Monthly Archives: May 2007

Ron Paul’s Reading List

Ron Paul has given Rudy Giuliani a reading assignment:

“WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Longshot Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul on Thursday gave front-runner Rudy Giuliani a list of foreign-policy books to back up his contention that attacks by Islamic militants are fueled by the U.S. presence in the Middle East.

“I’m giving Mr. Giuliani a reading assignment,” the nine-term Texas congressman said as he stood behind a stack of books that included the report by the commission that examined the attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001.”

Okay, I don’t care what your political views are…this is pretty dang funny. A reading assignment. So how do you feel about Mr. Giuliani, Rep. Paul?

“I don’t think he’s qualified to be president,” Paul said of Giuliani. “If he was to read the book and report back to me and say, ‘I’ve changed my mind,’ I would reconsider.”

Mr. Giuliani, your response?

“A spokeswoman for Giuliani derided Paul’s latest comments.

“It is extraordinary and reckless to claim that the United States invited the attacks on September 11th,” Maria Comella said in an e-mail.

“And to further declare Rudy Giuliani needs to be educated on September 11th when millions of people around the world saw him dealing with these terrorist attacks firsthand is just as absurd.”

Judging by his comments (outlined by Kevin here) that “they hate us for our freedom,” I’d say that Mr. Giuliani could probably use a bit of an education. In case you were wondering what the books were:

Among the books on Paul’s reading list were: “Dying to Win,” which argues that suicide bombers only mobilize against an occupying force; “Blowback,” which examines the unintended consequences of U.S. foreign policy; and the 9/11 Commission Report, which says that al Qaeda leader
Osama bin Laden was angered by the presence of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia.

Another book on the list was “Imperial Hubris,” whose author appeared at the press conference to offer support for Paul.

“Foreign policy is about protecting America,” said author Michael Scheuer, who used to head the CIA’s bin Laden unit. “Our foreign policy is doing the opposite.”

An interesting reading list. While I don’t agree wholeheartedly with the viewpoint of many of them, the only way we’re going to win this war is by stopping people from subscribing to the terrorists’ ideology in the first place. Mr. Giuliani’s simplistic “they hate us for our freedom/kill ‘em all” rhetoric certainly isn’t going to do it.

Politics, Polls, And The War In Iraq

Unless you’re fully into drinking the Bush Administration Kool-Aid, it’s hard to deny that the Iraq War is becoming more and more untenable by the day:

Americans now view the war in Iraq more negatively than at any time since the war began, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.

Six in 10 Americans surveyed say the United States should have stayed out of Iraq, and more than three in four say that things are going badly there — including nearly half who say things are going very badly, the poll found.

Still, the majority of Americans support continuing to finance the war, as long as the Iraqi government meets specific goals.

President Bush’s approval ratings remain near the lowest point of his more than six years in office. Thirty percent of poll respondents approve of the job he’s doing overall, while 63 percent disapprove. Majorities of those polled disapprove of Mr. Bush’s handling of the situation in Iraq, of foreign policy, of immigration, of the economy and of the campaign against terrorism.

(…)

A large majority of the public — 76 percent, including a majority of Republicans — say that the additional American troops sent to Iraq this year by Mr. Bush have either had no impact or are making things worse there. Twenty percent think the troop increase is improving the situation in Iraq.

A majority of Americans continue to support a timetable for withdrawal. Sixty-three percent say the United States should set a date for withdrawing troops from Iraq sometime in 2008.

While the troops remain in Iraq, the overwhelming majority of Americans support continuing to finance the war, though most want to do so with conditions. Thirteen percent want Congress to block all spending on the war. The majority, 69 percent, including 62 percent of Republicans, say Congress should appropriate money for the war, but on the condition that the United States sets benchmarks for progress and that the Iraqi government meets those goals. Fifteen percent of all respondents want Congress to approve war spending without conditions.

Now, does anyone really want to make a bet that a pro-war candidate like Rudy Giuliani really has a chance of winning in November 2008 ?

When corporations fight proxy wars using governments

It is always depressing to see a political battle erupt where you know, no matter who wins, the average citizen will be screwed. One such slow motion train wreck is taking place in Massachusetts as we speak. I became aware of it when one of the groups put an ad on TV that was so offensively anti-consumer that I knew some bait and switch had to be taking place. What I found was quite an interesting battle.

In Massachusetts, most roads are owned and operated by local governments. Among the many decisions these owners have to make are ones concerned with services run under or over these roads. One set of services are television cables. Generally, and perhaps universally, these towns select a single cable provider and give them a monopoly on television service, allow them to run lines along the roads, and grant them exclusive access to the market composed of the town’s residents.

The towns also made similar arrangements with telephone providers.

These monopolies are starting to break down due to technical advances. A thin fiber-optic line can carry the same amount of data that a thick cable would be used for 20 years ago. The technologies have converged to the point that the cable infrastructure can provide telephone service, and the telephone infrastructure can provide television service.

