Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Misunderstanding the First Amendment (in re: Assange and Wikileaks)

In an excellent article by Jacob Sullum of Reason Magazine, "Is Julian Assange a Journalist? For First Amendment Purposes, It Doesn't Matter"  , the author argues that the First Amendment is not restricted to journalists.

In the comments section, a lengthy dispute revolves around the applicability of a 1917 law restricting release of secret documents, and whether Assange qualifies for "protection" under the First Amendment if he's not a US citizen. This comment regarding the latter point is typical:

"Since when does the first amendment apply to those not living in the United States?"

This goes to the heart of a serious misunderstanding of the First and other Amendments making up the Bill of Rights. It's a mistake I see repeated endlessly in the press and from the lips of pols.

The First Amendment does not "apply" to specific people; it does not "guarantee" the right of free speech and press; it does not carve out an exception to the infinite power of the State; it is not a limitation that should be worked around or bypassed when inconvenient.

The First Amendment (and the other 9) is an *emphatic reminder* from the Founders that the Constitution GIVES NO POWER OR AUTHORITY to the U.S. government to exercise any control over speech and press. Period. The Constitution does not grant such power, and this amendment underlines the point, and *attempts* to block workarounds by ambitious politicians and bureaucrats. It emphasizes the point that the government "shall make no law... abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press."

If the government is granted zero authority to limit free speech and press, the question of whether the individual in question is a citizen of the U.S. is completely irrelevant, as is the question of whether he is a journalist. The First Amendment does NOT say "The government shall make no laws regarding freedom of speech or of the press -- for citizens, or for journalists as defined by the government."

Does it?

No interpretation of the First Amendment can create or invent authority for the government to make laws restricting freedom of the press or freedom of speech. If you happen to find a 1917 law that appears to say otherwise, then it's an argument for viewing that law as an unconstitutional power grab by the government -- that law does not override the First Amendment.

I am repeatedly disappointed to see conservatives and liberals alike view the Constitution as an inconvenient block to Righteous Action, one that needs to be bypassed regularly -- often by tortured interpretations of other parts of the Constitution that serve to make the Constitution and its Bill of Rights into pure nonsense (hence the "Ink Blot" interpretation of the 9th and 10th Amendments).

The Constitution is a (limited) grant of authority to the federal government, beyond which it may not go. It is not a list of citizen rights. Citizens have all rights not otherwise limited by the grant of authority (and there's an amendment that says that too, which is also generally ignored, and with which you are likely not familiar either).

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Surprising article in NY Times on Ron Paul's rising star in Congress....

"Ron Paul, G.O.P. Loner, Comes In From Cold" is the headline, but they mean his appointment to the chair of the House subcommittee on domestic monetary policy, which oversees the Federal Reserve as well as the currency and the valuation of the dollar -- his favorite subjects and his bete noire combined into one handy package.

The story is both fair and richly interesting. Give it a read! (I have been a Paul enthusiast for more than a decade, long before he was anybody more than "Dr. No" of the House.)

"Governance in the Age of Wikileaks" -- TNL

A colleague, Tristan N. Louis, digs deeper into the whole Wikileaks controversy than you've likely read elsewhere -- in his three-parter (be sure to read all three parts) he considers the illegal actions of government opponents to Wikileaks:

Breaking the law by supporters of Wikileaks:

and freedom of expression in the age of Wikileaks:

Well worth reading all three, for a fully rounded perspective!


Friday, October 8, 2010

Time to Reconsider our Overseas "Defense" Commitments....

This letter appeared in the WSJ today, 8 Oct. 2010, and I agree with it entirely; my emphasis added:

Less Government Means Less Defense Spending, Too

Arthur Brooks, Edwin Feulner and William Kristol claim that military spending is not the prime driver of our current fiscal crisis, but the Pentagon accounts for 23% of the federal budget ("Peace Doesn't Keep Itself," op-ed, Oct. 4). It is inconceivable that this spending should be exempt from scrutiny in a time of soaring deficits.
Rather than Congress constantly writing a blank check, the process of military budgeting should begin with a discussion about security necessities and their costs. That isn't a discussion that Messrs. Brooks, Feulner and Kristol seem anxious to engage in—unsurprisingly, since all three support the disastrous military interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Of course, cutting spending without a corresponding reduction in commitments is a recipe for overburdening service members taxed by too frequent deployments to far-flung places. But it is already obvious that most of what America spends on its military—often erroneously labeled "national defense"—really defends others who can and should defend themselves.
It's time for advocates of free markets and limited government to recognize that a vast military presence around the world is utterly inconsistent with those ideals. If we agree that government intervention domestically often has unintended, harmful consequences, we should recognize that the same principle holds true internationally, in spades. If we believe that the Constitution created a government whose most important duty is to "provide for the common defence" and "secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our posterity," we should not be so willing to deploy the sharp end of that government's power in support of those who are not parties to our unique social contract.
The Brooks-Feulner-Kristol approach to military spending amounts to another form of foreign aid, a massive wealth transfer from Americans to non-Americans, helping them finance generous social welfare systems. It is time to get our allies off the dole.
Ed Crane
Christopher Preble
The Cato Institute

