Friday, October 31, 2008

Because believers (in anything) need to deal honestly. with the best arguments their critics muster...

... which is one thing that neither Progressives, nor Liberals, nor Conservatives seem to do ...

I wanted to note this extremely good critique of Ayn Rand's Objectivism, and especially what might by known as the John Galt gambit, published by Lee at A Secondhand Conjecture. If you've never read Atlas Shrugged, John Galt is the man who convinces literally all the talented, unappreciated people to cease carrying the ungrateful proles on their backs, to retire from society and let it collapse around the ears of the non-productive. On some Randite Libertarian blogs the idea of a John Galt strategy over the next four years is--not surprisingly--starting to appear.

Here's a substantial excerpt from Lee's piece [I've placed some of my favorite insights in bold]:

Synova wrote a little post that gets halfway to where I would come down on this perennial parlor game of the John Galt general strike. Sy recognized that to be successful, such a revolt would realistically be a miserable experience for a society, resulting in bloodshed and economic ruin. But she does not depart from Rand in assuming that the eventual outcome would be desirable. I’d advise the ancient wisdom that if the means are clearly evil in a political project, one should become immediately skeptical of the alleged justice of the ends.

We should also be skeptical of the social assumption for Galt, that there is a definable and rigid division among men into a minority of Platonic creative guardians, and an empowered majority of proletarian oppressors and their craven political servants — and that these factions could have accurate self-recognition of their social roles. I would contend that anyone who thinks of the majority of the people as disposable abstracted parasites, under a constitutional order that explicitly derives its governing powers from the majority consent of the governed, is never selling you anything that’s going to arrive in a happy place.

Additionally, as with all radical revolutionary doctrines requiring mass mobilization, the necessity of placing the attainment of utopia in the distant future, or behind a historical barrier of war or great sacrifice, is an organizing principle in itself. As Eric Hoffer warned in his defense of the idea of the present, if you have to get to the future to find out if an ideology is just and correct, it isn’t. Not that this is an inconvenience to the revolutionary, as there’s always a need for someone to run the next war or 5 year plan when it turns out everything has gotten much worse thanks to his determined efforts.

Because of that intrinsic conceit, Rand’s ideology is arguably one of the most dangerous to have materialized on our shores. Like her literary style, it has an essentially hierachialist Russian character that cloaks itself seductively in the cultural language of liberal America. Many libertarians have been wise to regard her visions and schemes such as Galt, as somehow at odds with their ideals, even if they’re often unsure how.

For libertarians, the Randian revolt ought to be uncomfortable, because it is honest. It directly confronts the great and omnipresent danger at the heart of libertarianism: The discord of the libertarian individualist with popular democracy (as an exercise, try replacing the word “collectivism” with “democracy” in objectivist literature and you may experience an epiphany). Objectivism thrives in this conflict and worse, offers a solution to resolve the internal moral contest: mobilize, revolt, destroy the present to save the future.

That’s because what one sees over and over again in libertarian literature is the frustration at the tendency of voting majorities to support social programs which redistribute wealth from rich to poor. The libertarian vexation is not unfounded, as this reality does indeed have a corrosive effect on economic growth and can slowly imperil human liberty by course. Since libertarians are materialists and understand that all political freedoms are material freedoms (of what use is freedom of speech, if you cannot own a printing press?), this quickly becomes a moral crisis. There’s thus always a temptation, exploited by the objectivist, to conclude that there’s a way to prevent this from happening through counter-democratic means. The temptation is fundamentally the conclusion that the democratic enterprise is irretrievably and inevitably a moral compromise.

This is pretty deep stuff, and if any tried-and-true Objectivist reads this post--either here or over at Lee's place--I'm sure there will be both howls of anger and sneers of disdain.

But what emerged for me on reading this, in one of those indirect epiphanies that you get from time to time, inspired by reading or seeing something for reasons you can't quite grasp, is this distinction in my Libertarianism:

I am not a Libertarian who happens to live in America, and who pursues the utopian objective of reforming all society into Libertarian Land.

I am an American citizen who believes strongly in the expressed goals and promises of the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the US Constitution [while fully realizing that those documents are sometimes contradictory], and who believes that the most effective and most just strategy for achieving those goals is achieved via a Libertarian approach.

I pursue the goals of non-aggression and freedom, of limited government and personal responsibility, not just because I believe they are more ethical, but because I believe they work.

This also means that, despite the frustrating regularity of American national elections descending to the level of who can promise more bread and circuses to the voters, I am committed to democracy, committed to this constitutional republic.

And I see my fellow citizens who don't agree with me as people to be convinced in the long run and positively engaged until then, not as opponents to be forced or coerced, even indirectly.

Here's an endorsement that Chris Cole could probably have lived without...


Another case where the Republican and Democratic candidates are not even worth consideration. Dole is horrible, and Hagan will be worse. I spent a long time researching Chris Cole. I do have some serious reservations about voting for him in that he is openly homosexual and supports gay marriage. In looking at his positions, he believes that abortion is a state issue and opposes any federal involvement in the issue at all, whether it is funding, promotion, or banning at the federal level. He does not disclose what he thinks the states ought to do. As such, I think he would be far more likely to help end federally protected abortion than the “Pro-Life” Republicans in the federal government who want to keep abortion an issue forever by not stopping it. He is really solid on everything a senator might vote on. He wants to eliminate the fed, just about every federal department, and the income tax. He essentially has the same positions as congressman Paul on federal issues with the exception of gay marriage where he believes in a very limited role of the Federal government anyway. As Luther might say, I’d rather be ruled by a homosexual who rules like a Christian than by a Christian who rules like a homosexual. Vote: Christopher Cole.

Funny, I never found the parts of Martin Luther talking about homosexuals--must have been in the 95 feces he nailed to the Church door.

Apparently Upton Sinclair is running for President this year...

... or at least that's what it sounds like when I hear some campaign speeches.

Senator Barack Obama said in Sarasota FL yesterday:

We will reopen old factories, old plants, to build solar panels and wind turbines.

Coyote Blog responds thus:

LOL. Barrack is going to open some of those old GM plants in Flint, Michigan and build solar panels. Seriously, is this a rhetorical flourish or does he really believe that factories are generic production facilities that can make anything...?

While insightful, I think this rejoinder misses the point. More and more the rhetoric of the Democratic campaign seems to be coming directly out of Upton Sinclair's 1934 run for the governorship of California on his EPIC platform (End Poverty in California Now), in which he promised more spending [even if the money had to be printed without anything behind it], and a massive new State bureaucracy that would take over supervision of industry, agriculture, and trade--including the reopening of idle factories to produce goods for the workers themselves.

Ironically, the easiest place to find the full text of one of Sinclair's pieces of campaign promotional literature is ... on the History page of the Social Security Administration website.

Go, take a look, and on careful reading you'll find out that there's really nothing new in politics.

[Oh, as a footnote: Sinclair ran as a Democrat, but FDR and the national Democratic Party left him high and dry while a GOP smear campaign destroyed his chances--seemed he was too radical for the authors of the New Deal.]

Well, maybe this would be a better bail-out target than wooden arrows or banks...

... but I've still got to scratch my head over the $100 million hand-out the American Library Association is soliciting:

The American Library Association (ALA) is asking Congress for $100 million in stimulus funding to aid the nation’s working families during the current economic crisis. Aid is sought to stem the bleeding of critical library services that help Americans with job searches, small business development, financial literacy and other essential assistance in hard economic times.

Public libraries are facing the most severe cutbacks in decades as budget shortfalls hit cities, towns and rural areas across the country, according to the association. From Los Angeles to Boston, libraries are cutting hours and services; some are even facing the threat of closure at a time when their support is needed most.

The ALA claims that libraries provide most of the free internet access in both urban and rural areas [of course, it isn't exactly free, since tax dollars pay for it], and that, according to Professor Joe Matthews, every dollar invested in libraries both multiplies and becomes critical to recovery from the recession:

“Economic studies demonstrate the positive impact of spending in local communities,” said Joe Matthews, an internationally recognized expert on library management with an MBA degree from the University of California, Irvine.

“Known as the multiplier affect, every dollar spent in the community will ripple through the economy with an impact ranging from 7 to 11 times the initial spending,” he added. “The proposed stimulus spending for America’s public libraries will have an enormous impact on local economies, helping communities across the country get back on track financially.” Matthews is an acclaimed author and professor at San Joe University.

Of course this must mean that city government leaders across the country are idiots, as they are choosing, in tough budgetary times, to make cuts in library services before those non-essentials like police, firefighting, EMS, and sewer.

Which, of course, is why the Federal government should spend another $100 million of money we don't have to bail them out.

[h/t Kids Prefer Cheese]

About that Colin Powell endorsement...

... which a lot of Democrats saw as his expiation of his sins for supporting the Bush administration for so long ...

