Thursday, November 30, 2006

Kathryn Johnston Would Still be Alive in a Libertarian Society

Last week Kathryn Johnston was shot to death by police in her own home. Earlier this week her funeral was held. If Ms. Johnston had lived in a Libertarian soceity, she would likely still be alive. Here's why:

In a Libertarian society, drugs would have been legal. Therefore, there would have been no need for clandestine drug trades anywhere. They could occur whereever the drugs could be bought and sold legally, without having to hide from the public or the law.

This means that the police, local, state, and federal would have had no interest in who was buying or selling drugs. Just as they have no interest in who buys beer, Playboy magazine, or a pack of cigarettes. Note that there are still laws on the books about giving or selling these items to minors, but when was the last time you heard of someone being killed over a pack of cigarettes distributed to a minor?

This also means that the police are no longer motivated by seizure laws that grant them some of the possesions taken in drug raids, up to and including vehicles, cash, and homes. SO the incentive on risky raids for a potential return are highly diminished.

Ms. Johnston's neighborhood would have also been a safer place if it were a Libertarian community because the potential profit motives for the drugs would have long ago been removed. So much of crime is related to raising money to get drugs that many neighborhoods have had residents install burglar bars and doors to keep the thieves out. This is not an issue in a Libertarian community.

Finally, those that had drug problems would be able to get the help that they need without the fear of being incarcerated while seeking help. Which would lead to fewer drug addicts on the streets. Fewer addicts on the streets would be good for all involved.

Unfortunately, Ms. Johnston lived in a society where laws are passed that attempt to restrict individual rights. And the restriction of those rights can seemingly be ignored if the cause is the "right" one, which in this case originated as fighting the war on drugs. Yet as the truth continues to trickle out, we are learning that those who swore to uphold the law seemed to have no trouble breaking it to suit their needs.

These lessons should not be lost on us. We should not endanger the lives of residents or public servants by trying to enforce laws that would not exist in a libertarian society. We lose more than we gain when this is something we are willing to settle for. Ms. Johnston should not have been forced to sacrifice her law for the war on drugs, when our society also claims that we have freedom and choice. She did not have a choice as the police stormed her home.


Why Wal-mart Is Not a Retailing Bellweather

No retailer is covered more often than Wal-mart. Nor is any retailer more hated by special interest groups, or more coveted as a place to get your product on display.

Market analysts continue to look at Wal-mart as they attempt to discern the health of the economy and the direction of retail. They should begin to look elsewhere for their signs. Here's why:

1. Wal-mart's retail sales space is capped and cannot expand.

Hundreds of thousands of new products are introduced every year. It is highly unlikely that very many of these new products will make it to the retail floor at Wal-mart. For a new item to go in, something must go. There was a time when that was not true, as the stores grew in size. But now as the stores have approached 250,000 square feet, communities are pushing back.
Have a look at the following link and store foot prints:

Many communities are reducing store sizes, not increasing them. To this end, Wal-mart will be forced to carry fewer and fewer items. At the same time, more and more items are available and thus, something has to give.

Product selection is already rather limited at Wal-mart. You cannot find classical music for instance, in the CD section at the local Wal-mart. There are multitudes of other items that are sold at retail that cannot be found at Wal-mart. While consumers may on occasion substitute one brand of dvd player for another, they are not able to substitute Hank Williams for Mozart.

2. Wal-mart shoppers reflect a narrowing of choices for the US shopper.

Affluent shoppers expect a greater number of options, especially as the price point rises. So even if Wal-mart adds more high end goods to support the goal of attracting the big spender, they simply will not have the floor space to display these items. Each square foot of Wal-mart has to produce more and more revenue, and allocating shelf space for high end merchandise will not provide the type of turnover to satisfy this need. If a shopper is looking to spend $500 on a wristwatch, and there is a choice of only one or two, the shopper is likely to look elsewhere.

3. We are becoming more individualized while the stores are becoming more standardized.

If you have been to one Wal-mart, you can be fairly certain you have been to most Wal-marts. And while some stores, such as beachtown stores, have a different mix of merchandise, the stores are primarily the same. Meanwhile, the individual consumer has learned to have it their way. They want a variety of colors, sizes and option is just about every item that they choose to buy. Even if they end up buying the white Ipod as others have, they want to know that they have had a choice. They can no longer be guaranteed to get that choice inside a Wal-mart.

