Division of Labour: Politics Archives
February 13, 2014
Ladar Levison talk at SMU
O'NEIL CENTER EVENTS
Is Privacy Dead? The NSA, the Snowden Leaks, Dark Mail, and the Future of Privacy in the Digital Age
Ladar Levison (SMU, '03) is the Founder of Lavabit LLC, the encrypted email service company that Edward Snowden used following his disclosure of classified NSA documents. Following the reveal of Snowden’s identity, Lavabit was issued a federal search warrant demanding that it give away the private SSL keys for all its users. Levison shut down Lavabit operations shortly after the warrant was issued. His talk will directly confront government overreach and comment on the future of privacy in the digital age.
Wednesday, February 26, 2014 - 5:30 p.m.
This is a free event. Walk-ups are welcome. However, space is limited.
November 07, 2013
"If you like your plan, you can keep your plan:" Marketing flaw, or design flaw?
President Obama's political support is plunging, due to the Affordable Care Act, aka "ACA" or "Obamacare" - both because of a stumbling rollout demonstrating substantial managerial incompetence, and also a sense among a large percentage of the population that the President was dishonest about how the plan would work - specifically, his promise that "if you like your plan, you can keep your plan. Period."
Leaving aside the President's promise, and whether he merely "misspoke" or outright lied, many supporters of the President and/or the Affordable Care Act have claimed that this is not a flaw in the plan, merely in the way it was sold to the public.
Bloomberg's Clive Crooks, for example, makes that case here. Crooks argues that even though millions are being forced out of plans that they liked, "the fault isn’t with the [ACA] -- it’s with the way the plan was sold. Obama’s promise was either an audacious oversimplification (if you’re feeling generous) or a bald-faced lie (if you aren’t). Even so, the cancellations don’t point to fatal defects in the design." He continues, "[t]he Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was always intended to disrupt the individual health-insurance market" (and he adds, group markets too). And he concludes that the Administration's repeated promise, "made no sense, but they said it anyway to get the law passed."
The President's supporters shouldn't find much comfort in this claim, of course, since it essentially takes the view that the President was fundamentally dishonest with the American people.The response then becomes that politicians often lie, and bigger lies have been told. But Obama's lie - and if Crooks is right about the purpose of the act, then "lie" is the "generous" phrasing, and "damned lie" the less generous one - is different.
Some things that are called "lies" aren't - such as the left's ongoing claim that "Bush lied" about the Iraq war and Iraq's possession of weapons. But this wasn't a lie - it was a colossal blunder. There really is no dispute that all western intelligence agencies believed that Saddam Hussein had chemical weapon stockpiles, and based on this intelligence, so did the Bush administration and most Democrats in the Congress, such as John Kerry, Hillary Clinton, etc. Then there are the actual lies presidents say for honest national security purposes, as when, for example, President Eisenhower denied knowledge of American U2 spying on Russia. There are the lies of desperate self-preservation - think Richard Nixon and Watergate. And then there is puffery, which we have all the time. People might be scoff at Obama, but not accuse him of lying, should he say "this plan will make sure every American gets the best possible treatment for every illness," or even "every American will benefit from this plan." The President would not be accused of lying simply because some people lost their plans for reasons unrelated to Obamacare, although one could fashion such a claim from a dullardly literal reading of his comments.
Nor was the President's pledge a rosy description of a disputed point, such as on the question of whether the ACA will add to the national debt. The President's "if you like it you can keep it" pledge, was not puffery or an optimistic, even incredibly optimistic, projection, but indeed was scripted and stated repeatedly in such as way as to make clear that it was not puffery or point of dispute, but a direct and sincere pledge and fact. It was not based on an incorrect reading of facts on the ground (as in Bush's rationale for invading Iraq), or to protect national security. It is not even a tendentious or unusual characterization of a plan (such as FDR describing social security as an insurance plan).
Rather, if Crooks is right, the President deliberately and intentionally lied to the public in order to pass a domestic policy initiative that he believed could not be passed even with the usual puffery, optimistic projections, and salesmanship of politics. And that is something I've not seen in my lifetime, nor am aware of in U.S. history.
But this is a digression, albeit probably a necessary one. What I want to suggest is that while Crooks is right that the President lied, and that this is damaging to public perception of the ACA and the President, he is wrong in suggesting that this is not a "design flaw" in the plan. (Crooks, by the way, agrees that there are many other actual design flaws in the ACA, though he believes that overall the ACA is worth it).
For what is a design flaw? A design flaw is something that means a product won't work as intended. Crooks defines the intent as "disrupt[ing] the individual health-insurance market [and] forcing insurers to meet new standards." But this is, I think, too technocratic a view of politics and policy. In a representative democracy, programs must have a reasonable level of public support to succeed. The ACA was ultimately designed to be popular - to be a new entitlement that Americans would like. The ACA was designed to create a popular program for which Americans would reward Democrats with political victories, and which could pave the way for further growth of government both in health care (including the holy grail of "single payer," or what used to be called "socialized" medicine) and in other fields. To do this, the program had to be designed to assure that consumers, the substantial majority of whom who already benefitted from outstanding care with unparalleled choice and access, would not find their existing plans and choice of physician disrupted. On this view, the ACA is indeed horribly designed.
Crooks and others who make the claim that this is not a "design flaw" my be correct that the design was intentional, but an intentional design can still be badly flawed. Crooks and other ACA defenders making the argument essentially are saying, "well, Americans were lied to to get them to buy the ACA, but the plan works as intended and soon enough they will realize that it is a good product - at least better than what they had before." This is, in essence, a variation of the Democratic theme from the fall of 2009 and the spring of 2010 - the idea that the law will become more popular over time. It has not proven true. Why not? Because the product is a stinker. It is a bad design. It is flawed.
If I ask my staff to design something that does X, and they design something that does Y, that IS a design flaw, even if it does Y really well, and even if that's what my staff wanted to do. That they try to pawn it off on me by claiming it does X may exacerbate my anger when I discover their product is flawed, but the true flaw is still in the design.
The design flaw in the ACA is based on a conceptual error, a misdiagnosis of the problem. Liberals have acted for 60 years on the idea that American health care delivery must be remade from top to bottom. Most Americans don't really believe that, which is why Democratic proposals for a government run system such as the ACA have long been popular in the abstract but deadly poison to the Democrat party when actually drafted as specific language and proposed for public consumption. Most Americans understand that they have superb health care coverage. They'd like the minority who don't to have the same thing. But they don't want their coverage changed.
Thus, the ACA is a flawed design because it offers the customer something that doesn't meet the customer's specifications. The lying is a problem on its own, and it may be that that's what convinced the consumer - in this case, the voters - to buy the product, but that is not what makes the ACA so unpopular. The failure is indeed in the design.
December 09, 2012
The "Fiscal Cliff": You Got to Know When to Fold
Mercifully, sometime in January the phrase "fiscal cliff" is likely to disappear from the American vocabulary. Meantime, if you don't know what the "fiscal cliff" is, you probably aren't reading this site. If you've stumbled here and want to know, do a google search, then come back. But basically, unless Congress acts, after the first of the year income tax rates will increase across the board, and the budget will be subject to a "sequester," meaning automatic cuts in spending across the board.
I won't discuss the economics of this situation, and I'm not capable of adding much insight there anyway, except to note that most economists assume that if these events take place, it will be bad for the economy. But a few comments on the politics of things follow.
President Obama has insisted that the 35% tax rate on upper incomes be allowed to rise to 39%, which will happen automatically if Congress doesn't act. Publically, at least, he wants Congress to act to extend the current tax rates on all other brackets, rather than let them rise after January 1. Republicans think that raising the rates will damage the economy, and want the current tax rates maintained in all brackets.
Many Republicans, especially on the talk radio circuit, are arguing that Republicans should not give on extending the current tax rates on all brackets. They seem to think Obama is bluffing and will cave at the end. And such a view seems to be extremely popular with the Republican base and with conservatives commenting on websites and elsewhere.
I don't think these advocates of "no compromise" quite grasp the situation. For the President and Congressional Democrats, there are three options:
1. Allow all tax rates to increase;
Conservatives must understand that the President and Democrats prefer options 1 and 2 to option 3, and that if they do nothing, option 1 kicks in automatically. In other words, they simply have no incentive to agree to option 3. They do not believe that raising the top bracket, or raising all brackets, will damage the economy, or if they do, it is a price they are willing to pay in order to get more funding for the welfare state, or the emotional satisfaction of "asking the wealthy to pay their fair share," in the President's oft-repeated, Orwellian line.
Moreover, they justifiably feel confident that if all rates go up because no deal is reached, the press will blame Republicans, and the public will follow. Further, once the January 1 increase is sprung, it will be easy for Democrats in Congress to introduce legislation to cut taxes on all but the top rates, placing Republicans in the impossible position of opposing tax cuts that would benefit the overwhelming majority of tax filers. If Republicans did stand firm, the Democrats would get their across the board rate increases, while Republicans would suffer terrific political fallout. If Republicans caved at that point, Democrats would still get their increase on the top brackets, would get credit for lowering rates on everybody else, and the phrase "Obama tax cuts" would enter the political lexicon.
In short, the Republicans cannot win this game. The top rates will go up.
That being the case, the best thing Republicans can do is act now, and quickly, to minimize the damage to the economy and to the conservative, low tax position. The House ought to pass two bills. The first would maintain the current tax rates for the top bracket. The second would maintain the current rates for everybody else. The first will almost certainly die in the Senate, and if it somehow did not, the President would veto it. The the statist wing would have to take political responsibility for raising the top rate. The second bill would sweep through the Senate and be signed by the President, and would be a bill promoted by Republicans. Liberals, who have complained for years that our deficit spending problem is simply the result of the "Bush tax cuts" would finally have to buy in to the vast majority of those tax rates.
Meanwhile, those eager to reduce spending and tax rates would then have enormous advantages politically. The new House meeting in January could pass legislation to lower the top rate, which the Democrats would block, further clarifying that party's desire for higher taxes. The revenue from the top bracket increase will have almost no discernable effect on the deficit, thus exposing the President's popular but bald faced lie that serious spending cuts or broad based tax increases can be avoided by tax increases only on top earners. If Republicans are correct that the rate increases will harm the economy, at least they will have made Obama own it. If they are wrong, well, it would be good to know that, too.
Meanwhile, the President will still need authority to raise the debt ceiling early in the new year, so the Republicans will retain an incredibly powerful negotiating chip for future spending reductions. And the President will have lost his biggest chip for those negotiations - the threat of higher tax rates kicking in on the middle class. Serious entitlement and spending reform may then become a real possibility.
Conservatives, libertarians, and Republicans, who are taking the "no negotiations" or "no caving on the top rates" approach, simply are not facing the reality of the situation. Remember, the President and his party favor both option 1, allowing all tax rates to increase; and option 2, allow tax rates on the top bracket to increase, while maintaining currents rates on everybody else; over option 3, maintaining current tax rates in all brackets. And they'll option 1 if no deal is reached. The only reason for them to deal would be if they believed raising the top rate would actually be a bad thing. They don't believe that.
The top rate is going up. The GOP has no chips on that question. But they can end this in a smart fashion, one that minimizes the economic damage to the country, the political damage to the low tax case, and that might even improve the odds for long term budgetary and entitlement reform.
November 26, 2012
New Heights in Polling Absurdity: The "Fiscal Cliff"
Here's an absurd poll: Pew asked respondents who they will blame if Congress and the President fail to reach an accord to avoid the so-called "fiscal cliff" come January. You've got to love how we now attach blame before we've seen the behavior of the participants that would allow us to attach blame.
Lots of possibilities here:
Oh, by the way: 53 percent of respondents say they will blame Republicans; 29 percent say they will blame President Obama. Gee, that means up to 18 percent are actually withholding judgment until they see who is actually to blame.
November 07, 2012
Libertarian views score well on ballot issues
In addition to candidate races up and down the ballot, there were many ballot issues in the states. Here, libertarian and generally limited government views did well. A big night for same-sex marriage and medical marijuana, and a bad one for Obamacare. A recap, below the fold:
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Hail to thee, Massachusetts: Voters in the Bay State made their typical hash of things, electing another Kennedy to Congress and putting Elizabeth Warren in the Senate, among other transgressions, but they did narrowly defeat a measure allowing doctors to help patients commit suicide. I know some libertarians who favor the notion, but as a practical matter it's a horrible idea to start authorizing people to kill others.
Same sex marriage and abortion rights: It was a big night for proponents of same sex marriage. For a decade or more, same sex marriage has lost every time it's been placed before voters - more than 25 times across the country. That string came to a stunning halt on Tuesday.
In Maine, 52.8% approved a measure allowing the state to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples. In Maryland, a similar measure passed with 52.1%. In Minnesota the vote was 52.1% against a measure banning same sex marriage. And Washington state ended the day by voting 52-48% to allow same sex marriage. Coupled with the survival of Iowa Supreme Court Justice Wiggins, targeted for his vote on gay marriage in the state, it was a big day for same-sex marriage supporters.
Florida defeated an amendment to prohibit state government from paying for abortions. In Montana, 70% voted for a parental notification law.
Obamacare trounced: Some exit polls showed that the electorate actually approved of Obamacare. But several states passed state constitutional amendments to bar participation in the system's "exchanges," or to express their desire to opt out generally.
In Missouri, 62% voted to prevent the establishment of the state health exchanges required by Obamacare.
Alabama amended its state constitution to prohibit any person, employer, or insurer from being forced to participate in an insurance system. The measure passed 59% to 41%. In Montana, it was an even more resounding 67% percent vote against Obamacare. And in Wyoming, it was an even more resounding 77%.
Florida, however, was a party pooper, defeating an Alabama-type measure, 51.5% to 48.5%.
Ouch for Big Labor: In one of the most important but overlooked measures of the night, Michigan voters defeated, by a solid 58-42% margin, a union measure that sought to enshrine public sector collective bargaining in the state constitution, using broad language that would have brought every privatization effort into question. This was a big loss for Big Labor in one of its home states. Voters also defeated a measure that would have unionized home care workers, affirming the repeal of a failed union power grab from the Governor Granholm era.
In Alabama, the state constitution was amended to require secret ballots in union elections, by an overwhelming 67.1 to 32.9%. Since federal law will preempt state law in most union elections, this anti-card check vote is more symbolic than substantive.
The Choom Gang - Medical Marijuana & such: Colorado voted to make possession of small amounts of marijuana legal, with 54.8% voting aye. Washington state voted to legalize and regulate the production, distribution, and use of marijuana.
However, MM went down to defeat in Arkansas (51.4% to 48.6%) and Oregon (54.3% to 45.7%).
Taxes & Spending: Tax increases generally fared poorly, but not everywhere. California passed Gov. Jerry Brown's Prop 30, raising sales and income taxes to fund public education, by which is meant the teachers unions. The measure passed with 53.9% voting yes. But an even bigger proposed tax increase, Prop 38, lost with less than 30% support. It's a good lesson in how to make a huge tax increase look "moderate" - put a bigger one on the table. "Sugary drink" taxes lost in the cities of Richmond and El Monte.
New Hampshire has never had an income tax, and they finally decided - what with all the Massachusetts folks moving to the state - maybe they'd better it in the sate Constitution. So they did, prohibiting an income tax by an substantial margin.
Arizonans by nearly two to one defeated a measure to add one percent to the state sales tax, even though it was earmarked for "education." So did South Dakota. Arizona also passed, 57-43%, a constitutional amendment to limit property tax assessed values to a 5% increase per year.
In Oklahoma, a nearly identical measure to Arizona's, limiting property value assessments, passed by a two to one margin. Okies also exempting intangible personal property from property taxes.
Arkansans approved a temporary hike in the state sales tax for transportation projects, but defeated a measure allowing the creation of special sales tax districts for local development.
Missourians defeated a cigarette tax increase earmarked to support education. Tobacco over kids. Good for them. Oregon voters approved a measure eliminating real estate transfer taxes, but defeated an elimination of the state inheritance tax, 53.7-46.3%.
Maine passed what were probably sensible bond issues for conservation easements, transportation projects, and wastewater systems, and defeated what was probably an unnecessary bond measure for more higher education spending. Rhode Island and New Jersey also approved bond issues.
Florida was again a party pooper, defeating proposals to reduce property tax assessments and cap state revenue increases. The voters did approve tax relief for seniors and veterans.
Michigan voters overwhelmingly defeated a measure requiring a two-thirds legislative vote on all tax increases, but in Washington State, such a measure passed with 65% of the vote.
Government Reform: Californians said no to Prop 32, which would have banned contributions by unions, corporations, and government contractors. A coalition of unions and free-speech advocates opposed the measure.
Colorado instructed its congressional delegation to seek a U.S. constitutional amendment to allow more campaign finance restrictions. Good luck with that. Montana citizens declared that corporations aren't people and so have no constitutional rights. Fortunately, of course, the vote has no legal effect. If it did, I would try to get my state to seize all the assets of any Montana corporation operating in the state, without a hearing or any compensation.
Apparently term limits still have some bite, as Nebraska voters overwhelmingly defeated a measure to extend the terms allowed for it state assembly members.
Ohio voters defeated an ill-conceived (or perhaps carefully conceived - it was intended as a partisan Democratic measure) plan to change how redistricting is done in the state. I wrote a number of op-eds for the anti-side, and we won with about 65%. This is the second time in 7 years state Democrats have pulled this stunt.
Education: Georgia amended its constitution to allow charter schools. Washington State voted to allow up to 40 charter schools. In conservative Idaho, however, education reform took it on the chin, as voters defeated three measures to limit teachers' collective bargaining, performance based teacher pay, and other reform measures. South Dakota voted down a proposal to abolish teacher tenure and allow for merit pay.
Other Issues: In California, Los Angeles County voted to require porn actors to wear condoms, presumably only while working. Californians defeated a measure to require special labels on genetically modified foods. Sixty-three percent of Michiganders voted against a measure requiring 25% of all energy to come from renewable sources by 2025. Arbitrary numbers, going down to a non-arbitrary defeat.
In Oklahoma, voters voted to prohibit affirmative action by a 59-41 margin.
Idaho, Wyoming, and Nebraska amended their constitutions to guarantee the right to hunt, fish and trap. In Wyoming, the vote in favor was over 89%. Hey, get these things in the Constitution while they're not threatened, don't wait until they're in danger. Also using that philosophy, Louisiana strengthened its state constitution protection of the right to bear arms, with a 74% majority. Oregon soundly rejected a ban on salmon fishing by all save tribal members.
Maryland passed a measure expanding legal gambling. Oregon, however, voted 70% against allowing private casinos (the state already has several tribal casinos). North Dakota voters passed a broad smoking ban. They also defeated a measure making it a felony to harm a dog, cat, or horse.
Overall, then, same sex marriage did great. Marijuana legalization/decriminalization made some serious headway, and several votes will make it harder for the feds to rely on the states to implement Obamacare next year. Tax relief fared relatively well, winning more than losing. Oh, and hunters, trappers, and fishermen had a perfect night.
For the libertarian leaning voter, the ballot issues offered some choice nuggets.
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Why are liberals so angry this morning?
I've been surprised today by how nasty, mean, angry, bitter, and vindictive so many liberals are this Wednesday, the day after a surprisingly easy and triumphant win at the polls. Below are just a few comments from the very first page of my Facebook feed early this morning:
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"The Rep party needs to clean house, starting with their pathetic pundits and their "fair and balanced" media. Delusional!!"
"Their inability to be remotely based in reality is truly nuts."
"Every Conservative pundit who predicted a landslide - landslide! - for Romney should be fired. Get lost Dick Morris, Charles Krauthammer, Peggy Noonan, Michael Barone and even George Will. What an embarrassment to your cause and to the country."
"let them [Tea Party] be a powerless emabarrassment like the neo-facist parties of Europe, exactly where they belong."
"Too many people willing to believe lies and remain willfully ignorant. Im putting my bet on containing the remaining dinosuars until they die out." [on republicans]
"the American people reject your party's regressive, destructive ideology."
"I have zero interest in being a gracious winner, because your party and your ideology made the last 4 years so horribly ungracious."
"God hates ugly. Maybe the good Lord questioned Mr. Romneys credentials yesterday."
"Haters gonna hate. Country has moved on. Obamanation!"
"Get the f*ck out of this country." [to conservatives]
"a military dictatorship. Hell I'm beginning to see that some on the Right might like that."
Why so angry? They just won. Is there no magnanimity? For example, why would a liberal or a Democrat be so upset, the day after the election with conservative pundits whose predictions had been wrong?
Perhaps this is the result of the tone set at the top. Over the last 4 years liberals have been told to "get in their faces;" and "make them uncomfortable." In the second presidential debate, President Obama made a shocking attack, not on Romney's policies, but on Romney as a person, of the kind simply rarely, if ever seen in a presidential race before:
"Governor Romney doesn't have a five-point plan, he has a one-point plan," Obama said. "And that plan is to make sure that folks at the top play by a different set of rules. That's been his philosophy in the private sector; that's been his philosophy as governor; that's been his philosophy as a presidential candidate. You can make a lot of money and pay lower tax rates than somebody who makes a lot less. You can ship jobs overseas and get tax breaks for it. You can invest in a company, bankrupt it, lay off the workers, strip away their pensions, and you still make money."
The President told his supporters that voting was a form of "revenge." Again and again he chose mockery and ridicule over grace and magnanimity - rarely moreso than in the speech he gave the morning after passing his historic health care measure, when he mocked and ridiculed opponents rather than congratulating them on a good fight. Countless other episodes come to mind, even just during the last few weeks on the campaign trail.
In any case, it just seems strange, and frankly, disturbing, to me. Makes one want to do a little snark oneself: Hey, you won. Get over it!
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Tuesday's Results: Executive Offices Down the Ballot
I presume you've heard something about the Presidential results. Here we'll spend a couple sentences on U.S. House and Senate, and then move down the ballot to see what happened in the states.
Here I'll focus on state executive offices and courts; I'll do state legislatures, and then review the fates of ballot issues, later as more info becomes available.
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In the U.S. Senate, against an awful playing field and what once looked like a sure thing for Republicans, the Democrats had an amazing night. The self-inflicted wounds of Republicans hurt as Richard Mourdock lost a Republican seat in Indiana and Todd Akin lost a probable Republican gain in Missouri, both due to ill-advised comments on rape and abortion (well, Akin's were not only ill-advised, but ignorant and ridiculous, too). Both are losses for freedom - while neither man would have much impact on abortion policy at all, Akin was better on tax and spending issues than his incumbent opponent Claire McCaskill, and while the winner in Indiana, Joe Donnelly, won't be bad, Mourdock was a serious budget cutter. Akin, who refused to drop out of the race when he had time, ran 30 points behind Mitt Romney in Missouri.
Elsewhere, the "too close to call" races fell one by one to the Democrats. The atrociously bad Elizabeth Warren beat Scott Brown in Massachusetts, a not unexpected but disappointing result nonetheless; colorless congressman Chris Murphy beat entrepreneur Linda McMahon in Connecticut; Bob Casey, said by many to be the least intelligent Senator, defeated Tom Smith in Pennsylvania; Tim Kaine finished George Allen's career in Virginia, and Tammy Baldwin did the same to Tommy Thompson in Wisconsin, becoming the first openly gay senator. (Note: Republicans, in particular, have had many closeted gay senators. Ah, the days of my youth, when most gays were Republican). Thompson had been a creative governor for school choice and entitlement reform, but his days were past. Kaine is pretty sensible, but Allen was one of the Senate's more libertarian members on policy. It's hard to see any of these results as good for freedom, broadly speaking.
But the parade kept going. In Ohio, Sherrod Brown, a big spending, big labor partisan, defeated Josh Mandel, a young tea party candidate who ran a horrible campaign. Debbie Stabenow, another cookie cutter union Democrat, defeated Pete Hoekstra in Michigan, Hoekstra also running a horrible campaign. Heather Wilson gave it the old college try but lost to Martin Heinrich in New Mexico. Moderate Republican Rick Berg lost a nailbiter to Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota, probably the only Democrat who could have held the seat. Jon Tester won by 4 points in Montana over Denny Rehberg, a race in which Libertarian Dan Cox picked up 6.5%. Tester is one of the more libertarian friendly senators on the Democratic side.
Republicans and libertarians got a tiny bit of good news moving west, as libertarian-Republican congressman Jeff Flake held off a surprisingly tough challenge from Dennis Carmona to hold Arizona's open seat. Flake will probably become the most libertarian member of the Senate after Rand Paul. The R's picked up a seat, as expected, in Nebraska, and Dean Heller hung on to his seat in Nevada, defeating a big-labor hack, Shelley Berkeley. Add in a win for independent Angus King in Maine, who will probably caucus with the Democrats, and the you've got a net Democratic pick up of two seats in a year in which, by rights, they should have lost ground. The 8 seats won by Republicans is the fewest either major party has won since 1964.
We're looking at a Democratic pick up of about 5-7 seats here. It's currently at 5, with 12 seats undecided. If the current margin in those seats hold (most have all the returns in, and are awaiting possible recounts; a couple have a few absentees yet to count), Democrats would finish with a pick up of 7. This will have almost no ideological change on the House, and there were few close races of much interest to libertarian-oriented voters.
It does look like Mary Bono Mack, one of the more libertarian Republicans in the House, will lose her seat. There's been no concession, but she's down 51.4% to 48.6% with all votes counted. In Utah, libertarian-Republican hope Mia Love, seeking to become the first female African-American congressman, trails incumbent Jim Matheson 49.3% to 48.1% with all votes in. Libertarian Party nominee Jon Vein won 2.6% and probably cost Love the seat.
In Michigan, two Republicans, Paulite freshman Justin Amash and Club for Growth favorite Tim Walberg, also held their seats against strong challenges. In another race in Michigan's 11th District, Kent Bentivolio, a libertarian supporter of Ron Paul, stumbled into the GOP nomination when Thad McCotter failed to submit enough signatures for the primary ballot. Bentivolio won Tuesday with just over 50% of the vote, and will head to Congress as one of the more colorful members of the freshman class.
No major leaders went down, although controversial Florida freshman Alan West trails 50.4 to 49.6% with all votes in, waiting on a recount.
Again, the bottom line is that House has changed in any significant way.
Republicans gain 1 seat, lead nationally 30-19, with 1 Independent.
Republicans had expected to gain at least one, and possibly as many as four, governorships. It looks like they'll settle at the low end, with one. Pat McCrory won in North Carolina. Democrat Marjorie Hassan held the governorship for Democrats in New Hampshire. Two close races are still counting ballots, but it looks like Steve Bullock will defeat Rick Hill in Montana, and Jay Inslee will beat Rob McKenna in Washington state. Both are defeats for freedom, not because the losers are so good but because the winners are so bad. In Montana, Bullock won 49-47, with 4% for Libertarian Ron Vandevender.
Republicans gain 1 seat, lead nationally 31-13. (Six states have no Lt. Governor).
A few states still elect the Lieutenant Governor separately from the Governor. There were 5 such elections this year.
Republicans gained the seat in North Carolina as Dan Forest, son of Congresswoman Sue Myrick, scored a razor thin win. Incumbent Brad Owen narrowly defeated Bill Finkbeiner in Washington, in what was a disappointing night for Republicans, who had hoped to re-establish a strong presence in the state. In Missouri, embattled GOP incumbent Peter Kinder held on, with less than 50% of the vote. LP and Constitution Party nominees combined for over 5% in the race. Incumbents Phil Scott (R) in Vermont and Matthew Denn (D) in Delaware won easily.
STATE SUPREME COURTS
There were a number of state Supreme Court races up, some retention elections, some pitting candidates against each other. Many of the most interesting races down ballot were for Supreme Court seats. A quick round-up:
IOWA: In 2009, the Iowa Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in the state on a 7-0 vote. In 2010, three of those justices were not retained by Iowa voters (Justices need to get a 50% vote in periodic retention elections). This year, Chief Justice David Wiggins became the 4th Justice to face a retention election, but Wiggins held on, getting 54% for retention. This was part of a very good night for proponents of same-sex marriage, as we will see in a later post on state ballot issues.
FLORIDA: Three Florida judges faced retention elections. Usually these are routine, but for the first time ever, the state Republican Party took sides, urging that all three not be retained, for a variety of decisions but generally just being too liberal. Non-retention would have allowed Republican Governor Rick Scott to name replacements. But all three won easily.
MICHIGAN: Michigan's Supreme Court has had a number of ideological battles in recent years. The Court will retain it's 4-3 conservative split after an expensive campaign. Republican Steve Markman, the majority's intellectual leader, was re-elected, and Brian Zahra, appointed last year, won election to fill out the term of the Justice he replaced. The other full term was won by Democrat Bridget McCormick, a liberal law professor at the University of Michigan. The cast of the West Wing, the old liberal political-fantasy show, cut an ad on her behalf, as her sister was connected with the show.
OHIO: Ohio's conservative-Republican Supreme Court majority stayed intact, but in an unexpected fashion. Republican David Cupp lost a tough re-election battle to Democrat William O'Neil, a former appellate judge with good name recognition in Cleveland. Not a big surprise, but Cupp had been a modest favorite. Republicans offset that loss, however, with a surprise win. Yvette McGee Brown, an African American Democrat appointed to a vacancy in 2010, had carefully fashioned a moderate image, had a popular Ohio political name, and was running against a Republican, Sharon Kennedy, rated "not qualified" by the Ohio Bar Association. Most GOP groups put little into Kennedy's campaign, ceding it to Brown while working to save Cupp. But Kennedy won an easy 14 point victory. In a third race, Republican Terrance O'Donnell was easily re-elected.
WEST VIRGINIA: West Virginia's contentious races have often drawn national attention and led to the Supreme Court case of Caperton v. Massey Coal, re judicial recusal. This year's races were relatively quiet, with incumbent Democrat Robin Davis winning easy re-election, while Republican Allen Loughry captured an open seat formerly held by Democrat Thomas McHugh. That win cuts the Democratic margin to 3-2.
ALABAMA: Judge Roy Moore of 10 Commandments fame won his old seat back, defeating Democrat Bob Vance. Moore is the kind of Republican who makes most libertarians' skin crawl.
NORTH CAROLINA: Republicans kept a 4-3 majority on the state's high court as incumbent Paul Newby defeated Sam Ervin IV, grandson of the old segregationist Senator Sam Ervin of Watergate fame. Democrats complained relentlessly about "outside spending" in the race, which was a blow to the state's system of tax-funded judicial campaigns.
LOUISIANA: Louisiana will have a runoff election between liberal Democrat Michael Guidry and Jeff Hughes, a Republican backed by the trial lawyers. Hughes is favored. A Hughes win would give the GOP a 4-3 majority on the Court, but either way it probably moves a bit to the left as Hughes replaces conservative Democrat Kitty Kimball.
MINNESOTA: Three Republican incumbents - all appointed - swept Minnesota's Supreme Court races. The best of the bunch, from a libertarian perspective, is Barry Anderson, who defeated Dean Barkley. If Barkley's name rings a faint bell, he was guy Jesse Ventura appointed to the U.S. Senate to fill the last few months of the late Paul Wellstone's term. The races are technically non-partisan.
WASHINGTON: One of the saddest defeats for libertarians on Tuesday came in the race for Washington State Supreme Court. There, Sheryl McCloud defeated Richard Sanders for an open seat. Sanders, who lost a close re-election bid in 2010, was probably the most libertarian state Supreme Court Justice in the country - a paragon for the defense of free speech, civil liberties, and property rights. It's a shame he won't be returning to the Court.
Elsewhere around the country, incumbent justices either ran unopposed or won handily.
No change in partisan composition. Each major party holds 25 seats. Republicans lead 22-21 in elected seats.
Democrats picked up the seat held by McKenna in Washington State, and won the Pennsylvania office for the first time since it became an elected office in 1978. Republicans countered by taking AG seats from Democrats in Montana and West Virginia. A lot more people in the seats gained by Democrats. None of the changes involve AGs particularly famous for abusing their power, although Tim Fox is an improvement over Bullock in Montana, and Patrick Morrissey is a marked improvement over Darrell McGraw in West Virginia, who would have been a dangerous man over the year had he been in a state such as New York.
SECRETARIES OF STATE
There were no changes in the partisan composition of Secretary of State on Tuesday. However, in Maine, where the position is appointed by the legislature, the Democratic takeover of both chambers probably means that Republican Chuck Sumner will be replaced in January. That would give the Democrats a pick up of 1, leaving Republicans with a national edge of 27-20 (3 states have no such office).
Despite a disappointing night in the state, Republicans did keep one statewide office in Washington, as Kim Wyman defeated Kathleen Drew 50.4 to 49.6%. As the only Republican in statewide executive office, Wyman is a likely nominee for Governor or Senator in the future.
Democrats narrowly held the office in Missouri, where Jason Kandler defeated Shane Schoeller, 49-48, to replace retiring Robin Carnahan. Libertarian and Constitution Party nominees took nearly 4 percent, probably depriving Republicans of a win.
Incumbents Jim Condos (D. Vt) and Natalie Tennant (D. W.Va.) won easily. Incumbent Democrats in Oregon, Montana, and North Carolina fought off energetic challenges.
No change. Republicans lead nationally 28-22 overall, 22-16 among elected Treasurers.
All incumbents won on Tuesday. One of note, libertarian-Republican Cole McNary lost a close race in Missouri. As a state representative, McNary had been a major force for reducing taxes and spending, and was first chairman of the House Committee on Downsizing Government.
No partisan change: Republicans lead nationally 15-11.
In Pennsylvania, Democrat Eugene DePasquale won a close win over John Maher. This is probably the most powerful Auditor's office in the country. The winner says his first order of business will be to audit the Department of Environmental Protection to make sure that it has sufficiently tough on oil-drilling and fracking in the state. Libertarian Betsy Summers won 3.9% in a race DePasquale won by 3.4%.
It appears that no state office will change hands, although in Washington State they are still counting ballots with Democrat Troy Kelly holding a narrow lead over Tea Party backed James Watkins. If Watkins were to you could add one to the Republican side of the numbers above.
No partisan change. Still 19-17, Republican.
There are 12 elected Agriculture Commissioners, and Democrats, in something of a surprise, held their only such seat, in West Virginia.
School reform took a pair of hits on Tuesday. Glenda Ritz, a teacher and teacher's union candidate, defeated Indiana's reforming Superintendent of Education Tony Bennett. Bennett had fought to reduce the power of teachers' unions, increase charter schools, and introduce school choice within the traditional public school system. Another school reformer, John Tedesco, was trounced by incumbent June Atkinson in North Carolina.
Another unfortunate result for libertarians came in California, where Bob Filner, a run-of-the-mill Democratic Congressman, defeated a gay, libertarian-Republican, Carl DeMaio, for Mayor, 51.5% to 48.5%.
Republicans appear to have picked up two seats on Montana's Public Services Commission, giving them a 5-0 majority, although two races could still swing back to Democratic incumbents. Once such race involves GOP property rights advocate Roger Koopman.
One's faith in voters got a boost when Republican Anthony Silva won the Mayor's office in Stockton, California, a city of over 300,000. In something of an upset, Silva defeated Democrat Ann Johnston with 58% of the vote. Johnston is the incumbent Mayor who has driven Stockton to become the largest U.S. City to go bankrupt.
Democrat Ben McAdams kept the mayor's office of Salt Lake City in Democratic hands. Another winning Democrat in a big city (or at least mid-sized city) mayoral race was Kip Holden, easily re-elected in Baton Rouge against a well-funded challenge. Liberal Democrat Charlie Hales defeated Liberal Democrat Jefferson Smith in a non-partisan race to replace Liberal Democrat Sam Adams as Mayor of Portland, Oregon.
In Alabama, the last Democrat in statewide office, Public Service Commissioner Lucy Baxley, lost to Republican Twinkle Cavanaugh.
A lot of action for little change.
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November 06, 2012
Election Day Ironies
1) We have a supposed separation of church and state, and the location where many people will vote today will be in a church.
2) We are voting to determine who will run our government, and the process of voting is run by government. On our local news last night, they said that an estimated 90 million people will vote today. I imagine that, on a given workday, at least 90 million people buy their lunch from somewhere, and they will not have to wait anywhere near as long in line as people will have to wait today to vote. Perhaps there is a lesson there in the efficiency of the private vs. public sector upon which people could reflect as they decide for whom to vote. They'll have plenty of time to do the reflecting.
November 04, 2012
Down Ballot: State Legislatures
This post reviews state legislature makeups and possible changes in 2012. Scroll down the page for prior posts governors and lieutenant governors, attorneys general, secretaries of state, and other mayors and other state offices.
Entering election day 2012, Republicans control 59 state legislative chambers, Democrats 36. Three are tied, and one state, Nebraska has a non-partisan, unicameral legislature (although in fact, it is heavily Republican). Radical changes this year are unlikely, but here is the basic rundown:
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Republican Chambers that could go Democratic:
Currently Tied Chambers:
If you're wondering, the other tied chamber is the Virginia Senate, which is not up for election this year.
My best guess is that, in the end, Republicans may net a chamber or two, even as Democrats gain slightly in the total number of state legislators.
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Way down the ballot: Treasurers, Auditors, and other people and offices you never heard of
Earlier entries - scroll down the page- have reviewed Governors, Lt. Governors, Aspiring Governors (aka Attorney Generals) and Secretary of State races for 2012. This post includes a review of miscellaneous state offices up for election in 2012, including Treasurer, Auditor, and similar positions.
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For the elected Treasurers, there are a few close races.
The most hotly contested may in Pennsylvania, where 1st term Democrat Rob McCord battles Republican Irey Vaughn, a Country Commissioner. Three public polls have shown McCord with leads of from 1 to 4 points. McCord, who is widely expected to challenge Republican Governor Tom Corbett in 2014, has spent over $2 million on the race, far more than Vaughn, but the latter hopes to benefit from Mitt Romney's late rise in the state. Libertarian and Constitution Party candidates are bleeding a few votes off of Vaughn's right flank.
In Missouri, Democratic incumbent Clint Zwiefel, is favored over Republican Cole McNary, a state representative. Libertarians could fall for McNary, who as a state rep lobbied to create a House Committee on Downsizing Government, which he now chairs. Of course, in today's typical fashion of blurring the responsibilities of various offices, McNary's web page contains "issue positions" on abortion and Second Amendment rights. A Libertarian Party nominee, Sean O'Toole, previously garnered 33% of the vote in a two way race for the state legislature in 2010. His wife, Cisse Spragins, is the LP nominee for Secretary of State, so in the even of an LP wave, state government could become a family affair. Back to reality, the only public poll in the race, in August, showed Zwiefel with a 7 point lead.
North Carolina is another state with a competitive race, as first term Democratic Jane Cowell led tea party Republican Steve Royal by 5 points in a pair of October polls.
There's been no public polling in West Virginia, where Democrat John Perdue seeks a 5th term against Republican Mike Hall, Minority Leader in the State Senate. Perdue is probably the favorite, but West Virginia's Republican trend is slowly seeping down the ballot, and Hall was endorsed by the state's largest paper, the generally Democratic Charleston Daily Mail, which called him the "best qualified person ever to run for state treasurer."
Expect easy re-election for Democrats James McIntire in Washington, and Republican Kelly Schmidt in North Dakota and Richard Ellis in Utah. The odds would suggest that the Republicans could pick up a seat or two (not including the two seats that could switch by virtue of gubernatorial appointment); the Democrats hope to simply hold all their incumbents and break even. By next January, Republicans will hold somewhere between their current 28 and 34 state treasurer offices.
Again, the hottest race may in Pennsylvania, where Democrat Eugene DePasquale and Republican John Maher are in a dead heat for the office being vacated by term-limited Democrat Jack Wagner. Pennsylvania's Auditor is relatively powerful, and DePasquale promises his first order of business will be to audit the Department of Environmental Protection to make sure that it has sufficiently tough on oil-drilling and fracking in the state. Wagner used the office to block privatization of liquor stores and other state enterprises. Maher is endorsed by most of the state's newspapers. He's no libertarian, but almost certainly preferable to DePasquale. There is an LP candidate in the race, Betsy Summers, a sales rep from Wilkes-Barre.
In Washington, Democratic State Rep Troy Kelley held a 5 point lead in a mid-October Elway poll over Republican James Watkins, in a race to replace Democrat Brian Sonntag, who did not seek re-election. Watkins is a manager at Microsoft and has the endorsements of Tea Party groups. Watkins won Washington's "top-two" primary (the top two finishers, regardless of party, face each other in the general election) with 46% of the vote, but has been unable to add the few percentage points he needs for victory.
In North Carolina, PPP has conducted six polls. The first, in June, had Democratic incumbent Beth Wood and GOP challenger Debra Goldman tied at 36%. In each poll since, Wood has increased her lead, until a poll taken last week had her up 50-38%. This comes in the midst of rumors of an extra-marital affair on Goldman's part. Goldman, a volunteer fire-fighter, entered politics in 2009 through tea party events, and currently serves as Vice-Chair of the Wake County Board of Education.
In Utah, Auston Johnson, first elected in 1996, was defeated in the GOP primary by state representative John Dougall in the midst of a mini-scandal involving public school financing. Dougall is a heavy favorite over Democrat Mark Sage and Constitution nominee Richard Proctor.
In West Virginia, Democratic incumbent Glen Gainer III first won the office in 1992, seceding Glen Gainer II, who had held it since 1977. He's favored to keep it in the family. Republicans have their own dynasty in North Dakota, where Robert Peterson took over from his father (first elected in 1972) in 1996. Peterson is favored against state rep Robert Kelsh, son of the state's House Minority Leader. Montana's incumbent Democrat, Monica Lindeen, is favored over Republican state rep Derek Skees.
As with Treasurer's offices, Republicans are highly unlikely to lose any offices they now hold, and could pick up as many as two or three more.
In North Carolina incumbent Wayne Goodwin has held a steady high single digit lead over Republican Mike Causey, a former insurance company executive and small business owner. Goodwin has the usual endorsements you'd expect for a Democrat - Planned Parenthood, the AFL-CIO, etc., and one interesting endorsement: former congressman and 2008 Ron Paul supporter Barry Goldwater, Jr. In Delaware, first term incumbent Karen Stewart faces a challenge from Republican Brian Mobley, a financial planner. The LP candidate, David Eisenhour, suspended his campaign in mid-October and endorsed Mobley. In Washington state, incumbent Mike Kreidler is a solid favorite over Republican John Adams. All three incumbents have raised considerably more money than their challengers.
The lone Republican up for re-election is North Dakota's Adam Hamm, a heavy favorite over Democrat Tom Potter.
It's unlikely, then, that the elections will result in any changes.
The race to replace Douglas is between Republican Kent Leonhardt, a retired Marine Lt. Colonel and farmer, and Democrat Walt Helmick, a state senator and bottled water distributor. Leonhardt has the endorsements of the Charleston, Wheeling, and Huntington newspapers, and the Farm Bureau. Texas Governor Rick Perry recently stumped the state for him. Douglas has so far not endorsed Helmick. No polling, but this looks like Leonhardt's race.
In Indiana, Democrats got a pleasant surprise when a recent Howey/DePauw poll showed challenger Glenda Ritz, a teacher, trailing GOP incumbent Tony Bennett by just 4 points. And the teacher's union would love to take out Bennett, who has promoted merit pay, vouchers, and a rapid expansion of charter schools since winning the office with just 51% in 2008. But the Howey poll was very favorable to Democrats across the Board in the Hoosier state. Unless they're on to something other pollsters have missed, Bennett is probably fine.
The only other seat up for election this year is in North Carolina, where Republican Incumbent Steve Troxler has maintained a steady 10 point lead in polling against Democrat Walter Smith.
Of the 38 states that make this an appointed positions, 21 are Democrats and 17 Republicans, giving the GOP an 28-22 edge. That edge is likely to grow by one to three offices as a result of the two elections above, and gubernatorial elections this year.
OTHER RACES OF NOTE:
Although Filner's labor support gives him an overall financial edge, DeMaio has raised nearly $3.5 million to Filner's $1 million for his actual campaign committee, and is also getting support from some Super PACs. The business establishment has rallied behind him, including Qualcomm founder Irwin Jacobs, a major Obama supporter. A win for DeMaio could be the highlight of the night for hardcore libertarians, and it would be an important marker for an inclusive, national GOP.
Another California Mayoral race is interesting only for demonstrating the shamelessness of politicians and cravenness of voters: Democrat Ann Johnston is favored to win re-election as Mayor of Stockton, the largest city in U.S. history to go bankrupt, which it did on her watch. Her opponent is Republican Anthony Silva.
In Louisiana, Republicans hope City Councilman Mike Walker can take the Mayor's office from two-term incumbent Kip Holden. Holden has the lead but Walker is spending a lot of money. Holden has hosted Louis Farrakhan, which is a bit of a campaign issue. Otherwise lots of mayor's seats are up, but few are likely to change party control or offer much drama.
North Carolina has an interesting race for Superintendent of Education, where Republican John Tedesco trails incumber June Atkinson by 2 points in a late October poll. Atkinson is a career teacher endorsed, of course, by the NCEA as well as Emily's List, the AFL-CIO, and something called the Durham People's Alliance. Tedesco is a member of the Wake County School Board (the 16th largest school district in the country) and the President of the North Carolina Center for Education Reform. Tedesco, formerly a manager at Big Brothers/Big Sisters, defeated a prominent liberal teacher to win his seat on the County Board. The far left hates Tedesco, and calls him John "Tea Party" Tedesco, so he must be doing something right. This looks like a stark alternative for voters in the Tarheel State.
North Carolina also has a hot race for Labor Commissioner, where the wonderfully named Republican Incumbent, Cherie Berry, has a single digit lead in polls against Democrat John Brooks. The 75 year old Brooks, currently a staff attorney with state Industrial Commission, held the office from 1977 to 1992. Berry has a lot more cash and should hold on in a race that has focused on workplace safety.
In Alabama, Republicans hope to take out the last statewide Democratic officeholder, Public Service Commissioner Lucy Baxley. Baxley barely beat Twinkle Cavanaugh in 2008, and Cavanaugh is back for a rematch. The PSC regulates utilities in the state. Deregulation through the legislature has made this a relatively powerless position, so this is a symbolic target for both parties. Cavanaugh has sought to tie Baxley to President Obama, who is very unpopular in the state.
In Montana, the Republicans 3-2 edge on the state Public Service Commission is up for grabs as three seats are up for election. Republican Kirk Bushman takes on Democrat Chuck Tooley to replace term-limited GOP Commissioner Brad Molnar. But even if Bushman loses, Republicans can keep control by knocking either Democratic incumbents Gail Gutsche or Bob Vincent. What all this might mean isn't entirely clear. In a reversal from the usual roles, liberals have criticized Gutsche for being too soft on utility companies, while her Republican opponent, state senator Bob Lake, is lauded as "an advocate who will crack down on utilities." The contrast is more traditional is the final race, where Republican Roger Koopman says he is running to "protect property rights" while Democratic incumbent John Vincent seeks more power for the PSC to "protect utility ratepayers."
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November 02, 2012
Downticket: Secretaries of State
This is a third posting on down ticket races this year, for hard-core junkies who want to know what's going on around the country beyond the presidential and U.S. House and Senate races. Today we're focused on Secretaries of State.
Secretary of State is traditionally a boring position dealing with corporate filings and the like, but in the last decade it has become a highly fought over office because, in most states, the Secretary is the state's highest election official.
47 states have such an office: 28 are held by Republicans, 19 by Democrats.
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Thirty-five of these seats are elected independently, and they are held 20 for Republicans, and 15 for Democrats. Only one of the appointed seats might change hands as a result of the elections this year. In Maine, the legislature chooses the Secretary of State, and Democrats hope to recapture the legislature this year. If so, they'll probably oust incumbent Chuck Sumner, who tried to abolish same day voter registration in the state, a pet Democratic cause.
Seven states have elections for the office in 2012. Four of these races appear competitive.
In Missouri, Democrat Robin Carnahan is stepping down. The race to succeed her is between two state reps, Democrat Jason Kander, an Afghan War vet, and Republican Shane Schoeller. Kander promises to use the office to press for campaign finance reform; Schoeller promotes voter ID laws. Kander says he wants to make it easier to start small businesses in Missouri; Schoeller, a former lobbyist for the Home Builders Association, promises to reduce business regulation. Both have raised and spent over $1 million in a hotly contested race. The LP has nominated Cisse Spragins, a chemist who owns a business manufacturing sanitation and pest control products. The Constitution Party also has a candidate on the ballot. Polls have shown Schoeller with a small but consistent lead in a state that has been trending Republican, and this is definitely a possible GOP pick-up.
Republicans also hope for a pick-up in Montana, which is a rematch of the 2008 race between Democrat Linda McCulloch, and the Republican she ousted from the office, Brad Johnson. McCulloch won that race 49-48% of the vote, with a Constitution Party candidate peeling off votes from Johnson's right flank. In that race, McCulloch got major financial support from the Secretary of State Project, a Soros-funded left-wing effort to place "progressives" into Secretary of State offices around the country in an effort to be in control of state election procedures. Before entering politics, she was a teacher for over 20 years. Johnson, a small business owner, is campaigning on voter ID laws, and ending Montana's same day registration as an anti-fraud measure. A pair of October polls showed McCulloch ahed by 1 and 2 points, respectively. Libertarian Roger Roots has done almost no campaigning and doesn't even have a website, but polled 8 percent in one poll and could be a wild card.
In North Carolina, Democrat Elaine Marshall is seeking a fifth 4-year term. Republican Ed Goodwin is a farmer, county commissioner, and former international weapons inspector for the Air Force. Marshall has a lot more money and has had a consistent 5 to 10 point lead in the polls. She ought to win on Tuesday but it's not a given.
Finally, in Washington state Republican Sam Reed is stepping down after 3 terms. Thurston County Auditor Kim Wyman is the GOP candidate, against former state rep Kathleen Drew. As usual, the candidates are fighting it out over voter ID. Wyman has the endorsement not only of Reed and former GOP Secretary of State Bruce Chapman, but also longtime Democratic SecState Ralph Munro, and the Washington Education Association. An October poll by Elway had this race a dead heat, with almost a third of voters undecided.
In Vermont, Democrat Jim Condos faces only token third party opposition from the left-wing Liberty Union party. In Oregon, incumbent Democrat Kate Brown leads Republican Knute Buehler, a physcian and Rhodes Scholar, by 15 points in a pair of October polls. Buehler has raised a lot more money but seems unlikely to win. There are also Green and Progressive Party candidates in the race. In West Virginia, incumbent Democrat Natalie Tenant faces a low key race against Republican Brian Savilla, a state rep. There is no polling in the race, and neither candidate has raised or spent much money. Tenant should win but Savilla could surprise as the state trends more and more Republican.
Overall, there should be little change in the partisan make up of Secretaries of State.
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November 01, 2012
Down Ticket: State Attorney General Races
In this post, I review 2012 races for state Attorney General positions.
State races for Attorney General have gained increased attention in recent years, not only because of the power that state attorneys general wield, but because these high profile positions are excellent stepping stones to higher office (the political joke, of course, is that "AG" is short for "Aspiring Governor.") Unfortunately, AG is increasingly a position where demogogues and abusers of power congregate to build reputations as "crime fighters" and "protectors of consumers."
Currently, each major party holds 25 AG's offices. Republicans lead 22-21 among AGs in elected office - 4 Democrats and 3 Republicans are in states which fill the position through appointment by governors, state legislatures, or the state supreme court. Ten seats are up for election, 6 held by Democrats and 4 by Republicans.
Here's the rundown on these 10 seats, in alphabetical order:
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1. In Indiana, Republican incumbent Greg Zoeller faces attorney Kay Fleming. Through Oct. 15, Zoeller had outraised Fleming $367,000 to $17,000, and had $423,000 cash on hand to Fleming's $2000. That pretty much tells us who's going to win. Zoeller has been a mixed bag for liberty. He has successfully defended a school choice law and defunding Planned Parenthood, but has been ferociously anti-free speech.
2. In Missouri, Democratic incumbent Chris Koster is being challenged by Republican Ed Martin, Chief of Staff to former Missouri Governor Matt Blunt. Martin has launched a vigorous challenge. However, after a couple of August polls showed Koster's lead within the margin of error, Koster was able to use his superior fundraising, and some poor displays of temper by Martin, to open a sizeable lead in late October polls taken by PPP (48-38) and Mason-Dixon (51-37). With Martin down to $23,000 cash on hand at the end of October, he won't have anything for a late blitz, and Koster is likely to hold the seat.
Substantively, Koster got the NRA's endorsement. But his website brags that he holds the Missouri record for prevailing wage prosecutions, and, like too many AGs, seems to have little concern civil rights. Martin has gained campaign support from both Rick Santorum and Rand Paul, but his campaign has been more based on charges of ethics violations than substantive social conservative or libertarian issues. There is a Libertarian in this race, David Browning, who picked up 4% of the vote in a 3 way congressional race in 2008. Browning has a website up but has spent less than $500 on the race.
