Monthly Archives: October 2007

Is Ron Paul’s Campaign Being Hijacked By The Whacko Fringe ?

Over at The Huffington Post, Thomas Edsall comes pretty close to writing a smear peace when he points out the fact that Ron Paul’s campaign seems to be attracting the support of some less than desirable characters:

Through no fault of his own, Rep. Ron Paul’s anti-globalist, anti-government campaign for the Republican presidential nomination has become a magnet in neo-Nazi networks, pulling in activists and supporters from the fringe white nationalist community where anti-Semitism, anti-black and anti-immigrant views are commonplace.

In some cases, these internet-based activists acknowledge that even though the Paul campaign does not have a racist or anti-Semitic agenda, it can serve as a vehicle to find sympathizers and to recruit new loyalists drawn to the Republican congressman’s opposition to international trade agreements, federal police authority and to the income tax.

Such web-based organizations as Stormfront (motto: “White Pride, World Wide”), Vanguard News Network (“No Jews. Just Right.”) and the Nationalist Coalition (“working to create the relationships that will lay the foundation for the White community that is necessary to our survival”) have become sources of support for Paul’s bid for the Republican nomination, and in some cases have set up separate Ron Paul discussion groups.

The Paul campaign dismissed the pro-Paul activities among these groups. “We don’t know who these people are,” said Jesse Benton, Paul’s communications director. Their support has “nothing to do with Ron Paul, and what he stands for….His message of freedom, peace and prosperity – that’s why people support him.”

Paul has not made racist or anti-Semitic appeals to the controversial organizations and their members. Instead, their support is based on Paul’s libertarian opposition to government generally, including the IRS and the powers granted to the federal government under the Patriot Act – views that are shared by many on the conservative fringe of the spectrum.

As Edsall points out, of course, there’s really nothing about the Paul campaign that comes anywhere close the agenda that the white supremacists (although they like to call themselves “white pride”) groups are advocating. Instead, what has happened, as I pointed out when the Stormfront ad became an issue last week, is that groups like these seem to be taking advantage of the decentralized nature of the campaign to latch their own agenda on to the campaign. And it’s not just the racists who are doing it, you can say the same thing about the 9/11 “truth” crowd, even though the Congressman has made it clear he doesn’t agree with them.

Edsall, being a typical Huffington Post contributor, tries to ascribe all this to Paul’s views on the issues:

The white nationalist and anti-Semitic support flowing to the Paul campaign reflects one of the difficulties facing candidates who do not fall into the midstream: that often their views on less controversial subjects like trade and the power of the federal government to take property through eminent domain also appeal to extremist groups.

Which comes pretty close to what leftists usually say about conservatives and libertarians — you’re ideas are invalid because you’re racist. Here’ Edsall can’t go that far, so he simply makes the implication and let’s the reader draw the conclusion.

Rather than the ideas being the problem, though, Jeff Cammaroto thinks its the campaign strategy that’s partially to blame:

The problem is, it seems like the campaign has been more than happy to welcome outsiders to spread its message online. That might seem like a great idea at first but when messages are not vetted by an official source, it is only a matter of time before some people rise up and exploit them.

Which, it seems, is what’s happened in this case.

Laissez Faire Books To Close

Reason’s Brian Doherty reports that one of the great resources for libertarian and classical liberal books is shutting it’s doors at the end of the month:

A great libertarian institution is on its way out this month (though they have not yet officially announced it on their web site): Laissez Faire Books, the libertarian book store turned libertarian book mail order operation.

Until the advent of places like Amazon, LFB was one of the only places around to find books by guys like Milton Friedman, Thomas Sowell, Adam Smith, and David Ricardo (to name just a few). And, especially back in the 80’s and early 90’s it’s print catalog was both a great source of reading material and information about what the intellectual side of the libertarian movement was up to.

For quite some time, I was a very loyal customer. Though they moved to Little Rock, Arkansas at some point, the store started out in New York City before making it’s way to San Francisco, where it was when I visited the city in 1991. There wasn’t much to the store itself, but it was still pretty cool to visit a bastion of libertarianism in the middle of the People’s Republic of San Francisco.

While I’m not sure why they’re closing up shop, I’m sure it has something to do with the same reason I haven’t purchased much from them in years — it was just easier and cheaper to get stuff on Amazon. Sad ? Maybe, but that’s the free market.

Nonetheless LFB will be missed.

Verizon Admits It Turned Over Customer Data Without A Warrant

Today’s Washington Post reports that one of the nation’s largest telecommunications companies routinely complies with requests for customer data from government agencies without requiring a warrant:

Verizon Communications, the nation’s second-largest telecom company, told congressional investigators that it has provided customers’ telephone records to federal authorities in emergency cases without court orders hundreds of times since 2005.

The company said it does not determine the requests’ legality or necessity because to do so would slow efforts to save lives in criminal investigations.

In an Oct. 12 letter replying to Democratic lawmakers, Verizon offered a rare glimpse into the way telecommunications companies cooperate with government requests for information on U.S. citizens.

Verizon also disclosed that the FBI, using administrative subpoenas, sought information identifying not just a person making a call, but all the people that customer called, as well as the people those people called. Verizon does not keep data on this “two-generation community of interest” for customers, but the request highlights the broad reach of the government’s quest for data.

(…)

From January 2005 to September 2007, Verizon provided data to federal authorities on an emergency basis 720 times, it said in the letter. The records included Internet protocol addresses as well as phone data. In that period, Verizon turned over information a total of 94,000 times to federal authorities armed with a subpoena or court order, the letter said. The information was used for a range of criminal investigations, including kidnapping and child-predator cases and counter-terrorism investigations.

