Monthly Archives: July 2007

Robert Heinlein The Libertarian

This past Saturday marked the 100th anniversary of the birth of Robert Heinlein, one of America’s most prolific science fiction authors and, as Brian Doherty writes in Reason, a very unique libertarian:

Heinlein once told a visitor, “I’m so much a libertarian that I have no use for the whole libertarian movement.” Although never in lockstep with every libertarian attitude, Heinlein’s fictions seemed derived from libertarianism before the modern movement even fully existed. Before books like Rand’s Fountainhead and F.A. Hayek’s Road to Serfdom sparked the modern libertarian movement in the mid-’40s, Heinlein had published a novelette, “Coventry,” about a world whose government was based on a freely entered covenant that said that “no possible act, nor mode of conduct, was forbidden to you, as long as your action did not damage another.”

Heinlein’s other contributions to the libertarian zeitgeist include one of the epigrams of the gun rights movement, “an armed society is a polite society”-a line first published in his 1942 serial Beyond This Horizon. He was also a direct intellectual influence on many important libertarians. David Friedman, author of the anarcho-capitalist classic The Machinery of Freedom, considered Heinlein’s 1966 novel The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress vital to his intellectual evolution. (One of Moon’s heroes was a professor advocating “rational anarchy,” partially based on Heinlein’s one-time neighbor, Robert LeFevre, founder of the libertarian Rampart College.) David Nolan, founder of the Libertarian Party, got his start in political activism in 1960 sporting a self-made “Heinlein for President” button. Another Heinlein devotee was Robert Poole, longtime editor of Reason and founder of the Reason Foundation, one of the first institutions to try to effect libertarian change in the real world in a practical manner. Poole’s efforts could be seen as a legacy of Heinlein’s interest in the nuts and bolts of how his imagined societies would actually function.


Heinlein was, then, his own kind of libertarian, one who exemplified the libertarian strains in both the Goldwater right and the bohemian left, and maintained eager fan bases in both camps. A gang of others who managed the same straddle, many of them Heinlein fans, split in 1969 from the leading conservative youth group, Young American for Freedom, in what some mark as the beginnings of a self-conscious libertarian activist movement. In a perfectly Heinleinian touch, the main sticking point between the libertarian and conservative factions was one of Heinlein’s bêtes noires: resistance to the draft, which he hated as much as he loved the bravery of the volunteer who would fight for his culture’s freedom or survival.

Since I was reading them at virtually the same time, my own brand of libertarian was influenced as much by Heinlein as it was by Ayn Rand, and quite frankly, I’ve always thought that a Heinleinian libertarian would have a lot more fun than a cigarette smoking Randroid.


Harry Potter’s Secret Libertarian Message

At least one person, a law professor in Tennessee thinks there’s a hidden libertarian message in the Harry Potter series:

KNOXVILLE — “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” the seventh and final book in the series, will be published on July 21, and University of Tennessee law professor Benjamin Barton will be standing in line to get it.

A big fan of Harry Potter, Barton has become a true student of the series, and he says he’s found some politically charged lessons written between the lines.


Barton wrote a paper entitled “Harry Potter and the Half-Crazed Bureaucracy” that was published in the Michigan Law Review in May 2006. The paper is being reprinted as a chapter in the book, “Harry Potter and the Law” (Carolina Press), due out this summer. He also has lectured on the topic at a “Power of Stories” seminar in Gloucester, England, in July 2005.

In “Harry Potter and the Half-Crazed Bureaucracy,” Barton details the political messages he’s discovered in the Potter books:

“What would you think of a government that engaged in this list of tyrannical activities: tortured children for lying; designed its prison specifically to suck all life and hope out of the inmates; placed citizens in that prison without a hearing; ordered the death penalty without a trial; allowed the powerful, rich or famous to control policy; selectively prosecuted crimes (the powerful go unpunished and the unpopular face trumped-up charges); conducted criminal trials without defense counsel; used truth serum to force confessions; maintained constant surveillance over all citizens; offered no elections and no democratic lawmaking process; and controlled the press?

“You might assume that the above list is the work of some despotic central African nation, but it is actually the product of the Ministry of Magic, the magician’s government in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series.”

Barton said he thinks the anti-government thread that runs through the Potter novels is significant because the books have great potential to sway public opinion.

I’m not a fan of the Harry Potter series. Haven’t read a single book, or seen a single movie, and I’ve got no plans to. So, I have no way of knowing if Barton’s hypothesis about a secret anti-government message behind the series is true or not. More likely than not, though, he’s just reading his own political ideas into a series of books and movies that most people are just enjoying for their entertainment value.