3. In Montana, incumbent Democrat Steve Bullock is running for Governor, leaving an open seat to be contested between Democrat Pam Bucy, a Department of Labor attorney, and Republican Tim Fox, who lost a close race to Bullock in 2008.
This looks like a probable GOP pick-up, with Fox holding a steady lead of about 10 points in admittedly limited polling. Fox has benefited from over $500,000 in spending by SpeechNow groups (aka "Super PACs") and has a big edge in name recognition from his 2008 campaign. Bucy, who benefits from police union support, seems like a sensible enough person, with periodic time off to bash corporate personhood and "gender inequity" in insurance, and to argue for "fair" wages, and "cultural awareness training." Fox has the NRA endorsement - no small thing in Montana - and that of the Chamber of Commerce. He has pledged to battle against Obamacare.
4. In North Carolina, Democratic incumbent Roy Cooper is unopposed.
5. In 2012, no Republican filed for the primary in Oregon's AG race. Oregon's Democratic AG John Kroger then won the GOP primary as a write in candidate. Kroger announced early he would step down this year, but again no Republican filed for the primary. Ellen Rosenblum easily won the Democratic primary, but this time a Republican, property rights lawyer James Buchal, won the GOP nomination as a write-in.
Rosenblum's primary win came over Dwight Holton, a union-supported hack whom Kroger had endorsed. Rosenblum, in contrast, is a classic progressive good-government type: "my reason for [running] was to be the People’s Attorney General. That means advocating for and protecting Oregon’s most vulnerable citizens — seniors, families, and kids." Gag. But Rosenblum will appeal to many libertarians on social issues, being pro-same sex marriage, pro-abortion rights, and supportive of Oregon's medical marijuana law, which got her major financial support from the Drug Policy Alliance, a drug law reform group. Before running, Rosenblum spent nearly two decades as a judge in the state courts, the last 7 on the Court of Appeals. After the primary, Kroger resigned early to take the presidency of Reed College, and the state's Democratic governor appointed Rosenblum to fill in the last months of his term. Since then, Rosenblum has been running an incumbent's campaign, basically ignoring her challenger and trying to suggest that the race is a fait accompli, refusing to debate Buchal.
Nevertheless, Buchal, a graduate of Harvard and Yale, has run a scrappy, if underfunded campaign, stressing government downsizing and reform, fighting federal encroachments on state power, and protecting property rights. And he's criticized Rosenblum for not being strongly enough in favor of liberalizing drug laws. "I believe that people are not cows owned by the State farm, who can only eat what the State gives them, or take the pills the State wants them to take. My opponent claims that she will protect the rights of medical marijuana patients, but as a Court of Appeals judge wasted our tax dollars promoting the prosecution of a patient who simply shared her marijuana with her boyfriend."
Limited polling from early-summer showed Rosenblum with a double digit, but not insurmountable lead. There's been nothing since. Buchal would be great for libertarians, Rosenblum is already an improvement over her predecessor. There is a Progressive, Chris Henry, and a cross-endorsed Libertarian/Constitution Party nominee, James Luenberger, a former Deputy AG in Idaho. Given the positions of Rosenblum and Buchal, however, it's hard to see why voters would feel the need to vote for the third party competitors. Democrats should hold this seat, but its not inevitable that they will.
6. Pennsylvania changed it's AG office from appointed to elected in 1978, and no Democrat has ever won the office since. This could be the year. Incumbent Linda Kelly is not running. That leaves Cumberland County DA David Freed to try to hold the seat for Republicans against former Lackawanna County Assistant DA Kathleen Kane, who upset former Congressman Pat Murphy in the primary.
Although Freed had no primary opponent and Republican Governor Tom Corbett made Freed's election his top political priority in 2012, Freed has been a lackluster fundraiser, raising a little over $700,000 through September, to Kane's $1,800,000. He's also been a lackluster campaigner, trailing Kane by an average of about 10 points in the polls. Kane ran Hillary Clinton's campaign in the state in 2008 and Bill Clinton has been in to campaign for her. On the issues, there is relatively little difference between the two. Marakay Rogers is the LP candidate, arguing for decriminalizing marijuana and abolishing the death penalty.
It looks like Democrats will finally break through and claim the Pennsylvania AG's office.
7. Utah. John Swallow is heavily favored to keep this open seat in the Republican column. His opponents are Democrat Dee Smith and Libertarian Andrew McCullough.
8. In Vermont, long-time AG Bill Sorrell, first appointed to the position by then-Gov. Howard Dean, should hold his seat against Republican challenger Jack McMullen. But McMullen, a Harvard Law grad and former Board member of Vermont's libertarian state think tank, the Ethan Allen Institute, has run a well-financed campaign. He has some name recognition from being the sacrificial lamb in the 2004 Senate race against Pat Leahy. He also ran in 1998, losing the GOP primary after being unable to identify the correct number of teats on a cow during a debate - an event that could probably only happen in Vermont. McMullen's big issues have been tort reform and drugs (he wants to decriminalize marijuana, and crack down on harder drugs). Sorrell is pretty terrible on every issue. There has been no polling in the race. The fact that Sorrell barely survived a bruising primary gives some Republicans hope, but realistically, this is Vermont. a Progressive candidate, Ed Stanek, could take votes from Sorrell.
9. The Democrats will try for another pick-up in Washington state, where GOP incumbent Rob McKenna is running for governor. Their candidate is Bob Ferguson, a member of the King County Council, where he sits next to his Republican opponent, Reagan Dunn, also a Council member. Ferguson has run a issueless campaign, while Dunn is a "tough on crime" candidate, and there's not much for a libertarian leaning voter to differentiate the two. Dunn, who has more legal experience, has picked up most newspaper endorsements, including the very liberal Seattle Times. Ferguson has the cops union behind him.
Polling has swung wildly in this race, with Dunn up 9 in a September 9 poll from Survey USA, and Ferguson up 13 in a September 12 poll by Elway Research. The latest poll, taken last week by Elway, had Ferguson up 2. Ferguson got a lot more votes in Washington's "top 2 primary," and that and the state's Democratic lean suggest a Ferguson victory. But Dunn had a big cash advantage heading into the home stretch and was also benefiting from some $2.5 million in spending by Karl Rove's Crossroads. My best guess is a Democratic pick-up, but if McKenna does well, or the presidential race is called for Romney early in the evening, Ferguson could be in trouble.
10. First elected in 1992, West Virginia's Darrell McGraw is the second longest serving AG in the nation. McGraw, who turns 76 two days after the election, was re-elected by less than 1 percent in both 2004 and 2008. The Competitive Enterprise Institute rated him the 5th worst AG in the nation in a 2010 report, giving him failing grades for "fabricating law," "usurping legislative power," and "predatory practices," and Ds for "ethical breaches" and "selective application of the law."
But McGraw has drawn a relatively weak opponent, Patrick Morrissey, a D.C. lawyer with King & Spalding who only moved to West Virginia in 2006 and gained admittance to the West Virginia bar 4 days before declaring his candidacy. Morrissey says if elected he will reallocate resources to create an "Office of Federalism and Freedom" within the AG's office. He is attacking McGraw on ethics and using his office to foster excessive regulation. McGraw had a big lead in an early summer poll - the only public poll - but Morrissey has raised more money and claims his internal polling shows the race is nearly even. With Romney expected to roll President Obama at the top of the ticket, Morrissey has a chance, and would definitely be preferable from a libertarian perspective.
Overall, look for little change in the partisan composition of the nation's AGs. Republicans and Democrats should swap the Montana and Pennsylvania seats, and Democratic odds of picking up Washington are pretty good.
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2012 Elections: Governors
Political focus this time of year is heavily on the presidential race, and less so on U.S. Senate and House, with virtually no attention given to lower races and ballot issues. For political junkies, in the next few days I'll review of a few of those lower profile races. Nothing fancy, just the basics.
We'll start today with governors and lieutenant governors.
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Most governors are elected in non-presidential years, but eleven seats are up this year. Currently, there are 29 Republican governors, 20 Democrats, and 1 Independent (former liberal Republican Linc Chafee of Rhode Island). Republicans look likely to add to their majority.
The GOP’s near sure pickup is in North Carolina, where Pat McCrory, the popular former Mayor of Charlotte (9 terms!) has held a double digit lead over Lt. Governor Walter Dalton in every poll since late August. McCrory is highly regarded for leading Charlotte into the ranks of America’s first tier cities, while Dalton is tarred by his association with outgoing Governor Bev Purdue, who decided not to seek re-election in the face of declining approval and poll ratings. Purdue narrowly beat McCrory in 2008, but it looks like the second time's a charm for the former Mayor. The Libertarian candidate is Barbara Howe, Chair of the state party.
Republicans also hope to pick up a seat in Montana, where former congressman Rick Hill faces the state’s demagogic Attorney General, Steve Bullock. Born in a one-room apartment over the family’s tire repair shop, Hill is a true American success story. His congressional career marked him as a fairly typical western GOP congressman, mildly libertarian on economic issues, land use, school choice and the like, a “traditional values” guy on social issues. Bullock, a graduate of Columbia Law, is a populist in the Montana tradition of Burton Wheeler and Mike Mansfield, and comes down on the statist side of pretty every issue one can think of. Bullock is outspending Hill and a state court recently froze $500,000 in funds that Hill had received from the state party, but Super PACs have kept spending competitive. There has been surprising little polling for such a competitive race: a Mason-Dixon poll in mid-September had Bullock up 1; a PPP poll in mid-October had Hill up by 1. Romney is expected to take Montana by 10-12 points and that could pull Hill over the finish line. Pawn shop owner John Vandevender is the Libertarian Party candidate, running on a very un-libertarian platform calling for “protecting Montana’s businesses” and keeping business chains out of the state.
Republicans are also bullish about New Hampshire, where conservative favorite Ovide Lamontagne is locked in a see-saw battle with Maggie Hassan. Since the beginning of October, the various polls in the state have gone, in chronological order: Lamontagne +4; Hassan +2; Lamontagne +2; Hassan +2; Hassan +8; Lamontagne +2; Tie; Hassan +4; Hassan +5. Neither candidate has hit 50 percent, although Hassan is getting close in the last two polls – but those polls, by Marist and PPP, have had more Democratic tilts than most pollsters this year. Lamontagne was Americans for Prosperity “Conservative of the Year” in 2011, and his issue page barely mentions the so-called social issues. He would probably be one of the nation’s more libertarian governors. Hassan has promised to veto any sales or income tax (New Hampshire still has neither), and was instrumental in passing same-sex marriage through the state senate. Unfortunately, she is a big supporter of state regulation in the name of controlling greenhouse gases. But whoever wins, New Hampshire will probably continue to do better than most states. Businessman John Babiarz is on the ballot for the fourth time as the LP candidate, for those who don’t find Hassan or Lamontagne libertarian enough.
One other seat that could change hands is Washington, where Republican Attorney General Rob McKenna is in a tight fight with liberal Democratic congressman Jay Inslee. No libertarians in this race, but Inslee is totally statist, and McKenna only somewhat so. Although the lead has swung back and forth, neither candidate has led by more than 3 points in October polling.
Other states are unlikely to change party control. Missouri and West Virginia are states in which Republicans should be competitive, but aren’t. Incumbent Earl Ray Tomblin is favored over Republican Bill Maloney in the latter, while incumbent Jay Nixon is favored over Republican Dave Spence in Missouri. Both challengers are close enough to be election night surprises if there is a huge Republican wave, but don’t count on it.
In Delaware, Democratic incumbent Jack Markell should have no trouble with Republican Jeff Craig and three minor party candidates, including Libertarian Jesse McVay. Another small state with liberal leanings, Vermont, should easily return incumbent Democrat Peter Shumlin. Shumlin is polling 30 or so points up on Republican State Senator Randy Brock, in a race that includes 3 minor party candiates, including Cris Ericson of the U.S. Marijuana Party, which I didn't even know existed.
In Indiana, libertarian-friendly Republican Mike Pence is heavily favored to hold Mitch Daniels’ seat against former state House speaker John Gregg. Utah will almost certainly retain Republican Governor Gary Herbert over Democrat Peter Cooke, Libertarian Ken Larsen, and Constitution Party nominee Kirk Pierson. And in North Dakota, incumbent Republican Jack Darymple is 20 points up in the polls against Democrat Ryan Taylor. Roland Reimers, a Libertarian running as an independent, is also on the ballot.
Look for Republicans to emerge from next week’s elections with a slightly expanded majority of governors, somewhere between 30 and 32.
As for lieutenant governors, 44 states have them (6 manage to make do without, and one wonders if more shouldn't follow their lead). 30 of 44 are currently Republicans.
Five states (Delaware, Missouri, North Carolina, Vermont and Washington) will elect Lieutenant governors this year separately from their governor's race.
The most likely of those 5 seats to change partisan control is probably North Carolina, where Republican Dan Forest holds a very narrow polling lead over Democrat Linda Coleman for the seat being vacated by Democrat Walter Dalton. Forest is the son of congresswoman Sue Myrick, and shares her general conservative Republican positions. Coleman is an African-American named state personnel director by Governor Perdue. She was previously a state representative. Both candidates are being groomed for bigger things, and whoever wins will be well positioned to pursue higher office in the state, so this race matters.
Another seat which might change hands is Missouri, where incumbent Republican Peter Kinder is having all kinds of trouble. Kinder was considering a run for governor when a sex scandal derailed that ambition this spring. Deciding to run for re-election, he had a contentious primary in which he beat Brad Lager 43.8% to 41.2%. He drew as an opponent former State Auditor Susan Montee, who has good name recognition. Then the Constitution party nominated Cynthia Davis, a Republican state representative from 2002-2010, who is capable of stealing votes from Kinder's right flank. Nevertheless, an October 25 poll from Mason-Dixon showed Kinder up 46-41%. Matt Copple, a software engineer, represents the LP.
Vermont's Lt. Guv is - surprise - a Republican, Phil Scott, who owns a construction company and is a sometimes stock car driver. Scott's not exactly a Tea Party Republican. As his web site says in all earnestness: "Have you heard the expression, 'I’m from the government, and I’m here to help?' Usually, this is meant sarcastically – but Lt. Governor Scott takes it seriously." He is endorsed by the Vermont Education Association. There's no reason he should lose to Cassandra Gekas, a former women's studies major at Penn State and lobbyist for Public Interest Research Group, and he's got a lot more money, but anything can happen. I suppose if I were a Vermonter, I'd want a sane person next in line for the governorship, and Scott seems closer to that profile. Ben Mitchell of the Liberty Union party (his top issue is "socialized energy") is in the race if the others aren't liberal enough for you.
In Delaware, incumbent Democrat Matthew Denn should win, although Repbulican nominee Sher Valenzuela was given a relatively prominent speaking slot at the GOP convention in Tampa. Valenzuela and her husband own a small manufacturing company. Libertarian Marjie Waite McKeown is also on the ballot. And in Washington, Democratic incumbent Brad Owen has a steady double digit lead over Republican challenger Bill Finkbeiner, a former State Senator who is now "an entrepreneur specializing in sustainable development."
The most likely outcome is no change or a Republican pickup of one (North Carolina). But the Democrats could net a couple seats if things break right in Vermont, Missouri, and North Carolina.
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October 28, 2012
Why this libertarian is voting Romney, with enthusiasm
Earlier this week, the flagship libertarian think mag, Reason, published its individuals staff members’ choices for president. Not surprisingly, Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson was the overwhelming choice. As a libertarian, I think they are wrong.
Libertarian voters are variously estimated to make up ten to twenty percent of the electorate. It would be not only presumptuous but foolish to try to tell libertarians how to vote. We are, by definition, far too prickly and independent for that.
But for those that are interested, let me say why this libertarian plans to vote, with enthusiasm, for Mitt Romney.
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First, it is admittedly tempting for a libertarian voter to fill in the oval for Johnson, the former New Mexico Governor. Johnson is far and away the best candidate the LP has ever put forward, and would make an excellent president. But the bottom line is this: Gary Johnson is not going to be elected president on November 6. Either Mitt Romney or Barack Obama will have that honor and burden. So I don’t have to choose between Romney and Johnson. I’m choosing between Romney and Obama.
Here’s why I like Mitt:
1. Obamacare. One reason many libertarians are skeptical of Romney was his introduction of “Romneycare” in Massachusetts. Many people, including the Obama Administration, like to say that this was the genesis of the despised individual mandate. Governor Romney has offered various reasons why Romneycare is different (federalism, substantive differences), which are not convincing to many libertarians.
Fine. But here’s the thing. For most libertarians, this is one of the most important issues in decades. Libertarians worry that Obamacare, beyond being an atrociously designed law even on its own terms and assumptions, will fundamentally alter the relationship between Americans and our government, and cement into place once and for all a European-style social democracy.
Romney has pledged to repeal Obamacare. It is one of his most visible pledges, and therefore – even if one doesn’t trust Romney (I do, although I’m not sure he can get repeal done) – it will be one of the hardest for him to break or ignore. And he has vowed to use Obama’s own weapon – executive branch waivers – to effectively stop implementation of the Act immediately.
So let’s be skeptical. Let’s assume there is only a 10 or 20 percent chance Romney carries through on this promise (I think the odds are much higher, but I’m being cautious and skeptical here). What are the odds of repeal if Obama is re-elected? Zero. Zilch. Nada. None. Nothing. If repeal of Obamacare is truly important – and I think it is – I will not pass up the most (or only) realistic chance to get it done.
2.Taxes. Mitt Romney has expressed a desire for sensible tax reform that most libertarians support – lower rates with a broader base. We’d like to see overall taxes decline, but in the face of massive deficits, with a public unwilling to stand for major cuts in entitlements, that’s probably not a realistic option. But Mitt Romney and his running mate Paul Ryan have promised to try. Barack Obama, on the other hand, has expressed again and again his desire and determination to raise income tax rates, and, at times, even to do so solely for the purpose of redistributing income. And to add insult to injury, Obama’s Orwellian language about “asking” some “to pay a little bit more” grates every time one hears it.
Walter Mondale campaigned on raising taxes and lost. Bill Clinton campaigned on cutting taxes, won, and promptly raised the marginal income tax rates. Libertarians often like to say that there is no difference between the two major parties. But in my lifetime (and I was reading Reason and walking precincts for Ed Clark before many of those young Reason staffers were born) there have been two Presidents who have substantially reduced income tax rates: Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, both Republicans. Republicans have delivered on income tax rate reductions, and can do so again.
Romney is clearly the superior candidate.
3. Entitlements and Spending. Republicans have never had a lot of success in reforming, letting alone ending, entitlements. Often – particularly under G.W. Bush – they have played a key role in expanding them. On the other hand, Republicans scored a huge success in the 1990s in ending welfare as an entitlement, and Obama is now attempting to undo this success through the regulatory process.
Beyond the possibility of repealing the massive entitlement of Obamacare if Romney is elected, Romney’s running mate, Paul Ryan, has been a congressional leader in attempting to reform entitlements. No, he is not the Randian that the Democrats wish to make him out to be, much as many libertarians wish he were. But let’s be clear. No politician is going to be elected President in the near future on a pledge to abolish the entitlement state.
The Romney/Ryan plan for entitlement reform is the closest thing we have to a meaningful first step at reform – indeed, it is meaningful reform. There may never come a time when a majority of Americans are prepared for more radical reform, let alone an end to entitlements. If this is the reform we can get, it is necessary and good, and consistent with libertarian values. If an end to entitlements is one’s goal, successful, incremental reforms are probably a necessary step toward reshaping Americans’ mindset.
Obama currently stands as the single biggest obstacle to any consideration of entitlement reform. Romney and Ryan have taken on the issue in as strong a manner as any presidential ticket since Barry Goldwater in 1964. Libertarian voters need to reward such politicians, not ignore them because their proposals are deemed insufficiently libertarian.
For a libertarian who wants any kind of entitlement reform, Romney is the only choice that might make that a possibility. The defeat of the Romney/Ryan ticket, including the GOP’s leading congressional reformer, will make future politicians less likely to take on the issue.
Discretionary spending is a tougher matter. We know that Republicans failed miserably to control discretionary spending when they controlled both the executive and legislative branches from 2003 through 2006. But we also know that the Democrats have no interest in limiting spending.
Some libertarians argue that divided government is the best way to promote spending restraint, forgetting that much of the biggest spending of the Bush era came during the three plus years that the government was divided. Moreover, the Democratic congressional party is much more liberal than it was just a generation ago. On the GOP side, there are a new set of leaders and a large tea party contingent that seems serious about getting spending under control. I don’t think Romney is a spender like Bush II was. I see no downside if I’m wrong, because I know that Obama and the Democrats are.
4. Regulation. I can’t imagine Obama will be better than Romney. The president appoints hundreds of officials,. Few Democrats, but many Republicans, are skeptical of regulation. People like Gale Norton and Lynn Scarlet (libertarian Bush appointees) will never see the light of day under Obama. There is no doubt that Romney is more skeptical of regulation than Obama, and having come from the business world, he brings a better understanding of the actual working of regulation. I can think of no area where Obama is arguing for less agency regulation than is Romney.
5. Free Trade. Like most libertarians, I am a free trader. I consider opposition to free trade little short of a callous disregard for the world’s poor.
In this race, both candidates have taken to bashing China relentlessly and speaking in protectionist terms, an obvious recognition of the sad fact that the decisive, “undecided” voters are largely low-information voters with little understanding of economics, bordering on xenophobic, and populist in their politics. That said, Romney is clearly the superior trade candidate.
Early in his term, Obama signed free trade agreements negotiated by George W. Bush. Since then, he has done nothing on the issue. Romney has proposed a broad, western hemisphere free trade agreement. I’m not sure this is realistic, but there is a much better chance that Romney will promote free trade in the hemisphere than will Obama, who is a slave to the anti-trade unions. Obama opposed CAFTA and NAFTA, and seeks to “amend” NAFTA, and not for the purpose of reducing barriers to trade. Romney, in contrast, has criticized Obama’s failure to pursue free trade, adding earlier this month, “I will champion free trade and restore it as a critical element of our [foreign policy and economic] strategy.”
Obama rails endlessly against “outsourcing” and has supported congressional efforts to impose tax increases on businesses that seek to allocate capital efficiently. His latest slogan, “The New Economic Patriotism,” should send shivers up the spine of every libertarian who believes in free trade. On the flip side, Romney seems to clearly have the soul of a free trader.
6. Other Domestic Issues. Many libertarians like to describe themselves as “fiscally conservative, socially liberal.” I find this to be a facile description, but here’s how I see the candidates on major non-economic domestic issues of importance to libertarians, in no particular order:
a. Immigration. Obama offers a bit more liberal immigration policy in principle, but Romney is more likely to gain concrete results for easier access for skilled workers. Broadly, I think Romney is much more likely to look for policies fostering assimilation, which I think is a good thing in itself and will increase support for a long-term immigration policy more amenable to libertarians.
b. Gun Control. Advantage Romney.
c. School Choice. Advantage Romney.
d. Abortion Rights. I have never believed in a “libertarian position” on abortion. Whether the traditional “pro-choice” view, which is probably the majority view among libertarians, is pro-freedom depends on numerous assumptions about when life begins and what degree of protection the law should provide to life in its different stages. A libertarian can come down on either side.
I am pro-life, and therefore give a huge advantage to Romney. But note that even for pro-choice libertarians, the major issues actually on the table in the next years cut in favor of Romney. I assume that pro-choice libertarians are aghast at the Obama Administration’s efforts to have government pay for abortion and even contraception, and worse, to force Americans with moral objections to pay for these items. Which leads me to…
e. Religious Freedom. Some libertarians tend to think religious freedom is unimportant, at least as a separate item (i.e., why give added protection from government regulation to those with religious beliefs). However, as a practical matter, the protections of the First Amendment for religious groups has helped to support a major counterweight to state power. Religious freedom matters, and Romney is an easy choice.
f. Same Sex Marriage. Libertarians who favor government recognition (and, therefore, regulation of) same sex marriage and think this issue important enough to offset the rest will favor Obama. I am not one of them. I believe that in the long run gay rights are best protected by a more limited government, and Obama is much more interested in growing government power than Romney.
g. War on Drugs. Obama has been horrible. No advantage in principle either way, but it’s in practice it’s harder, for me at least, to envision something like “Fast & Furious” occurring under Romney.
i. Free Speech. Give Romney, with his opposition to campaign finance (i.e. political speech) regulation and “hate speech” codes, a huge edge over Obama. Obama has even used government regulation to attempt to silence corporations opposing elements of the Obama agenda, including the provision of true information about his health care plan.
6. The Courts. I’ve never been a big fan of voting based on hoped for judicial appointees, in part because the issues will change so much over the course of a federal judge’s time on the bench – and over that time, the judge may change quite a bit, too.
But this year, I do think it matters. On Inauguration Day, Antonin Scalia will be 6 weeks shy of his 77th birthday, with Justice Kennedy, arguably the most libertarian member of the Court, just 4 months younger. Ruth Bader Ginsberg is a cancer survivor who will be 80 before the next President has been 2 months in office. Stephen Breyer will be 74. Even Clarence Thomas will be 68 before then next presidential election. There is a very good chance that the next President will get at least one, and perhaps more, appointments to the Supreme Court.
On issue after issue of importance to libertarians – gun control, property rights, political speech rights, Obamacare, federalism, even on questions of self-incrimination, search and seizure, forfeiture, and the war on drugs (see Raisch) – Republican appointees on the Court have lined up on the side of freedom against a solid block of Democratic appointees. There is no libertarianism left in Democratic appointees – they are not necessarily radical, but they are totally statist in orientation, including Obama’s two appointees, Elena Kagan, and Sonia Sotomayor (who are the two youngest justices). In the next four years, one side or the other could lock up a working majority on the Supreme Court for two decades. I have no doubt that Romney’s appointees will be MUCH better than Obama’s. Indeed, how could I not – in 2008, I was a member of Romney’s advisory committee on the Constitution and the Courts, a group that included other libertarians such as Michelle Boardman. I have confidence that Romney will appoint judges who see the constitution as a document that limits government power.
Beyond the Supreme Court, of course, the President appoints hundreds of federal judges. The question of judicial power is a HUGE advantage to Romney.
7. Foreign Policy. As the third presidential debate indicated, the differences between Obama and Romney on the Middle East are not all that large (although Obama’s demonstrated incompetence and Romney's better understanding of the nature of radical Islam still gives an advantage to Romney.) Similarly, Obama and Romney differ relatively little on the broad U.S. approach to China, Russia, and Europe, but as we have seen Obama’s incompetence in dealing with the world, I’m more comfortable with Romney. Elsewhere, however, I think Romney’s advantage is more substantial.
Beyond free trade, which I’ve discussed separately, Romney is much more oriented towards freedom. We will not see President Romney cuddling up to populist dictators such as Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, or undermining democracy in Honduras, where Obama sanctioned the government for upholding its constitution against efforts by left-wing former President Manuel Zelaya to unconstitutionally retain power. Obama has also frayed our relationship with Canada, in part through his obstinate opposition to the Keystone Pipeline, which Romney supports.
Under Obama, favorable perceptions of the United States have declined throughout the Muslim world, in Mexico, and, save Australia, with our strongest allies - Britain, France, Germany, and Japan.
I am less hawkish than either Obama or Romney, but I view foreign policy primarily through the lens of competence – in which Romney seems to me a relatively easy choice.
Thus, in pretty much every major group of policy issues I can think of, Romney is better than Obama, usually by large margins.
Beyond specific policies, I think it is important to have competence in the presidency, and Romney is a very competent man who is well prepared for the presidency. After four years in office, Obama still is not.
I also want a president who speaks in terms of freedom and individual initiative and who does not denigrate success in the private sector. Presidential rhetoric is important in shaping long term public views. Today's libertarian oriented Tea Parties are middle-aged men and women who came of age with the pro-freedom rhetoric of Ronald Reagan.
Romney may not be a libertarian, yet Romney not infrequently launches wonderful verbal defenses of hard core libertarian views. I can scarcely imagine another major party presidential candidate who would take on leftist hecklers about the rights of individuals organized using the corporate form; or defend the value of being able to fire people for incompetence; worry openly about individual dependency on government; or demand that voters “take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”
So next week, this libertarian will be voting Romney. No regrets, no doubts.
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October 20, 2012
Ken Burns supports Obama: but has he seen It's a Wonderful Life?
Documentary filmmaker Ken Burns has a piece in the Manchester Union Leader this week entitled, "Why I am voting for Barack Obama." Burns is a wonderful director, but the column makes one wonder if he really understands the stories he sees on the screen.
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"One of my favorite movies of all time is Frank Capra's 'It's A Wonderful Life,' starring Jimmy Stewart. In the film, Stewart's character, a despondent and near suicidal George Bailey, who runs a small savings and loan in the town of Bedford Falls, is given a gift: the chance to see what his town would be like if he'd never been born — if he'd never extended a helping hand to his neighbors when they needed it most, never helped his community understand how much they depended upon one another.
"In this alternative vision, the town's plutocratic banker, Mr. Potter — without the decent George Bailey to counter him — rules everything. A bottom-line-is-everything, every-man-for-himself mentality runs unchecked, resulting in Bedford Falls' metamorphosis into 'Pottersville,' an amoral, soulless place.
"The movie has a happy ending, thank goodness, but its themes endure to this day and echo in the current presidential election, which at its core asks the question: What kind of country are we? Are we Bedford Falls or Pottersville? Are we all in this together — and stronger and better because of it — or are we entirely on our own, with a few 'makers' on the top of a heap of 'takers?'”
Burns eventually concludes: "What can one person do to make their community a Bedford Falls instead of a Pottersville? Well, there are many things. But one of them, I think, is to vote for Barack Obama."
Now, it so happens that "It's a Wonderful Life" is one of my favorite films, too. I have seen it, start to finish, at least 50 times in my life (for one thing, my wife of 31 years has insisted that we watch it at least one each Christmas season since our marriage). Yet somehow I've missed the parts where George Bailey - who is, we note, a businessman, a banker, and the son of a capitalist banker - calls for more government regulation, higher taxes, and greater redistribution of the wealth. Indeed, I missed the part where, because of Mitt Romney's election, George Bailey was never born, and thus wasn't about to make Bedford Falls a better place by supplying customers with good banking practices and affordable housing - for profit.
I missed the part where George Bailey told Violet Bick that if she really needed money, she really ought to apply for food stamps or some other form of government welfare. I suppose it's possible that at some point off-camera George sought a government bailout for his small lending company during economic hard times, but all I recall seeing on-camera was that George used his own creativity and infusion of capital - making a huge personal sacrifice and taking a huge personal financial risk - to keep his business afloat during the depression.
I recall that in the movie George Bailey worked long, long hours at the Bailey Brothers Building & Loan, often arriving home late in the evening, tired and weary; and in the version I've seen those 50 or more times, young George notes that his father, too, put in long hours and years of hard work to build his business. The Baileys in "It's a Wonderful Life" would probably have been shocked to hear a President say, "If you've got a small business, you didn't build that." And in the end, what comes closest to putting George under is not Mr. Potter alone, but Mr. Potter working to manipulate government regulators. And it is the government regulators who arrive to put the Bailey Brothers Building & Loan out of business.
In the movie, we don't know much about Mr. Potter, how he got his wealth or became the man he is. But we do know that Mr. Potter had powerful contacts in government, and we see him call on those contacts to try to drive his competitor - George Bailey - out of business. Violet Bick indicates - and no one suggests she is talking nonsense - that Mr. Potter is deeply involved in local government, and it is probably safe to assume that Potter benefits from powerful friends in government and quite probably from extensive government contracts and favors - what today we might call "shovel ready jobs" funded by government. Does anyone who watches "It's a Wonderful Life" doubt that George Bailey would refuse government subsidies to start a "green energy" business, whereas Mr. Potter would be plotting his next Solyndra and lobbying for more government funding?
Meanwhile, George's virtuous younger brother, Harry Bailey, goes off to make his way not as a community organizer, or working for PBS (Burns specifically criticizes Romney for wanting to cut funding for PBS), but working for his wife's family manufacturing business in Rochester. And George's old friend, Sam Wainwright, leaves Bedford Falls to make his fortune in plastics. Though a bit of a rogue - we see him calling his erstwhile girl friend, Mary Hatch, even while flirting with other women in his New York City office - Sam, like George, uses his talents for good. He makes a great deal of money as a wartime government contractor, but there is no suggestion that he cuts corners, inflates invoices, or fails to provide valuable products. He helps the war effort, and is implicitly praised for his efforts. He is apparently a creative entrepreneur, developing new uses for plastic that improve people's lives. And he is quick to use his wealth to help George in the movie's climactic final scene (note that it is Sam's unconditional offer of assistance that drops the final boom on the Mr. Potter and the bank examiner).
Indeed, Bedford Falls is populated with good people who ask nothing from the government and never seek a handout, and many of them are businessmen - Mr. Gower, the pharmacist; Mr. Martini, the tavern owner; Ernie, the cab driver (does he own or lease his own cab? We're never told, although Mr. Potter does refer to Ernie as driving "his cab," which may suggest that Ernie owns or leases the vehicle); Joe, the cheerful luggage shop proprietor; Dr. Campbell, the Chairman of the Building & Loan after Pa Bailey's death. And can you ever conceive of the family's cheerful and proud maid, Annie, voting for a candidate because he gave her a free phone?
I have no doubt that Mr. Burns has seen, and perhaps even studied, from a filmmaker's perspective, "It's a Wonderful Life." But he has totally missed the lessons that come from the movie.
Most of the column is full of boilerplate accusations that one can find in most any commentary thread at the Daily Kos, including the whopper, which Burns apparently makes with a straight face, that the Republican Party is "the furthest right they have ever been since the party was founded in 1856." (Yes, who doesn't recall the GOP platform of 1856, arguing for need to preserve Medicare, getting federal spending to 21% of GDP (it was well under 5% in those days), and opposing a federal income tax rate of over 40 percent (during the Civil War, the Republican Party enacted a flat rate income tax of 3 percent. I suspect today's GOP would support that).
But that Burns would invoke "It's a Wonderful Life" to support his version of a government subsidized paradise illustrates a tremendous confusion between civil society - those diverse institutions that people voluntarily form and join to create a rich community - and the coercion, one-size fits all approach government, especially the government that takes from Peter to pay Paul. Bedford Falls is what it is precisely because people don't rely on some distant bureaucracy to solve their problems. The join together, voluntarily. They trade, voluntarily and without subsidies, in goods and services. The folks in Bedford Falls, I think would have found Ken Burns' thinking totally alien to their values.
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October 13, 2012
Quick check on the presidential race
A quick check-in on the Presidential race. These are the last publicly released national polls:
Rasmussen Tracking, Oct. 10-12: Romney 49, Obama 48.
It would seem pretty clear that Romney holds a narrow lead nationally. This is very bad news for Obama, as late undecided voters almost always break for the challenger, often by very large margins.
Obama is stronger on the electoral college front, where he still has more votes that are certain or likely to fall his way, and thus more paths through the remaining competitive states to a winning 270 votes than does Romney.
An interesting point is that the polls are not including two third party challengers who could affect the race. The Libertarian Party nominee, former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson, is a likely candidate to peel off five percent or more of the vote in his home state and could do well in other states, especially the competitive western states of Arizona and Colorado. Johnson argues that the second choice of his voters - i.e., whom they would likely vote for if Johnson were not in the race - is split almost evenly between the two major party candidates. But historically, libertarians have broken heavily Republican (typically 60-70%), and LP voters appear to have favored Republican candidates as their second choice by similar margins.
The Constitution Party, a conservative outfit, has nominated former Virginia Congressman Virgil Goode. Goode doesn't appear to be much of a factor outside of his home state, but in that battleground he could gain a couple percentage points. His old district basically consists of much of the conservative, rural south-central Virginia, and presumably almost all his votes would come from Romney.
But we ought to consider that this race may not be close at all, at least in the electoral college. A shift of just a couple points nationwide to either candidate would likely result in almost all of the battleground states falling in the same direction, producing a solid, if not landslide victory for the winner.
There are two presidential debates and one crappy job report left before the election; the burgeoning flap over Libya bodes ill for Obama. Overall, it seems unlikely that Obama will get any good news before the election, unless the November jobs report, due out less than 96 hours before election day, produces another tumble in the top line unemployment figures. On the other hand, if the numbers are bad - if the top line ticks back up (especially to an official rate over 8%), it will be devastating to the President's core argument that he at least has things moving in the right direction.
That puts enormous pressure on the President to perform well in the next two debates. But it's hard to see how he can reverse things in the debates barring a major Romney mistake. All Romney has to do is fight to a draw, or something close to it, to solidify his new status as an acceptable alternative.
At this point, the Romney people should feel pretty good.
September 01, 2012
Out of Touch
The Wall Street Journal has a lengthy article (subscription required) today about President Obama, his efforts to win a second term, and some of his reflections on term one.
It is an interesting but very disappointing read, because it indicates that if Obama wins a second term, we can expect no change, no greater effort to compromise with Republicans (who will likely control both houses of Congress), nothing but an endless propaganda war.
Although recognizing that the President has done a poor job at such crucial political tasks as thanking those who help him, getting to know and socialize with members of Congress, and nurturing personal relationships and trust with lawmakers (for example, the President never opens up his golf foursome to lawmakers, nor has he ever invited any to Camp David, standard gestures for most Presidents), aides and advisors quoted in the piece make clear in the article that they blame all this on Republicans, and that this is not only their view, but the President's.
Moreover, it is clear that he really does see the major problem of his first term was not "communicating a narrative," and thinks he was "slow" to embrace the role of "national counselor." Aides say that "Obama has pledged to not again get bogged down in legislative sausage making but to emphasize connecting with voters."
This seems positively absurd. One of the biggest problems with the first term Obama administration was his decision to outsource his legislation, taking a hands-off role in the process. Indeed his "hands off approach to key legislation was noted repeatedly in the press:
We could go on ( a Google search for "Obama hands off legislation" limited to his first 20 months in office yields over 10,000 stories), but you get the picture.
Meanwhile, few presidents have spent more time jawboning the American public on issues. According to CBS News, in his first 12 months in office, Obama gave public "speeches, comments, or remarks" 411 times (including 178 using a teleprompter, suggesting longer speeches at least every other day), and gave 158 interviews, far more than any of his predecessors. He also did 28 fund raisers and 7 political rallies - in 2009 and the first three weeks of 2010 alone! Add in 13 signing ceremonies, and you see an image of a president who did little but talk in his first year in office.
It's an old but largely accurate canard that second presidential terms are almost never better than the first. It appears that the main thing Obama has learned from his first term is that he needs to be less interested in governing, and more interested in politicking.
It is hard to see any good that can come from a second Obama term.
August 09, 2012
Is Harry Reid a Liar?
Is Harry Reid a liar? Well, I'm not saying so, but as Senator Reid might say, "it's out there."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D. Nev.) is catching a lot of well-deserved flack these days for his shameless, unsupported (that seems like too kind a word - perhaps "apparently made up out of thin air" would be more realistic) accusations about Mitt Romney's taxes, but in some ways, that is the least of Harry's offenses. After all, there are lots of shills out there who can flack nasty, unsupported (that seems like too kind a word - perhaps "apparently made up out of thin air" would be more realistic) accusations at Mitt Romney. But there is only one Senate Majority Leader, who has now refused, for over three years, to even allow the Senate to consider a budget, let alone pass one as required by law.
And because Harry Reid is arguably the nation's most important single legislator, his role as a legislator and his statements on legislation are of even greater consequence than his unsupported (that seems like too kind a word - perhaps "apparently made up out of thin air" would be more realistic) attacks on Romney.
So today I want to highlight Reid's misleading (well, "false" is a better word) comments about the "Affordable Care Act," aka "Obamacare." A recent study by the Congressional Budget Office concludes that repealing Obamacare would increase the deficit by a total of approximately $109 billion over the next 10 years. So, says Reid, "This confirms what we've been saying all along: the Affordable Care Act saves lots of money."
In reality, it does nothing of the kind. The CBO is an estimate of the effect of repeal on the deficit, not on "saving money." The CBO figures that Obamacare will cut Medicare spending by roughly $500 billion to help pay for Obamacare, and will increase taxes by another $500 billion or so, and that Obamacare will only cost about $900 billion, so, voila, repeal would increase the deficit. But a quick look at those numbers by any third grader tells us that it doesn't "save money." Rather, assuming all the cuts in Medicare spending actually take place, it still increases net spending by roughly $400 billion dollars, but results in a lower deficit because it raises taxes by roughly $500 billion dollars.
So, raise spending by $400 billion, raise taxes by $500 billion, and Harry Reid calls this the government "saving lots of money." Well, hey, let's "save" even more, by raising spending by $4 trillion and taxes by $5 trillion. (Actually, I guess that is pretty much the Obama plan, on paper).
Of course, note that even this idea of "deficit reduction" through higher spending only makes sense because the CBO was required to assume various optimistic projections of cost savings in the legislation, and because the tax increases kick in before the spending increases. If we would go out beyond 10 years, therefore, we would quickly find an increasing deficit because of Obamacare.
And all of that is assuming that spending on Obamacare stays within target. In 1967, the House Ways and Means Committee estimated that Medicare would cost $12 billion by 1990. In reality, it cost $120 billion by 1990 - the government estimate was off by a factor of 10. Over and over, Congress has underestimated the cost of new health care entitlements by 100% or more.
In short, let's ignore Reid's irresponsible statements about Mitt Romney, and focus on his irresponsible statements about the cost of the Affordable Care Act, and his irresponsible failure to get his Chamber to even consider a federal budget.
July 27, 2012
"You didn't build that" - Stop digging, Democrats
Kim Strassel has a solid column at the WSJ on the continuing problems the President's "you didn't build your business" speech is causing his campaign.
First, a few quotes from Kim:
"You didn't build that" is swelling to such heights that it has the president somewhere unprecedented: on defense. Mr. Obama has felt compelled—for the first time in this campaign—to cut an ad in which he directly responds to the criticisms of his now-infamous speech, complaining his opponents took his words "out of context."
That ad follows two separate ones from his campaign attempting damage control. His campaign appearances are now about backpedaling and proclaiming his love for small business. And the Democratic National Committee produced its own panicked memo, which vowed to 'turn the page' on Mr. Romney's 'out of context . . . BS'—thereby acknowledging that Chicago has lost control of the message.
"The Obama campaign has elevated poll-testing and focus-grouping to near-clinical heights, and the results drive the president's every action: his policies, his campaign venues, his targeted demographics, his messaging. That Mr. Obama felt required—teeth-gritted—to address the "you didn't build that" meme means his vaunted focus groups are sounding alarms.
Republicans are doing their own voter surveys, and they note that Mr. Obama's problem is that his words cause an emotional response, and that they disturb voters in nearly every demographic.
I've enjoyed the Democratic response to this. First it was "context." Then it was "ignore broad context. Focus on that one sentence: 'that' clearly means 'roads and bridges.'" (we might call this the "Obama is no more ungrammatical than Bush who was stupid and ignorant" defense). Then it was back to "context," because if you say something was taken out of context, people who haven't seen the context might be inclined to think that must be true, because why else would someone say something so stupid as "If you've got a business, you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen"?
The argument in Obama's latest ad is "I was saying we need to get behind small business," which of course is clearly not what he was saying. Watch the speech here, and the ad here. Liberal apologists don't make that preposterous claim, but instead say that Obama was just stating the obvious (as the center point of his speech, apparently) that we all benefit from society. Of course, the problem is not that - everyone knows that and that would be unexceptional. Indeed, that's at the core of the libertarian message that government must not substitute itself for civil society. If that were it, the left wouldn't have been buzzing about this "you didn't build that" theme ever since Liz Warren tested it out in Massachusetts a few months ago. Why the left thought this was such a great riff is because of the purpose for which they would use that otherwise banal observation - to downplay the role of individual initiative and ability, to try to single out a group for higher taxes, to promote bigger government as the primary source of societal advancement, and to insinuate that their political opponents are opposed to - well, opposed to building roads and bridges and maintaining fire departments, even while falsely suggesting that these are big responsibilities of the federal government (as opposed to state and local government).
The increasingly ridiculous Ezra Klein was out on MSNBC the other night playing a speech from Romney opening the 2002 Olympics, in which he says:
"You Olympians, however, know you didn't get here solely on your own power. For most of you, loving parents, sisters or brothers, encouraged your hopes, coaches guided, communities built venues in order to organize competitions. All Olympians stand on the shoulders of those who lifted them. We’ve already cheered the Olympians, let’s also cheer the parents, coaches, and communities. All right!”
This well illustrates exactly the difference between Obama and Romney. In the U.S. we have a time honored tradition when someone is recognized for his achievements, whether an Oscar, a Pulitzer, and Nobel, or as local Kiwanis Club Man of the Year: The recipient is introduced with praise for his work, and then the recipient starts his speech by saying, "I want to thank all the people who have helped me ..." then naming many. Even young men being awarded Eagle Scout know the drill. Romney is making that speech on behalf of the Olympians, who don't all get to speak at the ceremony because there are simply too many of them. Unlike Obama, he doesn't denigrate them and their hard work, dedication, or physical ability (he doesn't, for example, say - as Obama did about being smart - "there's lots of athletic people out there."). Romney's speech is the graciousness of the recognized: "Thank you all who helped me." Obama's is the meanness of the heckler: "Hey, you're to so great, pal." And of course Romney centers his praise around civil society - family members, coaches, small town communities - not big government. He praises these supporters - he doesn't use society to petulantly demand more of the athletes.
This would be Obama's speech, translated to the Olympians:
Look, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. You didn’t get there on your own. I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so physically fit. There are a lot of physically fit people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something — there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there.
If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’re an olympian — you didn’t do that. Somebody else made that happen. Body hugging nylon snow suits didn't get invented on its own. Government research created that so that you athletes could gain recognition here at the Olympics.
Or something like that.
July 25, 2012
While Obama keeps trying to get the poop off his shoes, Mitt finds his raison de etre
Watch this new Obama ad: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z0yK5NakN2o. Now compare it to what Obama actually said:
If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.
The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together. There are some things, just like fighting fires, we don’t do on our own. I mean, imagine if everybody had their own fire service. That would be a hard way to organize fighting fires.
So we say to ourselves, ever since the founding of this country, you know what, there are some things we do better together. That’s how we funded the G.I. Bill. That’s how we created the middle class. That’s how we built the Golden Gate Bridge or the Hoover Dam. That’s how we invented the Internet. That’s how we sent a man to the moon. We rise or fall together as one nation and as one people.
In the speech, Obama's message is, I think, pretty clear: "you owe us, and we're going to take from you once we banish these tea parties crackers in the fall." In the ad now disavowing the speech, Obama claims he was saying "we owe small business."
That Obama feels a need to make this ad demonstrates, I think, how much these comments have hurt him. I think that they've hurt him because 1) people already suspect that Obama is a big government guy who doesn't appreciate the private sector; and 2) the remarks are so, at their heart, nasty - vaguely accusatory, misleading, manipulative, and using a longstanding American tradition of recognizing our communal links (mainly the voluntary links of private, civil society) as a justification for singling out one group of people for higher taxes.
The Obama people don't quite know how to respond. First they said the most repeated sentences ("If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.") were taken out of context, but others (myself included), noted that the context really made them worse- the full context makes clear his disdain for private initiative and his apparent belief that government is the source of progress.
Then the mantra became "no, don't focus on context, focus on that one sentence. Clearly 'that' meant 'roads and bridges.'" Now they are back to arguing "context," because the isolated sentences are so explicitly damning there's no fooling anyone - better to go with context, which at least spreads some fog (though not wealth) around.
These recent comments really seem to have fired Romney up. Romney is no libertarian - he's a traditional, 1960s style American business man. He runs a successful business and generally believes in "capitalism" "free enterprise" and "the American Way" without being dogmatic or giving much thought to Hayek, Mises, and Friedman. He does things to make his community better, and when he can he takes action to help others, as Gerhaghty makes clear. He doesn't brag a lot about what he does. He's almost a Jimmy Stewart type, just getting' it done. Until now, in many ways he has seemed a fellow running for president because, well, because successful people give back to their communities, and volunteer their talents to those communities. He wanted to be president because it was a way to use his talents to help others.
But Obama's latest comments seem to strike at the core of Romney as a person. They attack his father's accomplishments in business as well as his own. He sees in them a clear attack on the "American Way," on "Free Enterprise." He hasn't become a libertarian, and many libertarians will still excoriate him for that. But within the broad context in which most Americans define the boundaries between government and the private sector, and still see the private sector as the expected norm and government action as the exception that exists to assure individual freedom and initiative can flourish, he seems to have suddenly grasped exactly why it is that Obama is a threat to his vision of America. The man is motivated and on fire.
The choice is becoming clearer.
July 18, 2012
Obama's cramped vision of society
Following a bit on yesterday's post about Obama's "You didn't build that speech," it occurred to me that a key factor that is so irritating about Obama's speech - and many other comments he has made over the years - is his insistence that government is the source of our greatness and his inability to see the value of civil society.
A friend of mine keeps arguing at me that Obama is just stating the old theme, "no man is an island." OK, fine, I'm not sure why such banality needed to be the central topic of a full speech, but sure, OK, no man is an island.
But what does Obama think keeps us from being an island? Government. Look at all of his examples: a teacher, paid for by government (he doesn't seem to have any interest in private education); a firefighter, paid for by government (he never talks about volunteer fire departments); roads and bridges built by government; government support for scientific research (but no mention of private R&D).
Of course no man is an island, but except for the most hard core anarchy-capitalists, even most libertarians accept some need for government to establish a rule of law (including courts and some police presence), national defense, and a few other "public goods." But more importantly, everybody recognizes the importance of civil society and those who help us along, and most of the time it is not government. Almost every small business owner and successful professional will remember and be grateful to those who helped out along the way: the established professional - your competitor - who nonetheless gave you tips for your business to succeed (and therefore be in competition with his); the vendor who gave a cash-strapped start-up an extra month to pay; the venture capitalist or bank officer who took a risk because he believed in your personal qualities; the pastor or speaker who inspired; the customer who offered tips on improving service; the grizzled vet who simply served as a role model; the friends who bucked you up when things looked bad, and so on and on.
As is so often the case, many of these people were not working from pure altruism, but simply for profit or perhaps for some mixture of the two. Adam Smith's invisible hand is broad indeed. The experienced lawyer who helps the rookie may feel good about doing so, but he also has the self interest of knowing that he may need a favor some day; that a reputation as a good person is good for business; that the young man he helps out today may send him a million dollar case down the road. The established vendor may feel good about giving you more time to pay, about helping you out, but he also wants a good, long-term, prosperous customer.
Obama seems incapable of envisioning people working together or helping each other out other than through government. Hand in hand with that, Obama seems incapable of envisioning government - at least excessive government - hindering rather than helping. He seems incapable of recognizing the cost of a higher tax burden on the small business owner routinely working - as in my experience most do- 60 to 70 hours per week. It seems beyond him to consider that government regulation might make it harder to start or build a business.
Further, even if we accept all that Obama says, about how individual success depends on government, as David French points out, by the most liberal interpretation possible, all the stuff Obama points to amounts to no more than 30% of federal spending (in fact, it is really much less). Do we really need higher taxes and bigger government to handle that 30%?
Of course, as government grows, it actually displaces true, voluntary association and mutual aid. Americans give far more to charity than people in developed nations with a larger state sector; and moreover, surveys have long shown that Americans happier, more optimistic, and more apt to feel in control of their lives. It is important that government not crowd out the private sector or take over functions that we can perform as individuals. The Small Business Administration can never truly replace the service club as a source of advice and support. Teachers - and I'm one, so I like teachers - will never be as important as parents and family, neighbors, pastors, informal mentors, colleagues and community.
Finally, Obama seems unable to recognize that ultimately, it is what you do with the help you get from civil society that matters. There is a reason that most of us have government provided fire protection, but most of us don't build an Apple or a Microsoft. There is a reason most of us have teachers, but most of us don't make the automobile accessible to the common man. There is a reason we all have roads, but few of us develop ways to bring fresh produce to market and keep it fresh so that people can have produce of all types all year round. We do have different levels of ability, and also different levels of drive, ambition, vision, and willingness to make sacrifices.
It has often been noted by economists that the fortunes amassed by people such as Bill Gates and Henry Ford are peanuts compared to the benefits gained by society from their products. But Obama's message is not to celebrate achievement, but to denigrate it. Having no real first term record of achievement to run on, and still believing that government must grow bigger, Obama seeks to minimize the role of individual success. The message behind the words is this: those of you who are most successful actually owe the rest of us. It is only justice for us to redistribute your property to others. That's a very bad message.
July 17, 2012
Obama reveals self in comments about small business
Permit me, today, a bit of armchair psychoanalysis about our president, and the controversy he set off this week with his comments about entrepreneurial success.
If you missed it, here's what Obama told an audience in Roanoke:
There are a lot of wealthy, successful Americans who agree with me -- because they want to give something back. They know they didn’t -- look, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. You didn’t get there on your own. I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something -- there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there. (Applause.)
If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business -- you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.