Verizon and AT&T said it was not their role to second-guess the legitimacy of emergency government requests.

What is most surprising about the revelations isn’t so much that Verizon decided that it didn’t need to require the government to obtain a court order for the information, as it is the extent of the information that the FBI and other government agencies were looking for:

Yesterday’s 13-page Verizon letter indicated that the requests went further than previously known. Verizon said it had received FBI administrative subpoenas, called national security letters, requesting data that would “identify a calling circle” for subscribers’ telephone numbers, including people contacted by the people contacted by the subscriber. Verizon said it does not keep such information.

“The privacy concerns are exponential each generation you go away from the suspect’s number,” said Kurt Opsahl, senior staff attorney with the EFF. “This shows that further investigation by Congress and the inspector general is critical.”

Earlier this year, the Justice Department’s inspector general found that the FBI may have improperly obtained phone, bank and other records of thousands of people inside the United States since 2003 by using national security letters and exigent letters, or emergency demands for records.

Now, Verizon and other telecom companies are seeking formal immunity from any civil liability for complying with these government request, and, on some level, they do have a point:

AT&T and Verizon both argued that the onus should not be on the companies to determine whether the government has lawfully requested customer records. To do so in emergency cases would “slow lawful efforts to protect the public,” wrote Randal S. Milch, senior vice president of legal and external affairs for Verizon Business, a subsidiary of Verizon Communications.

“Public officials, not private businessmen, must ultimately be responsible for whether the legal judgments underlying authorized surveillance activities turn out to be right or wrong — legally or politically,” wrote Wayne Watts, AT&T’s senior executive vice president and general counsel. “Telecommunications carriers have a part to play in guarding against official abuses, but it is necessarily a modest one.”

While it is distressing that Verizon and AT&T were so willing to bend over backwards with what may well have been unauthorized requests for information, it’s not their job to enforce the provisions of the Fourth Amendment. That responsibility lies with law enforcement and, ultimately, with the Federal Courts who authorize the warrants to begin with.

Ron Paul Beats Mitt Romney

While I don’t put much stock in straw polls, stories like this should put a quick end to the idea of Mitt Romney as a serious contender for the nomination:

SPARKS, Nev. – Ron Paul won the GOP presidential straw poll conducted by organizers at the Conservative Leadership Conference held at the Nugget Casino this weekend “by a large margin,” according to an organizer.

Paul won with 33 percent, Romney came in second with 16 percent and Duncan Hunter was just behind with 15 percent. “Undecided” was fourth with 11 percent, and Thompson and Giuliani were next and ahead of the rest of the pack — all in single digits. Raw numbers haven’t been provided, but there were approximately 430 registrants at the opening of the conference.

Although many of the Republican presidential teams had surrogates representing them at the conference, Mitt Romney and Duncan Hunter were the only candidates to speak at the conference, and the victor himself was not there.

Libertarian sentiment dominated the conference, and a number of attendees expressed disappointment with the Republican Party for not catering to many of their views. Several speakers explained that they were looking to move on, echoing much of the discontent that came out of the meeting of the Council for National Policy in Salt Lake City late last month.

Mitt, if you can’t win a straw poll that where you’re the only “first-tier” candidate who showed up and lose to a guy wasn’t even there, it’s time to give up the ghost.

Ron Paul’s Boots On The Ground In New Hampshire

Today’s Washington Post takes a look at the ground war that Ron Paul’s supporters are running in the state that will hold the nation’s first primary in February:

STRAFFORD, N.H. — There’s no mistaking which house on Lake Shore Drive, about 45 minutes northeast of Manchester, is the one full of Paulites — the intensely loyal, almost fanatical supporters of Rep. Ron Paul. Signs are everywhere. On the back window of a brand new black Toyota, on the bumper of a green Geo, on a white Volvo station wagon that sits beside a beat-up lime green Honda. “Ron Paul 2008.”

“We can run the whole New Hampshire campaign right here,” says Jim Forsythe, 39, a former Air Force pilot who’s on his driveway in jeans, T-shirt and white socks. “We’re the hard-core supporters.”

(….)

In a state where Patrick Buchanan upset Bob Dole, the front-runner for the GOP nomination, more than a decade ago, anything is possible, says Andrew Smith, a pollster and director of the University of New Hampshire’s Survey Center. As of last November, 26 percent of New Hampshire’s electorate were registered Democrats and 30 percent were Republicans. But the biggest block of voters — 44 percent — were undeclared. Forty percent to 45 percent of those, Smith says, leaned Democrat and 25 percent to 30 percent Republican.

(…)

“Everyone — the staffers in the other campaigns, the bigwig political observers in the state — is scratching their heads. They don’t know what to make of this Ron Paul phenomenon,” pollster Smith says. A University of New Hampshire poll last month showed Paul at 4 percent in the state. The most recent Washington Post-ABC News national poll, also from last month, had him at 3 percent. “The other campaigns aren’t worried that he’d win the primary. They just don’t know who his supporters are and whose support he’s taking away,” Smith adds. “His poll numbers aren’t high now, but it’s only October. And they could see him getting 10 percent of the vote here. If you get 10 percent of the vote in a crowded field, well, you might finish third.” But the Paulites are aiming for higher than third place.

But winning has different meanings in an early primary state like New Hampshire. When the race is in its early stages, nominations are largely a game of perception, and a candidate who does better than he or she is expected to — whether in Iowa, New Hampshire, or South Carolina — is likely to find themselves catapulted from also-ran to, if not contender, then at least potential spoiler. Ron Paul doesn’t have to win in New Hampshire to be taken seriously, he just has to do better than anyone expects, which is why it might be wise for his supporters to down-play expectations.