If I were Senator Barack Obama I'd have at least a little hesitation about trumpeting the endorsement of a man whose last public endorsement was....

... appearing as a character witness for Alaska Senator Ted Stevens at his corruption trial ....

The revival of Keynesian economics with a special Krugman twist

Here's a glimpse at our future, via the economic thought of the man who will undoubtedly have a huge influence on American economic policy over the next four years: Paul Krugman [quotes from the New York Times via Independent Political Report].

Krugman notes that consumers have finally pulled back on spending:

So this looks like the beginning of a very big change in consumer behavior. And it couldn’t have come at a worse time.

It’s true that American consumers have long been living beyond their means. In the mid-1980s Americans saved about 10 percent of their income. Lately, however, the savings rate has generally been below 2 percent — sometimes it has even been negative — and consumer debt has risen to 98 percent of G.D.P., twice its level a quarter-century ago.

Some economists told us not to worry because Americans were offsetting their growing debt with the ever-rising values of their homes and stock portfolios. Somehow, though, we’re not hearing that argument much lately.

Sooner or later, then, consumers were going to have to pull in their belts. But the timing of the new sobriety is deeply unfortunate. One is tempted to echo St. Augustine’s plea: “Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet.” For consumers are cutting back just as the U.S. economy has fallen into a liquidity trap — a situation in which the Federal Reserve has lost its grip on the economy.

Some background: one of the high points of the semester, if you’re a teacher of introductory macroeconomics, comes when you explain how individual virtue can be public vice, how attempts by consumers to do the right thing by saving more can leave everyone worse off. The point is that if consumers cut their spending, and nothing else takes the place of that spending, the economy will slide into a recession, reducing everyone’s income.

So, to get this straight, Krugman's argument is that we built the current American economy by going deeply into debt as individuals in order to drive consumer spending to drive up productivity, and now that we're so deeply in debt that many of us have cut spending to pay our debts and begin saving ... we're the ones who are about to ruin the economy.

Individual virtue can be public vice.

Great concept that, and an indication of the extent to which we've gone down the path toward placing the "needs" of the State ahead of what's good for the citizens of that State.

You can tell by what Krugman prescribes to keep us out of a long recession:

The capitulation of the American consumer, then, is coming at a particularly bad time. But it’s no use whining. What we need is a policy response.

The ongoing efforts to bail out the financial system, even if they work, won’t do more than slightly mitigate the problem. Maybe some consumers will be able to keep their credit cards, but as we’ve seen, Americans were overextended even before banks started cutting them off.

No, what the economy needs now is something to take the place of retrenching consumers. That means a major fiscal stimulus. And this time the stimulus should take the form of actual government spending rather than rebate checks that consumers probably wouldn’t spend.

Let’s hope, then, that Congress gets to work on a package to rescue the economy as soon as the election is behind us. And let’s also hope that the lame-duck Bush administration doesn’t get in the way.

Unpack this just a little. Krugman is saying that save ourselves from a recession or depression that might last 4-5 years, our government [which is already $11 trillion in debt and falling further behind every day] should borrow or print more money and try to spend our way to prosperity.

The question for the good Dr Krugman would then be: when do we ever actually reduce or pay that debt, while dealing with the eventual financial debacles of out-of-control Social Security or Medicare spending? Exactly how much additional debt do we pile up for our children and grandchildren to pay when the interest payments on the natio exceed 50% of our tax revenues.

This Keynesian approach of deficit spending to fund government stimulus is only (even barely) justifiable in economic terms when there is a reasonable expectation that later economic growth will allow the accumulated debt to be effectively reduced to a smaller segment of the economy.

Given the specter of global warming, or the end of cheap oil, or a variety of other factors, that isn't even a vaguely responsible projection.

Think about it this way: Dr Kurgman and his followers can be thought of as either (a) generals preparing the fight the last war [in this case, the Great Depression]; or (b) being in denial that their poor spending habits have gotten them into this situation and that it will require different behaviors to get them out.

The bubble created by the Federal Reserve, deficit spending, and just all-out greed on too many parts is going to collapse. It's going to hurt, and the longer we avoid dealing with it realistically in an attempt to postpone that pain, the worse it will be.

Robert Heinlein had a saying that covers this: Never put off a trip to the dentist.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

While you're fuming about wooden arrows, Puerto Rican rum, NASCAR tracks, and all the other goodies in the bail-out...

... just remember that abuse of power in government is endemic--even in the United States--and has been even under the very weakest form of central government ever devised: The Articles of Confederation.

The history courses in our public schools, when they mention the Articles at all, generally treat them as a failed first attempt at national government, left so weak by Congress's inability to levy taxes on the States that financial instability was leading to insurrection, inflation, and potential balkanization of the new nation by European interests. Then, as if called forth by God and the correct political principles, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and the rest of the demi-God framers step in and give us the real Constitution with enough meat on its bones to get the job done [which really means the ability to levy taxes and eventually override all the state governments]. Great story.

The only shining light in the Articles period is generally held to be the Northwest Ordinance of 1786, which allowed for the organized settlement of the new territories north of the Ohio River, providing for their transition into statehood, mandating an abridged but effective bill of rights, and forever prohibiting slavery in the area. Great stuff that.


How often do they tell our kids about the Land Ordinance of 1785, which was the actual law that allowed for the survey and sale of that land in the first place?

Never. And here's why....

The Land Ordinance of 1785 required the survey and organization of the new territory into townships, generally ten miles square (unless rivers or mountains intervened) and divided into 100 equal lots of 640 acres [one square mile] each. Certain lots in each township were reserved to the government for later sale to support schools or other instruments as necessary....

The Ordinance required that the smallest element that could be sold by the government in its initial offering was one lot of 640 acres.

The reality was that not only was 640 acres much larger than any farm a single family could work, given the technology of the time, but it was also fiscally impossible for any small farmer to save or borrow that much money. There was a general shortage of both specie and paper money in the mid-1780s, partly brought about by the collapse of the Continental Dollar and the Continental Bond at the end of the Revolution and the inability of private banks to establish sufficient circulating currency. Regular folks did not have access to either cash or credit--at least not in the amounts necessary to buy new cut-rate land from the government.

So, first of all, the Land Ordinance of 1785 effectively restricted initial purchases in the Northwest Territory to the very wealthy, who then resold smaller plots to the farmers who wanted to move there and settle at a mark-up of usually 1000-1500%.

Ah, but it gets better.

One of the reasons that there was a currency shortage was, as I mentioned before, the complete collapse of the Continental Dollar and Bond. Essentially, by 1780 these instruments had become toilet paper. But that's all that George Washington and the Congress had available to pay discharge bonuses with. So they handed out worthless money and sent the men home. Before they left, however, many officers and private soldiers were approached by currency speculators offering to buy their money.

The transaction worked something like this.

Hey, Major! I see you just got paid off $300 in Continental Dollars that are worth, let's see here--about $3 in gold if you're lucky. You know, I think it's horrible that patriots like you are getting ripped off. Tell you what. I can't give you face value for that paper, son--hell, nobody could afford to do that--but because I like you, I'll give you $5 in gold, right here, cash on the barrel head. Whaddya say, Major?

And by and large, they took it, thinking they'd gotten the best of the city slicker.

Then the currency speculator either secured a nomination to the Congress or sent somebody he trusted to represent his interests. It was pretty easy: being in Congress was not really a high status job in those days.

And so they wrote that forgotten Land Ordinance of 1785.

Which specified not only that the land had to be purchased in big plots, but that for purposes of buying land, all Continental Dollars and Bonds had to be accepted by the Government at face value on par with specie.

In other words, that $300 bonus I paid $5 for a couple years ago is now worth $300 again, so long as I am buying land. Which means not only do I get the land for what amounts in real gold to $.02-.03 per acre, I am usually turning around and reselling it to the same people who sold me the discounted paper in the first place.

Oh, by the way, those opportunists included Edmund Randolph, Robert Morris, Gouvenour Morris, George Washington, and at least another dozen men who showed up at the Constitutional Convention, and who--in the First Congress--made sure they re-passed the Land Ordinance of 1785 and the Northwest Ordinance of 1786 [just to insure their continued legality] before they got around to debating the Bill of Rights.

In other words: even the weakest government we've ever had opened up doors for the opportunistic to rig markets in their favor. So why should you be at all surprised that today, when millions and billions and trillions of dollars flow into and out of Washington DC on a daily basis, our legislators spend their time enriching themselves and selected constituents rather than actively pursuing the public good.

Hell, it's an American political tradition.

Australia officially preparing to ban free speech on the net


THE Federal Government is planning to make internet censorship compulsory for all Australians and could ban controversial websites on euthanasia or anorexia.

Australia's level of net censorship will put it in the same league as countries including China, Cuba, Iran and North Korea, and the Government will not let users opt out of the proposed national internet filter when it is introduced.

