Friday, December 30, 2011

A Few Thoughts for the Upcoming Year:

A short little post while I prepare for the New Year. Since the Libertarian minded have had to spend the last year defending their philosophical underpinnings, why don‘t we ask some questions of those who would dismiss us as crazy or naive:

If the U.S. were to cut it’s defense budget in half, it would still spend twice as much as any other country.  Who exactly is the enemy we are preparing to fight? Can we start to have a discussion about this $600+ Billion and the where, when and how of its expenditure?

As it relates to the first question, the Defense Department got a pass this year on doing an audit. They get a few extra years to come up with more excuses as to why they are unable to explain how they spend our money. The taxpayer’s money. It is a travesty that Medicare fraudulent pays out more than $50 Billion per year, every year, yet the Defense Department can’t even tell us how much they waste. We have to try and guess. Can we stop the hyperbole about how the tiniest cut would doom the Republic until we have a fair accounting of how they are spending our money?

Thousands upon thousands of people have died, or have lost their lives to incarceration, in order to keep people from getting high. That is the long and the short of it; somewhere along the way it was decided that product A, B or C is really, really bad for you, and the state should prevent you from using it. When exactly is this war going to be over? What is going to constitute a victory? Are people are going to stop getting high? Are people going to stop killing each other so as to reap the billions of dollars the illicit drug trade provides? Is anyone going to admit that the only reason anyone dies and that there are billions of dollars to be made form the supply of drugs is because they are illegal (seems no one remembers Prohibition in this discussion)?

To those who say Ron Paul can’t, shouldn’t, won’t win in Iowa or the nomination, isn’t that up to the people at this point? You can ask questions that need to be asked. I have always been somewhat lukewarm to Paul, and I have never been 100% on Team Rothbard/Rockwell. But given the other options, is anyone really surprised? The Neo-Cons and the Social Conservatives have lost some standing in the Republican party and the population as a whole, and that is great in my personal opinion. People are questioning the ideological consistency of these “limited government” types who want to see government limited in every facet except National Security, Homeland Security, Executive Power, Defense Spending, abortion, who you sleep with and why, what faith you hold dear, what you ingest…you see where I am going there? People are starting to see the expansive, all powerful state, in all its forms as a threat to the nation and our way of life. Ron Paul might not be perfect, but his message resonates over the Newt/Mitt/Perry drivel for a reason. We have heard this song before, and how exactly does it cut our soon to be $16 Trillion debt?

To those who say Gary Johnson should stay out of the way so as not to queer the deal for Obama, I ask why should anyone care? The same people say Ron Paul can’t win, so you would have to explain how Obama has been any worse than John McCain would have been, or how he will be worse than the afore mentioned Newt/Mitt/Perry what-have-you? All of these individuals do not approach the Office of the President with any humility. They see no limit on their power, or their egos. They will all have their pat industries or groups to bail out. They all see no real limit on the power of government unless it is as a partisan sound bite. The people are fed up with it all. 10 years, $16 Trillion in debt and absolutely no action to change the trajectory. Limiting the state and its growth is the only real chance we have, so why not vote for someone who holds that notion dear? If the Independents all said “stop the ride I want to get off” that would be the end of the two parties, which really, at this point is there a difference?

To our left leaning friends, how exactly has Obama been working out for you? Liking his National Security stances so far? Even W. didn’t advocate the ability to assassinate an American citizen without trial. Making you feel all warm and cuddly?

To everyone over 55: We get it, someone made a promise to you. You know what though, lets put aside the notion that no one asked me, I know for a damn fact no one asked my children. Is your level of comfort really worth the United States of America? No one is talking about pushing you down the stairs or leaving you to cat food and freezing to death. The system is unsustainable, and we need to decide what we are going to do going forward. In the end it does not concern you, unless of course you make it that way with the AARP and all the other lobbies. You had a chance to mess everything up beyond almost all comprehension, and I don’t want to hear about what is owed to you. Medicare and Social Security (as well as the Defense Budget) are going to destroy the country, so until you are ready to admit that and be part of the discussion about the solution put away your tri-corner hat and your sign please, you are being insincere. It needs to be fixed, and to put it bluntly you will be long dead when the final bill comes due, so can you please back off on the panicky hyperbole?

We could go one and on: OWS and the notion of what is “owed” to a them; public schools and the idea that what is good for the Teacher's Union isn’t always good for the children; the general notion that we exist as little cogs in the greater machine that is our government and it needs us to be eating and living healthy, carrying our mandated health insurance, while wearing our seat belt and not talking on the cell while driving, all with our government funded college education, working in properly subsidized green industries producing the specifically mandated light bulbs all while paying what is our “fair share” into the government coffers. It should be both fun and incredibly frustrating to examine all of these thing in the coming year. Happy New Year to you and yours.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Gary Johnson, Spoiler? Can You Spoil Rotten Fruit?

Today Gary Johnson dropped his run for the Republican Presidential nomination and officially started his campaign to secure the Libertarian Party’s top spot. Instantly there is talk about Johnson being a spoiler, leeching away votes for a Republican candidate and allowing Obama to win a second term. We of course are supposed to be concerned about this because Obama winning is somehow the most terrible thing to ever happen, even over a President Romney/Gingrich/Perry/Santorum (these same people wouldn’t support Ron Paul over Satan), so we should therefore hate the idea of some other candidate expressing the notion that the Federal government is too damn big, intrusive and expensive to continue on in its present course. What is incredible here is the idea that we, as a nation, should care what the party affiliation is at this point. We have been on this ride for decades now, with both of our established parties making a big production of how incredibly terrible it would be if the “other” guy won the race, how it would fundamentally change the country for the worse, and we should just suck up our petty little differences over policy and simply vote for the best of the two. Let’s just look at the issue of spending to see how stupid this idea is.

The big claim to fame for the TEA Party was a desire to limit spending. The “establishment” Republicans resisted the TEA Party from the beginning. They hated the primary challenges to their hand picked candidates, and they have hated the trouble wrought by them in the House of Representatives. The “adults” across the ideological spectrum have decried TEA Party legislators for their “extremism” and willingness to push the envelope, to hold the nation “hostage” as it were. The TEA Party picked the debt ceiling vote to stage a rebellion and attempt to cut spending. The result? A ridiculous piece of theater where panic and consternation over the fate of the Republic filled the airwaves. Remember John McCain, former Republican Presidential nominee? He referred to these Representatives, the ones whose platform got the Republicans back in the big game in 2010 (after his establishment party ran the country into the ground and provided us with his laughable, pitiful run at the big chair), as “hobbits”, seems hard to believe that anyone threw their vote away on him in ‘08. We had our establishment parties come up with a plan to deal with our huge debt problem; they would create a “SUPER COMMITTEE” to make the cuts that all of the regular committees charged with fecklessly spending the taxpayer money could not cut. The result? Failure of course, these people could not come up with a plan, which we all knew was the point. We will now supposedly have automatic budget cuts under sequestration, except of course each side has said they will protect their most cherished programs, whatever they might be, from the draconian cuts that will spell doom for this, that or the other thing. And at the same time the President is going to ask for another $1.2 Trillion (yes with a T)increase to the debt limit, and it has to pass this time, because last time around they made it so both houses of Congress had to agree on saying NO instead of passing a bill saying YES. $16.4 Trillion in debt, just like that. Who exactly is serious here? Democrats who will demand every social program will be defended, as is, without any reform, or Republicans who insist cutting any of the $600 or more Billion from the Defense budget will lead to a Chinese/Iranian/Alien takeover of the planet and the end of America? What exactly is going to get spoiled if Obama wins instead of the Republican? Are any of these candidates (save for Paul) going to stand up and say what has to be said, that Medicare and Social Security are promises that can’t be fulfilled in the long run, and that American National Security needs to be redefined from the military interventionism that has governed our policy decisions for the last 60 years?

Could Gary Johnson queer the whole deal for the Republicans? Yes, yes he could. Is that actually a bad thing? There needs to be some sort of reality check within both of these parties about the future of this country. The idea that you should be allowed to live your life free from government interference should not be so crazy for Americans. Maybe instead of paying lip service to the very real Libertarian leanings of many Americans they should start actually living up to them. The Social Conservatives and the Neo-Cons have incredible leverage over the Republican Party, but ask yourself, do the American people really want those platforms instituted? Do they want to live in a country that bombs first and ask questions later? Does anyone comprehend what the outcome of a 100% ban on abortion would look like, the kind of intrusive government apparatus that would be needed to enforce that? Can anyone really support the idea that gays should be singled out and told that their lifestyle disqualifies them from enjoying the same things all other Americans enjoy? Does anyone out there actually see a “victory” scenario in the War on Drugs? Does anyone really want to continue to “trust” in the government to always make the right decisions on who is a terrorist and who should have their lives monitored by the state on a continuous basis? Given that Obama has done nothing to turn around the economy and has in general been a disappointment for anyone who was really concerned with the drug war, the national security state, immigration, foreign policy excesses, civil rights and a litany of other issues, why is it a Gary Johnson run would only hurt Republicans? People are shedding their party identification because it has thus far done nothing but drive us further into a ditch. People have realized that riding a carousel does not get you anywhere. Why not give someone else a try? If you happen to be a limited government, maximum freedom type, who thinks that Gingrich or Romney will show gratitude for their victory, thanks to your support, by rolling back the state, then you are stupid, there is no way to sugar coat that. You would suffer the same disappointment you felt had you thrown your support behind the “transformative post-partisan” Obama in ‘08.