US Steel Makers Keep Tariffs

The steel makers were successful in persuading the International Trade Commission to keep steel tariffs:

In a victory for U.S. steel makers, the federal government agreed Wednesday to continue tariffs on imports of certain steel products from China, India and four other nations.

General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. Chrysler and other steel consumers had opposed the tariff extension. But ending the tariffs would have increased steel imports, harming U.S. steel makers, said Alan Price, a lawyer for Charlotte, N.C.-based Nucor Corp.

“China has a staggering amount of excess (steel production) capacity,” he said.

The U.S. International Trade Commission extended the tariffs on so-called hot-rolled steel from Indonesia, Taiwan, Thailand and Ukraine, in addition to China and India but eliminated them for Argentina, Kazakhstan, Romania and South Africa.

About 60 million tons of hot-rolled steel, used to make autos, household appliances and many other goods, is consumed annually in the U.S., Price said.

Tariffs were first imposed in 2001 and vary depending on the country, but are as high as 90 percent for China. The duties were imposed to counteract what the U.S. and other nations call unfair trade practices, such as dumping or selling a product below production costs.

This is bad for many reasons:

1) Competition from overseas gives American steel makers an incentive to modernize and come into the 21st century. The tariffs give the steel makers no incentives to modernize and upgrade their mills.

2) The price of manufactured goods will continue to remain high, therefore continuing the exodus of manufacturing and the jobs that come with it from the United States.

3) This will harm relations with allies and potential allies like India, Indonesia, Taiwan, Thailand, and the Ukraine.

Only free trade will save the steel making and manufacturing sectors of the American economy.

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.

Is The Surge Actually Working ?

The Washington Post seems to suggest that the answer is yes:

NEWS COVERAGE and debate about Iraq during the past couple of weeks have centered on the alleged abuses of private security firms like Blackwater USA. Getting such firms into a legal regime is vital, as we’ve said. But meanwhile, some seemingly important facts about the main subject of discussion last month — whether there has been a decrease in violence in Iraq — have gotten relatively little attention. A congressional study and several news stories in September questioned reports by the U.S. military that casualties were down. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), challenging the testimony of Gen. David H. Petraeus, asserted that “civilian deaths have risen” during this year’s surge of American forces.

A month later, there isn’t much room for such debate, at least about the latest figures. In September, Iraqi civilian deaths were down 52 percent from August and 77 percent from September 2006, according to the Web site icasualties.org. The Iraqi Health Ministry and the Associated Press reported similar results. U.S. soldiers killed in action numbered 43 — down 43 percent from August and 64 percent from May, which had the highest monthly figure so far this year. The American combat death total was the lowest since July 2006 and was one of the five lowest monthly counts since the insurgency in Iraq took off in April 2004.

During the first 12 days of October the death rates of Iraqis and Americans fell still further. So far during the Muslim month of Ramadan, which began Sept. 13 and ends this weekend, 36 U.S. soldiers have been reported as killed in hostile actions. That is remarkable given that the surge has deployed more American troops in more dangerous places and that in the past al-Qaeda has staged major offensives during Ramadan. Last year, at least 97 American troops died in combat during Ramadan. Al-Qaeda tried to step up attacks this year, U.S. commanders say — so far, with stunningly little success.

Of course, not everything is rosy:

This doesn’t necessarily mean the war is being won. U.S. military commanders have said that no reduction in violence will be sustainable unless Iraqis reach political solutions — and there has been little progress on that front. Nevertheless, it’s looking more and more as though those in and outside of Congress who last month were assailing Gen. Petraeus’s credibility and insisting that there was no letup in Iraq’s bloodshed were — to put it simply — wrong.

So does this mean the surge — the increase in American troops in high risk areas — is actually working ?  Well, it seems that the answer is yes and no. Clearly, it’s worked to the extent that the overall level of violence has decreased significantly. But that was only part of the goal. The other part — increased political stability in Iraq — clearly isn’t working, and it’s unclear how it can work unless the Iraqis themselves put their differences aside and create a working government.  If that’s not possible, then it would seem that the only viable solution would be the one proposed by Joe Biden and Sam Brownback — a weak national government presiding over three essentially separate states.

In either case,  if the Post is right that the violence in Iraq has turned a corner, the real impact of the “better numbers” will be to make withdrawal far less politically urgent for whomever takes the oath of office in 2009.

Ron Paul On The News Hour

Say what you will about PBS, but you won’t find ABC News spending 20 minutes talking to a Presidential candidate:

Here’s Part One:

And here’s Part Two:

A few thoughts:

  • Woodruff asked Paul what he thought the interests of the United States that were worth defending and I don’t think he ever really answered the question. He spent a good deal of time talking about what’s wrong with American foreign policy, but never really answered her question directly. It’s a legitimate question, and it deserves an answer.
  • It’s going to take a lot more than just cutting back on defense spending to fix what’s wrong with the economy and the Federal budget. Discretionary spending, which includes defense spending, is a small part of the budget compared to so-called non-discretionary spending — Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid. Saying that we can solve our economic problems by cutting defense spending to the bone isn’t much different from what the rest of the candidates are saying. It’s note the warfare state that’s going to bankrupt us, it’s the welfare state. And it’s time the American people realized it. So far, Ron Paul is the only candidate who’s spoken that particular truth, and he’s in the single digits.

On the whole, this was a fairly good interview. And it’s refreshing to see Ron Paul talking about something other than the War in Iraq, because there’s a lot more than that to the freedom agenda.

Of course, since it was on PBS, it’s likely that more people will see the YouTube video than actually watched the broadcast.

