Monthly Archives: October 2007

Some Thoughts On Iranian Nukes

After reading Doug’s post on the latest poll about a possible strike on Iran, I would like to give my view on a possible strike plus my thoughts on American-Iranian relations in general.

1) Obviously Iran cannot be allowed to acquire a nuclear weapon. An Iranian nuclear weapon would encourage the Arab states to develop their own bombs, disrupt the fragile military balance in the Middle East, and create a larger risk of nuclear terrorism through either giving the weapon to a terrorist organization like Hamas or Hezbollah and/or destabilization of the Iranian government.

2) Going to war with Iran is not the answer to Iran’s nuclear program. What should be tried is seven-party talks based on the Six-Party Talks that have been used with North Korea (and have been mostly successful). The United States, UK, France, Germany, Russia, the Arab League, and Iran should start having regular meetings to achieve a peaceful resolution to the Iranian nuclear situation.

3) At the end of the day, talk of an American attack on Iran is probably moot because the Israelis will probably strike if they think the Iranians are close to having the bomb. The Israeli nuclear weapons program exists for the same reason why the NATO countries maintained tactical nuclear weapons:* to make up for superior potential enemy conventional numbers. Like the Cold War where the Warsaw Pact outnumbered NATO forces conventionally, the Arab/Islamic states outnumber Israel conventionally. Justifiably, the Israelis will do whatever it takes to maintain this advantage.

4) The Iranians will be key in helping US forces withdraw from Iraq. They have a vested interest in a political solution, like all of Iraq’s neighbors, that will shore up the Iraqi central government and/or stabilize the violence enough so American forces can exit more rapidly. This is an opportunity to engage the Iranians on this issue and possibly open the door to eventual normalization of relations.

5) Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is nothing more than a puppet of the Iranian Ayatollahs and should be seen and treated as such.

*The NATO/Warsaw Pact analogy is not the best, but I only brought it up to illustrate how nuclear deterrence can be used to offset conventional numerical inferiority.

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.
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More On The Funeral Protestors Saga

Much has been written about the Rev. Fred Phelps and his merry band of protesters who travel the country staging demonstrations outside the funeral services of American soldiers killed in Iraq expressing their apparent belief that the soldiers died because of America’s toleration of homosexuals.

Today, a Federal Jury in Maryland awarded $ 2.9 million in damages to the father of a fallen Marine in connection with a protest:

A federal jury in Baltimore awarded nearly $11 million in damages yesterday to the family of a Marine from Maryland whose funeral was disrupted by members of a Kansas-based fundamentalist church.

One of the defendants said the civil award was the first against the church, whose members have stirred anger across the nation by picketing at funerals for service members killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, often carrying placards bearing virulent anti-gay slogans. The church maintains that God is punishing the United States, killing and maiming troops, because the country tolerates homosexuality.

Fred Phelps, pastor of the Topeka-based Westboro Baptist Church, scoffed at the jury and the award.

“It was a bunch of silly heads passing judgment on God,” he said. “I don’t believe anyone in the courtroom knows what the First Amendment is. Religious views are expressly protected by the First Amendment. You can’t prosecute a preacher in civil law or in criminal law for what he preaches.”

Phelps said the church would appeal, and he predicted that a higher court would overturn the award “in five minutes.”

In the lawsuit, the family of Lance Cpl. Matthew A. Snyder argued that it had suffered invasion of privacy and infliction of emotional distress.

“The fact of the matter is, a funeral’s private,” said one of their attorneys, Sean Summers. “There was no public concern when [church members] showed up with a ‘God Hates You’ sign.”

No, but the protests didn’t occur on private property, they occurred on public property while the church members were expressing their protected, though entirely stupid and repugnant beliefs.

Technically, this is not a First Amendment issue at all, because it doesn’t involve an attempt by the state to censor speech or punish, in a criminal sense, the right of the church members to express their beliefs. There is something troubling, though, when civil causes of action as ephemeral and hard-to-define as “invasion of privacy” (notwithstanding the fact that the events in question took place on public property) and “intentional infliction of emotional distress” (notwithstanding the fact that the church does the same type of protest at every funeral, thus suggesting that there’s no evidence they intentionally targeted the father in this case) are used to punish someone for actions that are clearly Constitutionally protected.

It will be interesting to follow this case through the appellate courts, because a reversal would seem to be the most likely outcome.

In the meantime, if the jury thought that their verdict would deter these people from continuing their protests, they are clearly wrong about that:

Shirley Phelps-Roper said the verdict made her 50th birthday yesterday a happier one. She said the verdict would help the church, many of whose members are from the Phelps family, get its message out.

“We’re making new signs: ‘Thank God for $10.9 million.’ Listen to that amount. It’s so laughable,” she said. “It was all I could do not to laugh. You guys think you can change God?”

Like I said, I find these guys offensive and stupid, but that doesn’t mean they should be punished for being either.

Update: Greg at Rhymes With Right makes an excellent point about this verdict:

I already see the next suit — filed by some pro-abortion woman against picketers in front of the local abortion clinic After all, doesn’t she have the right to seek medical care unharassed, without her privacy being invaded and emotional damage intentionally inflicted? Or a couple of summers back when local Democrats picketed the home of SwiftVets’ John O’Neill on his daughter’s wedding day — I could see a suit being filed to suppress that speech, which I found disturbing but recognize as constitutionally protected.

Turning what I would submit is already a troublingly vague cause of action like Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress, and tort law in general into a weapon to suppress politically or personally offensive speech is a dangerous road to go down.

And if you don’t think that cases like the one Greg posits could someday be filed, then you haven’t spent enough time talking to my fellow members of the legal profession.

Internet Free From Taxation For 7 More Years

God help us if Hillary is elected…

Congress approves Internet-tax moratorium

The House unanimously approved a seven-year extension of a moratorium on Internet-access taxes, which the Senate passed last week. The move cleared the way for President Bush to sign it before the current ban expires Thursday.

