April 29, 2004

Regulation by purse strings

Alex Tabarrok at Marginal Revolution points out another example of federal regulation via funding.

A federal judge heard arguments in a suit filed after Metro rejected an ad from Change the Climate, a group that advocates reforms in laws against marijuana. Metro took the action after Congress passed a law that denies federal money to transit systems that accept advertising promoting the legalization of drugs.
It's not the first time Congress has overstepped its bounderies in one area by making funding in another contingent on the behavior it's looking for. Federal highway funds being tied to a 21 year old drinking age comes to mind. But requiring a prior restraint on political speech for transportation funds is another matter entirely.

The optimist in me believes this will be struck down. But the War on Drugs has justified so many other previously unthinkable things that it's hard to be confident.

And as Alex points out, very little of modern life is completely immune to federal funding decisions. If we let this stand, we deserve what we get. Unfortunately, rather than vote the idiots in Congress out for this kind of nonsense, we'll sit back and let the Courts handle it, breathe a sigh of relief, and wait for the next outrage. Sigh....

Posted by richard at 02:49 PM | Comments (1)

Hat Trick

Hate to do three UN-bashing posts in a row, but I just read Kofi Annan's contribution to the Fallujah situation:

"Violent military action by an occupying power against inhabitants of an occupied country will only make matters worse," Secretary-General Kofi Annan (search) said. "It's definitely time, time now for those who prefer restraint and dialogue to make their voices heard."
Yeah. Except none of them happen to be on the other side, all of whom seem to have been demoted from insurgents and guerillas to "inhabitants". So what's your next big idea, Kofi?

Posted by richard at 01:59 AM | Comments (0)

Was it okay until today?

According to the BBC, the UN bans WMD sales to terrorists. I feel so much better.

Posted by richard at 01:52 AM | Comments (0)


I just heard Representative Tom Lantos (D - California) say at the House hearings about the UN Oil-for-Food scandal:
At a time when we are moving towards placing enormous responsibilities, following the handover on June 30, upon the United Nations and the Secretary General.... to imply dishonesty on his part is so contrary to our national interest that it simply boggles the mind.
Ummm.... isn't that a bit backward given that this is a hearing about the largest financial scandal in history. A program totalling $65 billion dollars, of which only $18 billion was used to actually buy food or medicine. A program from which Saddam appears to have skimmed $10 billion. That enriched the UN and the Secretariat over a billion dollars and their friends perhaps even more. That appears to have funded terrorist networks and criminal banks. That paid for Saddam's organs of propaganda and oppression instead of humanitarian aid. That paid for intransigent opposition to US policy towards Iraq. Shouldn't the argument be:
At a time when we are investigating the honesty, compentence, and transparency of the United Nations and the Secretary General.... to imply that we should be moving toward placing enormous responsibilities, following the handover on June 30, upon them is so contrary to our national interest that it simply boggles the mind.
Update: Thanks to Instareader pressure, I doublechecked the numbers. Commentary magazine actually says that $15 billion worth of "food and health supplies" reached Iraq before the fall of Saddam, not $18 billion.
Posted by richard at 01:20 AM | Comments (21)

April 27, 2004

This has to end

The war on drugs is a miserable failure and we have to rethink it. Anyone who thinks that this is an acceptable, but perhaps regrettable, side effect of our righteous efforts to "save the children" and stop the "scourge of drugs" needs to think again.

Although prosecutors admitted Paey was not a drug trafficker, on April 16 he received a mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years for drug trafficking. That jaw-dropping outcome illustrates two sadly familiar side effects of the war on drugs: the injustice caused by mandatory minimum sentences and the suffering caused by the government's interference with pain treatment.

Paey, a 45-year-old father of three, is disabled as a result of a 1985 car accident, failed back surgery, and multiple sclerosis. Today, as he sits in jail in his wheelchair, a subdermal pump delivers a steady, programmed dose of morphine to his spine.

Meanwhile, prosecutors have pursued Paey in three trials. The first ended in a mistrial; the second resulted in a conviction that the judge threw out because of a procedural error; and the third, which ended last month, produced guilty verdicts on 15 charges of drug trafficking, obtaining a controlled substance by fraud, and possession of a controlled substance.

A juror later told the St. Petersburg Times he did not really think Paey was guilty of trafficking, since the prosecution made it clear from the outset that he didn't sell any pills. The juror said he voted guilty to avoid being the lone holdout. He suggested that other jurors might have voted differently if the foreman had not assured them Paey would get probation.

The prosecutors, who finally obtained the draconian sentence that even they concede Paey does not deserve, say it's his fault for insisting on his innocence. "It's unfortunate that anyone has to go to prison, but he's got no one to blame but Richard Paey," Assistant State Attorney Mike Halkitis told the St. Petersburg Times. "All we wanted to do was get him help."