Senator David Vitter’s Phone Number Found On DC Madam’s Records

This should be fun…

Sen. David Vitter, R-La., apologized Monday night for “a very serious sin in my past” after his telephone number appeared among those associated with an escort service operated by the so-called “D.C. Madam.”

Vitter’s spokesman, Joel Digrado, confirmed the statement in an e-mail sent to The Associated Press.

“This was a very serious sin in my past for which I am, of course, completely responsible,” Vitter said in the statement. “Several years ago, I asked for and received forgiveness from God and my wife in confession and marriage counseling. Out of respect for my family, I will keep my discussion of the matter there — with God and them. But I certainly offer my deep and sincere apologies to all I have disappointed and let down in any way.”

The statement containing Vitter’s apology said his telephone number was on old phone records of Pamela Martin and Associates before he ran for the Senate.

Wow… Now, obviously, I’m a libertarian; as far as I’m concerned, the only person that Vitter needs to consult about his naughtiness are his wife and his god. It sounds like he’s cleared it with the former, and the big man upstairs has apparently told him it’s all good.

But something tells me that won’t satisfy the political sharks. They smell blood in the water, and they go into a particular frenzy over a Republican involved in a sex scandal. Everyone’s going to be angling for a piece of this meal.

Personally, I don’t really care about his offense… After all, it’s less serious to me than stashing $90,000 in bribe money in your freezer. But I enjoy anything that discredits politicians; it seems that’s nearly the only way to get any of them out of office these days. So I’ll be kicking back in the recliner with a nice cold beer and enjoying the hell out of this.

Ron Paul On Morning Joe

Ron Paul appeared on Joe Scarborough’s MSNBC show this morning. Unfortunately, since he was on Joe Scarborough’s MSNBC program, its likely that less than a million people actually saw him

Paul does well, as is typical. And Scarborough makes a comment about Paul surprising everyone in New Hampshire and refers to him as the next President of the United States. I wouldn’t rule out Paul doing better than anyone expects in New Hampshire, largely because that state’s primary usually produces one surprise or another. I’d be willing to lay odds against Scarborough’s second prediction, though.

Strange New State Global Warming Laws

California: Restrict oil supply by crippling alternative oil sources

Oil-sand, oil-shale, and coal-to-oil projects – alternative fuel sources that could enhance US energy security – have always faced one hurdle. They look good only when oil prices are high. Now, they have another challenge: global warming.

California has enacted new climate-change policies that make energy companies responsible for the carbon emissions not just of their refineries but all phases of oil production, including extraction and transportation. If that notion catches on – at least two Canadian provinces have already signed on to California’s plan – then the futures of oil-sand, shale, and coal-to-oil projects may look less attractive.

The reason: Extracting these alternative sources of oil requires so much energy that their “carbon footprint” may outweigh their benefits.

I hope Californians are happy that they’re saving the world when they become poor trying to scrounge money to afford the $6/gallon gas to take them to work each day. And I’d place money on the bet that when gas prices climb, it will be politicians blaming energy companies instead of their own policies for the high prices.

But hey, they’re politicians. Act now to fight the obscure calamity of the day, and damn the consequences! I’m just surprised they haven’t tripled gas taxes yet… That must be next week.

New Jersey: Curb emissions and kill business even more than NJ already does

New Jersey became the third state in the nation to enact a comprehensive greenhouse gas reduction law Friday, requiring the Garden State to significantly cut emissions of global-warming gases.

The legislation requires the state to reduce global warming gases to 1990 levels by 2020, and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 80 percent below 2006 levels by 2050. New Jersey is the first state to set global warming targets so far into the future, environmentalists said, and the first to require that energy imports adhere to New Jersey’s standards.

“This is a very, very important day for the state of New Jersey,” said Corzine. “We are making a long-lived commitment today that will impact not just our generation but future generations.”

Yeah, it will impact future generations… They’ll wonder why their electricity bill is $500/month paying for the air conditioning to mitigate the heat that that New Jersey’s law couldn’t prevent. Somehow I don’t think anyone will inform them that it was the laws in New Jersey that strangled the power producers and drove the price up. And they’ll wonder why they can’t find good jobs in their own state. Somehow I think the politicians will blame greedy capitalists for that one.

But Corzine knows what needs to be done, despite what detractor Sara Bluhm has to say about it:

“Instead of setting arbitrary goals, the governor could do something today to help businesses remain competitive by releasing funds for energy audits,” she said, adding that millions of dollars set aside for such audits 18 months ago have yet to be released by the state treasury.

Sara, don’t you understand? Setting arbitrary goals for 13 years down the road gets him reelected. Giving out government money today to corporations doesn’t. What part of the job of governing isn’t clear?