For consumers, the legislation largely maintains the status quo: No Internet-access taxes except in the nine states that were grandfathered when the ban was first put in place in 1998. California is not among them.

The legislation applies only to Internet-access taxes, not to sales taxes for online purchases. But it addresses a concern by many lawmakers, technology companies and Internet-service providers that consumers could see the same itemized taxes on their Net-access bills that now appear on their phone and TV cable bills. A monthly phone bill can include as much as $10 in taxes.

“This legislation will help keep the cost of Internet access down so that all individuals can continue to use the great informational tool that is the Internet,” Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) said. He and other lawmakers said the legislation would give telecommunications companies the certainty they needed to continue investing in the infrastructure to extend high-speed Internet access throughout the country.

I suppose it’s needless to say that I’m happy about this development. It seems that the proponents of the moratorium were asking for a permanent ban, but even a 7 year extension is a victory, as the longest extension they’d previously secured was 4 years.

However, I saw one interesting piece of the puzzle here, that was, to reuse a word, quite puzzling:

For the young technology industry, the lengthy extension is a legislative victory that shows its clout has grown in Washington during the last decade. Still, the industry continues to have trouble when facing a formidable lobbying opponent.

In this case, it was state and local governments, which were concerned that they could lose the ability to tax phone and TV services as more consumers get them delivered over the Internet. Governors and local officials, who have strong ties to many members of Congress, successfully derailed the push for a permanent ban and got the definition of Internet access changed to make clear that phone and TV services delivered online are taxable. Many state and local governments depend on money from taxing those services.

Very interesting. One can likely make the argument was that the previous taxes on phone service and television lines were related in some way to the government granting monopolies to the providers of those services, and/or related to the infrastructure involved. I’m not sure of the whole history of how telephone and television service taxes arose, but I can’t see them being sold to the public as if using a telephone or watching television were– by themselves– taxable activities.

But that apparently is the argument that must be made to support such an exemption. The telephone service and television service, when provided through the internet, is clearly a component of internet access. To create this exemption, the Governors & states must be arguing that talking on the telephone or watching television– by themselves– are taxable activities regardless of the media over which the signals are delivered.

Let that sink in for a minute. I think the initial concern was the loss of an existing revenue stream to state governments. But in the long term, what are the implications of such an exemption?

Groups such as the National Governors Assn. and the California Assn. of Counties said they knew of no governments planning to tax Internet access, but they argued that a permanent ban would make it difficult to change the definition in the future to avoid exempting other taxable services.

In a change pushed by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), the legislation also clarifies that services related to Internet access, such as instant messaging, e-mail and personal online storage, are not taxable.

Aha! Clearly this is the camel’s nose in the tent, a way to create the precedence for exemption of services and open the door to taxing them in the future. It may be such that “internet service” in the future remains tax-free, but I highly doubt that the services provided over the internet will remain free from taxation.

The internet tax is highly unpopular. After all, this is a service that we’ve all been enjoying tax-free for years, and for governments to all of a sudden offer to increase the price of the service through taxation is one that doesn’t go over too well in American homes and offices. But as long as something remains tax-free, politicians can’t sleep at night, and they’re constantly dreaming up ways to get their claws in. Call this a success in that the moratorium was extended, but keep a wary eye on where things go from here, or you’ll soon find that your “tax-free internet service” seems to involve sending a lot of money to your state capitol and to Washington DC.

Zogby: 52% Of Americans Would Support A Strike On Iran

The latest Zogby poll has bad news for those of us who think that preemptive military action against Iran would portend worse consequences for the United States than the Iraq War has:

A majority of likely voters – 52% – would support a U.S. military strike to prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon, and 53% believe it is likely that the U.S. will be involved in a military strike against Iran before the next presidential election, a new Zogby America telephone poll shows.

(…)

Democrats (63%) are most likely to believe a U.S. military strike against Iran could take place in the relatively near future, but independents (51%) and Republicans (44%) are less likely to agree. Republicans, however, are much more likely to be supportive of a strike (71%), than Democrats (41%) or independents (44%). Younger likely voters are more likely than those who are older to say a strike is likely to happen before the election and women (58%) are more likely than men (48%) to say the same – but there is little difference in support for a U.S. strike against Iran among these groups.

There are, I think, several reasons for these results.

First, most Americans, quite rightly, seem to believe that allowing a regime like the Islamic Republic of Iran to possess weapons of mass destruction would be contrary to the interests of the United States. I agree with this to the extent that, to me, it isn’t important whether Iran could threaten the mainland United States or not; the prospect of an Iranian regime in possession of nuclear weapons and thus possessing a significant strategic advantage over all of its neighbors with the exception of Israel and Pakistan (and Pakistan’s nuclear program exists primarily as a counter to India’s) would not be good for the Middle East or the world as a whole.

Second, we’re talking about Iran here, and the memory of the American public runs deep. November 4, 1979 isn’t that long ago; and Iran’s role in things such as the Marine Barracks bombing in Lebanon and other terror attacks in the 80’s and 90’s is fairly clear.

Finally, even though they have largely come to the conclusion that the Iraq War was a mistake and that we need to disengage, poll results like these are a fairly strong indication that the American people are not isolationist and would not necessarily endorse a foreign policy that could basically be summed up as “bring all the boys home from everywhere,” or support a candidate who advocated such a strategy.

The same poll also indicates that the War on Terror could play a role in the 2008 election:

As the possibility the U.S. may strike Iran captures headlines around the world, many have given thought to the possibility of an attack at home. Two in three (68%) believe it is likely that the U.S. will suffer another significant terrorist attack on U.S. soil comparable to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 – of those, 27% believe such an attack is very likely. Nearly one in three (31%) believe the next significant attack will occur between one and three years from now, 22% said they believe the next attack is between three and five years away, and 15% said they don’t think the U.S. will be attacked on U.S. soil for at least five years or longer. Just 9% believe a significant terrorist attack will take place in the U.S. before the next presidential election.

