Archive for May, 2011

From Chickens to Rabbits

Sunday, May 29th, 2011

The radical momentum of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal perhaps crested with the Supreme Court’s decision in the case Schechter Poultry Corporation v. United States. Large elements of the the National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933 were ruled unconstitutional. The Court found that the extensive regulatory structure of the act gave too much discretion the the Executive Branch violating the separation of powers. Agents of the Executive branch were making rules that should have been enacted by Congress. Further, some regulations actually exceed even Congressional federal authority with regard to the interstate commerce clause. Justice Louise Brandeis is reputed to have commented that “This is the end of this business of centralization…. we’re not going to let this government centralize everything.’’ Roosevelt was so furious he unsuccessfully attempted to stack the Supreme Court with additional Justices more inclined to rule in his favor.

What is interesting about the Schechter case that Schechter was not an large cooperation but a small, family-based Kosher wholesale poultry provider run by Jewish immigrants who did not speak English well and certainly did not understand the subtleties of the National Recovery Act. They were upset that their religious devotion was implicitly in question by the charges that they sold unhealthy chickens. This was a charge the authorities could not prove. A closer examination of the case, suggest that authorities were as much trying to make an example of a small defenseless enterprise as they were protecting public health.

There is small echo of this case in a modern situation where the USDA is fining a Missouri family $90,000 for largely a paperwork deficiency. Over the course of a couple years, the Dollarhite famly of Nixa, Missouri had raised rabbits both to sell as pets and for animal food. When they sold the rabbits to local pet stores they were designated as wholesale breeders. No one claims that rabbits were mistreated. However, they were is technical violation of the 1966 Animal Welfare Act.

When informed of this violation the Dollarhites immediately ceased activities. The enterprise was, after all, something of a hobby. Nonetheless, the Dollarhites have racked up a fine of $90K. There is also evidence that their may be some political motivation in the prosecution and that the family is being singled out to serve as an example to other wholesale breeders.

No one likes a bully and the USDA is shaking the Dollarhite familty down for more than just milk money. Fortunately, Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill and Republican Representative Billy Long are seeking to intervene on behalf of the Dollarhites. Americans should not have to rely on special attention is order to be treated with respect by the Federal government.

Quick Thoughts on Bin Laden Killing

Sunday, May 8th, 2011


Any morally calibrated person felt a sense of justice delievered upon hearing that mass murder Osama Bin Laden had been killed by US Special Forces. An important measure of justice comes from the realization that Bin Laden was not killed instantly from a cruise missile attack. Rather he must of had time to realize that the Americans had found him and his last sight was of an American SEAL.

I was a little surprised to see the street celebrations in Washington and New York City. At first glance, there was a superficial resemblance to the celebrations in the Islamic world after the 9/11 attacks. It does not take too much thought to see the difference. Americans were celebrating killing a mass murderer, the radical Islamists were celebrating mass murder of the innocent. Americans were waving their own flags, radical Islamists were burning the American flag. Americans chanted “USA’’ into the evening air, radical Islamists shot AK-47’s into air. I am not personally given to such street demonstrations, but for anyone upset at these rather modest celebrations after the killing Bin Laden — live with it.

Kill or Capture

In old westerns and cop shows there were many times when the criminal had been captured, but has not been shot by the heroic protagonist. It would not be morally right for the “good guy’’ to shoot the “bad guy’’ in cold blood. However, writers sometimes used the convention that the bad guy would start to shoot at the good guy and be killed in self-defense. The plot device maintained more clarity.

Perhaps in keeping with this sort of narrative, early this week spokesmen in the Obama Administration suggested that Bin Laden had gone down fighting Americans. Later he was said to be reaching for a gun. This effort only served to undermine the Administration’s credibility and competence after it had executed the extremely competent mission to get Bin Laden.

The attempts to construct a story missed the point. The mission to get Bin Laden was not a criminal enforcement with the primary goal of apprehension, it was an tactical strike in a war Bin Laden had declared. The goal was to kill the enemy. The only way that Bin Laden would not be shot is if he immediately and conspicuously surrendered. In war, an enemy combatant are typically shot on sight.