Big Brother Coming To New York City

Today’s New York Times reports on the fairly ambitious surveillance plans that authorities have for  downtown Manhattan:

By the end of this year, police officials say, more than 100 cameras will have begun monitoring cars moving through Lower Manhattan, the beginning phase of a London-style surveillance system that would be the first in the United States.

The Lower Manhattan Security Initiative, as the plan is called, will resemble London’s so-called Ring of Steel, an extensive web of cameras and roadblocks designed to detect, track and deter terrorists. British officials said images captured by the cameras helped track suspects after the London subway bombings in 2005 and the car bomb plots last month.

If the program is fully financed, it will include not only license plate readers but also 3,000 public and private security cameras below Canal Street, as well as a center staffed by the police and private security officers, and movable roadblocks.


The license plate readers would check the plates’ numbers and send out alerts if suspect vehicles were detected. The city is already seeking state approval to charge drivers a fee to enter Manhattan below 86th Street, which would require the use of license plate readers. If the plan is approved, the police will most likely collect information from those readers too, Mr. Kelly said.

But the downtown security plan involves much more than keeping track of license plates. Three thousand surveillance cameras would be installed below Canal Street by the end of 2008, about two-thirds of them owned by downtown companies. Some of those are already in place. Pivoting gates would be installed at critical intersections; they would swing out to block traffic or a suspect car at the push of a button.

Unlike the 250 or so cameras the police have already placed in high-crime areas throughout the city, which capture moving images that have to be downloaded, the security initiative cameras would transmit live information instantly.

With all that surveillance, surely we will be making one of America’s most important cities safer. Right ?

Well, not exactly:

There is little evidence to suggest that security cameras deter crime or terrorists, said James J. Carafano, a senior fellow for homeland security at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative research group in Washington.

For all its comprehensiveness, London’s Ring of Steel, which was built in the early 1990s to deter Irish Republican Army attacks, did not prevent the July 7, 2005, subway bombings or the attempted car bombings in London last month. But the British authorities said the cameras did prove useful in retracing the paths of the suspects’ cars last month, leading to several arrests.

Whether that is worth giving the state the right to watch our every move is, of course, anything question.

Ron Paul On This Week

Ron Paul appeared on ABC News’s This Week yesterday and put on a passably good performance:

Both David Griffus @ and David Weigel @ Hit&Run make something of the closing exchange between Paul and Stephanopoulos:

Stephanopoulos: What’s success for you in this campaign?

Paul: What’s success? Well, to win, is one, is the goal.

Stephanopoulos: That’s not going to happen.

Paul: Do you know for absolute? Are you willing to bet every cent in your pocket for that?

Stephanopoulos: Yes.

Paul: You are. OK. I thought so when I ran for Congress. I wouldn’t bet anything I could have been elected to Congress. The odds are great, the odds are difficult, and I know that. But I would say that what has happened so far has been about 100 times greater than I anticipated.

Frankly, I think it was a totally legitimate question Paul consistently polls below 3% in every scientific poll that has been conducted to date. He has raised, at best, 1/10th of the amount of money as the frontrunners in the Republican race. The one thing he’s proved good at is getting alot of free media coverage. But that’s not enough to win a Presidential campaign.

Reason summed it up well in it’s candidate profile series last month:

It would be nice to live in a world where Ron Paul could actually win.

Yes, it would.

New Passport Rules Aren’t Making You Safer

Another lesson in unintended consequences

A new rule aimed at protecting US borders is behind the backlog of passport applications that has frustrated countless Americans this summer.

But some experts and federal employees who check applications warn that these shortcomings mean more work needs to be done to improve this aspect of national security.

Increasing the number of Americans who hold passports will enhance border security, they agree. But limitations in the approval process, they add, make it difficult to be sure that those who shouldn’t get a passport don’t. Some argue that adjudicators aren’t given enough time to thoroughly check applications; others say the databases used to verify an applicant’s identity and eligibility are incomplete.

Changing the rules had two major effects. First, it discouraged many Americans from traveling to Canada/Mexico/Caribbean, because they don’t want to jump through all the hoops of getting a passport. But because so many others got their applications in all at once, the overload has made it impossible for them to do due diligence to make sure they’re actually not falsifying those documents. Of course, they believe they’re secure.

Passports are among the most secure government-issued documents. To receive passports, US citizens must prove citizenship and identity by presenting a birth certificate or baptismal record and a government-issued ID.

And even if the passports are correctly issued, there’s still another problem. The weakest link is a border checkpoint, where border workers have incentive to get people through. The process to get a passport might be incredibly strict, but if the process to show your passport to walk across the border is not, it doesn’t do much good. And that doesn’t even take illegal crossings into consideration.

As with most things the government does to make you safer, it adds to the hassle and the appearance of security, but doesn’t really provide it.