The two types of companies went from indifference to each other to competing with each other. Since they are used to having governments kneecap competition, they each tried to use local governments against their competitors. In the case of my home town, Comcast very effectively lobbied town authorities to prohibit Verizon from offering television, even though the infrastructure was in place. Apparently Verizon got tired of this, and decided that they would have an advantage if these legislative battles were fought in the statehouse rather than in town council meetings. And so, they drafted this law:

AN ACT PROMOTING CONSUMER CHOICE AND COMPETITION FOR CABLE SERVICE.

The law basically shifts control of the monopolies (which they call franchises) to the state-house. Once the state approves of a monopoly, the towns must make their roads available for whatever cabling is required.

They then set up what looks to me like an astroturf group called Consumers For Tech Choice, which appears to be sponsored by Verizon.

The New England Cable & Telecommunications Association, which appears to me to be dominated by Comcast, didn’t like this, and they set up a competing organization: Keep IT Local MA which tries to look non corporationy by only listing members of local governments as members. They were the ones who produced the execrable ad.

I spent an hour or so noodling around the two astroturf sites, and noticed some really amusing parallels:
1) Neither site provides a link to the legislation.
2) Neither site is actually providing a forum for the citizenry to actually communicate with each other.

In other words both groups have utter contempt for us citizens. They want to treat us like mushrooms. They also seem to have studied the same textbook.

While I am sympathetic to Verizon because of the disgusting way in which local towns governments have screwed the citizenry by trying to keep them out, in the end, I think the NECTA has the stronger case. If one accepts that towns must “own” the roads then the towns should control who or what travels on them. But given the way that town councils mismanage the road system and abuse their monopolies, I don’t for a minute think they are fighting this battle on principle. They are fighting Verizon merely because they wish to keep their little empires, either because of the graft they collect or the psychic pleasure they derive from pushing their neighbors around. It’s just a shame that there is no actual grass-roots group fighting to end government control of telecommunications in the first place.

I am an anarcho-capitalist living just west of Boston Massachussetts. I am married, have two children, and am trying to start my own computer consulting company.

Mercantilism, Fascism, Corporatism — And Capitalism

In politics, language is crucial. When different sides of a debate use the same term in different ways, the entire debate becomes fruitless. When terms for different ideas are thrown around as if they’re identical, the debate becomes muddled. It’s even more difficult to understand when people on the same side of the debate use terms differently.

Recently I’ve been listening to Free Talk Live quite a bit, and have enjoyed it greatly. The hosts are Ian, an anarchist (although he calls himself a “free marketeer, choosing to leave the baggage caused by misuse of the term anarchy behind), and Mark, who would best be described as a small-government Republican, in the RLC bent. They put on an entertaining show, but when it comes to economic matters, they get deep into the muddled mess of ill-defined terms. They use the terms mercantilism, fascism, and corporatism quite interchangeably. They further use mercantilism as their default term for what would be much more accurately termed corporatism. In the interest of clarifying the debate, here’s a basic rundown of what we’re talking about.

Mercantilism

Mercantilism is separated from corporatism and fascism simply by its nature. Corporatism and fascism are political systems. Like capitalism, mercantilism is an economic theory. Mercantilism is a theory that the wealth of a nation is based upon its ability to amass gold and silver (and other valuable “money”), and thus a nation who exports more than it imports will be getting richer and richer every day. Of course, this theory on the wealth of nations was debunked rather thoroughly by Adam Smith in The Wealth Of Nations.

Mercantilism usually requires government intervention to be truly practiced. But mercantilism isn’t about regulation, or government sticking its hand into domestic industries. It is primarily a theory that discusses such things as balances of trade, and in the modern area, ideas of “dumping”, devalued currencies, and outsourcing. Though Adam Smith debunked the theories of mercantilism, and economists ever since have taken an exacto knife to the remaining pieces, mercantile thinking still resonates with the masses. Like many popular theories, it may not be right, but to a lot of people it “sounds” right.

To confuse it with corporatism or fascism, however, is mistaken.

Corporatism and Fascism

I place these two together because there are many similarities. They’re both political systems based on widespread government intervention and planning in the economy. They’re both seen as a bit of a third-way between capitalism and socialism, with corporatism seemingly nearer to capitalism, and fascism seemingly nearer to socialism. There are a few main differences though, most notably that fascism is a complete political system, whereas corporatism mainly deals with economic matters. But the biggest difference is who is pulling the levers of central planning, and for what purpose.

Fascism is a political system where individual interests are subservient to those of the state. In fascism, this occurs in all spheres of life, but this post deals purely with the economic. As I mentioned, fascism involves extensive central planning. It doesn’t abolish private property, but it drastically curtails the scope of property rights. Property can be used by owners for all “approved” state purposes, and only for those purposes. Venezuela, for example, would be more of a fascist state than a socialist state. But the key point of fascism is that it is an authoritarian state where the needs of the individual or corporation are subservient to those of the state. It is the politicians who are pulling the levers, and they’re doing it for national honor.

