Napolitano to Homeland Security
Yeah, I know it is not a done deal, but the rumors are that our governor Janet Napolitano will be Obama's choice for Homeland Security.
On its face, this both makes a ton of sense, and simultaneously is odd. It makes sense because Napolitano is one of those rising Democratic stars who get special love in part for not being white males. It is odd because pulling her up to Washington would, by law, pass the governorship for the next two years to the Republicans (the Secretary of State completes the term, and she is a Republican). It also strikes me as odd because I think Homeland Security would be an absolutely awful platform for launching a run for higher office. That job has no upside - it is all downside.
But the final reason in the end that this may make sense can be seen in this table below from Paul Kedrosky on projected state budget deficits as a percentage of state revenues:
Arizona is almost in as bad of shape as California, and California is a disaster area. So the financial chickens are about to come to roost here in Arizona for the drunken spending spree the state has been on, presided over by Napolitano. To preserve her from going to the Gray Davis Memorial Retirement Home for Failed Governors, Obama is likely to beam her up to Washington.
The Bailout Playbook
Step 1: Really, really screw up your industry beyond all hope of repair, while paying yourself a nice salary to do so
Step 2: Claim to the world that your industry is unique and different, and failure of your company and/or industry will cause a chain reaction that will bring down the whole economy and cost the country many multiples of the bailout price tag
Step 2 is obviously pulled off easier if either a) representatives from your industry run the Treasury department or b) the new President owes your unions big time for his recent victory in a critical state. For those of you just trying to keep you small business afloat, don't try this at home. No bailout will ever be forthcoming if you don't have the power to move electoral votes, but you should expect to pay for other people's bailouts.
Postscript: This is funny:
Automakers say bankruptcy protection is not an option because people would be reluctant to make long-term car and truck purchases from companies that might not last the life of their vehicles.
I think if people still buy tickets on airlines that are operating out of chapter 11 (an item that has zero value if the company folds) then people will still buy cars. This is so totally lame it is tremendously irritating.
Republicans to Receive Bailout from Congress
Congressional Democrats announced today that they had agreed to a bailout plan for Republicans after last week's devastating election results. While exact details are unavailable, sources tell us that the Republicans will be given 4 seats in the Senate and 15 in the House. Nancy Pelosi said in a statement today: "We've established pretty clearly over the last several months that failed strategies and management should not necessarily have to result in losses in market share, particularly for well-connected Washington insiders."
Asked for comment, Democratic strategist James Carville was giddy. "This is brilliant. It really doesn't give up anything of substance to the Republicans. But it will sap the energy from the Republican Party for making any substantial changes, and make it more likely they will continue the failed strategies that led to this most recent loss. After their recent failures, the Republicans were on the verge of being forced to reinvent their whole organization. This bailout should reduce the likelihood of that substantially."
When asked if bailouts of AIG, General Motors, Ford, Chrysler, Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae, and Bear Stearns wouldn't similarly reduce the urgency to change failed approaches, Carville answered "no comment."
I Like the Way My District Does Voting
I have voted in a lot of different states, but the way we do it here in my current district seems to work well. I got my ID checked against the voting record -- the lady may an explicit check to make sure the addresses matched. Then I got a paper ballot and a black magic marker. Next to each name is an arrow pointing to the name with a gap in it. One fills in and completes the arrow pointing to the candidate one is voting for. Then, when done, the voter takes the ballot to a machine that looks like a big shredder. She/he feeds the ballot into the slot, and the ballot is automatically read and counted right there. There is a LED readout on the front with a total ballot count that increments by one if the ballot is read correctly, providing a psychologically satisfying feeling that one's vote has been counted. At the end of the day no further counting is required, and I presume they pull the vote counts out electronically or with some kind of summary report. The ballots stay in a locked vault in the scanner and provide a paper trail if the count has to be checked later.
By the way, no line at all. Glad I didn't wait 2+ hours last weekend to vote early in order to avoid the lines. One has to wonder at the decision-making ability of folks who waited hours to vote early to avoid lines that couldn't possibly be any longer on election day. Good to see such folks out voting ;=)
My Votes in 2008
Should I Vote? Yes, probably. Many libertarians refuse to vote. They refuse to be party to a choice between Coke-brand statism and Pepsi-brand statism. I sympathize, and respect their decision. You won't hear rants form me about the beauty of the right to vote. But I see two reasons for libertarians to vote. One is to find ways to register our existence, to try to communicate that just because we don't riot at WTO meetings doesn't mean that a great well of dissatisfaction does not exist among us. The second reason is ballot initiatives. While candidate A and B may be equally bad on the freedom scale, there is often a right answer for protecting freedom in the ballot initiatives, and they need your vote.
President: Libertarian Party Guy. Yeah, I know his name is Bob Barr. I don't even care. I am casting the vote for the idea, not the guy, in hopes that the Republicans, as they rebuild themselves over the next 2 years, might notice there are some libertarians out there looking for a home. It would be nice to be as excited about a politician as some folks are about Obama, but really, they are excited by their own vision, not his. We really know little about him, but my sense is that his every instinct about government run counter to mine. McCain is hardly better, perhaps going Obama one further by matching him on tax increases and economic nuttiness but also throwing in a dollop of conservative restrictions on non-economic civil liberties. And I think many of us are exhausted by the prospect of another 4 years of foreign-policy-as-penis-extension that McCain promises.
US Congress: John Shadegg. If it weren't for Jeff Flake and Ron Paul, I would say Shadegg is about the best we libertarians can hope for of a major party candidate. Not perfect (he was one of the ones who knuckled under on the second bailout vote) but pretty good.
County Sheriff and City Attorney: Whoever is running against Joe Arpaio and Andrew Thomas. Seriously. I don't even know their names and I am voting for them. I am sick and tired of Arpaio's schtick (index of articles here). Anyone who can go on a crime sweep into the 99% all-anglo tony suburb of Fountain Hills and come out with arrestees who are 75% Hispanic is not even trying to be fair. Andrew Thomas has had Arpaio's back for years, fighting many (losing) civil rights cases for him and prosecuting his critics in the media.
PROP. 100 Protect Our Homes: Yes. I am not sure this is even that relevant. Prevents the imposition of taxes or fees on the sale of real estate (e.g. no real estate sales tax). Not sure if this is even a threat, but I will usually vote to limit the power of government.
PROP. 101 Medical Choice for Arizona: Yes. This proposition would effectively prevent state health care laws like that in Massachusetts that require medical coverage and mandate certain types of medical coverage. In Massachusetts, my current insurance plan (which I pay for and did a lot of research to uncover) is illegal (because it has a higher deductible that politicians want to allow).
PROP. 102 Marriage: Big No. I don't expect to change anyone's mind on this, but I am not in the least threatened by civil marriages of gays, and in fact have a number of friends and family members who have taken advantage of the brief window of opportunity in California to get married to their partner. I am not sure how this can be a threat to me -- last I checked, my marriage is as strong today as it was before gay marriage was allowed. This issue is sort of the conservative equivalent of the left's obsession with income inequality. Conservatives tell folks (rightly) that they should be concerned with their own quality of life and not feel somehow worse if there are people who are wealthier. But, then they tell us all our marriages are going to be worse because somebody over there who we never will meet is going to marry someone of the same sex.
PROP. 105 Majority Rules — Let the People Decide: Haven't Decided. This is a weird one. This would require propositions raising taxes to be passed only if the "yes" votes they receive equate to 50+% of the total registered voting population, not just of the people who voted that day. Basically, it makes it impossible to have tax increases in propositions, which I like. But it is a terrible precedent -- this is simply not how we count elections. In particular, the "registered voter" number is almost meaningless. Requiring a super-majority of those voting would be much better law. I may well vote yes, because I suspect the next 2 years are going to be a heyday of taxation, but I will sort of feel guilty about it.
PROP. 200 Payday Loan Reform Act. Yes. Would un-ban payday loan companies in Arizona. I have always supported choice, even for the poor and unsophisticated. Payday loans are expensive, but as we have learned from subprime loans, maybe credit to borrowers with no income or assets should be expensive. More here.
PROP. 201 Homeowner’s Bill of Rights. No. Created by a pissed off union in a fit of pique as an FU to homebuilders. Mandates decade-long warranties on homes, and offers a myriad of opportunities for trial lawyer hijinx. And what problem is it solving?
PROP. 202 Stop Illegal Hiring Act. Yes, I think. Again, this is one of those confusingly worded initiates that like to use triple negatives. But I believe it is a softening of the Immigration / hiring law that I have long opposed. (related: E-Verify reviewed here)
PROP. 300 State Legislators’ Salaries. No. Changed my mind on this. At first, I thought current salaries were unreasonably low. But now I think that they should all go out and get real jobs, and make the legislature part-time. Maybe they'll meet less often.
And a Pony
Jack Tapper of ABC list all of the goodies promised by Obama in just one stump speech. The list is really staggering, even more so than the usual political BS. It is way to long to excerpt here. There are so many outrageous ones, its hard for me to even pick a favorite. But here are a few good ones:
Uh, right. We are going to completely eliminate half the fuel coming into the economy in 10 years.
"end discrimination by insurance companies to the sick and those who need care the most";
Perfect. We are going to prevent insurance companies from dong any risk management, we are going to pile on even more "must cover" rules for all kinds of crap from acupuncture to mental health, and by doing so we are going to lower premiums.
This may be my favorite, though:
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, kind of like those little buildings you make in an RTS?
Update: And if you think that voters just discount all this stuff, don't miss this video of Obama supporters talking about the free gas and house she is going to get.
By the way, none of this will push me to vote for McCain. McCain promises all kinds of crazy stuff too, its just less compelling stuff to voters. He is not losing because he is promising less -- I think he is losing because Obama has a better grasp of what expensive shit people want to be promised than does McCain.
Maybe Its 1850 Again
In 1850, the hottest topic in politics was slavery. But an awkwardness developed in the political parties. The Democrats were pretty clearly the pro-slavery party, or at least the conservative maintain the status quo party. But the Whigs, their opposition, were internally split on slavery. What that meant was that there was no obvious home for the voters who were against the expansion of slavery into the territories, or more radically, were for slavery's abolition. A Free Soil third party emerged, but the US has always seemed to seek out a two-party equilibrium. In just a few years, the Whigs collapsed, and the anti-slavery wing merged with the Free Soilers to form the Republican party. In the end, having no real contrast among the two major parties on the major issue of the day was unstable.
The only faint hope from this election for libertarians, particularly those concerned with economic freedom issues, is that it may finally highlight to lack of choice we have on these issues between the two major parties. A few examples like Jeff Flake notwithstanding, the Republican party under GWB and McCain have become virtually indistinguishable from the Democrats on most economic freedom issues. While I might have had hope 15 years ago that the Republicans could reinvent themselves as classical liberals, I now think this is demonstrated to be hopeless. Unfortunately, an 1850's style breakup of the party seems unlikely too. So I guess I don't have much hope after all.
Postscript: Remember, it was Republicans who did this:
The chief executives of the nine largest banks in the United States trooped into a gilded conference room at the Treasury Department at 3 p.m. Monday. To their astonishment, they were each handed a one-page document that said they agreed to sell shares to the government, then Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. said they must sign it before they left.
“They weren’t allowed to negotiate. Mr. Paulson requested that each of them sign. It was for their own good and the good of the country, he said, according to a person in the room.”
At least one banker objected. “But by 6:30, all nine chief executives had signed — setting in motion the largest government intervention in the American banking system since the Depression.”
Provisions That Made the Bailout "Better"
Here are some of the provisions in the bailout that converted "no" votes to "yes." Unbelievable.
Andrew Leonard goes digging in the Senate’s bailout package and finds a bunch of “sweeteners” added to lure in votes. Among them:
* Sec. 105. Energy credit for geothermal heat pump systems.
* Sec. 111. Expansion and modification of advanced coal project investment credit.
* Sec. 113. Temporary increase in coal excise tax; funding of Black Lung Disability Trust Fund.
* Sec. 115. Tax credit for carbon dioxide sequestration.
* Sec. 205. Credit for new qualified plug-in electric drive motor vehicles.
* Sec. 405. Increase and extension of Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund tax.
* Sec. 309. Extension of economic development credit for American Samoa.
* Sec. 317. Seven-year cost recovery period for motorsports racing track facility.
* Sec. 501. $8,500 income threshold used to calculate refundable portion of child tax credit.
* Sec. 503 Exemption from excise tax for certain wooden arrows designed for use by children.
There are also tax credits for solar and wind power, and a very expensive requirement that health insurance companies cover mental health the same way they cover physical health.
Can We Go Back to Ignoring Naomi Klein Now?
In her wild and somewhat bizarre polemic aimed at Milton Friedman, Naomi Klein argues that major historic crises have always been manufactured by capitalists to slip free market principles into action against the wishes of the socialist-leaning masses.
Really? In what crisis, ever, did the government end up smaller? What about the current crisis and the government response to it carries any good news for free marketeers? History is a series of problems created by government intervention but blamed on the free market, which can supposedly only be solved via more government intervention.
Update: Critique of Klein here. Seriously, it is amazing that this rings true with anyone:
Klein's basic argument is that economic liberalization is so unpopular that it can only win through deception or coercion. In particular, it relies on crises. During a natural disaster, a war, or a military coup, people are disoriented, confused, and preoccupied with their own immediate survival, allowing regimes to liberal-ize trade, to privatize, and to reduce public spending with little opposition. According to Klein, "neoliberal" economists have welcomed Hurricane Katrina, the Southeast Asian tsunami, the Iraq war, and the South American military coups of the 1970s as opportunities to introduce radical free market policies. The chief villain in her story is Milton Friedman, the economist who did more than anyone in the 20th century to popularize free market ideas.
As is typical, Klein confuses support for capitalism with government support of individual capitalists.
Michael Lewis on the Bailout
Think of Wall Street as a poker game and Goldman as the smartest player. It's sad when you think about it this way that so much of the dumb money on Wall Street has been forced out of the game. There's no one left to play with. Just as Goldman was about to rake in its winnings and head home, the U.S. government stumbles in, fat and happy and looking for some action. I imagine the best and the brightest inside Goldman are right this moment trying to figure out how it uses the Treasury not only to sell their own crappy assets dear but also to buy other people's crappy assets cheap
Update: LOL, via Q&O:
In fact, some of the most basic details, including the $700 billion figure Treasury would use to buy up bad debt, are fuzzy.
"It’s not based on any particular data point," a Treasury spokeswoman told Forbes.com Tuesday. "We just wanted to choose a really large number."
Could these be the dumbest guys in the room?
I Think I am Voting for Obama
I am tired of watching the free markets trashed by people who claim to champion capitalism and free enterprise. Better, I am starting to think, to have free markets trashed by someone who does not pretend to support them. Besides, the Republicans in Congress tend to be much stronger supporters of small government, low taxes, and light regulation when they are in opposition. Except possibly for Jeff Flake, who always seems to have his head in the right place.
"When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some other country where they make no pretense of loving liberty - to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, without the base alloy of hypocrisy."
-- Abraham Lincoln
Quote of the Day
"I think it was exciting to some that she was a woman"
- Bill Clinton on Sarah Palin (via)
Silly Season is Here
I seldom comment on politics per se, but the whole brouhaha about Obama's use of the phrase "lipstick on a pig" somehow referring to the Republican VP nominee is just silly. I used the phrase myself the other day. "Pig" no more was meant to refer to Ms. Palin than using the terms "slavish devotion" or "niggardly" are meant to be racist (though they have similarly been so interpreted).
PS- It is entertaining to see that Republicans will play the race/gender victim card as quickly as will the Democrats.
John McCain put his name to the campaign finance bill that, in effect, allows only the media, not other private citizens, unlimited free speech in the run-up to the election. So I think it is hilarious that the media seems to be lined up against McCain in the next election.
There is nothing in any law book that says the media has to be unbiased. In fact, today's notion of an unbiased media is a relatively new concept. Most newspapers of the 19thy century had a clear political orientation, something that is still the case to some extent in Britain today. It was absurd to give such a limited group a monopoly on political speech close to an election. I have opposed this law from day 1, but I do find it funny that McCain himself maybe its first victim.
I Suggest Adding a Category Called "Milch Cow"
- Asian Americans & Pacific Islanders
- African Americans
- Americans Abroad
- Americans with Disabilities
- First Americans
- Generation Obama
- People of Faith
This is a different count than the Economist found, so I don't now if something has changed due to the article. Anyway, I officially have no place in Obama's world as a white male physically able straight business owner of limited faith. From analysis of his other policies, I suggest a category for me called "Milch Cow," to include productive non-whining folks like myself who are unable or unwilling to portray themselves as victims and who are most likely to be forced to pay for Obama's pandering of all the other groups.
Where Were You Republicans?
As any reader of this blog will know, I am a strong supporter of opening up new areas in North America to oil drilling and freeing companies to develop western oil shale reserves. Republicans in Congress are currently bashing Pelosi and the Democrats for not opening this development up. Fair enough, I guess, but where were the Republican for the six years they had both the Congress and the Presidency?
As a libertarian, the situation in Congress simply sucks. Republicans, who purport to be our allies on economic issues, do nothing of consequence with their six years running Congress. Democrats, who purport to be our allies on civil liberties issues, immediately roll over on FISA once taking over Congress. My general observation is that I like both parties better when they are in opposition.
Ethanol, Florida Style
It is difficult to imagine that we would have the extensive, absurd subsidies of corn ethanol that we have today if it were not for the fact that Iowa is the first stop on the presidential campaign trail. Every four years, here-to-fore fiscally sober and rational candidates stand up on Iowa TV and pledge to support ethanol subsidies.
But today it appears the primaries are finally over (it appears that Ms. Clinton will bow out tonight) and so attention now focuses on the general election. And though I am not really an expert, I would presume the election will again turn on a few states including Ohio, Pennsylvania and, of course, Florida.
