to sell less for more, rather than more for less, is not an anti-competitive pratice--it's just a fuckin' preference! Slocum claims "evidence" (his word) of anti-competitive practices, but he doesn't actually provide evidence that it happened, just that at least one oil exec would like it to happen.

That's only about half of the testimony. The rest is primarily Public Citizen's 5 point plan for reform. It contains much I disagree with, such as how anti-trust law in the U.S. ought to be interepreted, greater regulation and oversight of energy trading markets. It also, however, contains details of the big oil companies nefarious schemes to jigger the market and make more money. Some of them I'll take as evidentiary, such as "In August 2004, a Shell Oil subsidiary agreed to pay $7.8 million to settle allegations of oil market manipulation." Businesses often settle when they're guilty, to avoid paying more, so I have no reason to doubt those specific types of claims. But others are less compelling:
In August 2007, Oil giant BP admitted in a filing to the Securities and Exchange Commission that “The US Commodity Futures Trading Commission and the US Department of Justice are currently investigating various aspects of BP’s commodity trading activities,
All BP has admitted is that they're being investigated, not that they've done anything wrong. Unless Slocum is willing to leave the left-wing of American politics and join the Constitution-hating right-wing, he might want to hang onto that "innocent until proven guilty" ideal.

And then there's this little gem, listed under "Latest Trading Trick: Energy Infrastructure Affiliate Abuse."
n 2003, Morgan Stanley teamed up with Apache Corp to buy 26 oil and gas fields from Shell for $500 million, of which Morgan Stanley put up $300 million in exchange for a portion of the production over the next four years, which it used to supplement its energy trading desk.
Admittedly I'm no expert on the energy industry, but what's the issue here? Slocum makes no attempt to explain what's wrong with an investment firm making a deal to put up 3/5 of the sale price in exchange for "a portion of the production." Isn't that a normal business practice, or am I way off here? Or is the problem that they're using their portion of the oil production to supplement their energy trading division? Why? I admit I could be missing something here, but this sounds like completely legitimate business activity to me, and Slocum makes no effort to explain why it isn't. What I have quoted is 100% of his comment on that topic.

In summary, this is about what I expected from Public Citizen: long on outrage and careful use of leading phrases (speculation, rather than futures markets), and short on supporting evidence and basic economic and business understanding. These ideological groups exist on both sides of the political spectrum, and their common failing is that their "research" is backwards: they've reached their conclusion and then they cherry pick and misinterpret facts until they have a mass of text that seems to support their arguments.

Ginger would probably say I've done the same thing: concluded the market is at work and tried to justify it. Given the way blog debates develop, it wouldn't be an unreasonable assumption. However I have been following this issue for a while, I am equipped with a knowledge of economics, and I look up things when I don't know. For example, in reviewing this testimony, I realized that I had no idea why businesses buy back their own stock, so I looked it up. Turns out it's not an underhanded business practice (unless the CEO is trying to pump up his own earnings, apparently, but that's not what's claimed here), but is sometimes the most productive use of a company's cash on hand. See, rather than assume what stock buybacks meant, I read up on it so I would understand. If I had found that it really was a dark and devious practice that harmed consumers, I would have had to adjust my views.

Finally, I couldn't possibly address every claim in a 20 page document, so it will be easy to attack me by saying, "but what about this." If anyone wants to, go ahead. Just don't think it's likely to be a telling blow: I'm perfectly capable of re-reading the testimony again (and again), in order to address any other issue brought up in it.

But I have my doubts Ginger will be convinced. I did this more for myself, so I'd know I hadn't ducked a challenge, not assuming he'd find my logic so compelling that he'd suddenly reverse course, admit my genius, and start a fanclub. I'm not that conceited. But once people have committed to an assumption that the other side is evil (the corporations, that is, not me), they're generally impervious to logic.

29 July 2008

House Apologizes for Slavery

The U.S. House of Representatives has passed a non-binding resolution apologizing for slavery and Jim Crow. The poll question is: Is this pointless symbolic politics, or a long overdue statement that has real meaning?

Caught With His Hand in the Till?