Instapundit links to more on the sordid history of marijuana prohibition. Read the whole thing for all the xenophobic details.

The most discouraging part? Here is the full text of the congressional debate on the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937:

NY Republican: Mr. Speaker, what is this bill about?

Speaker Rayburn: I don't know. It has something to do with a thing called marihuana. I think it's a narcotic of some kind.

NY Republican: Mr. Speaker, does the American Medical Association support this bill?

Congressman on committee: Their Doctor Wentworth came down here. They support this bill 100 percent.

That's it. The whole thing. And it passed easily without a roll-call vote. The most disgusting thing? What the doctor from the AMA (whose real name was Woodward) actually said to the committee was "The American Medical Association knows of no evidence that marihuana is a dangerous drug." But no matter. That's pretty close to 100 percent support.

And for the first time, federal laws began to regulate narcotics. And now, 67 years later, we get to lock up wheelchair-bound chronic pain sufferers for a quarter century even when we don't want to. Now that's progress.

Posted by richard at 07:07 PM | Comments (1)

ImClone Stock

Prof. Bainbridge points out that ImClone, a lie about which stock will most likely send Martha Stewart to jail later this year, has just closed at $79.75, more than $20 higher than when the "insiders" sold it in a panic.

Posted by richard at 06:50 PM | Comments (0)

Finally, a good decision...

... from an international organization. From Asymmetrical Information, we learn that WTO has ruled against US Cotton subsidies.

Although some lawmakers, agribusinesses and farmers are worried by this development, hopefully we can use the ruling as an excuse to start to dismantle some of the most pernicious subsidies we have. From enriching a few large farmers, to causing severe water shortages, to encouraging wasteful use of marginal land, to locking out one of the only markets that poor third world farmers can compete in, to wasting billions of tax-payer dollars, cotton subsidies are some of the very worst of the awful set of quotas, tariffs and subsidies that practically define our agricultural policy.

Of course, Bush is playing his fair-weather free-trader role and vowing to fight for the American farmer and appeal the ruling. And Democrats are thrilled to go along with that or do even more.

But saner heads can prevail, right?

Posted by richard at 06:39 PM | Comments (1)

EU and Tomatoes

Tim Worstall has a post about grape tomatoes and the EU. Turns out, they're illegal. Not because of any sort of bio-engineering or genetic modification. No, simply because the EU did not list them in its regulations for what constitutes a legal tomato.

In fact, they are illegal for two reasons. First because they are not listed by name and, second, because they are too small to be called a tomator (only cherry tomatoes are exempt from the size requirements).

Oh the joys of regulation. (HT: Virginia Postrel)

Posted by richard at 05:53 PM | Comments (0)


Commentary Magazine has a detail article on the disgrace that is the UN Oil-for-Food program.

From the start, the program was poorly designed. Saddam had blamed the fate of starving Iraqi children on the sanctions regime and specifically on the United States. Seeking to address these charges, the Clinton administration went looking for a compromise; with the Secretariat in the lead, the Security Council agreed to conditions on Oil-for-Food that were, to say the least, amenable to manipulation. Saddam, the author of the miseries of Iraq, was given the right to negotiate his own contracts to sell Iraqi oil and to choose his own foreign customers. He was also allowed to draw up the shopping lists of humanitarian supplies—the "distribution plans"—and to strike his own deals for these goods, picking his foreign suppliers. The UN also granted Saddam a say in the choice of the bank that would mainly handle the funds and issue the letters of credit to pay these suppliers; the designated institution was a French bank now known as BNP Paribas....

To all this, the UN added another twist. Unlike most of its relief programs, in which both the cost of the relief itself and UN overhead were paid for by contributions from member states, Oil-for-Food would in every respect be funded entirely out of Saddam’s oil revenues. The UN Secretariat would collect a 2.2-percent commission on every barrel of Iraqi oil sold, plus 0.8 percent to pay for UN weapons inspections in Iraq.

If the aim of this provision was to make Saddam bear the cost of his own obstinacy, the effect was to create a situation in which the UN Secretariat was paid handsomely, on commission, by Saddam—to supervise Saddam. And the bigger Oil-for-Food got, the bigger the fees collected by Annan’s office. Over the seven years of the program, oil sales ultimately totaled some $65 billion. On the spending side, the UN says $46 billion went for aid to Iraq, and $18.2 billion was paid out as compensation to victims of Saddam’s 1990-91 occupation of Kuwait. As for commissions to the Secretariat, these ran to about $1.9 billion, of which $1.4 billion was earmarked for administrative overhead for the humanitarian program (the UN says it turned over $300 million of this to help pay for relief, but no public accounting has ever been given) and another $500 million or so for weapons inspections in Iraq. Discrepancies in these numbers can be chalked up to interest paid on some of the funds, exchange-rate fluctuations, or simply the murk in which most of the Oil-for-Food transactions remain shrouded to this day....