It appears that Florida Democrats have a plan to parlay their swing state status into pork, in the same way that Iowa has done for years. The only difference is the issue is not ethanol, it's subsidizing beach-front homes:
As hurricane season begins, Democrats in Congress want to nationalize a chunk of the insurance business that covers major storm-damage claims.
The proposal -- backed by giant insurers Allstate Corp. and State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co., as well as Florida lawmakers -- focuses on "reinsurance," the policies bought by insurers themselves to protect against catastrophic losses. The proposal envisions a taxpayer-financed reinsurance program covering all 50 states, which would essentially backstop the giant insurers in case of disaster.
The program could save homeowners roughly $500 apiece in annual premiums in Florida, according to an advocacy group backed by Allstate and State Farm, the largest writers of property insurance in the U.S.
But environmentalists and other critics -- including the American Insurance Association, a major trade group -- say lower premiums would more likely spur irresponsible coastal development, already a big factor in insurance costs. The program could also shift costs to taxpayers in states with fewer natural-disaster risks....
The legislation passed the House with bipartisan support, 258-155, late last year, despite a presidential veto threat. Although a Senate vote is unlikely this year, proponents are trying to make it a litmus-test issue in the presidential race. The two Democratic contenders, Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York and Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, in their recent visits to Florida -- a key swing state -- have both voiced support for the plan.
Big winners would be coastal states, particularly Florida, where more than half of the nation's hurricane risk is centered. Currently, property-insurance rates in Florida are among the highest in the nation. Florida also has a struggling state reinsurance fund that would be helped by a federal program....
Florida's status as a presidential swing state has helped the plan win support from Sens. Clinton and Obama. Sen, Clinton is one of the bill's co-authors, along with Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida.
Florida Democrats' effort to make a federal disaster fund a big issue in this year's presidential race was one reason the state moved up its primary election to January from March, defying party rules. (That move is partly what's behind the current, heated battle between the Democratic candidates over how to count Florida's delegates in the nominating race.)
Boy Is This Election Is Going to Suck
It is nothing new for politicians and the powerful to despise commerce and "traders." In Medieval society, and continuing in Europe right up into the 19th century, the ruling elite scorned careers that involved actual productive effort. If you were actually producing something, rather than indolently feeding yourself off the work of the masses, you were not a "gentleman."
It appears that this attitude is coming back in vogue, most notably from the presidential candidates of both parties. From David Boaz in the WSJ:
Sen. Obama told the students that "our individual salvation depends on collective salvation." He disparaged students who want to "take your diploma, walk off this stage, and chase only after the big house and the nice suits and all the other things that our money culture says you should buy."
The people Mr. Obama is sneering at are the ones who built America – the traders and entrepreneurs and manufacturers who gave us railroads and airplanes, housing and appliances, steam engines, electricity, telephones, computers and Starbucks. Ignored here is the work most Americans do, the work that gives us food, clothing, shelter and increasing comfort. It's an attitude you would expect from a Democrat.
Or this year's Republican nominee. John McCain also denounces "self-indulgence" and insists that Americans serve "a national purpose that is greater than our individual interests." During a Republican debate at the Reagan Library on May 3, 2007, Sen. McCain derided Mitt Romney's leadership ability, saying, "I led . . . out of patriotism, not for profit." Challenged on his statement, Mr. McCain elaborated that Mr. Romney "managed companies, and he bought, and he sold, and sometimes people lost their jobs. That's the nature of that business." He could have been channeling Barack Obama.
Mr. Boaz mentions the hypocrisy of Obama having a million dollar house and being famous for his beautiful suits, and then telling graduates not to aspire for the same things. But a bigger hypocrisy, or perhaps contradiction, is the fact that the candidates must know that the world won't function if everyone were to take their advice. While bashing the productive, each relies on the productive to fund his plans. While urging everyone to be parasites, they must know that some must ignore their advice to become the productive hosts on which the parasites feed.
But hypocrisy is not the biggest issue. The real issue is that Messrs. Obama and McCain are telling us Americans that our normal lives are not good enough, that pursuing our own happiness is "self-indulgence," that building a business is "chasing after our money culture," that working to provide a better life for our families is a "narrow concern."
They're wrong. Every human life counts. Your life counts. You have a right to live it as you choose, to follow your bliss. You have a right to seek satisfaction in accomplishment. And if you chase after the almighty dollar, you just might find that you are led, as if by an invisible hand, to do things that improve the lives of others.
Myth Of The Anything But Freaking Stupid Voter
Ben Smith puts the fact that 10% of Americans believe that Obama is a Muslim in context:
"Large minorities of Americans consistently say they hold wildly out-of-the-mainstream views, often specifically discredited beliefs. In some cases, those views should make them pretty profoundly alienated from one party or the other.
22 percent believe President Bush knew about the 9/11 attacks in advance.
30 percent believe Saddam had weapons of mass destruction.
23 percent believe they've been in the presence of a ghost.
18 percent believe the sun revolves around the Earth."
Taking A Peak Inside the Sausage Factory
Our governor is pushing for a one percentage point increase in the state sales tax as well as increased developer impact fees to fund a series of transportation projects. Like most modern transportation bills, they are sold as a way to improve state road and highway capacity (something most people support), but it turns out that these projects are but window-dressing. Much of the money in the proposed bill goes to a series of dubious mass transit projects, including the oft-discussed mythical passenger rail line between Tucson and Phoenix. None of these projects make sense in spread out, low density cities like Phoenix or Tucson that have no real city core, which is why they face a lot of opposition.
Well, our governor has cut a deal to try to get more support for her pet projects, and boy does it look ugly:
Some Republican state lawmakers on Monday blasted a "backroom deal" between Gov. Janet Napolitano and a Valley home-builders group that would exempt residential developers from sharing a portion of the costs of a major transportation initiative in exchange for a $100,000 contribution to boost the signature-gathering campaign.
Under the agreement, the Home Builders Association of Central Arizona agreed to withdraw their opposition to a state trust-land initiative backed by Napolitano. In return, developer impact fees would no longer be part of the transportation initiative's approach to raising money.
When Is A Bribe Not A Bribe?
I can't answer the question in the post title -- apparently no one has told me all the rules, but I would have called this a "bribe" rather than a "gracious gesture," as Kevin Drum does:
The latest rumor making the rounds is that maybe Barack Obama will pay off Hillary's $11 million loan to her campaign if she quits the race. I suppose that makes some kind of sense — and it would be a gracious and unifying gesture from Obama
If Newt Gingrich had paid a fellow politician $11 million to drop out of the Spearker's race against him, that would have been a, what? Gracious gesture? I doubt it.
Where is the Windfall Profits Tax on Farmers?
This week, we have been given a chance to see a real contrast. Two consumer staples, gasoline and food, have both seen their prices go up substantially over the last several months. Both price spikes have been due to a combination of market forces (particularly increasing wealth in Asia) and US government policy that has the effect of restricting supply.
However, the political response from Congress has been completely different. In the very same week that Democrats in Congress have introduced bills to punish oil companies for high prices with windfall profits taxes, they have passed a farm bill that rewards farmers who are already getting record high prices with increased price supports and direct subsidies. This despite the fact that on a percentage basis, the increase in crop prices has been far larger than the recent increase in gas prices. The contrast in approaches to two industries in very similar situations couldn't be more stark.
The only reason I can come up with is votes: There are a lot more farmers and people who feel themselves dependent on the agricultural industry than there are oil workers. The oil industry is incredibly efficient on a revenue per employee basis, and I guess that comes back to haunt them. There is no oil industry equivalent of the Iowa Caucuses to cause politicians to fall to the ground groveling and shoveling out taxpayer money to buy votes.
Laughing at Florida and Michigan
I must say I am laughing my butt off at the states of Michigan and Florida. If they had kept their original primary dates, their elections would likely have been critical, if not decisive, in the Democratic nomination. Both would have gotten full-bore candidate attention, much as Ohio and now Pennsylvania have. It could have been them who were joining Iowa in the great vote sell-off, trading delegates for promises of ethanol subsidies or whatever the states are perceived to want. But instead, in a bid to become more relevant, they tried to skirt the rules and in the process became irrelevant. So instead of promising Floridians that they will enhance old age benefits or doing something with Cuba, the candidates instead are out there promising Pennsylvanians and Ohioans that they will throttle our North American trading partners.
America's Worst Sheriff
I am working on a longer post on Sheriff Joe Arpaio's sweeps through Hispanic neighborhoods to round up the usual suspects (Mayor Phil Gordon has asked the feds to investigate these practices, which I hope they will do).
But this one is just weird. Apparently Phoenix tax money is being used by Arpaio to train Honduran police, in a program that makes sense (from a Phoenix point of view) to no one. Sheriff Joe watchers will enjoy his numerous nonsensical explanations, though the last one probably is the correct one. For those outside of Phoenix, sit back and enjoy the weirdness -- its the only consolation we here in Arizona get for having the worst and most abusive sheriff in the country.
Explanation One: Arpaio looks to small Latin American countries as models for his police force
Sheriff's officials told the county Board of Supervisors that the Honduran National Police possess the "intelligence data, knowledge and cultural experiences to benefit the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office."
Explanation Two: We can't tell you, because it would endanger Sheriffs' lives (this is an Arpaio oldie but goodie):
discussing efforts in Honduras could endanger the lives of law-enforcement officers in both countries....revealing details could put lives at risk
Explanation Three: Honduras supplied millions of photos for Arpaio's facial recognition software (yeah, I know non-Phoenicians, this is weird)
The sheriff's facial-recognition software program is supposed to be among the biggest beneficiaries of the Honduras engagement....When Arpaio was first confronted about the department's trips to Honduras, he said the agency had received "millions" of photos from Honduran officials.
Explanation Four: Its a RICO thing, so we can't tell you (at least, it uses RICO funds)
The agency has spent more than $120,000 on Sheriff's Office employee salaries in Honduras, and an additional $30,000 in RICO funds seized from criminals. And some of the trips occurred during a time period where the Sheriff's Office overspent its overtime budget by nearly $1 million.
Explanation Five: We can't talk about it, because that would open up public officials to scrutiny for their actions:
The Sheriff's Office will not grant interviews to explain how and why the program was started and what the benefits are to Maricopa County, because officials say discussing the program fuels criticism
You've done worse than let Haldeman slip away: you've got people feeling sorry for him. I didn't think that was possible.
I would never have thought it possible to position Hillary Clinton as the down-to-earth joe sixpack candidate, but somehow Obama managed it.
Post title from here.
McCain Believes in Nothing
I am increasingly convinced that John McCain believes in nothing, or at least believes in nothing strong enough that he can't turn a 180 on the issue if the polling numbers move the meter hard enough.
The plan would retire old loans that homeowners no longer can pay and replace them with less expensive, 30-year, fixed-rate mortgages that are federally guaranteed. McCain said families would gain "the opportunity to trade a burdensome mortgage for a manageable loan that reflects the market value of their home."
In line with his concern about bailing out speculators, McCain's proposal would apply only to homeowners who took out sub-prime mortgages after 2005 for homes that are their main residence. They would need to have proved they were credit-worthy at the time of the loan.
I hope everyone else is enjoying the notion of "sub-prime mortgages" where the borrowers were "credit-worthy at the time of the loan."
The likely Republican presidential nominee is well to the left of the last Democratic president on economic issues. And George McGovern sounds Laissez Faire:
Under the guise of protecting us from ourselves, the right and the left are becoming ever more aggressive in regulating behavior. Much paternalist scrutiny has recently centered on personal economics...
Since leaving office I've written about public policy from a new perspective: outside looking in. I've come to realize that protecting freedom of choice in our everyday lives is essential to maintaining a healthy civil society.
Why do we think we are helping adult consumers by taking away their options? We don't take away cars because we don't like some people speeding. We allow state lotteries despite knowing some people are betting their grocery money. Everyone is exposed to economic risks of some kind. But we don't operate mindlessly in trying to smooth out every theoretical wrinkle in life.
The nature of freedom of choice is that some people will misuse their responsibility and hurt themselves in the process. We should do our best to educate them, but without diminishing choice for everyone else.
Really, its that George McGovern.
And I began to question my hatred for “the Corporations” - the hatred of which, I found, was but the flip side of my hunger for those goods and services they provide and without which we could not live.
And I began to question my distrust of the “Bad, Bad Military” of my youth, which, I saw, was then and is now made up of those men and women who actually risk their lives to protect the rest of us from a very hostile world…
But if the government is not to intervene, how will we, mere human beings, work it all out?
I wondered and read, and it occurred to me that I knew the answer, and here it is: We just seem to. How do I know? From experience…
Strand unacquainted bus travelers in the middle of the night, and what do you get? A lot of bad drama, and a shake-and-bake Mayflower Compact. Each, instantly, adds what he or she can to the solution. Why? Each wants, and in fact needs, to contribute - to throw into the pot what gifts each has in order to achieve the overall goal, as well as status in the new-formed community. And so they work it out.
And so I, like many of the liberal congregation, began, teeth grinding, to attempt to do so. And in doing so, I recognized that I held those two views of America (politics, government, corporations, the military). One was of a state where everything was magically wrong and must be immediately corrected at any cost; and the other - the world in which I actually functioned day to day - was made up of people, most of whom were reasonably trying to maximize their comfort by getting along with each other (in the workplace, the marketplace, the jury room, on the freeway, even at the school-board meeting).
And I realized that the time had come for me to avow my participation in that America in which I chose to live, and that that country was not a schoolroom teaching values, but a marketplace…
Thank God George Bush Supports Ethanol...
... because that may make it easier for the Democrats to summon the political will to kill ethanol subsidies, though don't hold your breath. Certainly, though, the NYT, after years of cheerleading ethanol, may finally be coming around:
Congress must take a hard look at the effect of corn ethanol on food supplies in the same way the new energy bill requires it to review the environmental effects. It must move toward ending subsidies that will become even more difficult to justify as oil prices rise and the costs of producing corn ethanol decline. And it must press other wealthy countries to do the same before hunger turns to mass starvation.
Via Tom Nelson
By the way, these problems with ethanol we are experiencing today were are inevitable as night follows day, yet we still had to blunder into it before we started questioning the economics. The power of political correctness to trump science and logic is amazing.
Michelle Obama is a Socialist
There. I said it. And I believe I am right. My only hope for the Obama administration is that their family is like the Clintons, where Bill was much more moderate than his socialist wife who has held nothing but rent-seeking jobs that gravy-trained off her husbands political position.
“We left corporate America, which is a lot of what we’re asking young people to do,” she tells the women. “Don’t go into corporate America. You know, become teachers. Work for the community. Be social workers. Be a nurse. Those are the careers that we need, and we’re encouraging our young people to do that. But if you make that choice, as we did, to move out of the money-making industry into the helping industry, then your salaries respond.” Faced with that reality, she adds, “many of our bright stars are going into corporate law or hedge-fund management.”
I already covered the idiocy of my fellow Princeton-Harvard grad's rant on student debt here. And let's be clear: You have absolutely no ground to criticize the state of the economy because kids of middle class black families are not doing well when you are busy counseling them to embrace low-paying jobs over higher-paying ones.
The Irrational Voter
Much has been made of late of the irrational voter, a voter who demands of politicians government economic measures that actually are not in his/her long-term best interest. For example, a large number of voters want the government to shut down NAFTA, thinking this is in their economic best interest when in fact the evidence is pretty strong that for most of them, it is not.
What is a gung-ho but thoughtful politician to do? Do you listen to your experts, who council free trade, or do you pander to the masses? Do you stick by our trading allies, or do you begin your kindler-gentler foreign policy by unilaterally abrogating treaties with our neighbors.
Well, if you are the modern presidential candidate, you tell the masses what they want to hear, and then tell our allies you are just kidding.
Update: Cato brings us a great example from North Dakota
Experience is in the Eye of the Beholder
In 1973 she worked for a non profit.
In 1974 she was a government employee.
In 1975 she failed the D.C bar exam, and married Bubba.
In 1976 she joined the Rose Law Firm, and somehow made partner three years later in 1979, despite rarely appearing in court …a stunningly quick rise!
Oh, and Bubba became the Governor of Alabama in 1976, but that’s unrelated.
In 1976 she was made, through political appointment by Jimmy Carter, head of a government funded non-profit corporation which did nothing but launch lawsuits.
In 1978 she laundered $100,000 of bribes through cattle trading contracts. Despite having never engaged in cattle trading before, she somehow managed to pick the two best times to trade each day: she bought cattle contracts at the absolute lowest price each day, and sell them at the absolute highest price. After laundering the bribes, she quite cattle trading forever.
From 1993 to 2001, Hillary attempted, from her unelected position, to socialize American health care, and routinely violated open meetings laws.
In 2000 Hillary carpet-bagged her way into a senatorship.
Women's groups seem to be supporting Hillary's contention that being married to the President counts as presidential experience. Wow! If that is the case, the glass ceiling is exploded! Melinda Gates has 20 years of experience as Microsoft CEO!
I'd like to say that I would love to see someone who has actually tried to run his/her own business running for the White House, but most of the candidates who claim to have business experience seem to have the politically-connected rent-seeking business experience (e.g. GWB) rather than the real try to make a business work against the general headwind of government bureaucratic opposition type of experience.
Kind of Ironic
I don't really care that much how either party chooses their candidate, beyond a general plea to reduce the influence of Iowa so we can finally put ethanol subsidies to bed. However, I thought this was a bit ironic: A self-styled progressive who complained for years about how the 2000 election was decided argues that having the Democratic candidate selected by a few party elites is A-OK:
I really, really hope the Democratic primary doesn't come down to superdelegates — the privileged class of delegate that gets to vote however they want, and were created to ensure that party elites didn't lose too much control over the process.