Alaska Senator Ted Stevens (R) has been indicted for illegally receiving more than a quarter million dollars in gifts from an Alaska firm run by a "personal friend" of Stevens.

I believe in innocent until proven guilty, but that doesn't mean I can't make odds on whether he'll be found guilty. I say 3-1 he's found guilty of those charges, or cops to lesser ones.

Arlen Specter says he's always found Stevens to be "impeccably honest." Methinks he is about to be pecked.

Does Monetary Theory Apply to Voting?

J. M. Keynes argued that economic slumps come about due to a decrease in spending--a deficit of demand. Consequently, In response, Milton Friedman argued that people's spending was fairly constant (that people spend a fairly constant proportion of their income). This has important economic policy implications, of course: if spending isn't the cause of economic problems, government can't fill in the gap with deficit spending, and Keynsian fiscal policy will be ineffective.

One of the factors within that lack of effectiveness is how people will respond to explicitly temporary fiscal policies. I.e., according to Friedman, people will ignore a temporary tax cut, rather than spending more in response to it. Only perceived permanent changes in net income lead to spending changes.

Early today I was continuing my argument on Dispatches about oil prices, specifically rebutting the claim that oil prices dropped prior to the 2004 election (which was proferred as evidence that oil companies can manipulate prices at will; my evidence rebutting it is found here).

But I suddenly wondered what effect an oil price decrease right before an election would have. There is clear evidence that public perceptions of the state of the economy affect presidential elections. It's also clear that the timing of the perception is important--the economy was reviving in 1992 before the November election, but the public hadn't felt the impact yet. Had the economy revived in late spring/early summer, rather than mid-late summer, George H.W. Bush might have won re-election. That probably would have meant no Clinton, and probably would have meant no W as well. Sigh.

But gasoline prices are quite evident, much more obvious than the signs of a recovering economy, so let's assume timing isn't an issue with them. My question is, then:
Does the public's tendency to not react to temporary tax decreases by increasing spending indicate that they will fail to change their likely vote in response to what they perceive as a temporary decrease in gas prices?
Let's assume a simplified polity where gas prices are the only political issue, and that lower prices mean more votes for the incumbent party. Are voters going to calculate whether they expect the price increase to be temporary or (relatively) long-term, and will that calculation then determine their vote?

I suspect so, but off the top of my head I don't know of any research that's specifically tied that aspect of Friedman to voting behavior.

My Latest Policy Brief and More

My latest policy brief, "Strong and Competitive: The American Economy in the Free Trade Era," written for the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, is now available online. An economist might notice that I defend free trade without ever mentioning comparative advantage, but my handlers worried that it is too complex a read for most of their supporters anyway. I've yet to figure out how to simply and intuitivey explain comparative advantage, although I've seen some valiant attempts. I think such an explanation would be a great boon to the world.

My next policy brief, due out in October, I believe, will be on the presidential election. I'm not sure yet what I'll say.

I've also received the proofs for my latest political science journal article, "A Primer on Applying to the Liberal Arts College," which will be appearing in the October issue of PS: Political Science and Politics. You can see my name in the table of contents here. It's advice for writing a good application for new PhDs who are applying for a job at a liberal arts college. It's based on my experience running a job search, in which the applicants' overwhelming lack of understanding of the job market and hiring process became abundantly clear. That is, they were just as clueless about how to write a good letter of application as I was when I finished my PhD. My friend, Jim, who just proofread the final copy for me, agreed that he also didn't understand the importance of the cover letter until after sitting on a hiring committee. This isn't an especially intellectual work, but I think it should help a few job candidates. Unfortunately it probably won't be available online for a year or so.

I have other projects on tap, too. My friend, Jeff has finally sent me moe current data on patents granted and R&D in the US, Taiwan, and Korea, so with luck we can finish our long-in-process article on that causes of the development of intellectual property rights regimes in developing countries, and I am working with my chemist friend, Michael on a paper comparing the benefits of the dollar coin vs. the paper dollar. He initially wrote it as a quickie paper in grad school, and recently found out that it's been floating around in influential circles, but they can't make use of it because it's not a peer-reviewed article. Our goal is to change that, which requires some upgrading of the paper, but I think we'll have a completed version by spring '09.

