Monthly Archives: October 2007

How Not To Fix The Subprime Mortgage Crisis, Part III

Liz Mair reports that Congress is now considering a new round of bankruptcy reform in response to the crisis that has developed in the subprime mortgage business. As with most of the government regulation that’s been suggested in this area, it takes exactly the wrong approach to the problem.

Earlier this month, Republican Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania introduced the Home Owners’ Mortgage and Equity Savings (HOMES) Act, which seemingly takes a balanced approach to dealing with the crisis. However, the Specter legislation has already provoked criticism on both sides of the debate. It may ultimately be too interventionist for the taste of banks and yet too timid to win the approval of Democratic Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, who is pushing for a much more radical overhaul of the bankruptcy code.

The most controversial elements of the HOMES Act are its provisions allowing bankruptcy judges to delay, prohibit, or roll back increases in mortgage interest rates, to waive early repayment penalties (so as to enable desirable refinancing), and to write down principal on a mortgage where the lender agrees. The law would apply strictly to borrowers who took out mortgages before September 26, 2007—and only if they sought relief within the next seven years.

Even that limitation though would bring within the laws reach millions of homeowners who entered into these high-risk loans because it was all they could qualify for and now find themselves in financial trouble not so much because their circumstances have changed, but because the loan has reached a point where, by its terms, the payment must go up. This is the loan that these people signed up for, and yet Specter would have Bankruptcy Court judges the authority to rewrite the terms of the loan; although, strangely, his proposal requires the lender’s consent, which it would seem would almost never be given.

Even Specter’s proposal isn’t enough for some in Congress. Mair reports that Senator Dick Durbin would propose a law that allows Bankruptcy Judges to rewrite the terms of the mortgage loans as well as other changes to the law that would fundamentally alter the nature of the relationship between debtors and creditors.

As I’ve noted before, even Specter’s timid proposal misses the point. Politicians see what’s happening in the real estate industry and assume that it’s their duty to fix it. In reality, what’s happening is the market reasserting reality after a prolonged period of what was called in another context “irrational exuberance.” The days of real estate values increasing by double digit percentages, or more, on an annual basis are gone because they weren’t realistic and weren’t going to be sustained over time. What’s happening now is simply the market’s way of readjusting

Given that, there’s really only one thing the government should do, nothing:

Rather than delaying the inevitable, the government needs to let this “crisis” play itself out. Yes, it will be painful. People will lose their homes and the housing market will remain depressed for another year, if not longer. But, quite honestly, this is the price to be paid for nearly a decade of an irrationally-rising real estate market and people who bought houses that, notwithstanding the great no-interest loan they could qualify for, they really could not afford.

The likelihood of that happening ? Pretty much zero.

Previous Posts:

How Not To Fix The Subprime Mortgage Crisis
How Not To Fix The Subprime Mortgage Crisis, Part II

Federal Election Laws Become Even More Absurd

There’s little doubt that pretty much everyone in America who’s paying attention realizes that Stephen Colbert’s recently announced run for the White House is an elaborate joke. A well-played, funny, timely joke that is already pointing out the absurdity of the political system, but, still, a joke.

Well, everyone that is except perhaps the people at the Federal Election Commission:

Federal law bars corporations from contributing to candidates, either through donations or in-kind contributions such as free use of goods or services.

Media organizations are permitted to feature presidential candidates in covering campaigns.

But no precedent exists for a television network promoting and fostering a candidacy of one of its own talk-show hosts, said Lawrence M. Noble, a former general counsel for the Federal Election Commission. And comedian Pat Paulsen’s 1968 candidacy predated current campaign finance regulations.

“The real problem comes in the fact that he actually has his own show, talking about his campaign, paid for by a network,” Noble said. “These are the kind of things on slow days you’d debate until the late afternoon at the FEC, but there are serious questions that come up. In theory, he could end up having some campaign finance problems.”

While he has talked about his candidacy publicly only in character — as the combative faux-talk-show host who favors “truthiness” on “The Colbert Report” — Colbert is taking formal steps that are consistent with an actual presidential candidacy.

He has begun collecting signatures to get himself placed on both the Democratic and Republican presidential primary ballots in South Carolina.

And while he has said he’s in the race to run, not to win, he has talked about trying to win delegates to the Democratic National Convention.

“I think a lot of people are asking whether — they say, ‘Is this, is this real,’ you know?” Colbert said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “And to which I would say to everybody, this is not a dream, OK? You’re not going to wake up from this, OK? I’m far realer than Sam Brownback, let me put it that way.”

(…)

The FEC could consider Colbert’s entire campaign satire, which may allow corporate backing under the exemption that allows media organizations to report and comment on candidates as they choose.

But Colbert’s continued candidacy makes it more likely that he’ll actually have an impact on the election — which makes him difficult to ignore, Noble said.

“Everybody is very cautious, not wanting to take this too seriously, or to say that campaign finance laws are going to stop satire, or what is clearly a joke,” he said. “But he’s trying to get on the ballot, and he could in fact affect the election.”

If the FEC actually does start regulating Colbert’s campaign, then it would point out even further the absurdity of campaign finance laws. It’s already been well-established that the laws themselves do nothing to limit actual campaign fundraising — the first Presidential election after McCain-Feingold passed was, by all accounts, the most expensive in American history and the 2008 election looks to surpass it easily. The limits themselves serve no purpose other than to encourage people to find ways to circumvent them,  such as making donations in the name of their children in order to get around the limit on individual contributions. And every time a loophole is closed another one is found.