In 2004, it was public misgivings about John Kerry’s ability to lead the nation in the War on Terror that, largely, gave the election to Bush. What impact continued anxiety over future terrorist acts, whether those fears are justified are not, is unclear, but it would seem to suggest that a candidate who emphasized such issues would have an advantage.

Ron Paul On Leno

In case, like me, you missed The Tonight Show last night and forgot to TiVo it, here’s the video of the Congressman’s appearance last night:

All in all, more substantive that I would’ve expected from late-night television. And, I’m fairly certain that this is first time the term “Austrian Economics” has been mentioned on late night television.

That Hillary vs. Ron Paul Rasmussen Poll: What Does It Mean ?

There’s been much blogosphere commentary on an article earlier this week from Rasmussen Reports showing that Hillary Clinton only leads Ron Paul by ten percentage points in the most recent, and first to my knowledge, head-to-head matchup poll between them.

Rasmussen contends that the poll says more about Clinton than it does about Paul:

First, because just about everyone in the United States has an opinion of Hillary Clinton. She has been a major player on the national and international stage for 15 years. Half the country has a favorable opinion of her and half holds the opposite view, but all have an opinion. Our most recent survey results show that nearly 60% of voters have a strongly held opinion about the New York Senator and former First Lady.

As for Ron Paul, 42% don’t know enough about him to have an opinion one way or the other. He’s one of 435 Congressman whose life is way below the radar screen for most Americans. Still, his presence in the GOP Presidential Debates has raised his profile a bit–26% now offer a favorable opinion and 32% say the opposite. But, only 16% have a strongly held opinion about Paul (7% Very Favorable, 9% Very Unfavorable).

A look at the crosstabs demonstrates that it is attitudes towards Clinton that are driving the numbers in this polling match-up. Among all voters, Clinton attracts 48% support. Among the voters who have never heard of Ron Paul or don’t know enough to have an opinion, guess what. Clinton attracts the exact same total–48% of the vote. So whether or not people have heard of Ron Paul as the challenger, support for Clinton doesn’t change.

Among the 51% who have heard of Ron Paul but don’t have a Very Favorable opinion of him, Clinton attracts 49% of the vote.

The only noticeable difference to be found is among that very small slice of the electorate that has a Very Favorable opinion of Paul. Seven percent (7%) of the nation’s voters fit this description and they prefer the Texas Congressman over the Democratic frontrunner by a 70% to 27% margin.

Interestingly, Clinton’s numbers against Paul aren’t all that different from the numbers she gets against any of the other Republican candidates. But that isn’t all that surprising considering that we’re still at an early point in the race, especially when it comes to talking about head-to-head matchups. Of all the Presidential candidates on either side of aisle, Clinton comes into the race with the most baggage and the highest negatives. So, when you put her up against a generic Republican, there’s going to be a certain number of people who are going to pick the other guy.

But that doesn’t mean much of anything at this point in the race, and, contrary to what some Paul supporters might think, it doesn’t mean that he has any better of a chance to beat her than any of the other Republican candidates, or any chance at all (take note — I don’t think any Republican is going to be able to win in 2008, so who ends up at the top of the ticket in `08 almost doesn’t matter).

So, for you Hillary-haters out there, of which I am proudly one, this isn’t time to start celebrating. That may not come until January 20, 2017.

The Grinch Who Taxed Halloween

So is that pumpkin you bought over the weekend something you intend to eat, or is it just a decoration.

If you live in Iowa, it apparently makes a difference:

The Iowa Department of Revenue is taxing jack-o’-lanterns this Halloween. The new department policy was implemented after officials decided that pumpkins are used primarily for Halloween decorations, not food, and should be taxed, said Renee Mulvey, the department’s spokeswoman.

“We made the change because we wanted the sales tax law to match what we thought the predominant use was,” Mulvey said. “We thought the predominant use was for decorations or jack-o’-lanterns.”

Previously, pumpkins had been considered an edible squash and exempted from the tax. The department ruled this year that pumpkins are taxable — with some exceptions — if they are advertised for use as jack-‘o-lanterns or decorations.

Iowans planning to eat pumpkins can still get a tax exemption if they fill out a form.

The new policy, published in the department’s September newsletter, has some pumpkin farmers feeling tricked this Halloween.

“I don’t mind paying taxes, but let’s get real here, people,” said Bob Kautz, owner of the Buffalo Pumpkin Patch in Buffalo, about eight miles west of Davenport.

Kautz, who has owned his farm for seven years, was particularly dismayed with the notion of requiring customers to fill out a form verifying that they planned to eat the pumpkins they were buying.

“It’s another crazy, crazy, stupid thing,” he said.

Isn’t that what the state specializes in, the crazy and the stupid ?

A Strange Bit Of Historical Revisionism

An article at The Volokh Conspiracy pointed me to a month-old profile of Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens and, in particular, his role in one of most pivotal events of the Second World War:

After graduating Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Chicago in 1941, Stevens enlisted in the Navy on Dec. 6, 1941, hours before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. He later won a bronze star for his service as a cryptographer, after he helped break the code that informed American officials that Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto, the commander of the Japanese Navy and architect of the Pearl Harbor attack, was about to travel to the front. Based on the code-breaking of Stevens and others, U.S. pilots, on Roosevelt’s orders, shot down Yamamoto’s plane in April 1943.

Stevens told me he was troubled by the fact that Yamamoto, a highly intelligent officer who had lived in the United States and become friends with American officers, was shot down with so little apparent deliberation or humanitarian consideration. The experience, he said, raised questions in his mind about the fairness of the death penalty. “I was on the desk, on watch, when I got word that they had shot down Yamamoto in the Solomon Islands, and I remember thinking: This is a particular individual they went out to intercept,” he said. “There is a very different notion when you’re thinking about killing an individual, as opposed to killing a soldier in the line of fire.” Stevens said that, partly as a result of his World War II experience, he has tried on the court to narrow the category of offenders who are eligible for the death penalty and to ensure that it is imposed fairly and accurately. He has been the most outspoken critic of the death penalty on the current court.

A few thoughts.