Broadband, Communications and Digital Economy Minister Stephen Conroy admitted the Federal Government's $44.2 million internet censorship plan would now include two tiers - one level of mandatory filtering for all Australians and an optional level that will provide a "clean feed", censoring adult material.

Despite planning to hold "live trials" before the end of the year, Senator Conroy said it was not known what content the mandatory filter would bar, with euthanasia or pro-anorexia sites on the chopping block.

"We are talking about mandatory blocking, where possible, of illegal material," he told a Senate Estimates Committee.

Previously the net nanny proposal was going to allow Australians who wanted uncensored access to the web the option to contact their internet service provider and be excluded from the service.

So... Australia is going to have mandatory, state-instituted internet filtering, which is basically designed to eliminate anything the Australian government decides would be bad for its citizens to see, a list which apparently includes at this point any website discussing anorexia or euthanasia.

But, as my non-Libertarian friends never tire of telling me: there is no such thing as a slippery slope. There is no such thing as a slippery slope. Thereisnosuchthingasaslipperyslope.

You know that idiotic, color-coded terror alert system?

The Department of Homeland Security has thus far spent $90 million on it. I know, I know, that would barely purchase the stationary necessary to print the documents to buy out a single failing bank.

But still: $90 million bucks.

Oh, yeah. The Office of Management and Budget has determined it doesn't work, and that DHS should stop spending money on it until its effectiveness can be proven. The White House (wonder of wonders!) agrees. The Congress agrees. The General Accounting Office agrees. Even the DHS Advisory Committee agrees.

So what's going to happen?

DHS has announced it's moving ahead with the program.

Somewhere in the bizarro world this makes sense: the people to whom we have entrusted our national security have a system that doesn't work and nobody wants, but they're not going to drop it.

And, apparently, nobody is going to do anything about it.

[h/t Michaelbrownblog]

It must be kismet....

.... that the News Journal has the Phillies' World Series victory on the front page, and my letter supporting Libertarian candidates here.

Phillies. Libertarians.

Makes sense, doesn't it?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Genius of the Great $770 Billion Federal Bail-out...

The Congress voted to send hundreds of billions of dollars to bank to ease the credit crunch ... and neglected to include language that requires them to lend any of it out:

The infusion of federal money is to rebuild banks' battered capital reserves so the institutions would feel comfortable resuming more normal lending practices. But that confidence was undercut somewhat when reports surfaced that bankers might 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 on Friday and, at the same time, PNC said it was acquiring National City Corp. for $5.58 billion.

There is little federal officials can do about it. There is no language in the bailout bill that specifically obligates banks receiving money to increase their loans. Officials had argued that attaching strings to the capital-infusion program would discourage financial institutions from participating.

So while Barney Frank worries about CEO bonuses creating perverse incentives and insisting that there are more rich people out there to tax, it seems that he missed the fact that his plan was giving away billions of dollars without any strings attached.

Not that I want the Federal government to act any smarter when it's nationalizing large segments of the economy. Just pointing out that it can't even get it right when it tries.

The $80 billion dollar tax increase that the Democrats aren't talking about...

... is the elimination of pre-tax investment in 401K retirement accounts [supposedly only for the wealthy, which here appears to be anyone at 100K or more], which will be switched out, according to economics professor Teresa Ghilarducci for....

Under Ms. Ghilarducci’s plan, all workers would receive a $600 annual inflation-adjusted subsidy from the U.S. government but would be required to invest 5% of their pay into a guaranteed retirement account administered by the Social Security Administration. The money in turn would be invested in special government bonds that would pay 3% a year, adjusted for inflation.

Why would Congress want to do that? Because your tax exempt contributions to that 401K represent an $80 Billion dollar pool of potential tax increases for them to play with:

“With respect to the 401(k), it appears to be a plan that is not really well-devised for the changes in the market,” Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., said.

“We’ve invested $80 billion into subsidizing this activity,” he said, referring to tax breaks allowed for 401(k) contributions and savings.

With savings rates going down, “what do we have to start to think about in Congress of whether or not we want to continue and invest that $80 billion for a policy that is not generating what we … say it should?” Mr. Miller said.

This is the essence of Statist double-speak. Allowing people to save or invest with pre-tax dollars is now a Congressional investment of tax dollars as a subsidy to American citizens. In other words: it wasn't your money to begin with.

And granted that 401K accounts have taken a huge hit over the past few months (what hasn't?), the replacement plan advocated by the economist who is one of the liberals' favorite economic advisors mandates that in exchange for a $600 tax exemption, you will now have to turn over 5% of your salary to the Social Security Administration in addition to the SSI you already pay to be invested in government bonds that yield--get ready for it--a massive 3%.

So let's see how this plays out for a family of four with $100K income.

Today that family can choose to shelter $10k pre-tax and pay income taxes on $90K. If, of course, the family decides that other expenses will have priority in the coming year it can choose not to contribute to the 401 K and pay taxes on $100k.

Under the new Congressional plan, the family must invest $5 K with the Social Security Administration and (get ready for this) pay taxes of $99.4K (after the generous tax exemption of $600). Anything else invested in a 401 K would have to come after taxes.

Thus that family of four which used to be able to reduce its taxable income from $100K to $90K is now going to (A) pay taxes on $99.6 K no matter what; and (B) lose another $5K to the government for an account almost guaranteed to lose value against virtually any other investment you could make.

The government not only recovers $80 Billion in new taxes, but also acquires the use of another 5% of everybody's income in mandatory retirement savings accounts.

Now you know (in part) how the State intends to take your money to fund all the neat programs while lulling you to sleep with idiotic tax cut calculators!

And the worst part? This will probably happen whether Barack Obama or John McCain gets elected, because this is a Congressional plan....

Libertarians, being the only true small government people left in the country now that the GOP has deserted us, this is one of the big issues we're going to have to take to the people.

As usual, bizarre stuff happens in the last week: Howard Zinn dumps Obama for Nader

From Independent Political Report:

The famous historian lives in Massachusetts, where Obama is ahead by 20 points.

Zinn created a stir earlier when he said he was voting for Obama.

He legitimately took some heat for supporting the corporate Obama.

But late last night, Zinn admitted in an e-mail to our [Nader's] campaign that he made a mistake and now says he will vote for Nader.

I'm not expecting this to make any significant difference in the campaign, since most of the people who know who Howard Zinn and respect him are already voting for Nader.

Let's be like Europe: Coyote Blog dis-assembles Euro-style managerial capitalism

Read it here.

It's too long to repost, and too interconnected to do justice to with an excerpt, but here's a tease:

In the European labor markets, mobility is almost impossible. The union system is built to protect current high-skilled workers from competition from new workers, whether in the same country of from abroad. Large corporations that form part of the cozy governance of the country are protected from new competition, and are bailed out by the government when they hit the rocks.

As a result, unemployment is structurally high in countries like France and Germany, hovering for decades between 8 and 12% -- levels we would freak out at here. Young and/or unskilled workers have a nearly impossible time breaking into the labor market, with entry to better jobs gated through apprenticeships and certifications that are kept intentionally scarce. Joe the plumber is an impossibility in Europe. Some Americans seem to secretly love the prospect of not easily being fired from their job, but they always ignore the flip side -- it is equally hard to ever be promoted, because that incompetent guy above you can't be fired either.

Entrepreneurship in Europe is almost impossible -- the barriers just to organizing your own corporation legally are enormous. And, once organized, you will quickly find that you need a myriad of certifications and permissions to operate in your chosen field -- permissions like as not that are gated and controlled by the very people you wish to compete with. The entire political economy is arrayed in a patronage system to protect current businesses with their current workers.

Go; read; bookmark his blog.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Just in case you missed my point earlier....

Hate speech as a crime is an oxymoron in a society that values freedom of expression sufficiently to enshrine it in the Bill of Rights.

But there are plenty of morons out there who support the idea.

Hate crimes rest on the rather dubiously assumption that it is somehow more wrong to commit first degree murder against my neighbor because he belongs to an ethnicity that I dislike than it is to kill him because he kicked my dog.

Intent, with relation to criminal guilt, is primarily useful to establishing the difference between willful acts and acts committed through culpable negligence, or to be offered in extenuation or exculpation. Other than that, your intent cannot make you any more or any less guilty of a crime.

If you had trouble with that paragraph, you probably think hate crimes are a good idea.

Redistributive fallacies: Left, Right, ... and Libertarian

Lately in the presidential campaign the issue of taxation has been taking up a lot of the oxygen in the room, and we have been consistently treated to what I like to call ideological intellectualism, which boils down to high-sounding talk buttressed by statistics and truisms designed to convince everyone that a particular ideological point of view is supported by history, common sense, general morality, and economic theory.