The solution isn’t more government regulation of campaign donations. Instead, we need to eliminate those requirements completely except for one — the requirement that all candidates for Federal office make complete disclosure of all donations received. That way, we will all know where everyone’s money comes from and can judge the candidates accordingly. Putting more power in the hands of the regulators just creates a system that is more friendly to incumbents and not at all helpful to voters.

H/T: James Joyner

Red State Bans Ron Paul Supporters

The conservative blog Red State decided earlier this week to ban Ron Paul supporters from the blog:

Effective immediately, new users may *not* shill for Ron Paul in any way shape, form or fashion. Not in comments, not in diaries, nada. If your account is less than 6 months old, you can talk about something else, you can participate in the other threads and be your zany libertarian self all you want, but you cannot pimp Ron Paul. Those with accounts more than six months old may proceed as normal.

Now, I could offer a long-winded explanation for *why* this new policy is being instituted, but I’m guessing that most of you can probably guess. Unless you lack the self-awareness to understand just how annoying, time-consuming, and bandwidth-wasting responding to the same idiotic arguments from a bunch of liberals pretending to be Republicans can be. Which, judging by your comment history, you really don’t understand, so allow me to offer an alternate explanation: we are a bunch of fascists and we’re upset that you’ve discovered where we keep the black helicopters, so we’re silencing you in an attempt to keep you from warning the rest of your brethren so we can round you all up and send you to re-education camps all at once.

While it is their website, and their decision to ban someone, or an entire group of people,  is theirs to make, it strikes me as a monumentally stupid decision to make. As Ed Morrissey, a conservative blogger who doesn’t support Paul but also doesn’t support the idea of banning his supporters, notes, the decision seems to be largely based on Red State’s belief that most supposedly libertarian supporters of Paul are actually leftists in disguse:

I disagree with Leon’s assumption that these Paul supporters are all or mostly cryptoliberals. Plenty of libertarian-leaning Republicans exist in the party, along with the former Buchananites and isolationists of the GOP. Instead of cutting these people off, it might be better for Redstate to keep engaging them. After all, Paul will not be in the race all that much longer, and we need those voters to stay in the GOP when Paul disappears. There are worse impulses than libertarianism.

Michael van der Gailen agrees:

We have written about Ron Paul on several occasions, and although there certainly are / were some Paul supporters who added a lot to the comment sections at this blog, there were sadly also quite some who spammed our comment sections with “go ron go” and that was it. Such commenters add nothing, and I mean nothing, to the debate, which is why I understand Red State’s decision to ban all of them. Having said that, we won’t change this into a ‘no Paul-zone.’ Paul is a phenomenon and to ignore this phenomenon is silly. Furthermore, as said, quite some of the commenters do add something and do have something to interesting to say.

I take this as a sign that at least some Republicans are willing to listen to the libertarian wing of the party, even if they don’t entirely agree with us. That’s not much if your goal is a revolution, but revolutions don’t happen very often in American politics; change is slow and gradual, and sometimes you have to start with the baby steps.

Quote Of The Day: Winston Churchill Edition

I heard this one at a legal seminar I attended today.

It’s from Winston Churchill in 1943, but it seems especially appropriate to America in 2007:

[T]he great privilege of habeas corpus, and of trial by jury, which are the supreme protection invented by the English people for ordinary individuals against the State . . . —The power of the Executive to cast a man into prison without formulating any charge known to the law and particularly to deny him the judgement of his peers—is, in the highest degree, odious and is the foundation of all totalitarian governments . . . Extraordinary powers assumed by the Executive with the consent of Parliament in emergencies should be yielded up, when and as, the emergency declines . . . This is really the test of civilisation.

—Winston S. Churchill, Cable to Home Secretary Herbert Morrison from Cairo (Churchill responds to critics over the decision to release accused Nazi collaborator Oswald Moseley), Nov. 21, 1943. Reproduced in The Second World War: Closing the Ring (1952)

Clinton and Executive Power

Hillary Clinton said she give up some expanded executive powers:

If elected president in 2008, Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton would consider giving up some of the executive powers President Bush and Vice President Cheney have assumed since taking office.

In an interview published Tuesday in Guardian America, a Web site run by the London-based Guardian newspaper, Clinton denounced the Bush Administration’s push to concentrate more power in the White House as a “power grab” not supported by the Constitution.

Asked if she would consider giving up some of those powers if she were president, Clinton replied, “Oh, absolutely … I mean, that has to be part of the review that I undertake when I get to the White House, and I intend to do that.”
[…]
“There were a lot of actions which they took that were clearly beyond any power the Congress would have granted, or that in my view was inherent in the Constitution,” Clinton said. “There were other actions they’ve taken which could have obtained Congressional authorization but they deliberately chose not to pursue it as a matter of principle.”

My initial thoughts when I first saw this article were…since when did Hillary Clinton start caring about Constitutional limitations on government? The answer to that is….she doesn’t. And, if Congress approves some action that is constitutionally questionable, like sneak-and-peek or the NSA wiretapping program, does that justify it? The answer to that is…no. There is a process to amend the Constitution. Legislative action without the required Constitutional changes should be scrapped by the Supreme Court, especially one that claims to follow an “originalist” philosophy. But when a court uses the judiciary without textural support to justify the position of the executive branch, which is just as much a case of judicial activism as any liberal judge undercutting those “family values” that I can’t seem to find anywhere in the Constitution, conservatives seem to be perfectly fine with that.