First of all, while I can’t read Justice Stevens’ mind, either now or back in 1945, I somehow doubt that he was as morally conflicted over the death of the man who planned and executed the attack on Pearl Harbor as he now claims to be. Agree with him or not, he’s become a staunch death penalty opponent on the bench over the years, and I can’t help but think that his opinions today have an influence over his judgment of his own actions, and the actions of others, in the heat of war.

Second, there is no comparison between the death of Yamamoto and the death penalty in the context of a criminal case. Yamamoto was, at the time of his death in 1943, the Commander of the entire Japanese Navy and, by all accounts, one of it’s most brilliant strategists. He planned an executed an attack that resulted in the deaths of thousands of Americans. And, more importantly, he was a soldier in the middle of a total war in which victory was the only option. His removal from the playing field, whether by capture or death, would have dealt a significant blow to Japan, shortened the war, and saved the lives of American and Japanese soldiers, and, in retrospect, it clearly did. Therefore, he was an acceptable target in a military sense and his death is in no way comparable the the death of a murderer in a criminal case.

Moreover, as Volokh points out, the moral case for killing a commander in the course of war is so clear from a moral perspective (unless, of course, you’re a pacifist) that if the same were were from the death penalty it would make executing criminals a moral imperative:

[I]f Yamamoto’s killing were analogous to the death penalty, then the death penalty should be acclaimed as a high moral imperative: Rather than wondering whether the death penalty saves innocent lives, we’d be nearly sure of it. Rather than wondering whether there are less lethal alternatives that would protect society, we’d know that other alternatives would be vastly less reliable and more dangerous. Rather than wondering whether the target is innocent, we’d be sure that killing him is entirely morally proper. I generally support the death penalty, but I do see strong arguments against it — arguments that flow precisely from the fact that the death penalty is extraordinarily unlike the targeted killing of Yamamoto.

Rather than agonizing over his role in this pivotal event in history, Stevens should be proud of it. As for the death penalty, he may be right that there are arguments against it, frankly I think that he is, but you don’t need to reach back to the Second World War to find them.

From Taxicab Freedom In Minneapolis To Central Planning In NYC

Earlier, Doug posted a story about an expansion of freedom in the taxicab market in Minneapolis. It seems that someone finally asked why it was necessary to set an arbitrary limit on the number of cabs operating in the city, and that someone was able to muster enough power to end the restriction.

Perhaps NYC might take it as a suggestion. NYC, of course, is one of the most restrictive taxi markets in the country. Virtually every portion of the taxicab business is regulated. The number of taxi “medallions” is limited to roughly 13,000, generating a competitive market where the cost of said medallion on the secondary market is into six figures. Of course, artificial scarcity is known to rise prices, so fares are also tightly regulated, to ensure that drivers cannot take advantage of the limit by raising rates. And on top of that, there are a host of other regulations on their operation, to the extent that taxi drivers in New York have very little control over how they execute their job. As with most regulations, it doesn’t really benefit the consumer, and often does not benefit the drivers, but is a big boon to the regulators and to the taxi companies who own the medallions.

So is NYC looking at reducing the restrictions, like Minneapolis? No! In fact, they recently decided to add another little wrinkle. Each cab will need to be outfitted with an information terminal with such features as GPS, credit-card services, and perhaps other services such as news, video, advertisement, and information on local attractions.

I can tell you, as someone who is familiar with these terminals, they’re not cheap. Even outside of the normal cost of installing the terminals, there are maintenance and replacement costs. The terminals have an LCD with touchscreen, and I’m sure the number of drunk and/or unruly passengers who put a fist or foot through the screen will make the total cost of ownership quite high on the cab owners. On top of those concerns, each transaction using a credit card will include a service charge to the company handling the transaction. Who will pick up all these costs? Well, the cabs cannot raise their rates, so the passengers won’t cover it. And the city certainly isn’t footing the bill. So who gets it? The cabbies themselves, of course! And let me tell you, they’re understandably not happy about it:

Taxi drivers angry about a new rule requiring the installation of global positioning systems and credit card machines in cabs are planning a second one-day strike in six weeks on Monday.

The city was preparing for the strike by the Taxi Workers Alliance by instituting a contingency plan that lets drivers pick up multiple passengers and charge zone-based fares.

The touch-screen monitors, which are being phased in as yellow cabs come up for inspection, let passengers pay by credit card, check on news stories, map their taxi’s current location and look up restaurant and entertainment information.

The alliance, which claims to represent about a fifth of the city’s 44,000 licensed cab drivers, opposes the technology, saying the 5 percent surcharge on each credit card transaction amounts to a wage cut and the GPS device allows cab companies to track drivers.

Furthermore, the alliance claims the technology doesn’t work properly.

As a consumer and a technology buff, I love the idea of information terminals in these cabs. But as an advocate of freedom, I am most certainly not in favor of forcing cabs to take the technology, and not in favor of them being unable to adjust their pricing to cover the additional level of service they’re offering.

But in NYC, what I want as a consumer doesn’t matter. What level of service cabbies want to offer doesn’t matter. The market has been replaced by the wishes, desires, and mandates of the New York Taxi & Limousine Commission. Freedom has no place in this brave new world.

Milton Friedman lives on…

Mike Huckabee would hate this

Speaking of Milton Friedman…on November 2nd, PBS will be showing The Ultimate Resource, which focuses on individuals in five countries (Ghana, Peru, Bangladesh, Estonia and China) and how the ideals of individual choice, freedom, free trade and private property are successfully being spread throughout the world and improving quality of life and self-worth.

It’s not showing in Georgia, but there are some stations around the nation that are carrying it. If you live in one of these places please check it out.

Just to give you an idea of what the program is about…here is the story of Victoria and school choice in Ghana…


I was able to get a DVD preview of it from Free to Choose Media and it made me realize how much we take for granted the ideals that have made this country (individual liberty, free trade and free markets) as prosperous at it is.

Sorry, Doug…I had to the use the video as a segway.

Tom Cruise, The Sex Pistols, And Ron Paul

No, it’s not the setup for some weird joke, it’s the lineup on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno tonight.