Efficiency Rules, mostly

I've been posting quite a bit on economics lately, and was engaged in yet another heated economics debates on Ed Brayton's blog. I left my email address on one comment there, inviting people to contact me that way if they had more questions. Two did, and one of them asked where I stood on various regulations to keep corporations from abusing people. That's a good question, although I don't love the way it's phrased, because that's still a question I struggle with.

Economics is primarily about efficiency, and efficiency is a damn good thing because it allows us to maximize the ratio of benefits to costs, thus maximizing wealth. And wealth, particularly having a wealthy society, is a great thing. We in the western world are wealthier than people in the developing countries, so we can afford clean safe water, good food, medical care, better housing, books, travel, and all the other things that make our lives good.

But efficiency is just one value, and contra Plato, not all values are commensurate. It's not just that efficiency doesn't necessarily distribute wealth evenly (as long as we all continue to become wealthier, it's little harm to me that others are wealthier yet--absolute, rather than comparative, well-being, is the proper standard), it's that efficiency may at times place much too little value on individual humans.

So given that all regulations are market-distorting, yet markets may not respect humans as much as I like, when is regulation ok? It's not always easy to answer.

For example, if there is an oversupply of labor, workers become dispensable, and subject to very abusive treatment. This is the real story behind Sinclair's The Jungle, not that he realized it. Massive levels of immigration resulted in a tremendous oversupply of unskilled labor looking for factory jobs, with the consequence that none of them had much market value. Although it's guaranteed that the government regulation will be inefficient, I don't mind regulations about workplace safety and treatment of employees in such a case.

And as much as I am skeptical of nationalized health care, it does seem to me that government can be an effective insurer of last resort in cases of traumatic health care problems. Should the fact that no one's devised an economically efficient way of providing health insurance for someone who's never going to work again but will have have mounting medical bills throughout their life mean they should be left to die?

Although I'm a staunch free marketer, I do recognize that efficiency is not the only meaningful value we should try to achieve in our society. So I do support some regulation not justified by efficiency, particularly to support those who really do have no hope of supporting themselves anymore. But I also think that efficiency as a value is under-rated by too many people--after all, it's what provides the wealth that allows us to set efficiency aside and "waste" it on people who need it but can't earn it.

28 July 2008

Are Oil Prices Inflationary?

A commentor on Ed Brayton's blog claims that the recent high oil prices are "hyperinflation of a commodity." Of course it's not hyperinflation by any reasonable measure. Oil prices have roughly doubled--a 100% increase--in the last two years. In Germany, following WWI, they experienced inflation of around 300-400% per month. In several south American countries in the 1980s, the inflation rates were between 2,000 and 12,000% per year.

If 100% is "hyper," then I guess my first experience with hyperinflation was back in the '70s when the price of Bazooka Bubble Gum increased from 1 cent per piece to 2 cents.

The issue of real interest, however, is whether it is proper to call the increase in oil prices inflation? The commentor is not the only one to effectively call all price increases inflation, and a quick google search shows any number of articles linking oil prices and inflation.

Being influenced by the Austrian school, I dislike using the term inflation to refer to price increases caused by changes in supply or demand. Nothing is inflated there, because the real market value of the goods are being revealed by the price increases.

Inflation, proper, is the consequence of an increase in the money supply, an increase that is too great to be soaked up by increased production. Assuming, for example, that production is fixed, and no more can be produced. Then assume that overnight the money supply doubles. Since no more could be produced, prices would double. But goods would not be twice as valuable--the price increase would not reflect any increase in the value of the goods.

I think it is important to distinguish between the two types of price increases because they represent fundamentally different phenomena, and the appropriate response to each is fundamentally different. The proper response to real price increases is to conserve and purchase less, while the proper response to inflation is to reduce the money supply (as Fed Chair Paul Volcker did so successfully in 1981-2).