Third Party runs have historically done two things: They have acted as spoilers, events that got the losing party to realize they have lost touch with the voter and need to modify their platform, or they have signaled the death of one of the existing parties. The last time the later has happened was the lead up to the Civil War, and maybe we are overdue for something like that now.  There is the continuing idea that America must be a two-party state for the system to function.  The end result of that has been a general agreement by the two that they need to continue to spend our money and tell us how to live our lives in pretty minute detail.  Going along to get along has brought us to the precipice of bankruptcy.  We keep hearing how challenging and unique these times are, so maybe a little chaos and upheaval is what is needed to meet the challenge.  A vote should reflect who you want to win, not who you want to beat. Ask yourself, in a fair fight between Obama, Romney and Johnson, who would you want to see come out on top and why?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Did the World Just End?

According to the social conservatives and many of the blowhard Neo-Cons like John McCain the absolute worst thing that could ever happen anywhere would be gays serving openly on the military.  This is the result of that policy so far:

Terrible?  Horrible and shocking?  Is this really the worst thing in the world?  Has the Republic come to an end because of this?  Seems to me that two people who obviously care for each other got to say hello, instead of having to lie and skulk around in the shadows.  This was really something to be concerned about?

Conservatives Know Best?

How would you like a little condescending pat on the head? That is what we are seeing more and more out of the “mature” Conservatives out there, reassuring Libertarians that their ideas are important and relevant, and they will be addressed in the order they were received. The Libertarian, according to these wise sages, is correct in their love of freedom and liberty and the notion of limited government, it is just that they are too naïve to realize how unworkable that is in the real world. It is just plain super that these things are being talked about, and you should continue to talk about them, over there in the corner away from everyone, after you vote for a proper Conservative Republican candidate who will pay lip service to your beliefs every once and again.

Today’s super screed comes from The American Thinker, which is really quite oxymoronic in this case. It is of course in reference to how crazy Ron Paul is, and why he and his followers are just too naive and their ideas unworkable in the “real” world. It would not matter if it was Ron Paul or anyone else though, because it is the same old crap from conservatives. There are three central arguments to this article, all of them classics about how inappropriate Libertarian thought is for the real world. My favorite would be this little gem about “isolationism”:

I think this is an exceptionally invalid argument, because it works backwards through history and all the interventionist consequences we have endured, and comes to a “what if” point in order to discredit a school of thought. Mr. Yoshida is taking the tack that if Libertarians had been in charge in 1917 that we would have never gotten involved in any world conflict and therefore the Nazis/Commies/Hippies/Moonies would be dominating the planet and America would be no more. It is very interesting that he decides to go all the way back to World War I and faults Libertarian style disengagement for keeping America out of the war and allowing the slaughter to continue unabated for years. Well, where to begin with this one? How about who is to say which side we join before 1917? The First World War, despite what anyone might think had nothing to do with principles of freedom. Grand Empires were engaged in a death struggle over who would get to enslave more people across the globe, that is the long and the short of it right there. The reason America stayed out of this war is that there was no side to take. The fact that the English and the French did not like a challenge to their dominance of the globe bore no real consequence to this nation. The plurality of the country at that point was of German ancestry and certainly held no real animosity towards their progenitors. One of the other major, and very influential, ethnic groups in this country were those of Irish ancestry, and they had no issue with Britain’s suffering a defeat in the war. America’s entry into the war was due to the military and geopolitical decision of all of the powers involved, leading to acts of desperation by one towards the United States. America had to be sold on this war, and it took quite a long time for the people to buy. The results were nothing to write home about in terms of our nation and its history, and they still haunt us today. The Espionage Act of 1917 allowed the government to lock away people for simple political dissent, something we should not be looking back fondly on. The Treaty of Versailles and the efforts of our Imperial allies to cement their hegemony over their colonies, was in part a reason for the later war. The shaby treatment we recieved from our Allies in those negotiations is what led America to resist entry into the Second World War. Allowing World War I to play out without our direct intervention could have had a very different affect on history, possibly avoiding the mass slaughter that was World War II. Maybe the Europeans continue to slaughter each other into a draw, then what happens? They lose control of their colonies, allowing self determination for millions of people around the world? Maybe places like French Indo-China and sub-Saharan Africa never turn to Communism to throw off the yoke of an extra 40 years of European domination? In turn the millions of people and trillions of dollars that are wasted in that struggle never get expended, wouldn’t that be a better outcome overall for America and world history? Without the intervention of America maybe the Allies never intervene in the Russian Revolution on the side of the Whites, creating a different outcome, or at least less suspicion and hostility towards the west from the Reds? With complete and total devastation and no hope of victory by either side, maybe we see an actual peace, and no opportunity for the Nazis to come to power. It is impossible of course to say what would have happened, and to reach all the way back to that event with a “what if” scenario in order to discredit a philosophy is intellectually dishonest and the worst kind of “straw man” argument: You don’t like American intervention overseas and the military industrial complex, therefore you would have let the Nazis win the war and rule the world. An actual discussion about American priorities and what is necessary for National Defense is what is needed, not the hyperbole that is being delivered here.

One of the other gems in this article of course deals with drugs. Those crazy Libertarians of course have a point that when it comes to freedom, you should be allowed to do as you please, but what about reality?
From the horse’s mouth:

Most libertarians believe that individuals have a right to put whatever they want into their own bodies provided that they do not harm others in the process. Therefore, they would favor the legalization of most (or all) presently illegal drugs. This would be a perfectly defensible position except for the obvious fact that one of the primary reasons why many drugs are illegal is because their prolonged usage places people into a state of desiccated decrepitude that renders them utterly unfit to support themselves. Without first seeing to it that the mechanisms by which money would then be extracted from the general public to pay for such individuals are abolished, the libertarian position could, in practice, result in an increase in the size of government.

To be clear, I am not one of those “stoner Republicans” upset because they can’t get high. I have no use for drugs, but I can not justify the notion that I should be able to enjoy my Single Malt all I want while someone else can’t get inebriated in whatever manner they see fit. The “No Harm Principle” is of course at the heart of this, do as you please so long as you harm no one else, liberty defined. For this author that is of course crazy, because drugs are dangerous, and illegal for a reason, and we have to deal with the societal cost and repercussions of the poor decisions that people may make. A perfect, paternalistic notion of government. You, the individual are free to do as you please only so long as you do not drag down the whole, for you are a cog in the machine, and you need to keep turning. This line of reasoning that a larger, more intrusive government apparatus would be needed to deal with the fallout of legalization over the present prohibition model strikes me as even more inane than the World War I argument. Has he not been paying attention? We treat addiction already, for those who want treatment, at a pretty substantial cost. We then spend billions upon billions, year after year, on interdiction and incarceration, and all to no avail. Drugs are here, everywhere you turn. He says that drugs are illegal because they are bad for you, of course leaving out what is often the capricious and haphazard way our government approaches what should be legal and illegal. And? Lots of things are bad for you, one of the biggest being the afore mentioned alcohol. Does Mr. Yoshida think that Prohibition was a good policy decision? Did it have the desired affect of cleaning up peoples lives, making them productive members of society after the evil drink as removed from their lives? No, it did the opposite, driving it underground, making criminals out of everyday citizens, adding intrigue and luster to the act of drinking and making millionaires out of violent gangsters bent on delivering a product people wanted. Unless a case can be made that the ONLY thing that keeps a majority of Americans from trying heroin is the threat of prison, then the argument makes no sense. If you add up all the cost, seen and unseen, including interdiction, corruption, murder, lost productivity, the overworked criminal justice system plus a hundred or more other things and weigh that against the idea that some percentage of the population (which may be no larger then the present percentage of people in prison for drug possession whom we are already expending capital on, drugs after all do not appeal to everybody) should be allowed to throw their lives away on addiction if they so chose, how could it possibly cost our society more or grow a more intrusive government?