The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together. There are some things, just like fighting fires, we don’t do on our own. I mean, imagine if everybody had their own fire service. That would be a hard way to organize fighting fires.
National Review's Rich Lowry has a good takedown at National Review, to which I'd like to add a few thoughts.
It's not surprising that Obama thinks this way. He's an arrogant man who thinks he's owed a great deal, and entitled to run the lives of others. Yet he must be frightened deep down to realize how little he's actually accomplished in life. He's held offices, but there are no accomplishments that come out of them. He was a community organizer? So? What did he actually accomplish? He was editor in chief of the Harvard Law Review, but how did he improve it? He was a part time instructor at University of Chicago Law, and offered a tenure track slot but he turned it down. Quite likely he just wanted the added power of politics. But somewhere, deep down, he must have realized that he had never then, and to this day still hasn't, written anything that would get him promotion to Associate Professor at Capital Law, where I teach, let alone get him tenured at Chicago. He was a state Senator - does he have any meaningful legislative accomplishment you've ever heard of? He was a U.S. Senator - same question, same answer. Now, as President, he's gotten legislation through, but mainly by turning it all over to Nancy Pelosi. And, worse, it hasn't really worked. At best he's left to say, effectively, "without me, it would have been worse." But he's smart enough to know that that is a hollow and unprovable assertion.
Contrast this with, say, Thomas Jefferson, a man who was a state legislator, congressional delegate, Governor, Secretary of State, Vice President, and President. Oh, he held offices. None of them are listed on his tombstone, at his request, because he didn't think holding office was important. It was doing things. So his tombstone notes that he founded the University of Virginia, wrote the Declaration of Independence, and wrote the Virginia statutes on religious liberty. Or Ben Franklin. Everyone knows him for his experiments with electricity, for inventing the rocking chair and hundreds of other gadgets, for his wit and wisdom. Most Americans would be hard pressed to say what public offices he ever held, though he held many. Obama has held offices. Nothing more.
So when Obama says "I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there," isn't he talking about himself? He's smart, no doubt, at least in a way. But he's built nothing. No accomplishments. At each phase of his life, others have pushed him forward simply on potential. And he knows that there are lots of smart people - many much smarter than him.
So Obama goes on, putting words in the mouth of his fictional entrepreneur, "'It must be because I worked harder than everybody else.' Let me tell you something -- there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there," Obama must know that he's never really worked that hard. Of all the great adjectives people throw out about Obama, have you ever heard "hard worker"? So Obama knows deep down that he's smart, but also that he hasn't really done much with his smarts - rather, others have promoted him on that basis. And Obama knows that he's not really worked very hard, yet has eclipsed in wealth and fame most people who work much harder.* Why wouldn't he think, deep down, that he's not really entitled to his success? And why wouldn't he rationalize that perhaps no one else is, either?
June 03, 2012
McCotter out: libertarian in?
U.S. Representative Thad McCotter has decided not run a primary election write-in campaign to retain his seat in Congress. This could lead to the election of one of the more interesting members of Congress, Kerry Bentivolio.
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McCotter, who has represented Michigan's 11th congressional district since 2003 and who last year ran a brief, quixotic campaign for the presidency, was embarrassed last month when his campaign failed to turn in enough valid signatures to appear on the primary ballot. Even worse, there were enough fraudulent signatures that the campaign is now facing criminal investigation. This week he announced that he was dropping his write-in bid (Michigan is one of the tougher states in the country to run a write-in campaign.)
That leaves one Republican on the primary ballot - a Vietnam and Iraq war vet (yes, you read that correctly), part-time farmer and beekeeper, and high school teacher named Kerry Bentivolio.
If elected - which is probably more probable than not, although former State Senator Loren Bennett has announced a write-in primary campaign and he'll probably draw a solid challenger in the general election - Bentivolio would presumably be one of the most libertarian members of congress.
A few excerpts from his campaign web page:
On free speech:
On the Economy:
On Civil Liberties (how many GOP candidates give an issues heading to "civil liberties" these days?):
Among the Bill of Rights, the People have reserved for themselves the rights to free speech, free exercise of religion, the right to keep and bear arms, the right to due process under the law, property rights, and the right privacy. These rights and other civil rights maintain freedom of thought and prevent tyranny.
« Close It
May 18, 2012
Bush "tax break for ...
everyone." So sayeth Yahoo! finance:
You may think only individuals in the top two brackets will face higher federal income taxes if the Bush cuts go bye-bye as scheduled on Jan. 1, 2013. Not true. Unless Congress takes action and the president goes along (whoever that is), rates will go up for everyone -- not just "the rich." Specifically, the existing 10% bracket will go away, and the lowest "new" bracket will be 15%. The existing 25% bracket will be replaced by the "new" 28% bracket; the existing 28% bracket will be replaced by the new 31% bracket; the existing 33% bracket will be replaced by the 36% bracket; and the existing 35% bracket will be replaced by the 39.6% bracket.
April 12, 2012
Protecting the Politicians or the Citizenry? c. 1912
From the April 12, 1912 NYT:
Citizens of this town [Washington, DC] who carry any deadly weapon hereafter will be liable to penitentiary sentence or fine, or both, by terms of a bill passed in the House to-day. Any Washingtonian who has a pocketknife with a blade more than three inches long comes within the provisions.
March 14, 2012
Koch v. Cato
I have a long-standing relationship with the Cato Institute. They have been partners on the publication of the EFW index since 1996. I have published a couple articles in the Cato Journal, and students of mine have interned there. On a personal level, I am pleased to call many current and former Cato staffers my friends.
I have also developed a relationship with the Charles Koch Foundation in the last few years, which helped fund my research at Auburn and now SMU. I have lectured for the Koch Associates program. Students of mine have worked for the Foundation. I recently shot two short videos with their assistance. On a personal level, I am pleased to call many current and former Koch staffers my friends.
So I am saddened by this whole thing on many levels. Like a lot of people, I wish this wasn't happening. But it is. I don't understand the animosity between the Kochs and Ed Crane, though I certainly understand the loyalty of the Cato folks to Ed Crane, who has championed liberty for so many decades. Personally, I don't care who "wins" this battle though.
I am however worried about the damage being done to the libertarian movement, especially by the rhetoric on the part of the Cato supporters. They claim the "independence" of the Cato Institute is threatened by the Kochs. Do they not realize that each time they make this claim, they (a) INSULT friends at GMU, Mercatus, IHS, and hundreds of scholars elsewhere (like me) who have benefited from Koch Foundation assistance but who do not feel any loss of independence in their own research agendas?, and (b) provide fodder for the Left's tired (and untrue) claim that we are all just corporate stooges?
Go ahead and defend your boss and your jobs if you must, but in doing so, don't call into question my independence.
March 01, 2012
Losing the Blues
Walter Russell Mead on the demise of the "blue model": "It took me a while to see it, but since the 1980s I’ve come to understand that the shift away from blue is not all loss. The blue model was a very comfy couch, but there is much more to do in this world than watch Simpsons reruns while eating chips."
December 26, 2011
Paul Gregory's inconvenient arithmetic:
"Millionaire tax filers earn $221 billion – almost a quarter of a trillion — from business and professions, partnerships, and S-corporations. This is puzzling: If Harry Reid’s figure is correct (2,361 millionaire businesses), then the average millionaire-owned business earns almost a hundred million dollars, and [they] do this without hiring anyone. These super heroes do their own typing, selling, drafting. public relations, building, and manufacturing. They do not need employees. Remarkable!"
December 01, 2011
Public Sector Millionaires
From an article by Manhattan Institute's Lawrence Mone:
That is, if they had to fund their retirements from their own savings, they’d have to set aside seven figures today.
November 12, 2011
An Outrage, If Accurate
According to this post, the Michigan SEIU recieves about $6 million per year from caregivers who receive Medicaid. "For the SEIU, this makes them public employees and thus members of the union, which receives $30 out of the family's monthly Medicaid subsidy. The Michigan Quality Community Care Council (MQC3) deducts union dues on behalf of SEIU."
November 09, 2011
A Quick Take on the 2011 Elections: There is no Quick Take
If one theme emerged from Tuesday's off-year mid-terms, it is that there is no obvious theme or narrative.
Let us start with ballot issues. Apparently voters have had enough of Republican efforts to make it harder to vote: Maine voters by a 60-40% margin overturned a law passed earlier this year that would have ended same day voter registration. Or apparently voters remain quite concerned about voter fraud and willing to impose modest restrictions on the ease of voting to address the issue despite protests from Democratic officials: Mississippians voted 62-38% in favor of a law requiring voter ID at the polls.
Also in Mississippi, the right to a thrashing when a pro-life amendment defining personhood as beginning at conception was crushed, 58 percent to 42 percent. But the state's voters also passed a law vastly restricting the use of eminant domain by a ridiculously lopsided 73 percent to 27 percent margin.
Meanwhile, Ohio voters swung back to the Democrats, delivering a crushing 61-39% defeat to a law, passed earlier this year by the Republican dominated legislature, trimming government employees collective bargaining rights. Or maybe they didn't -
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another Ohio measure, which would amend the state constitution to void any law requiring persons to purchase healthcare (a straightforward slap at Obamacare) passed by an even greater margin, 66 percent to 34 percent.
If voters seemed all over the ideological map on ballot issues, when it comes to candidates the voters, as everyone knows, are fed up with incumbents. Fed up except, that is, with the incumbent mayors of Houston, Philadelphia, Indianapolis, Columbus, Charlotte, Baltimore, Fort Wayne, Durham, Boise, and Salt Lake City all of whom won easy re-election, regardless of party.
Phoenix's open seat remained comfortably in Democrat hands, while Greensboro, NC remained Republican. Democrats did gain the mayor's office in Tucson, but Republicans appear to have countered by swiping the mayor's office in Spokane, though Democrats still hold out hope on the basis of some 40,000 absentee ballots yet to be counted in a close race. Democrats flipped the County Executive's office in Erie County, New York, but Republicans countered by flipping the Township Supervisor's office in Islip, New York (pop. 335,000). There were very few other changes.
Likewise every incumbent of either party who sought re-election to statewide office in Kentucky and Mississippi also won, most with over 60 percent of the vote. In conservative Kentucky, where the President is extremely unpopular, moderate Democratic Governor Steve Bashear won re-election by 21 points. Republicans had to defend an open seat in Mississippi, but Phil Bryant held the seat for GOP, rolling up a 22 point margin. In both states, both parties held all their statewide offices.
Down ballot, Republicans appear to have taken control of the Virginia Senate, but by the narrowest of margins - an 86 vote victory (and likely recount) that gives them a tie, which the Republican Lt. Governor can break. The GOP had hoped for an outright majority of two or three seats. [Update: The Republicans also added at least 6 more seats to their already substantial majority in the state House of Delegates.]
Republicans added a couple seats to their narrow majority in the Mississippi state senate. As of this hour, the state house remains up for grabs, although Republicans clearly gained some seats. [Update 9:02 a.m. 11/9: Several races still too close to call, but the most likely outcome is that the GOP takes the state house with a seat or two to spare.] But Democrats held on to their 2 vote edge in the Iowa State Senate with a special election victory. Republicans had hoped to win the race and gain a tie in the chamber. And in New Jersey, there was no change in the state senate, while Democrats added one seat to their majority in the state house.
If there is any trend, it might be this - the public seems unwilling to give either party a clear monopoly on power, and it rejects measures - such as Obamacare and Ohio's collective bargaining reforms, that seem to forced through on partisan lines. That rejection seems to have as much to do with a reaction to apparent legislative hubris as it does with the the merits of the issue (just as Democrats like to point out that individual elements of Obamacare poll well, individual elements of Ohio's collective bargaining reforms poll well - it's the whole package that, in each case, is rejected).
Meanwhile, results are not yet in on the Granville Village Council races. [Update: The lovely Julie came in 67 votes short.]
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October 14, 2011
Is Obama's new attack style working?
In a column today in the Washington Post, Charles Krauthammer excoriates President Obama's new style of more aggressively "scapegoating" Republicans and "the rich," and giving succor to the OWS crowd. But while Krauthammer calls it "dangerous," he concludes, "it's working."
Is it? In it's August monthly poll, Gallup showed the President leading a generic Republican by 45-39%. On September 8, the President kicked off his re-election campaign with his call for the "American Jobs Act," (the AJA) and spent the next several days pushing for it. Gallup conducted its September monthly from September 8 through the 11th. The result: Generic Republican led the President by 46% to 38%. In late September, Occupy Wall Street began to garner attention - it crowded the Brooklyn Bridge on the last weekend of the month and has been almost non-stop in the news since. But Gallup's October poll, released today, shows a generic Republican leading the President by 46-38% - exactly the same as a month before.
Amongst Independent voters, the generic Republican edge has grown from 40-35% in August to 43-30% in October (though down slightly from September).
When he gave his AJA speech in September, Obama's average approval was 43.8, per Real Clear Politics. Today it stands at 43.6, though with a slight uptick in the last week - almost entirely the result of a surprisingly strong (for the President) poll from Rasmussen, the pollster liberals love to hate. The most recent polls from other pollsters in the field since OWS briefly seized the Brooklyn Bridge, compared to their prior poll, show him down in Gallup, flat in Ipsos/Reuters, down in ABC/Washington Post, and down in Fox New.
Meanwhile, the old "right track/wrong track" numbers have reached a ridiculously (and historically) bad 17-76%. That's slightly worse than the 19-74% split at the time of his AJA speech, and down from 21-72% when OWS seized the Bridge. These small declines are probably just statistical noise, but they certainly don't show OWS or the President moving the needle.
The President's numbers against his specific possible Republican opponents, however, remain stable. In September, as in August, he was competitive, with slight leads or slightly behind, depending on the particular match-up. The latest round of such polling (by Gallup) should be out soon, and we'll see how he looks then. He'll also have a huge cash advantage over his GOP opposition, and by February if not sooner we should expect to see that money being deployed to bash Republicans.
So the President remains a formidable opponent. But that's because of his cash advantage, and the weakness of the GOP field. There's no sign - yet anyway - that his new style is moving things in his direction.
October 13, 2011
In a nutshell
George Will provides this summation of the "message" (he dignifies it by calling it the meta-theory) of the Occupy Wall Street bunch: Washington is grotesquely corrupt and insufficiently powerful.
September 27, 2011
Changing layouts, sharing private information, meh. Didn't get my dander up. But I'm seriously considering typing a snarky status update to register my displeasure about the following:
Facebook filed paperwork Monday to form a political action committee called "FB PAC," CNN has learned.
Don't bother clicking the link; I copied the whole story.
If you or someone you know has been personally affected by the high prices due to influence peddling among special interest lobbyists, post this to your status for one hour.
September 21, 2011
Obama: Most economically ignorant president ever?
I've been saying for some time that Barack Obama is the most economically ignorant president since Zachary Taylor, but I increasingly fear I've been doing the general a disservice. It's not just erroneous economics, but sheer ignorance of markets and economics.
You see it in periodic comments of the President. Perhaps the most famous came when he said that ATMs and airport ticket kiosks lead to unemployment: “When you go to a bank you use the ATM, you don’t go to a bank teller. Or you go to the airport and you use a kiosk instead of checking in at the gate.” (An interesting tidbit - do a Google search for this - you'll see the comment was more or less uncommented upon in the "mainstream media.") He's used this a couple times, here also blaming internet travel sites.
But there have been numerous others, as when he explained that auto companies had to make more electric cars in order to satisfy the market. This showed a titanic ignorance of how markets work, the President apparently of the belief that "the market" was what a central planner decided was needed, not what consumers actually wanted. He shows know concept of consumer preference, the subjective value of goods and services, or even the role of prices in providing information to firms.
Now comes this quote from Ron Suskind's book, Confidence Men:
"Both [Chair of the Council of Economic Advisors Christina Roemer and National Economic Council Director Lawrence Summers] were concerned by something the President had said in a morning briefing: that he thought the high unemployment was due to productivity gains in the economy. Summers and Romer were startled.
“What was driving unemployment was clearly deficient aggregate demand,” Romer said. “We wondered where this could be coming from. We both tried to convince him otherwise. He wouldn’t budge.”
So our President really does think productivity is bad for the economy. As economist Scott Sumner says, "So for 200 years rapid productivity growth didn’t cause any serious unemployment problems in America, but now, right after NGDP collapses, we are to believe it is producing mass unemployment, even though recent productivity gains have been rather low. I’m at a loss for words. We elected a Luddite as President of the United States."
September 13, 2011
More on tolerant conservatives
For a long time, I've noted that conservatives and libertarians live happier, more active lives than liberals, and are generally more tolerant. (Yes, that anonymous friend is me). I have also long noted that in my experience, conservatives are, on the whole, more tolerant than liberals.
These observations cut heavily against the typical liberal's sense of self, but it really makes sense, if you think about it. The core of conservatism, no less than Ronald Reagan used to say, is libertarianism - the live and let live philosophy. And equally at the core of libertarianism is a tolerance for lifestyle choices. Liberals and hippies and free love types and survivialists and all kinds of crazies can move to Vermont or New Hampshire or Idaho, and the flinty natives just accept them (with the immigrants gradually changing the political culture of the two former states to match their intolerant liberalism). Modern liberalism, by definition, seeks to impose its will on individuals, largely in the belief that it can perfect society through politics. This doesn't mean that they are bad people. And perhaps we should be more intolerant. (In fact, that's the argument that my liberal friends routinely give me when I point these things out, although they don't put it in those terms - instead the argue, for example, about the evils of smoking, or paying people less than the minimum wage, or making racist comments, or the dangers of owning a gun, etc. etc.). It's modern liberalism that imposes smoking bans, and mandates speech codes, and so on. I say "and so on" because I am off on a digression.
My point was simply to note that evidence continually trickles out for the proposition that I routinely observe - liberals are less tolerant of differing beliefs than conservatives.
The latest comes from Match.com, which has been running algorithms on their members in order to better match people. One result: says Amarnath Thombre, Match.com's lead researcher, "the politics one is quite interesting. Conservatives are far more open to reaching out to someone with a different point of view than a liberal is."
I leave it to the more highly trained economists here to explain the dynamics of dating and mate choice.
September 04, 2011
Some early electoral college math
In 2008, John McCain won 173 electoral college votes. It is very difficult to imagine any state that voted for McCain in 2008 not supporting the GOP candidate in 2012. So that means the GOP nominee has to swipe 97 votes from the Obama column to win in 2012. Where might they come from?
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First, some caveats. State head-to-head polling is very iffy this far from the election. For example, President Obama has terrible approval numbers in Kentucky, 39/56 approve/disapprove. McCain beat him there 57.5% to 41.1%. Over the past three presidential elections, Republican have won the state by an average of 17 poitns. Yet in head to head match-ups, Obama currently leads all 2012 GOP candidates. Does anyone really think Obama is going to win Kentucky in 2012?
Thus, I tend to find that approval/disapproval numbers tell us more. Yet they also have their weakness - after all, candidates run against other specifically identifiable candidates. In an election such as we should expect in 2012, much will turn on whether voters see the race as a referendum on Obama, or as a referendum on the Republican nominee's suitability. President Obama will spend over $1 billion to make it the latter, and have tremendous help from the national press corps. Space prohibits me from talking at length about the particulars of each state's electorate, particularly as it may react to the various GOP candidates and the issues at the fore in 2012. I do believe that past election results, however, are quite useful - in states that typically voted Republican before 2008, and voted Republican again in 2010, there is a high probability that 2008 was an aberation. With that said, here we go.
Let's start with likely GOP pick ups.
1. The Census: States won by McCain will have 6 more Electoral College votes in 2012 than they did in 2008. So if we are correct that all 2008 GOP states will hold for the GOP, we have the GOP +6.
2. Nebraska. Nebraska is one of two states (with Maine) that splits its electoral college votes - although that hadn't actually happened until 2008, when McCain won 4 of 5. Obama got one vote by carrying one of Nebraska's three congressional districts. That won't happen this time. GOP +1.
3. Indiana. Indiana politics lean slightly Republican at the state level, but in national races the state has been reliably Republican - at least until 2008, when Obama defeated McCain 49.9 to 48.9. But George W. Bush easily won the state twice, with 56.7% in 2000 and 59.9% in 2004. Before Obama's win, the state hadn't gone Democratic since Lyndon Johnson's 1964 landslide over Barry Goldwater. Obama's approval rating in the state has been hovering around 40%. Outgoing GOP Governor Mitch Daniels is popular and Mike Pence, the likely gubernatorial nominee, and long-time Senator Richard Lugar will be a popular figures on the statewide GOP ticket in 2012. GOP + 11.
4. Virginia. McCain bailed on Virginia fairly early in the 2008 race, and the state went relatively comfortably to Obama, 52.6% to 46.3%. But Bush won the state by 8 points in both 2000 and 2004, and like Indiana, we have to go back to 1964 to find the last pre-Obama Democratic presidential win in the state.
In 2009, Bob McDonald ended 8 years of Democratic rule in the Virginia statehouse by crushing Creigh Deeds by 18 points. Republicans also won 61% of the vote for the state House of Delegates in 2009, increasing their margin by to 59-39 in that Chamber, and swept the statewide offices. In 2010, Republicans picked up 3 congressional seats in the Old Dominion. Democrats took over the State Senate in 2007 but will probably lose control this year. And U.S. Senator Jim Webb will be retiring, depriving the Democrats of a well-regarded incumbent on the statewide ticket in 2012. Governor McDonald remains popular, which should help the GOP in 2012, even though he won't be on the ballot.
The latest polling - by the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling - shows Obama with slightly higher disapproval than approval, but in a statistical tie with Mitt Romney and leading the other GOP candidates. Despite this relatively strong head-to-head polling, when push comes to shove I don't see Obama carrying the state. GOP +13.
This gives the GOP 31 of the 97 votes needed to flip the White House.
Lean GOP Pickup
1. North Carolina. Obama beat McCain by 14,000 votes in 2008, 49.7% to 49.4%. As in Virginia, Public Policy Polling has Obama in a statistical tie with Romney and leading the other Republicans, but his approval/disapproval stands at 46/50%. Bush twice won with 56% of the vote here, and like Indiana and Virginia, North Carolina also voted GOP in both Clinton elections. Before Obama, the Democrats last victory here was Jimmy Carter in 1976. In the 2012 Governor's race, polls show Republican Pat McCrory leading incumbent Democrat Beverly Purdue by 6 to 12 points. Unemployment exceeds 10 percent. This state looks awfully good for a GOP pick up right now. GOP +15.
2. Florida. In contrast to Indiana, Florida has become very Republican at the state level, with the GOP holding better than two to one advantages in both houses of the legislature, but only marginally Republican in presidential races. Obama carried electoral college giant 50.9% to 48.1% in 2008. The state has been very close in each of the last 5 presidentials, with Bush's 5 point victory in 2004 being the closest thing to a blowout. But Obama's numbers have plummeted in recent polls, to 44-51 positive/negative in the latest Quinnipiac Poll, down 9 points since May, and only 42% thought he deserved reelection. That poll also showed him, however, with a narrow lead over Mitt Romney.
If not for the unpopularity of Republican Governor Rick Scott, I would probably put Florida in the "likely GOP" column. One caveat: if Marco Rubio is the Republican VP nominee, as many suspect, then you can definitely move the state to the "Likely GOP" column. GOP +27.
3. Ohio. Ohio is another state where Obama's approval rating is upside down and falling, but where he holds his own in head-to-head polling with GOP candidates. A late July Quinnipiac poll had his favorable/unfavorable at 46/50, with the same 46% saying he deserved re-election (vs. 47% saying he does not). In August, Public Policy Polling had him at 44/52 approval/disapproval. But he leads Romney and Perry narrowly and the others by more in match up polling.
Like many states on this list, the GOP made big pickups in Ohio in 2010. New Governor John Kasich has pushed through public collective bargaining reforms and a serious budget that hits a number of sacred cows of the left, and that has hurt his rankings. But if the reforms work, he'll look pretty good by November 2012. Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown will be on the ballot for re-election, and he also suffers from bad numbers.
Though I've put them all in "lean Republican," Florida and North Carolina look pretty good for the GOP. Ohio is where the really hard work begins. GOP +18.
4. New Hampshire. Obama carried the Granite State by a comfortable 54.1 to 44.5% in 2008, but the GOP struck back with a vengeance in 2010, holding a U.S. Senate seat with surprising ease and picking up both of the state's congressional seats, plus flipping both houses of the state legislature. In fact, the GOP won its largest State House majority since 1984, and its largest Senate majority since 1962. A recent Gallup Poll shows Obama's approval at a mere 40%. Perry might not play well with the state's electorate, and New Hampshire is not the reliably Republican state it was just 20 years ago (the Democrats held the Governor's office in 2010), but it looks ripe for a GOP gain in 2012. GOP +4.
That's 64 electoral votes I think lean Republican, which added to likely pick-ups puts the party within two of the 97 vote pick up it needs.
Several states are strong GOP pick-up opportunities, but at this point I would rate them only as toss-ups:
1. Colorado. Public Policy Polling had Obama at 46% approval in early August, while Gallup puts him at 44%. Independents are 38% approval vs. 56% disapproval.
For a decade, progressive, Democratic activists and funders engaged in a careful, well thought out plan to convert this marginally GOP state into a Democratic bastion, and by the end of 2008, the effort had yielded considerable fruit. Obama carried the state by 9 points, easily the best showing for a Democrat since Lyndon Johnson in 1964, and the Democrats had captured both U.S. Senate seats, a majority of the Congressional delegation, both houses of the state legislature, and most statewide offices.
Republicans and the business community finally began to get organized after the '08 debacle, and in 2010 the GOP narrowly reclaimed the State House (by one seat) while making marginal gains in the State Senate and winning the Secretary of State's office. Republicans also gained a Congressional seat. Yet signs of GOP disarray in the state remained: Don Maes won the state's GOP gubernatorial primary and was such a bad, scandal-ridden candidate that the Party disowned him - Maes finished 3rd in the race. Tea Party favorite Ken Buck won the party's senate nomination but was a somewhat surprisingly weak general election candidate, allowing appointed first term senator Michael Bennett to narrowly hang on.
This is a rare state where the decisive factor in 2012 may be less the President than the state parties. Does 2010 show the GOP getting its act together, or did it just benefit from a great GOP year nationally? Will the progressive Democratic machine hold together after the disappointment of the Obama years? We shall see. Toss Up Votes: + 9.
2. Nevada. Here's another traditional swing state that went to Obama with surprising ease in 2008, 55.2% to 42.7%. Picking up the seven or so points needed to swing the state won't be easy for Republicans. Unions remain strong here, and the state's libertarian voters may not cotton to someone of Rick Perry's open religiousity (although Mitt Romney's Mormon faith may play well in this heavily Mormon state; Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is a Mormon). But Bush carried the state twice, and Obama was the first Democrat to crack 50% since Lyndon Johnson. Public Policy Polling, the Democratic firm, recently had Obama's approval/disapproval at a horrendous 41/53, with Gallup having a slighly higher 44% approval. Unemployment is 12.9%, highest in the nation. Toss up votes: +6.
3. Iowa. Iowa has gone Democratic in 5 of the last 6 elections, the exception being a very narrow win (49.9% to 49.2%) for Bush in 2004. Obama carried it handily, 53.9 to 44.4%, in '08. Obama looks reasonably safe here. His 49% approval in Gallup is above his national average. Yet is doesn't really feel like a Democratic state. In 2010 the state's voters sacked the state Supreme Court majority, primarily over its holding in favor of same sex marriage. Long-serving incumbent Chuck Grassley pounded out a two to one victory in the U.S. Senate race, the GOP picked up the governorship and the Secretary of State's office, and Republicans won a majority of the state vote for the U.S. House, even though Democrats won three of the 5 seats. Republicans hold a 58-42 edge in the State House, although Democrats hold the Senate 27-23.
Obama is at just 45% approval in Public Policy Polling August poll, yet as in so many other states, he leads his potential GOP opponents in head-to-head match ups. Even Romney trails Obama by 10. There are no other statewide races in Iowa in 2012, so this will be a straight Obama referendum. Toss up Votes: +6.
4. New Mexico. New Mexico is a state where George W. Bush's inroads with Hispanic voters helped him to a narrow win in 2004, after a narrow defeat in 2000 (Gore won the state by 367 votes). The state is basically Democratic at the local level, but Republicans have long been competitive at the presidential level and at times in other upper echelon offices. Obama won easily here in '08, 56.9% to 41.8% (the first Democrat to get 50% since LBJ), as the Republican share of the Hispanic vote plummeted. But the GOP bounced back in 2010 state elections, with Susanna Martinez taking the Governor's office and Republicans gaining 8 seats in the State House. Republicans also picked up a Congressional seat.
Hispanic voters here are more conservative than Hispanic voters nationwide. It will be interesting to see if Marco Rubio, if he is the GOP Vice Presidential nominee, helps the GOP, not just here but in Nevada (which also elected an Hispanic-Republican governor in 2010) and in Colorado, which both have a substantial hispanic voting population. (Rubio, of course, is of Cuban ancestry, whereas most western hispanics are of Mexican or Central American heritage.) And don't think it out of the question that Governor Martinez, or Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval could end up as a surprise pick for the GOP ticket, too. Either would probably pull both states, and perhaps Colorado, too, firmly into the GOP camp.
Gallup has Obama's approval rating here at 46%. Toss up votes: +5.
5. Wisconsin. Obama carried Wisconsin by 56 to 42% in 2008, after very narrow victories for Al Gore in 2000 (47.8 to 47.6%) and John Kerry in 2004 (49.7 to 49.3%). Republicans made enormous gains in 2010, however, retaking the Governorship for the first time in 12 years, taking both houses of the state legislature, and defeating Senator Russ Feingold. Walker's controversial collective bargaining reforms have knocked the GOP's numbers down a peg, but not enough for Democrats to retake the state Senate in the summer's recall elections, or to win an election to the state Supreme Court, despite an enormous investment of time and money in both.
I suspect that by next fall the controversy over Walker won't matter - the bitter-enders would vote for Obama anyway, and independents will be looking at the Presidential race on its own merits in this swing state. With that, note that Obama has a relatively healthy 50% approval rating in Wisconsin (per Gallup), a less enticing 45/51 approval/disapproval from Public Policy Polling. But PPP also has him leading all of the GOP candidates, Romney narrowly, the others by double digits. Toss up - 10 votes.
That's 36 toss up votes.
1. Pennsylvania. The Republicans have made major efforts here for each of the last several presidential campaigns, only to come up short, sometimes by considerable margins. Obama carried the state 54.5% to 44.2%; Kerry by 50.9% to 48.4%; Gore by 50.6% to 46.4%. Bill Clinton carried the state by nine points in each of his races.
So, can the GOP really turn Pennsylvania in 2012? Well, let's see: a Quinnipiac poll in early August had Obama's approval at an upside down 43/54, with a "deserves reelection" number at 42%. A Muhlenberg College poll late in the month delivered worse news for the President: a 35% approval rating, one of his worst in the country - what you'd expect to see in Alabama or some such deep red place. And while Democrats have a huge registration advantage in Pennsylvania, they tend to be culturally conservative voters. Republicans hold a comfortable majority in the state senate and regained control of the state house and the governor's office in 2010. But so far Republicans have not come up with a top challenger to Democratic Senator Robert Casey, Jr., who ought to be vulnerable, so that help Democrats a bit.
I'm sorely tempted to put Pennsylvania into at least the "toss-up" camp, if not the "lean GOP" camp; but the GOP's poor history in presidential races in the Keystone state lead me to keep it in the lean Obama column. Potential +20.
2. Oregon. Oregon? Oregon hasn't gone Republican since the Reagan landslide of 1984. Obama carried it by 16 points. But Republicans should be expected to make a charge here. The state is not hopeless for the Grand Old Party - the State House is deadlocked 30-30 and the State Senate is just 16-14 Democrat. Democrats have won the last three gubernatorial races without reaching 51% of the vote. Outside of progressive Portland, the capital of Salem, and the College town of Eugene, the state leans Republican, and much of the eastern state is as deep a red as any place in Idaho or Utah. PPP has Obama at 49% approval, but Gallup gives Obama just a 44% approval score. A July poll from Survey USA mirrored Gallup, with a 44/53 approval/disapproval. Oregon has a 9.5% unemployment rate.
Can Republicans win Oregon in 2012? Hell, yes. Potential + 7.
3. Michigan. Think of Michigan as a slightly smaller Pennsylvania. As in Pennsylvania, many registered Democrats are quite conservative culturally. As in Pennsylvania, Democrats have won the last 5 presidential elections here. As in Pennsylvania, the GOP has put a lot into Michigan in the last several presidential elections, but in the end the Democrats always win, often going away. Obama won here 57.3% to 40.9%. Obama's approval has also held up pretty well here, at 50% per Gallup.
But maybe Michiganders are fed up. Republicans made huge gains in 2010 to capture both houses of the state legislature, and won the Governor's office in an 18 point blowout after eight years of the glamorous but utterly incompentent Jennifer Granholm - which may remind people of the President. Then there is the 10.9% unemployment. And while the Romney name isn't magic in Michigan - since the popular George Romney left office in 1969, Ronna Romney, Lenore Romney, and Scott Romney have all lost bids for statewide office - if Mitt Romney is the nominee, you have to think there will be more than a little nostalgia for the golden age when Mitt's father was Governor.
4. Maine. Like Nebraska, Maine awards individual electoral votes for winning congressional districts. The GOP made huge gains in Maine in 2010 (see below) and could well take the electoral college vote for the First Congressional District, even while losing the state. Potential: +1
Total Lean Democrat: 44.
1. Maine: Obama '08, 57.7%; Approval 50% (Gallup); Unemployment 7.7%; Republicans gained 23 house and 6 senate seats in 2010 to take control of state legislature; won governship. As noted, Maine splits its electoral votes. If the Republican candidate wins the entire state, that would 3 more votes, in addition to the one credited above. Potential +3.
2. Minnesota: Obama '08, 54.1%; Approval 52% (Gallup); Unemployment 7.2%. Republicans gained 25 house and 16 senate seats to take state legislature in 2010.
3. Washington: Obama '08, 57.3%; Approval 50% (Gallup), 47/50% (SUSA); Unemployment 9.3%; marginal GOP gains in 2010.
4. New Jersey: Obama '08, 57.1%; Approval 54% (Gallup). Only if Chris Christie is on the ticket, or the bottom falls out for Obama, could New Jersey be in play.
Is there any state where Obama might make a gain? I've assumed not, but if I were to pick one, it might be Arizona, with it's burgeoning Hispanic population. McCain carried his home state with just 53.4%; Republican legislative gains were unimpressive in 2010; and for all the fuss about immigration, Arizona's unemployment is high but not out of control compared to the rest of the country- 9.4%. Obama's Gallup approval number is 44% in Arizona.
In this analysis, I've assumed here that the Republican candidate will be reasonably traditional - probably Romney or Perry. With a Palin, Paul, or Bachmann candidacy, for example, we'd almost have to say all bets off (which is not to say those three, or others, can't or shouldn't win, just that their nominations would seem to totally scramble traditional thinking about how the election might go).
So, if we exclude Arizona and the four "likely Obama" states, we can figure that the Republican nominee - assuming reasonable competence - begins with 179 electoral votes: the 173 won by McCain, plus the 6 votes those states have gained as a result of the census. From there he or she will need another 91, from a potential pool of 169 possible. Or to put it another way, he or she will need to carry those by 91-78 or better. Is that doable? At this point, I'd say it is more likely than not.
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August 31, 2011
August 13, 2011
Iowa Straw Poll: Dumbest Event in Politics
It's hard to imagine a dumber event in American politics than the Iowa Straw Poll. Or more precisely, it's hard to imagine anything dumber in American politics than the attention paid to the Iowa Straw Poll.
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If you are not familiar with the Iowa Straw Poll, well, it a poll of a group of Republicans in Iowa, on their favorite to win next year's presidential nomination. There's more, but we'll get to that in a bit. Let's start with the latest results of Poll, held today in Ames, Iowa.
Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann won this year's poll with 28.5% of the vote, edging Texas Congressman Ron Paul, who garnered 27.6%. Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty was a distant third, with 13.6%.
Just three months ago, D.C. sage George Will argued on This Week that only Pawlenty and Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels (who later decided not to run) had a chance to be the GOP nominee (this was also, of course, before Texas Governor Rick Perry's entrance to the race today.) Pawlenty has been a front runner and would still seem to be - he's a two-term governor from a reasonably large, "purple" state, a candidate at least generally satisfactory to all elements of the GOP coalition. Yet now, according to the Washington, D.C. insider must-read, The Politico, this
So what exactly is the Iowa Straw Poll? Well, back in 1979, Iowa Republicans decided they could have some fund, draw some attention, and raise a little more money by taking a poll at their annual mid-summer fund-raiser for the Party. And the key element, here, is that the "poll" is still primarily - at least for the Party - a fundraising ploy. Thus, anyone who pays to attend can vote, but no pay/no vote. Nor does it matter who pays - so campaigns can (and virtually all do) bus in their supporters to vote, and pay their entrance fee. Candidates can do the old 18th century campaign style trick of plying voters with food and drink, a tents they have to pay for, with the candidate who agrees to pay the most getting the most favorable location. Needless to say, this neither replicates any type of scientific polling, nor even an actual U.S. election.
Nor does it represent many people. This year there were 16,892 votes. Congresswoman Bachmann received 4823. On this basis, fewer than 17,000 Iowans voting in a poll bearing no resemblence to a real election, Politico now dubs her the "front-runner," at least to win the Iowa caucuses. And poor Governor Pawlenty, with 2293 votes, has gone from "top tier" to toast.
Even more amazing, the Iowa Straw Poll doesn't even have a good track record of picking the winner. In that first 1979 poll, George H.W. Bush defeated Ronald Reagan and a gaggle of other Republicans. Bush went on to win the Iowa caucuses in early 1980, but if memory serves, someone else won the nomination - maybe that Reagan dude. In 1987 (no poll in 1983, 1991, and 2003, when GOP incumbents ran basically unopposed), Pat Robertson won the Straw Poll, but Bob Dole won the caucus, and George H.W. Bush won the nomination. In 1995, Phil Gramm and Dole tied in the Straw Poll. Gramm, of course, went nowhere - Dole actually won both the Iowa Caucus and the nomination. In 1999, George W. Bush won the Straw Poll and went on to wins in the caucus and the nomination, but in 2007, Mitt Romney's 32%-18% win over Mike Huckabee mattered naught - Huckabee won the caucuses 5 months later, and John McCain, of course, the nomination. Note that only once has a Straw Poll winner won the presidency, and only twice has the Poll winner even won the nomination.
But if winning the poll doesn't mean much, losing it - or doing worse than expectations - can apparently be the kiss of death, as the press writes the candidate off and funding dries up. It looks like that might happen to Pawlenty.
Meanwhile, Mitt Romney decided not to blow money, or risk his front runner status, this year. He chose not to compete in Iowa, but was listed on the ballot and finished 7th with 567 votes, or 3.4%. Given all the good he got from winning the Straw Poll four years ago (that is, none), probably a wise decision. Perry, who declared for the nomination this morning, picked up 718 write-in votes, good for 4.3% and 6th place. Feel the momentum!
Ron Paul's campaign was celebrating his close second place, insisting this made the Texas libertarian a serious, "first-tier" candidate. I like Ron Paul, I've done legal work for Ron Paul (and also Romney, by the way) in 2008. I'm not convinced he's in the "first-tier." But hey, it looks like he'll outlast Pawlenty.
In fourth place, with 9.8%, was Rick Santorum, a very smart, thoughtful, and decent man who has no chance of winning the nomination. In 5th was former Godfather's Pizza CEO turned talk-radio host Herman Cain, with 8.6%. Behind Perry and Romney came Newt Gingrich, the once powerful speaker reduced to sideshow status, John Anderson- oops, I mean Huntsman, and Michigan Congressman Thad McCotter, whom you've probably never heard of, let alone knew was running for President. Poor Gary Johnson, the libertarian, former New Mexico Governor, the "thinking man's Ron Paul" who can't get any traction with Paul in the race, was down in the "scattering" category.
So the top two Republican candidates, Perry and Romney, don't compete. Their presumptive main rival, Pawlenty, is left on life support. Bachmann and Paul will try to turn this fundraising show into real momentum.
Man, this is no way to run a railroad.
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July 19, 2011
Apology accepted, Mr. Murdoch. Now how about Bush and Obama?
Lopez: "A professional clown sneaks in and throws a pie in Rupert Murdoch's face. He'll go to jail and have a record. And he'll be immortalized among that wacky society known as comedians. Surprised no one's done it before. I abhor it, of course."
Lawson: "I just don't understand our world. Our government, complete with guns, electric chairs, and prisons, can snoop, hack, bug, and pry with impunity and NO ONE CARES. A few reporters, armed with mere pens, do it and it's apparently the moral crisis of our age?"
Lopez: "I'm reminded of George W. Bush's insistence, to unseemly lengths, in 2004 that he had the right to listen to anyone's conversations. And he got re-elected for it. Below is a paste of a Glen Greenwald piece in Salon from last month. It's got to be one of the most vivid examples of lawyers upholding the rule of law, and shows where the line is drawn for giving impunity to people acting in their official capacity. It's just drawn way too far out. The Murdoch situation shows us that.
These lawyers, evidently despite political loyalties, were keeping the President from abusing his powers. “Comey explained that, in 2004, shortly after he became Deputy AG, he reviewed the NSA eavesdropping program Bush had ordered back in 2001 and concluded it was illegal. Other top administration lawyers -- including Attorney General John Ashcroft and OLC Chief Jack Goldsmith -- agreed with Comey, and told the White House they would no longer certify the program's legality. It was then that Bush dispatched Gonzales and Andy Card to Ashcroft's hospital room to try to extract an approval from the very sick Attorney General, but, from his sickbed, Ashcroft refused to overrule Comey. Bush decided to reject the legal conclusions of his top lawyers and ordered the NSA eavesdropping program to continue anyway, even though he had been told it was illegal (like Obama now, Bush pointed to the fact that his own White House counsel (Gonzales), along with Dick Cheney's top lawyer, David Addington, agreed the NSA program was legal). In response, Ashcroft, Comey, Goldsmith, and FBI Director Robert Mueller all threatened to resign en masse if Bush continued with this illegal spying, and Bush -- wanting to avoid that kind of scandal in an election year -- agreed to "re-fashion" the program into something those DOJ lawyers could approve (the "re-fashioned" program was the still-illegal NSA program revealed in 2005 by The New York Times; to date, we still do not know what Bush was doing before that that was so illegal as to prompt resignation threats from these right-wing lawyers).”
May 12, 2011
FSU gets "Koched"*
Well, another muckraking journalist attacks the Charles G. Koch (CGK) Foundation, this time for its support of FSU's economics department.**
Here are the facts of the matter stripped down to the basics:
(1) FSU wants to hire new faculty in an area in which they have built up a 20+ year international reputation with Gwartney, Benson, and Holcombe et al., but resources do not exist to do this.
Oooooooo. Yeah, sure "smells" to me. It smells about as much as when I was at Capital University and some donor gave us money for "service learning" and all of a sudden we were told we had to hire faculty in that area and approve new courses and curricular changes to accommodate this donation. Funny, I don't remember the outcry about academic freedom there.
Pay attention the next time a foundation offers a university money for (say) lung cancer research. I guarantee you won't see a story about how THAT violates academic freedom. Why not though? How dare the donor "dictate" that we study lung cancer instead of breast cancer! Nope, you won't see that story.
The ONLY reason this is a story is because the left doesn't like the ideas that Koch supports (and much of the FSU econ department supports). It is increasingly obvious to me that these tiresome stories are part of a well-planned effort on the part of the left. I guess it is easier to yell corruption than it is to actually engage the ideas.
The only test for whether a university should accept a donation is (1) if the faculty in the area support the idea and (2) if the donation supports the teaching/research mission. The CGK gift to FSU passes both tests. If some people don't like it, then that's just tough. Telling the economics department that they can't raise funds to support programs that they want? Now that would violate academic freedom!
* Title reference here.
**Full disclosure: I have been a direct and indirect recipient of CGK Foundation funding, and am a graduate of FSU's economics program.
May 05, 2011
The perfect way to observe Marx's birthday (today)
Listen to this lecture by Alan Charles Kors, titled "Can There Be an 'After-Socialism'?"
Update: Professor Kors gave substantially the same lecture at Clemson this semester, which can be viewed here. (Thanks to Eric Daniels, of the Clemson Institute for the Study of Capitalism, for pointing this out.)
April 24, 2011
Poisoning the Grass Roots
I second Frank's offering of kudos to Dan Alban and IJ. This article from The Economist reports other IJ work: "All states regulate professional lobbyists: ie, paid agents who communicate directly with politicians in the hope of swaying them. Fair enough. But a new report from the Institute for Justice, a libertarian group, reveals that 36 states also impose restrictions on "grassroots lobbying' ...."
Also from this article:
The first sentence of the Massachusetts guidelines for grassroots lobbyists is but a whisker shorter than the Gettysburg address and comprehensible only to a lawyer. Small groups cannot afford lawyers. Yet a few states even threaten criminal penalties for breaking the rules. In Alabama, the maximum sentence is 20 years in jail.
See Richard Epstein on the implictions of passing laws that are not consistently applied.
March 27, 2011
Early evidence shows benefits of Citizens United, SpeechNow.org decisions
The early evidence continues to support the wisdom of the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, and other recent court decisions striking down campaign finance regulations on First Amendment grounds, most notably SpeechNow.org v. Federal Election Commission. I discuss the latest bits of data here.
March 08, 2011
On the Southern Border c. 1911
Consider these headlines from a story in the March 8, 1911 NYT:
Here are the opening paragraphs:
The United States is making a move as to Mexico that looks like a potential interference in the affairs of that country, though it wears the official aspect of a military mobilization test. Nearly 20,000 troops, or practically one-fourth of the entire United States Army, including the forces in the insular possessions, were last night and to-day ordered to entrain for points near the Mexican boundary.
February 24, 2011
This is just from memory, but a story on the local radio news program this morning talked about how the Louisiana Federation of Teachers is against business tax cuts in the current budget. They played a clip of the head of the AFT saying that, since the tax cuts "cost the state" some tax revenue, schools "may have to lay off employees" (emphasis mine). This seems odd to me since the BLS shows the number of mass layoffs in Louisiana in 2008, 09, and 10 as greater than zero each year.
So even though many businesses in Louisiana (and the rest of the country) are struggling, laying off workers, or closing entirely, that is less significant than the possibility of schools laying off workers.
February 22, 2011
The plight of the (Wisconsin) refugee
Today my heart bleeds for the dispossed refugees fleeing a brutal dictator.
Fleeing this brutal dictator (their words) are Wisconsin's 14 Democratic state senators. As is now well known, all 14 have fled the state, depriving the legislature of a quorum needed to conduct budget business.
But it's not easy being a legislator on the lamb. Check out the sad reports in this unintentionally humorous article from the Los Angeles Times.
"It's sort of like being a refugee," said runaway Senator Spencer Coggs. Indeed, and we know how hard it is to be a "refugee." "'Each day brings its own challenges,' Sen. Spencer Coggs said by telephone. 'Somebody will need an electric shaver or somebody will need provisions.'"
Oh the horrors! The Times reports that Coggs has had to purchase more underwear, socks and T-shirts. Thank heavens there are so many non-union Walmarts around. We'd hate to see Senator Coggs unshaven, let alone in day old underwear.
As so often happens in crowded refugee camps, medical care is hard to come by. Reports the Times, "Sen. Julie Lassa needed more contact lens solution."
"The senators have gone into survival mode in Illinois, doing small loads of laundry and eating 'whatever we can get our hands on,' said one senator." One can envision the senators, scrounging from garbage cans, slaughtering their dogs and horses, leaving them to pull their carts by hand. Fortunately, they are aided by "relatives and staff who trek across the border." Trek mind you. You know, that arduous jaunt down I-94 and I-39 (hey, don't laugh - ever drive I-94 at rush hour?).
Oh, the humanity!
February 04, 2011
Damn! Munger v. Google has such a nice ring to it. But it was rejected by the NC Supreme Court.
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We had brought suit, and I was lead Quixote...um... lead plaintiff. (Robert Orr did all the work, of course. I was just eye candy. Or maybe BOB was Quixote, and I was Sancho Panza. That's more like it.)
But the NC Supreme Court today smashed all my dreams. Went so far as to say that the very idea of reviewing the review of the appeals decision was "improvidently granted." Oh, that hurts. Improvidently granted? "Sorry, nothing to see here folks. Just an everyday violation of the NC Constitution. Move along, citizens, move along."
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February 03, 2011
Citizen Threatened for Being Too Smart!
I would have thought the oppressive apparatus of the state could no longer surprise me with its never-ending creativity. But...I am surprised, by this.
The NC DOT did an engineering study of a local road widening project, and concluded that no new signals were required at two intersections. A citizen, David Cox, had the gall to disagree. He did some research, and put the research in the form of an organized argument.
The state could have responded by ignoring the request. Or the state could have pointed out the errors in the study. (I myself have no position on the merits; haven't studied it, don't know the issues).
But the state engineer instead threatened the citizen with legal action... for... being smart! They investigated charging him with "practicing engineering without a license." Yes, really. The state DOT head engineer, Kevin Lacy, did not dispute the facts, the analysis, or the conclusions of the report. All he did was try to get the report dismissed because it was "engineering quality work." Read that again: the citizen made a petition to government for redress of a grievance, and the state wants to prosecute the citizen because the quality of the analysis is too high. (If the petition, redress, etc. thing sounds familiar that's because it is a right guaranteed in the 1st Amendment).
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Now, the citizen had NEVER claimed to be an engineer, and had simply signed his name to the report. And he had organized the report in a way that made sense to him, presenting information that he thought was important for the question of whether the intersections needed traffic signals.
The cool thing is that the state is going to say, "We never ACTUALLY brought charges!" Just like the Mafia thugs say, "Nice restaurant. It wud be a shame if sumpin wud to happen to it, like youknowafireorsumpin, capisce?" The fact is that the state can exert an enormously chilling effect simply by suggesting that citizens should be investigated.
But the idea that a citizen can be investigated for being smart and making an effective counter-argument.... wow, I did not expect the state to be willing to be that thuggish.
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Good one from my hometown newspaper
February 01, 2011
On government and the hat pin c. 1911
There were two hat-pin stories in the Feb. 1, 1911 NYT. The first from Boston:
"If I should carry a fish knife as long as this I would be arrested as a dangerous character," said Representative Newton to-day, holding up an eighteen-inch hatpin to the Legislative Committee on Legal Affairs, before which he appeared in support of a bill to limit the length of hatpins.I am not sure the "fish peddler" was intended to make people feel that Mr. Newton had more or less authority to speak about fish knives, hatpins, or anything in general. It seems a bit odd - but maybe representatives in 1911 still called themselves something other than a politician?
The second story pertains to New York:
The Aldermen voted down yesterday, by 37 to 29, the proposed city ordinance to restrict the length of women's hatpins. Alderman Alexander S. Drescher of Brownsville, who introduced the measure, made a hard fight for it, and was supported by Republican members of the board, but the Tammany opposition was too strong. The ordinance fixed a penalty of $50 for wearing a pin protruding more than half an inch from the crown of a hat.I guess the machine was good for at least one thing. Mr. Dowling continues:
"The way to get at this matter is to have the Legislature pass a bill prohibiting the sale of long hatpins. The next thing you will want to do will be to pass an ordinance to make a man wear mufflers over his ears so that he cannot hear any one asking him to have a drink. It is the most ridiculous ordinance I ever heard of.Drat!! Here, but not here,I sarcastically suggested that going after hatpin manufacturers was exactly where this was headed. Perhaps it still will sometime in the future, but I don't peak ahead so as not to ruin the surprises of opening up last century's paper to the day.
But I digress a bit. Mr. Dowling brings it home:
"How can we regulate the dress of women? I don't believe in passing a law to prohibit a woman from keeping her hat on."And women never influenced politics before given the ballot - yeah, right.
January 31, 2011
On license plates c. 1911
I wonder why the state is involved with auto licensing. It would seem that many of the things the state wants - tax revenue, ability to track automobiles (on behalf of both the state and individuals), and so forth - could be privatized. If it could be (and perhaps it has been and I am just not aware of it) then why not? I haven't had a lot of time to think this through, but the thought was brought back to the front of my mind while reading this op-ed piece from the Jan. 31, 1911 NYT:
Yet another addition to the "things never change" drawer.
January 27, 2011
Un Discurso de postre
Mi amiga linda Carolina gives me a chance to talk about the SOTU in El Mercurio.
And she quoted me accurately, because I did say "Fue un discurso 'de postre': dulce cuando lo estás comiendo, pero después te sientes con sueño y algo lento y te preguntas qué había en él", añadió.
That is, "It was a dessert speech: sweet while you were listening, but afterwards you felt all sleepy and sluggish, and wondered what was in it."
