Sunday, July 31, 2011

Government-protected cartel overturned

An order of monks — and anyone else — can sell caskets in Louisiana without having a state funeral home license, a federal judge ruled Thursday.

Acting on a suit filed by the monks of St. Joseph Abbey in St. Tammany Parish in August, U.S. District Judge Stanwood Duval said "there is no rational basis" for the licensing requirement to be applied to those only wanting to sell caskets, such as the 38 monks.

The Louisiana Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors had blocked the monks from selling caskets with simple white cloth interiors for $1,500 to $2,000, saying the abbey had neither a funeral director's license nor a funeral home license as required by state law.

But the judge said "the sole reason for these laws is the economic protection of the funeral industry" and that the monks' constitutional rights were being violated by the ban.

"We are just thrilled for the abbey and for Louisiana consumers and the constitutional rights of all entrepreneurs," said Scott Bullock, an attorney for the Arlington, Va.-based Institute for Economic Justice, which represents the monks. "This is really a slam-dunk victory for the constitutional right to economic liberty."

Abbott Justin Brown, who heads the abbey, said the monks had about a dozen caskets ready and planned to resume selling them as soon as possible. The monks want to sell caskets to replace their previous lumber production business, which was largely wiped out by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The abbey gets no financial support from the Catholic church.

"This is an answer to about two years of prayers," Brown said.

The monks said they built and sold about 50 to 60 coffins before regulators told them they were violating the law. The suit was filed after the Legislature refused to give the abbey exemptions in 2008 and 2010.

An attorney for the funeral board, Michael Rasch, said the decision likely would be appealed.

Bullock conceded the legal fight likely isn't over. One federal circuit court struck down similar restrictions in Tennessee, while Oklahoma funeral regulations were upheld in another.

Bullock predicted that the disputes eventually would land before the U.S. Supreme Court.

"This is a very important constitutional question, whether economic protectionism is a legitimate governmental interest," he said. "It's a divided question in law constitutional law today. The Supreme Court has never ruled on this issue."

Louisiana law applies only to caskets sold by retailers physically located in the state. Caskets are readily available for sale at internet sites.



Mystery of TWA Flight 800 Persists, 15 Years Later

Many eyewitnesses saw a missile, all officially ignored

Sunday, July 17th, marked the 15th anniversary of the explosion of TWA Flight 800 off the coast of Long Island, New York at approximately 8:30 p.m., 12 minutes after it left New York’s Kennedy Airport heading for Paris, killing all 230 people aboard. To commemorate this tragic event, AIM gathered a group of people who have looked into this event, each bringing his own insights and knowledge of the case to the table. Those participating on AIM’s show on BlogTalkRadio, “Take AIM,” on July 14th included John Clarke, an attorney who has worked on this case in several capacities since 1997; Jack Cashill, a journalist and producer who has co-written a book and produced a documentary on the subject; and Retired Captain Mike Larkin, a former Air Force pilot who later became a TWA pilot for more than 30 years, and who often piloted TWA 800 from New York to Paris. I hosted the show, and have produced and written a documentary on the subject called TWA 800: The Search for the Truth.

There were a number of articles this year, since this anniversary was divisible by five, apparently making it more newsworthy. Most of the articles, like this AP story that ran in The Washington Post, focused on families and friends of the deceased, gathering for an ocean-side ceremony remembering the victims. While some of the stories, such as this one, did at least bring up the fact that there were questions raised at the time as to whether the plane was blown up by a bomb or missile, they ultimately accepted the findings of the National Transportation Safety Board which “concluded the plane was destroyed by a center fuel tank explosion, likely caused by a spark from a wiring short-circuit that ignited vapors in the tank.”

The eyewitnesses were explained away, according to the article, as having actually seen “a piece of the plane itself that had broken off in an initial blast that preceded an even larger explosion.” In fact, the findings were that following that “center fuel tank explosion,” the nose fell off, the fuselage rose approximately 3,000 feet, and the eyewitnesses actually saw burning fuel and debris coming down, not a missile flying towards the doomed flight. Or, “a piece of the plane that had broken off.” Regarding the eyewitnesses, there were more than 600, including 260 who saw something streaking toward the plane, of which 92 actually saw it rise from the surface.