A Civil Liberties Thought Experiment

Over at Atlas Blogged, Wulf puts forward an interesting civil liberties/intelligence gathering thought experiment:

Suppose the CIA wants to eavesdrop on Vladimir Putin. They don’t need a warrant. They just listen in on his phone conversations and they are legally within bounds as far as US laws are concerned. Vladimir calls Kim Jong Ill, they listen in. Vladimir calls Osama bin Laden, they listen in. Everything is kosher so far. And then Vladimir calls me. The CIA does not have the legal authority to eavesdrop on my phone calls, but they do have the legal authority to eavesdrop on Putin’s. Can they legally listen to that phone call Putin has with me?

As Wulf points out, if it were a situation where the police had a warrant approved by a judge to eavesdrop on my conversations, and I happened to call you, they would be able to listen to our conversation even though there hasn’t been issued against you.

The hypothetical, though, is slightly different. The CIA is eavesdropping on Putin’s conversation not as part of a law enforcement investigation, but as part of an intelligence gathering operation. During the course of that investigation, they discover that a foreign target (and Putin is only one example, let’s say it’s bin Laden, or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, or the head of Chinese Intelligence) is communicating with someone in the United States. Should they be required to get a warrant to listen in on a conversation between someone in a foreign country and someone in the United States, especially when that conversation originated in a foreign country ?

From a legal point of view, it frankly depends on the purpose to which the information the government might obtain would be used. If it’s not going to be used in a criminal prosecution, then the fact that Fourth Amendment might have been violated isn’t going to matter. The primary effect of a Fourth Amendment violation is that any evidence obtained in violation of cannot be used in Court — the so-called Exclusionary Rule. If the evidence is never going to be used in Court, or if the domestic recipient of the phone call isn’t a target of the investigation, then the presence or lack of a warrant is, in some sense, irrelevant.

Furthermore, if all the CIA is doing is gathering intelligence, and perhaps acting on said intelligence outside the borders of the United States, then there’s a strong argument that the Fourth Amendment doesn’t even apply.

As Wulf points out, this is what the FISA debate is all about, and the question really is this — if it’s okay for local law enforcement to listen in on a phone conversation between you and I when they have a warrant to listen to my phone calls (but not yours), then why isn’t it similarly acceptable for the CIA to listen in on your conversation with Vladimir Putin when they don’t need a warrant to tap Putin’s phone ?

Ron Paul And Islamofascism

Over at RealClear Politics, Tom Bevan takes Ron Paul to task for his recent statements about people who use the term “islamofacsism”:

In the spin room after the Republican debate on Tuesday evening in Dearborn, Mich., a reporter from the Arab-American News asked Ron Paul what he thought of the term “Islamic fascism.”

“It’s a false term to make people think we’re fighting Hitler,” Paul responded. “It’s war propaganda designed to generate fear so that the war has to be spread.”

Now, when Paul asserts that the war in Iraq is a mistake that is bankrupting America, he’s making a serious argument which current polls suggest a majority of Americans agree with — though not most Republicans. When he says 9/11 was the result of “blowback” from decades of U.S. foreign policy abroad, he’s on somewhat more precarious ground, but at least there is still some shred of intellectual basis for his view — albeit a Chomskyite one.

But when Paul says that the term “Islamic fascism” (or, for the purpose of discussion, its synonymous twin, “Islamofascism”) is propaganda designed to spread war, he’s veered off into the sort of paranoid fringe kookiness that keeps his campaign relegated to a side-show novelty act

(…)

For Paul to ridicule the term “Islamofascist” as propaganda and to insinuate that anyone who uses it is a warmonger seeking to spread conflict in the Middle East shows how wildly out of touch he is with the vast majority of the American public. More to the point, Paul’s willingness to so severely downplay the threat posed to America by Islamic fundamentalists calls into question his fitness to fulfill the constitutional duty of the Commander in Chief to protect the country from all threats, foreign and domestic.

The closing paragraph, I think, is completely over the top. The reception that Paul’s outspoken views on the War in Iraq and the possibility of war with Iran have gotten demonstrates quite clearly that he is not as far out of the mainstream. The American people have turned against the Iraq War in overwhelming numbers and, largely because of the experience in Iraq, are not at all enthusiastic about the idea of taking on Tehran anytime soon.

Nonetheless, Bevan does have a point when he criticizes the Congressman’s dismissal of those of us who believe that radical Islam is a threat and a danger and, fundamentally, anti-libertarian is entirely correct.

Take a look at any nation where radical or Wahabbist Islam has taken hold and you will find a complete lack of liberty. Women, of course, are treated as second-class citizens, but it doesn’t stop there. Freedom of religion is a concept that doesn’t exist. Freedom of speech ? Forget about speaking out against the government, and heaven help you if you dare criticize Mohammed.

But it’s not just in the Middle East that we’re seeing this happen. The Mohammed Cartoons controversy was, by and large, a European phenomenon. Theo Van Gogh was murdered on a street in Amsterdam for daring to make a film about the state of women in Islamic societies. And Osama bin Laden has said that the only way for the West to save itself from further attack is to convert to Islam.

This is not the ideology of a peace-loving people. It’s the ideology of fascists. Hence, the term Islamofascism, coined, by the way, by a leftist named Christopher Hitchens, not a neoconservative.

At The Crossed Pond, Rojas makes this point in addressing Bevan’s argument:

I have argued time and time again that my fellow Paul supporters need to stop treating their political opponents as if they were troglodytes motivated solely by malice. I never thought I would have to say the same thing to the candidate himself. But really, Dr. Paul: there are people who detest the brutality of orthodox Islamic regimes, and who express that sentiment, who don’t necessarily want to drop bombs on them. Me, for one.