The article continues on in that vein, essentially saying, sure you Libertarians have a point, but be reasonable, vote for the Conservative Republican and we will have a discussion later about how your crazy and naïve ideas won’t work. Condescending tones usually don’t win many converts, and it won’t in this case either. Ron Paul and his supporters may have some quirks, I will not deny that, but he is certainly a breath of fresh air over whatever cardboard cutout the Conservatives want to forward as a candidate. The Conservatives should be the ones to explain how it is we continue to afford $600 billion a year on keeping the world safe for American interest. The Conservatives should have to justify how continuing the drug war enhances anyone’s life or the health of our economy and country. The Conservatives Republicans should be the one who have to explain how it is after they drove the whole system into a ditch with the PATRIOT ACT, the Iraq War, No Child Left Behind, the Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit, and a dozen other stupid policies why exactly their overbearing presence in the discussion should be tolerated or even given a hearing. Absolute power did not do them any favors last time, so maybe it is time that people with actual principles and the courage of their convictions get a fair shake. Otherwise many of those people who might otherwise support a Republican candidate who acknowledges a need for a change of course, could start to look elsewhere, which also would not bother me overmuch. The statist hegemony of thought in both parties and their supporters is staring to get a little old, and a little chaos and upheaval may do us a little good in the long run.

Similarly, on foreign policy, the position that Congressman Paul holds is actually a very old one. While his lengthy paeans to the virtues of non-engagement have largely found an audience among those weary after the long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Paul is less the heir of the 1960s peace protesters and more the inheritor of an older and more disreputable strain of antiwar activism akin to that of those in the "America First" movement. These are the people who opposed the entry of the United States into the Second World War and who, before that, kept the United States out of the Great War for two and a half years as much of Western civilization engaged in an act of collective murder-suicide upon the battlefields of Europe.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

It Does Not Count!

I am not a Ron Paul booster, but I am having quite a bit of fun watching what is happening as of late. For months now we have been hearing about how important a good showing in the Iowa Caucus is going to be for a run at the Republican nomination. If you look at Real Clear Politics they have had a running tab on the Iowa race for months, and it has been a big story every time one of the candidates has taken the lead (look at the graph at the bottom of that page to see how fluid this situation has been). Now that Paul has taken the lead spot the powers that be have decided that it won’t matter, a repeat of Huckabee in 2008 or worse, total irrelevance for the caucus going forward. Notice how none of this was a problem or a question when Newt was running ahead last week? No, the story then was how was he going to parlay that into further success in South Carolina and the eventual nomination. Now it doesn’t matter though.
For Months Ron Paul and his supporters have been complaining about the lack of media coverage, well it does not seem to be a problem for them now. The “proper” thinking conservatives are now out in force laying down the law about how inappropriate a Paul victory would be, and how no “right” thinking Republican should be supporting him. We are hearing quite a bit about how incredibly stupid Paul’s foreign policy position are, how his “isolationism” would lead to the end of America as we know it, and just for good measure we have to throw in how he hates Israel. No candidate ever has to explain how we keep paying for the never-ending National Security state, it is simply a given that we keep troops in over 100 countries around the world forever. Newt, Mitt, Perry and the rest are able to skate by with talking points, yet crazy Uncle Ron has to explain the idea that maybe we need to concentrate on getting our own house in order after 60 years of interventionist foreign policy. How exactly is it sacrilegious to say that Iranians, as a people, might hold some resentment towards America because the CIA overthrew their government and installed a dictator to rule over them? America is run by people, not Popes, and we are allowed to criticize the actions of earlier administration and generations. America has not always been on the right side of history, and the only shame would be in not admitting that and endeavoring to do better in the future.
The big gun that has been brought out to try and drop Paul out of the top spot has to do with the old newsletters that carried racist diatribes under his name. Personally I find these things to be very troubling, and I have not been impressed with anything he has had to say about them. I can not comprehend any politician, at any level, having these things being published in their name, for quite a long time, and not know anything about it. If he had nothing to do with the writing it seems that at some point someone would have brought them to his attention. If he wants to be a front runner, and he thinks he deserves to be there, then he needs to better address this issue, for it is not going to go away, everyone from each side of the political spectrum is going to keep on referencing it. Having said all that, this occurred twenty years ago, and all of the other candidates have long histories of stupid statements. Newt Gingrich is falling in the polls because people are actually listening to the stupid things coming out of his mouth today, never mind what he has in his past. As to how Paul approaches the issue of race today, someone has put together a pretty good video embedded below:

You can see how most any of that would drive hardcore Republicans insane, and they would not want that to be the standard bearer of their party, but of course that is most of the problem with the Republican party today.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Am I Safe Yet?

Tomorrow is supposed to be a day of reflection and celebration over the 220 year history of our grand and wonderful Bill of Rights. In preparation for that the U.S. Congress decided to piss all over it today in our perpetual effort to be safe from evil terrorists. The conference version of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 was reported and passed today, still including the controversial parts of this legislation dealing with detention of terrorist suspects.

In deciding that we were not nearly safe enough from the scourge of Al Qaeda, Senators Levin and McCain (its bipartisan so it must be good) with help from my own home state Senator Ayotte, placed a provision in the bill for dealing with terrorism suspects. Our new rules have declared that the United States is now part of the “battlefield” in our asymmetric, never ending “War on Terror” and that anyone labeled as a terrorist sympathizer, even if captured on U.S. soil, is to be detained by the military, with no real way to challenge that detention. This will also apply to American Citizens. Let us make sure we understand this: you are an American citizen, you are accused of being a terrorist, by law you are now placed in military custody, with no due process rights. Any problem with that? Our esteemed legislators, people who supposed swore an oath to uphold the constitution above all else, seem to have no problem with this. This simply codifies what we have been practicing all along they say. Isn’t that comforting? The administration had threatened to veto this bill, made a big deal of it actually over this issue, but like most other questions of principle the President and his team folded.

Many people, including former military men, have seen the problem with this provision, but they are going to be ignored. We seem to be ignoring quite a bit in our need to feel safe. Remember this: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons …against unreasonable searches and seizure shall not be violated…” Have you ever run across this little gem: “no person shall be…deprived of life liberty or property without due process of law”? This ring a bell: “In all criminal prosecutions the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial”? All of this comes from our Bill of Rights. There were many who would not support the constitution without specific safeguards for individual freedom. They were scoffed at by the writers of the document, they claimed that a perfectly limited government had been crated, and that such things as declarations of rights would muddy the waters. These were, after all, very bright men who had all our best interests at heart. No one believed that then, and we should not believe it now. There are those who talk about how important these measures are in a time of war, and that we have had plenty of instances when our rights were rolled back in order to properly fight a war, and then protected again. This should strike everyone as a completely asinine argument for implementing this. Yes, we have shelved the constitution in the past in a time of war, and when the danger passed it was pulled off the shelf, dusted off and placed back where it belongs. Because of that we should all just sit back and say “sure, just till you beat Al Qaeda just spy on everybody and lock up anyone you see fit.” Our rights were codified because you should never trust in the government to do what is right and proper. When exactly will the danger pass? Without the courts overseeing these things how do we know if these people should be detained? The only people who seem to not be taking this seriously are the supporters of this provision. For our legislators to simply flush away our most cherished liberties while decrying individuals who do not want to place their faith in politicians and bureaucrats to always do the right thing means that they are not being proper stewards of the responsibility that was placed with them. Yes, we have done things in the heat of the moment before that violated our constitutional principles, but that should be a teaching moment of what not to do, not an excuse to go even further down the road.

Wartime is always different for a country and its citizenry. There will always be dangers for the Republic in that situation, but this is why the framers of our Constitution placed the responsibility with Congress for declaring war. What they never wanted was a situation similar to the one they fought a revolution against, where the Executive power could declare someone an enemy of the state and indefinitely detain them without evidence or trial. The Bill of Rights exists to protect us from the excesses of government and the individuals who man it, even in times of desperation and fear. Unfortunately our leaders have forgotten this, and have tried to place in writing the notion that some people and situations are so scary that our principles should not matter. I would send a well deserved “for shame” towards our legislators, but they will surely ignore it, the same way they ignored all those who highlighted what should be the very bright line between security and liberty, a line which we will be losing this week.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Newt Gingrich…Really?

This week we have seen Newt Gingrich rise to the top of the polls, like we have seen almost every other candidate rise to the top of the polls this last few months, mainly because there are so many people out there that can not see themselves voting for Mitt Romney. There seems to be no rhyme or reason to this phenomenon: a candidate steps into the spotlight, gets the attention they have been so craving, and then people actually start listening to the crap flowing from their mouths and they fall back into the basement of the polls. Oddly enough in our little “Not Mitt” parade Ron Paul has not risen into this top spot, thankfully neither has Rick Santorum. Newt of course believes himself to be the smartest person anywhere, and so richly deserving of these new found accolades that he has informed us all of his inevitable victory in the nomination. Polls mean very little in this early stage of the race, and generally the profession of polling has become somewhat laughable (more on that another day), but Newt is taking them seriously, so why don’t we spend a minute or two on Mr. Smart Guy.