The reality is that 99.9% of the people talking (and this includes an even higher percentage in Delaware)would find to their dismay that their arguments wouldn't pass the most cursory of smell tests among actual academics in the disciplines they purport to represent.


Because they generally fail on one or more of the three following aspects of sound scholarship (or just good undergraduate writing):

1) The confusion of unsubstantiated assertions with facts.

2) The cherry-picking of examples rather than the examination of evidence (which includes the responsibility not to create straw man arguments for your opponent, but to deal reflectively and realistically with the best arguments that run counter to your own analysis).

3) Doing research with the intent of supporting a particular proposition rather than discovering the truth. Granted that the truth is always a somewhat subjective judgment in any difficult case, there are still issues of intellectual integrity to consider.

Here's a thought experiment I always give my advanced research students:

Suppose you are doing a major research paper on Topic X. You order ten books through inter-library loan and nine of them come in quickly enough for you to write your paper. You even get your paper (this is fantasy, but it's my thought experiment) done a day or two before the deadline so you can proof it at leisure. Then, the night before your paper is due, the library calls and says the tenth book came in.

You figure, what the hell, I can add it to the bibliography, so you go pick it up. When you do, you discover to your chagrin that the tenth book completely blows away your whole thesis. Based on the nine books you had, the paper is logical, rigorous, and correct. But when you get the new information from the tenth book, you abruptly realize that while logical and rigorous, your paper is ... wrong.

Now it happens to be wrong on a topic that you're pretty sure your instructor is not an expert in, and it's a good paper, and you really need the grade.

So what do you do?

The pragmatic answer from most of my students is ship the damn thing back quietly and quickly and pretend you never saw it. I can understand that, but then we move the discussion to being an actual historian, or economist, or political scientist, or even environmental scientist, and ask the same question. What do you do if you've devoted hours and years of sweat and hard work to a particular proposition and discover--at the brink of publication--that you were wrong? That you can probably get away with suppressing the evidence that you were wrong, but you're still wrong, anyway?

What do you do?

In modern American society we lie about it, that's what we do.

Here's the example based on the concept of government redistribution of wealth.

Liberals tend to argue that government has a responsibility to redistribute wealth in order to (a) create necessary common infrastructure and (b) for purposes of economic/social justice to keep the concentration of wealth from pooling upward to the extreme disadvantage of most of the population.

Conservatives tend to argue that government should have no power to redistribute wealth; and should instead limit itself to the maintenance and regulation of contracts (and the prevention of fraud), allowing the market to control the concentration of wealth and power for the general good. By and large, when pushed, conservatives will admit that they support the preservation of concentrations of wealth in private hands, by government intervention if necessary.

Libertarians tend to go further than conservatives in this regard, and often imply that all but the most vestigal forms of taxation and government-run institutions and infrastructure are unconstitutional theft.

All of them like to refer to their own versions of American values and a cherry-picked, selective vision of US history and the Constitution in order to define a usable past that will support their ideas in the present.

Here's the problem: far from supporting any of these positions, American history supports the idea that all three positions have been strong dynamics in political debate from the very start of our Republic.

Try to remember your high school history: the Jeffersonians vs the Hamiltonians. Strict constructionists versus loose constructionists.

What did Alexander Hamilton want from the very outset of constitutional government? He wanted to use the power of taxation and fiscal policy to the advantage of certain sectors of the population in order to move America toward his particular favored objective. In his case, he wanted to use tariffs to encourage domestic industrial manufacture and shift the balance of economic and political power away from agriculture and merchants toward business and industry. But his objectives don't really matter: it's the fact that Alexander Hamilton, one of the Framers of the Constitution believed it was perfectly acceptable--even preferrable--to use the power of the government for social engineering.

Thomas Jefferson is usually presented as his opposite, because Jefferson opposed most of Hamilton's plans. But this is not the same as saying Jefferson opposed the use of government power for social engineering. Jefferson believed in an agrarian, yeoman republic, and despite a lot of contrary evidence, he believed one existed when the Constitution was written. So Jefferson saw the limitations placed on government as a means of maintaining what he saw as a preferrable status quo. In other words: most of the social engineering that Jefferson wanted had already been written into the Constitution. He was fighting with Hamilton not over the appropriateness of using the government for social engineering, but over the kind of social engineering he wanted the government to do.

Put that way, it's easier to see the Democrats and Republicans of the last two decades writ large: both want to use the power of the government to engineer their vision of how America should be.

Libertarians, on the gripping hand, tend to like to take those Constitutional limitations as something just short of graven holy writ, and see an intent in the Framers to create a rugged individualistic country where the government didn't do much of anything more than protect the ports, kill a few Indians, and deliver the mail. They see a past wherein America rose to greatness in an unfettered and undirected market economy.

All of which just goes to show you that they have not read a hell of a lot (if any) serious State and local history--especially economic history. Read solid economic studies of New England between 1750-1820, or New York between 1790-1850, or of Virginia between 1650-1770 and you will discover that State and local governments played a highly active, even intrusive role in the economies on a consistent basis, and that this was more or less universally accepted. Again, why? Because most notions of what local and region governments should do in economic regulatory terms came out of the medieval period, wherein those governments were expected to regulate and redistribute wealth. We find it hard to recognize that fact because (a) we don't want to see it; (b) they were regulating and redistributing for reasons and goals we don't generally agree with; and (c) most people have never seriously bothered to look at the issue in the first place.

Most (but certainly not all) historians agree that the strong free-market, non--regulatory dynamic arose in American history as a result of massive amounts of free land, the flow of excess capital into land speculation, and the extreme (for the 18th and 19th centuries) mobility of the American citizenry.

My point? History is rarely a legitimate proving ground for ideology. Ideology (liberal/progressive, conservative, libertarian, socialist, whatever) is generally based not on what has worked in the past, but upon a values-based vision of how things should be organized in the future.

Which is why cherry-picking limited examples for the success of your particular ideology from American history is--at best--naive, and--more likely--consciously disingenuous. Even among professional historians, sweeping generalizations and predictive models are in disfavor, because they so often founder on the facts--little, pesky things that get in the way of many a good argument.

So the next time you're tempted to cite this or that partisan account of either the Clinton Administration's tax policy, or Hoover's alleged failure to take action during the Great Depression, or even the originalist motives of the Framers, get a grip. You may be convincing to a lot of people, but your lack of intellectual integrity (and this includes mine as well; I am by no means immune to such forms of wishful thinking) is on promiment display.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Here's why hate crimes are a dangerous idea...

Not because law enforcement decided that a Sarah Palin mannequin hung in effigy as part of a Halloween display in Hollywood is not a hate crime; I happen to believe that's protected speech.

No, the reason that hate crimes are a dangerous idea is because had the same display included Barack Obama it might have been:

[Sheriff's Department spokesman]: Whitmore said that potential hate crimes are evaluated on a case-by-case basis. If the same display had been made of a Barack Obama-like doll, for example, authorities would have to evaluate it independently, Whitmore said.

"That adds a whole other social, historical hate aspect to the display, and that is embedded in the consciousness of the country," he said, adding he's not sure whether it would be a hate crime. "It would be ill-advised of anybody to speculate on that."

This sort of speaks for itself, and if you don't get it, no comment of mine will cause you to see the light.

The Boston Tea Party and Foreign Policy: The Tricky Thing about Paradigm Shifts

In a response to a recent post on the American cross-border raid into Syria, commenter G Rex raises an important question about the Boston Tea Party's various positions on foreign policy.

Right now there are two almost identical positions--one a part of the program and one a resolution:

From the program (and lifted from Ron Paul's Campaign for Liberty, actually):

Foreign Policy: The Iraq War must end as quickly as possible with removal of all our soldiers from the region. We must initiate the return of our soldiers from around the world, including Korea, Japan, Europe and the entire Middle East. We must cease the war propaganda, threats of a blockade and plans for attacks on Iran, nor should we re-ignite the cold war with Russia over Georgia. We must be willing to talk to all countries and offer friendship and trade and travel to all who are willing. We must take off the table the threat of a nuclear first strike against all nations.

From the resolutions:

Whereas the United States of America has a military presence in over 130 countries and

Whereas in accordance with Article 1 Section 8, the Congress has not Declared War since 1942 and

Whereas such War ended in 1945

Be it RESOLVED that the Boston Tea Party calls for an immediate cease-fire of all military conflict and

Be it RESOLVED that the Boston Tea Party calls for an immediate removal of all military personnel from all foreign nations and

Be it RESOLVED that the Boston Tea Party calls for an immediate closure of all military bases in all foreign nations.

And here's G Rex's comment:

As for the BTP resolution, isn't that a unilateral abrogation of our treaty obligations? NATO is the most obvious one, but we have mutual defense and basing agreements around the world, like with Japan and Korea. I'm sorta new to this whole Libertarian thing, but is your party's underlying point that we're only permitted by the Constitution to maintain our forces within our own borders and sally forth only when attacked by a hostile state or states?