Furthermore, a rise in oil prices, even though it may cause an increase in costs for oil-dependent businesses, cannot cause an overall rise in prices unless the supply of money also increases. Because if the cost of oil goes up, and the supply of money remains fixed, then after buying oil (assume, for the moment, they buy the same amount), consumers have less money left over to buy other goods than they did before the price increase. If the price of something else--plastic containers, for example--also goes up because the price of oil goes up, they have again less money than before left over for other purchases. If all prices go up, consumers will have to purchase less. If consumers purchase less, goods will go unsold, and their prices must fall.

This is where politics and economics meet. Confusing the two causes of price increases leads to confusion about the proper political response. The appropriate political response to inflation is to reduce the money supply, while the appropriate political response to real price increases is to inform the public that it is real, and to disseminate information about ways to reduce their usage. Disseminating information is one of the things governments can do well.

Another appropriate action would be to improve the economic education in our elementary and high schools. The commentor on Dispatches accused me of an ad hominem attack on K-12 education. Far from being an ad hominem--I didn't accuse teachers of being stupid or lazy--I was just pointing out the regrettable fact that we don't teach much economics before college, and I think it's a disservice to our children. Supply and demand effects are easy to teach, and particularly appropriate to elementary school as they can be demonstrated with fun classroom activities. As long as most Americans think price controls are an effective cost to price increases (whether real or inflationary), that free trade makes us poorer, that subsidies help the economy, and that businesses can charge as much as they want, we'll never have have good economic policies. And, unfortunately, both our presidential candidates are true men of the masses on this score.

26 July 2008

Perpetual Economic Ignorance

CNN.com has a story about biofuels, featuring a cross-country trip using biodiesel. There's no comment about the economic impact of biofuels on food prices, but there is this priceless gem, showing that 200 years after Adam Smith wrote The Wealth of Nations, that very few people understand economics.
About $333 billion exited the United States in 2007 due to the purchase of oil, according to Scahill, illustrating the high cost of importing foreign energy. Biofuel is produced and sold in the United States -- which keeps money from those transactions circulating inside the U.S. economy.
Yes, old fashioned mercantilist thinking. And the unavoidable logical implication is that every country will be better off if it produced everything it needed for itself.

Surely, if every country would be better off if it was wholly self-sufficient, so would each state in the U.S. And if each state is, surely each county would be. And if each county would be, surely each municipality would be. And if each municipality would be, surely each family would be. In other words, I should start growing my own biodiesel--after all roughly $2,000 per year exits my household economy.

It may be objected that I'm making false analogies, that a family is not like a country. But both Adam Smith and Frederic Bastiat thought that, in economic matters, they were alike. And more to the point, I'd challenge anyone to make a compelling argument explaining at which of those political boundaries the economic logic changes from trade to self-sufficiency.

25 July 2008


Today and tomorrow, and I can't go.

11th Annual Michigan Brewers Guild Festival.:July 26 & 27.
Around 3,000 people are expected at this festival that offers a chance to taste-test over 200 Michigan-brewed beers, in a wide variety of styles. Live entertainment.

It's almost like heaven, except as we know,

"In heaven there is no beer,
that's why we drink it here.
And when we are gone from here,
all our friends will be drinking all our beer."

Tragedy of the Commons Symposium

The announcement for the Tragedy of the Commons Symposium went out Wednesday around noon. I have since received 5 registrations for the 40 available spaces.

My ideal is that we fill up quickly and have a good number of people we have to decline, so that my college president is impressed by the demand and agrees to fund another one in the future. Just like certain luxury items, I'm trying to create a strategic undersupply. Of course that will backfire badly if I stall at 25 registrations!

But I also have locked in my last panelist, Michael Kaplowtiz of Michigan State University's Environmental Studies Department. As soon as I get his name up on the conference page, you can view the full list of participants.

24 July 2008

Life Gets in the Way of Blogging

Not being a professional blogger, I often find it difficult to blog regularly. Never more so than now. My home computer--a decrepit Mac--no longer allows me to log into blogger.com. 5 mornings a week I spend 3 hours at swim practice/lessons for my little mermaid daughters, plus the weekly swim meets. My summer on-line class takes an inordinate amount of time because it's a new subject matter for me, and has occasionally kept me in my office until midnight. And I've been working on the Tragedy of the Commons Symposium (which looks to be coming along fine). On top of that I've been going to physical therapy 3 days a week to try to fix my rotator cuffs. And I got stuck on a committee to hire a director of pre-med and biological sciences, despite my obvious lack of qualifications.