Corporatism, on the other hand, is a political system dominated by corporate interests with the stated goal of improving the economy. Individual rights are a little more widespread, but economic liberty is curtailed to ensure smooth and planned economic growth. While many would consider eminent domain cases like Kelo to be “fascist”, it’s more accurate to describe it as corporatist, as it involves economic actors pushing government into violating individual rights to promote business interests. America would be an example of a true corporatist state, where high-dollar business interests get politicians to write regulations friendly to their interest and punishing their competitors, under the false front of “protecting the consumer”. The businessmen pull the levers, for their own interests.

Corporatism and fascism have similarities, in that both involve widespread government intervention into an economy, but the former involves businesses controlling politicians for business interests, and the latter involves the politicians controlling business to further state interests.

Capitalism

Capitalism is neither mercantilism, corporatism, or fascism. Capitalism is an economic theory based upon the free exchange of goods and services. As a political system, capitalism thrives with almost no political interference at all. In fact, the big debate amongst libertarians is whether or not government itself is even necessary to keep a capitalist system afloat. But I think everyone would agree that capitalism and strong government are almost never found together. Most capitalist systems, when paired with strong government, devolve into corporatism. In fact, it is America’s descent into corporatism that has caused so many people to believe that capitalism and corporatism are the same thing.

In politics, we’ve let a situation fester for years where words mean different things to different people. That’s dangerous; a politician can say one thing and it’s heard by different people to have different meanings. Thus, politicians love to muddy the waters. Let’s make sure that words have meanings, and so let’s try to agree on them and use them properly.

Paul counters Dondero

Ron Paul on Eric Dondero:

Reason: Your former staffer Eric Dondero is challenging you for your House seat in 2008.

Paul: He’s a disgruntled former employee who was fired.

Reason: But he says he’s running because of your debate performance. So is this presidential campaign weakening your standing in your district?

Paul: Well, if it affects my standing in my district then I wouldn’t be a very good candidate for the presidency. If these views are popular, and I think they’re popular enough, then they should be popular in my home district. They’ve been hearing me saying this for a lot of years and I keep getting re-elected rather easily. I think politicians are always concerned about how they’re doing in their district, but right now, if Eric Dondero is the only thing I have to worry about, then I don’t have a lot to worry about.

Reason: What Dondero’s said is that “there are essentially two Ron Pauls. There’s the national liberal media (and libertarian blogosphere) Ron Paul. And then there’s the South Texas good hometown doctor, red, white, and blue Ron Paul.” And he’s said you talk a good game about supporting veterans but they don’t know your positions.

Paul: All one would have to do is go to the veterans part of my website. I win so many awards; we have so many people who call us from around the country because of the work we do for veterans. My biggest beef is that the veterans get shortchanged because of our war spending, and we end up with Walter Reed problems. So that statement makes zero sense.

H/T: Reason: Hit & Run

If Taxation Was More Transparent

This YouTube video humorously illustrates some of the hidden ways we are taxed. The ad was created by David Zucker (one of the brilliant minds behind the Naked Gun movies) for the 2006 campaign to warn viewers of the Democrats plans to raise taxes higher than any point in American history. Unfortunately, it seems that Zucker’s predictions will come true, particularly if the Democrats can hold both houses and gain the presidency in 2008 (but the Dems won’t call it “raising taxes” but “rolling back the Bush tax cuts”).

I am not sure where Zucker stands on the Fair Tax but his video raises some issues that might be alleviated if the Fair Tax became law. Sure, the Fair Tax would not require the taxpayer to put coins in a meter or anything like that but we would have a much clearer idea of the taxes we pay than we do now. As it stands now, we pay all kinds of hidden taxes. When taxes are raised on businesses, the businesses raise prices to maintain their profit margins. These increased prices are ultimately paid by the consumer. Also think about what you are really paying in Social Security payroll taxes. The number on your pay stub is only half of what you are actually paying. On paper, your employer pays the other half but in reality, this is money your employer could be paying YOU instead of the mythical Social Security fund.

When you consider these hidden taxes, you are paying your normal withholding from your paycheck (which most people barley notice), your Social Security, your employer’s Social Security, and Medicare while on the other end; you are paying a hidden sales tax. If the Fair Tax does nothing else, it at least gives us the honest amount of taxes we are paying. We can quibble about the 23% and wish it was more on the order of 10%, but we at least know how much the government is taking.

Of course our representatives do not want us to know what we are actually paying. In this way, they are much cleverer than the British who taxed the colonies to pay for the French and Indian War. As we learned in history class, the items the colonists bought required a stamp which informed them of the amount they were expected to pay the Crown. This begs the question: how would history have changed had the British disguised the taxes the way our government does with our current tax code? Would there have even been an American Revolution if the taxes the colonists were paying were not so transparent?