Texas Rep. Ron Paul will have the largest audience in his longshot bid for the Republican presidential nomination tonight when he joins Tom Cruise and the legendary punk rock band the Sex Pistols as guest on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.”

Paul, the only Republican presidential candidate to oppose U.S. involvement in Iraq, will attend a $2,000 per person fundraising reception in the Hollywood Hills after the taping, a campaign aide said.

Paul’s “Tonight Show” appearance comes a day after his campaign began airing television commercials in New Hampshire, site of the nation’s first primary.

Come on, aren’t we all wondering if the Congressman will join Cruise in a couch-jumping session ?

Seriously, while it’s true that this will be one of the larger television audiences Paul has had, The Tonight Show isn’t really known for it’s serious political commentary, and Jay Leno ain’t exactly Tim Russert. This is all about the exposure.

Though I will admit that I’m officially sick of these mandatory candidate appearances on entertainment shows. It all started with Bill Clinton’s ridiculous foray on the old Arsenio Hall show. But then, most things usually start with Bill Clinton.

The Club for Growth Report on Ron Paul, An Analysis

The Club for Growth paper on Ron Paul has generated some discussion over pragmatism vs radicalism. The Club for Growth, while overall praising Ron Paul, took exception over some stances that they believed as too unrealistic. This post will take a look at the actual paper and evaluate which who’s right on any particular issue, Ron Paul or the Club for Growth.

1) Federal funding of elections:

Despite this impressive record, Ron Paul’s history contains some curious indiscretions, including a vote for $232 million for federally mandated election reform (only 1 of 21 Republicans to vote for it)

The Constitution is very clear on elections, states run them, but Congress can pass regulations on how they’re conducted for Federal offices. Without looking at the actual legislation in question, the legislation is clearly constitutional. I cannot comment on the merits of the legislation.

2) Line-item veto:

a vote against the line-item veto[27] -even after it was modified to pass constitutional muster.

The line-item veto is clearly a violation of the Constitution since there is no authority for the president to veto only parts of bills. The president must either reject or sign an entire piece of legislation.

3) Pork barrel spending:

Paul’s record on pork was outstanding in 2006, voting for all 19 of Jeff Flake’s anti-pork amendments in 2006, but his record took a stark turn for the worse in 2007, in which Paul received an embarrassing 29% on the Club for Growth’s RePORK Card, voting for only 12 of the 50 anti-pork amendments.

Some of the outrageous pork projects Paul voted to keep include $231,000 for the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association’s Urban Center; $129,000 for the “perfect Christmas tree project;” $300,000 for the On Location Entertainment Industry Craft Technician Training Project in California; $150,000 for the South Carolina Aquarium; and $500,000 for the National Mule and Packers Museum in California. This year, Ron Paul requested more than sixty earmarks “worth tens of millions of dollars for causes as diverse as rebuilding a Texas theater, funding a local trolley, and helping his state’s shrimp industry.”

In defense of his support for earmarks, Rep. Paul took the if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em position, arguing that “I don’t think they should take our money in the first place. But if they take it, I think we should ask for it back.” This is a contradiction of Paul’s self-proclaimed “opposition to appropriations not authorized within the enumerated powers of the Constitution.”

Paul has no serious defense for this special interest oriented spending for local projects.

4) Trade

Ron Paul embraces the importance of free trade, but lives in a dream world if he thinks free trade will be realized absent agreements like NAFTA and CAFTA. Paul himself argues that “tariffs are simply taxes on consumers,” but by opposing these trade agreements, he is actively opposing a decrease in those taxes. While Paul’s rhetoric is soundly pro-free trade, his voting record mirrors those of Congress’s worst protectionists.

The Club for Growth is absolutely correct, the only way the US will get lowered tariffs on its exports and imports is through trade agreements. There are too many protectionist special interests with too much clout in Congress and overseas, so the only way to get lower tariffs is to have trade agreements that demands other nations to lower their barriers in return for the lower barriers.

5) Social Security Reform:

Just as in trade, this tendency leaves Paul opposing pro-growth reforms of Social Security. He opposes allowing workers to divert some Social Security payroll taxes into private retirement accounts, arguing instead for cutting payroll taxes and leaving it up to workers to do what they will with the savings. While the ideal is admirable, it is not a sufficient reason to oppose the pro-growth, expansion of freedom that personally-owned retirement accounts represent.

I support private retirement accounts, however the Bush plan was a terrible plan. Ron Paul was correct to oppose it, however, he’s wrong to oppose the concept of private retirement accounts in general. Both sides have good points.

6) Welfare Reform:

The Congressman was also 1 of only 4 Republicans to join the Democrats in voting against the extension of welfare reform in 2002. While Paul probably opposed the bill because of his distaste for government welfare in general and the authorization of additional funding, the legislation was an important step towards weaning millions of Americans off the government dole and imposing new work requirements on welfare recipients.

There is no reason for opposing weaning millions off the government. Club for Growth is absolutely right here.

7) School Choice:

Ron Paul’s opposition to school choice stems from his opposition to the government’s role in education, arguing that federal voucher programs are “little more than another tax-funded welfare program establishing an entitlement to a private school education.” He consistently voted against voucher programs, including a 1998 school voucher program for D.C. public school students, and a 2003 bill for a DC voucher program.

Instead, Paul supported education tax breaks and introduced the Family Education Freedom Act (H.R. 612) that provides all parents with a tax credit of up to $3,000, available to parents who choose to send their children to public, private, or home school. While Paul’s sentiment is understandable, it doesn’t change the fact that his votes are a direct impediment to achieving high-quality school choice. By voting against school choice programs, Paul is aligning himself with Democrats and the National Education Association in opposing progress towards achieving a truly competitive, market-based education system.

I also prefer tax credits to school vouchers because of the fear that with government vouchers comes government control of private education. Having said that though, there is a way to come up with a voucher program that does not intrude on private education. Both sides have valid points here.