Still, life can't be made up of excuses. There's always time, if you're willing to make it. But I've decided not to decline my social engagements, either. Last weekend it was the annual extended family camping trip (lots o' rain, and the ceiling of my tent failed at 4 a.m.). Today it's dinner and hours of beer at my friend Jim's house. This Saturday after the swim meet it's the county fair.

So, just in case you wonder why I've slowed down, in case you've been aching for more words of wisdom from me, there's your answer. Clearly less blogging (especially by me) isn't going to reduce the level of happiness and well-being in the world, so we'll all manage to survive somehow.

Chuck Norris, Constitutional Scholar

As someone who has spent considerable time studying constitutional law, I am just plain sick and tired of right-wing blowhards who think they know the “real” meaning of the Constitution. In this respect, at least, left-wing blowhards are marginally less obnoxious, because they’re more likely to make their claims in terms of what they would “like” the Constitution to mean. It is only the right-wingers who are convinced they know the objective truth of the Constitution, it’s original meaning, and it’s so obnoxiously offensive because they’re so often wildly and foolishly wrong. Case in point, the noted Constitutional scholar Chuck Norris on the Constitution and the size of Congress.
We have more representatives than we need, and more than the Constitution requires…
What many might not realize is that there is nothing ultimately sacred about the present number of congressmen and congresswomen we have in the House of Representatives….The Constitution requires and endeavors to assure fairness and equity by requiring at least one representative per state, two senators per state and representation in the electoral college. (At the other extreme, it states that “The number of representatives shall not exceed one for every 30,000.”) So why not go with the lower amount? It seems to me that in our day, in both House and Senate, fewer representatives by area would be more reasonable and effective than more representatives by population.
…The U.S. doesn’t need a new reapportionment act to raise the number of representatives, but a return to the Constitution to reduce the number of representatives in pursuit of creating more equitable regions or districts. Personally, I believe, just as we have one governor per state, we should consider reducing Congress to on representative and two senators per state (the minimal constitutional requirements).
The first sentence contains two claims, one normative and one objective. The normative claim is that we have more representatives than we need. This claim relies on a rejection of the political value of equal representation. In fact Norris explicitly rejects equal representation of citizens in favor of equal representation of states. This is a legitimate, if debatable claim. The Continental Congress was based on equal representation of states, and the small states tried to install that principle in the Constitution, partially succeeding as the Senate is based on equal representation of states, rather than of citizens. Whether it would be wise to base both chambers of Congress on equal state representation is debatable, but not ultimately a testable question, so I will grant Norris that claim and focus on the objective claim in that sentence, that we have more Representatives than the Constitution requires.

Of course the Constitution does not require any specific number, so Norris has made a statement that is true in reference to absolute numbers. But what exactly does the Constitution require? The relevant clause is in Article I, section two:
Representatives . . . shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union according to their respective numbers [and] each State shall have at Least one Representative;
Norris places great weight on the “each State shall have at Least one Representative” phrase, treating that as constitutionally sufficient for any and every state, which is a gross misinterpretation. The clause merely sets a minimum number of Representatives for the least populated states, to ensure that no state is denied representation in the House. It does not describe a satisfactory minimum for all states because the preceding phrase says, “Representatives…shall be apportioned among the several States…according to their respective numbers.” That is, Representatives are apportioned by population of the states. If each state had but one Representative, they would not be apportioned by population at all. So Norris’s implication that the Constitution does not require more than 1 Representative per state is badly mistaken. The principle embedded here is the principle of equality of representation, a political value institutionalized as a Constitutional principle. By logical extension then, the Constitution requires a sufficient number of Representatives to properly apportion them among the states so that citizens are equally represented.