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Yes: "Let's Repeal Congress' Blank Check" (for war)

Barbara Lee of Oakland, California is my Congress Critter, an archtype in most ways of the California left-liberal Democrat  -- so naturally, she and I have little in common ideologically.

But as a Libertarian, I was delighted at her editorial today in Sept 30, 2010 San Francisco Chronicle, headlined "Let's repeal Congress' blank check"  -- referring to the "Authorization for the Use of Military Force," passed in 2001 in the heat of the 9/11 attacks, which is the basis for the past nine years of war around the world..

I am happy she is pressing to end the several wars we are currently engaged in -- but more delightful is a particular insight she gives:

"I was the only member of Congress who voted against [the bill] because I knew some would use it as a blank check to wage war anywhere in the world."

Well, looks like she called that one right, doesn't it?

What's wonderful about this is not just the amazing bravery she showed in voting against "broadly authorizing the president to use 'all necessary and appropriate force' " immediately after these acts of terror. That's no way to get the pundits on your side.

It's her critically important insight into how government works. Her paying attention to the long-term effects of such grants of power is in full agreement with Libertarian thinking -- and even more so with the thinking of the Founders.

Back in the 1960s, as the Vietnam problem was enticing the US into deeper involvement, a confused report of North Vietnamese ships firing on US ships "observing" in international waters just off the coast of North Vietnam was used to create an uproar, in the midst of which President Lyndon Johnson (a Democrat this time) submitted a request, the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, similar to the more recent one mentioned above, to give the president authority to pursue the malfactors of North Vietnam with all necessary and proper force. This bill passed in the Senate 99 to 1 (who was the sole holdout, anybody remember?). This bill, now law, was used as the primary justification for everything that followed in our undeclared war in Vietnam. Just as the current authorization justifies our undeclared wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and if we choose, future wars in Iran and Somalia (and anywhere else we claim to think is influenced by al-Qaida).

The historical parallel with Barbara Lee's statement above: Years later, when enthusiasm for the war faltered, Senator Fulbright, a staunch Democrat kingmaker, said that he regretted voting for that authorization, in hindsight. His comment, approximately, was: I forgot that I was voting this power not just to this President for this moment, but to any President at any time.

Each grant of power must be viewed in this light: Laws are rarely if ever written very narrowly, but tend to be written to grant sweeping authority to act with considerable discretion -- we tend to empower the authorities to "do what's right." Mainly because "our guy" is in power and knows what we mean by "what's right."

And then one day power changes hands and the other guy is holding the reins of power -- and, dammit, he's using that power to do what *he* thinks is right. How dare he! This is what happened when Reagan became president and tried to use the power Democrats had given Democratic presidents to Do Good, except he was doing *his* idea of good -- and of course that infuriated the liberals. Who hadn't thought that far ahead.

But politicians never think that far ahead. They think about now, and about how they can manipulate now to aggrandize their power, and their likelihood of getting reelected. And, like Scarlett O'Hara, they brush aside worries about what might happen in the future: "I shall worry about that tomorrow." 

Good luck with that.

Except for Barbara Lee -- or rather, of course, except for Barbara Lee in this instance and with this issue. Her left-wing ideology starts her on the road to resisting calls for war -- though she, unlike her many left-liberal colleagues in the House and Senate at that time, actually went down that road to its logical conclusion.

I congratulate Barbara Lee for vision -- I wish she were able to see how other grants and grabs of governmental power likewise lead to greater and lesser tyrannies over time -- and for her courage in defying hysteria the first time. Rare to see that kind of guts in national politics.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

How to Decide the Powers You Should Grant a Government....

'What I have always found most extraordinary about the Constitution is that a bunch of powerful and ambitious politicians wrote a document to restrain people just like themselves. Instead of thinking, "What powers do I want when I'm in charge?", they thought, "What powers do I want that low-down skunk of an opponent of mine to have when he is in charge?" '
   --Comment posted by "bampbs" in response to a Economist article "Worshipping the Constitution." 

One of our many vices as a political, factional people is to judge something on its momentary advantage, and not think of what one's enemy might do with such power when their turn comes. It is a fatal flaw.