Maybe I'm just being contrarian here, but why would this be so bad? After all, the only way it could happen is if the voters themselves split nearly 50-50. And in that case, the nomination would end up being decided by a massive effort to sway uncommitted delegates anyway. So who cares if that massive effort is directed at superdelegates (senators, governors, etc.) or the more plebeian regular delegates (typically county chairs, local activists, etc.). And in any case, why shouldn't the party elders, many of whom have to run on the same ticket as the presidential nominee, get a little extra say in the process?
Here is how I think such a scenario will play out. I think by convention time Obama will substantially lead Hillary in the polls. However, Hillary will be at a distinct advantage in the knife-fighting for long-time party movers and shakers. We could well see the party elites overturning what at the time may be a strong popular sentiment among Democrats for Obama. Hillary's biggest advantage will be that many party officials will be afraid to cross her. Obama needs to be able to assure them that he has their back if they scorn Hillary.
The Victim Sweepstakes
I probably shouldn't, but I must admit that I am being hugely entertained by the calculus of guilt and victimization in the Democratic Party as supporters of the white woman and the black guy vie to claim the title of being the most put down by "the man." I can just see the voter in Berkeley yesterday nearly imploding with stress as she tried to figure out whether it was less PC to vote against a black or a woman. Anyway, MaxedOutMamma is also having fun with the whole thing, and is surprised to find out that "If Hillary doesn't win tonight it will obviously be proof that the old WASP boys club [of Georgia!] has conquered using a black guy with the middle name of Hussein." Yes sir, I remember that time when Georgia went so far as to secede from the union to keep women in bondage....
Happy Super Tuesday
I will not be voting today, because in Arizona to vote in the primary one must register with the government as a member of either the Coke or Pepsi party. I just can't make myself do it.
I Want None of This
Apparently, some conservatives are trying to fuse social conservatism with economic populism. With a bit of hawkish international projection of power thrown in. Barf. The only possible good outcome of this is that maybe it might lead to a redrawing of political lines between such big government folks and libertarians, but I am not that hopeful. Does anyone really doubt that we are heading back to the bad old days of the 1970s?
Bye Bye Fred
I had just started to think that Fred Thompson might have been the least-bad candidate in the race, so of course he just quit.
OK, I am Not the Only One Asking This Question
OK, the comment thread in my post on Romney evolved into a good discussion on health care, but I did not get a very good answer on how Romney supporters could possibly consider him the inheritor of the Reagan small-government legacy. Apparently, I am not the only one confused on this, as both Michael Tanner and Jerry Taylor chime in with the same question.
What does it say about the Republican Party when the leading fusionist conservative in the field - Mitt Romney, darling of National Review and erstwhile heir to Ronald Reagan - runs and wins a campaign arguing that the federal government is responsible for all of the ills facing the U.S. auto industry, that the taxpayer should pony up the corporate welfare checks going to Detroit and increase them by a factor of five, that the federal government can and should move heaven and earth to save “every job” at risk in this economy, and that economic recovery is best achieved by a sit-down involving auto industry CEOs, labor bosses, and government agents armed with Harvard MBAs to produce a well-coordinated strategic economic plan? That is, what explains the emergence of economic fascism (in a non-pejorative sense) in the Grand Old Party at the expense of free market capitalism?
Unfortunately, 1970-style Nixonian Republicans are back in force. Can "Whip Inflation Now" buttons be far behind?
Update: Apparently William F. Buckley is happily returning to the 70's as well.
Worst Fears Realized
Frequent readers will know that unlike most other libertarian blogs, I have not plastered the site with hopeful articles and endorsements for Ron Paul. I have always been 99% supportive of his work in Congress and was happy to have him there. But I resisted even registering in the Arizona primary to vote for him. Arizona requires that to vote in a primary, I have to register as belonging to that party, and I am just not going to do that.
Part of my reluctance to jump on the bandwagon has been my general disaffection with politics and some ambivalence as to whether my elected overlord is from Coke or Pepsi. The rest, I think, was a subliminal fear of supporting any Libertarian candidate because they always seem to turn out to be wing-nuts. QED.
Update: The excuse that he didn't know what was in a series of ghost-written newsletters is just ridiculous. I will accept that excuse for one issue, a mistake in selecting partners (I am sure there are bloggers out there who regret guest-blogger selections) but a long series of newsletters implies tacit approval or at least acceptance.
Show a Little Backbone!
A labor dispute which has darkened US light entertainment and chat shows claimed another victim on Wednesday, forcing the cancellation of a CBS News debate among Democratic White House hopefuls.
The debate, scheduled for Los Angeles on December 10, was nixed after candidates including Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama said they would refuse to cross a picket line that the Writers Guild of America Union had threatened to set up.
"CBS News regrets not being able to offer the Democratic presidential debate scheduled for Dec. 10 in Los Angeles," CBS said in a statement.
"The possibility of picket lines set up by the Writers Guild of America and the unwillingness of many candidates to cross them made it necessary to allow the candidates to make other plans."
Since the writers have nothing to do with the debate (presumably, unless Hillary's question-writing shills are part of the guild) then their picketing the debate makes no more sense than if, say, the meat packers were picketing. Is the winning candidate going to refuse to enter the White House if any union is picketing out front? As Ed Morrissey points out, this does not bode well for any of the candidates being able to stand up to special interests as president.
Update: Next up, Democratic candidates to commit to not hire anyone for their administration who did not attend a government-run, NEA-unionized high school.
Maybe They Should Have Tried Fox After All
Though I did not pay any attention to it, apparently the Clinton camp managed to stack the CNN Las Vegas debate doubly or triply in their favor, including having most all the talking head on CNN analyzing the debate be folks who are currently or have in the past been on the Clinton payroll.
Whatever. I don't think it is any news that the Clintons play the politics game hard and well, though its amazing to me that she is embraced by those who complain about Bush being secretive and power-hungry.
Anyway, this did make me wonder. The Democratic candidates were up-in-arms earlier this year that a debate (I think this one) was to be hosted by Fox, presumably because Fox is seen as part of the vast right-wing conspiracy. But given that there were no Republicans at the debate, I wonder if Obama and company now regret this decision. Because it is almost certain that whatever problems Fox might have, Fox would certainly not have stacked a debate in Hillary's favor.
Is This Really The Replacement We Want?
Regular readers know that I am a critic of the Bush administration for any number of failings, perhaps most importantly its flaunting of the separation of powers and its attempts to avoid scrutiny by hiding behind the war and calls on patriotism. In this post, aimed mostly at the drift in the Republican party, I threw in this observation:
in response to a Republican President thought to be over-reaching, secretive, and overly fond of executive power, they seem ready to nominate Hillary Clinton, who may be one of the few people in the country more secretive and power-hungry. Anyone remember how she conducted her infamous health care task force? I seem to remember she pioneered many of the practices for which Democrats tried to impeach Dick Cheney this week.
Q&O links an article from the National Review which goes further on Hillary:
If grumbling about a basketball story seems excessive, it's also typical of the Clinton media machine. Reporters who have covered the hyper-vigilant campaign say that no detail or editorial spin is too minor to draw a rebuke. Even seasoned political journalists describe reporting on Hillary as a torturous experience. Though few dare offer specifics for the record--"They're too smart," one furtively confides. "They'll figure out who I am"--privately, they recount excruciating battles to secure basic facts. Innocent queries are met with deep suspicion. Only surgically precise questioning yields relevant answers. Hillary's aides don't hesitate to use access as a blunt instrument, as when they killed off a negative GQ story on the campaign by threatening to stop cooperating with a separate Bill Clinton story the magazine had in the works. Reporters' jabs and errors are long remembered, and no hour is too odd for an angry phone call. Clinton aides are especially swift to bypass reporters and complain to top editors. "They're frightening!" says one reporter who has covered Clinton. "They don't see [reporting] as a healthy part of the process. They view this as a ruthless kill-or-be-killed game."...
It's enough to make you suspect that breeding fear and paranoia within the press corps is itself part of the Clinton campaign's strategy. And, if that sounds familiar, it may be because the Clinton machine, say reporters and pro-Hillary Democrats, is emulating nothing less than the model of the Bush White House, which has treated the press with thinly veiled contempt and minimal cooperation. "The Bush administration changed the rules," as one scribe puts it--and the Clintonites like the way they look. (To be sure, no one accuses the Clinton team of outright lying to the press, as the Bushies have done, or of crossing other ethical lines. And reporters say other press shops--notably those of Rudy Giuliani and John Edwards--are also highly combative.)
The only quibble I have is the distinction that Hillary is not lying, but Bush is. That seems, at least to this libertarian, to be a silly statement. There is no reason to believe Hillary is any more or less mendacious than GWB. Though I will say, with the right audience, Hillary can be surprisingly honest and open about her aims:
10/11/2007: "I have a million ideas. The country can't afford them all."
June, 2004: "We're going to take things away from you on behalf of the common good," she told San Franciscans in June 2004. As first lady, she said: "We must stop thinking of the individual and start thinking about what is best for society."
An Observation About Republican Presidential Candidates
I almost never ever post on politics and political races, but I had an interesting conversation the other day. As a secular libertarian, I find no one (beyond Ron Paul) among the Republican candidates even the least bit interesting. I trust none of them to pursue free market and small government principals, and several, including McCain, Giuliani, and Huckabee, have track records of large government intrusiveness.
What I found interesting was a conversation with a friend of mine who self-identifies as a Christian conservative (yes, I know it is out of vogue, but it is perfectly possible to have quality friendships with people of different political stripes, particularly considering that I am married to a New England liberal Democrat). My Christian conservative friend said he found no Republican he was really interested in voting for.
I find it interesting that the Republicans (again with the exception of Ron Paul, who I think they would like to disavow) unable to field a candidate that appeals to either of its traditional constituencies. It strikes me the party is heading back to its roots in the 1970s in the Nixon-Rockefeller days. Yuk.
Update: Which isn't to necessarily say the Democrats have everything figured out. For example, in response to a Republican President thought to be over-reaching, secretive, and overly fond of executive power, they seem ready to nominate Hillary Clinton, who may be one of the few people in the country more secretive and power-hungry. Anyone remember how she conducted her infamous health care task force? I seem to remember she pioneered many of the practices for which Democrats tried to impeach Dick Cheney this week.
A Political Pitch I Can Buy Into
As a libertarian, I tend to get turned off by most political pitches. But here is one I can definitely buy into, and it is not even from Ron Paul.
The Howard Beale Vote
As a libertarian, I am hugely excited that Ron Paul is getting some positive attention. However, I have a terrible time syncing up the enthusiasm for him in some quarters with the historic indifference to libertarian ideas in the same quarters. I am worried that this country has a 5-10% Howard Beale segment (I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it any more) that will get enthusiastic about any third party candidate who seams to challenge the establishment. Do these people behind Paul really understand him, or are they just the same folks who supported Ross Perot's populist melange?
Hillary Proposes Plan to End Abortion, At Least Among the Poor
Much has been said of Hillary Clinton's absurd and fiscally irresponsible populist pandering idea of giving every baby $5000 at birth.
But has anyone thought about what effect this might have on abortion and birth rates among the poor? Her husband bill took a lot of flak from his own party to take on welfare reform, and reduce the financial incentive for poor single women to have babies. So now, Hillary is going to revive this incentive? Every woman who goes in to have an abortion is basically torching a $5000 bill. She may do more to limit abortions than George Bush.
Postscript: Yeah, I know, the program would probably be structured as some sort of bond that doesn't come due until age whatever. If so, how long do you think it will take payday loan companies to figure out how to factor this bond and pay out now in exchange for the bond's future value.
We Hate You, But Thanks for Voting for Us
I almost never post about politics, because I don't really have a horse in the Democrat-Republican race. However, this post from Kevin Drum quoting E.J. Dione kind of tickled me. They claim Democrats are winning the suburbs from Republicans, which I have no particular reason to dispute. But the whole concept of Democrats competing in the suburbs is kind of funny to me. Almost at every turn, the Left tends to use the suburbs as its great cultural whipping boy. We hate your SUV's and your lack of public transportation and your large houses and your Walmarts and your churches and your private schools and we take your money and send it to the city centers which culturally we have much more affinity for, but thanks for voting for us.
OK, I have resisted commenting on Larry Craig. My reactions are:
- We are so off topic here it is unbelievable. For Congress, exercising arbitrary powers over individuals in violation of the intent, if not the letter, of the Constitution: OK. Playing footsie in the bathroom: Not OK
- Are we really going to have a Congressman resign for tapping his foot in a public bathroom while a man who had $100,000 in cash bribe money found in his freezer still sits in office?
- Why is it that Democrats, against their political beliefs, feel the need to criticize Republicans for being gay while Republicans feel the need to criticize Democrats for having large homes and SUVs?
- Do we really pay police officers to sit on the toilet for hours and try to catch men who are soliciting consensual sex? And if so, do they also pay female officers to patrol for the same thing among women? This is a real threat to us?
Update: A reader pointed out to me I had a fairly relevant passage in my novel BMOC, when the Senator is confronted with his $50,000 earmark nominally for a "women's consulting company" turned out to be directed at a house of prostitution [edited to remove the more raunchy terminology]:
Taking a deep breath, [the Senator's aid] said, “Senator, there is a reason that this one is not going away. I will spell it out: S-E-X. The press doesn’t give a shit about a few billion dollars of waste. No one tunes in to the evening news if the teaser is ‘Government pays too much for a bridge, news at eleven.’ The Today Show doesn’t interview the contractors benefiting from a useless bridge.”
“However, everybody and his dog will tune in if the teaser is ‘Your tax dollars are funding call girls, film at eleven’. Jesus, do you really think the CBS Evening News is going to turn down a chance to put hookers on the evening news? Not just tonight but day after day? Just watch – Dan Rather will be interviewing hookers and Chris Mathews will be interviewing hookers and for God’s sakes Barbara Walters will probably have a weepy interview with a hooker.”
“And you know what?” Givens continued, his voice rising. “The whole act makes me sick. All these media types are going to be piously turning up their nose at you and those women, while at the same time making more money for themselves off those prostitutes than those women ever made for themselves on their back. It’s rank hypocrisy but it’s the facts of life in Washington, and I shouldn’t have to be explaining this to you.”
“You guys in the Senate can get away with a lot, as long as long as a) you don’t get caught or b) the scandal is so boring or complex that it won’t sell newspapers. Hell, I saw a poll the other day that a substantial percentage of Americans to this day don’t understand or even believe what Richard Nixon did wrong. But if you polled those same people, every freaking one of them would say that they knew and believed that Bill Clinton [fooled around with] an intern. What’s the difference? Sex. Bill Clinton was impeached and lost his law license, not because he did or did not commit fraud with Whitewater Development Corp., but because he lied about [sex with] a young girl.”
Academic Arguments for the Imperial Presidency
Well, this, from Opinio Juris, certainly got my blood moving this morning:
The first part of Posner and Vermeule’s book offers a forceful theoretical defense of executive authority during times of emergency. The book offers a thoughtful and well-reasoned perspective on the cost-benefit analysis at play when government seeks the optimal balance between the competing goods of security and liberty. Posner and Vermeule argue that there is a Pareto security-liberty frontier at which no win-win improvements are possible. That is, at this frontier any increase in security will require a decrease in liberty, and vice-versa. From my perspective, the existence of this security-liberty frontier appears unassailable.
Given this frontier, Posner and Vermeule then offer their central argument of institutional competence. They argue that there are few or no domains in which it is true both that government choices about emergency policies are not accurate (on average) and that judicial review can make things better. They further argue that civil libertarians who subscribe to vigorous judicial review in times of emergency fail to identify a large and important set of cases in which government blunders or acts opportunistically during emergencies and in which judges can improve matters
I haven't read the book, and am only just getting through the symposium they are holding. My first, primal reaction is YUK! Here are a couple of random thoughts:
- I don't know if the last statement in the second paragraph is true -- I suspect it is not, or at least is subject to "improve matters" being interpreted differently by each individual. However, it strikes me that even if the statement is true, checks and reviews by other branches of government still circumscribe executive excesses by their threat. And the act and/or the threat of review leads to open political debate that can redirect executive actions. Even GWB, who has pushed the theory of executive powers to new levels, can arguably be said to have modified his management of the Iraq war in response to Congressional scrutiny, even without explicit legislation being passed.
- The incentive system in government is for the government and its employees to grab new powers over the populace. Anything that slows down that process, even in a "Crisis" is a good thing
- If they want to argue that the Congress is useless as a check because in times of crisis they just become the president's bitch, I can't argue with you. Just look at how the Democratic majority actions on Patriot Act rollbacks (none) or FISA enforcement (they actually retroactively gave Bush the power he wanted). But this does not mean we should give up hoping they will try.
- Government officials love it when they can act with enhanced power and decreased accountability. If we institutionalize an imperial presidency in times of "crisis" and then give the President the power to declare a "crisis", then you can bet we will always be in a crisis. Even if checks and balances don't tend to improve civil liberties decision-making in times of crisis, they at least help us get out of the crisis and declare normality again. Otherwise we would never go back.
The real problem is that a government full of lifetime government employees is never, ever going to make the right choice on the security-freedom curve. Really, by security, we mean government intrusion, so you can think of this as the government power vs. individual power curve. And lifetime government employees are always going to choose for more power for themselves. The problem is not who in government should fix our point on this curve, the problem is that anyone in the government is allowed to fix this point.
That was what the Constitution was supposed to be for -- an act of the people fixing this point for the government. The founding fathers were well aware of republics that had processes for slipping into dictatorship in times of war. Rome was a good example, and eventually demonstrated what happened in this system -- the crisis never went away and you got a dictator all the time with no republic. The founders explicitly did not write such a capacity for the president into the Constitution. And it should stay that way.
Hopefully I will have more coherent thoughts after having read more of their work.
Update: This comes to mind, for example
A recent interview with Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence, suggests that the administration also feels duty-bound to withhold information when it might be useful to critics who oppose President Bush's anti-terrorism policies, since those policies are necessary to protect national security. But the very same information can—indeed, should—be released at a more opportune time, when it will help the president pursue his policies....