But do we, nevertheless, have more than is required, as Norris claims? Since the requirement is equal representation of people, we can simply see if that principle is met—that is, if Representatives’ constituencies are equal , the principle is met; if unequal, the principle is not met. (The equality need not be perfect. The problem of marginal representatives is intractable, as it is unlikely that the number of Representatives will ever be a simple divisor of the total population.) As it turns out, the current number of Representatives is not more than is required, and has, in fact, become—arguably—less than constitutionally required. As equal representation (equal constituency size) is required, and each state must have at least 1 representative, the effective maximum constituency size is equal to the population of the smallest state. (The minimum constituency size is 30,000: Norris cites the Constitution correctly, where it says, “The number of representatives shall not exceed one for every 30,000.)

So all we need to do is ask whether any constituencies exceed the maximum size, as determined by the population of the least populous state? That number is currently set by Wyoming’s approximately 515,000 residents (according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2006 estimate). The population of the U.S. as of 2000 was about 281 ½ million (the current population is over 3 million, but as districts are determined by the decennial census, any malapportionment occurring as a result of mid-decade population shifts are not constitutionally problematic. Note that Wyoming’s 2000 population was 494,000, so by using the higher Wyoming figure, and the lower U.S. figure, I am estimating conservatively). Dividing the population by the number of districts, we get
281,500,000/435= 647,126.

That is, the average district size (as of 2000) was roughly 132,000 more than the maximum size needed to ensure constitutionally required equal protection—about 25% too large!

This will only get worse following the 2000 census. Extrapolating Wyoming’s population growth (a gain of 26,000 people from 2000-2006, so we can generously grant them another 30,000 in the remaining years of the decade), and assuming the U.S. population does not increase from its current estimate of about 300 million, the maximum allowable size for the next reapportionment will be 545,000, while the average size will be almost 690,000—that is, 26% too large even using unrealistically generous estimates (more likely it will be around 30% too large).

This is, I believe, an unprecedented event in U.S. history. Prior to 1911, Congress regularly raised the number of Representatives in response to a growing population and the addition of new states. In 1911 they fixed the number at the present 435, on the reasonable basis that the larger the House grew, the more unwieldy it became in its operations. At that time, Idaho, Nevada, Utah, and Montana had only 1 Representative each (and further research is necessary before I can say whether they were over or under represented at the time). Only after that, as the population grew while the House remained fixed, was there real potential for this problem, and as we can guess from the numbers shown, it is a fairly recent problem (again, further research could establish when it began).

I am unaware that any lawsuits have yet been filed targeted at this issue. But contrary to Norris’s claim, a large state like California is actually under-represented in Congress, and has, I believe, a reasonable claim to more Representatives, which could only be met by an increase in the size of the House. Perhaps the Supreme Court would reject the argument, on the grounds that 25% is not too large a discrepancy, but they could only do so by rebutting their own arguments in Baker v. Carr and succeeding cases, where such a large discrepancy in size would have been vigorously rejected. But assuming they would do so, there has to be some limit to the malapportionment that the Court would not accept, whether it be 30%, 40%, etc.

In sum, Chuck Norris’s absurd constitutional claim does not stand up to the most casual analysis—we do not have more Representatives than the Constitution requires, but too few. But Norris reveals his real agenda with his claim that:
I don’t only think there are too many cooks in Congress’ kitchen nowadays, but the numbers are stacked in discriminatory ways. For example, if California represents a larger liberal voice with its 53 representatives, what chance or how fair is it for smaller more conservative states who have between one and 5 representatives and votes in the House?
So Norris thinks it’s unfair that California, with 60 times as many people as Wyoming or North Dakota, gets more representation. In fact he not only opposed equal representation of people, his real goal isn’t even equal representation of states—he wants disproportionate representation for his ideology! Imagine how conservatives would respond if a liberal said there ought to be more representation for liberals because conservatives keep winning too many elections, and badly misinterpreted the Constitution to justify the argument. The conservatives would rip the liberal to shreds for hating America, and that’s the appropriate response to Chuck Norris.

Chuck, why do you hate America?

But, to put the topper on it, Norris either misunderstands California, or is flatly lying to his readers. He suggests that California’s 53 representatives all represent “a liberal voice.” But 18 of those 53, about 1/3, are Republicans. California is not monolithically liberal (even though it is clearly predominantly Democratic these days). But since when has a partisan hack—of any stripe—let facts get in the way of trying to pervert our system for their own ideological benefit?