ARC's 1st Law: As a "progressive" online discussion grows longer, the probability of a nefarious reference to Karl Rove approaches one

Friday, December 14, 2007

The French Elite: We Fear Innovation!

Or, how governments harm consumers at the expense of the politically connected.

This little story from the New York Times about booksellers in France is just one example of how governments will rarely take action to protect the consumer, preferring instead to protect the interests of those that are politically connected.

December 12, 2007
Amazon Ordered to End Free Delivery on Books in France
By PETER SAYER, IDG News Service\Paris Bureau, IDG

Amazon.com may not offer free delivery on books in France, the high court in Versailles has ruled.

The action, brought in January 2004 by the French Booksellers' Union (Syndicat de la librairie française), accused Amazon of offering illegal discounts on books and even of selling some books below cost.

The court gave Amazon 10 days to start charging for the delivery of books, which should at least allow the company to maintain the offer through the end-of-year gift-giving season. After that, it must pay a fine of e1,000 (US$1,470) per day that it continues to offer free delivery. It must also pay e100,000 in compensation to the booksellers' union.

Retail prices, particularly of books, are tightly regulated in France.

Using "loss-leaders," or selling products below cost to attract customers, is illegal. Other restrictions apply to books retailers must not offer discounts of more than 5 percent on the publisher's recommended price. Many independent booksellers choose to offer this discount in the form of a loyalty bonus based on previous purchases. Larger booksellers simply slash the sticker price of books.

But the free delivery offered by Amazon exceeded the legal limit in the case of cheaper books, the union charged.

The union said it was pleased with the court's ruling, which would help protect vulnerable small bookshops from predatory pricing practices.
Nevermind that such a ruling simply forces French consumers to subsidize sub-standard bookshops into perpetuity.
Amazon.com did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Earlier this year, the union won a similar legal victory against Alapage.com, an online bookseller with operations in France, Spain and the U.K. The appeals court ruled that Alapage must pay a fine of e50,000 for illegal pricing practices including the offer of free delivery.

It's not been a good month for U.S. e-commerce sites doing business in France: last week, the French auction regulator sued eBay France for breaching rules on the conduct of auctions. The regulator said that eBay's failure to comply exposed consumers to the risk of fraud. In its defense, eBay France maintained that it is not an auctioneer and that it has "invented another way of buying and selling" not covered by the rules.
If only the French would allow the free market to work. Alas, many in this country would probably love to see similar regulation of companies (aka Wal-Mart) in order to "protect the consumer."

As Milton Friedman pointed out in this excellent video from his 1980 series Free to Choose, the free market (through the threat of competition) provides more protection for the consumer than any government can.

I hope the French citizens will enjoy the higher costs of reading. Perhaps this will provide Sarkozy with yet another area of France which requires reform and liberalization.

Your Co-Conspirator,
ARC: St Wendeler

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Romney Endorsed by National Review

I'm inclined to agree with the Editors at National Review which endorsed Mitt Romney for the GOP nomination. I think it's surprising given the amount of support that they have provided to Giuliani over the past year. Here's an excerpt:

Romney for President
By the Editors

Many conservatives are finding it difficult to pick a presidential candidate. Each of the men running for the Republican nomination has strengths, and none has everything — all the traits, all the positions — we are looking for. Equally conservative analysts can reach, and have reached, different judgments in this matter. There are fine conservatives supporting each of these Republicans.

Our guiding principle has always been to select the most conservative viable candidate. In our judgment, that candidate is Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts. Unlike some other candidates in the race, Romney is a full-spectrum conservative: a supporter of free-market economics and limited government, moral causes such as the right to life and the preservation of marriage, and a foreign policy based on the national interest. While he has not talked much about the importance of resisting ethnic balkanization — none of the major candidates has — he supports enforcing the immigration laws and opposes amnesty. Those are important steps in the right direction.

Uniting the conservative coalition is not enough to win a presidential election, but it is a prerequisite for building on that coalition. Rudolph Giuliani did extraordinary work as mayor of New York and was inspirational on 9/11. But he and Mike Huckabee would pull apart the coalition from opposite ends: Giuliani alienating the social conservatives, and Huckabee the economic (and foreign-policy) conservatives. A Republican party that abandoned either limited government or moral standards would be much diminished in the service it could give the country.