Senator Fulbright complained in the midst of the Vietnam War that in voting power to President Johnson war powers based on the Gulf of Tonkin incident, he had considered only what he thought this President would do with the power being granted, instead of considering what any President might do with such power. (He complained when Nixon, a Republican, became president after Johnson, a Democrat.)

I remembered this when Reagan was elected, and Democrats went into shock when it became clear that the powers they were eager to grant the Democratic president -- basically the power to "do good," the most common excuse -- was about to be exercised, not by an enlightened, liberal Democrat with values and views consonant with their own, but by a Republican with entirely different ideas of what "the good" was. (The Republicans make the same lament when the shoe is on the other foot, of course.)

Why the Constitution Is That Way
It was precisely this paradox that drove the Founders to consider and reject various schemes for ensuring that government power would be exercised wisely and properly, by the right sort of people. In the end they concluded that you simply can't ensure this, not in the long run. In the long run, somebody whose ideas you hate will seize the reins of power and proceed to 'misuse' the power you grant so eagerly to government authority when it was your people in power. 

So the Founders came to the entirely reasonable conclusion that, since power will always be abused and liberty will always be at risk, the only sensible thing to do -- the only way to ensure the liberties of the people over the long term -- was to limit the power the government could have. 

To limit it severely, in fact, and to forbid the government from taking more power (without a Constitutional amendment, made consciously hard to create). 

They were willing to sacrifice the convenience of the ruler to secure the freedoms of the people.

Our (Overly) Optimistic Founders
Sadly, they were overly optimistic; they thought that the phrase "Congress shall make no laws" could not be loosely interpreted; that a structure plainly granting specific powers could not be misunderstood as granting specific liberties -- and just to make sure, they added the 9th and 10th Amendments, hah hah. Two centuries of relentless work by those who see governmental power as a wonderful opportunity for self aggrandizement -- whether to solve problems their way, or to enrich themselves, or to impede competition, or to punish the recalcitrant, or to 'solve' urgent moral problems -- have managed to turn their whole plan upside down. And the Founders also didn't seem to realize that, in time, the people would no longer understand why the Founders had fought so hard to limit government power.

All of the arguments as to why Constitutional limits on government power should be eased, lifted, bypassed, ignored as inconvenient to the modern world are arguments against the fundamental insight of the Founders that power will always be misused. The insight, in fact, in the opening quote of this post. In effect, modern commentators want, ultimately, to brush aside the Constitution -- not amend it, not debate it, not rework it. They insist on finding arguments that will justify ignoring the inconvenience of the Constitution's impediments to their strongly felt desire to use power to do things they think they should be done. 

It's depressing. The Constitution isn't 'modern?' It allowed slavery (back when it was incapable of stopping it)? It didn't give the vote to women (in 1780)? It didn't take into account the really, really important problems we *uniquely* have today that can only be addressed by exercise of government power and authority forbidden by the Constitution because the Founders didn't realize how things have changed?

Oh please. If there is one thing the Founders *would* recognize if thy returned to modern-day Washington, it's the very familiar grasping for power -- not just by politicians, but by every rent-seeking American.

What Would You Do?
So we are left with one remaining argument to fight back: If you believe the Constitution is obsolete, that its strictures on government power should have no force, that this is a Constitutiuon of enumerated rights and not one of enumerated powers -- answer this vital question: How would you rewrite the Constitution? How would you ensure that it does not enable future tyranny? Or do you in fact not believe in the risk of tyranical exercises of power?

Or do you think only your people will ever after hold the reins of power?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Is US Aggressive Foreign Policy Forcing Nations Like China to Gear Up for War?

David Gewurtz writes, "The Chinese government is now advocating for carrier-killing missiles (and we're the only logical target). What does it mean?" He argues the case for China preparing for war, presumably with the United States.

But Roger A. Maduro below argues the case for viewing world geopolitics in this generation as one where sensible nations consider the necessity and wisdom of preparing to defend themselves against aggressive U.S. foreign policy evident in recent decades....

"Is China Gearing Up to Start a War -- or to Fight A War?

By Roger A. Maduro

is China getting ready to START WWW III of to FIGHT a war? Big difference between "gearing up to START" a war and "gearing up to FIGHT" a war. There is no reason why China would want to start a war, but to the Chinese and the Russians, and many other countries, there is every reason to believe that they may be forced to fight a war.

I would suggest switching hats for a minute and looking at the world from the perspective of the Chinese, the Russians, and other countries that are not members of NATO.

So wearing a different hat, the question is which is the country in the world waging wars all over the place? Well, that's the United States. The U.S. has invaded Iraq to "prevent it from using weapons of mass destruction" which it turns out didn't exist. 

