Monthly Archives: November 2006

The GOP Must Move To The Center and Lose Limited Government Voters

In yesterday’s Philadelphia Inquirer, former New Jersey governor and EPA head Christine Todd Witman had an interesting column:

Moderate Republicans paid a heavy price in the GOP’s loss of control of Congress.

After the 2004 election, pundits were predicting the dawn of a generation of Republican dominance. Karl Rove was being hailed as the “architect” of this coming era. His strategy of solidifying the hard-right base of the GOP by feeding them a steady diet of extreme positions on social issues that would, in turn, motivate them to flock to the polls was credited with securing President Bush’s reelection and retaining control of Congress.

This month, the limits of that strategy became clear. In more than a dozen House districts in which moderate Republicans had long succeeded, voters apparently decided they were no longer willing to empower the hard-right of the GOP by electing moderates who would contribute to a Republican majority.

Actually, Rove’s strategy did more than just turn moderates and independents against the GOP, it kept fiscal conservatives and libertarians home on election day. The Religious Right has no interest in shrinking the welfare state, they merely want to make sure the money goes to their churches, abstinance programs, persecuting homosexuals, censoring the media, and teaching religion in government schools. But back to Governor Whitman’s column.

I believe, however, that within the results of this year’s electoral defeats are the seeds of future Republican victories, but only if those seeds are planted in the center of the political landscape.

President Bush has to lead the Republican Party back toward its traditional, philosophical roots of respect for and belief in the individual, fiscal responsibility, pragmatic and realistic foreign policy, and real environmental stewardship.

The million dollar question is what does she mean by “lead the Republican Party back toward its traditional, philosophical roots of respect for and belief in the individual, fiscal responsibility, pragmatic and realistic foreign policy, and real environmental stewardship”? Fortunately, Governor Whitman has both a record and an organizaton she runs to examine.

From the It’s My Party Too website:

IMP-PAC is an umbrella organization that provides a place for moderate Republicans to reach out to one another and support those who believe in basic Republican principles such as:

Recognizing that tax cuts not only leave money in the pockets of those who earned it, but, when combined with restrained spending and balanced budget, help to stimulate the economy;

Supporting an engaged foreign policy and a strong national defense;

Continuing the Party’s recognition that government does have a role to play in protecting our environment; and

Respecting the individual as evidenced by limiting government interference in their lives.

Okay, rhetorically at least, classical liberals and libertarians can do business with the moderates. Now let’s see if the results back up the rhetoric.

Recognizing that tax cuts not only leave money in the pockets of those who earned it, but, when combined with restrained spending and balanced budget, help to stimulate the economy

Governor Whitman’s record in New Jersey is that of a tax cutter, on this point, so far so good. Furthermore, the moderate Republican Main Street Partnership’s page on deficit reduction contains nothing that a libertarian or a classical liberal can object to. However, when you look on their past accomplishments page, you’ll find quite a lot of objectionable proposals such as Federally funded terrorism insurance and support for the Davis-Bacon wage controls and Federal funding of stem cell research.

Supporting an engaged foreign policy and a strong national defense

What do they mean by supporting an engaged foreign policy? I found nothing on foreign policy from Governor Whitman or the Republican Main Street Partnership.

Continuing the Party’s recognition that government does have a role to play in protecting our environment;

Government involvement in the environment usually means less property rights and more regulation with questionable benefits.

Respecting the individual as evidenced by limiting government interference in their lives

By this, they usually mean only in regards to abortion. It was the great moderate Republican, Nelson Rockefeller that gave us the notorious Rockefeller Drug Laws that gave us life sentences for drug possession.

Rhetorically, moderate Republicans talk a good game, when you actually look at them, you’ll find they’re no allies of limited-government supporters and instead are merely another branch of big government conservatism.

I’m one of the original co-founders of The Liberty Papers all the way back in 2005. Since then, I wound up doing this blogging thing professionally. Now I’m running the site now. You can find my other work at The and Rare. You can also find me over at the R Street Institute.

The War On Drugs: The Afghan Front

As part of the war in Afghanistan, the United States and its allies have engaged in an effort to wipe out the opium trade that has existed in that part of the world. Not surprisingly, their efforts have been less than successful:

U.S. and European efforts to end heroin production in Afghanistan have done little to hamper the drug industry and have hurt the country’s poorest people, according to a new report by the United Nations and the World Bank.

The report, released today, is the latest indication of the difficulties faced by the British-led effort to eradicate Afghanistan’s opium crop, which drives the economy in parts of the embattled nation and has helped to fund a resurgence of the Taliban. The report says the production of opium, whose poppies are used to make heroin, permeates daily life in Afghanistan and eliminating the illegal drug trade there could take decades.