Eminent Domain Outrage In Virginia

Today’s Washington Post reports on another example of eminent domain abuse by local government, this time in Prince William County, Virginia:

The white lines that mark the parking spots around Dharmesh Desai’s auto repair shop are freshly painted, awaiting customers who will never come.

For the past 11 years, Desai has worked to meet the county’s requirements to run a small auto shop, only to be told before it opened that the county needs his land more than he does.

For the past decade, Prince William County has undergone continuous and rapid residential growth, which has far outpaced road construction. Prince William County has tried to fill the void in transportation by going into business itself building and renovating infrastructure. Using locally approved bond referendums, the county has undertaken large projects, such as the widening of Route 15, and smaller ones, such as expanding commuter parking lots.

The infrastructure campaign has not just been about moving dirt and putting down asphalt. Part of it includes demolishing shops such as Desai’s.

Desai’s building is across the street from the Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation Commission headquarters along Potomac Mills Road in Woodbridge. A commuter and employee parking lot and housing for the commission’s buses, built in the early ’90s, has not kept up with the growing need for space. The commission says it must expand.

And, to add insult to injury, the county is low-balling the number it’s willing to pay Desai for his land:

Charles Dean, who owns the transmission shop next door, knows what it is like to have the government buy his land. After four condemnations by state and local governments, the 25 acres Dean once owned has been whittled down to about half an acre.

In all of the previous condemnations, Dean has settled without protest. This is the only time, he says, he has not thought he was getting a fair deal. The county offered Desai $525,000 for his 0.8 acres and Dean $400,000 for his property, which they both think is surprisingly low.

“The appraisal, it was a slap in the face,” Dean said. “It was really a shock.”

The two owners sought independent estimates, and now Dean says his land is worth $1.2 million and Desai says his is worth at least $1.8 million. Horan said she has not seen either appraisal.

Under the “quick take” procedures that PRTC is permitted to utilize under Virginia law, however, it’s likely that Desai and Dean will not only lose their property and their business, but that they’ll be forced to accept the lower number as well.

So much for the idea of “just compensation.”

Originally posted at Below The Beltway

Holding Back In The War On Terror

According to a report in the New York Times, the Bush Administration passed on an opportunity to strike at the senior leadership of al Qaeda because they considered the mission “too risky”:

WASHINGTON, July 7 — A secret military operation in early 2005 to capture senior members of Al Qaeda in Pakistan’s tribal areas was aborted at the last minute after top Bush administration officials decided it was too risky and could jeopardize relations with Pakistan, according to intelligence and military officials.

The target was a meeting of Qaeda leaders that intelligence officials thought included Ayman al-Zawahri, Osama bin Laden’s top deputy and the man believed to run the terrorist group’s operations.

But the mission was called off after Donald H. Rumsfeld, then the defense secretary, rejected an 11th-hour appeal by Porter J. Goss, then the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, officials said. Members of a Navy Seals unit in parachute gear had already boarded C-130 cargo planes in Afghanistan when the mission was canceled, said a former senior intelligence official involved in the planning.

Quite frankly, this is exactly the type of thing that conservatives have criticized Bill Clinton for in the years leading up to 9/11. There was an opportunity back then to strike a bin Laden and the Clinton Administration called it off because it was, allegedly, too risky. The price of that of course, was 3,000 people dead and a big hole in the at the tip of Manhattan Island. You’d think that we would’ve learned our lesson, but apparently we haven’t.

And the primary reason for calling off the raid appears to have been fear that we’d piss off the government of Pakistan, our supposed ally in the War on Terror:

Officials said one reason Mr. Rumsfeld called off the 2005 operation was that the number of troops involved in the mission had grown to several hundred, including Army Rangers, members of the Navy Seals and C.I.A. operatives, and he determined that the United States could no longer carry out the mission without General Musharraf’s permission. It is unlikely that the Pakistani president would have approved an operation of that size, officials said.

Some outside experts said American counterterrorism operations had been hamstrung because of concerns about General Musharraf’s shaky government.

“The reluctance to take risk or jeopardize our political relationship with Musharraf may well account for the fact that five and half years after 9/11 we are still trying to run bin Laden and Zawahri to ground,” said Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism expert at Georgetown University.

And thanks to that, bin Laden and al Qaeda essentially have a safe haven in Pakistan.

Originally posted at Below The Beltway

Ron Paul Has More Money In The Bank Than John McCain

Now here’s a story I never thought I’d see:

ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos Reports: Though often regarded as a longshot candidate for president, Republican Ron Paul tells ABC News that he has an impressive $2.4 million in cash on hand after raising an equal amount during the second quarter, putting him ahead of one-time Republican frontrunner John McCain, who reported this week he has only $2 million in the bank.