Newt is so confident in his ability to secure the nomination that he has challenged Mitt Romney, as the only other logical candidate, to Lincoln-Douglas style debates to show who is the best man for the job. He has also threatened to follow Obama from city to city, giving rebuttal speeches to everything the President says, until he too agrees to Lincoln-Douglas style debates. Romney seems to have refused to engage Newt in one of these debates, and one can be sure that Obama probably will as well. Is it because they are afraid of Newt and that super-big brain of his? Doubtful, it is more likely that they think it is a terrible idea on the merits. For those of you who do not know the Lincoln-Douglas debates went like this: Candidate One speaks for 60 minutes, Candidate Two then speaks for 90 minutes, and Candidate One then is allowed 30 minutes of rebuttal. Lincoln and Douglas did not verbally spar with each other, point and counter point, like so many people might assume, but a set of prepared remarks was refuted by another set of prepared remarks, and then a little off the cuff was thrown in at the end. Now I don’t know about you, but I am pretty sure even Obama would get bored of the sound of his own voice after an hour. As to Newt, at 90 minutes the title of this lecture best be “spinning gold from straw”, not a play book on further shredding the constitution to keep me “safe”. The Lincoln-Douglas debates were from a different era, and while great moments in American history we have to also remember they are colored in the editing that was allowed back then. Misstatements and gaffes were as common then as they are today, they were just treated differently by the press and history. The partisan published remarks from your parties newspaper allowed you to have always used perfect English and to have always been on point, while the people in the audience had a very different experience.  In the age of You Tube those gaffes live on in perpetuity as done, to later become fodder in an opponent’s ad, hence why most candidates prefer the short, meaningless, pre-rehearsed answers they can give to the inane questions asked by idiot journalists. The debates certainly need some shaking up, but this constant refrain from Newt about how you must be scared of him if you refuse this debate format is already getting old.

As to policy, what can be said about Newt? He is certainly trying to paint himself as the only “true” conservative. He does this by saying things like we need a stronger PATRIOT Act. You see we are not properly scared enough about all the evil people out there who wish to do us harm. There are nefarious individuals who would detonate a nuclear weapon in an American city if given the opportunity. Therefore you should not be concerned with your government’s ability to spy on you, it is for your own good after all. And that seems to be all he needs to say. Scary people + less rights = more security, the simplest of equations throughout history. You are somehow naïve if you do not trust the government to make the right decision at all times when it comes to National Security. This is of course the Conservative problem that never gets addressed in these discussions. If limited government is good in all other circumstances, because bureaucrats can’t be trusted with your money or important choices, how is it Conservatives can blindly trust in government to make the right call on who should be spied on or indefinitely detained without oversight? Why is it simply enough to make this ridiculous argument about nuclear weapons in a city (mind you something that would have happened many years ago if it had ever been feasible) and a platitude about “safety”? No limits Newt? Trust in Newt to make the call on when it is enough? The reason for the Constitutional limits on power, and someone as supposedly smart as Newt should know this, is that you can not simply trust in government to make the right decisions. Power is what we are talking about, and trusting our leaders with vague power should be antithetical to every Americans psyche. I do not trust in Obama to make the call on which American citizen can be assassinated abroad without trial, I certainly will not trust in Newt to do who-knows-what with an “improved” PATRIOT Act.

We also see that Newt will keep up his conservative bona fides by doubling down on the drug war. For him there is not any question that we need to keep all drugs illegal always for our own good. To have adults decide for themselves what intoxicants to ingest is just way too much freedom for Americans to handle. Even though he is just so damn smart, he can’t seem to admit that the drug war has been a failure. For me the long and the short of it has always been this: If not for Prohibition would you know the name Al Capone? (here to read more on that score) Prohibition made the gangsters rich and powerful, because people wanted what they had to offer, and the illegality of it made it extremely profitable and violent. Drug Prohibition has done the same thing. If cocaine was not illegal, or if the government hadn’t made interdiction a high priority in the 1980s, you would have never heard of the name Pablo Escobar, he certainly would not have had the resources to take on his own government. If not for the high profits garnered by the illicit nature of the drug trade, there would not even be such a thing as the Zetas Cartel, and 40,000+ Mexicans would not have died in the last five years in an effort to keep Americans from getting high. Somehow or another Newt sees a Federal death penalty for drug dealing as a viable option for stopping the drug trade. This of course is ridiculous given the fact that many of these individuals get into the drug trade knowing full well they risk a very quick, ugly and painful death from their competitors. A government death sentence is probably not going to keep you away from the promise of hundreds of millions of dollars. Newt, a lover of America, its constitution, and its history of freedom, believes we should be looking to the great success autocratic and repressive Singapore has had in squelching its drug trade with incredibly harsh sentences and excessive use of the death penalty. This should be very comforting I think for all Americans, that Mr. Genius looks to a tiny island nation without personal freedom to come up with criminal justice policy. It should also reinforce how he’s not just “book smart” but practical and grounded in comparing keeping drugs out of an area the size of Augusta vs. the third largest country on Earth.

We could go on and on with how ridiculous it is that the Union Leader endorsed Newt, and how meaningless that is, or we could keep going on and on with a Newt’s history of flip-flopping (supposedly Romney’s grand sin with the conservatives) but honestly what is the point? Another week or two of people remembering the long and ridiculous history of Gingrich will probably do him in as front runner. He might also continue to talk, which has always been his short coming in the long run. But in the end it won’t matter about the polls or the pundits, it will come down to the people, and they can on occasion actually vote for someone they are not supposed to (remember John Kerry running 4th in the polls going into Iowa 2004?) and really change the dynamics of everything. Of course for the sake of already being bored with everything coming out of his self-righteous mouth lets hope for one of the former over the latter.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

South Carolina Presidential Debate: A Neo-Cons Delight

The Presidential debate in South Carolina focused on foreign policy, and from the general tenor of things we can see that the Neo-Cons should be very happy. The two major takeaways seem to be that the mainstream “favorites”, if elected, will most assuredly be bombing Iran, and most would bring back waterboarding of terrorists. The former is of course to be expected, the latter is exceptionally troubling, and both need to be seriously examined.

Bachmann and Cain are on board with team waterboard, and Perry, while not explicitly saying it, seems to be there as well. The philosophical foundation of this idea of using waterboarding on terrorists is of course, fear. There are scary, horrible people out there who wish to do us harm, and we have concocted a tortured (pardon the pun) logical justification to garner information from them. It is not really torture in the white hot poker, battery cables on the nipples, sense of the term. This is a measured, professional method of extracting information without chance of death. Besides, these people work in unconventional ways, without regard to the rules of war or civilization, using our own systems in order to inflict death and destruction on us. They exist outside of the law, so how can the law protect them? They seek to destroy our way of life and our constitution, so how can they have constitutional protection? We have this tool to use on these outlaws, and if used, we can save lives, so let’s strap them down and start pouring. It is a very simple and compelling argument, especially since it something used on those “foreign” people (I find it hard to believe that this would have so much support if it was being used on, say those white, Christian terrorists, Catholic and Protestant, in Northern Ireland). It is truly unfortunate that we ever deigned to engage in this horrible, unconscionable practice in an effort to keep us “safe”. While it is true that these individuals do horrible, unconscionable things for their cause, the point has never been that they are exceptionally evil, the point is that we are supposed to be better than this.

The calls of naiveté are at the forefront when you try and make a reasoned argument about why this practice is wrong, that the constitution is not a suicide pack and we need to do what is necessary to protect the Republic. For people who fancy themselves as “conservative,” this seems especially foolish. You start this line of reasoning from an indefensible position, one of trust. If you support the notion of waterboarding, you have to start out by assuming the person in custody is guilty, that you have the right guy essentially. You can say all you want about being captured on the battlefield, or reliable intelligence, but you have to admit that there is always a chance that the wrong person is strapped to that gurney. Someone who knows nothing could be subjected to this “enhanced interrogation” because you are trusting the military and the CIA, organizations with somewhat of a poor track record of always being right, to make the determination of who gets this treatment.