So let’s stop lobbing accusations about “newspeak” on matters of this sort. It’s my strong belief that many of the people who use the term “Islamofascism” are among the strongest potential supporters of a Paul candidacy. Let’s bring them in instead of driving them away.

And driving them away is precisely what seems to be happening. Instead of recognizing the opposition to Islamic radicalism for what it is — an opposition to an ideology fundamentally opposed to human freedom — there seems to be a tendency from the Paul campaign to believe the leftist/paleo-libertarian idea that the Islamists would leave us alone if we just withdrew from the Middle East completely and stood by and did nothing while they overran Israel and any moderate Arab nation that dared stand in their way with every suicide bomber they could find.

Not everyone who believes that Islamic radicalism is a threat to human freedom wants to invade Iran tomorrow, so maybe it’s time to stop claiming that they do.

Iraq: A Nightmare With No End In Sight

So says retired Lt. General Ricardo Sanchez, who commanded American forces in Iraq from 2003-2004:

Retired Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, who led U.S. forces in Iraq for a year after the March 2003 invasion, accused the Bush administration yesterday of going to war with a “catastrophically flawed” plan and said the United States is “living a nightmare with no end in sight.”

Sanchez also bluntly criticized the current troop increase in Iraq, describing it as “a desperate attempt by the administration that has not accepted the political and economic realities of this war.”

“The administration, Congress and the entire interagency, especially the State Department, must shoulder the responsibility for this catastrophic failure, and the American people must hold them accountable,” Sanchez told military reporters and editors. “There has been a glaring unfortunate display of incompetent strategic leadership within our national leaders.”

Sanchez lashed out specifically at the National Security Council, calling officials there negligent and incompetent, without offering details. He also assailed war policies over the past four years, which he said had stripped senior military officers of responsibility and thus thrust the armed services into an “intractable position” in Iraq.

“The best we can do with this flawed approach is stave off defeat,” Sanchez said in a speech to the Military Reporters and Editors’ annual conference in Crystal City. “Without bipartisan cooperation, we are destined to fail. There is nothing going on in Washington that would give us hope.”

He faulted the administration for failing to “communicate effectively that reality to the American people.”

But Sanchez offered little advice about fixing military problems in Iraq, instead saying that current efforts generally need more resources and skill. “From a catastrophically flawed, unrealistically optimistic war plan to the administration’s latest surge strategy, this administration has failed to employ and synchronize its political, economic and military power,” Sanchez said.

At the same time, though, Sanchez argues that simply withdrawing American forces without thinking about what might happen after that isn’t a choice either:

America has no choice but to continue our efforts in Iraq. A precipitous withdrawal will unquestionably lead to chaos that would endanger the stability of the greater Middle East. If this occurs it would have significant adverse effects on the international community. Coalition and American force presence will be required at some level for the foreseeable future. Given the lack of a grand strategy we must move rapidly to minimize that force presence and allow the Iraqis maximum ability to exercise their sovereignty in achieving a solution.

In other words, it’s time to start handing responsibility for the security of Iraq over to the Iraqis. Which is something the Iraq Study Group called for nearly a year ago.

At the same time, though, it’s becoming apparent that simply walking away from this problem that we’ve created isn’t an option and continuing with the status quo isn’t working. Fixing the situation in Iraq to the point where American troops can come home is going to require both sides in the debate — unquestioning war supporters and vehement war opponents — to recognize those facts.

Why Ayn Rand Still Matters

In today’s Wall Street Journal, Reason’s Brian Doherty explains why Ayn Rand still matters, and why the political right would do well to reconsider her ideas:

[Rand] recognized, not merely that government shouldn’t take as much from us as it does, but also that it can’t justly and pragmatically do as much as it currently tries to do. As government spending, even under Republican rule, grows faster than ever before; as new plans to further bureaucratize American health care arise; as the benefits of free trade and free movement of capital and labor are under continued assault — Rand’s consistent, passionate and even heroic defense of American freedom is sorely needed.

Rand’s insistence that all values be rationally chosen made her “bad,” in modern conservative terms, on the family and on religion. But if the GOP can contemplate nominating twice-divorced Rudolph Giuliani (who agrees with Rand on abortion rights), conservatives should realize political movements can no longer demand agreement on matters of faith and family. They need to recognize — as Rand was, ironically, mocked for failing to recognize — that metaphysics and religion are extra-political.

Why does she matter to modern politics? It’s not like she is around for conservatives to seek her endorsement. But it is worthwhile for political activists to remember that Ayn Rand was utterly uncompromising on how government needed to respect the inalienable right of Americans to live their own lives, and of American business to grow, thrive, innovate and improve our lives without niggling interference.

Her message of political freedom was enthusiastic, and optimistic, and immensely popular. No major American political party has embraced her message in full. But millions of Americans have voted for her with their pocket books, and hundreds of thousands continue to do so every year.

Conservatives and libertarians alike would do well to take pause from their constant in fighting and recognize that the very premises of liberty remain under assault. And there are very few thinkers out there that can provide as much ammunition for a counter-assault as Ayn Rand did.

Ron Paul: No Reason To Ever Go To War

Ron Paul spoke with the Washington Post yesterday:

Republican presidential hopeful Ron Paul said today that he could see no possible reason to ever launch military action or initiate a war, vowing instead to battle efforts he said are undermining the individual liberties of people in America.

In an interview with Washingtonpost.com’s PostTalk program, the Texas congressman said he could see “no reason” to justify military action if he were elected president. He compared the United States to a schoolyard bully and said the country has no reason to flex its muscles overseas.

“There’s nobody in this world that could possibly attack us today,” he said in the interview. “I mean, we could defend this country with a few good submarines. If anybody dared touch us we could wipe any country off of the face of the earth within hours. And here we are, so intimidated and so insecure and we’re acting like such bullies that we have to attack third-world nations that have no military and have no weapon.”

