Monthly Archives: October 2008

Chicago Taking a New Direction in the War on Drugs?

The Chicago Police Department has been facing some looming shortages of money and manpower. Whenever any law enforcement entity faces such problems, we libertarians have a stock solution: Stop wasting money on the War on Drugs. Use the people and equipment for something more important.

Which brings me to Chicago Police Superintendent Jody Weis, who has said some interesting things lately. According to a Chicago Tribune article by Azam Ahmed, he’s deviating from the company line when it comes to the War on Drugs:

Weis pointed out that efforts to reduce the supply of cocaine have been ineffective, citing that the cost of a kilogram of cocaine has remained about the same for the last few decades.

Former police chiefs like Norm Stamper have been saying stuff like this for years, but it’s unusual for an active head of a police department to make such comments.

Even more unusual is an explanation Weis gave that sounds like a variation of the “Hamsterdam” plot line from the third season of The Wire. Weis made it clear just what his department is willing to overlook:

Ultimately, the priority to reduce violence trumps the department’s need to combat drugs, he said.

“Life has become extraordinarily cheap in some neighborhoods,” Weis said. “If a gang is dealing drugs and not killing anyone . . . that’s not on our priority list.”

If Weis is serious about this, and if he has the leadership skills to bend the department to his vision, the next few years could take Chicago law enforcement going in some interesting directions. I’m…optimistic.

More On My Theory of Our Current Economic Crisis

A few months ago, John McCain was lambasted by some of the punditry for his commenting that the fundamentals of our economy are strong. I never had a problem with what he said. The fundamentals of our economy were strong: Unenployment wasn’t very high by historic standards, our farms and factories and business offices were still well-maintained and up-to-date, our workforce was well trained, our productivity continued to increase, as did our GDP. There were problems with high gas prices and the sub-prime loan market, but everything else was fine.

Then Treasury Secretary Paulson and a lot of other politicians begain to say some very frightening things, and as I noted, that could have a lot of unpleasant consequences, including a lot of tight regulation and government meddling in the market. Suddenly the DOW went crazy, banks stopped making loans, and consumers stopped spending so much. Now, as I also noted, everyone is taking a wait-and-see attitude—hoping the craziness will end soon—and that’s going to hurt us.

The latest numbers show that our economy started to faulter in the third quarter, and as I understand it, much of the trouble came in the latter half of September, right after Paulson started screaming like a frightened child.

Here’s a great interview of UCLA economist Lee E. Ohanian saying pretty much what I’ve been saying, only he really knows what he’s talking about:

I’m not just making this stuff up.

Who’s Getting My Vote?

Reason magazine asked a number of libertarian writers a few questions about the upcoming election. Since my questionnaire was apparently lost in the mail, I figured I’d save them the trouble of updating their article by posting my answers here.

1. Who are you voting for in November?

Bob Barr of the Libertarian party. If the Illinois polls suddenly close up, I’ll switch to Barack Obama, because the Republican party deserves to suffer a legendary ass-kicking.

2. Who did you vote for in 2004 and 2000?

Kerry, to get rid of Bush, and whoever the Libertarians ran in 2000.

3. Is this the most important election in your lifetime?

Feels like it. I’m not too sure how to judge these things. The 2000 election didn’t seem like much of a big deal until we got to see Bush in action.

4. What will you miss about the Bush administration?

The chance to kick Republicans around. As a libertarian who started out as a Democrat, I’ve had to listen to too many Republicans claiming that their party is all about freedom. Bush’s totalitarian leanings have been a handy way to dispute their smug assertions.

5. Leaving George W. Bush out of consideration, what former U.S. president would you most like to have waterboarded?

Woodrow Wilson. Radley Balko says it best: “Jailed political dissenters, created the Federal Trade Commission, got us into World War I. He also enacted the first federal income tax, the first modern military draft, and the first federal drug prohibition. Wilson also re-segregated the federal government…An all-around loathesome human being.”

 

Open Letter to a Hospital

I’m not really going to send this, but…

NAME OF HOSPITAL REDACTED
Attn: Billing Department

Dear Sir or Madam,

Earlier this year, a family member made several visits to your fine hospital. The treatment was excellant, and we are glad to have such a fine medical resource located so conveniently.

Shortly thereafter, however, we started receiving bills for those visits. Then we received more bills for different amounts, some higher, some lower. Some of them appeared to be duplicate bills. Others were a complete mystery.

As is my way with morons who ask me for money, I’ve been ignoring you. A few months ago, you threatened to turn my account over to a collection agency. I ignored that too, as I have no fear that you will ever get your act together to come after me, because, as I implied in the first sentence of this paragraph, you are morons.

It’s not that I haven’t been making payments. My payment strategy has been a little like adjusting a patient’s medication dosage through titration: I send you some money and see how many bills I get next month.