Two other major candidates would be able to keep the coalition together, but have drawbacks of their own. John McCain is not as conservative as Romney. He sponsored and still champions a campaign-finance law that impinged on fundamental rights of political speech; he voted against the Bush tax cuts; he supported this year’s amnesty bill, although he now says he understands the need to control the border before doing anything else.

[...]

Fred Thompson is as conservative as Romney, and has distinguished himself with serious proposals on Social Security, immigration, and defense. But Thompson has never run any large enterprise — and he has not run his campaign well, either. Conservatives were excited this spring to hear that he might enter the race, but have been disappointed by the reality. He has been fading in crucial early states. He has not yet passed the threshold test of establishing for voters that he truly wants to be president.

Romney is an intelligent, articulate, and accomplished former businessman and governor. At a time when voters yearn for competence and have soured on Washington because too often the Bush administration has not demonstrated it, Romney offers proven executive skill. He has demonstrated it in everything he has done in his professional life, and his tightly organized, disciplined campaign is no exception. He himself has shown impressive focus and energy.
[...]
Some conservatives question his sincerity. It is true that he has reversed some of his positions. But we should be careful not to overstate how much he has changed. In 1994, when he tried to unseat Ted Kennedy, he ran against higher taxes and government-run health care, and for school choice, a balanced budget amendment, welfare reform, and “tougher measures to stop illegal immigration.” He was no Rockefeller Republican even then.

We believe that Romney is a natural ally of social conservatives. He speaks often about the toll of fatherlessness in this country. He may not have thought deeply about the political dimensions of social issues until, as governor, he was confronted with the cutting edge of social liberalism. No other Republican governor had to deal with both human cloning and court-imposed same-sex marriage. He was on the right side of both issues, and those battles seem to have made him see the stakes of a broad range of public-policy issues more clearly. He will work to put abortion on a path to extinction. Whatever the process by which he got to where he is on marriage, judges, and life, we’re glad he is now on our side — and we trust him to stay there.
[...]
More than the other primary candidates, Romney has President Bush’s virtues and avoids his flaws. His moral positions, and his instincts on taxes and foreign policy, are the same. But he is less inclined to federal activism, less tolerant of overspending, better able to defend conservative positions in debate, and more likely to demand performance from his subordinates. A winning combination, by our lights. In this most fluid and unpredictable Republican field, we vote for Mitt Romney.
I too was attracted to the thought of Thompson, but "Lazy Like a Fox" may be more descriptive of his work ethic than some "OODA-loop" campaign strategy (the "A" in OODA standing for Act and there hasn't been much action by the Thompson campaign).

McCain had his shot in 2000 but thought his constituency was the press corp riding along in his bus and not the voters. His stalwart positions on the War On Terror are admirable, but his positions on Campaign Finance and Illegal Immigration are inexcusable. We called his candidacy doomed in May of this year.

I also am attracted to Huckabee and think he would fare well against Hillary!TM or Obama. He certainly has excellent debating skills - similar to those of a Baptist preacher. However, his gut instinct on economics is protectionism and that is the last thing that our economy needs in the 21st century. Protectionism is an easy philosophy to push, since few in the electorate understand the true implications of such policies. Standing up for free trade and continuing to eradicate trade barriers (which still exist in the US) is desperately needed - not the opposite. Similarly, Huckabee's penchant for using the government to "do good" are a cause for concern - especially to those of us who've bit our tongues during W's presidency. His "F" rating from the Cato institute on Spending and Tax policies certainly does not impress me. (Perhaps we could get Matt Blunt (R-MO, A-Rating) to run?)

As NR points out, there isn't a perfect conservative in the field... However, the past two GOP Presidents have been far from perfect. While W was unabashed about "compassionate conservatism" during the 2000 campaign, we were reassured that this meant that Bush would demonstrate that conservatism (specifically free market principles) is more compassionate than government intervention - especially when one looks to the results. While W. made attempts in this regard with his tax cuts, the possibility of vouchers through No Child Left Behind, and the ownership society, his continually expansive government spending have been anything but conservative. From prescription drugs to the ballooning of Federal funds in education, W. has been anything but conservative.

Mike Huckabee would be a continuation (or perhaps an expansion) of this trend kicked off by Bush. Giuliani would most likely begin the reversal of that trend and remain vigilant in the War On Terror. But NR is right to point out that many social conservatives would not show up to support Giuliani, especially with the likely retirement of one or more Supreme Court Justices on the horizon.