The arrangement actually helped strengthen Saddam’s chokehold at home. With sanctions effectively forbidding all other foreign commerce, Iraq’s only legitimate trade was whatever flowed through Saddam’s ministries under the supervision of the UN program. Thus the UN gave to Saddam the entire import-export franchise for Iraq, taking upon itself the responsibility for ensuring that he would use this arrangement to help Iraq’s 26 million people. The success of the program depended wholly on the UN’s integrity, competence, and willingness to prevent Saddam from subverting the setup to his own benefit.

Read the whole thing for the sordid history and more details on how the scam worked.

Posted by richard at 05:37 PM | Comments (0)

April 23, 2004


I'm sitting in the Inns of America Suites in Carlsbad, CA (or as the Hertz Neverlost navigation system in our rental car appropriately calls it: the "Ends of America Suites") trying to get back on the blog wagon. It's difficult to start back up after laying off it for so long.

But I'm wrapping up my consulting gig out here and presumably fresh from vacation in Puerto Rico, so it's time to dive back in.

To start slowly, I wanted to point out two books that I've finally gotten around to reading. It's been so long since I read a novel, and after slogging through so many non-fiction books, it's been a real joy.

I finished the first, Iain Pears' The Dream of Scipio, on my last trip to San Diego. It's a fairly depressing, but thought-provoking, story of ideas – of men who resolutely follow their convictions only to see in the end that they were misguided and didn't really understand at all. Not light reading, but certainly no Kant and the Platypus. The most interesting part is the way it weaves together three narratives from the 5th, 11th and 20th centuries, contrasting the protagonists' reactions to the fall of Rome, the plague and the occupation of France, respectively, while tracing their parallel stories of love interests against a common backdrop of anti-Semitism. The three are tied together by a manuscript written by one of them in the 5th century, and the author does a great job of mingling the speculation of the later narrators about their predecessors' lives with the stories of those very predecessors.

I'm now halfway through Neal Stephenson's Quicksilver which is a bit slower (and denser) than Cryptonomicon, but still very enjoyable to read.

Anyway, I recommend them both. They are certainly a nice diversion from philosphy, economics, and foreign policy for a while.

Posted by richard at 12:24 AM | Comments (1)

April 18, 2004

Puerto Rico

Sorry for the lack of posts recently. I know I've been slacking off quite a bit. I've been doing a lot of traveling recently, first to San Diego for work and now in Puerto Rico for fun. The good news is that business is really heating up.

The weather here is perfect, so much better than New York right now, so I'm not going to spend too much time at the computer. Wish I could post a picture of the view out the window – but I didn't bring the little connecter for my camera.

I get back late Monday night and I'll try to post a few things before I head back out to San Diego on Tuesday night.

Posted by richard at 10:04 AM | Comments (0)

April 02, 2004

Syria & Australia

The Australian reports that Syria is reaching out to Australia to help repair relations with the US.

SYRIA has appealed to Australia to use its close ties with Washington to help the Arab nation shake off its reputation as a terrorist haven and repair its relations with the US.

Secret talks between the two nations have been under way for months but have become more urgent as rogue nations reconsider their role in allowing terrorists to thrive, in light of the US determination to take pre-emptive military action.

A Syrian embassy will be opened in Canberra in weeks and Australia is considering reopening its mission in Damascus.

Hopefully, they are getting the message of carrot (Libya) and stick (Iraq).

Posted by richard at 10:12 PM | Comments (2)

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed

The operational planner for the 9/11 attacks reveals the full extent of the original plan: 5 planes on each coast, targeting buildings. The Herald Sun claims to have a transcript of part of his interrogation.

In addition to revealing more about the relationship between Al-Qa'ida and Hambali, the architect of the Bali bombings, he gave information about the aftermath of the attackes:

When the suicide planes struck on September 11, al-Qaeda seems to have been taken by surprise - both by the success of the attacks and by the US reaction.

"Afterwards we never got time to catch our breath, we were immediately on the run," Khalid said.

He said the war on terrorism and the US bombing of Afghanistan completely disrupted their communications network. Operatives could no longer use satellite phones and had to rely on couriers, although they still used internet chat rooms.

"It was at this time we discussed the Heathrow operation," Khalid said. "Osama declared (British Prime Minister Tony) Blair our principal enemy and London a target."