January 25, 2011
Someone needs to call Diebold
A friend on facebook linked me to this:
"There's times when we don't break for lunch, and we don't break for dinner, we don't have bathroom breaks..." It would seem an obvious solution, rather than vote fraud, would be to stop passing so much legislation.
I'm sure there's a dissertation here. Public choice scores again.
January 04, 2011
David Stockman Interview
The former Congressman talks to Reason.tv's Nick Gillespie on Austrian Economics, tax cuts, TARP, and Ronald Reagan.
December 23, 2010
Final National Congressional Vote Totals
Courtesy of Richard Winger's Ballot Access News, we now have the final national vote totals for the U.S. House of Representatives in the fall election. Here we go:
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Party Total Votes Percentage of Total
Republicans won 53.44 percent of the two-party vote.
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December 21, 2010
On the rationally ignorant voter c. 1910
From the Dec. 21, 1910 NYT:
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. - After many years in the license column, this city, at the annual election to-day, swung over into the no-license ranks by a majority of 1 vote. The result was a general surprise for the city has so long had a "yes" majority that it was looked upon as "safe," and there had been little work done to get out the voters on either side.
Just to clarify, the city voted to go "dry," I am sure to the utter shock and amazement to the good folks who were in the bar while the polls were open.
And 90 years later the Simpsons will parody this:
Kent Brockman: "The controversial bill passed by only a single vote."
December 13, 2010
I swear I don't make this stuff up c. 1910
Reading the paper from 100 years ago often makes me feel like I have run down a rabbit hole where sixes are sevens and some things are backwards but almost everything is sadly familiar. Take this op-ed from the Dec. 13, 1910 NYT:
Really? This is how far we have come in 100 years?
December 09, 2010
On Campaign Financing c. 1910
A report in the Dec. 9, 1910 NYT provides an interesting contrast to today's campaign financing:
That the race is not always to the rich nor the battle to the well-heeled appears in the statements filed to-day with the clerk of the House of Representatives by the Republican and Democratic Congressional Committees, showing the expenses of each during the recent campaign. It cost the Democratic committee $27,771 to gain the next House, and the Republicans $74,373 to lose it. As Camp Clark observes, the Republicans seem, comparatively speaking, not to have "got their seed back."
The folks over at eh.net provide the following conversions to 2009 dollars:
$27,771 = $647,000
November 22, 2010
Libertarian Party Founder David Nolan Dead at 66
David Nolan, a founder (arguably the founder) of the Libertarian Party passed away yesterday at age 66. The Libertarian Party was founded in Nolan's Colorado home in December, 1971. Although the Party has never made a breakthrough in American politics - it's high point probably came in 1980, when presidential candidate Ed Clark received 1.1 percent of the national vote and two Libertarians were elected to the Alaska state legislature - most libertarians have, at some point, had contact with the Party, and many have voted for or more actively supported its candidates.
Nolan's other claim to fame may be his invention of the "Nolan Chart," now, in somewhat revised form, frequently referred to as the "World's Smallest Political Quiz." Nolan developed the chart to better capture electoral/political philosophies than the traditional "left/right" paradigm used by most commentators.
One can read more on Nolan here. R.I.P.
November 18, 2010
What is seen and what is not seen
November 12, 2010
More federal workers' pay tops $150,000
From USA Today (via the Atlantic Wire and Instapundit):
The news story brings to mind this recent cartoon from the Rome News-Tribune's Mike Lester:
November 03, 2010
Election Wrap Up: What Happened in the States
[Note: federal results are reviewed here].
*[This post was updated on November 6.]
In addition to a very good night in federal races, including the best Republican showing in the U.S. House since the election of 1946, Republicans did very well in the states on Tuesday, picking up hundreds of state legislative seats and gaining control in numerous state legislative chambers. This will not only influence policy, but also will strengthen Republicans in redistricting, and provide a larger "farm team" of candidates down the road. The run down - including such important but under reported races such as Attorney General and Secretary of State, is below the fold. We'll have one more long post, on state ballot initiatives, later in the week.
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Entering this election, Democrats held a 26-24 advantage in governorships, although Republican held the office in 3 of the 4 largest states (California, Texas, and Florida). With 2 races still undecided, it appears that Republicans will pick up six net governorships. Democrats managed to minimize losses with close victories in Vermont, Illinois and Oregon, and narrow leads heading into a recount in Minnesota and a possible recount in Connecticut.
Independent Pick-up: In Rhode Island, former liberal Republican Lincoln Chafee, now running as an indepent, appears to have narrowly won the Governorship over Republican John Robataille, thus ending 16 years of Republican governors, while still denying the office to Democrats in one of the nation's most Democratic states. Democrat Frank Caprio finished third, falling rapidly in the polls after saying President Obama could "shove his endorsement," went to Chafee.
Republicans picked up a number of big state governorships, particularly around the Great Lakes.
- Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania's governorship reliably swings back and forth between the parties every eight years. This time it was the GOP's turn, and Republican Attorney General Tom Corbett easily defeated Dan Onorato.
Too Close to Call:
Two gubernatorial races remain too close to call, but Democrats are favored in each.
Other races of interest:
- In Illinois, Democratic incumbent Pat Quinn defeated Bill Brady by about 19,500 votes out of some 3.2 million cast, or 49.6% to 49.1%.
Republicans had a huge night in state legislators, and now has more state legislators than at any time since the election of 1928. Not one body shifted from GOP to Democratic Control. The following state legislative chambers switched from Democratic to Republican majorities:
The Republicans won control of the Minnesota Senate for the first time ever, and the Alabama legislature and North Carolina assembly for the first time since reconstruction.
Republicans also showed that they are not yet dead in New England, taking control of both houses of the legislature in Maine and New Hampshire. Although reduced to just one New England Governorship, in Maine, were very competitive this year in all six New England states. Republicans also made double digit gains in the state legislatures in both Connecticut and Massachusetts, and also gained in Rhode Island.
The other thing you can see, especially in conjunction with the results in governors' races, is that the GOP has gained power throughout the old industrial Great Lakes region.
But the Republican gains were sweeping. They gained net legislative seats in 42 of the 45 states that had partisan elections this year, the exceptions being Delaware, where they lost one seat net, Vermont (broke even), and California (lost 3 net). While a few races are undecided, overall, Republicans appear to have gained at least 514 seats in state houses of representatives, and 119 state Senate seats.
Republicans gained at least 5 AG offices on Tuesday, with the most important being Ohio. In that race, former U.S. Senator Mike DeWine defeated incumbent Richard Cordray, a smart, talented man many thought would be the party's next nominee for Governor. Policywise, DeWine has promised to join Ohio to the suit challening the constitutionality of Obamacare. The Republicans also gained AG offices in Arizona, Kansas, Georgia, and Oklahoma. No offices flipped from Republican to Democrat.
One office remained up for grabs, and it's a big one: California. Approximately one million absentee ballots need to be counted that will decide the race. As of mid-morning Pacific time on Nov. 6, Republican Steve Cooley had retaken the lead from Democrat Kamala Harris, leading by 46.0% to 45.7%, or a bit over 23,000 votes out of more than 7.6 million cast. If Kamala wins, Republicans will be left without a statewide officeholder in California.
Depending on the results of that race, Democrats will be left in control of either 26 or 27 of the nation's AG offices. Of the 43 elected Attorneys General, the division will be 22-21, with the party winning California holding the majority. Despite the gains, it was a somewhat disappointing night for the GOP in AG races. The party had hoped to pick up between 6 and 13 seats, so it comes in at the very low end of expectations.
Secretaries of State :
Perhaps the most important pickup for the GOP was the Secretary of State office in Ohio, which has been the site of a great deal of litigation in every election since 2000. There, Jennifer Brunner, a nice woman very popular with the "black box voter fraud" left, gave up the office for a failed run for U.S. Senate. John Husted, a state Senator, wins the office. Together with John Kasich's win in the Ohio Governor's race and a gain in the State Auditor's race, this also gives Republicans control of redistricting in Ohio.
In Kansas, Republican Kris Kobach, a rising star, gained a seat for the GOP. More importantly, libertarian-Republican Scott Gessler (a personal friend) captured the Secretary of State office in Colorado, an important swing state with a relatively powerful SecState. Republicans also won the office in Iowa, New Mexico, and Arkansas. Additionally, after the first of the year the Republicans likely gain appointed Secretary of State seats in Oklahoma, Maine, and Pennsylvania. Only in Oklahoma is the Secretary of State not the state's chief election official. Republicans also will gain the opportunity to appoint the Secretary of State in New Hampshire, although both Democratic and Republican controlled legislatures have kept Bill Gardner in the office since 1976.
Most states have non-partisan judicial elections or retention elections. Across the country, few incumbents were defeated in non-partisan or retention races.
In Ohio, Republican Associate Justice Maureen O'Connor defeated Eric Brown in a race for the Chief Justice slot. Brown was appointed by Governor Ted Strickland earlier in the year, after the death of long-time Chief Tom Moyer. O'Connor's victory means that all members of the Court are again Republican. Incumbent Judith Lanzinger easily retained her seat. Because O'Connor will vacate her current associate justice seat, newly elected Republican Governor John Kasich will appoint a successor. O'Connor becomes the first woman to serve as Ohio's Chief Justice.
In Michigan, conservative Republican Robert Young easily won re-election, and Republican Mary Beth Kelly trounced appointed incumbent Democrat Alton Davis, winning 62% of the vote. Her win gives Republicans a narrow 4-3 majority on the Court.
Perhaps the nation's most libertarian state Supreme Court Justice, Richard Sanders, was re-elected in Washington state, along with another justice with libertarian leanings, James Johnson.
Republicans held their seats in competitive elections Alabama, Minnesota, and Texas. In West Virginia, incumbent Democrat Tom McHugh narrowly defeated Republican John Yoder, 50.7% to 49.3%.
In Iowa, three Justices who held that the state constitution protects same sex marriage were rare losers in retention elections. Justices David Baker, Marcia Ternus, and Michael Streit were defeated by margins of 54%, 55%, and 54%. Their successor will be chosen by incoming Republican Governor Terry Branstad from a list provided by a nominating commission.
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Election Wrap-up, Federal Races.
Well, it was a big night for political junkies. Soon enough we should worry about what it means for policy, but first, let's find out who, and what, won. In this post we'll review the federal races. A later post will cover what's happened in the states, which may be more interesting because it's harder to find! Go below the fold for more.
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A few races worth noting:
It should be noted that many of the Democrats to lose, such as Ohio's Zach Space, Texas's Edwards, Mississippi's Gene Taylor and Georgia's Jim Marshall, just to name a few, were among the more moderate Democrats in the House. And where Republicans were replacing Republicans in open seats, the newer batch of congressmen is generally more conservative than its predecessors. As a result of the latter trend, the House has both moved further right even more than the raw numbers suggest; as a result of the former, it will probably be more polarized ideologically, although without Nancy Pelosi's highly partisan, ideological approach to governing, it may yet be a more harmonious place. Most of these new Republicans seem more interested in addressing tough economic issues than so-called "social issues," but we will have to see if that lasts - it is often easier politically to take largely symbolic votes on social issues than to actually cut government spending.
But Republican efforts to take Senate control stalled, with the GOP picking up a healthy 6 to 8 seats, but never really threatening to gain the 10 they needed for control. Connecticut's long-time Democratic Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, a sort of boring Elliot Spitzer, defeated WWE founder Linda McMahon, a sort of really colorful Carly Fiorina, by 10 points in Connecticut. Governor Joe Manchin - who is really good - held West Virginia in the Democratic camp despite the President's unpopularity in the state. In Delaware, the colorless Chris Coons, designated months ago to be the Democrats' sacrificial lamb against then-popular congressman Mike Castle, crushed tea party lightweight Christine O'Donnell, who had stunned Castle in the primary, by a 56-40 margin. And in a result that I'll admit surprised me, Majority Leader Harry Reid held on to defeat another weak candidate but tea party favorite, Sharron Angle (by the way, I met Angle a few weeks ago and was surprised how much I liked her). Fiorina's loss to the odious Barbara Boxer in California was very disappointing. You have to wonder, if Jerry Brown and Barbara Boxer can handily defeat a pair of accomlished, well-financed GOP women in a strong Republican year, is California now hopelessly in the grips of the Democrats left-wing? How much economic destruction is needed in that state?
Furthermore, several of the GOP victories were suprisingly close. Moderate, pro-gay rights Republican Mark Kirk won a narrow victory in Illinois, which may show the party's weakness in Illinois - his opponent, Alex Giannoulis, is from a family that owns a bank that has been tied to the mob, and if you can only win that race by two points, you've got some problems. Another surprisingly close race came in Pennsylvania, where Club for Growth hero Pat Toomey finally pulled out a 51-49 victory over Joe Sestak. Look for Toomey to be a powerful voice for free markets in the Senate.
In fact, some races remain too close to call, most notably Colorado, where incumbent Democrat Michael Bennett clings to a 7600 vote lead over Tea Party endorsed Ken Buck - who, unlike O'Donnell and Angle, is a very strong candidate, a handsome, articulate, Princeton grad with a record as a sucessful prosecutor in one of the state's largest counties. About 88% of the vote has been counted. [Update, 11/3, 10:40 p.m.: this race has now been called for Bennett]. Also hanging in balance is Washington, where voting takes place by mail. There Patty Murray, an undistinguished Senator who has nevertheless held on for three terms, leads Republican Dino Rossi by about 14,000 votes, with about 62% counted. Because of the state's mail-in system, we may not know the winner in this race for a while. More votes have been counted from Republican, rural eastern Washington, which would indicate Murray is favored, but as the votes have been coming in, Rossi has been running better than expected in Spokane, keeping the final result up in the air.
The Republicans also gained easy pick-ups in North Dakota, Indiana, and Arkansas (where incumbent Blanche Lincoln was crushed by an embarrassing 21 point margin, with her vote for Obamacare a major problem for her). I have personal reasons for being pleased to see Russ Feingold lose in Wisconsin, although I have to say he is probably one of the smarter, more principled, and more courteous men in the Senate. The winner of that race, tea-party endorsed businessman Ron Johnson, will hopefully take a pro-markets view to D.C.
It's also worth noting that write-in candidate Lisa Murkowski appears to have defeated Sarah Palin endorsed Joe Miller in Alaska. Murkowski, who lost to Miller in the primary, says she will still caucus with Republicans. An old-school Alaska Republican in the mold of her father, former Senator Senator Frank Murkowski, and former Senator Ted Stevens, she will be more moderate on social issues, but not nearly as good as Miller on issues such as repealing Obamacare or watching the budget. We won't know the formal results for a while, because they'll have to go through all the write ins. But unless there are a lot of sloppy write in ballots, she should be good to go.
Most disappointing for libertarians should be the fact that Jim Huffman, the Republican nominee in Oregon, could never get traction against incumbent Ron Wyden. Huffman is the libertarian former dean of Lewis & Clark Law School, and early in the cycle was considered a possible upset, but never was able to close Wyden's early lead.
So Republicans will end up with a 6 to 8 seat pickup, depending on the Colorado and Washington races. That may be slightly disappointing to the GOP, but it really shouldn't be. Together with the House results, it means Obama's agenda is stopped, and compared to what things looked like eighteen months ago, the Republicans are sitting 15 to 20 seats better than many were predicting.
Two of the most intriguing new Senators will be two of the most libertarian: Kentucky's Rand Paul, son of libertarian Republican Congressman Ron Paul, and Florida's Marco Rubio, the Republican party's rising star. Both were tea party favorites who blasted Republican party establishment candidates in the primaries, then romped to general election wins. Paul should be the firebrand, but Rubio will be the more influential. For a taste of Rubio, watch this ad.
Note that as in the House, the Senate will move a bit further right than the mere partisan numbers suggest. For example, Manchin, of West Virginia, ran a campaign ad in which he literally shot a copy of the Cap & Trade bill. He'll be pro-union but also well to the right of the late Robert Byrd, whose term he will complete. And given that he's got to run again in two years in a state in which the President is deeply unpopular and which is drifting right, Manchin may be as staunch an opponent as the President will have. Rubio will be more libertarian, and a much more powerful voice, than his Republican predecessor George Lemioux. In Missouri, Roy Blunt is probably to the right of the Republican he replaces, Kit Bond, at least on budgetary matters, and Utah's Michael Lee replacing Robert Bennett will also move the Senate right without a party change. (Bennett was a personal favorite for his outspoken defense of free speech against campaign finance laws, so I'm sad to lose him - but Lee should be good).
While I have no doubt that Republican leader Mitch McConnell would rather be the Majority than the Minority Leader in the next Congress, Republican senators are left in a sweet spot. They'll have six to 8 votes to spare to maintain filibusters and a GOP House to make sure they won't have much to filibuster other than the ocassional unacceptable nominee. Oddly, while the Democrats will have the majority, I think that Harry Reid will usually feel that he is playing defense, as McConnell can look for votes among moderate Democratic Senators such as Manchin, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Bill Nelson of Florida, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Jon Tester of Montana, and Jim Webb of Virginia, all of whom face reelection in 2012 in Republican leaning states.
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November 02, 2010
Election Day 2010: Read, Watch, Listen
On this election day, here's something to...
1. Read. My paper with Mike Hammock in which we apply some of the insights of Bryan Caplan's The Myth of the Rational Voter to environmental issues.
2. Watch. The Public Choice Society Symposium in Caplan's book from 2008.
3. Listen to. An EconTalk podcast with Caplan in which he discusses the book.
October 20, 2010
Mike Lester on the Constitution
Glenn Reynolds's comment "that to the credentialed-instead-of-educated, the Constitution is a wish-fulfillment device rather than, you know, an authoritative text" reminded me of this recent Mike Lester cartoon in the RNT (though I think it would be more accurate to say that the left and right view different parts of the Constitution as rocks and lava lamps).
October 07, 2010
Is raising taxes on "the rich" inherently good?
Jonathan Cohn's column in today's New Republic leads off with an assertion that I hear frequently these days, and one that I think provides a good bit of insight into the soul of modern, mainstream liberalism. Cohn writes that a Republican controlled Congress would "obviously not good news for liberals or for liberalism. The Republicans will try to slash taxes for the wealthy, shrink the federal government, and repeal major legislation starting with health care reform."
Now, I can understand why one might think that "shrink[ing] the federal government" is an obviously bad thing, though I wouldn't agree. One might feel that we need a strong, active, federal government. One might openly favor a move toward a more social-democratic state. And so on. Similarly, if one favored Obamacare, one would see its repeal as inherently bad. But why is there such a widespread view on the left that "slash[ing] taxes for the wealthy" is self-evidently bad? The idea is that high taxes on "the wealthy" (whoever they are) is an inherently good thing. I would think have thought that everybody would have agreed that in the dream world, low taxes on everybody would be a good thing.
Of course, the reality is that the world is full of tradeoffs. But the assertion that higher taxes on "the wealthy" is rarely tied to any tradeoff. Perhaps liberals view it as self-evident, and therefore implicit in the statement, that higher taxes on "the wealthy" bring in more government revenue and that revenue can be spent on valuable things. But that's not really what they say. Do they view it as self evident that higher taxes on "the wealthy" will always bring in more revenue? The evidence doesn't support that as a universal proposition, although certainly it often can lead to greater government revenue. Do they see it as a given that higher taxes on "the wealthy" will lead to a healthier economy? Sometimes that might be true, but there's certainly no evidence of that as a general proposition - if anything, the evidence seems to suggest that in most cases lower taxes on "the wealthy" will lead to greater economic growth. And it strikes me, again, that the default position for normal people of good will would be that it is always better, all other things equal, to leave people in possession of the fruits of their labor. This is not a "no taxes" position. I am merely suggesting that higher taxes, among people of good will, must always be justified.
The only way that one can really see higher taxes on "the wealthy" as an acheivement in and of itself, independent of its actual effects, is by an appeal to envy. "The wealthy" have more, and we want to take it from them. Leaving them with less is ipso facto a good thing.
It strikes me as strange - and as a very bad thing - that this view can be stated so openly and cavalierly, and with so little push back.
September 08, 2010
"They talk about me like a dog." Er,...
The President says that his critics "talk about me like a dog." I just want to be clear that I never talk about the President like I talk about my dog.
In 2008 I wrote this piece on Transantiago, in Chile.
Just did this update.
(Oh, and I'm afraid I have to recognize: Cards suck, Reds rule. It's killin' me, Bob)
September 01, 2010
California Cities: D Is for Disincorporate
Story here. So how is the California Senate spending its time? Debating (and ultimately rejecting) a ban on plastic bags. Of course the CA Senate might be more likely to make matters worse than better.
Obama & the Mendoza Line for Keeping Political Promises
Last night President Obama took to the tube to congratulate himself for keeping his campaign promise to end combat in Iraq (never mind that 50,000 troops remain there and that they still carry firearms and wear body armor).
The president's crowing about keeping this promise is akin to a baseball player bragging about getting his batting average above the Mendoza line. There are lots of Obama campaign promises that have not been kept--closing Gitmo, not hiking taxes on people earning below $250k, posting bills on the internet for a few days before signing them--but I suppose he hopes we won't remember those.
August 18, 2010
Give Me Liberty, or Give Me Zoning!
Now, I have been to the LSS before, myself. It is way out in the country. It is held on the grounds of a very large (40 acre) plot of land. The main structures on the plot are some outbuildings, and a legally zoned bed-and-breakfast.
No one parks on the street, and nothing is visible from the street.
Now, it is true that they have amplified speeches, and amplified music on Saturday night.
But the local gubmint thugs are after them for:
1. Health concerns. So they had the food professionally catered, instead of cooking it on bbq grills as in the past.
2. Sanitation concerns. So they had port-o-potties brought in, in the proper ratio for such an activity, with that many people.
3. Ex post giant d*ckhead concerns about this being a permanent commercial activity. Hard to predict the ex post part, to the tune of a $50k fine. This is already a commercially zoned property, by the way, because of the b-n-b. And the Institute for Liberal Studies is a registered non-profit. The LSS breaks even, every year. What makes it commercial? If five of us split the cost of some chicken, and cook it, would that be commercial? This was less than 75 people, one event per year, for two nights. Sure, if it was every weekend, that might be commercial.
But this is just thuggery. The local government is doing this because they can.
August 16, 2010
NPR understands the reason for campaign finance laws
The headline: Report: Too Much Money Going To State Court Races
The punchline: Former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Louis Butler was the first incumbent in the state in more than 40 years to lose his court seat.
Repeat after me: Campaign finance restrictions are all about, and only about, incumbent protection.
August 13, 2010
Paris in the Terror
I am always working my way through several books simultaneously - I trust I am not alone in this. One of my current reads is "Paris in the Terror" by Stanley Loomis.
I read this passage earlier tonight:
The Girondins had been in "charge" for about a year before they started to lose power - eventually 21 of them would be sent to the guillotine in one day (I note that the bracketed term referring to the Girondins is Loomis, not me). The Law of Suspects was crafted by one Robespierre and seems very similar to the laws of other authoritarian systems. The "means of support" clause seems to be aimed at Danton (Robespierre's main rival for control) who, it was suspected, had been taking a little extra from the government till.
However bad the preceding "law" seems to be, it gets worse:
The third article in this list was particularly odious. It stated that persons who had not received "good citizenship certificates" from their local Section leader were also to be considered suspect.Now, students of public choice should be able to fill in what comes next. The remainder is below the fold:
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The Vigilance Committees of each Section - to whom the unhappy resident of Paris had to apply in order to obtain his certificate - were, in Taine's words, "composed of social outcasts and perverts of every known sort, subordinates full of hate and envy, vagabonds off the street and idlers who lived in drinking shops...many of whom adopted the Revolutionary faith only because it offered them means to sate their appetites and fill their pockets." The power given by their prerogatives to issue "good citizenship certificates" was an open invitation to these people to fill their pockets: "The Vigilance Committees were very profitable. The men who sat on them trafficked in certificates of civism and warrants of arrest. People paid them not to be included in the list of suspects; they paid to be released; they paid to have their records mislaid. The only way to save oneself was to pay one's potential executioners by gradual installments, to pay them like wet nurses by the month, on a scale proportional to the activity of the guillotine."
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July 15, 2010
The Forensic Economics of Rent Seeking in Action
From the politics section of the WSJ.
Senate VIP Loans Mount. Countrywide Dealt With More Lawmakers and Staffers Than Previously Known July 15, 2010
Full story (ungated). Stay tuned...
July 13, 2010
Building Brand Equity: Crazy in Alabama?
July 07, 2010
The Rent Seeking Society
From Ronald Bailey in Reason:
The nonprofit Center for Public Integrity reported in March that an “analysis of Senate lobbying disclosure forms shows that more than 1,750 companies and organizations hired about 4,525 lobbyists—eight for each member of Congress—to influence health reform bills in 2009.” Lobbyists for unions opposed taxes on gold-plated health insurance plans; lobbyists for doctors opposed cuts in Medicare reimbursements; a lobbyist for Dunkin Donuts opposed a soda tax to pay for health care reform; and a Cigar Association lobbyist fought a tobacco tax.
Hope and change!!
July 05, 2010
Should Alabama's 7th Congressional District Secede from Alabama?
My mother-in-law directed me to this story a few days ago: an Alabama politician has been looking into what it would take for Greene County (and the seventh Congressional district) to secede from Alabama and form its own state. The 7th district covers the University of Alabama and parts of Birmingham. I doubt those areas would go, but if the seventh district seceded, it would create a state roughly the size of New Jersey with a population larger than Wyoming's. If only the Black Belt counties seceded, they would still have a higher population than Wyoming (it would split the rest of Alabama into non-contiguous chunks, though). I sent the following letter to the Birmingham News:
"The push for the 7th Congressional District to secede from Alabama isn't as crazy as it sounds at first. To put things in perspective, there are about 4.7 million people in Alabama. In 1790, there were about four million people in the entire United States. A quick search suggests that the 7th Congressional District had about 635,000 people as of the 2000 Census, which would have made it one of the largest states in the union just a few years after the Constitution was adopted. A lot of commentators have suggested that the political order has become too large and too unwieldy to be responsive to the citizenry; see in particular the "Secession Week" entries at www.athousandnations.com that led up to Independence Day, particularly the entry about what we can learn from the formation of the Swiss Cantons. The idea that governments would function better if the states were smaller has merit and should not be dismissed out of hand.
Would secession be a wise move for the 7th District? According to the US Constitution, that's for the district itself, Congress, and the State Legislature to decide. It's certainly an idea that deserves serious consideration rather than mockery."
June 30, 2010
"Trial lawyer for Big Oil"
The Alabama Education Association is the 800-pound guerilla of Alabama politics. Long a (perhaps "the") dominant player in the state Democratic Party, the AEA is branching into this year's GOP gubernatorial race in a major way. Its objective is to try to ensure that Bradley Byrne is not the GOP nominee. Byrne's claim to fame is a fairly short tenure as head of the state's community college system, whose employees are members of AEA. Byrne was effective enough as a reformer of the community colleges that he earned the AEA's undying enmity. Now that we're in the runoff campaign, the AEA is supporting Byrne's opponent, Robert Bentley. At least, that's what appears to be happening. A series of slickly produced anti-Byrne radio ads are currently running sponsored by an outfit that calls itself the "Christian Coalition for Alabama." Their overall message is that Byrne is not conservative enough for Alabama -- which is rich, coming from the de facto teachers union. This morning I heard one that pointed out that Alabama will need to squeeze BP for big bucks, but Byrne would not be up to the job since he has been "a trial lawyer for Big Oil."
What a phrase.
Hearing the ad brought to mind one of my favorite H.L. Mencken quotes: "[T]he true charm of democracy is not for the democrat but for the spectator. That spectator, it seems to me, is favoured with a show of the first cut and calibre. Try to imagine anything more heroically absurd! What grotesque false pretenses! What a parade of obvious imbecilities! What a welter of fraud! But is fraud unamusing?"
A Great Question from George Will
For Elena Kagan:
Can you name a human endeavor that Congress cannot regulate on the pretense that the endeavor affects interstate commerce? If courts reflexively defer to that congressional pretense, in what sense do we have limited government?
June 29, 2010
Another voter faces up to the unforgiving reality of "politics without romance"
The Portland, Oregon, masseuse who attended to Al Gore in 2006 and now claims he sexually assaulted her spoke to police about the incident in January 2009. The Smoking Gun has published excerpts from the 87-page transcript. This statement struck me as especially poignant, and applicable to many, many American voters in a somewhat more elevated way:
June 28, 2010
Politicians, Compromise, and Public Office
Don Boudreaux clears the bases with this letter to the editor on Robert Byrd's association with the KKK. Just because something is politically expedient doesn't excuse it.
I'm trying to understand the following empirical regularity: voters accept that politicians will lie, cheat, steal, and do other horrible things to get elected. Then voters are shocked--shocked!!--when politicians continue to lie, cheat, steal, and do other horrible things once in office. Why?
June 14, 2010
Now We See the Violence Inherent in the System!*
*--This was Mike Hammock's apt characterization. Was it rude to stick a camera in the Congressman's face? Yes, it was. Did it justify assault and battery (and yes, this was assault and battery)? I'm going to guess "no."
May 23, 2010
GOP Picks up Hawaii Seat
Republicans finally picked up a U.S. House seat Saturday in the special election in Hawaii's 1st Congressional District. Ed Djou defeats Colleen Hanabusa 40% to 31%. Djou benefitted from a split Democratic Party (Democrat Ed Case received 27%), and will have a very difficult time holding the seat in November, when presumably only one Democrat will be on the ballot.
Still, Republicans have to be happy - despite the apparent wave building for Republicans in November, Democrats had won all 6 special elections for the House since Obama took office, so this win stops that streak. Moreover, there is a bit of symbolism in that this is the seat where the President was born. Substantively, both President Obama and former Congressman Neil Abercrombie carried the district with over 70% of the vote in 2008, so the combined Hanabusa/Case vote was still down about 13 points from the Democratic percentage in 2008.
The last Republican to win this seat was Pat Saiki, in 1988. Until yesterday, Saiki, who served two terms, was the only Republican ever to win a House election in Hawaii.
May 19, 2010
On taxation and representation c. 1910
Great opening and closing paragraphs from an op-ed piece in the May 19, 1910 NYT:
It is hopeless to expect unanimity regarding the merits of the income tax amendment, but there should be no disagreement upon the proposition that the action taken regarding it ought to be in accord with the opinions of those who will pay it. Taxation without representation is bad enough, but taxation contrary to representation is an indictment of representative institutions, and an issue superior to the income tax itself, whatever views are taken of its importance.The op-ed goes on to decry the passage of a Democratic income-tax proposal in a Republican controlled state house. The piece ends with a brilliant indictment of the system (as it stood then, and perhaps even now):
Thus our voters are being taught that it is of little consequence what are the issues of the election, or what the decision upon them may be. After election the party managers decide what political strategy requires, and that is what is done. It is of no consequence what was the mandate of the electorate. Platforms are intended for campaigns, not for administrations. The representatives of the people are chosen not to execute a declared policy, but to take a line which shall keep the party in power. Who knows what were the issues of the last campaign? Who cares what may be the issues of the next campaign, since they may be dodged after election like the issues of past campaigns?
May 18, 2010
Sunshine Isn't Silence
Should "Third Parties" Be Included in Debates?
May 12, 2010
If It Keeps Them Busy
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held hearings Wednesday on the "Potty Parity Act," a bill that seeks to address the unequal number of restroom facilities for women in federal buildings.
This is a much better way for the honorables to spend their time rather than mucking around in health care or passing cap and tax. Source.
May 04, 2010
Never Forget: 40 Years Ago Today
Today is the 40th anniversary of the infamous shootings at Kent State University.
May 01, 2010
There's No Way This Can Be Real, Right?
Here's a commercial from the Pennsylvania Tax Amnesty (HT: Lew Rockwell). This raises a question for privacy advocates: taxation requires that people basically have no financial privacy. How are government invasions of financial privacy different from other kinds of privacy? Has the ACLU ever sued the IRS or state taxing authorities for inserting themselves into every financial transaction? Comments are open.
April 20, 2010
Quote of the Day: Otteson on Rights and Duties
Jim Otteson asks about rights and duties with respect to health care. A choice line:
"What is not the test for having a right to something is that one really, really wants it."
From the perspective of economics, there's a subsidiary question: if I have a duty to provide others' health care, what, then, do I have a duty to forgo in order to provide it? How are these obligatory costs identified, and by whom? Right now, I'm blogging about rights and duties, watching Sesame Street clips with Jacob, and intermittently talking to the plumber who is fixing some of our faucets. Is this OK? What should I be doing instead? Whose blessing do I require?
The comments on Jim's post are interesting. Common apologetics for universal health coverage ("Europe does it," "we have Social Security," etc.) are canards because these are all financially unsustainable. Welfare state public finance is an exercise in (presumably well-intentioned) institutional prodigality. We could probably throw a heck of a party if we cashed in all of our assets and spent everything on booze, but the money and the liquor would run out eventually.
Cross-posted at the Mises Blog.
April 19, 2010
One Flew atop the cuckoo's nest
Via Mark Brady, here the IEA Blog on the late British philosopher Antony Flew (1923-2010):
Several newspapers (e.g. the Guardian and the Telegraph) have recently carried obituaries of the English philosopher Antony Flew. These obituaries have emphasized the remarkable change of mind by which Flew, for most of his life an internationally renowned atheist, became convinced at the age of 81 of deism. What this emphasis has overshadowed - and what some readers of this blog may not know - is that Flew was for several decades a heroic defender of classically liberal political philosophy and indeed by far the best known professional philosopher in Britain over that period to champion classical liberalism. His heroism lay in the fact that, in challenging the spirit of the age as sharply and as unapologetically as he did, he was, and must have known that he was, irreparably damaging his reputation among his overwhelmingly left-leaning professional peers. That reputation – sufficient for his appointment to a chair at the University of Keele at the age of 31 - rested on a prolific output of books and of papers in the most prestigious philosophical journals. His work ranged widely, and especially in the philosophy of religion and the interpretation of David Hume had a major international impact.
To me this says: Do excellent work in order to advance good ideas.
April 17, 2010
Could Ron Paul Beat Obama?
I guess pollsters have lots of empty time on their hands, because to recent polls are out that make one wonder, "who paid for that?"
Rasmussen Reports has polled on a hypothetical presidential matchup of Ron Paul vs. President Obama. Obama wins 42-41. Which probably means that if the election really were held today, Ron Paul wins - you know how undecideds break agains the incumbent!
Meanwhile, Public Policy Polling, another reputable outfit, polls Obama vs. George W. Bush, with Obama again eeking out a victory with less than 50% - in this case, 48-46% over the man whose unpopularity as President has so much to do with the Democratic victories of 2006 and 2008.
How can it be the unpopular ex-president and Ron Paul, a guy who got about 0 percent of the vote in the 2008 Republican primaries, should be neck and neck in hypothetical matchups with the sitting President? What does it mean?
First, it means that Obama has totally lost GOP moderates and dissenters (except, perhaps, for David Brooks and Christopher Buckley). In the PPP poll, 87 percent of Republicans favored Bush, quite a bit higher than his ratings with the party at the end of his term. From mid-2008 through the end of his term, Bush's approval rating among Republicans stood at roughly 60 percent; it was 18 percent among independents and 10 percent among Democrats at the end of his term,according to Pew. While a plurality of Independents still favor Obama over Bush, the margin is just 49-37, down from the 52 percent Obama won over McCain, who was much more popular with Independents than Bush.
Rasmussen's poll similarly shows that Obama has simply lost Republicans. Republicans scarcely gave Ron Paul the time of day in last year's primary. That he polls even with Obama is substantially a sign that Republicans will support any Republican over Obama - 66 percent support Paul in this poll, better than the much more traditional Republican Bush was doing a year ago. (Indeed, if you look at the Rasmussen link above, you'll see that Paul is actually quite unpopular in the GOP. That he draws more party support against Obama than Bush did a year ago suggests the degree of GOP disillusionment with the President. And in a Paul-Obama match up, independents break decisively for Ron Paul, 47 to 28 percent.
While many Democrats have been trying to convince themselves that you just can't deal with Republicans and to convince the nation that Republicans are "the party of 'no,'" the reality is that the President has squandered a remarkable opportunity to create a true realignment favoring the Democrats. A year into his presidency, Republicans have regained basically all the ground they lost from 2005 to 2008. That George Bush and Ron Paul can poll even with the President (as one with some real affection for Ron Paul - I have even represented him in my legal practice - I can still say that it would be hard to imagine two weaker Republican candidates, if the election were really held today, than Congressman Paul and President Bush) is indicative of the opportunity that Obama has lost. He hoped to create "Obama Republicans," as Reagan created "Reagan Democrats." He has failed. And he has sent independents flocking back to Republicans as well.
Obama's numbers could recover some. While he is doing great long term damage to the economy, he could look pretty good for a while. The huge influx of money from the Fed and the stimulus should have some effect, and the economy has a natural resiliency. There are some signs that recovery may be underway and that it could be strong, but also signs that it could be truly "jobless." But whatever happens with the economy, I think it unlikely that the President will have any chance to truly set off a major realignment. Republicans and Independents are returning to their pre-2006/2008 voting patterns, and indeed if any major realignment is on the horizon, it could be one that would benefit a new, can-do Republican Party epitomized by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.
April 11, 2010
What Is A Libertarian?
Allan Handleman talks to John Stossel and me about "What is a Libertarian?"
April 10, 2010
State Law Suits: False Hope
Can the states win their law suits, on Obamacare?
I have a guest op-ed in today's Durham Herald Sun, with my answer.
To summarize: No, the states cannot win.
April 06, 2010
Re: Intrusive government. See this pre-Patriot Act article by Charlotte Twight, "Watching You: Systematic Federal Surveillance of Ordinary Americans."
On the presumptuousness of, and the presumption of, increasingly intrusive government.
On presumptuousness: From a scary article in The Weekly Standard:
The American Community Survey wasn't around when Ronald Reagan declared that the nine most terrifying words in the English language are: "I'm from the government and I'm here to help." If it was, he'd probably agree that having a government representative knock on your door, try to threaten their way into your home, and demand that you give them very personal information is far more terrifying.
On presumption: About those "immortal words," Alfred J. Nock says this:
Spencer does not discuss what he calls "the perennial faith of mankind" in State action, but contents himself with elaborating the sententious observation of Guizot, that "a belief in the sovereign power of political machinery" is nothing less than "a gross delusion." This faith is chiefly an effect of the immense prestige which the State has diligently built up for itself in the century or more since the doctrine of jure divino rulership gave way. We need not consider the various instruments that the State employs in building up its prestige; most of them are well known, and their uses well understood. There is one, however, which is in a sense peculiar to the republican State. Republicanism permits the individual to persuade himself that the State is his creation, that State action is his action, that when it expresses itself it expresses him, and when it is glorified he is glorified. The republican State encourages this persuasion with all its power, aware that it is the most efficient instrument for enhancing its own prestige. Lincoln's phrase, "of the people, by the people, for the people" was probably the most effective single stroke of propaganda ever made in behalf of republican State prestige.
March 22, 2010
Mike Lester on Obamacare
March 18, 2010
Something is spinning under the altar of St. Peter's Basilica
This Yahoo News piece caught my eye: President Barack Obama's sweeping health care legislation won precious support from a longtime liberal holdout in the House on Wednesday and from a retired Catholic bishop and nuns representing dozens of religious orders...
Shortly after Kucinich's announcement, a letter was released from 60 leaders of women's religious orders urging lawmakers to vote for the legislation...a letter released by Network, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby.
So I did some snooping and found Network's Voting Record of the 111th Congress, First Session. Here are some summary stats of the score received by legislators voting with Network:
It's hard to argue, as the article does, that "The endorsements reflected a division within the church," as if a group that is so partisan in its rankings of legislators could be called a legitimate unbiased voice of Catholic opinion. The words "peace and justice" are splashed all over the site, which won't help shake the image of such groups being more concerned with economic issues than life issues or fidelity to the Church. Instead of quoting one retired Bishop who supports this bill (even with the inclusion of abortion funding), the article downplays the opposition to the bill (here & here) of the US Conference of (nonretired) Catholic Bishops.
March 11, 2010
Mr. Smith Returns to Washington to Discuss Citizens United
Yesterday I was back in Washington to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee. As these things go, it was a pretty lively event, as Jeff Patch of the Center for Competitive Politics describes below the fold.
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From Jeff Patch:
Today's Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission contained a sober exchange of views on campaign finance jurisprudence—and a few fireworks.
CCP Chairman Brad Smith, the father-in-law of a Vermonter, unintentionally triggered the ire of Chairman Patrick Leahy of Vermont by characterizing the response of some Green Mountain State legislators to the Supreme Court's decision as "freaking out."
The New York Times blog "The Caucus" reports:
Is it hyperbole to describe people's reactions to a Supreme Court decision on campaign finance as "freaking out?"
Some senators at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing this morning seemed to freak out at the very use of the term itself.
And we're not even talking about the back-and-forth of late between Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and the White House.
At issue is the fallout from Citizens United, a Supreme Court decision this year that has lifted restrictions on corporate and labor spending on election communications... And that's where a debate on language came in:
One witness, Bradley Smith, a former chairman of the Federal Election Commission who supports the ruling in Citizens United, noted how rarely a decision by the nation's highest court had provoked such hysteria.
And perhaps he wanted to stir it up a bit, because he then singled out Vermont—the beloved home of the Judiciary chairman, Senator Patrick Leahy, as a place where lawmakers have just been "freaking out" in the wake of the ruling.
Mr. Leahy took immediate umbrage—interrupting Mr. Smith in a loud bark...
When Mr. Smith, who now teaches law at Capital University in Ohio, was able to speak again, he retorted that he had been called before the Senate panel specifically to offer his opinion, and indeed, in his opinion, "they're freaking out."
In February, Senate President Pro Tempore Peter Shumlin, D-Windham, proposed a bill responding to Citizens United that would have required sponsors to identify themselves in political ads every five seconds, according to a Burlington Free Press report on their vt.Buzz blog. "I suspect the court would look skeptically on the requirement of every five seconds," said Vermont law school professor Cheryl Hanna in an understatement of how "freaking" ridiculous the proposal is.
Sen. Shumlin also proposed draconian penalties for campaign finance violations of up to $100,000 in fines and five years in prison. If that's not "freaking out" over a court decision that didn't even change the state regulations in Vermont, what is?
The exchange between Smith and Sen. Leahy runs from 44:20 to 46:02 at this webcast linked at the Senate Judiciary Committee website. A rough transcript:
Leahy: Mr. Smith, thank you for taking the time.. Please go ahead.
Smith: Thank you, Chairman Leahy, ranking member Sessions and members of the committee. I appreciate the opportunity to be here this morning. Rarely does a decision provoke as much—I can't use another word—but hysteria, as Citizens United. For example, many states, which have long allowed unlimited corporate spending- Vermont is one of those states—have suddenly swept in, in great alarm, in their legislature to say "Oh, now we must do something." A month ago—well, I guess I should say two months ago—nobody in Vermont was clamoring to change the states election law to prevent unlimited corporate spending in campaigns. Now because the Supreme Court comes down, merely saying "Vermont, this case doesn't affect you at all," the people of the legislature of Vermont seem to be "freaking out," for lack of another word. Now...
Leahy: Professor Smith, and this will come out of my time. Why don't you let me talk about the reactions of the Vermont legislature? I think I understand it one heck of a lot better than you do.
Smith: My point, my point, Mr. Chairman, is that there's been a great deal of reaction by people, and I could use another state, we could use Maryland if you would prefer.
Leahy: These are a group of very hard-working citizen legislators. They don't "freak out," to use your expression. This is a very much of a typical, far more taciturn, New England legislature. We don't freak out, to use your term.
Smith: Senator, I've been called here, I think, to offer my expert opinion. In my expert opinion, they're freakin' out.
Later in the hearing, Smith drew verbal fire from Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota, who, as the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported, "engaged in a fairly high-brow tussle over election law with a former chair of the FEC—a disagreement that prompted the one-time official to accuse Franken of "showmanship."":
Franken introduced a response bill this January that bars companies from political spending if, among other things, a foreign entity controls 20 percent of their business.
In written testimony, former FEC chair Bradley Smith, now with the Center for Competitive Politics, said that such a provision would unfairly allow a "non-controlling [foreign] shareholder" to limit American political spending...
Franken took issue with Smith's classification of a 20 percent shareholder as "non-controlling" ...
(The ensuing argument is complicated, but it boils down to Smith saying that state laws defining corporate control are irrelevant to their discussion. Franken contends that they are relevant since, due to Citizens United, lawmakers will have to define what constitutes a "controlling" shareholder in terms of federal election spending.)
The tone of the discussion escalated when Franken began asking for "yes or no" answers (a tactic that has led to heated exchanges in the past).
Franken: So let's look at how states define a controlling shareholder. Yes or no, please. Do you know how Delaware, the leading state for corporate law, defines a controlling shareholder?
Smith: No I don't, nor do I think it is relevant to the question of whether it is control.
Franken: I asked you to respond yes or no sir, and you said no.
Smith: The question is whether you actually want serious answers or whether you're engaged in a little showmanship. If it's the latter, I'll accept that.
Leahy interjected: All right, Mr. Smith, that ranks with your put down of the Vermont legislature.
[It is probably worth noting that for all our disagreements on this issue, and the tremendous importance it has to him, Sen. Feingold was very gracious and professional during the hearing. - Brad Smith]
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March 03, 2010
Justices Set to Make Gun Ownership a Right?
You've gotta love the LA Times, which has a big banner headline today, "Justices signal they're ready to make gun ownership a national right." Well, there is that Second Amendment thing...
February 28, 2010
The Pinto Treatment Once More
Steve Chapman weighs in on Congress and Toyota:
When it comes to defects, the company is hardly unique. Over the past five years, The Wall Street Journal reports, the federal government got more complaints from owners of Fords than owners of Toyotas. Out of 20 carmakers, says Edmunds.com, Toyota is fourth best in the number of complaints per vehicle sold. But none of the others is being used as a piñata.
February 20, 2010
Death of Global Warming
Walter Russell Mead at The American Interest has the best analysis I've seen about the death of global warming as a polticial issue. He writes from the viewpoint of one who considers climate change to be a real danger and, as such, he shows special disregard for and anger toward those who led to this political reversal. From his most recent post:
Anyway, as the [Washington] Post now belatedly acknowledges, the movement to stop climate change through a Really Big and Comprehensive Grand Global Treaty is dead because there is no political consensus in the US to go forward. It’s dead because the UN process is toppling over from its own excessive ambition and complexity. It’s dead because China and India are having second thoughts about even the smallish steps they put on the table back in Copenhagen. [. . .] A year ago [the global greens] were the last, best hope of the world, a shining band of brothers (and sisters) who were saving the planet and taming the excesses of self-destructive capitalist greed. The Force was with them and the world lay at their feet. They were going to be greeted as liberators by a grateful world desperate to be saved.
February 04, 2010
Do We Need a Deficit Reduction Commission?
The President is promoting a special, bipartisan commission to deal with deficit reduction. It is supposed to produce proposed tax hikes and spending cuts to bring the deficit down. I thought we already had such a commission: it's called Congress.
February 02, 2010
Mike Lester on TOTUS
Today's offering from the Rome News-Tribune's Mike Lester:
January 30, 2010
"Education Secretary Duncan calls Hurricane Katrina good for New Orleans schools"
Is this story another data point for Mancur Olson's thesis in The Rise and Decline of Nations?
January 28, 2010
Obama vs. the Supreme Court
I confess that I did not watch the State of the Union address, but I have seen the clip where the President calls out the Supreme Court over its 5-4 campaign finance/First Amendment decision last week -- and I have to say that that's the creepiest thing he's done to date, IMO. The standing O he got from Congressional Democrats added immeasurably to the creepiness factor. Legal Insurrection makes some very good points and links to an Instapundit post. (If Legal Insurrection is not already part of your web routine, you really should think about adding it.)
January 27, 2010
A Bad Idea for a Drinking Game
Irrational politics, and are you a real person?
It's getting hard to maintain the illusion that fiscal policy is done in a rational way when the solution to a recession one year is to spend $787 billion and the solution a year later is to freeze spending.
On CNN.com's homepage, there are links to "Stimulus doesn't help middle class" and "Stimulus helps real people," so I guess you can use your W2s to figure out whether you and your family earn enough income to be considered real.
January 26, 2010
Rand's political philosophy
Cato Unbound has an interesting discussion this month under the title "What's Living & Dead in Ayn Rand's Political and Moral Philosophy?" Of course, it's of special interest in MY household, because my wife is one of the discussants ...
January 20, 2010
"Politics is getting so weird"
A friend writes:
Politics is getting so weird.
Last month I was blessing the commies in China for killing the Copenhagen conference.
Now I’m blessing the most liberal state in the union for burying Ted Kennedy and Obama’s agenda.
January 18, 2010
Lindsey Graham opposes the industrial revolution
Wow. “'All the cars and trucks and plants that have been in existence since the Industrial Revolution, spewing out carbon day-in and day-out, you’ll never convince me that’s a good thing for your children and the future of the planet,' [Graham] told a crowd in South Carolina,... ."
Graham thinks it would be a good thing if we had no cars and trucks, no electricity in amounts that could serve any purpose (and no serious means to construct hydroelectric plants in any case)? He thinks it would be better for us and our children if we lived as in 1800, when the average life expectancy was about 40 - if you survived childhood?
December 24, 2009
Christmas Eve wisdom from Harry Reid
From "Long history of vote-trading on Capitol Hill" in today's Washington Times --
Mr. Reid . . . said the trading is no different than what happens with the thousands of earmarks in the dozen annual spending bills.
He said senators should be embarrassed if they weren't able to carve out exemptions.
"There's 100 senators here, and I don't know if there is a senator that doesn't have something in this bill that was important to them," he said. "And if they don't have something in it important to them then, it doesn't speak well of them."
And on that note I'd like to wish the faithful readers of DoL a Merry Christmas!
December 22, 2009
From the NYTimes:
Senator Dianne Feinstein introduced legislation in Congress on Monday to protect a million acres of the Mojave Desert in California by scuttling some 13 big solar plants and wind farms planned for the region
At least one Kennedy (as in NIMBY, Massachusetts) takes exception:
“This is arguably the best solar land in the world, and Senator Feinstein shouldn’t be allowed to take this land off the table without a proper and scientific environmental review,” said Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the environmentalist and a partner with a venture capital firm that invested in a solar developer called BrightSource Energy. In September, BrightSource canceled a large project in the monument area.
From the NYTimes:
Senator Dianne Feinstein introduced legislation in Congress on Monday to protect a million acres of the Mojave Desert in California by scuttling some 13 big solar plants and wind farms planned for the region.
At least one Kennedy (as in NIMBY, Massachusetts) takes exception:
“This is arguably the best solar land in the world, and Senator Feinstein shouldn’t be allowed to take this land off the table without a proper and scientific environmental review,” said Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the environmentalist and a partner with a venture capital firm that invested in a solar developer called BrightSource Energy. In September, BrightSource canceled a large project in the monument area.
December 21, 2009
A Fish Rots ...
American catfish farmers have demanded that tougher safety rules be imposed on certain fish from Vietnam -- which are hurting their business, the industry says. But U.S. catfish farmers must first get the U.S. Department of Agriculture to say the Vietnamese fish is a catfish. That is a little awkward since just seven years ago the farmers successfully urged Congress to ban the Vietnamese fish from ever being labeled a catfish.
December 18, 2009
And These Folks Think They Can Design the Health Care System
When he earmarked $100,000 in taxpayer spending to go to Jamestown's library, Rep. James E. Clyburn meant for it to go to the library in Jamestown, S.C., which is in his district.
Spend twice as much as necessary and still screw it up--that sums up the U.S. Congress pretty nicely.
Source (HT: Betsy's Page).
December 14, 2009
The Myth of Campaign Finance Reform
Oh no, I've been published in a neo-con journal!
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The piece, in the Journal of National Affairs, begins:
March 24, 2009, may go down as a turning point in the history of the campaign-finance reform debate in America. On that day, in the course of oral argument before the Supreme Court in the case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, United States deputy solicitor general Malcolm Stewart inadvertently revealed just how extreme our campaign-finance system has become.
The case addressed the question of whether federal campaign-finance law limits the right of the activist group Citizens United to distribute a hackneyed political documentary entitled Hillary: The Movie. The details involved an arcane provision of the law, and most observers expected a limited decision that would make little news and not much practical difference in how campaigns are run. But in the course of the argument, Justice Samuel Alito interrupted Stewart and inquired: "What's your answer to [the] point that there isn't any constitutional difference between the distribution of this movie on video [on] demand and providing access on the internet, providing DVDs, either through a commercial service or maybe in a public library, [or] providing the same thing in a book? Would the Constitution permit the restriction of all of those as well?" Stewart, an experienced litigator who had represented the government in campaign-finance cases at the Supreme Court before, responded that the provisions of McCain-Feingold could in fact be constitutionally applied to limit all those forms of speech. The law, he contended, would even require banning a book that made the same points as the Citizens United video.