I’ve already posted this article, but Radley Balko makes the case that Hillary Clinton will continue the same course that Bush has taken with regard to expanded executive powers, and argues that she will continue to seek expansion

:What about secrecy and executive power? It’s difficult to see Hillary Clinton voluntarily handing back all of those extra-constitutional executive powers claimed by President Bush. Her husband’s administration, for example, copiously invoked dubious “executive privilege” claims to keep from complying with congressional subpoenas and open records requests—claims the left now (correctly, in my view) regularly criticizes the Bush administration for invoking.

Hillary Clinton herself went to court to keep meetings of her Health Care Task Force secret from the public, something conservatives were quick to point out when leftists criticize Vice President Cheney’s similar efforts to keep meetings of his Energy Task Force secret.

“I’m a strong believer in executive authority,” Clinton said in a 2003 speech, recently quoted in The New Republic. “I wish that, when my husband was president, people in Congress had been more willing to recognize presidential authority.”

That jibes with a February 2007 New York Times article on Clinton explaining her refusal to back down from her vote for the Iraq war: “Mrs. Clinton’s belief in executive power and authority is another factor weighing against an apology, advisers said… she believes that a president usually deserves the benefit of the doubt from Congress on matters of executive authority.”

Such is why President Bush has recently had some nice things to say about Hillary Clinton, leading some to speculate that Bush sees her as the Eisenhower to his Truman—a candidate from the opposing party who criticizes his foreign policy during the campaign, but will likely pursue a very similar policy should she be elected.

Clinton is just more of the same…you’d think hawkish conservatives would love her as much as they love Rudy Giuliani.

Would Ron Paul Beat Hillary Or Obama ?

It’s a well known fact that, to date, most head-to-head polls show Hillary Clinton and Barak Obama easily beating any of the Republican frontrunners (Giuliani, McCain, Romney, Thompson) in a head-to-head matchup.

What about lower tier candidates like Ron Paul ?

Well, the latest Rasmussen Poll seems to indicate that the result would be about the same:

The latest Rasmussen Reports survey of Republican Congressman Ron Paul’s electoral strength shows him trailing top Democratic candidates by double digits. Senator Hillary Clinton leads Paul 48% to 38% (although among male voters, Paul lags Clinton by only two points).

Senator Barack Obama leads the Republican Congressman 50% to 38%.

Paul has gained ground since beginning his presidential campaign as a virtual unknown outside of his congressional district and some libertarian and conservative circles.

But the enthusiasm of supporters, his strength in GOP straw polls, and his surprising fundraising ability have yet to make him competitive in either GOP-nomination or general-election match-ups. In Iowa, Paul attracts just 2% of the vote and he has yet to top 3% in the Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll.

If Paul somehow manages to overcome long odds and win the Republican nomination, just 17% of Republicans and 12% of all voters think Paul has any chance of winning the general election. As the Republican nominee, only 4% believe Paul would be Very Likely to win in November 2008.

In other words, Paul fares no better, and in some cases worse, than any of the other Republican candidates against a Democrat who increasingly looks unbeatable in 2008.

Is Immigration The GOP’s New Wedge Issue ?

According to a Washington Post report, the Republican Party may have found an issue it can ride to electoral success:

When Republican Jim Ogonowski launched his long-shot bid for Congress, he prepared for an upbeat campaign in his Democratic, working-class district of Massachusetts, based on a winning r¿sum¿: affable hay farmer, former Air Force lieutenant colonel, and brother of an American Airlines pilot whose hijacked plane slammed into the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.

But by last month, although opinion polling showed that he was well liked, he was still running 10 points behind Democrat Niki Tsongas with just weeks to go before a special election. The campaign needed a way to go beyond biography, to persuade Northern Massachusetts to vote Republican. They found it in illegal immigration.

(…)

“This issue has real implications for the country. It captures all the American people’s anger and frustration not only with immigration, but with the economy,” said Rep. Rahm Emanuel (Ill.), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus and an architect of the Democratic congressional victories of 2006. “It’s self-evident. This is a big problem.”

Republicans, sensing a major vulnerability, have been hammering Democrats, forcing Congress to face the question of illegal immigration on every bill they can find, from agriculture spending and housing assistance to the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP).

And, at least according to the polls, its a strategy that appears to be working:

A new national poll for National Public Radio, conducted by the Democratic polling firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, and the Republican firm Public Opinion Strategies, found that voters are more likely to side with Democrats than Republicans on war, taxes and spending, the economy, health care and health insurance for children, often by wide margins. On immigration, the Republicans hold a 49 to 44 percent lead.

But even that might be deceptively tight, said Glen Bolger, a partner with Public Opinion Strategies. In the poll, the GOP position was framed as getting control of the border, requiring illegal immigrants to reenter the country legally, stopping illegal immigrants from getting government benefits and sending illegal immigrants who are criminals packing. The Democratic position was, “It is impractical to expel 12 million people, but we need tougher controls at the borders, tougher penalties on employers who hire illegal immigrants and we should bar illegal immigrants from getting most government benefits, while allowing the law-abiding immigrants to get on a long path to citizenship.”

That Democratic message is much tougher than the one most voters are hearing, Bolger argued. “They’re actually in worse shape than they think they are,” he said.