In an exclusive interview taped Friday and airing Sunday on “This Week,” Paul said his campaign is on a better trajectory than McCain’s.

“I think some of the candidates are on the down-slope, and we’re on the up-slope,” said Paul.

Paul’s cash on hand puts him in third place in the Republican field in that important metric, although he is well behind leader Rudy Giuliani, who has $18 million in the bank, and Mitt Romney, with $12 million.

Paul, who polls show with support in the low single digits, said his surprisingly strong fundraising is the best measure of his support.

“I think people have underestimated the number of people in this country who are interested in a freedom message,” says the Republican congressman from Texas, who has strong libertarian leanings.

This is a reflection of a few things.

First of all, we already knew that McCain’s support was falling and that his second quarter fundraising was abysmal. This confirms it and it would seem to suggest that McCain is in danger of becoming a second tier candidate.

Second, it makes sense that Ron Paul would have alot of cash on hand because he is not running the same kind of high-profile, big money campaign that Giuliani and Romney. He relies alot on volunteers and I don’t get the indication he’s tapping into the high-profile, big money campaign advisors that the others are. Put simply, Paul’s expenses are lower.

Finally, these numbers also suggest that Paul raised somewhere in the neighborhood of $ 1.5 million in the second quarter we now know that Paul raised somewhere in the neighborhood of $ 2.5 million in the second quarter Not bad, but not the $ 5 million some apparently hoped for, and not the kind of money you need to run a real Presidential campaign.

The Allure Of Exclusion

I got an interesting perspective on sociology this week. I was up at Lake Arrowhead in the mountains north of San Bernardino, California with my family. My brother-in-law has a boat, so he managed to get it into the lake to watch the fireworks on the 4th.

Lake Arrowhead is a popular lake due to its proximity to LA, but it’s quite a small lake. So the lake association is extremely restrictive on who can put a boat in the lake. There’s hoop after hoop to jump through. After we got home, of course, the entire family was talking about how happy they are that they restrict access to the lake so much. After all, even with a busy 4th of July day (the busiest day of the year for the lake, due to the fireworks display), the lake wasn’t overcrowded.

But in its own right, I was shocked to hear their reaction. After all, they’ve spent the last month trying to jump through all the hoops the lake association put in front of them, and cursing those hoops the whole time. In order to get the boat in the water, they had to add my brother-in-law to the title of the house (with a tiny share) to make sure that the name on the title of the house matched that of the boat’s registration. In addition, the lake association requires exorbitant insurance levels on the boat, which were in excess of the added insurance he already has on his boat. That doesn’t even consider the myriad of fees and schmoozing. When all was said and done, it was not even a reasonable amount of money.

What struck me was the response of the family. If they hadn’t gotten the boat in the water, they would have been cursing the lake association all weekend, all the more so because we were staying in a house without air conditioning in 95-degree weather. They would have complained about why it’s so hard to put a boat in, especially since they own a home in town. But because they did get a boat in, suddenly they were big fans of the exclusivity.

This is another example of government policies which reward either the rich and/or those willing to grease the wheels, and screws everyone else. But it was particularly interesting to see the same people who were being excluded and had to work their butts off to get a boat on the water immediately turn around and praise the exclusivity once they got in.

This is one of those things is a constant when government is involved. So much of economics doesn’t involve zero-sum games, and yet much of government does. The premier example is that of immigration. Americans have this innate belief that because our ancestors were brave enough to leave their home countries and come over here 1, 2, or 10 generations ago, that we deserve access to special treatment that everyone else does not. But this extends to much of government. Corporations receiving subsidies are against welfare programs, while rationalizing why their own subsidies aren’t really “welfare”.

Exclusion is pretty nice, when you’re on the inside. When you’re on the outside looking in, though, it’s not so nice. When you know it’s someone giving access to private property, at least it’s understandable. When you’re being held out of public property by some petty bureaucratic regulation (supported, of course, by the voters who are invariably included, not excluded), though, it’s a bit maddening. And to watch the position of someone change as they move from exclusion to inclusion just shows you how tied to principle most people are.

The Root Causes Of Terrorism

Ever since September 11th, people have wondered what it is that can cause seemingly education men like the 9/11 hijackers to fall prey to an ideology so extreme that they are willing to commit mass murder. Some would argue that it is something inherent in the nature of Islam that causes this, but that misses the point. Every religion, every society, has extreme ideologies that could conceivably motivate people to kill others and themselves. The question is, what happens to cause someone to be receptive to that type of idea.

At least one Princeton economist thinks he knows the answer:

When Princeton economist Alan Krueger saw reports that seven of eight people arrested in the unsuccessful car bombings in Britain were doctors, he wasn’t shocked. He wasn’t even surprised.