There was an audible gasp in the courtroom. Then Justice Alito spoke, it seemed, for the entire audience: "That's pretty incredible." By the time Stewart's turn at the podium was over, he had told Justice Anthony Kennedy that the government could restrict the distribution of books through Amazon's digital book reader, Kindle; responded to Justice David Souter that the government could prevent a union from hiring a writer to author a political book; and conceded to Chief Justice John Roberts that a corporate publisher could be prohibited from publishing a 500-page book if it contained even one line of candidate advocacy.
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The public perception of conservatives (and I have to lump libertarians into this category, which I think is accurate here, and there's not really separate polling data for libertarians - see below), fostered by Hollywood and TV, many major media publications, and of course liberals, is that conservatives are uptight, unhappy, nasty people.
I have noted in this space that these perceptions are not true - polling data has consistently shown that conservatives are more likely to say they are happy with their lives; they are more active, both in terms of hobbies and sports and in terms of volunteer activities; they are more likely to be satisfied with their sex lives (and to have sex more often), than are liberals.
The latest part of the mantra from the cultural elites is that conservatives are also anti-science. Remember how Barack Obama even promised to restore science "to its rightful place."
Well, now comes an interesting survey from Pew that debunks the idea that liberals are more science oriented, too. In fact, it turns out that liberals are nearly twice as likely as conservatives to believe in astrology (30% to 16%), "spiritual energy" (35% to 18%), or reincarnation (33% to 18%). It's interesting to note that while conservatives and liberals are equally likely to believe in the "evil eye" (17% each), Democrats are more likely than Republicans to believe in the evil eye by 19% to 12%.
Maybe all those "Reagan Democrats" of a generation ago were just fans of Nancy, who was said to have an interest in astrology. But clearly the rejection of science for superstition knows no ideological boundaries.
December 07, 2009
Newspeak c. 2009
From an interesting report by the House of Commons on the use and abuse of language in government:
Q2 Chairman: In a sense, we know all this stuff that is floating around us, and we know what Orwell told us back in 1946, that "prose consists less and less of words chosen for the sake of their meaning, and more of phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated hen-house." We have that all around us in official language, and what I really want to ask you is: Does this drivel matter or does it just irritate us?
Interesting (and sometimes painful) reading.
December 03, 2009
On respect c. 1909
Okay, I couldn't come up with a clever title for this blog entry but a story in the Dec. 3, 1909 NYT drew my attention for some reason:
Orders abolishing the standing guard of one company of regular army troops about the tomb of the late President William McKinely have been received here [Canton, Ohio]. Secretary Hartzell of the McKinley National Memorial Association was notified yesterday by Lieut. Householder of the Second Infantry that Secretary of War Jacob M. Dickinson had decided to reduce the guard to two non-commissioned officers. It is believed that this guard will be ample.I wonder what this is all about. A company of regular army troops is around 100 soldiers. Why would such a force be required to guard the tomb of the late president? Granted McKinley was assassinated and it is plausible that there might have been concern that his grave would be desecrated for some reason, but the cynic in me wonders if the company was in place as some form of "pork spending."
The not so subtle sarcasm of the last sentence is also somewhat interesting.
December 02, 2009
The situation: My 14 year old daughter and I at Moe's last night for dinner. Me casually watching President Obama on a (muted) television screen behind her. She causaully watching PTI on ESPN on a television screen behind me.
Me [grimacing]: Grrrrr.
It saddens me that we both can be so accepting.
My Frivolous Reaction to the President's Speech on the Afghanistan Surge
I watched the President's speech on Afghanistan last night, and I keep seeing clips of it replayed, and one question keeps gnawing at me: where the heck is this place "Pockeestan" that the President kept referencing? Is it near Pakistan? Will our allies from Scotland and France - or are they now to be called "Scootlund" and "Frhawnse?" - know where to find it?
Would the President have referred to our southern neighbor as "Mejico" in a speech? If mentioning India, would have done his best impersonation of Apu?
Me thinks his effort to show off his world knowledge sounded a bit dumb.
November 22, 2009
Gary Johnson for president?
The two term governor of New Mexico (1995-2002) appears to be taking the early steps in a long-shot presidential bid.
As governor, Johnson set a record for most bills vetoed, and earned a reputation as the most libertarian governor in the country. A Johnson campaign would focus on runaway government spending and taxes. Could Johnson win the GOP nomination, or even become a player in the primaries?
Johnson offers libertarian voters a new, improved version of Ron Paul. He's got executive experience with proven accomplishments, not a bunch of protest votes; though an "aw shucks" type of speaker, he is better spoken than Dr. Paul; he is better focused, not as likely to drift off into obscure theory or second tier issues; the political climate will be better for an anti-war Republican.
There is already a grassroots rumbling starting to build for Johnson, coming from many of the same folks who had such enthusiasm for Paul. The question is whether Johnson can do what Congressman Paul could not - build on that enthusiastic base to appeal to a broader section of the GOP electorate. That will require not scaring the middle class on the drug issue.
A few links - all of these sites are unofficial, as Johnson has not announced his candidacy:
November 21, 2009
Bread and circuses
A short list of the headlines on CNN.com that appear (11:24pm central time, 11/20/09) before stories about the Senate's health care reform bill being voted on tomorrow:
Here's betting there is more mourning for the loss of Oprah's show than for the loss of liberty if the health "reform" passes. In what other private industry can you be arrested for refusing to engage in activities you consider immoral?
Finally the bishops come out swinging, but where were they for the House bill? Only a few have expressed their disapproval on the grounds of subsidiarity subsidiarity: "a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to coordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good."
And why did Butterbean get arrested in Peru?
November 10, 2009
More libertarian movie moments
"These are my sons. They don't belong to the state."
November 09, 2009
Libertarian moments in the movies:
"Why would they fight so hard against us?"
November 08, 2009
Relativism: Lazy and Strong
My friend and colleague Dr. J writes what is rapidly becoming one of my favorite blogs, Readmorewritemorethinkmorebemore. She recently posted two interesting notes on lazy relativism and strong relativism. Here's my comment on the latter:
And have you ever wondered if, like, what I see as "red" is what you see as "red?" And are you saying that "like, whatever" isn't a defensible position?
Seriously, thanks for the detailed explanation. The man or woman on the street--someone like me--probably thinks that all relativism is of the lazy variety.
Perhaps there's another idea for a SEGA panel: what are the biggest misconceptions non-specialists have about your field? The analogue to lazy relativism in economics is the mistaken view that "economics" means "money" or that "costs and benefits" are necessarily or exclusively financial. I think of "cost" very generally as whatever we give up when we make a choice and "benefit" very generally as whatever we gain when we make a choice. Every action is an attempt to change the world and to make it a better place (however we choose to define "better," and this is the point at which I refer students to the philosophy department) than the world we leave behind. The cost of an action is the action we didn't take.
The cost of reading this blog post and writing a comment is whatever else I could have done (nap, for example, or grade homework). The benefit was that I now have a better understanding of the difference between lazy relativism and strong relativism. If we really wanted to we could evaluate these in monetary terms. By investing my time in reading the blog post I gave up the opportunity to earn income now by going around the neighborhood offering to rake leaves (like a couple of kids on the sidewalk appear to be doing now) but I gained knowledge that might increase my income in the future. This is one way to think about action, but I think it actually limits our knowledge by throwing out non-pecuniary reasons for action.
November 07, 2009
Tuesday's Democratic losses bode well for freedom
The more one digs into Tuesday’s election results, the worse they look for Democrats. This is almost certainly a good thing - the battleground this fall was generally over taxes and spending, and GOP gains indicate voter skepticism of the Democrats efforts to nationalize health care, pass cap & trade, and try to spend us out of economic difficulties. Thus the GOP gains should slow the statist Democratic Agenda in Washington. Let's start by reviewing the high-profile gubernatorial and congressional races, and then talk about down ballot races around the country that emphasize the Republican success.
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The three high profile races were New York’s 23rd Congressional District special election, and the gubernatorial races in New Jersey and Virginia.
The Democrats have to know that NY-23 was a fluke – they can’t count on gross Republican miscalculation in 2010. Meanwhile, Democratic efforts to write off the New Jersey and Virginia losses by blaming them on bad candidates simply don’t ring true.
In Virginia, Creigh Deeds was not a bad candidate. In the primary, despite being vastly outspent, he hammered the powerful Terry McAuliffe. He had the endorsement of the Washington Post, which argued that of three strong Democratic primary candidates, in the general election, “Deeds’ moderate platform would have the broadest appeal.” On liberal blog sites, Deeds was the overwhelming favorite as the best candidate, the one most likely to win the general election.
Jon Corzine was not a bad candidate, either – he could self-fund his race, an enormous advantage, and outspend any opponent 3 to 1, as he did to Chris Christie. He had been elected statewide twice before. What Corzine was, was a bad governor. And why was he a bad governor? Because he followed the same type of policies that the Democrats are now pursuing on a national level. Maybe someone will notice that.
It has been noted lately that the Democrats plan to hold on next fall is to go negative, and to do so early – to “vaporize” opponents, as Harry Reid says. But that is exactly what both Deeds and Corzine tried to do. Corzine, who won by 11 points in 2005, lost by 4 this year. Deeds, who lost to the same man in the attorney general race 4 years ago by fewer than 350 votes, this time lost by 18 percentage points. Meanwhile, President Obama embraced and campaigned with both men. Yet McDonnell won by the biggest margin for a Republican ever, and Christie by the largest margin for a Republican in 24 years. Thus, the Democrats’ two key strategies to hold on in 2010 (other than pray for a better economy) failed miserably – Obama couldn’t save them, and relentlessly negative campaigning couldn’t save them. These men were not bad candidates, as their past success and praise for them suggests – rather, they were running on bad issues in a time in which Democrats are increasingly blamed for the nation’s difficulties.
In the other Congressional special election, California’s 10th District, Lt. Governor John Garamendi won by 11 points after heavily outspending his opponent in a district won by his predecessor in 2008 by 34 points, in which Democrats have an 18 point edge in voter registration, and which Obama carried by 31 points. Not much to crow about.
Down ballot, it gets worse. Republicans rolled to easy double digit victories in the Virginia Attorney General and Lt. Governor races. In the Lt. Governor’s race, Bill Bolling, who won by just 1 percent in 2005, won by 12 points. Republicans gained 6 seats (pending one recount) in the State Assembly, giving them a 61-37-2 majority. Republicans gained a seat in the New Jersey House. Republicans took control of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and won six of seven statewide races in the Keystone State. Republicans gained in the heavily populated New York City suburbs , taking control of both Westchester County and Nassau County for the first time in a decade. They even gained a couple seats on the New York City Council (in addition to the re-election of their sort-of Republican Mayor Bloomberg). In Michigan, in a special election for a state senate seat that had gone Democratic by 61-39 when it was last up in 2006, the Republican flipped the landslide around and won 61-36. Republicans also flipped a New Hampshire state house seat in a special election.
When the Republicans are rolling up victories in the northeast corridor and in Michigan, the Democrats have to be worried. But Republican successes weren’t limited to such recent Democratic stomping grounds. In liberal Washington state, a Republican captured 58 percent of the vote to win a state House seat controlled by Democrats for 22 years, and Republican candidates steamrolled to landslide victories to easily retain seats in two other special elections for state house.
We might also note that the Republicans picked up two Democratic seats in special elections last month, winning a previously Democratic state house seat with 63% of the vote in a special election in Tennessee last month, and also picking up a formerly Democrat held state house seat in Oklahoma.
Even in the safest of Democratic bastions, the Democrats underperformed. In a special state house election in Missouri, for example, Democrats held a safe Democratic seat with 61 percent of the vote. Sounds impressive, but in 2008, in what was also an open seat race, the Democrat carried the district with 69 percent of the vote . This year’s showing, in fact, was the worst for the Democrats in the district since at least 1994. Meanwhile, Republicans romped to victories in safe Republican state legislative seats in South Carolina, and two races in Georgia.
Democrats held most of their big city mayors, but Republicans did to as incumbent mayors did well throughout the country, in what were mostly non-partisan races. But a few offices changed party control, however, usually away from the Democrats, and many in the battleground Midwest and in the northeast, where the GOP is supposed to be dead.
Toledo elected independent Mike Bell, ending 20 years of Democratic control. An independent also defeated an incumbent Democrat in Dayton. Republicans picked up the Mayor’s office in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. In an open seat race in Manchester, New Hampshire, Republican Ted Gatsas kept the Mayor’s office in GOP hands with the best showing by a Republican in the city in more than a decade. In another open seat Mayor’s race, in Norwich, Connecticut, Republican Peter Nystrom easily won election to an office previously held by a Democrat. Republicans also won the Mayor’s office in Stamford for the first time since 1993, winning 55 percent of the vote in a city with a 2-1 Democratic edge in voter registration. A Republican ousted the Democrats from the Mayor’s office in Stratford, Connecticut, and the GOP picked up council seats throughout the state. You have to wonder if Chris Dodd was watching.
Republicans picked up Mayor’s offices out west, too. In a non-partisan race in Washington’s 4th largest city, Republican Tim Leavitt defeated labor-backed, 14 year incumbent Royce Pollard, saying, “My opponent seems to think government creates jobs. Creating jobs is done by the business community. Where government can help out is by getting out of the way.”
The Democrats did pick up one mayor’s office of note, in Charlotte, North Carolina, but Republicans returned the favor by taking the Mayor’s slot away from the Democrats in Greensboro. Democrats were left to find solace in such holding actions, such as not losing as many state assembly seats in New Jersey as they had thought they might.
Republicans ought not, and probably cannot, sit around and hope they can ride into office in 2010 merely on a bad economy and Democratic ineptitude. For one thing, the economy is resilient enough, and the Democrats and the Fed have thrown enough money into it, that the economy and the unemployment numbers should be improved and improving a year from now. Free market economists need to help Republicans explain now why the President’s economic policies are retarding, rather than helping, this economic recovery. And we need to hope that Republicans have learned from the electoral and economic failures of the big spending Bush years. That said, Tuesday was a very good night for Republicans, and the more one looks at it, the harder it is for Democrats to claim otherwise. And that should make it just a little easier to defenders of freedom in the next year, not because a few more Republicans hold office, but because some Democrats will have a some second thoughts about the electoral wisdom of nationalizing the economy.
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November 03, 2009
Good News--Well, Not So Fast
Lobbyists are quitting the business at a record pace, according to a study released Monday.
With federal govt spending on an upsurge, I'll bet on the latter effect--lobbyists disguising themselves as advisers--rather than a reduction in lobbying activity.
Hillary Clinton, Tea Partier!
We (the United States) tax everything that moves and doesn’t move ...
October 19, 2009
They Allowed This on PBS?! (updated)
HT: Tom Woods.
Update: Steve Horwitz reminds me that he is guest-blogging for PBS's Nightly Business Report. So what does PBS stand for now? Praxeology Broadcasting Station? I'm expecting Ashton Kutcher to fling my office door open and explain that I've been punk'd.
October 16, 2009
Nothing Succeeds Like Political Failure
Check out Dwight Lee's column in today's Investors Business Daily, for a double shot of public choice and wry humor.
October 13, 2009
The only question is when
I don't think anyone can dismiss this assertion by Sawhill and Aaron.
Anyone who thinks that health-care reform alone is going to close the massive current -- and even larger projected -- U.S. budget deficit is deluded. President Obama has pledged that health-care reform will not make matters worse. But that isn't good enough. There is no way to restore this nation to fiscal health without higher taxes -- for the middle class as well as for the rich. The only question is when. Those increases should be enacted now, phased in gradually after the recovery is well established, and tied to the increased spending that health-care reform will generate. [Emphasis added.]
My only question regards timing. Why didn't this column appear last year, when Obama's platform made the conclusion inescapable?
On lightening up
Maybe Italy has it right, if the conclusion of this WaPo article is correct.
Besides, with Berlusconi as your prime minister, you don't have to take yourself too seriously. You don't have to trouble yourself with geopolitics or the state of the planet, or poverty and failed states. You can stay at home, remain unserious and argue about the latest legal scandal. And maybe that, too, is part of the Italian prime minister's appeal.
I disagree with one point. I would write the first two sentences this way: "Besides, with Berlusconi as your prime minister, you don't have to ... trouble yourself with geopolitics or ...." You can take yourself and things that really matter quite seriously, while marginalizing the goings-on of the state, treating it as the absurdist theater that it often is.
Given Bastiat's provisional definition of the state, "the great fictitious entity by which everyone seeks to live at the expense of everyone else," having it generate a bit of humor is probably not a bad thing.
You may insert your latest Nobel Peace Prize joke here.
To quote the fine theologian, M*A*S*H's Father Mulcahy: Jocularity, jocularity, jocularity.
An endangered species c. 1909
The October 13, 1909 NYT has a headline you won't see today:
SENATOR FLINT WILL RETIRE.
Turns out the good Senator from California felt that there wasn't enough money in being a Senator and that he had to go out in the real world to earn some scratch:
Senator Frank P. Flint announced yesterday that when his present term expires, on March 4, 1911, he would not be a candidate for re-election.It is quaint that a U.S. Senator would suggest that there wasn't enough money in national politics to make it worth his while. Perhaps there was a time when this was true. Perhaps Mr. Flint was "clean" and didn't partake of the largess his position would seem to attract.
On the other hand, perhaps this is a thinly veiled jab at the lobbyists of the day. In essence, Flint throws down the gauntlet saying "pay up or I'm outta here and I'm taking my political capital with me."
Do you wonder, as I, whether Flint really retires from public service in 1911? Oh wait, I can look that up (see below the fold for the spoiler)....
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Sure enough, Flint doesn't pursue the General Store he might have implied was on his horizon in 1909.
From the March 5, 1911 NYT:
Vice President Sherman to-day appointed Senators Flint of California and Taliaferro of Florida, neither of whom will be members of the next Congress, to vacancies on the National Monetary Commission.
More on the National Monetary Commission from Wikipedia.
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October 08, 2009
Another Division of Labour Essay Contest on Voting
On October 15, Memphians will choose a new mayor in a special election. I'm deep in the same moral and intellectual crisis that faces me every election: should I vote? I decided that (once again) I will farm this out to Division of Labour readers. I'll offer a prize of some kind for the best 250-500 word essay explaining why I should or should not vote, and the winning entry will be published on DOL. Entries will be accepted via email, and I'm looking for something that addresses the opportunity cost of voting.
Update: Here's Per Bylund on voting.
October 04, 2009
Curious roll call vote patterns in Italian Parliament...
... a.k.a. "The Pianists".
HT: Mario Pagliero
September 23, 2009
Real Members of Congress
September 22, 2009
On Presidential Busy-ness c. 1909
From an op-ed piece in the Sept. 22, 1909 NYT:
It is true that our new President [President Taft] during the first six months of his term had the extraordinary session of Congress on his hands, called expressly to redeem the pledges of the party - pledges made on his personal initiative and strong recommendation. It was natural, and, in a sense, unavoidable, that for this important task he should hold himself peculiarly accountable, and that he should hasten to render his account to the people as soon as practicable.
So, another president, this one a Republican, also brought an active agenda to the first few months of his administration? Haven't heard anyone bring that up lately.
The op-ed continues:
But that chapter is but one of many which he plainly intends to present to the attention, we may say to the anxious and somewhat weary attention, of his fellow-citizens. Even while the tariff job was still unfinished, and at a point where the honest and decent fulfillment of the pledges of his party and himself was trembling in the balance, Mr. Taft sprung upon the country the twin projects of a tax on corporations, avowedly intended as the first step toward minute and comprehensive Federal inquisition and of corporation business, and an income tax, requiring a Constitutional amendment.Ambitious projects indeed. Would we characterize today's uncertainty regarding public policy as drawing "anxious and weary attention?"
Here in the very dawning of his Administration, before he had had an opportunity to address a formal regular message to Congress, we have thrown upon the country a scheme of change more far reaching, more intimately affecting the affairs of all classes of the people than any accomplished, or even proposed during the seven crowded years of Mr. Roosevelt's incumbency.Change the names to reflect their modern analogues and the statement might apply equally (more so?) today.
But then comes the coup de grace:
It is true that the Constitutional amendment authorizing the income tax and the tax on corporate business were, in effect, if not in intent, a diversion which saved Mr. Aldrich and "his men" from a damaging defeat. It is not exactly reassuring, however, that measures of such scope and portent can be made a mere incident in the campaign of the protracted interests for control of the taxing power of the Government in the pursuit of their selfish interests.
September 16, 2009
Health Care Redux: Teddy Roosevelt
The Gray Lady has an excellent interactive archive of the history of health reform in the U.S. Clicking on Theodore Roosevelt's 1912 campaign platform, we see early glimpses of the eventual breadth and depth of central government control. "[O]ur aim should be," said Roosevelt, "to use the Government as an efficient agency for the practical betterment of social and economic conditions throughout this land." Praising the social plans of Bismarck, Roosevelt blames America's woes on the Republican Party (and no, notwithstanding spastic claims to the contrary, I am not an "ethics-free GOP hack") en route to declaring, "In the National Government one department should be intrusted with all the agencies relating to the public health... This department, through its special health service, would co-operate intelligently with the various State and municipal bodies established for the same end.... [T]he aim would be merely to secure under one administrative body efficient sanitary regulation in the interest of the people as a whole."
Notice the implicit assumptions of benevolence and omniscience that support the claim of government achieving an efficient outcome. There is also, but more subtly, a tension between two conceptions of liberty: the liberty of individuals that informed the American Founding versus the liberty of people as members of a noble collective that was successfully advanced by the Progressives.
Today, the faces have changed. The tag lines are new. The delivery is honed on
September 11, 2009
Should Obama Be More Like Reagan?
Rasmussen Reports has a poll out on political labels, and it seems that people want politicians who are "like Reagan."
Results below the fold.
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September 2009 November 2008
Break that down by Favorable/Unfavorable, we see:
Change since November in favorable/unfavorable spread:
Without the crosstabs, which are behind the pay wall, I'm not sure how much this tells us. But it is interesting that "being like Reagan" is the best of the 5 labels tested, and the only one not losing ground. I like to think voters are remembering the Reagan who cut taxes and regulation to break the downward economic spiral of the 1970s.
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My 14 yr old daughter sent me this txt msg on Wednesday, "had to watch the effin obama speech, soooooooo stupid. very mad. please complain," which I posted on Facebook because I thought it was pretty funny. Several friends chimed in with less than flattering things to say about the Great Leader's speech.
An old and dear, and left-of-center, friend wrote me:
Are your friends ACTUALLY advocating that their chidlren NOT listen to a speech by the leader of the free world? Seriously, this is not a statement in the form of a question.
As Thomas Sowell would say it's a conflict of visions. You see him as the leader of the free world. I see him as a power-hungry man who managed to win some kind of beauty contest. I owe him no fealty for this per se. In my book I owe my plumber more respect than my president. He at least provides me with something I want on an honest basis.
My daughter and I had a nice conversation (thank you, Prez Obama for that much at least) this morning. I told her about Aron Ralston who quit his big fancy corporate job to become a full-time mountain climber bum (and had an unfortunate accident if you remember his story).
In Obama's view I guess Ralston is a bad person for "dropping out" and not contributing to the economy and government as much as he should. What a waste of a great college education Obama would say. But in my world view, he's following his own dream on his own terms and not those of the state or society (whatever that is) and is worthy of respect.
September 10, 2009
Arnold Kling on the Obama Speech
Best line of the night.
[Obama] said,Reducing the waste and inefficiency in Medicare and Medicaid will pay for most of this plan.
September 09, 2009
"I'm from the government, and I'm here to help you"
Camille Paglia in Salon (emphasis added):
An example of the provincial amateurism of current White House operations was the way the president's innocuous back-to-school pep talk got sandbagged by imbecilic support materials soliciting students to write fantasy letters to "help" the president (a coercive directive quickly withdrawn under pressure). Even worse, the entire project was stupidly scheduled to conflict with the busy opening days of class this week, when harried teachers already have their hands full. Comically, some major school districts, including New York City, were not even open yet. And this is the gang who wants to revamp national healthcare?
September 07, 2009
Why I hate Obama's Speech to School Kids
I describe in a pair of posts at the Politico, here and here, why I don't like Obama speaking to school kids. I wouldn't mind, actually, if he were using the kids as a backdrop to make a major policy speech - what I dislike is the fact that there is no reason for this speech, really, except that the President seems to think he needs to step in and help us all parent our kids. It's really obnoxious.
But looking at the text of his message, that's pretty obnoxious, too. Some excerpts below the fold.
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"What you make of your education will decide nothing less than the future of this country. What you’re learning in school today will determine whether we as a nation can meet our greatest challenges in the future." In other words, you owe it to the state.
"We need every single one of you to develop your talents, skills and intellect so you can help solve our most difficult problems. If you don’t do that – if you quit on school – you’re not just quitting on yourself, you’re quitting on your country." In other words, you owe it to the state.
"I want to ask you, what’s your contribution going to be? What problems are you going to solve? What discoveries will you make? What will a president who comes here in twenty or fifty or one hundred years say about what all of you did for this country?" In other words, your life is not for you, it is for us, the state.
"I’m working hard to fix up your classrooms and get you the books, equipment and computers you need to learn. But you’ve got to do your part too." Translation - you must serve the state, which provides for you.
"So don’t let us down – don’t let your family or your country or yourself down." You owe us. You belong to us.
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September 04, 2009
Citizens United: Corporate Political Speech and Shareholder Rights
On Tuesday of next week the Supreme Court will meet in special session to rehear the case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. In Citizens United, the government argued that a documentary produced by Citizens United, Hillary: The Movie, could be banned from distribution as a partisan political communication. The Court has specifically asked the parties to argue whether or not it should overrule Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce, a 1990 decision that upheld a ban on all corporate funded political expenditures. The Court's concern was prompted by the government's argument, at oral argument in March, that under Austin it could ban even the publication of books and films containing so much as one line of political candidate advocacy.
Supporters of the ban are in a rhetorical hole, because the reality is that, if Austin is good law and means what is says, the government is right. Yet few really believe that the First Amendment allows for book banning. And while advocates of "campaign finance reform" have long advocated limiting speech, they don't really like to be seen as quite so nakedly in favor of limiting political speech.
Hence, the latest tack of the "reform" community is to claim that corporate spending on politics should be prohibited in order to protect shareholder rights. Below the fold, we slice and dice this argument.
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On Tuesday of next week the Supreme Court will meet in special session to rehear the case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. In Citizens United, the government argued that a documentary produced by Citizens United, Hillary: The Movie, could be banned from distribution as a partisan political communication. The Court has specifically asked the parties to argue whether or not it should overrule Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce, a 1990 decision that upheld a ban on all corporate funded political expenditures. The Court's concern was prompted by the government's argument, at oral argument in March, that under Austin it could ban even the publication of books and films containing so much as one line of political candidate advocacy.
Supporters of the ban are in a rhetorical hole, because the reality is that, if Austin is good law and means what is says, the government is right. Yet few really believe that the First Amendment allows for book banning. And while advocates of "campaign finance reform" have long advocated limiting speech, they don't really like to be seen as quite so nakedly in favor of limiting political speech.
Hence, the latest tack of the "reform" community is to claim that corporate spending on politics should be prohibited in order to protect shareholder rights.
The latest exhibit of the wailing and gnashing of teeth for the poor, unfortunate shareholder (who for years has been scorned by the "reform" lobby for trying to "drown out" the voices of others, for amassing great "war chests," for being a "special interest" and usually the ultimate villain in discussions of campaign finance) is a column by the Brennan Center's Ciarra Torres-Spelliscy appearing in Forbes.
Ms. Torres-Spelliscy is concerned that her 401k investments will be spent by corporations on political advocacy that she doesn't like. She's worried that they will, spend her money to "defeat health care reform resist new regulations on financial instruments or combat environmental controls." (Notice how in the end, its rarely the principle, but the specific issues. She's not, it appears, worried that, like the big pharmaceuticals, they'll spend her money to promote health care reform, or resist excessive regulation and combat extreme environmental controls - it pretty much always comes down to content).
But this already happens. Corporations can give money to charities, including controversial charities, such as universities that bring in controversial speakers such as Ward Churchill or Ward Connerly; Art museums that feature displays by Robert Mapplethorpe; or groups that promote abortion, such as planned parenthood, or limit participation by gays, such as the Boy Scouts. Why, many large corporations, including Bear Stearns and Enron, have supported the Brennan Center over the years. Where are the complaints? When did the folks at the Brennan Center return those contributions out of concern for the poor shareholders who may oppose their 401ks being used to further the Brennan Center's agenda? No, not only doesn't the Brennan Center mind, they actually are quite active in soliciting such corporate support, with no regard whatsoever for the shareholders whose 401ks are being used in this manner. There's a word for that, by the way, starts with "H."
Large corporations will spend at least 10 times as much money lobbying as making political contributions, and those lobbyists may lobby "to defeat health care reform, resist new regulations on financial instruments or combat environmental controls." But of course, though there may be some regulation of lobbying, we can't ban lobbying - as Ms. Torres-Spelliscy knows, lobbying (the right to petition) is protected by the First Amendment. Oops! - so is speech. If concern over shareholders were the issue, these restrictions would appear in laws on corporate governance, not campaign finance. Her 401k funds may be invested in corporations selling products she thinks should be illegal, perhaps tobacco or various chemical products; or following business practices with which she doesn't agree, perhaps outsourcing jobs or failing to provide "adequate" health insurance to employees; or sucking at the government teat when she thinks it shouldn't, such as auto makers; or who knows what all else. The fact is, we have rules for corporate governance that provide management with broad discretion to act in the best interest of the shareholders. Only now does the reform lobby suddenly decide that drastic steps are needed.
The reformers' new tack also demonstrates the overkill involved. The ban on corporate spending includes not just large companies in which Ms. Torres-Spelliscy thinks maybe she has some 401k money, but ideological corporations that people join precisely to further their political views; and closely held corporations in which there are no dissenting shareholders.
Perhaps the biggest jujitsu comes when Ms. Torres-Spelliscy cites a study that "found that large corporate political expenditures are linked with lower shareholder value." We don't quibble with the study - I haven't read this particular study, but other studies have reached similar results and serious campaign finance scholars have long since concluded that political spending generally plays far less of a role in shaping policy than "reformers" would have us believe. But for a staffer at the Brennan Center to say such a thing is stunning. After all, for years it has been an article of faith in the "reform" community that corporations would never spend money if they didn't expect to gain something from it. Apparently it is now Emily Litella time: "never mind."
Here's the bottom line - it's not about protecting shareholder rights, for if it were the Brennan Center would immediately stop soliciting and accepting corporate contributions. It's about limiting speech that they think they will not like. You know it, I know it, and they know it.
A version of this post is cross-posted at the Center for Competitive Politics blog.
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August 27, 2009
Gordon Brown Gets Pwned
HT: Justin Ross.
August 24, 2009
Politics Corrupts Money
Here's David Henderson correcting a common mistake. Corporations aren't allowed to give money to candidates directly. Tracing money in politics is wickedly difficult, but I'm struck by the disproportionate representation of labor unions in big-money politics. At the very least, this suggests that people deriding opposition to the President's health care plan as an elaborate corporation-funded-and-directed "astroturf" movement need to check their premises--particularly since Big Pharma, insurance companies, and Walmart are in bed with the administration on this issue.
August 21, 2009
I Dreamed I Saw Joe the Plumber Last Night: Health Care & Guns Edition
When I first saw these clips, my gut reaction was "there is no way this is true; the MSNBC video has to have been doctored to make the network look bad." From what I can tell, the MSNBC video is unadulterated. It's a tale of two clips: one is an MSNBC clip in which commentators discuss racial tension and people bringing openly-carried firearms to rallies. The discussion is motivated by video footage of someone carrying an AR-15. You can't identify him from the MSNBC video, but the other clip (and a story on MSNBC.com) reveals that he is an African-American. Needless to say, right-wing groups are seizing on the apparent shenanigans and claiming outright dishonesty on the part of the Liberal Elite Media. I think some of the anti-Obama backlash is racially motivated--see the flood of "Barack Obama is a secret Muslim" emails that went around during his campaign and the Statement of Principles from the Council of Conservative Citizens, which affirms a commitment to "Cultural, national, and racial integrity"--and I don't think the presence of one African-American man toting a gun and protesting the President's plan blows this thesis out of the water. In this light, I thought I'd do a bit of political prognostificationizing. I see two possibilities:
1. MSNBC used judiciously-edited footage of an African-American man carrying an AR-15 at a health care rally to scare viewers about well-armed white racists. If this is true, then I predict that it will strengthen the right's conviction that there is a liberal media bias. Right-wing groups will have an easier time raising funds because they will have clear evidence that the Elite Liberal Media is distorting the news to further a political agenda. Further, the gentleman carrying the AR-15 will become the Right's next Joe the Plumber.
2. Newsbusters.org or a similar conservative group created a judiciously-edited clip that will backfire. Current developments and an MSNBC statement suggest that this isn't the case, but if it is true, then I predict that it will strengthen the left's conviction that the protesters are dishonest corporate flunkies. Left-wing groups will have an easier time raising funds because they will have clear evidence that the Corporate Conservative Media is lying about them to further a political agenda. Still, the gentleman carrying the AR-15 will become the Right's next Joe the Plumber.
Comments are open. HT: Natalie Danielshen, Mason Drake.
August 20, 2009
GM Bails out Cash for Clunkers
At Marketplace.org, Scott Jagow lays out some of the main issues, and he does so nicely until the takeaway:
[Cash 4 clunkers] does seem to be decent stimulus, but car sales will collapse, at least temporarily, no matter when this program ends. C4c is a drug. It even sounds like one. At some point, the car makers need to stop relying on incentives. The car-buying public is addicted to them. Not to mention, these particular incentives are being paid for by the taxpayers.
In the comments, I added:
Market prices are incentives. Government subsidies are distortions. To get correct, car makers and buyers need to stop relying on subsidies, not incentives.
Sorry for being all word police. But it’s a really, really important word. Incentives matter. The rest is commentary.
August 14, 2009
Creating Jobs Obama-Style
Today's cartoon from the Rome News-Tribune's Mike Lester:
August 13, 2009
UPDATE: This was in Chicago not the U.K. So I guess we need a 6th Amendment.
Clifton Williams, 33, of Richton Park, is facing six months in jail for making what court documents call a yawn-like sound in Will County Judge Daniel Rozak's court last month. The yawn happened as Williams' cousin, Jason Mayfield, was being sentenced for a drug charge on July 23.Rozak found Williams in contempt of court and sentenced him to six months in jail...Six months is the maximum sentence judges can give for criminal contempt without a jury trial.
What Kind of Munger?
"The young grass-roots army that swept Obama into office has yet to mobilize
August 12, 2009
Just Wondering ...
In a dog and pony show yesterday, President Obama incorrectly claimed that the AARP was "onboard" with his health care reforms. Hmmm ... a fishy claim ... I wonder if anyone has alerted email@example.com.
August 09, 2009
The Administrative State
The Heritage Foundation paper "Congressional Ethics and the Administrative State" contains the following conclusion: "The system of government that has transformed congressmen from legislators to ombudsmen has spawned the corrupt favoritism that once defined New York's Tammany Hall, but now defines Washington and its emerging scandals. The framers of the Constitution understood the inevitable corruption of the administrative state, and had sought to avoid it with their constitutional prescriptions of federalism and separated powers."
The occasion for this paper was the S & L corruption (McCain, Keating, et al.), but the the analysis applies broadly. One of my favorite applications is to ethanol. There, EPA experts argued in Congress against allowing ethanol onto the list of oxygenating fuels, which Congress was about to mandate. Congress punted by refusing to specify a list. Rather, the EPA was to construct the list. After a few contacts from the likes of Bob Dole, the EPA saw the light and added ethanol to the list. Before long, it became the only oxygenating additive on the list.
A recent column by John Stossel brought this ancient history to mind. He says, "They've given us a system that now can be saved only if bureaucrats limit coverage by second-guessing retirees' decisions. Government will decide which Medicare services have value and which do not. Retirees may have a different opinion."
Dollars to donuts that the legislation, for all of its bulk, contains little specificity. Rather, the bureaucracy that will be created will surpass the EPA as a target of lobbying efforts by members of Congress, as the details are worked out.
August 03, 2009
I strive hard to avoid what I call Youtube moments - especially when a student asks a loaded question the answer to which might be very easily taken out of context. I am not sure if this compilation is necessarily taken out of context but it would definitely seem to be a "Youtube moment":
August 01, 2009
Evidently Some Scare Tactics Are Better Than Others
In his town hall dog and pony show (transcript) held in Raleigh earlier this week, President Obama decried the use of "scare tactics" by people opposed to his health care
July 20, 2009
Now we know why it's called pork
This is from the front page at Drudge (I claim fair use):
If the stories are true (evidently they are HT: Phil Miller's facebook page), then this should put all debate over the merits of the stimulus package to bed. If the Republicans or some third party cannot come up with enough arguments to dethrone the current ruling class (not that the Republicans were/are great but would likely not pursue such policies as depicted above - though I admit that's not guaranteed) then we should all plan our exit strategy.
From my travels, the northern coast of Morocco is beautiful (I'll leave it up to the game theorists to think about whether that is an honest claim or not).
Cross posted at Heavy Lifting
July 18, 2009
Commissars, not Tsars
From Pravda, Czar? You Mean Commissar:
There is a new silliness in the Western Anglo Media, comparing the US Emperor's Czar program to the number of Tsars that Holy Russia had. It is a good thing that the US/UK public is ignorant not only of ancient history but also of recent history, otherwise they might start to worry.
July 16, 2009
Take my picture boy and I'll search your car!
James Waylett, the boy who plays Crabbe in the Harry Potter movies, just got busted for possessing and growing a little mj.
On Thursday, he pleaded guilty to producing cannabis at a court hearing where it emerged that the pair were detained after Waylett took a photo of police while driving past a group of officers.
I know they don't have a 4th Amendment in England, but holy cripes? All he did was take a photo of the police? I guess in England only the police are allowed to take photos now? Sheesh.
July 11, 2009
Age of Convenience
Mark Steyn on princes and such:
As the British newspaper The Independent reported;
July 02, 2009
Bad news or bad reporting?
The AP headline: Baaad news? Global warming now shrinking sheep
The content: local warming is reducing mortality among some wild sheep in Scotland. Wonder if the runts that now survive would count this as baaad news? Did I insert enough a's?
June 28, 2009
Shut Up, He Explained II
The Competitive Enterprise Institute has obtained an EPA study of the "endangerment" to human well-being ostensibly caused by carbon dioxide emissions, together with a set of EPA emails indicating that the study, which concludes that carbon dioxide is not a significant cause of climate change, was suppressed by the EPA for political reasons.
The Powerline blog entry provides links to the CEI correspondence and supporting email messages, and to the suppressed study.
June 16, 2009
The Median Voter Casts Lots
I caught this on NPR's "Morning Edition:"
When last month's town council race ended in a two-way tie, Mayor Vincent Francia thought it should be settled cowboy-style: "The two candidates would assemble downtown Cave Creek at High Noon and go at it with paintballs."
Instead they turned to Arizona law, which says tied local elections may be determined by chance: rolling dice, flipping a coin or cutting cards.
Cave Creek Magistrate George Preston, dressed in his black robes, shuffled the deck of cards Monday night that would finally decide the race. About 60 people crowded council chambers, including a few lawyers who had hashed out two pages of rules for the drawing.
The candidate drawing the highest card would be declared the winner.
Which got me to (barely) thinking: if the median voter theory is true, why not just save everyone the expense and headaches of campaigning and decide elections this way? Instead of three hourlong televised debates, you could, during a commercial break, show 30 seconds of McCain and Obama rolling dice to decide the winner. It certainly seems more efficient, since the FEC seems to indicate that there were almost $1.4 billion in total contributions to candidates in the 2008 Presidential campaign. How much does a deck of cards cost?
It also reminded me of the rhetoric of elections. How often do you hear of Presidents winning "landslide" elections? The Stat Abstract shows that the biggest percentage a recent candidate has garnered was Johnson's 1964 61.1%. If you had a student with a 61.1% average, would you consider him to have a "landslide" level of knowledge?
June 15, 2009
On Food Independence
Frank's post reminds me of the situation in Saudi Arabia in 1985. Saudi had supported the production of wheat to the extent that they were self-sufficient, at least for a while.
The rationale was to diversify so that Saudis wouldn't depend so much on oil revenue and could become trained in other endeavors. The reality was that Europeans set up and ran large wheat farms and used foreign labor. Few, if any, Saudis developed any farming skills.
To make the scheme feasible, the government sold water to the farmers at a fraction of the cost of desalination, and it set a price at about five times the world price (if my memory serves). The Economist ran an article saying that the price was high enough to make it worthwhile for smugglers to bring food-aid wheat from Ethiopia via Yemen to sell to the Saudi government.
I'm not sure, but I'm guessing the scheme went belly-up when the price of oil plummeted post-1985.
But these things never go away. Witness the "end" of the farm subsidies negotiated between Newt's Republicans and President Clinton.
June 14, 2009
The Chicago Approach, Take Two
The first paragraph of a Barrons article on GM's chairman:
DON'T BE HARD ON GM'S NEW CHAIRMAN EDWARD WHITACRE for confessing during an interview last week that he knows nothing about cars. He simply suffered a Joe Biden moment. Texans often tumble over their tongues when taking a stab at humility. In fact, few car companies, let alone their CEOs, know how to build cars, which is why so many of them are conking out. The Obama administration, in my view, picked Whitacre to run General Motors (ticker: GM) because he has a more important talent: He knows how to play Chicago-style politics.
June 13, 2009
Folly and Presumption: Federal Reserve Lending Edition
I just sent this letter to the New York Times:
Your June 12 story about political influence on Federal Reserve lending decisions was distressing, but predictable. When the government commits to the principle that some industries and firms are "too big to fail," identifying those firms that are "too big to fail" necessarily becomes a political decision. Adam Smith addressed this over two centuries ago:
"The statesman who should attempt to direct private people in what manner they ought to employ their capitals would not only load himself with a most unnecessary attention, but assume an authority which could safely be trusted, not only to no single person, but to no council or senate whatever, and which would nowhere be so dangerous as in the hands of a man who had folly and presumption enough to fancy himself fit to exercise it."
HT: Alex Tabarrok.
June 09, 2009
Shut Up, He Explained
This letter to the Economist offers a useful suggestion:
There used to be, in the world of restructurings in the London market, a practice operated in a firm but gentlemanly manner by the Bank of England called the London Approach. It sounds as if the process under way for Chrysler, and widely anticipated for General Motors, could probably be dubbed the Chicago Approach.
May 30, 2009
Bootleggers, Part One
The climate-change industry ... has emerged as the world’s largest industry. ... Some of the climate-change profiteers are relatively unknown corporations; others are household names with only their behind-the-scenes role in the climate-change industry unknown. ... This series begins with Enron, a pioneer in the climate-change industry.
May 22, 2009
On military planning c. 1909
The May 22, 1909 NYT reports on French military planning at the time:
PARIS - The Superior Council of the Navy has decided upon a programme which includes bringing the number of French battleships up to thirty-eight, a total that would insure France fourth place among the naval powers of the world. It is proposed to lay down in 1910 two 21,000 ton vessels of an enlarged Danton type.All of which will mean squat to the men in Verdun some seven years later.
Don't tax you, don't tax me...
When govco discovers that the masses aren't remitting as expected it turns to long-forgotten means with which to extract the resources it so desperately needs. An example comes from today's Sporting News Today:
Some Bears season ticket holders were surprised to receive a notice saying they owe a city-issued amusement tax on seat licenses purchased up to seven years ago, according to the Chicago Tribune. A Bears spokesman, who says the team was unaware of the tax or the certified letters that were mailed out, says the franchise is looking into the issue.
The city always planned to levy amusement taxes on Chicago Bears season ticket licenses, a city Department of Revenue spokesman said Thursday.Who's the guy behind the tree?
May 15, 2009
Gourmet Beer Bill in Riley's Office!
In today's inbox from Fine Wine & Beer by Gus here in Auburn:
Just before 3:00pm today, the Gourmet Beer Bill was brought up by the chair and we passed the Senate by a vote of 19-9. The House concurred with the amended Senate version just before 5:00pm. The amendment attempts to restrict beer with an ABV over 6% from being sold in convenience stores.
May 11, 2009
On motive c. 1909
The May 11, 1909 prints a letter to the editor that attempts to distinguish among the various Socialist movements:
Materialistic Socialists, alienated from religion by such religious leaders and teachers as Mr. Haldeman, set as their goal the material well-being of the masses. This is precisely why Christian Socialists so designate themselves, and sedulously seek to be so designated. it is not because their economics are different - the difference is not in their method, but in their motive. What is the Materialistic Socialist's goal is the Christian Socialist's first milestone, for he seeks the material advancement - the industrial enfranchisement - of the working classes chiefly as the starting point for them of a life race worth running - not, as now, a mad scramble for the bread that perisheth.Without full Socialism, the past one hundred years has led to a dramatic increase in well-being and standards of living in the developed world (and some progress might have been made in the developing and undeveloped world as well). Notwithstanding the Romanticizing of the past, today's world includes so many diversions and opportunities for leisure that it is not clear whether the majority of us would want to actually be "industrially enfranchised."
What I found interesting upon reading the letter is that writer feels the need to distinguish one brand of (low?) Socialism which seeks to use coercion and theft to provide bread alone and another brand of (higher) Socialism which seeks to use coercion and theft to provide bread and circuses. According to the letter-writer, the latter form is to be lauded more because, ostensibly, the ability to address "industrial justice" is simply a matter of organization not a matter of understanding how wealth is generated by individuals not by "the masses."
If the letter was written only to Socialists, perhaps the letter writer can get away with the assumption that Socialism will work in its broad goals; after all, preaching to the choir does not require addressing first premises. However, a letter directed toward a general (i.e., non-Socialist) audience would seem to require stronger evidence in support of the coercion and theft required to introduce and maintain any form of Socialism.
Wanda Sykes on kidney failure
The New York Times reports that at the White House Correspondents' Dinner on Saturday night, comedian Wanda Sykes said about one of the President's prominent critics: "I hope his kidneys fail, how about that?”
Really? Wanda, I wish you hadn't said that. Try visiting a dialysis clinic and you'll see why it isn't funny. I'm hard to offend, but that offends me. I'm going to have a hard time finding you funny from here on. Kidney failure is something you shouldn't wish on anyone, even for laughs.
May 08, 2009
From an LA Times article:
The Obama administration is threatening to rescind billions of dollars in federal stimulus money if Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and state lawmakers do not restore wage cuts to unionized home healthcare workers approved in February as part of the budget.
May 06, 2009
On temperance and de-criminalization c. 1909
The May 6, 1909 NYT has an interesting letter to the editor:
The only relief in sight from existing conditions [concerning the consumption of high-alcohol drinks such as "whisky, cocktails, and various other mixed drinks"], lies, in my opinion, in the imposition of a virtually prohibitive Governmental tax on all highly alcoholic liquors, whose increased cost would have a tendency to lessen their use by the masses. This would have the effect of an increased consumption of milder beverages like beer and wine and would mitigate the evil. To abolish it is impossible.
On the one hand the author wishes to impose prohibitive taxation to alter behavior - looking for a substitution effect - but ignores the possible "scale" effect that individuals might drink more beer or wine in order to obtain the same level of "bliss" that the harder liquors provide.
The author then argues that prohibitions will not work - as the country will so ably prove over the next twenty odd years in the case of alcohol and is still proving today in the context of illicit drugs.
However, what is the difference between prohibitive taxation and prohibition? Granted, when facing two bad choices of taxation versus prohibition, taxation might be marginally more efficient (from society's point of view) as evading a tax is more likely to be penalized with a monetary fine whereas violating a prohibition is more likely to lead to incarceration and the associated social costs of that incarceration.
When open markets are closed, whether through taxation or prohibition, many of the self-reienforcing mechanisms that consumers take for granted are likewise lost. Under-appreciated elements of the open market such as contestability (that is, the threat of entry and competition), reputation, self-imposed quality and innovation, and, ultimately, the threat of legal action for maltreatment of consumers, are all lost when either prohibitive taxation or prohibition is employed.
The letter writer makes a plea against prohibition, something that might be gaining more traction in today's world, but makes the mistake of assuming that behavior of the masses can be materially and permanently manipulated through arbitrary taxation. Unfortunately, this philosophy is alive and well in our modern world.
On Socialism c. 1909
From the May 6, 1909 NYT:
The professed aim of the Socialists, or the one as to which most of them are, so far as we can make out, most nearly agreed, is the abolition of certain kinds of private ownership and of competition. The reason for the adoption of this aim that most of them advance is that private property, in the hands of its actual owners, is made the source of infinite wrong to the people generally; that it stimulates greed and injustice and cruelty and dishonesty; that it makes men heedless of the rights of others, and of the law which is intended to protect those rights; and that it gives rise to a system of organized plunder, under the form of law sometimes, often in violation of the law, by which the rich grow richer and the poor become poorer. They - the Socialists - insist that under the demoralizing and perverting influence of absolute ownership, the wealthy constantly evade their obligations to their fellows, and especially that they resort to every means acute and highly paid brains can devise to shift their share of the burdens of the cost of Government to the shoulders of the helpless poor. Competition the Socialists regard as a system that aids in the attainment of these ends, arming the rich, disarming the poor, reinforcing the strong, tending to make the weak helpless.It seems that the current administration takes a similar view to competition. Whether in the area of consumer credit, student loans, home mortgages, health care, foreign profits, K-12 education, radio and print media, tax breaks for the "rich," "corporate greed," financial industry "stress tests," or any number of other issues, the continuing mantra that the private sector is fundamentally flawed and that it can only be efficiently replaced by the benevolent bureaucracy of the Federal and State governments seems to fit nicely with the characterization offered by the NYT editorial.
Free-market philosophy seems to be against the ropes at the moment; perhaps it will be for the next few years. However, when the ponzi scheme is revealed, whether through bureaucratic rationing or through massive overt and covert taxation, will the political will exist to roll back the regulations and policies that the current generation of politicians are using to purchase their continued employment?
May 05, 2009
Unintended consequences c. 1909
I seem remember President Clinton referring to his early years in Hot Springs, Arkansas, as having some impact on his life. To be honest, I didn't pay that much attention.
But if true, then an event that merited four lines in the May 5, 1909 NYT might have yielded such unintended consequences:
LITTLE ROCK - The Senate, by a vote of 27 to 12, today passed the Wadley bill, permitting racing at Hot Springs. The bill will be reported to the House tomorrow.
April 30, 2009
April 24, 2009
Can They All Take a Long Nap?
Larry Summers's nap at a White House meeting yesterday has been circulated around ye olde internet. Here's hoping he's started a trend of nice long siestas among Washington officials at both ends of Penn. Ave. It's hard to imagine we'd be much worse off. The Congressional Effect Fund seems to bear out my thinking.
While I'm being snarky about politics ...
... here's a brickbat for Dick Morris. The title of his recent column is "Obama’s leap to socialism." Excuse me--that's no leap--it's Obama's true character as was abundantly clear during last year's campaign.
... and here's a swipe at Obama's Cuba policy. From a news report: "Obama administration lifted restrictions Monday on Cuban-Americans who want to travel and send money to their island homeland." Fantastic, but what if I--not a Cuban American--want to travel to Cuba? And isn't it unconstitutional to enact policies based on nationality and the like? Surely one couldn't pass a law saying that Cuban American must pay higher income tax rates just for being Cuban American. In fact, isn't there a cottage industry of lawyers who bring suit over policies that don't explicitly single out some group or another but supposedly have "disparate impact"? Maybe I should find one and file suit against Obama's policy on grounds that it has disparate impact on non-Cuban Americans. (Snark aside, I suspect the weasel wording that avoids the legal problems is a reference to relatives living in Cuba not to being Cuban American per se.)
April 23, 2009
Frustration c. 1909
The April 23, 1909 NYT published the following letter:
A man with a moderate fixed salary finds it impossible now to support his family decently with the high price of food, clothing, and rent. Those in this class, and it comprises the bulk of the country's population, read of the wild extravagance of Congress, but don't seem to realize that they are taxed for it; that if it was not for this wicked extravagance the cost of their living would be greatly reduced; that there would be no deficit in the Treasury, and that food, beef, mutton, poultry, butter, eggs, etc. would be brought into the country free of duty.No new problems, only our problems.
On politician salaries c. 1909
An editorial from the April 23, 1909 NYT:
State Senator Timothy Sullivan is not wholly unreasonable in his contention that $1,500 per year is poor pay for Assemblymen and Senators, though he oversteps the bounds of reason when he declares that amount of wages would hardly pay a street cleaner...Some of the competent and earnest men in both houses are worth more. But on the whole the State pays a pretty high price for its annual lawmaking, considering the result. The Legislature as a body is worth no more than it is paid. Doubtless it is not worth as much as it gets. Whether or not better service could be obtained for larger salaries, under present political conditions, is an open question.Amen.