So, could the Republican Party turn illegal immigration into a wedge issue that could turn their electoral fortunes around in 2008 ? As improbable as it might seem given the fortunes of the Bush Administration, it certainly seems possible.

How Not To Fix The Subprime Mortgage Crisis, Part II

The New York Times reports that House Democrats are set to introduce legislation to “fix” the problems that caused the subprime mortgage crisis:

 WASHINGTON, Oct. 22 — House Democrats introduced legislation on Monday that would for the first time let homeowners sue Wall Street firms for relief from mortgages that the borrowers never had a realistic chance of repaying.

The measure, which is expected to generate intense opposition from the financial services industry, addresses some of the problems tied to the transformation of the mortgage lending industry from an often local business into a trillion-dollar global market for investors in search of higher returns.

The bill is part of a broader measure intended to restrict what lawmakers and consumer advocates consider deceptive and improper lending practices, many of which were common among the millions of soured subprime mortgages to people with low incomes or poor credit histories.

(…)

The legislation, introduced by Representative Barney Frank, Democrat of Massachusetts and chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, would require any mortgage lender to verify that the borrower has a “reasonable ability to repay” based on documented income, credit history and debt level.

“The people who package mortgages and sell them into the secondary market were a major cause of the single biggest world financial crisis since the Asian crisis” of 1997-8, Mr. Frank said, “and it’s unthinkable that we would leave that undisturbed.”

(…)

Under the House bill, people who can show that they never had a reasonable ability to repay the loans would still have to pay for their homes, but would have new statutory power to demand better deals from the lenders. They could demand that their original mortgage lender offer a better loan. Or they could demand relief from the Wall Street firm that bought the mortgage and resold it to investors.

In other words, the House bill would effectively give borrowers the ability to renegotiate the terms of their mortgage without penalty and without increasing the risk premium that that have to pay to get the loan.  Furthermore, it would require lenders to take extraordinary steps to verify each borrowers “ability to repay” — an amorphous concept to begin with and one that is hard to verify outside of relying upon the credit ratings and verifications of employment that every lender relies upon. Finally, the bill seems to extend liability for these actions to secondary holders of mortgage-backed securities; an idea which makes no sense whatsoever given that the secondary holders had no role in the original transaction.

The ultimate impact of legislation like this is easy to see. Credit, whether or mortgages or any other types of loan, will be harder to get for people at the fringes of the economy. Some people may argue that this isn’t a bad thing, that it was loans to people like this that created the subprime mess to begin with. And they have a point.

But there’s where politics becomes involved. Today, the left complains because supposedly predatory lenders took advantage of people with bad credit by offering them the only loans they could qualify. Twenty years ago, they were complaining about redlining and alleging that lenders were discriminating against the poor and minorities by refusing to lend to them because they were bad credit risks.  If legislation like this passes and the credit markets dry up again, that’s exactly what we’ll be hearing ten yeasrs from now, if not sooner.

Related Posts:

How Not To Fix The Subprime Mortgage Crisis

Bill O’Reilly’s Ignorance on Display

This 5 minute video clip from Bill O’Reilly’s The O’Reilly Factor is a little old but I just discovered it at the Reason.tv website. In this clip, O’Reilly confronts Reason Magazine’s Jacob Sullum who just wrote the book Saying Yes: In Defense of Drug Use. While don’t agree that recreational drug use is a positive thing, Sullum makes other very good points regarding the problems associated with the war on (some) drugs (I also suspect Sullum chose this provocative title to bait the media into bringing attention to his book. Good move!)

Anyone else notice how Mr. O’Reilly cut off Sullum when he had a valid point or would simply dismiss it as “spin”? I would so love to see O’Reilly debate Sullum or someone else who has a firm grasp of the issue in an Oxford style debate (such as NPR does in its Intelligence Squared program). In a format where O’Reilly cannot shout down, cut the mic, or interrupt his opponent, he would be torn to shreds by someone like Sullum (and thus very entertaining to observe).

I was also very annoyed when he described Mr. Sullum as “libertine” even as Mr. Sullum explained that liberty and responsibility for one’s own actions are inseparable. It seemed to me that they actually agreed that individuals should be free to do as they wish, provided that they do not infringe on the life, liberty, or property of others (though I think this was lost on O’Reilly).

Would you like some “no spin” facts regarding the war on (some) drugs Mr. O’Reilly? Here’s some statistics from the Federal Bureau of Prisons on the makeup of the prison population. You tell me if drug prohibition has not contributed to our problem of overcrowded prisons.

Types of Offenses

Drug Offenses: 98,675 (53.5 %)

Weapons, Explosives, Arson: 26,676 (14.5 %)

Immigration: 19,589 (10.6 %)

Robbery: 9,405 (5.1 %)

Burglary, Larceny, Property Offenses: 6,836 (3.7 %)

Extortion, Fraud, Bribery: 8,201 (4.5 %)

Homicide, Aggravated Assault, and Kidnapping Offenses: 5,580 (3.0 %)

Miscellaneous: 2,082 (1.1 %)

Sex Offenses: 4,835 (2.6 %)

Banking and Insurance, Counterfeit, Embezzlement: 987 (0.5 %)

Courts or Corrections: 753 (0.4 %)

Continuing Criminal Enterprise: 572 (0.3 %)

National Security: 99 (0.1 %)

Iran: Rhetoric And Reality

There’s been an increase in combative rhetoric from the Bush Administration regarding Iran over the past week or so. First, last week President Bush said that permitting Iran to obtain nuclear weapons would lead to World War III. Now, Vice-President Cheney has said that the United States will not permit Iran to obtain nuclear weapons:

LEESBURG, Virginia (AP) — The United States and other nations will not allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon, Vice President Dick Cheney said Sunday.