“Each time we have one of these attacks and the backgrounds of the attackers are revealed, this should put to rest the myth that terrorists are attacking us because they are desperately poor,” he says. “But this misconception doesn’t die.”


“As a group, terrorists are better educated and from wealthier families than the typical person in the same age group in the societies from which they originate,” Mr. Krueger said at the London School of Economics last year in a lecture soon to be published as a book, “What Makes a Terrorist?”

“There is no evidence of a general tendency for impoverished or uneducated people to be more likely to support terrorism or join terrorist organizations than their higher-income, better-educated countrymen,” he said. The Sept. 11 attackers were relatively well-off men from a rich country, Saudi Arabia.

So if it’s not poverty, what is it then ?

So what is the cause? Suppression of civil liberties and political rights, Mr. Krueger hypothesizes. “When nonviolent means of protest are curtailed,” he says, “malcontents appear to be more likely to turn to terrorist tactics.”

Which — ironically, given that Mr. Krueger is no fan of the president’s actual policies at home or abroad — is close to Mr. Bush’s rhetoric: “Liberty has got the capacity to change enemies into allies.”

And when you look at the Islamic world, what do you see ? Without exception you see repressive states ruled by cliques, royal families, or President’s-for-life. You also see near uniform repression of virtually any form of political and social expression. And some of these countries are our “allies”; Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan are all repressive and all of them have been the home of men who have participated in the mass murder of Americans and Europeans.

Ironically, there is one nation in the Middle East that comes close to being a free state, and it’s the one that is targeted by the terrorists even more than the United States……Israel.

H/T: Mises Economic Blog

Joe Lieberman Is Watching You

Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman apparently thinks it would be a really good idea if the government could watch your every move:

Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), the chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, said Sunday he wants to “more widely” use surveillance cameras across the country.

“The Brits have got something smart going in England, and it was part of why I believe they were able to so quickly apprehend suspects in the terrorist acts over the weekend, and that is they have cameras all over London and other of their major cities,” Lieberman said.

“I think it’s just common sense to do that here much more widely,” he added. “And of course, we can do it without compromising anybody’s real privacy.”

Lieberman lamented the “petty, partisan fighting” in Congress and called on his colleagues to join together to upgrade the nation’s electronic surveillance capabilities.

“Right now, we’re at a partisan gridlock over the question of whether the American government can listen into conversations or follow e-mail trails of non-American citizen,” he said on ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos. “That’s wrong. We’ve got to solve that problem, pass a law to give the people working for us the ability to protect us.”

That’s right, we’re from the government and we’re here to “protect” you.

Steve Verdon gets it right when he responds to Senator Lieberman with this Ben Franklin quote:

“Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”

And that, I’m afraid, is exactly what we’d get if we listened to Senator Lieberman

Hidden Taxes, EZ-Pass, And Tolls

There’s an interesting article in the New York Times about the impact that the increased use of electronic toll collection systems like EZ-Pass has had on how drivers respond to toll increases:

There is a stretch of the Garden State Parkway that used to feel like the tollbooth capital of America. In a span of 100 miles — from Pascack Valley, in northern New Jersey, to Barnegat, along the coast — eight different toll plazas greeted drivers. In much of the rest of the country, you wouldn’t find any tolls on a 100-mile stretch.

I spent a good part of my childhood summers at the Jersey Shore, and the tollbooths on the parkway always seemed to be a cruel final obstacle between me and the beach. Every 15 minutes or so, our car would have to stop yet again to drop a measly quarter in a bucket.


Which raises an interesting question: If you don’t know how much you’re paying for something, will you notice when the price goes up? Or has E-ZPass, for all its benefits, also made it easier for toll collectors to take your money?

The answer, it would seem, is yes:

A young economist named Amy Finkelstein started thinking about these issues a few years ago when she and her fiancé were driving back and forth between Boston, where they were living, and New York, where they were going to be married. So she collected decades of toll records from around the country and found a clear pattern.

After an electronic system is put in place, tolls start rising sharply. Take two tollbooths that charge the same fee and are in a similar setting — both on highways leading into a big city, for instance. A decade after one of them gets electronic tolls, it will be about 30 percent more expensive on average than a similar tollbooth without it. There are no shortage of examples: the Golden Gate Bridge, the George Washington Bridge and the Tappan Zee Bridge, among them.

“You may be less aware you’re paying the toll,” said Ms. Finkelstein, now an associate professor at M.I.T., “but you’re paying a higher toll than you used to.”

This isn’t entirely surprising. Kellie and I make frequent use of EZ-Pass when we travel to my father’s house in New Jersey (toll booths in Maryland, Delaware, and New Jersey) and to her parents’ in Ohio (the Pennsylvania Turnpike). In both cases, I can honestly say that I have only a vague idea of what the toll actually is and, if I didn’t check my EZ-Pass statement regularly, I wouldn’t know at all. To make it even more “convenient”, the EZ-Pass account is on automatic replenishment and charges my credit card after the balance falls below a certain level. No fuss, no worry. And, quite honestly, there are few alternative routes anyway.