If anything, the eradication effort seems to have increased the importance of opium to Afghanistan’s economy as it creates shortages and drives up prices:

The opium trade accounts for about $2.7 billion in Afghanistan’s economy — equal to more than one-third of the nation’s gross domestic product — and is responsible for thousands of jobs, the report says. The Taliban government, which had harbored al-Qaeda, virtually eliminated opium production in 2001, before U.S.-led forces toppled it. Production has soared since, even as the United States and its allies have stepped up efforts to kill fields of opium and persuade farmers to grow other crops.

Opium has remained the nation’s most lucrative crop by far, and drug traffickers — through incentives and intimidation — have kept farmers in the opium business across Afghanistan, which the United Nations says produces about 87% of the world’s opium. Last year, according to the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, Afghanistan produced 4,100 metric tons of opium, nearly as much as the biggest harvest in 1999. The United Nations predicts a record harvest in 2007.

And, not surprisingly, the War on Afghan Drugs has led to other criminal activities:

Counter-narcotics efforts also have fueled corruption, the report says. Farmers who can afford it have bribed local officials to preserve opium crops, while the poorest farmers have been driven deeper into debt when their crops are destroyed, the report says. Investigators found several instances in which farmers planned to replant opium to pay their debts.

The report also says local government officials sometimes help drug lords drive competitors out of the market in exchange for a cut of the profits or protection payments.

Anyone who’s followed the War on Drugs in the United States and South America would not be surprised by this at all.

Arguing the Drug War

Over at Jason Pye’s blog, he wrote a post bemoaning the prevalence of no-knock raids, and asking what we can do to improve a situation which is clearly not working. Quite a long comment train followed regarding the entire drug war.

Head on over and take a look. The main tactics of argument on the other side are twofold– First, they claim drugs are bad and if they’re legalized, the world will go up in flames. Second, that if we want to really solve the problem, we need to fight harder.

I’ll address the second point first. The specific argument from one opponent was:

I realize it’s the law that they’re taking issue with, Jace. I happen to believe that more effort is needed in treating criminals like criminals with stiffer penalties, jail sentences and deprivation of luxury…….but we haven’t done that yet because some folks can’t stomach the thought of that kind of inmate treatment.

I wonder what we’ve been doing since the war on drugs began? Since then, we’ve seen stiffer penalties and jail sentences, where we now have “three strikes” laws and mandatory minimums for drug offenses that are worse than rape sentences. While we haven’t made prison into a dank, dark dungeon just yet, it sure as hell ain’t the Ritz Carlton.

But look at the tactic. We’ve been fighting the War on Drugs harder and harder for many years. Would we have accepted such long minimum sentences for nonviolent offenders when the drug war began? Would we have accepted paramilitary-style no-knock raids back then? Would we have accepted making possession of large sums of money evidence of a drug crime back then? Would we have accepted the destruction of civil liberties that has been a hallmark of the drug war?

We see no evidence whatsoever that we’ve made the drug problem any less prevalent than it was before the drug war began. We have made the inner city much more violent and dangerous, full of gang warfare fueled by the profits of drug sales. We’ve incarcerated hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of nonviolent drug offenders, at huge expense to the taxpayer.

We’ve been “fighting harder” ever since we started, and we haven’t made the problem better, as drugs are just as easy to find on our streets as they’ve ever been. But we have made the unintended consequences worse. One wonders just how far they’ll go to fight harder? Where is their limit, if no-knock raids resulting in the deaths of the elderly and three injured cops aren’t it?

But then comes the question of whether we could do better with a method of treatment rather than prosecuting a ruthless drug war. The same opponent demanded evidence:

Show me some “evidence” that legalizing drugs in America “with our mentality” is a better option.

So I did:

It references a 1994 RAND study on how to solve the issue:

In formulating such a policy, a good starting point is a 1994 RAND study that sought to compare the effectiveness of four different types of drug control: source-control programs (attacking the drug trade abroad), interdiction (stopping drugs at the border), domestic law enforcement (arresting and imprisoning buyers and sellers) and drug treatment. How much additional money, RAND asked, would the government have to spend on each approach to reduce national cocaine consumption by 1 percent? RAND devised a model of the national cocaine market, then fed into it more than seventy variables, from seizure data to survey responses. The results were striking: Treatment was found to be seven times more cost-effective than law enforcement, ten times more effective than interdiction and twenty-three times more effective than attacking drugs at their source.