The demagoguery gets to its full tilt when we try and justify this with the “ticking time bomb” scenario. This is, of course, movie fiction that does not happen in the real world, but it is a nice way to stifle the legitimate debate, to say we need this at all times, everywhere because someone may someday sneak a nuclear bomb into an American city. We can use another movie analogy though, to argue the other end of the equation. Have you seen the Clint Eastwood classic Dirty Harry? If not skip over this part, for I don’t want to spoil a good movie. Most people do not have issue with the torture scene in that movie. Harry has caught the bad guy, a murderous sociopath, who has buried a young girl with only a short time to live as her oxygen runs out. In an effort to save this girl Harry does what is necessary, outside the limits of the law and the constitution, to find the girl. Harry gets the information, too late to save the girl, but the evil-doer got some of what he deserved. The morally corrupt and dysfunctional liberal criminal justice system then allows the killer to walk scot-free. The audience can place themselves there, can witness the action and not be repulsed, because you can humanize it, personalize it, place yourself in that situation and feel that you would do something similar. But play out the scene differently, the way torturing people often works in real world practice, and the outcome would be very different. When you make the case that gathering the information, in order to save lives, is the most important thing, where do you draw the line? What if Harry could not find our villain? What if he was frantically watching the clock tick and the only clue he could find was that our killer’s 12 year old niece might know where he is? How would the audience react to Dirty Harry waterboarding a young girl to extract the necessary information? This is the problem with starting down this road. You begin from the premise that the most important thing is the information, that it must be gleaned at any cost, then, when and where do you draw the line for what is acceptable? Who is off limits, and when certain methods do not work, what is the next step? I like the argument that you do not do these things because they are wrong, that the premise of our system is that people, not just citizens, are born with certain rights that our government will not infringe upon. Failing that, I demand that supporters of these methods specifically draw out the lines and justifications. Give us your criteria for the who, what, where, when and how, because there will always be someone adding to those criteria, in this “special” circumstance, which historically always been the end result for any government that has started down this road. Good intentions do truly pave the path to hell, and that needs to be remembered when so flippantly talking about something so serious.

As for Iran, where do you start? Sanctions, air strikes, land invasion, what is the end game? Ron Paul is somehow the fool for not advocating these things, yet the other candidates simply say “I won’t let it happen,” without elaboration. How do you stop Iran from developing the bomb? How far are you willing to go? Ten years of constant warfare is quite a lot to ask of the American people, are they advocating another 10 to overthrow and “stabilize” a new Iran? Will any of these candidates commit to asking Congress for an official declaration of war before embarking on this little adventure? Can we have a conversation about how big a threat a nuclear Iran would actually be to this country? We have this equation that the day after Iran develops the bomb, the world ends, that the insane leaders of that country decide the time for nuclear obliteration is here. Is that reasonable? Are we saying there is no sane voice in all of Iran’s leadership, one that will see the implication that the first thing that happens after developing the bomb is that a big giant target is painted on you by all the other nuclear nations? There is no nuke Israel, come out unscathed, scenario for Iran. Dying is the only outcome, and they have to realize this. Do some anxiously await this outcome? Maybe, but I am not of a mind that the public pronouncements of leaders to their constituents equals how they view the world and what their true intentions are. We need to have an honest and frank discussion about what actually constitutes a threat to the United States and what the limits of American power actually are. Bombs do not always have to be the default answer to our problems, and it is not weak or disloyal to question that assumption. Iran poses some real challenges to American foreign policy, but let’s have an actual discussion of those problems and the possible solutions instead of boilerplate “Bomb ’em now, ask questions later.”

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Invisible Man Cometh

I received a robo-call from the Gary Johnson campaign today and it led me to reflect on Bloomberg/CNN (purposefully) excluding him from the debates on the 11th and the 18th. Being a New Hampshire resident I get a lot of exposure to the Presidential candidates, and from my perspective I would like to throw these thoughts out there:

Rick Santorum is in the debate, even with the same poll numbers. Johnson has only been in two major debates. Santorum has been in all of them, and still polls that low. People have heard his message, and I would not be going out on a limb to say that short of gold doubloons magically shooting out of his ass to pay down the national debt, he has no chance of winning New Hampshire or the nomination. If he is in the debate you can not make an argument for keeping Johnson out. If Johnson is out then please, oh please, kick Santorum out so I don’t ever have to hear about napkins vs. paper towels.

Jon Huntsman is in the debate despite his poll numbers. I wouldn’t know Huntsman if he ran up and hit me in the head with a shovel. The media seems to want me to know him, but I can’t understand why. The man makes Romney look dynamic, so he really must be doing something wrong. He is a cookie cutter candidate seemingly molded by image consultants. If Jon Huntsman fell at the debate would anyone hear it? Serious, what can anyone say about the man? Once again, if he is in then you can’t keep Johnson out.

Has the media decided that one Libertarian oriented voice is enough this time around? We have more Social Conservatives than we could swing a dead cat at, why not another Libertarian? The media has already decided that Ron Paul can’t win, why not two who can’t win then? Are they worried that some sensible talk about ending the drug war or scaling back the military might resonate if it is coming from more than just crazy old Uncle Ron? Johnson has a record as Governor that Romney wishes he had, so he has the qualifications to be on the stage with the rest of them, even though he has never sold a pizza to anyone.

The debates are a useless waste of time to begin with given their inane, often vapid, questions and formats, but if you are going to have them, then all who qualify should be allowed on the stage. The object of the exercise is supposedly to give the people a chance to evaluate the candidates and decide for themselves who they want to support. Give Johnson the chance and the exposure you have been wasting giving to Santorum and Huntsman then his poll numbers may or may not start to shoot up, but at least we could call that fair. It isn’t the media’s job to pick the winners and losers, despite their over-inflated sense of self importance, that still falls to the people, give us the opportunity to decide for ourselves. LET GARY IN!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

And God Said Let There Be Xenophobic, Ignorant Bigots…

I feel the need to expand on my earlier rant about Libertarians compromising with other elements of the Republican party but am not sure to what end any longer. After the Values Voters Conference, I am not sure Libertarians should be anywhere near the Republican Party. The headline coming away is that Ron Paul won the Straw Poll; I wish it had been, “Ron Paul and most of the other candidates ignore event populated by theocratic ignoramuses who should never be allowed near the halls of power.” Of course, in many of the Primaries, the Social Conservative is the activist voter who gets out there and casts a ballot, and there has to be talk of “values,” so the path to victory, at the moment, is to talk the talk, etc. But what exactly is the point? The conventional wisdom is that the Evangelicals will not support Romney due to his Mormon faith, and they have never really been the ones to support Ron Paul, except now he has refocused much of his campaign to play up his opinions on abortion. Will that satisfy people like Robert Jeffress?

It has been a sincere hope of mine that the real problems facing this country would have finally marginalized the “values voter” in this election cycle. How is it that in the times we are facing that gay marriage is even an issue? An amendment to the Constitution to define marriage is going to save us in some way? Will this address unemployment or a $14 Trillion debt? If that is the only issue motivating you to get out and vote this time around, then you have a serious issue. What does it say about us as a country, that a group of people believe that law should be enacted based on what is, in their opinion, sinful? In my home state of New Hampshire there is a push on some fronts to repeal gay marriage. There is one legislator that went so far to say, in discussing the fact that gay marriage has not hurt anybody: “I am not injury-free. The reason I am not injury-free is because of my religious beliefs.” Well that certainly puts things in perspective. We must make law and policy because it has offended some individual’s religious sensibilities? Nearly every single day of my life for the last 25 years (and let’s hope every day after this one) would have offended the religious doctrines of some group be they Evangelicals, Catholics, Orthodox Jews or Jehovah’s Witnesses, and I will make no apologies for that. Freedom and liberty are the hallmark of this country; it is supposed to be the foundation of our society. What we hear from this quarter of course, is that America is a “Christian Nation” that needs to return to the principles of the Founders (if you have time, check out Chris Rodda’s site that refutes most of this better than I ever could). Many of our present candidates believe this to be true, and it is a truly scary notion. This man Jeffress has a history of talking about outlawing homosexuality and forcing Muslims to either convert or leave the country, and the headline from the summit is his calling Mormonism a cult. Are these the Christian values we are supposed to be striving towards? The Constitution and the 1st Amendment, despite the drivel coming from these people, enshrined the notion that an individual’s religion is their own business, a matter of personal conscience. Believe what you will, it will not disqualify you from living in this country, raising your family as you see fit, or serving in some capacity in the government. If you could look at it from a completely neutral perspective, doesn’t that seem to be a better design than to say: PROPERLY PRESCRIBED CHRISTIANS NEED ONLY APPLY? Who gets to decide in that case? Do we have a vote to decide which sects of Christianity will be included in this little club? According to Jeffers, Mormons are already excluded, who else then? Are Catholics allowed? Any Jehovah’s Witness or Amish is so pious as to make the Pope look like a pimp, are they put at the head of this movement? I do not see that happening. Do all candidates have to walk over hot coals or undergo a turn on a witch trial era dunk tank to test their faith? Isn’t better to leave religion out of the equation instead of heading down the road of who is the religious enough to lead this country, which, of course, was the actual intent of the founders?