That’s not to say EZ-Pass is all bad, of course. The ability to go through a toll booth without stopping means that traffic flows more freely. In fact, if there were a way to get rid of cash tolls altogether, it would go a long way toward reducing traffic congestion on roads where tolls are collected. Does it mean I don’t pay as much attention to tolls as I used to ? Probably, but, frankly, it’s worth it.

As the author points out, though, EZ-Pass is only one example of the increasingly invisible ways that taxes are collected:

The idea that hidden taxes — and tolls are really a kind of tax — could lead to higher taxes goes back decades. Milton Friedman famously came to regret his role in creating the withholding system for income taxes during World War II, because it eventually made people forget how much they were paying in tax. “It never occurred to me at the time,” he wrote in his autobiography, “that I was helping to develop machinery that would make possible a government that I would come to criticize severely as too large, too intrusive, too destructive of freedom.”

Even economists who don’t share Mr. Friedman’s political views agree with the larger point that how taxes are collected, and not just the underlying tax rate, matters. “We need to take seriously the possibility that people are not paying attention to the tax code,” said Raj Chetty of the University of California, Berkeley, who has been conducting some fascinating experiments on semi-hidden taxes.

Or take the example of real estate property taxes. Most of us don’t pay our bill directly, it is added into our monthly mortgage payment and paid to the taxing authority by the bank.

On some level, our entire tax system depends on this level of invisibility. If people had to write a check every April 15th for the full amount of the taxes they owed, or pay their property taxes on their own. They’d be much more aware of what they are paying, and more likely to question whether they’re getting their money’s worth.

I made this same point earlier this year:

Because of payroll withholding and the fictional “refunds” that people look forward to every April, the true cost of government is never revealed to the public. Yes, you see small amounts of money being taken out of your paycheck, but the impact of having to write a check every year, or every quarter, would be far greater and, as Brad points out, go a long way toward making people more aware of just how much money the government takes from them every year.

As James Joyner points out, of course, these “hidden taxes” appear to be the wave of the future. They are, after all, the center point of the Virginia transportation deal in the form of the so-called “abuser fees.” One can expect to see much more of the same in the future.

Originally posted at Below The Beltway

When In The Course Of Human Events

Two Hundred Thirty One Years Ago, Thomas Jefferson wrote the following:

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new guards for their future security — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. — The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.

And so the men of 1776 rebelled against King George III, citing as examples numerous examples of his usurpation of the rights of man. And, quite honestly, given the historical record and the example of dictators far worse than George III that history has produced, one might sometimes wonder if the colonials were overreacting. After all, it’s not as if King George had authorized usurped legal authority to conduct surveillance on his own citizens, or conducted a war based on false assumptions, pardoned a close aide, taken property from one citizen and given it to another, or restricted people’s ability to earn a living in their chosen profession. Heck, when you look at the taxes that led the colonialists to rebel and compare them to what gets taken out of your paycheck every week, its hard to understand what they were so upset about.

Seriously, the lesson of 1776 isn’t so much that George III was a good guy, but that we’ve forgotten the warning of Thomas Jefferson that

[T]he price of liberty is eternal vigilence.

We’ve let freedom be eroded, little by little, to the point where the idea of the state being allowed to put surveillance cameras on street corners to “watch” us seems natural. We’ve let privacy become a charade to the point where the Social Security Number has in fact become the National ID that it’s advocates promised it never would become. We’ve let government involvement in the economy expand to the point where a trillion dollars in tax collections seems like a trivial amount.

We’ve become the frog in the slowly boiling pot of water.

The question, then, is when does it become enough ? When will the American people finally wake up and realize that their liberties are being eroded on a daily basis ? And, where are the heirs of Jefferson ?

Ron Paul: Rumors Of Disappointing Numbers

Last month, I linked to a report on Free Market News Network reporting rumors of a surge in fundraising on behalf of Ron Paul. At the time, FMNN was reporting the possibility of total second quarter donations as high as $ 4 million to $ 5 million dollars, which, if true, would have been a strong show of support for the campaign.

Well, the official second quarter numbers aren’t out yet, but FMNN is now backpedaling from it’s initial optimism:

With financial reporting deadlines looming on July 15 for the political quarter, donations continue on a healthy trend, say sources close to the campaign of GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul (R-Tex). FMNN had previously reported that “donations have moved up – not by hundreds of thousands – but by millions as a result of his debate performances and groundswell of support on the Internet and in New Hampshire.”