April 22, 2009
Mother Nature is one ungrateful whore.
I gotta get me one of those portable air conditioners on a hand truck set ups!
April 21, 2009
On taxation c. 1909
The April 21, 2009 NYT reports on tax policy as seen through the eyes of President Taft:
President Taft agrees with Senator Aldrich that no new form of taxation will be necessary or advisable in case the Tariff Bill, as finally enacted, will raise sufficient revenue to meet the expenses of the Government. In case additional revenue is necessary, the President is in favor of trying first an inheritance tax, and next an excise tax on corporations.How refreshing that the President didn't want to tax for taxation's sake.
An income tax is the kind of additional revenue measure least of all favored by Mr. Taft. In fact, he is of the opinion that such an income tax is undesirable, because, in the first place, it would fly directly in the face of the Supreme Court, and, in the next place, it would be a direct incentive to perjury. Certain men would be sure to evade it by perjury, while others paid it honestly, and it would be an unequal tax.The President does not mention, or at least it wasn't reported, the incentive to avoid, rather than the more distasteful (from the government's point of view) evade, an income tax. One wonders if Taft is taking a merely pragmatic view that the perjury would reduce the ability to collect the tax or if he is making a moral pronouncement.
In that event [that there is insufficient revenue raised by the Tariff bill] his effort would be to secure the adoption of the inheritance tax. He believes that an inheritance tax is the most certain of collection and the easiest of all forms of additional taxation suggested.It is true that dead men tell no lies, thus the perjury concern is probably off the table in the case of an inheritance tax. However, there is still an incentive to avoid the inheritance tax or at least the incentive to reduce the impact of the tax on one's estate. Again, no mention of avoidance.
If the Federal inheritance tax is not to be tried, then the President is in favor of an excise tax on the profits of corporations. He is convinced that it would entirely constitutional, and that no great difficulty would be experienced in its collection.As if corporations are black boxes rather than being managed by the same households about which the the President expresses perjury concerns? Excise taxes on corporate profits are simply profits on the individuals who hold the residual claims on the firm. Supposedly the corporate profits tax is a path of less resistance but a corporate profit tax is still distortionary and creates incentives to avoid the tax.
Taft then hits a theme that sounds rather similar to today:
Mr. Taft agrees with Senator Aldrich in the effort to reduce expenses and has told his callers that he would back the Senator to the limit in everything aimed at that end. He thinks that there could be great savings in the War and Navy Departments. He has been informed by navy officers that consolidation of the bureau work in the navy yards will save at least $5,000,000 a year. The President means to go at this question of reducing expenditures with the greatest possible vigor.Perhaps there was a culture of "small g" government in the early 1900s which would give Taft's words credibility. On the other hand, generally speaking vigorously trying to reduce the expenditures of the government in one area seems to be offset by vigorous increasing expenditures in other areas.
Alas, no new problems, only our problems.
April 20, 2009
Will Wilkinson makes a forceful argument for de-stigmatizing casual marijuana use, and tops it off with "My name is Will Wilkinson. I smoke marijuana, and I like it."
April 16, 2009
Take the terrorist quiz for yourself!
xkcd on Borders
April 15, 2009
I'd Take the Tea Party Movement More Seriously If ...
... the one in Rome didn't feature a congressman who scored a paltry 52% on the Club for Growth's RePork Card. The congressman isn't the solution--he's part of the problem (though, to be fair, he's not alone and is hardly the most egregious).
April 11, 2009
The Greedy Hand: Streetlight User Fee Edition
April 10, 2009
If Only It Were That Few ...
Rep. Spencer Bachus, the top Republican on the Financial Services Committee, told a hometown crowd in Alabama today he believes there are several socialists in the House.
Source. A more accurate count would be something around 400, perhaps including Rep. Bachus.
April 07, 2009
The art of the understatement c. 1909
From the April 7, 1909 NYT:
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - The State Senate to-day passed a bill placing a heavy penalty on persons drinking intoxicants on trains in the State or on station platforms. This will probably affect buffet cars, although intended only to stop rowdyism.
April 06, 2009
How's this for an Orwellian ministry acronym?
In Britain, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) reviews new medical treatments to determine whether or not a treatment's effectiveness justifies its price tag. Based on this assessment, NICE recommends whether new treatments should be covered under the country's public health care system, the National Health Service. Most of the time the NHS makes those recommendations hard-and-fast policy. As a result, NHS physicians are often prohibited from prescribing newer, more expensive treatments because NICE has determined they're not worth the cost.
Headline News just reported about a letter sent to President Obama by a couple of young girls asking why it is taking Congress so long to help people like their father, who is looking for work. The dark cloud: after piles of government make-work programs, the state might get numerous devotees and fans for life. The silver lining: maybe massive state failures will cause crises of faith among young statists.
April 02, 2009
Libertarian blind spots
A commenter at ryanavent.com says:
Libertarianism has much to offer our political discourse, but every belief system has its dogma, its blind spots. Libertarianism classically has two:
Hmmmm....well this libertarian believes the following:
1. Only people can be agents of oppression. All people in government are agents of oppression; people engaged in market exchanges are never agents of oppression; people not in government or in markets are sometimes agents of oppression (theives) and sometimes not (friends).
2. People in government can do the right thing or the wrong thing, but either way, only by violating my freedom.
March 26, 2009
Not From the Onion
Read this headline carefully:
March 25, 2009
Thugs Called Out
This letter to Edward Liddy addresses at least three questions:
March 24, 2009
The Toxic Assets We Elected
That's the title of today's superb column by George Will. Here are three paragraphs but read the whole thing:
TARP funds have, however, semi-purchased, among many other things, two automobile companies (and, last week, some of their parts suppliers), which must amaze Sweden. That unlikely tutor of America regarding capitalist common sense has said, through a Cabinet minister, that the ailing Saab automobile company is on its own: "The Swedish state is not prepared to own car factories."
March 23, 2009
All in the family: Thugs version
I wondered why ABC News would spend 2 1/2 minutes of their Sunday night broadcast interviewing the granddaughter of Bank of America's founder, who trashed current management. No suggestion was made that she has any expertise. Then this article ("Cuomo wins ruling to name Merrill bonus recipients") made it clear. Andrew Cuomo is, of course, the brother of Chris Cuomo of ABC News.
Real March Madness
Michael Goodwin on the recent witch hunt:
Everybody makes mistakes, and I made a beaut the other day. I was wrong to call members of Congress blow-hards and buffoons and declare them worse than useless.
March 21, 2009
Charles Murray is back on ground that he covered in his second (and, of the ones I've read, best) book, In Pursuit: Of Happiness and Good Government. Here's the central paragraph, plus one sentence:
For some years a metaphor has been stuck in my mind: The 20th century was the adolescence of Homo sapiens. Nineteenth-century science, from Darwin to Freud, offered a series of body blows to ways of thinking about human life that had prevailed since the dawn of civilization. Humans, just like adolescents, were deprived of some of the comforting simplicities of childhood and exposed to more complex knowledge about the world. And 20th-century intellectuals reacted precisely the way adolescents react when they think they have discovered that Mom and Dad are hopelessly out of date. It was as if they thought that if Darwin was right about evolution, then Aquinas was no longer worth reading; that if Freud was right about the unconscious mind, then the Nicomachean Ethics had nothing to teach us.
Let's hope that the last sentence is correct.
March 20, 2009
Going for the Capillaries
I don't think Krauthammer hammers enough on the rank indecency of the posturing over the AIG bonuses, but he gets in some zingers. Two follow:
It is time for the president to state the obvious: This recession is not caused by excessive executive compensation in government-controlled companies. The economy has been sinking because of a lack of credit, stemming from a general lack of confidence, stemming from the lack of a plan to detoxify the major lending institutions, mainly the banks, which, to paraphrase Willie Sutton, is where the money used to be.
March 18, 2009
Talented political performer that he is, Obama primed the audience by promising that Caterpillar would give some workers their jobs back if Congress passed the rescue plan.
Caterpillar Inc. on Tuesday announced plans to lay off more than 2,400 employees at five plants in Illinois, Indiana and Georgia as the heavy equipment maker continues to cut costs amid the global economic downturn.
Wonder if these jobs are some of the ones that the stimulus plan was supposed to save.
Silencing the silencer c. 1909
The March 18, 1909 NYT reports on the development of Maxim's silencer for firearms:
Who shall be authorized to carry and use firearms equipped with Mr. Hudson Maxim's "silencer"? No private person, surely. A true sportsman would not use it, and the "pot hunter" must be forbidden to hunt silently. The burglar, the highway robber, and the Black Hand assassin are the only other persons to whom it could be of advantage...When the silencer is outlawed, only outlaws will have silencers?
I wonder if the editorial suggests that the pot hunter should forbidden to hunt silently because to do so would pose a negative externality on others. When a gun is fired by the pot hunter did the report serve as a warning to others in the area that someone was blasting away? The only other reason I can see is to provide a warning to the other (non human) animals in the area.
More seriously, I always find it interesting that our problems are not new - gun control issues have evidently been with us for quite some time.
March 13, 2009
Deficit Hawk Blues
After my recent post showing North Dakota's "deficit hawk" Sen. Kent Conrad holding up a copy of the Obama budget with a big grin on his face, I was pleased to see Kim Strassel's column in today's WSJ. It's good to see a big media platform like the WSJ digging into Sen. Conrad's fiscal conservative phoney baloney; there's even a picture of the senator grinning holding up the Obama budget.
March 06, 2009
Non sequitur on democracy
From CQ Global Researcher (Feb. 2009):
In a recent Gallup Poll [conducted in certain countries outside the US] ... more than 85 percent of [adherents to a certain religion] surveyed said they believe democracy is the best form of government. Thus, they are not interested in imposing their views on others but wish to live according to the teachings of their religion while respecting people of other religions or opinions.
How does belief in democratic selecting the government imply disinterest in imposing one's views on others? If members of a single religious group are in the majority, can't they use majority rule to elect legislators who will impose their views and their restrictions on others?
They can. This been famously emphasized by Fareed Zakaria in his warnings about the dangers of illiberal democracy.
On the interregnum c. 1909
The 1909 inauguration of William Howard Taft was not a pleasant experience, either for Democrats or for the bystanders. As reported in the March 6, 1909 NYT, "[t]he results of the exposure are to be found in the crowded conditions of the hospitals to-day, scores having been taken ill because of the weather." The story goes on to report:
Speaker Cannon agreed to-day to assist in the movement for change [of the inauguration date]. Two bills have passed the Senate in times gone, the date in each being fixed for the last Thursday in April. The speaker believes, however, that this date is not late enough, and favors the substitution of May 1.If this had been accomplished, we might have had three more months of Bushco, to the dismay of Obamaco, but then we might have actually heard rather than just watched Yo Yo Ma play his cello.
Mike Lester on the Mortgage Bailout
Today's offering from Mike Lester of the Rome News-Tribune:
See also this bumper sticker from the Tennessee Republican Party. Wonder if they'll make one that says "Honk if I'm paying your mortgage"?
February 27, 2009
Just Another Partisan Hack
Last summer, ND Sen. Kent Conrad said, "President Bush will be remembered as the most fiscally irresponsible president in our nation's history."
Well, here's Sen. Conrad yesterday holding a copy of the Obama budget calling for huge spending increases and large budget deficits. Compared to this budget, President Bush's spending looks downright miserly. So, Sen. Conrad, why the big grin?
ADDENDUM: Below is a statement from Sen. Conrad's website; it's rather hard to square this statement with his grin about the Obama budget.
Senator Conrad is particularly concerned about the soaring federal debt that is forecast for the nation's long-term budget outlook. He believes that reducing this debt burden is essential to the future strength of the nation's economy. Over time, large deficits and debt will raise interest rates, crowd out private sector investment, and slow long-term economic growth.
ADDENDUM2: A better title for this post would have been "A Deficit Chicken Hawk."
Bring back corncobs
The New York Times reported yesterday that the softness sought in toilet paper by Americans is wiping out forests. After all, paper doesn't grow on trees. Oh wait, it does. and that's the problem. [...] Swooping in to save the day are Wallypop toilet wipes, a reusable cloth product. The sales pitch: They're comfy and environmentally friendly. You can use them wet, and they won't fall apart.The column concludes:
The company admits there's "a certain ick factor involved." Indeed. If you try this at home, let us know how everything comes out.Maybe we should bring back corncobs. The increased demand for corn might provide political cover for a reduction in the ethanol subsidy.
Oops. I should have seen Frank's entry before posting this.
February 25, 2009
The RAAT Board?
Is there any sense of irony in the Federal Government?
Programs, agencies, OMB, and the new, $84 million Recovery Act Accountability and Transparency Board (see p. 175 of the bill) are all required to report on the progress of spending, often on different timetables. In fact, according to new OMB guidance, there are eight levels of reporting that are now required, with the first report from agencies due March 3.For real? The RAAT Board? Of course, it would have to be pronounced "the rat board"?
February 23, 2009
Rent Seeking: Check's in the Mail Version
An AP story on how Washington State provides 250,000 food stamp recipients improved access to the federal pipeline.
February 19, 2009
Pork Watch Resource
If you're up to looking at the sausage's ingredients, this site might be useful.
February 10, 2009
The strength stocks have shown lately vanished on Tuesday as the government unveiled a new bank-rescue plan and congressional action neared on a fresh round of fiscal stimulus for the wheezing U.S. economy.
Source. Can we get a hippocratic oath for politicians?
February 06, 2009
... and throw away the key
Doug Bandow's take on the Phelps incident:
Michael Phelps ... has violated the law. ... [H]e admitted the crime. The same crime for which the better part of a million people were arrested last year.
February 05, 2009
"Because I Want It So" c. 1909
The Feb. 5, 1909 NYT provides a draw from the "Because I want it so" drawer:
A reduction of 2 cents a kilowatt hour for electricity in Brooklyn is provided for in a bill introduced to-day by Senator Cullen. The bill reduces the price from 12 to 10 cents, making it uniform in the Boroughs of Manhattan and Brooklyn. The measure was referred to the Cities Committee, notwithstanding the protest of the introducer, who desired that it be referred to the Committee on Miscellaneous Corporations.The "Committee of Miscellaneous Corporations"? Such a committee actually existed and was given that name?!? I understand that mandating lower prices for Brooklyn might have been seen as a "populist" stance, but how could Mr. Cullen have known what the optimal price for electricity was at the time? What would Mr. Cullen have done if such a law killed the infant electricity industry in its crib? I am sure he would have been outraged that the good "hard working" citizens of Brooklyn were being unfairly denied access to the life-improving, indeed in cases life-saving, service of electricity.
Today's s national average cost per kilowatt hour? 11.96 cents (not adjusted for inflation).
On trade unions c. 1909
There was a time when K Street was just another street in Washington, DC. There was a time when it was less need to send "representatives" to Washington to lobby for and against legislation, there was less need to have "a man in Washington" to watch your six. There was a time when the Legislature wasn't used to tell others what to do with their private property.
Then along came "Populism" and the perception those with "too much" private property would use this property to harm others, to steal from others, to deny others their basic necessities. The cure was to use the Legislature to tell others what to do with their private property. This, in turn, created an incentive for those being attacked to "defend themselves" from the Legislature. It is reasonable for private property owners to respond in this manner, although I might be confusing cause and effect in certain instances.
Unfortunately, once the fixed costs of protecting property rights from the Legislature were borne, the marginal cost of shifting form the "defensive" to the "offensive" in Washintong. That is, using lobbyists, political contributions, graft, and other (perhaps even more objectionable) means to use the Legislature to protect or create profit potential, to erect entry barriers and increase the costs of potential and actual competitors, to finalize the creation of the "mixed economy."
The Feb. 5, 1909 NYT reports on the birth of such an "organization" in the wall paper industry:
Thirty manufacturers of wall paper, representing the largest wall paper mills in the country, met yesterday in the Hotel Victoria and organized the Wall Paper Manufacturers' Association of the United States. A call for the meeting had been sent to practically all the heads of wall paper manufacturing companies in the country, and nearly all responded...And so it began in the wall paper industry and a similar story was told in any number of other industries. One hundred years later not much seems to have changed.
February 04, 2009
I'm sure this has some significance
The Democrats always rail against tax cheats, and complain that the rich don't pay their share of taxes, etc. etc. Now it appears from the President's cabinet nominees that every third Democrat doesn't pay his or her taxes. And why is it that they all seem to have nannies, drivers, and seven figure family incomes?
Meanwhile, Republicans are the party of public morals and opposition to free love and gay sex. Just ask Senator Craig and Representative Foley. Yet they get all the juicy sex scandals.
I'm sure there is some hidden message here. Your homework is to write a 500 word essay on the topic.
February 03, 2009
Tax Cheats Withdraw
February 02, 2009
Sorry, Bob. It's not a Cinemax title. Launched officially today, it's the cool new wiki that lets you search, evaluate, and "vote" for individual line items proposed for the the stimulus package. Brought to you by our friends Jerry Brito and Eileen Norcross. With details here.
What it feels like to be libertarian
By John Hasnas, posted on his website. What does it feel like to be a libertarian these days?
I’ll tell you. It feels bad. Being a libertarian means living with a level of frustration that is nearly beyond human endurance. It means being subject to unending scorn and derision despite being inevitably proven correct by events.
ATSRTWT. Don't be fooled by John's brevity. There is much packed into few words here. Well worth the read. And well worth saving these ideas!
January 30, 2009
When Having One Tax Cheat in Your Cabinet Isn't Enough ...
Tom Daschle, President Barack Obama's choice for secretary of Health and Human Services, paid about $140,000 in back taxes and interest after questions surfaced during the vetting of his nomination, according to documents being prepared by the Senate Finance Committee.
Mises Quotes of the Day
Here are two great quotes from Ludwig von Mises's Bureaucracy, originally written in 1944:
"The outstanding fact of intellectual history of the last hundred years is the struggle against economics." p. 89
"He who is unfit to serve his fellow citizens wants to rule them." p. 100
January 25, 2009
My turn ...
to be shocked, that is. Lobbyists won't be marginalized after all, according to this AP release.
President Barack Obama's ban on earmarks in the $825 billion economic stimulus bill doesn't mean interest groups, lobbyists and lawmakers won't be able to funnel money to pet projects.
January 20, 2009
How Can He Say This @#$! With a Straight Face?
I felt left out when I didn't make the list of ethics free Republican hacks like Ed and some other folks I know. So try, try again.
In his inauguaral address, President Obama called for a "new era of responsibility." This from the president who wants an $800B "stimulus package" (The Real Voodoo Economics) and plans for deficit spending in excess of $1 trillion.
There was also some blather about ""our collective failure to make hard choices." This is offensive. For example, my wife and I have bought two houses, making a large downpayment on both. We've been aggressively saving for retirement (only to see our savings nearly halved by the Fed and the pols). The fact that many other citizens and our spendthrift pols have not similarly lived within their means does not make me complicit in their failure. Alas, genuinely responsible
January 16, 2009
This, on the inauguration of The One who will, inter alia, reverse the trend toward global warming:
The carbon footprint of Barack Obama's inauguration could exceed 575 million pounds of CO2. According to the Institute for Liberty, it would take the average U.S. household nearly 60,000 years of naughty ecological behavior to produce a carbon footprint equal to the largest self-congratulatory event in the history of humankind.
January 09, 2009
On president-elect propriety c. 1909
The Jan 9, 1909 NYT reports on a very different approach to announcing the incoming cabinet than the current "Office of the President-elect":
The Taft-Knox Cabinet conference is over and the Pennsylvania Senator is to-night on his way back to Washington. Neither the President-elect nor his adviser will discuss the result, and it is strongly hinted by Mr. Taft to-night that his Cabinet will be made known for the first time when he sends the names of the men who are to compose it to the Senate for confirmation after March 4.
There is more to the story, primarily discussing the Taft will attend a barbecue in South Carolina and that Governor-elect Joe Brown of Georgia had visited with Taft.
Perhaps it is better to release the names of the proposed cabinet members earlier than later so that the public and those with axes to grind in Congress can have time to amass their arguments against any proposed cabinet member. Moreover, there might be Richardson-like outcomes of a nomination that any president-elect would rather have occur before the actual nomination hearings or votes occur.
Nevertheless, given the extended announcements and bromide-filled press conferences held by the new species "Office of the President-elect" over the past two months, Taft's approach might have been preferred.
On Congressional license c. 1909
The January 9, 1909 NYT reports:
The Post Office Department is now engaged in an effort to collect $16 from Senator Tillman in postage on a typewriter, which he franked from his home in South Carolina to Washington recently.
January 05, 2009
On Bashing the Rich c. 1909
From the Jan 5, 1909 NYT:
ASHEVILLE, N.C. - County school teachers here have not received their pay because the Biltmore estate failed to pay its $24,000 county taxes as expected. The county authorities have cabled Mr. Vanderbilt direct at Paris.I do not know what the operating budget of Buncombe County was in 1909, but I would wager it was considerably more than $24,000 per year. To blame the failure to pay teachers on a single tax payer is pathetic but, I suppose, rather Progressive.
December 19, 2008
Party Pooping the Proposed Stimulus
Google search of blogs shows Greg Mankiw has picked this up, but I didn't find it elsewhere, so here goes. By email forward from Veronique de Rugy:
Subject: WANTED: STIMULUS SPENDING SKEPTICS
Here is Tyler Cowen "driving home the point" that there is no evidence to support the putative economic benefits of stimulus spending.
December 18, 2008
Farm Subsidy Database
You might want see how your neighbors are making out. In my home county, four members of one family accounted for about one-third of the USDA subsidies.
Just Wondering (Part Deux) ...
... if the media will stop drooling over Caroline Kennedy long enough to point out that she has less experience than the (somewhat deservedly) maligned Sarah Palin. I'm not sure experience is a good thing, but if it's a fair charge to raise against Palin then it should be a fair charge to raise against Kennedy.
Just Wondering ...
... if we'll hear anything about Bernie Madoff (and other Madoffs who I assume are related to him) making political contributions to Democrats (including Hillary Clinton and Chuck Schumer) in the same way we heard about George Bush's ties to "Kenny Boy" Lay in the wake of Enron's collapse.
December 16, 2008
Buried but not hidden
This from page D08 of the WaPo:
Most Americans continue to oppose a government-backed rescue plan for Detroit's Big Three automakers as majorities blame the industry for its own problems and are unconvinced failure would hurt the economy, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.
Maybe they think G. W. Bailout will not read that deeply into the paper. Maybe they're right.
November 21, 2008
Voting Essay Contest Winner
Congratulations to Jeff Daiell, who won the Essay Contest I sponsored earlier this month. Jeff won a copy of Buchanan and Tullock's The Calculus of Consent, and I learned a lot. Thanks for all the entries (a few dozen or so). And for people who are interested, I did vote (and then chose a winner after the fact). Jeff's winning essay is below the fold.
Read More »
Refuting The Arguments Against Libertarians Voting
I have heard two major arguments against libertarians
Argument A. "Voting Is Immoral, As It Gives Sanction
1. You have just received a visit from thugs
Have you, or the investigator, "given sanction" to the
2. Majority rule does not justify violating Rights
Argument B. "Don't Vote - It Only Encourages Them"
This makes for a cute bumper-sticker, but that's about
1. When have you ever heard a politician -- or
2. If statists want libertarians to vote, why do they
3. Most laws and regulations supposedly designed to
Argument C. "Your Vote Doesn't Matter"
The odds that a single vote will determine who
So, libertarians: vote! In good conscience, go vote!
« Close It
November 17, 2008
A Puzzle: Posed and Solved
I had just read this in a thoughtful column by Kevin Hassett:
The U.S. has always distinguished itself relative to its major trading partners by having a higher faith in free markets and a greater respect for the limits of big government. Sure, the U.S. passed a stimulus package now and then, but it also let failure run its course and refused to resort to excessive big- government intrusions into the private sector.
Then I read this in a puzzling column by Bill Kristol: "I don’t pretend to know just what has to be done. But I suspect that free-marketers need to be less doctrinaire and less simple-mindedly utility-maximizing, and that they should depend less on abstract econometric models."
Finally, a note posted below Kristol's article cleared it up: "Paul Krugman is off today." Nice of Kristol to fill in for him.
Trillion Dollar Lockup
Not that it's likely to matter any time soon, but here's an excellent summary of at least one part of the ANWR debate.
The proponents of ANWR development have also distorted the picture by themselves making false arguments. First, it should be acknowledged that ANWR oil production will not in itself come close to achieving energy independence for the United States. Second, ANWR production alone will not affect oil prices significantly. Even the large reserves that ANWR possesses are not large enough, relative to the total world oil market, to have much effect on future world prices.
November 09, 2008
The more things change...
Steve Chapman is insightful, as usual:
Obama, as it happens, won by offering voters the same thing Reagan promised: tax cuts. Most of those who supported him did so on the assumption that they would not fall in the class of people who will have to cough up more to the IRS.
November 05, 2008
Bob Barr was a "spoiler" in maybe two states
With all the precincts in Missouri reporting, unofficial totals as of this morning have McCain carrying the state by only 5,868 votes over Obama. In percentage terms, the outcome was 49.4% to 49.2%. You could say that Libertarian Party candidate Bob Barr, with 11,355 votes (0.4%) , held the “balance of power” or was a “spoiler”. But then you’d have to say the same about Ralph Nader, who drew 17,769 votes (0.6%).
Meanwhile, Barr is reportedly calling himself a spoiler in North Carolina, which is still too close to call at last report, where
Democrat Barack Oama has a 12,000-vote lead over Republican John McCain, and Barr, a former Republican congressman from Georgia, has 25,181 votes, or 1 percent.
Congrats to Mike Munger
Mike made a pretty decent showing in the NC governor's race: 120,000 votes, 2.9% of the total.
November 04, 2008
Live Blogging the Election
I'm going to post a few thoughts as the evening progresses. Comments are open.
First up--CNN has "The Diff" in its election results.
Looks like Obama has it won; Fox has called PA and OH for him. FL, IN, NC, and VA are not yet called so Obama might take several moderate to large states from McCain.
Decent news on the gridlock front--GOP senators in GA and KY have held on and it looks like Trent Lott's seat in MS will stay GOP and there's some chance of taking a Dem seat from LA. Maybe the filibuster will still be an option.
UPDATE (9:30)--Bryan Caplan raises an issue I've been wondering about--would McCain have fared better if he had voted against the bailout? I think so.
UPDATE (9:40)--The Raleigh NC News and Observer reports co-blogger Mike Munger has 3% of the vote with 24 NC counties reporting complete results and 49 others reporting partial results.
UPDATE (10:00)--Much has been made of Starbucks giving out free coffee today (to the benefit of two of my favorite students), but Instapundit points to a shop giving out sex toys to folks who vote.
UPDATE (10:45)--Obama repeatedly charged that McCain supported tax breaks for companies shipping jobs overseas. What specifically was he refering to? Surely there is no tax credit or other break specifically for transferring a job from the US to overseas.
Last update of the night--Obama's large margin (13) in PA leaves me wondering why McCain spent so much time there over the past 10 days. Not that it mattered since Obama is rolling to about 375 electoral votes. Senate is Dems plus 5 with OR, MN, and AK to go.
On this election day, we do well to consider the opening of Frederic Bastiat's "The Law:"
The law perverted! And the police powers of the state perveted along with it! The law, I say, not only turned from its proper purpose but made to follow an entirely contrary purpose! The law become the weapon of every kind of greed! Instead of checking crime, the law itself is guilty of the evils it is supposed to punish!
If this is true, it is a serious fact, and moral duty requires me to call the attention of my fellow-citizens to it.
He does so here.
Mas sobre "No mas!"
I received quite a few emails about my decision to not vote. One issue was the question of whether I thought my vote matters. On this point it is important to note that my switch to non-voting status has nothing to do with whether I think my vote matters. I've always understood that my vote doesn't matter and yet I still voted previously.
The "logic" of my decision has to do with a change in my premise about the nature of voting. If your premise is that democracy is how we make decisions collectively, then there's nothing per se wrong with voting. I see nothing wrong, for example, with a group of people taking a vote to determine which restaurant to go to so long as individuals are then free to go with the group or not.
But my evolving premise is that democracy is closer to rape--that is, it is about some people forcing other people to go along with their will. Given that premise, which I consider immoral, I choose not to participate.
To be sure (1) I think someone who votes because he thinks his vote will matter is wrong as a matter of fact, but the main issue is that (2) I think someone who votes because she thinks voting is some sort of uplifting civic good needs to "check her premises" as Ayn Rand used to say.
November 03, 2008
On election day c. 1908
From the Nov. 3, 1908 NYT (election day 1908):
NATIONAL ELECTION DAY
After voting in every presidential election since 1988 and almost every other election and special election since, I have decided to cut my losses. I have not registered to vote in my new state of Alabama and will not vote tomorrow or perhaps ever again.
My working metaphor for politics is gang rape. If 9 rapists and a woman are in a room and hold a vote, it's 9-1 in favor of raping the woman. If the woman doesn't vote, it's 9-0. Same result. But at least the victim doesn't have to sanctify the process that violates her rights. I am no longer going to go to the polls to give legitimacy to these criminal politicians.
Though I appreciate and agree with Brad's point that Obama is a serious threat to liberty--far more than McCain in fact. This is a case where I simply can not vote for the lesser of two evils.
I read a saying somewhere recently (where? anyone know?) that says "when faced with a choice between two evils, it is important to pick neither." Words to live by. [UPDATE: possible source: Charles Spurgeon. HT: Craig]
October 29, 2008
In the spirit of Don Boudreaux...
I sent this email replying to an email I received earlier today.
On age in politics c. 1908
Much has been made of the respective ages of the two candidates for U.S. President in 2008. One is thought by many to be too young and one is thought by many to be too old. Is it possible to be a vigorous President at 72? Is it possible to be a wise leader at 47? We will find out the answer to one of these questions next week, but the Oct. 29, 1908 NYT reports on the ages of the prevailing "world leaders" at the time:
Prediction markets c. 1908
The Oct. 29, 1908 NYT reports more wagering on the upcoming 1908 elections:
A number of small wagers were made in the financial district yesterday at even money on Hughes and Chanler. Bets on Taft were few and far between, but a few were placed with odds on Taft, ranging from 4 1/2 to 3 to 1.
Division of Labour Contest: Rock the Vote or Mock the Vote?
Several months ago, Russell Roberts asked his readers whether he should vote or not. I can't find Russ's original post, but I would like to try something similar because I'll be thinking about this a lot over the next couple of days at a Liberty Fund conference on Bryan Caplan's The Myth of the Rational Voter and Guido Pincione and Fernando R. Teson's Rational Choice and Democratic Deliberation: A Theory of Discourse Failure.
Thus, I'm announcing The First Semi-Annual Division of Labour Purple Mountains Majesty Amber Waves of Grain Essay Contest, with the winner receiving a copy of James Buchanan and Gordon Tullock's The Calculus of Consent. Here's the prompt:
A common argument in favor of voting is that it allows the voter to let his or her voice be heard in the political process, but others have argued that silence can be deafening. Take a position: should I vote or not? In 500 words or less, persuade me to do one or the other.
Entries are limited to 500 words and must be submitted by email to firstname.lastname@example.org by 6:00 AM Central Time on Tuesday, November 4. Depending on the number of entries, I reserve the right to read only the entries I have time to read. Happy writing.
Update, 3:18 PM: the entries are rolling in, and they're pretty good so far. Keep 'em coming!
October 28, 2008
A good bet? c. 1908
The October 28, 1908 NYT reports on an interesting investment opportunity:
Speyer & Co. and the National City Bank, having charge in this country of the subscription lists for the new thirty-five year 4 1/2 per cent. sinking fund gold bonds of the Institution for Encouragement of Irrigation Works and Development of Agriculture in Mexico, announced yesterday that these lists would be closed to-day. They report a large number of subscriptions having been received from all parts of the country.I wonder how the Institute "encouraged" irrigation in Mexico and whether the Institute actually paid off on their bonds - after all, a lot is going to happen in the next 35 years.
On presidential favor c. 1908
The October 28, 1908 NYT reports a surprising fact concerning President Roosevelt's eldest son:
The announcement from Hartford, Conn. that Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., has been promoted to the worsted room of the Hartford Carpet Company, but that his promotion carries no increase of wages, is supplemented by the statement of a close personal friend here that the weekly pay envelope of the President's eldest son contains exactly $4.50 [$104.60 in CPI adjusted 2007 dollars].The story is based on an unnamed source, which today would be (somewhat) frowned upon. However, if the story is true, the President's eldest son earned approximately $235 per year? EH.net suggests that nominal per-capita income in 1908 was about $340, which would mean that the President's namesake was paid less than the average citizen?
I am not sure I am buying this unless a) Theo, Jr. was simply a terrible worker, b) Theo, Jr. was intentionally taking a lower salary in order to "learn how the other half lives," or c) Both (a) and (b). On the other hand, perhaps Theo, Jr., was being paid considerably more than the average worker and this story is simply a viral means of deflecting from the state of privilege enjoyed by the children of politicos - especially "populist Republican" politicos as opposed to "populist Democrats" of today - about a week away from a Presidential election.
Who knew Ron Paul had a blimp?
Go here for Secretary: Part 1.
October 24, 2008
A Second Helping
Andrew Biggs in today's WSJ:
Imagine this: Barack Obama proposes a Social Security payroll tax cut for low earners. Workers earning up to $8,000 per year would receive back the full 6.2% employee share of the 12.4% total payroll tax, up to $500 per year. Workers earning over $8,000 would receive $500 each, with this credit phasing out for individuals earning between $75,000 and $85,000.
Hold on a minute--I thought the 1993 Clinton EITC expansion already offset the payroll taxes for low income workers. Indeed, this snip from The American Prospect (a lefty mag) confirms my memory:
The EITC dates to 1975. The original idea was to offset the bite of payroll taxes on low-wage workers in low-income families. Since then, the credit has been expanded considerably. There are now three different schedules: a small credit for single-person households and childless couples, a much larger credit for families with one child, and a still larger credit for families with two or more kids. And since eligibility is keyed to family income, the subsidy is quite finely targeted (rich kids with after-school jobs need not apply). As family income rises, EITC benefits initially grow, then level off, and then begin to phase out. A working parent with two children gets 40 cents in tax credit for each dollar earned up to an income level of $9,720. (These figures are for the year 2000.) The maximum annual benefit is thus $3,888. Then, starting at $12,690 in annual income for this type of family, the tax credit declines by 21 cents for each dollar earned, phasing out altogether at an annual income of $31,152. For a family with one child, the peak benefit is $2,353, and for a single person, it's $353.
Drop the payroll tax pretense--the EITC is already more than double the payroll tax (including the employer part) that low income workers pay--and call Obama's scheme the confiscation that it is.
October 22, 2008
On bold predictions c. 1908
The Oct. 22, 1908 NYT reports on a firebrand speech given by Eugene W. Chafin, who was the Prohibition candidate for president in 1908. He was giving his first speech at the Cooper Union. Some choice nuggets were reported:
"The Democratic platform is so long that it takes two newspapers to print it. It is like an old fashioned Mother Hubbard - is (sic) covers everything and touches nothing. The only difference between that and the Republican platform is that the latter looks like it was made for a child of four."
And he had this bold prediction:
This is a peculiar campaign. The people haven't yet made up their minds. Such a thing hasn't happened in forty years...Why haven't they made up their minds? they are thinking. They are not satisfied. This is the last battle of the Republican and Democratic Parties, anyway. In fact, there is no Democratic or Republican Party. It is either a Bryan or a Roosevelt party, each doing the master's bidding.
A billion here, a billion there...
...and pretty soon we're talking about real money.
Turns out, the famous Senator Everett Dirksen (R-IL) may never have coined the phrase that is so widely attributed to him. At least that's what the Dirksen Congressional Center concludes. However, the late Senator, for whom this building is named, had a penchant for pithy tales. Here is a good one:
$328 billion. Quaint, no?
October 17, 2008
The essence of Obama and McCain
As distilled by Will Wilkinson, live-blogging from the 2nd debate.
The financial crisis
We’ve got an antique regulatory structure. Need to put back early 20th Century laws!
Got to do something about home values. We have to make sure that markets prices don’t adjust. Government should buy tons of houses …
I’m gonna reform health care, which won’t cost anything.
Online records, improve efficiencies. Obama is all like “government this government that.” Obama will fine you if you don’t get insurance. I’ll give you tax credit you can take anywhere.
Energy and the environment
People other than us benefit from higher oil prices, which is outrageous. … Let’s think harder about how we use energy. Holy god there is nothing more important than not trading with foreigners for energy.
If only we had nuclear power Indians would not weep. The French do it! America’s the best! We can do anything!
If people make more than you, its not fair for you to have to tighten your belt.
Freeze spending, except defense, VA, entitlements, and buying every house in America.
Basically, I have no principle. I leave it at the discretion of my evolved moral intuition.
America is greatest force for good in history of universe forever. We shed our blood everywhere. The question of when to kill people needs to be left [to] soldiers like me. Our wars are awesome because we’re a nation of good.
I'm guessing Joe the Plumber will be getting an IRS audit next year if we have an Obama victory. On a related note, Joe the Plumber is featured in Mike Lester's cartoon in today's RNT.
Folks who doubt gridlock is good might want to check out this article (scroll down to the box) in today's WSJ. The Repubs ability to filibuster the Senate has stopped much mischief. Here's hoping the GOP, for all its flaws, can keep at least 43 Senate seats.
As most DOL readers are likely aware, tonight brings a new John Stossel special, the "Politically Incorrect Guide to Politics." That's must see tv at my house. 10:00 Eastern.
October 15, 2008
No Wonder Protectionism is on the Rise
I'm not normally one to whine about how Americans take so little interest in the affairs of other nations. But I couldn't help noticing this morning that my daily paper, the Columbus Dispatch, did not include any mention of yesterday's parliamentary elections in Canada.
This is one of the 30 or so largest daily papers in the U.S., in the capital city of a state which shares an extensive (albeit lake) border with Canada, the United States' largest trading partner. Trade between Ohio and Canada amounts to about $30 billion annually, about six times the trade between Ohio and any other foreign nation. It has been estimated that over 200,000 Ohio jobs are dependent on trade with Canada.
I found not a word about the Canadian elections in either the print or on-line editions of the Dispatch.
By the way, for those interested, the ruling party, the free-trading Conservatives, returned an increased plurality, but still fell short of a majority. They are expected to form another minority government. At the same time, the anti-NAFTA, anti-trade New Democratic Party and Green Party both gained seats in parliament.
Oh to Have a "None of the Above" Choice
Here's Mike Lester's offering from today's RNT:
Here's a video that summarizes McCain's new economic plan and his campaign in general:
October 13, 2008
New world order c. 1908
The October 13, 1908 NYT reports on the pending new world order (I suppose we are still waiting):
The Rev. Wilbur F. Crafts, D.D. of the International Reform Bureau, who spoke at the Warren Avenue Baptist Church last night, declared in his address that within a few years Theodore Roosevelet would be "President of the World."
October 09, 2008
The guns of October? c. 1908
The Oct. 9, 1908 NYT reports on the response in Serbia of the Austrian annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina:
Belgrade, Servia: Great crowds surrounded the palace to-night shouting for war and calling for the King to appear. Finally King Peter, accompanied by the Crown Prince, came to the balcony, and implored the people not to cause disturbances. He said:
In about six years, the cheering crowd would have their way - and 9-10 million men under arms and 9-10 million civilians would die.
October 08, 2008
Please go here, and vote for Mike Munger.
He needs you.
(Second debate is tonight, on WUNC-TV, at 8 PM. On *T* *V*, so it must be important...)
October 07, 2008
Tony Romo, Las Vegas Voter
Nevada authorities have raided the Las Vegas office of the community-organizing group ACORN seeking evidence of voter fraud.
October 06, 2008
Battleground states c. 1908
Think the "battleground state" is a new development? The October 6, 1908 NYT reports:
New York, New Jersey, Ohio, Indiana - these are the determining States. In both National committees this is fully recognized. From now until election day these are the States in which both the Republican and Democratic managers will centre their efforts. Into these states will go both Mr. Taft and Mr. Bryan. Bryan will reserve New York for the last.
The story goes on to show that candidates have ceded states to their opponents for quite some time:
Norman E. Mack, Chairman of the Democratic National Committee, came here to-day and told the newspaper men that he left for the Republican in the East only Pennsylvania and two or three of the New England States, but some of his colleagues at the headquarters, when they learned that he had not put Pennsylvania into the debatable column, protested that he was altogether conservative.
October 05, 2008
Don't Know Much About History
Contrary to Joe Biden's claim that FDR took to the tele in 1929 to calm the nation after the stock market crash, the first televised White House address by a president was Harry Truman's address 61 years ago today.
October 01, 2008
Nothing New Under the Sun
I've told people before that my Plan for World Domination is to someday hire a group of fourth graders to follow me around singing "I Believe the Children Are Our Future," in which case I would be able to get whatever I want. If this video is legit, it looks like some of Barack Obama's supporters have beaten me to the punch:
Re:The Arsonists are Running the Fire Station...
Apparently John--I don't do earmarks--McCain intends to vote for the bill. To be fair, the wooden arrow provision isn't technically an earmark; it's a narrowly defined tax exemption not a specifically targeted federal expenditure. But that baby sure walks like a duck and quacks like a duck.
How Washington Works
... is to take a dubious proposition--the $700B bailout package--and make it worse:
Senate leaders scheduled a Wednesday vote on a $700 billion financial bailout package after accepting tax breaks and a higher limit for insured bank deposits in a bid to win House approval and send legislation to President Bush by the end of the week.
In related news, George W. Bailout is up to his old tricks:
President George W. Bush on Tuesday signed into law a mammoth spending bill to keep the government running until early March 2009 that includes a $25 billion loan package for troubled automakers.
September 26, 2008
Debate Chat Transcript
Below the fold: the transcript of the live chat that occurred at www.commercialappeal.com earlier this evening (posted for my econ 101 students, who have a homework assignment based on the debate due on Tuesday). UPDATE: Apparently, I was only able to copy and paste the first 40 minutes of the chat. The rest is available here: http://www.commercialappeal.com/debatechat/.
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You've Got to Love Bureaucracy
You've got to love bureaucracy, if only for the laughs. Libertarians like to mock government bureaucracy, but private bureaucracy can be just as intransigent and mind-numbing. The key thing about bureaucracy is that it always rolls on, a big, inpersonal machine that grinds all before it. And bureaucrats do what they are tasked to do, regardless of the circumstances.
Here, for example, is the last press release from Washington Mutual, issued September 24, as the company teetered on bankruptcy, one day before the buy-out by JP Morgan - Chase:
WaMu Recognized as Top Diverse Employer—Again
Hispanic Business magazine recently ranked WaMu sixth in its annual Diversity Elite list, which names the top 60 companies for Hispanics. The company was honored specifically for its efforts to recruit Hispanic employees, reach out to Hispanic consumers and support Hispanic communities and organizations.
The Human Rights Campaign, the largest national gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) civil rights organization, also awarded WaMu its second consecutive 100 percent score in the organization’s 2009 Corporate Equality Index (CEI), which measures progress in attaining equal rights for GLBT employees and consumers. WaMu joins the ranks of 259 other major U.S. businesses that also received top marks in the annual survey. The CEI rated a total of 583 businesses on GLBT-related policies and practices, including non-discrimination policies and domestic partner benefits.
In both surveys, WaMu earned points for competitive diversity policies and programs, including the recently established Latino, African American and GLBT employee network groups, all of which have a corporate executive sponsor and champion.
“Diversity is an integral part of cultivating a welcoming, innovative and dynamic workplace here at WaMu. We are proud to be recognized for the opportunities and benefits we offer to all of our employees, including the specific efforts we have made to engage Hispanics and the GLBT community,” said Steve Rotella, WaMu president and COO. “We are committed to diversity at WaMu and pledge to listen to our customers and work closely with our employees to continue to make progress.”
You can't make this stuff up.
September 25, 2008
Petty tyrants c. 1908
From the Sept. 25, 1908 NYT:
A rich New Yorker may have a swimming pool in his yacht, as one of them has planned; he may have a marble bathtub, though porcelain-laid tubs do very well for ninety-nine out of every hundred; he may bathe in cow's milk, goat's milk, or white asses' milk, as the books say some Romans did, but he may not have two doors to his bath room if it is in an apartment house in New York City...Indeed, I am sure Mr. Butler didn't have a clue as to why someone would want two doors to a bathroom. Thus, as is too often the case with the "benevolent social planner," Commissioner Butler's preferences ruled supreme. Yet, did Mr. Butler's lack of knowledge and/or understanding of other people's preferences improve efficiency and social welfare? Hmmm.....
September 23, 2008
Bail harder, it's raining....
A little squib of an op ed in the Charlotte Observer this a.m., for your reading pleasure.
From Mike Munger, a Duke University professor of economics and political science, and the Libertarian candidate for governor.
“The state is the great fiction by which each of us seeks to live at the expense of all of us.” The 19th French economist Frederic Bastiat recognized something that seems to be eluding our wise men in Washington, and Wall Street.
If Bastiat were alive, I can guess his reaction to the bailout: First, we don't know what we are doing, and we are as likely to do harm as help. The desperate hurry comes from electoral politics, and not from any real economic necessity.
Second, we aren't creating value. Government can't create value in financial markets. All we are doing is shifting costs from one group (Wall Street bankers, and mortgage sellers who took enormous and unsupportable risks) and transferring them to another group (taxpayers, who don't know any better).
When you hear someone say “The government bailout of Wall Street,” make a mental substitution: “The taxpayer-funded bailout of Wall Street.” And then remember that we have a federal debt bigger than Jupiter.
Deficits are future taxes. The bailout is simply a way of allowing irresponsible lenders to escape unharmed. If you have a mortgage, and can't pay, then you are responsible. If AIG has debts and can't pay, our leaders want to soak taxpayers for the bill.
The point is that you can't take money away from taxpayers who earned it, give it to the financiers who squandered it, and call that a good policy. There is no danger of another Depression, which was caused by a deflationary monetary policy. We are facing a temporary credit crunch, and it will sort itself out if we leave it alone. Things aren't so bad that a panicked bunch of politicians can't make it much, much worse.
Each can't live at the expense of all. Not even if you are a rich banker.
And....it made "THE CORNER"
September 20, 2008
Why Vote McCain
The Armchair Economist, Steven Landsburg, makes the best case I've seen for lovers of liberty to support Senator McCain for President.
I love this little discussion of free trade:
"[P]rotectionism, like creationism, requires an extraordinary level of willful ignorance. The consensus for free trade among economists is approximately as solid as the consensus for evolution among biologists, and it is a consensus supported by a solid body of both theory and observation. To ignore that consensus betrays a degree of anti-intellectualism that frightens me.
"McCain is quite good on this issue, not just in terms of rhetoric (which I've known for a while) but in terms of voting record (which I've just recently researched). Obama, by contrast, promises to be our first explicitly protectionist president since Herbert Hoover."
Landsburg's bottom line: he, "support[s] John McCain. With trepidation."
September 18, 2008
Reason #74 why libertarians don't gain much ground
From the Center for the Advancement of Capitalism (hey, sounds good so far) comes a blog post by one Nicholas Provenzo (9-16-08 entry). The first paragraph reads:
Like many, I am troubled by the implications of Alaska governor and Republican Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin's decision to knowingly give birth to a child disabled with Down syndrome. Given that Palin's decision is being celebrated in some quarters, it is crucial to reaffirm the morality of aborting a fetus diagnosed with Down syndrome (or by extension, any unborn fetus)—a freedom that anti-abortion advocates seek to deny.
Now, I am anti-abortion and, to the horrors of many libertarians, Catholic to boot. But I also consider myself libertarian. What has bugged the crud out of me for many years is the strident belief by many libertarians (Reason magazine seems to tilt strongly in this direction, or at least it did when I subscribed to it a year ago) that anyone religious is a backwards boob secretly or overtly determined to submit everyone who isn't hip to theocracy to an Inquisition.
My own thought, and I have read counter-arguments to my opinion, is that in normal situations a new human being begins when the full genetic blueprint for a new person is created, at conception. I don't see how, after the two haploids become a diploid, this being is anything but human, and thus deserving of the rights any other human has. So, in that sense, abortion violates the nonaggression axiom that virtually all libertarians profess. Sure, some humans are born with genetic defects just as some are born with attached earlobes, but to me that makes them no less human. But Provenzo would kill 'em all, even those with no genetic problems, and call it moral. I feel like I have to take a shower just typing that sentence.
Regardless, I don't see how a blog post such as Provenzo's would make an ideological fence-sitter say "well, heck yeah, gimme some more o' that capitalism then! I now think price controls and universal health care are wrong!" I get the same queasy feeling when obvious potheads call themselves libertarians just so they can get their drugs cheaper.
I realize this strain of thought is due to Rand's anti-religious bigotry, but I don't understand why these folks can't realize that a love of liberty and religion are not mutually exclusive. Heck, even higher-ups at the Vatican acknowledge that belief in God and in evolution can be compatible. Until this sect of libertarianism stops acting so fundamentalist, I'll continue to be slightly embarrased to admit my libertarian leanings.
September 12, 2008
Re: Election Prediction
Picking Palin certainly made things more interesting. She will likely help shore up pro-life votes for her side, since McCain can be faulted for wanting embryonic stem-cell research (which hasn't demonstrated any medical benefits, while adult stem cells have). Add that to the dual gaffes that both Pelosi and Biden have made on when life begins, which brought a united front of US bishops objections, and I think the McC-P side picks up most cultural conservatives, Dem or Rep.
Of course, the beauty pageant that is the US Presidential election will probably show the Obamessiah ascending, with the help of the press. They don't really need to worry about anything until two weeks before November anyway, since our attention spans won't remember or care about anything that happens now. And who cares about the prospect of nationalizing the US health care industry when you look so good on the beach?
Bottom line: Bush fatigue + McCain being an old fart + Obama rockstardom = Obama victory + Tim looking at the EFW index to find a country more free than where we will regress to.
Re: Election Prediction
Don't care enough to have one. Sorry.
I think Bob's prediction is close, but I still give the edge to Obama. Here's why--OH is almost certainly going to shift to Obama (though I'm not sure it'll yield as big a margin for Obama as Bob predicts--it probably depends on the def of big margin). A poll at RCP does have McCain up 2.2% in Ohio, but I think it's unlikely to be correct and/or sustained. The flipping of OH holding all else constant would give Obama a 272-266 Electoral College Victory.
As for other states, I think they are, on net, more likely to shift to Obama than away from Obama. While McCain may pick up NH, his next best hopes are probably places like MI, PA, and MN all of which are pretty Democrat states. By contrast, Obama is currently ahead in polls in CO and NM and also has a chance at VA.
As for events, momentum, etc--I'm guessing this might be something of a high water mark for McCain. I expect some of the Palinmania to subside (too bad--anyone who supported Steve Forbes in 1996 is off to a good start in my book); we may also get more gloomy (or at portrayed by the media as more gloomy) economic news. Or Cindy McCain may buy another house.
I realize I'm going against the current Intrade odds (53-46 in favor of McCain). I'm also going against my ever so slight preference (because gridlock is good!) for McCain.
It's time all DoL bloggers to put up or shut up. Who's gonna win the big race for
I'll start, and I'll be specific:
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1. Obama wins the popular vote on the basis of big majorities in NY, IL, OH and CA.
2. McCain wins the Electoral College vote, and presidency, on the basis of slim victories elsewhere.
3. Democrats will cry election fraud in every state they lose. (Note, they will not complain about Ohio this time.)
4. After winning the popular vote but losing the election for the second time in recent memory, the Democrats will begin a serious drive to amend the Constitution to eliminate the "undemocratic" Electoral College in favor of a simple majority vote.
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Headlines that probably should have been revised
The headline from today's local fishwrapper:
"ACT scores up, black enrollment down in freshman class"
I might comment more but I don't want to get fired because of a blog post.
September 09, 2008
Apologists of the world unite!
Mary Theroux has a blog post about the various Depression-era Western apologists for communism. Heck I remember such apologists in my college days in the 1980s among fellow students as well as professors.
Her post reminded me of a recent conversation with a small group of people including a somewhat prominent mainstream economist.
We were talking about the Georgia-Russia war, and someone compared Russia's actions with the Nazis. I kinda chuckled and told a story about a poster I had in college. It had a swastika, a hammer & sickle, and picture of Stalin and Hitler. The caption read "Two Faces. One Ideology." I just loved that poster! It used to infuriate my commie-pinko leftist friends in college, which is precisely why I liked it so much.
Anyway, after a momentary pause, this prominent economist says, "Gee, I don't know if that's fair. I think they [i.e., the communists] meant well."
WTF? They meant well?!? They meant well?!?
For the record:
September 08, 2008
A nifty interview with co-blogger and NC gubernatorial candidate Mike Munger is here.
September 06, 2008
What Was Missing In Senator McCain's Speech?