Enhanced Interrogation

During in the Bush Administration, arguments about “enhanced interrogation’’ techniques, the claim by some was it doesn’t work. In turns out that one of the threads that began to unravel from the pull of “enhanced interrogation’’ led to information about Bin Laden’s couriers and ultimately to Bin Laden himself. One can argue against enhanced interrogation from a variety of stand points, but one can no longer make the argument that such techniques don’t at times work. This does not make enhanced interrogation legal or moral, but does suggest that there may be a moral dilemma associated with their use. Perhaps the arguments about enhanced interrogation now can be made with more intelligence and less righteous bluster.


The Obama Administration has correctly decided not to release photos of a dead Bin Laden. The photos are surely gruesome and need not be released. Americans should not display vulgar trophies of victory. If there are people who believe Bin Laden is still alive, they would not be convinced by photos which a skeptic could dismiss as easily as other evidence. If there are some people foolish enough to believe Bin Laden is still alive, let them.

Net Neutrality

Sunday, May 1st, 2011

The Internet began under the auspices of the military’s ARPANET and was later augmented as the National Science Foundation sponsored links to educational institutions. For the most of the 1980’s the Internet was a robust network largely closed to everyone not involved in governmental or research activities. Many enjoyed this exclusivity and limited access. There was resistance to opening up the Internet to commercial activity. To many this bow to the market would taint the nobler aspirations of a publicly-developed, open communications shared among particularly educational institutions.

Once the Internet allowed for commercial activity its public adoption exploded, first with the availability of modem connections via telephone lines, dedicated cable lines, and now wireless connections. For a while, there was talk of a social-class based “digital divide’’ that separated the computer/Internet haves and havenots. Almost before people conjure up government programs to address this crisis, the falling costs of computer and Internet connections have largely alleviated this perceived problem. There are still pockets of the world with limited connectivity, but wireless communications may cause these areas to leapfrog the desktop computer Internet connection to almost exclusive wireless cell phone Internet connectivity.

Now that the Internet and Internet applications have become ubiquitous, the newest worry is “net neutrality’’. The concern is that the relatively few very high speed Internet providers will use their positions for unfair competitive advantage. For example, some Internet service providers also provide Internet-based telephone services. It is conceivable that they might prevent or handicap rival companies from using the Internet connection offering an alternative telephone service. Now that one of the major Internet providers, Comcast, owns NBC, the fear is that Comcast might some how give speed or connection preference to NBC content.

The concern is real and possible abuse plausible, but there have been few instances of abuse to point to and it seems premature to begin regulation. Nonetheless, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) proposed net neutrality regulations, which were recently rejected by Congress.

Republicans have been largely against compelling net neutrality via regulation in no small measure because they distrust the FCC. Liberal members of the FCC have suggested that they would like to re-institute the “Fairness Doctrine’’ as a means to balance political content radio broadcasting. Conservative view this as unnecessary given the many available communications channels, and as a means of silencing popular Conservative radio talk show host like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. The mistrust caused by these efforts explain part of the reluctance of granting the FCC authority to regulate Internet content.

Concern over Internet service providers exploiting monopoly or near monopoly positions to control content and access need not be the concern of the FCC, but rather the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). In general, Internet service providers have an economic interest in allowing broad access to online services. If they begin to use non-competitive practices, the FTC can intervene under its anti-trust authority. In the meantime, the best role for government would be to provide conditions necessary to mitigate monopolies. Such conditions might be the availability of more wireless spectrum to allow more competition with wired services, or making available public rights of way so that additional providers might be able to provide wired access.

Governments too often have embarked on regulation for the benefit of the consumers have succumbed to the temptation of protecting incumbent business. Even Edward Kennedy and Jimmy Carter saw that regulation of trucking and airline fees were largely hurting consumers and deregulated trucking and airlines. The result has been lower trucking fees and availability of air travel to a broader range of consumer income levels.

Prudence and history suggest that we wait and see how the Internet develops before leaping to regulate it even under the auspices of “network neutrality.’’