OK, let's tackle that one, because it is important--perhaps critical--to Libertarians being perceived as serious candidates for any national office.

I'll start with two observations: First, that the programs and resolutions of political parties are general statements of intent, not detailed plans of execution; and second, that the actual BTP platform doesn't require any candidate to take a specific stance on foreign policy:

The Boston Tea Party supports reducing the size, scope and power of government at all levels and on all issues, and opposes increasing the size, scope and power of government at any level, for any purpose.

That's it, folks, the entire platform. And as I have said before, I find myself about 95% in agreement with it, which is more than I have with any other party platform.

But back to foreign policy. I'm not naive enough to believe, nor do I think you will find many Libertarian candidates who do, that the US will manage a complete withdrawal from an interventionist and imperialist foreign policy in the blink of an eye. I think it will and should happen gradually and in the context of a national strategic policy that is carefully considered.

Here are some of those careful considerations, both for Libertarians and other folks:

For Libertarians: there was never any immaculate past in which the US didn't have any foreign bases, especially naval bases. Particularly after the development of steam-powered vessels, coaling stations were critical to any navy which took seriously the requirement to protect the trade lanes. Nor did interventionist American military actions begin with the aftermath of World War Two, but decades earlier. Exactly how do you think we pried Florida loose from Spain, Texas from Mexico, or twice tried to acquire Canada. The nettles of foreign policy are to be grasped individually and carefully, with the principles of the BTP as a guide rather than a simplistic prescription.

For other folks: Time to rethink a lot of the assumptions you've been fed over the years. Take NATO, for example: a defensive alliance created when Germany was still divided and occupied, the Soviet Union had thousands of tanks in central Europe threatening invasion, and we had no relationship with China. For forty years we paid the bulk of the bill in money, troops, and equipment to support the defense of Europe. Today: Germany is reunited and Western Europe has an economy that rivals our own, with the complete ability to defend itself, especially as the Soviet Union no longer exists. It's time for a European security organization that pays its own way, takes responsibility for its own borders, and can go to war over Georgia without us if it so desires. It's time for Japan, which has one of the largest military establishments in the world, to defend itself. It's time for South Korea to acknowledge that it doesn't need the 2nd US Infantry Division as a tripwire to deter the conventional attack of a starving North Korea.

In other words, the BTP program and resolutions are a challenge to the basic assumptions about foreign policy and military intervention that have been foisted on us by unimaginative politicians, ideologues, and the military-industrial complex for more than half a century.

That's what the BTP program means to me.

Nick Gillespie from ReasonTV : What A Sensible Drug Policy Might Look Like

"Redistributive Change" and that Pesky Constitution

Forget all of the guilty associations. This audio of Obama shows his full colors flying for total government control over all human economic realities.

Centralized state-controlled wealth/property redistribution = no real private property = effective enslavement and subjugation.

I find his view that the Constitution is insufficient, just a document of "negative" rights, profoundly disturbing. The Constitution's essence is not merely as a document of prohibitions on what government can do to us, while anything else is up for grabs.

The Constitution is an eternal mandate that government exists to secure our innate rights as free people. It does not give us freedom, it exists to protect it against collective encroachments, by government above all. It does not "vest us" with rights, as Obama characterized the high court's decisions ordering government to equally protect the rights of African-Americans.

The Constitution has been our one and only bulwark against government that would vest itself as the "determiner" rather than defender of our liberties. Would-be social engineers and statists have long been vexed by what they view as its rigidity and failure to produce their desired outcomes. Obviously they are oblivious that the thwarting of such ad hoc collectivism is the whole point of the Constitution.

It is self-evident that the power to "vest" is also the power to "divest". Those who need to justify
property confiscation and re-distribution, in the name of engineered "economic justice", require such an arrangement of purported "self-governance".

I don't care that Obama is a neighbor or buddy of someone like Bill Ayers. I am far more frightened that Obama, not 7 years ago, sounded like Ayers' sophisticated pupil, complete with leftie crypto-megalomania.

Redistributive change? Repackaged socialism is more like it....

Continuing Our Series on Never-Ending Drug War Blowback

Disturbing casualties of incessantly militarizing an immoral indefensible social crusade, leftover from repugnant Victorian-era jingoism, racism, pseudo-moralism, and prudish hysteria :

"While the vast majority of those killed are affiliated with the drug cartels, dozens if not hundreds of innocents have been killed in the past year. Among them: a little girl in Ciudad Juarez; six people in front of a recreation center, also in Juarez; a 14-year-old girl in Acapulco; two small children in Tijuana.

The violence has become so bad that last week U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza
Rice traveled to Puerto Vallarta to meet with her Mexican counterpart, Patricia Espinosa, and told her that tackling drug crime was a "national-security priority" for both countries."
Of course...."drug crime" a "national security priority". Who cares if the drugs themselves aren't the problem. It's those bootleggers that are going to get us all killed.

We all know these dangerous drug terrorists hate our freedoms, so they are exercising some of their own for the immense profits only possible when government creates artificial black markets in commodities.

"National forests and parks — long popular with Mexican marijuana-growing cartels — have become home to some of the most polluted pockets of wilderness in America because of the toxic chemicals used to eke lucrative harvests from rocky mountainsides, federal officials said.

The grow sites have taken hold from the West Coast's Cascade Mountains to federal lands in Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia.

Seven hundred grow sites were discovered on U.S. Forest Service land in California alone in 2007 and 2008 — and authorities say the 1,800-square-mile Sequoia National Forest is the hardest hit.

Weed and bug sprays, some long banned in the U.S., have been smuggled to the marijuana farms. Plant growth hormones have been dumped into streams, and the water has then been diverted for miles in PVC pipes.

Rat poison has been sprinkled over the landscape to keep animals away from tender plants. And many sites are strewn with the carcasses of deer and bears poached by workers during the five-month growing season that is now ending.

"What's going on on public lands is a crisis at every level," said Forest Service agent Ron Pugh. "These are America's most precious resources, and they are being devastated by an unprecedented commercial enterprise conducted by armed foreign nationals. It is a huge mess."

Indeed....a HUGE mess.

Who could have ever anticipated that billions and billions in tax-free profits would incent armed foreign nationals to invade and degrade our country, through our border free-for-all.

Nevertheless, onward!

"Mexico's National Human Rights Commission has documented 634...cases of alleged abuse by the military since President Felipe Calderon sent more than 20,000 soldiers across the nation to take back territory controlled by drug traffickers.

But $400 million in drug-war aid just approved by the U.S. Congress doesn't require the U.S. to independently verify that the military has cleaned up its fight, as many American lawmakers and Mexican human rights groups had insisted.

Instead, the money comes with few strings and no yearly evaluations — exactly what Calderon wanted.

"The U.S. government has finally recognized that this is a shared problem, a bilateral one," Interior Secretary Juan Camilo Mourino said Friday.

"Mexico's ruling party had complained that tying the money to a U.S. evaluation of Mexico's human rights record would violate national sovereignty. And many citizens defend the military, arguing that soldiers can't be hamstrung by fears of human rights investigations as they risk their lives confronting drug traffickers."
Heaven forbid triflings like human rights get in the way of turning markets in certain processed agricultural commodities into a source of endless violent warfare, with plenty of cash for militarist-statists and lawless organized criminals alike.

(It is truly breathtaking that any official from anywhere in the United States would actually lecture Mexico about cleaning up its human rights act viz a viz the drug war. Talk about pot calling the pun intended.)

We all just need to understand how the evil scourge of personal drug usage is far worse for human beings than, say, brutalizating and subjugating them to limitless state control and coercion, enforced with violent often fatal impunity.

All this death and mayhem to make sure no one "gets high" on anything ... especially nothing natural....except of course for booze and prescription pills.

NYers for Obama-Palin '08

Interesting little slice of life audio clip from the Howard Stern show.

There is certainly no shortage of uninformed idiots all across the political spectrum. But these examples are particularly-telling, though hardly unique, of how sheep-like and shallow so many potential voters really are.

Of course no voter need be a political junkie to make a competent choice. But when you have self-identified Obama voters heartily-endorsing his running mate Sarah Palin, his support for remaining in Iraq, and his pro-life position, is this really the 'change we need'....or can afford....or even know what the hell we're talking about?

Big mystery a manipulative sloganeering cult of personality is apparently playing out so succesfully in 2008 America. Democrats have certainly perfected their own version of the same type of brainwashing that had large swaths of idiots firmly convinced that Iraq was behind 9/11/01.

uber-self-righteous loony tune Democrats are positively unhinged, consumed that planet earth consist of : THE DEMOCRAT PARTY. Non-Democrats and Republicans are to be crushed until dead.