Related posts:
Dare to be Fair

Tarran, has a different opinion on the Fair Tax here, and here.

To learn more about the Fair Tax and how you can help, visit www.fairtax.org

Culture of Corruption Update

Remember last year when the Democrats took over Congress, they campaigned on, among other things, reducing the number of earmarks in Congress. Let’s check into see how they’ve done:

A bill the Senate approved last week to authorize water projects contains 446 earmarks, and the House version has 692.

The Senate bill was the first to come before the chamber since it adopted new rules this year on the practice.

Those rules require earmarks’ sponsors to be identified, ending the secret process in which lawmakers anonymously inserted projects into legislation. Taxpayer watchdogs hoped the new guidelines would curb enthusiasm for earmarks. And they thought Democrats’ decision this year to pass a funding bill without earmarks signaled a dramatic shift.

If the water bill is a sign of things to come, the appetite for earmarks remains undiminished.

“Meet the new boss, same as the old boss,” grumbled Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), an outspoken critic of pork-barrel spending.

………

The Senate bill, with its 446 projects, has more earmarks than a version drafted last year when Republicans were in charge. That bill had 272.

What do the Democrats have to say for themselves?

“Just because there are earmarks doesn’t mean that it’s business as usual,” said Jim Berard, spokesman for Democrats on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which wrote the House bill.

Democrats have taken steps to “ensure that the earmark abuse that has occurred in the past does not happen again,” he added. “Earmarks can no longer be inserted anonymously, in the dead of night, to please a powerful lobbyist or political supporter. While this will not satisfy some critics, it is a major step toward reestablishing trust with the American public.”

So because Democrat fundraisers haven’t been as brazen as Jack Abramoff, it’s perfectly okay to buy votes in Congressional districts with taxpayer money? This is not what the American people were saying last year when they trusted the Democrats with Congress.

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 IJ Review.com and Rare. You can also find me over at the R Street Institute.

Paul Krugman — Milton Friedman To Blame For E. Coli

First things first, I might as well just point you over to Cafe Hayek. Russ Roberts takes Paul Krugman apart, and does all the heavy lifting.

What did Krugman say? Since it’s behind the TimesSelect firewall, I can’t really get it directly, but here’s a portion of it:

These are anxious days at the lunch table. For all you know, there may be E. coli on your spinach, salmonella in your peanut butter and melamine in your pet’s food and, because it was in the feed, in your chicken sandwich.

Who’s responsible for the new fear of eating? Some blame globalization; some blame food-producing corporations; some blame the Bush administration. But I blame Milton Friedman.

Good for you, Paul. Who’s really to blame for fear of eating? I blame the sensationalist media. After all, when I gave up my TV for two months, I had a lot less stress in my life about E. Coli, world affairs, etc. I also blame a public school system that doesn’t teach kids the basics of probability, critical thinking, and statistics. You see? We can both look at something we hate, and manufacture reasons why they’re to blame for this!

What are Krugman’s reasons?

This isn’t simply a matter of caving in to industry pressure. The Bush administration won’t issue food safety regulations even when the private sector wants them. The president of the United Fresh Produce Association says that the industry’s problems “can’t be solved without strong mandatory federal regulations”: without such regulations, scrupulous growers and processors risk being undercut by competitors more willing to cut corners on food safety. Yet the administration refuses to do more than issue nonbinding guidelines.

That’s why I blame the food safety crisis on Milton Friedman, who called for the abolition of both the food and the drug sides of the F.D.A. What would protect the public from dangerous or ineffective drugs? “It’s in the self-interest of pharmaceutical companies not to have these bad things,” he insisted in a 1999 interview. He would presumably have applied the same logic to food safety (as he did to airline safety): regardless of circumstances, you can always trust the private sector to police itself.

As Russ Roberts points out, this isn’t evidence that Bush is accepting Friedman’s teachings. After all, Friedman would look at his spending, at NCLB, at Medicare Part D, and see abject failure in every case. Even when Bush has attempted to do something that might enhance freedom, such as an attempt to bring in school choice, or to privatize Social Security, it turns into a watered-down big government program, or a non-starter. Heck, as I’ve pointed out, I oppose Bush’s plans for Social Security with a pejorative description: Social Security Part D.

But to take Krugman’s bait misses the point. The amazing thing is that you can go into a store anywhere in the United States, buy some spinach, beef, and milk, and yet you’ll have such a tiny chance of contracting E. Coli, Mad Cow, or listeria that you don’t even have to think about it. Back in the days before a free market, you’d be lucky to buy any of those things at all. In fact, you’d only be able to afford them if you were rich. Not only that, you wouldn’t know if they were good or not. Chris Rock, in one of his comedy bits, mentions that eating pork isn’t really immoral, it was simply a religious rule for preservation of the species. After all, back in the day, a pork chop could kill you. Now we trust our food companies so much that you can eat raw beef carpaccio without fear. Back in the day, everyone drank beer constantly because most water in major metropolitan cities was infected. Boiling the water to make beer killed the bacteria in the water, and the resultant alcohol of fermentation inhibited its growth. Now you trust what comes out of your tap, but buy fancy bottled water anyway.