And then further, to the issue of eavesdropping international calls:
It's pretty clear McConnell's real concern is that debating this issue endangers national security because it threatens to prevent the president from doing whatever he thinks is necessary to fight terrorism. Hence Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, is not at all exaggerating when he observes, "He's basically saying that democracy is going to kill Americans." And not just democracy, but constitutional government of any kind, since anything that interferes with the president's unilateral decisions with respect to national security (which is whatever he says it is) is going to kill Americans too.
My Primary Proposal
Extrapolating from current events, states will soon be fighting over the week after last presidential election so they can hold the first primary of the next election cycle. It's totally nuts, but completely predictable from the incentives: No cost and large perceived benefit from moving one's state's primary forward. What there needs to be is a countervailing cost to moving forward.
Here is the proposal I made 4 years ago: States in the first 25% of primaries (by delegate count) can only award 25% of their delegates on their early primary date, and must hold a second primary three months later to award the rest. States in the next 25% can only award half their delegates at the first primary, and must also hold a second primary to award the rest. Everyone else in the back half can award as normal. So the first half of the primaries only award 18.75% of the delegates. Candidates may get momentum from early state wins, but over three quarters of the delegates will yet be awarded, so later states will matter too.
Why Politicians Like a Crisis
From Q&O, a running tally of opinion polls with the public's approval rating of Congress.
The answer to my question, "Why do Politicians Like a Crisis" seems simple: Because we train them to do so. American politicians are never so well loved as in a time of crisis. Just look at the September 11 bump for Congress.
Fighting Fire with Fire
So I guess the Democratic response to the Bush administration's 8-years of disrespect for the separation of powers is to one-up him?
On the op-ed page of the New York Times, Jean Edward Smith argues that if the Roberts Court keeps on its current path, a future Democratic President and Democratic Congress should consider a court-packing plan and add Justices to ensure a liberal majority on the Supreme Court. This might be necessary, Smith contends, because the Roberts Court has "adopt[ed] a manifestly ideological agenda," "plung[ing] the court into the vortex of American politics" where it now decides political questions rather than the purely legal decisions of the Warren Court.
And by the way, I would have said that the Roberts court has followed a distinctly non-ideological agenda. In fact, I can't figure out how they are making decisions from one case to the next. This court bears the hallmarks of one that is really evenly divided, with backroom negotiating going on to get a majority that reeks of compromise rather than anything either ideological or Constitutional. Every major decision seems to have five or six written opinions.
Vote For Me Because I Care
How many politicians have you heard say that they care deeply. I hate politicians who care. You know why? Because the way they demonstrate that they care is by using my money against my will to help someone else. It is a freaking slap in the face every time I hear this.
Now, government employees in Massachusetts are getting a new way to demonstrate they care at taxpayer expense:
A much-hyped program that gives state workers up to a dozen paid days off per year to “volunteer” in a wide variety of community activities gives another perk to employees who already have one of the most generous benefit packages in the country....
A Herald analysis shows that if the 80 employees in the governor’s office took full advantage of the program, the one-year cost would be $217,000. The taxpayer cost just for Patrick, who makes $140,000, to take all 12 paid volunteer days would be about $6,400. There are 50,000 state workers eligible to participate in the program.
“Beyond the loss of productivity for days off, consider the cost of tasking other state employees with making sure their co-workers aren’t just extending their weekends,” said state GOP spokesman Brian Dodge. “With bright ideas like this one, the stream of wasted money directly attributed to Deval Patrick is quickly becoming a raging river.”
Its not "volunteering" if you get paid to do it, any more than its "charity" when you give away other people's money. (HT: Maggie's Farm)
I have always hated the inevitable posturing during the party presidential conventions that the newly selected vice-presidential candidate would have unprecedented access to the president and that the presidential candidate would reinvent the office of the vice-presidency to take advantage of his running mate's unique skills, blah blah. Kennedy giving NASA to Johnson not-withstanding, this is mostly face-saving for the vice-presidential candidate, since he or she has typically just been relegated to an appendage of the person they were very recently running against. Also, there just isn't any Constitutional role for the vice-president short of breaking ties in the Senate and fogging a mirror in case the President dies.
Say what you will about the Bush White House, but I can pretty much gaurantee we are not going to hear much this election cycle about powerful and active future vice-presidents.
Does Money Matter?
I have a prediction: we are going to learn this year (or, actually, next year) that there are diminishing returns to money in presidential primaries. Not only do I have my doubts that the vast sums of money being raised by the current frontrunners will fund a more effective campaign than half the amount would, but I wouldn't be surprised if it leads to less effective campaigns. Sometimes too much money makes you lazy.
1. I tend to agree
2. I wonder if this conclusion would cause Drum to reconsider his support for campaign finance limitations like McCain-Feingold
3. It is incredible how facile the media's coverage of this election has become. Unable or unwilling to tease out real differences between the candidates, the media has resorted to a sports metaphor, treating the race as a money-raising horse race.
Happiness Is: Being Allied With Neither Political Party, And So Not Having to Comment on Ann Coulter
So I won't. Which doesn't mean I haven't found all the squirming on multiple web sites immensely entertaining. Jeff Goldstein, as is often the case, is perhaps the most entertaining. While Jeff will never be invited to speak at a MoveOn rally, on the other hand it is about as easy to lump him in with Pat Robertson as to group "Little House on the Prairie" into a double feature with "Team America World Police."
Though I am not convinced it is an especially apt comparison for the Coulter remark, I did particularly note one observation. Goldstein's commenter said, in part, this:
I am reminded of the whole “niggardly” thing. Of course, we KNOW what it means. But, you cannot really use it unless you want to be misunderstood and have your message distracted.
This is, of course, quite stunning and more than a bit dangerous to the cause of liberalism.
I mean, look again at what Steve just argued: “Of course, we KNOW what it means. But, you cannot really use it unless you want to be misunderstood and have your message distracted.”
Translation: We know what it means, but we must assume nobody else does. Therefore, their misunderstanding is to be countenanced and massaged—which, in effect, empowers ignorance rather than treating it as ignorance. It is the perfect example of the intellectual welfare state: rather than working to force people to break out a dictionary, we’d rather provide them with succor because, well, they can’t really be expected to learn things on their own, right? Those kinds of people?
I don't read Protein Wisdom all the time, so I am not sure if "intellectual welfare" is a term Goldstein uses a lot. I coined it independently a few years ago, when discussing social security.
The "Happy Days" Framework for Understanding the Two Parties
Here is all you need to know to understand the two political parties as they are in 2007: Both parties want to return to the 1950's. The Republican Party wants to return to Leave-it-to-Beaver type social/sexual options and media offerings. The Democratic Party wants to return to the large company / heavily union work models and economy of the 1950's.
Which makes the titles "Conservative" and "Liberal" worse than meaningless, since each vision is inherently small-c conservative. Both fear change, diversity, and risk, though in different sectors of our lives. In some sense this is the real culture war, between dynamism and fear of change.
I Wish I Could Like Activists
I sure wish I could like activists like Al Gore. Last night, at the Oscars, he was charming and passionate. He has something he cares deeply about and flies around the world speaking about. It's terribly compelling, which you could see in the reaction Al got last night from an adoring audience and various fawning actors.
And if Mr. Gore were there last night to convince the audience to get out of their stretch limos and G-V's and drive Prius's and use compact fluorescent bulbs, I'd be fine. Sure I might laugh that it was all pointless and the movie Inconvenient Truth was terribly overblown, but its a free society and Mr. Gore would be welcome to make his call to other individuals that they change their lifestyle.
Unfortunately, Mr. Gore's only goal last night was not just to rally the TV audience to change its lifestyle. The more important goal was to increase the likelihood that government will compel Americans to do what Mr. Gore wants. And this is what makes me cringe nowadays when I hear the term "activist." I don't want to cringe, because passionately advocating for you cause, even if I disagree with it, should be part of the rich fabric of a free society. Unfortunately, though, at the heart of nearly every modern activist's agenda is compulsion -- the desire to use the coercive power of the government to force you to do something you would not otherwise choose to do. It is the very unusual activist today who is not trying, whether they admit it or not, to chisel away at individual freedom for some "higher cause."
By the way, speaking of higher cause, did anyone else note the religious parallels in the green-speak last night at the Oscars? You had Al Gore in the role of Bill Graham, with several people talking about how Al had helped them "see the light." Even more amazing to me was the parallel with a confessional at Catholic Church. I have been lucky enough in the past to attend the Academy Awards, and I can tell you from experience what was sitting right outside: The largest collection of stretch limousines you can ever imagine -- I am talking about enough limos to create a traffic tie-up four lanes wide and extending back for miles, all running their engines for six hours waiting to whisk stars to late-night parties and private jets. I am fairly certain that no other small group in America generated more CO2 yesterday through their private use than the audience at the Oscars. Yet by declaring the Oscars to be "green", voting for an Inconvenient Truth, and cheering Al Gore, the audience was in effect saying 10 hail mary's in the confessional, washing away all sin.
Update: How I can be sure Al Gore's activism is about government control and not individual action:
Drudge reports that Al Gore's Nashville mansion consumes more than 20 times the average amount of power for an American household.
Since Gore's whole deal is that civilization-saving absolutely and vitally requires an action on everyone's part that he seems to refuse to do himself, it leads one to wonder about how this whole global warming thing is going to play out with the public and with the government. (Unless Gore's house is powered completely or partially off a conventional coal-burning grid, which doesn't seem to be true based on Drudge's piece.)
Does Gore's seeming inability to curb his power consumption--which has apparently grown since the release of his Oscar-winning flick--mean it isn't true that we really do all have to scrupulously use less carbon-burning energy or doom the planet? No. But it does make it a little hard to believe that he really believes it--or that if even the biggest believer in global warming of all can't control himself in this regard, that a serious planetwide reduction in the short or medium term short of draconian outside controls has much hope.
Reason 1397 That I Can't Stand Politicians
A man is fighting for his life, and the jackals and vultures of both parties are trying to figure out how his death might affect their own political power.
Dang, I missed this
CBS's venerable television newsmagazine 60 Minutes on Sunday will focus on Arizona Republican Rep. Jeff Flake's battle against "earmarks" and congressional overspending and government waste.
The Flake segment is scheduled to lead the program, which airs locally at 6 p.m. Sunday on KPHO-TV (Channel 5).For a summary of the segment, which will run on Sunday, November 5th, please click on:
Update: A bit of the video is here in the Buried in the Fine Print section about 3-4 videos down. Go, Jeff, go.
Reason 127 that I Can't Run for Office
I noticed the other day that a Michigan judge, up for confirmation on some federal court (sorry, I can't find the link) was getting challenged by a Midwest Republican Senator for having attended a gay civil union ceremony of some sort.
Oops. I have attended a gay civil ceremony between two acquaintances of mine. I can't remember hearing any roar from the foundations of civilization crumbling, though I am told that such will be the result of allowing some form of gay unions.
I just don't see the problem. Everyone says that gays marrying is a threat to marriage, but I can't see my marriage becoming any less strong because gay people are marrying. It would be one thing if the government was forcing such marriage rules on churches, but they are not -- we are talking civil ceremonies here. Besides, the whole "sanctity of marriage" ship sailed long ago with the advent of easy and frequent divorce. So, though I would greatly prefer such issues solved in the legislature where they belong, and not by judges, I just sort of shrug at the decision in New Jersey. Twenty years from now, this debate is going to seem so... so.... what the hell do we call this decade anyway? We have the nineties, the teens, and a big blank in the middle. How can we be nearly 70% through this thing (yes its 70%, not 60%, think about it) and no one has come up with a good name for it?
Slavish Devotion to Political Correctness
With the proviso that I don't know anything about the people involved, I will say this controversy seems to be about nothing.
Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele accused a leading Democratic congressman yesterday of racial insensitivity for saying the Republican candidate has "slavishly" followed the GOP.
Steele, an African American running for the U.S. Senate, was reacting to remarks by House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, who characterized Steele this week as having had "a career of slavishly supporting the Republican Party."
To say someone is "slavishly following" or showing "slavish devotion" is so common that I think you have to give the benefit of the doubt that the intention was not racial. Here are some Google searches:
This is perhaps the dumbest fake-racial-gaffe since the kerfuffle in Washington about the word "niggardly" or the airline passenger lawsuit against saying "eenie meenie minie moe." I could not find even one article in a quick scan that seemed to have any racial context -- these are merely very common phrases used in political discourse because they imply someone is somehow an unthinking tool of some organization rather than a person who thinks for himself.
By the way, it's illuminating to see the Republicans play the race / political correctness card in the heat of political battle just as fast as the Democrats would. Which, ironically, seems to be just as fast as Democrats are willing to play the "Don't vote for the gay guy" card, which is usually thought of as a Republican political tool. Can anyone still believe that there is any real difference between the two parties?
Dead Cat Bounce
I don't usually report on the minutia of politics or polling, mainly because it bores me to tears, but I had to make this post because it lets me use one of my all-time favorite terms. Bush's recent rise in the polls reminds me very much of that great investment term "dead cat bounce." (If it falls far enough, even a dead cat will bounce). I've always suspected that many of the technical analysis used on Wall Street to analyze stock trends could be applied to political polls, since they encompass some of the same group distributed consensus building. I can see it now, Paul Kangas reporting that President Bush is experiencing a break-out to the upside...
By the way, are there really people who change their opinion about the war, about the president, about how they will vote on a weekly basis? It sure seems like there are 5-10% of Americans who blow around with the wind. I don't mean change your mind once, like changing your mind on the war. I mean back and forth every week. Otherwise, how does one explain the fluctuation in the polls, particularly when the amount of the fluctuation is outside the error range?
This reminded me a bit of the Michael Keaton Batman movie, where the Joker was handing out money to voters in a bid for popular support:
The Capitol Hill newspaper writes that Democratic House challengers “think they have found a clever way to harness voter anger over high gasoline prices” by selling it for less, a move that Republicans defending their seats say is “tantamount to vote buying.”
Rep. Ron Lewis (R-KY) has asked the U.S. attorney in Louisville to investigate whether his opponent, Democrat Mike Weaver, violated criminal code with his recent “cheap gas event” at an Elizabethtown station, where motorists filled up for $1.22 a gallon – the price of gasoline when Rep. Lewis took office in 1994.
Beyond the obvious question of just what the hell Ron Lewis had to do with or could have done to stop the run-up of gas prices from $1.22 to their current levels, it would be interesting if this turns out to be legal at the same time that actual political speech is illegal.
I don't know election law very well. Clearly handing out subsidized gas below cost as part of a political rally is roughly equivalent to handing out $20 bills to anyone who attends said rally. The party officials involved argue that this activity is legal as long as there is no way to track who got the largess or to tie the money handouts to actual voting decisions:
“The gas is available to whomever wishes to purchase it at the subsidized sale price for a short time ... there’s no condition attached,” Bauer told the newspaper, adding that there is no way to track whether motorists purchasing the lower-priced fuel are registered to vote in the district the candidate is running for, or whether they will vote at all.
I don't know election law very well, so I will ask the readers. If I was running for office, and holding a publicity event at which I handed out $20 bills to attendees, would that be a legal election practice if, as with the party's logic above, I hand them out to all comers regardless of their voter registration status or party affiliation and I don't do anything to track who they are?
Politics Negates Belief
One of the advantages of not being a partisan of either the Democrats or Republicans is that I have more flexibility to actually say what I believe, without worrying that something I am saying might actually give aid and comfort to my political enemies. I have always felt that it is really, really difficult and rare to become actively political without sacrificing consistency in your deeply held beliefs, particularly since both parties represent such an inconsistent hodge-podge of positions. The irony of this has been, at least until the advent of blogging, that I could be smug about maintaining my philosophic virginity but I left myself no avenue to make any impact with my strongly held beliefs.
Given this, I was therefore struck by this, from Cathy Young at Reason, writing about Yale's future Taliban student:
One striking aspect of this controversy is the reaction from Yale's liberal community. Della Sentilles, a Yale senior, recently wrote a piece for the Yale Herald denouncing such manifestations of rampant misogyny at Yale as the shortage of tenured female professors and poor childcare options. On her blog, a reader asked Sentilles about the presence at Yale of a former spokesman for one of the world's most misogynistic regimes. Her reply: "As a white American feminist, I do not feel comfortable making statements or judgments about other cultures, especially statements that suggest one culture is more sexist and repressive than another. American feminism is often linked to and manipulated by the state in order to further its own imperialist ends."
It appears Ms. Sentilles, beyond having a lot of multi-cultural baggage, is terrified that if she actually criticizes Afghanistan in any way, she is somehow giving aid and comfort to the Bush administration, which feminists have declared enemy #1. The politics of US presidential elections, in this case, trump criticizing a regime that treated women worse (by far) than the US has at any time in its history. Which of course is one of the reasons* that women's groups in this country are sliding into irrelevance, putting their support of a broad range of leftish causes above speaking out on what is essentially apartheid-for-women in the Middle East (I say essentially, because women are actually far worse off in much of the Middle East than blacks ever were in South Africa). Whereas a decade ago the left was marching in the street to better the lot of blacks in South Africa, they are strangely mum on women in the Middle East.
As a result, I can lament the condition of women in the Middle East, acknowledge that Saddam was a blight on humanity, but still oppose the war in Iraq as not worth the cost (when "cost" is defined broadly enough to include not must money and men but also opportunity cost). I can adopt this position because I am not required to put on the Republican happy face or Democratic America-always-sucks face.
* Another reason is that it may be time for women to declare victory.
Bush: The Worst Communicator
ABCNews is running a series on some interesting documents found among released Hussein-era Iraqi government docs. I am not going to react to them in terms of how they affect the decision to go to war, in part because we have no idea how representative 6 or 7 damning documents are out of thousands that we have not yet been shown (a similar problem the Enron jury will soon face). Also, for reasons below in the footnote**.