Libertarians are courted to join with the Republicans because of certain intersecting principles, but the overriding principle is supposed to be limited government, and how does anyone see this theoretically centered movement as limiting government? What is the state apparatus that ensures no one is gay any longer, or that all pregnancies everywhere are carried to term regardless of condition? Do we force the Muslims to wear Red Crescent arm bands so we can keep an eye on them, make sure they don’t sneak Sharia law in on us? How far and how deep does this movement go exactly? Does the Federal government mandate that all schools teach the alternate theory that the world is 6,000 years old and man lived in some ridiculous Fred Flintstone-esque paradise with Dinosaurs? That should make us extremely competitive in the world marketplace, wouldn’t you say? If people like Jeffers and his ilk want to live in a “Christian” paradise with proper “moral” laws then let us set them up a little community right next door to the Amish where they can practice their theocracy in peace. What we should never allow is for these people and their bigoted, close-minded ignorance to be placed at the helm of the most powerful country on Earth. If Libertarians are going to compromise to be in the big tent, it should never be on these issues. Every candidate should have strongly come out and blasted Jeffress, called him out as the ignorant, dangerous, small-minded little man he has consistently shown himself to be. Candidates should be saying that if his opinions represent the Evangelical voter, then they don’t want their votes, because they do not represent what is best about America: One nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all (for those who do not know this is from the original 1892 Pledge of Allegiance, before “under god” was added in the 1950’s to distinguish us from the godless communists).

Thursday, October 6, 2011

You Can’t Cut That, It Would Be Immoral!

These are the things a decent society provides, it is the moral thing to do. That kind of short-circuits any discussion, wouldn’t you say? In the ongoing attempt to control the narrative in the upcoming elections, the Progressive set is starting to frame the debate as one of a moral crusade: The creation, growth and ever-continuing expansion of the American welfare state is but a natural, moral outgrowth of society. Elizabeth Warren references the “social contract” that we must all abide by. The President is always talking about what is “fair.” Robert Reich lists all the ills befalling the poor in this economy, lists out a bevy of taxes to rectify the problem, and says “But it's more than math. It's a matter of morality.” All over the web, print and television are pundits talking about “social justice” and empathy for the common man. Fair, justice and moral are all powerful words and they are being used for a powerful purpose - to stifle debate.

It was bad enough when the pundit class was labeling those who questioned Big Government as blithering idiots who just did not understand the need for big, bold centrally planned action, but now we are going to drag morality into it as well? Who wants to be labeled as immoral after all? After we have dictated that this program, agency, or entitlement is the only “moral” thing to do, what next? How do we have a debate on the merits after that? It is the same as the use of “fair” in the tax debate. “I only want what is fair.” Well, how do you argue with fair? Who will support being unfair? Almost seems un-American to be against what is fair and moral. But the real question should be how do we decide what is fair and moral? Do the rest of us not have any input in this discussion? To simply say that these things that we like and support are untouchable because they are fair and moral, then you have removed any chance for substantive debate. You have placed the other side in the position of either proving that these things are not moral and fair, or that morality and fairness should not be part of the discussion.

When talking about fairness, we should be observing the larger picture. The President says he wants the rich, who have prospered while everyone else has suffered, to pay more in taxes. “I am only asking them to pay what is fair?” is repeated over and over, a return to the Clinton Era tax rates when all was wonderful. The problem is this notion of “fair.” Taxes have gone up and down throughout our history, and while the President presently says that the Clinton Rates are fair (more from me here), what happens when we are still well over $1 Trillion overdrawn next year even with those tax increases? Will a new “fair” be established? The government, by its own admission (see any number of GAO reports) wastes an incredible amount of money. Remember last week’s story about $600 million in payments to dead people? I will assume I do not have many super-rich reading this, so let us ask the average individual about fairness: Would you consider it “fair” to have to pay more of your income to make up the budget deficit so long as the government does things like this on a regular basis? Medicare, the Defense Department, agriculture subsides, we could go on and on with the inane, inept, fraudulent and duplicitous payments the government doles out every year, and the talk is about what is “fair” in terms of extracting more money to support this system. How exactly is that fair? Would it not be fair, if you are one of the rich, to demand that at least some of the system be reformed before any more money is extracted? Fair is a bad enough word, what is worse in that sentence is “asking.” To ask implies an ability to refuse, and when it comes to taxes who has a right to say: “Umm, not today, check back next week?” The President is not asking, for if he was, he would take to heart what would be the very reasonable response we see from many quarters: Cut first, then ask. Real cuts, not just cuts from next year’s budget increases, need to be laid out and then there can, and should, be a revenue discussion. “Asking” someone to pay more into a system that wastes money with reckless abandon, without addressing that waste, is neither fair nor reasonable.

When it comes to morality, we need not attack the idea of some particular program being “moral” or not. Appealing to morality is an attempt to take things off the table, to not have a reasoned discussion. The conversation should be about utility and efficacy. Just because a program is moral does not mean it works. It should seem plainly obvious that if a program, no matter how well intentioned, does not do what it is supposed to and does not effectively serve its constituency then it should at the very least be reformed if not abolished. Anti-poverty and the Social Safety Net are usually encompassed in this call to morality. From a moral standpoint, looking at the system as it is presently constructed, I would agree that a wasteful Defense Department program should be cut before an anti-poverty program. Discussions like that are fine, and politicians should be put on the spot to explain their resistance or reticence on such issues. The old bumper sticker about the Air Force and bake sales is not a proper policy discussion though. When someone says they will protect a program or entitlement, no matter the cost or efficacy, because it is moral, they are pandering, not governing. “Vote for me and I will protect your program!” is the shorthand version. If the outcomes of Medicaid are measurably poorer than having no health insurance at all, why is it we can’t talk about changing the program? Would it not be a “morally” superior position to advocate a different system? If year after year anti-poverty programs, even in the boom years, do nothing to alleviate poverty in this country, wouldn’t it be better to come up with a different or more refined approach? Is the object of the exercise to assist people so they can get themselves out of poverty, or to make poverty more comfortable? The former is a moral intention, the latter is an attempt to create reliable votes.

Morality and fairness are fine intentions, but there has to be a discussion about the definitions. You cannot simply say that the Progressive prescription is the only moral and fair one. That is a playground tactic, not governing. To label the opposition as immoral, or amoral as the case often is with Libertarians, is an attempt to stop meaningful debate. With trillions in debt, continuing unemployment and structural deficiencies in our economy we need to have real discussions (and compromise) about what is needed, what works and what doesn’t, and what do we really need this government to be doing going forward into the future. That would be the only fair and moral thing to do for ourselves and our posterity, if we expect to have one that calls itself Americans.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Left, Right or Indifferent: Who Should Be Compromising Here?

When the hard Left or Right are not lambasting the libertarian-minded for being crazy or naïve, then they are trying to convince them that an alliance is needed, because one or the other speaks to “many” of their values, and the rest can just be worked out in the wash. Given it is Presidential election season, we see many connotations of this line of reasoning. This Libertarian blogger made an emphatic point that Barack Obama is just the worst possible thing that any Libertarian could possibly imagine, because he has continued or expanded many of George W. Bush’s most odious policies. The answer of course: Vote Republican. To be exact, so there is no misinterpretation: “We can deal with the other stuff later, one thing at a time. We may not agree with Republicans on every single issue, but they are far closer cousins to our ideology of freedom than the Obama/Democrat alternative.” I am more than a little concerned by the notion of “deal with the other stuff later”; when exactly would we be dealing with it, and who are we going to “deal” with? With Ron Paul, and thankfully last night, Gary Johnson, being an actual part of the discussion, there is quite a bit of courting going on for the Libertarian, but why exactly should we be dealing or compromising so as to make sure we get the “proper” candidate to take on Obama?

The notion that Libertarians move in a closer orbit with Conservatives, in the most general terms, is supportable, though not a truism. It is also true that no matter how many intersecting issues Libertarians share with today’s Liberals, what usually happens is that free-market ideology usually throws a monkey wrench into the works of alliances. It is also true that the Obama administration in general has not followed through on many things that it promised that moved Independents into his camp. But is defeating Obama the only consideration? Some are saying that the GOP establishment is concerned that Rick Perry is too appealing to primary voters, and it is hurting “their” choice of Mitt Romney, whom they see as being able to beat Obama. This should speak volumes to the problem of compromise. Why is it that we have to compromise to support one of these two? What are we going to be asked to compromise on exactly? Anything the “establishment” GOP wants should be rebuked out of hand. The establishment is, and has been, the problem for decades. Government of, for and by John Boehner and Mitch McConnell frightens the hell out of me. It is these clowns and their polices that paved the way for the train wreck we are living in today. Medicare Part D, do I get more of that? Do we get to invade some other piss-ant country? If Libertarians support Mitt and the establishment, does everyone get to go through the airport naked with a government approved bar code tattoo on their forehead? As to supporting Perry, what do we get if we compromise there? Didn’t we try this once already? If we line up with the Social Conservatives can we guarantee to stuff all the gays back in the closet, outlaw abortion even in case of Martian gang-rape and carve the Ten Commandments on Mt. Rushmore? Wouldn’t that be super? This is the problem with compromise. It is necessary to govern, for in this free country of ours there are very different ideas about policy, and no one group, thankfully, can ascend to impose whatever ideas they want.