So unless the US consumer changes their behaviors drastically, or new product introductions suddenly drop to zero, or communities adopt a "bigger is better" retail philosophy for new retail construction, Wal-mart is at it's physical limit. That means that unless analysts begin to look at the bigger picture, they will not be able to truly understand what is going on in the retail sector.

And when you hear that same store sales at Wal-mart are flat, you will know that does not mean that retail sales are tanking. It just means that there are new opportunities opening elsewhere.


Tuesday, November 28, 2006

When Police Attack-The War on Drugs

Last week, an elderly lady living alone was shot to death by the Atlanta police as they broke down her door with a 'no-knock' search warrant in hand. As of this writing, the basis for the warrant has not been released, although it should be public information.

The Atlanta police first stated that they had knocked and identified themselves when they were shot upon. Other stories told to the media included that they were shot at as they approached the house(which seems to be untrue), that an undercover police officer had earlier bought drugs in the same house(this has now changed to an informant) and that narcotics were found in the house(a small amount of pot was discovered).

What is undisputable is that a woman is dead, that she fired five shots, and that the police shot over 130 times(according to their report), striking the woman twice. The same lady shot three officers with the five shots she fired. One can only wonder what the police thought they were firing at if they really fired that many rounds.

We should feel safe in our homes. We should know that at least in our homes, if there is some reason that the police need to investigate, that they will at least do their homework before using force to serve a warrant. How hard would it have been to watch the house and see who was coming and going? What of the infrared technology they have to show how many folks are in the house?

This elderly woman could have been hard of hearing. But it would not have mattered if she could hear a pin drop a mile away. For as the police tore down her door, they had a warrant in hand. Apparently, that allows the police to use deadly force to go anywhere at anytime, regardless of what the potential crime is they hope to uncover. It does not seem that the risk was worth the reward if three cops could have been killed for the recovery of a small amount of pot. Are we really sending police into situations like this for such a small potential of a crime.

If I were a family member of one of these officers, I would have to ask what in the hell is going on there. I would want to know why no common sense is being applied.

There have been numerous stories in the Atlanta paper recently about break ins and attacks against women in the last few weeks. Imagine you are sitting alone, in your home, watching a movie, or perhaps napping, or in the laundry, when suddenly you hear your front door, burglar bars and all being torn off the hinges. How are you going to react?

I do not care if the word police is written across a vest. How hard is that to duplicate? It's dark outside, I live alone, and I am expecting no one. It should be very reasonable to believe that anyone breaking into my home is going to be a threat for me. And the older I am, the more I realize that if they get to me, they will certainly overpower me.

Which brings me to this point- the war on drugs is a waste. It wastes lives, time, and money. How many more police and innocent people will we allow to be sacrificed for the greater good to win this war on drugs? How much time in the courts and elsewhere must we spend pursuing individuals that should have the right to use drugs if they so desire? Have you tried to get allergy pills at the drugstore lately? How many are wasting time everyday following these new laws that do everything but fingerprint you for a box of allergy pills? How much money are we wasting by incarcerating drug users who are harming no one but themselves?

There was a time in this country when we believed that we would rather let ten criminals go free than wrongly convict one innocent person. That no longer seems to be the case. We have no problem sacrificing innocent people if we have the possibility of catching one person we have decided who is doing wrong. And this philosophy starts with President Bush and his war on terrorism all the way down to the Atlanta City Police and it's war on drugs. There is not a problem with trampling the rights of innocent individuals if it is for the greater good.

All too often, I have heard you have nothing to worry about if you are not doing anything illegal. That sounds great in theory. But who will stand with you when they tear your door down, and you have kids inside, and a gunshot on the tv is mistaken for a shot at the police? Apologies will not bring anyone back to life.

If someone tears your door off late at night, how will you respond? Will you protect yourself and your family? Or will you check and see if they really are police before responding? If they are not police, then for you, it will be too late.


Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Be Careful Where You Drink

"Gwinnett gets OK to send treated sewage to Lanier" AJC 7 November 2006

Fear not fellow water drinkers. The county of Gwinett is returning sewage water for the rest of us to consume.

According to Linda MacGregor, "Gwinnett's discharge is safe for both humans and aquatic species. The county will be "returning very high quality treated wastewater back to the lake," she said.

Yet they are going to discharge this "high quality treated wastewater" 100 feet below the surface of the lake, to get to the coldest water, and just before the dam, where the Chattahoochee continues south through the rest of the state.