The U.S. invaded Afghanistan and now has some 150,000 troops deployed there. To sustain the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan the U.S. now has major military bases in former Soviet republics that border both China and Russia (how would you feel if the Chinese and the Russians were to build military bases in Mexico?). 

The drums are rolling in Washington for an expected attack in Iran to supposedly stop Iran from building a nuclear bomb. To accomplish this will require a massive bombing campaign of Iran. Well, Iran turns out to be a strategic and economic ally of both China and Russia. One of the immediate consequences of this attack will the closing of the Straights of Hormuz. Guess how much oil consumed by China goes through the Straights every day?

After bombing Iran, who's next?

The U.S. is staging very aggressive and provocative military maneuvers a stone's throw from North Korea and major Chinese military installations and ports. Will North Korea be the next target? If the Chinese were to stage live-fire naval military exercises a few miles of the coast of San Diego would you not be a bit upset?

So, keeping your Chinese or Russian hat on, what would you conclude from all this military activity on the part of the US and NATO? Wouldn't the sensible thing to do is to be ready to DEFEND yourself?

The latest issue of Military History magazine <> has a very well written and researched cover story on how close the US and Russia came to war during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. Using newly declassified documents and interviews the article documents how we where just a hair away from full nuclear war then. And the war was almost set off several times by stupid, unpredictable human mistakes. 

It's really worth reading that cover story to understand how dangerous our world today is. But always keep in mind which is the country that is waging wars all over the planet today.

As for the carrier-sinking missile, yet this is a HUGE development and can change the balance of power in the world when it's operational sometime next year.

--Roger A. Maduro is a founder and managing director of Linux Infrastructure, LLC (LxIS), a company founded to help small and mid-sized businesses implement open source/Linux information technology solutions that meet the full range of their business requirements with more robust, reliable and secure solutions than the Microsoft-based solutions that have been available until now. He can be reached at

Friday, September 17, 2010

"How To Slash Government Before IT Slashes You" (in 3D no less!)

Coming Soon: Reason Magazine In 3D

In a couple of weeks, the November issue of Reason magazine will be hitting mailboxes and newsstands with a 3D cover and charts that show "How to Slash Government Before it Slashes You"and offering up a series of specific spending cuts.  

You'll also get 3D glasses to view special videos on the growing cost of government and what to do about it.

You can subscribe to Reason here

The October Issue of Reason Is Online Now

Why Focus on the Bush "Tax Cuts" Over the Bush "Spending Increases"?

From this article:

"So if the feds were generally pulling in more bucks each year [during the 2000s] - even with those tax cuts that so decimated federal revenue - where did the deficits come from? 

Oh, that's right: From massively expanded spending that happened both under a lying GOP Congress and a feckless Democratic majority. 

The story of the Bush years isn't to be found on the revenue side of the ledger, but on the spending side [see charts in article]. This talk about whether tax cuts are irresponsible given the fiscal pickle we're in is nothing more than a way of diverting attention from what Milton Friedman identified years ago as the true cost of government: how much the government shells out in a given year. We're on the hook for it, either through higher taxes now or higher taxes later. 

We're in a lousy economy and most folks would agree that it's not a great idea to hike taxes or create huge new entitlements and regulations that will take years to figure out. That sort of action creates exactly the sort of uncertainty that freezes people. So do desperate attempts to keep house prices from falling, zombified banks and car companies from going belly up, etc. 

The one thing the federal government could conceivably do is bring some commitment to freezing or rolling back spending and intervention to some baseline. The first rule when you find yourself in a deep hole? Bitch and moan that it's the other guy's fault. The second rule? Stop digging. Yes, I know, it's unlikely but not impossible that the feds would actually stop spending (go check Clinton's first four years). 

But this much is certain: To talk about how 'tax cuts' inexorably add to deficits ignores the amount of tribute that poured into D.C. throughout most of the '00s. It's a fundamentally faulty and fruitless discussion." 
- Editor Nick Gillespie 

Friday, September 10, 2010

My Profession--News--Embarrasses Me: The San Bruno Gas Pipeline Explosion

Once again I am puzzled over how news coverage works -- in the case of the San Bruno gas pipeline explosion yesterday (Sept 9), the coverage in all media continues to be, the next day, entirely focused on the fireballs, the burning/burnt houses, the victim stories. 

My early questions include: *What* high-pressure gas pipeline? What's that, and why is it running through the middle of our neighborhoods? Are there other like this? What's the story on 24-inch pipes of fuel being transported into our urban areas? There's got to be an interesting background story on that, at least. 

But no, apparently not. Or apparently it's so well hidden that our friends in the news media haven't been able to dig it out yet. (One reporter, at least, knew a little: He pointed out that the natural gas for our water heaters comes to California from Texas in pipelines like these. Wow, interesting - tell me more! Nope.)