“Our country, and the entire international community, cannot stand by as a terror-supporting state fulfills its grandest ambitions,” Cheney said in a speech to the Washington Institute for Near East Studies.

He said Iran’s efforts to pursue technology that would allow them to build a nuclear weapon are obvious and that “the regime continues to practice delay and deceit in an obvious effort to buy time.”

If Iran continues on its current course, Cheney said the U.S. and other nations are “prepared to impose serious consequences.” The vice president made no specific reference to military action.

“We will not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon,” he said.

In this week’s Newsweek, Fareed Zakaria sheds the light of reality on all the war talk:

The American discussion about Iran has lost all connection to reality. Norman Podhoretz, the neoconservative ideologist whom Bush has consulted on this topic, has written that Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is “like Hitler … a revolutionary whose objective is to overturn the going international system and to replace it in the fullness of time with a new order dominated by Iran and ruled by the religio-political culture of Islamofascism.” For this staggering proposition Podhoretz provides not a scintilla of evidence.

Here is the reality. Iran has an economy the size of Finland’s and an annual defense budget of around $4.8 billion. It has not invaded a country since the late 18th century. The United States has a GDP that is 68 times larger and defense expenditures that are 110 times greater. Israel and every Arab country (except Syria and Iraq) are quietly or actively allied against Iran. And yet we are to believe that Tehran is about to overturn the international system and replace it with an Islamo-fascist order? What planet are we on?

And, as Zakaria points out the heated rhetoric has spread to the frontrunner for the Republican nomination:

In a speech last week, Rudy Giuliani said that while the Soviet Union and China could be deterred during the cold war, Iran can’t be. The Soviet and Chinese regimes had a “residual rationality,” he explained. Hmm. Stalin and Mao—who casually ordered the deaths of millions of their own people, fomented insurgencies and revolutions, and starved whole regions that opposed them—were rational folk. But not Ahmadinejad, who has done what that compares? One of the bizarre twists of the current Iran hysteria is that conservatives have become surprisingly charitable about two of history’s greatest mass murderers.

Heh. An excellent point, actually, although there is a small nitpick — Stalin was dead by the time the nuclear race between the United States and Soviet Union really heated up, and China’s Mao never really had enough nuclear weapons to effectively threaten the United States. But the point is the same; if the nations that killed millions with impunity were rational enough to understand the concept of Mutual Assured Destruction, if three successive President’s have been willing to negotiate with Kim Jong Il and Kim Il Sung — two of the most megalomanical leaders in history — then why not the Iranians ?

Because, apparently, they’re different:

The one time we seriously negotiated with Tehran was in the closing days of the war in Afghanistan, in order to create a new political order in the country. Bush’s representative to the Bonn conference, James Dobbins, says that “the Iranians were very professional, straightforward, reliable and helpful. They were also critical to our success. They persuaded the Northern Alliance to make the final concessions that we asked for.” Dobbins says the Iranians made overtures to have better relations with the United States through him and others in 2001 and later, but got no reply. Even after the Axis of Evil speech, he recalls, they offered to cooperate in Afghanistan. Dobbins took the proposal to a principals meeting in Washington only to have it met with dead silence. The then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, he says, “looked down and rustled his papers.” No reply was ever sent back to the Iranians. Why bother? They’re mad.

This is the mindset that is guiding this country on what is likely to be an even bigger foreign policy engagement than Iraq ever was; and they don’t seem to know what they’re doing.

Maybe they do, maybe this is all bluffing. We’ll see. In the meantime, Niall Ferguson has one suggestion for those who want to really know what America’s intentions with regard to Iran are; watch the aircraft carriers:

In domestic politics, it’s always a good idea to follow the money. When it comes to grand strategy, however, you need to follow the navy — to be precise, the aircraft carriers that would be the launching platforms for any major air offensive against Iran’s nuclear facilities. To do this, you don’t need to be very skilled at espionage. The U.S. Navy makes the information freely available at http://www.gonavy.jp/CVLocation.htmlor in the “Around the Navy” column published each week in the Navy Times.

The U.S. has 11 active aircraft carriers. Of these, the Kitty Hawk is in port in Japan. The Nimitz and Reagan are in San Diego. The Washington is in Norfolk, Va. The Lincoln and Stennis are in Washington state. And the Eisenhower, Vinson, Roosevelt and Truman are undergoing various sorts of refitting and maintenance checks in the vicinity of “WestLant” (Navy-speak for the western Atlantic). Only one — the Enterprise — is in the Persian Gulf.

At present, then, talk of World War III seems to be mere saber-rattling, not serious strategy. U.S. aircraft carriers can move fast, it’s true. The Lincoln’s top speed is in excess of 30 knots (30 nautical miles per hour). And it, along with the Truman, Eisenhower and Nimitz, are said to be “surge ready.” But take a look at the map. It’s a very long way from San Diego to the Strait of Hormuz. Even from Norfolk, it takes 17.5 days for an aircraft carrier group to reach Bahrain. If you were Ahmadinejad, how worried would you be?

At present, not very worried at all.