At last week's GOP Convention, much attention was focused on John McCain's heroic life and the personal sacrifices he has made in defense of his country. It is easy to forget just all that Senator McCain has been through - this is a man who can no longer lift his arms over his head, as a result of the tortures he suffered in Vietnam - as Fred Thompson said, in a moving speech, Senator McCain, "can no longer salute the flag of the country he loves."
I am moved by Senator McCain's story as much as anyone - I have always said that he is a true American hero.
In his acceptance speech, Senator McCain explained that he "fell in love" with the United States during that time as a prisoner in Vietnam. Why did he finally fall in love with America? "[F]or it's decency, for its faith in the wisdom, justice and goodness of its people. I loved it because it was not just a place, but an idea, a cause worth fighting for."
What's missing there? The decency of America, and the wisdom, justice and goodness of its people are all things I believe in, and reasons why I love this country. But I cannot imagine that if I were asked "what do you love about the United States," my answer would not begin with, "freedom." "Freedom" didn't make Senator McCain's list.
By this I don't suggest that Senator McCain doesn't value freedom. Clearly he does. Senator McCain closed his speech by saying that he "fight for the ideals and character of a free people" (good, although I didn't ask John McCain to fight for my "character," and I'm not quite sure what that means. If he meant he was going to stand up for my own character, well, that's one he forfeited long ago). Perhaps "freedom" is what he meant by the "idea" of America that he vaguely referenced. He did warn us of the "threats to peace and liberty." But there were no other uses of "free," "freedom," or "liberty" in his speech.
It is, perhaps, a telling omission that "freedom" did not make this list of core values, in a speech that must have been reviewed umpteen times to get every word just right.
September 02, 2008
The Onion covers the emerging Joad Cressbeckler campaign. One supporter says she is "voting for a man [she] can imagine drowning a bag of cats," but I have to take issue with his trade policy.
Next up: Putin sets world record in pole vault!
Be still my heart! The man is amazing!
Just as Putin was arriving with a group of wildlife specialists to see a trapped Amur tiger, it escaped and ran toward a nearby camera crew, the country's main television station said. Putin quickly shot the beast and sedated it with a tranquilizer gun.
August 28, 2008
August 24, 2008
A few thoughts on campaign dynamics. I just saw that an organization is offering free campaign schwag supporting a candidate for whom I do not plan to vote. I see a couple of possibilities:
1. I take the schwag, stick it in a drawer, and thereby impose costs on an organization that supports policies with which I disagree.
2. I take the schwag and wear it ironically, thereby using this organization's political ammunition against them.
3. I take the schwag and try 1) or 2), but the organization is able to get political mileage out of the fact that people want their stuff. My attempted subterfuge backfires.
4. There is an implicit agreement whereby I agree not to take someone else's campaign schwag unless either I collect it or I use it to support the organization. Incentives in the system imply that the agreement always breaks down, which could be one of the reasons why clean campaign rhetoric doesn't match dirty campaign reality. That could be an interesting political history paper, though I'd be surprised if someone hasn't written it already.
5. I blog about it, ignore it because accepting the offer will get me on every political mailing list in the solar system, and go on with my life.
Comments are open if anyone has thoughts.
Presidential Campaign Miscellania
OK, OK, presidential campaigns are no place to try to find economic wisdom, but this year's campaign seems more devoid of economic knowledge, and full of economic idiocy, than any I can remember in my lifetime -- a lifetime that remembers campaigns by Richard (wage & price controls) Nixon and Gerald ("Whip Inflation Now" buttons) Ford, not to mention a campaign by Walter Mondale.
Here we have Barack Obama, whose proposed solution to rising energy prices is to take steps to a) decrease supply (with new taxes and regulation of "big oil") and b) increase demand (by using the tax revenue so raised from suppliers to fund cash payments to consumers), up against John McCain, to whom "economics" is sort of like "the vision thing" was to the senior George Bush - it's something he knows is important, but he just can't quite get a handle on it, and often it appears that he's not even quite sure why it's important.
Now Senator Obama has decided to supplement his economic illiteracy by selecting Senator Joe Biden as a running mate. Biden is known for many things, but economic policy is not one of them.
Meanwhile, if Senator McCain picks a Senator as a vice presidential candidate, he'll complete an unprecedented sweep - all four members of the major party tickets will be sitting U.S. Senators. I'm pretty sure this is a sign of the apocalypse, but hold on while I check my references.
Yes, it is.
Meanwhile, poor old Bob Barr continues to make his pitch for voters to vote capital "L" Libertarian. Is he having success? John Zogby's latest interactive polls continue to include Barr, who makes some surprisingly strong showings. To wit:
This is remarkable, really. Note that in none of these polls does Ralph Nader (also included by Zogby) top 3%. Of course, "interactive" polling remains highly controversial among pollsters. Even assuming these numbers are accurate, the norm is for third party support to fall off sharply close to election day, especially if the race between major party candidates is close. Nevertheless, these are surprisingly strong showings, especially given that Barr's fund-raising has been so-so and, like any third party candidate, he struggles to find any media oxygen (though he certainly is outdoing any previous Libertarian candidate). Could Barr really poll double digits, even in relatively libertarian Nevada or New Hampshire? And remember that Zogby's polling in early July showed Barr at 8% in Georgia (which he represented in Congress for four terms), six and seven percent in neighboring South Carolina and Tennessee, respectively, six percent in giant Texas, seven percent in McCain's home state of Arizona, and 5% in Obama's home state of Illinois, among other showings.
Common wisdom is that Barr's support comes primarily from Republicans, but it may be wrong to assume that Barr's candidacy helps Obama. It strikes me that at least as likely is that Barr gives libertarian leaning Republicans upset by the GOP's spending binge, corruption, and conservative positions on "social issues" a place to park their support short of pulling the Obama lever (or, for you conspiracy theorists, pushing the Obama button on their Diebold-rigged machine that will record their votes for McCain anyway). If that's the case, then Barr's candidacy helps McCain.
If I can find a bit of time, I hope to look at the Barr campaign's pronouncements on the economy to see if they actually do make more sense than the nonsense coming from the Obama camp and the bewilderment released by Senator McCain. I'll share the results here.
August 22, 2008
But What About the Blogging Economists Who Like College Football And Barbecue Demographic?
Of course, all this should be capitalized into prediction market prices.
August 20, 2008
Don't get sick!
Just got back from a doctor's office visit (darned high cholesterol!), and we had an interesting chat about the upcoming election. He told me that if the vote results in a particular candidate being elected, leading to a single-payer system, then the practice (of which he is part owner along with a few of the other docs) will end up laying off a huge number of staff. He bases this conclusion on the comparison with Medicare patients, who are a financial loss for the business.
If his thinking is correct, this could really harm our area, since there is a large presence of health care businesses here. Of course, would the voting public draw the connection between unemployed medical staff and universal health care? Would they recognize that the large wait times due to both less staff and increased quantity demand from patients is the inevitable result of their wishes for medical care at a zero price? Would they understand that the substandard medical care they are receiving is due to the neglect of prices and incentives? Do I really want the remaining overworked and underpaid staff to be sticking me with needles?
The only bright spot in our discussion was my doc's thought that, should this all happen, he would open a new practice with a visibly posted fee schedule, so patients knew what they were paying. Reminded me of John Stossel's Sick in America.
August 13, 2008
With peacekeepers like these...
...who needs invaders?
Hundreds of South Ossetian rebels with some Russian army personnel went house-to-house in villages near Gori. They set houses ablaze and looted buildings, witnesses said.
August 11, 2008
Dear John (Edwards)
Thank you for your heartfelt admission of guilt of cheating on your marriage vows and lying about it for the last two years. As these sorts of celebrity/politician apologies go, yours was as genuine as I can remember.
I was particularly struck by this part of your statement, "I started to believe that I was special and became increasingly egocentric and narcissistic." Who can blame you? You spent the last several years being wined and dined by the most powerful people in the world. You had scores of people telling you how great you and your ideas were. You could have become president! Heck I bet haven't driven yourself to work or gone to a grocery store in years!
Who wouldn't let this go to his head?
I fear this typically happens even to good people when they are elevated to political office. And this is precisely why it is so dangerous to give you politicians the kind of unlimited power over our lives that we have given you. Your political career is over perhaps, but we citizens still have to live under the rule of your "egocentric and narcissistic" colleagues who remain in office.
July 30, 2008
Why the airlines don't really mean it against oil speculators
J. D. Foster at Heritage writes:
Speculators accept risk that somebody else doesn't want. And speculators are rewarded for accepting risk if they prove right, and they lose money if they get it wrong.
July 29, 2008
On border control c. 1908
A July 29, 1908 NYT article concerns the militarization of the southern border of the U.S.:
Tired of being made the recruiting ground for filibusters the United States is taking steps to put an end to the hatching of conspiracies against the peace and welfare of its neighbors. The State Department is using every resource of the Government to prevent such violations and to punish the infringement of the neutrality laws. A stop is to be put in this country to such plotting as preceded the uprising in Northern Mexico...
Oh, the irony.
July 25, 2008
The Man from ACORN
Sobering piece by Steven Malanga:
Meeting last November with the leaders of the Association of Community Organizers for Reform Now (Acorn)—the nationwide network of left-wing community groups that taps government money for a host of causes—Obama declared: “I’ve been fighting alongside Acorn on issues you care about my entire career,” including representing Acorn in a court case in Illinois. Acorn members apparently reciprocated by working hard to turn out voters for Obama’s Illinois campaigns, according to a 2003 piece in the magazine Social Policy by a Chicago-area Acorn organizer. After the candidate’s November appearance, Acorn’s affiliated political action committee endorsed Obama for president.
Masses vs. Classes c. 1908
An interesting quip from the July 25, 1908 NYT:
The "masses" and the "classes" in England differ in this - the former are to be bought with a drink, the latter with a dinner.The same could be said of the masses and the classes of the United States today.
Rent Extraction on K Street
It’s tough to be a lobbyist these days, baby. It’s not all capture and vote-buying as the populists would have you believe. As Kimberly Strassel writes in today's Opinion Journal, politicians have no reason not to use what leverage they do have back against you.
As most of Washington met last week to fret over the economy, Harry Reid was attending a less-noticed summit. The Senate majority leader had summoned the titans of more than a dozen industry trade groups to a Capitol Hill meeting, where he delivered a crisp message: Get with our program, or get demolished.
It’s called “rent extraction” in the public choice literature. Fred McChesney did most of the work on it, culminating in his 1997 book, Money for Nothing. A variant of rent extraction is so-called “milker bills,” where legislators “float” a regulatory proposal that would harm industry or firm X, who is supposed to get the hint that a few extra campaign dollars could help get the proposed bill onto the back burner. Another variant is so-called tax farming, where the politicians play nice with tax base X while finding indirect ways to tax them. One indirect mechanism that’s become increasingly popular in recent decades is tort law. Take big tobacco, for example. Most of the monies that states have collected under the $246 billion master settlement have simply substituted for general tax dollars. A New York Times study did some of the bean counting, and found that 95 percent has gone to fund public works projects or property and sales tax relief. On this point, Jeffrey Haymond has a chapter in my forthcoming book, Law without Romance, titled "Class Action Rent Extraction." Torts, of course, are a kind of hidden broad-based tax. The Council of Economic Advisors in 2002 estimated the annual “tort tax” (higher prices imposed by business sector to cover costs of litigation) at nearly $200 billion. These lobbyist shenanigans—the K Street Project—aren’t much different.
So from a public choice perspective, the so-called "K Street Project Part Blue" isn't much of a shock at all. Sure, it is vaguely sordid to see pols strong-arm the hiring decisions of Big Lobby. But the article misses the larger point that rent seeking is socially costly in the first place, and rent extraction only furthers and compounds those losses.
Thanks to Richard Reinsch for the pointer.
July 21, 2008
Best Sentence I've Read Today*
Bryan Caplan on voting, relevant to my post from earlier today on whether or not one should rock the vote:
Apathy may not be a virtue, but it's a lot better than the activism of the irrational.
Thoughts? Comments are open.
*Meme: Marginal Revolution.
Lindsay Campbell: Mock the Vote
Lindsay Campbell at www.moblogic.tv makes the case for non-voting:
I'll elaborate on an important point that she makes. If you stand in line at the store for a couple of hours on the day after Thanksgiving, if you line up to get the new iPhone, or if you line up at midnight to see The Dark Knight (we didn't, but if there's a midnight showing of The Clone Wars in a few weeks, I'm there), you at least have something to show for it. If you stand in line for a few hours to vote, you exert exactly zero influence on the outcome and maybe you come away with an "I voted today" sticker. I still do it, though. My thoughts on voting in Presidential elections are here. Here's South Park's very intelligent but very less-than-wholesome take on voting. They use obscenity and vulgarity in the service of satire, but you've been warned.
July 18, 2008
Letter to the Editor: Mike Munger in the NC Debates
I just sent the following to the Raleigh News & Observer. The letter's marginal contribution to the probability that Mike is included in the debates is probably small, but every little bit helps and the idea is now on record.
While I am not a North Carolinian, I have been watching the discussion over whether Libertarian candidate and Duke University political scientist Michael Munger should be invited to the gubernatorial debate with some interest. I only first met Dr. Munger at a professional meeting in March, but I have admired his scholarship and contributions to the public understanding of economics and political science for years. Dr. Munger and the Libertarians did all that was required of them to appear on the ballot, and they did it all in very timely fashion. For this reason alone, Dr. Munger should be invited to the gubernatorial debates. Beyond this, however, Dr. Munger holds a PhD in economics and chairs the political science department at one of the world's elite universities. Including him would elevate the level of the debate considerably. Excluding him from the debates would be unfair to Dr. Munger, but the real injustice is done to the voters of North Carolina. If Dr. Munger is excluded, the voters are denied the opportunity to have a debate featuring all the legitimate candidates.
July 17, 2008
How Should One Decide Who to Support?
Not by "voting against" the candidate you don't like or by picking "the lesser of two evils." My thoughts are here.
July 16, 2008
You're the Terrorist Watch List's 1,000,000th customer!
I wonder what you win for that sort of thing?
HT: Anthony Gregory.
July 15, 2008
Point to ponder c. 1908
A letter to the editor of the NYT on July 15, 1908:
If the Democratic Party will run all of its States down hill, what will it do with the Nation if it gets it?
July 10, 2008
The first YouTube ad of the campaign.
Major, major props to Rusty Sheridan. His company.
July 09, 2008
Via Cafe Hayek, here's an interesting dissection of proposals to mandate volunteering. I particularly like the discussion of intractable measurement problems: what is "service," what isn't, and who decides?
This exposes a glaring inconsistency in US labor policy. Working voluntarily for a wage of $5.00 per hour is unacceptable exploitation and is therefore illegal. Working involuntarily for a wage of $0.00 per hour, on the other hand, is ennobling service and may soon be required.
July 07, 2008
Podcast on Transantiago
Hey, you podcastrians!
For which, I should add, I was paid my full market wage.
We talked about the Transantiago cluster fig. And talking to Russ is always fun.
Lots of folks helped with the Money Grenade, and with getting word out about the difficulties I have been having even getting access to the normal assets of campaigning.
Read More »
I can't cite them all. So, for those I have missed: a blanket thank you, and a heartfelt one. In addition to the net postings I have missed, I want to thank Joy Elliott, Paul Elledge, Linda Ellis, Susan Hogarth, Barbara Howe, Tom Howe, Phillip Rhodes, Rob Rose, Rusty Sheridan, John Szamosi, and Richard Schilhavy. (Again, I'm sorry if I left you out, but it's 6:30 am, and I am at the beach celebrating my anniversary with my wife, and I have to get back to the room; there's marital work to do...)
As I noted, there were lots of internet mentions, and I appreciate them. But there are some I have to mention specifically.
Bill Anderson, on LR's site.
Art Carden, with a nice thought piece. Very nice.
Ed Cone helped out. Thanks, Ed!
Greg Dirasian has his little boxer shorts all twisted up in knots.
Last Free Voice posted the announement; thanks!
Scottille News came up big, too.
Third Party Watch posted the info on the Money Grenade. A BIG help; we 'pree-shayt it, man!
BUT: The main prize, the above and beyond, the hardest working man in the Blogosphere for the Munger campaign, has got to be.... Steve Newton! This post clearly brought in quite a few contributions, and I appreciate it!
« Close It
July 02, 2008
Limiting Access to the Political Order in North Carolina
My short piece on Mike's adventures in North Carolina politics (see below) was published on the Independent Institute's blog here.
June 30, 2008
Internment Camps and You: Partners in Freedom
I've heard David Beito shows this video in some of his IHS history lectures:
June 28, 2008
Crimes Against ... Whatever
So who's the criminal? According to James Hansen, it's greedy CEOs:
CEOs of fossil energy companies know what they are doing and are aware of long-term consequences of continued business as usual. In my opinion, these CEOs should be tried for high crimes against humanity and nature.
According to an unnamed UN adviser, it's those pushing ethanol:
But several aid agencies and analysts have warned of the possible downside of biofuel crop cultivation.
In both cases, it's pretty loose talk.
HT: CEI's "Cooler Heads Digest" 6/27/08
June 27, 2008
Party platforms c. 1908
The June 27, 1908 NYT reports on what is expected to be in the Democratic Party's platform, to be introduced by William Jennings Bryan, the party's nominee that year.
It is fascinating that the next 100 years, during much of which the Democrats were in control of Congress (and occasionally the White House), the party platform has changed very little, suggesting that they haven't been very successful in implementing their goals. Whether this is an indictment of Democratic leadership or of their opposition, I am not sure.
Here is a paraphrased list of what the paper suggests will be in the Democratic party's agenda:
Certain planks have moved from one part to the other, but as far as populist agenda items go the current Democratic party might have be very similar.
June 22, 2008
The Barr Factor
Will Libertarian Party presidential nominee Bob Barr be a factor in '08? Probably not, but don't discount the idea completely: at least some polls show Barr polling in the six percent range nationally. Third party support typically falls off close to election day, but in some crucial states. notably Georgia, which Barr represented for most of a decade in Congress, there is reason to believe he can hold most of his support, which has neared the 10 percent level in some polls.
Barr's fundraising has been so-so: he's raised about $50,000 a week, on average, since gaining the Libertarian nomination four weeks ago. But his media coverage has been impressive. He's done, among others, Fox News (at least twice) and CNN, the hip Colbert Report on Comedy Central, a full hour on Glen Beck's TV show on CNN, and Geraldo. This week he'll be doing some major talk radio, including Dennis Miller on Monday and Bob Grant later in the week.
If this is not quite Cadillac coverage, it's better than any Libertarian candidate has ever gotten before. A Lexis/Nexis search finds 427 stories referencing "Bob Barr" in the four weeks since his nomination on May 25 - by comparison, a Lexis search finds just 49 stories mentioning 2004 LP nominee Michael Badnarik in the four weeks after his nomination on May 27, 2004.
The obstacles to Barr's success - or that of any third party or independent candidate - are enormous. Ballot access laws force minor parties to spend large sums just getting on the ballot, whereas the Republican and Democratic Parties typically get automatic access in all 50 states. Campaign finance laws work against third parties, by limiting the amounts that can be contributed (historically, new parties, because of their smaller base of support, are more reliant on large donors) and by scaring away donors (I know of at least three people who have intentionally donated less than $200 to Barr's campaign in order to avoid having the names disclosed, as required by law for donors of $200 or more. Surely there are many more who limit their support or don't donate at all. For business and political reasons, many supporters, especially those active in politics or with business before the government, are afraid to make their support public). As Michael Munger has learned in his run for North Carolina Governor, it is almost impossible for even the most credible third party candidates to get into public debates. Most of all, the winner take all system of voting used in the U.S. (which I support) will always make it very difficult for a new party to break the two-party monopoly.
Still, Barr may be the is the strongest Libertarian nominee ever, and almost certainly since the articulate Ed Clark, funded by his wealthy running mate David Koch, picked up a bit over one percent of the vote in 1980. With many small government Republicans dismayed over the nomination of John McCain, there is an opening for Barr to gain meaningful numbers of votes and to draw attention to the need for and benefits of limited government.
June 20, 2008
Obama Moves to the Middle
June 17, 2008
Yard signs revisited
A few years ago I commented on my city's ban on political yard signs until 30 days before an election. I got the city attorney to admit that the law was unconstitutional.
Harrison, Ohio is being sued over their law.
June 15, 2008
Munger Excluded From Debates in NC
Some background, on the decision of five different organizations "independently" to exclude me from the gubernatorial debates. What are the odds of THAT happening, do you think?
An interesting exchange, worth reading in its entirety, on Steve Newton's blog.
1. I announced my candidacy in May 2006. I have been included in MANY forums and debates, and have appeared three times on the same stage as Bev Perdue and Pat McCrory at forums. Admittedly, these were serial, rather than simultaneous, appearances, but it was within minutes.
2. The success of the Libertarians in getting on the ballot was known in March, and was official in May. Furthermore, this is the 8th time the Libertarian candidate for Governor will be on the ballot, officially. This is not new, either in terms of history over 30 years, or formal process this election cycle.
3. The NC Bar Association is a private organization, and as far as I can tell the event will not be televised externally. That means that this is NOT an in-kind contribution to the candidates. So, as a matter of principle I would defend the right of that organization to choose the folks who will appear at their convention. But, to paraphrase Glenn Close in "Fatal Attraction," I'd have more respect for the NCBA if they'd just tell me to frig off. "We didn't know", if true, means that these people are way too dumb to be trying cases in state court. Fortunately, it's just not true. I think you would rather have a lawyer who is a good liar, compared to an idiot, right?
June 13, 2008
WHO's kidding whom?
A summary of some of the sources of bias in WHO's health care quality index:
Michael Moore made great sport in his film "Sicko" of pointing out that the World Health Organization (WHO) ranked US health care a lowly 37th in the world, considerably below France and Canada. But, much like Mr. Moore himself, the rankings are far from impartial or empirically sound. [. . .] But an examination of the index tells us more about the ideology of the authors than it does about the quality of American healthcare. [. . .] The most obvious bias is that 62.5% of their weighting concerns not quality of service but equality. In other words, the rankings are less concerned with the ability of a health system to make sick people better than they are with the political consideration of achieving equal access and implementing state-controlled funding systems.
June 12, 2008
The Paternalist State
The Grey Lady wants you to be taken care of. Today's editorial on tomatoes ends:
"Industry, as well as consumers, need much better protection. They should not have to wait until the next food scare before Washington comes to the rescue."
Meanwhile, the FCC held hearings today on whether to prohibit early termination fees charged by mobile phone carriers. Public choice founder, James Buchanan, has argued that the State has supplanted God as the bearer of ultimate responsibility. Stand by for new sex legislation that people may only shout “Oh state, oh state, oh state!!!”
June 11, 2008
The candidates from the "major" parties have organized their own private election, with just two people invited: Bev Purdue and Pat McCrory. Five debates, only two candidates will be allowed.
Here's the strange thing: It's really hard to get on the ballot in North Carolina. The Libertarians did what the state required. It wasn't easy, but we did it.
Why doesn't that translate into being included in the debate? Why do the state-sponsored parties get away with this? It's because you, the voters, are indifferent.
It's not the media; you can't blame them. Having me in the debate is MUCH more interesting, and would improve ratings. You can count on the media actually preferring that I be included.
But I'm not. Because the Dems and Repubs don't want even a whiff of competition to affect their cozy cartel.
Where's the outrage?
UPDATE: A snippet from the press release that will go out soon....
North Carolina has very restrictive ballot access laws. Simple fairness requires that every party crossing that very high threshold must be admitted to the debates. Let's be very clear: the General Assembly established a criterion for inclusion, and the Libertarians passed that test.
Yet the Libertarians have been excluded from participation, without explanation. The political elite of our state has made a decision to put its own convenience over the obvious will of the citizens.
As H.L. Mencken said, "Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard." When you watch a debate where one legally qualified party is excluded, you are watching North Carolina "democracy" in action. Is this the kind of democracy that you want to live in?
June 06, 2008
Will Wilkinson on Production and Distribution
Will Wilkinson has a great post on European regulatory and redistributive institutions. Politically, people support redistribution through the regulatory system because it doesn't feel like redistribution. A choice passage:
The structure and regulation of an economy is conceptually separable from tax and transfer policy. Of course, it is really all one system, and taxes and transfers affect economic performance by affecting labor supply, etc., but this is relatively distinct from the body of law that defines the parameters and rules of the economic game. You could in principle have buck-wild laissez faire together with fairly high taxes and lavish social insurance. Nobody does do this, exactly, but it’s possible. Optimize the basic economic structure for maximizing wealth creation, not for creating a pattern of distribution, and then use the political institutions to take care of redistribution after the wealth is created. Because then there will be more wealth.
May 30, 2008
On party pride c. 1908
Something to think about in the current election cycle comes from the May 30, 1908 NYT:
Col. Watterson knows perfectly well that the Republican Party organs regard Mr. Bryan's possible nomination cheerfully. They would like to feel sure of having no stronger man to beat, and have been hopefully predicting his nomination.
May 29, 2008
On Congressional spending c. 1908
The May 29, 1908 NYT reports that Congress, for only the second time in the country's history, has appropriated more than $1 billion (the first time was in 1865).
The first paragraph says a lot:
When Congress packs its carpet bag this week and goes home, it will have established a record for expenditures never reached before in the United States in times of peace.
The same can be said of our current congress.
The article suggests that $1,007,086,569 will have been appropriated by the Congress (plus a little more perhaps). EH.net indicates that total GDP in 1908 was about $30.1 billion (in current dollars). Hence, Congress appropriated about 3% of total GDP. Today, it is closer to 20%.
In 1908, the U.S. Congress appropriated about $11.27 per capita, whereas today it is approximately $6,000 per capita.
In 1908, the U.S. Congress appropriated $391,474,342 for the U.S. Army and Navy (about 40% of the budget and about 1.3% of GDP) whereas today the U.S. government spends less than 5% of GDP and 20-25% of federal spending on the military (five branches rather than two).
The article does provide the totals by appropriation bill (where is such information today?):
May 28, 2008
Politics as usual?
The blatant selling-out of politicians never ceases to amaze me. What is even more amazing is that the electorate seems fairly comfortable with the entire process. The ideal of one-man-one-vote and that average schleps like me might be able to gain access to members of Congress or the executive branch seem far away from today's political antics (perhaps there never was a golden era).
Today's New York Times reports that the Democratic party is having a hard time "raising" the money for its convention in Denver this August. The term "raising" is a bit of a stretch because it doesn't seem like the party is reaching out to the individual party members but to the corporate bigwigs without even attepting to veil their selling-out:
Denver’s mayor, John W. Hickenlooper, has suggested that the Democrats’ long nominating battle has distracted potential donors. But, no matter the obstacles, the Denver host committee is aggressively packaging corporate sponsorships that promise corporate executives access to key politicians in return for writing a check to the host committee.
Hosting a political convention isn't worth much to the local economy in terms of net new spending. As shown in this paper by Dennis Coates and myself, Houston lost approximately $19 million in taxable activity when it hosted the Republican convention in 1992. This negative net result is not refuted by this study by Baade, Baumann, and Matheson [note: incorrect abstract] which shows that hosting a political convention does nothing for employment, per-capita income, or income growth.
Thus the appeal to civic pride, the last bastion of the politician who wants to spend other peoples' money to enlarge their own reputation and stature.
Not to be outdone by the mis-remembering and mis-speaking that the two party candidates seem to engage in on a daily basis, the next paragraph contains a juicy statement by the spokesman for the Denver host committee:
"This is a historic event for Denver," Mr. Lopez said. "It's the first national convention in the interior West. It gives Denver a chance to demonstrate that it can host a national convention and show that Denver has the wherewithal to raise money and be the place where you want to be."Perhaps Mr. Lopez (no relation, I hope to our co-blogger Ed) doesn't consider the 1908 Democrat national convention in Denver to have been a national convention? Perhaps the convention took place so long ago that no-one remembers or should remember?
My guess is that CNN or Fox or some news network will hearken back to the Denver (19)08 convention to bring up WJB, the platform of the day, and how it relates to contemporary issues. At that point, will anyone remember (or better yet even care) that the spokesman for the Denver hosting committee was so incorrect?
Government is a Force That Gives us Meaning
David Boaz's article in today's Wall Street Journal on the Presidential Candidates' exhortations to "collective service" (?!) has already made the rounds on the blogosphere. Arnold Kling weighs in here. Here's Will Wilkinson on the insufficiency of "meaning" as a criterion for indulgence.
I want to add a couple of points. First, it's ironic that mutli-millionaire politicians like Obama and McCain are tut-tutting us for our alleged devotion to unrighteous mammon. Second, I borrow here a meme from co-blogger Wilson Mixon and ask whether it is better to feel good than to do good. Are the candidates interested in outcomes, or is it the sacrifice per se that is important? Comments are open until I get spammed with the first offer for porn, mortgage refinancing, or no-limit Texas Hold 'em.
Baptists, Bootleggers & Horrid History
From The Economist's review of "Fatal Misconception" by Michael Connelly (Harvard University Press):
All too easily arrogance slides into inhumanity. Much of the evil done in the name of slowing population growth had its roots in an uneasy coalition between feminists, humanitarians and environmentalists, who wished to help the unwillingly fecund, and the racists, eugenicists and militarists who wished to see particular patterns of reproduction, regardless of the desires of those involved. The first group knew perfectly well that economic development, education and rights for women were very effective in reducing birth rates. But the second regarded promoting these ends as too slow and expensive. And even suggesting them risked shattering the coalition: among the hardliners were many who found the tendency of educated women to have fewer children almost as problematic as that of uneducated ones to breed prolifically.
I disagree with the view that the most devastating critique is that population control policies didn't work, but the review is most compelling and quite well done.
May 21, 2008
On party politics c. 1908
On May 20, 1908, a number of state Democratic conventions were held. The majority of delegates instructed on that day were for Bryan. However, the May 21, 1908 NYT has an amazing piece of writing that is as relevant today as it was yesterday (and that is unfortunate):
Intimating that the system of party government in this country is threatened with disintegration by the progress of intelligence and free thought in themselves, and declaring that already there are signs of its demoralization by the gathering independent forces outside of the party organization, Goldwin Smith, the English scholar, has written from his home in Toronto to students at Cornell bidding them to take a careful study of present conditions, with a view of determining for themselves that party government and parties are not the best means for the welfare of the state.The first paragraph already asks a lot of the reader. How many college students today have been asked or, better yet, thought to ask themselves if party politics is the best way? My guess is very few. As for why the parties still exist 100 years later with barely any viable competition? Perhaps one way to continue party dominance is to retard the progress of intelligence and free thought? It worked (for a while) in Soviet Russia and elsewhere.
Smith goes on to describe the forthcoming presidential campaign:
"But in a few weeks Democrats and Republicans will be organizing a political war against each other in a spirit hardly less bellicose than that of actual warfare, with arsenals full of political projectiles on both sides; while the community will be inflamed; intrigue, and perhaps not a little corruption of different kinds, will be at work, and the press on both sides will be blowing the trumpets with more regard to effect than truth.The only difference today is that there is an Orwellian feel of "ongoing war" in today's politics, although there was a similar if less ubiquitous banter in the early 1900s.
Smith then asks the important question that many "independents" may have already answered:
Is this an institution in which a Nation can forever acquiesce? Are there not symptoms or signs of a change already in the shape of independent forces gathering outside the regular organizations and threatening to disorganize them in time? will not the progress of intelligence and free thought of themselves bring disintegrations?"While the parties might have faced competition, Teddy Roosevelt will run a third-party campaign in the next election (1912), economic theory would predict that they would use the power of the government to protect their duopoly (joint monopoly) status, which indeed it seems they have. The parties have raised the costs of potential rivals, directly and indirectly, that the possibility of a legitimate third party competitor is unlikely.
Smith finishes by providing a bit of U.S. history concerning parties:
"It is needless to say that nothing like this was contemplated by the framers of your [U.S.] Constitution. Washington sought, by putting Hamilton and Jefferson together in his Administration, to stifle partyism in its birth. The present intensity of party perhaps hardly antedates the Jacksonian era.
Indeed, how many "motley and discordant elements" comprise every party today? However, the interesting point Smith offers is that parties necessarily cobble together a coalition but each member has to sacrifice "vital interests" to do so. In cartel theory, economists propose that a cartel member might voluntarily sacrifice some sovereignty for a chance at higher profits. Without sufficient monitoring of behavior and enforcement against cheating against the cartel, solidarity is hard to maintain.
Political parties would seem to have a similar problem. It is difficult to monitor certain behaviors, such as voting in secret ballots. However, one thing the party has over the private cartel is the ability to tax and bribe those "discordant elements" to maintain solidarity.
May 20, 2008
Delegate dilemma c. 1908
Just so that we know that delegate allocation has been a problem in the past, the May 20, 1908 NYT reports on possible shenanigans in Pennsylvania:
The Democratic State Convention, which meets here to-morrow, promises to be one of the warmest in the recent history of that party. The fight, which has divided the Democracy of the State, is on the question of whether the convention shall send the four delegates at large to the National Convention under binding instructions to vote for William J. Bryan or whether they shall go to Denver unfettered.This is amazing.
Democrats go to Denver in 1908 and 2008. Delegate dilemmas abound in 1908 and 2008. However, if these dilemmas were truly problematic in picking a candidate, the party would have revamped the way it chooses delegates. However, because the same dilemmas persist 100 years later, it must be that someone benefits from the confusion and wiggle-room. I'd presume it's the party insiders.
The headline of the 1908 NYT story reads:
"Both Bryanites and Their Foes Claim Victory in To-day's Convention."
"Headlines" from the May 20, 2008 Drudge Report:
DECLARE, IF YOU DARE... [Hillary referring to Obama]
At least they could try to be original in their disputes, but alas...
Kentucky endorsement c. 1908
Interesting enough, May 19, 1908, was the day the Kentucky state Democratic "decided" to go for William Jennings Bryan for the 1908 Presidential election. From the May 20, 1908 NYT:
Kentucky's Democratic Central Committee met here [Frankfort, KY] today and decided to hold the state convention at Lexington on June 11. A resolution indorsing [sic] William Jennings Bryan for the Presidential nomination was adopted.One hundred years later, which of the contending Democratic candidates is most like WJB? Comments open for a day or two.
May 13, 2008
Subsidies for Millionaires; Tax Hikes if You Make $100k
1. President Bush wants to limit farm subsidies to farmers earning $200k or less; Democrats want millionaire farmers to continue to be eligible for subsidies. (Source here; scroll down to #1.)
2. While wanting to continue to subsidize millionaire farmers, Democrats want to increase taxes on people earning as little as $102k (e.g., Obama thinks the taxable earnings cap on the payroll tax should be eliminated; Obama also favors eliminating the Bush tax cuts).
May 12, 2008
Collars for Dollars
While marijuana arrests have risen between two- and three-fold nationwide since 1990, the increase in New York has been much more dramatic. "From 1997 to 2006," sociologist Harry Levine and drug policy activist Deborah Small note in the NYCLU report, "the New York City Police Department arrested and jailed more than 353,000 people simply for possessing small amounts of marijuana. This was eleven times more marijuana arrests than in the previous decade."
May 07, 2008
Not Too Chaotic
Calling his effort "Operation Chaos," Rush Limbaugh has been urging Republicans to cross over and vote for Hillary. There are competing claims about how successful his effort has been (here and here), so I decided to exploit variation in the Indiana and NC primary rules to see how much influence Limbaugh had on yesterday's results.
Here's the key idea--Indiana has an open primary but NC does not permit Republicans to vote in the Democrat primary (unaffiliated voters can). Moreover, NC had a contested primary for the GOP nomination for governor that would serve to keep NC Republicans in their own election.
So I estimated a regression model for the percent of the vote received by Hillary in NC and IN counties. RHS variables include the black percent of the population, the percent of the population between ages 16 & 24, the percent of the population over 65, the percent of the population that is male, and per capita income. The model also includes a dummy variable taking a value of 1 for IN counties--this variable should pick up any support for Hillary that is not explained by the other variables thereby making it a crude measure of the Rush effect.
So what do the results find? The Indiana dummy has a coefficient of 0.53 meaning that on average Hillary got a about one-half percentage point larger share in Indiana than would be explained by the control variables. The point estimate is not statistically significant (t = 0.43). The regressors perform as one would expect, except the percent male has no effect (either in magnitude or significance).
My student worker Katie compiled data for me and is compiling more as I type. Look for updates later.
BTW, Limbaugh has just come on. He is claiming credit for tilting IN to Hillary and playing audio to that effect from John Kerry. My results suggest otherwise.
May 06, 2008
Food crises c. 1908
As there are bad policies today concerning food, there were bad policies yesterday. From the May 6, 1908 NYT:
ST. PETERSBURG [Russia] - The Russian sugar industry centering at Kiev is passing through a serious crisis. it already has resulted in the suspension of payments by two of the great manufacturing and refining firms...The trouble in the sugar industry is due in large measure to restriction of exports; the production is far in excess of the Russian market.
In-kind Taxation c. 1908
Taxation can take a number of forms, but the most insidious are those that are non-monetary in nature. A good example comes from the May 6, 1908 NYT:
George H. Fearons, General Attorney for the Western Union Telegraph Company, addressed the House Committee on Inter-State and Foreign Commerce to-day in opposition to the bill introduced by Mr. Carey of Wisconsin to require telegraph companies to transmit with telegrams the time of filing messages and the time of putting them on the wire.The extra messages would represent an in-kind tax because the marginal cost of an additional message was not zero - there were congestion problems, no doubt. Assuming the attorney was telling the truth, the 17+ million requred additional messages would represet a 23% increase in the number of messages sent. Western Union would likely have respond by sending fewer non-required messages.
I wonder what political interest group Rep. Carey was trying to appease: were there claims that Western Union sat on certain messages and gave preference to other messages, sort of a 1908-version of net neutrality? My hunch is that Rep. Carey was responding to a complaint from one or more "private and social" consumers.
If the Boards and Exchanges were anxious about timely delivery of information, given their market share of telegrams sent they would have been able to exert some pressure on Western Union to improve service. The same woudl have gone for the newspapers and the railroads.
I wonder if this bill, like many bills, was submitted to "protect the rights" of small-time consumers and in the process tax the heck out of the firm that provided a valuable service. This sounds a lot like many of the bad policies proffered today.
However, history shows that Western Union already faced competition: the postal service, the telephone, the wireless, and eventually the fax, and the Internet. It took a while but roughly 100 years later Western Union sent its last telegram.
May 02, 2008
Funniest sentence I read today.
From a Canadian colleague about an upcoming conference he's attending in the middle east that Al Jazeera is covering:
This is good from a Canadian point of view. Al Jazeera is far to the right of the CBC and much less sympathetic to terrorists.
April 28, 2008
America the Prisoner
From Lew Rockwell's Prisoner Nation:
There are 2.3 million people behind bars. China, with four times as many people, has 1.6 million in prison.
April 22, 2008
McCain on Clinton-Obama
Have you seen ANY challenge to the notion that McCain is benefitting from the protracted Clinton-Obama primary? Some things to consider.
1. As a general rule, doesn't head-to-head competition make for better competitors? Sammy Sosa and Mark McGuire a decade ago. Or even hopped-up Ben Johnson made Carl Lewis a better sprinter two decades ago. Athletes are one thing. Would the same hold for politicians?
2. The standard story for why the primary benefits McCain is somethign like this. The two Ds have to go hard left in the primary, and the harder left Obama and Clinton have to go to beat each other, the harder it'll be for them to come back to center in the general. A counter argument is that the primary and general election dimensions are sufficiently different (there are D issues and then there are R issues) that it doesn't much matter. An additional counter argument is that by beating each other up, Clinton and Obama work out all the kinks and hone their messages and leave very little for McCain to go negative with.
3. Generic ballot tests. When pollsters pit a generic Democrat with an unnamed Republica, the Democrat easily wins. Does the attention and exposure of the Democratic primary strengthen or weaken that?
4. The lack of a known opponent has to be hurting McCain's campaign finance. According to the FEC, he's raised just over $80 million so far this election cycle. He'll need to raise another $300 million in the next 9 months to match W's total for the 2004 cycle. So far Obama's raised $240 mil.
It just seems to me that to say this benefits McCain is to say that political competition is ruinous. Maybe so. But maybe not, too.
Wise Words ...
"If John McCain, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were on a bridge and it collapsed, America would be saved."
Mike may be a bit optimistic here--he'd also need Edwards, Huckabee, and large chunk of Congress to be on the bridge.
ADDENDUM: Save the emails, it's only a methaphorical bridge. I don't advocate harming these folks and I'm sure Mike doesn't either.
April 16, 2008
Biofuels, food, and the environment
Does this Guardian article offer a portent of things to come for the US?
Farewell the age of reason, welcome the idiocracy. Only George Orwell could have invented - and named - the [UK] government's Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO) that came into operation yesterday. It is the latest in a long line of measures intended to ease the conscience of the rich while keeping the poor miserable, in this case spectacularly so.
April 09, 2008
Internet and Freedom
I’m on the way back from the APEE meetings, where a lot of DOLers have been for the past few days. There were a ton of really good papers on the program, and the plenary talks were outstanding. My favorite was yesterday when David Henderson gave a talk, “Is the ‘Net, on net, good for freedom?” In short, David’s answer is ‘yes,’ although he acknowledges that governments use advanced technologies to track individuals and censors uses of these same technologies. I think it's very difficult to say whether the Internet itself is good for freedom, because it depends on how limited government is in the first place, and that varies across societies. Clearly in closed societies, socialist governments have a strong interest in limiting communication of any sort. Alvaro Vargas Llosa writes about the dramatic story of the failed attempt by Raul Castro's government to censor the Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez, who writes about daily life in under the degenerate regime. The film, Lives of Others, highlights various forms of information being banned under East Germany, from books and newspapers to even government statistics on suicide rates. Before Vietnam's doi moi reforms in the late 1980's people there had virtually no contact with the outside world but now there are something like 15 million Internet users. As societies become more open in general, their peoples become less tolerant of government controlling anything, including the Internet. Even private organizations, such as Google, are scrutinized for storing data on individuals [story on EU here]. I am largely ignorant of the details of this debate but I do think David is right. Still, I think it's important to say that the Internet's benefit to freedom isn't certain; it depends on people's vigilance against censorship and privacy invasion in general.
April 03, 2008
PETA moment c. 1908
The April 3, 1908 NYT has a report that you would NEVER see today:
President Roosevelt has been the recipient of gifts of almost every conceivable description...Yesterday a monster sea turtle weighing 350 pounds, a product of Nicaraguan waters, was presented to the President...Nice.
April 02, 2008
It's good to be the king c. 1908
From the April 2, 1908 NYT:
BERLIN - An authentic report is in circulation here that a bill will soon be introduced in the Prussian Diet raising the civil list of the Emperor. This list now amounts to $3,900,000 a year, which is paid the Emperor as King of Prussia and not as German Emperor; the latter position carries no salary.So many kids!! Good grief.
Elections matter c. 1908
From the April 2, 1908 NYT:
MILWAUKEE, Wis. -- Fear of a Social Democrat victory at the election next Tuesday is said to be the reason that there was not a single bid received from any banking house for the $325,000 bond issue, which was to have been allotted today. The Social Democrats have been gaining in strength here for several years past, and polled 12,000 votes out of a total of about 60,000.
March 26, 2008
A New TR?
Like many country-first, party-second military officers who began second careers in Washington, Mr. McCain is often mischaracterized as a politician without any identifiable ideology. But all of his actions can be seen as an attempt to use the federal government to restore your faith in ... the federal government. Once we all put our shoulder on the same wheel, there’s nothing this country can’t do.
Gravel 2008: All over the map
Former senator (D-Alaska) a gadfly Democratic presidential candidate Mike Gravel announced yesterday that he is joining the Libertarian Party and will be seeking its 2008 nomination for president. Fox News reports:
In an e-mail to supporters, Gravel, 77, wrote, “I look forward to advancing my presidential candidacy within the Libertarian Party, which is considerably closer to my values, my foreign policy views and my domestic views.”
The same report also notes, however:
Last month, Gravel endorsed Green Party presidential nominee Jesse Johnson. [According to a spokesman,] Gravel didn’t see any reason “why not” to offer his backing since “voting party line is not smart” and he agrees with Johnson’s message as well as the Green Party’s approach of “direct democracy, mobilizing at a grassroots level, working with people one-on-one and enabling citizen democracy.”
The LP national convention will be held in May. 14 announced candidates are already in contention for the nomination. Apart from Gravel, the only candidate I've heard of is ... wait, I haven't heard of any of them.
March 14, 2008
Anthony Downs was on to something
In the U.S., third parties and anti-establishment folks groan about the two-party dominance that is American politics. Today's Iranian elections provide a little perspective. Reuters has the full story here. A few key excerpts.
By Zahra Hosseinian and Parisa Hafezi.
When this much makes it into the press, you know it's only the tip of the iceberg. Without meaningful political competition, democracy collapses toward autocracy.
Kudos to Mike Munger ...
... for getting to participate in the North Carolina gubernatorial debate in October (he's the Libertarian candidate). The debate will be held in Charlotte--maybe Craig can live blog it for us.
Looking for some supreme swag--then donate to Mike's campaign. Logo t-shirts, collector's quality coffee mugs, and more--all for a modest donation. It's the best $50 I've spent today ...
March 13, 2008
Home schooling news
My trolling of Catholic blogs brought up two stories I'm guessing are of interest to DoL readers (who are probably Friedman fans, himself a staunch supporter of more choices in education). First, Jimmy Akin directs to this story about a California state appelate court case on the credentials of home-schooling parents:
"Parents do not have a constitutional right to home school their children," wrote Justice H. Walter Croskey in a Feb. 28 opinion signed by the two other members of the district court.
The inevitable question is whether it is in the best interest of the child to be insulated from beliefs, ideas and values outside of what his parents allow. To say it more accurately, should the state stand by and allow children to be raised in accordance with their parents‘ biases and prejudices? Or does the state, in accordance with its own right to preserve itself, have the right to intervene, even to the point of infringing on parental authority, in order to provide the child with a more holistic view of the world and humanity?
Call me a conspiracy nut, but is it that hard to believe that, perhaps, parents who hold dissenting views on human-caused global warming, the benefits of redistribution programs, political correctness, or heck, even the logic of Social Security, might be deemed unfit to teach their children outside of state supervision? I take a medium-size tinfoil hat, please.
March 12, 2008
Interesting article, especially given the author's identity. Its title is "Why I Am No Longer a 'Brain-Dead Liberal,'" but Gary Roseman says I must use the word Statist.
I wrote a play about politics, ... [a]nd as part of the "writing process," as I believe it's called, I started thinking about politics, ... which is to say, about the polemic between persons of two opposing views. The argument in my play is between a president who is self-interested, corrupt, suborned, and realistic, and his leftish, lesbian, utopian-socialist speechwriter.
March 11, 2008
Rich, beautiful, shameless
Malcolm Forbes is supposed to have said, "Nepotism's OK as long as it's kept in the family." In that vein, NPR's "Steve Inskeep talks to [Scott] Simon, host of [NPR's] Weekend Edition Saturday, about his book, about growing up in Chicago and about the simultaneously selfless — and self-absorbed — enterprise of politics."
On the last point, Simon approvingly quotes his principal character: "Of course, the system isn't fair. It favors the rich, and the beautiful, and the shameless. But everyone gets a chance in the end."
That bit of praise sounds like a succinct statement the condemnation that statists use when calling for "regulation" of markets. Doesn't it occur to them that, given the levers available in both the market and the political system, the rich, the beautiful, and shameless are even more likely to prosper than if "regulation" were absent?
February 27, 2008
William F. Buckley died today. This is a sad day for me. He was my first introduction to conservative/libertarian thought thanks to a friend's willingness to let me read his National Review magazine back in high school.* Already a budding anti-communist, Buckley opened my eyes to the importance of economic liberalism as part of the the American tradition. Buckley was a great uniter among libertarians and conservatives in the 1970s and 80s.
Yes, I know Buckley was no Rothbardian anarcho-capitalist, and my own views have traveled far from those high school days. I didn't always agree with him then and found my views moving farther away from Buckley's over time. Still I will allow myself a moment to honor the man who helped me get where I am today.
Sadly, Buckley's passing is symbolic also of the death of the libertarianism in the American conservative movement. I'm afraid there aren't too many conservatives left who would sail out to international waters to try some pot (or rather few who'd admit to it).
*Reading The Freeman, at the instigation of a high school teacher, was my first intro to real libertarian thought.
Addendum: I also read and enjoyed most of his spy novels. Not high literature by any standard, but good for the genre.
Socializing risk, ex post
Holman Jenkins in today's Opinion Journal [link here, thanks to Richard Reinsch for the pointer]:
Any debate about a housing bailout can be put aside -- the bailout is underway... No, the perverse effect won't be a replay of the '30s, or even Japan's decade of stagnation in the '90s, but the latter is your model, with a little inflation thrown in. The goal: avoid foreclosures and slow the fall of home prices to market-clearing levels.
As for the "little inflation thrown in," SJSU's Barstool Economists have this:
Warren Gibson queries:
According to the BLS wizards at http://www.bls.gov/news.release/cpi.nr0.htm the housing component has been rising at a annual rate of about 3%, though not quite that fast in the last couple months. Can anyone tell me why, with house prices declining, the housing component of CPI continues to rise? What am I missing here? I know they assume homeowners are renting to themselves, and maybe BLS isn't "marking to market" existing houses.
Jeff Hummell replies:
Not since 1982 has the CPI included house prices, nor is there any logical reason that it should. It is after all, a "consumer" price index, and the purchase of a house is primarily an investment. About 40 percent of the CPI comes from housing costs, which includes actual and imputed rents (30 percent), fuel and other utilities (5 percent), and household furnishings and operations (5 percent). Do you know any tenant who has seen a decrease in rents over the last year? I certainly don't. Rents are imputed for owner-occupied housing from the actual market rents of similar propertis, so you are right, they are not marked to the market value of the house, in either the CPI or the National Income and Product Accounts. Imputed rents should only noticeably fall with a decline in house prices if they noticeably rose (faster than other goods and services) with an increase in house prices.
Back to Jenkins and the policy question:
Making the hole even harder to climb out of in tough-love fashion, government policy itself played a big role in creating the bubble, on the bipartisan theory that homeownership begets "social stability."
So that clears things up, huh?
February 25, 2008
Patience c. 1908
It is interesting to read about the prohibition movement and its success in the South during the mid nineteen-aughts. Of course, within a decade the rest of the country will jump on the prohibition wagon (as it were). An important lesson from that episode is the amazing amount of patience and persistence the prohibitionists displayed. Today, there are similar groups with patience and persistence and the empirical question is whether their policies would be any better than those of the past.
The Feb. 25, 1908 NYT has the following information:
Representative E. F. Acheson now proposes to give Congress an opportunity to put itself on record on the question of National Prohibition. Many of the members of Congress, including several from Pennsylvania, have declared that they are in favor of National prohibition, but are opposed to State and local option, as it cannot be enforced.Whether Acheson was the first or not, such suggestions ultimately led to this:
Haven't I Heard This Somewhere Before?
Recently, the Mrs. and I caught a snippet of Barack Obama calling for "a leader who can end the division in Washington." One of us asked the other didn't Bush run to be a uniter not a divider or some such pablum? Indeed he did (maybe Hillary should try to sniff out some plagiarism). Actually, I'm with Kevin "Gridlock is Good" Grier--bipartisanship is vastly overrated (think stimulus package).
February 18, 2008
On inside jobs c. 1908
The "9/11 Truthers" contend that the attacks of that day were an "inside job" designed to "lead the U.S. to war." The Feb. 18, 1908 NYT reports on the "Maine Truthers" (from Spain):
The Diario Espanol, the organof the ultra-Spanish element, in a leading article to-day referring to the special celebration by Americans of the tenth anniversary of the blowing up of the battleship maine, says:
February 11, 2008
On rebuilding after disaster c. 1908
From the Feb. 11, 1908 NYT concerning the rebuilding of Chinatown after the April 1906 San Francisco earthquake:
The rebuilt Chinatown of San Francisco contains substantial new buildings as picturesque as those destroyed by the fire and earthquake, but more convenient and sanitary...I am admittedly not well versed in the history of Chinatown(s) - my suspicion is that they are/were a form of segregation. However, what is striking is the rebuilding is ostensibly completed in less than two years and without a hint of government assistance mentioned in the story.
One wants to make comparisons with another disaster area in this country, even if to do so is not completely honest.
February 09, 2008
On bridge tolls c. 1908
For our friends in the Northeast (and elsewhere) who face dramatic increases in road and bridge tolls in the near future, a letter to the editor from the Feb. 9, 1908 NYT:
Now that the Thaw trial is over, please turn your attention to a free Brooklyn Bridge topic and let me know why I should pay 10 cents [$2.26 in 2006 dollars] to drive across the [Brooklyn] bridge, who gets the money, and such other information as will explain why, after I have crossed the bridge, I can drive free over several hundred miles of paved, cleaned, and lighted thoroughfares, that cost many millions of dollars to build and cost ten times as much to maintain as both bridges?