8) Tort Reform:

Paul recognizes the danger of runaway lawsuits and bemoans “malpractice premiums that cost doctors tens of thousands of dollars per year, and increasingly threaten to put some out of business.” To his credit-and somewhat incongruous-Rep. Paul voted against a measure that would allow negligence lawsuits against gun manufacturers, for liability protection for manufacturers of certain gasoline additives, and for a bill that would move national class-action lawsuits out of local state courts to federal courts in order to stop the pernicious practice of court shopping.

Instead of traditional federal tort reform, he proposes “private contractual agreements between physicians and patients” that “enables patients to protect themselves with ‘negative outcomes’ insurance purchased before medical treatment.” In theory, Paul’s solution may help alleviate the situation, but it is politically untenable. While Paul’s idealism is laudable, he has not offered a viable alternative for dealing with a problem that is hurting American consumers and businesses, while diminishing our international competitiveness.

I agree with Ron Paul mostly on this. I oppose Federal intervention in setting caps on punitive damages because each incident needs to be judged and damages awarded on the merits of each case. I also oppose any Federal measures that restrict the jurisdiction of state courts. Other than that, I am open to tort reform measures that are targeted on the Federal level.

In all, this passage from the Club for Growth’s report describes one of the reasons why I don’t support Ron Paul’s candidacy:

But Ron Paul is a purist, too often at the cost of real accomplishments on free trade, school choice, entitlement reform, and tort reform. It is perfectly legitimate, and in fact vital, that think tanks, free-market groups, and individual members of congress develop and propose idealized solutions. But presidents have the responsibility of making progress, and often, Ron Paul opposes progress because, in his mind, the progress is not perfect. In these cases, although for very different reasons, Ron Paul is practically often aligned with the most left-wing Democrats, voting against important, albeit imperfect, pro-growth legislation.

Ron Paul is, undoubtedly, ideologically committed to pro-growth limited government policies. But his insistence on opposing all but the perfect means that under a Ron Paul presidency we might never get a chance to pursue the good too.

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.

The King Of Pork

It’s got to be John Murtha, Congressman from Pennsylvania:

JOHNSTOWN, Pa. — If John Murtha were a businessman, he’d be the biggest employer in this town.

The powerful U.S. congressman has used his clout on Capitol Hill to create thousands of jobs and steer billions of dollars in federal spending to help his hometown in western Pennsylvania recover from devastating floods and the flight of its steelmakers.

More is on the way. In the massive 2008 military-spending bill now before Congress — which could go to a House-Senate conference as soon as Thursday — Mr. Murtha has steered more taxpayer funds to his congressional district than any other member. The Democratic lawmaker is chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, which will oversee more than $459 billion in military spending this year.

Johnstown’s good fortune has come at the expense of taxpayers everywhere else. Defense contractors have found that if they open an office here and hire the right lobbyist, they can get lucrative, no-bid contracts. Over the past decade, Concurrent Technologies Corp., a defense-research firm that employs 800 here, got hundreds of millions of dollars thanks to Rep. Murtha despite poor reviews by Pentagon auditors. The National Drug Intelligence Center, with 300 workers, got $509 million, though the White House has tried for years to shut it down as wasteful and unnecessary. Another beneficiary: MTS Technologies, run by a man who got his start some 40 years ago shining shoes at Mr. Murtha’s Johnstown Minute Car Wash.

A review by The Wall Street Journal of dozens of such contracts funded by Mr. Murtha’s committee shows that many weren’t sought by the military or federal agencies they were intended to benefit. Some were inefficient or mismanaged, according to interviews, public records and previously unpublished Pentagon audits.

And thus John Murtha, unindicted co-conspirator in the Abscam scandal. Stands as both an argument against pork and an argument for term limits.

Milton Friedman vs. Phil Donohue

If you grew up in the 1970s, you probably remember Phil Donohue, who was a loud-mouthed talk show host before loud-mouthed talk shows hosts were cool. And he was, very, very liberal.

Here’s a classic segment of an interview with the great Milton Friedman where he tries to trap a Nobel Prize winner in an intellectual debate:

Nice try Phil, but you lose.

H/T: Club for Growth

A Victory For Economic Liberty In Minnesota

The guys at the Institute for Justice are among the unsung heroes in the fight for liberty.

Here are a bunch of lawyers dedicated to little more than fighting laws and regulations that restrict the ability of people to run their business, or even to go into business. They’ve been on the winning side and the losing side of more than a few legal battles where liberty was at stake, including representing the homeowners in the infamous Kelo v. City of New London case.

This time, they helped break up a taxicab cartel in Minneapolis, Minnesota:

Minneapolis, Minn,—Can an entrenched cartel of Minneapolis taxi drivers violate the civil rights of entrepreneurs and consumers?

No, according to U.S. Magistrate Judge Franklin L. Noel. In an opinion released today, the judge recommended that a lawsuit brought by members of the taxi cartel to overturn the city’s free-market reforms be dismissed.

“This is a victory for both aspiring taxi entrepreneurs and for Minneapolis consumers,” said Scott Bullock, a senior attorney at the Institute for Justice who argued the case. “Established businesses should not be able to use the law to quash competition and close the marketplace. Today’s ruling ensures that does not happen.”

(…)

The Institute for Justice Minnesota Chapter (IJ-MN) intervened in the case on the side of the city of Minneapolis to defend its free-market reforms that removed a cap on the number of taxis allowed to operate within city limits. The reforms, finalized on March 30, 2007, will open the market to entrepreneurs who are fit, willing and able to serve the public, increase the number of cabs by 180 in the coming years, and eliminate completely the cap on the number of cabs in Minneapolis by 2010.

In response to the free-market and consumer-friendly reforms, the established taxicab cartel sued the city, demanding the reversal of reforms and proclaiming its owners should be able to keep the spoils of the old law that excluded new competitors from the taxi market in Minneapolis for more than 10 years.

The Institute represents taxi entrepreneur Luis Paucar, who had tried for nearly four years to provide service in Minneapolis. He has received 22 licenses under the new law.