And as we all know, if there is an obvious immediate question that arises during a news incident, and you, the reporter, don't have an answer yet, the SOP is to pretend there *is* no question -- to ignore it, not to mention that you are aware there is a question. Just in case the listeners/viewers/readers don't think of it - that way they won't think you're an idiot for not being able to answer the question. Apparently techniques like "Questions arise about these pipelines--what are they, how do they work, why are they under our streets?--and we're digging into those answers for you right now" are unknown to these reporters and news editors.

Except of course *everybody in your audience* wonders about the item in question, and thinks you're idiots for very obviously and publicly not thinking of such obvious questions!

It makes me crazy.

Sometime in the coming days we'll get in-depth reports on the pipelines -- done in the breathless alarmist style "Are we in constant danger from these pipelines which run EVERYWHERE!?!?! When will some politician or government agency do something to protect us?!?!"

It should be easy - I did see one snippet (three paragraphs) this morning in which they found a government agency 'in charge' of this stuff, who mentioned that dozens of pipelines like this break, catch fire, blow up, etc., and dozens of people die each year. Oh. We didn't know. Because it wasn't News yet.

So stand by for the second-order fallout from this story: For the next six to nine months, every time a pipeline breaks, catches fire, burns, and/or kills anyone, anywhere in the country -- it will be on the front page. It's been happening for years, you understand, without making the front page -- but now it will be top-of-the-news leaders. 

Making you think it's a brand-new, horrible, scary problem. Rather than the same old problem we've only now decided can generate headlines. 

And, as happened with the LA Freeway Shootings of the early 1980s -- remember those? -- after nine months or a year, when the novelty wears off and everyone gets bored with having Yet Another Pipeline Explosion story, it will fade from the front page to the back pages, and eventually back to non-coverage, where it has always been. 

This is what happened with the LA Freeway Shooting stories. After several months of hyper coverage of every freeway shooting, some reporter happen to look it up and find that there have been dozens of these things every year -- for decades. But they had never covered it before, and after a year or so, we all got bored so they stopped covering it again. The LA Freeway Shootings continue -- coverage doesn't -- we're tired of this story -- what else ya got? That's what will happen with this story.

The oil pipelines story might last a little longer than that because the politicians can more effectively jump on this with both feet -- by the end of the day today, I expect, at least one govt agency will announce hearings, and at least one pol will propose important new laws to Make Sure This Doesn't Happen Again. (And issue press releases pointing out that The Other Political Party Supports Exploding Pipelines.) And that government agency that's supposed to be in charge of these things but obviously failed to do its job? They'll get much-increased funding.

Sigh.... My profession (journalism) embarrasses me.

BTW Here are a few related links:

Snopes, on a gas pipeline explosion:
Wikipedia list of pipeline failures worldwide:
Detailed somewhat technical discussion of the national (US) network of gas transport pipelines:

Now you can be better informed -- or better informed than your local news reader, anyway...


Sunday, August 22, 2010

"Pay Up!" Philadelphia Wants Biz License $$ from Bloggers!

Pay Up :: News :: Article :: Philadelphia City Paper

According to the city fathers, if you earn anything from your blog, you have to pay their $300 business license. The woman in this story earned $50 over "several years" -- too bad, pay up!

And you wonder why I'm a libertarian.....

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Richard Epstein's Brilliant Three-Point Plan For Reforming Public Employment

in Forbes:

A shame no candidate for public office (save Ron Paul) ever talks like Mr Epstein in this essay -- and we badly need candidates to talk like Richard Epstein!

Some samples"
"No longer can we duck the two deeper questions behind these endless legislative and judicial struggles. First, what institutional arrangements give rise to these constant showdowns? Second, what can be done to fix them--not only for teachers, but also for prison guards, police and firefighters, and all other state and municipal workers....

"...Major states like California, Illinois and New York require state agencies and local governments to negotiate with unions. To avoid strikes, compliant public officials grant unions guaranteed wage and pension contracts that shift all the risk of the economic downturn onto public treasury. Bad times have led to a collapse in the stock market and a decline in tax revenues. So what if private citizens are taken to the cleaners? Who cares if discretionary public services are cut? The union ship continues to ride, untroubled, high on the roiling seas...."

"..The only serious solutions do two things and avoid a third. First, they launch a frontal assault on the protected status of public unions. Second, they cut pension benefits for present and future union retirees. Third, they forbid the use federal tax money to bail out failing states and municipalities...."