It wasn’t the government that brought you these things, it was government staying out of the way allowing smart people to work for profit.

But even more insane is the idea that things are getting worse… Russ Roberts pokes a hole in that one as well:

The other part I like is the implication that until the evil free market Bush administration got in power, we had a safe food supply.

FYI, Paul, there were major E. coli outbreaks in the US in 1994, 1996, 1997 and 1999. There was also one in January and February of 1993, but I won’t count that one. I’ll blame that one on the Friedman-influenced Bush the First.

In 1996, there were major outbreaks in the Friedman-dominated free market anarchist utopias of Germany, Scotland and Japan.

Maybe we can blame the German one on Hayek, the Scottish on Adam Smith, and the Japanese on one of their premier free-market economists?

Or we could realize that we don’t live in a world that’s 100% safe, and that no amount of money government spends, nor number of laws they write, will change that.

Posting this just to see the “Fun” that’s sure to ensue in comments

What can I say, I’m a son of a bitch.

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

Quote of the Day

“Maybe I should wait a couple weeks and see if it changes. Maybe he can get out his small varmint gun and drive those Guatemalans off his yard.”

Sen. John McCain on Mitt Romney’s latest immigration flip-flop in the NY Sun’s Latest Politics blog, 5/31/2007

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 IJ Review.com and Rare. You can also find me over at the R Street Institute.

Monday Open Thread: Scary Phrases In Politics

I’ve noticed that typically Monday mornings tend to be pretty slow around here. Which isn’t surprising, as none of us are quite able to make a career out of blogging (yet), and need to go to our real jobs. So here’s the first of (hopefully) many Monday Open Threads…

I’ll give you the first theme. Words that raise the red flags in your mind when you hear politicians use them. My first comes from this post:

Unfair Competition

If you hear those two words come out of a politician’s mouth, you know that he’s not trying to create fair competition, he’s trying to put a stop to competition with regulation. They don’t want free competition, they want “managed” competition. I.e. no competition at all…

So what are yours? What phrases, when you hear a politician say them, make the hairs on the back of your neck rise up, as you know whatever follows them is bound to be very bad?

The Case Against Perpetual Copyrights

In today’s New York Times, Mark Helprin argues in favor of what effectively amounts to an extension of copyrights for an indefinite period. And does so by making what is, at best, an imperfect analogy:

WHAT if, after you had paid the taxes on earnings with which you built a house, sales taxes on the materials, real estate taxes during your life, and inheritance taxes at your death, the government would eventually commandeer it entirely? This does not happen in our society … to houses. Or to businesses. Were you to have ushered through the many gates of taxation a flour mill, travel agency or newspaper, they would not suffer total confiscation.

Once the state has dipped its enormous beak into the stream of your wealth and possessions they are allowed to flow from one generation to the next. Though they may be divided and diminished by inflation, imperfect investment, a proliferation of descendants and the government taking its share, they are not simply expropriated.

That is, unless you own a copyright. Were I tomorrow to write the great American novel (again?), 70 years after my death the rights to it, though taxed at inheritance, would be stripped from my children and grandchildren. To the claim that this provision strikes malefactors of great wealth, one might ask, first, where the heirs of Sylvia Plath berth their 200-foot yachts. And, second, why, when such a stiff penalty is not applied to the owners of Rockefeller Center or Wal-Mart, it is brought to bear against legions of harmless drudges who, other than a handful of literary plutocrats (manufacturers, really), are destined by the nature of things to be no more financially secure than a seal in the Central Park Zoo.

The most fundamental difference, of course, is that copyrights, unlike property rights in land, are purely a creation of the Constitution, which gives Congress the power to:

[P]romote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;

Rather than recognizing that this provision constituted the Founders understanding that copyrights and patents, rather than merely being a recognizing of already existing property rights were, in reality, the granting of monopoly power by the state and, for that reason, their duration should be limited to a period of time deemed sufficient to reward the creators for the effort and innovation involved in their work.

Helprin ignores this however, and continues with yet another bizarre analogy:

It is, then, for the public good. But it might also be for the public good were Congress to allow the enslavement of foreign captives and their descendants (this was tried); the seizure of Bill Gates’s bankbook; or the ruthless suppression of Alec Baldwin. You can always make a case for the public interest if you are willing to exclude from common equity those whose rights you seek to abridge. But we don’t operate that way, mostly.

The problem with this analogy, of course, is that it ignores the distinction between individual rights (to life, liberty, property, and free speech in the case of the examples cited) and a government created monopoly grant. It is arguably the case, and certainly something that the Founders were concerned about, that grants of monopoly power such as copyrights and patents actually infringe on the liberties of others —- even if were to come up with an idea, or a song, or a poem, completely independently, I would be prevented from profiting from it by virtue of the fact that someone managed to beat me to the Patent and Trademark Office by a few hours.