A new policy needs to be adopted if indeed this water is of such high quality. It needs to be discharged upstream from where Gwinnett's intake pipe for drinking water is located.

Why should the rest of us be subjected to what Gwinett county itself will not subject itself to? They should have no fear as long as they keep their equipment up to snuff.

One only has to look south to Atlanta, and read about the constant raw sewage that runs into streams whenever it rains....and realize the risk when you can have no fear that what you dump will not be your problem down stream.

We are only now beginning to understand the effects of all the drugs that make it's way back into our water system through treated sewage: birth control pills, prozac, viagra, you name it, are not filtered out and end up being consumed by you when you drink tap water from a public source.

Water is the single item that each of us consume every day. Our diets vary, food sources vary, but water we will be exposed to daily without pause.

If the treated sewage is so safe, why are they going to take all the "precautions" they have stated, and why is Gwinnett still not willing to pipe it into the system upstream? I imagine they are not willing to take the risk. Why should we?

Friday, November 03, 2006

When Falsehoods become Truth

There is nothing more difficult to prove than a falsehood that has been repeated so many times that it is assumed to be truthful. It is difficult to disprove after it has become accepted fact. Unfortunately, there are not enough of us to question things as they are presented to the public to stay on top of all the false statements.

For example, along with the following story

in the print version of Fortune magazine, on page 194, is a photo of a Home Depot store with the following caption: Boxed Out Home Depot's earnings rise and fall with home sales.

and here is the text from the article:

"While the price may drop further - the company's earnings tend to rise and fall with home sales - Home Depot is using its ample cash to revamp stores, make strategic acquisitions, repurchase stock, and boost its dividend."

Yet when I review the earnings history for Home Depot(Source:Valueline October 6, 2006), I can see no decline in Home Depot's earnings....ever. So how does one reconcile the facts with this story? Well, it would seem that the author of the story is not really talking about earnings. Nor is he talking about sales. The only conclusion is that whatever source of information being cited is referring to the growth rate of sales for stores open a year or more. I cannot be sure for I am still waiting to receive a fax which is supposed to support his claim.

It leaves me wondering how many others have read this article, tucked away the conclusion as factually true, and then may alter future investment or purchase plans because if it. I wonder how many others, if any questioned it.

I am certainly not trying to pick on the author of this story, but Jon Birger is a Senior Staff Writer at Fortune. For the potential size of his audience, I would hope that he checked the facts to support the conclusions that have been presented. For that matter, I hope he recognizes that sales and earnings are two different items, and how easy it is to verify information.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Atlanta Traffic and Wayne Shackelford

A response to the column by Wayne Shackelford in the AJC on 11/1/2006

Mr. Shackelford unfortunately cannot see the vehicles for which congestion is created. Neither can the rest of the people who insist on proposing grandiose transportation projects that do very little to improve the traffic that impacts most of us in the metro Atlanta area daily.

Local traffic is what ails most of us most of the time. It is local traffic that is creating the congestion that slows the through traffic. We cannot get to the stores closest to our homes in a timely manner. We cannot make a 4 mile trip to pick our children up from after school events in less than a ½ hour. Investing millions of dollars for fanciful rail systems only aids a small percentage of people some of the time, and strokes the egos of the grand designers of these proposed “solutions” to our traffic woes.

As far as the cost of trips and driving, Mr. Shackelford takes an inaccurate approach to make his rail project look more financially feasible. He should not include the fixed costs for a trip by auto unless he is willing to do the same for the rail. My fixed expenses for the auto will stay about the same whether I park my SUV and take the rail, or drive myself to my final destination. It is not feasible to not have a vehicle and therefore the fixed costs are there to stay. So the only real increase in cost to me when driving is the gas I consume to get there.

At 54 cents per passenger mile for MARTA(2002 Cost per passenger mile:Urban Transportation Fact Book), my gas guzzling SUV would still be cheaper wit gas at $7.50 a gallon to be more expensive than MARTA with one passenger, and $15 per gallon with two passengers. The paradox is that my SUV gets significantly cheaper to operate with more family members riding while public transportation costs increase significantly with more family members traveling. The result is we are building expensive transportation systems suited for individuals and not families.

No rail solution can improve the 30 minutes it takes to drive the last four miles to our home. Work to improve the ability to get around closest to where we live, and our quality of life will improve for everyone, not just those who live near a highly subsidized rail line.