"...No public body should ever be required or allowed to confer monopoly power on an employee union--period. In education, for example, don't let powerful unions block charter schools, vouchers and home schooling. Any school, public or private, should operate with an explicit legislative guarantee that all teachers and other employers must agree not to join a union as a condition of employment. The "best interests of the student" cannot be allowed to become a fig leaf for protectionist union legislation. Alternative paths of education are the best way to reduce government expenditures and blunt union power."

Now here's where he gets really bold, see if you can believe any pol would agree:

"Second, cut back pension contracts for all retired and current workers now. Far from being sacred property rights, these sweetheart agreements between union leaders and sympathetic legislators represent the worst form of self-dealing. Some legislators sell out their constituents in exchange for modest campaign contributions; others yield to union threats of massive electoral retaliation if they do not go along with union demands.

"Regrettably, no taxpayer has ever been allowed to challenge these questionable deals in court before they took effect. That has to change. Any self-dealing between a corporate board and its key officers would not last a minute. These bloated union contracts should fare no better. They should be set aside as unfairly obtained. Exactly how they should be trimmed is hard to say....

" In the end, the ultimate objective is to reduce pensions for public employees to the levels received by their peers in private industry."

And, just to make sure you understand how *fundamental* this issue is:

"Last, this battle over union contracts and union pensions is part of a larger political struggle. One the one side are those who think that more regulation, more taxation and more spending are required to dig this nation out its current hole.... We need to move in the opposite direction: deregulate, lower taxes and slash budgets.

"The choice could not be more stark. The coming election will tell us what the American people are made of, for if the voters do not throw the rascals out now, they may not get a second chance."

Frankly, in my darker moods, I doubt if the electorate can or will rise to this challenge. A hundred years of being trained by politicians, special interests, and the lax press have trained our voters in all the wrong directions. We've seen this in California, we see it elsewhere, we'll continue to see it. I worry.

Our recession, like Japan's, is due to poor monetary policy

"Recessions, in short, are positive, and historically brief occurrences that signal an economy on the mend. Failure to allow recessions to run their course in order to weed out bad investments and poor management merely ensures longer periods of economic strife; thus Japan's lost '90s decade, and ours at present."

Very interesting, and very scary, reading -- it seems we *know* what to do, and what not to do about the recession and recovery -- and our government is earnestly and relentlessly doing exactly the things it should not do, and refusing to do the things it should do. It is repeating the mistakes of Japan in the 1990s, condemning us to a decade of no growth.

It is all too depressing.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

"Not the WHITEMAN'S bitch" -- Wisconsin govt ballot committee votes to block candidate's ballot slogan

A fun article -- go read it.

What makes these officials think the Constitution has a gigantic freeway-sized hole in the First Amendment that says, apparently subvocally, "Congress shall make no law respecting freedom of speech -- as long as it's not obscene, offensive, or derogatory"?

First, this is exactly the kind of political speech the courts have been most interested in "protecting".

Second, her slogan *exactly* describes her politics; I'd bet every potential voter in her district would know precisely whether they'd want to vote for her, without needing to ask another question.

Third, since when is political offensiveness a crime?

And fourth, when did 'WHITEMAN' become a protected class?

(And let's not even get into the whole issue of "protected speech" as a mischaracterization of the Constitution and the First Amendment. The First Amendment did NOT carve out a set of categories of speech that are protected from government interfernce -- this would suggest that everything else is not protected. No -- the Constitution listed specific powers the government could exercise, none of which involved deciding whether someone could be blocked for obscenity or offensiveness -- but just to underline the point, the highlighted key examples of areas where the government has not, by any massaged misinterpretation, been granted power.

In fact, some objected to calling out these eight areas (of the original Bill of Rights) for specific mention, on the grounds that future generations might misunderstand and think that these are the *only* areas in which government may not intrude. The authors of The Federalist Papers, mocked this fear, noting that to misinterpret the rest of the Constitution to gain this belief, future generations would have to brush aside the plain implications of other parts of the Constitution. So they added the 9th and 10th Amendments just to double-underscore the point.

Of course, the skeptics were right and the Federalist Paper authors (including James Madison) were wrong: Major-league Constitutional scholars including a Supreme-Court nominee of recent years (Bork) have simply asserted that the 9th and 10th Amendments are dead letters, having no practical significance. Because if they did have practical significance, half the stuff the government does would be plainly illegal.

And you think *I* am a radical!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Penn Jillette on what distinguishes a Libertarian from a Liberal

Pemn Jillette:

"I think the biggest misconception that I find about libertarians is that there's a lack of compassion and I think that there is as much compassion on libertarians as there is among liberals. It's not what the problems are, it's how to solve them."