I did a show and wrote about this last year as well, which focused on Ray Lahr and his lawsuit, litigated by John Clarke, challenging the findings of the NTSB. Lahr is a former Navy pilot, engineer and crash investigator, who spent more than 30 years with United Air Lines, including 20 years as a safety representative for the Air Line Pilots Association. AIM will continue to follow this story until hopefully, as former TWA pilot Mike Larkin said during this show, the President or Congress gets the courage to demand the release of all the evidence, including satellite images from that evening that he believes exist that would reveal the truth of what happened. According to Larkin, who was a friend and former roommate in the Air Force of the pilot of the downed TWA 800 flight, “definitely, a missile brought the airplane down.”



Even watered down central planning is a failure

The Communists thought that they could plan and control everything. They failed. And the democratic Left can't get their version of it to work either

Robert Samuelson recently described the current economic upheaval as "the crisis of the old order," a collapse of the economic dogmas and institutions of the past few decades. I was particularly struck by one of the items he lists as the pillars of the old order, "faith in routine economic expansion." Except that this doesn't describe what he's really talking about. What he's actually talking about is faith that government officials can manage and control economic growth. "Economists exaggerated their understanding and control. They seem to have exhausted conventional policy approaches." Specifically, he points out that the usual theories of monetary and fiscal "stimulus" have failed. "Central banks such as the Federal Reserve have held interest rates low. Budget deficits are high." Yet here we are.

If anything, Samuelson's summary is understated. Mohamed El-Erian puts it in more alarming terms.

I don't know about you, but whenever I am in an airplane experiencing turbulence, I draw comfort from the belief that the pilots sitting behind the cockpit's closed door know what to do. I would feel very differently if, through an open door, I observed pilots who were frustrated at the poor responsiveness of the plane's controls, arguing about their next step, and getting no help whatsoever from the operator's manuals.
So it is unsettling that policymakers in many Western economies today resemble the second group of pilots.

Ben Bernanke printed massive sums of money and pumped it into the economy, and when that didn't work, he printed more money and pumped it into the economy, heedless of the inflationary risk. He's beginning to look like an incompetent car mechanic: he jams his foot on the accelerator and nothing happens, so instead of taking his foot off the gas, he just keeps it jammed there, guaranteeing that when the engine does spring back to life the car will lurch forward uncontrollably.

Similarly, Obama's economic advisors assumed that the fiscal stimulus would produce the neat little "multiplier" they learned in their Keynesian economics textbooks, so that spending $800 billion would automatically lead to at least $400 billion in new, additional economic activity, an amount that ought to have guaranteed a decent year of growth in 2010. But the multiplier didn't multiply, the growth never happened, and now the ratings agencies are demanding that the US replace this stimulus with contraction, cutting trillions of dollars in future spending to compensate for the money squandered on the stimulus.

In both realms, monetary policy and fiscal policy, the past few years have given the lie to Washington's assumption that competent economic management at the Fed and the Treasury could stimulate growth, maintain it, and burst any speculative bubbles with a brief, painless "soft landing."

This system can be thought of as Central Planning Lite. By the time Communism collapsed in 1989, it was no longer plausible to claim that full-blown socialism or full-blown central planning were the wave of the future. But our political and intellectual leaders were not quite willing to give up on the dream, so they insisted that we could have a watered down Third Way between capitalism and communism. Instead of having the government take over all industries and provide for everyone's needs directly, we would have a welfare state in which the government merely provides a "safety net" of subsidies. And instead of direct central planning, we would have indirect central planning. Rather than outright edicts, we would use subsidies and tax breaks to steer economic activity into the channels our political leaders prefer, such as "green" technology. And at the center of it all, instead of having Gosplan dictating steel production quotas, we would have the Federal Reserve Board dictating interest rates. This is a form of central planning for credit, in which the Fed attempts to direct how much and on what terms bankers will lend.

The debt ceiling debate, which is driven not so much by the immediate prospect of default but by the long-term unsustainability of the federal debt, shows what happens when the welfare state comes crashing down. And the Fed's failure to encourage lending and stimulate economic growth, despite yanking on all of the levers it can reach, shows the illusion of monetary central planning.

The failure of Central Planning Lite cannot just be attributed to incompetence or politicization, to shovel-ready jobs that are not shovel-ready, or bailouts organized as favors to political pressure groups. After all, Ben Bernanke was a respected and impartial economist. But the job of central planning is inherently impossible; even the smartest person can't do it.