Yes we can! ....Hope!! ...Change!!! ......Remember 9/11 !!(?)!! ...... something!!!!!.....anything!!!!!!.......EVERYTHING!!!!!!!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

My picks for the Delaware elections.

I'm sure that the picks of the folks at Delawareliberal will draw much more local attention than mine, but what the hell....

For US Congress I'm voting for Libertarian Mark Anthony Parks and against Republican Mike Castle. There are no end of reasons to vote against Castle at this point, as much as I like him personally. [Truth in advertising: as Governor, back in the early 1990s, Castle appointed me as co-chair of the State Social Studies Curriculum Frameworks Commission.] But Mike has rolled over too many times for the Bush administration despite an image of bipartisanship. He'll win again this year, but he won't get my vote. I'm choosing Mark Parks not just out of party loyalty, but because Mark is a man who keenly believes in limited government, personal freedom, and a non-interventionist foreign policy. He won't win, but I'm hopeful we haven't heard the last from him.

For Governor I'm going to vote for Jack Markell, despite most of his current campaign positions, because I've got confidence in the fact that his fiscal instincts are inherently sound and I've no confidence whatever that Bill Lee is even paying attention.

For Lieutenant Governor I'm going to vote for Matt Denn, placing more confidence in his work ethic than anything else, although I think several of his education ideas have merit. Besides, I absolutely refuse to capitulate to assholes who will vote against Markell-Denn purely on the basis of religion.

For Insurance Commissioner I'm going to vote for John Brady, who has a record suggesting he actually knows what the hell he is doing.

For 20th District Representative I'm going to vote to return Nick Manolakos to the General Assembly.

Let's see: one Libertarian, two Democrats, and two Republicans; ticket-splitting in the finest Delaware fashion.

And for President? That's another post, another day.

Ganga out of South America a lot earlier than anyone thought...

.... as a new archaeological study proves that the earliest people migrating into the Caribbean from South America [about 1600 years ago] brought drug paraphernalia with them. And not just drug paraphernalia, but bowls and pipes that had obviously been passed down through families for several hundred years:

A new study led by North Carolina State University's Dr. Scott Fitzpatrick is the first to show physical evidence that the people who colonized the Caribbean from South America brought with them heirloom drug paraphernalia that had been passed down from generation to generation as the colonists traveled through the islands...

Heirlooms are portable objects that are inherited by family members and kept in circulation for generations, Fitzpatrick says, and are frequently part of important rituals. The objects tested for this study are ceramic inhaling bowls that were likely used for the ingestion of hallucinogenic substances. Fitzpatrick says the luminescence dates of the bowls, as well as analysis of the material from which the bowls were made, indicate that the artifacts "appear to have been transported to Carriacou when it was colonized – possibly hundreds of years after they were made."

Perhaps this explains the ultimate futility of the drug war.

Why we need a Libertarian foreign policy...

... is made clear by this latest US violation of national sovereignty with [a helicopter strike into Syria]:

DAMASCUS, Syria (Oct. 26) – U.S. military helicopters launched an extremely rare attack Sunday on Syrian territory close to the border with Iraq, killing eight people in a strike the government in Damascus condemned as "serious aggression."

A U.S. military official said the raid by special forces targeted the foreign fighter network that travels through Syria into Iraq. The Americans have been unable to shut the network down in the area because Syria was out of the military's reach.

"We are taking matters into our own hands," the official told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because of the political sensitivity of cross-border raids.

The attack came just days after the commander of U.S. forces in western Iraq said American troops were redoubling efforts to secure the Syrian border, which he called an "uncontrolled" gateway for fighters entering Iraq.

A Syrian government statement said the helicopters attacked the Sukkariyeh Farm near the town of Abu Kamal, five miles inside the Syrian border. Four helicopters attacked a civilian building under construction shortly before sundown and fired on workers inside, the statement said.

The government said civilians were among the dead, including four children.

A resident of the nearby village of Hwijeh said some of the helicopters landed and troops exited the aircraft and fired on a building. He said the aircraft flew along the Euphrates River into the area of farms and several brick factories. The witness spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information.

This is not only another example of Dubya's incredibly dangerous foreign policy, but dangerously consistent with the kinds of unilateral tactical interventions that both Senator JohnMcCain and Barack Obama have suggested they'd be willing to make.

Even more disturbing is that just hours ago the US was still denying the attacking forces had crossed the Syrian border:

Lieutenant-Colonel Chris Hughes, a spokesman for US forces in western Iraq, said the US division that operates on the Iraqi side of the border was not involved in the incident.

A Pentagon spokesman in Washington said he had no immediate information on the reported strike but would check further while the White House and CIA declined to comment.

Notice the nuance here. LTC Hughes denies that the US division that operates on the Iraqi side of the border was not involved in the incident, while later a US military spokesman admitted that special forces not accountable to the regional commander had conducted the raid. Clever wordplay, eh?

None of this can disguise that US conduct is becoming increasingly lawless its conduct of foreign policy, and nothing that's going to happen on November 4 stands to change this unless it's us--the American people.

Boston Tea Party elects officers; adopts platform

The Boston Tea Party convention, which is winding up tonight, has elected Jason Gatties as National Chair, Douglas Gaking as Vice Chair, and Michelle Luetge as Secretary.

Three of the four At-Large National Committee seats appear to have been decided for Thomas Knapp, Darryl Perry, and Neil K. Stephenson. For the fourth position a single vote currently separates Steve Trinward and me.

Particularly with the election of Jason, Tom, and Darryl we have established a strong slate of officers (I honestly don't know the rest well enough to comment). Jason, Tom, and Darryl have in common that each of them has stepped forward this year to run for office--something more people need to do.

Possibly even more significant is the adoption of a four-point program that is the same as the Campaign for Liberty:

Foreign Policy: The Iraq War must end as quickly as possible with removal of all our soldiers from the region. We must initiate the return of our soldiers from around the world, including Korea, Japan, Europe and the entire Middle East. We must cease the war propaganda, threats of a blockade and plans for attacks on Iran, nor should we re-ignite the cold war with Russia over Georgia. We must be willing to talk to all countries and offer friendship and trade and travel to all who are willing. We must take off the table the threat of a nuclear first strike against all nations.

Privacy: We must protect the privacy and civil liberties of all persons under US jurisdiction. We must repeal or radically change the Patriot Act, the Military Commissions Act, and the FISA legislation. We must reject the notion and practice of torture, elimination of habeas corpus, secret tribunals, and secret prisons. We must deny immunity for corporations that spy willingly on the people for the benefit of the government. We must reject the unitary presidency, the illegal use of signing statements and excessive use of executive orders.

The National Debt: We believe that there should be no increase in the national debt. The burden of debt placed on the next generation is unjust and already threatening our economy and the value of our dollar. We must pay our bills as we go along and not unfairly place this burden on a future generation.

The Federal Reserve: We seek a thorough investigation, evaluation and audit of the Federal Reserve System and its cozy relationships with the banking, corporate, and other financial institutions. The arbitrary power to create money and credit out of thin air behind closed doors for the benefit of commercial interests must be ended. There should be no taxpayer bailouts of corporations and no corporate subsidies. Corporations should be aggressively prosecuted for their crimes and frauds.

[Note to my liberal friends: please tell me which pieces of the above you wouldn't endorse. Aside from the extent of the military pullback in item one, I suspect you'd be OK with most of the rest, which says something, doesn't it...?]

This is the beginning of a long-term strategy to get the idea and ideals of limited government, individual liberty, and personal responsibility back in front of voters.

I'm hoping it will succeed, and I'm willing to do my best for it.

Libertarian tipping the scales: Allen Buckley may force a run-off in Georgia

A year ago, the GOP's Georgia senatorial incumbent Saxby Chambliss seemed one of the few safe Republican seats in the chamber. Nor did a lackluster field of Democrats vying to take him on seem to offer any hope of changing that.

But Libertarian Allen Buckley has been running hard, focusing his entire campaign on pulling votes away from Chambliss, whom he considers a big-government, big-spending wastrel.

And it's paying off.

Buckley has been consistently pulling at least 4% in recent polls, and the difference between Chambliss and Martin is down to 2 points. Under Georgia law, the winner has to have a clear majority, not a plurality, so Buckley's effort may result in a December run-off between the two Demopublicans for the seat.

Which may also end up being the seat that determines whether the Democrats end up with a filibuster-proof majority or not.

There is a balance of power, and it may rest more in the hands of third parties around the country than anybody has heretofore believed.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Sometimes I do agree with HuffPo, or--When Liberals discover Libertarian ideas actually work

I guess is was inevitable after Barney Frank came out for the decriminalization of pot that more liberals would discover that the drug war makes no sense. Here's Eric Sterling

Even though drug enforcement leaders have warned for more than twenty years that "we can't arrest our way out of the drug problem," every year we arrest more people for drug offenses than the year before. Last year we arrested over 1.8 million Americans, more than three times the number arrested for all violent crimes combined. Now about one-quarter of those in prison are serving drug sentences. As the centerpiece of our anti-drug strategy, arrests and imprisonment have failed: high school seniors report that drugs are easier for them to get now than in the 1970s and 1980s.