He arranged for operatives to be sent from Pakistan and Afghanistan to London, where surveillance of Heathrow airport and the surrounding areas began. However, he claimed, the operation never got beyond the planning stages. "There was a lot of confusion," he said. "I would say my performance at that time was sloppy."

I have no idea how accurate this "transcript" is, but it's good news if the Afghan conflict disrupted them enough to keep further attacks from happening.

Posted by richard at 10:08 PM | Comments (0)

Oil for Food

I hope we get to see the full extent of the corruption in the Oil for Food program, but I fear a whitewash.

Perhaps we need a freedom of information act (FOIA) for the UN.

Posted by richard at 10:02 PM | Comments (0)

Hostile Environment

David Bernstein of the Volokh Conspiracy notes a use of "hostile environment" law in a way that was probably not expected – to protect "white, male, Christian students" from feminist teachers.

Bernstein is the author of You Can't Say That and a staunch critic of speech codes and other "let's not offend anyone" laws.

Posted by richard at 09:05 PM | Comments (0)

Water Shortages

Thomas Sowell, of Capitalism Magazine, has an article on Water Shortages. The shortages, driven by subsidies for farmers, specifically cotton farmers, are just another example of hidden harms caused by our absurd agricultural policy.

Posted by richard at 08:36 PM | Comments (1)

Just and Unjust Occupations

Michael Walzer, author of Just and Unjust Wars and Spheres of Justice (about which I blogged here), has an interesting article in Dissent magazine on Just and Unjust Occupations, with his thoughts on the occupation in Iraq.

As always, well reasoned and worth reading.

Posted by richard at 08:35 PM | Comments (1)

Too Much Electricity

When your electricity bill and trash dispensing habits constitute probable cause: Elevated Electric Bill Prompts Pot Raid - March 30, 2004

MARCH 30--When California narcotics agents armed with a search warrant recently arrived at the Carlsbad home of the Dagy family (Mom, Dad, three kids), they expected to find one of those indoor marijuana production facilities. You know, the kind where the high-intensity lights stay on all day so the plants grow, grow, grow. As the below search warrant affidavit notes, a check of the Dagys utility records showed "excessive" electrical usage, consumption "very consistent with an indoor marijuana operation." In his affidavit, Detective Mark Reyes also noted the Dagy family's suspicious "trash dispensing pattern" and mentioned that a drug-sniffing dog, one Storm, "showed a positive alert" when he sniffed near the family's garage. Investigators had also planned to conduct some kind of fancy aerial infra-red surveillance, but bad weather grounded those plans. So imagine the surprise when about eight armed narcs raided the Dagy home on March 19 and found absolutely nothing. No evidence of pot anywhere, not even stashed in the children's toys. Seems that the coppers mistook the family's constant use of the dishwasher, washer/dryer, three computers, four ceiling fans, and other electronic devices as evidence of a felony drug operation. Oops. The Dagys--Mom's a homemaker and Dad's a general manager of 21 Shell stations--would like an apology from the Carlsbad Police Department. Sadly, we'd recommend that the Dagys not hold their collective breath. (11 pages)

The text of the search warrant is at the link above. The scary thing is the list of what the officer claimed he needed to search in order to get the "bad guys":

controlled substances, including but not limited to marijuana, kilos of marijuana, baggies of marijuana, marijuana cigarettes, marijuana seeds, derivatives of marijuana, marijuana plants, articles and effects used in the cultivation of marijuana, paraphernalia used for packaging, sales and consumption of marijuana; including but not limited to folded papers, paper bindles, clear plastic and cellophane bags and envelopes, scales, odor masking agents; and fingerprints, handwriting, papers, firearms, written articles pertaining to drugs, narcotics and the use of same, papers, documents and effects which tend to show dominion and control and possession of said premises, including but not limited to keys, canceled mail envelopes, rental agreements, receipts, bills for telephone and utility services, photographs, undeveloped film, video tapes, transaction records for illegal activity, notices from governmental agencies, documents containing names of buyers and sellers of illegal narcotics, United States currency, checks, bank records, stocks, bonds, securities and other proceeds from the illegal sales of narcotics, cellular telephones, paging devices, answering machine recordings and other recordings of telephone conversations; and to intercept all incoming telephone calls while officers are present at said premises....
Oh, is that all? I suppose if their gas bill had been high too, they would have had an invasive search.
Posted by richard at 08:05 PM | Comments (0)

March Employment

Preliminary figures are out for March employment. Payroll jobs rose by 308,000 in March, and figures for January and February were increased by 86,000.

I'll post more on this later. Specifically, I want to look at how the household numbers moved compared to the payroll numbers to see if it sheds any light on the argument raging over which to believe in times of recovery.....

Posted by richard at 10:30 AM | Comments (2)