Amen, brother. When I first read Milton Friedman's 'Free to Choose' I realized that here was a guy who, like me (a Democrat liberal at the time) cared about the same things: the poor, the unfortunate, the unfairly treated -- but who had fresh new ideas for how to organize a society that made solving these problems more likely -- or possible at all, frankly. I was a burnt-out liberal, tired of the same old 'solutions' that never solved anything but just argued in circles.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Pointless Political Greed re: George Steinbrenner's Billions

I don't know which is funnier and weirder in this July 14 Investment News article about the death of George Steinbrenner and its relationship to estate taxes -- the amounts being discussed, or the panting greed of the politicians.

Here are a couple of excerpts, see what I mean:

"...The loss of tax revenue from Mr. Steinbrenner's death will no doubt have lawmakers in Washington clamoring to make the 2010 death tax retroactive to the '09 rate. Already, three other billionaires have died this year, including Houston oilman Dan L. Duncan, who left behind an estate believed to be worth nearly $10 billion. That's a lot of tax dollars being left on the table.

"In June, three U.S. senators sent a letter criticizing the lack of an estate tax, citing the deaths of Mr. Duncan and others. “At a time when we have a record-breaking $13 trillion national debt and an unsustainable federal deficit, people who inherit multimillion- and billion-dollar estates must pay their fair share in estate taxes,” said the letter, which was signed by Sens. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I."

OK, point 1: Private citizens have money, and we, the Congress, want some! "That's a lot of tax dollars being left on the table." Is that drooling I see? Let's disguise our bald greed with the judicious if inane use of the word "fair" as in "their fair share." A "fair" share, to a Congressman, is every nickel he can get from you. Preferably all of it. Don't waste your time trying to pin one of these jerks down to a definition of a "fair share." You got it? They want it. You big mean greedy SOB -- you just want to keep it because you earned it, you created it, you made it grow. And you can't pass it on to your heirs, like any normal human being would want to! That's "unearned income!" Which makes me wonder what the Senators who signed that letter have done to "earn" George Steinbrenner's billions? 

Point 2: Look at all these billionaires getting away with their money! A couple at a billion each; one guy at ten billion! Damn! Hey wait a minute -- how much did they say that deficit was? Thirteen trillion?!?! Jesus, if you took every nickle from these billionaires you couldn't make a dent in that deficit! You couldn't add up the top 100 earners in the country to retire one of those thirteen trillion dollars in planned spending!

There's literally not enough money in the US economy to cover that deficit! And attempts like this to grab other people's money will have the consequence of depressing economic performance even further!

I have an idea! Why don't you go back and unravel some of that planned deficit spending, since we don't have the money and never will. Oh, I forgot -- no Congressman ever got elected or reelected by cutting spending.....

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Awful, Terrible, Really Bad Bright Green House

This was in a recent issue of the Los Angeles Times:

Bright green house leaves the neighbors livid

"People in nearby earth-tone houses will ask the owner to think of them and mute her paint."

"Neighbors plan to draft a letter asking the homeowner to take their quality of life and property values into account."

The article is typical of its kind: The house is bright green, some neighbors (identified as "the" neighbors) don't like it, and want the law to come make her change it to a color they like. They don't say they have superior aesthetic judgement -- they talk about fitting in with "the character" of the neighborhood (though a neighborhood with all 'earth-tone houses' seems to me to be pretty much without any specific character), and about property values -- the ultimate sword of the neighborhood meddler: Someone's house for sale hasn't gotten any offers since that awful paint job!

It appears that each property owner in a free society is limited in the use of their own property by the potential sale price of neighboring houses. I mean, a free society is all well and good, but my property values....!

We had an optometrist who painted her office in the middle of our small town, Castro Valley, in northern California, a shocking shade of purple -- basically the same as this house, except purple with green trim. The neighbors jumped up and down and demanded a law - since we are in an unincorporated area, there were no laws. Uproar.