As I noted on Monday, foreign policy is probably the one area where Ron Paul and I part company. I agree with him on the Iraq War because it’s clear that we went into Iraq for unclear reasons and with no clear plan of how to either win the war or the peace, and it’s time to get out and let the Iraqis determine their own future. I opposed President Clinton’s interventions in the former Yugoslavia, and in Somalia. And, I agree that unprovoked military action against Iran over it’s nuclear program is both unwise and, in the end, probably unnecessary.

But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t times when military action is necessary.

Case in point: Afghanistan. The United States was attacked on September 11th by a terrorist organization with roots throughout the Middle East and funding sources equally as spread out. But it’s organizational and training headquarters were in Afghanistan, where it received protection and support from the Taliban-led government.  The American response to the September 11th attacks, given al Qaeda’s involvement, the fact that it wasn’t the first time they’d attacked American interests, and the shelter being provided by the Taliban, was entirely appropriate. In the past, all the United States had done in response to al Qaeda attacks was lob a few cruise missiles at what we thought might be their bases, and you can see where that got us. In the end, the only acceptable alternative was to invade the country and destroy as much of their operation as we could. And, quite frankly, we shouldn’t have had to wait until 3,000 people lay dead before that happened.

The suggestion that America’s national interests begin and end at America’s borders, which is something that libertarians have asserted for some time and which Paul clearly seems to state in his response to the Post, just strikes me as naive.  We don’t live in the world the Founding Fathers did, and we can’t pretend that anything that doesn’t strike the Atlantic seaboard isn’t a threat.

What about international shipping lanes ? The Panama Canal ? The world oil supply ?

None of these directly impact the territory of the United States, so one would assume that the isolationist response would be that we can safely ignore it. Well, I would’ve thought that we learned on December 7th, and again on September 11th, that doing that only leads to the world knocking on our door someday, with less than pleasant consequences.

CNBC’s Open Letter To Ron Paul Supporters

In the wake of Tuesday’s debate, CNBC ran an online poll that Ron Paul seemed to be winning. However, after several hours, the poll was taken down and removed from the network’s website.

Today, Alan Wastler, the managing editor at CNBC.com explains why they did it:

Dear folks,

You guys are good. Real good. You are truly a force on World Wide Web and I tip my hat to you.

That’s based on my first hand experience of your work regarding our CNBC Republican candidate debate. After the debate, we put up a poll on our Web site asking who readers thought won the debate. You guys flooded it.

Now these Internet polls are admittedly unscientific and subject to hacking. In the end, they are really just a way to engage the reader and take a quick temperature reading of your audience. Nothing more and nothing less. The cyber equivalent of asking the room for a show of hands on a certain question.

So there was our after-debate poll. The numbers grew … 7,000-plus votes after a couple of hours … and Ron Paul was at 75%.

Now Paul is a fine gentleman with some substantial backing and, by the way, was a dynamic presence throughout the debate , but I haven’t seen him pull those kind of numbers in any “legit” poll. Our poll was either hacked or the target of a campaign. So we took the poll down.

The next day, our email basket was flooded with Ron Paul support messages. And the computer logs showed the poll had been hit with traffic from Ron Paul chat sites. I learned other Internet polls that night had been hit in similar fashion. Congratulations. You folks are obviously well-organized and feel strongly about your candidate and I can’t help but admire that.

But you also ruined the purpose of the poll. It was no longer an honest “show of hands” — it suddenly was a platform for beating the Ron Paul drum. That certainly wasn’t our intention and certainly doesn’t serve our readers … at least those who aren’t already in the Ron Paul camp.

Some of you Ron Paul fans take issue with my decision to take the poll down. Fine. When a well-organized and committed “few” can throw the results of a system meant to reflect the sentiments of “the many,” I get a little worried. I’d take it down again.

Sincerely,

Allen Wastler
Managing Editor, CNBC.com

We’ve seen this happen before. Pajamas Media excluded Ron Paul from it’s poll for several weeks in the spring and summer due to what it called spamming of the poll by Ron Paul supporters. It happens here on a regular basis in that we get more traffic and comments related to Ron Paul than any other topic. And, quite honestly, it’s not hard to believe that it would be easy for a small group of committed supporters to flood a poll run by a low-ratings network like CNBC with votes. More importantly, it was their survey, and they had the right to do whatever they wanted to do with it, including ignoring it’s results entirely.

At the same time, though, I’ve got to wonder why the folks at CNBC didn’t realize that something like this would happen. It’s happened before after other debates on Fox and MSNBC, and it’s a clear indication that, notwithstanding the fact that he remains in the basement in the scientific polls, Ron Paul clearly has a vocal and committed group of supporters on the web, more vocal and committed than any of the other candidates.

Whether that online support will ever translate into significant votes in the primaries remains to be seen, but there wasn’t any reason for CNBC to shut down the poll because Ron Paul was getting alot of votes, except perhaps because it indicates just how few people were watching their network Tuesday afternoon to begin with.

There’s Only Ten ?

Andrew Roth at the Club For Growth tries to pick the ten dumbest vote in the history of the House of Representatives.

Here are a few select goodies:

MOHAIR SUBSIDIES (Roll Call 383, 2000) – Offered by then-Rep. Mark Sanford, this vote sought to defund all mohair subsidies. Pray tell, what exactly is mohair? Webster’s dictionary says it’s, “a fabric or yarn made wholly or in part of the long silky hair of the Angora goat.” From 1995 to 2005, taxpayers have been on the hook for $40 million on mohair subsidies. For more information, don’t ask the Mohair Council of America, the leading special interest group defending and receiving the subsidies. Their website has all the friendliness of a tumor. But the House still sided with them. The vote failed, 166-255.