Campaign observers had estimated that, at the low end, donations were “definitely” in the area of $3 million – and could run as high as $5 million – while cautioning, however, “that such amounts are somewhat speculative.” Recent information from campaign observers indicate that campaign donation receivables could total up to $3 million or more as soon as next quarter, given pledges, current donation trends and the continuing enthusiasm for Ron Paul’s free-market message.

These sources believe that current fund-raising totals at least $1.5 million – riding a groundswell of support generated by his small government, anti-foreign-war message. Cash-on-hand could reach $750,000 or more.

FMNN tries to spin this latest rumor in the best way possible for Paul, but the reality is that, if the $ 1.5 million number is closer to reality than the $ 5 million reported last month, it wouldn’t even put Paul  in the second tier of candidates when it comes to fundraising. And, well, quite honestly, you cannot run a modern Presidential campaign on $ 1.5 million.

H/T: The Crossed Pond

Price Control Chaos In Zimbabwe

Robert Mugagbe’s Zimbabwe is quickly turning into a textbook lesson on why price controls never work:

Bread and other essentials all but vanished from shops and supermarkets in Harare yesterday after President Mugabe ordered a 50 per cent cut in prices.

Price inspectors and police, sometimes armed, descended on supermarkets in the Zimbabwean capital to enforce price controls. Their intervention followed the order issued by Mr Mugabe last week in an attempt to get to grips with rampant inflation.

The result was chaos. Bags of sugar burst open in struggles between shoppers who had streamed into supermarkets. Computerised checkouts jammed, unable to cope with the rapid price changes. There was further confusion when officials forced their way into storerooms and declared stock items to be “illegal hoarding,” and ordered all goods to be moved on to supermarket floors.

At one store where the manager tried to restrict sales to two of each item, one worker was seriously injured in the mayhem. Annual inflation reached 4,500 per cent in May, the result of nearly three decades of economic policies devoid of prudence or forethought.

Economists estimate that the real figure is closer to 10,000 per cent. Prices are more than doubling every month as suppliers and retailers struggle to keep up with the decline of the currency, which at lunchtime yesterday traded at Z$260,000 to £1.


Mr Mugabe, however, asserts that inflation is the fault of “profiteering” by retailers in league with the British Government to oust him.

Last Tuesday the Government published an edict cutting the price of 26 essential items by up to 70 per cent. Two days later another edict imposed price controls on a much wider range of goods. “Reports are that some businesses are resisting this order,” said Obert Mpofu, the Industry Minister. “We will arrest them.”

Mr Mugabe’s attempt to crush inflation reflects a growing sense that economic collapse will bring about the end of his 27-year rule.

One could only hope.

Clinton & McCain Down — Paul, Thompson, Obama Up

For those who thought– on November 3, 2004– that the 2008 election would be McCain vs. Clinton, one of the two is nearly gone, and the other is holding place while everyone around hopes something better comes along.

The first, McCain, is nearly done. It’s about time to call this one, for reasons I’ll cover later, but the news today is that he’s cutting staff due to poor fundraising. So much of politics, at least at this stage, is perception. If your fundraising sucks, you need a story to take the edge off. McCain doesn’t have that, in fact he’s now showing that poor fundraising is threatening the viability of his campaign. Trends are important, and McCain’s has been heading downward for too long to recover.

The second, Clinton, is still the front-runner, but there’s a bit of dissension in the Democratic Party that is reminiscent of 2003-2004. The grassroots wants someone electric and exciting. They want someone who is going to make waves. That’s not Hillary Clinton. The question remains, though, where we’ll be once primary season rolls around. In 2004, the Democrats settled for the “electable” candidate, but found that he wasn’t. In 2008, they’ll be faced with a question of whether Obama, the exciting candidate, is “electable” enough to win the nomination. Today news comes down that Obama’s fundraising is blowing Clinton away. This doesn’t mean that Clinton isn’t going to win the nomination, but it does mean that she’s a lot more vulnerable to Barack Obama than would ever have been thought 12 months ago.

But as some fall, with McCain holding a mere 5 share on Intrade* and Hillary falling nearly 5 points in the past week, others must gain. Fred Thompson, as someone who hasn’t even formally declared in the race, holds an identical 34 point share to Rudy Giuliani for the Republican nomination. Obama has picked up the 5 points Hillary dropped, and now sits a mere 10 points back. My personal favorite, Ron Paul, sits at a mere 3.3 share. Before the debates, though, he was below 1. I said earlier when discussing McCain that trends matter. People are starting to hear the name “Ron Paul”, and it’s doing wonders for his polls. It’s too early to tell whether he’ll end up with the nomination or follow in Howard Dean’s footsteps, but his rise will certainly change the debate, and that’s something we sorely need.
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