Ron Paul On Gay Marriage

At last night’s debate:

Well, if you believe in federalism, it’s better that we allow these things to be left to the state. My personal belief is that marriage is a religious ceremony. And it should be dealt with religiously. The state really shouldn’t be involved. The state, both federal and state-wise, got involved mostly for health reasons 100 years or so ago.

But this should be a religious matter. All voluntary associations, whether they’re economic or social, should be protected by the law. But to amend the Constitution is totally unnecessary to define something that’s already in the dictionary.

We do know what marriage is about. We don’t need a new definition or argue over a definition and have an amendment to the Constitution. To me, it just seems so unnecessary to do that. It’s very simply that the states should be out of that business, and the states — I mean, the states should be able to handle this. The federal government should be out of it.

At the beginning, Paul gets it completely right. The government — federal, state, and local — should be out of the marriage business, compeltely and totally. I have argued much the same thing in other posts here at The Liberty Papers here and here:

Here’s my proposal. Get rid of civil marriage licenses entirely. Let people decide for themselves what they believe about marriage and let them, if they wish solemnize that union in a church of their choice. We are hundreds of years past the day where the state was involved in religious affairs, it doesn’t need to be involved in this matter either.

That’s what Paul seems to say at the beginning, but then he turns it into solely a Federalism issue and argues that the states should have the right to regulate marriage. While he is correct that the Federal Government should not have a role in defining marriage, conceding that the states should have such a role concedes far too much ground to the anti-gay marriage theocrats.

GOP Debate Open Thread

There is another Republican debate tonight on Fox News (8pm EST). I’ve missed the last two or three, so I may sit down and live-blog this one.

The candidates that will be participating are: Rudy Giuliani, Mike Huckabee, Duncan Hunter, John McCain, Ron Paul, Mitt Romney, Tom Tancredo and Fred Thompson.

WINNERS & LOSERS:
Winners – Giuliani, Romney, Huckabee and McCain
Giuliani, in my opinion, won the debate. He managed to hit Clinton pretty hard and he managed to voice his support for some issues that conservatives care about, such as school choice and private Social Security accounts. Romney is still managing to spin his position changes well and took his shots at Clinton as well. Huckabee is managing to hide his past record and getting along by being humorous. I’ll give the guy this, he is good at communicating a message, but that message belongs to someone else and is far different from the populist crap he espouses on talk shows and what his past record is…but the crowd responded to him. McCain had one of the best reactions from the audience this evening. He managed to stay on point and took some shots at Romney and Cinton.

Losers – Paul, Tancredo, Hunter and Thompson
I’m a Ron Paul supporter, but every time he speaks…I cringe. He manages to turn every question, not matter what subject into a rant about our foreign policy. I don’t disagree with him at all, but he is preaching to an audience that doesn’t want to hear him. Tancredo just isn’t clear. We know he is anti-immigration, but he has trouble communicating his opinion that or any other topic. Hunter needs to get out of the race. The guy is either intellectually dishonest or just doesn’t understand economics. Thompson is simply not the savior that conservatives wanted. The more they find out about him, the less they support him.

DEBATE LIVE-BLOGGING:
[7:56pm] Fox News is going through the pre-debate focus group, all of whom are saying that they want another Ronald Reagan.

[7:58pm] They just gave out the text voting information. I’m going to go ahead and declare Ron Paul the winner of that. It’s just a hunch I have.

[8:02pm] Brit Hume is getting it started along with Carl Cameron, Chris Wallace and Wendell Goler, as well as a welcome message from the Republican Party of Florida and Gov. Charlie Crist.

[8:04pm] The candidates are lined up like this: Tancredo, Paul, Huckabee, Giuliani, Romney, Thompson, McCain and Hunter.
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Quote Of The Day

David Price at Dean’s World:

A government can’t plan a society’s moral development any better than its economic development; the cost to our freedom, the pain of enforcement, and the unintended consequences outweigh the dubious benefit derived from forbidding consensual transactions between adults. Society functions most efficiently when individuals are essentially sovereign in their liberty, allowed to do whatever they like so long as they do no others harm. Sometimes those efficiencies are cruel, and expose the least attractive aspects of the human psyche, but the monopoly on force the state enjoys is a cudgel, not a scalpel, and is poorly suited to performing brain surgery.

H/T: Brendan Loy

The Myth Of Huckabee The Uniter

Jason’s post about Mike Huckabee as a threat to the GOP coalition, reminds me of this David Brooks column where he makes the following argument:

Huckabee is the one candidate acceptable to all factions.

To which Daniel Larison responds:

Except the economic conservatives, restrictionists, libertarians and conservative opponents of the war. Other than that, he’s golden.

Consider these examples from Brooks’ column:

He condemns “immoral” C.E.O. salaries, and on global trade he sounds like a Democrat: “There’s no free trade without fair trade.” (Polls suggest most Republican voters are, sadly, with him on this).

(…)

[H]e’s got a riff on childhood obesity that rivets the attention of his audiences. He asks them to compare their own third-grade class photos with the photos of third graders today. Then he goes down the list of the diseases that afflict preteens who get Type 2 diabetes.

“The greatest challenge in health care is not universal coverage,” he argues while introducing his health care
plan. “It’s universal health. A healthy country would be less expensive to cover.”

(…)

He endorses programs that are ideologically incorrect for conservatives, like his passion for arts education. He can’t understand how the argument over the size of the S-chip funding increase became an all-or-nothing holy war.