My main reaction to these revelations was "wow, how badly does the Bush administration suck at communication?" After taking three years of criticism over exactly some of the issues addressed in these documents, and presumably others we have not yet seen, the administration just sat on this stuff and refused to release it? Clinton's folks would have had one of these presented each morning of every day for a year to the press with a little bow around it. I am flabbergasted that there are so many conspiracy theorists who think this administration has some special Karl-Rovian-mad-science to orchestrating events. To me, their PR successes look more like Peter Sellers accidentally avoiding numerous assassins in The Pink Panther Strikes Again.
** In the end, I think the Iraq invasion will be looked at as "worth it" historically if its effects resonate beyond Iraq, e.g. it provides a beacon of democracy around which other democratic elements in the middle east coalesce and grow stronger. If Iraq turns out to be just about Iraq, the world will be well-rid of a nasty dictator but the US will have spent a great deal of its available armed forces and treasure and influence and prestige on a single screwed-up dictatorship, while ignoring tens of others who also brutalize their people and who also support terrorism. Against this definition of success, the recently revealed documents don't do much for me one way or the other. They do, however, strongly effect my opinion of Russia. Why Bush continues to give Putin a pass is beyond me.
Congress Has Totally Lost It
Anyone who is still trying valiantly to take our Congress seriously can stop now:
Rep. Joe Barton, R-Ennis, chairman of the Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection, will conduct a hearing next week about the BCS....
When asked to explain the timing of the hearings, a spokesman for Barton referred to BCS history. Before this season, four of the seven BCS years have resulted in championship game controversy.
"The BCS system was created to identify a broadly accepted national champion, but 57 percent of the time it has failed to do so," Barton said in the news release. "Most coaches who lose 57 percent of their games would also lose their jobs. Yet that's what we settle for in determining a champion today."
Wow, it must be the 30th Amendment: Congress shall make no law abridging the right of Division 1 college football fans to have a clear national champion. I wonder if this is just a ploy to get free Rose Bowl tickets?
Everyone in Congress. Go home. Now. Don't come back.
Politicians and Prioritization
Imagine that you are in a budget meeting at your company. You and a number of other department heads have been called together to make spending cuts due to a cyclical downturn in revenue. In your department, you have maybe 20 projects being worked on by 10 people, all (both people and projects) of varying quality. So the boss says "We have to cut 5%, what can you do?" What do you think her reaction would be if you said "well, the first thing I would have to cut is my best project and I would lay off the best employee in my department".
If this response seems nuts to you, why do we let politicians get away with this ALL THE TIME? Every time that politicians are fighting against budget cuts or for a tax increase, they always threaten that the most critical possible services will be cut. Its always emergency workers that are going to be cut or the Washington Monument that is going to be closed. Its never the egg license program that has to be cut.
I am reminded of this in driving long distance this weekend and I picked up, by one of those random late night AM skip-distance things, a station in Colorado, and it was full of commercials threatening dire consequences (old people will go hungry, kids won't get an education, emergency workers won't be there for your heart attack) if voters don't overturn TABOR, which is the tax plan that has, for over a decade, limited tax revenue collections to population growth plus inflation. When I was in Colorado, I loved TABOR (the Cato institute has a nice article on why you should too) and really loved the tax refunds I often got because of it.
TABOR provides a fairly constant revenue stream to the government, in good times and bad. When times are good, the government is flush, and when times are bad the government runs short (due to unemployment payments, more welfare, etc.). Many of us in cyclical businesses deal with this all the time, and seem to be able to cut marginal programs added in good times that we can no longer fund in bad times. Politicians are incapable of this. Many businesses also underspend revenues by a wide margin in good times, knowing they will need the reserves in bad times. Politicians are also incapable of this.
On Tuesday, Colorado voters will decide if they will require Colorado politicians to take the same responsibility for fiscal management that everyone else does in their private business lives, or if they will bail them out of their incompetance with more of their money.
Going back to my example of suggesting in a budget meeting that you will cut your best programs and people in a budget crisis, would you expect to get more budget or to be fired? Why can't we do the same with politicians?
Update: Bummer. Coloradans voted to roll back TABOR. Glad I don't live there anymore. Roundup at Hit and Run.
Senator Coburn Makes Another Run at Fiscal Sanity
Apparently not daunted by the how the Senate embarrassed itself in overturning his first amendment, Coburn is doggedly trying again:
Dr. Coburn, joined by Senators Sam Brownback, Jim DeMint, John Ensign, Lindsey Graham, John McCain and John Sununu, proposed the following actions to offset hurricane relief spending:• A freeze on cost-of-living adjustments for federal employees, including members of Congress, with the exception of law enforcement and military personnel.• A two-year delay in implementation of the Medicare prescription drug benefit except for low-income seniors who would receive $1,200 in assistance with their drug discount cards.• A requirement that those with higher incomes pay higher Medicare Part B premiums in 2006, rather than in 2007 as currently scheduled.• Eliminate $24 billion in special project spending in the recently passed highway bill.• A cut of 5% to all federal spending programs except those which impact national security, with 1% set aside for funding of essential programs.The package of offsets proposed today could save the American taxpayers nearly $130 billion over two years.
Arizona is the only state who had both its Senators support the first Coburn amendment, but I am never-the-less writing both to encourage them to hold tough.
Valeria Plame Affair and the Law of Unintended Consequences
I must confess to being at a loss over the whole Valerie Plame leak affair, which strikes me as mostly a political battleground between the two parties, so I have not really tried to figure it out.
However, one thing struck me reading a story about it the other day: The only thing that was clear to me was that folks on the left seem to envision an ultimate goal of bringing down either Karl Rove or Dick Cheney. From a short-term political standpoint, I suppose this might be satisfying. From a longer-term view, say out to 2008, it seems stupid to me.
Let's take Karl Rove first. I have to take the left's word for it that he is an evil political genius. But if so, why would you want the guy out on the street. Right now he is wasting his talents on a lame-duck president who can't run in 2008, and neither can his VP. Why do you want to put this powerful piece of electioneering artillery out on the street, available to a Republican candidate several years in advance of 2008?
The backfire from bringing down Cheney seems even worse. As I pointed out a year ago, 2008 will be the first election in 50+ years where there is no incumbent VP or president running for either party. There is nothing Republicans would love to do more than have a VP spot they could fill with a 2008 candidate. The GOP Party apparatus would love it, because both Parties secretly long for a return to the day of smoke-filled rooms (rather than primaries) for selecting their candidates, and this would give Party leaders more control of the outcome. There is nothing either party hates more than having Iowa select its candidates from an open slate - being able to choose a new VP would allow the GOP to effectively choose a front-runner. The GOP would benefit no matter who is put in the position, because the suddenly have an incumbent running, with the advantages of being an incumbent, in 2008. Does anyone doubt that the VP would suddenly get extra visibility over the next few years, as Clinton did for Gore? Finally, Bush would love it, because it would give him another Miers-type opportunity to reward a friend (or crony, as your perspective may dictate) such as Condoleeza Rice.
Opposing Hariett Miers
I have never really waded into a debate about Supreme Court nominees before. On John Roberts, my only comment was to laugh at how stupid the Senate confirmation hearings were.
This time, I feel the need to make an exception on Hariett Miers. In a previous post, I called her the anti-libertarian, and more than ever I am convinced that that assessment is correct. Everyone inside of the beltway seems to love talking points, so here are mine:
- She does not meet any sort of minimum qualification level to be a Supreme Court judge, politics notwithstanding. This is a crony pick, pure and simple. From George Will:
Furthermore, there is no reason to believe that Miers's nomination resulted from the president's careful consultation with people capable of such judgments. If 100 such people had been asked to list 100 individuals who have given evidence of the reflectiveness and excellence requisite in a justice, Miers's name probably would not have appeared in any of the 10,000 places on those lists....
It is important that Miers not be confirmed unless, in her 61st year, she suddenly and unexpectedly is found to have hitherto undisclosed interests and talents pertinent to the court's role. Otherwise the sound principle of substantial deference to a president's choice of judicial nominees will dissolve into a rationalization for senatorial abdication of the duty to hold presidents to some standards of seriousness that will prevent them from reducing the Supreme Court to a private plaything useful for fulfilling whims on behalf of friends.
- She threatens to be a judicial Pat Buchanon: Conservative on social issues, interventionist on economic issues. In other words, the anti-libertarian. From John Fund:
One White House source says the positions she took in staff meetings might surprise her business supporters. He said she leaned conservative on social questions and liberal on economic issues. Bruce Packard, a former partner at Ms. Miers' law firm, also cautions that she may be more complicated than people expect. 'She is very reticent to ever discuss her own views and liberal on issues other than abortion,' he told me."
- Though not discussed very much, her leadership of the Texas Bar Association, which is touted as perhaps her highest judicial qualification (interesting, since its just a bureaucrat job) makes me very very nervous. Someone is going to have to try to get control of the tort situation and start resetting the rules of courtroom procedure to bring more sanity to liability trials. I guarantee that a person who headed the Texas Bar Association, home of some of the most outrageous millionaire tort lawyers in the country, is not going to do anything to bring sanity to tort law.
As a note, I don't really cast my vote one way or the other based on abortion -- I have a viewpoint on it, but its not my hot-button, or even in my top 10, issues. However, I kind of hope Miers turns out to be clearly anti-abortion so that Democrats will find a reason to join some Republicans in opposing her. Until that happens, Democrats seem to be following Napoleon's dictum of not interrupting your enemy when he is making a mistake.
Update: Dahlia Lithwick and I would probably not agree on the reasons for opposing Miers, but you have to love this quote, explaining why she gets paid and I do this for free:
So I am begging now. This is embarrassing. End it. Karl Rove: Either plant the 500 pounds of cocaine you keep for such occasions in Miers' car, or trot out some actress to play her bitter, gay ex-lover. You have the power to end this. So do whatever it is you do. But end the unnecessary pain and suffering now, before someone really gets hurt.
Update #2: I oppose the Miers nomination. Hopefully, this gets me registered for this page by NZ Bear, tracking blog positions.
Hariett Miers, the anti-libertarian:
One White House source says the positions she took in staff meetings might surprise her business supporters. He said she leaned conservative on social questions and liberal on economic issues. Bruce Packard, a former partner at Ms. Miers' law firm, also cautions that she may be more complicated than people expect. 'She is very reticent to ever discuss her own views and liberal on issues other than abortion,' he told me."
Politics as Usual in Louisiana
Acting New Orleans Police Superintendent Warren Riley said Thursday that as many as 40 officers from the department's 3rd District, including the commanding captain, are "under scrutiny" for possibly bolting the city in the clutch and heading to Baton Rouge in Cadillacs from a New Orleans dealership.
As many as 200 cars may have been stolen from this dealership by police deserting their posts in New Orleans. Those trying to defend the police as merely commandeering the vehicles in an emergency will have to explain why 1) They were leaving the city without leave from their commanders and 2) Why Cadillacs are missing but Chevy's from the same district appear to be mostly undisturbed.
I hate to be the only one in the blogosphere who does not link it, and since this is the only blog my mom reads, here is George Will's take on the Harriet Miers choice. I am not sure there is much more to say than this. First, he dispatches the Bush "trust me" argument:
It is not important that she be confirmed because there is no evidence that she is among the leading lights of American jurisprudence, or that she possesses talents commensurate with the Supreme Court's tasks. The president's "argument" for her amounts to: Trust me. There is no reason to, for several reasons.
He has neither the inclination nor the ability to make sophisticated judgments about competing approaches to construing the Constitution. Few presidents acquire such abilities in the course of their pre-presidential careers, and this president particularly is not disposed to such reflections....
In addition, the president has forfeited his right to be trusted as a custodian of the Constitution. The forfeiture occurred March 27, 2002, when, in a private act betokening an uneasy conscience, he signed the McCain-Feingold law expanding government regulation of the timing, quantity and content of political speech. The day before the 2000 Iowa caucuses he was asked -- to ensure a considered response from him, he had been told in advance that he would be asked -- whether McCain-Feingold's core purposes are unconstitutional. He unhesitatingly said, "I agree." Asked if he thought presidents have a duty, pursuant to their oath to defend the Constitution, to make an independent judgment about the constitutionality of bills and to veto those he thinks unconstitutional, he briskly said, "I do."
Then he takes on Miers's credentials:
Furthermore, there is no reason to believe that Miers's nomination resulted from the president's careful consultation with people capable of such judgments. If 100 such people had been asked to list 100 individuals who have given evidence of the reflectiveness and excellence requisite in a justice, Miers's name probably would not have appeared in any of the 10,000 places on those lists....
It is important that Miers not be confirmed unless, in her 61st year, she suddenly and unexpectedly is found to have hitherto undisclosed interests and talents pertinent to the court's role. Otherwise the sound principle of substantial deference to a president's choice of judicial nominees will dissolve into a rationalization for senatorial abdication of the duty to hold presidents to some standards of seriousness that will prevent them from reducing the Supreme Court to a private plaything useful for fulfilling whims on behalf of friends.
Quoting Bill Paxton: "That's it man, game over man, game over". I understand that politicians want to reward their supporters, but that's what ambassadorships to friendly countries are for. Not FEMA. And certainly not the Supreme Court.
Is it too late to nominate Billy Carter to the high court?
Zywicki on Miers
I know nothing about Bush Supreme Court nominee Harriett Miers other than she adds yet another possible way for people to misspell my last name. Todd Zwycki at Volokh has this take, and it doesn't sound too good:
These appointments thus seem to confirm a common criticism of this President--that he is uninterested in ideas and interested only in power. While they may both turn out to be perfectly fine Justices, both Roberts and Miers appear to be both uninspired and uninspiring in terms of providing intellectual leadership on the Court. The Administration seems to be narrowly obsessed with winning minor tactical victories (here, an easy confirmation of a stealth candidate) while consistently failing to follow-through with meaningful long-term strategic victories (an opportunity to change the legal culture).
In the end, of course, the lack of a strategic vision means that even the tactical victories tend to be reversed (for instance, temporary tax cuts will likely fall victim to the inability to control spending). As Reagan understood, you have to first have the long-term strategic vision in mind so that you know when to make tactical compromises. Ideas are the long-run motivating force of history. Tactics without strategy, by contrast, leaves you rudderless.
Beyond his evaluation of Miers, I really like his assessment of Bush, which strikes me as dead-on. I still think Janice Rogers Brown was the choice.
Update: Apparently, she was on the Dallas City Council when I lived there in the early 90's, but I sure don't remember having heard of her. And how serious a candidate can anyone be for the Supreme Court if they were on a freaking city council a decade ago -- can you see any of your city council members on the Supreme Court in 10 years? And by the way, what are the odds that Bush's personal friend and lawyer will do anything to reign in the new powers to suspend habeas corpus that the administration has granted itself.
The Death of Small-Government Republicans
My liberal in-laws always give me this strange condescending look whenever it comes up that I have voted for a Republican at some point in time, that same look you might give the otherwise beloved family dog that keeps pooping on the front lawn. As a libertarian, I seldom fully agree with any political candidate of either party. Every election is a tradeoff: Do I vote for the unelectable and perhaps truly odd Libertarian candidate? Or do I vote for a mainstream party with which I disagree with about half of everything they promote?
So here is how I normally make the decision: On pure self-interest. Since, as a small business owner, I am much more likely to need strong protection of property rights than I am going to need an abortion, a gay marriage, or legal marijuana, I end up voting Republican more often than I vote Democrat. For this reason, the Republican party has generally garnered a good many libertarian votes, and the two most identifiable libertarians in Congress (Flake and Paul) have both called themselves Republican, though I am sure with some reservations.
This relationship, however, may be at an end as Republicans are disavowing their libertarian wing, and returning to their large government tendencies of the 1970's. Bush and his buddy Tom Delay are turning out to be classic Nixon Republicans. The most recent evidence comes from the fact that the following is not from our Republican President, or our Republican Speaker of the House, but from the for-god-sakes Washington Post:
But this spirit of forbearance has not touched the Louisiana congressional delegation. The state's representatives have come up with a request for $250 billion in federal reconstruction funds for Louisiana alone -- more than $50,000 per person in the state. This money would come on top of payouts from businesses, national charities and insurers. And it would come on top of the $62.3 billion that Congress has already appropriated for emergency relief.
Like looters who seize six televisions when their homes have room for only two, the Louisiana legislators are out to grab more federal cash than they could possibly spend usefully. ...
The Louisiana delegation has apparently devoted little thought to the root causes of the Hurricane Katrina disaster. New Orleans was flooded not because the Army Corps of Engineers had insufficient money to build flood protections, but because its money was allocated by a system of political patronage. ...
The Louisiana bill is so preposterous that its authors can't possibly expect it to pass; it's just the first round in a process of negotiation. But the risk is that the administration and congressional leaders will accept the $250 billion as a starting point, then declare a victory for fiscal sanity when they bring the number down to, say, $150 billion. Instead, Congress should ignore the Louisiana bill and force itself to think seriously about the sort of reconstruction that makes sense.
The Republicans are lost. Combine this kind of spending with their Patriot Act and Sarbabes-Oxley driven Big-Borther-Is-Watching intrusiveness, luke-warm committment to free-trade, and bizarre obsession with pornography, and I find nothing at all attractive about the party. Only the economic insanity of the opposition party continues to keep Republicans in power.
In Case You Don't Understand Louisiana
Whether it is the French influence or the long shadow of Huey Long's patronage driven socialist experiment, Louisiana has a tradition of bad government. I remember several years ago the governor's race featured a Nazi running against a convicted felon (convicted in office of bribery and influence peddling, if I remember right).
So one of the problems with the management of Katrina problems is that Katrina hit Louisiana, the US's own version of Haiti. Don't believe me? This is already coming out, and you can be sure there is more:
Police found cases of food, clothes and tools intended for hurricane victims in the backyard, shed and rooms throughout the home of a chief administrative officer of a New Orleans suburb, officials said Wednesday.