More importantly, though, how can the government grant a perpetual monopoly over an idea ? Thomas Jefferson himself noted this about intellectual property:

[ideas are] “like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density at any point, and, like the air in which we breathe, move and have our physical being, incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation.”

In other words, once it is in the public domain, whether protected by copyright or not, can anyone truly be said to “own” an idea ? Helprin tries to ignore this argument by making a distinction between ideas and “art”, but the point is the same.

Whether it’s the formula for Bayer Aspirin, though, or the text of To Kill A Mockingbird, there is no rational reason to extend copyright protection indefinitely.  And, more importantly, such a proposal would seem to violate the clear limitations placed on Congresses power to grant these monopolies by the Constitution.

Bush Administration Ignored Pre-War Warnings About Iraq

The Washington Post reports this morning that there were warnings two months before the start of the Iraq War that things might not go as planned:

Two intelligence assessments from January 2003 predicted that the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and subsequent U.S. occupation of Iraq could lead to internal violence and provide a boost to Islamic extremists and terrorists in the region, according to congressional sources and former intelligence officials familiar with the prewar studies.

The two assessments, titled “Principal Challenges in Post-Saddam Iraq” and “Regional Consequences of Regime Change in Iraq,” were produced by the National Intelligence Council (NIC) and will be a major part of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s long-awaited Phase II report on prewar intelligence assessments about Iraq. The assessments were delivered to the White House and to congressional intelligence committees before the war started.

(…)

The assessment on post-Hussein Iraq included judgments that while Iraq was unlikely to split apart, there was a significant chance that domestic groups would fight each other and that ex-regime military elements could merge with terrorist groups to battle any new government. It even talks of guerrilla warfare, according to congressional sources and former intelligence officials.

The second NIC assessment discussed “political Islam being boosted and the war being exploited by terrorists and extremists elsewhere in the region,” one former senior analyst said. It also suggested that fear of U.S. military dominance and occupation of a Middle East country — one sacred to Islam — would attract foreign Islamic fighters to the area.

The NIC assessments paint “a very sobering and, as it has turned out, mostly accurate picture of the aftermath of the invasion,” according to a former senior intelligence officer familiar with the studies. He sought anonymity because he is not authorized to speak about still-classified assessments.

The former senior official said that after the NIC papers were distributed to senior government officials, he was told by one CIA briefer that a senior Defense Department official had said they were “too negative” and that the papers “did not see the possibilities” the removal of Hussein would present.

This report is consistent with information we’ve received from other sources about the build-up and aftermath of the Iraq War. Throughout the time preceding the Iraq War, there was an apparent unwillingness on the part of its proponents — principally Wolfowitz, Cheney, and those around them — to give any consideration at all to the potential negative consequences that could follow the collapse of the Ba`athist regime and, as a result, there was absolutely no planning for such contingencies.

Many war opponents point to the fact that the justification for the war — the existence of a WMD program in Iraq in 2003 — turned out to be faulty, but they’re missing the point. All of the available intelligence, from the United States and elsewhere, indicated that Saddam Hussein was stockpiling WMD’s. His own evasive behavior seemed to confirm it.

The question isn’t whether we were right or wrong to start the war to begin with, the question is how our leaders could have been so negligent, to the point of almost being criminally negligent, in failing to plan for what might happen when the war was over. Because they didn’t we’ve been stuck in Iraq for four years, the nation itself is mired in insurgency, and we’ve placed ourselves in a situation where, the slogans of the protesters aside, there is no easy way out.

That’s what history will remember about George W. Bush’s adventure in Iraq.

1776: The Year Liberty Stood In The Balance

Today, we celebrate 1776, and more specifically the 4th of July as the birthday of American freedom, the day that the American colonists courageously stood up to the most powerful monarch on the planet and declared the independence of the thirteen British colonies on the Eastern seaboard of North America.

The truth of the matter is that, even on that hot Philadephia day in July, the future of freedom in America was far from secure. The American Revolution had barely started and, only ten months before King George III had vowed before Parliament that the colonies would remain in the British Empire, and had dispatched the world’s most powerful Navy and Army, backed up by some well-paid Hessians, to make sure that his will would be followed.

In 1776, David McCullough tells the story of that year and of a military campaign that, but for fortunate leadership and even more fortunate luck, could very easily have ended in disaster and snuffed the infant nation in it’s sleep.

The year started out well enough. The Continental Army, newly under the command of George Washington, had stood down the British in Boston and forced them to retreat from the city. That victory, though, came without a decisive battle and was merely a prelude to the confrontation that would come in New York.

For a time, New York was secure but that proved to be quickly short-lived when the British Army and Navy appear off the coast and quickly land on Long Island. What follows is a tale of what can only be called ineptness at times. The Americans were always outmanned and outgunned by the British but, on more than one occasion, the defeat they would suffer would be the result of bad decisions, even bad decisions by Washington himself.