In discovering this fact, we are emerging from a specific illusion created by one man: Alan Greenspan. When he stepped down as Fed Chairman, I noted the irony that the onetime champion of the gold standard had instead established the Greenspan Standard: the markets' faith that economic contractions would be moderated, growth would continue steadily, and inflation would be kept at bay, all because of one man. It was the illusion that a brilliant, dedicated, all-knowing "maestro" could control the markets and make Central Planning Lite work.

Yet we can now see that in seeking to mitigate the effects of previous economic downturns, Greenspan helped set the stage for a monetary expansion and the resulting housing bubble, and when he handed his power over to the sorcerer's apprentice, all hell broke loose. In dictating an expansion of credit, the central planners at the Fed replaced the individual plans of bankers, investors, and borrowers, deliberately overriding any signals that might have warned of excessive risk and called for a contraction of credit. Yet the central planners did not, in fact, know how to understand and control the easy money forces they had unleashed. So is it any wonder that they have been unable to marshal those same forces to summon up a recovery?

If any good is to come from our current economic ideal, it will be a hard-earned skepticism about any claims that Congress can design an economic stimulus package, or that a gifted maestro at the Federal Reserve can summon economic growth at his command. It will be the death of Central Planning Lite.



When thugs fall out

Ousted Fatah official Muhammad Dahlan over the weekend launched a scathing attack on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, accusing him of dictatorship and financial corruption.

He said that more than $1 billion have gone missing from a fund that was handed over to Abbas after he was elected president in 2005.

Dahlan’s attack on Abbas came after PA security forces raided the former Fatah commander’s home in Ramallah on Thursday, arresting his bodyguards and confiscating weapons and armored vehicles.

Dahlan was at home during the raid, which was carried out by dozens of security officers, but was not detained thanks to his parliamentary immunity.

Shortly thereafter, Dahlan left for Jordan through the Allenby Bridge, where he gave a series of interviews to Arab media outlets in which he strongly condemned Abbas, 76, and accused him of financial corruption and seeking to destroy Fatah.

“Abbas does not recognize any law, morals or values,” Dahlan said, referring to the raid on his home and last month’s decision to expel him from the Fatah Central Committee. “Abbas feels that he’s above the law.”

Dahlan said that the dispute between Fatah and Hamas, and Israel’s presence in the West Bank, gave Abbas a “free hand to practice dictatorship against the Palestinian people, silence people and deny them their salaries.”

Dahlan said that the dispute with the PA president erupted after he demanded to know what had happened to $1.3b. that was in the account of the Palestinian Investment Fund.

The PIF was established in 2000 as an independent Palestinian investment company “committed to maximizing the assets’ value for its shareholder: the Palestinian people.”

“Yasser Arafat worked strenuously to save this money for the ‘black day.’ Mahmoud Abbas thinks that the people don’t know where this money is and who received it. Now he’s admitting that there is only $700 million in the fund. But the real sum should be about $2b.”

Dahlan, who headed the PA Preventive Security Force in the Gaza Strip after the signing of the Oslo Accords, also claimed that Abbas was furious with him because he had been badmouthing the PA president’s two sons, Yasser and Tareq, who are wealthy businessmen.

Senior Fatah officials in Ramallah said that if Dahlan returned to the West Bank, he would be immediately arrested and charged with “financial corruption, murder, extortion and collaboration with outside forces.”

The officials said that the offenses were committed during the period that Dahlan was in charge of the Preventative Security Force in the Gaza Strip.

The Abbas-Dahlan rivalry has caused significant damage to Fatah, one official told The Jerusalem Post. “Hamas is already celebrating the infighting in Fatah and is now saying that the accusations against Dahlan prove that Hamas was right when it kicked the Palestinian Authority out of the Gaza Strip in 2007.”

The dispute is also threatening to spark a confrontation between Fatah supporters in the West Bank and those in the Gaza Strip. Dahlan continues to enjoy widespread support among many Fatah cadres in the Strip.

Over the weekend, Dahlan supporters in the Gaza Strip expressed outrage over Abbas’s measures against the former Fatah commander. Some pointed out that Abbas and Dahlan had been strong political allies for many years.



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The Big Lie of the late 20th century was that Nazism was Rightist. It was in fact typical of the Leftism of its day. It was only to the Right of Stalin's Communism. The very word "Nazi" is a German abbreviation for "National Socialist" (Nationalsozialist) and the full name of Hitler's political party (translated) was "The National Socialist German Workers' Party" (In German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei)


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