Police in Kenner searched Cedric Floyd's home Tuesday because of complaints that city workers were helping themselves to donations for hurricane victims. Floyd, who runs the day-to-day operations in Kenner, was in charge of distributing the donations.
The donations, including lanterns, vacuums and clothes with price tags attached, had to be removed in four loads in a big pickup truck, Kenner police Capt. Steve Caraway said.
"It was an awful lot of stuff," he said.
Technorati Tags: Katrina
Fight Arizona Pork
President Bush's call for Katrina spending to be offset by budget cuts has spurred a blogosphere effort to identify local pork urge Congress to cut the pork. I am 98% behind this effort (the missing 2% being that the effort is spurred by a desire to spend the money somewhere else, rather than sending it back to taxpayers where it belongs). Glenn Reynolds post that got the ball rolling is here. His followup posts are here and here. I will note the irony that I recently compared Don Young (of Alaska bridge to nowhere fame) to Huey Long (of multiple bridges to nowhere fame), given that we are looking to cut Don Young's pork to help Huey Long's old stomping ground.
Edward at Zonitics has already identified one of the most visible chunks of AZ pork, that is our earmarks in the recent highway bill. These include nearly five million for a couple of pedestrian bridges, plus hundreds of millions for a rail system to run empty trains to compete with our empty buses. Why does the rest of the country need to pay for Phoenix's growth? Heck, we just took the money the feds saved us on this junk and spent it subsidizing a stadium for the Cardinals, for god's sakes. I will note that of the mere 8 people who voted against the highway bill, 2 were from Arizona, including my 3rd district Congressman John Shadegg and libertarian Jeff Flake. Flake, consistent with his libertarian principles (or in retribution for them?) represents the only district in the country without an earmark in the highway bill.
So, to push the ball forward, I will add another bit of Arizona pork. I wanted to include some items form the energy bill, but I can't find a state by state impact. But I can find, thanks to the environmental working group, a nice summary of farm subsidies to Arizona. Here is a summary for the most recent year they have data:
(click for top recipients, payment concentration and regional rankings)
|Number of Recipients
Subtotal, Disaster Payments
Env. Quality Incentive Program
Dairy Program Subsidies
And here is the same data but cut by recipient, with just the top 20 included:
|1||Colorado River Indian Tribes Farm||Parker, AZ 85344||$2,102,881|
|2||Ak-chin Farms||Maricopa, AZ 85239||$1,499,278|
|3||Gila River Farms||Sacaton, AZ 85247||$1,406,582|
|4||Catron Cotton Co||Tonopah, AZ 85354||$1,156,539|
|5||Tohono O'odham Farming Authority||Eloy, AZ 85231||$1,078,480|
|6||Bia||Sacaton, AZ 85247||$1,064,062|
|7||Eagle Tail Farming Partnership||Buckeye, AZ 85326||$1,045,584|
|8||Tempe Farming Company||Maricopa, AZ 85239||$947,811|
|9||Fort Mojave Tribe||Mohave Valley, AZ 86446||$938,843|
|10||P R P Farms||Buckeye, AZ 85326||$899,098|
|11||G P A Management Group||Tempe, AZ 85284||$893,672|
|12||Gin Ranch 94||Buckeye, AZ 85326||$889,764|
|13||H Four Farms III||Buckeye, AZ 85326||$863,086|
|14||Brooks Farms||Goodyear, AZ 85338||$861,762|
|15||Green Acres Farms||Buckeye, AZ 85326||$812,583|
|16||Martori Family Gen Ptn||Scottsdale, AZ 85260||$788,150|
|17||Falfa Farms 95||Queen Creek, AZ 85242||$779,426|
|18||Associated Farming 92||Laveen, AZ 85339||$749,947|
|19||A Tumbling T Ranches 95||Goodyear, AZ 85338||$709,455|
|20||Rogers Brothers Farms Ptnshp||Laveen, AZ 85339||$706,305|
I don't know all these folks, but I can say that all of the first three have extremely profitable casinos they operate.
I am writing my letter now to the my Congressman and Senators, and will post a copy as an update when I am done. The ubiquitous NZ Bear has a data base he is building of pork identified.
Technorati tag: porkbusters.
Would You Confirm Any of the Judicial Committee?
I had trouble getting going this morning on work -- I had to drop my son off at school at 5AM for a field trip, and I am sitting in my office refusing to address the pile of work in front of me. So I skimmed over some of the transcripts from the Roberts confirmation hearings. He seems like a pretty qualified guy, and since he is conservative I expect to agree with him some and disagree with him other times (which is different from my reaction to liberal judges, whom I disagree with some and agree with at other times).
But from reading the transcripts, I was left with one overriding impression: While I might agree to confirm Roberts to the Supreme Court, I probably would not, if given the chance, confirm many of the Senators on the judiciary committee to their office. What a bunch of posturing morons. Many of them seemed like wind up toys reading questions from their staff that they didn't really understand, and all of them come from the Sean Hannity school of interviews, where in a 20 minute interview the questioner talks for 18 minutes.
I Couldn't Have Said it Better
It is official. The GOP is now exactly in the same position Democrats were in circa 1993 -- the disconnected, unapologetic party of bloated federal government. Only demographic trends and the Democrats' steadfast refusal to evince a lick of sense will keep 2006 from being 1994 in reverse.
JRB For the Supreme Court
Captains Quarters suggested that Bush nominate Janice Rogers Brown for the Supreme Court. Though it will never happen, I am 100% behind this idea. I never even heard of her until I started reading statements attributed to her by her opponents that were supposed to convince me of her unfitness for the bench. And you know what, the more I read, the more I liked her. Also here.
Why Libertarians are Paranoid, Example #12,403
Those on the left and the right often try to laugh off libertarians, ascribing to "paranoia" our fear of the power of government.
Well, I could argue that if this is paranoia, I share a similar phobia with men like Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, whose fear of government power permeate all their writings, as well as the Constitution they helped to produce. They believed that even good men could be corrupted by the government, and they were proven correct in an incredibly short time by John Adams. Adams is by all accounts a good man, dedicated to freedom and democracy, and one of the chief intellectual architects both of the Revolution and the Constitution. But it was Adams that signed into law the Alien and Sedition Act, perhaps the worst piece of illiberal and unconstitutional legislation in the history of this country.
A federal judge in Texas, calling the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. a "corrupt agency with corrupt influences on it," awarded a Houston financier $72 million to cover his legal fees in a decade-long suit involving a failed savings and loan and the government's efforts to take control of a stand of endangered California redwood trees in the 1990s.
The FDIC, a regulatory agency that insures deposits at banks and savings and loans, filed suit against Charles E. Hurwitz in 1995, seeking to collect more than $800 million because Hurwitz indirectly controlled a Texas S&L that failed in 1988. The FDIC, after a series of legal setbacks, dropped its suit against Hurwitz in 2002....
On Tuesday evening, Hughes issued a scathing, 131-page ruling. In it, he cited evidence that the FDIC brought the case largely because of pressure from environmental groups, members of Congress and the Clinton administration. The reason: Hurwitz's Pacific Lumber Co. owned 3,500 acres of endangered redwoods in Northern California. Hughes found that the FDIC, in close concert with environmental groups, sued Hurwitz to pressure him into a "debt-for-nature" swap, in effect giving the government his trees in exchange for his supposed liability in the failure of the United Savings Association of Texas....
Hughes said FDIC officials and lawyers, in depositions, "ranged from manipulative evasiveness to plain perjury." He cited records of two years of communications, including extensive discussions of legal strategy and political matters, between the FDIC and environmentalists over the proposal to use a banking-practices lawsuit as pressure on Hurwitz to give up the redwoods.
Hughes said FDIC officials "discarded the mantle of the American Republic for the cloak of a secret society of extortionists. If the vice president called, they responded. If a congressman called, they responded. If a lobbyist called, they responded. They heeded every call but that of duty and honor."
Wow. I know many people are paranoid about the lack of accountability of major corporations, and felt vindicated by the Enron case, over which the press spilled acres of ink. However, Enron is nothing compared to this. While fraud is bad, Enron at least was never able to use the coercive regulatory and police power that the government has to seek its ends.
Republicans Running Away from Libertarian Wing
I have written a number of times that Republicans are returning to their bad old days of the 1970's, supporting aggresive social constraints and big government pro-large-business rather than pro-free-market economic controls. Per Republican Rick Santorum, via Reason:
This whole idea of personal autonomy -- I don't think that most conservatives hold that point of view. Some do. And they have this idea that people should be left alone to do what they want to do, that government should keep taxes down, keep regulation down, that we shouldn't get involved in the bedroom, that we shouldn't be involved in cultural issues, people should do whatever they want. Well, that is not how traditional conservatives view the world. And I think that most conservatives understand that we can't go it alone, that there is no such society that I'm aware of where we've had radical individualism and it has succeeded as a culture.
Congrats to my Congressman
I trash the Congress a lot, but a brief thanks to our local Congressman John Shadegg who was one of only 8 folks who managed a "no" vote against the pork-laden highway bill. Arizona Congressman Jeff Flake was also one of the eight.
Update: Flake also wins an award as the only Congressman who did not slip a special appropriation for his own district into the bill.
I Am Abandoning the Term "Judicial Activism"
I had an interesting discussion with my father-in-law about the term "judicial activism" which has led me to eschew the term. Here's the reason: He made the observation, I think from a story on NPR, that though conservatives seem to complain the most about liberal activism from the bench, in fact majorities of conservative judges on the Supreme Court have struck down more laws than their liberal counterparts. It was the striking down of laws they considered "activist".
After thinking about this for a moment, it made me realize that he, and I guess NPR, used the term judicial activism differently than I do. As a fairly strong libertarian, when I have referred negatively to judicial activism, I generally am thinking about judicial decisions to create new powers for the government and/or, from the bench, to put new restrictions on individual behavior. In that sense, I think of decisions like Raich to be activist, because they sustain expansions of federal and government power. As I have listened to both liberals and conservatives now, I realize that my usage of judicial activism is, ahem, out of the mainstream, and therefore confusing. My personal concern is how the courts have ignored the 9th amendment and thrown the commerce clause out the window.
I have decided that, as most people use the term, I am neutral to positive on what the majority refer to as judicial activism. I think a lot more laws should be thrown out as unconstitutional, and if this is the accepted definition of activist, them I like activism. For example, I wish they had been more active in striking down laws and government activities in Raich and Kelo.
Until I come up with a better term, I now describe myself as being against judicial expansion of federal power. Maybe I can coin the term "judicial expansionism"?
Orange County Moves to Ohio
If you thought the idiots who ran Orange County's finances into the ground were bad, wait until you meet these jokers:
Two months ago, reports emerged that $300,000 in rare coins was missing from a collection in which the state Bureau of Workers' Compensation (BWC) began investing in 1998 as a peculiar form of stock hedge. That was bad enough. But last week, word came that between $10 million and $12 million in coins had disappeared. That caused BWC director Jim Conrad to announce his resignation, and launched a flurry of accusations and calls for legal action.
As if my workers comp. rates weren't already too high. There goes my idea to invest Social Security funds in beanie babies and 60's lunch boxes. Apparently most of the major lawmakers in the state got large campaign donations from several large coin dealers, and they returned the favor by investing public funds in coins through these dealers. I often make the argument not to let the government have control of large equity investment funds -- I did not even occur to me to include coins. One of the things about coins - you have to hold them for a long, long time to make money, in part because commissions markups are so high vis a vis other investments (which explains why coin dealers so readily donated large sums of money for government business).
Reason has a good roundup. Unfortunately, I am sure this will all lead to more restrictions on spending and speech in campaigns, though it appears the system is working fine - full disclosure of funding sources certainly has everyone running for their lives.
The real solution is to make elected officials take a real fiduciary interest in the state's investment funds (pensions probably being the largest). What they would prefer to do is to legislate a set of rules and then leave managers to follow these rules, giving them plausible deniability. What they should do is sit down once a quarter and review portfolio investment performance and asset allocations.
Heads You Win, Tails I Lose, Part 2
In my earlier post, I lamented the fact that "progressives" who criticize Bush for being undemocratic, illiberal, overly dependent on the military, and theocratic are proposing alternatives that are much, much worse. In that post, they were championing Hugo Chavez of Venezuela as their savior. Now, they seem to be latching on to Muslim countries like Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Iran as their champions of liberal values. In this interview of George Galloway, recently feted by liberals and progressives on both sides of the Atlantic:
M.B.H.S.: You often call for uniting Muslim and progressive forces globally.
How far is it possible under current situation?
Galloway: Not only do I think it's possible but I think it is vitally necessary
and I think it is happening already. It is possible because the progressive
movement around the world and the Muslims have the same enemies.
*Their enemies are the Zionist occupation, American occupation, British
occupation of poor countries mainly Muslim countries. * * *
*They have the same interest in opposing savage capitalist globalization which
is intent upon homogenizing the entire world turning us basically into factory
chickens which can be forced fed the American diet of everything from food to
Coca-Cola to movies and TV culture*. And *whose only role in life is to consume
the things produced endlessly by the multinational corporations.* And the
progressive organizations & movements agree on that with the Muslims.
Otherwise we believe that we should all have to speak as Texan and eat McDonalds
and be ruled by Bush and Blair. So *on the very grave big issues of the
day-issues of war, occupation, justice, opposition to globalization-the Muslims
and the progressives are on the same side*.
By the way, this is the movement that calls itself "reality-based".
Can't someone today emerge as a rallying point for those of use who are classical liberals and libertarians?
Heads You Win, Tails I Lose
For years, high school civics books have portrayed our political choices as ranging from socialism on the left to fascism on the right. These textbooks represent the statists' wet dream -- the reframing of political discussion such that all possible outcomes are defined as rigid government control of individual lives. The only difference is who is in charge, and the path they took to get there.
Think I am exaggerating? Here's an example:
The left hate George Bush. Fine. I have my own problems with the man. Over the last few years, the left has cast about for a person to rally around as a counterpoint to Bush. Some latched on the the French leadership, some to Saddam Hussein, some even recently to George Gallway. I think you can see the problem here, and the mistake Michael Moore made. Forcing voters to choose between Saddam Hussein and George Bush is practically begging them to vote Republican.
After the last election, I had hoped that the left had gotten wiser. I guess not. Apparently the "progressive" community is rallying around Hugo Chavez as their next model leader:
Of the top oil producing countries in the world, only one is a democracy with a president who was elected on a platform of using his nation's oil revenue to benefit the poor. The country is Venezuela. The President is Hugo Chavez. Call him "the Anti-Bush."...
Instead of using government to help the rich and the corporate, as Bush does, Chavez is using the resources and oil revenue of his government to help the poor in Venezuela. A country with so much oil wealth shouldn't have 60 percent of its people living in poverty, earning less than $2 per day. With a mass movement behind him, Chavez is confronting poverty in Venezuela. That's why large majorities have consistently backed him in democratic elections. And why the Bush administration supported an attempted military coup in 2002 that sought to overthrow Chavez.
And this is the group that calls themselves "reality-based"? Does anyone really believe that poverty results solely from not handing oil revenue to the poor? The US doesn't do this (well, except in Alaska), yet despite this our poor in this country are wealthier than the middle class in Venezuela, and its because we have a stable government that protects property rights and individual freedoms and provides a stable environment for investment. Prosperity comes from building a healthy and growing economy, not looting a particular industry. (By the way, I am sure that the previous regime was looting the oil industry as well, so I am certainly not defending them.)
However, this point is worth repeating: Progressives consider Venezuela to have a better policy for helping the poor than the US, but the poorest 20% in the US still make more money and live better and longer than at least 80% of Venezuelans. A person in the middle of the "poor" quintile in the US would be upper middle class in Venezuela. And I will bet anyone that after 10 years of Chavez rule, this will be more, not less, true.
Chavez is a totalitarian thug. Human Rights Watch has plenty to say about his miserable record of trashing freedoms. In particular, you can compare the supreme court shenanigans of the "anti-Bush" with ridiculously mild controversy in this country (at least by comparison) over judicial nominations. More background on Chavez here.
So there you are. We are given the choice of Bush or Chavez. Statism or statism. Thanks a lot.
We Won't Respect You in the Morning
Again, small government libertarians like myself, who held their nose and voted Republican in the last election, have been used. From the NY Post today:
THE Republican promise of smaller, less-intrusive government is getting harder and harder to believe. Especially when a more plausible plot line is unfolding every day: that the GOP has put aside the ideals of Reagan and Goldwater in order to pursue a political strategy based on big spending.
For the latest, check out a report just released by the libertarian Cato Institute that tells a striking story about just how out-of-control spending has gotten under President Bush.
Cato finds that:
* Bush has presided over the largest increase in federal spending since Lyndon Johnson.
* Even excluding defense and homeland security spending, Bush is the biggest-spending president in 30 years.
* The federal budget grew from 18.5 percent of the Gross Domestic Product on President Bill Clinton's last day in office to 20.3 percent at the end of Bush's first term.
Add to that Bush's massive Medicare prescription-drug benefit, expected to cost $720 billion-plus over the next 10 years. (The money for that new entitlement, the first created by a president in a generation, will start flowing this year.)
It is not in the least bit comforting to have my suspicions confirmed by Cato, whose whole report is here. Bring back divided government! I will take Reagan-Democrat Congress or Clinton-Republican Congress over this any day.
I Guess I am an Extremist
I have not really had the time to do the research to form an opinion about Bush's judicial nominees, and the MSM is not very helpful in its coverage on the issue. I wrote here that the judiciary has started to overreach of late, legislating from the bench to advance an agenda generally supported by the Democrats. I don't know the candidates well enough to decide if these proposed judges are conservative activists who want to legislate from the bench but for conservative ends, or if they represent a first shot at reversing extra-constitutional judicial activism (which I would support).
However, I may have started to develop an favorable opinion on a couple of judges, based on what I have learned from their detractors.