(…)

VIAGRA SUBSIDIES (Roll Call 312, 2005) – Did you know that Viagra used to be subsidized through Medicaid and Medicare? Rep. Steve King (R-IA) offered an amendment to remove the subsidy in 2005. According to the New York Times, “Mr. King said it was wrong to tell taxpayers that “we’re going to take the money you earned on overtime to pay for Grandpa’s Viagra.” Thankfully, the House sided with King, but 121 members still wanted to keep it up (the subsidies, that is).

(…)

PORK, PORK, PORK (Roll Call 636, 2007) – This year, the House voted on 50 separate amendments that would have defunded several different pork projects. These amendments included some doozies. My favorite was the vote on the $1 million pork project for the “Center for Instrumented Critical Infrastructure” in Johnstown, PA. What’s especially dumb about this project is that, prior to the vote, nobody could confirm the existence of the Center! Here’s a video of the debate. In the end, the House happily handed the mysterious “Center” one million smackeroos with a vote of 326-98! To view the other 49 amendments and how every House member voted on them, see the Club’s RePORK Card.

Frankly, it’s amazing that Andrew could limit himself to just ten of these doozies.

McCain’s Health Care Plan: The Good and Bad

Presidential candidate John McCain introduced his healthcare plan today. It has some aspects that are an improvement of the current system, while there are some features that are bad.

First, the good:

The plan would end the tax incentives provided to businesses for providing healthcare to employees, and transfer that incentive to individuals for owning health care.

This will begin the process of making health care an individual responsibility, not a responsibility of the employer.

He also would allow insurance policies to be sold across the state lines

The back door way of dealing with state mandates for minimum insurance coverage. This will allow health care consumers to purchase insurance policies a la carte with the choice of services they want.

McCain’s plan also offers veterans an opportunity to seek government financed health care outside of the Veterans Administration system, by giving them the financing options to seek their own healthcare coverage.

Hopefully, this will turn into a voucher program where veterans are given vouchers to purchase private health insurance plans and we can kill the Veterans Administration.

Now the bad:

McCain would offer a $2,500 refundable tax credit to individuals who have health insurance, and $5,000 to families.

A welfare program, pure and simple. If these tax credits were non-refundable, I would not have a problem with them.

Also, not reported in the linked article, but McCain also called for action against obesity and smoking. While McCain did not specifically outline nanny state measures on both fronts, it’s a good bet they’re coming.

All in all, it could have been a worse plan McCain could have outlined than was actually announced. It is also much better than the alternatives coming out from the Democrats. However, it is by no means a perfect plan, but one that is certainly interesting.

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.

Burma Update: Tyranny Unfettered

Now that the rest of the world has moved it’s attention elsewhere, it seems that the military crackdown in Burma is getting even more brutal:

Monks confined in a room with their own excrement for days, people beaten just for being bystanders at a demonstration, a young woman too traumatised to speak, and screams in the night as Rangoon’s residents hear their neighbours being taken away.

Harrowing accounts smuggled out of Burma reveal how a systematic campaign of physical punishment and psychological terror is being waged by the Burmese security forces as they take revenge on those suspected of involvement in last month’s pro-democracy uprising.

The first-hand accounts describe a campaign hidden from view, but even more sinister and terrifying than the open crackdown in which the regime’s soldiers turned their bullets and batons on unarmed demonstrators in the streets of Rangoon, killing at least 13. At least then, the world was watching.

The hidden crackdown is as methodical as it is brutal. First the monks were targeted, then the thousands of ordinary Burmese who joined the demonstrations, those who even applauded or watched, or those merely suspected of anti-government sympathies.

“There were about 400 of us in one room. No toilets, no buckets, no water for washing. No beds, no blankets, no soap. Nothing,” said a 24-year-old monk who was held for 10 days at the Government Technical Institute, a leafy college in northern Rangoon which is now a prison camp for suspected dissidents. The young man, too frightened to be named, was one of 185 monks taken in a raid on a monastery in the Yankin district of Rangoon on 28 September, two days after government soldiers began attacking street protesters.

“The room was too small for everyone to lie down at once. We took it in turns to sleep. Every night at 8 o’clock we were given a small bowl of rice and a cup of water. But after a few days many of us just couldn’t eat. The smell was so bad.

“Some of the novice monks were under 10 years old, the youngest was just seven. They were stripped of their robes and given prison sarongs. Some were beaten, leaving open, untreated wounds, but no doctors came.”

Two weeks ago, when the monks were on the street, it must have seemed to the Burmese like the who world was watching. Now, they’re on their own, and the military junta that rules the country knows it:

In Rangoon, people say they are more frightened now than when soldiers were shooting on the streets.

“When there were demonstrations and soldiers on the streets, the world was watching,” said a professional woman who watched the marchers from her office.

“But now the soldiers only come at night. They take anyone they can identify from their videos. People who clapped, who offered water to the monks, who knelt and prayed as they passed. People who happened to turn and watch as they passed by and their faces were caught on film. It is now we are most fearful. It is now we need the world to help us.”

The next time you complain about the tyranny of the IRS, remind yourself that it could be a hell of alot worse.

The Heroes Of Capitalism

In an article that appeared in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, but only became available for free access today, Philosopher David Kelley marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of Atlas Shrugged by noting the novel’s central accomplishment, celebrating as heroes men and women who even today are still considered villains by a large part of society:

Businessmen are favorite villains in popular media, routinely featured as polluters, crooks and murderers in network TV dramas and first-run movies, not to mention novels. Oil company CEOs are hauled before congressional committees whenever fuel prices rise, to be harangued and publicly shamed for the sin of high profits. Genuine cases of wrongdoing like Enron set off witch hunts that drag in prominent achievers like Frank Quattrone and Martha Stewart.