In the end, Washington was forced to retreat. First out of New York, and then clear across New Jersey and the Delaware River. It was only thanks to an attack on Trenton that combined equal degrees of bravery and audacity that the Americans were able to end the year on a high note, even if the war itself didn’t end for another six years.

As with everything else McCullough has written, 1776 is both informative and enjoyable. Someone once said that history is a story, and McCullough does a great job of telling this one in a way that makes you want to keep reading on, even though we all know how the story ultimately ends. If nothing else, the book will make you appreciate just how brave the men who fought for American freedom were, and just how lucky we are they that they were successful.

Kicking Libertarians Out Of The GOP

Over at Real Clear Politics, Jay Cost argues that Ron Paul should be excluded from the Republican Presidential Debates not because of what he said about foreign policy, but because he’s a libertarian:

I think Paul should be excluded because he is only a nominal Republican. He remains in the Republican Party because he caucuses with the GOP in the House and runs as its nominee in Texas’ Fourteenth District. If Republican leaders were not so risk averse, I assure you they would do everything they could to remove him in the next election (the last time they tried that was 1998). Paul’s seat is a safe seat for the GOP right now. A primary challenge would be messy in that (a) it might induce an internecine war among Republicans in the district (imagine allies of Paul abstaining in the general, or worse working for the Democrats, or even worse Paul winning the fight and then cutting a deal with the Democrats in the 111th Congress), and (b) it might induce a quality Democratic challenger to enter the race. Paul caucuses with the Republican Party, and that first vote every term is worth enough to GOP leaders to tolerate his presence.

But Paul is not really a “libertarian-leaning Republican.” He is a libertarian. It is hard to pick up this distinction in these debates. Libertarians and Republicans have seeming similarities in their desires to reduce the size and scope of the federal government. But it would be a mistake to think that the differences are only quantitative. They are also qualitative. It is not simply that Paul would cut more excess than, say, Jeff Flake. It is that Paul, as a libertarian, has a very different view of what excess is

Different than who ? Different than a Senator from Arizona who thinks that it’s appropriate to stifle political speech ? Different than a House Leadership that presided over increased spending at a pace that rivaled LBJ’s great society ? Different than a President who ignores the Constitutions limits on the Executive Branch on a regular basis ?

Apparently, and apparently this is the new Republican Party. No longer the party of the man who warned that the government that is big enough to give you everything you want is big enough to take everything you have. Heck, no longer even the party of Barry Goldwater. And, it would seem, a place where it is increasingly difficult for those of us who believe in limited government and individual liberty — but who find the Libertarian Party a waste of time — to find a home.

Ron Paul On Tucker Carlson On Foreign Policy

Ron Paul appeared on Tucker Carlson’s show a few hours before the MSNBC debate on May 3rd and actually got a chance to explain his views on foreign policy without having to worry about stupid 30, 60, or 90 second time limits, or being shouted down by a loud-mouth from the Bronx:

Frankly, I don’t see what anyone who believes in limited government and the Constitution would find objectionable in what he said.

H/T: Lew Rockwell

More on the Fair Tax II

Thanks to the handful who wrote rebuttals to my previous post with arguments of their own. If I understood correctly, they boil down to the following counterarguments:

1) Your fears are not based on the proposed legislation, but rather on what might happen.

I am pretty confident in my predictions, in that they fit public choice theory. If one looks at the actual history of government, one sees politicians repeatedly breaking down limits on their power and finding new ways to reward their cronies. I think the rise of the income tax itself is quite instructive; it was originally conceived as a method to shift the tax-burden away from the poor by reducing consumption taxes. Its originators claimed that it would tax only the ultra-rich and the rates would never rise above 8% or so. However, when in World War I the tax revenue from imports collapsed, the U.S. government wasted no time in exploiting this new source of revenue.

2) Politicians won’t bring back the income tax. It will be easier simply to raise the consumption tax rates

Ah yes, but what if we have another depression? When the economy is contracting (and the current monetary system ensures that we will continue having booms and busts into the forseeable future), people curtail their spending, either by buying used goods, or by doing without. Guess what that would do to government revenues? ;)

3) The fair tax expands the tax base.

This, to me, is not a point in its favor. Making it easier for the government to comandeer additional resources away from genuine consumer wants leaves us all worse off, and I say this as a small-businessman who is really being screwed by the current regime. To those not familiar with my political views, I am an anarchist. Even if the taxes levied by government amounted to one penny levied on some poor soul by lot, I would be railing against the high taxes.

4) Coward! At least we are not giving up! You must be one of them French Surrender Monkeys!

I really get irritated by this argument. First, it assumes that it’s either the Fair Tax or nothing. This is a false dichotomy. I think the Fair Tax will make things worse. That statement does not imply that I think the current system is good, or that I think we should just surrender and give up. Hell, you could really shake things up simply by ending payroll withholding and requiring people to pay their income taxes quarterly.