The RAND study has generated much debate in drug-research circles, but its general conclusion has been confirmed in study after study. Yes, relapse is common, but, as RAND found, treatment is so inexpensive that it more than pays for itself while an individual is actually in a program, in the form of reduced crime, medical costs and the like; all gains that occur after an individual leaves a program are a bonus. And it doesn’t matter what form of treatment one considers: methadone maintenance, long-term residential, intensive outpatient and twelve-step programs all produce impressive outcomes (though some programs work better for certain addicts than for others).

Now, I thought that would score some points in this one. I thought that a serious academic study by a respected organization like RAND would carry some weight. After all, it’s not like this is a pro-drug organization; this wasn’t printed in High Times. Nor are they an obviously libertarian group like the Cato institute. If anyone’s study should hold weight, I would think it’s a group devoted to offering serious academic study to the way our government works. But not so:

This study is just that-a study- using numbers and “survey” responses not Human Beings- with today’s mentality. It has some impressive points but you’ll never get this concept to fly in this day and age.

How do you argue with that? I went on to argue that we’ve seen this before (the Prohibition of alcohol), which of course wouldn’t be accepted as evidence because alcohol isn’t as bad as “drugs”. I went on to argue that other countries have seen success with treatment programs, but that was responded to with “These other countrys you refer to don’t have the U.S. Constitution’s protection, the American mentality or Civil Rights activists around every corner…”

I think it’s clear what was going on. When points were brought up by my opponent, and I answered them, my answers were not accepted. It had nothing to do with the merits of my answers, because for any answer I gave, an excuse was offered. My opponent was not interested in actually arguing the merits of the case, he had made up his mind and was looking for any excuse not to change it. That’s what we’re fighting with. It’s a mentality that says “drugs are bad, and there’s absolutely no line that can’t be crossed fighting them.” It doesn’t matter if the collateral damage of fighting against drugs, drugs which are supplied through a violent black market, are worse and more expensive than treating drug users. It doesn’t even matter if it will work, when the people you’re arguing against aren’t listening.

Damage Control: Why We Need To Lock Down The Borders

I know for a fact that several of the contributors to this blog will disagree with my stance on border control. Doug just posted about it. Brad’s mentioned it in the past. And if my memory (currently taken up by such wonderful things as bone cancers and endocrine disorders) serves correctly, there are a couple of contributors to this blog that agree with me.

What I would like to see is a considerable streamlining of the process for legal immigration where we have openings and a much strengthened enforcement of illegal immigration laws and more impenetrable borders.

As the son of immigrants, I’m very grateful for the opportunities this country has given us. And I’m even more thankful to have received what’s left of the blessings of liberty our (your?) forefathers fought and died for.

But it’s the very fact that our liberty is but a faded reminder of its past glory that makes me wish for stronger borders. There is no doubt that our country was built by immigrants and that immigration is vital to our continued growth and progress. I say this because both my parents work jobs ‘that Americans won’t do.’ And they do a pretty good job. Both of these jobs require graduate degrees.

There are certain political and economic realities of the world and this country that we must accept and deal with or face the prospect of watching what’s left of our liberty circle down the drain because we refused to support distasteful but necessary legislation. The fact that we stayed true to our liberal ideals would be little solace if we inhabited a prison born of statism.

I discussed this concept of cutting to cure in an earlier essay. The Castle Doctrine makes me angry, as does the fact that I have to take a class and apply for a CCW. These things shouldn’t have to exist. The second amendment and the writings of our ideological fathers confirm this. Yet here I am, saving up the money and finding a free Saturday to take the class. And there I’ll be, standing in the Sherrif’s office paying him several hundred dollars so he can run my prints like a common criminal so I can get a permit just to carry a means to defend myself.

But do you know what would be altogether worse? Not being able to defend myself in my home. Not being able to carry. More regulation, more bureaucracy. But my 2nd amendment rights at least partially restored–in a practical if not ideological sense.

I’ve presented the political and economic arguments for why we need tougher border control before, so I’m not going to go in near as much detail this time around.

In today’s political climate, Kennedy’s famous quote has been reversed. It is now not about what you can do for your country, but what your country can do for you. In this climate, freedom has been redefined as comfort. Into this environment you invite millions of people who through no fault of their own better qualify as ‘have-nots’ than ‘haves’. And as the ‘have nots’–together with the cultural elite–have shown themselves all to willing to do, they will vote from others’ pocketbooks. And they will vote for other egregious restrictions and legalized discrimination.

As I have remarked before:

Will [the children of illegal immigrants] do as well economically and academically as the native population? Doubtful. And so the hue and cry of ‘racism’ and ‘prejudice’ will be raised. A generation from now Sharptons and Jacksons with latinized names will rise up, speaking to cultural identity that their only path to ‘freedom’ lies in increased governmentally-sanctioned privilege. Privilege that will come at the expense of freedom and opportunity for all other races. And in this political climate, they will be all too successful.