Take this example, from a NY Times editorial, March 6, 2005. In disparaging how extremist Bush judge nominees are, they use the example of:
Janice Rogers Brown, who has disparaged the New Deal as ''our socialist revolution.''
Woe is me, I must be an extremist. First, the New Deal was clearly a "revolution", in that it was one of two events (the other being the Civil War) in the last 200 years that fundamentally changed the role of the federal government in what was a massive reinterpretation of the Constitution. But was it socialist? We can argue about whether the New Deal legacy that reaches us today is socialist or not- many quite normal non-extremist folks would argue yes and many similarly rational folks would argue no.
However, arguing the nature of the New Deal from what programs reach us today leaves out a lot of the picture. Much of the New Deal was voided by the Supreme Court. While some was re-passed later once FDR had a chance to remold the court with his own (for the time) extremist ideologues, some of the most socialist-statist-fascist legislation never was reinstituted.
The most dramatic of these institutions that fortunately were left on the cutting room floor was the National Industrial Recovery Act, or NRA. Roosevelt actually modeled the NRA on Mussolini's fascism in Italy, so I guess it might be more correct to call it fascist rather than socialist but in practice, I can't ever tell those two apart.*
The image of a strong leader taking direct charge of an economy during hard times fascinated observers abroad. Italy was one of the places that Franklin Roosevelt looked to for ideas in 1933. Roosevelt's National Recovery Act (NRA) attempted to cartelize the American economy just as Mussolini had cartelized Italy's. Under the NRA Roosevelt established industry-wide boards with the power to set and enforce prices, wages, and other terms of employment, production, and distribution for all companies in an industry. Through the Agricultural Adjustment Act the government exercised similar control over farmers. Interestingly, Mussolini viewed Roosevelt's New Deal as "boldly... interventionist in the field of economics." Hitler's nazism also shared many features with Italian fascism, including the syndicalist front. Nazism, too, featured complete government control of industry, agriculture, finance, and investment.
If you are not familiar with the NRA, you need to be if you are going to come to a conclusion about the New Deal and just how statist FDR's aspirations were. The actual text of the act is here. Henry Hazlitt has a long evaluation here. In the end, the NRA was scrapped in large part because it was a disaster for the economy. Many blame the NRA for strangling the recovery that began in 1933-34 and thus extending the depression. Parts of the law (collective bargaining, minimum wage) were incorporated in other later legislation, but the core concept of organizing industrial cartels with government backing to run industries and set prices, wages, and production levels died, fortunately.
Update: More here. Mr. Gregory quotes John Flynn's The Roosevelt Myth:
[Mussolini] organized each trade or industrial group or professional group into a state-supervised trade association. He called it a corporative. These corporatives operated under state supervision and could plan production, quality, prices, distribution, labor standards, etc. The NRA provided that in America each industry should be organized into a federally supervised trade association. It was not called a corporative. It was called a Code Authority. But it was essentially the same thing. These code authorities could regulate production, quantities, qualities, prices, distribution methods, etc., under the supervision of the NRA. This was fascism. The anti-trust laws forbade such organizations. Roosevelt had denounced Hoover for not enforcing these laws sufficiently. Now he suspended them and compelled men to combine.
* I disagree with people who want to argue that socialism is freedom but without property rights while fascism is property rights without other freedoms. Neither of these conditions are stable, and both converge to the same destination of suffocating statism, just with different starting points and different people in charge. One of the things that drive libertarians nuts is being presented with a grade school civics book that has a linear political spectrum with fascism on one end and communism on the other. Are those really my only two choices?
Republicans and Federalism
Many people of late have suspected that Republicans, now that they have power in the central government, have abandoned federalism (federalism being the philosophy of government that legislative power for as many issues as possible be devolved to the most local unit of government possible). The recent abortion bill passed by the House seems to confirm this:
The House passed a bill yesterday that would make it a federal crime for any adult to transport an under-age girl across state lines to have an abortion without the consent of her parents.
When selling federalism in the past, Republicans have argued that federalism better protects individuals and their rights, because it creates competition among states. Individuals and businesses fed up with bad legislation in one state can move to a more favorable climate. Now, however, the Congress is stepping in to limit free movement between states to prevent individuals, in this case teenage girls, from shopping for a better regulatory climate. What's next? Preventing businesses from moving across state lines to a state with lower taxes?
By the way, there is a lot of sloppy thinking in the debate on parental notification for teenage abortions. In this debate, the legal or moral status of abortion is nearly irrelevant. Underage children are special class of citizen who are not yet acknowledged by the law as being able to make certain adult decisions. Already we regulate and restrict underage decision-making on driving, drinking, smoking, voting, etc. All of these are perfectly legal activities that we don't let teenagers do at all. So even if abortion is entirely legal and Constitutionally protected, it can still be both legal and ethical to place restrictions on it for minors -- remember that voting, and to some extent drinking due to the 21st amendment, are Constitutionally guaranteed activities we legally deny teenagers). Heck, most states have parental permission laws for teenagers to use tanning salons, which is certainly a much more trivial activity than getting an abortion.
I am not an expert on abortion law, but my memory is that the Supreme Court ruled that abortion parental notification and permission laws are Constitutional if the law includes an option for the girl to override her parents veto through the judiciary. I have always argued that we should place an additional proviso in the parental permission laws, one I think both sides of the abortion debate might accept -- if a parent refuses to allow their daughter to have an abortion, then the girl's parents must adopt the baby and be ready to raise it themselves.
My Proposal on Filibuster Rules
I am about at the end of my rope on listening to the current filibuster debate, all the more so because whatever side some Senator is on today, you can bet a pile of money that they were on exactly the opposite side 10 years ago, when the majority-minority positions of the two major parties was reversed. Senators from both sides can argue all day that their current stand is "on principle", but this is crap. If all these people's stands were "on principle", then about 100 Senators have completely changed their principles in the last 10 years.
Before I take my shot at truly coming up with a solution "on principle", here is but one example of this switch of sides. I will use the NY Times as an example, mainly because they are so much fun to criticize. Thanks to Powerline for pointers to some of these editorials.
In their editorial titled "Senate on the Brink", dated March 6, 2005 the Times stated:
To block the nominees, the Democrats' weapon of choice has been the filibuster, a time-honored Senate procedure that prevents a bare majority of senators from running roughshod.
Now [the White House] threatens to do grave harm to the Senate. If Republicans fulfill their threat to overturn the historic role of the filibuster in order to ram the Bush administration's nominees through, they will be inviting all-out warfare and perhaps an effective shutdown of Congress.
Wow! Its sure good that we have this filibuster thingie to protect our way of life. And its great to have champions like the NY Times who are stalwart defenders of this procedure.
Except when they are not. Back when the majorities were reversed almost exactly a decade ago, on January 1, 1995 the NY times editorialized:
The U.S. Senate likes to call itself the world's greatest deliberative body. The greatest obstructive body is more like it. In the last season of Congress, the Republican minority invoked an endless string of filibusters to frustrate the will of the majority. This relentless abuse of a time-honored Senate tradition so disgusted Senator Tom Harkin, a Democrat from Iowa, that he is now willing to forgo easy retribution and drastically limit the filibuster. Hooray for him.
For years Senate filibusters--when they weren't conjuring up romantic images of Jimmy Stewart as Mr. Smith, passing out from exhaustion on the Senate floor--consisted mainly of negative feats of endurance. Senator Sam Ervin once spoke for 22 hours straight. Outrage over these tactics and their ability to bring Senate business to a halt led to the current so-called two-track system, whereby a senator can hold up one piece of legislation while other business goes on as usual.
and further (note the Senators who are players in this quote 10 years ago):
Mr. Harkin, along with Senator Joseph Lieberman, a Connecticut Democrat, now proposes to make such obstruction harder. Mr. Harkin says reasonably that there must come a point in the process where the majority rules. This may not sit well with some of his Democratic colleagues. They are now perfectly positioned to exact revenge by frustrating the Republican agenda as efficiently as Republicans frustrated Democrats in 1994.
Admirably, Mr. Harkin says he does not want to do that. He proposes to change the rules so that if a vote for cloture fails to attract the necessary 60 votes, the number of votes needed to close off debate would be reduced by three in each subsequent vote. By the time the measure came to a fourth vote--with votes occurring no more frequently than every second day--cloture could be invoked with only a simple majority. Under the Harkin plan, minority members who feel passionately about a given measure could still hold it up, but not indefinitely....
The Harkin plan, along with some of Mr. Mitchell's proposals, would go a long way toward making the Senate a more productive place to conduct the nation's business. Republicans surely dread the kind of obstructionism they themselves practiced during the last Congress. Now is the perfect moment for them to unite with like-minded Democrats to get rid of an archaic rule that frustrates democracy and serves no useful purpose.
Gee, now I'm starting to think this filibuster thingie might not be so good. I kindof get confused as to which principled stand by the NY Times I should get behind.
First, recognize that I am not a lawyer, nor a constitutional scholar, nor do I play one on TV. But seeing as the "experts" are tripping over themselves in their hypocrisy, there is not reason I can't jump in the fray too.
My idea for this started when I found out something about filibuster rules -- there are already certain votes that by Senate rules have been made immune to filibuster. Thank God for blogs, because you won't find this anywhere in the MSM, though its apparently common knowledge. Everyone treats a change in filibuster rules for judge confirmations as "a break in the dam" or a "slippery slope" which will wipe out the entire filibuster rule. However, such exceptions have already been made. The most used one is for budget votes - neither party may filibuster certain budget votes. The logic for this is obvious - no one want to let 41 people shut down the government. The majority party should be able to pass their budget. This exemption is why Senate leaders often bury controversial provisions (recent example: ANWR drilling) in the budget -- so they can't get filibustered. Other votes exempt from filibuster include votes under the War Power Act and a number of really trivial things that I can't remember right now - I am looking for a link and would appreciate help.
This leads me to what seems like a fairly obvious, moderately principled position on filibuster: Change the Senate rules to allow filibuster on new legislation, but exempt votes from filibuster that are required to keep the basic functions of government running. This latter exempt category would include things like approving budgets, raising the debt ceiling, and voting on nominees of all types.
Postscript: By the way, as a libertarian, I am generally all for seeing the government shut down, and don't shed many tears when the Senate does nothing. However, I think my proposal is pretty true to the intentions of the Constitution. In particular, of all the functions that are currently being shut down by the filibuster, it is galling that it is the court system that is being ground to a halt, since the courts are one of the few institutions where even a hard core libertarian like myself accepts a strong role for government. Which is not to say that I am happy with the power courts and judges have been taking on themselves of late.
Update: Here is a further good proposal that I am not sure why no one is talking about - if they are going to filibuster, lets make them actually filibuster, i.e. keep talking and talking:
However, I think that these Princeton students have the right idea: If you are going to filibuster, then you should have to filibuster. Filibusters should come at some personal and political cost. We should abolish the candy-ass filibusters of modern times, and require that if debate is not closed it must therefore happen.
The prospect of John Kerry, Hillary Clinton or Ted Kennedy bloviating for hours on C-SPAN would deter filibusters except when the stakes are dire, if for no other reason than the risk that long debate would create a huge amount of fodder for negative advertising. If Frist were to enact the "reform" of the filibuster instead of its repeal, he would sieze the high ground. He could take the position that the Republicans are merely rolling back the "worst excesses" of the long period of Democratic majority in the Congress, and that filibusters will still be possible if Senators are willing to lay it all on the line. Indeed, even the students at Princeton would be hard-pressed to argue against such a reform of the filibuster, since extended speechifying is precisely the means they have used to make their point.
Student Government, Pirates, and Antarctica
Okay, how could you resist that title for a post. My thoughts on this subject were spurred by an article by Fox News about pirates that won election to the NC State student government:
By an overwhelming majority, the Raleigh school last week elected a candidate called "The Pirate Captain" student body president, giving the old sea dog 58 percent of the vote.
"We're quickly goin' to bae getting our plank started, get the simple things out of the way," The Pirate Captain (search), real name Whil (or maybe "Will") Piavis, a junior, told supporters after election results were unveiled Wednesday night.
Many outlets have reported this story with incredulity that such an unserious person could be elected to so lofty an office. Several student government weenies at NC State agreed:
More sober student-government types seemed appalled that a character straight from "SpongeBob SquarePants" had crashed their party.
I was not surprised in the least, for two reasons. First, I think many Americans in general are fed up with the self-importance of most legislators. This goes double for students and the student government. In fact, I think it is nearly a law of nature that the more trivial the government post, the more self-important the occupants of that post are.
The second reason I was not surprised was that we had a similar event twenty years ago at Princeton where the student government was taken over by the Antarctic Liberation Front:
Back when I was an undergrad at Princeton, one of my fondest memories was of a bizarre Student Body Governing Council (USG) election. The previous USG administration, headed by none other than fellow Princetonian Eliot Spitzer, had so irritated the student body that, for the first time in memory, the usually apathetic voting population who generally couldn't care less who their class president was actually produced an energetic opposition party. Even in his formative years, Spitzer was expert in using his office to generate publicity, in this case frequent mentions in the student newspaper that finally drove several students over the edge.
The result was the incredibly funny and entertaining Antarctic Liberation Front. I wish I had saved their brochures, but their proposals included things like imposing a dawn to dusk curfew on the school and funding school parties by annexing the mineral rights between the double yellow lines of the US highways. All of this was under the banner of starting jihad to free Antarctica. The ALF swept the USG election. This immensely annoyed Spitzer and other USG stalwarts, who decried the trivialization of such an august body. The pained and pompous wailing from the traditional student council weenies (sounding actually a lot like liberals after the last presidential election) only amused the general student population even further. After a few student-council-meetings-as-performance-art, the ALF resigned en mass and life went back to being just a little bit more boring.
Yes, that Eliot Spitzer, the overreaching Aspiring Governor of New York. He is STILL mad about getting dissed in this student election, and whined about it twenty years later in print. And don't miss fellow Princetonian Virginia Postrel's reflections on the ALF and Eliot Spitzer.
More on the Republicn Party
My post on libertarians and Republicans, and ones like it on other sites, has generated a lot of response from folks arguing about whether there is a true schism emerging in the Republican Party. I am not a Republican, so I am not on the inside. Strong libertarians like me (read this if you want to know what that means) can pretty safely be treated as a fringe, so I haven't really been in a position to argue that the Republicans mights truly be in trouble.
However, yesterday I had the chance to interact with a number of family friends. Included were a number of men, many in their 60's-80's, who have been lifelong classic Chamber of Commerce Republicans, including two that ran Fortune 100 companies. These were classic red state Republicans, many of whom had been active in the party at some point in their lives. And, almost to a man, they were disenchanted with the Republicans. They cited trade protectionism, profligate spending, and Tom-DeLay-type capture by the system. These men, all who would call themselves religious, were frustrated at the apparent capture of the Party by religious interests.
Several of these folks pointed me to this editorial by John Danforth as representing what is frustrating them about the Administration and the Party.
During the 18 years I served in the Senate, Republicans often disagreed with each other. But there was much that held us together. We believed in limited government, in keeping light the burden of taxation and regulation. We encouraged the private sector, so that a free economy might thrive. We believed that judges should interpret the law, not legislate. We were internationalists who supported an engaged foreign policy, a strong national defense and free trade. These were principles shared by virtually all Republicans.
But in recent times, we Republicans have allowed this shared agenda to become secondary to the agenda of Christian conservatives. As a senator, I worried every day about the size of the federal deficit. I did not spend a single minute worrying about the effect of gays on the institution of marriage. Today it seems to be the other way around.
The historic principles of the Republican Party offer America its best hope for a prosperous and secure future. Our current fixation on a religious agenda has turned us in the wrong direction. It is time for Republicans to rediscover our roots.
For those of you who don't know and might mistake Mr. Danforth for some rampaging secularist, former Senator Danforth, beyond having gone to the greatest undergraduate institution in the world, is a pro-life ordained minister.
I encourage you to read it all.
A Guide to Ad Hominem Attacks
Over the last year or so, ad hominem political arguments have really begun to drive me crazy. I don't think that they are any more prevalent, but since I have begun blogging and tried to really get underneath the factual underpinnings of certain issues, these ad hominem arguments have become more irritating.
What do I mean by ad hominem arguments? Here are several examples:
Ad Hominem Classic
The classic Ad Hominem attack is one that substitutes a (mostly) irrelevant personal attack on the author of an argument instead of logically or factually disputing the argument itself. I could pick from about a thousand examples a week from the blogosphere, but a good recent example were conservative attacks on Robert Byrd's admittedly over-the-top defense of allowing filibusters for judicial nominees. Almost every response I saw to Byrd was careful to remind readers that Bird was a KKK leader forty plus years ago. Though certainly unsavory, it is unclear how being a KKK member is relevant to the argument about the filibuster rule (the only real connection, though irrelevant to refuting Byrd's arguments, is that Byrd used a filibuster rather famously to try to head off passage of the Civil Rights Act in the early 60's). If anything, one might argue that Byrd's historic white supremacist activities might make him more rather than less favorable to judicial nominees. If anything, the one relevant fact about Byrd that might have some bearing on the argument is that he is often considered a constitutional expert, and has been cited as such a number of times by Republicans when it suited his purpose.
Ad Hominem Shorthand
This is a staple of Blog comments. Examples include "Bush is a Fascist", "Bush is a Liar", "They're Moonbats" etc. These arguments usually do nothing to enhance an online argument.
Ad Hominem Motivation / bias
A good example is "of course you oppose abortion - you're Catholic". While bias or group affiliation may be a pointer to potential weaknesses in a person's argument, they are not weaknesses in and of themselves, and pointing out these biases or affiliations does not constitute refutation of an argument.