5) What do you mean people don’t care! Everyone I talk to loves the idea!

That’s wonderful, but completely beside the point. My point is that people don’t care about the total amount of taxes they or their neighbors pay. They may want the burden to be distributed more “fairly”. However they are quite comfortable with the size of the burden.

6) The Fair Tax is a great idea because it encourages savings.

I actually agree with this. I think it is one of the strongest things going for it, especially since it is savings that fuel economic growth.

I am an anarcho-capitalist living just west of Boston Massachussetts. I am married, have two children, and am trying to start my own computer consulting company.

Explaining The Reaction To Ron Paul

At TCS Daily, Gregory Scoblete tries to understand why conservatives freaked out so much over Ron Paul’s remarks about the links between American foreign policy and September 11th:

I believe it’s because many conservatives, especially since 9/11, have become increasingly unwilling to internalize the simple maxim that government actions have consequences – many of them unintended, some of them negative. Conservatives are rightly skeptical of grand government initiatives aimed at curing various domestic ills. Yet some have become convinced that the same bureaucrats who cannot balance the budget will nonetheless be able to deftly manage the political outcomes of nations half a world away. The tendency is so acute that it led the libertarian blogger Jim Henley to wryly observe that for some “Hayek stops at the water’s edge.”

Furthermore, understanding why bin Laden struck at America is not the same as excusing the murderers of 9/11 anymore than observing that Hitler desired Lebensraum excuses his invasion of Poland. Knowing your enemy is the all-important first step to defeating him.

Indeed, Paul has done the debate a fundamental service by raising the complex issues of cost and benefit when it comes to America’s Middle East policy. You can argue, as former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski did, that a few “stirred up Muslims” was worth the price of driving a defeated Soviet Union out of Afghanistan. You can also argue, as the Bush administration has done, that 9/11 was not a serious enough event to merit a substantial rethinking of our relationship with Saudi Arabia. You can even claim that more, not less, intervention in the Middle East is what is required to bring about needed change.

What you cannot seriously argue is that the world is a “consequence free” zone in which U.S. actions can never catalyze harmful reactions.

For me, this is what I agree with in the remarks that have aroused such controversy here and elsewhere.

It’s simply absurd to argue that the actions that the United States has taken in the Middle East — starting with things such as the overthrow of a democratically elected government in Iran in 1953 in favor of a hereditary monarch who tortured his opponents — have been without consequence. Justifiably or not, these actions have created a not insubstantial portion of the Arab/Muslim population that resents the United States and sees us as a force for evil rather than a force for good.

More recently, we went to war in Iraq for reasons that later turned out to be based on faulty intelligence and did so without a plan for what we would do there after we won. The result was the creation of chaos and the rise of an insurgency that is targeting the Iraqi people as much as it is targeting American soldiers. More importantly, whereas there was no evidence of a link between Iraq and al Qaeda prior to 2003, it is now fairly evidence that Iraq is one of al Qaeda’s primary sources of recruitment and the battlefield on which it has chosen to fight it’s next battle.

That, quite frankly, is our fault. » Read more

Ron Paul, The Republicans, and the “Hidden Support”

Doctrinaire Libertarians always assume that:

1. They are right, without question (after all, their perfect doctrinal system says so).

2. It is so obvious and intuitive that they are right, that there must be a huge but silent majority that agree with them entirely.

Thus, their anointed representative in the Republican party MUST have huge reserves of previously unseen support, the polls are inaccurate, they aren’t measuring all the libertarians, he’s ready for a surge blah blah blah.

Ron Paul never had anything more than a snowballs chance in hell. I agree with him on most things, but his stance on 9/11 and the war alone put him (and almost every other doctrinaire Libertarian) into the “would vote for McCain first” zone.

For anyone who knows me, that is as stinging a rebuke as I could possibly give without resorting to vulgarity; or invoking a Clinton.

Let me make this even clearer. I like Paul, I respect him, I agree with him on far more issues than any other candidate; BUT FOR HIS POSITIONS ON THE WAR AND 9/11 ALONE, I WOULD NEVER VOTE FOR HIM.

Do you know how many MILLIONS of people out there feel exactly the same way?

Funny enough, unlike the phantom Paul supporters, those people aren’t hidden; they’re the ones campaigning for Duncan Hunter, and Tom Tancredo, and Fred Thompson… or misguidedly supporting Romney because they think that somehow he’s electable and at least better than McCain or Rudy.

I can’t stomach Paul for president AND I’M A LIBERTARIAN FOR GODS SAKE. I MIGHT vote for him over Hillary; but I’m more likely not to vote in such a contest.

Does this not put any lights on over anybodies heads?

The support you seem to believe is there?

It isn’t.

The agreement you seem so sure is there?

It isn’t.

The surge you seem to think he’s going to make…

Do the math.

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

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