“I am thrilled!” said Paucar. “All I ever asked for was the ability to enter the market and to compete.”
“The cartel violated the civil rights of entrepreneurs like Luis,” said Nick Dranias, an IJ-MN staff attorney. “We got involved in this case to defend the city’s free-market reforms because taxicab entrepreneurs have the right to earn an honest living in the occupation of their choice free from the anti-competitive barriers to entry that the taxi cartel wants to preserve.”

In his opinion, Judge Noel determined: “The [established] taxi vehicle license holders do not have a constitutionally protected freedom from competition.”

Good work guys.

Ron Paul and the Nazis: My Take

Lately there has been a great deal of brouhaha about Ron Paul’s support amongst white-supremacists and the, er, “racially aware” types that frequent Stormfront. Make no mistake, the support is real. Now, these guys support Ron Paul because they like his policies. The white supremacists are actually making a serious mistake in supporting Ron Paul; their conclusion that his policies are advantegous to the advance neo-Nazi cause is the result of very shallow thinking.

To a Nazi, Ron Paul’s policies at first seem great: he’s against the Federal Reserve banking cartel and against open borders.

The support for his Federal Reserve policy comes from the populism and anti-capital attitudes of the main forms of white-supremacism. Add to that the frisson from the meme “bankers = jews”, and the deluded idiots think that Ron Paul is going to strike a blow against race-enemies.

Then there’s Ron Paul’s opposition to open immigration. I think the Nazis view immigration, especially of hispanics, as a brown sea of untermenschen that are going to drown the white race or somesuch.

Thus they think that, in the current political environment, Ron Paul’s proposed courses of action and the white-supremacist desired courses of action are tangential.

It is clear to me that Ron Paul’s policies should be anathema to white-supremacists. The fact is to make the racist policies work, particularly one modeled on the National German Socialist Workers Party, you have to have a central bank, and you have to have a militant foreign policy and a government that confiscates property at a whim.

Ron Paul wrote a book that explains why he entered into politics, and what his goals are, and frankly any white-supremacist supporters are in for a nasty surprise:

I decided to run for Congress because of the disaster of wage and price controls imposed by the Nixon administration in 1971. When the stock market responded euphorically to the imposition of these controls and the closing of the gold window, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and many other big business groups gave enthusiastic support, I decided that someone in politics had to condemn the controls, and offer the alternative that could explain the past and give hope for the future: the Austrian economists’ defense of the free market. At the time I was convinced, like Ludwig von Mises, that no one could succeed in politics without serving the special interests of some politically powerful pressure group.

The book quotes extensively from Paul’s hero Ludwig von Mises’ comprehensive textbook on economics, Human Action:

Men must choose between the market economy and socialism. The state can preserve the market economy in protecting life, health, and private property against violent or fraudulent aggression; or it can itself control the conduct of all production activities. Some agency must determine what should be produced. If it is not the consumers by means of demand and supply on the market, it must be the government by compulsion.

and

Aggressive nationalism is the necessary derivative of the policies of interventionism and national planning. While laissez faire eliminates the causes of international conflict, government interference with business and socialism create conflicts for which no peaceful solution can be found. While under free trade and freedom of migration no individual is concerned about the territorial size of his country, under the protective measures of economic nationalism nearly every citizen has a substantial interest in these territorial issues. The enlargement of the territory subject to the sovereignty of his own government means material improvement for him or at least relief from restrictions which a foreign government has imposed upon his well-being. What has transformed the limited war between royal armies into total war, the clash between peoples, is not technicalities of military art, but the substitution of the welfare state for the laissez-faire state.

and finally,

Interventionism generates economic nationalism, and economic nationalism generates bellicosity. If men and commodities are prevented from crossing the borderlines, why should not the armies try to pave the way for them? . . . The root of the evil is not the construction of new, or dreadful weapons. It is the spirit of conquest.

The book makes it clear that Ron Paul is devoted to adopting the policies of Ludwig von Mises. What is the relationship of Ludwig von Mises to Nazism? Well, in Austria in the 1920’s and 30’s, Ludwig von Mises prevented the nation from adopting the economic platform of the NDASP. His speeches and essays were so devastatingly critical of Hitler’s economic policies that when the Nazis entered into Vienna one of the first things they did was to break into the offices of a the Jewish economist and confiscate his papers and books. Had he not wisely fled to Swizerland, they likely would have arrested and liquidated him. To the Nazis, Paul’s hero was an enemy to be eliminated if they ever could get their hands on him.

Should Ron Paul repudiate the support of Nazis, white supremacists, bull-dykes and Methodists,and return their money? I don’t think he needs to. Ron Paul has made it quite clear that he is advocating a set of principles and he is not seeking power for power’s sake. thus, I don’t think you will see him adopting Nazi policies in order to maintain his grip on power. On the other hand, it would probably be to his advantage to make light of their support in a humorous way, for example by saying something like “these guys must not have even glanced at my position papers if they think my policies will help their cause, but if they want to give me money to make a less-racist society, I’ll take it.”

Certainly, Ron Paul’s tireless advocacy of Misesian principles is a sufficient repudiation for me.

Update :

My response to some of the commenters, including Mr Duke is posted here.

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.

The Giuliani Bubble Could Pop By January, And Ron Paul May Be Holding The Needle

The oft-repeated mantra of Rudy Giuliani’s Presidential campaign is “electablity” — the idea that, of all the Republican Presidential candidates, he’s the only one capable of beating the presumptive Democratic nominee in November 2008.

But the early primary calendar poses a challenge to Giuliani that could put a big hole in the electability argument and go a long way toward erasing the lead that he has in the national polls.

First, there’s Iowa, where Giuliani is a distant fourth behind Romney, Thompson, and Huckabee.

Then, there’s New Hampshire, where he trails Mitt Romney by at least 6 percent and the possibility of a surprise performance by someone like Ron Paul could turn the primary into one of those tales of the unexpected.

Finally, there’s South Carolina where both Thompson and Romney have made significant inroads on what was once a Giuliani lead.