In the primaries it is important to fire up the base, and you then need to moderate your positions for the general election, or so goes the conventional wisdom. This is when compromise comes into play: “Yeah, I said all these other things during the primaries, but now I am willing to speak to you and bring you under my ‘Big Tent’ so we can defeat the other guy.” Given that punditry and conventional political wisdom has not, and will not, be solving any of our present problems, maybe we should be demanding a little more compromise from the other guys. Why don’t the Neo-Cons and the Social Conservatives admit that all of their policy planks will never be (nor should ever be) completely implemented and that they need to be putting some things on the table? If we are going to be talking about compromise and the questions to be asked and answered of our candidates why not make them the tough ones that need to be answered:

National Defense: Given the budget hole we are in, what exactly are you going to do about the Defense Budget? Do we need to be spending 5% of our GDP or could we still take on all comers if we only spent 3%? Who exactly are we spending all this money to intimidate? Do we need troops all over the world? It should be blatantly obvious to any observer that Russian equipment and tactics cannot hold a candle to their western counterparts, so if NATO cannot defend itself against a non-existent Russian threat without thousands of American troops on the ground as a deterrent, what purpose does it serve?

Entitlements: Grandma votes, you can’t ignore that fact, and the only thing I can give Perry credit for is holding to his guns on Social Security reform. The establishment GOP does not like talking about these things because they see poor election metrics, but the problem is real, and it is out there. Pandering for votes is not going to solve that, and neither are vague answers. You need to actually address the real problems with these programs and how they are going to be solved.

The National Security State: Every candidate should have been asked “Have we traded too much freedom in the name of security, and if you believe so what will you do to rectify that?” Anyone who answers “No” to that question should be ignored by Libertarians and the electorate in general. Freedom and liberty are easy concepts to cherish and defend in good times. It is the in the hard, troublesome, dangerous times that a country’s mettle is tested, and we have for the most part failed. Homeland Security and the accompanying expansion of government power has come at a great cost, most of which we are not even aware of, and it was easy, because we were scared, and “those” people were so very different from “us.” We spend a tremendous amount of money and human resources on a myriad of things, with little or no reflection on utility, efficacy or necessity. Going forward we need to be more and more vigilant and more demanding of accountability. We need to remember there was a reason Intelligence agencies and the Justice Department were banned from doing many of the pre-PATRIOT Act practices we take for granted now; they proved themselves untrustworthy, and there is little reason to believe they have changed that much.

Government: All the Republican candidates are “small government” guys now, and it is easy to pick something like the Dept. of Education or the EPA and point to their failings and say “get rid of them”. While they do have a multiplier effect on productivity and outcome well beyond their line items, they are for the most part small potatoes in budget terms. The follow-up to that debate question should have been “After saving that almost insignificant 3% or less of the budget, what next? Exactly what will you be cutting, when and how much?” Republicans have been the party of small government until it suits them, then they are just as big spendthrifts and busy-bodies as Democrats. If Ron Paul has to be specific about what he is going to do, why not everyone else?

When we are done asking these and a hundred other questions, then maybe we can look at compromise in a different light. Maybe the Establishment GOP, Neo-Cons and Social Conservatives can look at the landscape and say, “Those Libertarians and their ideas line up with us in regards to X, Y and Z, so maybe we should compromise on a few of these things and support Paul/Johnson/some unnamed future candidate so we have the best chance to beat Obama and deal with the other stuff later.” There is a chance that a synthesis of ideas and cause could come from a real dialogue about all of the issues facing this country. Maybe the compromise could be a two-way street in which Libertarians did not feel like they lost too much of their soul in order to elect what seemed to be the lesser of two evils. Of course if I believed any of that, I would actually be a crazy, naïve person instead of just playing one on the Internet. The compromise/alliance they seek is one of convenience, one they will play at to court Libertarians and other Independents as a means to an end - power. That is the motivation, plain and simple. While Obama and his polices are antithetical to many Libertarians, there is nothing to say Republicans won’t be just as bad as they have always proven themselves in the past. If support is needed, then there should be some up-front concessions on their part. Giving in on certain ideas, without receiving anything in return is not compromise or an alliance, its simply giving in. Ideological consistency might not win any elections, but it is easier to sleep at night, and who knows, maybe the American people will get fed up enough to stop the Two-Party swinging pendulum and demand something more. Let’s hope that is less of a crazy idea in the long run.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Progressive's Defense of the Constitution: What the...?

I was reading Lucy Steigerwald’s Hit & Run post over at Reason about the effort by Progressives to rebrand themselves as the true guardians of the constitution, its original meaning and the true intent of the Founding Fathers. These individuals have obviously seen the Tea-Party as gaining traction with their call for a return to a limited Federal government bound by the Constitution. I spent part of the weekend reading through their articles and blog posts which are attempts to paint the Tea-Party as idiots who do not actually understand the Constitution, but also to show Progressives as the “true believers” guarding the real intent of the Framers, and this website is supposed to be some sort of guide for refuting the notion of being able to limit the grand construction of the Progressive welfare state with the Constitution. It seems to them that if the Founders were magically transported to the present day, given the opportunity to look around and learn about all the special and unique problems we face today they would all sound out in unison: “Yeah, you guys got it right, this is what we intended the Federal government to look like”. While I will agree that many within the Tea-Party need to have external fact checking on some of their notions of the Constitution, this site’s attempt to rebrand the argument so that Progressives are the true defenders of the faith and protectors of the original intent of the constitution is more than a little ridiculous given their history.
In reading through their “Strange Brew” section you see quite a few attempts to refute Tea-Party notions of limiting government power through the constitution. Most all of the articles use a sort of circular logic to state that the Progressive version of the state is proper and fundamentally constitutional simply because Progressive members of the Supreme Court have said so. In attempting to refute that the 10th Amendment should impose some sort of limit on the power of the Federal government they quote the court as saying that the 10th is “a truism that all is retained which has not been surrendered”. For whatever reason (a simple mistake?) they attribute this quote to the wrong case. They cite UNITED STATES V. SPRAGUE, 282 U. S. 716 (1931) which does speak to the 10th, in so much that it does not change the specifics of the amending provisions of the constitution. The quote actually comes from UNITED STATES V. DARBY, 312 U. S. 100 (1941), from Harlan F. Stone’s written opinion that finally removed the barriers to the New Deal Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. As most should know, the Supreme Court had been a constant thorn in FDR’s side, overturning most all of the New Deal based on a century’s worth of precedent. It was not until his attempt to destroy the court with the Court Packing Scheme that they relented, making way for the Progressives to implement what they thought were the proper set of policies. See the argument here: the 10th Amendment is a meaningless truism that cannot impede the implementation of Federal law, because a Progressive justice, on FDR’s 1941 Supreme Court, said it was a meaningless truism that cannot impede the implementation of Federal law. Not really a sound foundation to build your case on. This is the way most of the articles run.
Over and over you keep seeing something along the lines of “To be sure, the powers of the federal government under our Constitution are not unlimited” but nowhere in any of these article do they define these limits, or what they would actually be. They continually repeat the logic of the “necessary and proper”, Supremacy Clause and the Commerce Clause to reinforce the notion that everything done and proposed by Progressives is in fact constitutional and within the intent of the Founders. These three clauses have always caused the most debate within the conversation about what limits the Federal government actually faces (if any). Once again the logic seems very circular in their constitutional defense. One of my favorites is of course the defense of the Health Care overhaul in which they state: “The crucial power to “make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper” (art. I, §8) for carrying out all constitutional powers granted to the federal government, which means, for example, that Congress can require individuals who can afford it to obtain health insurance in order to carry out its authority to regulate the interstate health insurance industry and ensure affordable, non-discriminatory health care.” So, in essence, the Federal government’s power under “necessary and proper” is unlimited because we get to the same age old problem of defining “necessary” and ignoring “proper” They spend some time refuting the broccoli question, which comes down to commerce and necessary and proper, but that is what is laughable about the argument (Robert A. Levy’s article on the health insurance mandate, which should be the basis of every opening statement in all future court hearings, expertly refutes this necessary and commerce argument from a constitutional law perspective.) For the entire Progressive era the plan has been to stretch and redefine “commerce” as broadly as possible. The commerce clause is the basis for almost all Progressive action, and it became a punch line: make a law, any law, call the activity to be regulated somehow tangentially attached to commerce, and there we go, new Federal power! Through this whole period the Supreme Court simply stood by, refusing to define commerce, so the Federal power continued unabated. It is not until the Court steps into its proper role as arbiter instead of rubber stamp that we see some truly ridiculous Federal encroachments rolled back. Everyone who has studied the Constitution is aware of the problems with the vague notion of these clauses and the problems they have caused throughout our history, but these articles gloss over that issue. They keep stating that there are enumerated powers that limit the power of the Federal government, but then they turn around and use the same old statist arguments about commerce, necessary and Supremacy. What are the actual limits then? We are somehow supposed to divine them, and when a court steps in and places an actual limit on Federal power, they are somehow misreading the constitution or one of those evil “strict constructionists” flying in the face of judicial precedent. Many of these articles bring in the specter of the Founders, how they were looking to create a strong national government with real power to compensate for the failings of the Articles of Confederation, and this is quite true. They also believed that they created a perfectly limited government, one that could never infringe on the liberties of the people and there was no need to have something as silly as a Bill of Rights. No one bought that at the time, and we should not be able to use that defense today. Specific provision were put in place to further limit the power of government (and I would say that includes the 10th) and there has been a 200+ year discussion about the proper role of, and the limits of power on, the Federal government.
Progressives have a vision of the state, one that has flourished for almost a century. They believe that they have guided the course of this country in the proper direction and we continually hear this reaffirmed in their talking points. “THIS” we are told, be it Social Security or Medicare or any other program they are defending, is the way a civilized society operates, and it is not to be questioned. That is the way everyone has been taught for decades, unquestioning allegiance to the plan, for it “protects” the people. The Constitution was never really a consideration in these discussions, it was usually an obstacle, and that is relatively obvious because we had to keep stretching and changing the definitions of things like “commerce”. Generations of people accepted these changes, and they watched the Federal government continually expand its power and influence. Does that by extension bind all future generations to forever march on never questioning their forefather's ideas and acceptance? If that was the case we would have never had the Progressive Era, because how could they have questioned 100 years of acceptance by their forefathers of a limited Federal government? While this is a pretty smart P.R. campaign on the part of Progressives, it really holds no water. There are people today who question the utility, necessity, and yes, even the constitutionality of many aspects of the Federal government, and in our system that is allowed. This is, for the most part, another attempt to stifle debate. Wrap the Constitution and the Founders in the warm, all encompassing happy glow of a Progressive, centrally planned state that will tend to all your needs, and the evil and uneducated corporate lackeys of the Tea-Party will have no leg to stand on. The Constitution is not perfect, and there will always be disagreement over the proper role of the Federal government in our lives. For Progressives the rallying cry has always centered on a “living constitution” that evolves to meet the circumstances of the times. Given this line of reasoning, seeing the huge bloat and massive deficits incurred by the Progressive state (and to be fair Republican mismanagement) a new generation may like to see the state evolve into something less intrusive and costly. Either way you want to term it, evolution or strict constructionism, the system has to change or we are all in store for an unpleasant future, and Progressive attempts to defend either proposition as their sole purview should be seen for what they are, hollow attempts to defend their creation against legitimate debate and criticism.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Obama and Jobs: The Song Remains the Same