Ad Hominem Protected Group Status
This is the reverse of the one above. Rather than trying to refute the argument by pointing out the group affiliation of the other person, you are instead trying to short-circuit the argument by taking advantage of your own group affiliation. A good example is of those in "protected" groups (blacks, women, etc) responding to arguments by saying you are just being racist / sexist. This is a very popular tactic on campus's, where members of protected groups use campus speech codes to try to declare certain arguments illegal "hate speech", thereby eliminating the necessity of actually having to respond to or refute the argument.
Ad Hominem Source of Funding
This charge is increasingly prevalent in the blogosphere, as both liberals and conservatives accuse the other of "astroturfing", or offering political opinions for payola. While source of funds for writing and research are important points of disclosure, the fact that an argument has been subsidized by this or that group does not automatically negate the argument. For example, global warming activists love to point to studies that refute warming claims by claiming the study was paid for by the power industry, or the oil industry, or whoever. While this should make one skeptical, it does not constitute sufficient refutation of logic and data, though it is often used that way.
Ad hominem guilt by association
This is perhaps the weakest of all ad hominem attacks. It attempts to undermine an argument not by pointing out flaws in the person making the argument, but by pointing out flaws in other people making the argument. For example, conservatives like to dispose of anti-war arguments by pointing the the wackiest of anti-war protesters, and saying "see, you are just one of these moonbats". More recently, liberals have tried to undermine reasonable people arguing for not removing Terri Shiavo's feeding tube by pointing to how unsavory and unreasonable other people have been in the same cause. Can't we just admit that for any argument one wants to make, there is someone out there who agrees but who one would not want to be associated with.
* * *
Anyway, I probably left a few out. I don't know if it is still the case, but in British legal arguments there used to be a distinction between hard evidence directly refuting an argument and "pointers", or items that might cause one to be suspicious of the opposite party's arguments, but which don't actually constitute proof. In this context, ad hominem arguments can be thought to sometimes provide a useful pointer, but they should never be mistaken for a true refutation of the facts.
For more, Wikipedia has a good article.
Libertarians and Republicans
As a libertarian that voted rather unenthusiastically Republican in the last election, I am right here with Ryan Sager:
While some libertarian types may have been upset with President Reagan's deficits, he was at least singing from their hymn book: Government is the problem, not the solution. George W. Bush on the other hand has never even gone to the trouble of aping a small-government posture. Instead, Bush has adopted one of Reagan's other famous lines, sans irony: I'm from the government, and I'm here to help.
This represents a fundamental shift in the direction of the Republican Party and a threat to its traditional alliances. The shift is self-evident. Instead of being the party that tries to rein in entitlement spending, the Republican Party is now the party of the $1.2 trillion Medicare prescription-drug benefit. Instead of being the party that is opposed to even having a federal Department of Education, the Republican Party is now the party of extensive intrusion into local schoolhouses by Washington. And instead of being the party of the rule of law and state's rights, the Republican Party is now the party of Congressional intervention into the thoroughly adjudicated medical decisions of an individual family.
A few weeks ago I wrote here that about the high-stakes battle over judicial nominations. When Republicans were out of power, they could be trusted to support non-activist judges against liberal activist alternatives. Now, however, my fear is that Republicans may have shifted their stand, seeking to nominate activist conservative judges. Leaving no one at all in Washington to support a constitutional separation of powers.
Kudos to my Congressman
Its never surprising to see Arizona Congressman Jeff Flake or Texas Congressman Ron Paul voting against pork, they are pretty consistent libertarians in their vote. However, I have only just begun to follow my own Phoenix-area Congressman John Shadegg. I was pleased to see that he stood up to considerable pressure and opposed the recent pork-filled Highway bill.
Of late, I have felt used by the Republican party, who put on small-government clothes to entice libertarians like me but who have generally abandoned all spending restraint now that they are in the majority.
AZ Elected Official Bounced for Overspending in Campaign
The Arizona Republic noted today:
In a historic move, the Citizens Clean Elections Commission voted Thursday to oust state Rep. David Burnell Smith from office for overspending his public campaign limits by more than $6,000.
The 5-0 vote marks the first time in the United States that a legislator has been ordered to forfeit his office for violating a publicly financed election system.
I don't know anything about Mr. Smith, so I don't know if I would agree with any of his politics or not -- I suspect though that he and I would not see eye to eye on a number of issues. This case nevertheless leaves me with mixed feelings.
On one side, Mr. Smith signed on to the clean elections program (he doesn't have to) and accepted public funding, and thereby accepted spending limits. He was obviously sloppy (as a minimum) in his accounting, or at worst flaunted the restrictions.
However, on the opposite side, I hate this type of campaign law. I don't like any restrictions on spending, which equate to limitations on first amendment speech rights. I don't even like voluntary programs like this, because they use public money - read that as MY money - to finance candidates and viewpoints that I don't necessarily agree with. In these voluntary programs, candidates are effectively being offered a publicly funded bribe to waive their first amendment rights, as argued in this suit. I don't like seeing this next step in the arms race to limit political speech. The ability of an unelected commision of busybodies and nitpickers to actually invalidate free elections and toss out elected officials merely because they used $6000 too much free speech is scary. Would anyone in their right mind wish to grant this power to the FEC?
By the way, the language in the Republic article is funny, and shows their bias in this. Note this line, emphasis added:
The commission's vote comes after three months of scrutiny in what has been billed as the biggest test for Arizona's popular but controversial system of taxpayer-funded political campaigns.
Here is a hint: whenever a reporter calls a program "popular", it means that it is a program that the reporter or the paper's editorial staff supports. It does not mean that they have polling data backing up this claim. Don't believe me? Then note this line from the same article:
Some commissioners admitted they were reluctant to attempt to overturn the wishes of voters in a legislative district but said it was more important to uphold the wishes of the state's voters, who narrowly approved the Clean Elections initiative in 1998.
Ahh, so this "popular" program was only "narrowly approved". In fact, I looked it up. Smith won his election by a far larger margin of victory than did the Clean Elections initiative. Should the AZ Republic be calling him the "popular" legislator?
How to Convince Congress to Limit Free Speech
Ryan Sager has interesting revelations in the NY Post about who supported Campaign Finance "Reform". There is not a lot of confirmation yet on his story, though he has transcripts from some interesting insider speeches linked.
I bet every one of the groups who financed this effort and that Mr. Sager lists would piously swear that they are supporters of civil rights and the first amendment. It is interesting to see the hypocrisy in their assault on political speech.
Why Judge Nominations Are Suddenly So High Stakes
Over the last 10 years, it certainly appears that the stakes have been raised substantially in judicial nominations, to the point that the approval of federal judges seems to be the number one issue in front of the Senate, even ahead of matters like Social Security reform or tax policy. Sure, in the 80's we had some high-profile confirmation battles (e.g. Bork, Thomas), but those were for the Supreme Court and might be narrowly interpreted as revolving around issues of abortion and perhaps affirmative action. Certainly both sides of the abortion debate are gearing up to duke it out over Supreme Court nominations, but most of the current brouhaha in the Senate is over lower level appointments that can't reasonably be interpreted as having much influence on abortion. So something else must be going on.
To understand what this "something else" is, I want to digress a bit into the analogy of campaign finance (yes, its analogous). I won't conceal the fact that I think that the most recent round of campaign finance "reform" has been a disastrous infringement on first amendment rights, the implications of which are only just coming to the surface. However, my opinion of it is irrelevant to the analogy. While proponents of campaign spending restrictions point to the "corrupting influence" of large sums of money in the election process, what no one ever mentions, though, is why such large sums of money are being spent in the first place. It is this latter issue on which I want to focus.
The reason that politics have become so high-stakes, at least in dollar terms, is because the government controls so much more of the economy and our lives. A century ago, the federal government had the power to raise and lower tariffs, and some limited control of the money supply, and occasionally gave out land grants to new railroads, and that was about it. Today the government can tax an individual or corporation six or seven different ways, determines how much you must pay your employees, controls much of the health care system, holds product design or pricing approval authority for many industries, controls access to critical raw materials, etc etc. If the government decides it does not like a particular person or industry, it can charge it with billions in extra costs in taxes -- or if it finds an industry politically expedient, it can pump it up with billions in subsidies. Every year, the government takes literally trillions of dollars from one unfavored class of citizen and gives it to a more politically favored class.
With stakes this high, it is no wonder that more and more people are willing to pay more and more money to let their voice be heard in the political process. Greater amounts of money flowing into politics is not a sign of a broken democracy, but just its opposite. More political spending means more money spent on speech, which in turn results from more people trying to add their voice to the political process more intensely. Rather than deal with the root cause, the growing power of government to arbitrarily transfer wealth, the country instead lurches from one half-assed attempt at political speech control to another.
So here is where I am going with this analogy. Today, it increasingly appears to people that the process for approving Presidential judge nominations in the Senate is broken. The opposition party, first with some tentative steps by Republicans under Clinton and then with wholesale defiance by Democrats under Bush, are increasingly making the appointment of judges tremendously contentious. I would argue though, as with campaign finance, that the problem is not with the process, but with the changing power of judges. Over the last 30 years, judges have increasingly gone beyond interpreting and applying law to creating new law on their own, a power that is as constitutionally unjustified as it is unchecked.
To understand this, lets first start with an example of what I would consider appropriately constitutional behavior by judges. This is an example from a case brought against the Bush Administration, demanding the release of terrorist suspects the administration has held indefinitely. The Bush administration argued that the war on terrorism was different from other crimes, and that it required an enhanced ability to indefinitely intern suspects. The US District judge in the case disagreed, and note particularly the language he uses (emphasis added):
U.S. District Judge Henry F. Floyd ruled Monday that the president of the United States does not have the authority to order Jose Padilla to be held indefinitely without being charged.
"If the law in its current state is found by the president to be insufficient to protect this country from terrorist plots, such as the one alleged here, then the president should prevail upon Congress to remedy the problem," he wrote.
I can find no more perfect example of a judge appropriately fulfilling his constitutional role. For him, the necessity or merit of being able to hold terrorist suspects without charges is IRRELEVANT to him. Judge Sweet might well consider holding suspects without charges in these cases to be the most necessary thing in the world, or alternately the most reprehensible. But his job is not to decide if such a power SHOULD exist, his job is to decide if such a power DOES exist. And he says it does not -- and to call the legislature if you want one, because it is their job to create new law.
Unfortunately, there is a growing theory of jurisprudence that creates an expanded role for judges. In this theory, judges are empowered to act sort-of as the institutional Dali lama, the wise person who descends from the mountain from time to time to correct moral lapses made by legislatures. If you are a Star Trek fan, think of this theory placing judges in the role of the Organians, parachuting into human affairs from time to time to correct moral problems. As Justice Scalia put it in a recent decision:
The Court thus proclaims itself sole arbiter of our Nation’s moral standards, and in the course of discharging that awesome responsibility purports to take guidance from the views of foreign courts and legislatures.
The problem with this theory is two-fold. First, it calls for making judges the rulers in a benevolent dictatorship, for there really are no checks on judges elected for life who suddenly have the power to create new law. Sure, the notion of a benevolent dictatorship of people with strong moral compasses has been a compelling notion to some through the centuries, but it never works and always ends up getting abused. Which leads us to the second problem with the theory, which is that there is no constitutional basis for judges creating new law, nor would the power-paranoid writers of our Constitution ever have allowed it.
Now, you may be thinking me paranoid to think of judges as taking on the power to write law. I offer proof in two parts. First, doesn't the exponentially higher stakes and greater attention today in approving judge appointments point to the fact that judges somehow have more power than they had a few decades ago? Second, lets look at an example.
[Judge Robert Sweet] explained that the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York recognized a qualified First Amendment privilege that protects reporters from being compelled to disclose their confidential sources
Judge Sweet defended the existence of this privilege by saying:
he took note of the important role of confidential sources in news investigations of the Watergate, Iran-contra, Monica Lewinsky and Abu Ghraib scandals
Do you see the difference from Judge Floyd's opinion above. In this case, the Judge does express his opinion, that confidential sourcing has played an "important role" in unwinding a number of political scandals. He uses this as a justification to create a privilege for reporters to conceal evidence and ignore subpoenas from a federal investigation. Recognize, as background, that whatever shield law for reporters that may exist in your state, there is NO press shield law allowing concealment of sources at the Federal level. And, the First Amendment itself only says:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
I don't see anything in that text that implies that the press can legally get away with obstructing justice while other citizens not in the press, like Martha Stewart, go to jail for obstructing justice. Now, you might think that the press should have such a privilege. Heck, I might in fact support some type of privilege. But the fact is that right now, it does not exist under the law and judge Sweet should have given judge Floyd's answer, which I can't resist paraphrasing:
If the law in its current state is found to be insufficient to protect the media in doing valuable work, then the press should prevail upon Congress to remedy the problem
Now I am sure that I am vulnerable here to Constitutional scholars saying that I am a neophyte to Constitutional Law and I don't understand the chain of court decisions that lead to, in the case above, the press privilege precedent. I have two responses to this. First, I am tired of Constitutional Law being made into this arcane specialty where only a few experts can participate in the discussion, like Jesuits arguing about some arcana of a papal encyclical. The Constitution is a very short and straight-forward document. Anyone can understand it, and should. I don't need 10 years of legal training and a piece of paper from the state bar to tell me that I see nothing about hiding information from police investigations in the First Amendment (heck, there are only 50 words there - where can it be hiding?)
My second response is specifically aimed at the chain-of-precedent reasoning for so many of the new rights and privileges that seem to be created nowadays. Of course, precedent is critical in making law work - Common Law is all precedent and even in our constitutional system, relying on precedent saves a lot of rework (e.g. the Supreme court already decided this case X way so until they revisit it, we will follow that precedent).
However, something else seems to happen in this chain. Have you ever taken an original document, and Xeroxed it, and then made a copy of the copy, and then a copy of the copy of the copy, etc. through 10-20 generations? What happens? Typically somewhere along the way, some small flaw or spot on the machine causes a spot to appear on the copy. As the copy is copied through successive generations, the spot grows and begins to stand out, until it is just as much a part of the document as the original text. The spot, however, is an artifact that is reinforced through generations, like kids repeating a mistake in the game telephone. That is what some of these court decisions feel like to me. How did the NY circuit court find a press privilege - well, someone found a very very limited privilege out of thin air years ago, and then another judge used that as a precedent for expanding the privilege, until it is set in concrete today. Just like the document experts in the CBS memo fraud want to get hold of originals of the documents to remove all the artifacts of copying to make the best decision on authenticity, so I in turn wish that courts would sometimes set aside all those intervening layers of other judges' decisions and just go back to the original damn document and work straight from the Constitution.
Liberals and some libertarians support have supported this theory of jurisprudence to date because to a large extent many of their causes have been net beneficiaries. And, if history teaches anything, trashing constitutional controls to achieve near-term policy goals nearly always comes back to haunt those who do it. I understand the temptation -- for example, I oppose the death penalty for minors, and left the recent Supreme Court decision on the death penalty out of this post because I thought it a reasonable role for the Court to reinterpret "cruel and unusual". But others, including Professor Bainbridge whose work I like a lot, and Justice Scalia whom he quotes, would argue that I am letting a favorable outcome blind me to the same problem of courts writing law.
Postscript: You may have noticed I did not mention Roe v. Wade. In fact, I tend to avoid abortion issues like the plague. In part this is because I have friends that are strongly, perhaps even radically pro-choice and friends who are strongly, perhaps even radically ant-abortion. Like a lot of Americans, I believe that a fetus is not a human life at conception plus one day and it is very definitely a human life to be protected at birth minus one day, and I worry a lot where the dividing line is in the middle between life and non-life. However, I will make two comments in the context of this post about Roe v. Wade that I think are fairly belief-neutral:
- I have never understood how "privacy" drives legality of abortion. The clear question is "is the fetus a human life". If it is not, then since it must instead just be tissue in a woman's body, then I accept her right to do with it as she pleases. However, if the fetus is a human life, then it has rights of its own and the woman may not violate these except in special circumstances, no matter how much privacy she has. So the decision is really one of "is the fetus a life"? The Constitution does not give us much guidance on this question, but typically these types of uncertain decisions have been left to the states. It is only with Roe v. Wade that the Court began taking on a new role of exercising a moral override over legislatures in certain areas (see Organian / Benevolent Dictatorship example above)
- I can't find a privacy right in the Constitution, though I will say I wish it was there, and would support a well-worded amendment in that area. However, if the Court in its greater wisdom feels like there is a privacy right buried in there somewhere that restricts government intervention into what we do of our own free will with our own bodies, then there are a HELL of a lot of laws out there that need to be declared unconstitutional beyond just anti-abortion law, including: narcotics laws, prostitution laws, the FDA, the tobacco settlement, alcohol prohibitions, helmet laws, seat belt laws, etc.
Marketing the Left and the Right
As a long-time student of the marketing craft, it is interesting for me to look at politics sometimes as a marketplace of ideas, and running for office as a marketing activity. Though I don't want to overplay the notion of packaging over content in politics, you can find a number of historical examples where good communication helped turn the ideological tide.
Also, being a libertarian sometimes gives me the ability to sit on the sidelines and see the left-right struggles in this country from the outside, possibly with a bit of perspective, since my team isn't really even on the field.
From this perspective, conservatives have really been running up the score on liberals of late. This is an outcome I cheer when it leads to freer markets and lament when it leads to broadcast censorship.
A lot of ink and electrons have been used up of late trying to diagnose the reason for this success and what the Left can do to even the score. Rather than comment on this, I will offer the following as a marketing case study. Forget whether you agree with everything that is said, but think of each piece as marketing for the left or the right. I was struck by the contrast of these two articles in part because they came from the same publication, and in part because they touch on many similar themes but in totally different ways:
Which product is more compelling to the average American? Of course, neither can represent the diversity of either side of the spectrum, but through all the political noise in this country, I think each represents the tone and message that is actually filtering through to voters. If one side want to claim "but that's not fair... that's not the message we intended for voters to hear" --- well, welcome to marketing.
By the way, I wrote a piece based on Mr. Morford's here.