February 07, 2008
Pre-election antics c. 1908
An article in the Feb. 7, 1908 NYT puts our current primary antics in some perspective:
ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. - The wildest scenes of disorder characterized the proceedings of the Republican Convention here to-day, which elected two complete delegations to the National Convention, one in favor of Taft and the other uninstructed.
February 06, 2008
Political hot air c. 1908
From the Jan. 6, 1908 NYT:
The eagle which has perched upon the top of the historic mace at the right hand of the Speaker of the House of Representatives these sixty-seven years, since John Tyler was President, is sick.
February 04, 2008
"The poor souls"
I received this note from an economist friend in Nairobi, Kenya whose home is close to one of the areas of the unrest:
I am unable to sleep, I have called all the police numbers, called intelligence agents, newsrooms-nobody is rescuing the poor souls. I am watching from my window, impotent and enraged.
For his safety, I will not reveal his name. He is now trying to move his family and staff to safer digs. Donations (501c3 deductible thanks to his American friends) are being accepted. Contact me directly for details if you're interested/able to help.
[No, this is not a scam. I know the guy and this is real.]
Biofuels for fun and profits
George Will on biofuels. The Riady story needs to be repeated as often as possible.
The political importance of corn-growing, ethanol-making Iowa is one reason that biofuel mandates flow from Washington the way oil would flow from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge if it had nominating caucuses.
Some pot in every chicken?
Steve Chapman on Obama's stance(s) regarding marijuana:
Recently, he had told a New Hampshire newspaper, "I'm not in favor of decriminalization."
CCC at the state level c. 1908
From the Feb. 4, 1908 NYT:
With the unanimous consent in the [New York] Senate to-night, Senator McCall of the Sixteenth District introduced a bill authorizing the Park Board of New York to spend an additional sum of $1,500,000 for the development of parks and driveways.Unmentioned is that such an expenditure "for the benefit of the unemployed" came at the expense of the employed (at least to some degree).
January 31, 2008
John McCain? Say it ain't so!
I just took this reasonably (but not perfectly) crafted quiz that selects the presidential candidate closest to your views. It spit out John McCain! Not Ron Paul?! Huh?!
It could the be quiz itself I guess. It had no questions on campaign finance and I LOATHE John McCain's views there. Plus I have a deep fear that McCain is a hot head, but that character issue wasn't on the quiz. Plus Paul's views (e.g., abortion is a state issue) don't lend themselves to the quiz format very well.
But I can't deny the fact that except for Iraq and Immigration. issues on which I disagree with all of the Republicans (except for Paul on Iraq), I seem close to McCain.
Here were the results:
Agree with McCain:
Disagree with McCain:
January 30, 2008
Clinton vs. Prosperity
January 23, 2008
Another excellent offering from Mike Lester of the Rome News-Tribune:
On political dynasties c. 1908
A fascinating editorial in the Jan. 23, 1908 NYT discusses how the Democratic party might want to get rid of a candidate that has been hanging around for too long:
Why should [William Jennings] Bryan get out unless he is forced out? From the point of view of the Democrat, the patriot, the wise party leader, innumerable reasons may be advanced why he should abandon his pretensions to the candidacy; from the personal point of view of Mr. Bryan, not one. Mr. Bryan is a very successful man. In seeking a third nomination he is pursuing the path of success that has led him to fame and fortune. He is a rich man. He has said that he has money enough to make him comfortable the rest of his life. He has made his fortune by being the candidate, by refusing to relinquish his grasp upon the leadership of the Democratic Party. Because of the position he holds men buy his Commoner, and lecture committees pay him large fees. Mr. Bryan, in the language of the street, has a "good thing." He would be a fool to let go of it.Might this apply to a certain "third term" seeker today?
January 15, 2008
From John J. DiIulio Jr.'s analysis ("The Wacko-Vet Myth: Now echoed by the New York Times") of the Times's drive-by shooting ("Across America, Deadly Echoes of Foreign Battles"):
The Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and other veterans' advocacy groups are absolutely correct that not merely "many" but the vast majority of veterans not only remain completely law-abiding but go on to lead stable and productive personal, professional, and civic lives. Assuming 121 homicide cases in relation to 749,932 total discharges through 2007, 99.98 percent of all discharged Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have not committed or been charged with homicide.
If It's So Rotten, Why Are You Running for It?
Perhaps it has something to do with her soaring narcissism and lust for power.
January 13, 2008
Papers please! Papiere bitte! Papeles, por favor!
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff says,
Only three categories of people need be "disappointed" by the forthcoming identification cards, the Homeland Security chief told attendees at a midday press conference here: terrorists, illegal immigrants, and con-men.
I'm not a terrorist, illegal immigrant or con man, but I'm not happy about this. So make that four categories, you nazi wannabe.
January 08, 2008
Bryan's cross c. 1908
From the Jan. 8, 1908 NYT:
"I know that some people are giving much thought to the money question, but that is not worrying me much. The people of this country have made it possible for me to acquire an independent income for all time to come, so I have no worry on that score."
January 01, 2008
Wherein John Tierney represents Al Gore as an "availability entrepreneur." Seems like a charitable term.
[A]vailability entrepreneurs: the activists, journalists and publicity-savvy scientists who selectively monitor the globe looking for newsworthy evidence of a new form of sinfulness, burning fossil fuels.
December 23, 2007
Legislative restraint c. 1907
The Dec. 23, 1907 NYT reports on legislative restraint on the part of Confederate veterans:
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - United Confederate Veterans, of this city, yesterday by unanimous vote went on record in opposition to the bill introduced by Congressman Hobson providing for pensioning Confederate veterans. The resolution concludes:
It would be refreshing if some today would show similar restraint.
December 22, 2007
From a Competitive Enterprise Institute posting: "It seems the [Washington] Post believes that if an emission drops and no bureaucrat was around to mandate it, it didn't really drop. ... Under any relevant modern baseline, e.g., the year Europe made its Kyoto promise (1997) or thereafter, U.S. emissions have risen far more slowly than those of its noisiest antagonists. For example, International Energy Agency data show that over the past 7 years (2000-2006), the annual rate of increase for U.S. CO2 emissions is approximately one-third of the EU's rate of increase. Indeed, over the same period even the smaller EU-15 economy has increased its CO2 emissions in actual volume greater than the U.S. by more than 20%, even while the U.S. economy and population also grew more rapidly."
December 13, 2007
On government corruption c. 1907
From the December 13, 1907 NYT:
CHICAGO - Far-reaching effects of the great snowstorm of January, 1905, were uncovered last night by the City Civil Service Commission. The phenomenon discovered was that 1,100 street laborers still are employed by the city for the removal of that remarkable snowfall. Notwithstanding the scientific interest developed, the commission unanimously decided that from reasons of economy, a new rule be enacting limiting to five days the period for which emergency street cleaning laborers may be employed in Chicago.Excellent.
December 10, 2007
Pearls of Wisdom ...
Next year, more candidates than ever will have the funds needed to get their messages to voters. That's because 2008 is shaping up to be the best-financed campaign in history.
December 08, 2007
From Today's Inbox: Academics for Paul
December 06, 2007
Domestic use of the Army c. 1907
From the Dec. 6, 1907 NYT:
WASHINGTON - President Roosevelt to-night instructed Gen. Funston to dispatch a sufficient force of regulars to Goldfield, Nev., to control the situation there. This action was taken upon receipt of a telegraphic request from the Governor of Nevada. The troops will proceed from San Francisco and the strength of the expedition is left to the judgement of Gen. Funson.
The Politics of Truth
Why do politicians lie?
The traditional public choice answer is "because they can." Once in office incumbents enjoy an electoral advantage because rational ignorance creates some slack between voter-principals and politician-agents. Politicians with enough reputational capital can afford to indulge in prevaricating rhetoric, wealth transfers to special interests, and perhaps even the occasional tryst, because democratic institutions are inefficient. Incentives matter, dammit!
The new generation of public choice invokes systematic biases in the beliefs of voter-principals deviating from political truth, as revealed by scientific method. For all the much deserved attention to Bryan Caplan's The Myth of the Rational Voter, the lesser-known yet equally forceful book, Rational Choice and Democratic Deliberation, by political theorists Guido Pincione and Fernando Teson, is well-suited to explaining systematic lies in politics and the democratic failure that results. One voter bias, due to epistemic rational ignorance, is a preference for vivid information over opaque explanations. Vivid information is
"a) emotionally interesting, b) concrete and imagery-provoking, and c) proximate in a sensory, temporal, or spatial way." For example, we will feel more indignant about a heinous crime if we watch the gory details on the evening news. If the newscaster also tells us that the suspect was out of prison on a "technicality," we will overstate the relevance of the crime as confirmatory evidence for the theory that heinous crimes are due to the leniency of the justice system. [Pincione and Teson, p.23, omitting footnotes]In contrast, we spurn opaque explanations like invisible hand, spontaneous order, comparative advantage, reputational self-regulation, and broken window fallacies. People adopt vivid beliefs by default and confirmatory biases put a premium on vivid information that reinforces the default. So false stories can become ingrained, and [p]oliticians have an incentive to spread vivid explanations, for the public will believe them given their default views" (p.35).
Take Al Gore, who is flying to Stockholm (a shocking carbon waste!) to receive his piece of Nobel history on Monday. Yesterday's WSJ.com Opinion Journal has Holman Jenkins on "The Science of Gore's Nobel", which was "awarded for promoting belief in manmade global warming as a crisis." Jenkins invokes the same cognitive psychology that supports political failure arguments of Caplan, Pincione & Teson, and others like Tyler Cowen on voter self-deception. Voter bias finds root in anchoring effects like cognitive-cost-minimizing people choosing to adopt views that are the most available or accessible. Jenkins:
[Kahneman and Tversky's] insight has been fruitful and multiplied: "Availability cascade" has been coined for the way a proposition can become irresistible simply by the media repeating it; "informational cascades" for the tendency to replace our beliefs with the crowd's beliefs; and "reputational cascade" for the rational incentive to do so.
Falsely claiming consensus behind one's views is a form of political deception, which as Pincione and Teson point out, commits the argumentum ad populum fallacy. Logic be damned. Rather, "citing agreement of others is, in short, a particularly vivid (and often fallacious) way to argue in politics." (p.43)
What this all amounts to is a refinement of government failure theory. Throw cognitive biases together in large numbers and systemic failures pop out. Pincione and Teson:
Discourse failure as a social phenomenon results...from the mutually reinforcing interaction of rational ignorance and posturing against the background of redistributive politics. Political actors who stand to gain from spreading certain kinds of information will be helped by citizens who are willing to do their share, as it were, in the acquisition of confirmatory evidence of the default vivid beliefs. In other words, the cost of supplying convenient information is reduced by ingrained cognitive errors, and correspondingly, those who want to change public opinion in the direction of opaque theories will face higher costs. Not only will they have to argue against vivid views that the public holds by default; they will also have to counter the psychological biases just discussed. (p.44)Politicians lie because they can, yes, but also "because they have to!" Incentives yada yada. Perceptions matter too, dammit!
Hat tips to:
November 21, 2007
Steve Chapman on the beguiling notion of energy independence:
[A]lready I can guarantee two things. First, the next president will be elected on a promise to lead the nation to energy independence. Second, the promise won't be kept.
On Social Security: Krugman vs. Krugman
Ruth Marcus takes on Paul Krugman:
In liberal Democratic circles, the debate over Social Security has taken a dangerous "don't worry, be happy" turn.
And so forth.
November 14, 2007
"In God We Trust" and TR c. 1907
Imagine something like this, from the Nov. 14, 1907 NYT, being written today:
In answer to one of the numerous protests which have been received at the White House against the new gold coin which have been coined without the words "In God We Trust," President Roosevelt has written a letter:
Needless to say, TR's stance was not popular. For example, a "red-hot debate" took place in the Episcopal Diocesan Convention.:
yesterday, by a vote of 131 to 81, passed resolutions protesting against the elimination of the motto "In God We Trust" from the new ten-dollar gold pieces. The debate on the question lasted an hour and a half, and for a part of that time the convention was in some disorder.
November 13, 2007
Taxing the rich
Closing lines of an interesting column by Jonah Goldberg:
I don't know what the best tax rates are, for rich or poor.
November 07, 2007
Happy Bolshevik Day!
90 years ago today saw the Bolshevik Revolution, and NPR dedicated some on-air time this morning to the event. Surprisingly, the first paragraph admits that "The communist revolution ushered in a totalitarian dictatorship that killed and imprisoned tens of millions of people." Since capitalism's demise is supposedly inevitable but has yet to happen, the price tag for the socialist paradise must be in the hundreds of millions then.
The story interviews a Russian born in 1917 who had both his parents killed by the workers' regime, fought for Russia in WWII, was captured and imprisoned by Nazis, and survived only to return home and be imprisoned 10 years by Russians who thought he was a German spy.
So, though the 90 year old who lived through the era recognizes the horrors of Bolshevism, those who didn't live through it do not:
Syleia Daripova, 34, says she believes Stalin was a great man.
Imagine how much more unique he would have been if he killed three-fourths!
October 31, 2007
Michael Moore's SiCKO is opening in Britain this week, but the British are not amused. Anyone can extol the virtues of universal government-furnished health care, they say, when they have never had to use it.
October 24, 2007
Worst Chart of the Day
Bushies might claim that much of the spending growth is for military purposes, but take a look at Reagan who also spent much on strengthening the military. Source here.
October 17, 2007
Wisdom from George Will
John Edwards, too, has puzzling ideas. For the entertainment of Iowans, he has reinvented himself as a 19th-century Kansan -- Mary Elizabeth Lease, the prairie populist who urged farmers to "raise less corn and more Hell." In August, Edwards urged an Iowa audience to throw off Washington's yoke: "We need to take the power out of the hands of these insiders that are rigging the system against you."
October 12, 2007
Public Schools and Others
This report from Yahoo News by Nancy Zuckerbrod, AP Education Writer, is fairly typical:
WASHINGTON - Low-income students who attend urban public high schools generally do just as well as private-school students with similar backgrounds, according to a study being released Wednesday.
Of course, this is not what the report from the "nonpartisan" CEP says. The actual report is based on a set of regression equations in which 8th grade tests are the major predictors of 12th grade test results. Thus, at most the report tells something about how much the students gain between the 8th and 12th grades. Even this is problematic, as the body of the study concedes (p. 19): "Just as it is possible in the NAEP research that private schools attract higher achieving students to begin with, it is possible in this study that private schools promote greater
No F scores are provided for non-comprehensive public schools as a group, and none are provided for parental characteristics as a group. For some of the school types, the number of observations appears to be quite small (Report, p. 26: "No type had fewer than 25 NELS survey participants for this analysis.")
Back to the AP story:
[T]he new study not only compared students by income levels but also looked at a range of other family characteristics, such as whether a parent participates in school life. "When these were taken into account, the private-school advantage went away," the report states. The study looked at 1,000 low-income students from cities who are part of a nationally representative sample of kids surveyed over a period of years, along with parents and teachers, as part of a federal research effort.
In fact, the estimated impacts of these family characteristics as measured by beta coefficients is quite small and not always with the "right" sign. And the sample used in this study is anything but "nationally representative" as the report (p.26) says: "This subset amounted to 1,003 students. By focusing on this subset, the study limited private school comparisons to those affecting inner-city populations...."
October 11, 2007
Do as we say
From Cooler Heads Digest, 10/10/07:
Hypocrite of the Week
October 10, 2007
From John Leo's column on the political leanings of professors:
Although business school professors are believed to be predominantly conservative, professors of business voted 2-1 for Kerry. These professors were barely more conservative than liberal.
I don't how one can describe a group that voted 2-1 for Kerry as being more conservative than liberal.
October 05, 2007
On centralization c. 1907
From a letter to the editor of the October 5, 1907 NYT:
While Mr. Roosevelt is interested in the later days of the Roman Empire, could you not call his attention to the fact that one chief reason of its disintegration and its easy final "fall" was the gradual weakening of local governments and the centralizing of these old local powers in the capital city? When the centre became weak there was no strength left elsewhere.
On (not) stopping global warming
Steven Milloy reports that the Low Carbon Economy Act of 2007 "would cost taxpayers more than $1 trillion in its first 10 years and untold trillions of dollars in subsequent decades." Further, "This week, the EPA sent its analysis of the bill’s impact on climate to Bingaman and Specter. Now we can see what we’d get for our money, and we may as well just build a giant bonfire with the cash and enjoy toasting marshmallows over it." [Milloy does not examine the global-warming implications of the bonfire.]
Using IPCC formulas, Milloy estimates the implications of the EPA's estimates for the earth's temperature. (The EPA does't make these computations. Milloy suspects that's because the results would be embarrassing to the Act's authors.) Milloy's estimates:
Under the no-action scenario (718-to-695 ppm), the IPCC formulas indicate that the multitrillion-dollar Bingaman-Specter bill might reduce average global temperature by 0.13 degrees Celsius. Under the maximum regulation scenario (514-to-491 ppm), Bingaman-Specter might reduce average global temperature by 0.18 degrees Celsius.
Foreign Affairs carries the article, "Why Climate Change Can't Be Stopped," that suggests the approach with highest payoff: "Dollar for dollar, the most efficient way to cut global greenhouse gas emissions would be, in theory, to invest hundreds of billions of dollars to improve China’s energy efficiency. But Congress would never support such an approach." That last sentence might be the understatement of the century.
October 03, 2007
TR vs. GWB c. 1907
This headline from the Oct. 3, 1907 NYT, describing a speech President Teddy Roosevelt gave in St. Louis, could easily describe the current political environment:
USE VAST FEDERAL POWER - ROOSEVELTThe entirety of the speech is printed in the paper, with the following section headings:
September 30, 2007
On Republicans c. 1907
I have mentioned this in some earlier post, but the Democrat candidate for the 1908 election was chosen in 1906 - there were no primaries or anything like that. This is just to put the current marathon, multi-year Presidential race in some perspective.
The Sept. 30, 1907 NYT has a letter to the editor concerning the 1908 election which ends with the following paragraph:
The object for which the Republican Party was organized was accomplished forty-two years ago, and there is no further reason under the sun for its continued existence. In fact, the party has degenerated into a system of commercial despotism which acts through party legislation as if we were at commercial war with the world, and taxes the people on a war basis so increasingly oppressive that it is becoming a problem for the average citizen now live decently.I submit that the spirit of this paragraph pertains to both major parties in the U.S. today.
September 27, 2007
On fairness c. 1907
From the September 27, 1907 NYT:
North Dakota will be the name of Battleship No. 23, one of the new 20,000-ton vessels, contracts for which were recently awarded by the Navy Department. The other vessel will be called the Deleware.
September 24, 2007
Taxation for thee but not for me c. 1907
From the Sept. 24, 1907 NYT:
It is known that the members of the French Chamber of Deputies last year voted themselves an additional salary of 6,000 francs. It is not so well known that this action was resented by the Socialists...By some means it came to be understood that a "divvy" was the duty of the Socialist Deputy. If he handed over half of the "unearned increment" to the Socialist Treasury he might keep the other half.So far, so good. However, it is interesting that the socialists didn't take all of the pay raise.
But it gets better:
Thirty-two Socialist Deputies have accordingly submitted to this Socialist tax. But ten have made only a partial surrender of the moiety, pleading, possibly the same "increase in the cost of living" which was pleaded in behalf of the increase of pay. Eight have omitted to divided with the party to any extent whatever, being apparently of the opinion that 3,000 francs would compensate them for any odium they might incur by keeping it for themselves...Such an excellent and subtle economic argument offered in a similar story today would be surprising.
September 22, 2007
From the WSJ's "Best of the Web Today":
The Associated Press reports on a Hillary Clinton health-care speech:
GA political columnist Bill Shipp writes in today's RNT (no link) that "Georgia's congressmen don't bring home bacon." Shipp writes that Rep. Jack Kingston (his district is southeastern GA along the coast) owes "Georgians a big fat apology" and calls the $83 million in federal funds that Kingston has obtained for local projects "peanuts." It's rather ironic then that Kingston is Georgia's most pork happy Republican congressman.
Even more ironic--the page opposite of Shipp's column contains a photo of our congressman posing with the results of a local project for which he obtained federal funding.
September 21, 2007
Best of the Web points to an NYT article, "Scientists Report Severe Retreat of Arctic Ice." The article runs 459 words. The first 441 words expand on the title. Here are the last 18 words: "Sea ice around Antarctica has seen unusual winter expansions recently, and this week is near a record high."
Capitalist anarchists? c. 1907
From the Sept. 21, 1907 NYT:
PITTSBURG - Intense excitement was caused here this afternoon when an Anarchistic notice was found posted on the high board fence which surrounds the old cathedral property, for which H. C. Frick paid $1,300,000...EH.net suggests that nominal GDP per capita was about $390 per year, or approximately $2 per day. Now, if the redressing of wrongs provides a "good," the "right man" should be willing to pay for the privelege. Having to pay five times the average day's wage (and 8 times what Rockefeller paid his summer help), suggests that the recruitment of anarchists, and especially those who would be willing to commit murder and arson, was not easy.
The police at first think the posting is a joke but then:
they noticed several suspicious persons at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Wood Street, [and] they arrested them.
For the Children
An interesting historical note from a reader at the Mises blog site:
As early as 1871 the Liberals in my home town of Kettering, England, had (as Herbert Spencer in near by Darby would have been aware) already given up supporting liberty.
September 19, 2007
On campaign financing c. 1907
From a Sept. 28, 1907 NYT editorial describing a speech by Judge Parker at Jamestown:
In the struggle for mastery in both State and Nation money has been sought as well for illegitimate uses as legitimate uses. As the corruption of the electorate has widened and deepened the demand for money has increased, a demand which long ago outgrew any sum that could be raised by patriotic contributors. So corporations having favors to ask were invited to contribute, and they did so, knowing full well that when legislation was needed or undesirable legislation was threatened the head of the organization could be relied upon for assistance; that his statement that this corporation contributed ten or one hundred thousand dollars to the campaign fund would lock or unlock the door to legislative or administrative action.On the other hand, the "head of the organization" could simply claim that they did not know the individual or corporation who had contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars, could insist that they would not be swayed by contributions, and could "swear off" political action committee dollars.
As I have mentioned before, our problems aren't necessarily new, they are just "ours."
September 14, 2007
" ... the strangest product launch since that of New Coke in 1985"
So says George Will about the launch of Fred Thompson's campaign for president. Will is especially scathing about Thompson's role in McCain-Feingold; a snippet:
In 1997, Thompson chaired a Senate committee investigating 1996 election spending. In its final report, issued in 1998, Thompson's committee recommended a statutory "restriction on issue advocacy" during "a set period prior to an election" when the speech includes "any use of a candidate's name or image." And in 1999, Thompson co-sponsored legislation containing what became, in 2002, the McCain-Feingold blackout periods imposed on any television or radio ad that "refers to" a candidate for federal office -- a portion of which the Supreme Court in June declared unconstitutional.
September 10, 2007
Higgs on 9/11
On this sad anniversary, Bob Higgs pulls few punches reminding us of the many ways in which the terrorist attacks of 9/11/2001 have been used to feed Leviathan. Exerpt:
In the United States, everything memorable becomes an article of commerce in some fashion, and 9/11 is no exception. Many of these commercial offerings are maudlin or otherwise in bad taste, to be sure, but in this country no one is shocked when sellers market tasteless products successfully, and anyone who does not fancy the goods may simply decline to consume them. Indeed, one suspects that by this time, the demand for 9/11 media extravaganzas may be wearing rather thin even among those of mawkish sensibilities.
Comparisons between 9/11/2001 and 12/07/1941 follow. Full editorial here.
August 31, 2007
Do as I Say, Not as I Do
Jon Ham of The Locker Room points to this photo of John--people should sacrifice their SUVs--Edwards's house. There are lots of SUVs in the driveway. Maybe they all belong to guests ...
August 30, 2007
Funding for Big Apples
I'm back from getting married, a honeymoon, and starting a new semester, so I'll try to get to my usual blog rate of one post whenever I get an idea.
National Review's blog links to a map of Manhattanites who receive, yes, agriculture subsidies. For some reason the map isn't visible anymore, but just the fact that a map exists that shows NYC dwellers who receive more than $250,000 in farm subsidies is troubling. Granted, I've only been to Gotham once about a decade ago for a FEE conference, and it seemed pretty built up then. Maybe there is more green space now. For a quarter million a pop, those guys better be growing some big apples.
August 28, 2007
Fat State, Red State; Thin State, Blue State
The Trust for America's Health has released data on obesity rates by state. The fattest state, as measured by the percentage of obese residents, is Mississippi, at 30.6% (giving them the dubious distinction of being the first state ever to break the 30% rate in the survey). The thinnest? Colorado at 17.6%
Let's look at the states by how they voted in the last presidential election, from fattest to thinest:
These are the fattest 23 states. Twenty-one of them, totaling 209 electoral votes, went for Bush. Two, totaling 29 electoral votes, went for Kerry. But it's worth noting that in Wisconsin (#22 on the list) Kerry's margin was a razor thin 11,000 votes (50%-49%), while Michigan, the only non-Bush state in the top 10, was also competitive, falling to Kerry by just 51% to 48%.
So what are we to make of this? Is Karl Rove manipulating the minds of obese people with subliminal messages in Bush commercials? Why would heavy people be more likely to vote Republican?
Is this odd, given that data also shows - according to this guy - that Republicans tend to lead more active lives than Democrats. But maybe we can truly say that Republicans are "fat and happy."
Below the fold is the rest of the data:
Read More »
23. Pennsylvania - Kerry
« Close It
August 19, 2007
A shrinking story?
Here's the headline for a recent AP story: "Arctic sea ice shrinks to record low"
Here's the first paragraph: "There was less sea ice in the Arctic on Friday than ever before on record, and the melting is continuing, the National Snow and Ice Data Center reported."
The amount of ice has fallen about 1.5 percent in two years.
Here's the 7th paragraph: "Scientists began monitoring the extent of Arctic sea ice in the 1970s when satellite images became available."
So the headline could read: "Slight reduction in Arctic ice, to lowest level in 35 years."
August 13, 2007
Katrina Aid Goes Toward Football Condos
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — With large swaths of the Gulf Coast still in ruins from Hurricane Katrina, rich federal tax breaks designed to spur rebuilding are flowing hundreds of miles inland to investors who are buying up luxury condos near the University of Alabama's football stadium.
About 10 condominium projects are going up in and around Tuscaloosa, and builders are asking up to $1 million for units with granite countertops, king-size bathtubs and 'Bama decor, including crimson couches and Bear Bryant wall art.
While many of the buyers are Crimson Tide alumni or ardent football fans not entitled to any special Katrina-related tax breaks, many others are real estate investors who are purchasing the condos with plans to rent them out.
And they intend to take full advantage of the generous tax benefits available to investors under the Gulf Opportunity Zone Act of 2005, or GO Zone, according to Associated Press interviews with buyers and real estate officials.
The GO Zone contains a variety of tax breaks designed to stimulate construction in Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama. It offers tax-free bonds to developers to finance big commercial projects like shopping centers or hotels. It also allows real estate investors who buy condos or other properties in the GO Zone to take accelerated depreciation on their purchases when they file their taxes.
The GO Zone was drawn to include the Tuscaloosa area even though it is about 200 miles from the coast and got only heavy rain and scattered wind damage from Katrina.
July 31, 2007
Prohibition in Georgia c. 1907
From the July 31, 1907 NYT:
ATLANTA, July 30 - After ten hours of exciting debate the lower house of the Georgia General Assembly this evening, by a vote of 139 to 39, passed the Senate bill prohibiting the manufacture or sale of alcoholic beverages in the State after Jan. 1, 1908. Gov. Hoke Smith has announced that he will sign the measure, although prohibition mean the closing of the bar of the Piedmont Hotel, from which he receives a handsome income.
July 30, 2007
John Fund addresses voter fraud in general and ACORN's contribution thereto in particular:
[In] Seattle ... local prosecutors indicted seven workers for Acorn, a union-backed activist group that last year registered more than 540,000 low-income and minority voters nationwide and deployed more than 4,000 get-out-the-vote workers. The Acorn defendants stand accused of submitting phony forms in what Secretary of State Sam Reed says is the "worst case of voter-registration fraud in the history" of the state.
In Washington state, King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg said that in lieu of charging Acorn itself as part of the registration fraud case, he had worked out an agreement by which the group will pay $25,000 to reimburse the costs of the investigation and formally agree to tighten supervision of its activities....
From disenchanted ACORN employees (recall ACORN's strongly pro-union stance on issues):
Last year several Acorn employees told me that the Acorn scandals that have cropped up around the country are no accident. "There's no quality control on purpose, no checks and balances," says Nate Toler, who was head of an Acorn campaign against Wal-Mart in California until late last year, when Acorn fired him for speaking to me.
July 26, 2007
Stack the Court?
This NY Times op-ed piece suggests that, assuming a Democrat wins the 2008 presidential election and the congress remains Democratic, a resizing of the Supreme Court might be in order.
"Chief Justice John Roberts and his conservative colleagues might do well to bear in mind that the roll call of presidents who have used this option includes not just Roosevelt but also Adams, Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln and Grant."
July 17, 2007
Farewell, Antioch by George Will
George Will provides an appropriate eulogy for Antioch College.
During the campus convulsions of the late 1960s, when rebellion against any authority was considered obedience to every virtue, the film "To Die in Madrid," a documentary about the Spanish Civil War, was shown at a small liberal arts college famous for, and vain about, its dedication to all things progressive. When the film's narrator intoned, "The rebels advanced on Madrid," the students, who adored rebels and were innocent of information, cheered. Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, had been so busy turning undergraduates into vessels of liberalism and apostles of social improvement that it had not found time for the tiresome task of teaching them tedious facts, such as that the rebels in Spain were Franco's fascists.
July 10, 2007
A preview of HillaryCare II
Senator Obama visited Birmingham yesterday. The Birmingham News's story about his campaigning gives us just a hint of the rent-seeking/protection orgy we will see should the Democrats win both the Presidency and Congressional majorities in '08, and proceed to "reform" the American health care industry:
At the Sheraton Hotel in downtown Birmingham, an energized Obama told a large, diverse and enthusiastic crowd that America under President Bush has seen a government that "can't do, won't do and won't even try."
"Americans are hungry for change. They are desperate for something new," Obama told about 2,000 cheering fans, most of whom had paid $25 each to listen to him. "We have had so much dysfunction, so much nonsense ... in Washington D.C., that people have just said enough."
The crowd, a mixture of white and black, young and old, affluent and not, repeatedly cheered as Obama criticized Bush.
"We've got a health care system that is broken, that is bankrupting families all across America," Obama said.
. . .
After his downtown speech, Obama headed to another fundraiser, this one at the Mountain Brook home of HealthSouth President and CEO Jay Grinney. Those attending paid $1,000 to $2,300 a person to meet the White House hopeful who by most polls is chasing Clinton for the Democratic Party nomination for president.
July 06, 2007
March to the Sea c. 1907
The July 6, 1907 NYT reports on yet another attempt to re-create Sherman's March to the Sea through Georgia. Being from Northwest Georgia this pressing desire to recreate the march is interesting:
July 01, 2007
Then and Now c. 1907
The July 1, 1907 NYT has the following concerning the State of Illinois planning a commemoration of the 1858 Lincoln-Douglas debates, to be held in the presidential election year of 1908:
The Illinois commemoration is well worth while if only to impress alike the parallel and the distinction between conditions then and now. Then there were bitter differences of opinion, whereas now it is difficult to draw party distinctions, as the parties might almost exchange their leading candidates...Perhaps the greatest distinction between then and now is that whereas in the old time all the talk was of what the Constitution meant, now all the talk is how the Constitution can be made to mean what the temper of the hour would like it to mean. The distinction is vital. The Constitution is a written document, and the meaning of the words has not changed. Yet the Supreme Court from the bench has found it necessary to say the lawful way to change it, if the Nation wants to change it, as according to the method provided, and not by "construction."
June 25, 2007
R.I.P. Antioch College
The board of Antioch College, located in the lovely town of Yellow Springs, Ohio and the home of the world's most bizarre sexual conduct policy, has announced its decision to close the main campus of the college.
What are radicalized lefty students who aren't smart enough to get into Oberlin College going to do now?
June 09, 2007
Global warming non est disputandum
Wired.com reports an AP story, "NASA Head Regrets Global Warming Remarks"
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- The head of NASA told scientists and engineers that he regrets airing his personal views about global warming during a recent radio interview, according to a video of the meeting obtained by The Associated Press.
Hot air has this great headline:
May 23, 2007
On political symbolism c. 1907
I am back from a trip to South Carolina/North Carolina during which I was unplugged from news/politics/blogging. Blogging on my part will recommence with the usual quality.
The May 23, 1907 NYT has a letter to the editor which asks an interesting question:
It is amusing to note the very many unsatisfactory attempts made by the Socialists to explain the use of the red flag in their parades and as a symbol of their beliefs. As the cross is a sign of Christendom throughout the world so is the red banner symbolic of international Socialism, is one of the explanations. In answer to the fore going may I ask...why the color of red of all colors known to mankind was chosen as best expressing the doctrines of Socialism?
May 05, 2007
Commencement Blues Part XII
Just got back from the university's commencement. Sigh.
The speaker was Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) who among many other irritating things said something to the effect that the increases in our life expectancy since 1900 are owed to government programs like "Medicaid and Medicare". To which, I reply:
Other DoL commencement related posts.
April 19, 2007
On revenues vs. freedom c. 1907
From the April 19, 1907 NYT:
Thousands of Americans will give attention to Mr. Cortelyou's inquiry into the present barbarous method of conducting the customs examination of passengers' baggage, and if he should order sensible reforms their gratitude will be his reward.
On cigarettes c. 1907
From the April 19, 1907 NYT:
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - The House to-day passed the Young anti-cigarette bill making unlawful the selling of cigarettes or cigarette papers in Illinois. The bill now goes to the Senate.
On terrorism c. 1907
From the April 19, 1907 NYT:
ST. PETERSBURG - To-morrow will witness a stormy debate in the Lower House of Parliament that has been in preparation for a fortnight past.
April 13, 2007
When adaptive expectations goes wrong
Remember how horrible the 2005 hurricane season was? And, since none of you stopped driving your SUVs, the 2006 season was supposed to be worse. So, FEMA stockpiled tons of food to be ready. Of course, there were maybe two hurricanes during 2006, and now all that FEMA food has spoiled.
In late August 2006, I was listening to NPR report on the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina while also warning of the coming Hurricane Ernesto. I guess the editors of NPR didn't realize that they wouldn't be successful in drumming up fear of the '06 season when we were only in the E's while the year before we were already in the K's.
If you're looking for something to do early next week, check out the FairTax rallies. If any DOL readers happen to be in the Shreveport area, you can join Doug and I Tuesday evening and hear us discuss it on Tom Pace's radio show Monday starting at 4pm. For those unfamiliar with the FairTax, learn more here.
Hope APEE went well. My fiancee joined the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil last saturday, so I had to skip. I also sponsored one of my former students who joined as well.
The two biggest ideas pushed early in the Bill Clinton's administration were centrally planned health care and National Performance Review ("let's make government run like a business with no profit motive!"). Already in her presidential run, Hillary Clinton has promised universal health care (confusing health care with insurance coverage, cost sharing with cost reduction). Today HRC advocates coming in and cleaning up government.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Clinton said the government needed to become more consumer-friendly, cost-efficient and transparent in the way it does business. "We have to bring the government into the 21st century," she said. "We expect to be able to go to an ATM machine, stick a card in and get money, but we can't figure out how to get medical records from the Department of Defense over to the VA. It makes no sense."
Meanwhile John Edwards spends a day as a health care worker.
Not a lot of new ideas.
April 12, 2007
Madeleine Albright Lecture
I've just returned from hearing Madeleine Albright deliver Berry's Shatto Lecture; the event is part of this week's inauguration of Berry's new president. (Side note: Fed Chair William McChesney Martin is one of Berry's past presidents.)
I have a mixed review of Albright's talk. One the positive hand, she criticized Europe's lack of support for bringing an end to the Iraq mess and (in response to a student question) she rightly characterized the thuggish regime of Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe as corrupt.
On the negative hand, Albright criticized the U.S. for being the second worst donor, in percent of GDP, of foreign aid among developed countries. That figure is, in one sense, correct (source here--scroll down to Chart 1 (p.14)), but it refers only to official or governmental development assistance. Since only 20% of foreign aid is governmental (same link as before; scroll down to Table 1), the U.S.'s aid to other countries is 5 times the amount of official development assistance. Of course, the argument for aid presupposes that foreign aid is actually useful in alleviating poverty--the evidence supporting this assumption is weak at best.
Should Taxpayers Buy Me a Printing Press or a TV Network?
TALLAHASSEE, Florida (CNN) -- Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani told CNN Wednesday he supports public funding for some abortions, a position he advocated as mayor and one that will likely put the GOP presidential candidate at odds with social conservatives in his party.
"Ultimately, it's a constitutional right, and therefore if it's a constitutional right, ultimately, even if you do it on a state by state basis, you have to make sure people are protected," Giuliani said in an interview with CNN's Dana Bash in Florida's capital city.
A video clip of the then-mayoral candidate issuing a similar declaration in 1989 in a speech to the "Women's Coalition" appeared recently on the Internet.
"There must be public funding for abortions for poor women," Giuliani says in the speech that is posted on the video sharing site YouTube. "We cannot deny any woman the right to make her own decisions about abortion."
When asked directly Wednesday if he still supported the use of public funding for abortions, Giuliani said "Yes."
"If it would deprive someone of a constitutional right," he explained, "If that's the status of the law, yes."
Rudy doesn't seem to know the difference between positive rights and negative rights. If he thinks a constitutional right to abortion means that they must be taxpayer subsidized, then he should be for taxpayers providing me with a printing press or tv network to exercise my First Amendment rights. I wouldn't have voted for him in any case, but Rudy has now made it clear that he is incapable of fulfilling the presidential oath to protect and defend the constitution.
April 11, 2007
Dennis Miller's radio show
Comedian and libertarian-ish neo-conservative Dennis Miller now has a talk radio show. Check your local listings; here in St. Louis it runs 10am - 1pm. To give you the flavor of the show, today's guests are Christopher Horner (Competitive Enterprise Institute), John McEnroe, Irshad Manji ("The Trouble with Islam Today"), and Gloria Allred.
Miller's enthusiasm for the Iraq war may be as delusional as Dwight Schrute's enthusiasm for superheroes (note Milleresque zany pop-culture reference!) but he's always perceptive, and he's always good for a chuckle. Bonus: the show uses cool bumper music (e.g. Dick Dale's "Misirlou"; John Barry's James Bond themes).
My favorite line from Miller's interview in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch this morning:
Al Gore -- At some point, he'll come riding over the hill like he's the cavalry. But it won't take long for everyone to figure out he's not Forrest Tucker. He's Larry Storch, and he's got his hat on sideways.
April 09, 2007
Adapting to Warming
Newsweek has a remarkable series of articles on global warming. The articles try to identify gainers as well as losers, and they paint a much less gloomy picture than most of the mainstream media. This article by Richard S. Lindzen probably should be read as the theme article. (Links to other articles are at this site.) Its opening sentences:
Judging from the media in recent months, the debate over global warming is now over. There has been a net warming of the earth over the last century and a half, and our greenhouse gas emissions are contributing at some level. Both of these statements are almost certainly true.
April 06, 2007
Restore Freedom of Speech
Most recent reports about the money-raising success of candidates are all about the horse race. Few have suggested the fairly obvious point that McCain-Feingold has not been effective. This editorial gets it pretty much right:
But corruption has, if anything, surged. Confidence in government remains low. Nasty, attack-ad politics are as prevalent as ever. And, of course, corporations, unions and billionaires quickly found a new vehicle for their soft-money influence-peddling – the so-called “527” groups.
April 05, 2007
Worst First Pitch EVER!
In case you missed it, check out the Mayor of Cincinnati's opening day first pitch. I really like the puzzled look on former Red Eric Davis' face.
April 01, 2007
Socialism vs. Individualism c. 1907
The April 1, 1907 NYT reports on a speech given by Columbia University President Nicholas Murray Butler at the University of California a few days earlier. In the article is the following quote of Dr. Butler:
At bottom, and without special reference to immediate concrete proposals, Socialism would substitute for individual initiative collective and corporate responsibility in matters relating to property and production, in the hope thereby of correcting and overcoming the evils which attach to an individualism run wild. But we must not lose sight of the fact that the corporate or collective responsibility which it would substitute for individual initiative is only such corporate or collective responsibility as a group of these very same individuals could exercise. Therefore Socialism is primarily an attempt to overcome man's individual imperfections by adding them together, in the hope that they will cancel each other. This is not only bad mathematics, but worse psychology.Unfortunately for about 100 million people during the twentieth century, Dr. Butler's words were not (I think) intended as an April Fools joke. Adding up human imperfections in the manner Dr. Murray describes seems to have led to tsunami of suffering and misery perpetrated by the very people and against the very people the system was supposed to "save" from the avarices of capitalism and capitalists.
March 30, 2007
What's in a word? c. 1907
The March 30, 1907 NYT reports that the Oklahoma state constitution has been sent to the printer:
The printer who has charge of getting out the Oklahoma Constitution announces that the work will be finished next week and the distribution commenced.
My version of the U.S. Constitution, sans all amendments, is 4,426 words. Including the first ten amendments adds another 482 words (and what a contentious 482 words they have proved to be!).
From 1789 to 1907, the constitution of a state-to-be required 22.5 times as many words as the U.S. Constitution? I wonder whether the Oklahoma territory faced more and more complicated issues that required more words to clarify. Another hypothesis is that by 1907 government had intruded into the lives of individuals 22.5 times more than it had in 1789. Another possibility (my personal favorite), is that the 100,000 word Oklahoma constitution is a testimony to the genius of the Founders, who knew how to say what they wanted to say without extra verbiage.
If the state constitution of Oklahoma was intended to outline the same rights at the state level as are conveyed in the U.S. Constitution, yet it took 22.5 times as many words to do so, would this suggest that the (legal/moral/explicative) value per word in the Oklahoma constitution was lower? If so, was this the effect of demand side or supply side influences (or both)?
March 29, 2007
On immigration c. 1907
The March 29, NYT has the following report on the population of the United States:
There are now nearly 8,000,000 more people in the Continental United States than there were six years ago, according to an estimate based upon the figures compiled by the Census Bureau in a special report issued to-day. According to its estimates the population of the Continental United States in 906 wasa 83,941,510, an increase over 1900 of 7,946,935....The growth in population in the Continental United States from 1905 to 1906 was 1,367,315.
March 28, 2007
Bush yucks it up a notch
There's a surrealness to this AP story about the Prez yuckin it up good for the correspondents dinner.
In keeping with the lighthearted traditions of the Radio and Television Correspondents' Association dinner, Bush poked fun at himself and a few others in remarks that drew laughter and applause at the Washington Hilton Hotel.
March 27, 2007
No Smoking Comrade
I'm not a smoker and don't like the habit in others, but I love liberty more than I hate smoking. Click above for some great anti-ban gear.
Incentives Matter: Campaign Cash Edition
BOSTON (AP) - A millionaire thanks to his work as a venture capitalist, Mitt Romney is acutely aware of the motivating power of money. His presidential campaign hopes it will have a similar effect on college students, which is why it's offering them a cut of their fundraising.
Participants in "Students for Mitt" will get 10 percent of the money they raise for the campaign beyond the first $1,000. While candidates often offer professional fundraisers commissions up to 8 percent, campaign experts believe the Massachusetts Republican is the first to do so with the legion of college students who have historically served as campaign volunteers.
March 21, 2007
Global Warming Debate
Robert J. Samuelson nails it as regards global warming policy discussion:
What's most popular and acceptable (say, more solar) may be the least consequential in its effects; and what's most consequential in its effects (a hefty energy tax) may be the least popular and acceptable.
March 19, 2007
Happy Feet & Unhappy Bears?
‘They [polar bears] cling precariously to the top of what is left of the ice floe, their fragile grip the perfect symbol of the tragedy of global warming. Captured on film by Canadian environmentalists, the pair of polar bears look stranded on chunks of broken ice….’ says an article on global warming. According to the article from which the following excerpts are taken, the only factually correct part of this quote is that the image was captured on film.
This is the Disneyfication of politics: bad, greedy people on one side, and ‘cuddly’, helpless polar bears on the other. How long till we get an animated fable about polar bears to sit alongside the penguin eco-flick Happy Feet?
March 14, 2007
Keystone Kops Election Bureau
A news item on election security:
Some key components of one of Georgia's most sacred institutions — that had been discovered in discarded office furniture — were recently auctioned on eBay.
About 40 voter access cards and three electronic ballot encoders belonging to DeKalb County were purchased earlier this month on the auction Web site, according to Secretary of State Karen Handel. Another seven supervisor's cards, used to activate the encoders, also were up for bid.
From the AJC [bold added for emphasis]:
"We call on Congress to reauthorize SCHIP," [Georgia Governor Sonny] Perdue said at an event that highlighted a study showing a drop in the number of working families nationally that get insurance through their employers. "We call on Congress to fix SCHIP's inadequate funding formulas. And we call on Congress to provide funding to states like Georgia who have successfully implemented the program and now face an immediate federal funding shortfall.
"Georgia stands ready to do our part," the governor said, "but we simply cannot go it alone."
"Government is the great fiction through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else."
March 13, 2007
A Rewrite of History
This article conveys a sense of the historical nonsense that appears to be found in 300. The closing sentence provides an apt summary and an indication of the nature of the state that "Spartan virtues" would yield: "Most Greeks would have traded their homes in Athens for hovels in Sparta about as willingly as I would trade my apartment in Toronto for a condo in Pyongyang."
March 11, 2007
Are we buying this one?
The OMB has released a "study' of the costs and benefits of major legislations and rules changes at the Federal level. I haven't digested all of the report, but this graph (and associated paragraph) was a bit too much:
The difference between cost and benefits shows the net benefits of major regulations from 1992 though September 2006. We were unable to go back beyond 1992 because of a lack of comparable data on benefits. Figure 2-2 also shows that in no year were costs significantly greater than benefits, even though benefits are likely understated relative to the costs since agencies estimate costs but not benefits for some of the rules reviewed by OMB over this time period.52 Figure 2-2 also shows that over its first 6 years, this Administration issued regulations with average annual net benefits 262 percent greater than the average annual net benefits produced by the regulations issued during the previous eight years.
It seems the graph is attempting to depict the marginal cost and marginal benefit of regulation, i.e. the costs and benefits of new regulations and rules changes. As an economist, I recognize the possibility (if not the probability) that public policy can provide significantly greater marginal benefits than marginal costs. However, after more than 100 years of active legislation and rules changes, would not diminishing returns set in? Is it likely that, in the 21st century, new regulations are uncovering vast oceans of previously unrealized benefits? I am not so sure.
I have a hard time believing that every major regulation over the past fourteen years has been an overwhelming success in this arena, but perhaps my priors are clouding my judgement.
March 07, 2007
Did they really get the message?
CAGW estimates pork spending in FY2007 (thus far) at 13 billion, down from $29b in FY2006.
That's a savings of $53 for every man, woman, and child (including non-citizens)! How about that.
Now, if it will only stick.
February 27, 2007
Another Installment of Al Gore's "Do as I Say, Not as I Do ..."
Last night, Al Gore’s global-warming documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, collected an Oscar for best documentary feature, but the Tennessee Center for Policy Research has found that Gore deserves a gold statue for hypocrisy.
For a previous installment of the Al Gore hypocrite, see here.
February 26, 2007
Presidential debates c. 1907
The Democrat(ic?) party selected William Jennings Bryan to run for President in 1908. The party chose their candidate in 1906. At this time, a century ago, the Republican party hasn't chosen their candidate (at least not publicly), although there are a number of contenders. One being Albert J. Beveridge.
See if you can identify the candidate by their language:
A systematic absorption of power by the Federal Government would not only cause discontent and weaken the attachment of the people for the Government, but a withdrawal of power from the State would breed indifference to public affairs - the forerunner of despotism.
Every corporation, so great that its business in Nation-wide, is championing State rights. Every railroad that has felt the regulating hand of the Nation's Government, is earnestly for State rights. Every trust attorney is declaiming against the dangers of centralization. Do you know who is not? I do not say that all advocates of State rights are trust attorneys, but all trust attorneys are advocates of State rights.
Answer below the fold.
Read More »
1. William Jennings Bryan
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February 24, 2007
On the cost of government c. 1907
The Feb. 24, 1907 NYT reports that the 59th Congress (1907-1908) will spend a little more than $1 billion per year - the most to date. In 1907 the economy was estiamted to be approximately $34b, and the federal government was spending approximately 3% of the economy per year. The per-capita cost of the federal government was approximately $12.50 ($268 in 2005 dollars), whereas in 1879-1880 the cost per capita was $7. Today, the per-capita cost for the federal government it is approaching $10,000 (ouch) and federal government spending amounts to appproximately 20% of the nation's economy.
What's driving the run-up in costs in 1907? The military. The largest increase in appropriations was for the navy: in 1897 the navy was appropriated $30m, in 1907 the total was $102m. The story offers that spending on the navy in 1907 was $20m more than the spending during the Spanish-American War of 1898-1899. The largest proportional increase in spending was for fortifications ($24m over two years).
The article does have this to say about the increases in government spending:
If the wealth of the country, rather than its population, is considered, the cost of Government is now at a much less figure on $1,000 per capita [of national income] than ever before in the history of the Republic. The fact that big Congressional appropriations are no longer political issues shows that the people care little for economy in administration so long as there is general prosperity. At the close of each Congress the minority seeks to show that there have been great extravagances in appropriations. The presentation made by the ranking Democrat of the Appropriations Committee receives space in the newspapers, but seldom attracts more than one editorial paragraph in the way of comment. [emphasis added]I like the use of the word "Republic" - we don't see enough of that word these days.
Note: The Republicans held the majority after the 1906 elections.
February 22, 2007
On G.W. (the first) c. 1907
The Feb. 22, 1907 NYT has the following story concerning the legacy of George Washington:
It is not a wholly easy task that the Italian Government has set for the School Directors of the kingdom in directing them to explain to their pupils to-day "the meaning and importance" of the anniversary of Washington's birth in the United States. It is, indeed, a task for which a good many of our own teachers might find themselves only indifferently equipped.Nothing different today.
[I]t is hard to picture definitely what it was that he did for his country and what was the full significance of his remarkable career. This is all the harder because the approximately true Washington is known and can be known only to a limited number of rather careful students, while the portrait that serves and must serve for the great mass of us is at best vague and in many respects quite misleading.At least the Washington mythology seems to have been foisted on him and not created and nurtured by him. This is in stark contrast to today's leaders who seem to write a book a year with yet another explanation of their life and why we should think it important.
Two seemingly contradictory facts stand out in the life of Washington. One is that we cannot conceive of the independence of the country won and its National Government established without him, and the other is that in peaceful times it is quite possible that Washington would have passed thorough an uneventful existence known only to his immediate associates.
Following up on Ed's post earlier today:
Had he lived in the latter half of the nineteenth century he might, indeed, have been one of the great property holders of the day as he actually was of his own day. He was by native propensity a bold speculator in land values, and at seventeen, when surveying for Lord Fairfax, he located lands he afterward secured and made very profitable. His fortune, estimated at above half a million at his death - among the very largest, if not the largest, of that time - was gathered in part by skillful and sagacious farming, but also by shrewd speculation and by investment in corporate ventures.
The NYT offers a final salutation:
But all this conjecture is really beside the mark. What we know and what we cannot afford to forget are his indispensable services to our country and the splendid unselfishness with which they were rendered.
Something to think about?
I've just finished Ernle Bradford's "Hannibal," part of the Wordsworth Military Library. Finally I think I have a grasp of why Hannibal is important to world history and, as it turns out, it has little to do with elephants and the Alps.
On page 95 Bradford writes:
The one thing that Fabius [Roman Consul turned dictator] had to do, he realised, was avoid defeat. The victory that he must aim for was not the traditional one upon the battlefield - something that the genius of his opponent rendered unlikely - but success achieved over a very long period of time, if need be. The presence of his troops must be used to reassure the allies and their cities that Rome was watching over them. Time and the extent of the land itself must be made to work for him. The Carthaginian's [Hannibal's] army must be reduced slowly, its morale snapped, and its opportunities for engaging him in a straightforward battle reduced to a minimum.The delaying tactics led to a 17 year war that was fought on two continents - Europe and Africa - from Spain to Macedonia. While Hannibal pretty much had his way with the Romans whenever they engaged in battle, Hannibal ultimately lost. The question is, which side of the current-day conflict is Hannibal and which side is Fabius?
Early in the war with Hannibal, Rome had it's political strife. After Hannibal crosses the Alps, rests, and then takes it to the Romans, for example at Lak