The only concern that I have with a Romney nomination is his Mormon faith - specifically how it would be received by conservative evangelical voters. I'm also concerned with how the MSM and bloggers will cover Mormonism and how the Democratic nominee will use it in 527 ads in key districts. Romney has started to address those concerns, but there is plenty of work left for him to do in this regard.

Iowa and New Hampshire certainly will be interesting!

Your Co-Conspirator,
ARC: St Wendeler

Holiday Greetings

To All My Democrat Friends:

Please accept with no obligation, implied or implicit, my best wishes for an environmentally conscious, socially responsible, low-stress, non-addictive, gender-neutral celebration of the winter solstice holiday, practiced within the most enjoyable traditions of the religious persuasion of your choice, or secular practices of your choice, with respect for the religious/secular persuasion and/or traditions of others, or their choice not to practice religious or secular traditions at all. I also wish you a fiscally successful, personally fulfilling and medically uncomplicated recognition of the onset of the generally accepted calendar year 2007, but not without due respect for the calendars of choice of other cultures whose contributions to society have helped make America great. Not to imply that America is necessarily greater than any other country nor the only America in the Western Hemisphere. Also, this wish is made without regard to the race, creed, color, age, physical ability, religious faith or sexual preference of the wishee.


To My Republican Friends:
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!


Thanks and a hat tip to my buddy Desert Rat.


Your Co-Conspirator,
ARC: MontereyJohn

On Waterboarding

From today's Wall Street Journal comes this excellent analysis regarding the fact that the Congressional Dems (who now have their panties in a bind) actually encouraged the use of waterboarding throughout some 30 briefings. (Subscription required)

Waterboarding: Congress Knew
December 11, 2007; Page A26
[...]
Porter Goss, the former chair of the House Intelligence Committee who later served as CIA director from 2004 to 2006 is explicit about what happened in these meetings: "Among those being briefed, there was a pretty full understanding of what the CIA was doing. And the reaction in the room was not just approval, but encouragement."

In all, the CIA provided Congress with some 30 briefings on waterboarding before it became a public issue.

Why would the CIA want to tell the most senior members of Congress about anything so sensitive? No doubt in part because senior officials at the CIA, not to mention the interrogators themselves, assuredly did not want to begin any such policy absent closing the political and legal loop on it.

The Congressional briefings touched the political base, and a Justice Department memo at that time deemed the interrogation methods legal. Most crucially, bear in mind that when pressed about all this at his confirmation hearings, Attorney General Michael Mukasey pointedly said he would not make a post-facto condemnation of the techniques, thereby putting the "freedom" of the interrogators at risk, "simply because I want to be congenial."

At the time, we wrote that this was a sign of Judge Mukasey's character. That word would not spring to mind in describing what the Post's account says about Congress.

One certainly may hold as abhorrent the idea of aggressively interrogating any terrorists ever, either for fear of what they might do to our people, as John McCain does, or because one thinks this violates our values. What one may not do -- at least not if one wants the system to function -- is assent to such a policy in 2002 and then, when the policy is made public, put up the pretense that one is "shocked" and appalled to learn of it.

This is bad faith. Worse, it risks setting in motion the ruin or eventual criminal prosecution of CIA employees who in 2002 did what the Bush Administration, Congress and indeed the nation wanted them to do to protect the American people from another September 11.

It has been widely reported by now that waterboarding was used on only three individuals -- Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who planned the airliner attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon; Abu Zebaydah, an Osama bin Laden confidante captured in Pakistan 2002 and described as a director of al-Qaeda operations; and a third unidentified person. If Speaker Pelosi and her colleagues want the handling of such terrorists conformed to what they call "our values," then she should define that and put it in an explicit piece of legislation. Then let the Members vote yea or nay, in public, on the record.

But don't sign off on such a sensitive policy at a moment when the nation's "values" support it, then later feign revulsion when you can't take the heat from the loudest in your political constituency. There was a time when politics at least assumed more backbone than that.
Now,
One thing consistent about the Dems, the MSM, and the Nutroots is that they will always act in bad faith, driven by their derangement over W's very existence.