By contrast, the heroes in “Atlas Shrugged” are businessmen — and women. Rand imbues them with heroic, larger-than-life stature in the Romantic mold, for their courage, integrity and ability to create wealth. They are not the exploiters but the exploited: victims of parasites and predators who want to wrap the producers in regulatory chains and expropriate their wealth.

Rand’s perspective is a welcome relief to people who more often see themselves portrayed as the bad guys, and so it is no wonder it has such enthusiastic fans in the upper echelons of business as Ed Snider (Comcast Spectacor, Philadelphia Flyers and 76ers), Fred Smith (Federal Express), John Mackey (Whole Foods), John A. Allison (BB&T), and Kevin O’Connor (DoubleClick) — not to mention thousands of others who pursue careers at every level in the private sector.

(…)

Economists have known for a long time that profits are an external measure of the value created by business enterprise. Rand portrayed the process of creating value from the inside, in the heroes’ vision and courage, their rational exuberance in meeting the challenges of production. Her point was stated by one of the minor characters of “Atlas,” a musical composer: “Whether it’s a symphony or a coal mine, all work is an act of creating and comes from the same source: from an inviolate capacity to see through one’s own eyes. . . . That shining vision which they talk about as belonging to the authors of symphonies and novels — what do they think is the driving faculty of men who discovered how to use oil, how to run a mine, how to build an electric motor?”

As for the charge, from egalitarian left and religious right alike, that the profit motive is selfish, Rand agreed. She was notorious as the advocate of “the virtue of selfishness,” as she titled a later work. Her moral defense of the pursuit of self-interest, and her critique of self-sacrifice as a moral standard, is at the heart of the novel. At the same time, she provides a scathing portrait of what she calls “the aristocracy of pull”: businessmen who scheme, lie and bribe to win favors from government.

Economists have also known for a long time that trade is a positive sum game, yet most defenders of capitalism still wrestle with the “paradox” posed in the 18th century by Adam Ferguson and Adam Smith: how private vice can produce public good, how the pursuit of self-interest yields benefits for all. Rand cut that Gordian knot in the novel by denying that the pursuit of self-interest is a vice. Precisely because trade is not a zero-sum game, Rand challenges the age-old moral view that one must be either a giver or a taker.

And that, as I’ve noted elsewhere is the singular accomplishment that Ayn Rand should be remembered for. While the moral principles she wrote about had been part of the academic literature of Western Civilization for some time, they had never been popularized before in the way that Ayn Rand did. Because of that, it’s fair to say that there’s an entire generation of libertarians, and businessmen, whose first encounter with the idea that there isn’t anything wrong with profit, and that success isn’t a dirty word, came from a woman named Ayn Rand, and a book called Atlas Shrugged.

The Taxpayer Choice Act

Robert Novak writes today about a sweeping tax reform package being proposed by a trio of Republican Congressman:

[R]eform-minded conservative Republicans this week introduce the most sweeping tax plan since Jack Kemp’s three decades ago. It would establish a radically simplified, flatter tax for an estimated 90 percent to 95 percent of all income tax filers.

Those taxpayers presumably would accept this offer: give up all your current deductions, and your annual earnings up to $100,000 would be taxed at 10 percent, with a 25 percent rate on everything above that. But that is not all. The bill would repeal the hated Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT), giving up $840 billion in revenue over the next 10 years. Government would have to get leaner.

(…)

Under the plan, taxpayers could either continue under the present tax code or accept the simpler system. In place of deductions and credits, every taxpayer would get a generous standard exemption ($39,000 for a family of four). Nearly everybody presumably would take this opportunity to escape the scrutiny and invasiveness of the Internal Revenue Service. The taxpayer could change back only once in a lifetime (with an exception for such life-changing events as death, marriage or divorce).

This system may avoid the fate of flat-tax proposals, encountering the wrath of the “tax expenditure lobby” seeking to retain deductions for home mortgages, charitable contributions and state income tax payments. Those exclusions make a 25 percent tax rate impossible and undermine the plan, but the Taxpayer Choice Act puts the decision in the hands of the individual whether to retain them.

The plan also would make permanent President Bush’s capital gains and dividends tax cuts.

It is, as Novak notes, a daring proposal, and one that is worthy of serious consideration. One of the most insidious aspects of the current tax system is the extent to which it has grown far beyond it’s stated purpose of raising revenue to operate the government and mutated into a back-door social welfare program. The real estate and mortgage industries, along with homeowners, receive a subsidy in the from the home mortgage interest deduction. State and local governments get to hide the true cost of property taxes thanks to the property tax deduction. And countless other special interests have gotten deductions, exemptions, and exclusions that effectively turn the tax system into just another part of the welfare state.

Most importantly, though, rather than simply eliminating those deductions and tax benefits, the Taxpayer Choice Act would keep them in place and leave to the individual taxpayer the choice between the old system with all the deductions, and the new system with the simplified flat tax.

I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure which option I’d pick.

As Novak notes, though, the Taxpayer Choice Act is also important because it would require the GOP to face up to reality:

Ryan, Hensarling and Campbell pose a gut check for the Republican Party. Is it willing to part with a rapacious tax without replacing the revenue and offer taxpayers a bold choice? In 1978, the Republican National Committee under Chairman Bill Brock endorsed Kemp-Roth. To take a similar daring step today, the party would have to divorce itself from the Bush administration’s tutelage and embark on a course of tax simplification and spending discipline

Unfortunately, it seems very unlikely that such a change will occur anytime soon.

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