Then, oddly, a backlash -- other neighbors started insisting that THEY actually LIKED the colorful business building. Like another commenter here, they were tired of beige beige beige. They eventually drowned out the complainers.
Today, a few years later, nobody notices the purple building. It's still there. We've gotten used to it; now we like it.
Your instant reaction to art isn't and shouldn't be made into the law. Stop being so bossy; relax; take a chill pill. Wait a year and see if you still hate it. If you still do -- too doggone bad.
I understand that people might not like the color of a house, or not like it to be in their neighborhood. But the strength of their aesthetic opinion gives nobody property rights in another person's property. 
You don't like it -- this gives you no authority over them. You really REALLY don't like it -- this STILL gives you no authority over them. 
You can even say it makes it harder to sell your house, that it depresses property values in your neighborhood. The value of your property STILL gives you no property rights over her home!
You can not like it. You can ask her to change it. You can reason with her, try to persuade her. But in the end, it's her house. You have no property rights due to your eyeballs being offended.
If property rights mean anything, they mean the right to peaceful enjoyment of your own property regardless of the artistic opinions of your neighbors -- even if they are architects -- even if they are government officials -- even if they are sacred zoning commissioners -- even if you voted for them -- even if you are firmly convinced that YOUR value judgement here is far superior to hers -- even if you and ALL YOUR NEIGHBORS hate the color of the house!
If that's not true, then the expression, "It's a free country" is not true either. We don't live in a free country; we live in a country as free as our neighbors care to let us be. Instead of the old slogan, "My freedom to swing my fist stops at your nose," the saying should now be, "My freedom to do anything stops at your opinion of what I'm doing."
In other words, finally, I am free to do anything that you don't care about. As long as it doesn't bother you, as long as you aren't offended by it, as long as you don't disapprove, I can do anything I want. But woe betide me if you don't like it -- then I have no freedoms at all. The Neighbors get to rule -- supported by local government.
This kind of thing is catnip to politicians. And that's why the Constitution attempts (too often in vain) to limit their power to help your neighbors oppress you.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Bob Poole on Why High Speed Rail is a Boondoggle

.. that has none of the benefits you may think it does, not even lowering carbon footprint.

45 minutes but worth every minute of it.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

“Rahn Curve” Video Shows Government Is Far Too Big

Rahn Curve&amp Video Shows Government Is Far Too Big

Cato 5-minute video presents a government-spending-optimization concept similar to the Laffer Curve for optimal tax rates.

Very interesting!

(And scary.)

Mac McCarthy

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Carl Sagan: Scientists change their minds; nobody else does...

Quotations by Carl Edward Sagan
Carl Edward Sagan : In science it often happens that scientists say, "You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken," and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. #Science and Scientists

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

One Lefty Who Thinks Rand Paul in the Senate is a Good Idea

Signs of sanity on the left:

Truthdig: "Who's Afraid of Rand Paul?"

Lefty-journalist warhorse Robert Scheer cheers last night's Randslide:
Count me as one lefty liberal who is not the least bit unhappy with the victory by Rand Paul in Kentucky's Republican primary for the U.S. Senate. Not because it might make it easier for some Democratic Party hack to win in the general, but rather because he seems to be a principled libertarian in the mold of his father, Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, and we need more of that impulse in the Congress. What's wrong with cutting back big government that mostly exists to serve the interests of big corporations? Surely it would be better if that challenge came from populist progressives of the left, in the Bernie Sanders mold, but this is Kentucky we're talking about.
Rand Paul, like his dad, is worthy of praise for standing in opposition to the Wall Street bailout, which will come to be marked as the greatest swindle in U.S. history and which was, as he noted on his website, an unconstitutional redistribution of income in favor of the undeserving rich [...]
Heresy, I know, but it is only thanks to Ron Paul, the father and hopefully the mentor of the potential Kentucky senator, that we got a congressional mandate to audit the Fed’s role in the banking bailout. How bad could it be to have another irascible Paul in the Congress?  
Whole thing here.
UPDATE: Andrew Sullivan has a rich sampling of reaction here (thanks to reader Ray Eckhart for the tip).

Friday, May 7, 2010

Ron Paul on the crisis in Greece - and later California, then the US!

Guy's been talking like this for a long time -- are we finally listening?

How should we think about stuff like the Gulf oil spill?

This is a tough one -- oil companies with corrupt relations with state and federal governments, whom you just want to punch, versus a functioning economy. 'Reason' helps think it through -- by reminding us that it's seldom a black-and-white, good-guys-vs-bad-guys set of issues -- but almost always a set of tradeoffs that need to be honestly evaluated -- even though it suits everyone on all sides to be absolutist:

Weighing the Benefits and Costs of Offshore Drilling
Reason magazine's Ronald Bailey examines the environmental costs and economic benefits of offshore drilling: "Two weeks ago BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico exploded, killing 11 workers. The exploratory well began gushing oil at an estimated rate of 5,000 barrels per day when the blowout prevention system failed. The growing oil slick menaces the marshes and beaches of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida. Should the slick come ashore, previous research suggests the deleterious effects on fisheries and wildlife would be substantial and long-lasting. As someone who has enjoyed the sugar white sands of Alabama’s beaches, it is a terrible shame that they are at risk of being despoiled by oily muck. But as someone who also enjoys the conveniences of modern civilization including the on-demand mobility offered by airplanes and automobiles that enable me to visit those beaches, I understand deciding whether or not to continue offshore exploration for oil and gas, a calm quantitative approach makes more sense than a rush to ban drilling after seeing some pictures of oily birds. It would be useful to figure out if the costs, economic and ecological, outweigh the benefits of producing offshore oil and gas."