And economically, a progressive unconstitutional tax system is the order of the day. One that’s exacerbated by the double and triple taxation through corporate income tax, capital gains taxes, and even death taxes. This situation is compounded by a regressive government expenditure system. In which through social welfare and various other government services, far more is spent per capita on the people paying the least in taxes.

Those who pay the bulk of taxes receive the least in benefits. Which honestly is fine by me. That’s not what I’m objecting to. But when you add in a massive influx of people who do not reach the equity point in terms of taxation vs. government expenditure, you have an obvious problem. One that would be solved by an even greater (and probably even more progressive) tax burden. Tax freedom day comes late enough as it is. And while these problems would be ameliorated by a flat consumption tax and a reduced government commitment to welfare, they would hardly be eliminated.

And just because I love stroking my own ego, I should mention that even Jerry Pournelle likes my logic.

If our government still resembled the one defined by the constitution, I would have little problem with an open border. If our politicians were managers seeking to do the best job within the confines of their mandate, rather than power-mongers finding the best way to bribe and buy our affections, I would be all for an open border. If the doctrine of positive liberty were not on the rise, if freedom had not been redefined as comfort, I’d be alright. If we were still a constitutionally-restrained republic rather than a free-for all, I’d have a different opinion.

Neal Boortz often remarks that we don’t need to ship illegal immigrants out of the country, we merely have to remove the incentive for them to stay. Which is exactly how I’d prefer tackling the issue. But the reason I bring this up is actually to illustrate why I wouldn’t see a need for border restrictions if we lived under a classically liberal government. Immigration would self correct in response to basic market and social forces. Today however, both economic and social factors are dramatically altered by political machinations. The costs of many of the things that make this country such a great place from our excellent standards of healthcare, to our educational system, to our basic infrastructure are not paid by those who receive the benefits. When those who receive the benefits don’t pay the costs, bad things happen. This is the essence of economics, ecology, and game theory. And something we all should recognize.

So let me repeat. If this were a minarchist country, I would have a different position on the border. But it isn’t. And I want to protect what freedom I have left.

Local Government Bans Charitable Meals

Fairfax County, Virginia has told local churches and charities that they must stop donating prepared food to the counties poor residents unless the food was prepared in a county-approved kitchen:

Under a tough new Fairfax County policy, residents can no longer donate food prepared in their homes or a church kitchen — be it a tuna casserole, sandwiches or even a batch of cookies — unless the kitchen is approved by the county, health officials said yesterday.

They said the crackdown on home-cooked meals is aimed at preventing food poisoning among homeless people.

But it is infuriating operators of shelters for the homeless and leaders of a coalition of churches that provides shelter and meals to homeless people during the winter. They said the strict standards for food served in the shelters will make it more difficult to serve healthy, hot meals to homeless people. The enforcement also, they said, makes little sense.

“We’re very aware that a number of homeless people eat out of dumpsters, and mom’s pot roast has got to be healthier than that,” said Jim Brigl, chief executive of Fairfax Area Christian Emergency & Transitional Services. “But that doesn’t meet the code.”

That’s right, Fairfax County is effectively saying that they’d rather have a hungry person eating scraps out the dumpster behind TGI Friday’s than eating something you prepared in your own kitchen. Not surprisingly, local churches and shelters are saying that this will make it much more difficult for them to do their job:

“We see the reason for being certified. They want to ensure people’s health and safety,” said the Rev. Keary Kincannon of Rising Hope United Methodist Mission Church in the Alexandria portion of Fairfax County, which will open as a hypothermia shelter for four months starting Friday.

“On the other hand, how much do you have to be a stickler with that?” Kincannon asked. “What’s more important: whether we’re open to have somebody get in out of the cold and get a meal? There’s kind of a balance there.”

The Rev. Judy Fender of Burke United Methodist Church said 50 volunteers had been planning to cook beef stew, pork loin and other nutritious meals in the church kitchen when it hosts the hypothermia shelter Dec. 17 through 23.

But she found out this week that, because the kitchen is not Health Department-approved, it will have to prepare its food elsewhere.

It will be a logistical nightmare, Fender predicted, and is an insult to members who have cooked meals for years in the church kitchen without any problems.

“Why do [they] think that the traditional way of fixing a home-cooked meal is going to poison people off the street?” Fender asked.

Because they’re from the government and they’re here to help.

Update 12/1/06: The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, perhaps realizing the stupidity of this proposal, has repealed it.

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