Scientists and drug treatment specialists - even police chiefs, judges and prosecutors - agree that drug addiction is a disease. But in almost every city it is hard for people to get good treatment for their addictions. Waiting lists - often very long ones - to enter programs are the rule. According to the White House, about 20 million Americans need substance abuse treatment but don't get it. Why put drug addicts in prison for using drugs when what they need, and deserve, is good drug treatment? Why do we tolerate the police arresting drug addicts for using drugs? Isn't the definition of the disease of addiction that you can't stop using drugs? When you think about it, isn't it wrong to prosecute a person because of their disease?

But in fact, most drug users are not addicts, they are adult marijuana smokers. Why do we arrest them? To tell them that marijuana is harmful? To "send a message" to children that they should not use drugs or that drugs are dangerous? Isn't that the job of parents, schools, and public health authorities?

Drowning is the second-leading cause of unintentional injury-related death for children ages 1 to 14 years. The rate of drowning has declined, but we not because we jail swimmers, or swimming pool contractors and operators, to warn children about the hazards of swimming. Of course, in most parts of the country the government hires life guards at beaches and pools to save swimmers in the face of the ever-present danger.

In fact, we don't arrest anyone to warn about most dangerous behaviors. To teach the safer use of dangerous behaviors involving firearms, alcohol, tobacco, automobiles, motor cycles, private airplanes, or ski resorts, we use education, insurance, regulation and taxation to reduce injuries and save lives. With most activities, we recognize that doing dangerous things is not "wrongful" and does not deserve punishment. Why is arresting people a good way to send a message about health and public safety when it comes to drug use?

And while I'm not in love with the ideas of taxation and regulation, I'd point out to my fellow Libertarians that they represent far better alternatives than prison, systematic destruction of civil liberties, and dead pets.

This would be change I could believe in. Listening, Barack?

For my friends at Delawareliberal, because I'm sure they don't read Newsmax...

... which is today attacking the Obama campaign's fundraising.

I really don't care about the main story--just this paragraph:

The New York Times exposed contributions from other fictitious donors such as “Test Person,” residing in “Some Place, Utah,” and “Jockim Alberton,” residing at a fictional address in Wilmington, Delaware. They also cited donors giving the names “Derty West” and “Derty Poiuuy,” both residing in “rewq, ME.”

If I recall correctly, dear old Jockim has appeared several times in your comments section, making you once again famous in a left-handed sort of way!?

Libertarians and Free Speech

I probably shouldn't write this post while I am standing for election as an At-Large member of the National Committee of the Boston Tea Party, but--what the hell--I believe in truth in advertising. People checking out this blog should actually know what I think.

And what I think is that I've noticed a strange paradox in Libertarian thinking, one that sometimes confuses the distinction between having a strong opinion and wanting the State to use its power to enforce those strong opinions on everybody else.

A few months back I wrote a post endorsing Dr Eric Schansberg, the Libertarian candidate for the US House in Indiana's 9th District. Eric is an economist, and he's also an evangelical Christian who is anti-abortion and anti-gay marriage. I disagree with both those positions. But I have spent enough time either reading Eric's material or conversing with him to convince myself that he's not out to legislate the particulars of his morality into law--that he in fact understands that any tendency for him to do so makes it more likely that other people will be coming around trying to mess with his morals. I endorses Eric because he's a smart guy, and if you take the time to read up on his opponents, even allowing for our strong disagreements I think he's the best choice.

By the same token, I couldn't see my way clear to endorse Jeff Ober for the state legislature in North Carolina because, while I think he's a nice guy as well, his views against gay marriage are so much stronger than Eric's (and based on factual inaccuracies, as well) that I couldn't go that far.

There are pro-abortion and anti-abortion Libertarians. There are pro-gay marriage Libertarians and anti-gay marriage Libertarians (who, usually at least, cloak their opposition to this in a general opposition to any government sanction of marriage). So while I got some rumblings on these two decisions, they weren't loud.

Two posts [look them up; I'm not in the mood to do links right now], however, drew considerably more ire [I would say fire, but given the nature of one of them, even I'm not going to make that bad a pun].

A few weeks ago I said I thought a gun-toting Mom at a soccer game was an idiot, and that I agreed with the right of the soccer league to enforce their rules on conduct at the games.

Then, a few days ago, I objected to Liddy Dole's campaign ad lambasting her Democrat opponent for accepting money from a PAC that wants, supposedly, to force the Boy Scouts to accept homosexual Scout Leaders.

In both cases I had friends coming out of the woodwork to suggest [usually more in sorrow than in anger] that my stances were somehow ... non-Libertarian.

Well, folks, they may have been wrong [I can always be wrong], but I don't think they were non-Libertarian.

Here's my reasoning. In neither case did I express a wish for State intervention. As a soccer parent myself, i said I thought openly wearing a firearm to a 5-year-old soccer game represented poor judgment [and I clearly stated that the individual did nothing illegal; all the illegal conduct was done by local law enforcement]. I objected to the Dole ad not because dear ole' Liddy was making any sort of Libertarian argument about the sanctity of private organizations, but because she was openly characterizing all homosexual men as potential pedophile predators. As a former Eagle Scout and Scout Leader I strongly disagree with the BSA policy of discriminating against gay men and even gay Scouts. I have expressed that disagreement by public comment and by disassociating myself from the organization. I have never called for the State to "force" such a change, although I have noted that the acceptance of Federal funds puts the BSA on some uncertain ground here.

This is what I don't think a lot of Libertarians get: The fact that I don't support using the power of the State to force other people to conduct themselves as I think proper and ethical does not mean that I give up the right to have and express an opinion about the way I think they should conduct themselves, nor does it mean I give up the right not to try to convince them to do otherwise.

I can condemn a gun-toting soccer mom as stupid, or the Boy Scouts as being homophobic without committing fraud or aggression in any form.

When a Democrat or a Republican says, "I think people should do X" or "I think people should not do X," we all pretty much know they're not just expressing a personal preference, they're getting ready to propose legislation.

When a Libertarian says, "I think people should do X" or "I think people should not do X," we all need to realize that the speaker is only expressing a personal preference, not the intent to restrict the rights of others.

I realize this is a tough distinction, because we have become so defensively habituated to the Dems and GOPers who want to legislate their particular moralities into both the criminal code and the tax code.

But if we're going to be true advocates of free speech and the free exchange of ideas we have to get to the point where (a) we can take the preferences of other Libertarians as just that--preferences; and (b) then have whatever knock-down drag-out fights we need to have over the substance of those preferences without automatically jumping to the conclusion that out rhetorical opponents have given in to the urge to become Statist tyrants.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Somehow I knew Delaware existed in a Bill-of-Rights-Free zone....

... and now Radley Balko has confirmed it:

In the 1976 case U.S. v. Martinez-Fuerte, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that contra the Fourth Amendment, the government can set up roadblock checkpoints within 100 miles of the nation's borders in order to check for illegal immigrants and smuggling. The Court ruled that if the stops are brief, limited to that purpose, and not fishing expeditions, the minimal invasion to personal privacy is outweighed by the government's interest in protecting the border.

The ACLU says that since September 11, 2001, the government has been steadily stretching the limits of Martinez, to the point where the Department of Homeland Security is using that case and the terrorism threat to conduct more thorough, more invasive searches at dozens of checkpoints across the country. With 33 checkpoints now in operation, we're not exactly to the point of "Ihre Papiere, bitte" Berlin yet, but the ACLU does warn that the area of the country 100 miles from every border and coastline would include about 190 million people, or nearly two-thirds of the U.S. population (see map below).

Moreover, post-9/11, the courts have been pretty deferential to increasingly invasive searches the government says are necessary for national security purposes. For example, federal courts have given the okay to airport seizures and thorough searches of laptops and other electronic devices belonging to people returning from abroad. Such searches can be conducted with no individualized suspicion at all. Some of those subjected to them have said it took weeks for the government to return their computers.

See the map here; I couldn't make it shrink to fit.

Want my vote, presidential candidates, even at this late date? Put forth a substantive program to restore the damn Constitution.

Found by spammers oh joy

Just a notice: I deleted comments for the first time today. I have and will only delete spam (ok, I guess I would delete threats but that's never happened). Anyway, when you see comment deleted, all I have done is interfere with your ability to get a payday loan.

War and taxes: just a thought

I don't disagree with kavips that when GOP gubernatorial candidate Bill Lee announces that he will oppose all tax increases if elected governor that the Judge is simply repeating a comfortable mantra without thinking through the consequences of his position.