Poor performances in all three of these early primaries could by a serious problem for a campaign that would like for the rest of the GOP to think of as the inevitable winner.

Which is why, I’m betting Giuliani is spending a lot of time lately in New Hampshire:

MANCHESTER, N.H. — Rudy Giuliani, whose presidential campaign strategy originally downplayed New Hampshire, is now making a major bid to win the Granite State primary.

The new push includes spending four days in the state this week, the culmination of an effort which had him more in New Hampshire in October than in any other traditional early state.

The shift in strategy is motivated by both opportunity and fear

As well as no small degree of risk:

It increasingly looks likely that the GOP contest, like the Democratic one, may be virtually over by the trumpeted arrival of “Tsunami Tuesday” on Feb. 5.

That day, when 20 states will hold primaries or caucuses, had been the foundation of Giuliani’s strategy.
In a precedent-shattering playbook, Giuliani’s team has been gambling he could lose in the early states but score big in California, New York, New Jersey, Illinois and other states in a de facto national primary.

The risk: He’d be 0-3 after Iowa, New Hampshire and Michigan, meaning that Mitt Romney, his chief Republican rival, might have the momentum, the magazine covers and the frenzied media coverage, with the bonanza of volunteers and money that can follow.

So, it looks like the Giuliani camp may be writing off Iowa (a wise choice given both his standing in the polls and the relative unimportance of Iowa historically to who wins the nomination) and building a firewall in New Hampshire.

Ironically, while they concentrate on Romney and McCain, they may be forgetting the lesson of New Hampshire — which that it’s often the maverick candidate that ends up stealing the show. The maverick doesn’t need to win outright, though that has happened, just do better than expected.

The names should be familiar — Ronald Reagan (1980), Gary Hart (1984), Paul Tsongas (1992), Pat Buchanan (1992 and 1996), John McCain (2000). The maverick this year, of course, is Ron Paul and he’s making a move of his own in the Granite State. Should he do well enough to wreck Giuliani’s firewall strategy, it could have devastating consequences for the rest of Giuliani’s campaign.

Couldn’t happen to a more well-deserving apparatchik.

Sometimes, Intellectual Property Laws Are Just Plain Nuts

Take, for example, the story of the 9 year old girl who sent a letter to Apple only to get a cease-and-desist letter in return:

CBS 13) Like any nine-year-old, Shea O’Gorman spends a lot of time listening to her iPod Nano. So much so, that when her third grade class started learning about writing letters she thought, who better to write to than the man whose company makes her iPod.

“I decided to write to Mr. Steven Jobs,” said Shea. Jobs is the president of Apple Computers.

“She just came home and said ‘mom I have some ideas about the iPod Nano,’ and said ‘I’m going to write Steven Jobs a letter’,” said Shea’s mother. “We were just very impressed and very proud of her.”

In her letter, Shea outlined her ideas for improving iPods like adding song lyrics.

“Have the words on the screen so they could sing along and stuff,” said Shea.

She got a response, all right, from Apple’s lawyers:

The letter was not from Steve Jobs, it was signed the senior counsel, Apple Law Department.

That’s right, apple’s legal department, telling a nine year old that apple does not accept unsolicited ideas. Apple’s legal department told her not send them her suggestions, and if she wants to know why, she could read their legal policy on the Internet.

“We were stunned, we just were stunned, is the best word to say. It just wasn’t the appropriate type letter to send to a third grader who had the initiative to write to them,” said Shea’s mom.

And just what does that unsolicited ideas policy say ? Well, here it is:

Apple or any of its employees do not accept or consider unsolicited ideas, including ideas for new advertising campaigns, new promotions, new or improved products or technologies, product enhancements, processes, materials, marketing plans or new product names. Please do not send any original creative artwork, suggestions or other works. The sole purpose of this policy is to avoid potential misunderstandings or disputes when Apple’s products or marketing strategies might seem similar to ideas submitted to Apple. So, please do not send your unsolicited ideas to Apple or anyone at Apple. If, despite our request that you not send us your ideas, you still send them, then regardless of what your letter says, the following terms shall apply to your idea submission.

TERMS OF IDEA SUBMISSION
You agree that: (1) your ideas will automatically become the property of Apple, without compensation to you, and (2) Apple can use the ideas for any purpose and in any way, even give them to others.

Sounds harsh, I’m sure, and especially so when applied to a 9 year old girl who just thought it would be cool if she could read lyrics on her iPod Nano. But you can thank the state of intellectual property law for that.

If it weren’t for the policy noted above, and the cease-and-desist letters like the one this girl got that I’m sure are sent out on a legal basis, Apple could be subjecting itself to countless lawsuits — some of them with merit, most of them without — from people — some of them sane, most of them not — claiming that they came up with a given idea before Apple did. The costs of the litigation alone can be enormous, not to mention the potential costs of a court ruling ten years after the fact.

So, before you go condemning Apple for upsetting a 9 year-old girl, maybe you need to ask yourself why the company feels the need to protect itself like this.

Originally posted at Below The Beltway

Ron Paul And Alex Jones: A Partial Clarification

In a post that generated much heated comment, co-contributor Kevin Boyd noted the questions that had been raised over the weekend about a $ 1,300 payment from Ron Paul’s Presidential Campaign to a person who appeared to be Alex Jones of the so-called 9/11 Truthers.

It seems that those questions have been answered:

The “payment” to Jones (and yes, it is that same Jones) was not a payment at all, but a partial refund of Jones’s $2,300 contribution. It is clearly marked as such, if you look in the right place on the electronic FEC forms. Paul’s spokesman said he put a line in to the campaign treasurer when he noticed it being discussed on the blogosphere, but that’s the answer he’s going to get.

And that’s from the conspirators against our freedoms guys at NRO’s The Corner.

As the linked blogger notes, it still raises the question of why the campaign is accepting contributions from a guy like Jones but that is not quite as serious as the implication raised by the initial FEC report that Jones was performing services of some kind for the campaign.

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