This is what passes for a conservative these days ?

Coalition…what coalition?!

Erick Erickson tells us why Mike Huckabee is a threat to the Republican Party’s coalition than Rudy Giuliani:

The leaders of the social conservative movement who were present, the Arlington Group members you hear so much about, were ready and willing to get on board Romney’s campaign on Saturday morning. Then Huckabee spoke. Then the straw vote was tabulated. Then they realized that were they to do so, it would put them completely out of step with their members.

The social conservatives do not want to rally around Huckabee because he is as distasteful to fiscalcons as Rudy is to socons. Even Tony Perkins, the head of FRC, said he hoped the social conservative candidate would be palatable to the fiscal conservatives out there. Huckabee is not.
[…]
The fiscal guys see the writing on the wall. They see Hillary’s position. And they are just about ready to cut a deal. And then you have the Republican libertarians who are just about ready to really vote for Ron Paul, doing to the GOP in 2008 what Ralph Nader voters did for the Democrats in 2000.

Huckabee breaks the coalition more than Giuliani because the socons fear Hillary more than the fiscalcons do. And that is why we won’t see too many of the socon leaders rallying to the clear favorite of the socon base.

That last paragraph kind of sums up a conversation my mom (a Fred Thompson supporter and social conservative) and I (a fiscal conservative) had over dinner on Friday night. I despise Hillary Clinton. I believe her goal is take more individual liberty away and dramatically increase the size of government…but isn’t that what George W. Bush has done in two terms? My point to her was that the American voter, specifically a moderate and or an independent, is not going to be swayed by the anti-Hillary Clinton rhetoric because I don’t believe they can look at George Bush and say, “this woman is going to be so much worse.”

Ron Paul Comes In Fourth

Unfortunately, it’s not the kind of poll you want to place very high in:

Whom would you NEVER vote for for President of the U.S.?

%

Clinton (D)

50%

Kucinich (D)

49%

Gravel (D)

47%

Paul (R)

47%

Brownback (R)

47%

Tancredo (R)

46%

McCain (R)

45%

Hunter (R)

44%

Giuliani (R)

43%

Romney (R)

42%

Edwards (D)

42%

Thompson (R)

41%

Dodd (D)

41%

Biden (D)

40%

Obama (D)

37%

Huckabee (R)

35%

Richardson (D)

34%

Not sure

4%

I’m not sure what the source of the high negatives is, but it could be one explanation for poll numbers consistently below 10%.

More Sex Offender Insanity

Apparently Genarlow Wilson isn’t the only person caught up in the insanity of Georgia’s sex offender laws:

The state of Georgia regards 28-year-old Wendy Whitaker as such a threat to public safety that it posts her photo and address on the Internet, bans her from living near schools, churches and playgrounds and forbids her from working with children.

(…)

Eleven years ago, when she had just turned 17, Whitaker engaged in a single act of oral sex with a boy in her sophomore class on school property. That’s it.

Though less than two years separated the couple — the boy was about to turn 16 — Whitaker was arrested for sodomy, a charge to which she pleaded guilty and completed five years probation. However, that plea also means that Whitaker will serve a lifetime on the state’s sex-offender registry, placing her in the same category as truly dangerous people such as rapists and child molesters. It also imposes severe — some might argue unconscionable — limits on where she can live and work.

And, thanks to one of the most draconian sex offender registration systems in the country, getting on the list pretty much means your life is ruined:

For Whitaker, a full-time college student studying criminal justice, the law has meant that she and her husband of seven years had to leave their new house in Harlem, Ga., because it was near a mother’s morning-out program.

“This is a home we love,” she says in a written statement on how the law affected her life. “It has a white picket fence and big American flag outside.”

The couple also gave up attending Sunday services for fear of violating the provision against loitering near churches. Whitaker and her husband have now moved twice because of the law, while still paying the mortgage on their original home. She and her husband bunked with her brother-in-law for a time, but Whitaker was concerned that she would eventually be in violation of the law because her niece was about to start school and a school bus would be stopping near the house.

Jeffery York, 23, of Polk County, faces a similar predicament. He, too, was convicted of sodomy for having oral sex with a 15-year-old when he was 17. Because his home was near a school, he moved in with his grandmother last year. When it turned out that she lived within the 1,000-feet limit of a child-care center, York was forced to move again. He now lives in a camper van in the woods without running water or electricity. “I feel like my life is just stuck in the mud because of all the restrictions on me,” says York.

We can all agree, I think, on the wisdom of keeping tabs on offenders who have preyed on children. But the hysteria over this issue has led to a situations where people who are clearly not criminals are being treated as such and lives are being ruined because of what was clearly just the product of youthful indiscretion.

Consider for example, these incidents related in a Washington Post column:

In December 2006, a 4-year-old boy in Waco, Tex., was punished with an in-school suspension after a female aide accused him of sexual harassment. According to a television station there, the child had hugged the woman while getting on the bus, and she later complained to administrators at La Vega Primary School that the child had put his face in her chest. School officials later agreed to remove sexual references but refused to expunge the “inappropriate physical contact” charge from the boy’s school record.

(…)

Last December, a kindergartner was accused of sexual harassment after he pinched a classmate’s bottom at Lincolnshire Elementary School in Hagerstown, according to the local paper, the Herald-Mail. The charge will remain on his record until he enters middle school. “It’s important to understand a child may not realize that what he or she is doing may be considered sexual harassment, but if it fits under the definition, then it is, under the state’s guidelines,” school spokeswoman Carol Mowen told the Herald-Mail. “If someone has been told this person does not want this type of touching, it doesn’t matter if it’s at work or at school, that’s sexual harassment.”