However, I think I would argue that kavips is guilty of some of the same failure of imagination:

So what does Lee’s pledge of “no taxes” do to this state?

It starves it… Road Repairs… forget about it… New schools,…. forget about it….More policemen…. forget about it… Prisoner health care… forget about it… Better testing …. forget about it.. environmental protection… forget about it… cancer studies…. forget about it… Bluewater Wind… forget about it… subsidies to build wind and solar… forget about it… Lower costs for Delaware children to attend Delaware’s Colleges and Universities.. forget about it..

Respectfully, I submit that this is as much a knee-jerk, talking point-type response as the original comment by Bill Lee.

Why? Because while, even as a Libertarian, I can find uses and justification for certain forms of taxation, I take a position about taxes similar to that of our Framers on the issue of war. Let's argue by analogy for a moment.

Contrary to the European tradition (exemplified by Karl von Clausewitz) wherein war was considered to be a legitimate extension of statecraft and foreign policy ("politics ... by other means"), most of the American Framers had a quite different view--especially James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and James Monroe.

Except in cases wherein the US had been directly attacked, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe saw war not as a legitimate extension of policy, but as the failure of policy. War was what you did when legitimate policy had failed you, and you lacked the imagination to do anything better. War was therefore not only the failure of policy, but the failure of leaders.

Today, sadly, since 1945, we have accepted the European idea of using military force as an extension of foreign policy--and look where it has gotten us.

Now back to taxes. Except for those elements obviously mandated in the US Constitution, I would argue as a general rule that taxation represents the failure of political imagination. When you either (a) can't or be (b) won't spend the time to think about alternatives, you employ the coercive power of the state to take peoples' money away from them to pursue domestic policy agendas.

My evidence? Look at kavips own list of items in the paragraph at the top that we will supposedly lose without raising taxes in Delaware:

Road repairs? How about we address the issue of the state legislature persistently looting the transportation trust fund, the perennially questionable manner in which money already in the system is now wasted in our "good buddies" and "prevailing wage" bidding process?

New schools? The LEAD report identified tens of millions of dollars in savings under the existing funding system, including the elimination of the prevailing wage system for school construction. Do we need new schools? Interesting question. Some districts have the habit of making themselves appear as choice magnets, accepting hundreds of new students from outside their boundaries, putting up trailers to house them, and then crying to the State that they need more money to build more school buildings. There are a lot more complicated issues here than just the failure to raise taxes. Delaware is already among the top seven states in per-pupil expenditures on public education, yet we (a) can't actually document how much of that reaches the classroom or (b)decide on legal requirements that a certain percentage of that money must be employed in the classroom. Instead of arguing that failure to raise taxes is failing our students, let's examine the waste at DOE, the duplicative purchasing structures within 19 school districts, and the impact of choice on infrastructure requirements.

More policemen? kavips, we already have twice as many police officers per capita as California. If we have crime problems, let's look at other solutions first. Several recent studies have suggested strongly that most of the rise in urban crime is not due to lack of police or too many guns, but due to the Federal war on drugs. But we'd much rather talk about raising taxes to put more police on the streets than substantively discuss the failure of America's drug war on her own citizens, wouldn't we?

Better testing? I think you mean education testing (although it could be environmental given the next item). Frankly, kavips, the DSTP was a boondoggle of misspent taxpayer money from the word Go, and I speak as someone who was a close witness to the process. DOE spent millions of dollars to develop science and math tests that were essentially a re-invention of the wheel since nationally normed tests already existed; ditto for reading and language arts. Our Social Studies test is nationally infamous for a History component that does not test History. All of these tests were the results of huge amounts of taxpayer doolars spent indiscriminately when, for about 5% of what we spent, DOE could have acquired the licenses to use existing, well-respected tests from other places. The linkage of the DSTP to NCLB, by the way, [which will prevent either Markell or Lee from simply doing away with the DSTP as promised in campaigns] is purely a case of our own DOE shooting itself in the foot. We didn't have to link the DSTP so closely to NCLB--we just did it. The problem here was not lack of money and never has been.

Environmental protection? How about we actually write some rules that have real, enforceable penalties against polluters, and let them pay for the clean-ups? Suppose anyone opening or operating a chemical plant in DE was required to post a $50 million escrow bond with the state against potential environmental damage, and when such damage was alleged, they had the burden of proof of showing why their money shouldn't be used to clean it up? Moreover, if the corporation tried the usual "go out of business shuffle" to avoid environmental penalties, the State would just keep the dough. That doesn't require new taxes, because if the company doesn't pollute, then we don't spend their money.

Bluewater Wind? and subsidies for alternative energy production? There is definite room for debate on these. I'm all in favor of green energy, BUT.... You have the burden of proof to show me how government subsidies represent the best or only way possible to achieve these outcomes. Make the case, don't just tell me to pass over my money.

Lower university costs? DSU and Del Tech already offer some of the lowest tuition rates in the region, if not the nation. And the SEED program represents the State choosing to benefit some public institutions (Del Tech and UD) over others (DSU) while giving State-supported universities and unfair competitive advantage over our private schools (Wesley, Wilmington, Widener, Goldy Beacom). So the state now takes my tax money to (a) subsidize public universities to the tune of several hundred million per year, AND (b) then turns around and spends millions more to give them an additional competitive edge over private universities, and this is supposed to represent enlightened tax policy? Give me a break.

I am not suggesting I have policy answers for all of these issues. Clearly, I have more questions than answers. But I would submit that neither Bill Lee's position (no new taxes ever) nor yours (we must have new taxes or the state will shrivel and die) represent reasonable policy stands. Both are ideological positions that have nothing to do with the realities of public policy, and yours--in particular--assumes that taxation should always be a first rather than a last resort for solving public problems.

Call me a whacky Libertarian, but I find that as dangerous as I find the current American policy of military interventionism.

The use of coercion as a first choice in policy always represents--at best--a failure of imagination.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

What would life be like in "Libertarian Land"?

Jeffrey Miron of Harvard takes on the proposition that Libertarian economics have been proven a failure by the Great Meltdown:

Reasonable people can debate whether consistent pursuit of libertarian policies would have improved U.S. economic performance over the past two centuries. They cannot claim, however, that recent events demonstrate the failure of libertarian policies, since those policies have not been employed.

What's most interesting about the piece, however, is his description of how Libertarian Land would have differed, in financial terms, from the last century of American history:

In Libertarian Land, banks would not be chartered, defined, and regulated by government, as they have been in the U.S. for over 150 years. In particular, banks would have the right to "suspend convertibility," meaning they could tell depositors, "Sorry, you can't have all your money back right now," during banks runs that threatened bank solvency. This is precisely what banks did in key financial panics during the pre-Fed period, when suspension was illegal but tolerated or encouraged by regulators. By so doing, banks reduced the spread of panics and solvent but illiquid banks did not fail in large numbers.

In Libertarian Land, the Federal Reserve would never have been created. This means the Fed could not have turned a normal recession into the Great Depression by failing to stem a huge decline in the money supply. This decline and the related bank failures occurred because the Fed's existence was taken as indication that banks could not, or should not, suspend convertibility, as they had done successfully in the past. Thus in Libertarian Land, the Great Depression would probably not have occurred.

If the Fed had never been created, Alan Greenspan would never have been its chairman. Thus he would not have given investors inappropriate assurances about the riskiness of derivatives or the long-term viability of the stock market boom of the mid-1990s. Absent the Fed, no Alan Greenspan would have kept interest rates low for an extended period and thereby fueled the housing bubble that has played a key role in turmoil of the past two years. Market participants would have made judgments on their own, and these would plausibly have been more cautious as a result.

In Libertarian Land, the Securities and Exchange Commission, along with financial market regulation such as capital requirements, would not exist. This means investors would have no assurance that government can keep "excessively" risky or fraudulent securities out of the marketplace. Many small investors would stay on the sidelines, leaving the risky investing to those who could afford to lose.

In Libertarian Land, government would not promote increased home ownership, so it would not have created Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, or encouraged these institutions to extend subprime loans, or implicitly promised to bail them out if or when these loans failed. Thus a key ingredient in the recent financial turbulence would not have arisen.

In Libertarian Land, government would not protect private agents from the downsides of their risky decisions. This means no rescues or bailouts for banks, airlines, or car companies. No deposit insurance, no pension benefit guarantees, and so on.

In Libertarian Land, individuals and businesses would take risks, but they would think long and hard about these risks. Some individuals and businesses would profit handsomely from smart risk-taking, but many would earn modest returns on average because their seemingly "excessive" returns in good times would be balanced by big losses in bad times.

It takes both imagination and nerve to think like a Libertarian, but it's worth it.

[h/t Waldo]