But, one reason for this is the fact that no one appears to be willing to actually consider whether water boarding is torture. I wrote back in 2005 that the 6 CIA interrogation techniques (which had recently been brought to light) could hardly be described as "torture" - especially not when the use of the worst techniques like water boarding were reserved for only the highest value illegal combatants. As I wrote back then:
[...]
"They would not let you rest, day or night. Stand up, sit down, stand up, sit down. Don't sleep. Don't lie on the floor," one prisoner said through a translator. The detainees were also forced to listen to rap artist Eminem's "Slim Shady" album. The music was so foreign to them it made them frantic, sources said.
This is terrible... no one should be forced to listen to such noise. Of course, this may be the claims of a terrorist prisoner or that of a raver on ecstasy from Aurora, Illinois - who can be sure?
[...]
The CIA sources described a list of six "Enhanced Interrogation Techniques" instituted in mid-March 2002 and used, they said, on a dozen top al Qaeda targets incarcerated in isolation at secret locations on military bases in regions from Asia to Eastern Europe. According to the sources, only a handful of CIA interrogators are trained and authorized to use the techniques:
1. The Attention Grab: The interrogator forcefully grabs the shirt front of the prisoner and shakes him.
holy cow!!! they're shaking a guy and touching his clothing!! l'horreur!!! l'horreur!!!
2. Attention Slap: An open-handed slap aimed at causing pain and triggering fear.
I believe this is referred to as a "b!tch slap" and is common among 6th graders.
3. The Belly Slap: A hard open-handed slap to the stomach. The aim is to cause pain, but not internal injury. Doctors consulted advised against using a punch, which could cause lasting internal damage.
It's a good thing they're not using a closed fist... just a slap to the abdomen. I bet it leaves a red mark - kind of like when you do a big belly flop into a pool??
4. Long Time Standing: This technique is described as among the most effective. Prisoners are forced to stand, handcuffed and with their feet shackled to an eye bolt in the floor for more than 40 hours. Exhaustion and sleep deprivation are effective in yielding confessions.
Prisoners are forced to stand in a single spot? Yes, 40 hours seems like a long time and this is probably excruciating... but, so is dying from ball-bearings and bone fragments flying through your body after an explosion.
5. The Cold Cell: The prisoner is left to stand naked in a cell kept near 50 degrees. Throughout the time in the cell the prisoner is doused with cold water.
Sounds like a weekend at my house, frankly... Wife can sometimes go overboard...
6. Water Boarding: The prisoner is bound to an inclined board, feet raised and head slightly below the feet. Cellophane is wrapped over the prisoner's face and water is poured over him. Unavoidably, the gag reflex kicks in and a terrifying fear of drowning leads to almost instant pleas to bring the treatment to a halt.
Ok, this one sounds pretty bad... No doubt college fraternities are taking notes for their next hazing ritual.

Of all of the techniques described above, the water-boarding sounds like it's the worse... woops, forgot about the Eminem.... nah, I would still prefer Slim Shady over waterboarding.

But seriously folks... when the Dems and the Media talk about torture, images of much worse come to mind. I know I normally have visions of car batteries... fingernails being pulled off, etc. And it's important to note that these techniques have only been used on 12 - count them, 12 - of Al Qaeda's top leadership. These are not employed for your average terrorist caught in the field. The fact that most of these techniques are rather milquetoast (shirt grabbing?!?!) and authorized only for the top leaderhsip makes me question our seriousness when interrogating prisoners.
And, I think it's also important to point out the actual designation of terrorists as illegal combatants. I firmly believe that when a combatant is not abiding by the rules contained in the Geneva Convention regarding on how to be considered a legal combatant (who is therefore granted the legal protections provided in the Convention), then they should be handled as illegal combatants and need not be provided the protections that the Geneva Convention requires.

An illegal combatant in World War II (e.g., someone who donned civilian clothes and then attacked) could be summarily shot.

Yes, a Geneva Protocol was created in the late '70s to provide protections to illegal combatants, but it is not part of the Convention. It is still a Protocol and the US has never signed up to its language. (Jimmy Carter had some sense after all!)

Any protections we extend to terrorists are only because we are more humane and more compassionate than we are required to be.

We don't torture our captives because it is against our nature. Of the "enhanced interrogation techniques" described above, only waterboarding approaches the line where a technique could be considered torture. Whether it is or not can be debated...

The fact that Congress was aware and supportive of such techniques throughout 30 briefings either removes their ability to criticize the practice or condemns them along with the Bush administration.

Which is it?

Your Co-Conspirator,
ARC: St Wendeler