And these are children were talking about here. Does anyone even think they knew that they were doing something that made someone uncomfortable ?

I’m not sure whether all this is being driven by prudery or paranoia but, either way, innocent people are being hurt in the process.

Why The Line-Item Veto Won’t Work

This morning George Will makes an interesting argument against what has been a traditional part of the Republican agenda — the line-item veto:

The line-item veto expresses liberalism’s faith in top-down government and the watery Caesarism that has produced today’s inflated presidency. Liberalism assumes that executive branch experts, free from parochial constituencies, know, as Congress does not, what is good for the nation “as a whole.” This is contrary to the public philosophy of James Madison’s “extensive” republic with its many regions and myriad interests.

If [Mitt] Romney thinks a line-item veto would be a major force for federal frugality, he is mistaken. Gov. Reagan used his line-item veto to trim, on average, only about 2 percent from California’s budgets. And much larger proportions of state budgets than of the federal budget are susceptible to such vetoes. Sixty-one percent of the federal budget goes to entitlements and to interest payments on government borrowing, neither of which can be vetoed. An additional 21 percent goes to defense and homeland security. Realistically, the line-item veto probably would be pertinent to less than 20 percent of the budget.

In other words, even if the President did have a line-item veto and exercised in the most fiscally conservative manner possible, it would have a minimal impact on the federal budget and would do almost nothing to deal with the real source of out-of-control spending.

The more interesting part of Will’s argument, though, is his point that granting a line-item veto would upset the separation of powers between Congress and the President:

After a century of the growth of presidential power and after eight years of especially aggressive assertions of presidential prerogatives, it would be unseemly to intensify this tendency with a line-item veto. Conservatives used to be the designated worriers about the evolution of the presidency into the engine of grandiose government. They should visit the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom in the National Archives building on Constitution Avenue. There the Constitution is displayed under four large glass plates. Almost half of the glass is required to cover just Article One. That concerns the legislative branch, which is the government’s “first branch” for a reason.

Then again, Romney and Giuliani both seem to have graduated from the George W. Bush School of Government, where Article I is an inkblot.

The American Freedom Agenda Act Of 2007

It’s gotten almost no coverage in the mainstream media, but earlier this week, Ron Paul introduced a bill that would repeal most of the Constitution excesses we’ve seen over the past seven years:

On Monday, Rep. Ron Paul, the outsider Republican presidential candidate who has long upheld these values and who was an early voice warning of the grave danger to all of us of these abuses, introduced the AFA’s legislative package into Congress. (The mainstream press has an irrational habit of disparaging outsider candidates — as if corrupt money and machine endorsements equal seriousness of purpose — even though the Founders hoped that the system they established would lead citizens, ideally those unembedded in the establishment, to offer their service to the nation.)

Here’s is Paul’s speech to the House when he introduced the bill:

Madam Speaker, today I am introducing a comprehensive piece of legislation to restore the American Constitution and to restore the liberties that have been sadly eroded over the past several years.

This legislation seeks to restore the checks and balances enshrined in the Constitution by our Founding Fathers to prevent abuse of Americans by their government. This proposed legislation would repeal the Military Commissions Act of 2006 and re-establish the traditional practice that military commissions may be used to try war crimes in places of active hostility where a rapid trial is necessary to preserve evidence or prevent chaos.

The legislation clarifies that no information shall be admitted as evidence if it is obtained from the defendant through the use of torture or coercion. It codifies the FISA process as the means by which foreign intelligence may be obtained and it gives members of the Senate and the House of Representatives standing in court to challenge presidential signing statements that declares the president’s intent to disregard certain aspects of a law passed in the U.S. Congress. It prohibits kidnapping and extraordinary rendition of prisoners to foreign countries on the president’s unilateral determination that the suspect is an enemy combatant. It defends the first amendment by clarifying that journalists are not to be prevented from publishing information received from the legislative or executive branch unless such publication would cause immediate, direct, and irreparable harm to the United States.

Finally, the legislation would prohibit the use of secret evidence to designate an individual or organization with a United States presence to be a foreign terrorist or foreign terrorist organization.

I invite my colleagues to join my efforts to restore the U.S. Constitution by enacting the American Freedom Agenda Act of 2007.

By way of summary, the bill would:

  • repeal the Military Commissions Act of 2006
  • prohibit the admittance of evidence obtained under torture or coercion in both civilian courts and military tribunals
  • prohibit acquisition of intelligence that contravenes the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act
  • grant standing to Congress “to file a declaratory judgment action in an appropriate Federal district court to challenge the constitutionality of a presidential signing statement that declares the President’s intent to disregard provisions of a bill he has signed into law because he believes they are unconstitutional.”
  • prohibit all officers and agents of the United States from engaging in kidnapping, imprisonment, and torture abroad based solely on the president’s judgment that the person is an enemy combatant
  • protect journalists’ rights to publish information acquired from the executive branch, with the only exception being when there is a “direct, immediate, and irreparable harm to the national security of the United States.”
  • prohibit the use of secret evidence to designate a foreign individual or organization as a terrorist or terrorist organization.

The full text of the bill can be found here, and is well worth taking a look at.

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