Last night I decided that instead of relying on what other pundits had to say about Obama's new jobs proposal I would read it myself, and boy did that suck (for those who have never actually read a bill and the horribly drawn out double speak involved you can check this one out here). The pundits are for the most part correct, there are 199 pages of the same old stuff. Nothing innovative, nothing new: rebuild schools and roads, keep teachers and police on the job, tax the evil rich and their corporate jets (seriously it is in there) and do it all green, union and American made. The last one is what got me initially thinking and bouncing around the internet today.
The bill, like everything the Federal government does, has "Buy American" provisions when it comes to the steel and the products to be used on projects. Now, it gets a little murky, the difference between "Buy America" in this and the previous stimulus bill and the everyday “Buy America" provisions of FHWA contracts, but the gist is essentially that if you are using Federal money then all the steel used on construction projects must come wholly from the U.S., soup to nuts, and there are only three exceptions (under "Buy American"): 1. applying subsection (a) would be inconsistent with the public interest; 2. iron, steel, and the relevant manufactured goods are not produced in the United States in sufficient and reasonably available quantities and of a satisfactory quality; or 3. inclusion of iron, steel, and manufactured goods produced in the United States will increase the cost of the overall project by more than 25 percent. The last one is pretty consistent with most Federal programs, and that really started to get me thinking. The logic seems sound, if you are spending taxpayer money, on American projects, then it should be spent on American products and jobs. But 25%? You really write that into law? How often does anyone think that bids from American steel companies come in at adding 25% to the overall project? And that is the important part here, the overall project. You are not saying the foreign steel has to be 25% cheaper to get a waiver, you are saying that the use of American steel over foreign would have to add 25% to the overall project cost. By that metric on many types of projects American steel can be three or four times more expensive than foreign and not meet that threshold, for steel might only account for 20 or 30% of an overall project. More importantly, and this is the bigger one, how often do they come in at say only 4% overage on the project? You have written into law this 25% provision that gives the American steel industry not only a competitive edge, but at the same time stifles any possible market pressures on the industry. They do not need to get better, or leaner or become more productive companies, so long as they can keep within this 25% buffer. While it is true that the American Steel industry faces many challenges we need to examine this effect in total. The American taxpayer, by the defined terms of these laws, must pay as much as they possibly can for any Federally funded construction project, so long as they don’t exceed a 25% overall project cost differential. Is this truly the best use of the money? If the percentage was lower or applied to the cost of the steel, isn’t it possible that those market pressures could induce the American steel industry to become more competitive? Would there be a loss of jobs and folding of outfits? Yes, you can’t get around that in the global economy, but in examining these laws we should be asking “long term” questions. With this 25% buffer there is an automatic incentive not to maximize labor or costs, but only do what is necessary to fall into this artificial bracket. This makes for an industry that becomes dependent on this buffer and reticent to do what is necessary to compete not only at home but globally. Protecting jobs is a nice notion, but it has very large consequences. Having some benchmark notion of how many individuals should be working in an industry and an accompanying government policy to ensure this outcome prevents firms from consolidating or automating to become more competitive. In all industries and endeavors technology and competition will eventually cost people jobs in said industry, government intervention in this regard only keeps people working longer in an essentially meaningless job, not adding a dollar value for their labor. When competitive pressures eventually outweigh government intervention you then see whole industries collapse because they have not been incrementally improving their operation, and the excess employment and lack of up-to-date technology and processes is far too much to overcome. Wouldn’t it be better to have the best possible steel industry market forces can provide, able to meet future challenges, or a bloated government supported industry that will eventually collapse under its own weight?
The other part of the jobs bill of course is the political dynamic of the whole affair. The President is traveling around the country trying to sell this bill. It is now becoming the center piece of his administration, and working into next years electioneering. According to this story the White House is over the moon with the prospect of the fight over this jobs bill, and they seem not to even care if it passes. If it passes they believe that jobs will come roaring back, unemployment will fall and the people will happily re-elect Obama after his brilliant management of the crisis. If the bill does not pass then the President can use that loss as his magic bullet to defeat all Republican comers, saying that “they” don’t believe in America and they want to see people suffer to serve their super-rich masters. It sets up a nice strategy to be sure: pass my bill because it is the only possible plan or stand against America. It is also fraught with problems. The administration somehow sees this as putting Republicans over a barrel, and they believe they can short-circuit debate over the efficacy or utility of these programs. The Republican response should be easy and straight forward though, pass the bill. All the Republicans need to do is take the entire bill, just as written and change two things to completely flip around the debate. Pass the bill without the Davis-Bacon prevailing wage section and change the Buy American provision to 25% of the cost of the item, not the overall project. Every dollar stays the same (what’s another $400 Billion between friends), all the projects and policies (but please leave out the ridiculous discriminating against the unemployed provision, so I suppose three tweaks), and even put the tax increase triggers in there, because you would see everything around this bill grind to a halt in the Senate and administration. After initially saying the whole bill had to pass “as is” the administration has changed it’s tone and said it would take it in pieces if it created jobs. Here the Republicans could give him the whole bill, with these two (three) tweaks and really throw a wrench in everybody’s plans. Removing/changing these two things would send the Democrats and their pundits into an apoplectic fit, but the Republican response should just be “jobs”. Say to all those who complain “do we want jobs for all Americans suffering in this economy, or jobs only for union members?” The administration has said it would not throw away a chance to employ a million people over their wish to employ 2 million, so respond by saying removing “prevailing wage” has the potential to employ even more people. Force the White House to stand by their Keynesian principles, make them defend why the maximum number of people who could be employed shouldn’t be employed. The response will be boilerplate, the need to create “good” jobs, which by definition for them is only union jobs, but for the vast majority of people who were not in a union before this crisis it should obviously ring hollow. Paint the administration as not being concerned about jobs and the economy, but only their donors and base. Simple fix to a complex problem. If the economy rebounds (which it really wouldn’t) everybody can take credit. If the bill dies the Republicans can claim they tried and the administration killed the bill to please their rent-seekers. And when the dust settles maybe they can all try and come up with a real plan, trying things that might actually work, and everyone can stop playing for the election. That of course is the least likely outcome, but it is nice to dream.