Through this method, I eventually figured out a few of your moronic accounting practices. For example, my family member was prescribed a dose of medication to be infused over a period of three days, and you appeared to have sent us three separate identical bills, one for each day, with each day’s infusion being billed to a separate account number.

To be clear, I doubt that you, dear letter reader, are a moron. Nor is your boss, the person handling my account, or any single employee of your fine institution. But somehow, in a way almost unique to hospitals, you exhibit the collective intelligence of a sponge. Dont feel bad; It’s probably not your fault.

I’ve just sent out checks for the final amount I think I owe you. We’ll see if I’m right.

Looking forward, I suggest you try a new technology that all the cool companies are using called a statement of account. I know this seems like a radical approach, but I think you will find people are more likely to pay you when you tell them how much they owe you, and why.

Sincerely,

Mark Draughn

You Know Your Economic Recovery Plan Sucks When…

A few days ago, Treasury Secretary Paulson was using heavy-handed tactics to make banks take billions of tax dollars. Now there’s this:

WASHINGTON – An impatient White House served notice Tuesday on banks and other financial companies receiving billions of dollars in federal help to quit hoarding the money and start making more loans.

“What we’re trying to do is get banks to do what they are supposed to do, which is support the system that we have in America. And banks exist to lend money,” White House press secretary Dana Perino said.

Though there are limits on how much Washington can pressure banks, she noted that banks are regulated by the federal government.

“They will be watching very closely, and they’re working with the banks,” she said.

This is what I was talking about in my earlier lengthy post that no one commented on (not that I’m bitter). In a situation this complicated, it’s hard to predict what will really happen when you make a change. The economy is a complex system and the players think for themselves.

This is why we can give these banks a few billion dollars only to discover they don’t want to loan it out again. I think I understand why.

My favorite analogy to explain why failing banks needed to be bailed to relieve the credit crunch was that it was like a huge traffic jam where some of the cars were idling so long that they ran out of gas and were now blocking the rest of the traffic. You have to give some of the cars more gas, but it won’t help to give gas to the drivers that wisely planned ahead for traffic and still have plenty of gas. You have to give the gas to the cars driven by people who have run out.

But if you’re one of the drivers who just got a few gallons of gas, your thinking might go like this: I thought I was doomed, but now I have enough gas that I just might be able to crawl through this traffic to reach the next exit. However, I notice that the government is giving gas to a lot of other drivers. That should clear up all this traffic, so if I wait here and do nothing until everyone else has driven away, I should be able to reach the next exit at high speed, using very little of my precious gas. Then I’ll have some left over for other things.

Of course, if every bailed-out driver thinks that way, giving them free gas won’t do a thing to get traffic moving.

In other words, banks don’t want to lend out the government money because they’ve just used it to plug a huge hole in their balance sheet. If they loan it out, they’ll be right back where they started, but with even more outstanding loans. Better to let the other banks make the loans and get the economy moving, then make your loans into a safer market.

Here’s another telling note:

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson has said the money was aimed at rebuilding banks’ reserves so that they would resume more normal lending practices. But reports then surfaced that bankers might instead use the money to buy other banks. Indeed, the government approved PNC Financial Services Group Inc. to receive $7.7 billion in return for company stock and, at the same time, PNC said it was acquiring National City Corp. for $5.58 billion.

Great, huh?

You know…the government doesn’t actually have this money sitting around somewhere. They have to borrow it first in order to give it to the banks. How long until one of the bailed-out banks closes the loop by investing in U.S. Treasury notes?

The Reality of Crime

I love procedural crime dramas. The shocking discovery of the evil deed, the villain vanished in the wind, the victims’ relatives screaming at the police to do something, another victim missing but not found yet so perhaps still savable, the mobilization of the entire police force to help, the frenzied press ramping up the pressure, the intrepid detectives analyzing clues from dozens of sources—when well done, it’s so exciting!

Unless it’s for real.

The mother and brother of award-winning actress Jennifer Hudson were murdered on the south side of the city of Friday. Her 7-year-old nephew, Julian, is missing. I see the Amber Alert everywhere. It’s been active continuously for three solid days. Even the silliness of MySpace took on a grim tone as the Hudson family posted a $100,000 reward on their blog.

Now the police have found the body of a young black child in a west side neighborhood. The police have not officially identified the body, they haven’t even leaked it, but the press is reporting that the body was found in a white Suburban SUV with license plate X584859. Everyone who’s driven on Chicago’s expressways this weekend knows that vehicle and that license plate.

I want my fiction back.

The police have confirmed the body is Julian King. There was no possibility of good news, of course. Even if the body hadn’t been Hudson’s nephew, it was somebody’s poor child.Update:

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